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Lords Chamber

Volume 835: debated on Tuesday 6 February 2024

House of Lords

Tuesday 6 February 2024

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Lord Speaker’s Statement

My Lords, I know we were all sorry to hear the news of His Majesty the King’s illness. I am sure the thoughts of the House are with the King and his family, and we look forward to His Majesty’s full return to public duties in due course.

Allied Health Professionals: Prescribing Responsibilities


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made on extending prescribing responsibilities to more allied health professionals.

I beg leave to ask the Question in my name on the Order Paper and declare my interests as listed in the register.

In September 2023, we completed two consultations to amend the Human Medicines Regulations to enable dental therapists, dental hygienists and pharmacy technicians to supply and administer medicines without the need for a prescription. We aim to publish the consultation response in the next few weeks. In December 2023, the Misuse of Drugs Regulations 2001 were amended to enable independent prescriber paramedics and therapeutic radiographers to prescribe certain controlled drugs.

I thank the Minister for that response, but primary and community health services, particularly general practice, are under great work- force pressure and waiting times for patients are unacceptably long. Although the plan to extend pharmacy prescribing is welcome, an important next step must be to extend appropriate independent prescribing and referral rights to a wide range of allied health professionals, including speech and language therapists, occupational therapists, diagnostic radiographers and many more similar professions.

As the Minister will know, the Lords Integration of Primary and Community Care Committee’s recent report supported this, and there was previously an unpublished NHS scoping report. Will the Minister now publish that report and act on the Lords committee’s recommendations to quickly implement the benefits for speedy and integrated patient care?

I thank the noble Lord for his question and absolutely agree with the direction of travel. We are keen that every clinician should work at the top of their profession, and to bring in people with allied skills who can supplement that and prescribe as well. We need to be careful, because there is obviously a danger of overprescribing. But in general, we totally agree and want to extend this as far as possible.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on fulfilling their promise, made in reply to a Question for Short Debate in this House, to extend prescribing rights to paramedics by the end of last year. However, that was no fewer than four years after the extension had been approved by the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. Why did it take so long? Will the Minister undertake that future properly approved extensions will be implemented more quickly?

Yes, because the noble Lord is correct: it should not take so long. We all agree with the approach. So noble Lords understand, there is a two-step process. First, the body to which we are trying to extend this needs to be agreed by a review of the Commission on Human Medicines; then, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs need to take a look at it. We are all aware of the dangers of anti-microbial resistance, which is why we need to be careful about things such as antibiotic prescribing. But in general, we want to do this as fast as possible.

My Lords, I am sure that most people will welcome the extension of prescribing facilities to pharmacies. Does the Minister understand that the rate of closure of independent pharmacies in the UK—these vital community facilities —is absolutely accelerating? Will he undertake to look at the rate of closure and understand why these small, independent businesses, which are the pillars of communities, are closing at such a rate? They are just financially unsustainable.

I agree with my noble friend that not only are they the pillar of communities, but they are the front line in a lot of health services. This is about trying to put more business and activity their way to increase their viability, both in terms of paying for treatments such as these and increasing footfall generally. I completely agree with my noble friend that we want as many of these small businesses thriving in their own right, but also as a vital part of the health ecosystem.

My Lords, increasing the range of health professionals who can prescribe is welcome, but does the Minister agree that this makes it even more important that people are able to see their entire medical record in one place, as the Times Health Commission has proposed? What does the Minister make of that proposal, and what are the Government doing to ensure that, wherever you get a prescription, that record is located in one central point?

It will not surprise noble Lords to know that I am totally in favour of the digital project and having this information available in one source. With Pharmacy First, in a matter of a few months we will have a system whereby everything it does will automatically update the GP records. That is important because once we have done it for pharmacies, we can do it for all other groups. We are absolutely moving in that direction.

My Lords, to return to speech therapy, the Minister will be aware that the Royal College of Speech and Language Therapists wrote to the Secretary of State last November highlighting how independent prescribing responsibilities would help, for instance, patients with quite potent cases of head and neck cancer. Can the Minister be a little more specific and give a timeline for when speech and language therapists will be able to undertake independent prescribing training, so that these people can really have some help?

I will need to get back to the noble Baroness on the precise timeline. We have an SI debate taking place shortly on physician associates, and a key step is that first, you have to be part of a legally regulated body. Once you are, the formal reviews can take place, along with the training. I will write giving the details, but we are keen to allow speech therapists and others to prescribe as well.

My Lords, people on the autistic spectrum who need prescribed drugs for their condition and associated reasons have to have a psychiatrist prescribe them because psychologists cannot do so. I am not for one minute suggesting that all psychologists should be allowed to prescribe, because they are quite a range of people. However, in parts of the country where there is no psychiatrist—I speak from personal experience—who can prescribe to autistic patients, can we see whether certain psychologists with a knowledge of autism could be trained to fill that gap?

Yes, I will happily undertake to do that. There are a couple of mechanisms we can use. We can give them an independent prescribing ability, or we can give patient group directions on a certain number of items. That is what we are doing with Pharmacy First, for instance, in respect of the seven conditions. Clearly, we could look at doing that with the relevant autism drugs.

My Lords, the steps so far taken by the Government to delegate prescribing to pharmacists seem pretty sensible. However, can the Minister assure the House that, bearing in mind that correct prescribing requires correct diagnosis, the Government will be extremely reluctant to delegate out the roles of doctors to healthcare professionals who do not have the benefit of a doctor’s training?

I suspect that we are starting to get on to the debate we will have shortly on physician and anaesthetist associates. In both cases there is definitely a role for them, because we want to support doctors in the surgery and allow them to train and teach at the top of their profession. Clearly, however, we need to be sure of what such people can do and where they need extra supervision, and that is what we are setting out.

My Lords, further to the Minister’s reply to my noble friend Lord Bradley, what is the Government’s plan to increase and integrate the number of independent prescribers being trained as part of the long-term workforce plan? Given that community pharmacists are already trained to vaccinate against Covid-19 and flu, will the Government be expanding the service to include the delivery of MMR jabs, in order to help address recent measles outbreaks?

First, on the long-term workforce plan, yes, we want to increase the number of allied health professionals by 25% by 2030. We see a lot of that group—some 20%—coming through via apprenticeships. It has been proven just how well pharmacies managed to supplement MMR vaccinations in the Covid and flu space, so it is a good idea. I will need to take that idea back to the department, rather than agreeing to it on the hoof, but I will come back on it because it is an excellent one.

My Lords, the Minister will know that the Health and Care Professions Council has suggested three times that sports therapists should be statutorily regulated and could also take part in prescribing. Can the Minister say when this might be likely to get legal agreement?

Yes, this very much applies to sports, and it goes to the whole social prescribing space and the role of physios. I know that physios are listed in the 15 professional groups we are looking to expand this out to. I will provide the details on the exact timing.

Met Office: 2023 Temperatures


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what additional measures they are planning in response to the news that the Met Office believes that 2023 was the second hottest year on record.

My Lords, adapting to our changing climate is vital to strengthen our national security, provide resilience in food production and protect the economy from higher costs in the future. In July last year, we published the third national adaptation programme, NAP3, which set out our ambitious programme of action for the five years to 2028. This marked a step change in the Government’s approach to climate change adaptation to address the climate crisis.

Those are fine words, but we have to keep acting fast. I am sure the Government know that there have been recent discussions about developing a new category of hurricanes because of their increasing severity. That means that we will see more encroachment of coastlines, and that we ought to start worrying about flooding here in Britain and the Thames Barrier. In view of all those things, what are the Government’s plans for acting a little faster and sitting less on their hands?

As I said, NAP3 marks a step change in the Government’s work on climate adaptation, moving from planning to decisive action and delivery over the next five years. A key element of NAP3 is a much greater focus on monitoring, evaluation and learning than we have ever had before. Government departments will monitor the success of their actions throughout the programme, which will allow us to continually increase ambition in areas where risk reduction is insufficient.

My Lords, there were 44,000 wildfires last year, an increase of 72% on the previous year. In the words of the Fire Brigades Union, the UK is “woefully unprepared” for the impact of climate change on wildfires. Does the Minister support the Fire Brigades Union’s call for a national wildfire strategy? What investments are being made in people, better equipment and training to fight against the increased risks of wildfires?

I thank the noble Earl for his question; it is extremely relevant in the current climate crisis. Wildfire represents a serious threat to large parts of the UK—not just England but the whole of the UK—and the Government are extremely supportive of any measures to address the issue. I will come back to him in writing on his specific question.

Does my noble friend the Minister accept that, if heather is allowed to grow out and become woody and large, we will have more wildfires destroying peat and so forth? The answer is to regularly burn heather. What plans does my noble friend have for this?

Heather burning is quite a niche area, but I know a little about it. I am conscious that there is a balance between mitigation and adaptation, and heather burning fits neatly into that space. The science is developing in this area, and at the moment it is a little ambiguous and unclear on precisely what we should do. We should allow ourselves a little more time and conduct a little more science, and use that evidence to lead us down the appropriate route.

My Lords, the meeting of the All-Party Group for Africa last night was addressed by the Africa Minister, the right honourable Andrew Mitchell MP. He described the almost catastrophic drought that is likely to affect the people of the Horn of Africa, where there are currently 20 million people facing food insecurity. This is the worst drought in 40 years. Can the Minister tell the House how we are responding to that crisis? There are shrivelled crops, starving livestock, chronic hunger and widespread water insecurity, and 8 million animals, including livestock, died over the course of the last year. If he cannot give the answer now, can he agree to place a letter in the Library of your Lordships’ House setting out the Government’s response?

This is a heartbreaking story and situation that is causing a lot of pain and suffering. The Government’s international leadership on climate change has been demonstrated over the last few years in a consistent way. We continue to provide that leadership. I do not have the specific answers to the noble Lord’s question here and now, but I will endeavour to write to him very shortly to lay out the Government’s position.

My Lords, can the Minister explain how the Government will square the circle of announcing their stated ambition on tackling climate change, while at the same time awarding new licences for oil and gas extraction and approving a new coal mine?

The noble Baroness raises an interesting question. This demonstrates very clearly the transition that we are going through, from fossil fuels to renewable energy. She will know that the Government have a clear policy of moving to renewable energy. It is a transition, during which we will still need oil and—I hope to a much lesser extent—coal to get us from A to Z. I appreciate that it is a complex area, but that is the Government’s position.

My Lords, who is the Minister responsible for the Met Office? I am sorry to say that it used to be me.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that, with the changes in weather patterns—intense heat followed by very short, sharp but intense showers—surface water has been identified as an increasing problem since 2007? Will he address the issue of highways authorities not having responsibility for surface water run off? This is one of the greatest causes of pollution in our rivers and it needs to be addressed where it joins with combined sewers and enters people’s homes and our rivers.

It would probably be best if I wrote to my noble friend about this. She has raised a range of issues which I do not have time to go into today. I will write to her in due course.

My Lords, rising temperatures obviously go hand in hand with rising sea levels and coastal erosion. The latter is having a particularly serious impact on parts of the Norfolk coast. Can the Minister confirm to the House that a previous policy of managed decline is no longer in place and that we will do all we can to help the communities affected by the impact of such events?

My noble friend will be aware that the Government have committed north of £5 billion for flooding and coastal erosion. We are now half way through that programme. I will write to my noble friend specifically about the Norfolk coast.

My Lords, does that Minister agree that, with the need to cut emissions and the growth in the amount of power that our nation requires, there is a real need to speed up the provision of nuclear power to ensure that we have green energy?

My Lords, as the Minister will know, net zero is impossible without decarbonising heating. The clean heat market mechanism is a crucial part of that. Does he recognise its importance? Will he refute media speculation that the Government are considering a U-turn on it? Will he make representations to boiler manufacturers that are unfairly passing these costs on to consumers?

Again, I will write to the right reverend Prelate in due course. I am doing rather a lot of writing today, am I not? This is a broad subject which I am slowly getting my head around.

My Lords, further to the question from the right reverend Prelate, is it not important that everyone realises that passing on the cost to consumers is not unfair—this is what is going to happen? In pursuing our policy, we have to be aware of this cost and phase it in over time. It is completely irresponsible to move ahead of people’s ability to pay.

I entirely agree with my noble friend. The communication on this transition has not been entirely well presented. A transition to a green energy future is going to cost a significant amount of money. I concur with my noble friend’s view on this.

Premature Deaths: Heart and Circulatory Conditions


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the increasing numbers of premature deaths from heart and circulatory conditions since 2020.

The Government are committed to reducing premature deaths from cardiovascular disease. The NHS long-term plan aims to prevent 150,000 heart attacks, strokes and dementia cases by 2029, as well as preventing up to 23,000 premature deaths and 50,000 acute admissions over 10 years. The major conditions strategy will look at how best to tackle the key drivers of ill health and increase the healthy years of life for people with major conditions such as cardiovascular disease.

My Lords, the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities reports a persistently high number of excess deaths involving cardiovascular disease since the beginning of the pandemic, avoidably cutting short more than 100,000 lives in England alone. What are the urgent plans for treating the thousands who are waiting for healthcare? How will the Government extend the roles and joined-up working of a range of healthcare professionals beyond GPs to support the millions who are living with an undiagnosed risk of high blood pressure, raised cholesterol, diabetes and obesity?

I thank the noble Baroness and draw attention to my register of interests: I am a shareholder in a small health company that does high-end heart tests for the private sector.

It is fitting that February is Heart Month. The concern that the noble Baroness raises is exactly the one that noble Lords will have heard me speak about. This is precisely the concern that Chris Whitty, our Chief Medical Officer, was worried about during Covid, with missed appointments because people stopped going to see their doctor meaning that we missed things such as high blood pressure and high cholesterol. To tackle the problem urgently, as the noble Baroness suggests, we have put 7,500 blood pressure checkers in pharmacies. They have done 2 million checks to date. We have sent 270,000 blood pressure monitors to houses and have instigated mid-life NHS health checks to look specifically at early heart indicators so that we can try to tackle the problem that the pandemic caused.

My Lords, we have had lots of plans and initiatives for reducing deaths from heart disease. Despite that, variation in both preventive care and outcomes have persisted for years now. They are exaggerated by deprivation and ethnicity.

Let me give two examples. First, 40% of people with high blood pressure have failed to be diagnosed— I know that the Government have an initiative for pharmacies checking blood pressure—and, even when they are diagnosed, 10% of them do not get the appropriate medication. Secondly, there are examples of people suffering from atrial fibrillation not getting the appropriate anti-coagulation treatment; we then find that 60% of the strokes that occur in these patients are because they have not been properly medicated.

It is these variations in care and prevention that we need to tackle. It is disappointing to see that some of the ICB plans do not take on the need to reduce this variation, particularly in deprived areas.

I agree with the noble Lord. We violently agree that it is all about early detection. That is why we have not just put it in pharmacies but have had mobile units going to leisure centres and high streets: so that we can catch people early, whatever their background or ethnicity, because that is the key starting point.

Digital is the way of the future in this. We are introducing digital health checks from the spring. Again, these will open it up to a wider bunch of people. Early detection is key.

My Lords, the relationship between cardiovascular disease and poverty is clear and well documented. What specific steps are the Government taking to encourage take-up of the new screening programmes, which the Minister talked about, in poorer communities where people are at higher risk? Will the Minister commit to publishing data so that we can understand whether the screening programmes are reaching everyone or just people in wealthier communities?

First, I am happy to commit on the data front, because data and giving results always shine a light and will always help in these situations. On outreach to all these communities, the noble Lord might be aware that, on top of the pharmacies and leisure centres, we have been incentivising GPs. As an example, being in the right age group I have numerous texts and messages from my GP about getting those check-ups done. It is those sorts of measures that we are trying to use.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that many of us strongly support his efforts to deter youngsters from starting to smoke because of the adverse effect it has on the circulatory system?

Yes. I thank my noble friend. Prevention is absolutely key, as is tackling things such as smoking—the smoke-free legislation will do this for a new generation—obesity, and high levels of sugar and fat in foods. These are all key parts of our armoury.

My Lords, I declare that I was a member of the Times Health Commission, which today published a report in which we highlight that a large proportion of disease is lived with silently, long before it presents. Therefore, prevention for cardio- vascular problems needs to start right from school age; simply screening people later in life is already too late. When people have an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest—I think there are about 30,000 a year—they have only a one in 10 chance of surviving. Will the Government undertake to work much earlier with schools and universities and young people to help them identify whether they are at particular risk through smoking, inappropriate alcohol use, living with obesity, inappropriate diets and so on, which will stack up problems into the future?

Yes. Those are all key measures that we need to take and, I like to think, are making progress on. I thank the noble Baroness for her work and all the noble Lords who have been working on the Times Health Commission, which is a valuable contribution to this debate. I mentioned digital health checks. I have seen technology where holding your phone up in front of you can test your blood pressure and your heart rate. We need to verify that, but I think that is definitely the way of the future as well.

Can the Minister say why the Government are refusing to review the regulations governing children’s meals? We know that the sugar content in them is too high and that our children are eating too much sugar. This needs to change, yet the Government refuse to look at the regulations and enforce them properly.

I am not quite sure that I agree with the word “refuse”, but I agree with the noble Lord that healthy food in all environments is a good thing. I know that the delay happened because it was originally planned for 2020 or 2021, I think, and then the pandemic got in the way. I freely accept that the review now needs to take place. We are not refusing to do it, because it is an important part of the armoury.

My Lords, many noble Lords have mentioned the importance of early years interventions, not smoking, diet and so on. Does the Minister agree about the importance of exercise and of cultivating the habit of exercise, not just in early years but ongoing throughout later years?

Absolutely. These are all key parts of a good, healthy lifestyle for mind and body—for mental health as well. Social prescribing is important for all this as well.

My Lords, following the appointment last year of Professor John Deanfield as the champion for personalised care, can my noble friend the Minister please update the House on the progress of his report on radical approaches to prevent life-threatening cardio- vascular disease?

I will need to come back in writing to my noble friend on this. I take this opportunity to thank him for his work on the Times Health Commission and for generally pushing forward the whole prevention agenda.

My Lords, following on from the Times Health Commission today, the Food Foundation has also produced a report on childhood obesity. The single biggest factor for preventing childhood obesity and thus adult obesity is breastfeeding. It reduces it by a figure of 25%, as the WHO has found from a worldwide study. To put that into context, all the reformulation of soft drinks has achieved only an 8.3% reduction in obesity in 11 year-olds. This is massive, yet as a country we have the lowest breastfeeding rate because we give the lowest amount of support to women when they have given birth. Not only do we get not that much time off work but there is very little support. My daughter has recently had twins, and the comparison between now and when I had her 40 years ago is really shocking.

I agree with the noble Baroness. I am sure we all agree that breastfeeding is a really healthy start to life. I think the family hubs are trying to address these sorts of matters. Clearly, this is a point for education as well.

Local Authority Finances


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the state of the finances of local authorities.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name and declare my interest, as set out in the register, as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

We have listened carefully to local authorities about the pressure that they are facing. That is why we have announced that the final local government finance settlement for 2024-25 will now make available £64.7 billion, an increase of 7.5% in cash terms on last year and above inflation. The department continually monitors the local government sector through data and direct engagement with individual councils. This includes considering the impact of inflation and wider economic circumstances.

My Lords, I congratulate the Government on that 7.5% increase for the local financial settlement for the coming year. However, council leaders also say that what makes planning very difficult is that they do not get much warning of these final settlements and increasingly spend more and more of their budgets on the statutory obligations. They are spending a much-reduced amount on the preventive measures, despite the evidence of the social and financial benefits of prevention. Can His Majesty’s Government commit to producing a medium-term financial strategy to help local authorities to plan the effectiveness and impact of their spending much more effectively?

My Lords, in recent years we have tried to give more clarity around elements of the settlement on a multi-year basis. We will continue to do this for the next spending review and beyond.

My Lords, one of the big problems that local authorities have is dealing with more and more homeless people. Section 21 on no-fault evictions is still on the statute book and causing more problems for the local authorities that have to deal with a mass increase in homelessness.

I reassure the noble Lord that the Government are committed to abolishing Section 21 evictions. That is what the Renters (Reform) Bill, currently being considered by the House of Commons, will do. Additionally, we have put wider support in place to tackle housing pressures, through building more affordable homes and, for example, increasing the level of the local housing allowance.

My Lords, does the Minister regret that the parlous state of local government finances is having a terrible effect on the provision of services by charities and not-for-profit organisations? We are hearing of closures of vital services such as Citizens Advice and Age UK, but there are also the very small charities which have great preventive work and enable a lot of pressure to be taken off the National Health Service and other social services.

My Lords, we recognise the pressures that local government is facing. That is why we have announced such a substantive increase into the funding for councils this year. We recognise that the voluntary sector is often an important delivery partner for local authorities in the work that they do. They will benefit from the settlement that we have announced. My department also works carefully with, for example, the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, which leads on the voluntary sector, to ensure that we understand the impact on the voluntary sector and the interplay with local government.

My Lords, local authorities are no longer run by Derek Hatton, Ken Livingstone and Ted Knight, the bogeymen of 40 years ago, but the legislation which they provoked is still with us—rate capping. As a result, many well-run upper-tier local authorities struggle to provide good-quality adult and children’s services despite the increase and are looking at Section 114 notices. Against a background of devolution and promotion of local accountability, has the time not come to review the rate-capping policy?

My Lords, we are committed to broader reform of local government finance, but we have said, in recognition of the disruption and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, that this will be something for the next Parliament. We have also set out ambitious proposals when it comes to devolution of greater powers and greater financial decision-making to local government. That starts with the trail-blazer authorities in Greater Manchester and the West Midlands but will be on offer more widely across the country.

My Lords, whenever there are questions about local government funding in your Lordships’ House, we consistently hear Ministers tell us how much more funding has been granted, but I cannot help wondering if someone in DLUHC needs a new battery for their calculator. The data from the House of Commons Library reveals that there will be a £5.8 billion shortfall in the coming financial year, when prices are adjusted for inflation. Every council bar one—the Greater London Authority —is expected to experience a real-terms cut in funding, with 218 authorities, which is more than two-thirds, experiencing a reduction of more than 30%. We heard the Minister’s figures again today, but what would she say to the leader of Plymouth City Council, whose funding has reduced from £110 million in 2010 to £12 million in 2024?

My Lords, I do not recognise the figures that the noble Baroness has put forward. The settlement, which we announced in its final form, represents a real-terms increase for councils compared to last year. There is also a funding floor in place to ensure that, before decisions on council tax are taken into account, councils across the board have certainty. I would be interested to know what additional finance the party on the Benches opposite is planning to put into local government.

My Lords, I remind the House that I am a vice-president of the Local Government Association. The Minister said a moment ago that the Government have listened carefully to local government, so she will know that local government thinks it needs £4 billion to restore its finances, yet there was an allocation of only £600 million to meet the crisis in funding local public services. Could she explain why that sum was so low?

My Lords, I disagree that the amount was low. It was an additional amount on top of the provisional settlement, which sees the core spending power for local government rising from £60.2 billion this year to £64.7 billion next year—both a real-terms increase and a 7.5% cash increase. That is substantial. When we look at local government funding, we engage across the sector and look at wider economic pressures. We take it all into account when reaching a settlement.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that cuts in local government funding started in 2010 after the banking crisis and have accumulated, in real terms, year on year? That being so, many non-statutory services have been withdrawn, particularly in family support, and statutory services have been reduced to crisis intervention in many authorities. Is there any real hope that the Government will recognise that there is a severe problem in local government finance?

My Lords, of course I acknowledge that, in 2010, difficult decisions had to be made about public finances both centrally and in local government. However, in recent years, we have seen real-terms increases in the finances going towards local authorities. I also recognise the pressure that they face on issues such as adult and children’s social care and special educational needs provision. We have seen real increases in demand. Alongside additional funding, we need to look carefully at the right reforms to put in place to help manage that demand, without just putting in more and more funding.

Is there any appetite within the Government to look at the existing structures of local government? It seems increasingly difficult to justify having parish councils, town councils, district councils, county councils and unitary authorities. Is it not time to review the value for money we get from these different tiers and possibly to rationalise them?

My Lords, the levelling-up White Paper set out our ambition for every part of the country that wanted a devolution deal in place to have one. As I referred to earlier, we are seeing trail-blazers of greater devolution in mayoral combined authorities, where we can put power back into the hands of local communities.

My Lords, I recently read an article in the Financial Times on the state of our local authorities. It states that, due to all the budget cuts over the last 14 years, to make ends meet they are resorting to

“Asset stripping the public realm”.

The symbols of our civic identities are being sold off, which is diminishing our towns and cities and undermining our civil cohesion. Does the Minister agree with that assessment?

No, I do not agree with that assessment at all. We have put in additional funding to local government—not just this year, but in many recent years. In addition, we have put in significant funding, for example through the levelling up funds, to invest in local community assets that will build pride of place and develop local economies.

Finance Bill

First Reading

The Bill was brought from the Commons, endorsed as a money Bill, and read a first time.

Pedicabs (London) Bill [HL]

Third Reading


Moved by

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the consideration of the Bill. Your Lordships’ invaluable insights, careful consideration and scrutiny have helped guide government amendments and resulted in a Bill that is not only in excellent shape but is one which I am confident we are sending to the other place with a consensus from your Lordships’ House.

As I mentioned at Second Reading, the Government have been committed to bringing forward this legislation when parliamentary time allowed. I am pleased to have had the privilege of taking this small but very important Bill through the House, and that your Lordships have been united in supporting the principle behind the Bill—namely, addressing the legal anomaly concerning London’s pedicabs.

Before I move on to my thanks, I will first draw noble Lords’ attention to an update following Report last week. My department published guidance on 1 February relating to the safe use of batteries in e-cycles and e-scooters. This matter has been raised consistently throughout the Bill’s passage through this House.

The guidance will raise awareness for owners on how to safely purchase an e-cycle or e-scooter and ensure that these meet manufacturing requirements and are bought only from reputable sellers. Other matters covered by the guidance included safe storage and charging, the warning signs for fire risk and how to address them, and how to dispose of batteries responsibly. I hope your Lordships consider this a helpful development and, as I mentioned in my comments on Report, the Office for Product Safety & Standards, and Defra, are in the process of reviewing the position with regard to batteries.

I now commence my thanks by recognising the critical role of my honourable friend Nickie Aiken, the Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, in raising awareness of the issue of pedicab regulation in London. She has been a tireless campaigner and shown commitment and determination in ensuring the legislation be brought before Parliament.

I am also most grateful for the constructive way the Opposition Front Benches have engaged with the Bill. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Tunnicliffe and Lord Liddle, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for their thoughtful contributions both on the Floor of the House and outside. I thank all the other noble Lords who have contributed with such clarity; playing their part in ensuring that the Bill we send to the other place is in great shape. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston, who has been a prominent supporter of my honourable friend Nickie Aiken’s campaign.

I hope noble Lords will join me in thanking all the policy officials and lawyers in both the Department for Transport and across government, whose efforts have contributed to making the Bill happen. I thank in particular the Bill team, Kenny Way, Chris and Donelle, and Adam Lawless in my private office. I also extend my gratitude to—I apologise for not having their surnames—Diggory and Douglas, the drafters in the Office for Parliamentary Counsel, who have prepared the Bill and its amendments during its passage.

Finally, I thank Transport for London for its engagement and support in bringing the Bill forward. The Bill will ensure that TfL has the tools it needs to effectively regulate pedicabs for the first time, and the Government look forward to a regulatory regime being implemented. As we send the Bill to the other place, I am confident that it will need very little, if any, amending. The Bill will make London’s roads safer and address the anti-social nuisance caused by rogue pedicabs.

My Lords, I, too, thank the officials who have worked on this Bill and the Minister’s private office for the work they have put in. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Davies, for taking due account of the points that we made in the passage of the Bill. On the main question of how this regulation is going to be conducted, we have reached an acceptable consensus, and I thank him very much for that. I also welcome his statement today about the battery issue, which I think is a real public health and safety hazard. I am glad to see the Government recognising that and doing something about it.

This Bill, while not the most important piece of legislation we have ever seen—indeed, I think I may have remarked before that it basically affects two wards of a single London borough—is nonetheless tackling something that has been a considerable nuisance by ensuring that the pedicab sector is properly regulated and does not damage London’s reputation as an attractive tourist centre, which I think is very important. So we support the Third Reading of this Bill and look forward to its quick passage in the other place.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, stated, this Bill is limited in its scope. Indeed, it probably receives virtually no recognition beyond a couple of miles from this place—but it has been wanted for decades because of an increasing problem. Now this Bill is being passed in this House and sent down the Corridor, perhaps we can look forward to pedicabs becoming an asset to London’s tourism.

I add my thanks to the Minister and his team. They have been exceptionally generous with their time and exceptionally constructive in their approach. As a result, this is a much better Bill than when it came to this House. The devolution of powers over pedicabs to Transport for London is an issue of basic common sense. We have achieved that, and I thank the Minister for that and, finally, for his statement about batteries today. I had written a piece in preparation saying they are an unresolved issue and urging the Minister to keep working on it, but I can now thank the Minister very much indeed for his statement. It is not all that campaigners want—far from it—but it is a step forward. We are making progress, and I thank him for that.

My Lords, I add my thanks to those of other noble Lords. Getting this Bill through your Lordships’ House has been very interesting process. There must have been a record number of people who went to see the clerks in the Public Bill Office and said they would like to add something about scooters and batteries, how you should ride scooters and that you should not do it on the pavement. We were all told—quite rightly—go away because it was outside scope. Now, at least the Minister has said that he and his department are looking at that and will also look at batteries, which are a very important part of it. One day, perhaps with this Government or probably the next Government, we might see something about riding bikes, electric or otherwise, and scooters where they are supposed to be, which is on the road, not on the pavement.

Bill passed and sent to the Commons.

Automated Vehicles Bill [HL]


Relevant document: 9th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Scottish and Welsh legislative consent sought.

Clause 1: Basic concepts

Amendment 1

Moved by

1: Clause 1, page 2, line 5, leave out subsection (7) and insert—

“(7) For the purposes of this Part, a vehicle that travels autonomously does so “safely and legally” if a human driver, who drove in the same manner while undertaking a practical test of driving skills and behaviour in accordance with the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999, would pass that test with no faults recorded by the examiner.(7A) The Secretary of State may by statutory instrument replace the definition of “safely and legally” in subsection (7) with a quantified measure of the risk per mile travelled of relevant incidents as defined in section 39, taking account of data gathered through the performance of the duties mentioned in sections 38 (general monitoring duty) and 39 (duty with respect to incidents with potential regulatory consequences).”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment replaces the definition of “safely and legally” for the purpose of the self-driving test with a requirement that an autonomous vehicle should drive to a standard such that a human would pass the test with no faults recorded. It also allows for this definition to be replaced once suitable data becomes available as a result of sections 38 and 39.

My Lords, these amendments are all about road safety. Of course, it is a very important subject, which we discussed at length at Committee. Many of the comments made by noble Lords will have been reflected in what I am about to say and in what the Minister said. The Minister has some amendments and I have a couple of amendments in this grouping.

We are all struggling to come up with a definition of “road safety”—which will probably stand for many years—that will enable us to avoid the fear that automatic vehicles will by definition be less safe because they will run into more people. It is a very difficult and challenging subject. My view, and I am very grateful to Cycling UK and other groups for helping with this work, is that we need a step change in road safety. The risks of death or injury on our roads are significantly higher than for life in general, or indeed for other types of transport networks, such as rail. Particularly, pedestrians, people who cycle and other non-motorised road users bear a disproportionate brunt of this risk. I think that this will be a worry all the way through.

I was very interested to hear from Cycling UK and the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety that they tried to follow up the work the Law Commission did in this regard—and did it very well. They came up with two options for trying to improve the definition. The first defined the standard required in terms of what would be required for a human driver to pass a driving test with no faults recorded by the examiner. The second was to quantify the risk of a collision or traffic infraction, possibly per something like 1 billion kilometres travelled.

I came to the conclusion that the first one was probably better, which is what is in my Amendment 1. This says basically that the vehicle should be driven—remotely, but driven—

“in the same manner while undertaking a practical test of driving skills and behaviour in accordance with the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) Regulations 1999, would pass that test with no faults”.

I think that is quite a good one. It would allow the Secretary of State to change it by statutory instrument if he or she thought that was a good idea.

The Minister will speak to his amendment, which I think is an improvement. It is a question of having a debate on these things. Although I do not think we will finish it today, I hope we can make some progress on the right way forward to make sure that road safety is not reduced; in other words, it needs to be improved.

There are two other amendments that go with this. First, Amendment 2 in my name relates to the types of locations or circumstances where these criteria are met. It is very different being on a motorway from being on a road in a congested town or in the countryside, and it is important that the principles that are applied should have the option of being different for each one.

Secondly, Amendment 4 says simply that we should aim for something a lot better than “better”. Whether

“significantly better for all road users”

is the right wording is something that we can debate. I think “significantly” is important, and it is really important that it applies to all road users, which includes pedestrians, cyclists, children, older people, disabled people, and so on.

With that short introduction to the road safety issue in the Bill, I beg to move.

My Lords, I repeat the declarations of interest that I have made in the past.

I applaud the principles behind the suggestions made by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. However, there is a difficulty in coming up with new regulations that are different from elsewhere in the world, and I am afraid that “significantly” falls into that trap. It would make it a lot harder for international companies to work out exactly what was meant by these words. There is no established case law on these matters.

We all know that there are problems with existing human drivers, and we should expect that all autonomous vehicles turn out to be dramatically better than human beings. We should not look for circumstances where humans monitor computers but rather the other way around; computers will be better than humans at this. A lot of people suggest that car insurance will actually reduce when the number of autonomous vehicles increases. So I am afraid that I can only applaud the amendment produced by my noble friend the Minister and reject those proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley.

I hope the House will forgive me, but these various amendments on safety prompt me to ask the Minister about something that has not featured much in our discussions: the issue of hacking into self-driving vehicles—SDVs. It was touched on peripherally during the debate on data protection in Committee but not really highlighted as a major safety concern, which is why I thought I would bring it up now.

I sat on the House’s Science and Technology Committee when it produced its report on automated vehicles some five or six years ago—I am afraid the doldrums of Covid blur my account of time. I remember that during that committee’s investigation, we spent some time discussing in detail the question of hacking into these vehicles, and I felt it only right that it should feature in our discussions on safety today.

We all know how easy it is for someone, or some group of someones, to hack into our computers from a distance, and it could be a criminals or, worse, an enemy state. Why should it not be the same with an SDV? I raised this subject with Waymo and others, but I have to say that I was not convinced by its assurances that it could not happen. We all know that both at Microsoft and here in Parliament it takes a team of experts, sometimes working around the clock, to keep all our devices free from hackers, and an SDV will just be another device.

I was going to bring this matter up when the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, who is not in his place, had an excellent amendment on the obvious necessity for our emergency services to be able to talk to or even control SDVs in certain circumstances. Sadly, however, I could not be here on the 10 January. I was going to say that if it is too easy for a policeman, an ambulance driver or a fireman to get sufficient access to control an SDV, I feel sure that it will not be impossible for someone with malicious intent to get hold of whatever device or code that makes this possible. Could it be that stealing a car will become easier, and that a suicide bomber will now no longer need to commit suicide but just hack into someone else’s car or an SDV for hire and drive it into a crowd or the gates of Parliament, for example? Or maybe you could commit murder by getting control of a car and driving it into your intended victim. It is also entirely possible that no one would know who had done it, because it had been done from a considerable distance—maybe from the other side of the world.

I do not know whether any of your Lordships have seen a series called “Vigil”, one of these television thriller fictions, in which an armed remote-control drone was captured remotely and used to create death, destruction and mayhem on British soil. However, no one knew who was controlling it, which was the essence of the whodunnit plot. Incidentally, it turned out that it was being controlled all the way from the Middle East. I am afraid my thoughts leapt—rather melodramatically, I admit—from that fiction to the reality of what we are trying to achieve here with the Bill.

I am sure there are technical solutions to all these issues, and the whiz-kids on either side of the good-versus-evil divide will continuously compete with one other to win the war of control. It occurred to me, for instance, that perhaps all policemen should be issued with a zapper that brings to a dead halt any SDV that appears to be behaving dangerously. That may be too drastic a solution but, believe me, we will need some solution. My point is that we are entering a brave new world, and we need to properly think through all the problems we are going to encounter. We particularly need to ensure that SDVs become an accepted and safe reality.

I did not want our debate on the safety of these vehicles or the future to pass without a serious commitment from government to being always on the alert to controlling or at least minimising this safety problem. Therefore, by way of a question, I would like reassurance from the Minister that before companies can be licensed to produce SDVs, there will be checks, monitoring and even the holding of emergency real-life exercises with the police to test against what they would do if a dangerous hacker got control of a vehicle.

Will the Government commit to ongoing vigilance over the licensing process, the manufacturers, the operators, the car hire companies, the taxi services and the so-called Uber 2s, and so on, to minimise the dangers from malicious hackers? I realise, of course, that all this vigilance will not eradicate the danger of hacking into such self-driving devices. It is clear that we are unlikely to ever see the end of people trying to get into our other devices, our banking services and the like, but I hope that ongoing vigilance will at least minimise this particular safety risk.

My Lords, following on from the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, I remind the House that I raised national security and people hacking into the system at Second Reading. Group 5 today deals with data protection issues; careful control of data is one way in which to make it more difficult for outside forces to hack into it. However, if you present a complete picture of every road and road sign in Britain to people who are able to drive around the UK, then you are opening a very big picture to the world. There will be people who want to take advantage of that in a way which could be hugely damaging.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his amendments. We had a vigorous debate in Committee about issues of safety. I do not know whether the definition produced in government Amendment 3 is absolutely the last word on the topic, but the Government have moved a long way. I thank the Minister for that amendment, which is an advance and improvement on the original. As the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, said, we need to take into account issues associated with international definitions. Government Amendment 7 is also important as a step forward, because it gives this House an important role at a key point when that statement of safety principles is issued.

The Minister will be pleased to know that I took his advice and went to visit Wayve in King’s Cross. Wayve is a local company which is developing a driverless car—an automated vehicle. I went for quite a long drive around the streets of King’s Cross and can report that I found it surprisingly relaxing. I did not expect to be relaxed but I was. I mention this because one key point was made to me during that drive, as we overtook a cyclist very carefully. The key point was that these cars will always be programmed to drive legally; that is a great deal better than you and me as, from time to time, we lapse from the highest standards. Some people out there drive in a way which does not follow the law—they wilfully drive too fast or inconsiderately, and so on.

Another point was made to me, because during that drive, first, we had a very indecisive elderly lady wondering whether she was going to cross at a zebra crossing and, secondly, we had that cyclist. Of course, those users are always going to be there, because even when we have totally driverless cars, which will be decades on, we are still going to have human nature intervening, so this is a very complex issue.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, for his contribution. I also thank the Minister for the steps forward that we have made in improving the definition and the role of this House in the statement of safety principles.

My Lords, I think this group has two subgroups. There is the subgroup of amendments in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Davies, and my noble friend Lord Berkeley’s subgroup. I am afraid to tell my noble friend that we will support the Davies subgroup and not the Berkeley subgroup.

There are many reasons for this, ending with a very pragmatic one. First, the proposals from the noble Lord, Lord Davies, are structurally sound as they separate the roles of Clause 1 and Clause 2. Clause 1, as it will stand after these amendments, in essence says, among other things, that there shall be a safety standard. The clause is headed “Basic concepts”. Clause 2 attempts to address what that safety standard shall be.

We believe that government Amendment 3 is right. It is a very sound definition of “safe enough”. It is built around the well-crafted concept of

“careful and competent human drivers”.

It is today’s standard at its best. It is today’s standard after, as is set out in the commissioners’ report, eliminating the distracted, the drowsy, the drunk, the drugged and the disqualified. It is a high standard but not an infinite standard. It recognises that there has to be a limitation, otherwise the whole pursuit of a standard that is not defined becomes impossible.

It passes what I consider to be the death test. One of these vehicles is going to kill somebody. It is inevitable; the sheer volume of events will mean that something will go wrong. It is at that moment that you have to be able to respond to public opinion, have a standard that is easy for people to understand and defend it. I know this because I have been in that position when running a railway. The 1974 Act that applies to railways demands a standard: that the risk is as low as reasonably practical. It is one of the most brilliant pieces of legislation ever passed. Its impact on safety in this country has been enormous. Its impact on construction and railways, and its crossover impact on nuclear, have served this country well. I believe that this standard, which involves being as safe as a careful and competent driver, is the natural equivalent.

I also note that the law commissions produced three answers. Since they took three years or something to come to these three answers, it seems a pretty good idea to pick one of them. They were options A, B and C. Option C is, in my view, clearly rejected by these amendments. That option was to be

“overall, safer than the average human driver”.

The average human driver includes this wonderful list of distracted, drowsy, drunk, drugged and disqualified drivers. The world is a better place for eliminating them. Option B was

“as safe as a human driver who does not cause a fault accident”.

That is so ill defined that even the law commissions gave up on it. Option A is this one:

“as safe as a competent and careful human driver”.

It passes that test in a way that, when the experts set about turning this into regulations, I believe it will be feasible for them to achieve.

We also support government Amendment 7, which is a compromise. It ensures that Parliament—the importance of Parliament is very much brought out in the supporting documentation—has a positive involvement with the initial statement of safety principles. It also assures us that there will be a negative involvement with subsequent revisions. That is a balance, and we can support that.

I am afraid that government Amendments 3 and 7 have a rather unique advantage that we should not ignore: the name on them is the Minister’s, that of the noble Lord, Lord Davies. But, with the greatest respect to him, if you rub out “Lord Davies” and look under that name, you see “His Majesty’s Government”. Their majority in the other place means that these two amendments will become law—a piece of law that will guide this industry well.

I turn to an issue that is not so directly involved but needs to be there to tidy things up: the principles relating to equality and fairness. What does this mean in this environment? This too is set out in the law commissions’ report. In essence it means that an autonomous vehicle does not come at the expense of any particular group of road users. The policy scoping notes say:

“Government is likely to include a safety principle relating to equality and fairness”.

That is not there at the moment, but I am delighted to be advised by the Minister that this will be changed from “likely to include” to “will include”. This emphasis is particularly important for pedestrians, who must not be sacrificed to achieve the introduction of automated vehicles.

My Lords, I will speak in support of Amendments 1 and 4 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. We dealt with safety a lot in Committee, and it is paramount. This is the most important part of the Bill. I became an enthusiast about automated vehicles because I turned up to a briefing. Most people you talk to are ambivalent at best, and there is a sort of dystopian “Blade Runner” worry about faceless terminator drones.

Safety needs to be beyond reproach when bad things happen. As the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said, bad things will happen—deaths will happen. We need to be able to face people and say that we did the best we possibly could. The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, said this needs to be easy to understand and define; that is absolutely right, but it needs to be equivalent to, or better than, a driver who does the best in a driving test. That does not sound too high to me.

Amendment 4 mentions “significantly” improving road safety. The noble Lord, Lord Borwick, said that we should expect all autonomous vehicles to be better than human drivers, but what if they are not? We need to hold them to account. This would make the whole thing easier to sell to a sceptical public, as opposed to the government amendment. I am not a lawyer, but I do not see why trying to make things significantly better would deter players from joining the market. The industry will spend money on this only when it sees a momentum shift in public opinion, which is why safety is so important and why these amendments are so important.

My Lords, we begin once again with the question of safety. I am grateful to colleagues across the House for their constructive engagement on this issue. The Government’s position remains that the safety standard is best articulated in statutory guidance, with the benefit of consultation. This is the most appropriate way of assessing the public’s attitude to risk, which in turn is the only objective answer to the question of “How safe is safe enough?”. This rationale was set out by the law commissions and is not one from which we intend to deviate.

Nevertheless, I have reflected on our discussions in recent weeks and recognise the strength of feeling on this subject. This is a novel area, with an uncertain future. It is therefore reasonable that Parliament should expect to set the parameters within which the safety standard will be defined. To that end, I have tabled government Amendments 3 and 7. This will establish the “careful and competent driver” standard as the minimum level of road safety that the statement of safety principles should look to achieve—in effect, cementing our safety ambition into law. It will also guarantee a substantive debate in Parliament on the first iteration of those principles.

As I have said previously, the “careful and competent” standard is considerably higher than that of the average driver. This means the objective of a significant improvement in road safety is now baked in from the beginning. Further, I recognise the desire to clarify that this improvement in safety applies to all road users. I can therefore confirm that the statement of safety principles will include an explicit principle on equality and fairness. This could include, for example, a declaration that overall safety benefits should not come at the expense of any particular group of road users. Further detail could then specify that training datasets must be representative of different sectors of society. The exact framing will of course be shaped by consultation.

More broadly, I reiterate the point I made in Committee that references in the Bill to “road safety” do indeed already apply to all road users. This is also the case in existing road safety legislation, where offences such as dangerous driving are concerned with the safety of all road users; this includes, but is not limited to, pedestrians, cyclists, horse riders, motorcyclists and disabled people.

For these reasons, I believe the intent of Amendment 4 is now provided for. Indeed, our proposed Amendment 3 achieves this without the ambiguity created by relative terms such as “significantly better”.

Regarding Amendment 2, Clause 1(3) already establishes that safety is to be assessed in relation to location and circumstances. The safety considerations and appropriate assessment methodologies will vary depending on the location, circumstances, use case and road users in question. It is more appropriate that these details be defined in approval and authorisation requirements, rather than the statement of safety principles.

The first part of Amendment 1 would effectively apply a minimum safety standard equivalent to that of a novice human driver who has just passed their test. The practical limitations of human driving tests constrain the monitoring and assessment of each new driver’s performance to a short time window. These limitations do not apply to self-driving vehicles. We can assess performance in multitudes of situations, including rare ones, and across thousands of miles of driving. We therefore believe safety is best assessed by a combination of real-world, track and virtual testing.

More pertinently, the amendment looks to redefine the phrase “safely and legally” in purely statistical terms. Doing so would contradict the law commissions’ basic principle that these concepts are ultimately defined by public acceptance and public confidence. As I said at the outset, we do not believe it wise to deviate from this principle. I hope that, with the additional assurances of government Amendments 3 and 7, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, will agree with me on that point.

Before I conclude, I will briefly address the security point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington. Cyber and national security sit at the very heart of our plans to bring self-driving vehicles to UK roads. Vehicles with automatic systems will be subject to detailed technical cybersecurity assessment as part of the well-established type approval process. This will include assessment to ensure vehicles continue to be cyber resilient throughout their lifetime. Before a company can be authorised as a self-driving entity, it must meet requirements relating to good repute, which will include consideration for cybersecurity. We will, of course, be working with the police and the security services to enable this.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate. It has been a very interesting series of contributions on the subject of safety, which we will go on debating for a very long time. The Minister, as we know, has moved and made improvements. I will study carefully what he said in his response, because I detect some further studies that may come in future guidance, or something like that. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Clause 2: Statement of safety principles

Amendment 2 not moved.

Amendment 3

Moved by

3: Clause 2, page 2, line 16, after “that” insert “—

(a) authorised automated vehicles will achieve a level of safety equivalent to, or higher than, that of careful and competent human drivers, andMember’s explanatory statement

This amendment embodies the standard of a careful and competent driver in the statement of safety principles that will guide the operation of the automated vehicle authorisation scheme.

Amendment 3 agreed.

Amendment 4 not moved.

Amendment 5

Moved by

5: Clause 2, page 2, line 19, leave out “such representative organisations as the Secretary of State thinks fit” and insert “representatives of road user groups and other groups whose safety or other interests may be affected by the application of the principles”

Member's explanatory statement

This would require the Secretary of State, when preparing a statement of safety principles, to consult representatives of road user groups and other groups whose safety or other interests may be affected by the application of those principles.

My Lords, this is a group that somebody has decided to call “operations”, which is fine. I have two short amendments in this group. Amendment 5 relates to the consultation requirements. Your Lordships regularly debate the question of who should be consulted and on what basis. My worry here is that the Government are suggesting that the right definition of who should be consulted are those whom the Secretary of State thinks fit. It would be more appropriate to have wording, as I suggest in the amendment, to make sure that it includes not only road users but other groups whose safety

“may be affected by the application of the principles.”

There is a worry here, which also comes out in my Amendment 34 in this group, about the weighting of persuasion and the weighting of firepower, or whatever one likes to call it, between the average uninsured road user—who might be a pedestrian or a cyclist, or perhaps eventually a scooter rider—and the companies that have invested a large amount of money in setting up the systems that the vehicles are using. Whether the pedestrians or cyclists should or should not be insured is another matter for debate, but the fact remains that most of them are not insured at the moment. If something goes wrong, there will be a tendency for Ministers to say, “Well, we need to hear the opinion of the company”, and somehow that will be given more weight than the opinion of those who might be affected. I hope I am wrong there, but it happens in other walks of life that occasionally your Lordships debate. For me, it is right, through Amendment 5, to look at the groups whose safety or other interests might be affected by this.

I turn to Amendment 34, which is much the same. If there is an accident or incident—whatever we want to call it—between a pedestrian and an insured AV, who decides who is at fault, if there is any fault? The vehicle will have insurance and the insurance company will work hard to make sure that its client is given the right advice and that it supports them where necessary. The amendment suggests that, if there was nobody in the vehicle,

“it will be assumed for the purpose of this section that the authorised automated vehicle caused the accident unless proved otherwise”.

That is very radical, but we do not have a better solution. If we do not have something that recognises the lack of balance between a pedestrian or an uninsured cyclist and an AV being driven legally with the right insurance behind it, we will have trouble in the future. I am not sure that this is the solution—I look forward to noble Lords’ comments on it—but something must redress the balance between what we might call the little person on the street and the big companies investing a lot of money in this. They will want to make sure that they look after their clients, if we can call them that. I beg to move.

My Lords, we have a great deal of sympathy with the points that my noble friend Lord Berkeley made, particularly on his Amendment 34 dealing with insurance. That is a very complicated question; people have written to me about it, and I have difficulty understanding it, to be quite honest. The Government should give further thought to the question that Amendment 34 asks, for when the Bill goes to the Commons. We do not intend to press this in any way now, but it matters and deserves further consideration by Ministers.

Having said that, I turn to the amendments in my name. We will not press Amendment 9 to a vote, but it concerns another issue about which we hope the Government will have a good think before the Bill is presented to the Commons. We have been approached by people in the business of delivery robots that use pavements, and there is legal confusion. Because a pavement is legally defined as part of the road, this question is within the scope of the Bill; yet, clearly, the regulation of vehicles that primarily use the pavement must be different from those that use the roads. We think of the obvious case of mobility scooters, which are mainly intended to be used on pavements.

Amendment 9 does not direct anything. It gives the Government the power to make regulations about delivery robots which are designed to use pavements. This is not a trivial issue. There is a lot of potential in the delivery robot principle. It deals with the final mile from where the lorry drops off its load to how the parcel gets to the individual dwelling. Doing this with electric robots has the potential to make a big contribution to our net-zero commitments, rather than it being done by diesel vans as happens at the moment. This is an important question which we would like the Government to think about.

We attach a great deal of importance to Amendment 28. It proposes to establish a permanent statutory advisory council to examine the development of automated vehicles. We intend to test the opinion of the House on this because it is a matter of considerable importance.

Automated vehicles are a transport revolution in the making. No one is quite sure how they will evolve or what the problems are going to be. We are a bit in the dark, but we have to find a legislative framework for it—which this Bill does. We also have to find a mechanism for carrying the public with us as this revolution takes its course. During our debates on the Bill, we have made considerable progress on safety. This should be of paramount importance. We have a definition which we think is tight and can be implemented in time as a high-quality safety standard.

The advent of automated vehicles is not just a question of safety. It has implications for many aspects of daily life, such as the future of public transport, delivery robots—as we have just been saying—how we shop, and how we deliver care to the vulnerable and housebound. The Government recognise this and the need for officials and Ministers to consult extensively with the relevant groups. If the Government recognise that they need a process of continuous consultation, I find it difficult to understand why they object to this proposal for an advisory council.

Let me put the case for something to be formalised. First, we on this side of the House think it very important that employee representatives—trade unions—should have a formal role in the development of this sector in some way. It is going to affect the jobs of an awful lot of people—bus drivers, lorry drivers and goodness knows who else. We all have a choice in life. Do we just take these technologies and try to impose them, or do we try to work in partnership in order that they can be introduced in a way that is acceptable to the workforce? The latter is much the better course of action.

Indeed, again, I cannot see what problem the Government have with this because, when I raised this point in Committee, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Gower—said that the Government would

“bring in the views of the public, academia, trade unions and other representative bodies”.—[Official Report, 10/1/24; col. 81.]

So why can we not formalise that commitment in the way this amendment proposes?

There are big advantages in having a formalised advisory council. The risk with all these new technologies is that, in essence, their regulation becomes governed by the producer interest—that is, by the people who are putting money into their development. Of course, one wants innovation and enterprise. One wants producers to make their views clear as to what framework suits them. But, at the same time, there must be a proper mechanism for giving equal weight to the views of other road users, such as cyclists and pedestrians, as well as those of groups in wider society that have a stake in the wider economic changes that automated vehicles will bring.

I will mention my experience of working at the European Commission. The trade commissioner had every three months to appear before something called the Social Forum, which represented a wide group of interests concerned with trade—including, for instance, NGOs such as Oxfam and War on Want and other such people. It is important to have a formal structure where the Minister, the politician, sits and listens to a wide range of views and does not just read the briefs produced by the producer interests. In my view, that is the way you get good policy. For that reason, I hope that the Government will think about supporting our Amendment 28.

My Lords, the amendments in this group deal mainly with consultation. Given that the Bill is a framework in large part, with the detail still to be developed, ensuring that the right people are consulted is obviously a key issue.

The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, referred to various groups that might be part of this advisory council. It is clearly essential that other road users and those who will be affected by automated vehicles—cyclists, disabled people and so on, as well as the trade unions—are consulted. We would pick out the emergency services, too; it is absolutely essential that they are included in the group of people to be consulted.

There is an element of overlap with Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, which I have signed. It suggests that various powers be given to the Office of Rail and Road. Before I signed the amendment, I looked at the scope of the ORR’s powers; indeed, I spoke to ORR to see whether it felt it was an organisation that could take on this role. The issue is that, currently, the Bill is much too vague. It is far too unspecific about how the Government will consult and how they will develop and impose the regulations. Later in our debates, we will come on to Amendment 10 and I am sure that, at that point, the noble Lord will explain our thinking behind that.

In Amendment 6 the Minister has provided some detail, but it is not specific enough. Amendment 28 is much more precise. I want to mention Amendment 9, which I have signed, along with the noble Lord, Lord Liddle. I signed it because I remain concerned at the very narrow scope of this Bill. It is ironic that this Bill is looking ahead so far, trying to second-guess how things will develop, but it does not have the scope to allow us to deal with applications of automation that exist now and are a potential problem now. Indeed, those engaged in that sort of activity are keen for a legal framework within which they can operate safely.

I have mentioned in this Chamber before the ongoing activities of Starship, and when I visited Wayve I was shown a vehicle that is being used to trial automated deliveries in partnership with Asda. This is not something that we can look at in the future; we should be looking at now. I urge the Minister to talk to his colleagues in the other place and in the Department for Transport with a view to bringing forward the kind of precision we need on these issues.

My Lords, the only comment I will make is on Amendment 34 from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley. In the event of an accident, the conventional problem the police face is competing descriptions honestly held by two different people about what actually happened: “I did this; he did that”. The thing about an autonomous vehicle accident is that there will be at least half a dozen cameras recording every factor in the accident, as there have been in the various accidents that have taken place in San Francisco. There will be far more information in the event of an accident involving an autonomous vehicle. So to suggest that it is automatically assumed that the authorised automated vehicle caused the accident unless proved otherwise is moving the burden of proof completely on to the autonomous vehicle. I think this is a very bad idea, because the press will immediately assume—backed up by this amendment —that it is the fault of the autonomous vehicle when the facts will be available on the television cameras. So I really think that it is a thoroughly dangerous new suggestion to assume the guilt of an autonomous vehicle because it is autonomous.

My Lords, this group covers the general functioning and underlying mechanics of the regulatory framework. It includes government Amendments 11, 25 and 26, which correct minor and technical drafting issues. It also includes government Amendment 33, which applies the affirmative procedure to regulations setting the maximum penalties that can be levied against regulated bodies. Following careful reflection, we agree with the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee that it would be inappropriate to leave these regulations entirely to the negative procedure. I am grateful to the Committee for its considered recommendations and hope that this provides sufficient reassurance.

I will begin with the subject of consultation. I know that there have been calls for specific groups to be named in the Bill. Government Amendment 6 therefore creates an explicit obligation to consult the three groups with the greatest interest in the safe operation of the system: road users, road safety groups and businesses in the industry. However, this list is not exhaustive. It is the Government’s intention to ensure that anyone who feels that they are affected can feed into the development of the statement of safety principles. The consultation will be public and therefore open to all, including trade unions.

Amendment 5 looks to include

“other groups whose safety or other interests may be affected by the application of the principles”.

As drafted, this would add little to the existing requirement in Clause 2 to consult representative organisations. Amendment 28, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, instead proposes an overarching advisory council. The requirements he proposes are very broad, explicitly mandating representation from, at the very least, 11 different groups and sub-groups. The noble Lord proposes that the council advise and review evidence from government, as well as reporting regularly to Parliament on

“any related matters relevant to … self-driving vehicles and associated public policy”.

This is an extremely wide remit which could not be carried out by a group of this size without extensive co-ordination, expert input and supporting staff, which would create unnecessary bureaucracy and carry additional administrative costs. I completely understand the noble Lord’s interest in ensuring appropriate independent scrutiny of the regulatory framework. However, in the Government’s view, this is a role for Parliament and the statutory inspectors, both of which are free to consult any group they deem necessary in carrying out their respective functions.

Turning to Amendment 34, the Bill does not look to change the insurance provisions set out in the Automated and Electric Vehicles Act. The Law Commission considered the Act and concluded that it would be premature to change its application now. It determined that change need be considered only if real-world use-cases encounter challenges in settling claims. However, I recognise the points noble Lords have made and assure them that we are working closely with the insurance industry to anticipate potential issues of this kind. My colleague, Mr Browne, is due to meet with the Association of British Insurers imminently as part of this engagement.

The amendment would apply a presumption of liability to authorised automated vehicles regardless of whether the self-driving feature was active at the time of the incident. This would be disproportionate and potentially unfair. Consider, for example, the implications for a human driver who uses their vehicle without ever activating its self-driving features. Further, such a change could lead to risk-taking behaviour. We would not wish to encourage the perception that the safety of self-driving vehicles somehow reduces obligations on other road users.

Moving, finally, to Amendment 9, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Liddle, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, the Long Title of the Bill states that it is to regulate the use of self-driving road vehicles on roads and in other public places. To be clear, this means that driveways and other non-road locations to which the public have access are already within the scope of the Bill. Pavements are also covered, as they are included in the definition of “roads”. Clause 4(4) also creates the flexibility to regulate use-cases in which a road vehicle uses both public roads and private land. Therefore, as drafted, the amendment would have little to no effect.

However, I recognise the broader point being made about pavement use and accessibility. Ensuring that pedestrians and other vulnerable road users have safe and accessible spaces, including the pavement, is essential to road safety. That is why there are existing restrictions on the use of road vehicles in these spaces. This question goes well beyond the safety of self-driving technologies. It was therefore not considered by the Law Commission, and any potential future changes would need to be subject to careful consultation.

I therefore ask the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, to withdraw Amendment 5.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken on this group. I was particularly interested in the comments on my Amendment 34, which I thought would bring some interesting views. I said that I did not think it was a solution, but I am pleased that the Minister is at least looking at this issue with the insurance industry, because there has to be a solution that everybody accepts.

I am particularly grateful to my noble friend, who may or may not divide the House on his amendment on not a supervisory board but a consultation board. I think it is a rather good idea. It is separate from my Amendments 9A and 9B, which I will speak to in a later group, but I certainly support my noble friend’s amendment. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 5.

Amendment 5 withdrawn.

Amendments 6 and 7

Moved by

6: Clause 2, page 2, line 20, at end insert—

“(3A) Those organisations must include organisations appearing to the Secretary of State to represent—(a) the interests of businesses involved, or likely to be involved, in the manufacture or operation of mechanically propelled road vehicles designed to travel autonomously,(b) the interests of road users, and(c) the cause of road safety.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment provides details of the types of organisation that will have to be consulted on the statement of safety principles.

7: Clause 2, page 2, line 22, leave out subsections (5) to (8) and insert—

“(5) The statement takes effect if both Houses of Parliament resolve that it should.(6) The Secretary of State may revise or replace the statement that has effect under this section; and subsections (2) to (4) apply to a revision or replacement.(7) A revision or replacement takes effect at the end of the period of 40 days beginning with the day on which it is laid, unless either House resolves before then that it should not.(8) For the purposes of subsection (7)—(a) where a revision or replacement is laid before each House on different days, the later day is to be taken to be the day on which it was laid before both Houses, and(b) in counting any period of 40 days, no account is to be taken of any time during which Parliament is dissolved or prorogued or during which both Houses are adjourned for more than four days.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment imposes a positive requirement for both Houses to approve the proposed statement of safety principles, instead of the current power to prevent it from taking effect (which will however still apply to any subsequent revision or replacement).

Amendments 6 and 7 agreed.

Amendment 8

Moved by

8: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—

“Statement of accessibility principles(1) The Secretary of State must prepare a statement of the principles that they propose to apply in assessing, for the purposes of this Part, whether an automated vehicle meets the required level of accessibility. (2) The principles must make provision for the accessibility of—(a) physical features and structures of the automated vehicle,(b) computer and software systems used in the automated vehicle, and(c) where relevant, booking platforms and other interactive digital services and systems used prior to, during and after using an automated vehicle, including through underpinning such services and systems with mechanisms to allow human intervention if required.(3) In preparing the statement under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must consult such persons they consider appropriate, in particular disabled people.(4) The statement under subsection (1) should include consideration of the accessibility of infrastructure with which automated vehicles must interact, such as pavements, kerbs, drop off and parking points.”

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak to this group of amendments. In doing so, I declare my interests as set out in the register, not least my technology interest as an adviser to Boston Limited. In moving Amendment 8 I will also speak to Amendments 18 to 24 and 27. I thank all noble Lords who have shown an interest in these amendments, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who has put her name to all of them.

I will briefly take a step back. The major difficulty with the tone and tenor of this Bill on accessibility is that it takes a particularly utilitarian view—the greatest good for the greatest number. In this instance, accessibility is not even in the vehicle’s back seat. Similarly, it suggests that a disabled person should wait, and let innovation take its course and come to them. This is not only unacceptable but not pro-innovation. The whole point of accessibility, inclusive by design from the outset, is that it does not only enable and empower disabled people; it enables, empowers and benefits all people.

Similarly, there is a hint throughout the Bill that regulation is, again, anti-innovation. It can be—we have all seen examples of that—but in no sense is that inevitable just because it is regulation. Right-sized regulation can, indeed must, be pro-innovation. Plenty of good examples in our recent past, from various sectors, prove that.

Amendment 8 in my name is a resubmission of one of my major amendments from Committee. We heard in the previous group about the statement of safety principles. It seems perfectly logical, indeed thoroughly positive, to have a statement of accessibility principles in the Bill. If the Minister is unable to accept this amendment in its current form, will he commit, when he winds up, to the principles set out in this statement of accessibility?

Amendments 18 to 20, in various ways, ensure the accessibility of the vehicles themselves, in various parts of the Bill as drafted. Amendment 21 would require that disabled people be consulted on the granting of permits. This could be structured in such a way that disabled people would not need to be consulted at the micro level, on every permit; a structure could be put in place to ensure meaningful and effective consultation of disabled people throughout that high-level process.

Amendment 22 seeks to move a “may” to a “will”, to guarantee the intent of the Bill. Again, “may” is obviously conditional, and this would show, in a small example, the sense that this is wider than the voluntary or advisory “may”. It is an important amendment—changing to “will” would guarantee this sense. Similarly, Amendment 23 would assure this level of accessibility throughout.

Amendment 24, on the reporting requirement, seeks a minor but important change to the Bill. As currently drafted, the Bill sets out reporting requirements for those involved in automated vehicles. This amendment simply suggests that the first of these reports should be published before any of these vehicles are deployed—a small but important change.

Finally, Amendment 27 would put an obligation on the Secretary of State to commission and pay due regard to research around all elements of accessibility, including the vehicle, software systems and platforms, to ensure not just that the vehicle is accessible but that the whole experience and system are accessible and inclusive by design.

We are talking not only about inclusive by design but about a set of amendments that would make a real, material difference, not just to disabled people but to all users. Are they necessary? Just look at the situation we are currently in, with accessibility and inclusive design not being present at the beginning of the whole process of the development of automated vehicles. This is a clear indicator of the necessity of these amendments. Inclusion and innovation are important, but, more than that, inclusion for innovation is the thread that we should see shining through so many of our statutes: inclusion for innovation and not just for business. We must make it all our business. That is what these amendments are about. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, for his work in setting out such an effective group of amendments on this topic. I also thank the Minister for the very helpful round-table meeting we had a few days ago, in which we went through in detail many of the concerns that I, the noble Lord and others had.

I will not repeat the detail of the amendments that the noble Lord has outlined. I start from a slightly different perspective. When we started debating the Bill, back at Second Reading, the Minister told us that we did not need to worry about this because the regulatory authorities would be required to obey the public sector equality duty. I pointed out that the House of Lords Select Committee on disability was very concerned that there are holes in the PSED that the Government said they would look at two years ago and have not as yet, and so to rely on that would give us real cause for concern.

The Equality Act refers to “reasonable adjustments”, and it was prayed in aid that there can always be reasonable adjustments. I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, is in his place. I am reminded of his Private Member’s Bill—which I think he called the “10 kilogram cement bag” Private Member’s Bill. It would have made lots of small shops accessible to disabled people, particularly those in wheelchairs. That is a “reasonable adjustment”, but we are not in that position. We are talking about the technology of the future. It is really important to acknowledge that the millions of disabled people—over 10 million, or even more if you count the elderly—will require automated vehicles that take account of the full range of disability. To not start designing that in from the very start would be a short-sighted approach.

Those of us who use wheelchairs know from experience that vehicles that have been adjusted with ramps are not only expensive but not particularly effective. To have a car that is built that way right from scratch, so that you do not have to move the exhaust pipe or the batteries, reduces the cost but also means that the car is more effective. It is even more important with this technology of the future that all these things are designed in from the start.

In Committee, I said that one of the things that we disabled people chant on a regular basis is that there should be nothing about us without us, so I am grateful for the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, that would ensure that disabled people will be part of the continuing review in future, particularly with the reports that he is proposing. If we do not have disabled people involved in design right from the start, and if we do not design accessibility in right from the start, the automated vehicle of the future will not include millions of disabled or elderly passengers.

My Lords, I support all the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond on disabled access, except Amendment 8. I should say that I added my name to the amendments, but belatedly. I think my name is on them in the online list but not in the printed listed today.

I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that I think my disabled access Bill is number 14 or 15 in the Private Members’ ballot yet again. It is a simple little measure that says that if a step is less than 12 inches, it should have a ramp for disabled access. Of course, it will not get anywhere; the equality department will block it, as it has blocked it every single time, because it no longer gives a damn about disabled people.

On automated vehicles generally, I am afraid that I trust no one on their safety—not the manufacturers and not the Department for Transport. The only person I trust on them is Jeremy Clarkson. I remember when he said to the chief of Audi, who was boasting about his new automated vehicle, “If you sit in the back, let your vehicle drive the Bolivian highway of death and come out the other side, then I’ll buy one”. That is my view on automated vehicles.

However, my concern today is about automated vehicles for hire as cabs. I have never used Uber in my life. I believe it is a disreputable company which does not pay its drivers properly. Its untrained drivers do not have a clue where they are going, and, if I may say so carefully, many seem to be recent arrivals in this country; they cannot find their way to the end of the street without a satnav, and then they stop wherever the satnav tells them to stop or pick up, such as on zebra crossings or in the middle of the road—the dropped kerb that wheelchair users use is one of their favourites. My main concern is that if black cabs in London, or converted Peugeots or Fiat Doblòs in the rest of the country, are wiped out by Uber’s Toyota Priuses, we in wheelchairs will never get a cab again. I do not rate Uber Access as credible if you want to hire a car this decade.

Has my noble friend the Minister heard of the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee? It is part of his department. I have in my hand a piece of paper produced by the department. It says that taxi services must be fully accessible for all disabled persons. It calls for WAVs—wheelchair accessible vehicles—for all, and commends London cabs, 100% of which are wheelchair accessible. It goes on to say that, in the country as a whole, only 58% of taxies are wheelchair accessible vehicles, as are only 2% of private hire vehicles. I shall quote verbatim one paragraph from the department’s wheelchair accessible committee:

“Concerningly, the situation seems to be deteriorating. The launch of Uber and other app-based systems for booking PHVs has resulted in an increase of over 4% in the number of licensed vehicles. But they are nearly all PHVs and, in London, there has been a reduction in the number of licensed taxis which has resulted in an overall fall in the number of WAVs on the road”.

That is what will happen throughout the country if the Government permit all automated vehicles to become PHVs or taxis without building in a wheelchair accessible requirement.

Just look at the chaos in California and San Francisco in particular. Have noble Lords seen on the news a single wheelchair accessible cab there among the thousands of lovely dinky cars, such as Ford Focuses and Toyota Priuses? The Prius and the Focus are marvellous little town cars—great runabouts—but I cannot get my dodgy legs in the back of them, even when I am not trying to get a wheelchair into them.

I say to my noble friend that I do not support Amendment 8. I hope he will not push it, because it would apply to all cars and that is wrong. People must have the right to buy any vehicle they choose, even if you cannot swing a cat in the back of it. Before Cats Protection issues a fatwa, let me make it clear that I am referring to the cat-o’-nine-tails, not pussycats.

I hope the Government will insist that any new automated taxis are wheelchair accessible. If they make that clear in law now, vehicle manufacturers will design them—not that there is much to design; it has already been done. The new London black cabs are absolutely fantastic. They have excellent wheelchair ramps, there is lots of space and, for the first time, they seem to have added springs to them. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Borwick on making that happen. So we can just stick the automated computer thingy on to those cabs, or the converted Peugeots I found in other parts of the country. The Peugeot Tepee, they are calling it—what a ghastly name that is. There are Mercedes Vitos, Citroën Berlingos and Fiat Doblòs. All have wheelchair access. So with automated vehicles it is a simple matter of sticking a computer thing on to the vehicles that are there already. I do not want the Government saying, “Oh, this is going to be disproportionate cost and it is a burden on the industry”. It is not.

We were slowly getting more and more wheelchair-accessible vehicles across the country. The Government must ensure that the new technology of automated vehicles does not set that into reverse, as is likely to happen unless some of these amendments are made—but not Amendment 8.

My Lords, perhaps I might add a word for the very large number of people who are not in wheelchairs but who depend, like I do, on a stick. When pavements are so awful in this country, they need a lot of consideration. They walk around at their peril, often due to the irresponsible use of scooters, which are insufficiently regulated by the department.

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 8, 18 to 20, and 27, in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, to which I have added my name. In Committee, I was struck by the powerful speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, and particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, whom we have often heard in your Lordships’ House talking so powerfully about her lived experiences.

This is not a once-in-a-generation nor a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but it is a new, unique opportunity for disabled people to be front and centre of the development of a transport system. A great friend of mine is blind and when we first met, he had a clunky old phone with Braille on it. As soon as the iPhone came out, he had a phone with perfect accessibility built in. There was nothing new there. He has the same iPhone as everybody else. It just has the features to work for him, and I think this is what we can do with automated vehicles.

Elderly or disabled people, who have never dreamed of owning a car, can now look to the near future and see that this is a possibility—but only if they are included in all stages. As a design and technology teacher, I am all over inclusive design. This is not a bolt-on. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said he wanted this bolted on to existing stuff, I want this designed from the ground up. It is a unique—and I mean unique—opportunity to give disabled people a level playing field. It must not be squandered. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, while I support the general principle of these comments—indeed, I personally made great changes to the taxi industry to get there—the particular circumstances that enabled me to do that a long time ago were very unusual.

The current situation with autonomous vehicles is that there are many manufacturers that are converting existing vehicles. They cannot change their donor vehicles to make them accessible for disabled people, however desirable that might be. Tesla, Waymo, Cruise, Wayve, Oxa and, indeed, Mercedes are all working on autonomous vehicles, but they are not likely or able to change their vehicles to make them accessible because they must be accessible from the original design. Automotive history goes back 120 or even 150 years. We are not able to change existing vehicles, however desirable that is.

What these clauses would do is stop disabled people being helped by autonomous vehicles coming along. I am thinking particularly of people disabled by a severe learning difficulty who would not be able to learn to drive, or safely drive, a normal vehicle who would not be able to drive as a passenger. I am afraid the clauses would prevent these manufacturers from coming into this market. They would rather go to a market where they could use their existing vehicles than make the changes.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, for outlining the current commercial position, but there are models of vehicle currently on the market that can be used for wheelchairs. I fail to understand why, if an entire nation’s rules say that that is the model that has to be followed, manufacturers would not swiftly follow suit. There might be a transition period—does he understand that?—but all the images that we see of autonomous vehicles in the future show a completely different style from even 10 years ago, let alone 100 years ago. Would he agree with that?

I agree with the noble Baroness, but the question for a manufacturer is whether or not to come into the British market. That is the trouble, as I see it. Much as it would be desirable that they redesigned their vehicles, or indeed designed them from the very beginning to be accessible, the reality is that we are talking about regulating a future market based on an existing product. I find it a great shame that that is the position we are in, but that is where we are.

My Lords, frequently during the passage of the Bill we have all discussed the fact that the entire Bill is regulating for the future. It seems that it is acceptable to regulate for the future of everything —except disability access and proper accessibility.

I find it distressing to disagree with the noble Baroness, but I am talking about the reality of the position. Even though I wish the world were different, I cannot agree that we can regulate to make it different in this one Bill.

I thank my noble friend Lord Blencathra for his comments. I am afraid I left the London taxi business a long time ago so I am not actually responsible for the current vehicles, but still I thank him. They are better in all respects than the ones I produced, which are still in business.

It is distressing that so few taxis around the country outside London are not accessible; the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, had her own problems in Watford, as I understand it. It would be so much easier to organise that all taxis all over the country were as wheelchair accessible as the ones in London. I would find that a much more useful use of our time than making these amendments, much as I support the general principle behind them.

My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, because I think he underestimates the market that will be created. I do not for one minute think that EU countries with high social standards, for example, or the United States of America, will not have a reasonably sized market of people who are elderly and disabled, and that there will not be a demand for vehicles of this sort. The vehicles will be created, and the market will be there as well as here. We are talking about enlarging the market. Instead of diminishing the market, so that it is only for people who are physically able-bodied, we are enlarging it to include a lot of other people, who will be very dependent on vehicles of this sort.

We are gazing into the future. It will not be fundamental if we get some aspects of this wrong, because we will be able to put it right in future legislation. But if we get this aspect of the Bill wrong, it will prove very costly to change course on the design of vehicles, which will have been conceived and built the wrong way. We will then face costs of adjustment as well as huge social costs, because we will have a generation of people who are stuck at home rather than being able to use vehicles as they should be able to.

My Lords, I will not take up the House’s time. We have nothing to add to this debate, although it has been very interesting. I have to deliver our judgment, which is that we are pretty sympathetic to this group. Much will depend on what the Minister says, and the extent to which he is able to give assurances may cause our view to change, but we are broadly sympathetic and will listen carefully to the response of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes.

I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, particularly those who joined me for a detailed discussion following Committee.

The Government want all parts of society, including those with disabilities, to be able to reap the benefits of self-driving technology; I see no disagreement between us on that point. The question at hand is not one of ambition but rather the most appropriate form and timing of intervention.

It bears repeating that we are all dealing with an industry in its infancy. It is not clear what kinds of services will ultimately come forward, and therefore what kind of accessibility provisions are appropriate. What is clear, however, is that if we try to compensate for that uncertainty with unnecessarily broad requirements, the greatest risk is that the industry simply does not develop at all.

If we want self-driving technology to serve the needs of disabled people, we must have a viable self-driving industry in the first place. That is why we have anchored our approach in the recommendations put forward by the law commissions. Their central conclusion on this issue was that our focus should be on gathering evidence and gaining experience. On their recommendation we have built reporting on accessibility into the new passenger permit scheme and have committed to using this learning to develop national accessibility standards for permits. Although we will do so in a more flexible, non-statutory form, it is on their recommendation that we are establishing an accessibility advisory panel to inform that process. We will of course also draw on the deep and hugely valuable expertise of our existing statutory Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee.

Alongside this, the Government will continue to support the development of accessible self-driving vehicle designs. This investment has already helped five separate projects to deploy accessible vehicles, and there will be further opportunities as part of our £150 million CAM pathfinder fund, announced last year.

Beginning with Amendment 8, the authorisation process exists to ensure that self-driving vehicles operate safely. It is not designed to regulate the physical construction of vehicles. Indeed, as my noble friend Lord Borwick points out, most developers are currently working to incorporate self-driving systems into existing, mass-produced models, not creating new vehicles from scratch.

That is not actually what is happening in the marketplace. General Motors has developed the Wayve vehicle, which is now being used in San Francisco. If the regulation is there, the market is already ready and large companies such as General Motors are already making the provision.

I hear what the noble Lord says and am not going to argue with him on that at this point. Where there are overlaps between safety and accessibility, for example in the training of human detection systems, these will be addressed as part of the statement of safety principles. Beyond this, accessibility provisions are best made at the service level, of which vehicle design is just one part.

That is why our approach focuses on understanding how services can best be delivered for disabled users, which can then inform standard permit requirements. As drafted, the amendment would also apply these accessibility principles to any vehicle authorised as self-driving. That would include everything from private cars to vans, HGVs and even tractors. This would be disproportionate and out of step with the way we regulate conventional vehicle designs.

While Amendments 18 and 20 focus on passenger service provision, they could impose design requirements that are simply too sweeping to be workable. Requiring that every automated passenger service vehicle be “accessible to disabled people” would likely require adaptions, including full wheelchair accessibility. Imposing this requirement on the full self-driving passenger service fleet would be disproportionate, and not something we require of conventional taxis and private hire vehicles. This would make the UK market unviable, to the detriment of all users, including those with disabilities. As colleagues have noted, the needs of disabled people are broad and diverse. I note that even vehicles that claim to be 100% wheelchair accessible frequently cannot accommodate the full range of motorised and larger chairs.

Amendment 19 looks to apply the accessibility requirements of existing taxi, private hire and public service vehicle legislation to the passenger permitting scheme. This would not have the desired effect, as these requirements are largely imposed on the human driver. Furthermore, novel automated services may not fit neatly into these traditional modal schemes. Indeed, this is the very challenge that the law commissions were looking to tackle when they recommended the approach we are now taking. Nevertheless, I recognise the points that my noble friend makes and undertake to reflect on how we can best align our standard permitting conditions with the spirit of the Equality Act. These will also reflect the Bill’s specific requirements to consider the needs of older and disabled people before any permit can be issued.

I turn now to some details of the permitting system. Amendment 22 places an unnecessarily high burden on issuing authorities to guarantee that permits enable learning and improve understanding. The Bill already requires that authorities consider the likelihood of this. A more stringent standard would be impractical and add little value. Applicants will naturally be required to provide evidence of their plans for accessibility reporting as part of their permit application. Pre-deployment reports of the kind proposed by Amendment 24 would therefore be redundant.

The reporting process is outcome focused, requiring providers to explain what they are doing to meet the needs of disabled users. Vehicle accessibility could naturally be one of the many inputs that help to do this. I contend that a separate reference, as proposed by Amendment 23, is therefore also unnecessary.

Amendment 21 would require that relevant disability groups be consulted before each permit was issued. Consultation with such groups will naturally form part of developing the national minimum standards for permits. To require separate consultation for each individual permit would be excessively onerous and there would be considerable ambiguity as to which groups would be relevant in each case. Both these issues could severely inhibit the growth of new services.

Amendment 27 would require the Government to annually commission and pay due regard to research on self-driving vehicles’ accessibility. I have already described some of the work that we are undertaking in this space, which will of course continue. However, the wording of this requirement is too general to be effectively implemented and enforced.

I wholly appreciate the strength of feeling on these issues. By explaining the position taken by the Government and the law commissions, I hope that I have been able to offer at least some assurances.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, and the Minister and his officials for their engagement between Committee and Report.

I will take a couple of points that my noble friend Lord Borwick raised as I entirely understand where he is coming from. The difficulty is that, if one is talking about logic, everything that currently is in place would need to necessarily remain as it is until it ceases to be, and then we could start again in terms of accessibility and inclusion. The Palace of Westminster is not perfect, but it is pretty accessible. Changes were made and compromises had to be given—and it is a grade 1 listed palace.

I say to all the businesses currently involved in this that I see the argument that the choice of vehicle—described as a donor vehicle—has not been able to be made accessible. One would assume that all the systems, software and platforms used, as they have been built from scratch, are fully accessible to blind, learning disabled and older people—indeed all people whose needs must be catered for. If those platforms and software systems are not accessible, that tells rather a large truth about what we are considering.

It is desperately disappointing that we find ourselves in this situation, when the promise of automated vehicles is accessible mobility for all, enabled through human-led technology. It is pretty clear that we are not quite there yet. I hope there will be greater changes and much more thought and reflection, potentially between Report and Third Reading. There is so much that needs to be done on access and inclusion. It is hard for me to make this decision but, having considered this deeply, sadly I find myself in the position of withdrawing my amendment at this stage.

Amendment 8 withdrawn.

Clause 3: Power to authorise

Amendment 9 not moved.

Clause 38: General monitoring duty

Amendment 9A

Moved by

9A: Clause 38, page 25, line 31, at end insert—

“(2A) The Office of Rail and Road must comply with every reasonable requirement of the Secretary of State—(a) to provide information or advice in relation to arrangements for monitoring and assessing the general performance of authorised automated vehicles on roads and other public places in Great Britain;(b) to provide information or advice about a matter relevant to the general performance of authorised automated vehicles on roads and other public places in Great Britain;(c) otherwise to provide the Secretary of State with assistance in relation to a matter that is connected with such a function or activity or is relevant to those purposes.”

My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 9A and 9B, which are in my name—these are manuscript amendments—as well as Amendment 10. I will explain to noble Lords why I felt the need to table this manuscript amendment. I apologise; I hope noble Lords have copies of it. The amendment came out like this because of an unfortunate timing issue: I was able to meet the Minister only yesterday. I am grateful to him for sparing the time, with his officials, to talk about the structure of bodies operating, supervising, developing, et cetera this whole system, and about my amendment in Committee on the Office of Rail and Road. Amendments 9A and 9B resulted from that meeting, because I was accompanied by the chief executive of the Office of Rail and Road, John Larkinson. I am grateful for the Minister sparing his time, with half a dozen of his officials, who were probably responsible for all the different elements of the Bill. In jest, I asked them whether they ever talk to each other, and they said, “Yes, we do”—and I am sure they do. It was a very useful meeting.

In these amendments, I thought it useful to explore whether, with all the new ideas rightly being brought forward in the Bill, there is a need for an independent body to keep an eye on what is being done. At the moment, all these things—the DVSA, the Vehicle Certification Agency and inspectors, which are in the Bill—are run by the Department for Transport. In Clause 38, there is a “General monitoring duty”, and my noble friend Lord Liddle has proposed an advisory council, which I said I support.

Something is missing here. If the Government, in the shape of the Department for Transport, are in charge of everything that goes on in this whole AV structure, there probably needs to be more than one independent body with the power and resources to occasionally say, “Look, have you thought about this? Have you got it wrong?” I take the Office of Rail and Road as an example, partly because I am quite familiar with dealing with it, but this is not unique to it. On the railways and roads —I will not go back and explain what I said about smart motorways in Committee, but that comment obviously applies—there is an argument for having a body that is impartial, independent and transparent, and that has the assurance of being able to act. It would have to be funded by the industry, or by someone, but the importance is that it would look at the risks, interfaces and, of course, safety. The basis for it doing this is our old favourite, the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act, which we all probably know quite a lot about. It has been around for a long time. It is the basis on which the railways are regulated for safety, and, in my view, it should be the basis on which the roads are regulated —but that is beyond the scope of these amendments.

Noble Lords may well say, “We don’t need that because we have the accident investigation and inspectors”. Again, other sectors have this: there is the Rail Accident Investigation Branch, the Air Accidents Investigation Branch and the marine one. They all do a good job, and they are independent. Ministers told me at a meeting yesterday that they also have an independent advisory panel, and that is good too—you cannot have too many of them.

My worry is that, at some stage in the future, the political pressure on the Department for Transport—whoever the Ministers are and whoever is running it—will become so great that they end up doing something they might regret, as I mentioned in Committee with the Office of Rail and Road. Therefore, although I am certainly not going to divide the House on this this evening, I thought it would be useful to explore with the Minister what the options were. He met the ORR and I hope that we can have further discussions about it. Whether he wants to bring it back at Third Reading is up to him.

However, there is a need for a body that is independent and can deal with these things away from the Department for Transport. If you ask people what they think about the ORR, some people in the railway industry think it is lousy and stops you doing things you want to do. To that, the ORR might say, “Well, d’you want to have an accident next week?” There is going to be a debate about this, but it is important to debate whether an independent body—such as the ORR—would be helpful in developing the ideas that are there at the moment, as they come to fruition.

I am not going speak in any great detail to all the other amendments in this group—although they are linked to it—except to say that we, somehow, need to get some independence into this. It is not consultants; it is something that has a statutory function. It is on that basis that I beg to move Amendment 9A and, again, apologise for being very late with it.

My Lords, I only spoke at Second Reading and was unable to take part in Committee. I think the House knows that I come from the world of aviation and, in terms of aviation, there is some similarity in the context that the noble Lord has covered this afternoon.

This is frontier technology. It happens to be on the ground, but those of us who have flown for Her Majesty’s Forces or flown privately can still take a great interest, in particular, in aviation. There is a need for those who are knowledgeable and not biased and are able to take time. One of the great problems in our society at the moment is time. When I look at what the Department for Trade and the Department for Transport are having to do, there may well be an argument for another body that is knowledgeable about what has been happening in the past and where things are going.

I thank the noble Lord opposite, and I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench will recognise that we are not having a Division on this—I assume—but that there ought to be further discussions on whether this is something we should look at more closely.

My Lords, I added my name to Amendment 10, which relates to the ORR, because there are too many loose ends in the Bill in terms of the powers being granted to the Secretary of State and it is not specified where it goes after that.

We are dealing with some issues that are very closely aligned with those in Amendment 28: how the Government exercise the considerable power that they will have in relation to the development of this market.

To be totally frank, we do not need Department for Transport micromanagement. What we need is an independent body, with dedicated expertise, that will operate with safety considerations actually at the fore, because the development of this market will be badly compromised if there are huge safety issues that arise. It is important—really essential—that the development of this technology is rolled out with safety at its heart. As the noble Lord, Lord Naseby, stated, the CAA is an excellent example. It can be replicated by expanding the role of the ORR to take this under its wing and by looking closely at what the ORR does at the moment. It has the foundations that we need for something that can be developed pretty rapidly. I say to the Minister that I hope that the Government take this seriously and give it consideration. If it is not possible to give precision by Third Reading, hopefully it might be possible to do so by the time the Bill reaches the other place.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Berkeley for raising these issues. I am afraid that my consideration of these things comes to the conclusion that it is a mess. There are various bodies in the Department for Transport that have various responsibilities in various other forms of transport. There is the road safety investigation branch; I cannot for the life of me see why we are going to have a road safety investigation branch. If we are, I am not quite clear in my mind how that will add value. Some clarification from the Minister would be welcome. We probably need a sensible internal review in the Department for Transport to see to what extent we need all these bodies or whether they have sufficient common themes to be brought together, thereby bringing together the expertise. All in all, I think this is a challenge for the Government, and I hope they rise to it.

I am very grateful to the noble Lord for taking the time to meet me yesterday to discuss these issues in more detail. I absolutely agree with him on the importance of independent input into the system, and I have already touched on where the Government see these key functions lying. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, mentioned, this is central to the purpose of the independent statutory inspectors, whose role is established in Part 3, Chapter 2 of the Bill. They will have complete independence and all the necessary powers to investigate incidents involving self-driving vehicles and make public recommendations to improve the safety of the system. They are functionally the same as their marine, air and rail equivalents. All these bodies are part of the department, but nonetheless maintain their independence.

Separately, the Government will continue to be held to account in Parliament on their administration of the self-driving system—both at the Dispatch Box and by the Transport Select Committee. Indeed, government Amendment 7 will enable even greater scrutiny in this House of the first iteration of our statement of safety principles. Finally, we will continue to receive independent advice from our expert advisory panel, featuring representatives from the RAC Foundation, the Disabled Persons Transport Advisory Committee, and a selection of academics and engineers.

I will begin with Amendments 12 to 17, which look to change the role and purpose of the statutory inspectors to cover vehicle technologies that were never designed to meet the self-driving test. Our focus in this piece of legislation is on delivering the recommendations of the law commissions. Recommendation 32 of their report specifically calls for independent incident investigation to form part of the self-driving vehicle safety framework.

Our view is therefore that the inspectors’ role should be focused explicitly on incidents involving self-driving vehicles. This will require specific skills and expertise, and close working with the other arms of the self-driving safety framework. I recognise the noble Lord’s desire to see the remit expanded. While I fear that we disagree on that point, I assure him that the Bill permits flexibility to make sure that edge cases are not excluded. For example, the inspectors’ powers extend to vehicles that have at any point been authorised as self-driving, including those that, for whatever reason, have had their authorisation revoked or otherwise called into question. Further, provided an incident involves at least one self-driving vehicle, inspectors will be able to investigate all vehicles involved, self-driving or otherwise.

The noble Lord’s remaining amendments explore the potential role of the Office of Rail and Road in the self-driving safety framework. I know that the ORR currently does excellent work in regulating our rail industry and monitoring the performance of our strategic highways company operating in England. I recognise that this includes a focus on road safety on our motorways and major A roads. Indeed, officials in the department are already working with colleagues in the ORR to understand potential areas of interaction with the self-driving safety framework that we are establishing. In particular, we are exploring where there may be interfaces with the role of the statutory inspectors.

However, Amendment 10 as worded would make the ORR responsible for licensing operators of no-user-in-charge vehicles. We do not believe that this is the right place for this function; it is more suited to the Driver & Vehicle Standards Agency, which has existing expertise and enforcement powers for operator licensing. The Bill also already includes powers to delegate operator licensing to the independent traffic commissioners, who are responsible for issuing freight operator licences for conventional vehicles. To delegate these responsibilities to the ORR could lead to inconsistencies, and I contend that it would be unnecessary.

Amendments 9A and 9B look to establish a potential role for the ORR in providing advice to the Secretary of State in support of the general monitoring duty in Clause 38. Given its focus on motorways and major A roads in England, the ORR is not currently set up to monitor safety performance across the whole road network or the whole of Great Britain. Adding the duties suggested in the amendment would be a significant expansion of its remit. In its existing monitoring remit, the ORR will already need to consider the impact of self-driving vehicles on the safety performance of the strategic road network. We therefore do not consider the amendment to be necessary. Once again, I am grateful to the noble Lord for sharing his expertise on these points and hope that my explanation offers sufficient clarification of the position.

Before the Minister sits down, will he do me a personal favour and put me out of my agony? What has happened to the road safety investigation branch?

I am not sure that I completely understand, so I am unable to give an answer. As far as I understand, it still exists.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lords who have taken part in this short debate and for the support I have received from many colleagues. My noble friend Lord Tunnicliffe hit the nail on the head when he said that because so many different organisations are getting involved in this, it might be confusing. I will leave aside the road safety investigation branch he just mentioned.

There is benefit in reflecting on what everybody has said today. I hope the Minister will be prepared for some of us to meet him in the near future—although probably not before Third Reading—to look at the overall structure, taking into account the words I used earlier: impartiality, independence, transparency and assurance. I am not trying to suggest that any of the existing activities being done very well by the department should be taken over, but it might be very useful to have something independent for a venture as new as this. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 9A withdrawn.

Amendment 9B not moved.

Amendment 10 not moved.

Clause 42: Protection of information

Amendment 11

Moved by

11: Clause 42, page 29, line 3, leave out from “liable” to end of line 4 and insert “—

(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to a fine;(b) on summary conviction in Scotland, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum;(c) on conviction on indictment, to a fine.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment clarifies that a fine for an offence under clause 42(4) imposed in summary proceedings in Scotland may not exceed the maximum fine generally available in such proceedings.

Amendment 11 agreed.

Clause 60: The role of inspector

Amendment 12 not moved.

Clause 62: General power to investigate certain incidents

Amendments 13 to 16 not moved.

Clause 77: Interpretation

Amendment 17 not moved.

Clause 82: Power to grant permits

Amendment 18 not moved.

Clause 83: Disapplication of taxi, private hire vehicle and bus legislation

Amendment 19 not moved.

Clause 86: Consent requirement for services resembling buses

Amendment 20 not moved.

Clause 87: Further requirements

Amendments 21 to 24 not moved.

Clause 88: Collection, sharing and protection of information

Amendments 25 and 26

Moved by

25: Clause 88, page 62, line 1, leave out “Secretary of State” and insert “appropriate national authority”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment corrects a drafting mistake, enabling the devolved administrations to make regulations about information-sharing in relation to passenger services within their competence.

26: Clause 88, page 62, line 19, leave out from “liable” to end of line 20 and insert “—

(a) on summary conviction in England and Wales, to a fine;(b) on summary conviction in Scotland, to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum;(c) on conviction on indictment, to a fine.”Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment clarifies that a fine for an offence under clause 88(6) imposed in summary proceedings in Scotland may not exceed the maximum fine generally available in such proceedings.

Amendments 25 and 26 agreed.

Amendment 27 not moved.

Amendment 28

Moved by

28: After Clause 93, insert the following new Clause—

“Advisory Council(1) Within six months of the passing of this Act the Secretary of State must establish a council to advise on the implementation of this Act, and the roll out of self-driving vehicles.(2) The Advisory Council must include organisations appearing to the Secretary of State to represent—(a) the interests of road users, including drivers, pedestrians and cyclists;(b) the cause of road safety;(c) the cause of accessibility, and the impact of the roll out of self-driving vehicles on disabled road users;(e) trade unions and the interests of relevant employees including delivery providers and public transport workers;(f) the interests of businesses involved, or likely to be involved in, the manufacture, operation and insurance of mechanically propelled road vehicles designed to travel autonomously;(g) the police and other emergency services;(h) highway authorities.(3) The Secretary of State must designate a relevant officer of the Department to send reports to the Advisory Council on the roll out of self driving vehicles and any issues of public policy that arise. (4) The Advisory Council must report regularly to Parliament on the advice it has provided, and any related matters relevant to the roll out of self driving vehicles and associated public policy.”

My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 28 on the establishment of a statutory advisory council, which would enable better progress with self-driving vehicles and automated vehicles than not having it. I would like to test the opinion of the House.

Clause 95: Disclosure of information: interaction with external constraints

Amendment 29

Moved by

29: Clause 95, page 68, line 33, leave out “does” and insert “must”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment seeks to change a presumption that a provision relating to information disclosure does not contravene data protection legislation into an active requirement that it should not.

My Lords, I have tabled four amendments which constitute this group. There are two interacting issues: public interest and commercial interest. It is clear that where safety, human lives or participation are at risk, that has to win over commercial interest. This is what we are dealing with in these amendments. I have made some suggestions because I do not really understand what the legislation is saying. Instead of a speech, and because my voice is dodgy, I am just going to read out the subsection and explain what I do not understand.

Clause 95(2) says:

“The provision does not require or authorise any disclosure, obtaining or use of information that … contravenes data protection”

or is prohibited under something to do with the Investigatory Powers Act. What does “the provision does not” mean? I have changed it to say that the provision —which would come forward from regulations—“must” not authorise things that would contravene data protection legislation. This might be similar to what we used to call a “notwithstanding” clause—notwithstanding what the provision says, it actually means something else, or it does not mean what it says. I think it would be better if it said “must”.

If it is a contravening provision—a notwithstanding type—meaning that the regulation might say one thing but that thing is not allowed because it is forbidden in another piece of legislation, at what point does this come to light in the request for information? Is the requester of the information obliged to make it clear: “Oh well, we do not need this bit”, or does the person who is requested to give the information have to plead: “Oh, I do not have to answer that”? I do not know the answer to those questions. I do not know whether this is a notwithstanding clause or whether the constraint will be clear at the point at which the evidence or information is being sought. I wait to hear what the Minister tells me it means.

Amendment 30 would add intellectual property rights to the list of legislation which must not be contravened. As Clause 95 deals quite a lot with commercial rights and the use of data and things that can be asked for under investigatory powers, why can we not put in intellectual property rights, which is another part of the family, if you like? I am still having some interesting discussions with the officials as to whether or not it is needed. I think it is, they think it is not. Maybe we can get some clarity by Third Reading. That is the basis of my second amendment.

My third amendment is to Clause 95(3), which says:

“But the provision is to be taken into account in determining whether the disclosure, obtaining or use of information would contravene the data protection legislation”.

I do not quite know what it means when a provision starts with “But”. It might be another notwithstanding—in which case this is a notwithstanding clause on a notwithstanding clause. I am not quite sure where two notwithstandings leave us.

Does this mean that the provision can have in it new things that it then deems can be taken into account? Is it without limit or does it regard a provision that is cast within an obligation there might be under some other legislation, as there is in data protection legislation —that is, you can have new reasons in the public interest as to why something might be needed? Does the constraint apply or not? From what it says here, I cannot tell. It looks to me as if a provision can be made and then taken into account when interpreting it. I just do not see how that works.

I cannot construe this any better than I have attempted to do—and I am not quite a beginner in construing legal things. I may wish to test the opinion of the House on this clause because it is really quite confusing. If it verges on that broader side, we would be better off without it. Provisions can be made in the public interest under all kinds of legislation; you can do it under data legislation and intellectual property legislation. There are times when the public interest will prevail. So I do not see why we need this clause there at all.

My final amendment simply suggests that Clause 95, which is titled “Disclosure of information: interaction with external constraints”, should be inserted into the list at the start of Clause 96, which is headed “Crown application” and says that the provisions in Sections 42, 73 and 88 “bind the Crown”. To some extent, Clause 95 is mainly relevant to Sections 42, 73 and 88; it therefore seemed logical to me that it should also be listed in Clause 96.

This is not the grand speech that I was going to make, it is just why I cannot understand what is written here. What I think about it will now depend entirely on what the Minister is able to tell me—in particular, about these clauses, which may or may not be “notwithstanding” clauses. I beg to move.

My Lords, these are important issues that the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, has raised. She has, with her characteristic acuity, asked lots of penetrating questions about what the proposed legislation actually means. For the part of the Official Opposition, we will listen carefully to what the Minister says in reply but, if we are not satisfied, we will support the noble Baroness in her testing of the opinion of the House.

My Lords, I begin by briefly clarifying a point that I made earlier in response to a question from the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, which I am afraid I did not hear correctly. I should have responded by saying that the right legislative vehicle for the Road Safety Investigation Branch remains under consideration.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bowles, for her insightful and challenging remarks. I reiterate that we take the protection of personal data and intellectual property very seriously. I can confirm that the Bill does not seek to replace or change existing legislation on either personal data protection or intellectual property rights. The Bill does not enable us to contravene this legislation, whether domestic or under treaty obligations. Indeed, this would be beyond the scope of the Bill, which is confined to creating an effective safety framework for self-driving vehicles.

Although that may necessitate the use and sharing of information, this will not be done indiscriminately. We will do so only for specified public interest purposes because safety and security must come first. These purposes would be considered and developed with stakeholders. They would be subject to consultation and would be laid in the House before coming into force. This will provide multiple opportunities for input to, and scrutiny of, the proposals. Indeed, we are required by law to consult the Information Commissioner’s Office if our regulations permit or require the sharing or use of personal data.

As colleagues have highlighted today and in our meetings, it is not just the application of the law that is important but the understanding of it. That is why we are consulting the ICO in the development of specific guidance for the self-driving vehicle industry; that guidance will support the interpretation and understanding of existing personal data protection legislation in an industry-specific context. I hope that this provides some reassurance before I turn to the amendments.

On Amendment 29, the noble Baroness is right to understand Clause 95(2) as a clarifying clause or a “notwithstanding” provision, as she has referred to it. I am advised that the correct legislative form is to use “does” rather than “must”, but the effect is the same. The clause ensures that the Bill is consistent with data protection legislation, and is written using standard drafting. Its effect is that recipients of information must continue to ensure that their processing complies with data protection legislation and the Investigatory Powers Act 2016. The clause provides confirmation that these obligations continue to apply to provisions made in or under the Bill.

To be clear, the Bill does not change existing data protection legislation. However, the UK general data protection regulations do allow new purposes for the processing of personal data to be set out in law. This law must meet an objective of public interest and be proportionate to the legitimate aim pursued.

If a legal obligation to process personal data is set out in regulatory provisions, it will be taken into account when considering whether there is a lawful basis for processing the data. This brings me neatly to Amendment 31, which proposes the removal of Clause 95(3). This subsection clarifies that new legal obligations to process data will be taken into account when determining whether data protection legislation has been contravened.

As I have already highlighted, it is a requirement of the UK GDPR that a legal obligation to process data be laid down in law. This law must meet an objective of public interest and be proportionate to a legitimate aim. Regulations that comply with this requirement are neither waivers nor exemptions from the UK GDPR but are part of the UK GDPR system. For the sake of clarity, the phrasing

“the provision is to be taken into account”

does not mean that the provision alters the data protection legislation.

I move now to Amendment 30. The addition of “intellectual property rights” to Clause 95(2) would have the effect of excluding all such rights from the power to make information sharing regulations. It is common for intellectual property law to allow information sharing for specific reasons that are in the public interest. The power to make regulations that override duties of confidence or create exemptions from intellectual property rights is reflected in Clause 95(4). The suggested amendment would restrict the use of these powers in relation to information protected by intellectual property rights, even where this would be in the public interest. There is no justification for such a restriction in relation to this Bill.

I turn finally to Amendment 32. It would serve no purpose to provide that Clause 95 binds the Crown. This is because the clause does not contain any obligations or restrictions that could bind any person, including the Crown. The clause merely defines the scope of restrictions and obligations in other provisions of the Bill, including those which do bind the Crown. Therefore, the amendment would have no effect.

I am conscious that these are highly technical matters in which the noble Baroness has particular expertise. Once again, I am grateful for her engagement in this area and hope these explanations offer her some reassurance.

I thank the Minister for his explanations. I am a little further forward, in that I understand Clause 95(2). I am not sure that I agree with what he said would be the effect of adding “intellectual property” to a new paragraph (c), but, for now, I am prepared to continue conversations with officials so that, between us, we can thrash out whether we understand one another on the point, or, if I am right, the Minister would have an opportunity to do something about it. I think we both want it to be right, it is just that I have different interpretations there.

I think the Minister said about Clause 95(3) that, where it says the provision itself

“has to be taken into account”,

it will be a provision that is subject to the constraints under the GDPR, and so would have to fulfil the tests in the GDPR, if I have understood that correctly. The Minister is nodding. Therefore, it is not a free-for-all, and new ones cannot be invented without that anchor. In general, I am satisfied with that. I am sure that, maybe, this will have a little more investigation as the Bill goes further in the other place, just to make sure that is the correct interpretation. On that basis, I will withdraw the amendment.

Amendment 29 withdrawn.

Amendments 30 and 31 not moved.

Clause 96: Crown application

Amendment 32 not moved.

Clause 97: Regulations

Amendment 33

Moved by

33: Clause 97, page 70, line 6, leave out subsections (5) to (8) and insert—

“(5) The following regulations are subject to the affirmative procedure—(a) regulations under section 36(9),(b) regulations under section 50 that amend an Act, an Act of the Scottish Parliament or an Act of Senedd Cymru, and(c) regulations under paragraph 2(7) of Schedule 6;and all other regulations are subject to the negative procedure.(6) The effect of regulations being subject to the affirmative procedure is—(a) in the case of regulations made by the Secretary of State, that the statutory instrument containing the regulations may not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament;(b) in the case of regulations made by the Welsh Ministers, that the statutory instrument containing the regulations may not be made unless a draft of it has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, Senedd Cyrmu;(c) in the case of regulations made by the Scottish Ministers, the effect provided by section 29 of the Interpretation and Legislative Reform (Scotland) Act 2010).(7) The effect of regulations being subject to the negative procedure is—(a) in the case of regulations made by the Secretary of State, that the statutory instrument containing the regulations is (unless it also contains regulations subject to the affirmative procedure) subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of either House of Parliament;(b) in the case of regulations made by the Welsh Ministers, that the statutory instrument containing the regulations is (unless it also contains regulations subject to the affirmative procedure) subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of Senedd Cyrmu;(c) in the case of regulations made by the Scottish Ministers, the effect provided by section 28 of the Interpretation and Legislative Reform (Scotland) Act 2010.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment means that regulations setting the maximum monetary penalties under the automated vehicle authorisation scheme and the passenger service permitting scheme will be subject to the affirmative procedure.

Amendment 33 agreed.

Schedule 2: Amendments related to Part 1

Amendment 34 not moved.

Electoral Commission Strategy and Policy Statement

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Strategy and Policy Statement laid before the House on 14 December 2023 be approved.

Relevant document: 8th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

My Lords, the Government are committed to strengthening the integrity of elections so that our democracy remains secure, modern, transparent and fair. The statement we are debating today sets out the Government’s priorities when it comes to these important areas and the Electoral Commission’s role in enabling the Government to meet them.

It is the Government of the day who hold the responsibility for setting out the policy and legislation on how elections are run, who can participate with regard to registration, franchise and candidacy, and how elections and campaigning are regulated. These fundamental elements of the policy framework are separate but directly relevant to the role of the Electoral Commission, which, as an independent statutory body, oversees elections and regulates political finance. In other words, the Electoral Commission’s statutory remit exists to regulate the framework set out by the Government of the day’s electoral policies and legislation as approved by Parliament. Therefore, it is entirely appropriate for the Government to set out their policy priorities for the commission to have regard to in the delivery of its functions.

In their 2019 manifesto, the Government committed to protecting the integrity of our democracy. The Elections Act 2022 delivered this commitment by tackling voter fraud, improving the accessibility of elections and increasing participation in elections. All of these are government policy priorities which the commission, due to the nature of its role and statutory functions, plays an essential role in supporting. This is why the statement requires the commission to have regard to matters such as tackling voter fraud, supporting returning officers in ensuring the secrecy of the ballot inside polling stations, and supporting participation by informing the public about the franchise and electoral registration when carrying out its relevant regulatory functions.

The statement provides guidance on the commission’s role in supporting the Government’s ambitions to combat foreign interference through compliance with the political finance framework, and to improve transparency in UK elections through the new digital imprint regime. The statement also strengthens the accountability of the Electoral Commission to Parliament, via scrutiny of the Speaker’s Committee, which was given the remit under the Elections Act 2022 to allow it to examine the performance of the Electoral Commission in relation to its duty to have regard to the statement. Once the Statement is designated, the Speaker’s Committee will have the opportunity to consider the commission’s actions across a range of areas relevant to the statement, and will be able to report to Parliament its view of the commission’s performance of its duty to have regard to the statement. Such a report would provide an opportunity for greater parliamentary awareness and interest in the Electoral Commission’s performance.

I acknowledge that the provision for the statement was closely debated during the passage of the Elections Bill, now Act, two years ago. The Government listened carefully then to points raised by noble Lords and made several changes to address them. We added a safeguard in the legislation to ensure that a future Government could not attempt to use the statement to inappropriately interfere with the commission’s responsibilities in relation to the rules set out in the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act, as well as prohibiting any references to any specific enforcement or investigatory activities against any particular person. We also added a requirement for the statement to go through an enhanced parliamentary procedure.

Throughout this enhanced scrutiny process, we have listened carefully to representations. In response to the statutory consultation, the Government substantively revised the draft statement to provide clarifications and reassurances relating to the operational independence of the Electoral Commission. A full list of those changes would be too long to detail, but I will outline their main effects. First, the Government amended the draft statement to provide additional reassurances. That in no way amounts to the Government directing the commission. Secondly, the revised draft clarified that the statement articulated the Government’s priorities and not the commission’s. Thirdly, the revised draft clarified that the commissioners and the commission’s executive leadership remain responsible for determining how the commission exercises its functions.

The Government then laid the revised draft of the statement before Parliament for 60 days to allow for further comment by parliamentarians. During this period the Government received two further representations, from the Speaker’s Committee and the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Committee. Both representations reiterated principled objections to the statement that had been articulated during the statutory consultation, particularly around concerns that the statement undermines the commission’s operational independence. These sentiments are referenced in the amendment to the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Khan of Burnley.

After careful consideration, the Government decided that the revised draft statement of June 2023 should remain unamended, save for minor stylistic changes. It is that version that has now been laid before Parliament for approval. As I have just set out, this is because the Government had already made significant revisions to the statement after the statutory consultation, to provide clarifications and reassurances relating to the operational independence of the Electoral Commission. The Government are emphatic that the statement must always be compatible with the foundational principle of the commission’s operational independence. The commission will be required only to have regard to the statement in the exercise of its functions. This legal duty does not replace or undermine the commission’s other statutory duties or give the Government powers to direct the commission’s decision-making.

The statement will help to ensure that the Electoral Commission operates as an effective, operationally independent regulator, discharging its responsibilities efficiently and commanding the trust and confidence of both Parliament and the public. I beg to move.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by

At end insert “but that this House regrets that the draft Strategy and Policy Statement has been laid, despite significant concerns raised by the Speaker’s Committee, the Electoral Commission, and the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee, during the statutory consultation process, and the finding by the Speaker’s Committee that the statement as drafted is ‘not fit for purpose and inconsistent with the Commission’s role as an independent regulator’”.

My Lords, the noble Lord was not in his place at the beginning of this debate—not by a very long way. I do not think it appropriate for him to speak in the debate.

My Lords, I apologise to the House for my slight delay in getting here; there was an emergency that I had to deal with. I thank the Minister for her introduction and for meeting me and my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage ahead of this debate.

I point to the fundamental issue sitting at the heart of this debate. We have tabled the amendment because this statement is unnecessary and the Government have provided no evidence for why it is needed. Unfortunately, nothing we have heard from the Ministers in the other place or here today proves otherwise. I pay tribute to the much-missed Lord Judge for his work in this area during the passage of the Elections Act. He tabled amendments seeking to remove Clauses 15 and 16, which provided for the policy statement we are discussing today. The amendment enjoyed overwhelming support. There was cross-party agreement that the commission’s independence is vital to the health of our democracy. In moving the vote, Lord Judge said:

“I really do not think that anyone in your Lordships’ House can have the slightest doubt about the constitutional imperative that the Electoral Commission should be politically independent—independent of all political influence, whether direct or indirect, over the electoral process”.—[Official Report, 25/4/22; col. 23.]

Clauses 15 and 16, now Sections 16 and 17, are repugnant to that foundational principle. They require the commission to have regard to—at the very lowest, to pay close attention to—the strategy and policy principles and to follow the guidance of the Government of the day. The House benefited hugely from Lord Judge’s wisdom and expertise on this issue, and we are poorer for not having his thoughts in today’s debate.

Following the passage of the Elections Act, the Government’s strategy and policy statement has been the subject of consultation. This includes statutory consultation with the Levelling Up, Housing and Communities Select Committee, the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission and the Electoral Commission itself. The Select Committee found that the statement assumes that

“Government priorities must automatically also be Commission priorities, and for the most part reads as though the Commission was an arm of Government”.

The Speaker’s Committee reported that the

“uncertainty, confusion, and new legal risks”

being introduced

“are likely to reduce the Commission’s … effectiveness, in return for no material benefit to the democratic process”.

In addition, the Scottish Government said that the statement was

“an unwelcome and unnecessary interference with the independence of the Electoral Commission”,

with a risk that its impact

“could read across to devolved elections”.

The Welsh Government said that the statement

“will undermine the Commission’s successful adaptation to devolution”

and represents

“a backward step for the Commission and wider governance of the UK”.

The draft statement does not appropriately reflect the complexity of the commission’s existing accountability to each of the UK’s legislatures. While the statement excludes the commission’s devolved functions, some cross-cutting areas of the commission’s work are funded jointly by the three Parliaments. The statement does not properly reflect this, creating a risk that the UK Government’s guidance on the statement could affect work undertaken for the other legislatures to which the commission is accountable.

In 2000, the previous Labour Government set up the Electoral Commission to act as a guardian of our democratic system. At the heart of that decision was a need for a central pillar of independence within our politics, a body that the public could trust and that would not suffer interference from the Government of the day or from future Governments of any colour. An independent body must be allowed to work independently and without interference from any political party. As my honourable friend Florence Eshalomi MP said:

“Handing Ministers in the government the ability to set the agenda of the independent Electoral Commission is a dangerous politicisation of the watchdog”.

It seems that the commission is not legally bound to follow the strategy and policy statement, only to have regard to it. What does that mean? What happens if the commission finds itself conflicted between the statement and the statute? Can it be challenged in the courts, and if so by whom—by political parties, by non-party campaigners or by the Government themselves? If it is not law, how is it to be enforced? Who decides whether the commission is compliant? This statement in effect sets priorities for the commission. That has not only operational but budgetary consequences. What are the implications for the commission if it thinks that the Government’s statement is unnecessary and completely ignores it?

We agree with the Electoral Commission’s strongly held view that the introduction of a strategy and policy statement enabling the Government to guide the work of the commission is inconsistent with the role that an independent electoral commission plays in a healthy democracy. This statement has no precedent in the accountability arrangements of electoral commissions in other comparable democracies such as Canada, Australia and New Zealand. If made law, these provisions will enable a future Government to influence the commission’s operational functions and decision-making. This statement will seek to guide the priorities of the commission, including its enforcement work, with a requirement to regard the Government’s view.

The draft statement is currently neither necessary nor likely to assist the commission in its pursuit of the aims and objectives already approved by the Speaker’s Committee and adopted by the commission. As the Speaker’s Committee has said, in its view

“the Electoral Commission generally performs its role effectively”

and the draft statement is

“likely to hinder, rather than enhance, the Commission’s work”.

In light of the scathing consultation responses and feedback in relation to this statement, I hope that the Minister and the Government will think again. I ask all noble Lords to support our amendment to the Motion to help the Government to think again.

My Lords, I too apologise for my slightly late arrival in the Chamber; earlier business finished more rapidly than might have been expected.

I thank the Minister for her briefing meeting with me and others last week to discuss these measures. In response to her points now and then, I say that “substantive” is a subjective word. She says that substantive changes have been made to the policy and strategy statement being imposed on the Electoral Commission, but nobody outside the Government agrees with that description. The Electoral Commission itself certainly does not; its briefing to us sets out the commission’s clear view:

“The introduction of a mechanism such as a strategy and policy statement—by which a government can guide an electoral commission’s work—is inconsistent with this independent role”

of the Electoral Commission.

Our Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee highlighted the fact that the Speaker’s Committee—the body responsible for holding the commission to account on behalf of Parliament—objects to the draft statement as being

“not fit for purpose and inconsistent with the Commission’s role as an independent regulator”.

The Electoral Commission is not like other regulators, such as those for the utility industries. Its role includes advising on the framing of election laws and it helps to police them. It is not appropriate, therefore, for the party in power to set the commission’s policy and strategy. Putting the governing party in charge of this is like letting GB News set the strategy and policy for Ofcom; Southern Water to set if for Ofwat; or Eton College to set it for Ofsted.

I led for my party during the 11 days of debate in this Chamber on what became the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000. All parties were agreed throughout this process on the essential need for the Electoral Commission to be independent of government or party. Its creation was proposed by the Committee on Standards in Public Life—a body created by Sir John Major to try to clean up the reputation of politics. It was legislated for on the basis that it

“must be as independent of the Government of the day as our constitutional arrangements allow”.

The late and greatly respected Lord MacKay of Ardbrecknish led for the Conservative Benches, in opposition on this occasion, during all those debates. He defended the principle of the Electoral Commission’s independence. He argued that our election laws should not be subject to control by what he called “Tony’s cronies”. So I say now that the Electoral Commission should not be subject to control by Michael Gove and his cronies.

I will give four examples of how this Government have history in seeking to change the rules of elections to favour themselves. The first is the introduction of very specific forms of photo ID in order to vote at a polling station. This made it far harder to vote than anything required by any evidence of fraud in Great Britain. The introduction was defended by the Government on the basis that ID is required to collect a parcel from a post office. Surely, then, forms of ID acceptable at a post office should be acceptable at a polling station—but they are not. Despite evidence of people being turned away from polling stations and many more failing to attend because of specific ID requirements, the Government refused to act on the advice of the Electoral Commission to allow wider forms of safe and reliable voter ID to be used.

The Electoral Commission’s chair, Mr John Pullinger, was interviewed recently in the Financial Times. The article stated:

“Conservative ministers have ‘opened themselves’ up to the charge that a new voter identification scheme is designed to benefit the Tory party, according to the head of the UK elections watchdog”.

This fact was admitted by no less a person than Jacob Rees-Mogg. This Government are imposing classic voter suppression techniques taken from the Trump Republican playbook.

Secondly, this Government have a history of seeking to undermine the independence of the Electoral Commission. This is the seventh Government since the commission was created, and none of the previous six Governments sought to control it in the way that is now set out. The excellent previous chair of the commission, Sir John Holmes, found that his term of office was not renewed by the Government after he and the commission pursued illegal activity by the Conservative Party. This resulted in a senior Conservative Party official escaping jail only on compassionate grounds, but after a damning judgment by Mr Justice Edis.

Conservative MPs wanted revenge. This series of investigations was followed by the then Conservative Party co-chair, Amanda Milling MP, writing in the Daily Telegraph in August 2020 to say that, if the Electoral Commission failed to make the changes that the Government wanted,

“the only option would be to abolish it”.

An independent election watchdog should not operate under such threats in a democracy.

Thirdly, this Government have, in effect, ended the principle of the level playing field that was first established to provide fair elections in Gladstone’s day. As a funding arms race developed, in 2000, a national limit for political parties to spend in a general election was established. Since then, six different Governments have not seen any need to raise this limit and only one political party has generally come close to spending the legal maximum—the Conservative Party. Increasing the national party expense limit from around £19.5 million to around £36 million is clearly designed to benefit one party only—the Conservative Party.

Meanwhile, the Electoral Commission said that the Government had provided no evidence of the need for this increase. When I questioned this most significant change to our election laws, I was told that it was an exercise that had been performed by successive Governments of all political colours. It is not, therefore, an unusual law. But this is simply and absolutely not the case: no previous Government of any party or colour have sought to raise this limit. All my questions about national party spending have been met with answers relevant only to local candidate spending, which of course is quite different. This Government have changed the national spending limits unilaterally and without a vote in Parliament.

My fourth and final example is the ban, in 2022, on the distribution of political literature by party volunteers in the approach to major local elections, when no such ban was imposed on the distribution of political literature by pre-existing commercial operators. It cannot conceivably be a coincidence that the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats rely mainly on volunteer activists to deliver their leaflets, while the Conservative Party generally relies on paying commercial delivery companies to distribute its leaflets. So I asked why one form of delivery was banned when exactly the same activity by employees of commercial firms used by the Conservatives was not banned. I was frequently told that this was because of scientific, health and medical advice. I asked repeatedly for some of this purported evidence to be made available, but it never was.

I then pursued sight of this evidence through freedom of information requests and was told by the Cabinet Office that it would not be in the public interest to disclose any of it. If that is so, why not? My requests were repeatedly dragged out for as long as possible. When my requests for information were eventually still refused, I appealed to the Information Commissioner. Then, after months of stalling, there was a miracle. Somehow, what the Government had spent months saying that they had, but was not in the public interest to disclose, was now claimed never to have existed in the first place.

How could evidence that Ministers regularly claimed they relied on to change election rules in their favour never have existed? The Information Commissioner investigated further and, eventually and despite my incredulity, decided on the balance of probabilities that the evidence did not exist after all. I suggest that it can be shown beyond reasonable doubt that this Government cannot be trusted to issue such a strategy and policy statement, and to take significant control over the previously independent Electoral Commission.

My Lords, I shall try to confine my remarks to the policy statement that is the subject of this Motion and not go off-piste into various aspects of election funding, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, did.

I welcome the Government’s Electoral Commission Strategy and Policy Statement, and I am completely mystified by the fuss about it. For several years, the Government have been issuing strategy and policy statements to public bodies. This is one way of correcting a serious imbalance that unelected quangos have created in our constitution. Over the years, more and more public bodies have taken over functions once carried out by the Government, but the accountability mechanisms that acted as checks and balances on those bodies were often weak.

Where bodies such as the Electoral Commission have operational independence from the Executive, such independence must be accompanied by strong accountability —precisely because the Executive have few powers in relation to such bodies. For example, there is no power of direction over the Electoral Commission, for good reasons. Its independence increases, rather than diminishes, the need for effective accountability. The statement is aimed at this accountability.

I am sure that all noble Lords value the work of the Electoral Commission in ensuring that there is full confidence in the electoral system. It is not, however, a perfect institution—as my noble friend Lord Pickles laid out in his 2016 report on electoral fraud. The Electoral Commission was in denial about its failure to deal with electoral fraud in Tower Hamlets. My noble friend recommended—rightly, in my view—that the commission’s accountability mechanisms should be improved.

Many of us still feel aggrieved that the Electoral Commission appeared to treat organisations which campaigned for Brexit in a manner that can at best be described as high-handed. The Electoral Commission was found to be at fault in the case of Mr Darren Grimes, who won his appeal against an improperly imposed fine.

So let us not pretend that this is a body that does not need to be accountable, or that the system originally set up involving the Speaker’s Committee was perfect. The strategy and policy statement, together with a widening of the role of the Speaker’s Committee, was the Government’s chosen course of action. It was debated extensively, in particular in your Lordships’ House, when the Elections Act 2022 was passed. To a large extent, the negative responses to this statement are rerunning those debates. But the plain fact is that Parliament has already decided to give the Government a wide power to issue the statement. The statement in no way changes the statutory remit and duties of the Electoral Commission. It merely sets out the Government’s priorities for the electoral system, which are in themselves uncontroversial. The Electoral Commission merely must have regard to them and report against them.

The Government have been clear that the language of the statement, including the word “should”, does not impinge on the Electoral Commission’s operational independence. They have been clear throughout and have added considerable clarification to the final version of the statement to secure that.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of your Lordships’ House rightly drew the attention of the House to the draft statement on the back of the views expressed by the Speaker’s Committee and the chairman of the Levelling Up Committee in the other place, during the Government’s second consultation. It is important to note that the meeting at which the Speaker’s Committee reached its views was somewhat unbalanced. There are 10 members of the Speaker’s Committee, including Mr Speaker himself. Of the remaining nine members, five are Conservatives, three are Labour and one is SNP. Three of the Conservatives are DLUHC Ministers, and they recused themselves—so the report comes from a body with an unusual political balance. In addition, the chairman of the Levelling Up Committee is a member of the Speaker’s Committee, and so seems to have counted twice in the balance of opinion.

I urge noble Lords to support the statement. The Government have a legitimate role in setting out policy priorities for our electoral system. Opposing the statement would create an accountability void around an important public body.

My Lords, first, I apologise to the House because I will speak for longer than I would normally do in such debates. Secondly, if there are any Latin scholars in the Chamber, it would be useful for the latter part of my speech if they could let me know the plural of “Spartacus”. I hope this will become clear.

This is a bittersweet moment, as the noble Lord, Lord Khan, said. For those of us who participated in the debate on the Elections Bill, the contribution of Lord Judge was truly—and I can use only one word, a modern phraseology—awesome. Whether you agreed or disagreed, it was a joy to sit and listen to it. I happened to agree with it and found it a fascinating experience. I am so sorry that he is not here now.

I said that this moment is bittersweet because in the speech I made after Lord Judge’s, I balanced the difficulties of airing criticism of the Electoral Commission that pertained at that time. I have never been so publicly critical of any organisation as I was on that occasion. I described it as “institutionally arrogant”. Therefore, I have sympathy with what the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, just said—but it applied to a different Electoral Commission. The personnel have changed substantially. I pay credit to its current chair John Pullinger and its previous chief executive Shaun McNally for turning it around to become an organisation it would now be impossible to describe in those words. It is efficient and effective and responds to queries very quickly. I will come to that in a moment.

I listened to the debate on this subject in the other House. On several occasions, the Minister referred to the wording in the document we are debating as “benign”. Everything is benign in the hands of those who are benign, but if you happen to be malign you can use the words that may appear benign to others and dramatically change the whole process—that is what I fear.

However, I will give the body of my speech over to something that is the responsibility of several bodies, including the Electoral Commission: opinion polls which are anonymously funded and set out specifically to influence politics in one form or another.

Democracy in this country is strong. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, and I agree on many things, but I wish he would not cite a number of things that relate to other matters in one form or another. However, I am not going to take issue with those matters because I will cover an issue on which I think he and I and a number of Members of this House strongly agree. It is the recent YouGov Telegraph poll. As far as I am concerned, it is antidemocratic. We have a strong democracy. We want to maintain it in one form or another. The noble Lords, Lord Rennard and Lord Khan, and I may view differently certain elements of our electoral law, but I think everybody in this Chamber wants to protect the strong democracy we have in this country, the openness that is available for all of us to express views whatever they may happen to be. We can disagree, but we should disagree courteously, listen to the alternatives and then go forward, but you disagree openly. What you do not do is start funding opinion polls where there is no accountable source of money, because there is a risk in going down that path that the whole basis of our democracy falls into disrepute, and the actions that we have seen in recent weeks could be picked up by many other people.

As I think many Members of this House will know, I wrote to the Electoral Commission and the UK Statistics Authority asking them to look at the issue, but not only should they look at the issue but the other four parties—that is “parties” with a small “p”—involved also need to look at the issues. One of those parties is us as legislators. Are the legislation and the regulation correct so that they give the Electoral Commission and the UK Statistics Authority the ability to comment on opinion polls in one form or another?

The second group I shall comment on is YouGov, as the pollsters. I think it has learned its lesson from its experience. I think it was—to put it politely—unwise to accept the questions it put out to the public. It was certainly unwise to accept that the questions were being asked and paid for by an organisation which had no apparent structure. It beggars belief that it could be in a position whereby an organisation was created overnight, it had no evidence of who was funding it and it then went ahead with a set of opinion polls in the form that it did. I think YouGov has learned the lesson, but one comment I would make to YouGov at this point is that when the bills are paid, it should hand over the details of the sources of that money to the Electoral Commission for investigation. It does not have to be a public investigation, but it should be fully investigated.

Then we come to the Daily Telegraph, the newspaper that exposed MPs’ expenses. Day after day, it said it was the duty of the paper to identify what the public did not have sight of. If that was the case in 2008-09, one might ask why it is not the same responsibility in 2024 to identify what goes on in private in one form or another.

The British Polling Council has a difficult job— I used to serve as the head of a trade association; you set the rules for members, but there may be recalcitrant members who cannot or choose not to follow the rules—but I think the British Polling Council should look carefully at what has happened in recent weeks. I have already indicated the UK Statistics Authority.

The Telegraph has used and abused figures in such a way that YouGov felt required to put the longest qualification I have ever witnessed of any single opinion poll on its website. It used phrases like “red herring” and “It’s not true” when correcting what the Daily Telegraph had done. That is why the UK Statistics Authority should have a role in monitoring this. I do not expect it to go into every single complaint, because if it did it would be dealing ad infinitum with our disagreements across the different political parties.

I believe the Electoral Commission has a role in such circumstances. Issues have been raised by this poll. The anonymity which has been held to by we-do-not-know-who is something that I find difficult to accept, because if they can do it, every political party can do it and everybody else in the country can do it. There is a risk that if we go down that path, our strong and healthy democracy which we have had for many years will fall into disrepute and be unacceptable.

In the past two hours, I have had a reply from John Pullinger, which I have copied to the Labour and Liberal Democrat Front Benches. It raises questions and discusses issues. There are implications for legislators —there is no question—and I think it will be worth while for the political parties, the Parliamentary Parties Panels or whatever to go into discussion with the Electoral Commission to see what the best way is to protect our democracy, which I fear for if we do not resolve this particular problem.

When I made my speech in relation to the clause with Lord Judge and others, I referred to the fear that I had that the clause could be used by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, which is dominated by people from ZANU-PF, and that it could say “This is what you do in Britain”. That was the risk. I identified to the House that I had been an electoral observer for the Commonwealth, but what I did not identify at that point was that on the night of the election we, as observers, were approached in a dilapidated school in the dark by a group of people who told us that one of the opposition workers had been arrested and taken into jail for the mere objection to certain people casting their vote because they did not believe they were correctly registered. The next day, I intervened on that case. I had to speak to the arresting officer over the phone because the person concerned was in jail 40 miles away and was due to appear in court within the hour. I spoke to the accused, and fortunately that person was released immediately, but that is what I was concerned about. Joseph Bonda had the courage to stand up and say, “This is antidemocratic”. The next day, the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, intervened when Mnangagwa’s police came into the grounds of the hotel in Harare where we were centred in an effort to stop a press conference by the leader of the opposition. The noble Baroness led the confrontation. I do not want to make it sound like Rorke’s Drift because it was not, but it took a lot of courage. Both those people were showing what defending democracy was like and should be for us. We should not take anything for granted. That is what we should protect in a healthy democracy.

That is the reason I ask why we have accepted the position, and why the Telegraph, YouGov and the funders of an anonymous opinion poll seem to think it is correct to undermine our healthy democracy. They are letting down the likes of Joseph Bonda and the noble Baroness, Lady Jay. I asked the question earlier, “Who are these people? Why aren’t they like Spartacus standing up and saying, ‘I am funding this anonymous poll’? It is because they lack the courage to do so. It is a case of fat wallets and no honour. They are clearly not democrats. As far as I am concerned, I hope the Telegraph and YouGov will mend their ways. They can do, and I believe the latter will do.

This statement and the ability to intervene through an Electoral Commission will undermine our democracy; certain people have shown that you can do so very effectively. Our whole democracy is at risk if people do not come forth and be honest with the nation, because other people will go down the same route in the run-up to the next election.

My Lords, it is a pleasure and an honour to briefly follow the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, and that extremely powerful and important speech. It is important in this debate that the House hears from the insurgent voice, the non-establishment voice, the voice of change, which the Green Party represents. However, I should declare an interest because much of the debate on this statement has been about the place of money in our politics, and the Green Party basically does not have any in comparison to the people we have just been hearing about. We operate on the enthusiasm and the energy of our members, the power of our arguments, the strength of our debate; that is what should determine our politics and be the foundation of democracy. Overseeing that should be the independent Electoral Commission. We have heard again and again that, if we were judging any other country, an independent electoral commission would be the absolute basis of judgment. We should come back to our own Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s statement, in its usual modest terms:

“The House may wish to press the Minister for a compelling justification for the Government’s approach”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, made a valiant effort to put the case and said that the Electoral Commission was not a perfect institution. I do not think anyone here would claim that there was such a thing as a perfect institution. However, I invite your Lordships’ House to consider the classic scales of justice and weigh up a judgment of the independent Electoral Commission versus the Government, with all their vested interests, and say which way should those scales be weighed in the interests of justice and the interests of democracy.

My Lords, we are talking about the quality of our democracy and the central role of the Electoral Commission in maintaining that quality. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, for that fascinating and important speech. If I may, I will start by adding a little to it. On Sunday the Telegraph published an op-ed by Mark Littlewood in which in effect he claimed to be the main instigator and motivator for a new group within the Conservative Party, the Popular Conservatives, which is being launched today. The Institute for Economic Affairs is a well-funded think tank which does not publish its funding. We know that some of its funding comes from right-wing foundations within the United States, and other parts of its funding come from American companies. Think tanks are trying to influence directly the way parties and politics operate. Just before Christmas, we had a statutory instrument which was dependent very heavily on a TaxPayers’ Alliance report as the basis for the evidence which the Government had. I regularly read Policy Exchange announcements which tell us how closely particular Bills have followed its recommendations. None of those publishes its funding.

The question of funding and politics, and increasingly foreign funding and politics, needs to be extended. This Government, in their remaining months, or the next Government need to take that on. If the noble Lord, Lord Hayward, will allow me, I will turn to another part of John Pullinger’s letter today, in which he says that

“the issue of foreign interference extends across the system”

and that the Electoral Commission is committed to ensuring that political funding is transparent and to preventing foreign money from entering UK politics. He says that

“the Electoral Commission has recommended strengthening the law to prevent foreign funding from being unlawfully used in UK political campaigns, but that the UK Government have told it that they do not intend to act on its recommendations”.

The noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, said that the Electoral Commission is not sufficiently accountable, because it does not really answer to the Executive. The Electoral Commission is accountable to Parliament and, in our democratic country, Parliament is separate from the Executive, and we all share across the parties an interest in our elections being seen to be fair. Every Conservative considering a proposal such as this should think actively, “What would we say if we were in opposition and there were a Government of a different colour issuing suggestions, proposals and instructions to the Electoral Commission?” I think that, rightly, in opposition Conservatives would be strongly opposed to that. This is an unnecessary statement. The 2022 Act says:

“The Secretary of State may”—

I emphasise “may”—

“designate a statement for the purposes of this section”.

Only if the Secretary of State does so must the Electoral Commission then have regard and follow up and report every 12 months, as it goes on to say. The levelling-up committee of the House of Commons said very clearly that no statement was necessary at this time. I have some sympathy with the Minister on this, as she has inherited something which comes from the Johnson Government, who were furious with the Electoral Commission for its critical comments on election spending in the 2019 election, and as revenge wanted to impose limits on the Electoral Commission or even, as my noble friend mentioned, to abolish it. We now have, we hoped and thought, a different quality in our Conservative Government, but this is a hangover from where we were before.

The statement goes on to say that the commission remains “operationally” independent. That is a weasel word—it should be independent, not independent within limits. The statement seeks to procure greater accountability to Parliament, and you do not ensure greater accountability to Parliament by having the Government give it instructions. Paragraph 4 says:

“We place citizens’ participation at the heart of our democracy”.

However, it then goes on to make no reference to closing the gap between our adult population of citizens and those who are on the electoral register, estimated to be 8 million citizens who are not registered to vote. Paragraph 5 talks about voter ID and makes no concessions on wider acceptable IDs for younger people. Paragraph 9 talks about combating the threat of foreign interference but says nothing about tighter checks on the ultimate origins of large donations from overseas.

The level of public distrust in government in Britain is higher than it has ever been in my lifetime. It is also higher than in any comparable democracy except for the United States. I read in the Times that there is concern among strategists that

“public trust in politics has fallen so dramatically that many people may not bother to vote at all”

in the next election. That ought to concern all of us. We should therefore send a clear signal that we regret that the Government are attempting to compromise the independence of the Electoral Commission, the independence of which is central to the quality of our democracy.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their thoughtful consideration and input today. I will seek to address some of the points made by noble Lords, although I may not be as wide-ranging in my responses as noble Lords were in their contributions.

I agree with both noble Lords, Lord Khan and Lord Rennard, about the value of the contributions that we have had in these debates previously in this House by both Lord Judge and Lord Mackay. While the Government did not always agree with those points, we are all the poorer for their absence from the debate we are having today.

The noble Lord, Lord Khan, questioned whether the statement sets the priorities for the commission. The introduction of the statement will not replace the commission’s other duties. The commission will continue to set its own priorities; I reassure all noble Lords on that matter. The noble Lord, Lord Khan, asked what happens if the statement conflicts with the commission’s priorities. Does it override them or can the commission simply ignore the statement? Neither is the case. As my noble friend Lady Noakes set out clearly and eloquently, the duty to have regard to a statement of government policy in this area is not unusual and does not conflict with the operational independence of the commission. The duty to have regard simply means that, when carrying out its functions, the commission will be required to consider the statement and weigh it up against other relevant considerations. It is for the commission to independently decide how best to factor the statement into its decision-making processes and corporate documents.

My noble friend was right that the concern about the word “should” in the statement is misguided. In legislation, the relevant point is that the commission has the duty to have regard to the statement. That is a well-established legal principle. Therefore the use of the word “should”, or any alternative phrase in the statement, does not change anything relating to what the commission must do in order to fulfil its legal duties. The duty to have regard simply means that it needs to consider it and weigh it up carefully.

On the question of who scrutinises or enforces whether the commission has had regard to the statement, that is for the Speaker’s Committee. The Elections Act gave the committee the power to scrutinise the commission’s duty to have regard to the statement.

The noble Lord, Lord Khan, also asked about enforcement and the ability of the statement to influence the Electoral Commission’s enforcement work. The Government wholeheartedly agree that the commission’s enforcement work should be left to the commission. That is why the legislation underpinning the statement explicitly states that the Secretary of State must have regard to the statutory duties of the commission to monitor and secure compliance with electoral law, and the statement must not contain provision relating to any specific enforcement or investigatory activity. Again, I emphasise that the statement does not provide operational instructions to the commission.

The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, said the Government’s assertion that substantive changes had been made to the draft statement in response to the statutory consultation was subjective. It may be, but it was acknowledged by the Speaker’s Committee in its response to the Government that some of the changes have clarified the wording of the initial draft statement and constitute substantive improvement. At least in that regard, there is some agreement between the Government and the Speaker’s Committee, although I recognise that there is wider disagreement, which was drawn to the House’s attention by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee.

I will not dwell on some of the wider issues. Suffice to say that the statement sets out the Government’s priorities in areas that touch on matters such as voter ID, where the Government continue to be of the view that it is essential that we stamp out the potential for voter fraud. We have looked carefully at the implementation of this policy. We found that, in the recent elections, 99.75% of voters were able to cast their vote successfully and adapted well to the rollout of voter ID in Great Britain. Obviously, that is something that we will continue to monitor closely, but the signs are good.

Broader points were raised about people’s confidence in the system. My understanding is that the Electoral Commission has done some of its own research in this area. It found that 90% of voters were satisfied with the process of voting in the 2023 elections. That is in line with the most recent comparable elections in 2019, where 91% of voters were satisfied. Our own work has found that voter satisfaction with the voting process is positive, and we continue to work to ensure that that continues to be the case.

The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, raised the question of spending limits. I simply say to him that the provision for uprating those spending limits was set out and anticipated by Parliament in the original legislation. That is the mechanism by which we have uprated those limits to take inflation into account, which is not an unusual process across the business of government.

I emphasise to noble Lords that the Government absolutely agree about the importance of the independence of the Electoral Commission, but we also think it important for all bodies to be accountable. The measures in the statement are a way for the Electoral Commission to be held to account by Parliament, and we think that is a reasonable measure to take. I therefore hope the noble Lord, Lord Khan, is able to withdraw his amendment to the Motion.

I thank the Minister for her response and her attempt to address the issue. I also thank noble Lords across the House for their thoughtful contributions. A number of them raised concerns about the policy statement and others about wider electoral law.

The function of the Electoral Commission is

“to ensure a level playing field between political parties”.

One team should not get to tell the umpire how to enforce the rules of the game. That is what this statement is doing and is clearly perceived to be doing, which ultimately is undermining trust in our politics.

There are issues that need tackling. There are rising considerations, such as the threat of generative artificial intelligence, the use of deepfakes, the spread of disinformation, overseas involvement, and the scraping of people’s data. None of that has been tackled today, but instead the Government are paying attention to a problem that just does not exist. Both the levelling-up committee and the Speaker’s Committee on the Electoral Commission, as statutory consultees, concluded that no statement was necessary. The levelling-up committee said that

“no evidence has been provided justifying it”.

The guidance in the Statement presented before us today would add complexity, confusion, and extra legal risk.

Nothing is wrong with the current system, in which the electoral system reports to the elected House and not to the Government. If something is not broken, why fix it? The Minister did not give us one example of something that the commission is not doing right at present which it will be made to do right and better by means of this statement. What are the problems that need addressing, and what will be different tomorrow from today? She did not give one example of that.

In view of the huge importance of this issue, I would like to test the opinion of the House and put my amendment to a vote.

Motion, as amended, agreed.

Pharmacy First


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 31 January.

“With permission, I shall make a Statement on the launch of our Pharmacy First service.

Pharmacies are at the centre of our communities. They are an accessible front door to our NHS for millions of people. Alongside general practice, optometry and dentistry, pharmacy is one of the four pillars of primary care in England. Four in five people in England live within a 20-minute walk of a community pharmacy. Pharmacies provide fast, fair and simple access to care and advice for the kinds of illnesses from which people suffer every day. Our constituents can now walk in off the high street whenever it suits them—whether they are at home, at work, or visiting somewhere.

Our pharmacists are not only conveniently located, but highly skilled professionals with years of training under their belts. The number of registered pharmacists in England has grown considerably under this Conservative Government—up 61% compared with 2010. None the less, these skilled healthcare professionals still represent a rather untapped resource in our NHS, so this Government are bringing forward reforms that will make the most of their expertise: giving people up and down the country a variety of quality care and wise advice, quickly and easily, saving them a trip to the GP; freeing up appointments for patients who need GPs the most; and driving our plan to cut waiting lists. The benefits are clear. That is why this Government have consistently taken the decisions that allow community pharmacists to deliver more clinical services and supply more treatments —whether that be other parts of the NHS referring patients suffering from minor illnesses to community pharmacists for advice and the sale of over-the-counter medicines, offering life-saving blood pressure checks in pharmacies, or making it easier for women to access oral contraception in pharmacies. I am proud of everything that we have accomplished so far.

To unlock the full potential of our pharmacists, we need to go further and faster. That is why I am delighted to inform the House today that we are launching the Pharmacy First service—a personal priority of the Prime Minister, who is himself the son of a pharmacist. This will give pharmacists the power to supply prescription-only medications, including antibiotics and antivirals for seven common conditions: sore throats, earaches, infected insect bites, impetigo, shingles, and minor urinary tract infections in women. More than 10,000 community pharmacies have signed up—over 95% of pharmacies in England—which is a brilliant sign of their approval.

The next time that anyone is suffering from any of those seven conditions, for most people their first port of call will be a quick trip or a call to their pharmacist. They will not need to see their GP first. They will not need to spend time making an appointment, and they can turn to their pharmacist whenever it suits them. That benefits everyone involved: people get the care they need faster; GPs can focus on more complicated cases; and pharmacists can make better use of their knowledge and skills. This is a common-sense reform. Pharmacists see and advise people with these sorts of conditions every day, but we have now enabled them to provide prescription-only medicines where clinically appropriate, so that they can help people more easily.

All this will deliver results. Pharmacy First will make it easier for millions of people to get the care they need on the high street and, together with the expanded blood pressure and contraception service, it will free up as many as 10 million GP appointments, in turn reducing unnecessary trips to A&E, reducing the pressure on GPs, and driving forward our plan to cut waiting lists for patients.

The investment that we are putting into Pharmacy First will also level up digital infrastructure in community pharmacies up and down the country, streamlining referrals to and from GPs, giving pharmacists better access to relevant information from patients’ GP records, and allowing them to share relevant information quickly in return.

Pharmacy First is not just about delivering care faster, but about making care fairer by driving down health inequalities. That is because there is double the number of pharmacies in the most deprived communities in our country. Getting the right care, the right contraception and the right test will now be faster and simpler for all those people in our more deprived communities than it ever has been before. Thanks to Pharmacy First, they will be able to take full advantage of their pharmacists’ expertise and use them to complement the care they receive from their GPs and throughout the NHS.

Pharmacy First was made possible only through close collaboration with Community Pharmacy England, which I thank for all the work it has done and will continue to do to support community pharmacies to gear up and deliver this new service for our NHS.

We on the Conservative Benches have a clear plan for the NHS: getting patients the care they need faster; making the system simpler for staff; and making it fairer for everyone. That is our plan and I look forward to working with pharmacists up and down the country to deliver today’s announcements as we build a brighter future for families right across the country. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I recognise that pharmacies already do far more than just dispense prescriptions and sell items. They are highly trained experts, easily accessible and approachable, with a reach across the entire country. As we saw during the pandemic, they are a highly trusted part of our communities and they are to be commended. But their skills and knowledge are often underutilised, even though pharmacists can take the pressure off GPs and encourage people to seek advice and services that they otherwise might not have sought. That is why we recently announced that we would want to bring NHS out-patient appointments closer to people, and through high street opticians as well.

This announcement will not make up for the 1,000 pharmacies that have closed or the 2,000 GPs that have been cut since 2015. Patients today can be waiting over a month to see a GP, if they can get an appointment at all. When I think back to 2010, I recall that people could get an appointment within 48 hours. Can the Minister update your Lordships’ House on what has happened to the Government’s pledge to deliver 6,000 more GPs this year? What is being done to support community pharmacies, which are already facing a perfect storm with inflationary pressures on running costs, recruitment challenges and an unstable medicines market?

As the Association of Independent Multiple Pharmacies chief exec said, we should not forget that pharmacies are seriously underfunded and that the

“stranglehold of chronic underfunding must be relieved … to ensure our community pharmacies continue to exist and can deliver”

what the Government are expecting. How will the Government ensure that GPs and pharmacies work closely together, given some of the fractured relationships that currently exist over their roles? On delivery, how long will it take to get up to the promised capacity? When will the promised IT systems go fully live across all pharmacies taking part, and how will the public be made aware of the services that they will now be able to get from their local pharmacy?

The Minister will know of concerns regarding the impact on the pharmacy workforce. The concern is that they will just be overwhelmed, which begs the question: why was Pharmacy First not phased in? What is being done to ease the inevitable extra pressure on pharmacies, including in the use of their premises? How will the Government ensure the privacy that we all need? It is not acceptable to be discussing personal matters for all to hear, nor to receive a vaccination that may require the removal or adjustment of clothing for all to see.

Turning to some of the specific services, I note that pharmacists will be able to treat urinary infections, which women suffer frequently, requiring urgent treatment as soon as the signs start to occur. But why is that only up to the age of 64? It is very welcome to get blood pressure checks routinely done at pharmacies, particularly for older people with long-term conditions. At present, many are asked to buy their own assessment machine and report in the results to the surgery, which they cannot do, and not having a blood pressure reading can lead to delays in getting medication. So how will the Government ensure that key data is safely, accurately and speedily exchanged between pharmacies and GPs?

Finally, what is the Government’s plan in the longer term to integrate the increase in independent prescribers, who are being trained as part of the long-term workforce plan? Does the Minister agree that we should accelerate the rollout of independent prescribing to establish a community pharmacist prescribing service, covering a wide range of common conditions? That would support patients with chronic conditions, which is one of the biggest challenges facing the NHS. Does he agree that community pharmacies will have an important role to play in supporting GPs in the management of long-term conditions, such as hypertension and asthma, and in tackling the serious issue of overprescribing, which is responsible for thousands of avoidable hospital admissions every year?

Bringing healthcare into the community means that patients will have greater control and be seen faster, while GPs will be freed up to see more complex cases. From these Benches, we have long argued for a greater role for pharmacists and pharmacies. The NHS should work as a neighbourhood health service as much as a National Health Service, and that is a development to which these Benches are wholly committed.

My Lords, the holy grail for health policy is a change which improves the service for patients at the same time as reducing the cost of delivering that service. I think we can all see the potential for Pharmacy First to be such a move, if executed well. I have a few questions for the Minister and his answers will help us to understand whether he is on the right path in this grail quest.

First, I understand that there will be a payment per consultation, if the consultation meets criteria that the Government have set, but that there will be a cap on the total budget. Can the Minister explain how this cap will work? Is it per pharmacy or per integrated care board, and what happens if it is exceeded? I do not think that we want people going back to more costly channels simply because of an accounting feature. Secondly, can he explain how the Government will assess value for money in comparing the cost of the Pharmacy First consultations with the estimated savings on the GP and A&E side?

Thirdly, while we are discussing urgent care today, can the Minister also say whether the Government are looking at using pharmacies for approving repeat prescriptions—this was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron—for drugs such as statins that people may be on for many years? The current protocol requires them to go back to their GP for regular reviews. Are there any plans afoot to move some of that medicine review process for long-term conditions also into the Pharmacy First programme?

Can the Minister also explain how instructions will be given to NHS 111 services so that they can properly direct people, in light of Pharmacy First now being an available option? It could make a real difference to the pressure on A&E services if 111 moved appropriate cases over to pharmacies. There are concerns that 111 has a natural tendency to be risk averse and refer people to A&E. If we are going to ask it to refer people now to pharmacies, we need to understand how that shift in direction will take place.

Finally, I have a digital question. It is not the one about the joined-up records that we discussed earlier at Oral Questions, as I am confident that the Minister will tell us that the Government are on track for that. What I want to raise is, even when the pharmacy has issued a prescription and dispensed it, at present what happens is that it will then print it off and post it to the NHS Business Services Authority for payment. This happens with all the prescriptions in the pharmacy system at present. My understanding is that the business services authority will then scan them into its system to make the payments—which seems quite farcical in 2024. So I would be interested to hear from the Minister what plans the Government have to get rid of that piece of the equation or to make it more efficient, so that, when a prescribing process happens electronically, it happens all the way through, to the point at which the pharmacy is reimbursed for the work that it has done.

I thank both noble Lords for their general welcome of what we are trying to do here. My thoughts on this are that anything that we can do to expand supply should be a good thing in this context.

I will pick up on specific questions. As mentioned, we have not managed to achieve 6,000 additional GPs. To specifically answer the question, we have achieved about 2,799. However, through the use of additional staff, we have managed to achieve 50 million additional appointments in GP settings since 2019, so we actually hit our target on that earlier. I think that demonstrates—this goes back to the Question we had earlier today—that we are trying to use people to the top of their professional skills and supplement that with other skilled people coming in. In terms of output, 50 million appointments are a good example.

We are hoping that this will be a boost to community pharmacies. They are, as I mentioned earlier today, seen as a very important asset. They are often the first line in terms of health in the local community. This is intended to not only enhance the health service in an area but give community pharmacies a necessary boost. I think these figures have been reported, but for the sake of completeness I will say that we have had about 10,000 pharmacies sign up—about 95% of them—so clearly it has been welcomed. In the first three days we have had about 3,000 consultations. In answer to the question about pharmacies being overwhelmed, the early indications are that it has been managed well. You could say that the more business they get is a good thing in terms of their viability. Right now, we feel that it is so far, so good.

On privacy—I will try to group the app and IT questions together a bit later—part of the conditions for being available for Pharmacy First is that a pharmacy has a private treatment area available, so that there will not be privacy issues.

My understanding—I will definitely need to write on this—in terms of UTIs is that it applies only up to the age of 64, as they are less complex in those cases. For instance, as you get older UTIs can be a sign of other comorbidities. I think that is the thinking behind the age of 64, but I will follow that up in writing.

The general point was made by both the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, and the noble Lord, Lord Allan, about trying to expand provision. I would say that this is the first step. We have tried to pick the areas that we think suit the situation well. This gives us the ability to expand as the capability increases. Repeat prescriptions is obviously a very good example, as is managing cases such as hypertension and other similar areas. The direction of travel is very much: let us make sure that this works well and then build on that.

I will answer the questions on IT asked by the noble Lord, Lord Allan, together. The overall thinking on the cap is that we are trying to make sure that this does not run out of control—for want of a better word—in some respects, and that goes back to the value for money question. If you can really prove that it is enhancing and substituting for GP appointments, which we all want to boost the availability of, that has to be a good thing. As ever, you need to try to set up budgets at the beginning to make sure that they are sensible in terms of that control.

To give a sense of direction, it is very much the intention that 111—I include the app and other digital approaches in this—will point a person to the right pathway for them. If we then know that they have one of these seven conditions, such as a simple UTI, sinusitis, or something of that ilk, they will be guided towards Pharmacy First. That is very much the intention. I hope that that in some way answers the question. It is intended that more and more volume is put that way.

In terms of trying to make sure that there is a slicker system with the IT generally, obviously it has to be sensible—for example, not printing things off, and that there is an electronic payment mechanism. My understanding is that that is already occurring in some of the digital areas. Noble Lords will be aware of some of the digital pharmacies, which are paperless the whole way. Those sorts of mechanisms are being set up and it is a matter of expanding them, so that there is a complete digital service. I will come back with more detail on that, but I understand that it is happening.

On the IT systems and the holy grail of making sure that they are all connecting—to give everyone the benefit of our conversation in the Corridor—the idea is that it has to be two-way. You want to make sure that pharmacies have access to doctors’ records. That is not ready today, but it will be in the next few months. Likewise, you want to make sure that whatever the pharmacies do gets updated to GP records. Right now, that will be done by a simple PDF. This is not ideal because it involves a rekeying, but in a matter of weeks, it will update the GP records automatically. The value of that is that, obviously, while Pharmacy First is the forerunner, there are all sorts of circumstances it could be replicated for, whether appointments with physios or any other physician relevant to the patient records. I think that will be a positive when it comes in.

I have tried to answer most of the questions about execution. I think we will all freely admit that, as ever with these things, there is a certain amount of bedding in—it is something that I am glad to see everyone welcomes in principle. I hope that in a few months’ time I will be able to update the House on it; I will be happy to do so. If it is executed well, and we believe that this is working well, we will be looking to extend it to further services.

My Lords, I welcome the initiative. It is very good and has been very well thought out and communicated thus far. I would like to pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, about women’s health. The point about older women was very well made. Equally, for younger women, on the subject of UTIs, I understand that there have been some very successful pilots, but my noble friend will be aware that for women persistent UTIs can be a symptom of something more serious. Symptoms of more sinister diseases can also mimic UTIs. While I have every faith in pharmacists to be able to refer on where possible, it is also important that women feel empowered to go to their GP if they feel something is not right. Women’s health has too often been pushed on to the back burner or ignored. I would like a bit of reassurance on that.

My noble friend is absolutely correct to bring that up, and that is why it is quite specific on “simple” UTIs. The devil is in the detail, but the reason behind saying simple UTIs is that so the capacity is there, and you can have a referral to a GP.

In this space I speak from personal experience with my partner. It is much harder these days to get antibiotics for UTIs. We know that this is generally a good thing in terms of antimicrobial resistance, but in many cases, as my wife often says, she knows when she has a UTI—and boy does she need those antibiotics.

Some of the things I have started to see in terms of technology, which is relevant to the question of complexity, include point-of-care devices in surgeries or pharmacies that can detect a UTI very quickly, so that you then know you can give a prescription for antibiotics. That is what we see in terms of the direction of travel.

My Lords, when I had responsibility for community pharmacy more than 20 years ago, one of the schemes we instituted was incentivisation for private consulting rooms and spaces. I wholly endorse what my noble friend Lady Merron said about the importance of this, and the noble Baroness’s intervention reinforces this. It sounds as if most community pharmacies have some kind of private area, but they are not always as good, secure or private as they ought to be. So I very much hope that the incentive that I hear the noble Lord has built into the scheme will actually lead to ensuring that patients have confidentiality, which is really important here.

On the cap, I understand the need for probity and making sure that there are no perverse incentives to overcount, but it would be a bit of a disaster if, nine months into the financial year, a very good community pharmacy ran out of its allocated funding. What would happen? Will integrated care boards at the local level have some discretion to come in at that point to ensure that that service can continue?

On integrated care boards, some clinical commissioning groups were very poor at getting community pharmacy around the table. It always amazed me that, in their winter planning, they seemed to forget the need to have community pharmacies as equal partners. Can the Minister assure me that, when this programme is taken forward, integrated care boards will be clearly told that they are expected to treat community pharmacies as important partners in this and in planning for winter, which, as the noble Lord knows, continues for much of the year?

I thank the noble Lord and will answer his questions in reverse. On getting the ICBs around the table, I absolutely agree. This is seen as a key part of those initiatives and handling those pressures. Generally, going back to privacy, I would expect to see, as ever with these things, some pharmacies that become very good and set up really nice areas, with a lot of expertise. I am sure