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Lords Chamber

Volume 836: debated on Tuesday 12 March 2024

House of Lords

Tuesday 12 March 2024

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Introduction: Lord Booth

Sydney John Peter Booth, having been created Baron Booth, of Houghton-le-Spring in the City of Sunderland, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Pidding and Lord Sharpe of Epsom, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Lord Fuller

John Charles Fuller, OBE, having been created Baron Fuller, of Gorleston-on-Sea in the County of Norfolk, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Shephard of Northwold and Lord Porter of Spalding, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Carers: National Strategy


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they plan to develop a national strategy for carers to take account of the needs of unpaid carers.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.

My Lords, we have set out our strategic approach for supporting unpaid carers in People at the Heart of Care, published in 2021. The enormous contribution made by unpaid carers is reflected throughout Next Steps to Put People at the Heart of Care, published in 2023. Ministerial colleagues indicated last year their intention to meet annually, in the run-up to Carers Week, to share ongoing work to support unpaid carers and identify opportunities to work together to achieve more.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I never have any difficulty getting agreement that carers are vital to our health and social care system and should be supported, but I doubt if the 5,000 carers just surveyed by Carers UK about a national strategy will be very pleased with his Answer. They emphasise how vital this kind of step change is if they are to be able to continue caring while safeguarding their own health and finances. What they, I and all those who work with carers want is a national strategy that covers all relevant departments and is led by the Prime Minister, as the last one was in 2008 by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. This Government promised a national strategy in 2015. Why are carers still waiting?

I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for the work that she has done and her lifetime service to carers and to the voluntary service. We are fortunate to have her in this place. We will continue to work together across government to support unpaid carers. Ministerial colleagues and senior leaders from the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Business and Trade, the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as NHS England, met last year to share ongoing activity and identify opportunities to achieve more. Ministers indicated their commitment to meeting on an annual basis, most likely in the lead- up to Carers Week. We recognise the importance of continuing to improve data and evidence and will note the results of the APPG/Carers UK survey, in addition to other sources once available.

My Lords, the Minister has talked about a strategic approach and meetings. What exactly are the Government doing to address the disproportionate risk of poverty among carers? Where is the strategic approach on that? Things are getting worse, not better.

This Government are fully committed to the 10-year vision for adult social care set out in the People at the Heart of Care White Paper. The Government have made available up to £8.6 billion of additional funding over this financial year and next to support adult social care and discharge.

My Lords, the support received by carers varies according to where they live. Does the department have access to how many unpaid carers there are and where they live? Does it hold information about the ages of carers and those whom they are caring for? If not, why not?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. She is right that we need to know where carers are. People at the Heart of Care, published in 2021, addresses the identification of unpaid carers by increasing the use of markers in NHS electronic health records and by simplifying current approaches to data collection and registration. In many communities up and down the country, that works very well, but clearly there is more to be done in other communities.

My Lords, the Minister will recognise that anyone at any time can have a major care role thrust upon them unexpectedly which can transform their lives completely. When the committee that several of us sat on took evidence from unpaid carers, one of the things that astonished us was that carers felt so devalued. When they took the person whom they were responsible for to hospital, they were not even allowed into the consulting room with a doctor because their status was not considered sufficient to allow them in; it was only the patient who could go in. These carers said to us, “What is the country doing to support unpaid carers?”

The noble Lord is right, and indeed I have experienced that position myself. If you take a loved one to hospital or to the doctor’s, and the doctor’s surgery has been used to seeing the patient over many years, they look at the carer and think, “Who is this person?” Their records do not reflect things, and that is simply not good enough. Registering a power of attorney with the GP is one way of doing that, but we are a long way from having it in place. It is incumbent on GP practices to get up to speed. When they have patients on their records, there should be a clear segment in the computer system so that if a patient turns up with a carer the practice knows who the carer is and makes them welcome.

My Lords, there are some deep concerns—I have seen a number of things on television recently—about actual children acting as carers for their parents, when I think the normal assumption is that carers look after elderly people or those who are particularly disabled. Does my noble friend agree that we need to be particularly careful to identify situations where children are carrying out those functions, and assist them as much as possible?

My noble friend is absolutely right and raises an important point. The Department for Education’s new data on young carers, collected through the school census published last year, is an important step towards improving their visibility in the school system, allowing schools to better identify and support their young carers. That will also provide an annual data collection to establish long-term trends. We will consider the findings from the census to inform the next steps.

My Lords, on International Women’s Day last week, Carers UK stressed that older women aged 75 to 79 are providing the most unpaid care—50 hours per week—and that there has been an alarming increase since 2011 in women aged over 85 providing unpaid care. These are not the women who come under the Government’s award of one week’s unpaid carer’s leave from work, and neither will they be first in line for the small amounts of respite care funding that GPs have been allocated. How are the Government addressing this situation, and what specific actions will be taken to help to alleviate the terrible burden of care these women face?

The noble Baroness raises a very important point and, as I have already mentioned, the Government have conducted a census looking at the data to identify those carers. Various groups of carers all have different needs. My noble friend just mentioned child carers, and the noble Baroness just mentioned carers of working age; employers have to be sympathetic and understand.

Also, it is challenging for those aged over 85. As I alluded to in my previous answer, GP practices have to be able to identify people in that age range so that they can work with social services and the local authority to make sure that they are supported.

The Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care, based on conversations with many unpaid carers, recommended that there should be a “New Deal” for carers including restorative breaks, financial support and support from employers, including paid leave and the right to request flexibility. Does the Minister agree that any future national care strategy should consider the need for unpaid carers to have flexibility in their paid work?

The right reverend Prelate raises an important point, and we welcomed the report he referred to. The Department for Business and Trade is bringing in a new leave entitlement of one week, available to all employees, including those working in adult social care, providing care for a dependant. This is on top of existing statutory holidays. The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 and flexible working regulations will come into force on 6 April. Under the Act, eligible employees will be entitled to one week of unpaid leave per year. This is just the start. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right: good employers should recognise when employees need time off, because it will happen to the employers at some stage in their lives.

My Lords, I will pursue the point on the healthcare needs of unpaid carers and how the NHS treats them. The Government’s White Paper on adult social care reform had a range of measures including voluntarily used markers to identify unpaid carers in NHS health records. That was about their own health needs, not about supporting the health needs of those whom they were caring for. What progress has been made in this vital area?

As People at the Heart of Care put it in 2021, we set out a strategic approach to empowering unpaid carers, and in October 2023 the Department of Health and Social Care launched an accelerating reform fund. It provides almost £43 million over 2023-24 to support innovation in adult social care and services for unpaid carers. This takes forward our commitment to invest £25 million to bolster the care services that support unpaid carers.

Forest Risk Commodity Regulations


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government when they will lay the forest risk commodity regulations under Schedule 17 to the Environment Act 2021 to prevent the importing of goods responsible for illegal deforestation, and what consideration they have given to the merits of widening the scope in include all deforestation.

My Lords, secondary legislation will be laid in the near future that will make it illegal for larger organisations and their subsidiaries to use regulated commodities and their derivatives in the UK if produced on illegally occupied or used land. Around 70% of tropical deforestation for agriculture is illegal. Therefore, the Government believe that is the most effective approach to halt and reverse deforestation. It is the most important way of supporting producer Governments to strengthen their forest governance and domestic laws.

My Lords, we understand the importance of getting these measures right and of working with partners to ensure they have the greatest possible impact. However, waiting more than two years after the passage of the Environment Act is a choice. The Minister knows there is appetite for regulation, including in the financial services industry, where separate commitments have been made. What does “near future” mean? Can he guarantee today that these important provisions will be in force by 2025? If not, other than grabbing some headlines during COP 26, what are the Government actually doing to prevent deforestation?

The Government are doing a lot to prevent deforestation in addition to this measure, which, as she knows, came from the Glasgow leaders’ declaration we led on at COP 26 to put an end to deforestation and land degradation by 2030. We are putting this in place. The noble Baroness asked for the date on which it will be laid. We have a few tweaks to make, because we are in negotiation with the EU to make sure that we are getting this right for Northern Ireland. We are working with the EU. With products that come from other countries and are then processed and exported to the EU, we will be working under two systems, and we want to make sure we are getting that right.

In addition, we are doing a range of different activities, including our investments in forests and sustainable land use. Our Partnership for Forests has mobilised £1 billion in private investment and has brought 4.1 million hectares of land under sustainable management and benefited over 250,000 people. I could go on. We are doing a lot in addition to this measure.

My Lords, while we welcome these measures, we note that Defra consulted on them in December 2021. They only cover illegal goods and apply to businesses that have a global turnover of over £50 million per year and use over 500 tonnes of beef, leather, cocoa, palm or soya oil per year. Will the Government commit to full alignment with the EU’s deforestation regulations, which cover all forest commodities sourced from both illegal and legal deforestation?

The EU’s deforestation regulation is far from settled and it is causing great concern. I have had meetings with representatives from a number of producer countries. On trips to countries such as Costa Rica, I met many others. It is not right to say that the EU system is done and dusted. There are great concerns among producer countries that it could mitigate against precisely the people who are living sustainably close to or in forest environments. We have started with these four and we will have a very fast—for these sorts of measures—review in two years’ time, which will see possible additions. That may comply with what the EU is doing, but we have no idea whether the EU is going ahead with all six or will go ahead with the same four that we are.

My Lords, in a recent investigation by Global Witness, it was found that both HSBC and Barclays are financing companies that are purchasing product made on illegally deforested land, particularly in the Cerrado. This is a complex ecosystem that is not covered as tropical rainforest. It has fallen between two stools, but it is producing an enormous amount of meat. Schedule 17 is meant to cover it, but it has weak definitions. The beef produced as a result of deforestation does not necessarily end up here in the UK, so we cannot just focus on the trade alone to stop it; we have to look at the money and where it is flowing. Do the Government remain committed to developing “clear due diligence standards” for the financial sector through the Treasury’s review of deforestation finance, which was commissioned in the Financial Services and Markets Act and committed to in the other place by the then Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Andrew Griffiths?

Yes, we do. The Treasury is proceeding with its review. Alongside that, we have the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures. It is not just for financial institutions in this country but has become the international byword on making sure that financial institutions are themselves regulated and making it clear to other investors and shareholders that the supply chains they are investing in are in accordance with the Glasgow leaders’ declaration.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend. I know he shares a great and deep concern on this issue. He is probably as impatient as many of us to get this, but we know it is not always that easy. Will the Government require commodities and products that are in scope to be traced back to farm level?

I thank my noble friend. We are indeed working as quickly as we can to get this on the statute book. We want to make sure that those companies that are in scope, as the noble Earl on the Liberal Democrat Benches described, are able to say from their supply chains right back to where the project came from in the first place, that they are in accordance with these regulations. If not, we have a very clear sanctions programme that we will bring forward in the statutory instrument, which will hold them to account.

My Lords, we know that we have fewer trees in this country than most countries in Europe, yet we also know that trees capture CO2 and other noxious gases. If we are to meet our national obligations to try to reduce global warming, we will have to step up our planting of trees; there is no other way we are going to be able to do it.

The noble Lord is absolutely right: we have to practise what we preach domestically, which is why we have put an enormous amount of money through the Nature for Climate fund to promote that and through other schemes. We are encouraging land managers to look at tree planting and are seeing an increased number being planted. The supply chain to support that is so important. I have just come back from Costa Rica, which has doubled its tree cover in recent years, and we want to increase ours significantly in the UK.

My Lords, do we have to continue with biomass subsidies after 2027? I would like some confirmation on that. Secondly, ancient forests in Canada are still being cut down to make wood pellets to supply companies such as Drax, which has had billions in subsidies. It is not clean energy, it is highly polluting and it is not economical, so why are the Government still doing that?

I will write to the noble Baroness about Drax, because it is a very complicated issue. It fits into the UK’s net zero balance sheet in terms of what Canada is doing, where the woodchip comes from. I want to be absolutely right in my answer, so I will write to her.

My Lords, further to the question from the noble Baroness, I entirely agree with her. What are the Government doing spending hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies to Drax in order to have trees cut down in America and then brought across the Atlantic? All of this is because somebody has designated “burning wood” as ticking the box for “saving the planet”, which it clearly is not.

Biomass is a perfectly legitimate renewable energy source if the wood that is being used is a renewable and sustainable harvest. My noble friend and the noble Baroness are absolutely right that if the wrong sort of timber is used and being shipped to this country at huge carbon cost, taxpayers, shareholders and investors need to know the precise and genuine cost to our net zero commitments that that poses.

My Lords, in my capacity as chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Defra, Steve Barclay, on this issue on 14 February. As yet, I have not had a reply and nor has the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee in the other place, who wrote to him earlier than I did. Will the Minister use his good offices to ask when a reply might be forthcoming?

I am not clear what the letter was about—whether it was about Drax or the forest risk commodities. Whatever it is, I will chase it and make sure that the noble Baroness gets her answer.

Land Use Framework


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to make progress on the delayed land use framework for England, when it will be published, and whether it will be subject to consultation.

I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.

My Lords, I declare my land management interests, as set out in the register. I appreciate that it has been a long wait, and I am happy to confirm that the land use framework will be published before the Summer Recess this year. The Government have made significant progress in the areas that your Lordships’ Land Use in England Committee identified as policy priorities. The Government intend to engage widely on the framework, both pre and post publication, but are not planning to consult formally on the framework.

I thank the Minister for his response. He said that it had been a long time waiting and, indeed, I have 40 successive Hansard assurances over the last two years that the land use framework would be finished and published by December 2023. The last one dated from November 2023—so that did not happen. I welcome the Minister’s assurance that it will be published before the Summer Recess, but I am not holding my breath.

Can the Minister assure the House on a number of issues to do with the framework? Will it integrate all the key land uses, including infrastructure, housing and transport, not just those for which Defra has a responsibility in terms of agriculture, carbon and biodiversity? Will the Government in their engagement before and after the publication of the framework, as the Minister outlined, engage widely with the 140,000 landowners who ultimately own the land and will decide on how their land will be used? He needs to reassure them that such a framework is not a top-down diktat and that they will still be able to make decisions about their own land and will be incentivised for adopting options that are broadly in line with national policies and targets.

I thank the noble Baroness for her questions. She raises some really important points. I think that the noble Lord who has been the recipient of the previous 40 questions on the land use framework might be sitting quite close to me at the moment. As the 41st recipient to respond to this query, I am incentivised to come up with the answer before the Summer Recess, as I said.

There are many uses of our land, and we need to anticipate for the future. Naturally, several government departments have interests, and we are working closely with them to understand their land use expectations and feed them into the framework. The Government support the principle of multifunctional land use—in essence, land sharing rather than land sparing. The framework will provide land managers and farmers, and other interested parties, with guidance, so they can make effective decisions based on local knowledge and local strategies, as well as understanding national requirements. The framework is not intended to be prescriptive or to force people into certain categories. It is essentially guidance.

Will my noble friend confirm that this will cover not only Defra’s subjects but the wider range of things to which the noble Baroness pointed? A land use strategy that does not cover the whole range of areas, including infrastructure, is not going to be one which is very acceptable. How are we going to consult, if there is to be no consultation?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. Several government departments have targets with land use implications, and we are working with them to understand and take account of their land use expectations, as well as those within Defra. That includes the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Transport and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. We are in consultation with all those departments at the moment.

My Lords, I attended a soil health conference this morning which was excellently chaired by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Bennett. Soil health is synonymous with appropriate land use. The repeated refrain from the experts was the importance of localised knowledge to manage our essential soils, including at individual field levels. In developing that land use strategy, what steps will the Government take to ensure that local land managers, who know their land best, are properly and actively consulted?

The Government are not currently planning to consult formally on the framework. We are not convinced that the benefits of formal consultation outweigh the burdens it could place on the many sectors involved in land management. We have engaged with relevant groups during the development of the land use framework, including other government departments, as I said, the devolved Administrations, and academics, including the Royal Society. We intend to engage more widely ahead of the framework’s publication. Most importantly, the development of the framework has also been informed by those managing land and farming. We have worked with farmer groups and investigated the decision-making processes of those farming in different landscapes across England.

My Lords, the Minister has answered the questions about the involvement of other departments and about getting expertise in from the outside. The House of Lords report was adamant that this should be an ongoing process. How often do Defra and the Government envisage that this strategy should be renewed? Would it, for instance, be coincidental to the three-yearly statutory obligation on Defra to report on the self-sufficiency of UK food supplies? I would hope that we could combine the two. All the consultation that is being described is quite a big exercise. I hope that we can have a consistent body to further this process.

I pay tribute to the noble Lord and to the other members of his committee for their excellent report. He rightly points out that this is an iterative process; we are not going to do it just once to put it into a file where it will sit for ever as a rigid structure. I do not yet have the exact details as to how this process will be updated. I very much hope that this will form part of the final report when it comes from the Secretary of State shortly.

My Lords, the delay in the publication of the strategy is disappointing. Previously, the Minister has assured us that we would be seeing it “shortly”. It is interesting that “shortly” has now become “before the Summer Recess”. I thought I would look up the definition of “shortly” in the Cambridge dictionary; it is “soon”. The example given is:

“We will shortly be arriving in King’s Cross Station”.

Does the Minister agree that it is a jolly good job that he is not in charge of our railway services? Can he guarantee that we will see the strategy before the Summer Recess, or will we be seeing the use of “shortly” shortly?

As a frequent user of the train service between here and Edinburgh, I appreciate that “shortly” can mean lots of different things. When the Secretary of State took up his position at the beginning of December, he wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, saying that that was a really important subject. It is crucial that the Secretary of State is completely happy with a report that will go out in his name. It is right that he takes the time to reflect on the report that was being formulated at the time, put his own stamp on it and make sure that he is entirely comfortable with it when it comes out, before the Summer Recess.

My Lords, how are the Government approaching the design of financial and policy levers to encourage decision-makers at all spatial scales to reach decisions which are broadly in line with delivering national targets and policies?

How are the Government approaching the design of financial and policy levers to encourage decision-makers at all spatial scales to reach decisions which are broadly in line with delivering national targets and policies?

I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I caught most of it, but perhaps I might write to her in due course with the answer once I have caught the whole thing.

My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. The primary concern in any such framework needs to be its flexibility to react to circumstances. This means that, at best, it can only be guidance, as the Minister has affirmed. More specifically, can he confirm that valuation issues will be carefully studied, as confiscation of value due to arbitrary designation will be a major concern for those who work the land?

The noble Lord is absolutely correct that this framework is not designed to be prescriptive in any way. It will take into consideration all aspects of land ownership, land management and land use. I can assure him that making sure that there is no value destruction for those at the recipient end will be at the top of my radar.

Ministers: Legal Costs


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of taxpayer-funded legal costs incurred by Government Ministers, following the recent libel settlement funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

My Lords, in line with established practice under multiple Administrations of all political colours, Ministers are provided with legal support and representation where matters relate to their conduct and responsibilities as a Minister. As set out in Chapter 6 of the Cabinet Manual, Ministers are

“indemnified by the Crown for any actions taken against them for things done or decisions made in the course of their ministerial duties. The indemnity will cover the cost of defending the proceedings, as well as any costs or damages awarded against the minister”.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The Prime Minister put it rather differently. He said

“it is a long-standing convention stretching back many years … that the government will fund those legal disputes when it relates to government ministers doing their work”.

How can making party-political libel posts on X on Friday at midnight constitute “Ministers doing their work”? Why should this settlement come out of the public purse? Is this not a breach of the Ministerial Code, after all?

As I said, it is long-standing practice. Indeed, the Secretary of State concerned made a statement this morning at the Lords Science and Technology Committee and explained the circumstances in full, including how she was engaged in official work and got support from officials on the disputed letter.

I think the Secretary of State explained very fully. It took the course of two days to draft, clear and send the letter to UKRI’s CEO to ask for an investigation. She highlighted it on X, using the same medium as the original issue.

My Lords, may I ask the Minister about the Civil Service dimension of this? It is reported that a number of senior civil servants were working until midnight on a Friday evening on a non-emergency text message that the Secretary of State wished to send. This seems an entirely unreasonable use of civil servants’ time. Civil servants do work out of hours, but only for emergencies. If they are asked to work late into the night and over the weekend, that is an abuse by Ministers of civil servants.

The Secretary of State has explained her actions fully. I refer noble Lords to her statement. The important thing is that legal advice was taken, and subsequently there was a full and final settlement of the dispute. The Secretary of State made it clear that she should have sent the letter in confidence to UKRI and apologised for that. The basic principle is that it is very important that Ministers can seek advice on work that they carry out as part of their official duties, otherwise there would be a chilling effect on public life. This has been important to all Administrations.

My Lords, if the chilling effect were to extend to preventing Ministers posting things on social media at midnight, we might all be able to live with that. The Minister said that the indemnity covered the activities of her fellow Minister while fulfilling her duties, so can she advise the House which of her ministerial responsibilities the Secretary of State’s comments attacking two academics were fulfilling? Will she also explain why the taxpayer should foot the bill for a blatant abuse of position and power by the Secretary of State that further undermines the standing of the very UK research institution that her department is supposed to be promoting?

The Secretary of State is responsible for the non-departmental public body UK Research and Innovation. She was operating in that context. Her intentions were always to do the right thing. It is very important that Ministers can do this. Of course, insurance is available to MPs, which is provided by the House at the taxpayers’ expense, in cases where professional indemnity insurance covers defamation. The House of Lords Commission is due this week to discuss the provision of professional indemnity insurance to Peers. Of course, there is indemnity insurance in the private sector because directors have to act in good faith and in the wider interest.

My Lords, might I suggest that the protection should last only while pub hours are in place, because it is quite clear what happened in this case?

The truth is—as I know well—that as a Government Minister you do work late. Government officials often work late as well. This is a serious point about how to make sure that Ministers are properly advised on issues. That is what happened on this occasion.

My Lords, the Government seem very keen to lecture everybody else about extremism these days. Would they like to take a look closer to home at the extremism in their own ranks, in particular from very major donors?

On extremism, as the Prime Minister said in his very important speech two weeks ago, we have seen an unacceptable rise in extremist activity that seeks to divide our society and hijack our democratic institutions. It is our duty to ensure that the Government have all the tools that they need to tackle this ever-evolving threat.

My Lords, part of the role of the Science Minister is to champion the scientific community within government and to protect it from political interference. What action are the Government taking to repair the damage caused by the Secretary of State’s highly regrettable actions and the libel case that followed?

I do not see it that way. The Secretary of State gave evidence this morning to the Lords Science and Technology Committee. There was a brief discussion of this matter. They then moved on to discuss important points about science, which she and this Government are extremely supportive of and have done so much to make sure that the UK is one of the leaders in the world in science and technology matters.

My Lords, is this not another case of the Government marking their own homework? What is the Government’s ethics adviser saying about this? Have the Government taken a proper view from the ethics adviser?

Advice to the Prime Minister, including from the ethics adviser, is not something that we would comment on.

I am sympathetic to the Minister, who is prone to having hospital passes from her colleagues that do not help her at all. Does she really think that her explanation at the Dispatch Box will convince the British public, let alone the Daily Mail?

The statement the Secretary of State made this morning was full and clear. I have a great deal of respect for the Secretary of State. The action she took in the aftermath of 7 October was very understandable. We have now moved forward and resolved this. We should be caring about how we improve science and technology in this country.

The Secretary of State told the Select Committee that she is now clear that she should have sent the letter privately. Was she advised by her officials working at that time of night that it would be appropriate to send part of it on X? If she was not then she was acting with her own personal judgment on the issue, so why is the taxpayer having to pay for that error?

I have explained the circumstances about why the taxpayer gets involved in legal expenses. I note the noble Lord’s point.

I was there when the Secretary of State gave her statement to the Science and Technology Committee this morning and was remarkably unconvinced, particularly by the Permanent Secretary’s assertion that all the aspects of this case had been discussed with legal and technical advisers before the relevant tweet was made. I simply ask the Minister: does she think that was valid advice? Is this the way the Government think a senior Cabinet Minister should communicate with the body for which she has responsibility?

My understanding is that the legal expenditure was approved by the department’s accounting officer. That was made clear. I believe that the Permanent Secretary was there with the Secretary of State. I refer noble Lords to her statement, to all that she has done, and to the fact that she apologised to move this matter on.

President of the European Commission


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs when he will next meet the President of the European Commission.

My Lords, I have no immediate plans to meet the Commission President, but I meet regularly with Josep Borrell, the high representative, and with Maroš Šefčovič, who is the commissioner responsible for the UK-EU relationship. The Prime Minister meets regularly with the Commission President, and they have a very strong relationship.

I am grateful for that reply. In last week’s debate on financial affairs, a number of noble Lords proposed that Russia’s frozen assets should be used to send armaments to Ukraine and to repair its damaged infrastructure. My noble friend replied sympathetically, saying:

“We are aiming for the maximum amount of G7 and EU unity on this”.—[Official Report, 5/3/24; col. 1545.]

Six months ago, at the end of an EU summit, where there was broad support for that proposition, the President of the Commission said that the next step would be an actual proposal. When my noble friend next meets the President, therefore, will he urge her to make progress with the next proposal, because Ukraine needs every help it can get?

The noble Lord is completely right that Ukraine needs our help, and needs it urgently. We are continuing to discuss with allies the best legal basis for making progress. We believe that there are a number of options. We could take collective countermeasures, saying that all countries have been affected by Russia’s illegal invasion so there is that legal basis. The Americans believe that there is a case for using individual countermeasures, arguing that their individual country has been affected. Nevertheless, what we need to do in the G7 is to get the maximum unity. It may not be possible to get everyone to agree to the same process or the same amount, but we are hoping to make good progress.

My Lords, whenever the Foreign Secretary next meets the EU commissioner, will he take on board the need to resolve the supply of veterinary medicines under the Windsor Framework to Northern Ireland? The recent Command Paper said that technical solutions would be pursued with the European Commission. Can the Foreign Secretary indicate what discussions have taken place, or will take place? Will he give assurances to your Lordships’ House that these issues will be resolved to ensure the expeditious supply of veterinary medicines and vaccines to farmers in Northern Ireland?

I will look closely at the case that the noble Baroness raises. The Windsor Framework was a very good piece of negotiation that has helped to get the institutions back up and running in Northern Ireland, and that is wholly welcome. Of course, there are still issues that we need to resolve, and I will look carefully at the one she raises.

My Lords, a good place to have a meeting would be at the European Political Community. Originally, that meeting was going to take place in the spring of this year. In January, it was suddenly going to be in the first half of this year and no date has yet been set. Can the Minister say why there has been a delay in setting a date and when a date is likely to be set?

I am confident that a date will be set, that an excellent venue will be provided, and that the meeting will be a great success. We found that in the early part of the year there was a bit of a traffic jam of summitry. So many summits were coming at the same time that finding the right time where the leading people who needed to be there could be there was a challenge. However, we are very close to meeting that challenge, and I will update the House as soon as I can.

My Lords, on the question of the manufacture of weapons and munitions for Ukraine, is the Foreign Secretary aware that there is great concern that there is a depletion of these weapons in this country? Can he assure us that manufacturing in this country of weapons and munitions for Ukraine will be stepped up considerably over the next few weeks and months?

I think I can give that undertaking. The Prime Minister announced the package of support for Ukraine, at over £2.7 billion, which will ensure that it has the support it deserves from the United Kingdom. The Government are fully aware that we need to step up production, not just for Ukraine but to make sure that we deal with our depleted stocks. However, at the same time, there is a real task to be done across all the countries that support Ukraine to look at any weapons systems that are close to their expiration date. We will not be able to use them, but it could use them now.

My Lords, during the current Foreign Secretary’s sabbatical from politics, his immediate successor as Prime Minister, Mrs May, was negotiating an EU-UK security treaty. Does he think that now is a good time to reopen such discussions, precisely in light of the situation in Ukraine? That is one area where we could have common cause.

I do not think we should rule out different ways of working with the EU, but the Ukraine situation shows how the current arrangements can be made to work well. I have always said that, after Brexit, Britain should aim to be the best friend, neighbour and partner of the EU, and I think Ukraine shows that is exactly what we are doing. We have found ways of working together through these various formats, including the Wiesbaden formats and others. I am not sure that it is necessary to form some structured way of working when we have managed to do it on an ad hoc, rapid and effective basis.

My Lords, can I come back to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young, about repurposing seized Russian assets for use in Ukraine? The Foreign Secretary will be aware that at the recent G20 meeting of Finance Ministers different views were expressed. I would be grateful if he could say something more about the position taken by the UK representative at that meeting, and, following on from his comments last time we had questions on this issue, could he say something about the discussions he has had with other nations which have adopted a more cautious approach? Has he been able to find a way forward or more agreement?

We have taken quite a forward view. We think there is a moral and political case for doing this, and we do not see the supposed economic damage that would be done as a strong argument against it. It is certainly true that some other countries are more cautious. Some EU countries are looking at spending the interest on the capital sum rather than the capital sum itself, but we are still making the argument for the maximum amount that can be done. Our view is simple: one day, Russia will have to pay reparations, and it does not make sense to wait for those reparations. It makes better sense to use the frozen assets and to make that that money available now.

My Lords, one of the weapon systems that Ukraine could certainly deal with is the Taurus missile from Germany. The German Parliament has passed this to be sent to Ukraine, but for some reason Chancellor Scholz is holding it up. Can we do anything to encourage the Germans to send the Taurus missile to Ukraine?

I am grateful for the noble Lord’s question. I spent some time in Germany last week making exactly this argument. It is obviously a sovereign decision for Germany, and so, just as we do not like other people telling us how to make sovereign decisions, we should couch our arguments carefully. However, I made the argument that there is no doubt that Storm Shadow has been incredibly effective, and no doubt that it has not been escalatory, because it has been used responsibly and correctly. The other point worth making is that if we want peace, we are more likely to get a just peace through strength and through backing our words with actions. We make these points to our German allies, but ultimately it will be for them to decide.

My Lords, when the Foreign Secretary wound up the debate a short while ago in this House, he said that ad-hockery was often quite a good approach in negotiations with European counter- parts. I can understand that in terms of taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. However, given the huge range of difficulties that businesses, particularly small businesses, are having at the moment in trying to surmount the various non-tariff barriers to trade between us and the EU, do we not also need a focused and comprehensive approach to the forthcoming negotiations with the EU?

I think the noble Baroness is right to put it like that, but that is what the trade and co-operation agreement is about. We have structured co-operation when it comes to that part of our relations, and obviously it is up to us in the time before it is re-examined to make the most of it and look at what other things we could do to help small businesses, such as VAT thresholds and—I have raised it before—electricity trading. These are some of the ideas that we are putting forward that we think could make a difference.

My Lords, can we look forward to an agreement with regard to Gibraltar and, if so, by when and with what conclusions? I am referring to the trilateral negotiations.

Generally speaking, in negotiations it is not a good idea to have too many artificial deadlines. Obviously, there is something of a deadline coming up as we are heading for a new set of EU elections and so a new set of Spitzenkandidat, which I remember from before my brief—how did the noble Baroness put it: holiday?—sabbatical. I am confident we can reach a good agreement. My honourable friend the Europe Minister was in Gibraltar yesterday, having talks with the Chief Minister. I think there is a good basis for an agreement, and we are working very hard to bring that about.

Low and Middle-income Countries: Debt Restructuring


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what consideration he has given to introducing measures to compel private creditors to take part in debt restructuring for low- and middle-income countries facing debt crises.

My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interests as set out in the register.

My Lords, I have raised this issue directly with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I completely understand the concern to ensure that private sector debt is fully part of debt restructuring for low and middle-income countries. There is a range of arguments that we should consider on this issue and we need to be mindful of the impact that legislation could have, including on the cost of and access to finance for partner countries.

My Lords, I thank the Foreign Secretary for that Answer. He will be aware that lobbyists for private creditors made the same arguments ahead of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010, but when the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition reviewed the working of the Act in 2011, it found it to be a successful measure with no evidence of unintended or adverse effects. Given that the majority of relevant bonds are governed by English law, will the UK take a lead to ensure that private creditors take part in sovereign debt restructuring on the same terms? Will the Foreign Secretary work with the New York state authorities, which are also considering this issue?

Obviously, I remember fondly when we were working together in passing the Act to which the noble Lord refers. When that Act was passed there was a real problem with vulture funds acting as hold-outs in debt reconstructions. While there are still arguments for the approach he is taking, we have to ask: will it affect the cost of capital for poorer countries to borrow, will it affect the availability of capital and, crucially, now that we have the collective action clauses and the majority voting provisions, is it still necessary to have this sort of legislation? The IMF reviewed this in 2020 and concluded that things were working well, so there is a concern in my mind that the approach he is talking about is perhaps relevant to what was happening in the past rather than relevant to what is happening now. I think we should keep an open mind on it.

My Lords, with more than $1 trillion owed in debt by 150 countries to China through belt and road, making it the biggest debt collector in the world, what assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the implications on dependency, including the extension of China’s military presence in the world? In this 75th anniversary year of the Commonwealth, is he not particularly concerned about the way in which the CCP has been marching into that void, not least as a result of the cuts we have made to our overseas aid and development programme?

It is very important that we provide alternatives to finance so that Commonwealth and other countries have a choice. I am very proud of the work I did to set up the Caribbean infrastructure fund, for instance, and we are looking again at whether we can refresh and renew that. We are also trying to get the multilateral development banks to expand their balance sheets and lend more to poorer countries. These are ways in which we can offer countries alternatives to Chinese finance in the way that he suggests.

My Lords, should we not look at the recent example of Sri Lanka, which decided that it had to seek the help of the IMF? The IMF responded speedily, but the problem was the private creditors and the time that took. Is there not a case for perhaps the IMF to produce some dimension whereby there is a structure that all private creditors can use, or be advised to use, so that a speedy decision is made for the benefit of the poor people who are suffering?

If bonds are the form of lending, there are collective action clauses that can prevent private sector hold-outs. With loans, you have these majority voting provisions so that a group of private investors cannot hold up the resolution of those debts. That is the right way forward. On Sri Lanka, we welcome the official creditor group deal that was reached on 29 November 2023; the bondholder committee is currently in negotiations with the Government of Sri Lanka. We do not comment on ongoing restructuring programmes, but we hope that a deal will be arranged soon.

My Lords, the 2010 Act was an excellent example of cross-party co-operation because it was passed by the Labour Government and implemented by the coalition. The United Kingdom and New York have a unique power to take leadership of this issue, which is important to a substantial part of the world, because 90% of the private lender contracts that are causing the problem are written under either English or New York law. Does the Foreign Secretary acknowledge and approve the efforts of New York to bring in legislation to make sure that private creditor terms are equivalent to those of other creditors, which they are not? If so, what steps are we taking, if any, to co-ordinate with New York to ensure that similar legislation can be enacted here?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. It is true that what was teed up by Gordon Brown was nodded into the net by the coalition Government, and rightly so. We do not think that the law in Albany, New York state, is actually likely to get through; it has been sitting around for a long time. It is good in its intentions because it is trying to sort out the issue. But the IMF advice and the Treasury advice is that if we legislate in this way, particularly unilaterally, it would affect the cost and availability of finance to other countries, and it may mean that more of these financial deals are written elsewhere in a less advantageous way than is currently the case.

My Lords, as a country we carry a weighty moral debt to many low and middle-income countries, given our history. This moral debt is borne by business as well as government, and indeed by charities and faith institutions. Will the Government revisit the International Development Committee’s report on debt relief and the evidence supplied by the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Make Poverty History, to consider again how all sectors may work together to ensure a joined-up approach to supporting these countries?

The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that we need to have good arrangements for this. That is why the common framework was put in place. The old arrangements under the Paris Club were fine when most of the debt was being written by France, Germany, Britain and America. The common framework tries to reflect that a lot of the money is now coming from Middle Eastern countries and from China and to make sure that all these countries can be involved in the resolution of these situations. It has been moving too slowly, but I still think it is the right approach to include this wider group of lenders in these resolutions.

My Lords, I accept what the Minister is saying about legislative routes to bring private creditors into debt negotiations—it is extremely complex—but does he accept that what was included in the international development White Paper is insufficient to deal with the problem of debt? Will he commit to look at what further measures we can undertake to find a solution, including a new definition of debt sustainability, so that we can better understand what could be achieved?

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord. We must keep this under review and keep looking at it, asking ourselves what more we can do. As we do so, we should be guided in part by the IMF, which has a definition of debt sustainability. Even on its definition, things look very bleak when you look at the number of countries in debt distress or at risk of going into debt distress. But more necessary than a new definition is making the collective action clauses and the majority voting provisions work.

My noble friend the Minister mentioned the Commonwealth. He will be aware of its public debt management programme, which supports member countries to effectively manage their debt portfolios. What conversations have my noble friend or colleagues in government had with Commonwealth colleagues about public management of the debts of Commonwealth members and non-members?

I thank the noble Lord for his question. There is an ongoing conversation with the Commonwealth. This is one of the many good advice services that it gives. This year, the year of CHOGM, we are also spending a particular amount of time talking with Commonwealth countries about how they can access finance, not loans in this case but green finance. A lot of finance has been made available, but many of the smaller countries find it hard to access, and we should help with that.

My Lords, poorer countries have increasingly become dependent on growing amounts of private finance and, for some of them, time is getting critical. We need to address the issue and announce reform but have emergency considerations for countries that cannot wait until we resolve it. Does the Prime Minister—I mean the Secretary of State—agree that this needs to be done and that we cannot afford to let these countries default or allow the private sector to get away when the taxpayer is taking the risk?

I agree with the noble Lord that we do not want what we had in the past, which was vulture funds holding out for a better resolution than other holders of debt were getting. If we have new bonds with collective action clauses and new loans with majority voting provisions, that is much less likely to happen. There are also the other innovations that Britain has brought, such as the climate-resilient debt clauses, so that if there is a sudden problem caused by climate change or other shocks, you stop the repayment. I argue that Britain has a long tradition, on a cross-party basis, of helping with debt sustainability and resolution, and we need to keep that record up.

Gaza: Humanitarian Aid


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what steps he is taking to increase the amount of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, because humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza and the release of the hostages are top priorities.

My Lords, we are doing all we can to increase aid into Gaza. We have been collaborating with Jordan on humanitarian air drops and are now working with partners to operationalise a maritime aid corridor from Cyprus. However, this cannot substitute delivery by land, which remains the best way to get aid in at the scale needed. Israel must open more land routes, including in the north, for longer and with fewer screening requirements. I have been clear: we need an immediate humanitarian pause to increase aid into Gaza and get the hostages out. Israel must remove restrictions on aid and restore electricity, water and telecommunications.

My Lords, the House understands that aid from the air is problematic and aid from the sea takes time. Can the Foreign Secretary explain to the House why he has been unable to persuade the Israeli Government to allow the border crossings to be opened to provide the access for the hundreds of trucks needed daily? What are the Government intending to do so that, when the aid reaches Gaza to the people who so desperately need it, it is distributed to the people on the ground by local networks not controlled by Hamas?

We have repeatedly made points about the need to open crossings and allow more aid in. I can give the latest figures to the House. They are slightly more encouraging. The average number of trucks getting through per day in January was 140. This fell to 97 in February but has gone up to 162 so far in March. So we are making a difference. The opening of Kerem Shalom happened, and that made a difference. With regard to what is happening on the maritime front, which is encouraging, I say that, if Israel really wanted to help, it could open the Ashdod port, which is a fully functioning port in Israel. That could really maximise the delivery of aid from Cyprus straight into Israel and therefore into Gaza.

On the noble Viscount’s question about how to make sure that aid gets around Gaza, that is one of the trickiest pieces of the jigsaw. One of the things that Israel needs to do is give out more visas to UN workers who are capable of distributing the aid when it arrives in Gaza.

My Lords, I am very pleased that Mark Bryson-Richardson met with COGAT today. I would ask the Foreign Secretary to confirm the following: first, there is no backlog at all at the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel; secondly, there is a backlog at Rafah—there are columns of trucks in sovereign Egypt after they have been inspected and cleared by the Israeli authorities; thirdly, as has just been said, there is also, sadly, a backlog on the Gazan side, where the UN agencies are struggling to distribute the aid at the pace that Israel is facilitating it through.

I am delighted that Mark Bryson-Richardson, who I appointed as my aid co-ordinator, has met with COGAT; that is very useful. I can say to my noble friend that, yes, of course, getting more aid into Gaza requires the work of more than just Israel taking the relevant steps. But Israel is the country that could make the greatest difference, because some of the blockages, screening problems and all the rest of it are its responsibility. One proof point of that is that 18 trucks were dispatched from Jordan and they were held for 18 days at the Allenby/King Hussein bridge crossing. That seems to me the sort of the thing we need to act on faster to get that aid into Gaza. As I said in answer to the previous question, once it is in Gaza, it needs people to distribute it. That is about visas and capabilities, and deconfliction.

The Foreign Secretary was very eloquent in describing the unnecessary blockages that have been put in place. He will agree with me that Article 50 of the Geneva Convention, on the requirement on occupying powers for children, is that they will not

“hinder the application of … food, medical care and protection … in favour of children under fifteen years, expectant mothers and mothers of children under seven years”.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that these hindrances and blockages are potentially a war crime under the Geneva Convention and that, if any Ministers in the Israeli Government are actively blocking the inward supply of aid, we should consider sanctioning them?

It is our legal position, and has been for some time, that Israel is the occupying power in Gaza; that was the case before 7 October. After the evacuation of Gaza in 2005, it was not truly freed up as an independent functioning territory, so it is true that the way that Israel behaves as the occupying power in allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza is a material consideration when it comes to looking at how it is complying with international humanitarian law. As I have said many times at this Dispatch Box already, what matters is whether it has the commitment and the capability, and whether it is complying. That is what we keep under review.

My Lords, the words that the Foreign Secretary has just used are the ones he used last Tuesday. But today in the Commons, Andrew Mitchell was asked a question by Lisa Nandy on precisely this point, particularly in relation to the BBC investigation into the treatment of medics at the hospital in Gaza. She asked Andrew Mitchell why we were not ensuring that the Israelis comply with the provisional measures of the ICJ. Andrew Mitchell was unable to support Lisa Nandy’s call. Why?

What I would say, as I think Minister Mitchell said in the House of Commons, is that these are very disturbing pictures and reports that have come out from this hospital. We need to get to the bottom of what exactly happened; we need answers from the Israelis. When we have those, it will be easier to comment.

My Lords, this crisis has been caused by Hamas, which hides terrorists and weapons in densely packed civilian areas and steals food and fuel meant for humanitarian relief. It is absolutely clear that there will be no prospect of peace —let alone the two-state solution that the Government want to see—until Hamas is completely removed from power in Gaza. This is why the Government should be doing all they possibly can to ensure that Israel has all the support it needs to win this war.

I thank the noble Lord for his question. We completely agree that we will not have a two-state solution if the people responsible for 7 October are still running any part of Gaza. Obviously, what we would like to see is an immediate pause, the hostages released and a series of conditions put in place to make sure that the pause turns into a permanent ceasefire without a return to fighting. One of those conditions would be that the people responsible for 7 October—the leadership of Hamas—would have to leave Gaza and the terrorist infrastructure would have to be dismantled. If that did not happen through a process of negotiation, the noble Lord is no doubt right that there would be a return to fighting. That needs to be understood by people.

My Lords, I thank the Foreign Secretary for his first response, which set out very clearly and practically what the Government are trying to achieve in the Middle East. The problem though is pretty clear; the problem is the Israeli Government, who are not prepared, it seems, to accept the suggestion by the UK and the United States. So will he now make it clear to the Israeli Government that their continuing pressure on Palestinians, especially on their women and children, is absolutely unacceptable and, furthermore, that it risks antagonising millions of Arabs and Muslims for years and years to come? I say that having served for many years myself in the Middle East.

I am very familiar with the noble Lord’s service in a number of our embassies in the Middle East and his long experience in that part of the world. I say to him that we have said repeatedly that Israel must abide by international humanitarian law. As the noble Lord, Lord Austin, said, Israel has a right to self-defence. Hamas fighters started this conflict by their appalling invasion and terrorist pogrom in Israel, which led to the murder of over 1,400 people—and it is worth remembering that they still hold hostages. We are more than 150 days in. If Hamas fighters wanted to end this conflict, they could do so tomorrow—they could do so today—by releasing those hostages, getting their leaders out of Gaza and laying down their weapons. They do not do that. But the noble Lord is absolutely right to make the point that we had this experience fighting terrorist insurgencies in our own country, in our own history. You have to obey the rules and obey the law; if you do not and you lower yourself to the standards of the people you are fighting against, that does not end well.

BBC World Service


Asked by

To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what steps he is taking to support the BBC World Service, particularly in relation to (1) its special provision in response to emergency situations, and (2) the challenges posed to it by disinformation campaigns backed by foreign state actors.

The BBC World Service provides high-quality news to global audiences, especially where free speech is limited. Its emergency services, including a pop-up service in Gaza, and before that in Sudan and Ukraine, provide critical updates to people affected by conflict. Meanwhile, BBC News Ukrainian continues to be vital in countering Russia’s narrative around the invasion. The funding from the FCDO, over £100 million a year, helps sustain high-quality broadcasting in 42 languages and the BBC’s vital work to counter harmful disinformation.

My Lords, it is good to be able to agree with every word the Foreign Secretary said. He is right: the BBC World Service is trusted as an independent voice without state interference. Its integrity and honesty is a lifeline for so many. He mentioned Ukraine. Extraordinary efforts were made to ensure that people in Ukraine could get accurate information despite the efforts from Russia to block it. He will know that reporting, particularly in emergencies and from areas of conflict, brings huge risk to those journalists. In 2019, the then Foreign Secretary, now the Chancellor, committed £3 million from the UK to the Global Conference for Media Freedom. The purpose of that was to encourage a free press everywhere, but also to protect journalists who are trying to deliver it. Given that it is a few years since that money was committed, and the aim was to bring other countries together, is the Foreign Secretary able to give us a progress report on work so far and what we have been able to achieve?

I do not have the information on how many other countries are involved, but I know that we continue to support the Media Freedom Coalition. I back up what the noble Baroness said: it is essential that we have journalists reporting from these areas. While I do not want to go into any specifics, we have also helped a number of different news organisations with COGAT and others when they have needed to leave. It is very important that we make sure they are supported in this way.

Russian disinformation is rife in the western Balkans and having a malevolent influence there. The Foreign Secretary will recall that the chair of your Lordships’ House’s International Relations and Defence Committee wrote to him suggesting, among other things, the restoration of the BBC Albanian service, which was scrapped in 2011. Does he agree that it would be foolishly short-sighted not to use one of the most powerful soft-power tools that this country possesses and not to target it against the greatest immediate threat to the peace and security of Europe?

The noble and gallant Lord is absolutely right that the BBC is an incredibly strong voice in terms of media freedom, our values and the things that we stand for. What has been happening over recent years is a transformation into a more digital service, because more and more people now listen to radio services on their mobile phone or through other internet devices. The 42 language services are still going; they have not been closed, but a number of them have switched to digital. However, I completely agree with him on the need to combat fake narratives in the western Balkans. It is not just about the BBC, good though it is; it is also about making sure that we help countries such as Kosovo and Bosnia in their rebuttal of the false Russian narrative. That is about training, expertise and funding as well as about the BBC.

My Lords, I will pick up what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, just mentioned. One of the most wonderful things that the BBC World Service has provided is “Dars”, aimed at Afghan children aged between 11 and 14 and hosted by a female journalist from the BBC who was evacuated from Afghanistan. It uses BBC Bitesize to supply lessons for those whose education was stopped. The UN called “Dars” “a learning lifeline”. Does the Foreign Secretary—I am going to avoid saying, as my noble friend did, “the Prime Minister”—agree that this is reason enough for the FCDO to commit to maintaining the funding of the World Service at an appropriate level so that such life-changing contributions can continue? As he knows, the present agreement ends in March next year.

The BBC World Service is funded in two ways: there is money from the Foreign Office and money from the licence fee, and that is settled and fixed until the end of this coming financial year. It is basically one-third from the Foreign Office and two-thirds from the licence fee, which is a pretty fair way of doing things. Obviously the funding review of the BBC is under way and the charter review of the BBC is coming up, so this is a good time to have that conversation. To be fair, the Government have put our money where our mouth is: in the integrated review refresh we gave an extra £20 million to the World Service.

My Lords, can the Minister update the House on what further representations HMG have made to the Iranian authorities about the harassment, prosecutions and convictions meted out to journalists working for the BBC Persian service, including the harassment of London-based staff and their families back in Iran?

Documents published online suggest that 10 BBC Persian staff have been tried in Iran in absentia and convicted of propaganda against the Islamic Republic. That is completely unacceptable behaviour. We raise these issues with our Iranian counterparts. When I last met the Iranian Foreign Minister, I raised the fact that Iran was paying thugs to try to murder Iranian journalists providing free and independent information for Iran TV in Britain. On both counts, in my view, it is guilty.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register. I am heartened by what my noble friend has said in support of the BBC, but what happens when the disinformation is coming from the BBC itself? Was he as disappointed as I was with the reports on the World Service, particularly the Arabic service, which sought to justify the murder of civilians on 7 October and downplayed sexual violence? Does it not undermine the BBC unless we adhere to the very high standards that we display in other parts of the world?

Obviously it is right that the BBC World Service is operationally and editorially independent, but that does not mean we cannot have views on what it does and says. For instance, on whether Hamas is a terrorist group, I could not be more clear: it is a terrorist group, and the BBC should say so. Editorial independence does not mean that politicians or anyone else are not allowed a view. We are, and those views should be taken into account.

My Lords, the Foreign Secretary mentioned a few moments ago, in response to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, the government review into future BBC funding. What input does he or his department intend to have into the review, given that its scope includes the World Service, which of course gets around a quarter of its funding in grant in aid from the FCDO?

Obviously, it would be a bit unfair on my government colleagues to announce at the Dispatch Box exactly what view I will take in these internal discussions, but I strongly support the World Service in a world in which we have so much dispute and misinformation—poisonous channels such as Russia Today and those sponsored by China and all the rest of it. We should be proud of the fact that the BBC is the most respected news source. If you add in BBC television and, it does not reach 318 million people; it reaches 411 million people, which makes it the most watched service as well, so we should be proud of that. We have something of a jewel in our crown, and we should support and promote it. That said, I am also proud that I was the Prime Minister who put in place quite a tough settlement for the BBC; but it was a six-year settlement, and that proved that if you give people a consistent horizon of how much money they are going to get, but ask them to make some savings, they can improve the service.

My Lords, I echo my noble friend the Foreign Secretary’s comments about the BBC and declare my interest as a trustee of Tate and a radio broadcaster. One of the things that interests me is that our museums—and indeed our orchestras and theatres—tour the globe, having to raise money from philanthropists and foundations. Is it not time that he brought his considerable experience and expertise to the Foreign Office in developing a cultural policy that builds on the amazing work of the BBC World Service as well as these incredible institutions in the UK that tour the globe?

I think we have a policy of using culture as a diplomatic weapon. The Foreign Office is very comfortable with that. We should do that, and the suggestions that my noble friend makes are excellent.

My Lords, could the Minister say what considerations are being given in his department to the possibility of the funding of the World Service being taken back on to the FCDO budget in entirety? Does he not agree that this is a more effective and more equitable way to deal with a matter that is an essential part of our soft power, rather than piling it all on to the licence payer?

I always listen carefully to the noble Lord, because he has great experience in this. The fact that some of the money comes from the licence fee is not such a bad thing. It is about 7% of the total. As someone who is a licence-fee payer but spends a lot of time listening to the World Service, I think it is fair that that contribution is there. Having a link-up between the World Service and the rest of the BBC, in terms of the website, which is very important, the news channel and all the rest of it, is not such a bad thing. The key question is whether the BBC World Service is funded appropriately for our ambitions to counter false narratives around the world and spread democratic values.


Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to CARICOM and the people of Haiti following the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the reported collapse in law and order in that country.

The UK is concerned about the worsening violence in Haiti and the impacts on the neighbouring Turks and Caicos Islands. We remain committed to supporting a Haitian-led political solution. We commend the efforts of partners across the Caribbean and beyond to support orderly political transition in Haiti. We urge all parties to move swiftly to bring much-needed security and stability for the people of Haiti and the region. We continue to support Haiti through our contributions to the United Nations agencies and the World Bank, and are committed to help secure the Turks and Caicos Islands, particularly their borders.

I am most grateful for that reply, particularly the words “Haitian-led solution”. That has not been the case in just about every other initiative that has been attempted. Just how low Haiti has sunk can be illustrated by the report I just heard of the putrefying body of a patient in a hospital on a bed, alongside another bed where a patient who was very much alive was awaiting treatment. In just such a hospital, my two boys were born. I cannot bear to think of the kind of suffering that the people of Haiti are undergoing at this time.

I am very glad that there is a regional initiative coming from Caricom. I hope that His Majesty’s Government will feel able to contribute in a significant way to the discussions. The diplomatic skills necessary for a good outcome will be considerable. I believe that we have those skills in this country and that the United Kingdom, if it chooses to be involved, will find a great welcome from the Haitian leaders and people.

However, there are lessons to be learned and my question comes from those. I have in my hand an internal document from the United Nations: a cry session after 15 years of failure, in which 2,500 troops were deployed in Haiti to stabilise the country from 2004 to 2019. I will not do much more than read two sentences, if the House will oblige. I can see that I am being asked to wind up; it is the first time I have done this, and noble Lords will just have to be patient:

“The last 20 years of the international community’s presence in Haiti has amounted to one of the worst and clearest failures implemented and executed within the framework of any international cooperation … Instead, this failure has to do with 20 years of erratic political strategy by an international community that was not capable of facilitating the construction of a single institution with the capacity to address the problems facing Haitians. After 20 years, not a single institution is stronger than it was before. It was under this umbrella provided by the international community that the criminal gangs that today lay siege to the country fermented and germinated, even as the process of deinstitutionalization and political crisis that we see today grew and took shape”.

Will the noble Lord give me an assurance that His Majesty’s Government will learn from the mistakes that have been badly made? We are a country that provides money to the United Nations to do this work. Can he give me that assurance?

I can certainly give the noble Lord the assurance that we should always try to learn the lessons of history, particularly when we are trying to help with fragile states. This is something I have spent some time trying to think about. I can tell him that we will be making a contribution to the multinational security mission to Haiti. It has principally been established by the United States, which will be providing $300 million. There should be over 1,000 troops, including from Kenya, to try to bring much-needed security. One of the lessons, although it is not the final answer, is that providing basic security will be fundamental.

I will be frank with the noble Lord and the House: Haiti is not where Britain has tried to lead. There are many countries and places that we feel we have either special knowledge of or a special relationship with, or existing partnerships. Haiti has always been somewhere we contribute—I think our contribution is £30 million per year through the international bodies—but it is not somewhere where we have chosen to lead. We have left that to the Canadians, Americans and others who have more expertise. The points the noble Lord makes are very good ones.

My Lords, the problem is that every time something awful happens in Haiti, we put a sticking plaster over it and the situation deteriorates. It is now completely lawless; there has been a complete breakdown in law and order. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary is absolutely right that this is not within the sphere of British interests, but he should not underestimate—I am sure he does not—the influence and good will we have in the wider Caribbean. Can he commit that, rather than just providing finance through organisations such as the UN, the United Kingdom will be prepared to play a role in a long-term solution for that benighted country?

I know that my noble friend has considerable experience, having done this job in the Foreign Office for many years. We will certainly talk with colleagues and friends in Caricom about what they intend to do. Our priority should be to focus on the Turks and Caicos Islands; they are our responsibility as an overseas territory. We are looking to deploy a reconnaissance team there because of concerns about their borders and security. That should be our immediate focus while offering help, assistance and advice, as my noble friend suggests, to the people of Haiti and the Caricom nations that are coming together to try to help.

My Lords, 4,000 inmates have been freed from the prisons in Haiti by the gangs, with police stations being burned to the ground. Generally, there is complete anarchy. I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said about Secretary of State Blinken’s announcement of the $300 million programme to send a security mission. When is that mission likely to be sent? I also welcome what the noble Lord said about the United Nations agreement with Kenya to send 1,000 police offers. When are they likely to be sent to restore order in this urgent situation?

I am afraid that I cannot give an update on exact timings. As the noble Lord knows, the UN has given backing through a Security Council resolution to the existence of this force, so it is not a UN force but it is UN-backed, which is important. I agree about the general point that it is so important for it to be able to do its work. People who follow these things use what I think is the rather odd phrase that the state has to have a monopoly on violence, but it is true: we cannot possibly have development, progress and success when there are quite so many different armed groups in charge of different parts of that country.

Kenyan judges have indicated that the deployment of the Kenyan police forces would be illegal under Kenyan law unless there was a reciprocal agreement with the Haitian authorities. That is why the former Prime Minister of Haiti was in Nairobi. Now there is no vehicle by which to have this authorised by the Kenyan Government. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment about the capability of having those forces deployed, since there will be no functioning Government of Haiti with whom to have a reciprocal agreement? Given that there have been no elections for eight years, no functioning Parliament, no functioning judiciary and the warning signs last week of the violent gangs, Haiti is potentially slipping towards becoming a failed state. What technical support are we providing to those who may provide security assistance?

The noble Lord is certainly right that the failure to hold elections is one of the contributing factors to the chaos that we now see. After the assassination of the former President, the fact that elections were not held was clearly one of the aggravating factors. The role of the Kenyan forces is a matter for Kenya to decide. I think that, with the United States providing $300 million and the backing of the UN Security Council, it will be possible to put together a mission. As I said, it is not something that Britain will contribute to in terms of personnel, but we are happy to make a small financial contribution.

My Lords, the dramatic escalation of violence has had a severe impact on the humanitarian situation, particularly the food security of millions of Haitians. Last year, I discussed the dire situation that existed then because of the violence with the World Food Programme’s country director for Haiti, Jean-Martin Bauer. What steps will we take to respond to the WFP’s warning of a potential hunger catastrophe in Haiti, and are we supporting assistance to ensure unimpeded humanitarian access and the free flow of food commodities into Haiti?

The reassurance I can give to the noble Lord is that whenever the World Food Programme or any of the other operations in the United Nations come forward with a call for support, the United Kingdom always steps up; we are a funder of their programmes. As I said, although we do not have a bilateral aid programme with Haiti, our annual contribution is some £30 million, when we add up what we do through the various UN bodies. It sounds as if the problem will be not so much the availability of food but the lawlessness and lack of safety, so the security aspect has to come first.

My Lords, this is obviously a horrendous humanitarian crisis. I agree with the shadow Minister’s assessment of it and the need for the UK to do what we can to help to abate it. However, as the Foreign Secretary said, our principal responsibility lies with the Turks and Caicos Islands. Will he look back on the lessons to be learned from the 2010 earthquake, which triggered at least 2,500 refugees coming from Haiti to the TCI? Many of them arrived illegally. Although the Foreign Secretary will obviously put an emphasis on trying to help the TCI with security and its borders, some refugees will need help on the ground. Can he tell the House exactly what he will be doing, in working with the Government of the TCI, to help with that problem?

What I can promise my noble friend is that we will work very closely with the Turks and Caicos Islands Government. As he knows, we are currently funding police officers there and helping with border security. As I said, we will send this reconnaissance mission to help them with their border security. If there are additional burdens and needs, I am sure that we will entertain them. My colleague, Minister Rutley, who has worked very hard at all the Caricom relations, will be leading on this issue.

My Lords, we have not had many questions. If I may say so, the Labour Party has had two questions, one of them one of the longest I have heard in this House, and I think we should hear from the noble Baroness.

My Lords, does the Foreign Secretary agree that there is sometimes a limit to what His Majesty’s Government can do in different countries in turmoil—and there are many such countries all around the world—that actually we have to have priorities, and that other countries should be doing more, such as France? Does he agree that although we give diplomatic support, we should be very careful about tying ourselves up with putting lots and lots of extra money into a country such as Haiti?

The noble Baroness makes a very good point; as they say, if everything is a priority then nothing is a priority. We should be frank, as I was in my answer to the noble Lord who asked the Question, about our capabilities here. We have a mission, but it is based inside the Canadian mission, and Canada has taken one of the leading roles in helping Haiti over the years. We have two country-based staff who are currently working from home rather than in that mission, because of the dangers in Haiti, and the other staff that we have work out of the Dominican Republic. We should be clear that in some countries we have a scale whereby we are able to act and scale up quite rapidly, but that is not the case in Haiti.

My Lords, it was a pleasure to give way to the noble Baroness. I refer to my entry in the register of interests, in particular as a member of the Haiti APPG. The problems in Haiti have been going on for a number of years. The UN estimates that nearly 400,000 people have been displaced internally since 2021, half of them children. Therefore, does the Foreign Secretary agree that the external imposition of solutions has failed, and that we must use our influence within the region to ensure that the solutions to these problems come from within Haiti and the Caribbean?

The noble Lord speaks with considerable expertise, as he sits on the APPG. If you look at any of the situations where we have tried to help to stabilise a country, after the first requirement of security, which is clearly the priority now, all the evidence shows that unless you can build a Government who have the support of all the different parts of the country—it may well be a provisional Government to start with—very often you are sunk right from the start. We can look at examples from Afghanistan to Yemen, Libya and elsewhere, where the need for an inclusive political settlement that is designed in that country by the people of that country is absolutely crucial.

My Lords, a country that shares a border with Haiti is the Dominican Republic, which has a record of sending back into Haiti the refugees that came from there. Is the Secretary of State minded not to forget the Dominican Republic, because it is very much in play and not often remembered in this place?

I am sure that it will have an important role in advising Caricom countries, and the Canadians and Americans who are taking the lead in this operation, about what needs to be done to try to bring some stability and security to this very bad situation.

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Bill

Third Reading

Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights and 3rd Report from the Constitution Committee


Moved by

My Lords, I wish to make a point which I hope may be taken into account by honourable Members in another place, though I fear it is unlikely to find favour with most of your Lordships. I cast no aspersions on the motivation which has led to the amendments your Lordships have passed. An undeniable consequence of most of these amendments would be delay in dealing with an issue which is regarded as important and urgent by very many people in our country—an issue to which no alternative remedy has been advanced. I hope that this point may be taken into account by honourable Members in another place, even if not by most of your Lordships.

My Lords, mine is a different point. I am not sympathetic to the point that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, has just made. On Report, I raised the question of representations by the Government of Jersey and our Government’s failure to consult before including a provision in the Bill. I do not know whether this also represents the view of Guernsey and the Isle of Man, but the Government of Jersey said that they were not happy about it. I asked the Minister if he could clarify the position at Third Reading. Can he do so?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, said that no one else has put forward another idea. In fact, many of us have talked about finding safe and legal routes. This Government seem incredibly reluctant to do this. I do not understand why. This Bill is an absolute stinker. It is the worst of the worst. I have seen terrible Bills come through this House, but this is by far the worst. It is a shame on all of us that we have had to sit through hours and days of debate.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, has made a plea on behalf of Members in another place. Will they have available to them the Government’s response to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights which I asked for in Committee, on Report and again today? The Minister will recall that, last week, he said it was imminent. I hope he will be able to tell us that it is now available in the Printed Paper Office and that it will be made available to honourable Members down the Corridor.

I have a great deal of respect for the Minister and like him enormously. All of us agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, that there is an issue that has to be addressed. Some 114 million people are displaced in the world today. When will His Majesty’s Government bring together people from all sides of the House and the political divide to look at what can be done to tackle this problem at its root cause? Unless we do that, we can pass as many Bills as we like in this and in the other place but, frankly, in the end, it will make very little difference.

When the House voted to delay ratification of the treaty, it did so on the basis that there was unfinished business and on the basis of a list of 10 requirements, most of which were for the Government of Rwanda, which should be fulfilled before Rwanda could be declared safe. Among these was the requirement in Article 10(3) of the treaty

“to agree an effective system for ensuring”

that refoulement does not take place. The risk of refoulement was, of course, central to the Supreme Court’s finding that it would be unsafe to deport refugees to Rwanda.

I have asked a couple of times in the Chamber during our 40 hours of debate how we are getting on with that requirement, which binds us, as well as the Government of Rwanda, to agree a system for ensuring that refoulement does not take place. Most recently, I asked on 4 March —Hansard col. 1379—whether Rwanda had agreed with us an effective system. The Minister replied that he did not know but would find out and get back to me. I am still waiting. Can he tell the House the answer now? If he cannot, will he undertake that the effective system will be up and running and reported to this House before the treaty is ratified and before any asylum seekers are deported to Rwanda?

I note that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart of Dirleton, who does reply to questions, assured me in a letter dated 4 March that the Rwanda legislation required to implement the treaty

“will be operational prior to relocations beginning”.

I think this point is quite relevant to the one made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, about delay.

My Lords, we will come back to a number of these debates on ping-pong next week and we will argue vociferously about some of the debates, discussions and points that are being made. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, that I hope the Government have taken note of what we asked for, which was for the other place to give proper consideration to the amendments that were made in this place and not just dismiss them out of hand. We wait to see what the Government do about the amendments we have sent to them and we will continue this debate next week, following the other place’s discussion of our amendments on Monday of next week and whatever comes back to your Lordships’ House next Wednesday.

Let me do some of the normal courtesies and say that, notwithstanding the fact that it has been a difficult and controversial Bill, with many differing opinions, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, for their courtesy and for the way in which their officials have worked with us. We have not always agreed, to be frank, and still do not agree, but it is important to recognise the way in which the Government have made their officials available to us, to try to explain some of the details of the policy. We are very grateful for that, as we are to the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, for the way in which they have conducted the business with us. I hope, however, that they take note of the JCHR report—a response to that would be helpful for our deliberations and, as far as I am aware, it is not yet available. It is important that that becomes available.

I thank all noble Lords for their participation, including my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and many other noble friends, but also noble Lords across the House, for the continuing legal education I am receiving as we go through the Bill. Seriously, it has been very in-depth and important debate.

I say to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, that none of us disagree with the proposition that the country faces a real problem that we need to deal with. The debate is how we deal with it, and that is the fundamental discussion.

As well as the Government’s officials, I thank the people who have worked with my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and me, particularly Clare Scally in our office, who has given us a lot of support in understanding the Bill to the depth that is necessary to inform mine and others’ contributions. It is a mammoth task, and we are very grateful to her and others who have supported us.

I finish by saying that I am very grateful to all Members across the House for the contribution that they have made. We hope the Government properly take account of the amendments that have been passed in your Lordships’ House. We look forward to their debate next Monday and to our further deliberations on the Bill next Wednesday. I say to the Minister: depending on what happens with respect to the other place, we will be considering those exchanges in some detail, and, if necessary, we will act robustly at that time as well.

My Lords, I add to the thanks that have been given. This has obviously been a very difficult Bill for those on our Benches, and we made our position quite clear at Second Reading. It is clear where we stand on this matter, and I draw the attention of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, to the Hansard contribution at that time, which he may have missed, which gave an alternative for the way we should handle this matter.

The Bill—at this point—has left us with a huge number of unanswered questions, though the one answer that I am able to give is that which the noble and learned Lord, Lord Stewart, sent to me in relation to Jersey which arrived this morning. It said that the reason that the Government had not followed the Home Office instruction about the way this matter should have been dealt with was a matter of the speed of the Bill. Without putting words into the Minister’s mouth, he said that it would not happen again, because basically, it must not be a precedent. That was the reason given in answer to that question. I hope the Channel Islands will be satisfied with the response to which I have just referred, especially as members of the Channel Islands are meeting here in this Parliament, celebrating Commonwealth Day.

The Bill has provided us with a tension between principle on the one hand and political expediency on the other. That has worried me right the way through the debates that we have had, though, along with other noble Lords, I think that having such great strength in our legal Lords in this Chamber has meant that a lot of lessons have been learnt about a lot of people I had never heard of who have made our democracy what it is. Understanding that has been helpful.

I hope that when the Government take this matter through to the other Chamber, they will take note of the huge majorities that have been given to the amendments that have been passed in this House during the deliberations on the Bill. That underpins the sensitivity about the principles that lie behind it, to which I have just referred.

No matter what else has happened on the Bill, I continue to pay thanks to many people who have contributed and to Members on all sides. Even though we disagree, we may still—when we want to—hear and understand the arguments that they make. I particularly thank the staff of the Home Office—some of whom are in the Box—who I know from conversations have been working very hard to follow the Government’s instructions as they go through the Bill in the rapid way that they have. Along with them, I thank all Members around the House, Ministers—of course—and my colleagues behind me who have also contributed to the Bill. I want to include Elizabeth Plummer and Sarah Pughe from our Whips’ office for all the work that they have put in to help us challenge the Bill in the way that we have.

I look forward to the answers that we get to the unanswered questions—next week, presumably, but we might get some today—and to when we continue the debate next week.

My Lords, as the Bill nears completion of its passage through your Lordships’ House, it is obviously timely for me to say a few words. First, I want to say that I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. The two responses to the JCHR and the Constitution Committee were cleared this morning and issued this afternoon. I apologise that this has taken a while longer than it should have. They deal with the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. The key point remains, of course, that the Government will ratify the treaty only once we agree with Rwanda that all necessary implementation is in place for both countries to comply with the obligations under the treaty. We have dealt with that at some length over the passage of the Bill.

I think we can all agree that there is common ground in the view that we need to stop the boats. We need to prevent the tragic loss of lives at sea and bring to an end the horrid trade of the criminal gangs who are exploiting people for financial gain. Where there is disagreement is on the means by which we can achieve that and the strength of our desire to carry out the will of the British public—to control our border and tackle this global crisis of illegal migration. I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, that it is a global crisis that will inevitably require global solutions.

The Government have made progress towards stopping the boats. Small boat crossings were down by a third in 2023, when our joint work with France prevented more than 26,000 individuals crossing by small boat to the UK. There is, however, more to do. As we have made unequivocally clear, to stop the boats and prevent people taking such perilous journeys across the channel, we need to send out a message that if you arrive in the United Kingdom by such means, you will not be able to stay.

We need to be able to take bold and innovative steps to create a strong deterrent that will stop the loss of lives at sea. Our partnership with Rwanda provides just that. The new, legally binding treaty with the Government of the Republic of Rwanda responds to the Supreme Court’s concerns, reflecting the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments. Under our new legislation, migrants will not be able to frustrate the decision to remove them to Rwanda by bringing systemic challenges about the general safety of Rwanda. It is imperative that the scheme as provided for in this Bill is robust and sends the unambiguous message that if you enter the UK illegally, you will not be able to build a life here. Instead, you will be detained and swiftly returned either to your home country or to a safe third country.

In light of the non-government amendments agreed by your Lordships’ House on Report, it is clear that many noble Lords in this House do not agree on how to end the misuse of our immigration process. However, it is not an option for us to not act: without a plan or an alternative approach, more lives will be tragically lost at sea and the financial burden on the British taxpayer will grow as millions of pounds continue to be spent each day accommodating people in hotels. We have spoken at length about the protections needed for various vulnerable cohorts of people, which we are satisfied this Bill and partnership will provide. However, as I have said repeatedly, the people to whom we refer are those who have already reached a country of safety, where they could and should have claimed asylum.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, noted, there was some debate on Report about consultation with the Crown dependencies. The Government, of course, recognise the concerns raised by some noble Lords and remain committed to consulting the Crown dependencies on any legislation which might affect them, including on the inclusion of a permissive extent clause, but I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord German, for clarifying.

Although I have no doubt that the amendments passed by this House are well intended, some do indeed—as my noble friend Lord Howard noted—seek to undermine the core purpose of the Bill and would continue to allow relocations to Rwanda to be frustrated. No doubt, our debate on such matters will continue.

That said, I want to take this opportunity to thank noble Lords for their valued contributions during the passage of the Bill through this House. I want to express my appreciation to the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Ponsonby, for the courteous manner in which they have engaged with me on the Bill. I thank them also for their warm words. I also wish to extend my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord German, and his Front-Bench colleagues for their clarity of views, albeit ones with which I have not agreed.

I want also to record my gratitude for the invaluable support and assistance of my noble and learned friend Lord Stewart of Dirleton. I must also put on record my thanks to the Bill team, my private office, and all the officials and lawyers in the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice who have provided such thorough support and expertise.

In conclusion, the purpose of this Bill is to deter dangerous and illegal journeys to the United Kingdom, which are putting people’s lives at risk, and to disrupt the business model of the people smugglers who are exploiting vulnerable people. This Bill reflects the strength of the Government of Rwanda’s protections and commitments given in the internationally binding treaty to people transferred to Rwanda in accordance with the treaty. Alongside the evidence of changes in Rwanda since the summer of 2022, this Bill will enable Parliament to conclude that Rwanda is safe. I have no doubt that we will shortly be debating these matters vigorously again, but, for now, I beg to move.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Victims and Prisoners Bill

Committee (7th Day)

Relevant documents: 7th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, 1st Report from the Constitution Committee

Clause 48: Imprisonment or detention for public protection: termination of licences

Amendment 149

Moved by

149: Clause 48, page 51, line 10, at end insert—

“(ba) after subsection (3), insert—“(3A) Where—(a) the prisoner has been released on licence under this Chapter,(b) the qualifying period has expired, and(c) if his case has been considered for termination previously by the Parole Board and a period of at least twelve months has expired since the disposal of that application,the prisoner may make an application to the Parole Board under this subsection.””Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment, along with two others in my name to Clause 48, would allow a prisoner whose licence has not been terminated by the Parole Board three years after their first release to make an application annually to the Parole Board for termination.

My Lords, the subject of IPPs is so well known to you all, and indeed to many outside this House, that it is unnecessary to speak at any length about it, save for one remark and one set of common grounds.

When the Minister said that this Bill was about victims, he was in every sense right. In some senses, those who received the sentence of IPP are in fact victims, as I will endeavour to explain by reference to what I think are four areas of common ground, which I think ought to guide what I wish to say.

The first area of common ground is that the 2003 Act which implemented these was a mistake and should never have been enacted. There is now no dispute about that. I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, for the candour, statesmanship and exemplary conduct he has shown—which so few do—in admitting error. He is to be warmly commended for that, and my only regret is that he is not here in person for him to hear what we all feel.

The second point of common ground is that the operation and the effect of the IPP system has been a stain on the administration of justice in England and Wales. Again, I do not think that is disputed.

Thirdly, the outcome of imposing sentences of IPP has been problematic in very many ways, and a particular problem has been the effect on the mental health of those who received this form of sentence, particularly those in the initial period from 2005 to 2008.

The fourth area of common ground is the old phrase, “Something must be done!” The real question is: what should be done? These problems have to be addressed; we cannot leave them unaddressed.

In the groups of amendments to be considered this afternoon, the real issue relates to that fourth point of common ground: what is to be done? One should begin by welcoming the leadership shown by the Lord Chancellor—this Lord Chancellor, I underline—in the Bill. He has accepted that there are problems and that they need to be addressed. We have to recognise that he is in some senses constrained by circumstances and by events which may happen later in the year. However, I very much hope that in the course of this debate we can achieve more under his leadership, which has been outstanding in this respect, and see what we can do to try either to solve the problems now or at least to make certain that the basis is there for their solution in the future.

Having said I would say very little by way of introduction, I may have spoken for too long; I now turn to the amendments in the first group. These are amendments to Clause 48 and there are four sets of them. I am extremely grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Blunkett, and the noble Baroness, Lady Burt of Solihull, for their support by co-signing these amendments, which all relate to the provisions for release on licence.

I am not sure how well appreciated it is that the licence period after release from an IPP is one of the most draconian aspects of the sentence. After release, the offender is on licence and subject to licence conditions—and, most importantly, subject to recall if they breach them—for an indefinite period presently, unless the Parole Board decides to release or reduce the licence period. At present, it cannot do so until 10 years have elapsed. It is that 10-year period which this clause seeks to address. At the moment, all cases are referred to the Parole Board for consideration—but 10 years is a very long time.

One of the things that is clear on the evidence—and it is always important to proceed on the evidence—is that the indeterminate nature of IPP sentences has created many very serious mental health issues and these are exacerbated by the licence period. It is very difficult for someone who has been in custody for such an indeterminate period, not knowing when they are going to released, to maintain his or her mental stability—and then being subject to 10 years on licence is almost impossible.

So we must warmly welcome the basis of this recall in reducing that period from 10 years to three years, because then the Parole Board can look at the licence period and decide whether it should be terminated then and there. If it is not terminated and if the person is successful and remains on licence, out of custody, for two years, there is a sunset or automatic termination. So, before I turn to the amendments, I think it is right to say that this is a huge achievement and, on almost everyone’s behalf, I thank the Lord Chancellor and the Secretary of State for doing this.

My amendments make changes to this new regime which are minor but important. I hope they are of a kind about which there will be little dispute—because, if there are disputes about these, I dread to think where we shall get to when we go down the list. Four areas are covered by these amendments. The first of these sets of amendments are Amendments 149, 150 and 151, which try to set out a more flexible and just way of terminating the licence period if it is not terminated at the three-year point.

I do not want to go into the technicalities of this too much, because this is typically awful sentencing legislation—most sentencing legislation is awful, as is shown by the fact that the Sentencing Code is about this thick—and I do not think a debate on the language is a good way for us to spend our time. But, in essence, this provides that, if the Parole Board does not at the three-year period terminate the licence, we have to address whether it is right that the person has to wait to have their licence terminated by spending two years without the risk of having their licence revoked and returning to prison.

The essence of this amendment is accepting the mental health problems that this form of imprisonment has caused and for which ultimately the state is responsible, as a result of the enactment of this legislation. This amendment seeks to restore a right of annual review. This would give the Parole Board the opportunity each year to look at the position of the individual and see whether, in all the circumstances, we can terminate.

Amendments 150 and 151, which I will deal with separately as they are slightly different, go to putting right a possible injustice in how the legislation is drafted. As everyone appreciates, the offender can be recalled to prison. Sometimes, there is a mistake in the recall. The Lord Chancellor or the Secretary of State can set that aside and revoke the recall. He does so if there has been a mistake. However, the problem with how the legislation is drafted—this is a highly technical problem—is that if he recalls the person but decides subsequently that it was a mistake, the two-year period is interrupted. That is unjust. Why should you be prejudiced by a mistake? The very simple Amendment 150 deals with human error, so that the offender is not prejudiced.

Amendment 151 deals with a very analogous problem—what happens if a person is recalled by the Parole Board, in the exercise of its judgment in respect of what is known as the Calder jurisdiction? I need not go into this matter in any detail because the point is a simple one. If the Parole Board decides that it was inappropriate to recall him but that he is fit for release, again, the effect of that in the Bill as currently drafted is that it breaks the two-year period and therefore the person has to start all over again. It is a bit like going round the Monopoly board and being sent back to the start again. This is something that we should not have.

Amendment 152 is very simple. The Bill contains a power to change the period of three years. There are two solutions to this. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, will address the first, which is whether we should remove the power altogether. The second—my preferred solution —is to alter “change” to “reduce”. “Change” enables you to increase, and I am sure that no one in Parliament wants to see an increase in the period. So I think it would be better to have a power but to make sure that it can be exercised in only one way. Having said that, I very much hope that this will not be controversial and that the Government can agree to this or to something very similar. I beg to move.

My Lords, I have the privilege of rising on behalf of my noble friend Lord Blunkett, who is incredibly disappointed not to be here. He has a long-standing and unbreakable prior commitment. I know that he would want me to thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, for the kindness that he displayed and for his crystal-clear description of these amendments and of the injustices and technicalities that they address, which any lay person could understand. I am very grateful, as I know my noble friend would be. I share in the tribute to my noble friend. The fact that the former Home Secretary has asked the former director of Liberty to speak on his behalf is perhaps testament to the character of my noble friend.

My noble friend supports all the amendments in this group, most of which belong, at least in initiation, to the noble and learned Lord. He also signed Amendment 156 in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, because of this concern that no period should be increased by the Secretary of State.

For my own part, speaking for myself at this moment and not for my noble friend, of the two approaches—taking the power to alter entirely or leaving it as one only to reduce—I rather agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. He has done so well in the explanation that I need say little more, other than that I also remember today our friend, his noble and learned friend Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, for whom righting this wrong, this stain on our justice system, was also incredibly important. Too many people in public life are happy to forget and ignore the mistakes of last week, let alone of two decades ago, but, if this is the House of Elders in our parliamentary system, such as it is, this is exactly the Committee to be embracing the amendments put so brilliantly just now by the noble and learned Lord.

My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for his comments and endorse everything that he said, particularly about the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who we all wish was here today. I will address one or two of the pragmatic issues. The amendments in this group all relate to IPP licences, and I support them all. They are intended to affect the applications of licences to be fairer and speedier, so that we can release or re-release IPPs as fast and as safely as possible into the community.

Clause 48 currently removes the element of annual review in favour of one-off review every three years. However, if the Parole Board decides not to terminate the licence of this point, Amendments 149 and 150 restore the right—removed by the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act—to an annual review by the Parole Board. The Prison Reform Trust comments that having a sunset clause of a further two years might just constitute a high bar for some prisoners, and that the Parole Board should be able to terminate the licence after one year, otherwise licences could drag on for years, as before.

The circumstances described in Amendment 152 are probably quite rare, but it is worth ensuring that a person would not have to suffer if they had been recalled but the Secretary of State had revoked the recall, presumably because there had been an error of some kind and they should not have been recalled. The prisoner should not be penalised because of an error not of their making.

Amendment 153 continues in a similar vein, but this time gives the Parole Board the ability to maintain the sunset clause. However, in this case, it is slightly more complicated. Firstly, the Secretary of State can recall if they conclude on reasonable grounds that the prisoner has deliberately revoked the terms of their licence and the safety of the public would be at risk. The Parole Board can overturn the Secretary of State’s decision to recall a prisoner if on subsequent review, and if it is privy to more information than the Secretary of State, it subsequently concludes that the prisoner is not putting the public at risk.

Amendment 157 ensures that the Government use their wide-ranging powers to change the qualifying period using only secondary legislation and that they can revise it only downwards. If they want to revise it upwards, it will have to be done with primary legislation. This is within the spirit of the Bill today. This amendment ensures that a future Government would not be tempted to use this power to make the situation worse for IPP prisoners, not better.

All in all, this suite of amendments is sensible and, as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, said, pragmatic. It is offered in a spirit of helpfulness. I sincerely hope that the Minister will see this and maybe feel that it is appropriate to introduce government amendments to this effect.

My Lords, I rise possibly as an elder, owing to my advanced age; but perhaps not. I would like to support the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd. As he said, there is almost nothing left to say about these prisoners. It is an injustice. I hope that the Government are considering accepting some of these amendments. We cannot say that we have a justice system if we have an innate injustice like this.

I support the tributes to the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, but also to the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, with whom I have almost nothing in common; we have a very tetchy relationship but, on this, I think he is being superlative in working for the rights of IPP prisoners.

As Greens, we believe that prison is overused as a tool of justice. Far too many people are imprisoned when there are much more effective ways of rehabilitation or stopping reoffending. I can understand the anger of people who say that we should lock up serial rapists and murderers and throw away the key. I do understand that anger; but, in this instance, we have, for example, a 17 year-old who steals a bike, or people who grab other people’s mobile phones. This is clearly an injustice; I find it difficult to believe that anybody listening to this would not agree.

The lawyer and campaigner Peter Stefanovic put out an online video about this. It has had 14 million views. A petition to force the Government to debate this again got easily 10,000 signatures. There is massive public support for sorting out this issue. I know that the Government care very much about the will of the British public. The word that came through for me in some of the responses to the video was “cruel”. The sentencing and continued imprisonment of IPP prisoners has just been cruel. Please, let us see some progress on this Bill, then we can all take the Ministers out for a cup of tea.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, for moving his amendment. I have tabled Amendment 156; it may be convenient to speak to it now. Before doing so, I have some general points to make about the whole issue of IPP, which I will not repeat in detail later.

I am grateful for all the work that my noble friend Lord Moylan has done along with the Prison Reform Trust and UNGRIPP. In 2017, as a result of a debate initiated by the late noble and learned Lord, Lord Simon Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood—I am grateful for the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti —I decided to take a very close look at our penal system. I soon found that I needed to widen my interest to the whole of the criminal justice system because there is so much is wrong with it. One obvious example is joint enterprise murder, but that is for another day.

Let no one think that I am some sort of soft, bleeding heart, out-of-touch do-gooder. I am not. I believe in firm discipline, with all that that implies. But—I repeat, but—no more disciplinary sanctions should be applied, including incarceration, than are needed to have the desired, legitimate effects of protecting the public by incapacitation, and providing retribution, deterrence and rehabilitation. The current IPP regime clearly fails this test on all counts. I will not rehearse the heart-rending histories that we have all heard about. They are not in dispute.

I also accept that some prisoners on an IPP sentence may not be releasable any time soon even under a resentencing scheme. However, keeping prisoners incarcerated unnecessarily costs £44,000 per annum per prisoner and wastes resources. We know we have a terrible prison system because the Chief Inspector of Prisons tell us that is so. In his 2023 report, he said that inspectors have run out of superlatives to describe how poor the purposeful activity component of prison life is, or words to that effect. No wonder IPP prisoners find it so hard to demonstrate any progress with rehabilitation.

We have undertaken almost no noticeable reform of our prison system since the proposals made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in the early 1990s. My noble friend the Minister may point to some incremental improvements, but they would not be something that even a well-informed member of the public would be aware of.

I support all the IPP amendments that have been tabled to the Bill. We really do have to do something to solve this problem, no matter how difficult that might be. As the noble and learned Lord said, something must be done.

I do understand the difficulty that the Opposition Front Bench finds itself in. However, I think that we have to be clear that the determining factor is a policy set by the shadow Secretary of State in another place. I would happily vote for any of the proposed amendments if supported by the Opposition Front Bench, but I can understand the fear arising from the possibility that a released IPP offender might commit a further offence and it might be a serious one. But the fact is that we are often releasing offenders knowing that there is a high probability of them reoffending. That is why I have made my proposals for dealing with young prolific minor offenders, which I keep bending your Lordships’ ears about in private.

I turn to my Amendment 156. Clause 48 deals with the termination of licences for release, as we have heard. My amendment totally removes the power of the Secretary of State to alter the qualifying period by statutory instrument. Of course, I would be content with the proposal to allow the Secretary of State only to reduce, as suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, in his Amendment 157. It is not clear to me why this provision in Clause 48 is necessary or desirable. Suitable criminal justice Bills come to your Lordships’ House with monotonous regularity and any one could be used to effect a change if desired. Can my noble friend the Minister suggest in what circumstances it might be necessary to alter the qualifying period because, presumably, this IPP problem is going to be solved quite quickly—or is it not really?

It is also quite a palaver to secure an affirmative order; it is not that simple and there are a lot of processes to be gone through. Also, it would require a one-hour debate in your Lordships’ House. Assuming any change was desirable, it might be simpler to use a suitable Bill to effect any change needed.