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Lords Chamber

Volume 836: debated on Thursday 29 February 2024

House of Lords

Thursday 29 February 2024

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Retirement of a Member: Lord Goodlad


My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I should like to thank the noble Lord for his much-valued service to the House.



Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to bring about a sustainable peace as the war in Ukraine passes its second anniversary.

My Lords, restoring Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and securing a just and lasting peace underpinned by the UN charter is the UK’s foreign policy priority. The quickest path to peace would be for Mr Putin to withdraw from Ukraine. President Zelensky has already demonstrated Ukraine’s commitment to peace in his 10-point peace formula. We must strengthen Ukraine in the fight this year and ensure that Ukraine will win the war. If Mr Putin prolongs it and lays the foundation for Ukraine’s long-term future, we must act and stand with Ukraine.

I thank the Minister for his Answer, but I am trying to understand the logic of the Government’s position. Is it still the Government’s expectation that Ukraine will win a complete victory in the sense of recovering the territories it has lost since 2014? If so, can the Minister confirm that this remains the Government’s position? If not—most experts now do not think that is a feasible endgame—should the Government not couple support for Ukraine with a public push for a negotiated settlement, such as has been advocated by many countries in the world, while they still have leverage on the table, not least to avoid the unnecessary slaughter of thousands of Ukrainians and Russians?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s final point, we want to stop the slaughter of innocent Ukrainian citizens. The best way to stop that slaughter is for Mr Putin and Russia to stop the war now. There are no two ways about it; we cannot allow it. This is a P5 member which has invaded a sovereign founding member of the United Nations. We back Ukraine, Ukraine’s leadership is important, and the United Kingdom stands firmly behind it.

My Lords, I reiterate the Opposition’s support for the Government’s position. We said from day one that a peace negotiation is a matter for the Ukrainians to determine. The best leverage that the Ukrainians can have in those negotiations is our fullest support and the arms behind that, so I hope that we will continue with this. Ursula von der Leyen yesterday urged the EU to use profits from frozen Russian assets to help arm the Ukrainians. Will the Minister reassure us that we are doing everything possible with our EU neighbours to do that and to make sure that the Russians pay for this outrageous war?

My Lords, I acknowledge and thank the noble Lord. We are very clear that we speak as one nation in our united stand against Russia’s illegal war. On the point he raised about profits, myself and my noble friend Lady Swinburne—I was delighted she was able to join me for the meeting—have had some constructive talks about the position of the UK and what is happening in the EU, engaging directly with EU colleagues. We need to ensure that any action we take is legally robust; I know the noble Lord supports that.

My Lords, following a bleak winter stalemate, we have arrived at a grim second anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. With Putin’s imminent re-election and troops mobilised, we must be prepared for things to get worse and to step up if need be. Does the Minister agree that standing by our NATO commitment of 2% of GDP is an important part of this? Will he urge others in NATO, including those who seek to lead, to do the same?

I agree; we are proud to do so. I assure my noble friend, who asked me only last week about the position of Hungary on the accession of Sweden—I am sure we were all delighted to see progress—that we follow through what we promise at the Dispatch Box. When I met the Foreign Minister of Hungary, the first thing he said to me was “Tariq, you mentioned me in Parliament the other day”. I said, “Yes, and I now need an answer”, and we got it.

My Lords, I do not agree with the view of the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky. Has the Minister seen the recent newspaper report of a Ukrainian officer lamenting the fact that

“I have the Russian soldiers in my sights, but no shells to fire at them”?

Does that not summarise the perilous position of the Ukrainian forces? Does it not also underline the urgency of all nations in western Europe, including Britain, giving additional aid now to the Government of Ukraine?

I agree, which is why my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary announced on Saturday that the UK will spend a further £245 million throughout the next year to procure and invigorate supply chains to produce urgently needed artillery ammunition for Ukraine.

My Lords, I associate these Benches with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about supporting the Government’s position on Ukraine. However, we and Ukraine appear to be in this for the long haul, and we will need to spend a lot of money on defence and diplomacy to get this right and ensure that not only Ukraine but the Baltic states are secure. Given that, what are the Government doing to ensure that the citizens of the United Kingdom are wholly behind this as well? We do not want people to start thinking that support somehow is not here in this country. I regret to say that we want the noble Lord, Lord Skidelsky, to be proved wrong.

My Lords, the noble Baroness mentioned defence and diplomacy. I referred to the additional funding for munitions. I underline the fact that every diplomatic engagement that we are undertaking gives that reassurance directly to the Ukrainians. I was in India last week, and I made sure that I met the Deputy Foreign Minister of Ukraine, who was there. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary has been extensively engaged. He attended the UN Security Council meeting in New York marking the second anniversary of Russia’s illegal invasion, and addressed it. Only yesterday I returned from Geneva, where a key part of my address to the UN Human Rights Council was on Ukraine, and I met its ambassador, together with all our colleagues from the UK mission. It is very clear that this Parliament, the Diplomatic Service departments, government and indeed our people stand with Ukraine, and we are proud of the 140,000-odd Ukrainians who have now made Britain their temporary home—I use “temporary” definitively, because they themselves yearn for a return back home to Ukraine.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Fowler is quite right that this needs the full support of Europe, but it is not just Europe. The trouble is that half of Asia—indeed, half the world—is either neutral or actively supports Russia through its economies and weaponry. What new initiatives are required, beyond general United Nations support—for instance, mobilising all the nations of the Commonwealth or reapproaching, at least on this issue, some aspects of China and other Asian powers? Only then, when Putin feels he is a real pariah and that the whole world is against him, will the Minister get the change he wants.

My Lords, I recall a previous Question that the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, engaged with. When we look to our European partners quite directly, the ability for them to step up and do more in this respect is equally important, and we need that to happen. Of course, we will continue to work with the United States on this important priority, but my noble friend is right that we need to ensure that a diplomatic effort is afoot as well. We have been succeeding. You can count the countries that voted with Russia on a single hand, and that has been consistent over an 18-month period. This shows the strength of British diplomacy, together with our partners. Russia is increasingly feeling isolated, with $400 billion-worth denied to it because of the sanctions. Of course we have to look at circumvention and loopholes, but I assure my noble friend that our diplomacy continues in earnest.

My Lords, I hope the Minister is reassured by the support on all sides of the House. He has got a clear message that appeasement never works. When he looks forward to the long term, what representations have been made to the Treasury on the future of the defence budget?

My Lords, I appreciate what the noble Lord said. It is clear not just to me but to Ukraine that it has strong support from the United Kingdom across the piece, from Parliament and from people. On budgets, of course we are very much seized of this. As I indicated in my Answer, this is a priority for not just the Foreign Office but the UK Government. Of course we work with colleagues, including those in the Treasury, to ensure that we can back the priority that we have made to stand with Ukraine today, tomorrow and until this war ends.

Israel and Palestine


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the Prime Minister of Israel ruling out a two-state solution with the Palestinians.

My Lords, we support a two-state solution. As I said only the other day, that guarantees security and stability for both Israelis and Palestinians. Our position has not changed. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister was clear in his recent call with Prime Minister Netanyahu that a viable two-state solution is the best means to achieve lasting peace. With our allies, we must provide the practical and enduring support to bolster the Palestinian Authority, and the PA itself must take much-needed steps to reform. Importantly, Israel must act to release frozen funds, halt settlement expansion and hold those responsible for settler violence accountable.

My Lords, although many of us join the Government in long backing a two-state solution, how realistic is this now, when Prime Minister Netanyahu has firmly ruled it out, Gaza has been reduced to rubble and Israel is expanding its illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, including east Jerusalem, to over three-quarters of a million settlers? What alternative is Israel offering if not permanent siege and oppressed status for the Palestinians? Should we not be considering other options—perhaps a negotiated confederal state, with security and self-determination for both Israelis and Palestinians?

My Lords, I hear what the noble Lord said, and this is not the first time I have heard suggested alternatives. Given the current situation and the crisis that has gripped the Middle East, from the abhorrent events of 7 October to the tragedy of the ongoing conflict itself—and, of course, given the rights of the Palestinians—it is clear that we must seize the moment. In my career as a Foreign Office Minister, this is perhaps the first time we have seen not just one country or two standing up, or just me standing up at the Dispatch Box, but real live diplomacy and activity. That is not just between the Israelis, the Palestinians, the Americans, us and the Europeans; the region itself is seized by this moment. Through the tragedy of every life lost in Israel, Gaza and the West Bank—every Israeli and every Palestinian life lost—the strongest legacy we can provide is a viable vision and a two-state solution.

My Lords, between 2015 and 2019, the United Kingdom ran a very worthy Middle East peace process programme. It was led by the Foreign Office and supported by the MoD and the then Department for International Development. Will my noble friend the Minister tell us whether there are any plans to revive elements of that programme? Would he be prepared to meet me to discuss this further?

On the second question from my noble friend, I am always delighted to meet her and gain from her insights. We are aware of the different programmes. Currently, we are working with key partners on the five points that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has outlined, but I will be pleased to meet her to see how, as these plans develop, component parts of what we already have can also be very much part and parcel of those discussions.

My Lords, the Minister gave a very positive response to the noble Lord, Lord Hain, seeming to think that this is a turning point in Israeli-Palestinian relations. However, can he explain to the House how he thinks we are going to get to the point of a two-state solution, given the situation as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hain?

My Lords, the first thing I would say to the noble Baroness is that you have to be positive; if you are not positive in diplomacy, you might as well pack up your bags and stay at home. That is certainly not something that either I or the Foreign Secretary are doing. We are engaging because this is about the moment, from this tragedy. There are challenges on both the Israeli and the Palestinian sides, and I have alluded to them already. What is very clear is that this is a moment in time—there is a window and we can shift the dial, and that is where our focus should be.

My Lords, Israel’s rejection of a two-state solution comes as no surprise. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu is on record as saying that Palestinians should be treated like their historical enemies, the Amaleks—kill every man, woman, child and infant in the cradle. The Justice Minister says:

“Palestinians are like animals and should be treated as such.”

Does the Minister agree that we should not allow the cruel, genocidal behaviour of the regime in Israel to fan anti-Semitic attitudes toward hard-working and peaceful Jews in this country?

My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord, and I will tell him why. I know Israel well; it is a country that I have visited. There are many in Israel who, whether or not they are religiously driven from the teachings of the Torah, which I have also studied, recognise the importance of faith providing a solution here. Those with conviction of faith can provide the opportunity to come together and respect each other. This is one Abrahamic family; Jerusalem is the centre to three great faiths. Now is not the time for hate to come forward but for real recognition of tolerance and respect. That is where our focus is. I speak for the British Government, not the Israeli one.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, the Foreign Secretary, said that we needed to give hope to the Palestinians. One of the ways of doing this is not to wait until the end of the process to recognise Palestine but to ensure that their voice is heard in those negotiations to seek the solution that my noble friend was talking about. The commitment to a two-state solution, ensuring that both sides are properly represented, is the key to solving the nightmare that we are in at the moment.

I welcome the points that the noble Lord has made. I also recognise the statement from His Majesty’s Official Opposition about the importance of the two-state solution. I am not saying that it is not challenging—of course it is. It is, perhaps arguably, more challenging than not. What is different—I say this quite personally, having looked at it, but also politically—is that everyone is now engaged on this agenda. It is a priority not for one or two countries but for everyone. We recognise, and Israelis recognise, that stability and security for Israelis means stability and security for Palestinians. It means leadership among Israelis and the Palestinians. That is what we are focused on. On the recognition point, my noble friend has outlined a clear pathway to ensure that a political horizon is provided for the Palestinians. As the noble Lord rightly said, we can never, ever give up on hope.

My Lords, to solve an argument, perhaps I will proceed with my question, with thanks.

Last year, it was reported that the Government of Israel were considering plans to build a national park on the Mount of Olives. Will the Minister say what assessment has been made of the impact of these proposals on the Christian holy sites in this area and the holy sites of other faith communities? What impact would such a project have on the prospect of Jerusalem as a shared capital for Israeli and Palestinian states?

The right reverend Prelate has illustrated my point. Faith does provide a solution, as we have just seen in practical terms.

In all seriousness, I am aware of those plans. The position is very clear: settlements are illegal, whether they are in east Jerusalem, the West Bank or elsewhere in the Occupied Territories. The United Kingdom’s position is very clear on this. What must prevail is the real sense that Jerusalem itself is a beacon for three important faiths, which is an important opportunity to seize. We need to recognise rights of access, and the reverence attached to that, but, equally, central to that is ensuring security and stability for Israelis and Palestinians, for Arabs, Jews, Christians and Muslims. That is the way in which we will find a solution. Inshallah, that is what we are focused on.

As chairman of the Jerusalem Foundation UK, I agree with my noble friend’s last remarks. I point him to the letter in the Financial Times today, which explains that a two-state solution was imposed on Sudan, where there is now the most vicious civil war. Will the Foreign Office, in calling for a two-state solution, now start talking to interested parties about the nature of it—specifically, whether it will be a democracy, whether there will be a military, and whether there will be access to ensure that there are no tunnels? All these issues must be first addressed before calling for a two-state solution.

My noble friend charts a particular process item. That is why my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has been clear that, first and foremost, we must stop the current fighting. That will allow aid to go in and hostages to be released. However, where I disagree with my noble friend is that I think that a two-state solution is the viable option. The rights of people need to be protected and the rights of Palestinians need to be recognised. This is enshrined in international law through the UN Security Council, which of course created the State of Israel. It is important that we work directly with all partners, including Israel and the Palestinians. Democracy is a fundamental objective to ensure that the rights of all citizens—Israelis and Palestinians—are strengthened and protected.

Charities: National Minimum Wage


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support charities which might struggle to pay salaries following the planned rise in the national minimum wage in April 2024, particularly those which provide support for adults with serious learning disabilities, and their families and carers.

My Lords, charities are vital to the delivery of social care services and to the support of families and carers across the country. His Majesty’s Government have made available an additional £8.6 billion in this financial year and next to support local authorities on adult social care and discharge. In addition, DCMS has awarded £76 million to charities and community organisations delivering front-line services, with a further £25 million to follow.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer. I declare an interest as patron of the Myriad Centre, a small and very successful charity providing adults with profound and multiple learning difficulties, and their carers and families, with support and a programme of activities in Herefordshire, Worcestershire and the West Midlands. It is heavily reliant on local authority support. It does not oppose the increase in the national minimum wage, of course, but if the minimum wage is increased by 9.8% and the contribution from Worcestershire is going to rise by only around 6%, there is going to be a shortfall that will widen year on year. This is one example. Will the Minister look at the problems of charities in that sort of situation—I have had correspondence from Mencap, which makes the same point—and see whether these gaps can be filled in some way?

The noble Lord rightly points to the 9.8% increase to the national living wage, a record cash increase of £1.02 an hour from 1 April, which will give a pay rise to around 3 million workers. He is also right to talk about the implications for organisations such as charities. As I mentioned in my first Answer, the Government have made available up to £8.6 billion to support local authorities with adult social care and discharge in the next financial year. That includes £500 million announced last month to support local authorities with the cost of social care. In addition, the accelerating reform fund for adult social care will invest £42.6 million for local projects focused on transforming the care sector. We are providing support to those who are providing important care to vulnerable people in our community.

My Lords, many early years providers are charities and voluntary organisations, including preschools and nurseries. Three-quarters of their costs are salaries, and many of their employees are on the national minimum wage. Since 2017 the national minimum wage has gone up by more than 50% but the funding rate from local authorities has gone up by 21%, undermining the viability of those organisations at the very time when entitlement to free childcare is going up. Will my noble friend the Minister make representations to the relevant department to see that the funding rates are increased, so that those organisations can continue to provide a quality service?

I will pass on my noble friend’s representations; he is right. The impact assessment for the increase in the national living wage shows that the cost to charities and voluntary organisations is around £200 million over the next six years. That is the evidence we have, which we will share with relevant partners to make sure that they can carry on their work. As I have pointed to, DCMS provides substantial support for charities and all the wonderful work they do in so many ways across our country, including through our energy-efficiency scheme of more than £25 million to help them with the rising costs there.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we are very lucky that a lot of charities take on a lot of the heavy lifting that you could reasonably expect the state to do? They provide care for vulnerable groups. If the Government will not support charities directly, do they have a plan for if they fail?

The noble Lord is right to point to the important contribution of civil society and charitable organisations—the Government recognise that. We saw that very clearly during the coronavirus pandemic, when we pledged £750 million to ensure that voluntary and civil society organisations could continue their vital work supporting the community during the pandemic. As I have pointed to, we see that in the face of the rising cost of living now.

My Lords, can the Minister say whether he has had representations from museums and galleries about this? If so, what steps will the Government take to support them in the light of this change?

Yes, I have discussed the same issue with museums and arts organisations. The rise in the national living wage has implications for employers of all sorts. Through our increased grant in aid, Arts Council England is supporting a record number of organisations in more parts of the country than ever before. I continue to discuss these issues with organisations of all sorts.

My Lords, I am very pleased that the Government recognise the contribution that civil society organisations, including social enterprises, make in delivering essential public services and that they stepped up magnificently during Covid. The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill currently before your Lordships’ House contains provisions on subscription contracts that charities fear will undermine gift aid provisions. Given that the Bill’s Report stage is fast approaching, what assessment have the Government made of the potential loss of income for charities if they remain subject to the new subscription rules? I accept that the Minister may not have that answer now, but it is an important question.

It is indeed; I have been discussing it with my noble friend Lord Offord of Garvel and Kevin Hollinrake, the Minister in another place. We have had some useful meetings and representations from a number of charities and arts organisations with which DCMS deals. My noble friend Lord Mendoza has been pressing the issue from the Back Benches. I am glad that conversations are continuing as the Bill heads to Report.

My Lords, independent schools are not among the very smallest charities in our country but they are pretty small, with 75% of them having fewer than 500 pupils and 25% having fewer than 150. The issue that this Question raises will affect them. Will not the Labour Party’s proposal to slap 20% VAT on their fees do them grave harm, forcing many of those small charities educating children and families in their local communities to close? I declare my interest as president of the Independent Schools Association, which represents 650 schools, most of which are small, local charities.

My noble friend speaks with great authority as the president of the Independent Schools Association, as he mentioned. He is right to point to the valuable work that independent schools do, not just for those they educate but for the community more widely, and to dangers of the policies advanced by the party opposite.

My Lords, I am sure we all agree that workers in the charitable sector should receive decent pensions, but many charities are currently struggling with their pension provision, both financially and structurally. Will the Minister ask his officials to engage with representatives of the Pensions Regulator and the DWP to try to provide a practical way forward for charities that have this problem?

Yes. My right honourable friend Stuart Andrew, the Charities Minister, regularly meets charities. I will ensure that the noble Lord’s point is passed on, so that he can have those discussions.

My Lords, in the course of this short debate the Minister has produced a large number of statistics involving sums of money that are eye-wateringly large if you look at them on their own, but it is very difficult to understand how those figures relate to the actual need in the sectors to which they are being applied. If I can take him back to the question from his noble friend—the noble Lord, Lord Young—the gap between the need of the early years providers and what is available to fund them is very considerable, and it is not being improved by what is happening in local authorities. Can he tell the House how that gap is to be addressed?

The noble Baroness is right that these are eye-watering figures. As people live longer and the pressures on local authorities to deliver social care grow, we can see the implications for their budgets and spending. Those are part of the conversations that the Government have with local authorities all the time. As I said, just last month another £500 million was announced to support local authorities with the cost of social care, which we know is rising. Overall, local authorities’ core spending power is set to increase by 7.5% this year. We continue to have discussions to make sure that there is money available to local authorities to deliver that statutory responsibility and to continue to support the wonderful arts organisations, charities and others for which they do not a statutory responsibility but which can be part of delivering their statutory obligations by looking after people in so many ways.

My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister recognise that the problems facing charities because of the rise in the minimum wage also affect hundreds of thousands of small businesses up and down the country? Furthermore, by increasing the minimum wage, surely there is a saving to the Government on benefits, such as housing benefit. Can that saving not be deployed in the interests of those charitable bodies addressed by this Question?

The Government follow the recommendations of the independent Low Pay Commission. The evidence to date shows that the national living wage has given a pay rise to millions of people and reduced inequalities, without significantly harming employment prospects or having other adverse impacts. There are implications for businesses and charities—the Low Pay Commission’s impact assessments provide that evidence—but we are proud that, through the increase that comes in on 1 April, we will be giving a pay rise to around 3 million workers in this country.

Sudan: Darfur


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what is their estimate of the number of people killed or displaced throughout Sudan and Darfur during the current conflict, and what assessment they have made of warnings of impending famine.

My Lords, after 10 months of war, the Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project estimates, based on the available data, that over 12,000 people have been killed. Sudan now has the largest number of internally displaced people globally; over 8 million have been displaced overall since the conflict began. Some 17.7 million people face acute food insecurity and 700,000 children are already acutely malnourished. We are providing £38 million in humanitarian aid to Sudan.

My Lords, is it not extraordinary that, with thousands dead and over 8 million people displaced, as the Minister has just told us—more than in any other conflict in the world—the tragedy in Sudan has received such little attention? At one camp in Darfur, one child dies every two hours; 700,000 children are acutely malnourished; and widespread atrocities by Hemedti’s RSF—heirs of the genocidal Janjaweed in Darfur—have been described as “textbook ethnic cleansing”. Can the Minister tell us what we have done to establish the role of Wagner and the UAE in supporting the RSF, and the role of Islamist groups and Iran in supporting the SAF, and what the international community is doing to hold to account those responsible for this catastrophic suffering, including the discovery of mass graves? What hope does the UK hold out for both an end to this horrendous war and the restoration of democracy in Sudan?

I thank the noble Lord for his great experience and interest in this case. Where I would question what he says is that the UK certainly is not ignoring this. We are the pen-holder on Sudan at the Security Council and have taken a number of diplomatic initiatives, held events, working with IGAD and the quads, to try to make sure that we are moving forward as best we can in diplomatic terms. On aid, I agree with the noble Lord that the most regrettable recent event has been the closure of the Chad border, through which most our aid went, and the impact of that on people is devastating. We have given £600,000 for the Centre for Information Resilience Sudan witness project, which is examining precisely the points he raised and will, hopefully, be able to take forward cases to the International Criminal Court in the future. We are also taking measures to sanction individuals and organisations that we know are responsible for some of the atrocities he described.

My Lords, the Minister reminded us that the UK is the pen-holder and he talked about how we are working with our allies. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, is absolutely right that our eyes have been taken off this dreadful situation in Sudan. Can the Minister tell us what exactly we are doing, perhaps as pen-holder, to secure a further resolution at the Security Council, so that we can get the world to focus once again on this disaster happening in Sudan?

We are taking our role as pen-holder extremely seriously. We have held in-confidence sessions within the Security Council to try to bring forward a solution. Alongside Norway, we jointly funded the Sudan humanitarian conference that took place in Cairo in November—an event that brought together Sudanese grass-roots organisations, NGOs and the international humanitarian system to develop co-ordination mechanisms to give greater voice to Sudanese organisations in the humanitarian response. We are involved in a number of different diplomatic efforts, as well as trying to get our aid through in this very difficult situation, with the Chad border now closed, but also through South Sudan. Our post in Khartoum is closed but is operating out of Addis. We have staff in Nairobi where the UN aid programme is being co-ordinated, and we are taking a lead in trying to get as much help as we can to the people of Sudan and then in due course hold those we can to international account for the atrocities they are committing.

My Lords, what assessment have the Government made of the potential impact of this conflict on regional stability? And why have they not renewed the position of the special representative for Sudan and South Sudan at this key time?

I am not sure about that last point and will certainly get back to the noble Baroness on that, but she is absolutely right that this has a destabilising effect across the region. I am shortly to visit South Sudan, where I will be able to see what impact it is having on that country, which has considerable difficulties but not on the scale that we are seeing in Darfur and elsewhere in Sudan. I will absolutely make available to the House all information we can on what we are doing regionally as well as locally.

My Lords, as well as the appalling consequences that were outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is the Minister aware that there are 19 million children in Sudan who have been out of school since April last year? As well as the 700,000 children suffering malnutrition, as has been mentioned, I gather there are another 4 million who are likely to suffer. Is the Minister aware that the RSF has already captured Sudan’s second city, Wad Madani, and—as the noble Lord mentioned the appalling atrocity in Darfur—that the US is sanctioning some of its leaders and also using every diplomatic pressure on those foreign powers supporting the RSF? Can the Minister elaborate further what we have done and what we are going to do?

On sanctions, asset freezes were applied to three commercial entities linked to each party—the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces—involved in the conflict of Sudan. These sanctions, which target entities that the SAF and RSF have used to support their war efforts, are part of our broader efforts to put pressure on parties to reach a sustained and meaningful peace process, allow humanitarian access and commit to a permanent cessation of hostilities. We do not speculate on further sanctions, but I can tell my noble friend that we are keeping this regularly under review and working with other countries to see if we can stem the flow of arms from countries where we have influence to make sure that that is not heating up an already very dangerous situation.

My Lords, the Archbishop of Khartoum has been forced to leave his home, along with his family and many of his people; they are now living in exile in Port Sudan. The Church of England dioceses with links to Sudan have tried to transfer funds to support the archbishop and his people, only to discover that banks are either unwilling or unable to transfer funds to Sudan. What assessment have the Government made of the banks’ willingness or ability to transfer funds in support of people who are suffering so terribly?

I am very happy to work with the right reverend Prelate and anyone who has means of getting support to particular groups such as he suggests—not just faith groups. There is a fracturing of the whole civil society across Sudan, and those are precisely the people whom we need, first, to support those in need in the current situation and, then, to rebuild the country in the future. Something as simple as banking is very important, and I am very happy to look at any suggestions he has about how the Government could influence the banking community to continue to support organisations such as faith-based ones.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned rebuilding. Has his department made any assessment of the damage to infrastructure in Darfur since April 2023—for example, the damage to water supplies, schools, medical facilities and humanitarian aid storage?

We have, and we are. This is obviously a continuing conflict; it appears that the RSF has taken large parts of Khartoum, so that part of the conflict is ongoing. In Darfur, I cannot give precise details, but part of the atrocities being committed is not just against people but against the infrastructure that supports them—such as those that the noble Baroness listed. In our package of international support to rebuild Sudan, we need to make sure we are rebuilding those assets that society will need.

My Lords, last year the US made the official atrocity determination for Sudan, citing war crimes, crimes against humanity and ethnic cleansing. Does my noble friend agree that measures and pressures must be applied not only to companies but to countries that support the RSF through funding, political support and provision of weapons?

I absolutely agree with my noble friend. We are working with others to stem the flow of arms and support for these organisations, which is flowing through countries that we deal with regularly. We have a situation where civilians are trapped in the conflict zones, unable to access basic services. There is a lack of supplies and the food security crisis that is increasing day by day has all the hallmarks of ethnic cleansing. We want to make sure that we are not only functioning internationally at a diplomatic level but also trying to make sure that we are supporting those in country in the best way we can in very difficult circumstances. Preventing other countries delivering arms into Sudan is a key priority.

Situation in the Red Sea


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Monday 26 February.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the recent response to Houthi aggression in the Red Sea. Thirty years ago, the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea came into force. That agreement was ratified by 168 nations and it states explicitly in Article 17 that

‘ships of all States, whether coastal or land-locked, enjoy the right of innocent passage through the territorial sea’.

Since 19 October, the Houthis, aided and abetted by Iran, have launched a ruthless and reckless campaign of attacks against commercial shipping. These attacks are not solely limited to commerce; our military vessels are also in the Houthi crosshairs. The Royal Navy, the US Navy and most recently the French navy have also been targets. Vessels owned by Chinese and Bulgarian companies and crews from India, Sri Lanka and Syria have been targeted indiscriminately, making a mockery of Houthi claims that this is all about Israel.

From the outset we have been clear that this cannot carry on. Freedom of navigation underpins not only our security but our prosperity. Around 80% of traded goods are carried over the seas, as are about 90% of the goods arriving in the United Kingdom. These necessities on which we depend arrive through a small number of critical waterways, so upholding these precious freedoms is essential for the preservation of life. This Government are determined to help restore the tranquillity of the Red Sea. That is why the UK was one of the first members to join the US-led taskforce, Operation Prosperity Guardian, with HMS ‘Richmond’ now taking over from HMS ‘Diamond’ to patrol in the Red Sea to help protect commercial shipping. It is why we are working in tandem with the US and other allies to reduce the Houthis’ capacity to harm our security and economic interest, to limit their impact on the flow of humanitarian aid, to prevent further regional escalation, and to show Iran in no uncertain terms that we will push back against its destabilising behaviour.

On occasion, in response to specific threats and in line with international law and the principle of self-defence, we have tackled the Houthi threat head on. Since 11 January, we have conducted a number of precision strikes against Houthi targets. In these previous rounds of strikes, RAF aircraft successfully struck some 32 targets at six different locations, including drone ground control stations as well as other facilities directly involved in the Houthis’ drone and missile attacks on shipping. I am pleased to say that it remains the case that, to date, we have seen no evidence at all to indicate that the RAF strikes caused civilian casualties, and the UN has noted that it has observed no civilian impact arising from the RAF strikes.

Although we have eroded the Houthis’ capacity, their intent to prosecute indiscriminate attacks against innocent vessels remains undiminished. Just last week, MV ‘Rubymar’—a Belize-flagged, British-registered cargo vessel—was targeted in the Gulf of Aden near the Bab al-Mandab Strait. Hit by missiles, the crew were forced to abandon ship. An oil slick, caused entirely by damage sustained in the Houthi attack, now stretches many miles from the vessel. On Thursday, the British-registered MV ‘Islander’ was similarly targeted. It was struck by two missiles, resulting in a fire on board. Fortunately, there was no loss of life.

This all comes not long after two US-registered bulk carriers, MV ‘Navis Fortuna’ and MV ‘Sea Champion’, suffered minor damage from Houthi strikes. The attack on ‘Sea Champion’ highlights the Houthis’ recklessness and near-sightedness, considering that ‘Sea Champion’ has delivered humanitarian aid to Yemen 11 times in the past five years and was due to unload thousands of tonnes of much needed aid to the Yemeni people through the ports of Aden and Hodeidah. The Houthis’ attack was, quite simply, callous. As near-sighted as these attacks are, they continue to have serious and potentially long-term consequences across the region, as they cut off vital aid to civilians in Yemen and Syria, restrict crucial food imports to Djibouti and threaten significant impacts in Egypt.

Last time I spoke on this issue, I told the House that we will not hesitate to act again in self-defence. We have given the Houthis ample opportunity to de-escalate, but once again, the Houthi zealots have ignored our repeated warnings. As a result, we have once again taken action to defend ourselves against these intolerable attacks. On Saturday night, a Royal Air Force package of four Typhoons, supported by two Voyager tankers, joined US forces in a deliberate strike against Houthi military facilities in Yemen that have been conducting missile and drone attacks on commercial shipping and coalition naval forces in the Bab al-Mandab Strait, the southern Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden. As the House knows, it was the fourth such operation to degrade the Houthi capabilities that are being used to threaten global trade in the Red Sea.

Intelligence analysis indicates that the strikes were successful, and that the sites we attacked were being used by the long-range drones that the Houthis use for both reconnaissance and attack missions, including at a former surface-to-air missile battery site several miles north-east of Sanaa. Our aircraft used Paveway IV precision-guided munitions against the drones and their launchers. Assessment continues at this still early stage, but the analysis so far indicates that all eight RAF targets were successfully struck. Three buildings were hit at the Bani military site, and five one-way attack drones are assessed to have been destroyed at the Sanaa military site.

On planning these strikes, as is normal practice for the RAF, operations were carried out meticulously, and consideration was given to minimising any risk of causing civilian casualties. Assessments so far indicate that, across the four sets of airstrikes, some 40 military targets have been hit at seven different Houthi facilities. I pay tribute to the immense skill and tireless dedication of the men and women who made that possible.

Once again, I would like to make it clear that military action is only one aspect of our approach to the crisis in the Red Sea. The whole international community has an interest in stopping these attacks, and we continue to work with it to turn that intent into action. The Prime Minister has engaged regional leaders, including the Sultan of Oman, as well as G7 partners. The Foreign Secretary and I have travelled repeatedly to the region in recent weeks to discuss regional security. We are determined to end the illegal flow of arms to the Houthis, using whatever levers are available, including enduring diplomatic engagement, and determined to continue to intercept illegal weapons and the shipping that helps to feed that supply. We are cutting off the Houthis’ financial resources, to further degrade their capacity to conduct attacks; for example, jointly with the US, we are sanctioning four Houthi leaders, and we will continue to work with the US to cut the flow of Houthi funds.

Despite the best efforts of the Houthis, we also continue to provide humanitarian help to people in the Middle East. This year, we will send some £88 million of humanitarian support to Yemen, which will feed 100,000 Yeminis every month. The UK has recently worked closely with our Jordanian partners to air-drop life-saving supplies directly to the Tal al-Hawa hospital in northern Gaza.

The Houthis could stop this barbaric behaviour any time they want. Instead, they callously choose to continue their reckless acts of aggression, causing harm not just to innocents, but to their own people in Yemen. Until they stop, we will continue to act, but consensus continues to grow that the Houthis’ violations simply cannot continue. That is why, recently, the European Union officially launched its Operation Aspides; Members will know that ‘aspides’ meant ‘shield’ in ancient Greek. We very much welcome the commitment of our EU partners to joining in the work that has been going on, because no nation should ever be able to threaten the arteries of global commerce.

Thirty years ago, nations of the world all came together to protect innocent passage on our high seas. Thirty years on, the House should be in no doubt whatever that we will continue to stand up for those rights, and do all that we can to defend life and limb of sailors everywhere, and to preserve their precious trading routes, on which we all depend. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I remind your Lordships’ House of my interests in the register, specifically my roles with the Royal Navy. I thank the Government for their Statement and want to make it clear—as my friend, the right honourable John Healey, did in the other place—that His Majesty’s Opposition accept that the weekend’s airstrikes were legal, limited and targeted to minimise the risk of civilian casualties. Before we move on to the substantive part of the Statement, I pay tribute to the total professionalism of all forces personnel involved in the operations, currently numbering in excess of 2,500. As ever, military deployments do not come without risk; I thank those serving and their families for the personal sacrifices that they make every day to keep us safe.

Research from the British Chambers of Commerce this week showed that 55% of UK exporters have now been impacted by the disruption of shipping to the Red Sea. Among UK firms more broadly, 37% have seen the effects of Houthi strikes, with manufacturers, retailers and wholesalers more likely to be affected. This is having a direct impact on our economy and cannot be tolerated. The Houthis are threatening international trade and maritime security, and are putting civilian and military lives in serious danger. We accept that the military action over the weekend was justified and necessary but, as the shadow Secretary of State asked in the other place, was it effective?

Deterrence does not feature in the weekend’s eight-nation joint statement in support of the strikes, and the Defence Secretary said on Monday that the Houthi intent remains undiminished, so can the Minister clarify exactly what our specific objectives are for this UK action? Is it deterrence or are we seeking to degrade Houthi capabilities? If it is both, as I hope it is, what will success look like? How successful have the four missions that we have been party to been in achieving these objectives?

Of course, the Labour Party continues to back the Royal Navy’s role in the defence of shipping from all nations through Operation Prosperity Guardian. Although we are a key partner in Operation Prosperity Guardian, we are now not the only ones seeking to secure freedom of navigation in the Red Sea and to tackle the Houthi threat. Can the Minister update your Lordships’ House on the current co-ordination efforts with our allies?

The EU has launched Operation Aspides with similar objectives to Operation Prosperity Guardian. How is the US-led task force co-ordinating with Operation Aspides and what plans are there for combined action? The Saudi-led intervention into the Yemeni civil war against the Houthis began nine years ago, almost to the day. Can the Minister update your Lordships’ House on the current discussions with the Saudis and the intersection between these efforts and the recent airstrikes? Military action against the Houthis must be reinforced by a diplomatic drive in the region aimed at stopping the flow of Iranian weapons, cutting off Houthi finances and settling the civil war in Yemen. A limited update was shared in the other place about these diplomatic efforts. What additional information can the Minister give us about these efforts, specifically the diplomatic plan accompanying the strikes to manage escalation risks? Can he inform your Lordships’ House what other partners and allies we are engaging with to stop the escalation of these Iranian-backed Houthi strikes?

There is no excuse for the current attacks by the Houthi rebels on international maritime activity. There is an onus on us to protect freedom of navigation, which is why we support the efforts of the UK Government and, as always, thank our service personnel for their bravery, professionalism and dedication.

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to His Majesty’s Armed Forces for always acting very effectively and professionally. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, we on these Benches support the limited strikes that we have seen so far. It is clearly right that, in line with the UN Convention on the Law of the Sea, the United Kingdom supports rights of navigation—in particular the right of innocent passage, which is enshrined in Article 17.

That said, can the Minister tell the House at what point His Majesty’s Government would feel it appropriate to come to this Chamber or, more likely, the other place to talk more fully about engagement in the Red Sea and attacks on Houthi targets? There are questions about parliamentary scrutiny of military intervention. For limited strikes, it is clearly right that the Government say, “This happened two nights ago”, but at what point does the number of limited strikes cumulatively become something that Parliament really should be addressing and able to scrutinise more fully?

Beyond that, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, pointed out, what we are seeing from the Houthis is action that is impacting on trade and navigability. It impacts not only the United Kingdom or our conventional western allies; these attacks are affecting global trade. There have been attacks on Chinese-registered companies’ ships and on crews from India, Sri Lanka and Syria. Although we clearly need to be talking with our conventional partners and allies, what discussions are we also having with China, India and other countries about more global ways of tackling this situation? In defending the Red Sea and keeping it open for trade, we are not only acting for the West but looking more globally. Is there scope within the United Nations to be talking much more broadly with a variety of countries that are, perhaps, not our normal partners and which even the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, may not yet have reached in his travels around the world in his first 100 days as Foreign Secretary? There may be opportunities that we could think about.

It is clearly welcome that the attacks so far appear to have been targeted, precise and proportionate. They have taken out Houthi targets, Houthi drone bases and so on but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, asked, what is the Government’s intent? Is it to degrade the Houthi capabilities, which is clearly welcome, or is it to deter? If it is trying to degrade, which the Government are saying has been successful, is that going to be a long-term degradation or are the Houthis simply going to look to their Iranian backers for further military support? In other words, can the Minister tell the House to what extent these limited attacks will remain limited and to what extent we are going to be able to work with partners to try to ensure that the reckless and opportunistic Houthi attacks stop? What is the endgame for the Government? Is it to ensure that there is full deterrence of the Houthis?

My Lords, let me start by making it absolutely clear that the Houthi attacks on ships in the Red Sea and the Gulf of Aden are illegal and intolerable. Their reckless and dangerous actions threaten freedom of navigation and global trade, let alone the risk to innocent lives. That is why the UK, alongside the United States and with the support of our international partners, has carried out additional strikes on Houthi targets in Yemen in line with international law and in self-defence.

We continue to take action that is necessary, limited, legal and proportionate in terms of self-defence, freedom of navigation and protecting lives. Our aim remains to disrupt and degrade Houthi capabilities to put an end to this persistent threat, and we will not hesitate to take further appropriate action to deliver this purpose.

I turn to the specific questions raised by the noble Baronesses, which I hope will go a long way to explaining this. First, on behalf of the Government, I continue to appreciate the support from all Benches in the House; it is extremely valuable and very helpful in reaching these decisions, and, of course, we appreciate the immense professionalism of all the Armed Forces and their support who are involved in this continuing and extremely tricky situation.

The effect on commerce goes without saying. As the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, pointed out, it is really starting to have an impact on European markets and, by definition, it must be having an impact on the manufacturing and supply bases in the Far East that ship towards Europe. On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, about China and its silence so far on this entire issue, one can only hope that the diplomatic efforts in that direction, when tinged with a little bit of economic reality, may have a slightly more impressive effect.

As for the actual effect of the specific attacks that we have undertaken, it may be helpful to run through exactly what we are trying to do, and to delineate these specific attacks in relation to a more general approach. These carefully targeted sites—and they really are carefully targeted—are attacking deeply buried weapons storage, launch sites, ground-control systems and radars, which are the four things that will stop these attacks. The intention to deter and degrade is absolutely present, and Prosperity Guardian is all about deterrence. These three things are intricately linked. In the attack last weekend, we hit three buildings, destroyed five drones that were ready to be launched, and, as far as we are aware, no civilian casualties were caused. To date, we have had four strikes on seven facilities and 40 targets. The information is that all four have been successful in support of Prosperity Guardian and our American, and other, allies—it is the Americans, of course, who are leading.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, quite rightly raises the question of Aspides, which is the EU stepping up to the plate, to some extent. To put a scale on that, it consists of four frigates and a single aerial asset. It is a defensive maritime security operation, and it will protect commercial shipping from attacks at sea or by air, but it will not involve itself in strikes on land. It started on 19 February 2024, it is based in Greece and it has an Italian force commander. It provides a valuable defensive role, but we do not see it being involved in any degrading or deterring.

On the question of the conversations with wider allies and other countries in the area, the whole purpose of the diplomatic effort is to put pressure on Iran, to try to stop the supply of weaponry to its acolytes. By taking military action—which is a final resort—as well as the diplomatic effort, we are doing all we can to restrict weapons and finance. It is consistent with our whole approach; it is appropriate and backed up with force.

My final point goes back to the question of global trade and the point that was well made by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that it is not just the allied shipping that is under attack. The idea that the Houthis are attacking only ships that are proving to be in support of something going on in Gaza is completely spurious. They attack whatever they like, including, as I am sure your Lordships are fully aware, the one ship that brings aid to Yemen, to support the UK and international partners. So that claim is just complete nonsense.

Finally, I will respond to the question of when these individual strikes become something more of a sustained campaign. It is a very difficult question to answer and it is not an easy one to grasp, because we do not quite know what level of effect these strikes are having on the overall capability of the Houthis. These are limited and deliberate strikes in direct response to the Houthi attacks on commercial shipping, our Navy and coalition ships in the region. There is no doubt that we have degraded the Houthi capability and we will continue to urge the Houthis, and those who enable them, to stop the illegal and unacceptable attacks on UK commercial and military vessels, and on those of our partners in the Red Sea and the wider region. Beyond that, it is very difficult to see how a broadening of this action may evolve.

Would my noble friend agree that it is highly desirable that other countries that have substantial military assets should use them to participate with the United States and the United Kingdom in the relevant military action against the Houthis? There is no reason why we should be confined to doing it by ourselves with the United States; other countries should play their part.

My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend’s point. However, it is the decision of each individual sovereign state to decide at what level they wish to become involved.

Is the Minister aware that HMS “Diamond” is replenishing with missiles in Gibraltar—which, I have to say, confirms the strategic importance of Gibraltar? I have a question for the Minister, and if he does not know the answer, perhaps he could write to me. The future fleet solid support ships must have the ability to replenish vertical launch missiles at sea. As I understand it, that is not in the spec at the moment; could the Minister please check that, because obviously the whole point is that we could have replenished Diamond out on station, rather than having to send her 1,500 miles home?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. I do not know the precise situation of where we are, but I know that there is great flexibility in transitioning to the new fleet. I will find out and respond.

My Lords, the Minister will remember that, at an early stage in the crisis, the UN Security Council called on the Houthis to desist. What consideration are the Government giving to further action at the United Nations? Are they, for example, seeking to put together a majority in the UN Security Council, calling on all member states to stop supplying weapons to the Houthis and stop helping them in their illegal actions? If the first resolution went through, is there not a chance of getting something a little stronger by building on that?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an extremely good point. Yes, there is quite some activity, but I am sure I need not point out to your Lordships that the Houthis pay scant regard to anything that the United Nations says.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a serving member of the Armed Forces. The noble Lord, Lord West, makes an interesting point, but it also exposes a slightly uncomfortable truth: we are using multi-million-pound missiles to defeat drones which are a fraction of the cost. This is ultimately unsustainable. What is the plan? Are we going to learn lessons from Ukraine, where there is a rather more layered approach to defeating drones? Ultimately, are we going to find some other way of defeating these weapon systems?

I admit that I look at this from a slightly different perspective. We are launching a missile in self-defence at an incoming attack vehicle, which is attempting to hit something behind us, which is probably worth half a billion pounds and well in excess of 100 lives. Having moved into position, there is no question that we are doing absolutely the right thing in deterring, degrading and reducing the Houthis’ effectiveness. On lessons from Ukraine, I assure the House that there is an enormous amount of activity going on in precisely that area, about what action can be taken to update and diversify all the weaponry at our disposal.

My Lords, the noble Earl mentioned the intention to disrupt the Houthis’ ability to make these attacks. What steps are being taken, if any, to stop the shipment to Yemen, from Iran or elsewhere, of offensive weapons for use by the Houthis?

The noble and gallant Lord makes an interesting point. As part of the international force dedicated to degrading the Houthis’ effectiveness, our partners are diverting and searching vehicles, both at sea and elsewhere, to ensure that as much as possible can be stopped from arriving in Yemen. At the same time, we are looking at disrupting the manufacturing capability behind this, which of course is based in Iran.

My Lords, in lessons learned, I hope the Government are also looking back at Operation Atalanta, which the noble Lord may recall was an EU operation commanded by the UK through Northwood, dealing with the Somali threat. Indeed, I recall—I was then a Minister—that there were some informal contacts between that UK-led force and Chinese naval vessels, which were also in the area. On the question of degrading, if the Houthis are mainly using speedboats and drones, how easy is it to degrade their capability over more than a very short period? Those are cheap and easy to move and therefore able to operate through all sorts of places. Are there limits to how far we can maintain having degraded them for more than a few weeks?

My Lords, the point is extremely well made. All parties are conversing at a certain level. Degrading these small drones and unmanned boats is not just a question of physically destroying them but also of disrupting their ability to land where they are supposed to.

My Lords, further to the question of my noble friend Lord Hailsham about the help we are getting from allies, can my noble friend confirm that the two biggest economies in Europe are Germany and France, in that order, which are importing significant quantities of goods from the Far East and China through the Suez Canal and therefore have a big interest in protecting shipping in the Red Sea? What is either country doing to suppress the Houthis’ missile systems?

I thank my noble friend for that question. To be honest, I do not know precisely what they are doing; I will find out and write. They are definitely supportive of Aspides, and that is certainly a move in the right direction.

My Lords, has the FCDO sufficiently studied the people of north Yemen, who are quite different from those in the south? In the view of some experts, they are irrepressible. What is the reaction of international diplomacy to that?

The noble Lord makes a very good point—one brought out earlier by the involvement of Saudi Arabia. It is very difficult to answer. We must take action to deter the disruption going through the Suez Canal because we believe so passionately in global trade. One would hope that there comes a point when diplomatic efforts and other activity in the region may bring a halt to this very unfortunate situation.

My Lords, Maersk, which I understand is the largest container company in the world, and Hapag-Lloyd, based in Germany, have taken the decision for commercial reasons not to risk going through the Red Sea but to take the long way around. Does my noble friend agree that this is possibly one reason why Germany and other European countries have not committed their forces against the Houthis at this time, as is the increased threat seen to Denmark’s home security and the fear of repercussions at home were it to do so?

My noble friend makes a good point. These enormous shipping operations have clearly taken some commercial decisions, which are almost certainly the right thing to do for them and their customers. One can see why there may be some reticence for sovereign states to get involved in more direct action, thereby threatening some of those countries’ commercial assets.

My Lords, a clause in the Statement says:

“Intelligence analysis indicates that the strikes were successful”,—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/24; col. 25.]

yet elsewhere, the Statement notes:

“The Houthi intent remains undiminished”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/24; col. 27.]

Picking up the point of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, there is little or no evidence thus far that there has been a meaningful diminishment in capacity. Is the word “successful” right, or should perhaps the Government not be saying something such as “achieved its objectives”?

I very much welcome the fact that the Statement says:

“Military action is only one aspect of our approach”,—[Official Report, Commons, 26/2/24; col. 25.]

focusing on diplomatic action but, on the countries we are working with, it talks about G7 partners, the US and the Sultan of Oman. However, many countries have been significantly impacted by this. For example, in Bangladesh, 65% of its garment exports, which are so central to its economy, go to Europe. The cost of containers is already up by about 50% and expected to go up by another 20%. Should the Government not be looking to do more to bring in countries such as Bangladesh, the Philippines and Indonesia, with so many seafarers being put at risk? Is this not a real opportunity to look truly globally and internationally, to try to get the international community working collectively—not necessarily but possibly through the UN—acknowledging that it cannot just be about a few countries?

My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Baroness says. The countries involved in the specific action we are taking are doing everything they can to get a situation where the Red Sea returns to being a safe passage of water. It is globally important; it is not just important for a few countries, as the noble Baroness rightly points out. That is precisely why we are acting as part of an international force to deter the Houthis and degrade their effect.

My Lords, I refer the Minister to the UK-registered merchant vessel “Rubymar”, which was hit by Houthi missiles two days ago. Mercifully, none of the crew were injured, but the vessel is drifting and sinking. It is carrying a very volatile cargo of fertiliser and there is already a fuel leak, so we could well be looking at quite a major maritime environmental disaster. What is HMG’s assessment of the situation at the moment and what efforts will be made to make sure that this injured, badly damaged vessel is towed to the nearest safe port?

My noble friend is absolutely right that it is potentially quite a severe issue. The Government and others are looking at what can be done. It is obviously unstable in an unstable environment and it is important that something is done about this relatively quickly.


Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of the Windrush scandal and the implementation and effectiveness of the Windrush Compensation Scheme.

My Lords, lives have been ruined, people have been falsely accused of lying and breaking the law, many have faced mental health issues and some have died without compensation—no, I am not referring to the Post Office scandal but to something equally shocking and unjust: the Windrush scandal, which I prefer to call the “Home Office scandal”, because that is what it is, the Home Office’s scandal. I have stood in this House on a number of occasions over the years, highlighting and drawing attention to this disgraceful state of affairs, and I am frustrated to bring this debate before the House once again to demonstrate that the matter is still as distressing as ever for the thousands of victims.

As we approach the sixth anniversary of the scandal emerging and the fifth anniversary of the launch of the Government’s Windrush compensation scheme, it is with great sadness—and extremely unfortunate—that we are still talking about the scandal today and not focusing on the extraordinary contribution the Windrush generation has given to our nation. The Windrush generation should be defined not by the scandal but by the enormous contribution they have made to Britain, starting back in 1948 when they were invited to come and help rebuild Britain after the war, many leaving their children and families behind. I am part of that generation and it was with great pride that I chaired the Windrush Commemoration Committee to oversee the creation of the magnificent, award-winning National Windrush Monument designed by Basil Watson, which proudly stands at Waterloo Station to celebrate this important part of our British history.

It has become a symbolic place of pilgrimage for adults who recall their trauma—and they weep. Many children who are studying Windrush visit the monument, which is so uplifting. But, sadly, the shadow of the scandal hangs over us as it remains clear that the injustices suffered by the Windrush generation still need to be addressed in a more urgent and timely manner than is currently the case. Victims are suffering from trauma and serious ill health, both physical and mental.

The number of people affected by the scandal is likely to be much higher than estimated by the Home Office. Figures vary dramatically and can be confusing but, as far as I can gather from lawyers, out of the potential 7,500 Windrush claimants—that is, those who have obtained status documents and have suffered detriment—only 2,097 have received compensation. That is £75.9 million out of the £500 million put aside.

The Home Office scandal caused by the hostile environment policy resulted in untold harm to the hard-working people of the Windrush generation. These citizens lost their homes and became homeless, living on the streets or being accommodated by friends or family in overcrowded properties. They lost access to their bank accounts and had to borrow and beg for money to survive. They lost their driving licences and their pensions. They suffered the humiliation of having to borrow from or take handouts from their adult children. They could not access benefits. They could not access the NHS, so their health suffered and many died as a consequence of the lack of timely medical treatment.

Their children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren also had their British citizenship denied. Many young people’s higher education stopped as they could not establish their citizenship. Many were unlawfully detained in detention centres, causing them humiliation, shock, embarrassment and mental anguish. That, in turn, affected their physical and mental health. Many were unlawfully deported, as admitted by the Government. Some were taken to countries they did not know and had to live on the streets without family support. Many died without receiving compensation.

This is a human story, full of injustice and emotional trauma. The survivors of the scandal feel let down and unheard, and their situations misunderstood. They are not illegal immigrants, refugees or asylum seekers; they are British citizens who entered the UK lawfully to study or work.

After years of work and dedication to Britain, it has been pointed out by Age UK that one of the many hidden consequences of losing employment and entitlement to benefits due to the scandal is that many drew their private pensions early to make ends meet. This has led to reduced private pension pots. In some cases, a loss of employment may have led to the loss of a private pension. However, loss of private pensions is not currently included in the scheme’s calculation of loss of earnings. This is despite repeated calls from campaigners for the inclusion of private pensions.

While being locked out of employment, claimants have also missed out on their workplace pensions which they have accumulated over many years. This is particularly important because the majority of the Windrush victims are of, or approaching, pensionable age. Estimating these losses is complex but, as they are a direct result of action taken by the Home Office, Age UK believes that the Government should find a way to cover them in the compensation scheme. So will the Government consider including loss of future earnings, which is not currently compensated for, under the scheme?

One of Britain’s largest unions, Unison, has told me that its fears were realised as reports came in of compensation claims being delayed longer than a year, complex forms, small payments and high levels of proof. The compensation scheme has placed victims under scrutiny, treating their claims with suspicion and placing their applications and lives in limbo. This has to end.

Thankfully, there are a number of lawyers, and individuals such as Patrick Vernon, who have got organisations to join together to set up the Windrush Justice Clinic to support and assist Windrush victims. They have all told me that victims are nervous about coming forward, for they know that the same people responsible for deporting them are also dealing with the compensation scheme and believe that this scheme should be overseen by an independent body. I have received dozens of case studies to justify this.

The Government must understand that victims are coming from a starting point of having their core beliefs destroyed by this scandal. They have little or no trust in authority, meaning that lawyers assisting them must first get over the hurdle of persuading them to trust and believe that they and others are there to help—others such as Glenda Caesar. She came to the UK as a baby, lost her job as an NHS administrator in 2009, faced deportation and was denied the right to work for nearly a decade. She now represents other Windrush victims and their claims for compensation. Just last week, someone working here on the Parliamentary Estate contacted me about problems they are having with a Windrush compensation claim. I connected them with Glenda and with other agencies.

Windrush victims need support similar to those affected by the Post Office scandal. The former government adviser to the Windrush compensation scheme, Martin Forde KC, who has since become one of its fiercest critics, said that the process for the Windrush victims to claim compensation

“is still very document heavy”.

It moves very slowly and the scheme cries out for legal aid.

Retired judges, senior parliamentarians and forensic accountants all are working on the postmaster scheme. Why are the Government not applying this kind of expertise to the Windrush compensation scheme? Anyone who has seen the form will know how complex it is, especially as many claimants are in their 60s and 70s and have no access to the internet. Even lawyers and solicitors say that they are having problems with the three different types of form: the primary application form is 44 pages long; the close family member application form is 24 pages long; the representative of estate application form is 46 pages long. All come with vast online support notes and the requirement of a large number of supporting historic documents. Lawyers have told me that these forms are one of the biggest hurdles to getting people to apply.

The House of Commons Home Affairs Committee agreed, and said that the scheme should be transferred to an independent body. This is something I called for from these Benches back in 2019. I was told by the Minister that it would take up to two years to implement. That was five years ago. This scandal is not going away. As the Justice 4 Windrush campaign, led by Colin McFarlane, has shown, this has wide support from all sectors of society across the country—the campaign’s online letter to the Prime Minister has also called for an independent body to be established.

No amount of compensation can ever erase the hurt and humiliation that the Windrush generation have suffered since their arrival in the motherland, when signs in the windows read, “No Irish, no dogs, no coloureds”. I witnessed those signs. We have heard so much about righting the wrongs for the Windrush generation but the Government’s good intentions must be matched by good outcomes. The Wendy Williams compensation recommendations were accepted by the Government with good intentions, only for three important ones in the report—including having a migrant commissioner—to be rolled back on in the most disrespectful way, as I highlighted in this House last year. It is clear that the Government must demonstrate their well-crafted words of intent through well-crafted actions, and stop this further humiliation and undignified treatment of the Windrush generation.

There is an automatic payment of between £10,000 and up to £100,000 for those British citizens who have been granted documentation through the status scheme, as they have suffered a high level of impact on life. This should be decided in six weeks, said the Government, but it has taken much, much longer. Why?

To make matters worse, it has emerged that children born in the UK after 1983 are now being rendered stateless. This highlights the need for a renewed approach, working in partnership with national organisations that support those affected on a daily basis, to ensure not just that wrongs are addressed but that related issues faced by those caught up in the scandal are fully considered.

It is now more important than ever to properly resolve this situation for the thousands of people affected, with compassion, consideration and empathy, as quickly as possible in view of their age and trauma. Once they have been sorted out, their descendants’ lives can also be sorted out.

We have had five Secretaries of State dealing with the Home Office scandal, yet only one has taken the time to meet with the Windrush victims, some of whom are sitting in the Chamber today. They are proud, hard-working people who have contributed to British society, but they have been humiliated in the most disrespectful way. Will the Minister show empathy and take time to meet them personally after this debate? For progress to be made, it is essential that trust and confidence in the relationship between the Home Office and the Windrush generation is restored. Sadly, we are far, far from this. The solution should be for an independent body to deal with this scandalous, heartbreaking, cruel and shameful episode of British history, because trauma lasts a lifetime.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, on securing this important and timely debate. The noble Baroness has done so much to champion the cause of Windrush and to celebrate the contribution of this valued community to British society. The personal journey of the noble Baroness is faithfully documented in her autobiography, What Are You Doing Here?—a very good read.

My involvement in Windrush was awakened as a result of a Question I was down to answer from the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, in your Lordships’ House on the need for a dedicated national Windrush day on 22 June, the anniversary of the arrival at Tilbury of the “Empire Windrush” so many years before, in 1948. I was convinced. It was a privilege to work alongside the noble Baroness.

The Government were moved, ultimately. There was a dedicated Windrush day and a dedicated national service of celebration, the first at Westminster Abbey, and a celebration at Downing Street hosted by the Prime Minister, Theresa May—all of this with the vital three words, “with a budget”. Organised via the Department of Housing, Communities and Local Government, as it then was, and securing afterwards exhibitions, music, dancing, food, historical perspectives and celebration of the vital contributions—economic, cultural, social and sporting—that have been given by this valuable community, giving an injection of diversity into national life, it was truly a great success. There were celebrations throughout the country, at Tilbury, Brixton, Manchester, Bristol, Leeds and Nottingham, and in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. I remember working alongside Paulette Simpson, Sonia Winifred and others, and the Voice magazine, all well and good. As has been mentioned, the noble Baroness headed up a committee to provide a lasting national monument. I see it regularly as I arrive at Waterloo station en route to your Lordships’ House—it is very fine indeed. Nobody could have done more than the noble Baroness—all this positivity and hope.

Meanwhile, alas, shamefully, the Windrush scandal was unfolding. The original Windrush settlers arrived in 1948, over 75 years ago. They were the first members of a generation who had been encouraged to move to the United Kingdom—our country—to help rebuild a new, regenerated United Kingdom after the ravages of the Second World War. And help rebuild it they did, with vital contributions to national services and national life.

My Lords, fast forward to the Immigration Act 1971. This Act gave Commonwealth citizens the right to live and work here in the United Kingdom; this was, after all, their country. People had built their lives here and generations followed them. Then, in 2017-18, it was revealed that many citizens who had lived here totally legally for generations, many of them from the Caribbean, were wrongly refused access to basic public services or charged for services that were theirs by right; in some cases, people were detained and deported. Just ponder that for a while. They were people with every right to be here—our fellow country men and women. This was, and is, a matter of national shame.

Our Government—a British Government—had no proper records and no appropriate paperwork and had, in many instances, seemingly destroyed landing slips for boats that had recorded people’s arrival dates many years before. This rightly caused horror and outrage at the injustice and the hardship inflicted. There was a need for drastic action. As has rightly been stated, the scandal raised serious questions about the Home Office, race and our country—and still does. Theresa May apologised and some positive action did follow: close to 16,000 people who did not have documentation then received it. Some—the accent is on “some”—compensation was paid, but not enough and not quickly enough in view of the massive losses inflicted.

Meanwhile, in June 2018, a review was set up. The Home Office appointed Wendy Williams, then Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, to conduct an independent review of the Windrush scandal, focusing on events from 2008 onwards. The review was published in 2022 and did not pull its punches. It is worth noting that, alongside this review, a transformation unit was set up in the Home Office to deal with the Windrush situation and carry forward Windrush policy. This was a reform agenda that successive Home Secretaries—Sajid Javid, Priti Patel and, initially, Suella Braverman; I stress “initially”—pledged to follow. My first question to my noble friend the Minister, who is certainly not personally to blame for the stuttering policy and serious errors that have been made, is this: why was that unit disbanded? I hope that he will do better than suggest that it is due to the significant progress we have seen—a suggestion that has been made previously and is, frankly, not credible. It is what might be called, if I may borrow a couple of phrases from across the pond, baloney or hogwash—or worse.

This brings me to the Wendy Williams review. I ask my noble friend: how many of the 30 recommendations that were accepted in full by the Government at the time have been implemented in full, and how many are yet to be completed? As we heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, three key recommendations were ditched by Suella Braverman although they had previously been accepted in full by the Government. The ditching of those recommendations was bemoaned and labelled a mistake by Theresa May in her compelling review of what happened in her book, The Abuse of Power. The recommendations included, as the noble Baroness said, the appointment of an independent migrants commissioner; the review and strengthening of the role of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration; and the organisation of reconciliation events between members of the Windrush generation and officials and Ministers. Why did the Government go back on their acceptance of these key recommendations? Why, why, why? Was it all down to the personality of that particular Home Secretary? If so, will the position be reviewed by the current Home Secretary and those recommendations restored? I do hope so.

Let us be honest about the position we are in. Among a generation of people and their descendants, largely from the Caribbean, many have been treated abominably. There was recognition of that by Theresa May, the then Prime Minister, and some action, but not enough and not speedily enough. Rather than take our foot off the accelerator and apply what appears to be a handbrake turn, as was done under Suella Braverman, we should press full steam ahead. Every time the Home Office feels inclined to veer to the complacent, the smug and the self-congratulatory, it needs to remind itself of the people who have died without a penny piece of compensation. It needs to remind itself of the backlog of claims and the complex forms that had to be filled in. Above all, it needs to remind itself of the outstanding compensation claims that exist and of the searing, justified, burning sense of injustice rightly felt by a section of our own community—by our very own country men and women.

My Lords, it is the 1950s. Ferdy, Bernie, Dennis and Lennie arrive in London from the West Indies full of optimism about their futures. That is the opening premise of the musical, “The Big Life”, which has returned to the Theatre Royal Stratford East. Life turns out to be harder than they expected.

I mention this because it is where Shakespeare’s “Love’s Labour’s Lost” meets the Windrush generation. It is not just a great ska musical; it is also a timely reminder of how much we owe each other and how much we have all benefited in different ways, as was highlighted so strongly by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. Another reminder is the welcome decision by the Mayor of London to choose Windrush as the designation of one of the untangled Overground lines. Appropriately, the Windrush line goes through Brixton—we will leave for another day the unfortunate fact that it does not stop there—and, as has already been mentioned, there is a Windrush sculpture in Waterloo Station.

Recognition of the Windrush generation’s role in these different ways is of course welcome; equally, what would be even more welcome is fulfilling the promise of compensation for the British citizens from the Commonwealth who were wrongfully deported, detained and denied their rights. A promise made is not the same as a promise delivered. Much more needs to be done to address fully the harm caused by past policies and neglect, which is why I heartily welcome today’s debate and thank the noble Baroness for her excellent, compelling speech. I also welcome the strong speech from the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth. He mentioned many people who have been involved in this campaign but I particularly welcomed his reference to the work of Sonia Winifred. I look forward to the Government’s response to the powerful arguments being presented—although, at this stage, I must say that I do so without a lot of optimism.

The Government’s failures concerning the Windrush generation must be highlighted in five key areas. The first is legal status and documentation. Changes in immigration law over the years did not account for these individuals, leaving them without easy access to the necessary paperwork to prove their right to live in the United Kingdom. Given the passage of time and complexity of the issues involved, the burden of proof should be appropriate, which it clearly is not at the moment.

Secondly, we must account for the “hostile environment” policy that ruled for too long. Without documentation to prove their legal status, many were denied access to healthcare, housing, employment and benefits. Some were detained; some were even deported. These harms were not one-offs: they echoed throughout their lives and down the generations.

I mention here the case of the significant number of British citizens who were chronically sick and mentally ill but sent to Commonwealth countries in the Caribbean between 1958 and 1970. The policy was that each patient should have

“expressed a wish to return”

and be sent only if there would be “benefit” to the patient and “suitable arrangements” in the receiving country. In practice, it has to be asked whether vulnerable patients had the capacity to make such decisions, and it is far from clear that the receiving countries had the capacity to provide these people with adequate care.

The third issue is the lack of government support and action. Although the Government have acknowledged the injustices faced by the Windrush generation and established the compensation scheme, the process has been too slow, too complex and inadequate to address the losses and hardship experienced. This has already been explained clearly. A major problem is the lack of support for claimants. I understand from an excellent report in the latest edition of the Brixton Bugle that Southwark Law Centre is taking the Government to the High Court for refusing legal aid to a claimant through the Windrush compensation scheme, and I wish them every success.

Another concern, in the research from the King’s College legal clinic, is that, of comparable compensation schemes, the Windrush compensation scheme has statistically

“the lowest success rate and highest refusal rate for applicants, with only 22% (1,641) of those applying receiving compensation and 53% of initial applications being refused”.

We must ask how many of those are because of the sheer complexity of the process rather than the fact that they were not entitled. I hope that the Minister will address these concerns in his response. Additionally, are sufficient resources being provided to the relevant high commissions so that they can support claimants resident in those countries?

The fourth aspect is that this is part and parcel of the racial discrimination that the Windrush generation has had to face as part of the broader issue that all people from minority-ethnic groups have faced within the UK’s immigration system. The challenges continue to demonstrate systemic issues of racism and discrimination, which need to be addressed. A dedicated unit is the only real answer to that problem.

Then there is the impact on people’s lives. The Government’s failures have had a profound impact on the lives of many members of the Windrush generation, affecting their mental health, financial stability and sense of belonging to the United Kingdom. I highlight the mental toll on claimants and their families caused by the Government’s inadequate response. Even after the initial crisis, victims continue to face negative experiences because of these policies. The trauma experienced by the Windrush generation can be passed down to subsequent generations. Families must grapple with the emotional aftermath, affecting the mental well-being of children and grandchildren.

I very much hope that the Minister will be able to give us some hope in his response that these issues will be addressed.

My Lords, I also pay tribute to my dear noble friend Lady Benjamin. She is right to say that this scandal should not define the Windrush generation, but she is equally right to say that we must address it and effectively deal with it.

As has been said by many, the treatment of the Windrush generation is one of the country’s greatest contemporary scandals. Six years ago, almost to the day, the nation began to wake to the reality of a hostile immigration environment that had been in place for decades. Only then, six years ago, were the trauma, heartache and pain laid fully bare, thanks in no small measure to the dogged determination of those such as Amelia Gentleman, Patrick Vernon, Lee Jasper and many others. As a matter of fact, back in 2019 I joined Lee Jasper and other campaigners in a march on Westminster demanding justice.

It is worth reminding ourselves of how this scandal affected tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people’s lives, some directly and many others indirectly. More than 160 individuals were deported or detained. For example, grandparents who had lived here for more than half their lives were deported to countries they had not visited since early childhood. Some went on holiday to visit families and were not allowed back into the country. Many were financially ruined or sacked, found themselves destitute and were blacklisted—I hate that term—from jobs, unable to open bank accounts and denied life-saving medical treatment. These British citizens were demeaned and hounded by the state—the state that this most loyal of British generations called the mother country.

Think about this for a second. Can you ever ask for a greater loyalty than from a generation whose ancestors were enslaved and then colonised by the UK but who nevertheless fought in two world wars to ensure the freedom of that nation and then, after the war, accepted the pleas of politicians such as Enoch Powell—there is an irony there—to come and rebuild a post-war broken Britain? These remarkable citizens, with the purest of hearts, rightly or wrongly referred to this nation as the mother country.

It is this generation, my mother’s cohort, who the King of England and much of the Commonwealth described as pioneers. He went on to say, as part of the Windrush 75th anniversary celebrations:

“History is, thankfully and finally, beginning to accord a rightful place to those men and women of the Windrush generation … It is, I believe, crucially important that we should truly see and hear these pioneers who stepped off the Empire Windrush at Tilbury in June 1948—only a few months before I was born—and those who followed over the decades, to recognise and celebrate the immeasurable difference that they, their children and their grandchildren have made to this country”.

For the record, the King held two wonderful events to celebrate the 75th anniversary: one at Buckingham Palace, which I and my noble friend attended, and another at Windsor Castle. In sharp contrast, I am not aware of any celebratory events that No. 10 or the Home Office held for the 75th anniversary celebrations, but I am very much aware that this Government and subsequent Governments have treated this generation with utter contempt.

Around the week of the Windrush 75th anniversary celebrations, for example, the Home Secretary, Suella Braverman—not one for much empathy towards people of African descent, Muslims, and those who crossing the channel—did little or nothing beyond announcing the abandonment of three of Wendy Williams’ key Windrush recommendations.

They are worth noting again. Recommendation 3 is that the Home Office should

“run a programme of reconciliation events with members of the Windrush generation … Recommendation 9 … introduce a Migrants’ Commissioner responsible for speaking up for migrants and those affected by the system directly or indirectly … Recommendation 10 … Review the remit and role of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, to include consideration of giving the ICIBI more powers with regard to publishing reports”.

Since those six years, what has changed? What has been achieved? Well, according to Age Concern and the Immigration Law Practitioners’ Association, not enough. Simple facts: about 15,000 undocumented people have been given paperwork by the Home Office since the scandal, proving that they have, and always had, the right to live here. Officials initially expected that a similar number might claim for compensation, and anticipated paying out somewhere upwards of £200 million. Some progress has been made—so far, the scheme has paid out £75 million to 2,000 claims—but the scheme remains slow and bafflingly complex, and demanding of sophisticated legal advice.

Navigating this process is difficult for any legal advisers, so how can someone stripped of their dignity, and not working, even begin to navigate this complexity? The victims of the Windrush scandal are not offered legal aid and, as such, this House should note and recognise, with great shame, that people are literally dying while waiting for justice. To date, 53 individuals have died waiting.

Have the Government and the Home Office learned anything from this very brutal abuse of power scandal—one which, as has been said, has similarities with the Post Office scandal? It appears not.

According to the indomitable Amelia Gentleman, the Home Office team that was tasked with transforming the department after the Windrush scandal has been formally disbanded. Three teams with the directorate were working on post-Windrush issues: one on ethics—think about that for a second—another on training and monitoring progress on reform commitments and a third on engagement, who were told, “Your work is over”.

After many years of deep suffering, how do we properly right this wrong to a generation that deserves better? Step one—urgently—take this away from the Home Office. It has proven incapable and/or unwilling to effectively deal with this. For me, it is a little bit like an unrepentant burglar being asked to give back the booty they have stolen from victims: it ain’t happening. Step two—give free legal aid and fast-track compensation, with clear published targets. Step three—lower the burden of proof for claims and compensate fully for losses and impact on life. Step four—reimplement those teams that were engaged with the work on ethics. Might I suggest that, right across government, a standing item with every prospective policy legislation should have this? Step five—full implementation of Wendy Williams’ review, with a turbocharged team to deliver.

Finally, I would like to see, and my friends visiting today would like to see, a gathering of all those Prime Ministers still alive and with us from the 1970s to come here, collectively, and sincerely apologise. They include John Major, Tony Blair, Gordon Brown, David Cameron, Theresa May, Boris Johnson, Liz Truss and Rishi Sunak. We need a collective, heartfelt apology for the damage caused, before it is too late.

I congratulate my noble friend Lady Benjamin on securing this debate, for the eloquent and passionate speech she made today, and for the brilliant monument installed at Waterloo station last year, to which her tireless campaigning led.

Although many people will have heard about the Windrush scandal, they—like me—may not know how it arose. The tale is worth retelling, because it sets the context of how the Windrush scandal was allowed to arise, and how it went from bad to worse. Under the Immigration Act 1971, foreign nationals ordinarily resident in the UK were deemed to have settled status and given indefinite leave to remain. However, many people were not issued with any documentation confirming their status, and the Home Office did not keep a full register confirming who was entitled to this status. So the fault for what subsequently happened lies, at least in part, at the door of the Home Office.

Then we had the “hostile environment”, initiated by Theresa May in 2012 with the intention of deterring illegal immigrants—but the Home Office started checking more widely. By late 2017, media coverage started to pay attention to individual cases of long-term residents facing hardship due to their difficulties in proving their lawful immigration status. Jobs, homes, healthcare and welfare benefits were lost, as we have all heard. People were detained, removed from the UK and denied re-entry to their homes following trips abroad.

I can only imagine what it must have felt like to be faced with billboards saying, “Go Home or Face Arrest” and the psychological distress felt by people whose residence was suddenly called into question after so many years. Research by the University of London found that psychological distress suffered by the Windrush population rose markedly after the Immigration Act 2014 and the subsequent Windrush scandal came to light. This had a worse psychological effect than the coronavirus on the general population.

Some interim measures to redress the damage were introduced and Theresa May apologised in words to the effect of, “But I didn’t mean you”. But it was too late—the hostile environment had spread and infected large parts of the white British psyche.

We have heard that, in 2018, Wendy Williams began her review of “lessons learned” and made 30 recommendations, which were accepted in full by the then Home Secretary Priti Patel. The compensation scheme was introduced in 2019, administered by the Home Office. It is shameful to note that by 2023, fewer than 2,000 claims had been settled—only 13% of the outstanding claims.

UNISON has commented that the Home Office administrators of the compensation scheme have

“placed victims under scrutiny … treated their claims with skepticism and placed their … lives in limbo. For too many of those affected, the compensation scheme feels like more of the same rather than … justice”.

The Home Office, aided and abetted by the “hostile environment”, was clearly the source of the problem. I cannot see it being capable of delivering the solution any time soon, given its record so far. It seems clear to me that administration of the compensation scheme, as has been called for by so many others, should be placed in independent hands. Age UK and many others, including the Lib Dem group here, are calling for this.

Even when compensation has been offered, some offers were insultingly low and arguably the most important element of all—loss of private pension—was not considered, consigned to the “too difficult” box. Many of these individuals are now pensioners, with no opportunity to make up the lost pensions they would have received.

After Priti Patel accepted the Wendy Williams recommendations in full, the next Home Secretary, Suella Braverman, reneged on three—to have a migrant commissioner to engage with migrants directly, to have a review of the remit and role of the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, and to have reconciliation events with Windrush families. Wendy Williams said that the Home Office must

“open itself up to greater external scrutiny”

and advised it that it was

“vital to improve the accountability, effectiveness and legitimacy of the system”.

UNISON is currently working with other parties to provide a legal challenge to this decision and has been given permission to go to the High Court this spring. In September 2021, Wendy Williams reviewed progress and said that the Home Office was

“potentially poised to make the … changes it needs to”.

Given that in 2023 it was only 13% through the case load, I wonder whether she is anywhere close to being satisfied.

I will ask four questions of the Minister. First, will the Government ask Ms Williams to include a further independent review of progress as part of her current wider remit to look at the Home Office’s functioning more generally?

Secondly, a Home Office source said that they were worried that reneging on three of the recommendations previously committed to signalled that it was

“rolling back from the commitments that we publicly made about not repeating those mistakes”.

What evidence does the Minister have that this is not the case, and that the hostile environment is a thing of the past?

Thirdly, will the Government hand the management of the compensation scheme to an independent body? It would help to restore trust and confidence. If the Minister was considering responding by saying that this would prolong completing the job even further, perhaps he could consider that it could hardly be slower.

Fourthly, on pensions, will the Government consider creating a team of actuaries to work solely on pensions claims? That way, it would not hold everything else up.

Before I sit down, I will refer to another, bigger picture that we might want to consider here. I wonder how many, if any, illegal immigrants actually gave up and went home, or were deterred from coming to the UK at all by the “hostile environment”. It certainly has not stopped people risking their lives in small boats in the channel—as we saw only yesterday from the tragedy in the news.

We can conclude that the Government’s immigration strategy is a failure, except in one sense. It has succeeded in helping to stir up racism and racial intolerance in this country and has fostered hatred against all immigrants and even people of second, third and further generations back. After all, the Home Office only responds to the tone set by the Government of the day; unfortunately, the Government of the day have been the Conservative Party, which has been setting the hostile environment tone for far too long.

My Lords, it is quite hard to contribute to this debate following the contributions of the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for whom respect is required, the noble Lords, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, Lord Davies and Lord Woolley—we are good friends—and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull.

My humble contribution is in honour of the people sitting in the Gallery, because they are dignity incarnate. I am pretty certain that the Windrush generation will not be known as a result of this scandal. It will not be their legacy. But the Home Office will be known. The Home Office’s culture, standards, values and purpose will be known as a result of this scandal.

This is outrageous. We all know it—not just those sitting in this Chamber but those outside. We all knew it when those lorries were driving around London talking about a hostile environment. We all knew that it did not just mean illegal migrants. On my journeys through London, the looks and comments I received—it was permission. It was the lowering of the standards of tolerance, grace, acceptance and dignity that this country is known for throughout the world. It was underlined by the Windrush scandal.

The Home Office’s culture is simply not fit for purpose if it cannot protect or administer for all citizens of this country equally. It should be of deep concern to this House that British citizens were abandoned by the Home Office, which as taxpayers they actually contributed to paying for. The apology was woefully inadequate then and, frankly, is woefully inadequate now.

The compensation process can be described only as cruel. It is almost designed to avoid the recognition of the continued trauma of the loss of income and pensions, already mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin. Why has it taken so long for this outrage to be resolved in favour of British citizens who have been so badly treated and wronged? One has to wonder why these victims of injustice have had to wait so long.

It is true that Age UK should be thanked for maintaining the spotlight on this outrage, but we should also pay tribute to my good friend Patrick Vernon, Amelia Gentleman and Colin McFarlane, whose film must be required watching and listening for anyone who takes seriously their role as a legislator in this country. Their tireless campaigning has kept this disgrace on the books.

In the context of the Post Office scandal, where the pace was immediate and the response instant, the Windrush scandal is glacial by comparison. What are we waiting for? What is the Home Office waiting for? What are the Government waiting for? I have to tell the House that, as the son of a nurse and the chair of the NHS Confederation, I note that many of the victims of this scandal have given loyal service to the NHS for many years.

The reason why the Windrush scandal is so important and goes beyond the incalculable pain and anguish of the victims is that it sends a signal not just to the Windrush generation but to all those people who look like them, speak like them, admire them or are younger than them. It sends a signal to people in this country who live with the Windrush generation about how much we care. The fact is that five Home Secretaries, given the responsibility of resolving this matter, did not even meet them. What greater signal could that send? We all know that what the chief executive does, what the chair does, sends a signal throughout the organisation. This is the Home Secretary we are talking about; it was unacceptable, incompetent and uncaring. Saying sorry just is not enough.

Seeing this outrage as urgent is the Home Office’s primary duty—a duty that it has ignored to date. The noble Baroness, Lady Burt, commented on “We don’t mean you”; I am sorry, but you do—you mean me, my family and all those people who care. In support of my noble friend Lord Woolley’s excellent recommendations, I say that it is critical that a specialist unit be set up to expedite the Windrush claims now. There is no excuse for the Home Office to continue the abuse of these good people. A second apology is due not only to the victims of the Windrush scandal but to the Windrush generation as a whole. I do not want to see parties; I want to see apologies. It is a generational scandal.

The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, asked a pertinent question about why. Why under Suella Braverman was an anchor placed on the progress and procedures that had been put in place to reverse this outrage? I would like an answer. We need to send a different signal not just to the Windrush generation but to the country as a whole. That signal needs to be a message of gratitude, dignity and apology to that generation who helped build the NHS and fought in two world wars, often going unrecognised, and who have built, with many others, this great country.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for securing the opportunity to debate this important topic. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, for his speech; it is an honour to follow him and with him I wish to acknowledge and honour those sitting in the Chamber today. I am personally indebted to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for being an inspiring role model. Being one of her “Play School” babies—I was born in 1973—I grew up with her visibility firmly in my view. However, as a child, and even as a young adult, I had no knowledge of her story or indeed of the narrative of the Windrush generation and the scandal associated with it. She has had an indelible impact on my life and being in her company in this House is a tremendous honour.

In the other place yesterday, a Question was asked about another matter of delay, the infected blood scandal compensation. This, and other areas of concern, such as Grenfell and the Post Office, mean that we have a tapestry of issues with recurring themes of redress, compensation and delay. Yet these are not just issues; they are about lives and they are about justice. I must note the disparity in processes that the noble Lord just mentioned.

I am only too aware that the Church of England is rightly getting its own house in order, albeit not fast enough. The noble Lord, Lord Boateng, is working tirelessly in his role as chair of the Archbishops’ Commission for Racial Justice. In her closing speech in a debate at the Church of England’s recent General Synod, the Bishop of Dover reflected that representation at all levels of the Church is not yet where it should be. In 2020, the members of the General Synod voted unanimously to apologise for the Church’s racism and to give thanks for the contribution of the Windrush generation and their descendants to British life and culture.

In my own context of north-east England, the city of Newcastle is passionate about its sport, particularly football. It is well documented that children of the Windrush generation changed football in Britain for ever. They confronted discrimination not just on the pitch, but, as the anti-racism charity Kick It Out reports, these players

“have had to cope with the additional pressure of beating racists on the terraces … in the media and in the boardroom”.

In 1996, the former Newcastle and Trinidad and Tobago goalkeeper Shaka Hislop, from his own experience of racist abuse, helped to found the charity Show Racism the Red Card. From its north-east origins, this charity now works tirelessly across the UK and plays a vital role in tackling racism within professional and grass-roots football. With this sporting context in mind, this issue is not a siloed one; it is about all of life, recreational and cultural, and especially about the lives of those who still wait for recognition and compensation. That is why we are here today, shamefully.

In my own life and work, calls for justice and reconciliation are deeply ingrained throughout the biblical narrative. Other faith traditions also speak into these themes. I find it deeply distressing that, as other noble Lords have pointed out, people have died waiting for their Windrush compensation claims to be processed. The noble Lord, Lord Woolley, told us that there have been 53 deaths. In 2023, there were more than 2,000 claims where victims received a zero payment, more than double the number in the same period in 2022. It is not hard to see or understand the impact of delays, and it is not surprising that claimants distrust and feel suspicious about the Home Office. They must feel that they are being retraumatised. They are being retraumatised by being asked for documents and proof in the same way that they were asked to try to prove their residency in the first place.

This scheme was meant to be designed to compensate for the failings of the Home Office in the Windrush scandal and to provide justice for those people, yet it seems that the tenor of many claimants’ interactions with the Home Office does not reflect that. A new report by University College London has found that government policies had a worse effect on the mental health of black Caribbean people than the pandemic lockdown had on the wider population, as the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, mentioned in her speech. This increase of psychological distress deepens the trauma and injustice.

Calls from victims, Members of this House and of the other place and many campaign groups to address all these matters are ongoing and are also seeking to ensure that legal aid is guaranteed to all eligible claimants, because this is a huge barrier, as the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, said. I, too, ask the Minister whether the Government will provide this or at least a system to recover legal costs, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, indicated in his excellent speech.

In the progress report on the “lessons learned review”—this has been referred to in many speeches—and in follow-ups, Wendy Williams said that the review of the compliant environment policies remains essential to ensuring that the Home Office learns from past experience and adopts a more compassionate approach. That matter was raised again in this House by the noble Baroness, Lady Lister of Burtersett, in November last year. Once again, I ask the Minister: what has happened to that review? We must surely rebuild the public’s trust in our Government. I fear there is a risk that the compensation scheme meant to redress injustice is becoming part of the problem and a source of injustice in itself.

Again, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for tableting this debate today. I commit to following her tireless work in this matter and to offering what support I can in my role.

My Lords, I feel that there is little I can say that will deepen the feelings we have heard expressed, mitigate the experiences that have been described to us or strengthen the arguments that have been put forward by the noble Lords who have spoken before me. I do not want simply to offer a gesture of support. I can only undertake in my daily life to put into practice the high ideals that they set and to live by the tenets of justice to which they have appealed. In that respect, therefore, I do not expect to have much of substance to say in this debate, but I did not want to miss the chance to say even that.

I have to say that the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, and my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Woolley—and, in a moment, the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, by anticipation—are people who have kept us on our toes. However, I want to say a word of respect for one other contributor to this debate from across the Chamber: the noble Lord, Lord Bourne. It takes a bit of guts when you are in government to speak from the Government Benches as openly and frankly as he has. Yesterday, he was in an audience to which I spoke, and he said nice things to me afterwards; I am so delighted to have the chance to return the compliment today.

In thinking about this debate, I was on two tracks as to any contribution I might make. The first was to take the report of Wendy Williams and make it the basis for our debate, but I would want to do that only if we went one at a time through the 30 recommendations she made to see what progress had been made in respect of each one. I know that we would pause at recommendations 3, 9 and 10 and possibly have rather longer debates there, but I would rather like to see how we measure the progress against all 30 of them. Granted, even 10 minutes each would not allow us to do that.

In the time available to me now, I can say only this: what a contrast it has been for me, as a member of your Lordships’ House, in the past three or four years as we have dealt with three pieces of legislation relating to immigration—the Nationality and Borders Act, the Illegal Migration Act and, soon, the Rwanda Act—which, when they were before us, commanded energy and support from the Benches opposite. Where there is a will, there is a way. The Government were definitely showing that they had a will: they therefore wanted to push matters through with energy and as quickly as possible. Contrast that with the length of time it has taken to deal with these proposals. Do not the Government feel that it would be a good thing to be able to say to the House, “Here are the proposals”—they may well be in line with those of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley—“and they will be enacted in the next year. We will put the same energy that we put into those other migration-related pieces of legislation into getting this sorted once and for all”? Would that not be simply wonderful? However, I suggest that noble Lords look at the well-peopled Government Benches today and ask themselves whether that will could possibly be mustered in respect of this matter.

Again and again in the debates surrounding the three Acts of Parliament that I mentioned, we have been told that it is important to stop the boats because the people of Britain want it. I do not know on what basis those who said those words really understood what they were saying but I know that, if we can get this matter wrapped up and dealt with quickly, it will be what the people of Britain want.

On that note, I am very happy, with four minutes of credit to everybody concerned, to take my place again.

My Lords, is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port. The comparison that he made between the cascade of immigration of legislation we have seen being pushed through the House and what has happened with the Windrush scheme was telling. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for securing this debate for us—although I join her in regretting that she has had to—and for introducing it so powerfully.

It is an honour to take part in this debate of the absolute highest quality so it seems unfair to single people out—but everyone says that before they do it anyway. I particularly single out the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, for so powerfully setting the scene of the enormous contributions made. I should warn the noble Lord that I intend to clip his speech and put it out on social media—be warned. I also join others in crediting the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, who has today powerfully carried the Back-Bench flag for his own Benches all on his own.

I will not apologise for briefly repeating some of the things that have been said before because it is important to see that they are driven home. It is telling that a number of people have referred to the Age UK report, which came out today. The fact that it is Age UK that produced the report is a reminder that there is huge urgency in dealing with this matter; people are dying before they receive compensation, which is important, but also before they receive the acknowledgment that comes with it, which is even more important to many people. As Age UK has said, it must not be too late. We cannot let more people go to their graves uncompensated for the enormous harm that they and their families have experienced.

We have heard the figures: by the end of 2023, fewer than 2,000 individuals had been offered compensation, and it was often clearly inadequate. That is fewer than one in seven of those who had been estimated to be eligible. Only around 7,600 claims have been made—little more than half of what was thought to be needed. What do we do? I offer strong Green Party support to the idea, which others have mentioned, of an independent body to take over this. For all the reasons that have been outlined by almost every speaker, the Home Office is inappropriate to handle the situation; indeed, it is not handling it. People are fearful of approaching the Home Office as it is associated with the hostile environment, and the administrative delays and errors in the appeals process mean that it just is not adequate. I pick up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and others, that the scheme must include compensation for the loss of private pensions and future earnings.

I also agree with the noble Baroness and others that this should be called the Home Office scandal, but I am afraid that I would turn that round and say that the Home Office is a scandal—a long-standing, enormous blot on the landscape of our governance. The Green Party’s position is that we need to split the Home Office in two. It is impossible for it to be both the policer of immigration and the body that is supposed to facilitate people’s entry into the UK and welcome them. However, we would go wider than the scandal and the failure of the Home Office; quite simply, our Government are not working at the moment. The Windrush scandal is a powerful demonstration and illustration of the fact that it is the most vulnerable and the poorest who pay the highest price for government dysfunction; this is something that is systemically true, not just true in this case.

I again echo the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, that no amount of compensation can make up for the suffering. However, it is an acknowledgment, and that is crucial. It is an acknowledgement not just of individuals but of the continuing problems in our society. A point that has not been highlighted is that it could be a powerful step towards healing the problems of racism in our society if an independent body is created and this situation is resolved as fast as possible, and people get the compensation they deserve.

While thinking about this, I have been looking at some of the recent reflections on racism in our society. Kalwant Bhopal, professor of education and social justice and director of the Centre for Research in Race and Education at the University of Birmingham, has focused on what is happening in our universities. She says that they are often taking tokenistic measures and failing to confront their complicity in racial injustice. The professor noted:

“There are only 100 black professors in the whole of the UK, and only four … Vice Chancellors”

from minoritised communities. Curricula remain underweighted on issues of slavery, colonialism and imperialism. When people work on racism and social justice issues, it is too often considered personal research and something affecting them, and not something that gets the proper professional weight.

Reflecting on racism today, there is a major study, which I fear has got very little attention, from the University of Manchester, the University of St Andrews and King’s College London. The evidence for equality national survey, carried out by the Centre on the Dynamics of Ethnicity, reports that more than one-third of people from minoritised communities in Britain have experienced some form of racist assault. The report stresses that

“tackling racism is not just a case of merely removing ‘bad apples’ from workplaces and institutions … we need to seriously transform the policies and procedures”.

This has been a hugely powerful debate. I am not going to use my full 10 minutes because I want to keep the focus on the key points about Windrush. However, I will finish with a final question. If the Minister cannot answer this—I am aware it is not within his departmental responsibility—I hope that he might be able to write to all of us. It is important for us all to know how much is being taught in primary and secondary schools about the Windrush generation and the injustice they have suffered. It is crucially important that future generations know what has happened and have an understanding of the processes of what happened. The point, of course, is to make sure that we have change and do not find ourselves in your Lordships’ House in 10 or 20 years confronting a new, similar scandal.

My Lords, all of us who have spoken so far in this debate have done so because of our profound respect and love for the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, but also because the Windrush reality confronts us, and we feel angered and aggrieved at the obvious discriminatory outcome that the Home Office is facilitating. The facts speak for themselves. We have said them; we know them; we understand them. If this was another ethnic group of people, it would not be this way. We encourage the Home Office to deny it.

My father came here in 1952. He came from Savanna-la-Mar, in Westmoreland, in Jamaica. He came here to join the NHS as a dentist. He brought my mother, who was a young nurse. My brother and I are the product of their adventure to Great Britain from Jamaica. When he and my mother came here, they told us stories of people’s comments and misunderstandings. I remember so clearly my mother, with me as a little four year-old boy at her side, being asked by a kind white lady in a northern town who did not understand, “Before you came here, did you really live in trees?” We chose to take no offence at that, but it never left me, because it told me that people did not understand what we had come to give over many decades.

I do not get angered and aggrieved unnecessarily at what people say to me, but I feel fury for our friends, who are here today, and for the multitudes around the country and the families of those who have died, who feel that they were scandalised and dismissed by a complacent department of government that arrogantly ignored their commands and demands, and simply felt that they were not worth it and could be put to one side.

We have said so much in this debate that does not need to be repeated. When the Minister replies, could he go back to the three points in the Wendy Williams report which a previous Home Secretary thought good to ditch? If it was fine for South Africa to have a truth and reconciliation commission, for the much-adored Rwanda to have a truth and reconciliation commission, and for Northern Ireland to have a truth and reconciliation commission, why is it not fine to have reconciliation for those who have been abused by careless public disregard, deliberately undertaken by a department of government which is evidently failing? If the Home Office could be inspected by Ofsted or a HMI, it would be in the red box, and we know that. Is it not time, seriously, to hand over the Home Office payments system either to an independent department or, maybe, to the Department for Business? When it comes to the Horizon Post Office issue, we have seen pace, energy, impact and speed.

The Government have seen fit to set a £75,000 immediate payment for everyone in the Post Office scandal, with £600,000 for those who were criminalised. Why can we not do the same here, instead of scrapping over whether it is £10,000, £15,000 or £100,000? Just blanket set it and pay it—and end this. If it is good enough for the postmasters, it is good enough for people who have served with their lives and many of whom have lost their futures as a consequence of this careless, arrogant, complacent and disregarding department.

We are not asking anyone in the Home Office to justify what has gone on or to explain that it will be better, because we are already convinced that it will not be. We are asking this department, which has had so many Home Secretaries rushing to Rwanda—although nobody else has—to spend some time rushing towards those who have been victimised by its own careless, arrogant and complacent disregard.

In conclusion, handing back many more minutes than previous Members have, I will make one final point. Would it not be right for this Government to go to the public in an election this year and say, “We fixed all these unfixed scandals: infected blood, the Post Office issues, the Windrush issues and a multitude of others. We fixed them because we’re fixers who get things done, rather simply handing them on to another Government to have to scrap around”? Get it done, get it done.

My Lords, I too congratulate my noble friend Lady Benjamin on securing this important debate on the Windrush scandal and the compensation scheme. I will focus mainly on the implementation and effectiveness of the compensation scheme. But first, like other speakers, I note my noble friend Lady Benjamin’s extraordinary contribution to challenging Ministers and others about the Windrush scandal over many years. The right reverend prelate the Bishop of Newcastle referred to being a “Play School” baby. I had the privilege of working on “Play School” with my noble friend Lady Benjamin as a brand-new trainee floor manager in the mid-1970s, and I have to say that it was a complete joy. As others said, and as she herself said, my noble friend Lady Benjamin chaired the Windrush memorial committee. I agree that the memorial is uplifting and moving. It is also a constant reminder, to those of us in the public eye, that something was got wrong and has still not been righted.

Others have spoken about how we have heard about the Windrush scandal in other parts of our lives. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked a question about children in schools. My noble friend Lady Benjamin’s book Coming to England is the most beautiful story about a Windrush arrival, and it is in almost all the primary schools I have heard about. I know that the children write to my noble friend Lady Benjamin because she and I talk about it. My own grandchildren were shocked by the racism that she faced as a six year-old. Our hope for the future is that, through the dramas and books, we will have a new generation who will not accept what has happened and will continue to fight.

What has happened at the hands of officials and Ministers is dreadful. As my noble friend Lady Benjamin said, members of the Windrush generation were never illegal migrants, so people being thrown out of their jobs, losing their homes and pensions, and being imprisoned and deported over many years is now a real disgrace. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, talked about plays. We have now seen documentaries, dramas, screenplays and books. The Windrush generation has shouted from the rooftops—are we listening properly yet?

The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, rightly said that we respect the Windrush generation, and our problem remains specifically with the Home Office and successive Governments. The Windrush generation’s perseverance and contribution to our country must be noted, and we need to be reminded. It has served large elements of our public services over the last 60 or 70 years—the NHS, transport—but it is now a key participant in every part of our working, social and community lives.

I will not go into the detail of what happened after 2017—many other noble Lords have talked about it—when media coverage started to bring attention to individual cases. But the way the Home Office has reacted, then and now, means that it is not held in any sort of regard at all. I do want to mention one person: former MP Norman Baker, who was the Home Office Immigration Minister in 2014. He resigned because he was not aware of those vans going round—he was not told before he actually saw them on the streets—and he felt that the lurch to the right on immigration of Theresa May in particular, and the Conservative Government, meant he could not continue to serve.

My noble friend Lady Burt reminded us of when and how the press and wider society became aware of the treatment of the generation. She set out the timeline of the government apologies in some detail. In 2018, Wendy Williams’ review and report focused on events from 2008—well before the coalition Government came into place. But absolutely at the heart of her findings was the fact that, despite the Government saying that they were taken by surprise by the scandal, she found that, over the years, officials and Ministers repeatedly ignored the warnings. She said that

“those in power forgot about them and their circumstances”.

This was compounded by successive Governments wanting to be tough on immigration by

“tightening immigration control and passing laws creating … the hostile environment … with a complete disregard for the Windrush generation”.

As with other departments and scandals, there were also institutional blockages in the Home Office that have made everything much, much worse. Wendy Williams also said that, while she was unable to make a definitive finding of institutional racism within the department,

“I have serious concerns that these failings demonstrate an institutional ignorance and thoughtlessness towards the issue of race and the history of the Windrush generation within the department, which are consistent with some elements of the definition of institutional racism.”

As others have said, she made 30 recommendations, which have been grouped under three headings. The first was acknowledgement: that the Home Office needed to acknowledge the wrong that had been done. The second was transparency: that the department must open itself up to greater scrutiny. The third was culture changes: that the department must change its culture to recognise that migration and wider Home Office policy were about people and, whatever its objective, should be rooted in humanity.

Many noble Lords have talked about the three recommendations that the Home Office initially accepted and then rejected. It is appalling that the third one, on reconciliation and training of Home Office staff, to which the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, referred, is gone. The ninth was on the commissioner, to which other noble Lords referred, and the 10th was on the review of the remit of the ICIBI, ensuring that it works closely with the migrants’ commissioner. These are at the heart of the cultural change of the Home Office, so will the Minister say whether those three recommendations will be reinstated now that Suella Braverman is no longer Home Secretary?

Time is short, so I will not say very much, but Wendy Williams, in her review in 2022, said that the Home Office had “obscured the full extent” of her original findings and this had led to “misunderstanding and incorrect implementation”. Can the Minister, therefore, say whether she will be asked back again, a further two years on, to complete that review, as other noble Lords have asked for, to ensure that the implementation and that change in culture do happen?

Turning to the compensation scheme, I have been speaking in your Lordships’ House on both the Post Office Horizon scandal and the infected blood scheme. There is a systemic problem in this country, with numerous Governments over many decades, about how these schemes are instituted. I absolutely agree with the recommendation from Age UK that, for this Windrush scheme, a separate, independent scheme should be set up. There is a much bigger ask—and I raised this in the Post Office compensation Bill, which went through in one day last month—that we actually need a truly independent body to oversee all compensation schemes where any public service is involved. The one lesson that we should have learned over the last 50 years is that the Government, their departments and their arm’s-length bodies cannot be independent when trying to administer compensation schemes. Will the Minister tell us if this is likely to happen?

The other points that have been made have also been covered in the other schemes. Despite people saying that the Post Office Horizon scheme is moving ahead swiftly, the postmasters are getting derisory amounts offered to them. They are still competing with a simplified form that is utterly bemusing. They still do not get any money for legal advice to help them apply. That is exactly true for the Windrush scheme as well, and this needs to be followed through.

As other noble Lords have said, the problem with a badly working compensation scheme is that it revictimises the victims. From these Benches, we absolutely want to see the Government put this scheme alongside the Post Office Horizon scheme and the infected blood scheme, at the heart of working at pace—a phrase they frequently use. The Windrush generation has supported and helped us in our country—their country too—for many, many years. Why are they still being treated as different?

My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for putting down this debate on what she calls the Home Office scandal. The theme in this debate has been to induce the Government to meet their commitments to the Windrush generation. I thank all noble Lords who, through this debate, have kept up the pressure on the Government to live up to their commitments. I would go so far as to say that this has been potentially an historic debate; it has been a strong debate that will resonate, and I hope it will resonate to make the Government act faster.

My noble friend Lord Rosser put down a Written Question, which was answered in February of this year, comparing the Windrush compensation rollout with the Horizon compensation rollout—a theme that has been picked up by a number of noble Lords. That was not to criticise the Horizon scheme but to highlight the problem of those seeking compensation through the Windrush scheme.

On 7 February 2024, my honourable friend Vicky Foxcroft asked Laura Farris, a Minister at the Home Office, what discussions she had had with the Secretary of State on the time taken to process claims to the Windrush compensation scheme. Responding, Ms Farris stated:

“As of December 2023, 91% of all claims either had received a final decision or were less than six months old. The Windrush scheme has reduced the time taken to allocate a … casework decision from 18 months to less than four months”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/2/24; col. 233]

I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that those figures are accurate.

Also, in November of last year, my noble friend Lord Davies of Brixton asked the Government what the reasons were for the Home Office’s decision to disband the team responsible for the Windrush policy in the department and what assessment they had made of the

“likelihood that this decision will undermine their commitments to the Windrush Generation”.

The Minister, who is again in his place today, responded by saying that, given the “significant progress” that the department had made since 2020, its response to the lessons learned review had been “embedded into everyday activities”. The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, described that as “baloney”—that is not a word that I would use myself; nevertheless, it is fair to say that he was sceptical about the response from his noble friend. The Minister also said that the

“embedded approach will better sustain the improvements made so far, and thereby our commitments to the Windrush generation and their descendants”.

Additionally, he noted that the teams working on the Windrush scheme and compensation scheme would “remain in place”, with there being

“no plans to close either scheme”.—[Official Report, 28/11/24; col. 1009.]

I look forward to the Minister updating the House on how they are planning to work at pace—a phrase we often hear in this House—to move towards a resolution on more of the cases.

In July 2023, the House debated the 75th anniversary of the arrival of the Windrush generation. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, led the debate, and she acknowledged that some progress had been made, but she urged the Government to redouble their efforts to ensure that appropriate funds are distributed.

As noble Lords will know, there is a long history to this scandal Suffice it to say that, on 16 April 2018, the then Home Secretary, Amber Rudd, apologised to the Windrush generation from the Dispatch Box in the other place. The following day, the then Prime Minister, Theresa May, also apologised to Caribbean leaders at a meeting in Downing Street. The then Home Secretary then went on to outline several actions that the Government were taking to address the issues faced by the Windrush generation. The actions included: first, conducting reviews of historical Caribbean cases that the Home Office wrongly actioned for either deportation or removal; secondly, establishing a Windrush scheme to issue confirmation of status documents and, in some cases, the granting of British citizenship free of charge for applicants; thirdly, creating a Windrush task force to assist individuals who may be eligible under the Windrush scheme; and, finally, establishing a Windrush compensation scheme. How is all that going?

I would be grateful if the Minister can correct any of the following figures—various have been cited, but I have some more. First, in 2023, more than 2,000 victims received zero payment, despite the Government accepting that they are victims. The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, raised the issue of the loss of future earnings, and that should be part of the calculation. If it were part of the calculation, would the Government revisit those zero-payment decisions for those 2,000 victims? That happened despite the Government guaranteeing that all those eligible would receive full compensation in 2020. Can the Minister say whether there is any flexibility in revisiting those cases, or do the Government regard them as closed?

Secondly, as of January 2024, 1,932 people have received compensation so far, out of an estimated 15,700 victims. How long do the Government think that it will take to process the remaining claims?

A further point that a number of noble Lords have made is that the application process is still cumbersome and costly. There was talk about a 44-page document and other lengthy documents. There has been expert evidence from accountants and psychologists about what is needed to complete those forms. There is a strong case for some form of legal aid to help people do that. One of the organisations that has put this forward is the Greater Manchester Immigration Aid Unit. My noble friend Lord Davies gave figures for a very high refusal rate, and spoke about pension compensation. Will the Minister comment on the points he raised? In addition to this, Human Rights Watch has recommended that, in the interim, independent oversight of the scheme should be guaranteed, with access to legal aid and the right of appeal to an independent tribunal. In fact, Human Rights Watch also recommended that the whole scheme should be independent and not run by the Home Office itself. Do the Government agree with those recommendations?

Comparisons have been made with the Horizon compensation scheme and the public consciousness of a historic injustice which is acknowledged by the British state. I have no doubt that the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and other noble Lords who have taken part in today’s debate will continue to ensure that the Government follow through on their commitments and that justice is done for the Windrush generation.

I comment on only a couple of many outstanding speeches. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, said, “Let’s be fixers. Let’s just get it done”. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, spoke about the other scandals dealt with in the Victims and Prisoners Bill: the Horizon scandal, infected blood and Windrush. There is an impatience in all those scandals about how the Government are handling them. I acknowledge that it is complicated, but there is a sense of urgency which the Government need to follow through on. I also want to pay tribute to a particular journalist, Amelia Gentleman, who has done a lot of work exposing this scandal and really followed through on bringing it to public attention.

I want to conclude on the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about the new generation. I went to a London comprehensive school and so did my children. There is an absolute lack of understanding on behalf of my children and children generally who been brought up in London about the extent of racism that was common in previous generations. I see that as a sign of hope. It is in part because of the ongoing work done by the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and others. While of course we urge the Government to do more, it is right to say that there is hope of an improving situation in racial tolerance in this country, which we should celebrate.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate—they have made some very powerful speeches indeed. I start by offering my considerable thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for securing this debate of course, but also more widely for the outstanding work that she has done on Windrush—whether it is celebrating the enormous contribution that the Windrush generation has made to our society, something we did last year for the 75th anniversary, or whether it is highlighting the injustice of the Windrush scandal. She has been nothing short of a shining light on this issue. For my part, I would like to personally salute the contribution of the Windrush generation, and of course their descendants. I associate myself with the introductory remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, who earned much credit for them.

This is an issue of deep personal resonance to the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, of course, but it matters to us all, as the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, explained very powerfully. It has been clear from all the other contributions as well, and for that I am thankful. I too use Waterloo station and, like my noble friend Lord Bourne, I commend the memorial statue there: it presents a powerful and vital image. We all wish we could turn back the clock and prevent the pain and suffering that the victims of the Windrush scandal have had to endure. I say gently to the noble Lord, Lord Woolley, that numerous events were held across all departments last year. He will know that flags were flown, No. 10 held a reception hosted by the Levelling-Up Secretary and the Home Secretary, and the largest-ever Windrush Day grant scheme was launched.

We cannot turn back the clock, but we can strain every sinew to provide the people affected with the help they need and the compensation they deserve, while ensuring that the failings that happened previously can never be repeated. The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, is right: the Government have a responsibility to all our people. Righting the wrongs is, has been and will continue to be a priority for the Government. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, that we are fixing things, and to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, that there is an urgency to do this and to get it right. We are determined to ensure that everyone who suffered because they could not demonstrate their lawful status in the UK receives every penny of the compensation to which they are entitled. There is no cap on the amount that can be awarded, and our priority is to award the maximum compensation at the earliest point possible. I repeat the promises made by successive Home Secretaries that there is no end date for the Windrush compensation scheme, nor for the Windrush documentation scheme.

Reference was made to the 15,000 people and the figure of £200 million in compensation, but I stress that these are from the very early planning assumptions published when the compensation scheme was launched. It did not represent a budget or a pot of money to be drawn from. Despite extensive and ongoing outreach efforts, significantly fewer claims have been received and the Home Office has adjusted its planning assumptions accordingly. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, asked about individuals and their documentation confirming their status or British citizenship. The number who have been provided with that documentation is now more than 16,800 and our experience has been that many of them have not suffered losses or detriment owing to being unable to demonstrate their lawful status in the UK, so they have not needed to claim compensation, but the Home Office encourages anyone who wishes to make a claim to do so. As I said, the scheme has no end date and there is no cap on the amount of money the department will pay.

Is there any estimate of those who are not entitled to compensation but would be entitled if pensions and future earnings were part of the scheme?

My Lords, I will come back to the subject of compensation. I am going to attempt to address all the questions raised in the appropriate order. There is a lot to say and I have only 20 minutes to say it, so I ask noble Lords to bear that in mind when contemplating interventions. I will do my very best.

We have paid over £75 million in compensation. As of December 2023, over 80% of claims received had received a final decision and the majority of live claims were less than six months old. Payments to date include some very significant sums. More than 120 claimants have been paid over £100,000 in compensation. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, asked about the 91% figure given by Laura Farris in the other place. As I said, 80% have had a final decision and 91% have had a final decision or have outstanding claims less than six months old, so that figure is correct.

The noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, and others raised the question of speed. As I said, the Home Office’s priority is to award the maximum compensation at the earliest point possible. The changes that the Home Office has made to the scheme since its launch mean that people now receive significantly more money more quickly—I referred to the 80% figure. However, in answer to the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, about blanket amounts, I say that there are 14 different categories and each person’s experiences and circumstances will be different, so it is right that the Home Office takes the time to ensure that each claim is considered and understood carefully, so it can offer people the maximum compensation to which they are entitled. That said, the Home Office continues its efforts to reduce the time it takes to process claims. The length of time that individuals must wait for their claim to be allocated to a substantive decision-maker is now less than four months, down from around 18 months a year ago, and the four-month period includes all essential eligibility checks, together with a preliminary assessment to make an initial payment of £10,000 wherever possible.

The department is committed to ensuring people receive the compensation to which they are entitled, in all cases, including those where, understandably, there is limited documentary evidence. The scheme operates entirely on the balance of probabilities, and decision-makers receive in-depth training to ensure that this approach is applied fairly and consistently. Decision-makers use all the data and information available to them, and exhaust internal and cross-government routes before asking for more information from individuals. The Home Office also gathers information from third parties, paying for this where needed so that costs do not fall to claimants. That can include information from employers, HMRC, GPs and so on. We have a quality assurance team and an independent review process in order to ensure that all decisions are subject to a very high degree of scrutiny.

The compensation scheme was designed to be accessible to anyone, without the need for legal advice or assistance. For those who want or need support to make a claim, the Home Office provides free assistance through its independent claims assistance provider, the We Are Group. It has extensive experience of dealing with isolated and vulnerable people, and the Windrush team is also available on the phone to provide information and to discuss the process. In 2021 and 2022, the Home Office published new claims forms, developed in collaboration with stakeholders, which are simpler and easier to complete. Were our applicants allowed to recover legal costs in applying to the scheme, this may serve to encourage organisations to take advantage of potentially vulnerable people, charging them for unnecessary support.

On feedback and engagement with stakeholders and the community about the effectiveness of the scheme, as evidenced in the changes to the scheme since its inception we have continued that process, because the overhaul to the scheme in December 2020 significantly increased the amount of compensation awarded, and indeed the speed at which it can be paid. In 2021 and 2022, we published revamped claim forms, to which many noble Lords have referred. They were developed in consultation with stakeholders and are easier to complete. They are longer, but they are easier to complete, because they include more targeted and closed questions. The new forms have a Crystal Mark from the Plain English Campaign. As I have said, the changes were made in consultation with stakeholders, including the Windrush National Organisation, key advocates in the community who work collaboratively. Considerable changes were made to the forms while they were being redesigned, but if anybody cares to add to the process and make observations about the forms, the door is open and we are happy to listen.

In 2021, we launched a package of support to help those making, or those who have already made, claims on behalf of a relative who has passed away to obtain the legal documentation required to process their claims. In 2022, we broadened the homelessness category to allow awards to be made to people who were already homeless and then continued to be homeless due to an inability to demonstrate lawful status. We also introduced a fourth “living costs” category for close family member claims for costs incurred while supporting someone who lost their employment or benefits because they were unable to prove their immigration status. Last year, we made changes to the employment category which mean some people will be compensated for longer periods and receive more money, better reflecting their unique circumstances. Whenever changes are made, they are applied retrospectively.

To come back to the points that were raised by the noble Lord, Lord Davies, about why the scheme does not cover loss of employment opportunity, it is because this is a highly speculative issue, stretching across many facets of an individual’s life. The scheme cannot make financial determinations of this nature, since they will vary significantly from individual to individual. They depend on a multitude of factors which will be difficult and timely to assess in a fair and consistent manner.

In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, and the noble Lord, Lord Davies, the scheme does not cover occupational pensions because of the variable and complex nature of impacts on and future performance of those. However, through employment awards, individuals will recuperate the contributions they would have made into an occupational pension scheme at the time. Processes are also in place so that, where individuals were unable to work because they could not demonstrate their lawful status in the UK, their national insurance record is corrected so that their state pension entitlement is not affected.

On moving the Windrush compensation scheme from the Home Office, the Home Office firmly believes that moving the operation of the compensation scheme would risk significantly delaying vital payments to people. This was reinforced by Professor Martin Levermore, independent adviser to the scheme, in his report published in March 2022.

We continue to work to promote new applications to the scheme, and to engage with and gain the trust of affected communities. The scheme’s engagement team ensures there is regular dialogue with stakeholders from Windrush communities, who provide feedback and scrutiny. The compensation scheme engagement team supports events with external stakeholders from Windrush communities to provide the opportunity to speak to them about the impact the scandal has had on them and on their family’s lives. These engagement events also ensure that individuals and stakeholders get the correct information about the schemes—the Windrush documentation scheme and the Windrush compensation scheme.

Since February 2023, the Windrush compensation scheme engagement team has attended more than 30 events nationwide, including in the West Midlands, Bristol, Nottinghamshire, Yorkshire, Lancashire, Oxfordshire, Northamptonshire, Bedfordshire and London. This week, officials attended an event in Northampton which received positive feedback, commending the informative presentations and the benefit of one-to-one conversations with Home Office staff. Events are planned during the first quarter of this year, including in London, Edinburgh, and Nottingham again. We are also looking at opportunities to work with communities in Wales and Ireland. These engagement events ensure that individuals and stakeholders receive accurate information about both schemes, and a large number of such engagements have taken place.

All noble Lords asked about scrutiny of the scheme and how the Home Office considers claims. As I have explained, we have a multilayered review process to ensure the compensation scheme has an appropriate level of external scrutiny. If I may, I will go into detail on those layers. The tier 1 review is conducted by a separate team that has not worked on the claim in question. The tier 2 review is an independent review process with the adjudicator’s office. The independent person, Martin Levermore, to whom I have already referred, regularly engages with officials and publishes annual reports on the scheme. His third report was published on 1 November 2023 on GOV.UK. The Home Office has published a fact sheet and granular transparency data on a monthly basis, which provides detail on a wide variety of aspects of both casework and review. The Home Affairs Select Committee provides external scrutiny and visited the department to scrutinise proceedings. The Home Office has also hosted other stakeholders, such as the Windrush Defenders Legal and the Independent Chief Inspector of Borders and Immigration, on open visits, giving access to Home Office caseworkers.

On the subject of the Windrush programme and the lessons being learned, the Home Office is absolutely determined to deliver on its commitment to righting the wrongs of Windrush. That work continues at pace, and I am not ashamed to use the phrase. As one would expect, and should expect, in any government department organisational structures change over time to ensure that delivery for the public is effective and delivers value for money. It has been decided that responsibility for delivering various Windrush response projects and recommendations will no longer be managed through a dedicated team in the transformation directorate but will instead be embedded in our everyday activities in other parts of the department. I forget who, but someone referred to it as being part of the departmental DNA. I can confirm, albeit anecdotally from my experience, that this is something that is considered in pretty much every aspect of the work that we are currently doing.

Most noble Lords asked about the promises that were made in regard to recommendations 3, 9 and 10. Wendy Williams recognised the scale of the challenge that was set by her 2020 Windrush Lessons Learned Review and applauded the department’s response in rising to the challenge. As the former Home Secretary set out in her WMS of 26 January 2023, she did decide not to proceed with some of the recommendations in the original form. I am afraid I am unable to comment further because there are legal proceedings in train on that particular subject. However, as I have just said, work remains ongoing on the majority of the recommendations, by way of embedding them into the DNA of the department, and that work will not stop.

I am very interested in the ditching of those key recommendations—most contributors felt that was wrong. Can the Minister confirm that the current Home Secretary will consider reinstating them, whatever the nature of the legal proceedings, as they are a vital part of the Windrush policy?

Again, I have to apologise to my noble friend. I would like to answer the question in detail but am unable to as a result of the legal proceedings. However, I will of course make sure that the Home Secretary is well aware of his and the House’s concerns about this matter.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies, asked about overseas engagement, particularly with regard to high commissions. We engaged with UK-based Caribbean high commissioners but we have also worked with British high commissions overseas to raise awareness of this.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, asked about education, which is incredibly important. On Windrush Day, the Department for Levelling Up launched a set of educational materials, which were uploaded to the National Windrush Monument website as part of the monument’s legacy programmes.

I have to confess that I have not read the book from the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin—I will—but perhaps, as book recommendations are being handed out, I should also commend one from my noble friend Lord Popat, A British Subject, which is a very good read on this topic as well. I am more than happy to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, at any time. Just to be fair to my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Murray attended two Windrush National Organisation conferences, so he did make himself available.

The Windrush story is one of the most powerful and uplifting in our country’s history. The people who arrived on that day in the middle of the 20th century and their subsequent generations have contributed so much across so many areas of our society, as has been noted by all speakers. That they would go on to suffer as they did is a source of profound sadness to them and us all—and shame. We owe it to them to put it right and significant progress has been made, as I hope I have set out. But the job is not done and noble Lords have my assurance that the Government’s determination to right those wrongs is undimmed.

I thank the Minister for his comments and all noble Lords who have taken part in this important debate for their kind remarks. We are friends all over the House—on all sides of the House—which is great. It is what I try to do. I thank them all for their passionate speeches, which have shown that everyone across the House who has spoken cares about fairness and justice above everything else.

Perhaps I should declare an interest as part of the Windrush generation because I came to Britain aged 10 on my elder sister’s passport in 1960. Fortunately, when I was 17 my mother wisely decided to apply for passports for all her six children. Had she not done so, I could easily have become a Windrush victim.

The Home Office did not seem to have much difficulty in identifying people accused of being illegal and was prepared to deport them as quickly as possible. Yet it does not practise the ability to identify those who are eligible for compensation at the same speed.

I am naturally disappointed with some of the answers the Minister has given us—but not surprised, because the reality of the Windrush victims’ experiences is not as happy or as positive as he might have pointed out. He does not agree with me and noble Lords from across the House who have spoken that we need an independent body. It is a common-sense solution to end this unfortunate scandal. Members of this House have agreed with that for so many years now.

My noble friend Lord Bourne and I have been allies over the years, and I thank him for his support and kind words. It is always a joy to work with him, especially on the National Windrush Monument. I thank him.

The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, reminded us of the contribution the Windrush generation has given to the country and mentioned the new Windrush line, which will for ever keep it in public memory thanks to the Mayor of London. I thank the noble Lord for mentioning that.

I thank my noble friend Lord Woolley for his passionate and moving speech. He reminded us that the King has shown empathy with the Windrush generation by commissioning those 10 portraits, which will be part of the Royal Collection, celebrating the 75th anniversary of the arrival of Windrush pioneers. The Prime Minister held no such celebration, even though I wrote begging him to meet the Windrush victims.

My noble friend Lady Burt pointed out the low payments offered to claimants with no justification and, like other Peers, asked why the three Wendy Williams recommendations were dropped. I note what the Minister said, but we need to find out why this has happened. We have also called once again for that independent body.

My noble friend Lord Adebowale asked for an apology to not just the Windrush victims but all the Windrush generation and the majority of the people in this country who feel ashamed of the blot on the landscape of this British history saga.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Newcastle, my “Play School” baby, spoke with passion in calling for trust to be restored, as the nation deserves it. It feels ashamed of what has happened to these Windrush victims.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, for reminding us that this is not a party-political issue but a national issue.

Like others, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, agreed that there should be an independent body. That is coming over time and again. She also pointed out that racism is still present in our society. Even children are facing this injustice, as I had to 64 years ago when I arrived in this country.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, who is an inspiration to me and a towering figure in the House. He suggested fixing the problem immediately, before the election. What a joy that would be. I will not have to call another debate if that happens.

I thank my noble friend Lady Brinton, my “Play School” colleague, for she has continued to support me on this issue and has pointed out that schoolchildren across the country are reading my book, Coming to England, and do not want to grow up in a society where we are dealing with this scandal. They see it as unfair and unjust. They write to me and say, “Floella, when I grow up, I will not be racist. I understand about Windrush. I want to be a decent human being in this country, embracing all people”. That is what children are understanding. That is what we have to show them as examples.

The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, outlined the timeline of the Home Office scandal, which is very focused in showing the injustice of this human story.

I thank all the organisations and individuals who have assisted with and contributed to this debate, including Action for Race Equality, Justice 4 Windrush, the Windrush National Organisation, the Windrush Justice Clinic, Age UK, UNISON and many more, all the lawyers who have advised me and the dozens of Windrush victims who have shared their harrowing stories. We have all come together, collaborating to bring this unhappy saga to a satisfactory conclusion. We have reached out to the Government and hope that they listen and act on what has been said today, because the fight for justice will continue. Once again, I thank all noble Lords for taking part in this important debate—and, yes, let it be the last time that I do so.

Motion agreed.

Security of Elected Representatives


My Lords, I shall now repeat a Statement made in another place:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement on the security of elected representatives. This House brings together our nation. People from every part of our United Kingdom, every background, are represented here to debate—to argue—the best course for our country to take. That is the way it should be, because this House does not belong to any one community or interest group. It belongs to every citizen from every part of our country.

The decisions we take do not just affect the lives of our friends, our neighbours and our community. They affect every community, and every community’s voice—even those we disagree with—must be properly represented. That principle is at the heart of who we are as a country, and as a democracy. Our democracy works only if those who elect us are free to choose the individual they want—and if the individual they choose has the freedom to say what they think.

In recent weeks, we have seen those principles waver and the strain of rising community tensions is beginning to show. Instead of debate and accountability, we have seen intimidation and threats. Members of this House have told me that they feel they have to vote a certain way, not because it is the right thing for their communities or even that the majority in their communities want it, but because a few—a violent few—have made them fear for their safety, and the safety of their families. Even this House, which has persevered through fire and through war, has been pressured into changing the way we debate.

We all understand why. The assassinations of our friends Jo Cox and Sir David Amess have marked us all. We know there are extremists out there, and the truth is clear—the danger is real. But we also know that bending to the threat of violence and intimidation is wrong. It does not just betray those who sent us; it encourages those who, through us, are bullying them. Last Wednesday, demonstrators threatened to force Parliament to ‘lock its doors’. What these thugs are actually asking us to do is to put our constituents second, and to bow to those who are shouting loudest. That is more than a threat to us. It is a threat to the democratic principles and values that define who we are as a country. They must fail. If we stumbled or succumbed to their pressures, we would not see just this House diminished, but communities across our country suffer.

These pressures always existed but, since the 7 October attacks on Israel, they have spiked, along with a dramatic rise in anti-Semitism. They have been accompanied by demonstrations, some of which have caused profound distress and fear in the Jewish community and beyond.

British Muslims also face threats. Islamist extremists claim that other Muslims are apostates unless they are willing to destroy the society that gave everyone—including the many expressions of Islam—the freedom to worship as they choose. Far-right extremists are trying to say that Islam has no place in Britain. Both are trying to say that Britain is a divided nation, not a United Kingdom—and both are wrong.

The Government reject that agenda of isolation and fear. We are working to ensure that all voices in our democracy are heard. We are ensuring that those who have been elected to serve their community are able to do so without fear. That is why we are committing an additional £31 million of funding to protect the democratic processes and our elected representatives. This funding will primarily support MPs, councillors, police and crime commissioners, and mayors.

The Operation Bridger network, which already provides police support to MPs, will be expanded so that all elected representatives and candidates have a dedicated, named, police officer to contact on security matters where needed. Forces around the country will be able to draw on a new fund to deliver additional patrols, so they will be better able to respond to heightened community tensions. Working closely with Parliament and the police, we will provide access to private security for Members who face the highest risk.

Yesterday, the Prime Minister, the Home Secretary, the Policing Minister and I met senior policing leaders to discuss these issues. Together, the Home Office, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and the College of Policing have agreed a new Defending Democracy Policing Protocol. It contains seven key commitments to implement minimum standards of policing at democratic events, to prevent intimidatory protest at home addresses and to ensure that protests at party offices, town halls, Parliament or other democratic venues do not inhibit democratic processes, with an emphasis on local risk and threat monitoring. PCCs and chief constables have been asked to report back on the implementation of these measures by April.

Before I finish, I pay tribute to our law enforcement and intelligence agencies, which keep us safe. This additional funding will help them to support us in undertaking our democratic duty. The people we are privileged to represent deserve nothing less. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. Does he agree that there is no place for anti-Semitism on Britain’s streets and that those who perpetrate that poison must face the full force of the law? As well as seeing a rise in hostility and threats towards MPs, we have also seen a rise in intimidation and threats directed at local councillors. Can the Minister set out what action is being taken to ensure that there is robust protection in place for councillors and elected mayors who represent their local communities?

The scenes that we saw play out in central London, near the Cenotaph, on Armistice weekend last year were unacceptable and wrong. Yet, instead of working with the police in the run-up to that highly charged weekend, the then Home Secretary chose to attack the police and inflame tensions. Does the Minister agree that that was an irresponsible way for a Home Secretary to behave and that it was right she was sacked?

The Government’s strategy on countering extremism is now eight years out of date and there are reports that work countering extremism has been dropped or fragmented across departments. What urgent action are the Government taking to address that gap, and when will they come forward with an updated strategy?

In June last year, the Home Office downgraded recording requirements for non-crime hate incidents, meaning that the personal details of people who perpetrate anti-Semitism and Islamophobia are currently not recorded by the police. This will limit the police’s ability to monitor and prevent escalation within communities and will potentially leave victims feeling less safe. Will the Government back the Labour Party’s plans to reinstate the full collection of personal data for people who engage in anti-Semitic or Islamophobic hate?

A week ago, a DLUHC Minister in the other place said that the Government are

“not intending to publish a hate crime strategy”.—[Official Report, 21/2/24; col. 599.]

This is despite the last strategy now being four years out of date. In the context of recording high levels of anti-Semitism and Islamophobic attacks, can the Minister explain why this work has been abandoned?

The theme of the Statement is preventive measures. We welcome it as far as it goes, but what about the causes of these increased tensions? As the Minister said when he quoted the Minister in the other place, Britain is a united kingdom, not a divided nation. We enjoy and have vigorous debate on many issues within Parliament as a whole; people look to Parliament to air the most difficult subjects in our country, both on these shores and beyond. What thought have the Government given to addressing the causes of the increased tensions that we are seeing on our streets while maintaining our traditions, democracy and free speech, not only in Parliament but beyond?

In conclusion, although the Statement focuses on elected representatives, we in this House are, of course, not elected. However, quite a number of colleagues in this House are high-profile. They have their own vulnerabilities because of the views that they express in this House and outside it. What can the Minister say about the enhanced protection measures for colleagues in this House?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement to the House and note that this additional funding will be spent primarily in supporting MPs, councillors, police and crime commissioners, and mayors. I am particularly happy to hear that police forces around the country will be able to draw on a new fund to respond to heightened community tensions. However, we must not forget other front-line services staff who are also experiencing increased levels of violence and intimidation.

I was appalled to hear the Minister in the other place say that Members had told him that

“they feel they have to vote a certain way … because … a violent few … have made them fear for their safety, and the safety of their families”.

That elected MPs can be targeted in this way simply beggars belief. We also know that women, particularly women from ethnic minorities, are disproportionately targeted for abuse and intimidation. This has got to stop.

When I came into politics it was generally accepted that those who stood for election did it to help their communities and/or their country. The public are now much more sceptical about politicians of all parties, and the perception that politicians are “fair game” for abuse on social media has a pernicious and dangerous effect.

That a small but very vocal minority can get away with using online platforms to bully and intimidate is a matter not just for the Government but for the platforms themselves. Too often we hear them say that they will not tolerate this kind of thing, but they do little to stop it because their prime concern is to grow bigger than their rivals. This has a major effect not just on politicians but on their families.

I suspect that the Minister does not spend a lot of his time reading Liberal Democrat policy papers—

But I commend to him our paper from 2019, setting out proposals for the creation of a new online crime agency to effectively tackle online crimes such as personal fraud, and threats and incitement to violence on social media. We must work on a cross-party basis to tackle this scourge, and I know that we in this House, and all parties in the other place, will be united in this.

Politicians also need to be careful about the language they use. Talking about “no-go areas” in London or describing people exercising their democratic right to protest as “mob rule” is not helping anyone. Nor is the entry of Trump-style conspiracy theories into the mainstream of British politics—that should worry us all.

Politicians have been elected to do a job and should be able to do it without fear for their own or their family’s safety. It is also essential that they can continue to run face-to-face surgeries, which are an essential glue between the elected and the electors. We must all stick together to ensure that this contact does not disappear from our democracy, and that people from every background, gender and sexual identity can enter politics and represent people in safety.

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their questions. I will start by agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about anti-Semitism—of course I agree, and he heard me make statements on that subject from the Dispatch Box last week. In terms of how this is a societal problem, and how anti-Semitism may start with Jews but does not finish there, I refer the noble Lord to the comments from Lord Sacks that I quoted last week.

I also highlight, because I think it is important, that the Prime Minister yesterday committed to four years of funding for the CST—Community Security Trust—at £18 million a year. This is a subject that the noble Lord, Lord Mann, asked me about in that debate, which I was unable to help him on. The Prime Minister announced that yesterday, and it is very welcome when it comes to combating, and protecting people against, anti-Semitism.

In terms of local communities, yes, Operation Bridger is the police network that introduces dedicated points of contact for all elected representatives. I stress the “all”. That can be “where needed”, which also applies to the noble Lord’s question about Members of this House—although I would also refer to parliamentary security, which is available. There is also a new local communities fund for the deployment of additional police patrols in England and Wales in response to increased community tensions. Local forces can draw down in response to potential flashpoints, which we think will bolster police visibility and help public confidence.

There is much on this in the defending democracy protocol announced by the Prime Minister yesterday. He explained, and it is outlined in the protocol—I will go into some detail on this—that:

“Protests at representatives’ parties’ offices, democratic venues (such as Parliament or Town Halls) or at political events (such as constituency fundraisers or meetings) should not be allowed to (i) prevent or inhibit the use of the venue, attendance at the event or access to and from it or (ii) cause alarm, harassment or distress to attendees through the use of threatening or abusive words or disorderly behaviour, in keeping with public order laws”.

So I would say that the answer is a strong “yes”; there is a lot in place to protect local councillors.

Where I have to say “no” is to the noble Lord’s invitation to me to comment on the previous Home Secretary’s comments. That seems to be asked of me in every single debate at the moment and, just for the record, I will never comment on previous Home Secretaries’ remarks.

In terms of the counterextremism strategy, the Security Minister in the other place said earlier today that work is ongoing on this. I cannot give a clear commitment beyond what he said there, in terms of timing and so on. In regard to non-crime hate incidents, that is of course kept under control. We will not be adopting the Labour Party’s proposals on this. The noble Lord will be aware that there were many difficult instances that were reported widely with regard to this in the past, and we will not go back to those at the moment.

Of course, I agree with him on the causes of the various incidents we have seen. I would expand that and say that it is not just government that needs to look at the causes; it is all of us. It is a societal problem, not just a political one.

I think I have answered all the noble Lord’s questions, so I will move on to the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey. Of course, I completely agree about social media. The Home Secretary was actually in California this week, and I know that he was talking to a number of the corporates the noble Baroness referred to. The Online Safety Act has been passed by Parliament; it has just come into force, but let us see if that does what it is intended to—one would certainly hope so. I can assure the noble Baroness that I do not read Liberal Democrat party policy papers; I doubt that she is all that surprised about that. But I would also say that she has a direct line that is not available to me to at least one of those major online corporates—so I would entirely agree with her that it is a cross-party issue to be resolved. Perhaps she could help.

It goes without saying that I agree that language and its use, and the care taken to express oneself, really does need to be very carefully observed by everybody who has any sort of platform.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating this important Statement. The protection that will be offered to our elected representatives is vital, because this is a period of time of immense concern. As has already been mentioned, the impact, particularly on women and women of UKME heritage, both in person and online, is deeply troubling, as is the abuse suffered by Muslim and Jewish colleagues. Anti-Semitism has been said to be a “light sleeper”, but it is very much wide awake at this time, and a lot of Islamophobia is built on immense ignorance and stereotyping of people.

Those on these Benches work hard at community cohesion across this nation, and we often work very closely with leaders of other faith communities, trying to live out that injunction of Jesus to love our neighbours as ourselves. As the Minister has rightly said, all parliamentarians need to be careful in the use of the words with which we describe issues and things, to be careful that we do not incite further trouble. We need to learn that art, which is seemingly fast being lost from our society, of disagreeing agreeably. So I ask how, in the work of government, that sense of mirroring and modelling disagreeing agreeably might be lived out all the more. Given the ignorance around many other faith communities, how might priority be given to religious literacy across education and within our public institutions?

I thank the right reverend Prelate for his comments; he makes some very interesting points. We have been very clear that anti-Muslim hatred has no place at all in our communities, and that it will be stamped out wherever it occurs. It is a growing concern, as I think the right reverend Prelate has highlighted, for all of our communities. To effectively respond to it, we must properly understand it in all its forms and manifestations. We have been seeking the views and perspectives of experts in this field, which I hope would include the right reverend Prelate, to explore how religious hatred is experienced across all British communities. But it seems self-evident that one of the ways to combat this sort of ill-advised and poorly informed hatred is to educate and improve general understanding of the issues under discussion.

I commend my noble friend the Minister for his wise words today. Yesterday in this Chamber, we spent some time talking about the importance of the freedom of the press. Against a background which we all accept as pretty serious and worrying, it is vital to maintain freedom of speech. People should be able to express their thoughts clearly. I speak as somebody who started on life at Hyde Park’s Speakers’ Corner in the 1960s, where I enjoyed tackling all sorts of issues and had feedback from all those who listened. Does the Minister not think that we ought to do everything possible, particularly in this year, to encourage people to come out and speak without fear of reprisal or of any effect they might or might not have?

If we look ahead to this year, there are two particular questions I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister. First, we are going to get a Dissolution of Parliament. If there is to be general election in May, it will come at the end of next month. What is going to happen so far as protecting candidates is concerned? As soon as there is a Dissolution, MPs are no longer Members of Parliament. What will be done to make sure that the protection will continue during what could potentially be a very testing period? Secondly, does this protection extend to the devolved nations? We must ensure that equal protection is given to all those who have elected office in whatever capacity in the devolved territories and that there are sufficient funds to make sure that they are adequately covered.

My noble friend raises some good points. I entirely agree that we should be encouraging debate around these subjects, that we should be tolerant of freedom and that we should encourage freedom. It seems to me self-evident that you can expose widely held fallacies only by, in effect, letting sunlight in as the perfect disinfectant. In terms of debate, the only sunlight you can let in comes via speeches, words and testing opinions and widely held fallacies. On that subject, we have to be careful around the taxonomy that we use when defining some of these hatreds because, again, we would not wish inadvertently to make certain discussions beyond the pale, shall we say.

As regards the devolved nations, defending democracy is a sovereign matter, but policing is devolved. We will work with the security services in those Administrations on the safety of their Governments. Any additional requirements on devolved policing will be funded in the appropriate way. I reassure my noble friend that the Government are looking at how to maintain security requirements during the Dissolution of Parliament when, as he rightly points out, MPs will no longer be MPs. However, Operation Bridger is very clear. A full-time, single point of contact in each police force will be introduced with responsibility for supporting all elected representatives where needed. Obviously, if an MP has stood down for that time, that does not mean that they are not still protected, where needed.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the other place is in a sense the vox populi that has an enormous influence on debate and on the tenor of how people feel in this country? The Whip system in both our major parties is extraordinarily effective in getting their adherents to vote along party lines, however much they might dislike it, demonstrating a commendable degree of discipline. It would be nice to see that discipline applied equally to those members of each party who choose to use inflammatory language, which is clearly unhelpful to them as individuals and certainly to their staff but also to all their colleagues.

My second point is that, in the event that a general election is called, the individuals running for office will no longer be MPs and the whipping system as such will therefore no longer be in effect. What role or responsibility will the central offices of the major parties have in trying to ensure a degree of discipline and coherence in what those who are running under their particular flags say during the election campaign? GB News is a good example of how a small flame can quite quickly create a gas explosion. I am worried about a lack of discipline unless, frankly, all the major parties are aware of this issue and are taking active steps to do something about it.

The noble Lord makes some good points. I would say that the other House is not the vox populi; it is elected to represent its constituents’ concerns, whatever those concerns might be. I take his points about the Whip system. I noticed that that system was enacted speedily and swiftly in circumstances that I suspect he was referring to earlier this week.

With regard to the general election, the ultimate decider of whether or not the messages being delivered on the doorstep are acceptable or appropriate is the electors in those constituencies. It is clear that parties—I would extend this to all parties—have clear rules about what is and is not acceptable, and I am sure they will be enforcing those rules as ruthlessly as necessary.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for the Statement, but I want to ask for some clarification. The Statement explains the support that the police are giving to ensure that the marchers and demonstrations do not have the appearance, to people going about their daily business, of being intimidatory. Could my noble friend explain more precisely what powers the police have to curtail marches in public places or where people are going about elected office, whether in town halls or in these Houses of Parliament, and whether they will use such powers to stop the very aggressive flag-waving and surrounding of buildings by marchers, which has the appearance to many people of being intimidatory? I note here that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police did not think that flashing or having banners saying “From the river to the sea” was anti-Semitic or intimidatory when the subject was first raised with him some months ago. Do the police have any powers to stop such inflammatory and, to my mind, anti-Semitic slogans being posted publicly or advertised, which are taken as intimidatory? To clarify, I am asking about the very aggressive flag-waving on some occasions of Palestinian flags and the flashing or use of that slogan on public marches.

My noble friend asks some interesting and, if I may say so, slightly difficult questions, because there is an invitation in there to comment on operational policing matters, as she describes, around Parliament and indeed on protests in general. I think the police have sufficient powers. Obviously, those coalesce around intimidation, harassment and intent, but it is a matter for context-specific decisions to be made by the police at the time. They are accountable for those decisions after the facts, but at the time it is difficult to second-guess why or how they did what they did.

With regard to projecting things on buildings, the legality of slogans and so on, I am sure that is one of those matters where we all have our own opinions. The act of projecting light on to a building is not itself illegal in the UK and it is not obviously likely to engage public order offences, but it is possible in principle to do certain things about it. This is a debate that will continue, and I do not think I should go any further on it.

Pollution in Rivers and Regulation of Private Water Companies

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of (1) the state of pollution in rivers, and (2) the case for regulation of private water companies.

My Lords, the House is sadly becoming used to Questions and debates on sewage overflows, the quality of waterways and water company CEOs’ pay. I do not apologise for raising the issue again.

Water companies continue to discharge sewage into rivers, lakes and coastlines. At the same time, the Government are watering down environmental protections and allowing sewage discharges to continue until 2050. Liberal Democrats are calling for this to end much sooner in order to improve the quality of the water in our rivers, lakes and beaches. England’s sewerage companies have been allowed to get away with discharging sewage into our waterways for far too long.

In England, over the last three years, 2020 to 2023, there have been 1,760,659 overflows, lasting for 7,523,601 hours. Over the summer, beaches across the south-west were closed because of sewage pollution, impacting holidaymakers and tourists alike, while national parks, such as the Lake District, have not been spared spills. Meanwhile, over the same period, water company executives have paid themselves £73 million in remuneration, including £41.2 million in bonuses. In 2022, the then head of the Environment Agency even suggested that executives might deserve to go to prison.

The Conservatives have done nothing to stop water companies dumping sewage into our rivers. They have consistently voted against tougher action to stop sewage overflows, while the water regulator Ofwat said that only three of the 11 sewerage companies were top performers and had met their sewage overflow targets.

The Conservatives’ plan to reduce these sewage discharges is a licence to carry on as normal. Under their plan, water companies will be permitted to continue discharging sewage until 2050 and bill payers will see hikes in their bills to pay for it. The Government are even watering down environmental regulations, such as nutrient neutrality rules, which is likely to make the sewage problem even worse. Liberal Democrats are calling for an end to sewage dumping. Water executives should be banned from paying themselves bonuses until illegal sewage overflows stop on a regular basis.

The Secretary of State is proposing to block payouts to executives of firms that commit criminal acts of water pollution with effect from the financial year beginning this April. Can the Minister say how this information will be collected and monitored? What will be the criteria for preventing payouts?

The Liberal Democrats are calling for four actions. First, England’s water companies should be transformed into public-benefit companies. Secondly, Ofwat should be abolished and replaced by a new regulator which has effective powers to intervene. Thirdly, a sewage tax should be introduced to fund the clean-up of the most polluted lakes, rivers and coastlines. Fourthly, compensation should be introduced for swimmers who fall sick after swimming in dirty waters.

In Wales, things are no better. There have been 287,836 overflows, lasting for 2,290,674 hours over the last three years. The bosses of Welsh Water have been paid £3.5 million, including £841,000 in bonuses, benefits and incentives. The top executives of Wales’s other water company, Severn Trent, paid themselves £15 million, including £11.2 million in bonuses, benefits and incentives. In Wales, Welsh Water is not-for-profit and is still responsible for vast amounts of illegal sewage discharges. The Labour Government in Cardiff Bay are responsible for the regulation of Welsh Water and sewage overflows within Wales. Labour has systematically underfunded Natural Resources Wales, which is responsible for monitoring water quality, and has provided nowhere near enough oversight of Welsh Water. Liberal Democrats are also calling for a ban on sewage bonuses for directors in Wales.

Up in Scotland, illegal sewage discharge is also a problem, but its sewerage company, Scottish Water, is publicly owned by the Scottish Government. Over the last three years, Scottish Water allowed sewage overflows 37,396 times into Scottish rivers, lakes and coastal areas, lasting 403,230 hours. However, of the 3,614 overflows in Scotland’s 31,000-mile sewerage network, only 4%—that is, 144—are currently monitored. The Ferret website made a freedom of information request and, on 22 September, revealed that more than half of Scotland’s bathing waters—49 out of 87—have been contaminated with sewage. Meanwhile, Scottish Water’s top executives took home £2.9 million in remuneration, including £1.13 million in bonuses, benefits and incentives over the last three years. This is unacceptable. However, the SNP and its Green Party partners have failed to tackle sewage discharges, despite being directly responsible for them. Due to their failure to monitor, we do not even know the full extent of the problem.

Liberal Democrats are calling for an end to sewage discharges and a ban on bonuses for Scottish Water bosses until the discharges end. Scottish Liberal Democrats have also called for targets to be set to reduce discharges. Renationalisation will not be effective and would make no difference to the issue. Scottish Water is publicly owned, and we simply do not know how many illegal sewage overflows are taking place. At least in England, according to the Government, 100% of sewage overflow outlets are monitored. However, it is unclear who is doing this monitoring. Can the Minister give information on this please?

We need strong action from the Government to regulate these water companies to stop illegal sewage overflows, coupled with a truly independent water regulator, to ensure that companies are held to account with transparent reporting, plus the acceleration of measures to upgrade sewerage systems and tackle overflows.

In the 2023 round of accelerated infrastructure delivery decisions, we sadly saw a number of nature-based solution project proposals rejected by Ofwat for not being able to reach technical specifications designed for concrete engineering. Ofwat needs to wake up and ensure that it is getting a lot more for its money than just carbon-creating concrete solutions.

Government communications are also not helping. Last July, the Secretary of State sent a communication to water companies through the EA, raising concern about the affordability of environmental investments and encouraging deferral of these investments to keep water bills low. I begin to wonder why the Government spent so much time getting the Environment Act through if they were going to undermine it from the start.

I am sure the Minister will tell the House that Ofwat is independent. However, a recent article in the Guardian of 1 February indicated that water company executives and the chairs of Ofwat and the Environment Agency went for dinner at an exclusive private members’ club to discuss how to quell public anger over rising bills and sewage spills—at an estimated cost of £1,200. It does not appear to me that either the Environment Agency or Ofwat are independent of the water companies—quite the opposite. A cosy chat over dinner about how to alter public opinion, without addressing the root cause of the problem, hardly seems likely to reassure the public.

On Tuesday this week, Southern Water was fined £330,000 over a raw sewage spill at a rural beauty spot. That killed more than 2,000 fish, with staff ignoring an alarm about the emergency for five hours. The YMCA Fairthorne Manor, an outdoor activity centre popular for school trips, had to stop water activities for 10 days after the incident and cancel more than 1,000 sessions. The health implications of sewage are why Liberal Democrats have previously called for sewage sickness victims to receive compensation, and we repeat that call today. It is not right that, as water companies make large profits, swimmers get sick. If someone is poisoned by sewage, they should be compensated for it.

A recent report by Surfers Against Sewage found that the number of people who fell ill after entering water between October 2022 and September 2023 was 1,924. This is three times the number reported in the previous year. The sewage spill that Southern Water was fined for on Tuesday, and many other spills like it, show the need for an effective Environment Agency.

Defra is heavily dependent on the monitoring and intervention of the Environment Agency. However, cutting the Environment Agency’s budget from £170 million in 2009-10 to £76 million in 2019-20 is not likely to assist this hard-pressed organisation to act effectively. A general rule of life is that you get what you pay for. It is essential that the Environment Agency is provided with adequate funding to conduct inspections and take remedial action.

According to a Guardian article on 13 February, the Levelling-Up Secretary, Michael Gove, proposed an amendment to the then Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill that would strike at the directive on preventing extra sewage going into waterways in sensitive areas by either updating infrastructure or buying biodiversity credits. The Secretary of State’s action would allow developers to ignore the rules that were so strenuously fought for in this Chamber by the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and others. The Government are not taking this issue seriously. There is then the issue of axing the right of developers to connect to already overloaded sewerage systems, which is not currently anywhere on the horizon.

On Tuesday afternoon, as I sat in this Chamber waiting for the next business, a message came through to my private email from Southern Water, of which I am a customer. The heading was, “Tired of hearing about storm releases? Us too”. There then followed some excellent nature-based solutions that it is prioritising. Obviously, it was trying to head off criticism. However, when I got home and watched the local television news—delayed due to the football overrun—I saw the news of Southern Water’s fine, to which I referred earlier. This sewage discharge was in the next village to where I live. The worst aspect of this is that it took from 2019 until this week to come to court and be dealt with. No wonder water companies include the cost of possible fines in their business plans. To them, it appears to be all part of their operation.

The country cannot wait any longer. The countryside and our waterways are submerged by pollution. A radical overhaul is needed of the way in which water and sewage companies operate, and a more accountable replacement Ofwat needs to be delivered without delay. I beg to move.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Water, and last year I chaired a study organised by the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management into bioresources strategy. I also worked with the water regulator for Scotland, the Water Industry Commission, between 2015 and 2018.

At the outset, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on securing this timely debate on river pollution and the case for the regulation of private water companies. I, for one, recognise that privatisation has permitted the massive investment required to move UK water from being one of the dirtiest in Europe to upgrading our drinking water, rivers and bathing waters to infinitely better quality than they were in the 1980s. We can always improve regulation, although some might say that there is already a wealth of regulators for private water companies: Ofwat, the Environment Agency, the Drinking Water Inspectorate, and now the Office for Environmental Protection.

Let us examine the causes of the pollution of our rivers. A recent phenomenon has been surface water flooding, which was first recognised in 2007, with run-off from our roads spilling into combined sewers. Does my noble friend the Minister, whom I welcome to his place today, think it right that national highway authorities are not held accountable for surface water run-off? There is also the case of inappropriate developments, whereby water companies are required to connect wastewater—sewage—to antiquated infrastructure, causing further spills when mixed with flood water entering the combined sewers.

We are on a timer, so I will take advice on whether we are permitted to take interventions. Does the Clock stop if I take an intervention?

I am afraid that I cannot give way.

Large-scale developments built in inappropriate places, such as zone B flood plains, compound that with poor connections. We must tackle the problems of sewage at source, before it enters the rivers and sea. While the Government make the case for building on flood plains in certain circumstances, that should not be encouraged. In any event, such homes will not be insured under the Flood Re scheme if built after 2009.

I will also raise the vexed issue of misconnections. The Government made two commitments under the storm overflows discharge reduction plan that could help to address the issue: to give water companies the right to repair defective drains on private property, and to give water companies the right to alter drainage systems on private property to reduce impermeable areas connected to the combined sewer network. An important part of tackling misconnections is getting to the drains on private land, so that water companies can take action, as the majority of misconnections are on private land. Will the Government also allow water companies access to government-owned land, such as hospitals and schools, to make the necessary repair work and to repair drainage separation work where required? That measure alone would prevent excess water entering combined sewers.

Having examined the causes of pollution in our rivers, is there a case for further regulation of private water companies? Water companies have a positive role to play in areas such as creating natural flood defences—as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, pointed out—particularly by working with farmers and others. I pay tribute to the work of Yorkshire Water and United Utilities in that area. Defra should encourage other private sector players to contribute to that. What plans does my noble friend the Minister and his department have to do so? The Slowing the Flow scheme in Pickering, with which I was associated, is a good example of a natural flood defence combined with a small reservoir—not an overengineered project, such as those to which the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, objected—although all those involved were from the public sector. I urge the Government to lever more private sector funding into that. If we are to follow through with linking renumeration to performance, I invite my noble friend the Minister and his department to look at the corollary of that by giving water companies the tools to do the job.

The Government promised in this place and the other place that Schedule 3 to the Flood and Water Management Act 2010 will be implemented as it has been in Wales. Will my noble friend confirm that this will happen in England before the election? It is extremely important that we stop the automatic right to connect, whereby water companies are expected to connect pipes from three, four or five-bedroomed homes to antiquated Victorian pipes that simply cannot take the amount of wastewater and sewage coming out of these new builds. The Government must insist on mandatory SUDS—sustainable drainage systems—for all new builds. I hope they will also commit to an ambitious programme of retrofitting to existing developments, where appropriate. Obviously, that raises the question of who will maintain the SUDS, which is an open question at the moment.

Will the Government look favourably on rewarding farmers for storing water on flood land? According to the NFU, over half the most fertile farmland in Britain is on flood plains. The farming community and landowners are performing a public good by preventing communities downstream from flooding. However, there is great uncertainty as to how farmers can benefit from public funds. Often this flooding will include sewage. Can my noble friend clarify who will be eligible to apply for both the flood recovery framework and the farming recovery fund, and what level of damages can be recovered? Equally, will Defra recognise that the role farmers play in storing floodwater is a public good? Will the Government look positively at a whole-catchment area approach, and more slow-the-flow schemes such as those successfully implemented in Pickering and elsewhere protecting downstream communities from flooding?

I applaud the action that the Government have taken on holding directors to account, particularly the instruction they have given to Ofwat and the work Ofwat has done on executive pay. Ofwat has been very clear that companies need to demonstrate that performance-related executive remuneration is linked to performance for customers and the environment. In June last year, Ofwat confirmed that where companies do not demonstrate that executive pay is linked to performance, it will stop companies recovering the cost of bonuses from consumers.

I welcome the level of investment announced in the five-year business plan that Ofwat has yet to approve. It will factor in £96 billion in the next investment period 2025 to 2030, of which £11 billion will be allocated to reduce overflow spills. The noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, identified an area which has only been recognised for spend—innovation—since 2014. I hope that Ofwat will go much further, recognising the natural flood defences to which the noble Baroness referred as innovative projects under the spending review. I think this will help many of the issues the noble Baroness identified. We do not want overengineered projects, we want natural flood defences—and these schemes have to be approved as part of the price review.

Finally, the NAO report in November 2023 made a number of very apt recommendations to increase resilience to future flood events, such as reprofiling capital spend, maximising long-term value for money and ensuring flexibility to switch money from capital spend to asset management. My preference is to establish a single budget for all flood spending.

Finally, will my noble friend look favourably on the use of SUDS and natural defences to ensure no overspill of raw sewage into combined sewers, so that it will not enter the rivers. Will he look favourably at a whole-catchment area management approach, to make highways authorities responsible for water run-off of pollution from these surfaces into combined sewers? Will he address the issue of missed connections and permit water companies to enter private land and government property in schools and hospitals? Will he look at giving water companies the right to alter drainage systems, consider the recommendation from CIWEM for a comprehensive independent review of water management, inform the public of the importance of water efficiency and address all the recommendations of the NAO report of November last year?

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for securing this debate and congratulate her on setting out the issues in her superb speech. I will concentrate on regulatory issues.

The key principles of effective regulation are that the regulator must be independent, must levy effective sanctions, must be publicly accountable and must empower stakeholders to curb abuses. Water and sewerage regulators fail these key tests. In any system of regulation, capture of the regulators by the regulated is a recurring problem. However, this is the starting position in the water industry. Two-thirds of England’s biggest water companies employ key executives who previously worked at Ofwat. Water company directors and the chairs of Ofwat and the Environment Agency regularly meet at exclusive clubs to discuss how to quell public anger over bill rises and sewage dumping. The cost of these lavish lunches and dinners is passed to customers, but no agenda papers or minutes of such meetings are made publicly available. We all know that secrecy breeds corruption and the water industry is full of that.

The revolving doors deepen cognitive capture and the cosiness is all too evident. Water companies have an operating profit margin of 35%, even though they have no competition. Water bills have risen by 363% since privatisation, and over 40% in real terms. Up to 28% of customer charges cover the interest paid on debt, which would not be necessary if Ofwat had been vigilant and curbed high leverage at water companies. It has completely failed to protect customers.

In the debate on 22 February, I drew attention to the number of times some water companies have been sanctioned since 2010. I gave the example of United Utilities, which has been sanctioned 215 times. In reply, the Minister seemed to regard that as a sign of success. Imagine an offender hauled in front of the same judge every three weeks for identical offences and given a puny fine, only to reoffend again. Nobody would consider that to be a regulatory success—but the Minister thought it was somehow a success story. I hope he will explain why the Government consider repeat offences by the water companies to be a success—that was just an easy question for him.

Despite the repeat offences, bonuses continue to flow. Again last week, in response to my suggestion that customers should elect water company directors and vote on executive pay, the Minister said:

“Remuneration committees for each water company independently determine the appropriate level of remuneration for their water company executives”.

This is simply not true. First, remuneration committees are staffed by non-executive directors who owe their position to favours from the executive board. They have absolutely no independence from the executive board and they very rarely bite the hand that feeds them. None is a substitute for direct representation of customers on company boards.

Secondly, the Minister added:

“Ofwat expects water companies to take into account the legitimate concerns of stakeholders when making decisions on the application of remuneration policies”.—[Official Report, 22/2/24; cols. 758-9.]

Every opinion poll has shown that people are concerned about high bills, pollution, lack of investment and poor regulation. Relying on failed structures and practices cannot give us effective regulation, yet the Minister was defending them, for some reason. Maybe he has had second thoughts since; I do not know.

In the debate on 22 February, the Minister defended water companies with the claim that, since privatisation, £215 billion has been invested in infrastructure. I do not have any confidence in that number because it has been manufactured by dubious accounting practices. I will give two examples, both relating to the accounts for 2022-23 published by Thames Water.

First, on page 134 of those accounts, the company states that it

“capitalises expenditure relating to water and wastewater infrastructure where such expenditure enhances assets or increases the capacity of the network. Maintenance expenditure is taken to the income statement in the period in which it is incurred. Differentiating between enhancement and maintenance works is subjective”.

What does that mean? It means that the amounts that are capitalised to show higher investment cannot be independently corroborated. It just depends on the whims of the directors; there is absolutely no solidity to it. Will the Minister write to the House after this debate and say how much of the repair and maintenance costs have been capitalised since privatisation by water companies so that we can remove it from the £215 billion?

Secondly, on page 143 of Thames Water’s annual accounts, it states that

“£215.2 million of borrowing costs were capitalised in the period”

and gives a comparison of £114.8 million for 2022. So, the investment made by Thames Water in those two years alone has been inflated by £330 million. The crazy logic of this policy is that, when a company mends leaks by borrowing money compared to one that uses retained earnings, it is somehow investing more and its assets are worth more. That simply is not true. We know a company that used such imprudent policies: Carillion. I have a slight declaration to make here in that I was an adviser to the Work and Pensions Committee for that investigation—and we know what happened to Carillion. This is where water companies are heading with the full blessing of the Government, Ofwat and all the other regulators. Again, I ask the Minister to write to the House and explain both how much interest has been capitalised by water companies since privatisation and what the consequences of such practices are. Are those companies going to go the same way as Carillion? I fear they are; Ofwat certainly has no financial nous to check these things.

After 35 years of failure, we can all see that the current regulatory structures are highly deficient. We cannot have that; we need to change it. Ofwat and the Environment Agency need to be replaced by bodies that are pluralistic, with direct representation of stakeholders on their boards. The regulators and the regulated do not need to have a hostile relationship but there must be distance between them. They cannot be in each other’s pockets or cosy. Regulators must owe a duty of care to stakeholders so that they can be sued for failing the public; that is virtually impossible at the moment. All significant board meetings must be in the open so that we can all see how appropriate evidence submitted to regulators is weighted, filtered or acted on. At the moment, there is complete secrecy. All board minutes, working and agenda papers need to be publicly available. If the Minister possibly feels uncomfortable with those suggestions, it would be helpful to know why he is afraid of openness and democracy. Why is he afraid of empowering stakeholders and the public at large? We need to bring public pressure upon the water industry and its regulators so that they clean up their act.

My Lords, it is such a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, who really does his homework. I advocate to the Government Benches reading his speech in Hansard just to make sure that they have got the full picture.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on bringing this topic up again. When I was thinking about what to say, I wondered whether I should just print off my speeches from six months, a year or two years ago. We have debated this issue a lot; there is strength of feeling here. The Minister might stand up and say, in his innocence, “But we’re doing more than any other Government have ever done on this issue”. That may be true but, unfortunately, the situation has got worse and the Government are not doing enough.

We have had some really good briefings on this issue. The Rivers Trust produced a very good report saying things such as this:

“No single stretch of river in England or Northern Ireland is in good overall health”.

That is shameful. It also said that 85% of river stretches in England have failed to reach good ecological health, and that toxic chemicals pollute every stretch of English rivers. What a legacy this Government have left us. This will come up on doorsteps—I am going to make sure that it does if I have anything to do with it—and the Government will be shamed.

We also had a very good briefing from Sustain. It made the point that the main cause of river pollution is livestock farming—that of chickens and other animals. This is perfectly true but it does not mean that sewage will not be important; somehow, the general public have heard the word “sewage” and will ask questions about it.

We had a briefing from Windrush Against Sewage Pollution. It talks about the inadequate monitoring and the fact that there simply is not enough data to know the full picture. This is something that the Government have not taken seriously. The Freshwater Future briefing called for the regulation of private water companies.

Clearly, we are all tired of talking about this and of the Government replying in platitudes, saying how it is going to be fine and that they have done everything anyone could possibly do. They have not. I think that even the two noble Lords on the Front Bench know that water regulation has failed; I would be very disappointed if they did not know that basic fact.

I have all sorts of facts and figures here but, quite honestly, I will have to cut those bits out of my speech because the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, has used them all. It is time that all politicians of all political parties question and reject the ideological belief in water privatisation; it has failed. Once you are free of that ideological straitjacket, when the water companies say, “We’ll go bankrupt if you don’t let us raise the average water bill by £150 a year”, you can say, “No problem. We can take you over; that is fine. You failed. We’ll buy you for 50 pence”, or whatever.

The water companies had the public money to invest but, instead, they paid it out in dividends. Either they can do what they were paid to do already or they can go bankrupt. As I say, we can buy them. An even better solution has been put forward by the charity We Own It, which suggests that, instead of the stupid, paltry fines that the water companies keep getting thrown at them—they pay them quite happily because they just do not care; it is not much money—we could take shares from them every time. We could be quite strict and tough about it, then we would have them in no time.

The water companies are saying that they need the predicted £150-a-year rise in bills with which they are insulting us at the moment in order to invest over the next 27 years. However, the £57 billion that the Government are offering is the same amount of money that those water companies have paid to shareholders in the previous 27 years. Where is the guarantee that any money we give to these water companies will actually be spent on the things we care about? I would argue that we have absolutely no guarantee.

Of course, Ofwat has failed and the Environment Agency has failed. I feel very sad about that. Instead of our regulators acting years ago to clamp down on CEO bonuses and shareholder dividends, they are still going to private dinner clubs with the water industry to discuss how to quell the public anger at sewage and rising bills. As I said, there will be anger over this at the next general election. The cost of living will be the major concern but sewage will come up.

I have had quite a lot of people saying to me, “Oh, we should just take all these CEOs and top execs to court, throw them in jail and forget about them, basically”. I am not a big fan of putting people in prison. What we should do with all these top execs is give them community service. They should be out there on the riverbanks and the beaches clearing up the mess that they have made. A couple of years of doing that and possibly other CEOs would learn that you cannot carry on polluting our natural resources in that way.

I will cut huge chunks of my speech out now, which I am sure everybody will be very happy about. Local campaigners in West Oxfordshire have worked with the district council to ensure that planning applications have conditions set for Thames Water to upgrade illegal sewerage systems before accepting the occupancy of new housing. The effectiveness of the conditions is being tested, with the first examples under way. The Environment Agency has been prodded into action, and on one application of 1,450 houses north of Oxford it said clearly that the Oxford sewage works is operating illegally and has failed to upgrade, despite the water company having had the money years ago.

I do not want there to be a shortage of housing. I do not want us to stop building new housing; I want to stop our polluting some very precious ecosystems. The same rule that I have just talked about would apply to any new housing served by the Oxford sewage works and every other illegally operating sewage works in the country. It will stop a new deluge of sewage being dumped into local rivers due to overloaded systems.

How many sewage works around the country are currently operating illegally and do not have the capacity to handle the existing levels of sewage? This is a very important question. If we do not have the data on that, we really ought to. Perhaps the Minister can write to me and to everybody about that, because it is a crucial question. You cannot fix a problem if you do not know what it is and how big it is.

Lastly, can the Minister explain how water companies that are blocking new housing from being occupied and have never invested the money given to them to produce a modern sewerage system can now be expected to do so? We have let the water companies run rampant over our very precious land, rivers, waterways and all sorts of ecosystems. It is time we stopped them.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak in this debate. I thank my noble friend Lady Bakewell and all those who are speaking. I will talk about the scale of the pollution problem in our rivers and the causes, and will suggest some possible solutions.

The scale of the Government’s overall environmental ambitions is to be commended. This is the first Government to have set a target to leave nature in a better place than they found it, but there is much to do and time is short. My overall message is that more must be urgently done at scale and at pace to meet the targets that the Government have set themselves. Clear plans, clear policy direction, clear timescales for action, monitoring regimes, and a clear and consistent direction of travel and political messaging are all vital to secure the planning, investment and action needed to achieve these objectives at scale and on time.

Water quality was awful but, thanks mainly to EU measures and their enforcement and monitoring, it improved in the past. Progress is either slipping back or stagnant at best. Nowhere is the scale of the challenge clearer than the daily scandal of raw sewage being discharged into our waterways unabated while water company bosses continue to pay themselves millions in bonuses with seeming impunity from the harm their companies do. Our rivers and inland waterways are in a desperately sorry state. The combined impacts of sewage discharges and pollution from farming and agriculture, chemicals, road networks and urban spaces are taking their toll.

The recently published Rivers Trust State of Our Rivers Report found that, of our rivers:

“0% are in good overall status … 0% are in high overall status … 23% are classed as in poor or bad overall status … 85% of river stretches fall below good ecological standards; only 15% achieve good or above ecological health status”.

The report found that very little had changed or improved since the last full report in 2019. Worryingly, river sampling has also decreased, with nearly 6% fewer river stretches receiving health clarifications compared with 2019.

What a sorry situation this is. From Pooh-sticks to the simple pleasures in life of sitting by a cooling river on a warm day, and for the 7.5 million people who regularly wild swim, our rivers and lakes are precious and life affirming. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, people care passionately about our rivers, which occupy a deep and sacred place in our natural soul and well-being. Their health is an election-defining issue that this Government need to invest more commitment and energy into.

The Government should be aware that there is a reason for the Liberal Democrats going on—and, at times, on—about sewage in our rivers. It is not just because my party cares about these issues but because we know that the Government’s voters care just as much. My party is committed to protecting our natural environment. That protection will be at the heart of our overall policy approach. Everyone should be able to enjoy access to nature, free of this mess and its risk to their health.

The water companies have failed to invest in water infrastructure, especially at a time when interest rates were historically low. In 2011, for example, Defra’s Water for Life paper found that only 1% of public sewers were replaced between 2000 and 2008. At that continued rate, it would take 800 years, or 10 times longer than a life cycle, to replace them all. This lack of investment has continued until today, with Ofwat finding a £587 million water company underspend for the years 2020 to 2023. At the same time, the shareholders continue to receive record bonuses. Poor regulation and enforcement across several sectors are making things worse. The Environment Agency saw its environmental budget more than halve in 10 years, from £170 million to £76 million in 2019-20.

As a result, it is struggling to monitor and enforce the rules. Ofwat has similarly failed to hold water companies to account. It has prioritised low bills for customers over the need for investment in networks and environmental protections. We have seen a revolving door between Ofwat and the water companies. The question remains: who regulates the regulators? We need clear and enforceable statutory regulations for long-term improvements in overall water health to be added to the Environment Act 2021.

Sewage may be in the public consciousness—and, in too many cases, people’s nostrils—but it is only a small part of the overall pollution problem. Land management practices must change. This is an issue that the Government have failed to tackle. ELMS has been rushed. Too much money is given to big agricultural businesses. Our small farmers are excluded and are suffering. Many more small-scale farmers must be brought into the scheme, and more help must be provided for them to make applications. The programme must adequately compensate farmers for the nature-friendly practices that we all need and depend on. There is far too little monitoring of our waterways and far too little understanding of the dangerous cocktail of chemicals, and for ever chemicals, that are still present. When do the Government plan to bring forward their chemicals strategy, a key call of the recent OEP report?

The impacts of climate change are real and are happening now. The average UK winter has become around 1 degree warmer and 15% wetter over the past century. We are seeing more rain and it must go somewhere. We must work to separate rainwater from our sewerage systems. Climate change puts increased pressure on the systems and overwhelms them. Heat will increase pressure for water abstraction, and floods bring increased risks of pollution events. I warmly welcome the £25 million of government money that was announced last week to work with nature, not against it, to help with flood management. It is a welcome sign of a change of direction, but we could have had £250 million and that still would not have been enough.

We need more whole-catchment-area, nature-based approaches to slow water, hold and release it slowly to protect soils, and to filter rainwater prior to it entering our waterways. We must do more to work with nature, not against it, in an age of extreme weather. We need long-term plans and greater ambitions from this Government. Ambition must be accompanied by consistent political will, determined action, adequate investment and regulatory regimes that are statutory, well-funded, enforced and fit for purpose.

My party is clear: we are determined and committed to real change in these areas. We will transform the private water companies into public benefit companies. Our view is that Ofwat has failed to get to grips with the problems and define solutions, so our policy is to abolish Ofwat and replace it with a more effective regulator with more powers to directly intervene with speed and much-needed enforcement teeth. We will ensure that there is more adequate funding for regular monitoring of all our waterways. The Liberal Democrats are also committed to introducing a sewage tax on water company profits to fund the clean-up of the most polluted inland waterways and our coastline. We will also introduce compensation for swimmers, and others, who fall sick after exercising in water. These are our policies for change. I kindly ask the Minister: what plans do the Government have to offer?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville for tabling this very important topic for debate. She has described the consequences for our rivers of discharging raw sewage from storm overflows; the health problems that follow can be very serious, but I will start with some history.

Nearly 170 years ago, sewage was discharged into the rivers that served our great cities. In London, it was the Thames, and one hot summer in 1858 the smell that resulted from the raw effluent was dubbed the Great Stink. It affected Parliament to such an extent that the curtains were soaked in chloride of lime in a vain attempt to reduce the overpowering smell. The failure to deal with a long-running discharge of raw sewage into the Thames had literally got up the noses of MPs and Peers; something had to be done, of course, and it was.

The great Joseph Bazalgette was a civil engineer who then set to work and created the sewage system for central London, including for Parliament. Standards for sewage systems for the whole country followed in 1875, when a Conservative Prime Minister, Benjamin Disraeli, overcame the laissez-faire attitude of his party and passed the Public Health Act, which required local authorities to create or repair sewers at significant cost to ratepayers. It is salutary to think that, over 150 years later, that investment in the sewerage infrastructure has been so neglected that, today, communities across the country face a modern equivalent of the Great Stink.

In Yorkshire, where I am happy to live, the rivers create a beautiful environment, as well as providing water for habitats and a focus for recreation but also water abstraction for domestic consumption. Sadly, too often, these great rivers are also used to carry sewage from storm overflows. I hasten to add that, despite all else that pollutes our rivers, the water companies and the Drinking Water Inspectorate ensure a very high quality of drinking water.

These are some of the more recent incidents. Over 2020 and 2021, two Yorkshire rivers, the River Nidd and the River Wharfe, received almost approximately 1.4 billion litres of untreated wastewater—for “wastewater”, read “raw sewage”. The River Nidd saw 870 sewage dump incidents in 2022, according to Environment Agency figures. Testing of water pollution in the River Nidd at the time showed that the harmful bacteria E. coli was at “concerningly high” levels.

In 2016, the Environment Agency received a report of pollution in Hookstone Beck in Harrogate. Investigating officers traced it to the nearby overflow, which had blocked. The investigation found that almost 1,500 fish had been killed and that water quality was affected for 2.5 kilometres downstream. A series of further blockages and discharges took place in the following months.

These are just some of the pollution incidents relating to the discharging of raw sewage in our great Yorkshire rivers. The question for the Minister is this: why have these pollution incidents been permitted without earlier intervention by the regulators and the Government?

The EU water framework directive has been retained by the Government as retained EU law. Prior to 2019, the water framework directive was a key driver to very significant capital investment by water companies in their wastewater treatment works and sewage systems. In Yorkshire, there were some very large schemes to improve wastewater treatment facilities and the system attached to them. The Environmental Improvement Plan 2023 only requires

“water companies to have eliminated all adverse ecological impact from sewage discharges at all sensitive sites by 2035, and at all other overflows by 2050”.

The Government are apparently satisfied that raw sewage discharges can continue for a further 25 years. What is worse is that these aims in the plan are not even legally binding.

Further, the Government’s Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan of 2022 set a target for 75% of overflows close to high-priority sites such as SSSIs and so on by 2035. This is a considerable dilution of the water framework directive, which set a date to restore all surface water bodies—rivers, streams et cetera—to good ecological status by December 2027. Yet the Government are apparently okaying 2035 for the most sensitive areas.

One hundred and fifty years ago, a Government were able to accept, first, that they had a responsibility and, secondly, that taking responsibility meant having a duty to act. The situation we suffer today is that Conservative Governments have been keen to outsource these critical responsibilities of providing clean drinking water and treating sewage so that the end-result can be discharged to rivers or the sea without causing pollution.

It is time for the Government to appreciate that discharging raw sewage into watercourses is not acceptable. It is a public health scandal. But, of course, public health is underfunded, as is the Environment Agency, to tackle these health challenges. Disraeli understood that his Government would be judged by the approach to public health. That same challenge exists today, and we are yet to see the Conservative Government rising effectively and with determination to that challenge.

My Lords, I declare my agricultural interests, which may be relevant to this debate. I also congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on securing this debate. I am slightly saddened to hear, from various sides, party-political views on this matter. In my opinion, this is not a party political issue. I think that all parties in this House, and those with no party affiliation, share a determination to try to do something about this serious situation.

There is no doubt that pollution in our rivers affects the whole population, and there is wide public support for legislation to clean up our rivers and beaches. Unfortunately, despite many improvements made by this House to the Environment Act 2021, and despite various plans and intentions published by the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, the Environment Agency and Ofwat, the situation does not appear to be improving.

The Office for Environmental Protection—a new agency created by the Environment Act—stated in its recent annual report:

“The current state of the water environment is not satisfactory. Despite historic improvements, the pace of change has now stalled.”

It is well known, and a number of noble Lords have mentioned it, that only a small proportion of our rivers are in a good ecological state. In a report by the Rivers Trust, published earlier this week and referred to by several noble Lords, this country’s rivers are described as being in a

“desperate state … plagued by sewage, chemical, nutrient and plastic pollution”.

What can be done to encourage an improvement in our rivers? As the Office for Environmental Protection clearly states in its report, the Government’s ambitions can be achieved only with

“effective management of the farmed landscape and engagement with the nation’s farmers and landowners”.

Unfortunately, the rollout of the environmental land management schemes has been slow, and this will have impeded the reduction in the pollution in our rivers coming from agricultural activities. We have been slow in dealing with the slurry from intensive farming systems located in certain river catchment areas.

However, the inexcusable cause of river pollution is the continuing discharge of raw and untreated sewage. This has been happening for decades, and planning authorities throughout the country have been insufficiently insistent on improvements to sewage treatment plants to cope with new housing developments and so many house improvements. The various parts of central and local government have been insensitive to the scale of sewage pollution entering rivers and lakes. With hindsight, I think it is now clear that the regulatory structure created when the water companies were privatised over 30 years ago has been shown to be inadequate.

In the short term, it will be necessary to enforce to a greater extent compliance with new regulations for slurry management and the control of other farm waste. For the water companies, it will probably be necessary for Ofwat to insist on an even greater level of investment in sewage treatments—including, where possible, nature-based systems. I know that many ambitious investment plans have been announced, but I fear they are not adequate for the dire situation in which we find ourselves. I also fear—and it is uncomfortable to say this—that all this may involve increases in water charges greater than the rate of inflation. This must be coupled with a reduction or elimination of dividends until the discharges have been reduced to a minimum.

In the medium term, we must review the structure of regulation. I realise that this would be complex and that the transition could be disruptive. As the Minister and all the party spokesmen are here participating in this debate, I ask them to discuss with their respective colleagues whether all parties should include in their manifestos at the next election a commitment to an independent review of the structure of the regulation of the water industry. Such a review might well conclude, as I have, that it is necessary to have a single regulator, rather than the continuing splitting of responsibilities between the Water Services Regulation Authority—Ofwat—and the Environment Agency. The water companies are, of course, monopolies in their own geographic areas, and must therefore be regulated. I cannot think of other monopolies where the regulation is divided between two different agencies.

I do not suggest that it would not be complicated, and have other consequences, to change the manner in which water companies are regulated and held to account, and any change would not have an immediate effect. But the present system of regulation has meant that it has taken us decades to realise the full extent of the pollution damage, while the industry has become increasingly indebted and yet has paid out regularly dividends to shareholders, who in many cases are not the public shareholders who originally bought shares from the Government but private equity firms that may not share the same environmental objectives as the Government or the public. Some noble Lords have mentioned bonuses. I agree that it is rather shocking how much has been paid out in bonuses to companies which have been polluting regularly our rivers.

I realise that there is no quick fix for the current state of our rivers, lakes and beaches. But we must continue to keep pressure on the Government, local authorities and the regulators to reduce the discharges of sewage and the agricultural waste entering our river systems. A greater sense of urgency is now required.

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville for her excellent speech and for securing this important debate. It follows on from the one held in the Chamber on “Water and Sewage Companies: Directors’ Remuneration” on 22 February. I urge your Lordships to read that debate closely.

I will talk about my local river, the River Swale, said to be the fastest-flowing river in England. It is supposed to be watched over by Yorkshire Water. This company was privatised in 1989, at which time it had no debt; that debt is now £6.1 billion. It wants to increase our water bills by 6%. I will speak more about it later. I am indebted to a number of individuals and organisations who have helped me with my research, among them the Save our Swale group, the Rivers Trust’s State of Our Rivers report, the Sustain alliance, Daniel Callaghan, and the Local Government Association, to name but a few.

In Richmond, we are fighting back. In July 2023, the Save Our Swale group was founded by a local resident, Deborah Meara. She held a meeting in our town hall, which was attended by more than 100 people. Microbiologist Keith Thomas addressed the audience, as did Ron Wood from a local angling society; there was also a representative from the Rivers Trust. The meeting was told that the sewage treatment works on the Swale at Richmond had discharged untreated sewage into the river for a total of 1,113,013 hours; that the number of releases was 371; and that the average time per release was 3.8 hours. This was during 2022, which, as your Lordships will recall, was a drought year. Indeed, the standard precipitation index between March and August that year stated that the Swale was severely dry. Dry dumping is illegal.

The Save Our Swale group is applying for designated bathing water status—DBWS—as this is its only way, if it is successful, of forcing the Environment Agency to test the Swale’s water quality regularly. This is not a simple task, especially as Defra has recently changed the criteria yet again to make ultimate success less likely. The application will go in at the end of this year and the end of the bathing water season. A mass of volunteers, a number of whom are scientists—here I must declare an interest as my husband is one of them—will be doing the Environment Agency’s job for it by testing the water quality at various points along the Swale.

This monitoring has been going on at seven sites along the river on a monthly basis since September 2023. The volunteers have found unexpected and as yet unexplained spikes in phosphate levels above what are regarded as safe levels. It is clear that the River Swale is polluted yet neither the Environment Agency, Ofwat or Yorkshire Water appears to be doing much about it. Since the Environment Agency began criminal investigations into non-compliance by water companies back in 2021, we, the public, are no nearer to understanding just what is going on. Can the Minister advise me? Ofwat has also indicated that it has enforcement cases against six water companies, including Yorkshire Water, but those still have not been made public. Perhaps the Minister can tell us what is happening and when we might see some transparency.

Before we left the European Union, we were signed up to the water framework directive. This required member states to have good chemical and ecological status in their waterways by 2027. We were promised huge improvements to our way of life by leaving the EU, so can the Minister tell me where we are on those timescales? Can he also help me on what the Government mean by saying that there is an exemption on this timescale until 2063? The Liberal Democrats put down an amendment to the Environment Bill that would have placed a legal duty on water companies to make improvements. We are also calling for a sewage tax, as we have heard. I quote my noble friend Lady Bakewell:

“This would be a 16% tax on pre-tax profits, providing a £340 million fund to clear up the rivers that have been damaged and to fix the sewerage system”.—[Official Report, 22/2/24; col. 754.]

That may be one solution to this burgeoning problem. We should transform England’s water companies into public benefit companies, abolish Ofwat and put in its place a new regulator with proper teeth to tackle sewage dumping, as we have also heard. I am yet to see where the many improvements the Government say they are making are being demonstrated.

On 22 February, the Minister said:

“The Environment Agency and Ofwat have recently launched the largest ever criminal and civil investigations into water companies’ sewage discharges, and into over 2,200 treatment works, following new data coming to light as a result of increased monitoring”.

It is citizen scientists who are providing data and doing their work for them. Why did it take those agencies so long to see what should have been before their eyes? They have known about these discharges for many years. The Minister went on to say that

“this Government are going further and faster than any before to protect and enhance the health of our rivers and seas. We are holding water companies to account on a scale never seen before”.—[Official Report, 22/2/24; cols. 759-60.]

Of course it has never been seen before; the water companies have been allowed to get away with committing environmental vandalism on a huge scale, all on the Conservatives’ watch.

I fear that this all comes down to a board of directors who are perfectly happy to take huge sums of money, paying out £62 million in dividends in 2022-23 to its parent company—the Kelda Group—to

“cover costs including debt interest”

but going on to say that the money did not go to external shareholders. Who are they kidding? They have paid £1.2 billion in dividends to shareholders over the past 10 years, as we have just heard, while not even carrying out their primary functions of maintaining and investing in sewage infrastructure—improvements that we were promised in 1989. In August 2022, the Yorkshire Post reported that the Yorkshire water bosses paid themselves more than £3 million in bonuses despite leakages running at 283.1 million litres a day. That is absurd. Bonuses should be banned today.

It is said that, in the 7th century, St Paulinus baptised thousands of people in the River Swale. I wonder whether he would have been happy to baptise people in there now as sewage dumping in the Swale continues to be legal until 2050.

My Lords, a certain degree of nostalgia comes in as I speak in this debate because, looking around the Chamber, I see that I am the only survivor here today of the Committee that dealt with privatising our water industry. Throughout that process—I do not mean to dump this on the Minister—I was told repeatedly by a variety of individuals, most of whom are not in the House, “Don’t worry, the regulator will deal with it. It’ll jump in”. If you raised a concern, that was what you were told. We heard it so often that it almost became a joke. In those very late hours towards midnight, which were normal then, I lost count of the number of times we were told on group after group that the regulator would deal with it.

It is now quite clear from what we are hearing that that model did not work. This might be because the regulator did not expect to deal with what was going on but lots of different parties have had lots of chances to intervene here. We have known for a long time about global warming, about the fact that warmer air has more water in it and about the fact that the increased water vapour in the air comes down as rain. We have known for a long time that this was coming—we should remember that one of the last acts of Baroness Thatcher as Prime Minister was to talk about the fact that we do not own the planet but are merely leaseholders on it; I think that was the term—yet we have permitted this model for the water industry to carry on despite the fact that it does not do anything. I remember, when we finally finished that process—once again in the small hours—picking up the Times, I think, and seeing a cartoon of a classic yuppie of the era looking at a computer screen and saying, “We’ll all get filthy rich”. That was somebody who got it right.

We have known that this has been coming. It is not something that is removed from us—a dreadful problem but not one to worry about—because it is starting to affect other bits of our lives. The thing that caught me, which was suggested by some of my noble friends, is that it is affecting leisure activities on water. You would have thought that being able to canoe, fish, swim or go rowing is something that you could take as read most of the time on a river or inland waterway in Great Britain. On the River Trent in Nottingham is our national water-sports training centre. The one thing I regret about getting older is that I am becoming long-sighted, so I will put my glasses on: last autumn, 5,106 hours of training were lost to our elite centre there due to red-flag water notices—amazing. Think about that; that stretch of water has been taken so that elite athletes can use it for canoeing and open-water swimming. There have been cases recently of open-water swimming where everybody got sick. At the World Triathlon Championship, people got sick from their training programmes. We have something here which is directly affecting human health.

Some people might shrug their shoulders at sporting activity and say that it does not really matter that much—that it is only a bunch of people running around and that they can all go to the gym. But sport is a bit bigger than that. It is a representation of bringing people together and getting them outside, giving them status and—in the case of these athletes—national pride. If you cannot keep a place like that safe for activity, what other types of activity lower down the sporting food chain are going to be affected too? When news gets out, people will say, “Do we want our child, brother, sister or father to be anywhere near that water if it is dangerous?” The Government should keep that in mind.

Let us talk about another group: anglers. We are affecting our waterways. Everybody should pay attention to anglers because there are an awful lot of them. They are the biggest participation group in the country by a long way. We are damaging the environment which allows them to have that pastime. From the invertebrates to other animals and activities in water, it will all be reflected in the food chain to the angler. I suggest that, as a body, anglers do not punch their weight. I hope that they will get out there and start to put a bit of pressure on the Government. That might mean that they will have to work with the canoeists and rowers, who they do not like—they disturb each other—but I hope that someone will come in and say, “Get together and make people listen”.

The historical analogy of the Great Stink and Bazalgette’s inspiration is one I hope we do not have to get to. I hope that others can say that there is a problem coming, because there is. It is starting to affect the smaller outlets. The fact that water companies have been making lots of money but have not even done the basic function of making sure that raw sewage does not get into the water system is unforgivable. They have failed in that basic requirement. We knew that higher rainfall was coming; we knew they were making money. Why did the regulator not do something about it? I do not know if the regulator needs bigger and sharper teeth—a more powerful jaw, if you want to follow the analogy through—but I know that it needs encouragement to use those implements to make things very uncomfortable for those who pollute.

If we do not do that, this current model of ownership of water—a natural monopoly, because it is expensive and heavy, and you cannot move it around the country without huge energy costs—will fail. We must make sure that this pays. The cost to us all is a worse environment and probably worse health. Surely that is worth making sure that the regulatory function fulfils its basic duty and that those who run water companies can be satisfied with simply having a perfectly solid blue-chip investment, as opposed to something rather better.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Addington, whose practical examples are extremely useful in this debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville on explaining so vividly why untreated sewage going into our rivers is an issue.

I will turn to something slightly different—treated sewage, or sewage sludge—and explain why it is still a problem for our rivers and land. Sewage sludge is recycled to land, where it can act as a useful fertiliser containing nitrogen, phosphorus and organic matter. The regulation governing this dates from water privatisation in 1989 and, appropriately, its acronym is SUAR, pronounced “sewer”—Sludge (Use in Agriculture) Regulations. Those regulations are over 30 years old, and were devised simply to deal with the human faeces element of sewage. But, in the 30 years since, the water companies have been selling more and more of the services to industry, so the industrial effluent element of the sludge has increased, as have the variety and toxicity of the pathogens, chemicals and heavy metals in the resulting sludge.

That sludge is spread on to farmland and, in theory, it should stay there, drilled into the grasslands that feed our livestock. Whether you think that toxic cocktail is a good thing in the grasslands that feed our livestock is a different issue, one I will not talk about today. But what happens as the ground becomes waterlogged, like it has been for these last few months? Farmers are given guidance to avoid run-off. The guidance says they have a responsibility to make sure that liquid sludge does not run off into roads, adjacent land, rivers or waterways. If it rains heavily enough to cause run-off, the spreading must stop. The guidance says that spreading must not take place on

“frozen, waterlogged or very dry ground”.

But, with climate change, the ground is nearly always either waterlogged or very dry.

The Environment Agency was very concerned about this growing issue of toxic chemicals, so it commissioned some consultants in the spring of 2015 to undertake a study of all this. They worked with about 50 farms and undertook a much wider paper trail review. The Environment Agency’s conclusion was that the trade in sewage sludge and other waste had changed radically, making it much harder for the Environment Agency, the regulators or farmers to know what was being spread on fields—microplastics, pesticides, residues and all sorts of other things.

The Environment Agency came up with a plan. It developed a strategy for safe and sustainable sludge use, which was published in 2020. It explained why the regulatory changes are needed—of course, there have been many changes in the supply chain industry feeding into the sewage sludge—and it identified the new hazards that were emerging. It said:

“Modern sludge practices may harm the environment”.

It proposed a number of things, particularly more soil testing and improved record keeping, and more upstream sludge treatments—such as the sewage treatment works and those through trade effluent controls, which are key—as well as better storage and pre-spreading control. It had a plan, because some of the elements in this sludge are very toxic—zinc, cadmium, mercury, chromium, selenium, arsenic, antibiotics, dioxins, furans, phthalates and microplastics. Is there a legal limit for the amount of sludge that can be spread on to farmland? Who sets the limit, and has it been changed recently?

As I understand it, there are no restrictions on using treated sludge on growing crops of cereals or oil seed rape, and treated sludge can be used on grassland so long as there is no harvesting or grazing within three weeks of use. Given the list of toxins that I have just outlined, it seems that three weeks is pretty minimal.

So there is a big issue here, and it is particularly an issue because all of those toxins can still wash out—and do wash out—into streams or get absorbed into the soil and so into the ground water. The water company or supplier of the sludge is responsible for the testing of potentially toxic elements in the soil. Can the Minister say how often that happens? Does his department actually see the results of this?

The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, who is not in his place, said that this should not be party political. However, the party-political element of the issue that I have just raised is the fact that the regulator—the Environment Agency—did actually suggest the solution that we revoke the regulations from 1989 and bring them up to date with environmental permitting regulations. There was a deadline set of 2023. Well, that simply did not happen. Why not? The Government could have put all this into the Environment Act; or, as the Environment Agency suggested, it might need a small, additional legislative change. None of that has happened, however, and that was a purely political choice. So that toxic cocktail will continue to be spread on our agricultural land, and a large element of it will continue to end up in our waterways.

My Lords, I am grateful to the House for allowing me to speak in the gap. I want to make three brief points, while declaring my interests as living in the Meon Valley in Hampshire and as a volunteer warden of the St Clair’s nature reserve on the River Meon, run by Hampshire & Isle of Wight Wildlife trust.

My noble friend Lady Bakewell, in her excellent opening speech, drew attention to the recent prosecution of Southern Water in our area. We are near neighbours. This happened on 21 July 2019. When two pumps failed, the sewage overflowed from a pumping station, and three kilometres of river were affected. Two thousand fish were killed and the legal limit for the ammonia level was exceeded by 25 times. It was a pretty serious incident, so it was shocking in what I know is quite a small stream. What is particularly concerning is that it took four and a half years for the prosecution to come to fruition and the case to be resolved, when, on the face of it, it looked like a pretty open-and-shut case.

Therefore, can the Minister say whether the Government have considered whether this expensive and lengthy legal process is really necessary in this sort of case? Is it actually helping to get the long-term issues resolved? Are the Government looking at quicker means of resolving and dealing with the problems so that the industry, the regulator and the water companies can learn lessons quickly and concentrate on improving investment levels? That is my first question to the Minister.

Secondly, is one of the problems that the Environment Agency is seriously understaffed and underresourced? Has it not actually had, over the past 14 years, quite a lot of cutbacks in resources? Did this cause a delay in bringing this sort of prosecution? I hope the Minister can address this in his closing remarks.

Thirdly, there are three significant chalk streams in my part of Hampshire: the Itchen, the Test and the Meon. The first two are pretty well known; the Meon is the lesser-known treasure. The Itchen and the Test are designated as areas of special scientific interest. This gives them extra protection. A local councillor in our area, Jerry Pett, is leading a campaign for this designation to be granted for the Meon, and he is being told that Natural England is holding back on further designations as it is short of resources to promulgate them.

Can the Minister say whether the intention is to cover this issue in the review on the chalk streams strategy that, as I understand it, is being led by the Defra Minister Rebecca Pow, when the Government finally publish their chalk streams recovery package? When can we expect that to be published?

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership. I, too, congratulate my noble friend on getting the timing of this debate exactly right. We have heard that, within the last 48 hours, Thames Water has been lobbying the Government to increase charges by some 40%, to decrease the level of fines and to loosen up on dividend control. Of course, that is there partly because Thames Water is very much under threat of both itself and its holding company going under water. Can the Minister confirm those conversations? Also, as my honourable friend Sarah Olney asked in the other place, do the Government have a contingency plan in case Thames Water finally dies and drowns in its own debt? That is very important to a very large proportion of the population of this nation.

My noble friend Lord Addington said that he was here during water privatisation; I did not know that the House had people in short trousers at that time, but he obviously looks far younger than he is. When I was young, I used to enjoy board games, and my parents got fed up with me because I was far too competitive. One of my favourites was Monopoly. Noble Lords who are Monopoly fans and players will know that one of the squares you did not want to land on was the water company, because it was boring and had very low returns. What you wanted to do was to get on the properties, become a red-blooded property developer and get hotels. In a way, before their privatisation, the water companies were exactly that: they were boring and a utility—that was their asset class, if you like—and had low returns.

I guess that the first members of Ofwat had that in their minds and thought, “Hey, this is a fairly easy job. We’re going to agree investment and price increases and, frankly, after that we can probably go home and it will run itself”. But what they did not realise is that the people who were going to buy those purchases—as the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, will know well—were private equity firms who were greatly into financial engineering, and they thought, “Hey, there’s a real opportunity here”—and at the time, Ofwat was nowhere near capable of controlling or regulating that industry. You can say that it was naivety or negligence or that the people who were there at the time did not see it approaching. The result has been that we have rivers and waterways that are indeed polluted by sewage.

I will echo, in some ways, my noble friend Lord Russell on why rivers are important. One of the things that often used to be said in the social area was that you can tell how good a society is by how it treats its prisoners. Well, I would say that you can tell how good an environment is by how good the quality of its rivers is. Because the rivers are the lifeblood and the veins of our nation; they support biodiversity, they have all sorts of ecosystem services and, clearly, they provide water. If they are not straightened, they can provide flood prevention. That is why they are important—as well as for human health. And because they are not healthy—in all the ways that we have heard—we have that challenge to both biodiversity and to human health. And those are the challenges that we have here. Of course, we also have, as we know, not just effluent in terms of pollution but, as has been mentioned by other noble Lords, plastics and other urban waste, and the phosphates that come primarily from agriculture.

I was glad that the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, who is not in his place at the moment, mentioned ELMS. It seems to me that one of the important things here —perhaps the Minister, as a Defra Minister, might like to comment on this—is the question of how we can help farmers and the agricultural sector to get away from this issue of phosphates. Will there be, through the ever-changing environmental land management scheme, an exit route—a ramp off—where we can offer the agricultural sector help on that? Then, there are the intensive parts of cattle-rearing, obviously; I would not say that those companies are always the best in terms of the environment but, generally, the agricultural sector reacts only to the financial incentives that it is given by government. So what ways are there to do that?

A number of noble Lords mentioned the Environment Agency. In my work with local nature partnerships and some of the schemes that we—along with the Environment Agency—are looking at in Cornwall at the moment, I have never come across anybody from the Environment Agency who has not wanted to be on the right side of this argument, to be out there, to warn, to change and, ultimately, to enforce the fact that river health is really important. Yet, as a number of Peers have said, Environment Agency funding has fallen substantially over the years. It has started to come up again in terms of environmental enforcement, perhaps, but we are still way behind. I make this plea to the Minister: in the past, when the Chancellor has said, “I need some money”, Defra has been a department that usually puts up its hand. That should stop. We need to have Natural England and the Environment Agency funded well.

I was pleased to hear mention of natural systems and the way we should tackle this problem, not through hard concrete so much as through nature-based solutions. This is talked about a lot. It can sound a bit clichéd but I really believe that it is the way forward. If there are planning issues or Ofwat regulatory issues around it, that needs to change; that is one of the ways in which we need to move forward.

Again, coming back from privatisation, I remind noble Lords that we have been through this process once before. I come from the south-west. When water was privatised, bills went up by 100%—in fact, by more than that at the time. Households were really squeezed. What we need here is a solution where we do not have, as Thames Water would want, bills going up by another 40% over the next few years. We need this to be financed in a different way and, with the squeeze on household incomes at the moment and everything on that side, we need to find a different way to do it; that needs to be through the water companies rather than through consumers.

Lastly, I come back to the regulator. After a financial crisis in 2013, the reputation of the Financial Conduct Authority was shot. The Government—it was the coalition Government at the time—decided that that reputation had gone too far and that we had to change, so the Prudential Regulation Authority and the FCA were brought in to have a new system. I say to the Minister and to the House that Ofwat’s reputation is shot, I am afraid. We need a different, far cleverer and more adept regulator; that would be one of my biggest asks. I also agree—absolutely and definitely—with my noble friend Lady Bakewell that we need to bring these companies into some sort of social ownership.

So there is a real challenge here. Rivers are key to the health of our nation and our population. We need to get those things right. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said that we should pay them 50p. I suggest something different: if you look at a Monopoly board, the water company is two spots before “Go To Jail”—just out of interest—but its cost is £150. Perhaps that would do instead.

My Lords, I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, for bringing this debate forward today and for her excellent, thorough introduction to this issue. As she said, we have had this discussion a number of times over the past 12 months or so.

Noble Lords have mentioned the data from the Environment Agency showing that only 14% of our rivers in England have a good ecological status, with no rivers in England having a good chemical status. The House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee said this in its 2022 report, Water Quality in Rivers:

“Getting a complete overview of the health of our rivers and the pollution affecting them is hampered by outdated, underfunded and inadequate monitoring regimes”.

Monitoring has been mentioned a number of times by noble Lords. The report also suggested that the current range of pollutants being monitored is “too narrow”, focusing on nutrients such as nitrogen, phosphorus and ammonia but not routinely monitoring other substances that contribute to poor water quality, such as metals, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, industrial chemicals and plastics. Will the Government consider monitoring those other substances?

I thank the Rivers Trust for its excellent recent report, to which other noble Lords have referred. The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, hosted a meeting at which we spoke to the trust. It is an incredibly important report; I hope that the Minister will take account of what it says. It draws attention to the fact that, as noble Lords have said, sewage and urban pollution, agricultural pollution, industrial pollution and chemical pollution are all contributing to this problem. According to Defra, agriculture is the main cause of river pollution incidents in England with intensive livestock farming being the major reason for the complete collapse of the River Wye, as we have often heard about in this House. Untreated waste from chicken, pig and dairy units is routinely spread on land, adding to the problem. Such has been the growth in the intensive livestock industry in recent years that soils across England are receiving significantly more nitrogen and phosphate than they can cope with and absorb; that excess is contaminating our rivers and having an impact on our wildlife.

Looking at the River Wye, it is so concerning that the group River Action has brought a judicial review saying that a loophole in the law is allowing poultry waste from 25 million chickens intensively farmed in the catchment to poison the river, and that the Environment Agency and the UK Government have failed to protect it from catastrophic decline. We all await the outcome of that judicial review with great interest. In his speech to the recent NFU conference, Alan Lovell, chair of the Environment Agency, said that pollution from agriculture and rural land is “roughly equal” to that coming from the water industry. Farmers, who need to play a really important role if this is to be resolved, say that they need help with both expertise and financial support. The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, in particular, talked about the help that farmers will need if they are to tackle this.

The outgoing president of the NFU, Minette Batters, has said that farmers need better access to funding through the environmental land management scheme, which the noble Duke mentioned, in order that they can create buffer strips along waterways. They also need much faster planning permission for slurry storage and incentives to grow the right crops in the right places. Will the Minister look at ELMS in light of these comments? Our transition out of the EU common agricultural policy into ELMS has been pretty challenging for farmers, with too much uncertainty. This has also added problems.

The complicated current system has made it difficult; it is not easy for farm businesses and land managers, who can feel lost in the system. It has also been harder for them to make long-term strategic plans. We need to look at cross-sector regulation; we cannot just regulate the water companies or the farmers. We need a fair and transparent system in which everybody understands what is happening and what role they have to play in reducing the pollution going into our rivers. We are still waiting to see the promised land use framework, to help balance all the demands on our land, and that includes land use to help with water quality and biodiversity targets. Does the Minister have any update, or is it still going to be published “shortly”?

Chemicals, of course, cause a lot of the problems around pollution in rivers; they can come from cleaning products, medicines and even the food we eat. Using chemicals clearly has a number of benefits, but we know they can cause some really appalling damage when they leak into the environment. We also know that they can persevere in the environment for weeks, months or even years, causing significant harm to wildlife, particularly in fresh water and the sea.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the Rivers Trust report. I pick out of it the work the Rivers Trust has done in collaboration with the Wildlife and Countryside Link chemicals task force. They have recently analysed Environment Agency data on levels of just one of the many toxic for ever chemicals: perfluorooctanesulfonic acid, or PFOS. They looked at that within English fresh water fish, and their work revealed that the PFOS levels in English fresh water fish are on average 300 times higher than the levels considered safe by the European Union. Is the Minister aware of that? If not, this really needs to be picked up.

We have also heard that much pollution comes from urban environments, such as the amount of plastic that we throw away—you only have to look at your local river to see how much plastic can end up in it. We know that plastics break down into toxic chemicals and harmful microplastics, and then rivers become a major pathway for plastic reaching and polluting our coasts and oceans. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, talked about road run-off, which again is very problematic. You get oil, diesel and petrol spills, plus the particles from tyres and the roads wearing down, getting washed into our rivers and drains. This is a really important area that we need to deal with. We know that urban wetlands, reed beds and other nature-based solutions can help intercept this run-off and reduce the pollution, and it is really important that the Government properly invest in these mitigations. What investment are the Government making? Perhaps the Minister can give us a clue.

We have also heard an awful lot about the problems around regulation and enforcement. The poor quality of our regulation enforcement in recent times has compounded all the pollution that is coming from several different sectors, making things even worse. In her opening speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, talked a lot about England’s sewerage system being not fit for purpose, as did other noble Lords, particularly the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. We have heard again how, over the past few decades, Ofwat has simply failed to ensure that water companies have invested sufficiently to upgrade, or even just maintain, our water infrastructure. Delivering the necessary improvements to save our rivers now, at speed and at scale, has become a truly enormous task.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Sikka on his forensic analysis of the water companies’ finances. The work he did was very important, and I encourage the Minister to have a good look at Hansard, because I expect he may need to write to my noble friend at the end of this debate.

We need more enforcement from the Environment Agency, but we have heard that the Government have cut the protection budget hugely—in half—in the last 10 years. With the failure to monitor and investigate pollution incidents, and the failure to enforce the legislation and rules that are supposed to protect our water environment, it is particularly worrying that this has included instructing EA staff not to attend low-level pollution incidents, requiring water companies to self-monitor and self-report. This is simply not going to get the change that we need. We need a strategic direction for water regulation.

The Government’s Plan for Water was published with great fanfare in April last year. The plan included creating a new water restoration fund that would use money from water company fines and penalties taken from their profits—not from their customers—to support local groups and catchment projects such as re-meandering rivers and restoring habitats, which are really important. Nothing has appeared on this since. Can the Minister provide an update on when we are likely to see this? If the Government are to make great announcements and publish lovely plans, they are no good if what they say is going to happen does not then actually happen.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on securing this debate and thank noble Lords for their valuable contributions.

It might be helpful to remind noble Lords that the combined water and wastewater infrastructure that is managed by water companies is a system designed by our Victorian ancestors and allows, as it has for more than 150 years, for sewage to be spilt into our rivers at certain times and under certain circumstances—as the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, described so well. This may not be deemed desirable or even acceptable today, but it is a reality from which we cannot escape. In heavy rainfall events, of which we have more and more, there is a binary choice between sewage going into our rivers or backing up into our homes. I make reference to this to differentiate between what water companies are legally allowed to do and what I suspect the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, and many other noble Lords are mainly seeking to address, which is the illegal spilling of sewage into our rivers, as well as how to address reducing sewage spills altogether.

I think we can all agree with the comments that the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, made last week in a similar debate: the volume of sewage going into our waters is not what any Government, any Member of this House or the public would wish. We rightly expect to see the quality of our water improve and water companies to play their part.

In tackling this challenge, it is really important to be clear that there are both legal and illegal discharges of sewage, as I have already explained, and that the Government are taking action to reduce both. However, I will heed the advice of the noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Hayman, and spend my weekend rereading the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, and preparing to write to him on his detailed accountancy questions, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, on the number of water companies operating illegally and blocking developers.

In April last year, the Government published the Plan for Water. We are delivering this with tighter regulation, tougher enforcement and more investment. We committed in the 25-year environment plan to restore three-quarters of our water bodies to be close to their natural state, and this plan will help us to achieve that by directing £2.2 billion of new, accelerated investment into vital infrastructure to improve water quality and secure water supplies. This includes £1.7 billion of funding to tackle storm overflows.

This is on top of the water companies investing £7.1 billion in environmental improvements between 2020 and 2025, including £3.1 billion invested in 800 storm overflow improvements, such as the Thames Tideway super sewer. Storm overflows causing the most harm are being addressed first, so that we can make the biggest difference as quickly as possible. We are the first Government to address and implement 100% storm overflow discharge monitoring, so that the public and our regulators can see exactly what the water companies are doing and set clear targets for them to significantly reduce legal storm sewage discharges. We expect water companies to use the next five-year price review period—PR24—to set bold and ambitious plans that deliver on this plan for people and the environment. This means cleaner rivers and beaches, fewer leaks and supply interruptions, and substantial improvements to tackle storm overflows.

In addition, the Storm Overflows Discharge Reduction Plan, published in September last year, will see the toughest ever crackdown on sewage spills, driving the largest infrastructure programme in water company history, with around £60 billion of capital investment over 25 years. Companies will upgrade storm overflows individually, depending on how they impact the targets set out in the plan.

Meeting these targets will result in hundreds of thousands fewer sewage discharges. By 2035, we will have protected all our designated bathing waters and the vast majority of our most sensitive and protected habitats from storm sewage discharges, and by 2050 there will be an 80% reduction in all storm sewage discharges.

This Government are the first to face up to the fact that, as a country, we need to fundamentally change how we deal with sewage. That cannot change overnight and will come with some cost. Eliminating all discharges could cost up to £600 billion, increasing annual water bills to an unacceptable level. The Government are committed to reviewing the targets in the storm overflow discharge plan in 2027 to establish whether companies can go further and faster to achieve the storm overflow targets without hiking up bills to unaffordable levels. If they can go further, the Government are clear that they must.

These initiatives work alongside a raft of other measures to improve the quality of our rivers and seas. As a result of our work, 90% of designated bathing waters in England met the highest standards of “good” or “excellent” in 2023, up from just 76% in 2010, despite stricter standards being introduced in 2015. Last week, we announced that we would consult on 27 potential designated bathing sites in England, the largest number we have ever consulted on, and encourage all interested individuals, businesses and organisations to respond to the consultation by 10 March this year.

Both the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Earl, Lord Russell, referred to nutrient neutrality. On 25 January this year, we designated catchments in which water companies will be required to upgrade wastewater treatment works to reduce nutrient pollution by 2030. This will help unlock the homes that communities need, while also reducing pollution at source.

This Government are committed to increasing the quantity and quality of sustainable drainage systems—usually referred to as SUDS—in new developments, as my noble friend Lady McIntosh mentioned. SUDS reduce the pressure on our traditional infrastructure by slowing down the overall amount of water that ends up in the sewers and storm overflow discharges. The review and decision for making SUDS mandatory in new developments was published on 10 January last year. A public consultation on the implementation proposals will take place shortly, and I am encouraging my department to progress this as quickly as possible.

My noble friend Lady McIntosh and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, raised points about roads. In the Plan for Water, we committed to reducing pollution from roads by improving water quality through the road investment strategy for 2020 to 2025. So far, National Highways has delivered over 30 water quality initiatives. It is important to make it clear that National Highways is not responsible for pollution from roads, which are managed by local highway authorities.

My noble friend is also right that we must improve water efficiency. She will be pleased to hear that we have a new legally binding target under the Environment Act 2021 to reduce the use of public water supply in England per head by 20% by 2037-38. To help meet this, in our 2021 Written Ministerial Statement the Government set out our approach for a range of water efficiency measures, including our mandatory water efficiency label, leakage and metering.

As for fixing misconnections, water companies have the power to lay, inspect, maintain and repair or alter pipes falling on private land. I will write to the noble Baroness about access to government land.

I commend my noble friend for her tireless campaigning for farming and its part in storing floodwater. Since 2015, we have protected over 900,000 acres of agricultural land, along with thousands of businesses, communities and major infrastructure via our flood investment programmes. In addition, there will be measures that benefit flood risk mitigation in all three environmental land management schemes, the sustainable farming incentive, Countryside Stewardship and landscape recovery, which will include payments that relate to floodwater storage.

I move on to the issues raised about the Environment Agency. The Government’s work is backed by enforcement action from the regulators. Where there is evidence of wrongdoing, the Environment Agency and Ofwat will not hesitate to hold water companies to account. In 2013, the Government directed water companies to increase their storm overflow monitoring. In 2010, only 7% of storm overflows were monitored. As of December last year, we are at 100%. This has given us a clear sense of all discharges, which we never had before. In answer to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, on who is responsible for monitoring storm overflows, it is the Environment Agency.

The Environment Act requires water companies to monitor the operation of storm overflows and the water quality upstream and downstream of their assets. This is helping regulators to identify and enforce storm overflow discharge offences and permit breaches. We are providing an extra £2.2 million per year in this spending period for the Environment Agency, specifically for water company enforcement activity. We have legislated to introduce unlimited penalties on water companies that breach their environmental permits and expand the range of offences to which they can be applied.

Last week, we announced that we are significantly increasing our oversight of the water industry. Every water company should expect their wastewater treatment sites to be regularly inspected. The number of inspections, including unannounced inspections, will rise to 4,000 by the end of March 2025—a fourfold increase. Our consultation on increasing permit charges for water companies to enable these inspections is under way and due to close shortly. This will be backed by around £55 million per year. More inspections will allow the Environment Agency to conduct more in-depth audits to get to the root cause of incidents, reducing the reliance on operator self-monitoring.

Since 2015, the Environment Agency has concluded prosecutions against water and sewerage companies, securing £150 million in fines, including a record £90 million fine for Southern Water. These will go into the water restoration fund to protect and enhance the water environment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, mentioned, I will report on that date shortly.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Bakewell and Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, questioned the effectiveness of Ofwat and the Environment Agency. The Environment Agency, with Ofwat, recently launched the largest criminal and civil investigation into water company illegal sewage discharges at over 2,200 treatment works, following new data coming to light as a result of increased monitoring introduced by this Government.

In May last year, Ofwat announced that its enforcement capacity would be trebled, following the approval of £11.3 million in additional funding by the Government. If water companies fail to meet their statutory or licence obligations, Ofwat can issue an enforcement order or financial penalty of up to 10% of a company’s turnover. Following the Water Company Performance Report 2022-23, Ofwat published the financial penalties and payments for all water companies. Ofwat has required 13 companies to return £193 million to customers for underperformance in 2022–23. This money will be returned to customers through bills over 2024-25. Ofwat has also required each lagging company to prepare service commitment plans outlining the actions they will take to deliver the levels of service that customers expect. Ofwat has reviewed these plans and is regularly engaging with companies over them.

This month, the Environment Secretary announced that Ofwat will be consulting on banning water company executives from receiving bonuses if a company has committed a serious criminal breach. The consultation will seek to define the criteria for a ban, which we expect to come into effect later this year. This could include successful prosecution for a category 1 or 2 pollution incident, such as causing significant pollution at a bathing site or conservation area, or where a company has been found guilty of serious management failings. I will, however, consider the suggestion from the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, of community service for the chief executives. This builds on Ofwat’s announcements last year to tighten restrictions on bonuses using powers given to the regulator through the Environment Act.

The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, asked about open investigations into Yorkshire Water. I am afraid I am not able to comment on those or, indeed, on any open investigation.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, brought up the issue of anglers. As the past chair of the Atlantic Salmon Trust, I have the greatest sympathy with him and with anglers. He also mentioned that they might start to bring pressure to bear on the Government. I can assure him that the Rivers Trust, WildFish and Fish Legal and many celebrity anglers are already applying considerable pressure. I should add that, as a keen angler, I am not against canoeists at all.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, asked about the testing of sludge. This is regulated by the Sewage Sludge in Agriculture code of practice.

The noble Lord, Lord Stoneham, referred to an investigation with Southern Water, and I will look into the speed of that response and what can be done to speed these things up in the future.

The noble Lord also commented on the chalk stream strategy. The Plan for Water recognises chalk streams as a priority for the Government and identifies action to protect and include them in the chalk stream recovery pack that is due to be published later this year—I hope by mid-summer. It will set out the Government’s policies that act together to address the key pressures on chalk streams from abstraction, agriculture and wastewater.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, raised the issue of Ofwat and the monitoring of water companies. The Government remain confident with Ofwat’s approach and have contingency plans in place in the event of any public service failing.

The noble Lord also brought up other points relating to farmers and farming. We are taking significant action to work with farmers to reduce diffuse pollution and deliver improved environmental outcomes. We have doubled our catchment-sensitive farming budget to £15 million per year, which enables farmers across England to receive face-to-face advice on recurring water and air pollution issues. We have also budgeted for an additional 50 Environment Agency farm inspectors to work with farmers to meet their legal obligations. Our environmental land management schemes are being rolled out to pay farmers for the delivery of environmental benefits that include activities to improve water.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, asked again about the land use framework. I am afraid that the answer is the same: it will be published shortly. That is about all I can say on that at the moment.

As I have set out, this Government are going further and faster than any other to protect and enhance the health of our rivers and seas. We have set out clear targets for water companies and are holding them to account on a scale that has never been seen before, making sure that the Environment Agency and Ofwat are equipped to take enforcement action where there are failings. This Government are fully committed to addressing the historic issues that are causing pollution in our waterways, and we will continue to strive for healthy and thriving water environments.

My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part in this debate, especially the Minister for his response. I appreciate that he has inherited this problem, and I thank him for his very detailed response, which I shall study in Hansard. We have had a very varied debate; at the same time, there has been much agreement across the Chamber in condemning the overspills of sewage when there have been no unusual weather conditions requiring them. Until quite recently, water companies have discharged sewage and untreated water on hot, sunny days with impunity. We have heard how this has affected different people. I believe that we may possibly be on the cusp of a change.

I am grateful to my colleagues, who have spoken so passionately, knowledgeably and entertainingly on this subject. It is often overlooked that, at the point of privatisation, water companies were debt free. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond also raised this. The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, makes a really excellent forensic accounting contribution—there is a role for him in another place if he should decide that this is enough. Although the water companies were debt free when they went private, that changed when the new private owners saw the glint of money for themselves and borrowed money to increase share dividends. Not all water companies followed that course, but many did. Some invested in the infrastructure, but this was often based on concrete solutions instead of the cheaper and more carbon-efficient nature-based solutions. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh of Pickering, has been campaigning for nature-based solutions for a considerable time, as has the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, who is not in his place.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, for raising the issue of farmers and phosphate discharge. Farmers have a role to play in improving the quality of our waterways, at the same time as producing food. The noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, referred to the role of farmers.

I do not intend to return to the debate and run through every contribution, but I draw attention to one particular contribution. My noble friend Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer has referred to the SUAR sludge. Many of the chemicals that she listed are known as forever chemicals. We need to deal with this problem, because it is extremely worrying that these chemicals should be on the land for ever.

All sides of the House are concerned about sewage pollution of rivers and waterways. The Minister referred to the Victorian sewer infrastructure, as did my noble friend Lady Pinnock. However, surely it is time that we had a better solution than the Victorian sewers. The regulator is not fit for purpose and needs to be replaced. I am not sure that it is comforting to know that everyone in the House agrees on this issue, but the power in numbers is considerable. I hope that the Minister is listening and will act accordingly, although I know that he is doing as much as he possibly can. It is time to introduce more stringent measures to improve the quality of our water, which should be crystal clear and gurgling in the streams instead of brown, sluggish and smelly.

Motion agreed.



The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 28 February.

“Two years ago, Putin thought his tanks would roll easily into Kyiv and Ukraine would fall within days. He did not expect Ukraine’s brave resistance, he did not expect his military to let him down so badly, and he did not expect the West to stand so firmly in support of Ukraine, with unprecedented sanctions and massive aid to help Ukraine to resist.

Today, Ukraine stands strong and united, and we in the international community stand just as firmly in our support. Even now, Putin tries to pretend he is winning this illegal war, even though Ukraine has retaken half the territory seized in 2022 and largely pushed the Black Sea fleet out of Crimea; even though he has failed in his attempts to stop Ukraine exporting grain; and even though his actions have united Europe, convincing Sweden and Finland to join NATO and the EU to begin accession talks with Ukraine. It speaks volumes about this neo-imperialist bully that he stubbornly continues, despite the cost to Ukraine and his own people. In recent months, Putin sent around 50,000 young Russians to their deaths in order to take Avdiivka, a town whose pre-war population was just 35,000. We must and will ensure that he fails, for this is the biggest test of our generation. Putin’s brazen violation of the UN charter strikes at the heart of the rules on which our security and prosperity depend, and our adversaries are watching.

Today, we stand at a critical juncture. Putin should be in no doubt of where we stand, or of our resolve. That is why we announced on Thursday 22 February over 50 new sanctions targeting those supporting his war effort. That includes the arms manufacturers, electronics companies and diamond and oil traders that are sustaining Putin’s illegal war. It brings the total number sanctioned under our Russia regime to 2,000, including banks that account for more than 90% of the Russian banking sector, not to mention more than 130 oligarchs, who together were worth around £147 billion at the time of the invasion.

Last month in Kyiv, the Prime Minister and President Zelensky signed a new agreement that builds Ukraine’s military capabilities, and announced a new wide-ranging partnership—an unbreakable alliance, to last 100 years or more. It includes our new £2.5 billion military support package, of which at least £200 million will be spent on a major push to produce thousands of military drones for Ukraine, including surveillance, long-range strike and sea drones. Britain was the first country to sign a long-term bilateral security agreement with Ukraine, as we promised in Vilnius. France, Germany, Italy, Denmark and Canada have now followed suit.

Last week, we witnessed time and again that we and our allies share the same conviction—the same determination—that Ukraine will prevail. At the Munich Security Conference, the Foreign Secretary made the case for a major uplift in European defence production, so that Ukraine gets all the firepower and equipment necessary to prevail. At the G20 Foreign Ministers’ meeting, it was clear that there are few illusions about what Russia is doing. At the UN, Britain underlined how dangerous Putin’s actions are for the entire world. To mark the second anniversary of Putin’s barbaric invasion, G7 leaders held a joint call with President Zelensky, renewing our pledge to make Russia pay. On Monday evening in Paris, the Foreign Secretary urged European partners to do more to show Putin that we will not let him win. All these efforts are having a real impact: the European Union has agreed a €50 billion multiyear funding package, Germany has doubled its military aid, and in the coming weeks we expect several more of our partners to sign bilateral security agreements with Ukraine.

We will keep up and step up the pressure, and there is more that we can do. That means ensuring that we use sanctions to stop businesses funding Putin’s war machine, and engaging other countries to do the same; pursuing all lawful routes to use sanctioned Russian assets across the G7 to support Ukraine, and working with our partners to achieve that aim; and, along with those partners, giving Ukraine more of the munitions and equipment that will make the biggest difference. That is more ammunition at speed, more simple-to-use weapon systems such as drones and Soviet-era kit, more support—including training on F16s—and more of the systems that have the biggest strategic impact, such as Storm Shadow long-range missiles. Through all this, we are sending an unambiguous message of our enduring support for Ukraine. That message was writ large in blue and yellow last Saturday when we projected the words ‘Slava Ukraini’ on to government buildings up and down the land and our embassies worldwide, telling Ukraine, her people and the world that the United Kingdom, our allies and our people are here for them for as long as it takes.

I cannot end without acknowledging the terrible impact of Putin’s despotism on ordinary Russians as well. More than 300,000 Russian soldiers have been killed or wounded in Ukraine, many more than in the decade-long Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, and the war is robbing Russians of resources that should be spent on pensions or teachers. Putin’s Kremlin has systemically repressed the freedoms of its own people over the past two decades. We saw that most recently and tragically with the death of Alexei Navalny earlier this month—a man who fought with incredible courage to expose corruption throughout his life, calling for free and fair politics and holding the Kremlin to account. The British Government are calling for a full and transparent investigation into the circumstances of his death, and the Prime Minister has emphasised that we hold the Russian state accountable for its role in his death. We immediately announced sanctions against six individuals heading up the penal colony where Mr Navalny died following years of mistreatment at the hands of the Russian state. Britain was the first nation to introduce sanctions in response to Mr Navalny’s death, and we are working with international partners to co-ordinate the next steps.

I end by reiterating the UK’s call for Russia to release all those imprisoned on political grounds, including the dual British-Russian national Vladimir Kara-Murza, who is serving a 25-year sentence. The Foreign Secretary will meet his wife and his mother on Friday to express our solidarity and support. As the Foreign Secretary stated in New York, Putin tries to portray this as a battle between Russia and the West, but that is the central lie of this war. Our quarrel is not with the Russian people; our dispute is with those within the Russian state who are promoting their aggressive agenda at home and abroad to serve their own personal interests. Britain stands with all those who have fallen victim to Putin’s aggression and cruelty—in Ukraine, and in Russia. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, the barbarity of Putin’s regime is evidenced by Ukraine’s bombed-out cities, the raped civilians and the children kidnapped to Russia. Ukraine’s resistance in the two years since Putin’s full-scale illegal invasion is testament to the courage of its people. In two years Ukraine has retaken half the territory seized in 2022 and pushed back Russia’s Black Sea fleet—demonstrating the pretence of Putin’s attempt to claim that Russia is winning the war.

As Andrew Mitchell said yesterday,

“we understate the extent to which Putin is being beaten back”.

Although the Russian advance into Avdiivka did take place, those two kilometres cost between 40,000 and 50,000 Russian deaths.

Our message—Labour’s message—to Ukraine is simple: whoever is in government, Britain will support Ukraine until it prevails. We support the further and significant military and financial support that the Government have announced, but the war must be a wake-up call to all of Europe. There is more that we, along with our allies, must do together. The fact that South Korea is sending more shells to Ukraine than the whole of Europe combined is telling.

We also welcome the French President bringing world leaders together this week. Yesterday, Minister Mitchell stressed that the

“United States’s support is absolutely vital for Ukraine’s success”.

He also said he was

“hoping Congress will follow the lead by passing the relevant Bills swiftly, following its return from recess.”—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/24; col. 346.]

I hope the noble Lord can reassure us on that point this evening.

This morning, the noble Lord reassured the House that the Government are working closely with the European Union on our collective security. As David Lammy said yesterday,

“Labour has outlined plans for a new UK-EU security pact to complement NATO ties and strengthen our whole continent”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/24; col. 344.]

Labour very much welcomes Sweden’s accession to NATO, which strengthens our whole alliance, but what recent conversations has the Foreign Secretary had with his NATO counterparts regarding a pathway for Ukraine’s membership?

We welcome the sanctions against six individuals that the UK announced in the wake of Mr Navalny’s death. Yesterday, in response to David Lammy’s concern on the range and enforcement of sanctions, Andrew Mitchell said that

“we will be introducing an ability to sanction ships”.

What is the timetable for this?

Last December, an Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation report showed that there had been zero enforcement measures for post-February 2022 sanctions breaches in relation to Russia. In response to that point, Andrew Mitchell said:

“Last week, a Turkish company, three Chinese entities and two Belarus entities were sanctioned”,—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/24; cols. 345-46.]

but why not consider every individual on the full Navalny list? Why not support a new international anti-corruption court? Why not support Labour’s whistleblowing rewards scheme to crack down on enablers?

This morning I raised with the Minister yesterday’s statement by EU Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on using interest on frozen Russian state assets. Yesterday Andrew Mitchell said:

“I hope that in due course we will have more to say on the specific provision”.

I suspect that I will not get much more out of the noble Lord tonight, but can he give us a bit more detail on the timeframe for this? These are urgent questions and resources are urgently needed.

Yesterday Brendan O’Hara raised the £2 billion from the sale of Chelsea. Andrew Mitchell said that

“there is immense frustration that the Chelsea fund is not out and operating at this time. We are doing everything we can, within significant and irritating levels of difficulty, to get it deployed. We will do that as fast as we possibly can”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/24; col. 348.]

That money is urgently needed to support people in Ukraine. I hope the noble Lord can be a little more reassuring tonight that we will resolve this matter as speedily as possible.

What support are we giving to the ICC in preparing a case against Russia for deliberately targeting and bombarding civilians? This is important in holding to account those responsible for committing these crimes.

Finally, I welcome the Government highlighting the case of Vladimir Kara-Murza. I know that my right honourable friend David Lammy met his wife today. Can the Minister give us an update on the case and what we are doing? Can he also reassure us that there will not be any backtracking on this and that we are taking specific steps? I hope the Minister can update us on that.