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Lords Chamber

Volume 837: debated on Thursday 25 April 2024

House of Lords

Thursday 25 April 2024

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.

Royal Assent

Royal Assent was notified for the following Acts:

Pedicabs (London) Act,

Safety of Rwanda (Asylum and Immigration) Act,

Investigatory Powers (Amendment) Act.

Ethnicity Pay Gap


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the growing number of companies reporting their ethnicity pay gap and of the case for legislating for mandatory reporting.

My Lords, it is encouraging to see more employers choosing to report their ethnicity pay data. Rather than mandating reporting, which may not be appropriate for all employers, our guidance supports those who wish to report by providing a consistent approach and advice on achieving meaningful comparisons. The latest ONS statistics show that it is difficult to compare data across up to 19 different ethnic groups.

I thank the Minister for that Answer. It is good that a number of companies are now beginning to report voluntarily on this, but why are the Government reluctant to make it mandatory, given that in 2017 it was made mandatory for gender disparity?

I thank the noble Baroness for her Question. As she will understand, this is a much more complicated area to get meaningful data on. There are five broad categories of ethnicity that are used by the ONS, for example, and 19 specific ethnicities. The Government’s concern is that there is a real risk of misleading data, particularly among smaller firms that may have very few members of staff from a minority community, and therefore a change in one or two people could distort the figures.

My Lords, Labour has a long-term plan to tackle racial inequality after the longed-for general election, if we are elected, including through our racial equality Bill, which will require large companies to report on their ethnicity pay gaps, as they already do for gender pay gaps. I know that the Minister is absolutely committed to equalities. As a common-sense way to begin the process of tackling these glaring inequalities, we would not mind at all if she would commit to this policy and persuade her Government to support it.

I will give a couple of examples. First, there was the work the Government did in 2019, when we engaged with a broad range of businesses to understand the complexities of implementing mandatory reporting in this area. It genuinely showed just how complicated it was to do. That was echoed in the Inclusive Britain report chaired by my noble friend Lord Sewell, which brought out a number of points including, critically, the difference between the ethnicity pay gap of those born in this country and those who are not born here, with which I am sure the noble Baroness is familiar.

My Lords, I have some empathy with the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. There are disparities in pay for ethnic minorities. There are also disparities in senior and board-level positions, where there are targets for women but fewer targets for people from ethnic minorities. If we looked at individual groups within ethnicity, we would never bring about the changes. It is an argument that my noble friend could ask the department to look at again, so that we can move forward and ensure that we can reduce the inequalities that currently exist.

I am more than happy to take this back to the department and share my noble friend’s reflections, but I remind the House that there is no ethnicity pay gap for people born in this country from roughly half the ethnic-minority groups. In fact, in a number of cases there is a pay gap in the other direction. The issue is much greater for those not born in the UK, and there we need to understand to what extent that reflects level of qualification, level of language, age and a number of other factors.

My Lords, when the TUC and the CBI are both in agreement that this is a policy that should be introduced and mandated—and the Government spend a great deal of time and effort recruiting workers from overseas to fill gaps in our own labour market—why do the Government not accept the wisdom of the TUC and the CBI? They surely know more about the operation of markets than any Government do.

As I said, the Government have done extensive work engaging with employers in this area. We have the important work of the Inclusive Britain report. An employer of, say, 250 employees would typically have 25 ethnic-minority employees, if it was in line with the national average. With 18 separate ethnicities, the noble Lord can do the maths on the sample size.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s agreement to take this matter back. As I have said before, what you do not measure you cannot manage. I appreciate that the ethnicity mix of one’s workforce is a bit more complex than with compulsory registration of gender pay gaps, but that policy works very well. I hope the Minister will agree that it would be a worthwhile requirement for any larger employer that sees the benefit of having a more diverse and inclusive workforce.

The Government agree that it is worth while but not that it should be mandatory. We have developed clear guidance for employers and are seeking case studies from employers monitoring ethnicity pay data—but also, crucially, their diagnosis of any gaps and their action plan to address those gaps—so that other employers can benefit from their experience.

My Lords, one of the ethnicity pay gaps is the difference in income that arises from art awards. Will the Minister join me in congratulating Delaine Le Bas, who has just been put on the Turner Prize shortlist for her art deriving from her Romani heritage, as well as the other distinguished members of the shortlist from minority-ethnic backgrounds?

My Lords, I am sure my noble friend is aware that some people from certain ethnic backgrounds, for example African-Caribbean, face a much larger ethnicity pay gap. Does she agree with me that this is unacceptable in 2024 and that therefore we need urgent targeted action to address this?

My noble friend is right: there are particular groups that have not only a larger ethnicity pay gap but a larger employment gap than other communities. The Government have worked with specific communities. My noble friend raised the Afro-Caribbean communities but there are also, for example, significant barriers to employment and pay differentials for Bangladeshi women. The Government have a number of programmes to address those.

While we are at it, can we congratulate PwC for taking people from prison? I think that is a great sign. We must remember that people from ethnic minorities are overrepresented in the prison population.

Of course. I welcome all employers, including PwC, working with those who have been in the criminal justice system and in prison.

Sanctions: Russian Individuals


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to review sanctions against Russian individuals in the light of President Putin’s re-election and the continuing war in Ukraine.

My Lords, the United Kingdom is at the forefront of international sanctions against Russia, and takes a carefully targeted and rigorous approach to weaken Mr Putin’s war machine and to demonstrate our unyielding support for Ukraine. Together with our international partners, we have unleashed the largest, most severe package of sanctions ever imposed on a major economy. We keep all our sanction designations under review, but we do not comment on future sanction plans.

Notwithstanding that, does the Minister agree that President Putin is successfully driving forward his barbaric attacks on Ukraine by managing to dodge sanctions, despite the UK Government-imposed measures he has described—including a price cap to curb his profit from Russian oil exports? There is mounting evidence that most Russian oil exports exceed that cap, and Putin seems to be getting all the income he needs to fuel his war economy. More targeted action is surely desperately needed. Will the Government now sanction the insurers—many of which are UK-based—of vessels transporting Russian oil above the cap, and also sanction owners of the ports hosting those vessels? Will the Minister try to get all our allies to do the same?

My Lords, on the noble Lord’s final point, as he will know, we are working very closely with our key allies, particularly the G7, on ensuring how we can have more effective implementation of sanctions and how we can address the issue of the circumvention of sanctions. As I am sure the noble Lord would acknowledge, we have seen successes; $400 billion-worth of money has been denied to the coffers of the Russian Government to allow them to continue their illegal war against Ukraine.

The noble Lord mentions specific issues around the oil cap. As he knows, we have banned the import of Russian oil and oil products into our markets. We have also created the oil price cap, to limit the price at which Russia can sell its oil and products globally. We are working with key countries to improve the issue of the circumvention of sanctions. Indeed, as noble Lords will know, my noble friend the Foreign Secretary was in central Asia during the week, and that was one of the key points that he raised during his conversations with Governments across central Asia.

My Lords, the annual report of the OFSI indicates a dramatic increase in the volume of frozen assets, which, as my noble friend the Minister has indicated, is reassuring across a number of fronts. The question on everyone’s lips now—to use the popular lexicon—is whether we can move from freeze to seize. What investigations are being undertaken to see if there are legally acceptable routes to get some of that money forfeited and then adduced to good causes to help Ukraine?

First, I commend my noble friend for summarising exactly the intent of the UK Government and our partners: to go from freeze to seize. All countries in the G7 have been clear on this. There is a meeting in June, which we will be part of, to look specifically at proposals on the table. The focus right now is on a windfall-plus proposal put forward by the United States, which would involve a loan to Ukraine issued by the US and other willing G7 members and repaid over several years from the future profits generated by Russian sovereign assets held in Euroclear. This is just one practical example of the kind of work that we are doing in co-ordination with our key partners.

My Lords, I strongly support the idea of sanctioning Mr Putin and his colleagues, but once again I ask the Government to provide some assurance that great care will be taken to protect the great Russian people—many of whom I know—who may have assets and yet have nothing to do with the war in Ukraine and who have never supported Mr Putin anyway, in general. They are at risk as this country and other countries extend the scope and severity of the sanctions against Mr Putin and his colleagues.

As I have said to the noble Baroness and others, and as I know all noble Lords agree, our fight is not against the Russian people. We have seen the appalling treatment of those Russians who have been brave—let us not forget the tragic case of Mr Navalny. We are currently seeing others being held, and I know noble Lords are very much seized of that. We need to ensure that we stand with the Russian people against the draconian regime which suppresses their rights as well. I add that our own sanctions regime is based on a principle which allows for legal recourse, if an individual or an organisation has been sanctioned unfairly. This again underlines the importance of the system of appealing against sanctions, if the individual or the organisation feels that it has been unfairly applied.

My Lords, further to the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Hain, Russian oil and gas exports are up 57% over the last year, primarily to African nations and India via an enormous shadow fleet that goes through the Red Sea. We have debated RAF pilots putting their lives at risk to protect that waterway, and we are also in discussions with the Indian Government about giving their energy sector preferential market access to the UK. Is the noble Lord not right that this is now the time to be putting in place secondary sanctions to those Governments who give landing permits for shadow tankers of Russian oil, circumventing UK sanctions, and to pause any particular aspects of discussions with the Indian Government until there is clarity about their purchasing of what is considered, from our perspective, illegal Russian oil?

My Lords, I am not going to go into the process of what may happen next. Our relationships with many countries across the world allow us to have quite direct conversations about the issue of sanctions circumvention. The noble Lord is aware of the initiatives we have been taking with a number of countries—Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Kyrgyzstan and Georgia immediately come to mind. We have also had bilateral engagement with the likes of Turkey and Serbia. The noble Lord raises India specifically. We have a very open, candid and strong relationship with India. While we are in negotiations about the importance of the trade benefit to both countries, we recognise the important role India has to play. I assure the noble Lord that we exchange quite candid conversations on a range of issues, including the illegal war of Russia on Ukraine.

I return to the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie. When questioned from this side of the House about seizing those assets or using them to ensure that we can rebuild Ukraine, the Foreign Secretary has repeatedly said in this Chamber that “We are working towards it”, and mentioned the G7 and so on. Can the Minister tell us whether the Prime Minister raised this with the German Chancellor, to ensure that we get strong support across all the countries, so that we can act and ensure that the Russian state pays for its war of aggression?

I assure the noble Lord that we have conversations with all of our key partners, including, as I have already said, quite directly with our G7 partners, on this very issue at the highest and most senior level. We are looking at various proposals; I have alluded to one. I also assure the noble Lord that we are looking at our own domestic legislation as well, to ensure that Russia pays for the damage it has caused, both through individuals who have been associated with the Government of Russia and with the Russian Government themselves. We want to establish a route which sanctions individuals who want to do the right thing—there may be some noble intent there, and so they can donate directly to this. It is important that we act in a co-ordinated fashion. I assure the noble Lord that we are doing just that, at the highest level with G7 partners.

My Lords, can we be assured that we are pressing ahead with sanctions against the murderers of Sergei Magnitsky under existing legislation which we have now passed? Should we not also be thinking about the same approach to the murderers of Mr Navalny?

My Lords, I will not go into the area of what we may or may not do when it comes to our sanctions regime. My noble friend is quite right: I am very proud of the fact that it was this Government who introduced the Magnitsky-style sanctions, as they are often called, when it comes to the egregious abuse of human rights. It is right that we have acted in this respect. We work very closely with our key partners to ensure that those who commit these egregious abuses of human rights are held accountable.

My Lords, when considering secondary sanctions, which may well have an important effect, will the Government take great care to ensure that we do not drive those countries that we are actually trying to woo closer into the embrace of Russia and China?

I assure the noble and gallant Lord that that is exactly the priority. He will have seen the recent travels of my noble friend. We are ensuring that we build a broad and international alliance, to ensure that the systems, structures, openness and liberalism that we stand for—which allow people to prosper, as we have seen in our own country—are reflected around the world.

My Lords, last week in Strasbourg, the Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe recommended the seizure of Russian assets to be used in support of the people of Ukraine. Two colleagues from this House, the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Foulkes, made powerful speeches in support of that proposal. They have worked out a scheme for how this might be done. Will His Majesty’s Government look at this and see if they can support it?

Crown Prosecution Service: Racial Bias


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of racial bias in Crown Prosecution Service charging decisions.

My Lords, as a very happy Evertonian, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, we know that some ethnic groups are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and we need to understand why so we can address this. The Crown Prosecution Service commissioned research which found that outcomes of CPS decision-making differ by ethnicity. However, the research did not identify the reasons for this, so the CPS has proactively commissioned further work to explore the impact of other contributing factors, to address this important issue.

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, as the Minister knows, told me from the Dispatch Box that

“race plays no part in individual charging decisions”.”.—[Official Report, 19/10/23; col. 295.]

However, the Crown Prosecution Service itself, as has just been said, in its report last year,

“found evidence of disproportionality in relation to ethnicity in the outcomes of our decision-making”,

and that,

“ethnic minority defendants are significantly more likely to be charged for a comparable offence than White British defendants”.

Can the Minister explain why?

My Lords, as we all know, individuals commit crimes, and it is up to us to ensure that they are treated fairly and equally. The Lammy Review, published in 2017, found no issues with the outcomes of CPS charging decisions. Given the level of ethnic disparity across the CJS and the fact that the Lammy Review was undertaken some time ago, the CPS commissioned further independent academic research. The findings of this research, while challenging for the CPS, are an important step in ensuring that the CJS is fair and functioning for all sections of society. I am pleased that further work is being undertaken to provide a deeper understanding of this issue and to find solutions as to how best the system can address it. That work will help to identify any issue with processes, and we expect it to be completed in the last part of 2024.

My Lords, the disparity and bias that we know about is not new. The MoJ and the Crown Prosecution Service have extensive data. This question has come up time and again. There have been reviews and there has been research. I find it very disappointing for the Minister to say that we do not why this is still happening. We know that black defendants spend an average of 70% longer in prison awaiting trial and sentencing than their white counterparts—the Government’s own data shows this—and we know that black and Asian people in prison are more likely to be serving longer sentences than other groups. Do not these shocking figures really lay bare how racism and injustice is hardwired into the criminal justice system? While sentencing and remand decisions are made by independent judiciary, the Government have a responsibility to tackle this. What is being done to end these disparities?

My Lords, I do not accept the noble Baroness’s comments that individuals are necessarily being treated differently. However, the research did find an issue, and the CPS is taking several steps to ensure that this work is both credible and robust, including development of an independent disproportionality advisory group that will provide independent scrutiny of its internal research regarding disproportionality to provide confidence that the work is suitably focused, rigorous and transparent.

My Lords, in June 2020 the CPS launched its digital 2025 strategy, which includes how it is going to embrace new technology, including AI. Given that there are many concerns about data bias and algorithm bias in artificial intelligence, what conversations has my noble friend’s department had with the CPS about ensuring that this will not introduce more bias into the system?

My Lords, the CPS itself demonstrates a remarkable ethnically diverse workforce. While that does not answer my noble friend’s question precisely, this is an organisation that shows that it has an ethnic-minority background of 23%, well above the 15.4% for the Civil Service and the 19.3% for the working-age population. I will try to respond to my noble friend in writing on his specific point.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that my liking for “The Godfather” movies makes me no more or less likely to be a member of the mafia? If I am right about that, why are young black British men being prosecuted for serious violent offences in reliance of evidence of their liking for rap and drill music?

My Lords, we do not accept that they are more likely to be prosecuted. The point is that we have identified that ethnic minorities are overrepresented in the criminal justice system, and we are researching to find out exactly why that is the case. The raw data suggests that they are being charged more aggressively than the white majority, but we do not understand the factors behind that. The review that we have commissioned will report later this year on exactly what factors we can identify.

My Lords, I hold responsibility in the Bishops’ prison team for children in the youth justice system, so my question arises not only from access to what I find to be quite disturbing data but also from direct contact with children in the justice system. What steps are His Majesty’s Government taking to eliminate racial bias, including in charging, against Gypsy, Roma and Traveller children in the youth justice system, who are often hidden within official statistics?

My Lords, the Government are committed to tackling all sorts of racism and discrimination in society. The Government have a robust legislative framework to protect all individuals against unlawful discrimination. Our Inclusive Britain strategy, published in March 2022, set out a ground-breaking action plan to tackle negative disparities, promote unity and build a fairer Britain for all. The strategy includes 74 bold actions to improve outcomes for ethnic minority groups across education, health, employment and criminal justice.

My Lords, the Lammy Review was very clear. It said, first, that young men from ethnic minorities—particularly black young men—are more likely to be charged more aggressively, as the noble Lord has just accepted; they are more likely to plead not guilty, which means that they do not get the discount for pleading guilty because they do not trust the system; and they are more likely to be sentenced more harshly when the sentencing actually happens. Will the Government undertake to implement all the recommendations of the Lammy Review?

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for his question. As I said yesterday at the Dispatch Box, I am not going to make undertakings, but we take these conclusions very seriously and will act on them to achieve the best possible outcomes.

My Lords, three times when presented with evidence of how individuals are being treated differently based on race in the criminal justice system, the Minister has said that individuals are not treated differently based on race. Can he furnish the House with the evidence base that allows him to say that with such certainty?

My Lords, while we accept that the research from the University of Leeds, which covered 195,000 cases between January 2018 and December 2021, found that white British suspects had the lowest charge rate of 69.9%, and mixed-heritage suspects had a charge rate of between 77.3% and 81.3%, the statistics are alarming, which is why the CPS has responded by conducting this independent review on a timescale which I hope will please the House, reporting by the end of 2024.

My Lords, given the age profile of those who come up against the criminal justice system, would it not be wise to cross-reference with research that has been undertaken on school exclusions, which show a considerable reaction to authority from certain ethnic-minority boys in particular and a lack of training on how to deal with and understand that reaction?

My Lords, the purpose of the additional review being conducted by the CPS is to identify all other factors that could be at play in delivering this data. Once we have the results of that at the end of this year, we will be able to come to firmer conclusions.

My Lords, forgive me: I was not clear enough in the phrasing of my earlier question. Young black men are being charged partly on the basis of evidence that they are listening to rap and drill music. This kind of cultural bias is being used in our criminal courts for very serious prosecutions. Is that right? Is that a practice that the Minister and His Majesty’s Government agree with?

I am grateful for the initial question. Of course, the Government do not agree with that. We have indeed provided guidance. The CPS is mindful that labels such as “gang” can lead to discrimination by racially stereotyping defendants. That is why prosecution guidance on gang-related offending is clear that prosecutors should not refer to gangs unless there is clear evidence to support the assertion. The CPS will make further improvements to its guidance, including on gangs, this year.

Jewish Community in London: Safety


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what further measures they plan to take to enhance the safety of London’s Jewish community.

My Lords, the Government are steadfast in their commitment to protecting our Jewish communities, which is why we have committed further funding of £72 million for the Jewish community protective security grant to continue the vital work done in protecting Jewish communities until 2028. The JCPS grant is managed by the Community Security Trust, which I had the privilege of visiting a couple of weeks ago and which provides protective security measures at Jewish schools, colleges, nurseries and some other Jewish community sites, as well as a number of synagogues.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the police have a very challenging task to allow peaceful marches, to protect the rights of local people who are observing the march and to arrest those who are blatantly breaking the law—and that they normally they get this right? I ask the Minister to reflect on the Gideon Falter case and just to further reflect on whether, if the person in question had been a hijab-wearing Muslim woman observing a pro-Israeli march, or, for that matter, a Catholic priest, they would have been accused of provocation and threatened with arrest? I suggest that, if that had happened, there would have been massive outrage and the police officers in question would have been dismissed. So all we are really asking for is that everyone should be treated fairly and equally.

I agree with my noble friend that the police have a hugely difficult job, but obviously a police officer telling a person that being openly Jewish is provocative is clearly very wrong. I will not speculate as to what might have happened in the case of other individuals. We should welcome the Met Police’s apology. The Prime Minister recently made it clear to police forces that it is the public’s expectation that they will not merely manage protests but police them and, of course, do so proportionately. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary met with Sir Mark Rowley and the Assistant Commissioner Matt Twist earlier this week, and put it very well:

“Jewish people will always have the right to be able to go about their daily lives safely and freely, in London and across the UK”.

The Home Secretary continued:

“Sir Mark has reassured me he will make this clear to all sections of the community as a matter of urgency. The Met’s focus now is rightly on reassurance, learning from what happened, and ensuring that Jewish people are safe and feel safe in London”.

I think we should all support it in that critical endeavour.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that it would enhance the image and security of the wonderful Jewish people if the Jewish people in this country were to issue a strong statement dissociating themselves from the policies of the Netanyahu Government and the atrocities that have been committed on the people of Gaza, who are also human? Instead of that, the Board of Deputies has unfortunately sent a delegation to Tel Aviv showing solidarity with the Netanyahu Government, whose atrocities include the destroying of hospitals and the firing on aid convoys, killing even British people.

Perhaps I can. British Jews are no more responsible for the actions of the State of Israel than I am.

To return to the question, it is clear that this incident was deeply regrettable; that language about being “openly Jewish” was wrong and I am glad that the Met Police has apologised for it and will take the opportunity to reflect and ensure that all Londoners can have confidence in it and everyone can feel safe in their city. I will not try to second-guess policing decisions and I would not expect the Minister to do so, but I am sure that discussions are ongoing around these issues in government. I noticed that this Question was originally down to be answered by the Minister for Faith. Can the Minister tell the House whether the Minister for Faith is being drawn into these discussions so they are not simply seen as a policing or security matter?

My Lords, we have to consider all the various aspects of policing in the round. The noble Baroness is quite right; public order policing is very complex and obviously very challenging, but it remains incumbent on Sir Mark and of course the mayor as well to ensure that London remains a safe and welcoming city. As I said in an earlier answer, I believe that the force’s focus ought to be on proportionate policing, making sure that it is done properly and fairly, and obviously we will continue to back forces in that, using all aspects of government.

My Lords, just to follow up on the noble Baroness’s point about drawing in other issues, not just leaving it to policing, the question is about enhancing the safety of our Jewish community. What more can we do to enhance it? Once it gets to policing, we know that it is in a bad place. How can we stop it getting to that point and enhance the safety of our Jewish communities right across the United Kingdom?

I think I answered that in my initial remarks, in which I mentioned the funding that has been increased for the Community Security Trust to administer in the JCPS. Just to go back to the Community Security Trust—I declare an interest as I was at the dinner where the Prime Minister announced the additional funding and I donated some money to it—the fact is that it has an enormous network, which I know is incredibly sophisticated, having seen it in operation, the police work incredibly closely with it, and it does a fantastic job. I very much praise it for all the work that it does.

My Lords, from a slightly different angle, the additional funding from the Government mentioned by the Minister is extremely welcome, but it is not assuaging the additional insecurity felt by the Jewish community after 7 October. A recent survey found that 50% of British Jews are currently considering leaving the United Kingdom. This would spell disaster for Britain, which desperately needs their talent and creativity and the diversity that they bring to British life. We as politicians have an important role to play here, and we must be extremely careful about what we say and do, which could inflame tensions and increase divisions that are growing and are already way too wide.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Government for their commitment to protect the Jewish community, and I ask my noble friend whether he will join me in paying tribute, as I am sure he will, to the CST, which is trying to keep Jews safe. I declare my interest as a British Jew and to my other interests in the register. While there are weekly marches calling for “globalising the intifada” and eradication of the only Jewish state, when Jews are pelted with bricks and beaten with bars, and children are threatened on the way to school and university students threatened on campus, I feel that it would be most appreciated if the Government would look carefully at banning more of organisations such as Palestine Action, which has come to light, and other groups which seem to want to target the Jewish community directly, when we have no responsibility for the actions of an overseas Government.

My noble friend makes some good points. Of course, as has been often stated from the Dispatch Box, the Government do not comment on ongoing matters of possible proscription. The police can of course impose conditions on protests where they believe the protest may result in a variety of civil offences, serious disorder, damage to property and so on and so forth, but the ability to actually ban protests is a complex one under the Public Order Act. Of course, I agree with my noble friend, but it is incumbent on all citizens to reassure the Jews, who are feeling so under pressure.

My Lords, I am sure that noble Lords have been following the events at Columbia University and the encampment there, where there have been some pretty horrific scenes of students screaming rather maniacally to exclude “genocidal Zios”, and using other very offensive and anti-Semitic slogans, and so on. It has just completely got out of hand. The global student movement is coming to the UK: “From Gaza to Columbia to London” is the slogan, and it starts at UCL at 1 pm on Friday 26 April. I am not saying that as an advert, and I am not particularly worried about people protesting or about their interpretive dance against colonisation that they are bringing over. However, I am worried about anti-Semitism on London and other British campuses. Safety is not just a policing question. Can the Minister assure us that guard is being taken against what is happening on campuses, where the levels of anti-Semitism are now routine and normalised?

My noble friend from the Department for Education assures me that there is protection on British campuses. However, I also acknowledge the points that the noble Baroness made and share her concerns; these trends are very disturbing.

My Lords, can the Minister comment on the take-up of grants for the protection of religious premises from attacks? Is he aware of some of the concerns that the processes that his department requires from faith communities are extremely complicated for often quite small sums of money?

I am afraid that I do not have any statistics to hand on that. But, again, the money that we were talking about making available in my initial Answer is administered by the Community Security Trust; there is no application process to access that pool of funds.

Transport System: Failings

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of the case for a coherent plan to address the failings of the transport system.

My Lords, the wording of the Motion before your Lordships’ House calls for greater coherence for Britain’s transport system. I hope that, while debating this important matter, we can agree on both sides of the House that coherence is the one thing that is lacking. Indeed, the current Government made a virtue of a lack of coherence with their transport policy. I will come to the divisions within the rail and bus industry in a moment or two, but we lack an overall transport policy in this country and have done for many years. In so far as our major transport sectors are concerned—bus and rail—it is the British people who have suffered, particularly the passengers on both modes of transport.

The failings of our railway network are many and manifold. Since privatisation in 1994, fares for passengers on our railway system have increased by around 20% in real terms; that is not what we were promised when the privatisation Bill went through both Houses of Parliament. We were told that the thrusting private enterprise system being introduced would not just increase competition between railway companies but bring lower fares to its passengers. The result, of course, has been exactly the opposite. We have seen a failure in reliability since privatisation. I have no wish to bore your Lordships with stories of my time on British Rail, but the cancellation of a passenger train in my days in an operating role was virtually unheard of. Because it was an integrated system, we could generally find locomotives, drivers and train crew that could be moved from one role to another in the event of any hiatus within the timetabling system. That does not happen now; because of privatisation, drivers for one company often cannot drive the locomotives of another company; train crews who do not know the route from A to B cannot step in when short-term cancellations take place. Again, this is not what we were promised at the time of privatisation, but it is the reality that we have today.

I read this morning that something like a thousand trains a day on the railway system are cancelled. No other railway system in the developed world has to face such a nonsense on a daily basis. We will be assured by the Minister that everything is in hand and the railways will continue to improve in future, but it is just not true. Another aspect of this is the collapse of morale among those who work in the railway industry. I use Birmingham International station on a regular basis to travel to and from London. The staff there tell me that on some days they hide from the public because they are so ashamed of the product that they have to put in front of them. They also say that, by and large, information is not transported down the line—no pun intended—to those at the front end so that they can pass it on to passengers; they are as unaware as the rest of us of when things go wrong and how they can be put right. This leads, as I have indicated, to a collapse in morale—and in industrial relations generally.

This Government appear to need to find an enemy rather than deal with any problems. The latest enemy, as far as the railway industry is concerned, is ASLEF, the drivers’ union: no negotiations have taken place between the train operating companies and the representatives of ASLEF for over a year. All the Government can say is, “But they earn £60,000 a year”. Well, I do not object to train drivers earning £60,000 a year; it is about an afternoon’s work for a hedge fund operative—whatever they actually do. Someone in a responsible position such as a train driver should be properly paid, and train drivers and their representatives ought to be consulted about not just wages but the aims of the railway industry. We all know that the train operating companies take their orders from His Majesty’s Government in this supposedly privatised world, so they have their hands tied and cannot freely enter negotiations with ASLEF and the other railway trade unions.

We were promised when privatisation took place that there would be an upsurge in new rolling stock and new locomotives for the railway industry. Yet we have just rescued Litchurch Lane in Derby by a last-minute order for trains, to keep something like 1,500 skilled personnel in work there and thousands of other people in the supply chain. Hitachi recently opened, with some fanfare, a factory in the north-east, but that now faces closure because of the dearth of orders for the railway industry, and this has been partly brought about by the nonsense of HS2. I do not wish to rehearse the whole business again in front of your Lordships, but no other country could put forward proposals for a high-speed railway and then keep cutting them back. Only the current Prime Minister could go to Manchester to a Conservative Party conference to tell it that the high-speed line between Birmingham and Manchester is cancelled and expect a standing ovation for doing so. That truncated high-speed route will not just directly impact passengers. Without getting too bogged down again in the details of what is left of HS2, I point out that to travel from Handsacre Junction to Old Oak Common is not quite what was envisaged at the time the proposals for this high-speed railway were put forward. The rump of it has been summed up as a railway starting somewhere that no one has ever heard of, to end up somewhere no one wants to go. Only the present Government could devise a high-speed railway that would make journeys between, for example, Manchester and London no faster and, in some cases, slower than the existing line. The need for a proper strategy for the railway industry is pretty obvious.

I turn also to the bus industry. Those of us who take an interest in these matters were intrigued some years ago to see the Prime Minister at the time, somebody called Boris Johnson—I wonder what happened to him—announce with great fanfare a scheme called Bus Back Better. He was a great man for gimmicks, but what has been the reality of Bus Back Better since its inception? The answer is that bus services throughout the country have been decimated, and many towns and cities that formerly had a proper bus service no longer have such a thing.

At the time of bus privatisation—I was a Member of the other place then—Nicholas Ridley made a virtue of the thrusting competition that would result from the 1984 privatisation Act. Yet towns and cities in this country have seen not only their bus fares increase, in real terms, by around 15% to 20% but their bus services decimated. There is a whole list of casualties of bus services, which have been reduced in previous years, including in cities such as Bath. Everybody talks about Birmingham, of course, and that the near bankruptcy in Birmingham is all the Labour Party’s fault. I do not think that Bath is particularly regarded as a left-wing bastion, yet bus services there have reduced by about 70% since privatisation. The fact is that local authorities, having been starved of funds, have no finance to subsidise essential bus services, and even the commercial routes in many of our cities up and down the country have been cut back because of financial problems.

Bus Back Better has turned out to be “bus back a lot worse” over the last couple of years. I would be interested to hear from the Minister what the Government propose, other than postponing all the decisions until after the next general election, when they will not be affected anyway, as far as bus services are concerned.

Lastly, I will talk for a moment or two about the road network, important though it is. Again, in theory we have a £20 billion-odd road programme in this country, yet driving around our major towns and cities is an object lesson in pothole avoidance. I was driven into the centre of Birmingham the other day to a hospital. I have a bad hand so I cannot drive; I was going on to the railway station, so I do not want to be accused of failing to use public transport. It was fascinating to watch how the regular drivers and commuters weaved their way through all the potholes at major junctions. Are we serious? We supposedly have a £24 billion or £25 billion road-building programme, yet we cannot fill potholes in our towns and cities. The Government will again blame wasteful local authorities, but they have cut back the resources for local authorities for many years. How are local authorities supposed to provide not only the essential statutory services but the upkeep of the infrastructure in the areas they represent?

The lack of a transport strategy is not the only disaster. There is also the attitude of the Treasury towards any major project. All the Treasury ever sees is the cost; benefits never ever occur to it. The fact is that investment in our road, railway and transport system brings a return far in excess of the initial cost, in most cases, but, short-termism being the curse of Britain over the years, the fact is that many of the projects that need to be completed are put aside, HS2 being only one example.

The lack of enthusiasm, strategy and planning as far as our transport system is concerned makes this country the laughing stock of the western world. The fact is, we need proper long-term planning for many of these major infrastructure projects, both road and rail. I leave the last word to the Institution of Civil Engineers, which makes exactly that same point: that short-termism has bedevilled British infrastructure projects for years, and that when things go wrong the Treasury all to soon says, “We can save billions of pounds by cancelling a specific project”. The nation has been the great loser in this lack of any sort of transport strategy over the years, and I hope that, during the course of the debate, I can take noble Lords on both sides along with me when I say that it is the nation that has been the loser. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to participate in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on securing it. Despite the somewhat dismal litany we have heard from him, many of us will recognise the challenges and the points he made. I also congratulate him on the fact that, based on the Labour Party’s announcement of a new transport policy today, which is all over the newspapers, he is obviously still pulling the levers of power in the party.

I declare my interests as set out in the register. It is a truism that an effective transport system is a central part of an industrial strategy and a driver for growth. It allows towns and cities to have ready access to skills and it opens up the possibility of development. It allows the movement of freight effectively and contributes to individual travel and leisure. Properly managed, it should also contribute to net zero and a healthier environment, as well as providing a means of levelling up. That list of desiderata shows how vital an effective transport strategy is. The list also provides criteria for judging how effective the Government have been in delivery. I look forward to hearing from my noble friend the Minister in this regard.

The Institution of Civil Engineers, which the noble Lord has just referred to—I thank it for its helpful briefing—points out that uncertainty is a problem. The delays and the cancellation of a large part of HS2 are a graphic example of that. I was a strong supporter of HS2. Key large-scale infrastructure projects are generally, if not universally, to be encouraged. I do not believe, for example, that there are hordes of people who would reverse the Channel Tunnel project now. Also, a glance at the position in other countries is a valuable exercise and a demonstration of major infrastructure’s success in being a driver for growth, be it France, Japan, Germany or elsewhere.

Fragmentation of responsibility is another key problem that has probably bedevilled successive Governments. Investment in England’s railways and roads is determined on a different cycle by central government. The centre is also responsible for capital for local roads, bus support and a range of smaller funding pots. Then, of course, there is the new array of metro mayors and combined authorities with various transport responsibilities. I pause there to congratulate the Government on metro mayors and combined authorities. It is the right policy and is leading to innovation and acting as a driver for growth. My point is that it is one additional layer that has to be brought in as part of the overarching, powerful national strategy. The same is true of the national policies in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland, which present another part of the national UK strategy that has to be adopted. I will be keen to hear what my noble friend the Minister has to say on this.

As I hope we can all agree, we need to speed up national planning decisions. Again, it could act as a driver of a true national transport policy. We need to sharpen our focus on net zero with a push for the use of trams, buses and trains in and between urban areas. This is not, of course, a war on the motorist, but it is a recognition that effective public transport deserves consistent support through funding and policy levers. In this regard, and I declare my interest as a regular rail user—I know my noble friend the Minister is too—the system is creaking badly, as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, has said. We see it every day and it is harming our economy.

I wonder whether I may digress slightly from infrastructure policy to the damaging industrial relations position on Network Rail. I have informed my noble friend the Minister that I would raise this. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, also touched on it. This has gone on for far too long. I wonder what the Government are doing to promote a lasting settlement. Strikes and industrial action not only cause harm to individual journeys and travellers but damage the economy as a whole.

I will share a personal example. I chair a charity—International Students House in London—and every time there is a strike, a plethora of commercial bookings for that charity is cancelled for strike days. This causes dismay and individual disappointment but, above all, it damages the economy of the charity. It is an illustration of what is happening across the nation, with hundreds of thousands of examples up and down the country.

In the time available, I also make a plea for a lasting cap on bus fares. I approve of the cap, which is due to run out in November this year, but what is happening after that? This is another example of the uncertainty in the system. We need to know on a much broader basis what is going to be happening and to know about funding for buses up and down the country.

I know that much rests on my noble friend’s shoulders and that he is well aware of the problems and doing what he can to help. We really need some certainty, an end to the fragmentation and speedier planning. Certainly, looking at the position in rail should be the number one priority for the department but there is also the national bus system and how we can do something on fares. I look forward to listening to my noble friend’s response at the end of the debate.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on securing this debate. Over the years there has been no better advocate for the railway than him in your Lordships’ House and in the House of Commons before that. He features significantly in the three books on railways and politics that I co-authored.

I remind the House of my railway interests as declared in the register. I chair the Great Western Railway stakeholder advisory board and the North Cotswold Line Task Force and am president of the Heritage Railway Association. I apologise to the House for not declaring the HRA interest when I asked a question in the Chamber yesterday about coal supplies for steam railways.

For nearly 20 years from the mid-1970s onwards, I was an adviser to the British Railways Board. This was the last time the industry benefited from the influence of a guiding mind and from the energy and enthusiasm of its chairman, Sir Peter Parker, and his immediate successor, Sir Robert Reid. It was their misfortune—and the country’s—that this coincided with a period of managed decline and retrenchment on the railway, as transport policy placed far too heavy a reliance on car usage and road haulage.

One of the consequences of that mindset was the decision to reduce the size of the network and take out capacity. With the demand for rail travel having grown so markedly over the past two decades, much effort and huge expense have had to be incurred in the limited programme of station and line reopenings. So much more could have been achieved had many of those closures not happened.

We are now about to embark on another seismic reorganisation and have to get it right. The Government are not short of advice on what needs to be done, and I particularly commend the Manifesto for Rail published by the lobby group Rail Partners. It says:

“Whoever is in office after the next general election needs to take decisions to ensure the industry has the ability to attract passengers back to restore hundreds of millions of pounds in lost revenue, drive modal shift for goods against more polluting modes, and ultimately set up the railway for sustainable success. The public is not that interested in how our railways are structured or organised, they just want to have trains that run on time, that are not disrupted by strikes, and fares that offer them the best value for their journey”.

It is crucial that, with a general election coming so soon and—I think most Members of your Lordships’ House would agree—a change of administration very much on the cards, every effort is made now to achieve a cross-party consensus on what needs to be done. To his credit, I believe that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Gower, gets this, as does the Minister for Rail in the other place, Huw Merriman. I very much appreciate the invitation the two Ministers sent to Members of your Lordships’ House to attend the briefing on the draft Bill on 19 March. The noble Lord, Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill, played a prominent part in that, and I am pleased to see him in his place today. The briefing was also given by members of the Great British Railways transition team.

The overriding priority is to pass rail reform legislation, establish Great British Railways as soon as possible and get on with improving the railways by stimulating demand and reducing cost. The Bill contains some helpful measures in this regard, notably the creation of an integrated rail body, the IRB. In legal terms, the body combines the DfT’s role as franchising authority and takes over the role of infrastructure manager undertaken by Network Rail. The IRB will be held to account on how it delivers rail services and be accountable for the whole system, including passenger revenue and a freight growth target. It is potentially good news for passengers and freight users and could simplify the railway, making it cheaper to run.

The Bill gets decisions away from a remote, non-operational Whitehall department and provides the opportunity to join up the railway closer to the people who use it. The new IRB model should help tackle high costs and project delays. One of our railways’ greatest challenges is the way UK capital projects regularly come in at a much higher cost than those in other countries. Stop-start investment and changing government plans result in project managers overspecifying schemes and suppliers putting in high cost estimates to cover the risk of uncertainty. The cost of electrification schemes is a particular example, and has proved to be the death knell of extending the benefits of HS2 to the north of England and Scotland.

A prerequisite for the IRB’s success is to take revenue risk away from the Treasury and cost control from the DfT. The new body needs to be judged solely on the net subsidy and public investment cost. Rail usage has broadly doubled since privatisation, resulting in a much more congested network, and it is important that we have proper trade-offs on its future usage and meet that demand.

It is evident from the statements made by the Prime Minister and No. 10 that railways are now seen as a problem rather than an opportunity and that tactical policy is now strictly controlled by the Treasury rather than the DfT, with minimising costs being the primary objective. Yet rail is essential if we are to meet the carbon reduction targets required in the transport sector. While electric cars may help, no such solution is available for aviation or heavy haulage, which will be dependent on fossil fuels for the foreseeable future. Rail passenger services that offer times competitive with air are essential to reduce the need for internal and short-haul European flights. The same is true for container trains between the ports and inland distribution centres. Not only is rail now cheaper for many of these flows but customers are increasingly demanding environmentally sustainable rail solutions to reduce their carbon footprint.

I will finish with the concluding sentence from Signals Passed at Danger, my third book on railways, published last year:

“The railways’ capabilities are manifest when the management of the railways is restored to those competent to operate them, with a clear strategy and funding agreed to deliver the outputs of that strategy”.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, and I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on securing this timely debate on the failing transport system. We are normally limited to 30 seconds of quick-fire questions to the Minister, which are batted back. We need to give the new Minister time to understand the problems that the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, had. Now that she skips around the House of Lords without the responsibility of answering for Avanti, she looks about five years younger.

I think we would all agree that the UK’s long-term economic, environmental and social objectives are not being realised at the pace required, and transport has a key role to play in meeting those strategic objectives. It

“enables productivity and economic growth as well as quality of life and social well-being”—

not my words but those of the Institution of Civil Engineers.

Mind you, as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, said, there are many forms of transport, and the roads are not much better. There are smart motorways with cameras not working and no safety lanes. If you are on a smart motorway and you break down, you wonder whether your life is literally in your hands. It is unacceptable. There are prolonged lane closures and endless repairs due to budget cuts. There are speed restrictions and, in Greater Manchester, bad design. The M60, the orbital motorway that runs around it, floods around Denton in heavy rain. If there is a motorway that floods, somebody needs to think about that.

There are bus services, again mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Snape. Greater Manchester has dealt with that problem now. That is the beauty of elected mayors: collective responsibility for local people making local decisions. They have taken the buses back into local ownership. Those bus routes will now reflect the routes that they need to run on, at a price that people can afford. They will give a better service and will be integrated with other services. In Greater Manchester, we are now working to try to integrate them with the taxis and trains, trying to get something like an Oyster card going.

As I travel down to London daily on the two-hour grind—well, two hours on a good day, normally two hours 20 minutes upwards—I listen to podcasts. The last one I heard was from Transport for the North, which is chaired by the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, who is in his place today. They had Andy Mellors, the MD of Avanti, on. It is worth a listen. Mayor Burnham, and Mayor Rotheram from Liverpool, were questioning Andy about tickets sold for a Saturday service. They were asking him, “When are your trains cancelled for a Saturday service?” He said, “We cancel those trains on Friday afternoon”. They said, “When do you stop selling tickets for those trains on Saturday?” He said, “At 2 pm on the Saturday afternoon”. So Avanti was selling tickets for a train that was never going to run.

That particular Saturday, Chelsea Football Club—which I have no love for—was in Manchester to play a football match. There were hundreds and hundreds of supporters trapped in Manchester; you could not get back to London. Following that meeting, they asked the Minister to remove the franchise immediately. It is very funny: I think that that meeting was on Tuesday or Wednesday, and on Friday ASLEF was called in, and—surprise, surprise—£600 a shift was offered to ASLEF drivers to work weekends, which they gratefully accepted without any negotiation. That has made it a bit easier.

But trains are being cancelled. I got the 8.04 this morning; the next train and the one after that were cancelled. Had I not made the 8.04, I would not be stood here this afternoon speaking in this debate. I have heard today of Labour’s plans to run down the contracts of failing companies over five years, but I have to say that that will only add to the misery of thousands of travellers. I will try to explain why.

Avanti trains have three types of travel—actually, they have four. They have standard class, upper premium and first class. They also have another class: sitting on the floor from London to Manchester, which happens very often when trains have been cancelled and they declassify and allow complete overcrowding on them. I have photographs of me sat there. People who know me find it highly amusing to take pictures of me, sat on the floor, demanding I do something about it—which, unfortunately, I do not have the power to do.

If you go in standard class, you buy your ticket and sit down, and then the messages begin to come: “Today, we are not taking cash. Today, we are not taking card. Today, the coffee machine is not working. Today, the toilets are not working”. It goes on and on. These are new trains. You go to upper premium, which is a standard class ticket that you can buy in advance, pay £25 and sit in a first-class seat with a table and wifi. Unfortunately, in the last pay round, they put an extra £5 on that. It is now £30 to sit in the same seat you sat in last week, with no additional benefits. First class is apparently even better: “Chef’s not turned up today. No service. Food has not been delivered today. No service. Water leak in the kitchen. No service”. It is just unacceptable all around.

I wrote down a point about staff morale and the noble Lord, Lord Snape, has done it. I know that train operators do their best, but they do not: if you talk to train managers who have been there for 20 or 25 years, they will tell you that they are absolutely terrified of turning up for work. They have no idea whether the stock will be there and the kit will work, and they take abuse from the public, day in, day out. That is absolutely unacceptable. They do a great job and should be supported more. Just to say that the contracts can run down is an abrogation: thousands of people go up and down every day and they deserve a better service.

Finally, Trooping the Colour is this year, on 15 June. I know lots of people who have tickets and are going to it. Unfortunately, on that Saturday, there are no direct trains to London from Manchester: you can go via Wolverhampton or have a double diversion at Crewe. It is absolutely incomprehensible that this company can keep the contract. I hope the Minister will keep the pressure on—because I know, as we say up north, that he gets it—and does something to accelerate the removal of this contract or demands immediate improvements with huge penalties if that does not happen.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for calling this debate. I shall return to his comments later. My contribution had to be urgently amended late last night, following the more than excellent news that a Labour Government would grasp the nettle and take rail back into public ownership. Whereas I had originally intended to canter around the course on wider issues of public transport, I now intend to confine my remarks to the excesses of private rail and, in particular, its ticket pricing structure under privatised arrangements.

The rising cost of travel following privatisation illustrates perfectly the distinction in priorities between the public and private sectors. Whereas the driver behind public service operations is serving the public interest, the driver behind private sector operations has to be service, but compromised by profit. The water industry provides us with a classic example, particularly in London and the south-east. I am not ideologically opposed to privatisation: I am opposed to privatisation in conditions of monopoly. Monopolies invariably and inevitably abuse their position, whether through restriction of supply or sectoral excess profit taking. This is what has happened under rail privatisation. The idea that you have real competition on the railways, justified on the basis of competing franchises, is for the birds. It is a myth. The reality is that rail franchising under privatisation has saddled us with a string of monopoly providers. That is the case on much of the national network.

For example, if you bring up National Rail Enquiries on 03457 484 950 and ask for a return ticket from Carlisle to London—I see my noble friend there on the Front Bench, who will be regularly buying these tickets—you receive the monopoly price. I was told this morning that there is one contractor, Avanti West Coast, and I give an example. A traveller ringing up to purchase that Carlisle to London standard anytime open return ticket will pay £392. It is grossly overpriced. It is designed in such a way as to catch the traveller going about his or her business and requiring early attendance at their destination. It is excessive, unreasonable and exploitative.

How about this one? A traveller travelling first class on the same train, on a similar Carlisle to London open return, will pay—listen—£538. I ask colleagues to compare that with the return fare from London to Beijing, in the People’s Republic of China, which is available today on the internet from British Airways at £382. Similar ticket prices were available from China Airlines and Lufthansa. So it costs the same to travel standard class—second class in the old days—from London to Carlisle and back as to fly from London to Beijing, in China, and back. What a nonsense.

The response of the wider is public is perfectly understandable: drive by car, add to air pollution, add to and put up with congestion on the motorway system, even risking the potholes that characterise much of our motorway network, and then go on to further increase congestion in London when you arrive. That is the legacy of privatisation: ignore the public interest and put profit before people.

Of course, the rail companies respond with the mantra: “pre-book”, “pre-book”. My main complaint in today’s debate is that it is hugely inconvenient for many in the world of work to pre-book, where travel is essential, often at short notice. Business, wider industry and professionals need to rely on sensible input costs if they are to remain competitive. They do not necessarily need subsidy but equally they need to avoid exploitative costs if the need is to remain competitive. The whole system of same-day ticket pricing is in urgent need of reform, and I am confident that a Labour Government will address that problem.

My case is simple. Public utilities are there to support the wider economy. Their pricing structures should reflect the public interest, not the pursuit of speculative profits. Labour has to sort this out. That is at the heart of yesterday’s announcements, which I hugely welcome.

Before closing, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape, an old friend of mine, on bringing this debate. He lives in the real world. Like me, he rejects a world where the “profit at any cost” approach to the provision of public services trumps the wider public interest.

My Lords, I too commend the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for initiating this timely debate, from which I suspect a fair amount of consensus will emerge, at least about what is wrong.

In the noughties, I worked as Tony Blair’s strategy adviser, and among my tasks was to lead a study by officials of the UK’s transport system—road and rail. It was a sorry, chastening experience. We identified that the UK had, by a country mile, the least developed road and rail network of any major country. The core reason for this was that, for the previous 50 years or more, the UK had invested—under both main parties—a lower share of GDP than other major countries. At the first sign of economic reverse—it happened time and again—capital spend was cut in favour of current spend. Frankly, the Treasury appeared not at all to value the payback that comes over time from investing in more efficient transportation. Germany’s GDP per hour worked is 23% greater than the UK’s; France’s is 17% greater. Of course, their superior performance is not all down to their superior infrastructure, but it surely helps.

Tony Blair gave an in-principle go-ahead to a high-speed rail network linking Liverpool, Manchester and Leeds to London. The noble Lord, Lord Adonis, picked up the baton. It is nationally shaming that, 20 years later, no part of that vision is operating, and that, ridiculously, after multiple revisions, only the Birmingham to London section of HSR is now under construction.

At the time of Tony Blair’s go-ahead, China had no high-speed rail network at all. Now, incredibly—it is very hard to believe this figure—China has more than 40,000 kilometres of HSR in operation. As we meet today, the UK has 113 kilometres of high-speed rail. A World Bank study identifies how China has achieved this remarkable transformation: a well-analysed long-term plan, standardised design and construction, and a competitive supply network, and all at two-thirds per kilometre of any other country. Since 1990, China, with a GDP per capita of around $12,000, has also built 130,000 kilometres of motorway.

The UK’s transport system is not remotely fit for purpose, as we have heard over and again in this debate. I visit the north regularly. Many industrial areas in and around the Pennines are criss-crossed by small, narrow roads—the legacy of earlier eras. These now carry commuter traffic, and at peak travel times are severely overloaded. Recently, I was trapped on the M62, not by an accident but by a gridlocked major junction. As a result, it took me just under three hours to travel the 16 miles from Leeds station to my hotel destination. Best practice would be to design motorways to carry long-distance traffic and for secondary road networks, as in other countries, speedily to convey regional and local traffic.

The train from Liverpool to Norwich, passing through and stopping at some of our great cities—Manchester, Sheffield, Nottingham and Peterborough—takes five and a half hours. If, rather than take the train from Liverpool to Norwich, you decided instead to fly from Liverpool to Sharm el-Sheikh, you would reach Sharm el-Sheikh more quickly than you would Norwich.

As in so many areas of our national life, we are now operating in slow motion as a country. We need to get a grip; we need massively to raise our game. In transport, we need to learn from the rest of the world and identify what kind of infrastructure is needed in a crowded country heading towards and beyond a population of 70 million. We need to accept that it will take 25 to 50 years to create, but we need to start now.

It gives me great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Birt, in this debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on the wording for his debate. He has hit the nail on the head, in saying that we have lots of incoherent plans and need a strategy, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, also said. I fully support this, and we have had some very interesting speeches so far.

I shall say a few words about rail, but this debate is about transport. We had a very interesting briefing from the Low Traffic Future alliance, which reminded us that transport is for moving people and goods. Net zero is important but we have big problems, such as the increased dependency on motorised traffic, poor public transport, poor walking and cycling conditions—certainly compared with the continent—and potholes. I actually came off my bike when I hit a pothole a week or two ago, and it was not very pleasant. We do not seem to be doing anything about that either. We are also out of balance in the benefits of transport between the different regions.

There is an argument for, after the next election, before rushing into legislation, thinking carefully about a national transport strategy. Everybody has been talking about strategies today and I will not go into the detail now. That could involve pausing road schemes and putting more investment into healthy and sustainable transport, and probably helping with changes to planning law. On the railways, it is interesting. We now have the two major parties coming forward with plans to reorganise the railway by legislation, putting the customers first, which is wonderful. I wonder whether actually we need legislation at this stage. How much of it can be done without legislation?

Noble Lords will remember the strategic rail authority, which took two years to be created and then, after a couple of years, two years to be removed. During those two years, very little happened and some of us got extremely frustrated that nothing was happening. I think it is worth looking at what can be done to put customers first with some quick wins. Many noble Lords have mentioned strikes. That is the first thing, and I trust that a new Labour Government will address that. I believe that many of the problems that I and noble Lords have spoken about this morning are down to bad management. I am not sure that it matters particularly whether the management is nationalised or private sector; the Rail Partners’ proposals are a pretty good mix of the two. The management, mainly from the Department for Transport, with a bit—I do not know whether it is support or not, and we can debate that—from the Treasury, has not organised at all well addressing many of the problems noble Lords have spoken about.

My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours and other noble Lords have talked about train fares, but most are set by the Government. The train operators have to implement them, adding a few of their own fares, such as savers. One of the ideas I shall be pursuing over the next few weeks is that train fares should go to the operator on whose train you are sitting. They do not at the moment, unless it is a saver fare. All other fares are divided: if there are two operators on a route, the fare is divided between the two. That removes all incentive for operators to do better. It is a serious issue. It could be done, as now, most people have their ticket checked electronically. It would mean that the train operator has an incentive to run the trains—as other noble Lords have said, that does not always happen—and to provide decent seating and catering, clean, on-time trains, a timetable that customers want and mitigation for customers when things go wrong. Whether the operator is in the private or public sector does not matter very much. It does not need legislation and it would not cost the Treasury a penny. There is now enough information on tickets for this to be taken forward. Train operators could quickly demonstrate how good they are, if they are, or how bad they are if they are not. That leaves the Department for Transport—until there is a change—to identify whether there should be any changes.

We are having an interesting debate on all this. I do not believe it is necessarily in everybody’s interest, including passengers, to hang around for a couple of years before any legislation gets through. A great deal of this can be done now. If the management in the past few years has been bad—it certainly has been pretty bad—that can be dealt with quickly. We should look at that, rather than saying let us do nothing for two years.

I congratulate my noble friend and I look forward to hearing what the Minister has got to say.

My Lords, Britain was once a great innovator in transport. It was the first of the European nations to create a modern transport network. In the late 18th century, John McAdam and Thomas Telford, known to his contemporaries as the Colossus of Roads, were at the forefront of an endeavour to construct a serviceable network of highways that expedited travel in an unprecedented way.

At the same time, a network of canals was under construction that enabled goods and freight to be conveyed over long distances. Then, from the middle of the 19th century, a vast network of railways was under construction. This was achieved by speculative private enterprise, which often resulted in private ruin. In Lewis Carroll’s poem, “The Hunting of the Snark”, we hear of threatening a person’s life with a railway share. The process was a free for all, and it endowed the nation with a network that was arguably full of replication and redundancy. It was fit for pruning. It was eventually reduced drastically and, in retrospect, far too extensively, in the 1960s under was aegis of a certain Dr Beeching. He was an engineer and physicist who had worked for Imperial Chemical Industries before he was charged with this task, which made him a prominent public figure.

By the middle of the 20th century Britain’s transport network had fallen into disrepair, and its roads were no longer to be admired. Britain lacked the autobahns, autostrada and routes nationales of its European neighbours, some of which had been inspired by dictators with militaristic intentions. Belatedly, in the 1960s Britain indulged in a feverish process of catch-up that created our own inadequate motorways.

Our rail system had also fallen into disrepair, and it still compares unfavourably with those of its continental neighbours. They have benefited from national investment programmes that have been absent from Britain. Worse was to come when the Conservative Government of John Major denationalised the railways and sought to re-establish the system of large railway companies that had dominated the industry in the 1930s, which was arguably its heyday.

Now, at the end of the first quarter of the 21st century, Britain’s transport network faces an unprecedented challenge on two fronts. The first challenge is to provide the means of transporting goods and people in a manner that will cater to the demands of the modern economy. The second challenge will be to staunch the emissions of the greenhouse gases to which transport is a major contributor. Current estimates indicate that transport contributes one quarter of all the nation’s domestic emissions. Most of these emissions come from road vehicles. The additional emissions of international transport are not part of this reckoning.

An inescapable judgment is that the present Government have failed adequately to meet these challenges. The denationalisation of British railways has resulted in a system that lacks the strategic oversight needed to maintain an orderly investment programme. The procurement of rolling stock has become disorganised and sporadic, and much of it is provided nowadays by foreign suppliers. The once great engineering works at Derby that served the London, Midland and Scottish Railway has passed into foreign ownership. It was acquired in 2001 by the Canadian company Bombardier and in 2021 it passed to the French company Alstom. Given the current hiatus in the procurement of new trains, it now seems to be destined for closure. Its demise represents a paradigm of national mismanagement and illustrates the danger of allowing our industries to become offshoots of foreign enterprises.

It must be acknowledged that rail transport contributes only a small proportion of the nation’s emissions of carbon dioxide and of greenhouse gasses more generally. However, there are two reasons why attention should be paid to the matter of its reform, and an incoming Labour Government would be committed to do that. First, there are numerous diesel-powered trains on the network that contribute significantly to pollution and need to be eliminated. Next, an expansion of the network would enable people and freight to be transferred from the roads. This would be an effective way of reducing emissions from road vehicles.

The modest size of the total emissions coming directly from the rail network is a testimony to its energy efficiency, and to the fact that much of the traffic is powered by electricity. There must be concern for how the electricity is generated, for it is not free of emissions. Nevertheless, further electrification should be seen as a means of eliminating diesel power. But Britain faces some difficulties in this connection that do not affect continental railways to the same extent. Many of the old bridges and tunnels have small apertures that prevent the installation of overhead electric cables. To overcome this difficulty, trains must be available that are powered by batteries and fuel cells. Here, there has been virtually no progress, for which there can be little excuse.

A major reduction in emissions must come from a major reduction in the number of road vehicles powered by internal combustion engines. There too, the steps taken so far have been wholly inadequate. The Government have backtracked on their original commitment by deferring a ban on the sales of such vehicles to 2035—five years later than originally proposed. The ban on sales of petrol-powered and diesel-powered vehicles should provide a stimulus to our automotive industry, which must adopt batteries and hydrogen fuel cells as a means of powering road vehicles. It will be an effective stimulus for the industry only if there is an accompanying development in the industries that provide batteries and fuel cells.

It is doubtful whether our automobile industry will be able to rise to the occasion. It is in the hands of foreign and international owners who see their British factories as offshoots of their main enterprises. They will be willing to close them and to move their operations elsewhere if this becomes a more profitable option. Manufacturers are liable to be drawn to places where a supply of batteries is closer to hand. The UK has failed to develop an industry that can manufacture batteries in the numbers required. There is only one manufacturer of batteries that operates on a large scale—a plant in Sunderland that supplies the Nissan car factory. It is run by the Chinese company Envision and is small in comparison with the genuine gigafactories that exist elsewhere in Europe and in China. The other automobile manufacturers in the UK rely on imported batteries. Unless we can develop our battery manufacturing, we will be in danger of losing the majority of our motor manufacturers.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on securing it. I declare my interests in the technology field as an adviser to Boston Ltd.

I will speak about accessibility and technology in transport. I begin with buses. In London we are incredibly fortunate with so many of our modes of transport—not least the accessibility of London buses, with their audio-visual output. In 2016 I was privileged to launch Manchester’s talking bus fleet. Other major cities have followed suit. We passed legislation to this effect a number of years ago. When the Minister comes to respond, will he say what this picture is looking like across the country? Is it still down to luck—where you happen to get on a bus—as to whether you can have that audio-visual information that so many of us require?

So-called floating bus stops are those where there is a cycle lane between the pavement, the bus stop and the carriageway where the bus pulls up. How are disabled people supposed to board and alight from those bus services safely and effectively? What equality impact assessment has been done around floating bus stops? It must be clear that buses have to be able to pull up, pick up and drop off at the kerbside, rather than the passenger getting on and off the bus in the middle of nowhere, which is what a floating bus stop feels like. Does my noble friend the Minister agree that it is time for a moratorium on floating bus stops so that a full impact assessment can be undertaken? Will he convene a meeting with the Secretary of State and interested parties to come up with accessible, inclusive solutions—which floating bus stops certainly are not?

Taxis are an incredibly important part of our public transport network. We currently have the ludicrous situation in the City of London where Bank Junction is closed to black cabs on erroneous safety grounds, even though a black cab has never been involved in an accident there. There are similar issues with cabs at Bishopsgate. They are also barred from Tottenham Court Road. Will the Minister consider writing to the City of London Corporation in relation to Bank Junction and Bishopsgate, and to the leader of Camden Council and the Mayor of London in relation to Tottenham Court Road, to establish how these effective bans on our excellent black taxi fleet deliver accessibility and inclusion? How do those various authorities believe that they are complying with their equality duties, not least the public sector equality duty?

Another area is so-called shared space. Many noble Lords may have had the pleasure of not coming across these. They are an architectural and planning folly where roads are made completely wide open. Pavements, kerbstones, signs, road markings, crossings and signals are all taken away in the belief that road users and pedestrians will be able to get on better and be more sympathetic to one another. Buses and blind people, toddlers and tankers are able to interact in this extraordinary utopia. We managed to achieve a moratorium on all new so-called shared space. Can my noble friend the Minister say what is happening with the maintenance costs of all existing shared space developments? How many have had to be retrofitted to make them accessible for their local communities?

More disabled people are gaining employment than at any time in our history, and leisure and social facilities are becoming more accessible and inclusive. Is it not a tragedy if disabled people are not even able to get there for want of accessible transport, or are so stressed by the time they pitch up at work because of the inaccessible transport experience? What an unnecessary burden to put on disabled people across our country. It is wholly avoidable and yet currently not avoided.

I turn to technology. We have an extraordinary opportunity—nothing short of the complete technologisation of all our transport with AI, blockchain and the internet of things. What extraordinary possibilities we have to optimise the transport system and to connect all its vehicles in real time. Emergency vehicles would be able to be given the best route through congested traffic. Congestion would be reduced and efficiency increased. Can my noble friend the Minister comment on how much technology is being used by National Highways and Network Rail—not least to optimise their assets and resources, but also to get ahead of all the safety and maintenance challenges?

Inclusion and innovation are the golden threads that we need to see running through all our transport networks and systems. We can have a 21st-century transport network on all modes. Currently, we surely do not.

In conclusion, does my noble friend the Minister agree that we do not have public transport in this country? We have transport for some of the public, some of the time. Outside London, Manchester or other major cities, there is transport for some of the public, some of the time. For a disabled person or a wheelchair user, for the blind, hearing or cognitive impaired, there is transport for some of the public, some of the time. In reality, all too often there is fully accessible transport for many of our fellow citizens none of the time. Yet we know how to do this through inclusion and innovation. Imagine public transport inclusive by design and accessible by all. Would that not be quite something?

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the compelling contribution to our debate by the noble Lord, Lord Holmes. It was also a great pleasure, as always, to listen to my noble friend Lord Snape. He is a great expert on these matters.

I will speak about railways. Like everybody else who wanted to speak about this, I was caught short this morning by my honourable friend Louise Haigh’s statement about the Labour Party’s position on railways, which I fully support. Some 44 years ago, at Newport station in south Wales, there was a banner that said: “Ninety minutes from Newport to Paddington”. We had very comfortable trains, the food was edible and, of course, the stations that the trains went from were impressive—not least Newport station, the second-busiest and second-largest in Wales. I fear that this is not the case today.

When I was a lad, the station had a wonderful façade and a great entrance, and it was admired by all, but someone decided some years ago to change it for the Ryder Cup. They put the station extension in the wrong place, and the building was so awful that it was regarded as the ugliest building built in 2011. Worse than that, when you go to Newport station now you find that the toilets do not work and are out of order; the lifts have been out of order for some weeks; the buffet café has long been closed; when the station floods, it does so extremely badly; and there is a lot of scaffolding in the station. I referred to the banner that said it took 90 minutes to Paddington. Now, 44 years later, it takes 10 minutes longer to get from Newport to Paddington despite electrification—and, of course, the food on the trains is junk.

When you look at the Great Western Railway, which I have done nearly all my life, you see that its staff are hugely impressive, courteous and engaging, and electrification has certainly helped, but over a number of years we have seen a deterioration in the service of a once great railway company. Cancellations of trains are normal, unreliability is inevitable, there is lateness nearly all the time and, perhaps worse than all that, the overcrowding is now wholly unacceptable. The reason is that the number of carriages on the trains running from London to south Wales and the West Country is often cut by half—from 10 to five is quite normal. I was on one not long ago that was so overcrowded that a woman actually fainted at Reading station, and the train had to stop for about 15 minutes.

Over the last three decades we have seen deterioration. In 1994, when I was in the House of Commons, I voted against privatisation, and I see no reason in the world why I was wrong. My noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours’s excellent speech on what has happened to railways in the intervening years was absolutely right. The fare structure is complicated, fares are hugely too high, and of course industrial relations are in a mess. It is a sorry story, and that is a great shame because I am a great lover of our railways, as are many of your Lordships. It is the best way to travel, it is the most environmentally sensible way, and it is the way that I would always inevitably choose. It is a sadness that your Lordships have had to comment on and point to the deficiencies of the network in our country. I have touched on a few relating to the GWR but there are other examples as well.

I personally welcome the announcement by my party today on taking the railways into public ownership but not in an old-fashioned way, by letting the franchises disappear and replacing them, as has happened with a number of companies in the country. That is the way ahead. I just hope that, in five or six years’ time, the Great Western Railway will be replaced by the great British railway.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on this debate and his opening speech, particularly his excoriation of the railway system for the experience of passengers these days under privatisation, which my noble friend Lord Murphy has just underlined. His anecdote about Newport station takes me back even further than 45 years to when I used to visit my Welsh relatives. I quite admired and was rather impressed by Newport station, and even more impressed by the train service at the time. Sadly, that has deteriorated.

I also welcome, like my noble friends Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Murphy, the announcement by my friend in another place Louise Haigh, whom I hope will soon be Secretary of State for Transport. We need a drastic change in the way we run our system. Since privatisation, the situation has become even more dire for passengers year by year, and we have ended up in effect with the state having responsibility without power and having to meet a significant part of the cost. The system of franchising is broken and successive regulators have failed. We have had the Strategic Rail Authority, the Office of the Rail Regulator and now we have the Office of Rail and Road. It would have been more accurate if they had all been designated with the title of “Offtrack”, because that is what they are. The system has gone downhill ever since privatisation. Whatever the failings beforehand, they have been multiplied since.

This calls for a broader approach to transport policy—although, before I leave rail, I should mention that the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, has drawn to my attention that, since the start of the debate and his own speech, there have been 10 cancellations out of Euston station this very day.

The question is wider than rail policy. Transport policy has many objectives. Some of them are contradictory, and they need a cohesive and clear approach, both within and between sectors. Some of these contradictions and problems are macro, such as the state of the railways and the fiasco of HS2, but some are micro. I shall give a personal example. I live seven miles from a railway station. There is a bus service to it from my town of only one bus per hour, and outside rush hour there is only one train per hour, but the first three buses in the morning are scheduled to arrive three minutes after the trains for London and Exeter have departed. A little bit of integration could help because that causes people to rely entirely on their cars, increasing congestion on our inadequate rural roads and increasing pollution.

We need integration within and between sectors. I support more space for cyclists, but some of the provision for cyclists contradicts road use elsewhere. The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has just reported one effect of shared space at floating bus stops. We must ensure that pedestrians as well as cyclists are protected and that the provision of cycle lanes—which I support—is done in such a way that it does not increase greater congestion and danger to pedestrians.

We need a real integrated plan. Others have referred to the proposals by the Institution of Civil Engineers for the integration of transport infrastructure; obviously it needs to be broader than infrastructure, but infrastructure is where it starts.

We need to ensure some degree of modal shift away from fossil fuel-using cars and pollution-producing transport. Freight trains, for example, contribute about a quarter of the carbon emissions that the equivalent on the roads would produce. We need to ensure that this is provided for in the infrastructure on the roads as well as on rail.

I shall mention three issues that are dear to my heart but which have not been touched on much today. First, the switch to electric vehicles has slowed down. I was a member of your Lordships’ Environment and Climate Change Committee when we produced a report about a year ago on this topic. I would like a clear and positive response about reversing that decline and ensuring in particular that there is a market for small electric vehicles in this country.

My second point is on aviation. I declare my vice-presidency of BALPA. If aviation is to continue to supply domestic and short-haul routes, it has to be more environmentally sustainable. That means more investment in sustainable aviation fuel. It also means concentrating on changing the pattern of flights, scheduling and payload, and the way in which our domestic aviation system works. That has hardly received any attention.

Finally, building on what the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, has said on road safety, I was disheartened a few weeks ago when the Minister replied to an Oral Question that he saw no reason to have a road safety strategy. Previous road safety strategies have worked very successfully and saved many lives. We need to integrate driver behaviour, road and vehicle design, road signage, speed and traffic organisation. That is quite difficult, but it needs to be done. To reduce the continuing high level of accidents and danger to pedestrians and car occupants, we need a proper road safety strategy. I hope the Minister can include that in his reply.

I hope that we can see a more integrated approach. I hope that the incoming Government will provide one. The announcement on railways is a good start, but we need a much broader policy that takes in all modes and types of users.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for securing this important debate. He gave us a splendid knock-about speech to start, full of horror stories. These have been added to—stories of failures, inconveniences, cancellations and so forth—in the course of our debate. I would like to take the word “strategy” seriously. Many of the examples that have been deduced today are not pertinent to the question of strategy; they are what I would rather think of as tactical failings. You can have a large number of tactical failings without it necessarily meaning that you do not have a good strategy. That said, I do not think the Government have much of a strategy for transport, but the two are worth distinguishing.

I would like to use the few minutes available to set out some of the principles that ought to underly a transport strategy for this country and the United Kingdom. First, we need to think the right way. We need to think teleologically about transport. The purpose of transport is transport; it is moving people and goods. That movement brings economic and social benefits; these are not inherently the purpose of transport but they are beneficial consequences. Transport also brings pollution, which is not the purpose of transport but simply a negative unwelcome consequence. We need to distinguish between the purpose of what we are doing and the consequences.

Secondly, it is also not the purpose of transport to meet non-transport policy objectives—for example, net zero. As an aside, it is quite interesting that I am probably the first person in this debate to use the words “net zero”. I do not use them in a very positive way; I just give it as an example. Extraneous policy objectives are constraints on how you deliver transport policy; they tell you how you should be doing it rather than why. That is also a necessary clearing of the mind if we are to think about these things properly.

My third point might seem obvious, but it has huge consequences. Public transport works best where you have a concentration of passengers. That means that it works well, largely speaking, in cities and larger towns. Having a density of population is a necessary condition for sustainable public transport. It is possible that transport services can create density, in the way that the Metropolitan Railway created Metro-land, but our anti-development planning policies nowadays sadly make that a thing of the past.

Fourthly, as a consequence of that, we have to be realistic about what we are ever going to be able to offer rural areas in public transport services. The idea that rural areas will have transport services akin to what is on offer in London is simply unrealistic. It is to hold out a pledge that can never be met. This emphasises that, especially in rural areas, there is always going to be a very important role for the private motorcar—and, indeed, for cheap private motorcars. The whole question of electric vehicles and how far we can expect them to spread, especially in rural areas, seems to be determined by their cost. At the moment, they are far too expensive. If we want cheap ones, we are going to have to pay to import them from China. That is basically the dilemma we face. We need to be realistic about that.

My next point might be controversial. Public transport is expensive to run, particularly rail. It costs a great deal of money, and not simply because of the monopoly supply of labour and the way in which the trade unions have been able to extract enormous salaries, especially for drivers, as a result of that. It is very expensive to run and only the fare payer or the taxpayer can pay for it. The money has to come from one of those two sources. It is a profoundly political decision how that expense will be allocated.

My suggestion—unpopular though it may be—is that any national strategy should be directed at maximising fare income. This does not mean high fares for everyone, because transport is a paradigm case of where marginal pricing adds to income—railway operators have understood this since the railways started in the 19th century. The fact is that it costs more or less the same to run the train whether it has passengers on it or not. Even £1 from that last marginal passenger adds to income. Airlines completely understand this. They set and vary their prices from day to day on that basis, in order to maximise revenue—not by having high fares for everyone but by having high fares for some and lower fares for others. We should perhaps learn from that.

I am coming to a conclusion. I would like to say a lot about technology, as my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond has. That would be another speech, as there is a great deal to say on that.

Finally, I will briefly say something about the nationalisation of rail, as announced today. I am not, despite what noble Lords might think, a mad privatiser of every utility. I was deputy chairman of Transport for London, so I can hardly believe entirely in privately running things. But the announcement today will make no difference whatever. Nearly everything you can pick up and touch in the railways is nationalised already, except the trains. If you take over the train operating companies, which are already puppets of the Department for Transport, you will simply have the same people doing the same jobs. Nothing very much would change, but you would run out of capital to invest at some point. That is the great advantage of privatisation.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on securing this debate and on managing to tee up his party to make its major announcement on rail today. It is a great achievement.

It is a privilege to see the noble Lord, Lord Hendy of Richmond Hill, in the Chamber today. He is somebody who has done a huge amount for rail and transport infrastructure in the United Kingdom. I was very pleased that he was appointed as chairman of Network Rail. In fact, it was my appointment, so I was delighted to be able to do that.

I declare my interest as chairman of Transport for the North and as someone who thinks that strategic transport bodies have importance. I do not have a lot of time to talk too much about that today.

This debate has fallen into the trap we so often fall into when we talk about transport, because transport is not about just the rail industry. Today’s debate has been dominated by speeches about railways from nearly all Peers, apart from my noble friend Lord Holmes, who mentioned Network Rail only in passing, right at the end of his speech—I congratulate him on that. Naturally, railways are very important to our transport system, but I am glad that certain people have made reference to buses, and I certainly hope to do so too.

There is no doubt that transport is the artery of any economy. It gets people to work, children to school and food to shops. Everyone depends on it every day. When transport slows, everything slows; when transport stops, everything stops. We saw an example of that during the pandemic, to which quite a few of the problems we face today relate. We almost forget that, just four years ago, the country was virtually at a standstill because of the pandemic. But lots of things are changing in the transport world.

There have been a lot of attacks on privatisation today. It is worth bearing in mind that, before privatisation, there were 700 million journeys a year on our railways; the year before the pandemic, there were 1.8 billion journeys on our railways. We have seen a revolution in the rail industry: it does far more and serves far more people. That happened because private finance was brought into the rail industry, and we were no longer completely reliant on what the Treasury said and did not say. There have been a lot of attacks today on the Treasury, so I say: be careful what you wish for because, if you wholly nationalise, the people who will take back control will be not the Department for Transport but His Majesty’s Treasury. So one should be a little cautious about what one asks for. On the idea that open access will somehow be allowed to continue, with all the other operators being nationalised and operated from the centre, it will be interesting to see how that develops in the longer term.

I very much regret the Government’s decision on stopping HS2. Unfortunately, HS2 became a discussion about speed, but it was never about speed; it was about capacity on our network and freeing up a lot more room for other services on it. Two metro mayors, Andy Street and Andy Burnham, commissioned a report from David Higgins on what a future Government will do, and it will be interesting to see that, whatever happens after a general election. I slightly warn people: I remember that, when I was first elected to the House of Commons, I was told by the BBC that it had done an exit poll in my constituency and I had lost. The returning officer told me otherwise. From that day onwards, I have always believed that the returning officer is a bit more authoritative on election results. Given that, let us be careful about what we see as the future of the rail industry.

The other interesting growth and important change that has taken place is the growth of metro mayors and their importance as far as their impact on transport and transport policy is concerned. As I say, Andy Street and Andy Burnham commissioned work from Sir David Higgins about what should happen as a result of terminating HS2 at Handsacre, and it will be interesting to see exactly what happens with that under any future Government.

On some of the points made earlier about buses, I say that buses are incredibly important to our transport system. I congratulate the Government on the £2 fare cap that they brought in. It has seen patronage start to rise and more people using buses. It is due to end on 31 December this year. A few other things will take place between now and then that may preoccupy parties’ minds, but, if this does end, it will be a very retrograde step for the bus industry. I hope my noble friend on the Front Bench can relay the message to the Secretary of State that this should be extended at least to the end of the financial year, so that people are not starting to think now about what they might do if that £2 fare cap were removed.

There was an interesting story in the Times a few weeks ago about how much has already been spent before any decision on the lower Thames crossing has been made:

“National Highways, which manages the strategic road network, has spent more than £267 million on the application alone, while overall spending on the project has surpassed £800 million”

before a spade has been put in the ground. We need to look carefully at how we do long-term planning for these big infrastructure projects. I think we have got the system wrong.

I can see my time has come to an end, so I say to my noble friend on the Front Bench that transport is about not just the railways but a lot of other subjects that we have not had time to talk fully about today.

My Lords, I will speak in the gap very briefly. I congratulate my noble friend on his speech. I notice that things in his constituency went his way after my visit: his deficit was turned into a majority, and I am glad.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on this debate, not just because he was my pair when I was Transport Secretary but also because of his long and abiding interest in, and knowledge of, transport—I mean that very generally. He has been a great asset in both Houses on this subject.

The transport debate has moved on. The Guardian, from which I get all my news about what is happening behind closed doors inside the Labour Party, says that Labour vows to nationalise the rail network within five years of winning the election. The shadow Minister says that

“this is not just ideology, it’s a detailed reform plan”.

Frankly, the less ideology, the better. We will wait to see the reform plan.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, criticised very much what has happened under privatisation, but I am sure he would agree that, in the time of British Rail, not everything was fantastic. It was not a time of unparalleled industrial peace when all trains ran on time. There were divisions inside the trade union movement, as he well knows, on the way forward. I had a number of meetings with the heads of ASLEF and NUR that were made memorable by the fact that neither of them spoke to each other and they sat at opposite ends of the table. That did not seem to me to be industrial co-operation as I knew it.

One of the major problems was, obviously, a lack of investment, which is what we had to tackle. The Treasury was not interested, frankly, in financing luxury hotels, for example—who can blame it? That is one of the reasons why, in my so-called privatisation measures, we got rid of that and put them into the private sector. In the main, people have not complained about that. I do not think anyone is pressing the Labour Party to take on Gleneagles as a publicly operated hotel.

The important point that I would like to make about privatisation is just this: when we privatised, we did not bring in a lot of outside experts to run these companies; we appointed and recruited them from inside. There were people like Peter Thompson in the NFC and Keith Stuart in Associated British Ports. There was tremendous talent inside the companies, but that talent was not being used. That is an important point about privatisation which has not been recognised. We set that management free. I heard the criticism, but it should also be recognised that, when this has been done well—I accept that it has not always been—the public have benefited from it.

My Lords, I also speak in the gap and thank noble Lords for allowing me to do so. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Snape, on this debate. I will not be talking about railways, buses or anything in relation to that; I shall be talking about drones. We are on the verge of a massive impact of the use of drones in the civil context. We have had it in the military context, of course, in Ukraine, Israel and the like, and there is a real need here to bring the CAA together with the Ministry of Transport.

Here, I should declare my interest, as listed in the register, in general aviation and associated business interests. A number of experiments and systems have been used over the past three to four months in the north-east of England, and they have not been very successful at all. A pilot scheme, a corridor from Wansbeck to Alnwick to Berwick, has affected general aviation in such a way that other aircraft cannot fly. Drones were going to be used five to 15 times a day, but because of weather it did not happen. We are now going back to another kind of pilot scheme, along the same route and along the River Tyne, which will be conducted for six months. It will affect general aviation in a major way. Looking ahead, drones will be used extensively and there is therefore a need to put together a strategy that delivers sensibly and safely.

Over the years, a lot of work has been done on aircraft safety, and the conclusion reached is that any aircraft that hits organic matter—birds, for example—will probably survive, but if it hits a drone is very unlikely to survive at all; the result would be catastrophic. We have here something new, and it is going to happen and will affect us all. Speaking as a pilot—my friend and colleague the Minister is also a pilot—I can say that this issue really needs to be addressed. The potential is massive, so the issues need to be sorted out and the pilot schemes need to be done in a way that is satisfactory to all.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for giving us such a broad canvas for our debate today. It has left us free to roam over fertile territory, pointing out the failings of current policy and the daily transport crises that fail travellers. It is very easy pickings because there is so much to choose from.

Many noble Lords have used this debate to highlight important issues arising from their own experiences. I especially welcomed the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, on issues that particularly affect people with disability. I note my sadness that I am the only woman speaking in this debate, because a good public transport system is an equality issue. Women and girls are more likely to use public transport than to have cars. My noble friend Lord Goddard referred to ticketing, as did many others. He spoke particularly about Avanti and praised its on-train staff for dealing with the pressure they face so expertly in their responses. I second that by referring to Great Western staff; the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, and I suffer the vagaries of the Great Western service. Just to illustrate a point: while we have been sat here, four trains have been shortened from 10 to five carriages, making all the associated trains uncomfortable, too.

Transport is fundamental to the success of the economy, despite all the talk of working from home, using Zoom and so on. Failing transport networks stifle the economy, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, said. Wherever we look, our transport infrastructure is failing. The Centre for Cities estimates that that costs our economy £23 billion a year. Our roads, both local and national highways, are seriously congested and in urgent need of repairs. Now, I am a Liberal Democrat and I like talking about potholes, but potholes have become a national topic of conversation because of local government underfunding. Our motorways are heavily congested. The Government therefore invented smart motorways, which are supposed to rely on sophisticated surveillance equipment to keep drivers safe. Just this week, however, we hear that this equipment is subject to frequent failures.

Bus services have declined dramatically, leaving rural areas as bus deserts. The youngest, oldest and poorest in our society in particular are left without any affordable means of getting to work, to education, to training, to doctors’ appointments and to see family and friends. Although the £2 fare is welcome, like so much that this Government do, it is short term, haphazard and certainly not strategic. Money to incentivise zero-emission buses is welcome but, outside London, there are many areas where this has hardly made any impression at all. Above all, there is the uncertainty of funding, with four separate funding streams for buses. What we need, for a start, is one integrated system and more transparency to make sure that the money gets spent properly.

Train services are a national tragedy. When we ask questions here, Ministers always recite how much taxpayers have subsidised rail services since the pandemic. They overlook the subsidy that taxpayers give to road building and maintenance, and that every train passenger benefits all those who do not or cannot take the train by taking themselves off the roads. The nation that invented the railways has proved itself incapable of building a modern high-speed line in an efficient and sensible manner. We have had years of government contortions and “will they, won’t they?”, when first one leg and then the other leg of HS2 north of Birmingham was cancelled. At a stroke, that cancellation added vast amounts of money to future contractors’ estimates, because they will factor in the financial risk of project cancellation. We are told that, unlike on the high-speed lines that we see across the world, HS2 trains will travel on standard rail lines north of Birmingham, but they will of course have to travel more slowly than classic trains because those trains will not tilt.

Recently, we discussed the crisis facing train manufacturers Alstom and Hitachi because of the stop-go approach to rail investment. Thousands of jobs are at risk, with the Government scrabbling around at the last minute to try to save them.

Instead of HS2, we have the hotchpotch of Network North. Individual projects are probably very sensible and worthy, but there has been a lack of consultation, no coherent overall strategic plan, no proper discussion with local mayors, and so on. Of the £36 billion allocated to HS2, £11.6 billion will go to Network North; that is a major cut in funding for rail. The Rail Industry Association complains that there has been no assessment of value for money and risk, and that many of these are simply reannouncements, with only five new projects.

Just look at the current problems that face LNER, for example, with its planned new timetable, which will reduce services to key towns such as Berwick. The plans are now being put on hold for the second time because, according to Network Rail, they are undeliverable. There has been a lack of coherent consultation. Across the whole sector, investors and professionals are crying out for certainty and an end to U-turns and the stop-start approach to funding.

The Government had some good ideas, but they have dropped most of them. Theresa May made a bold and laudable decision when she fixed 2030 as the date for phasing out new petrol and diesel vehicle sales, but a single parliamentary by-election changed government policy and the date for that decision. As a result, the whole of our valuable automotive industry was wrong-footed.

There is no proper leadership on a sustainable charging network for electric vehicles and there is a lack of incentive to attract those who are less well-off into EV ownership. It is no wonder we are far from the world-leading image produced by Boris Johnson on EV manufacture and take-up.

In 2021, we had the Williams-Shapps report for rail reform. In 2022, in the Queen’s Speech, we had a Transport Bill announced, but it was never introduced. We now have the draft Rail Reform Bill, which has only just started scrutiny in the House of Commons and will have no chance of becoming law before the general election. Now we have Labour talking about a five-year lead-up to nationalisation, which will be five years of uncertainty—the last thing the rail industry needs.

We have a long way to go now. We need certainty and dramatic change in our bus services, our EV charging, our automotive manufacturing, our railways and much more. We need heaps more awareness of the value of investment, rather than the cost of each individual minute aspect of it. We need less political interference; we need investment, vision and less short-term bean counting.

I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on introducing this debate in his own informed and inimitable way, and join those who have paid tribute to him for his contribution over many decades to the transport debate in this country. I also thank former Secretaries of State for contributing to this debate and I particularly endorse the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord McLaughlin, about my noble friend Lord Hendy, who unfortunately is not able to contribute to this debate; it would have been nice to hear from him. Those present also remind me of those absent, and one of those is, of course, Lord Rosser, who was a much-loved Member of this House and a very great, moderate and sensible trade union general secretary.

It would be nice to have a coherent plan for transport, but in the last 14 years we have not achieved that. We had the impact of austerity, which led to massive cuts in local government budgets. I saw it in Cumbria, where we had fewer professional highways staff and where planned maintenance on our roads was cut to the bone, so we inevitably ended up with a chronic problem of potholes. The Government have done a lot of announcing about special funds for potholes, in a sort of patchwork attempt to cover up the consequences of what they did 10 years ago. In fact, that will only cover about half of what is needed to have a proper system of planned maintenance for our highways.

Austerity also brought big cuts in bus subsidies. When I was a Cumbria county councillor, we were forced to abandon bus subsidies for commercial services altogether. As a result, bus travel outside London has collapsed. The annual number of journeys since 2009 has gone down from 2.4 billion to 1.6 billion—a third lost.

Boris Johnson realised, to be fair to him, that this was a big problem. His Bus Back Better White Paper was full of typically bold promise and ambition, but, as with so much else, delivery was another matter. This is a serious issue—it might be even more serious than the railways—because the bus crisis affects the young, the elderly and the poor most of all. For a social democrat like me, we must do better and find a better policy.

The solution stares us in the face. London has seen little of the decline experienced in other parts of England. Why? Because, instead of the philosophy of provision being driven by free market competition, bus services in London are a fine example of public/private partnership, with a franchising model that works. This eliminates competitive cherry picking on bus routes that are highly profitable and allows cross-subsidy of those routes where there is less revenue.

The difficulty with this problem that Boris Johnson recognised is that the Government have never found time to legislate on it. This year, to be frank, the Government judged the pedicabs Bill more important than doing something to remedy our bus service problems. I regret very much the way that government policy has tilted against public transport since the Uxbridge by-election. The Government have tried to pose as a defender of the motorist against sinister socialist plots—this is nonsense. I am a strong believer in the freedom that cars bring. I was brought up in a non-car owning household and realised, with great wonderment and affection, how a car enabled me to travel to parts of the Lake District near my home that I had never been to before. As a councillor for Wigton in the last decade, I also saw how, in certain places where public transport is rotten, people depend on their cars. The care worker who is on the minimum wage—if that—depends on a car to do her job. Let us have no more of this culture-war nonsense.

We need, of course, sensible policies in towns and cities. We realised in the 1970s that there was no financially affordable or environmentally acceptable way in which road building could solve congestion problems. We did not want to become like America. When I was a young Labour councillor in Oxford in the 1970s, we championed what we called a balanced transport policy. We brought in park and ride from the outskirts, and bus lanes to get buses into town quicker. I remember how much opposition there was. Traders thought this was the end of the world. Professionals objected to not being able to drive their car to work as easily as they had done. But, when people saw the benefits, the objections quickly subsided. We could do much more in cities to improve bus reliability and efficiency without vast increases in public spending.

The same opportunity exists on our railways. I was never a dogmatic opponent of all privatisation, but I thought that separating the natural monopoly of the infrastructure from competing services that use it, while it might work well in telecoms, was a much more difficult proposition with railways. That has proved to be the case. The growing problems with privatisation have been evident for two decades. We had the collapse of Railtrack in 2001. We had the problem of franchisees overbidding for contracts and hoping that a weak Government would let them off the hook. My noble friend Lord Adonis told them to get lost, and their franchises were taken into public ownership. In 2018, the railways were unable to produce a timetable that worked. Since Covid, there has been a vast increase in costs and a real decline in quality of service. As a frequent Avanti user, although not quite as frequent as the noble Lord, Lord Goddard, I still cannot understand why it has been allowed to keep its franchise.

What Labour has announced today is fundamentally right—that we intend to bring the major part of the railway under unified public control and ownership. I disagree with my noble friend Lord Berkeley: we must take legislative action on this quickly, in our first term of office. A unified railway will save hundreds of millions of pounds by getting all parts of the system working together. It will end the costly arguments about delay attribution, and I hope that it will release the railway from the micro-control of civil servants who are currently making decisions about services and spending. It will not be a return to British Rail. Open access will be retained; freight services will continue to be operated by the private sector; the lease-holding arrangements for rolling stock will remain in place. This is a pragmatic response to the failings of the existing system. I hope that it will allow the kind of long-term approach that the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, talked about.

Again, there is not much difference between the Williams-Shapps plan and Labour’s proposals, which is why Keith Williams has backed them today. This provides an opportunity to establish a new, lasting consensus about the way railways should be run, and I hope that the Conservatives will take that view if they lose the next election.

Another area where consensus needs to be struck is on the issue of high-speed rail. After the Prime Minister’s decision, we are left with a high-speed line with apparently no public funds to build its London terminus at Euston, and a connection of HS2 to the west coast main line which makes the problem of train congestion to the north worse, not better, than it is at present. What was envisaged as a revolutionary transformation has, in effect, morphed into a high-speed tube extension from Old Oak Common to Birmingham. It has destroyed the integrated rail plan. In its place, we got the shoddiest White Paper I have ever seen from a Government, on the Network North plan; a set of incoherent proposals cobbled together in Downing Street without any expert input from transport people. This is no way to run a country.

Labour is not going to go for headline-grabbing announcements, but we need a carefully considered decision based on detailed work about where we are. There we have it: we must have a coherent policy at long last, replacing 14 years of dither and delay interspersed with reckless decisions. The country deserves a lot better.

My Lords, I am very pleased to respond for the Government on this debate on the transport system, which I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for tabling. I also thank noble Lords who have taken part for their insightful and wide-ranging points. I will do my best in the time allotted to me to address those in my response.

This country has a proud transport history, spanning great maritime successes, the birth of steam-powered engines and the creation of one of the safest road networks anywhere in the world. Our heritage inspires us to look forward. We continue to strive towards an excellent transport system that supports people and businesses, wherever they live and work.

We are not only managing the transport system we inherited but taking steps to make it fit for the future, seizing opportunities for transport to unleash economic growth and improve people’s lives. We are mending the potholes, making life easier for drivers and reforming our railways. We are capitalising on our world-leading research and innovation capabilities by legislating to make the UK one of the best places in the world to invest in, produce and use self-driving vehicles. We are giving local and regional leaders the powers and funding they need to deliver transport systems which get people and businesses moving across the country.

Naturally, there are forces that have had significant consequences on transport and those who use it. These include the Covid-19 pandemic, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine and the historic high levels of inflation which have impacted economies across the globe. These challenges have left their mark on the ways in which people travel. They have also impacted the cost of building infrastructure and running services, but thanks to our interventions we are well on the road to recovery.

In the three years after the pandemic began, the Government provided more than £45 billion of operational funding to keep the railway running. Now, passenger numbers are back at 80% of pre-Covid levels. To tackle the cost of living crisis, we have capped bus fares at £2 and launched two “Great British Rail Sales”. We have cancelled planned inflation increases on fuel duty and, from 2022, temporarily cut the rate by 5p, saving the average car driver around £250 in total since then. We are supporting drivers through our plan for drivers and ensuring we can reach our net-zero goals in a proportionate and pragmatic way. Thanks to the difficult decisions we have made on HS2, we are now redirecting £36 billion of investment towards rail, roads and local transport as part of our Network North plans, allowing us to benefit more people in more places, more quickly.

This Government have the practical and long-term vision to improve and nurture the transport system in the future. Allow me to outline some of our plans in detail. On rail, we are acutely aware of the need to bring the railways into the 21st century. Vital to this is our ongoing work to upgrade the existing rail network, to improve rail operators’ performance and to make the railways more accessible to all. We have published a draft rail reform Bill and are pushing ahead with a range of non-legislative reform measures. We are continuing to deliver HS2 between London and the West Midlands, boosting economic growth, improving journey times and adding much-needed capacity on one of the UK’s most congested rail routes.

On trains, I noted this morning the announcement that Labour proposes an ideological nationalisation, with no detail beyond a soundbite and no response to how nationalisation will make a difference to things that people really care about: reliability and affordability. There was no real detail of what Labour proposes to do with the parts of the industry that are profitable, including the rolling stock operators and the open-access operators. The rolling stock operators have used private finance to fund 8,000 new carriages since 2010. The popular open-access operators have reconnected communities and given them direct services to London. Either Labour proposes to nationalise this part of the sector, or it is not serious about nationalisation and it is simply a fig leaf to appease their union paymasters.

All Labour’s current policy to nationalise passenger rail contracts will deliver is baking in some of the existing challenges, such as too much involvement from Whitehall in running the railways, taking on the parts of the sector that require greatest public subsidy, with no plan to grow passenger numbers—the only way to reduce subsidy. It also means that rail workers will become public sector workers, and so their pay rises will need to be in line with those of nurses and teachers, rather than in line with private sector wage growth. To quote the noble Lord, Lord Snape, we will indeed be “the laughing stock” of the western world.

We have set out a 30-point plan for drivers, bringing about smoother journeys and easier parking, stopping unfair enforcement and inconsiderate driving, and helping the transition to zero-emission driving. Spades are in the ground on our second road investment strategy, and we are preparing plans for the third road investment strategy.

At the local level, we are devolving powers and budgets away from central government through measures including the local transport fund, city region sustainable transport settlements, devolution deals and trailblazer settlements. This is giving leaders the funding and powers they need to get people and business moving. We are investing in a long-term sustainable future for buses, including more than £4.5 billion to support and improve bus services since March 2020. We are investing in active travel infrastructure, including the active travel fund and the second cycling and walking investment strategy.

We have set out a clear vision and ambitions for the future of the British maritime sector, focused on growing our economic impact, keeping people safe and protecting our environment. The UK SHORE programme alone is providing £206 million to accelerate the technology needed to decarbonise the domestic maritime sector.

We have established a strategic framework for aviation focused on innovation, sustainability and efficiency. Our updated airspace modernisation strategy will enable quicker, quieter and cleaner journeys, and increase UK airspace capacity. We have set a road map for how drones and novel electric aircraft can deliver better public services and green economic growth. In November last year, we saw the first ever transatlantic 100% sustainable aviation fuel flight by a commercial airliner, from Heathrow to New York, made possible with government funding.

Finally, on the environment, we have dedicated over £22 billion to help the UK meet its 2050 net-zero target, and we are ensuring that our transport system will be resilient to climate change. Network Rail alone will be investing around £2.4 billion in England and Wales over the next five years to improve resilience to extreme weather and climate change. However, these ambitious plans are not for government alone. We are working closely with the devolved Administrations to deliver a world-class transport system across the country. We engage closely with our friends across the world and with international bodies to deliver frameworks and standards, to share and contribute to best practice and research, and to drive forward global action on decarbonisation and the environment. We consult broadly and deeply with industry, civil society, academia and the general public to shape and deliver our plans.

With that, I turn my attention to points raised during the debate. Quite a lot of points were raised, and I will try to get though as many as I possibly can in the time left. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, talked about rail performance in his opening speech. The department has been clear that the current performance of the railway is unacceptable. The industry needs to make significant improvement to deliver the punctual and reliable services that passengers and taxpayers deserve. That is why the department has regular high-level meetings on punctuality and reliability with both Network Rail and representatives of the train operators to hold rail partners to account. All private-sector operators have now transitioned over to National Rail contracts, which include a revenue-incentive mechanism, encouraging train operators to minimise cancellations and short formations unless absolutely necessary.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, also referred to Hitachi. The department is holding intensive discussions with Hitachi to find a sustainable solution for train manufacturing at its Newton Aycliffe plant. Train operators are subject to procurement law as they operate under contracts directly awarded by the department. This is complex and difficult. There are no simple solutions, and any solution needs to be legally robust and sustainable for the long term.

The noble Lords, Lord Snape, Lord McLoughlin and Lord Liddle, talked about bus service cuts and ongoing support for the sector. The noble Lord, Lord Liddle, talked about the less well off using them; I can assure him that I use buses regularly. The Government have announced unprecedented funding for bus services, totalling over £4.5 billion since March 2020. This includes £2 billion to prevent reductions to bus services following the pandemic and over £1 billion allocated in 2022 to help local authorities deliver their bus service improvements.

The noble Lords, Lord Snape and Lord Liddle, talked about bus strategy. The aim of the national bus strategy is to make buses more frequent, more reliable, easier to understand and use, better co-ordinated and cheaper. The strategy required all local transport authorities to publish bus service improvement plans, setting out local plans for the changes in bus services that are needed, driven by what passengers and would-be passengers want.

The noble Lords, Lord Bourne and Lord Birt, talked about road investment. The Government are investing £24 billion from 2020 to 2025 to operate, maintain and enhance our strategic road network of motorways and major A roads. In the last four years we have completed 23 major enhancement schemes across all the English regions, including three on the A19 in the north-east and, only last month, the A585 Windy Harbour scheme in Lancashire. The road investment strategy 3 will build on the priorities and outcomes of the first two road periods, adjusting focus where necessary to tackle the next big priorities for improvement and achieve a long-term strategic vision for the network.

The noble Lord, Lord Bourne, talked about enabling economic growth. Growing the economy is a priority for the Government, and a secure, reliable, well-connected and integrated transport network is a vital tool for growth. It allows individuals to access more jobs, education, services and amenities, and allows firms to access wider labour pools and share knowledge and supply chains, boosting productivity in the long run.

The noble Lords, Lord Bourne and Lord Fowler, talked about rail industrial action. The industry is facing a serious financial challenge. Reform is essential to deliver a better railway for passengers. Since coming into office, the Transport Secretary and Rail Minister have met with the rail unions and industry to facilitate discussions, which have resulted in pay offers being accepted by the RMT, TSSA and Unite unions in exchange for negotiations on reform. ASLEF is now the only rail union that continues disruptive national-level strikes.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, mentioned decarbonisation. The Government expect both electrification and alternative technologies to play a role in net zero by 2050. That is why my department has delivered more than 1,250 miles of electrification in Great Britain since 2010.

The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, talked about rail reform. We are committed to rail reform and delivering improvements for customers ahead of legislation. We recently completed barcode ticketing for all national network stations and announced a 75% rail freight growth target by 2050. In line with Network North and wider stakeholder engagement, the Great British Railways transition team continues to develop the long-term strategy for rail. We need to ensure that the strategy reflects both the realities of the railways and the clear direction set by Network North.

The noble Lords, Lord Goddard of Stockport and Lord Liddle, talked about holding Avanti West Coast to account. The department takes performance very seriously and holds all franchised operators to account for the service they provide. As part of the national rail contract, Avanti West Coast has a series of challenging but achievable targets to meet, which the department monitors, and officials continue to closely monitor and review Avanti West Coast progress to a sustained recovery. The noble Lord, Lord Goddard, mentioned the Avanti West Coast rest day working agreement. On 13 March 2024, Avanti West Coast secured a 12-month rest day working agreement with ASLEF. The new agreement will support Avanti West Coast’s driver training programme as it transitions to its new Hitachi fleet over the coming months.

The noble Lords, Lord Campbell-Savours and Lord Berkeley, referred to rail fares, ticketing and retail. We have already made progress on fares reform, launching flexible season tickets in 2021, delivering on our commitment to extend single-leg pricing to the vast majority of LNER’s network, launching a trial of simpler fares on LNER, and announcing that we will extend contactless pay-as-you-go to an additional 53 stations in the south-east by spring this year.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, and the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Whitty, talked about decarbonisation. This Government have done more than any other to promote walking and cycling, and we remain fully committed to the vision that half of all journeys in towns and cities are walked or cycled by 2030. Over £3 billion is projected to be invested in active travel up to 2025. Despite the challenging financial climate, since 1 June 2023 Active Travel England has played an important role as a statutory consultee within the planning system. The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, and other noble Lords talked more on decarbonisation. The UK has decarbonised faster than any other major economy, more than halving emissions since 1990. Our credible, cross-cutting plan to decarbonise all transport is at the heart of our ambition.

On a point raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, there are now more than 1 million battery electric cars on UK roads, which is evidence that more and more drivers are switching to electric vehicles. We continue to work with the industry via the automotive transformation fund to support the creation of an internationally competitive electric vehicle supply chain in the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, talked about access for all. The Access for All programme has provided accessible, step-free routes at more than 240 stations and small-scale improvements at around 1,500 more since 2006. As part of our recent Network North announcement, the Government confirmed that £350 million will be made available to improve accessibility at our train stations. On bus accessibility, we are requiring operators across Great Britain to provide audible and visible information on their services. Our new accessible information regulations will require almost every local service to provide audible and visible next stop announcements. The £4.65 million accessible information grant will help the smallest operators to comply. The department has driven change through its support for the Taxis and Private Hire Vehicles (Disabled Persons) Act 2022 and through updated best practice guidance for local licensing authorities, including on supporting an inclusive service. However, I note what the noble Lord said in relation to particular areas of London.

The noble Lord, Lord Holmes, also talked about technology performance. It is right that road users should expect high standards when it comes to managing and responding quickly to incidents on the motorways. National Highways has rolled out new stopped vehicle detection technology on “all lane running” smart motorways, which can detect a stationary vehicle and alert an operator who can close lanes and dispatch a traffic officer.

I was interested in what the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, said, particularly about Newport station—much of what he said existed under British Rail. However, as we know, it is now devolved to the Welsh Government and has been nationalised as Transport for Wales, so I am afraid that any comment on that should come from the Welsh Government. However, I will say that Transport for Wales last year was reported to have the worst customer satisfaction for train operators in the whole of the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, talked about aviation and decarbonisation. The jet zero strategy sets out the Government’s approach to achieving net zero by 2050 in UK aviation. It focuses on the rapid development of technologies in a way that maintains the benefits of air travel while maximising the opportunities that decarbonisation brings for the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Whitty, raised the issue of road safety. While the UK has some of the safest roads in the world, any death is a tragedy, which is why we continue working tirelessly to improve road safety for everyone.

The noble Lords, Lord Moylan and Lord Liddle, talked about rural transport. The Government recognise the importance of transport provision in rural areas and are committed to finding solutions that ensure viable and improved transport.

In a very well-informed speech, the noble Lord, Lord McLaughlin, talked about rail passenger numbers and revenue. All substantive financial risks of rail services sit with government. Between 2021 and 2022-23, the taxpayer provided funding of £45.9 billion for the operation of the rail industry—just over £1,500 per household. He also talked about the HS2/Network North decision. The HS2 programme accounted for over one-third of all the Government’s transport investments, doing little to improve the journeys that people make the most. That is why the Government cancelled phases 2a and 2b—the western leg—of HS2.

Noble Lords made many other points. I will quickly mention the Lower Thames Crossing, which the noble Lord, Lord McLoughlin, mentioned. As the scheme is a live planning application, there are sensitivities in what I can say and it would be inappropriate to say anything that could prejudice that process.

The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, mentioned general aviation, which was a refreshing change in the debate. The department actively supports GA in achieving key government objectives. I hear what he says and understand his concern regarding drones. There has been a CAA airspace review. The rules are well defined for the use of drones but I acknowledge his concern.

I have come to the end. I think there are one or two other contributions that should be responded to. I will do that in writing. I thank noble Lords for their attendance and their contributions.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that comprehensive reply, given at his customary express speed—far exceeding any Avanti train that leaves Euston on the west coast main line. I was intrigued by his attack on today’s proposals from the Labour Party to renationalise the train operating companies. Coming from a Government who have renationalised no fewer than seven train operating companies in the past couple of years, we may well depend on his expertise if the result of the general election goes the way we would like.

I pay tribute to the two former Secretaries of State for Transport who participated. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, reminded us of the occasional tensions between the two major railway unions, the National Union of Railwaymen as was and the drivers’ union. He might reflect that the one thing that united the pair of them was attacking the third railway union, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, so tensions are by no means unusual. The noble Lord, Lord McLaughlin, quite rightly reminded us of the occasional vagaries of the polling system. I do not know whether he is tempted to head for the bookmakers to back his views but, if he does, I should think he would get fairly long odds.

Once again, I thank all noble Lords who participated in the debate. It is a subject I am sure we shall return to in the near future.

Motion agreed.

Gambling Advertising

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of gambling advertising, marketing and sponsorship on problem gambling, and in particular the risk posed by the exposure of children to gambling advertising.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords, including the Minister, who are taking part in this debate. I declare my interest as chairman of Peers for Gambling Reform, which was set up to press for the implementation of the recommendations made by the Lords committee on gambling. I am delighted that very many of those recommendations, either in whole or in part, were included in the Government’s White Paper. However, except for the Gambling Commission taking a closer look at bonus offers such as free bets and spins, and the Premier League’s voluntary ban on front-of-shirt gambling logos, the White Paper proposes very little action in respect of gambling advertising.

The Gambling Act 2005 liberalised gambling advertising, and now on Twitter/X alone there are 1 million UK gambling ads a year. Gambling companies’ annual spend on marketing now exceeds £1.5 billion. As the Lords committee noted, companies would not spend so much if it did not work, leading to more gambling and greater risk of harm. Yet very little action is proposed. Surely any Government should have been worried to read just this weekend in the Observer, under the headline “UK children bombarded by gambling ads and images online”:

“Young people feel their internet activity is overwhelmed by betting promotions and similar content”.

If the Government are not worried, other people certainly are. Opinion polls show that the vast majority of the public want a clamp-down on gambling advertising, including Conservative supporters. A very recent opinion poll found that 77% of Conservative councillors agree that tighter restrictions on gambling advertising would reduce gambling-related harm. With the Government doing very little, others are taking action. In March, Sheffield City Council joined over 80 other English councils in restricting gambling advertising on land, buildings, vehicles and even bus stops, websites and newspapers they own. The Mayor of London says that he intends to end gambling ads across public transport in the city. I hope he gets on with it quickly, as one gambling operator is currently advertising that TfL tube and train carriages are now casinos, with bus-stop ads saying: “Your bus is now a casino”. In sport, the absence of government action has led 35 football clubs to decide to go it alone and join the Big Step’s campaign to end gambling advertising in football. Can the Minister explain why the Government are so out of step with all these voices and seemingly so in step with the gambling industry?

I suspect public concern is about to rise because, in July, the Gambling Commission will release new figures about gambling harm. The Gambling Minister in the other place has already indicated that they are likely to show that 1.3 million people will classify as “problem gamblers” and that a further 6 million are at risk. If confirmed, these figures are far higher than those used to inform the Government’s work on their White Paper. This is a real cause for concern, further strengthening the call for action.

If public opinion does not persuade the Government, there are many other justifications for action, including research evidence. When he responds, I suspect the Minister may be somewhat dismissive of the research and claim—as the White Paper does—that it does not show a causal link between advertising and gambling harm. I am prepared to accept that this is largely true, but it does not mean that the research evidence does not support the case for greater action. Academics are clear that, in social science research, causal links are rarely even possible, but they are equally clear that the research findings justify a much tougher stance against gambling advertising. Some 50 academics recently called for “badly needed” restrictions on the promotion of gambling products. They drew attention especially to the unprecedented numbers of young people being exposed to gambling ads via the internet and television, and concluded that

“it has become quite clear that the gambling products being offered and the ways in which they are promoted are harmful to individual and family health and damaging to national life”.

Reviewing the evidence, the Advertising Standards Authority accepted that some studies were robust enough to support a link between advertising and gambling behaviour. The Government’s White Paper itself points to research showing that gambling advertising and marketing leads to people starting to gamble, to gamble more and to recommence gambling. With all this evidence, it is bizarre that the Government are not taking more action.

Unlike us, other countries do not seem to struggle with the evidence, despite having far less of it. Ipsos and researcher Dr Rossi have identified 496 published research papers about gambling marketing here, which is more than the combined number of similar ones in Belgium, the Netherlands, Italy, and Spain. Yet on their evidence they have chosen almost full bans on gambling advertising and sponsorship. Can the Minister explain why the UK Government’s assessment of our evidence is so different from neighbouring countries with similar research findings? Does the Minister really believe that there would be 1.3 million people classified as problem gamblers in the absence of gambling advertising?

Frankly, our Government seem confused. In one breath, they say that action is not justified because there is little causal evidence linking advertising to harm but, in another, without causal evidence, they welcome the removal of gambling logos on the front of football shirts as a harm-reduction policy. The Government’s position simply does not make sense.

The Government have accepted that gambling-related harm should be treated as a public health issue, so they should be adopting the precautionary principle and, on the huge weight of evidence, taking greater action. Yet, the Minister in the Commons said, on advertising causing harm, that,

“if new evidence suggests that we need to go further, we will look at this again”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/3/24; col. 142WH.]

Can the Minister explain what more the Government need before they will act?

I believe that a public health approach to gambling should lead to significant curbs on advertising and a ban on direct marketing, an end to inducements such as so-called free bets, and the removal of gambling sponsorship in sport.

Time does not permit me to detail all that I think should be done. Noting that estimates suggest that as many as 60,000 children suffer gambling harm, I will end with just one area where I believe urgent action is needed: so-called content marketing, which a Guardian headline recently described as “‘Sneaky’ social media ads … luring young into gambling”. Just one example will suffice. A social media post with the heading, “When the barman asks if you want another one”, is followed by a photo of Liverpool manager Jürgen Klopp giving a thumbs-up. That is all there is to it.

This simple, humorous post was by Paddy Power, but there are literally hundreds of them, using cartoons and famous people, posted online by gambling companies all the time. In just one weekend, online gambling ads received 34 million views. Over half were content marketing. Research shows that such posts are particularly appealing to young people and that followers of gambling companies’ online posts are, disproportionately, young people.

Yet the voluntary code governing advertising says that advertisements should be clearly seen as such. I have met with the ASA, which oversees the code, and shown it numerous examples of content marketing that clearly breach the code. So I hope the Minister will agree that the time has come for a complete review of the code and its enforcement, including deciding whether self-regulation really is the right approach.

It is worrying that so many young people know the names of gambling companies, follow them online, think that gambling is part of growing up and see it as part of the enjoyment of sport. Gambling advertising encourages more people to gamble and to develop gambling harms. The figures are alarming, as are the consequences to individuals and our society. The threat to our children should be enough on its own to compel the Government to act. No primary legislation is required, as the Gambling Act 2005 gives the Secretary of State all the powers she needs to regulate gambling advertising as she sees fit. So my simple question is: will the Government get on and do something?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for initiating this debate and pay tribute to his tenacious pursuit of this particular subject. He and I have worked together for quite some time and served on your Lordships’ Select Committee on gambling harm a few years ago. I declare my own interest as the CEO of the Association of Conservative Clubs. We have several hundred clubs throughout the UK, all of which have gaming machines, play bingo and have small-scale lotteries. I also declare my interest as the chairman of the National Conservative Draws Society, an established society lottery with an income or turnover in excess of £1 million each year.

We have been here before, speaking about gambling advertising and gambling harm, and we have talked before about how to protect children from the harm of advertising. I can recall discussing the subject of loot boxes back in 2016, and I am sure the subject will be mentioned again today. The latest game is “Fortnite”, whose loot boxes I say will be the next ones we will be talking about, in a few months or years to come.

I will today address not just the point that gambling advertising is too much; I think everybody here knows and agrees that we see far more gambling advertising now than we used to. If there is more gambling advertising, there will be more people who gamble. If there are more people who gamble, the 0.5% of people who suffer from gambling harm will increase, and the 0.9% of young people who suffer from gambling harm and have a gambling problem will also increase.

The point I will make today is not that gambling advertising is on the increase, and that more people gamble as a result. I will talk specifically about one area where we might be able to help: children who are suffering from gambling harm, having perhaps been exposed to too much gambling advertising. Problem gambling rises each year; advertising spend on gambling rises each year; and gambling among young people—that is, ages under 18; even under 11 years of age in some cases—is rising as well.

I read the Gambling Commission’s 2023 report on young people and their gambling behaviour, attitudes and awareness. It has an interesting section on young people gambling using a parent’s account. It said:

“Overall, young people were more likely to use their parent’s or guardian’s accounts for any type of online gambling with their permission (6 percent), rather than without (2 percent). When looking at specific gambling accounts, young people were more likely to have played National Lottery games online with their parent’s or guardian’s permission (5 percent), than without (2 percent). Similarly, young people were more likely to have played on gambling websites or placed bets online with their parent’s or guardian’s permission (5 percent) compared with those without (2 percent)”.

We can conclude, therefore, that some parents give permission for their children to gamble, and that it is possible for children to gamble without their parent’s or guardian’s permission, meaning that some young people were playing either via their own account or by hacking into a parent’s account.

Something has gone wrong here with security measures. It should not be possible for a young person to gamble under their own name and details, and it should not be right they do it under their parent’s or guardian’s accounts. I suggest it would be a good idea to mandate a two-factor identification process to be put in place on all online gambling sites, so that if a child is trying to gamble without their parents’ knowledge, their parents’ mobile phones could be notified. This process could deter the child by making it harder for them to get online. Secondly, could the industry do more to provide information and education about the dangers of gambling to children and parents alike?

In terms of how this relates to marketing and advertising, if gambling operators have not got the correct safety measures in place to protect children from accessing their products—and this includes the National Lottery—they should not be able to advertise their services, or even operate until their product can be shown to be safe. We would shut down a bar if under-18s were found to be systematically slipping through and purchasing alcohol undetected. I do not really see the difference here at all. That might be something to think about.

Perhaps we might also touch on the mixed messages we sometimes send about the sports personalities involved with the gambling industry; at the same time, we are just about to wave off our team to France for the Olympic Games, which is almost solely supported by gambling, through the National Lottery.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for initiating this debate, and for all the work and commitment he gives to tackling gambling harm. I too have interests to declare: I am a trustee of GambleAware, I work with the Behavioural Insights Team on its advisory group, and I am also involved with Peers for Gambling Reform.

When I grew up, I had virtually no knowledge or recognition that gambling happened. No child or young person today would be able to say that. Recently published research, commissioned by GambleAware, shows that children and young people described their online spaces as “saturated” with gambling content, which is being seen in their everyday activities, even if they are not looking at supposed gambling sites.

Gambling advertising and content from influencers and footballers were identified as a potential pathway to gambling and are experienced by young people. The bright, eye-catching nature of adverts draw children and young people in. A 14 year-old girl said:

“The ads … make it look like a really fun activity that has no consequence outside of using or winning some money”.

For far too many children and young people, gambling has become normalised. It is simply part of their life. If you ever go to a football match, as I do, you cannot escape the gambling adverts and the involvement of all the spectators in either taking notice or decidedly trying not to take notice of it. There is clear evidence now that this normalisation is a factor in people becoming addicted.

The impact on children and young people is stark. Recall of gambling adverts among 13 to 25 year-olds is positively associated with frequent gambling. Those with the greatest exposure to adverts are 2.3 times more likely to experience problem gambling later in their lives. Marketing is now almost four times more appealing to children and young people than it is to adults, so this is an issue that really hits children and young people.

What should the Government be doing? They certainly need tougher restrictions in sport. There needs to be a stadium and a shirt ban, and the Government should push sports organisations to publish the sports sponsorship code of conduct that they say have completed so that it can be scrutinised. The Government should ban pre-watershed advertising. The Australians, the Germans and the Irish have done this—why have we not done so? That would be another way of making sure that children and young people do not see quite as much advertising. Evidence-based safer gambling messaging and signposting from the operators should also be pushed by the Government. That is possible and available, and it will be available to the Government to push the operators to do that in the very near future.

This morning, we heard that more young people in this country drink, smoke and vape than in any other western country. We could add gambling to that. This is a very serious issue. As I have said, the evidence shows that the more exposure to those sorts of addictions as a child, the more likely addiction is to follow. Those addictions will blight the lives of these children and young people for the rest of their life. We cannot stand by and say that children should not be supported to avoid those terrible addictions. The Government have a responsibility and, quite honestly, they did not meet it in the White Paper. I hope that they will do so now.

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Armstrong. I apologise for my slightly late appearance in the Chamber.

I was also a member of the Select Committee which considered these issues, now a few years back. I am also a member of Peers for Gambling Reform, led by the noble Lord, Lord Foster. I pay tribute to his tireless work in seeking improvements to these problems. Like the noble Lord, I very much hope that, when the Minister responds, he will not be tempted to adopt the position that is to some extent taken in the White Paper, in which it was rather naively said that there is no hard evidence that gambling, advertising and marketing increase problem gambling. It is in the nature of things that conclusive evidence on that point is not available.

The following propositions are not in doubt. First, the gambling industry spends well over £1 billion a year on advertising and marketing in this country. It was more than £1.5 billion in 2017 and I would have a very large bet at very short odds that it is more now. Secondly, problem gamblers unquestionably provide a very substantial part of the profits made by the industry—see the committee’s report and plenty of other material. Thirdly, problem gamblers are more susceptible to gambling advertising than others—see the learned and impressive article published by the Public Health journal in February 2023. In all these circumstances, it is obviously correct to infer that the industry knows what it is spending its money on and why, that gambling advertising and marketing will increase gambling activity, and that a significant part of the increase will involve problem gambling. In short, one simply has to follow the money.

I have looked at some of the material helpfully circulated by the House of Lords Library. It contains a number of studies and papers that have been prepared in the last three or four years. I was particularly struck by one paper which I will mention in the time I have available. It was published by two academics at Bristol University, Rossi and Nairn, in 2021. Having considered evidence from 650 participants who were exposed to 24 gambling advertisements—and also, by way of a control, to other forms of non-gambling advertisements —it found that gambling advertising is

“significantly more appealing to children and young persons than to adults”.

It found that, in 2021, 45% of 11 to 17 year-olds saw gambling advertising on social media at least once a week, and about 25% saw it every day. That was three years ago. Use of, and to some extent addiction to, social media has not decreased since then.

There are various other findings which I do not have time to set out. One in particular struck me, and the noble Lord, Lord Smith, spoke to this. There are many advertisements that relate to esports gambling. I doubt if many Members of this House engage in esports, let alone gamble on them. Esports are the professional, competitive playing of computer games online. To my surprise, I found that there is a huge amount of gambling on this. The authors of this report observed, correctly, that this is a development almost entirely under the radar of public discourse and policy-making. In so far as I can see, there is almost nothing in the White Paper about that.

The authors of the paper made various recommendations, in particular a ban on esports gambling advertising—because it is targeted at children and young persons—an expansion of the definition of a young person from 16 to 24, and enforced arrangements which would involve gambling advertisements being provided only when users confirmed that they recognised and wanted them. I do not have time to say more about the paper or the other available material but, as other speakers have emphasised, it all tends to suggest that there is a very real problem.

I have a question for the Minister. The Government are prepared to make unlawful the purchase of cigarettes for a significant segment of the population. Is there any good reason why they would not enforce an arrangement whereby gambling advertising would have to do what cigarette advertising used to do when it was permitted—namely, inform the potential user of the probable outcome, which is that he or she will lose money?

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey. His final suggestion was a pertinent and encouraging one. Like other noble Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for securing this debate and for all the work that he has done over many years on this issue. I declare my position as a member of Peers for Gambling Reform.

I shall begin, for a change, with some positive good news—this picks up something mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Foster—which is the ban on various forms of advertising that has come into place in Sheffield following a decision by the council in March. This is a great demonstration that campaigning works and can make a difference. I know some of the people who have been campaigning for that in Sheffield over a significant period. It is also a demonstration of the public desire to have healthier environments and healthy societies, which is what indeed this public health measure does. It is a ban, within the limits of the power of Sheffield City Council, applying to authority-owned hoardings. As well as gambling and betting products it covers short-term loans, alcoholic drinks, fossil-fuel products, some breast and infant milk formulas and petrol, diesel and hybrid plug-in vehicles. We can see the focus there on health. An important point to make is that, as the director of public health in Sheffield, Greg Fell, said, while this measure is not going to break our gambling harm epidemic—and it is important that the public health sector sees that the epidemic is there—it sets an important direction of travel.

I have a direct question for the Minister. Local councils and local communities have been expressing a desire to see these gambling adverts and other harmful adverts out of their communities. If the Government will not act centrally—although I would prefer it if they did—will they allow local communities to make the decision for themselves, not just on the sites that they control but on all the advertising sites within their communities?

It is important to note how much this advertising is focused in poorer, disadvantaged communities. In Sheffield, the group Adfree Cities found that 60% of the advertisements were in the poorest areas of the city while just 2% of the adverts were in the most affluent locations. More than four in five outdoor billboard adverts around the country are focused in the poorest areas of England and Wales. These impact negatively on people’s lives and on the environment in those communities.

Like other noble Lords, I commend the Library, as usual, on its excellent briefing. All the evidence is that, along with the deluge of gambling advertising that we are all being exposed to, we are seeing a great rise in problem gambling. Under the new methodology from the Gambling Commission, we are talking about a 2.5% problem gambler rate—that is more than 1 million people. This is an addiction problem and a public health crisis. The GamCare helpline had more than 50,000 calls and online chats in 2023, up 24% on the previous year.

Other noble Lords have referred to the situation of football. Again, there is a strong, fast-rising grass-roots campaign saying, “We want something to be done about this”. As far as I have been able to discover, AFC Wimbledon was the last club to join the campaign The Big Step, calling for an end to all gambling advertising in football. That campaign is part of Gambling with Lives, the charity set up by families bereaved by gambling-related suicide. I do not think anyone has said this figure yet, but I think it needs to be recorded: the Government’s own estimate is that there are 496 suicides related to problem gambling every year. And I have one figure showing how much people are suffering: in the first weekend of the Premier League last August, fans were subjected to 11,000 gambling adverts.

To put this all in a broader context, we have an epidemic of problem advertising. Figures out this morning from the WHO show that the UK has the worst rate of child alcohol abuse worldwide. We have a real problem where advertising is creating an unhealthy society. We need a much healthier society, which is something the Government themselves often acknowledge. Gambling is part of a much broader problem. There is no right to advertise. We have right to say as a society that we do not want to force unhealthy products on people and communities.

My Lords, I echo the thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for securing this debate and for his work, alongside the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and others, on Peers for Gambling Reform, campaigning tirelessly over the past several years. While the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans cannot be in his place today to add his voice, I am sure I echo the sentiments of all Members when I say that we look forward to welcoming him back very soon to add weight to this conversation.

We have heard this afternoon that the link between problem gambling and serious harm is well documented. There are not only financial impacts of gambling addiction, which may on its own drive individuals with large gambling debts to theft, fraud or other forms of criminal activity, but also impacts on relationships, work, school and serious harm to both physical and mental health. Public Health England identified problem gamblers as at greater risk of dying from any cause and significantly increased risk of dying from suicide, as we have so eloquently just heard.

These consequences, as well as having an impact on those individuals, also lead to indirect harms to children in those households. I welcome the Government’s response to the committee’s second report on gambling regulation, particularly the commitment to use funds from the levy to commission independent research around gambling and gambling-related harms. However, I echo the committee’s call for this research to be undertaken urgently and specifically on the link between gambling advertising and gambling harm to children. I ask for a commitment and a timeline to address that recommendation.

Research by GambleAware released this month makes clear that children and young people are exposed to a high level of gambling advertising, particularly online. While we have heard that this link has not been proven to be causal, we have heard about the research that found that 34% of those who bet in the UK admit to being influenced by advertising, with over 15% claiming that ads cause them to increase their gambling. A similar percentage said that viewing ads resulted in them taking up gambling again after a break.

Gambling reform is not my area of expertise, but I have done a significant amount of work over the course of my ministry with at-risk children and young people. I am currently vice-chair of the Children’s Society. Ofcom’s most recent report finding that one-quarter of five to seven year olds own a smartphone, with nearly one-third using social media unsupervised, caused me great concern. We know that our children are increasingly online. We need to ensure we are keeping pace with the rapidly evolving online landscape to protect our children from harm.

New technologies are significantly increasing exposure to advertisement, sponsorships and marketing, and our current codes must be urgently updated to reflect this. Social media forms a huge part of the gambling industry’s advertising practices. I was really shocked to read recently that 92% of content marketing ads sent by major gambling brands were not obviously identifiable as advertising. That particularly impacts children.

I too will close with an example illustrating that current guidance to protect children and young people simply is not fit for purpose. As recently as a few weeks ago, a gambling firm was promoting a game on social media marketed with three cartoon frogs. Taking a dip with the “ribbiting rascals” might appeal to some adults, but it would almost certainly appeal more to children. Such advertising should not be allowed.

My Lords, I start with a small confession: I live in the village of Lambourn, which is the centre of the racing industry. If there ever was an industry linked to gambling, it is racing. That made me think about my reaction to gambling, given that I do not sit on horses or gamble much. It is the fact that it is a day out, when you have drinks in a nice environment, watching racing. Virtually everything we are talking about today does not apply to that scenario. We are talking about casually watching something on a screen, be it the one in our pockets—I have just remembered to make sure mine is switched off—a TV screen or another screen at home. That device in our pockets means that we can gamble at virtually any time. We need only be conscious to gamble on it. That is a totally different situation to the one I originally related to the gambling experience. It is a private activity. We know that the constant hits lead to addiction, so how do we control this situation and limit the inevitable damage, in a few cases, to those few cases? That is effectively what we are talking about here.

As many have mentioned, witty advertising lives with the young, even if they do not buy. How many witty smoking adverts did people come up with? They were quite creative and fun, with running jokes. I note the Silk Cut advert. Even non-smokers waited for the next joke. People bought in—it is very easy to. Some people take the biscuit, and some do not. The amount of money spent on advertising clearly means that the providers of this service see the link. As they are not going bankrupt at a rate of knots, one assumes they know what they are talking about.

What will the Government do to make sure that it is difficult for people to access gambling services? We have had suggestions, from the noble Lord, Lord Smith, for example, about having more difficult identification processes. There was a very good idea about a warning saying, “The person who’s guaranteed to make money on your bet is the bookie”. That is a very creative idea, and I hope we will run with it.

What are the Government doing in a systematic manner to make sure that children have more problems getting access to this? If the parents actively help them, we may have more problems still, but what are the Government actively doing? What are we doing to make sure that the young in particular—going up to about 24 might be a good idea here—will not see this advertising by accident? That is probably the principal objective here. Will you see these witty, well-placed little adverts by accident? Are they something you take on board? If you watch anything that crosses the watershed on late-night TV, you find yourself subjected to gambling advertising—“subjected” is probably wrong because you can always switch off, but it is there and always around. What will we do to make sure that that does not happen?

Finally, when it comes to sports and the big stadiums, if the Premier League is starting to take the adverts off teams’ shirts, why are the Government not encouraging everyone to remove them over a period of time? There is always a run-in, but we are proving to sport generally, and the biggest sport of all, that government will intervene eventually. Encouragement to make sure that we are removing, or at least controlling, this advertising within the stadium and on players’ bodies seems a reasonable step. We can give them some warning, but we can reduce it. If it is going to be in the director’s box, maybe that is fine, but it does not have to be at the side of the pitch. Can we make sure that there is some vision for and thought on restricting this? At the moment, there does seem to be anything coherent. I look forward to seeing how that will change.

My Lords, I join with others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Foster, for bringing forward this topic for short debate. It is timely, and he is an indefatigable campaigner on this issue.

It is often said that we all like a flutter, and it is probably true, although you would struggle to get me to buy more than a raffle ticket. For most who choose to take part, it is an enjoyable and harmless activity but, at its extreme, gambling can be addictive; damaging to family life, relationships, and personal, mental and physical health; and life-destroying. I am sure that pretty much all of us have come across people in our lives with a gambling problem or who have been impacted by gambling problems. I know I have, and it was sad and tragic to see.

The DCMS Select Committee reported last year that

“around a third of a million people experience problem gambling, and it is likely that many more suffer gambling-related harm”.

The Library briefing for this debate, based on updated Gambling Commission data, estimates that it may be over a million. GamCare reports that the number of people seeking help for gambling-related harms is increasing. In the year to January 2024, requests for help rose by 24%. The NHS also reports increased demand for its gambling clinics. This is before we consider those who are struggling but do not feel able to ask for help.

I want to focus briefly on the need for better research. The DCMS Select Committee, in its inquiry into the gambling White Paper, stated:

“There is an urgent need to better understand the effects of gambling advertising on the risk of harm”.

It found that:

“While the existing evidence base does not show a causative link between gambling advertising and harm, it seems clear that advertising encourages participation in gambling and that this effect is more pronounced for children and those vulnerable to gambling harm”.

The activity of the gambling industry clearly suggests that it believes that advertising is a driver of interest in and support for gambling. In 2018, Regulus Partners reported that investment in marketing increased between 2014 and 2017 from £l billion to £1.5 billion, roughly 10% of the industry’s £13.8 billion revenue, with much of it now targeted at gamblers online. The Select Committee recommended that:

“The Government must commission independent longitudinal research on the link between gambling advertising and the risk of gambling harm, including specifically for … children”.

This needs to be a focus of the funding made available by the statutory levy.

I have two questions for the Minister. In their response to the Select Committee, published last week, the Government stated that levy funding will be directed towards independent research on gambling and gambling-related harms, which “could” include further advertising-related research. Can the Minister confirm to the House today that levy funding will be directed at research into the link between advertising and gambling harms, particularly in relation to children? Secondly—I am sure the Minister must be expecting this question—when can we expect the Government to publish their consultation on the statutory levy? The response to the Select Committee gives little away when it states that we should expect it “in the coming weeks”.

Sport, which many noble Lords have spoken about, is another key issue here. It is a huge part of our national and family life, and children are exposed to it and enjoy it alongside older family members. Alongside welcome and effective measures, including the whistle-to-whistle ban and plans for gambling sponsorship to be removed from the front of players’ kits, the Minister will be aware of the concerns raised over the amount of gambling advertising that young viewers are still exposed to during sporting events, and which they cannot opt out of.

It is therefore welcome that the central cross-sport gambling sponsorship code of conduct has been finalised, and that one of the four core principles is the protection of children and other vulnerable people. Can the Minister confirm that the code has been published, so it can be accessed by parliamentarians and sports fans—of course, some of us are both? Can the Minister give an update on when we might expect individual sports to publish their bespoke versions of the code? Can he tell us whether the Government are alive to the VIP managed clients who, thanks to direct online marketing techniques, now generate some 83% of gambling companies’ profits? By the way, one of the code’s core principles is that gambling promotion will be socially responsible. Can the Minister tell us more about what that looks like?

Finally, we welcome the ongoing work on delivering the White Paper; this is an area in which there is a sizable amount of activity and considerable consensus. What Members of this House are seeking to do is ensure that that activity is focused and delivered at pace and that no crucial issues are allowed to fall through the gaps.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for initiating today’s debate and for the way he opened it. I had the pleasure of working with him, and a number of noble Lords who have taken part in today’s debate, on the Select Committee that he mentioned, before I became a Minister at DCMS. So I thank him for his tenacity in this area.

The Government recognise the concerns that he and many other noble Lords have raised about the impact of gambling advertising, particularly its impact on children. The debate about advertising reflects the balance we are aiming to strike with our vision for the gambling sector more broadly: regulating an innovative and responsible gambling industry on the one hand, and fulfilling the duty of government to protect children and the wider public from gambling-related harm on the other.

That is why, as part of our review of the Gambling Act 2005, we took an exhaustive look at the best available evidence. We are certainly not dismissive of evidence: on the contrary, we have sought to take an evidence-based approach. The White Paper that we published in April last year includes a robust, balanced package of reforms to prevent and minimise the risks of gambling-related harm.

Since the implementation of the Gambling Act under the last Labour Government nearly 20 years ago, gambling advertising, marketing and sponsorship have become more visible and widespread, and we have seen a visible integration of gambling advertising within sport. While this continual growth has not resulted in an increase in gambling participation rates, or in population problem-gambling rates, which have remained broadly stable for roughly two decades, it is important that there is a range of robust protections on advertising in place to ensure that it does not exacerbate harm.

The rules on gambling advertising, which operators must follow, are set by the Committee of Advertising Practice. A wide range of provisions in the codes are specifically designed to protect children and vulnerable adults. Compliance with these codes is a condition of Gambling Commission licences, and the commission can—and does—take action on adverts that are in breach of the codes.

Furthermore, the industry code for socially responsible advertising includes a television watershed on all gambling products apart from bingo and lotteries. Children’s exposure to gambling advertising on broadcast television is declining. The industry’s “whistle-to-whistle” ban has cut the number of pre-9pm betting adverts to around a quarter of their previous level, and further cut the average number of sports betting adverts seen by children to 0.3 per week.

I just want to clarify something: I should have said “pre-watershed”. I was in too much of a hurry to keep within five minutes; I am sorry.

I am grateful to the noble Baroness, and I hope what I have said is none the less helpful in relation to the points she raised in her speech, which I welcome.

We recognise that there is good evidence to show that gambling advertising can have a disproportionate impact on those who are already experiencing problems with their gambling, and that some aggressive marketing practices are particularly associated with harm. The noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, mentioned a study which reflects that.

Evidence from the Gambling Commission shows that 35% of problem gamblers received incentives of offers to gamble daily, compared with 4% of non-problem gamblers. Furthermore, while 10% of gamblers with a “non-problem” or “low-risk” score—according to the problem gambling severity index—were influenced to gamble more by direct marketing, this rose to 41% among those with a “moderate risk” or “problem gambler” score.

We also recognise that content often used in gambling advertising can inappropriately appeal to children and young people—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby raised such an instance. That is why we have introduced a suite of measures to further prevent potentially harmful impacts of advertising, specifically for children. Since October 2022, advertising rules have been strengthened to prohibit content that downplays the risk or overstates the skill involved in betting. The rules also ban content that is likely to be of strong appeal to children. In that regard, I will raise with officials the frog-based example that the right reverend Prelate gave. As a result of this ban, top-flight footballers or celebrities popular with children are banned from being in gambling adverts. In line with existing gambling advertising rules, the Premier League’s decision to ban front-of-shirt sponsorship by gambling firms will commence by the end of the 2025-26 season, breaking the direct association between gambling brands and popular players.

The noble Lord, Lord Trevethin and Oaksey, suggested that there should be warnings to potential players on gambling adverts. Robust Advertising Standards Authority rules prevent content and adverts that, for instance, promote gambling as a route to financial success, and adverts on television must direct people to available support services. We are also working with the Department of Health and Social Care and the Gambling Commission to develop independent information campaigns about the risks of gambling—taking that out of the hands of the industry.

I apologise for interrupting the Minister, but I find it difficult that he stands at the Dispatch Box and talks about all these rules, when I gave a specific example of a Paddy Power advertisement—although it is not called an advertisement—that simply had a large photograph of the Liverpool manager, Jürgen Klopp. Does he believe that was a correct thing for Paddy Power to do, or should it have been banned?

Well, as with the case that the right reverend Prelate raised, I will take that up with officials. I was spelling out some of the actions—some of which are still to come in. As I said, the Premier League rules will come in by the end of the forthcoming season. I am sure the noble Lord will reflect that some of the work has been done and some is coming shortly, but I will raise the case he mentions with the team at the department.

As we set out in our White Paper, we are also working closely with the Gambling Commission to take targeted action on advertising to ban harmful practices and ensure that it remains socially responsible, wherever it appears. The commission has recently consulted on new rules to give consumers more control over the direct gambling marketing that they wish to receive, and on strengthened protections to ensure that free bets and bonuses are constructed in a way that does not encourage excessive or harmful gambling. The commission will set out its responses to these consultations soon. Together, these measures will empower customers and prohibit harmful marketing practices, to prevent the risk of gambling harms.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, referred to the powers available to local authorities. As she reflected, these vary from local authority to local authority, but, as we heard in the debate, the metro mayors in London and Manchester are using the powers that are available to them.

There is no single intervention that provides the answer to effectively preventing gambling-related harm. That is why we have taken a holistic approach that includes action on products and protections for players. We recently announced the introduction of stake limits for online slot games, where we have seen evidence of elevated levels of harmful gambling, and are pursuing broader protections, such as financial risk checks that will require online operators to identify and take action in relation to customers who are financially vulnerable. That will prevent runaway losses, which we are still seeing happen too often. The Government are clear that effective and innovative collaboration to get the right mixture of interventions for the population as a whole—as well as those with specific needs or vulnerabilities—is required to tackle gambling harm.

A key part of that approach is the Government’s decision to introduce a statutory levy, which I know has been a long-standing priority for the noble Lord, Lord Foster, and which the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and others raised. In his opening remarks, the noble Lord, Lord Foster, dwelt on the importance of evidence. Perhaps I should end my remarks by acknowledging that further work is needed to build the evidence base to ensure that policy and regulation are able to deal with emerging issues.

In response to the contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, I make clear that developing quality evidence is a priority for our statutory levy. Through the levy, increased and ring-fenced funding will be directed towards high-quality, independent research into gambling and gambling-related harms, including in relation to advertising. We will continue to monitor the evidence base and, if new evidence suggests that we need to go further, we will look at this again. The Government will also respond to their bespoke consultation on the levy and will set out their final decisions very soon.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Foster of Bath, for tabling today’s debate and all those who have spoken in it. I am certain that we will return to this topic again before long.

Defence Spending


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 24 April.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I shall make a Statement updating the House on the Government’s commitment to increase defence spending to 2.5% this decade.

In my speech at Lancaster House in January, I warned that we were entering a much more dangerous period in the world and I made the case for a national conversation about defence spending. Since then, Putin has stepped up his attacks on Ukraine, China is increasingly assertive, and tensions have escalated in the Middle East culminating in Iran’s unprecedented attack on Israel 10 days ago conducted in parallel with the proxies Iran has nourished around Israel’s border in the Middle East, including of course the Houthis who continue to hold global trade hostage in the Red Sea.

Since January, the world has become even more dangerous, not less, and we continue to ask more of our courageous and professional Armed Forces. Our sailors have served under constant risk of attack in the Red Sea, helping to protect international shipping and our own cost of living. We have bolstered our Royal Air Force presence in the Middle East, enabling Typhoon crews to intercept Iranian drones and missiles recently fired towards Israel. And around 20,000 of our personnel from all three of our services, with a huge inventory of naval, air, and land assets, have been active around Europe as part of the largest NATO training exercise since the Cold War. In short, we increasingly need our Armed Forces, and we increasingly are asking more of them.

So yesterday the Prime Minister committed to hit spending 2.5% of GDP for defence by 2030. It means we will invest an additional £75 billion into defence over the next six years, and that will be funded in full without any increases in either borrowing or debt. This represents the biggest strengthening of our national defence in a generation and, as the NATO Secretary-General said yesterday, it will ensure the UK remains by far the largest European defence spender in NATO, and it means we are the second-biggest NATO spender overall.

It will provide a very significant boost for UK defence science, innovation and manufacturing. It will make our defence industries more resilient and bigger. And it will mean we are able to restock some of the global supplies required in order to continue to ensure that we are both able to provide our own Armed Forces and those in Ukraine and be a competitive export sector. We also recognise the important role defence plays in our national resilience by developing a new plan that for the first time brings together the civil and military planning for how we would respond to the most severe risks that our country faces.

Our additional £75 billion on defence is also enabling us to ramp up that support for Ukraine. Members on both sides of the House will share the Government’s concern about the warnings President Zelensky has been issuing, and his most senior generals have confirmed that their ability to match Russian force is increasingly difficult. So, as NATO partners, we are looking at each other to see that leadership.

The UK Government have stepped forward: we are providing the alliance with the decisive leadership demanded in this knife-edge moment of this existential war. This week we have committed an extra £500 million of military aid to Ukraine for this year, bringing our total package to £3 billion. In fact, our total since Putin’s full-scale invasion is now more than £12.5 billion, £7.5 billion of which is in military aid.

In addition, we have provided NATO partners with leadership by delving even deeper into our own military inventory, to give Ukraine our largest package of equipment and support to date. The support announced this week includes: millions of rounds of ammunition; 1,600 key munitions, including air defence and precision long-range missiles; over 400 armoured, protected and all-terrain vehicles; support with logistics to support and bolster the front lines; support to get the F16 pilots who have trained in the UK into the air as soon as possible; and a further 60 boats to help Ukraine strengthen its remarkable grip over the Black Sea, including offshore raiding craft and dive boats.

Our £75 billion defence investment will help Ukraine get back on to the front foot. Coupled with the reforms that we have introduced to make procurement faster and more effective, it will put our defence industrial base on a war footing. It will fire up the UK’s defence industry with an additional £10 billion over the next decade for munitions production. That will bring our total spend on munitions to about £25 billion over the same period.

We are delivering for those who serve to guarantee our freedoms as well, with over £4 billion to be invested in upgrading accommodation to build new living quarters for our personnel over the next decade. We are also working seamlessly with key allies to strengthen our collective deterrence and develop new, innovative capabilities. Just last month, I was in Australia with our Australian and US partners to advance our AUKUS programme, which will develop and deliver a range of cutting-edge kit in addition to the next generation of nuclear-powered submarines. At the end of last year, I was in Japan to advance our Global Combat Air Programme, which is the development of the sixth-generation fighter jet with Italy and Japan.

Just last week I was in Telford to see the first fully British tank for 22 years coming off the production line. That is just one strand of our Future Soldier programme to make our Army more integrated and much more lethal. Of course, defence already supports hundreds of thousands of jobs, with real quality to them, in the UK, including over 200,000 directly in the industry. Our additional £75 billion will open up many more opportunities in regions up and down the country.

This is a turning point in UK defence. We must spend more because defence of the realm is the first duty of every Government. We on the government side of the House recognise that fact. But while I want to see peace and international order being restored, I am also absolutely convinced that it is hopeful thinking—even complacency—to imagine that we can do that without ensuring that we are better protected. The best way of keeping a country safe and protecting our way of life is deterrence: being prepared; being clear-eyed about the threats we face; being clear about our capabilities; backing UK defence science, technology and innovation; carrying not just a big stick but the most advanced and capable stick that we can possibly develop; and yes, using our military muscle alongside our allies.

Our investment in our continuous at-sea nuclear deterrent makes would-be adversaries think twice. We on the government side of the House have not come to the conclusion that our nation’s nuclear deterrent is there because an election is approaching; we have always believed in our nuclear deterrent.

This is an additional £75 billion boost for our forces. In the build-up to the NATO summit in Washington, I will do all I can to get alliance members to follow our lead and bolster their armed forces, strengthen their industrial base, invest in innovation, maximise their military deterrence and, most importantly of all, maximise their support for Ukraine. In a more dangerous world, where we face an axis of authoritarian states, 2.5% must become the new baseline for the entire alliance. If we are to deter, lead and defend, that is what is required of us. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I remind your Lordships’ House of my registered interests, specifically my associations with the Royal Navy.

As my friend, shadow Defence Secretary John Healey, said in the other place yesterday, there is “much to welcome” in this Statement, and any and all commitments of additional resource for our national security will receive cross-party support. It is clear that we live in an increasingly dangerous world. Our dedicated and professional service personnel are operating in multiple theatres, securing UK interests and supporting our partners. Every day we ask more of them and their families, asking them to make sacrifices so that the rest of us remain safe and secure at home.

These Benches welcome the new commitments to build up stockpiles, boost defence exports, give priority to domestic defence production and set up a new strategic headquarters in the MoD—all commitments for which the Labour Party has been calling for months. It is welcome to see the Government listening to the arguments made by the Opposition. I also take a moment to applaud the additional support for Ukraine, announced both here and in the US. Its fight is our fight.

A fortnight ago, when confirming our cast-iron commitment to the deterrent, Sir Keir Starmer, the leader of the Opposition, made our position clear. A future Labour Government will have a fully funded plan to spend 2.5% of GDP on defence, so our aspiration is the same as the Government’s. As always, there should be no political point scoring on matters of national security and defence. What there should and must be is the Opposition holding the Government to account for their policies and competence.

On that note, I hope the Minister can assist your Lordships’ House in answering questions that the Secretary of State struggled to answer in the other place yesterday. Where is the fully costed plan to get us to 2.5% by 2030? Only a matter of weeks ago, His Majesty’s Government presented and passed a Budget. The associated Red Book made it clear that the Government were planning to cut real-terms spending on defence by over £2.5 billion in this financial year, so where is the additional money coming from, and why did it not feature in last month’s Budget?

The Secretary of State keeps referring to page 20 of the Defending Britain policy paper, which was launched yesterday. The annexe on page 20 does not outline where the money is coming from. However, it does state the MoD budget for each year, up to and including 2030-31. Given the additional commitments the Government have rightly made to our allies in Ukraine, which we support, the annexe in the policy paper actually shows a cut in defence spending planned for 2024-25. This was not in the press release.

In various media interviews in the last 48 hours, government representatives have stated that some of this new funding will come from a cut in Civil Service numbers by some 70,000 posts. The last time this Government pledged to increase defence spending by cutting the number of civil servants was in 2015. The number of people in post actually increased by 50%, so please forgive my cynicism, but we have heard this before.

While on the point of civil servants, can the Minister confirm that the MoD will not face cuts in its workforce? As last checked, the staff employed by the MoD do the roles that we would prefer to be done by civilians rather than those in uniform, from R&D to procurement and business services. Any cuts in these areas will undermine our effectiveness and, in places, our national security.

No one in this House disagrees that the strategic environment in which we operate is becoming more challenging every day. While hindsight is a wonderful thing, I genuinely fail to understand why it is only this week that the Government have decided to respond to the assertion of Ben Wallace, the former Defence Secretary, that the defence budget has been hollowed out.

Since 2010, £15 billion has been wasted on failed procurement. Our Army is now at the smallest size since Napoleon, one in five ships has been removed from the Royal Navy fleet, more than 200 planes have been taken out of service since 2019, and morale in our forces has fallen by 20% since the Labour Party left office. There is clearly work to be done to ensure that, with increasing threats and growing tensions, we are fighting fit.

This month marks 75 years since a Labour Foreign Secretary, Ernest Bevin, signed the original NATO treaty. My party helped to found NATO and our ongoing commitment is unshakeable. The Labour Party has the same aspiration as the Government: defence spending at 2.5%—the same level of defence expenditure last achieved under a Labour Government. We will always do what is needed to defend Britain and we will always spend what is necessary to deal with the threats our nation faces—and we will do it with a fully costed plan.

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent, and on behalf of these Benches, I fully support His Majesty’s Armed Forces. How proud we are of His Majesty’s Armed Forces and what they have done in recent months and years. I endorse the spending commitments that His Majesty’s Government are making, but I also express some concerns about where the funding will come from.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, obviously has a better version of the policy document than I received, because the one I have has no page numbers at all—so if there is a page 20, I have no idea where it is. But we do have the spending detail annexe.

I thank the noble Baroness; I am told that this is indeed page 20.

The percentage of GDP that is being looked at starts at 2.32% for 2024-25 and goes up, according to this, to 2.5%, in line with His Majesty’s Government’s commitment outlined yesterday, 24 April. But I note the words:

“Memo—UK GDP based on OBR’s latest forecasts”.

There is sometimes a little scepticism about OBR forecasts. While far be it from me to raise the sort of concerns and scepticism that a former Prime Minister might have raised about the OBR, can the Minister reassure the House that the forecasts for two, three, four and up to six years out are actually likely to be correct? It matters enormously to these commitments that the OBR predictions should be right, because the commitments being made now are vital.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anderson, asked why the announcement was this week. As something of a cynic, I wonder whether it was not simply part of the Prime Minister working his way up to a general election, because every day this week we seemed to have a new announcement, whether it was flights going to Rwanda or the commitments to defence. While on Rwanda we might disagree, on defending Britain we do not disagree at all that it is vital. In that sense, the Statement is welcome.

I have a few questions for the Minister. Clearly, the commitment is there to defence expenditure—it follows on from the commitment to improving defence procurement—but this is a relatively short timeframe of six years. In the context of global crises, which we see from authoritarian regimes—as His Majesty’s Government have suggested, Iran, Russia, North Korea and China all seem to work in consort in some arenas—do His Majesty’s Government think that this commitment, while in itself welcome, will deliver change sufficiently swiftly? How far are His Majesty’s Government looking not just to closer co-operation with our NATO allies as a collective—obviously, we are also committed to NATO—but to strengthening bilateral relations, for example with France, in addition to the commitments made in Germany two days ago?

Further, to what extent do His Majesty’s Government think that other regional patterns of co-operation, such as AUKUS, will help them to take the leading role in NATO, which has been stated is an ambition?

In the policy document, the Secretary of State reminds us that in his Lancaster House speech he noted that, clearly,

“the era of the peace dividend is over”.

That is obviously right. In terms of procurement and ensuring that we have the right industrial defence base, 2030 is actually very close. Does the Minister feel that this Statement goes far enough? Will he commit to coming regularly to the House to tell us how it can be delivered and, in particular, about the numbers of civil servants who might be still in post in the MoD? Are their numbers vulnerable alongside those of other civil servants to pay for this deal?

My Lords, this is indeed a very historic document, and I am extremely grateful for the support that we have received from all sides of the House, as well as outside it. Noble Lords will be well aware of my views on defence spending—they should be by now, anyway—so I am delighted to follow the commitments made by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State in the other place that we will now reach the 2.5% of GDP that we have long talked about by 2030.

The headline figure throughout, where I appreciate noble Lords want to see more detail, and quite rightly so, is the £75 billion spent between now and then. Over the next six years, this additional funding to the budget will take us to the 2.5% of GDP, which at that point will work out at £87 billion in defence spending by 2030.

If your Lordships will allow me to get into the weeds for a moment, on page 20 of the pledge document—I promise the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, that there is a page 20 in this document—they will see how we intend to reach this trajectory. It is a flat line from now—it does not tip up at the end. They will also see how the NATO qualifying defence spend matches up against the core defence budget, as footnote 2 explains. To be clear, this is the same metric used across the NATO alliance. The figures used are also based on the OBR March 2024 GDP forecasts, as is standard practice, and cash totals will be confirmed at the relevant spending reviews as time progresses.

In short, this increase to 2.5% will be funded in full through savings, reallocation of resources, more efficient outputs, ruthlessly pursuing waste and delay—of which we know there has been a lot—and projected economic growth, and driving productivity throughout the MoD without any increase in borrowing or debt.

We will better invest in our relationship with industry—a critical point—in including £10 billion over the next 10 years on a new munitions strategy. In addition, through the integrated procurement model we will radically reform and modernise our Armed Forces following the Haythornthwaite review, and we will capitalise on our existing research and innovation expertise through the new defence innovation agency—the DIA.

What is more, this is in addition to the further substantial package of support also announced this week, our largest yet to our allies in Ukraine—many thanks to noble Lords for the continuing support on that. There will be some £500 million of support, as well as these 60 boats, including raiding craft, 1,600 strike and air defence missiles and more Storm Shadows, a mixture of 400 protected, armoured and all-terrain vehicles, and nearly 4 million additional rounds of small-arms ammunition.

We can all agree that this is significant news and, most importantly, the 2.5% must be spent wisely. As the Prime Minister stated in Poland earlier this week, we did not choose this moment, but it falls to us to meet it. Finally, before answering the questions, I will say that in the heightened area of instability that we now face, our first duty in the Ministry of Defence is to the national security and defence of our nation at any cost.

I will address some of the specific issues. On the question of Ukraine, we have now raised the contribution this year to £3 billion and that level will continue. As to why this was not covered in the Budget, I say that there was an enormous amount of negotiation going on at the time, and this is in the relatively recent past. We were putting the plan together, but it just was not ready. If you look at the situation now, the economic plan is starting to work properly; inflation is down from over 11% to 3.2%. We have a security environment that is continuing to deteriorate, and that has given us an opportunity to set the 2.5% target.

The Chancellor made a statement that he wants to return the numbers in the Civil Service, across government, to where they were before the pandemic struck, and the Ministry of Defence will be a beneficiary of that. There is no suggestion of a cliff edge—the cuts will take place in a gradual process over three years. The turn and vacancy level is quite perceivable within that period, and although there is not a recruitment ban there is a 2-for-1 in place at the MoD.

On the size of the forces, capability is as important as much as anything else. We should not hark back to the size of the Army 200 years ago; things were quite different then, although they were not that different 50 years ago. We have learned an enormous amount with the issue in Ukraine, and that is why the DIA is being set up. That hopes to achieve a grouping together of all existing R&D bodies into a single responsible and empowered organisation, particularly with the enormous and remarkable strength this country has in DSTL, and to scale up R&D, drive cutting-edge defence technology in high-tech stuff such as DragonFire and hypersonic missiles, and low-cost, high-impact stuff such as single-direction attack drones. I will mention DragonFire as an example—the Secretary of State did as well. My honourable friend the Minister for Procurement has used the new integrated procurement model to work on DragonFire, and has brought the gestation period forward five years. When we were talking about the new procurement model, there was an issue about how effective that would be. and on this exercise it proved very effective.

On NATO, which has never been more important than it is now, the commitment to move to 2.5% has been widely welcomed and accepted. It was not long ago when the idea of most NATO countries moving to 2% was quite a difficult ask. As Jens Stoltenberg said, the UK is “leading by example” in moving to 2.5%. There is a hope and an expectation that that example will help to move other NATO countries in that direction, both bilaterally and as a defence alliance. That is certainly the intention and I understand that it has been very well received. In fact, I have just come from a meeting with some colleagues from the United States. They were extremely appreciative and absolutely understood where we were coming from, so that was very good indeed.

AUKUS and GCAP are absolutely fundamental to our international relationships. It depends how long I am here, but I certainly will commit to the House that I will come to keep everybody absolutely up to date, particularly about the size of the Civil Service within the MoD and all other matters relating to what is a very considerable ask on the British public.

My Lords, I remind your Lordships’ House of my specific interest as a member of the executive committee of the Army Board. I welcome this announcement. It is a significant amount of money and I commend the Government. However, my noble friend will forgive me if I judge success not by financial input but by what capabilities this money will deliver and, crucially, when. Our Armed Forces have been hollowed out, principally by gifting to Ukraine, so can he reassure me that some of this money is not just for new capabilities but for replacing existing capabilities that have been gifted? Finally, if there is one enemy in all this it is the Treasury. In my humble experience, it is all very well having a commitment of money to defence, but unless we get prompt Treasury approvals on time all this capability will be delayed. Can my noble friend simply reassure me that appropriate conversations have been had with the Treasury?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. On the Treasury, the Chancellor has absolutely been involved throughout this entire conversation and is fully supportive, as is the Prime Minister, of exactly what we are trying to achieve. On gifting and the replenishment of munitions and stocks, everything that we have gifted, including in the announcement this week, is within its sell-by date but is no longer really necessary. Replacements are coming in of new, modern equipment. The Army is perfectly happy to gift this to the Ukrainian effort.

My Lords, I used to work for Peter Carrington and Denis Healey, two great Defence Secretaries. I have been trying to work out how they would have reacted to this Statement. They would certainly have welcomed the increase in defence spending. It is clearly necessary and they would have said so. I think they both would have said that it is not enough but that it is certainly to be welcomed.

Denis Healey certainly would have found it impossible to accept the construction of the £75 billion. Could the Minister confirm that £75 billion is reached only by making the rather ludicrous assumption that the baseline is flat in cash terms, with reductions in real terms in every year of the six-year period? That is the baseline on which one can build annual increments summing to £75 billion. Perhaps he could confirm that is the case. Denis Healey would never have tried such odd accounting.

Peter Carrington would have argued that it is unwise not to prepare the country for a certain amount of pain. The Government are trying to present necessary defence increases as painless. It might be better to admit that there will be a cost, either in taxation or in less money for domestic programmes. The defence of the realm is the first task of government.

It is also absurd, in the week in which President Biden and Speaker Johnson have come forward with a rather substantial programme of assistance to Ukraine, for our Defence Secretary to stand up and say that the NATO partners looked to each other for leadership and the UK Government stepped forward to provide the alliance with the decisive leadership demanded in this knife-edge moment and that, in the build-up to the NATO summit in Washington, he—Mr Shapps—would be doing all he could to get alliance members to follow our lead. This is absurd talk. We should speak softly and carry a big stick. The stick is slightly bigger—not big enough in my view—after this week’s announcement, but we must learn to avoid the bluster and bravado and speak more sensibly.

My Lords, the financial detail is quite complicated and I think it is better if we write and explain how the figures are built up.

It is clearly an ask for the British public. The cake is finite, as I have said before, and defence needs more. It is not an inconsiderable amount of money that we are increasing the defence budget by, and there is a question of how much money you can spend over time. It is rather like building a house, in that you cannot spend it all at once; you have to build up. If you look at where the investment focus is within the next few years, you find that, first, it is on firing up the UK industrial base, including £10 billion for a new munitions strategy. That is extremely important. Secondly, it is on ensuring that our Armed Forces benefit from the very latest technology, through the DIA. Thirdly, it is on guaranteeing long-term support for Ukraine; if we do not do that, it is just going to become more and more expensive. As the Secretary-General said the other day, this is the cheapest time to defeat the Russians. Fourthly, it is on ensuring that expenditure is effective through radical procurement reform, which I have already covered.

My Lords, all of us will welcome any increase to defence expenditure at a time of maximum turmoil and trouble in the world. There is much in this Statement which is to be welcomed, not just the extra money but the aspects on resilience and the rest.

However, I turn the Minister’s attention back to what the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, said. These increases in defence expenditure matter only in terms of the capability that they will produce, and that depends very much on whether or not these figures are accurate and whether the contention that they are going to be fully funded is correct. Many of the economists and experts outside, having looked at the figures overnight, are questioning very deeply their veracity—not only the fact that the £75 billion championed here is based on an assumption about flat cash values of expenditure but the fact that there is a gap between the £4.5 billion a year the Government say they will spend and the £7 billion. How is it going to be produced? Mr Ben Zaranko of the Institute for Fiscal Studies says that what is proposed will not be fully funded. He said:

“It’s in the ballpark of full-throttle austerity”.

The Resolution Foundation says that the contention that it is fully funded is a “joke”. Since we are not laughing, and since these matters are of national and international importance, can the Minister now tell us precisely what is the veracity of the figures that have been produced?

My Lords, I really appreciate the detail of that question. Of course, the importance of getting the figures right and where the money is coming from is critical to the success of the entire endeavour. The detail is such that I would rather write than try to answer the question now, but there is no doubt that the commitment to this level of expenditure has been made and will be delivered.

My Lords, the commitments to Ukraine—both the short-term increased commitment and, perhaps even more importantly, the long-term commitment the Minister referred to—are immensely important today, because Russia must be defeated for the sake of all democracies globally. Right now, Ukrainians right across the country are experiencing ballistic missile attacks on energy and heating infrastructure, homes, hospitals and schools, which they do not have the systems to defend, and the increasing use of Russian air assets on the front line. This country is short of ballistic missiles and defence systems, so what will be done to improve that in the long run? More immediately, what can the UK do to join those pressing for the supply of Patriot and other systems capable of defeating these missiles? A number of European countries that are not able to supply them themselves have offered to fund the purchase of such systems. Is the UK supporting that work?

The noble Lord makes a very good point. Most of the conversations about the issues Ukraine is facing start with air defence missiles. It is not just Ukraine but other states that could be threatened by the Russian Federation. There is an enormous effort in the production of these missiles to try to provide what is necessary, not just in the short term, which is moving them around, but in the long term. It was extremely good news to see the United States pass through their commitment to Ukraine. Some of the missiles have already been delivered.

My Lords, in 2021, the Government published the integrated review entitled Global Britain in a competitive age, which was refreshed in 2023. It was described as setting out the UK’s overarching national security and international strategy, which covers defence, security, resilience, diplomacy, development and trade, as well as elements of economic and science and technology policy. In making this spending announcement on defence, and operating within that systemic approach to security, did the Government give full consideration to the possible need to increase spending on diplomacy and issues such as the climate emergency? Has this all been considered systemically in the round when looking at the allocation of resources?

My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that exactly those conversations have taken place, and that is one of the reasons why it has perhaps taken slightly longer to get to this position than I and many others would have liked.

My Lords, there is an intriguing sentence in the Statement: that we are now producing

“a new plan that for the first time brings together the civil and military planning for how we would respond to the most severe risks that our country faces”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/24; col. 939.]

I would have thought that the 1998 defence review by the noble Lord, Lord Robertson, and the post-2010 strategic defence and security review tried to do that as well, but does that plan include co-operation with European partners? There are some impressive figures for defence industrial investment in the Statement, but it reads a little as if we are on our own in Europe in doing this. In fact, Germany is sharply increasing its defence spending and is providing more support to Ukraine than we are, and France is ramping up its defence industrial spending. In terms of resilience, is this not the moment to work more closely with our European partners and co-ordinate on the effect that will have on the scale and speed of developing the weapons and supplying them to Ukraine?

The answer is yes. The noble Lord is absolutely right: it is critically important that we work with our international allies, whether European or elsewhere, to ensure that what is developed is complementary, but that we are producing what is required rather than unnecessary stockpiles of weapons and munitions. That was also one of the points that our American colleagues brought out earlier this afternoon; they were very pleased indeed with the progress we have made so far.

My Lords, in introducing the Statement, the Defence Secretary said:

“we will remove 72,000 civil servants from the system, not because we do not think they are good people—fortunately, with low unemployment we know they will be gainfully employed elsewhere”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/4/24; col. 944.]

Can the Minister tell me whether there were any negotiations with the trade unions? Are we to believe that there are 72,000 civil servants doing nothing? If that is not the case, can the Minister tell us what services will be reduced, curtailed or ended altogether? I would like an assurance that there will be negotiations with the trade unions in the implementation of this policy. I do not oppose the policy, but I wonder about that bit of it.

My Lords, the 72,000 figure comes from the Chancellor’s desire to move the size of the Civil Service back to the situation in 2019, before the Covid virus struck. The Civil Service was required to grow quite considerably to cope with that situation, which has now passed. It seems logical that we start to move, through a period of natural attrition—there is no suggestion of mass requirements—back to a position where the Civil Service is fit for service, lean and nimble.

My Lords, this is too little, too late, but it is still good news because we are actually spending some money on it. The support going to Ukraine is particularly good news. We must defeat and stop Putin in Ukraine, or else we will have to stop him in Europe, so it must be good news that we have done that.

I must say I have some concern about where this money will come from, but on the assumption we are getting it, I will go down into the weeds in one small area. The Royal Fleet Auxiliary is absolutely crucial to the Royal Navy. For example, one of its ships is doing the Gaza support; the littoral response group ships are both RFA ships; and “Proteus”, a new vessel looking at undersea cables, is an RFA ship. A lot of these ships are now stuck in harbour, and there is a real issue because the RFA has suffered real reductions in pay and conditions of service. I ask the Minister to go back to the MoD and ask, as one of the first little kick-starters of money, that this be looked at. Without the Royal Fleet Auxiliary being manned, the Royal Navy actually grinds to a halt. There are also other little things in the manpower arena across the Army and Air Force that will make a huge difference.

I could not agree more. As to the question of “too little, too late”, it is extremely welcome that we are where we are now. It is absolutely critical that NATO faces up to the Russian Federation and defeats Putin because, as the noble Lord rightly said, if we do not do it now, it will be Europe next, and that will cost an enormous amount more in both human and financial terms.

On the Royal Fleet Auxiliary, I entirely agree. Conversations are taking place. I was in the Black Sea in one of the littoral states last week, where they were talking about the two ships in Portsmouth that are now ready to make their way over and what a good move that is.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement on which my noble friend is responding today. Many important questions have been raised today. Will my noble friend give us an update on, and perhaps not forget, the accommodation that our Armed Forces personnel live in, and make sure that their conditions are not forgotten and that the upgrades and improvements that are required are part of this plan?

My Lords, that is a very good point. Accommodation is critical in recruitment and retention. Within the plan, there is £4 billion expenditure over the next 10 years to upgrade and build new service accommodation. At the moment, 97% of what we have meets the Government’s decent homes standard, but we continue to work with suppliers to make sustained improvements on the existing portfolio of properties. It is a point extremely well made that we must make certain that not just accommodation but all service pay and conditions are at the highest level.

Affordable Housing: Supply

Motion to Take Note

Moved by

That this House takes note of the supply of genuinely affordable housing, its impact on the economy, and the steps needed to increase supply, particularly for key workers and those on lower incomes.

My Lords, 105 years ago, Lloyd George made a commitment to building houses for those returning from the horrors of the First World War—“homes fit for heroes”—central to the general election campaign immediately following the armistice. The heroes we have applauded more recently, while never forgetting the bravery and dedication of our Armed Forces, have been the NHS workers who through the Covid pandemic displayed a courage and commitment to public service no less than those in the military. Covid’s evolution from pandemic to endemic has not relieved the pressure on the NHS and its workers, who are still widely regarded as heroes in their care for patients. However, for many of them, and other individuals and families on low incomes, truly affordable housing is as scarce as it was for those returning from the front in 1918.

I am privileged to have the opportunity to introduce this debate today on affordable housing, even if it is depressing to confront the sheer scale of the problem. I am conscious of the profound knowledge and experience that other speakers today have in this field, and I am very grateful that they will bring their expertise to bear on this problem. I am truly delighted that the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, has chosen today’s debate in which to make her maiden speech, which I look forward to hearing.

There is rarely a day when the problems of the housing market are not central to public debate and news coverage. This week, the Nationwide Foundation and the Church of England led a powerful group of organisations and individuals in the publication of Homes for All: A Vision for England’s Housing System with wide-ranging analysis and suggested priorities, to which a cross-party group of your Lordships contributed.

Much of that debate was around the overall housing market, rather than the affordable and social sectors on which we are focused today. Of course, this overall market is not just relevant to the affordable and social sectors; it is the context for and driver of the underlying problem. If housing costs generally were not so high in the UK, then market rents and purchase prices would be affordable further down the scale of household incomes.

One vivid illustration of the underlying problem has been given by Paul Cheshire, professor emeritus of economic geography at the LSE. In 1955, a dozen eggs cost a little under six shillings—how nostalgic it is to express it in the currency of my childhood—or 28 pence in this newfangled decimal currency. If the price of eggs had increased in the subsequent 50 years or so at the same level as the price of housing land, the price of a dozen eggs today would have risen to £91.

The sclerotic and political planning system lies at the heart of the shortage of housing land and its consequent eye-watering price. I welcome the Labour Party’s clearly and rigorously defined intention to reform the planning system. Even if, later this year, the electorate choose to give the Labour Party a mandate to push through its planning reforms, the need for more affordable and social homes will remain. Even if, in time, a Labour Government can address low pay and the position of those who—through no fault of their own—are on benefits, there will still be a need for more affordable housing.

I promised myself not to overload my remarks with figures, but there are a few which are inescapable in illustrating the scale of the problem. There are 1.2 million individuals or families on local authority waiting lists for social housing. More than 100,000 are in temporary accommodation. Over the 10 years to 2021, the completion of affordable and social homes averaged 50,000 a year. Critically, during this period, homes built for social rent—defined as 65% or less of market rent—fell from around half of that figure to one-fifth. Affordable rent—80% of market rent, which represents a still intolerable burden on the lowest-income households—has become the largest part of this broad sector. The remaining category of shared or low-cost ownership is likely to be way out of reach for those lowest-income households.

In 2019, the Social Housing Commission calculated that more than 3 million social homes needed to be built within 20 years to meet needs—that is more than 150,000 a year. The Bramley paper for the National Housing Federation and Crisis made its own analysis. It reached a very similar figure of 145,000 per year. Is this mission impossible? The challenge, should we accept it, is to triple the level of affordable and social housing built annually, compared to that achieved in the past decade, and to ensure that, of the almost universally accepted total housebuilding target of 300,000 per year, 50% should comprise affordable and social homes, compared to the 25% in recent years.

Should we accept this challenge? Yes, of course we should. Let us unlock our inner Ethan Hunts and Ilsa Fausts and accept this challenge. If we do not, we condemn hundreds of thousands of individuals and families to a life of financial hardship, anxiety and distress. Most importantly, the provision of affordable housing contributes to the well-being, happiness and mental health of individuals and families who are otherwise living insecurely in overcrowded and substandard conditions, while paying a disproportionate share of their income for the privilege.

In addition, there is clear evidence of a wider economic benefit from improved productivity, better workforce participation, greater rates of innovation and, critically, improved provision of public services, in which so many lower earners work—which takes us back to where we came in. These economic benefits—GDP and tax revenue enhancement, and cost savings on temporary accommodation from reduced reliance on short-term agency workers, for instance—in the medium to long term at least mitigate the cost of increased investment in affordable and social housing. In the shorter term, though, there is inevitably an up-front financial cost, as well as the challenge of executing such an expanded building programme cost-effectively and as fast as possible.

I was thinking, “There is no silver bullet”. That reminded me of a consulting firm, a micro-McKinsey that I worked with in the past, rather wonderfully named by its founder the Silver Bullet Machine Manufacturing Company, with the emphasis on the word “machine”. The point that the founder was making in a drily humorous way was that looking for a random large single silver bullet to solve a problem is vanishingly unlikely to be successful, whereas establishing a system or process that identifies and utilises a number of smaller silver bullets is far more likely to be productive.

Central government, local government, housing associations and the private sector each need to play their part and, if necessary, need to be empowered to do so. It should be a true mixed economy. Each party may act alone in some cases or in partnership in others. Each has challenges. Local authorities rightfully aspire to the central role that they have had historically, but the restrictions on their ability to reinvest the proceeds from right to buy over the years have significantly reduced their financial firepower. The increase from 40% to 50% retention recently announced by the Government is welcome, but why not 100%?

The reduction in building activity over the past 45 years, exacerbated by the vicious cuts in local government funding by Conservative or Conservative-led Governments since 2010, has left many local authority housing departments atrophied. It will take time for them to be rebuilt, even under a more enlightened central government regime, particularly as planning departments also need strengthening in many cases.

Housing associations are limited in their capacity to build new homes by their inability to raise equity funding, limits on their gearing levels and the capital investment required to maintain their existing stock. They can still contribute directly and significantly to the 150,000 new affordable homes a year that are needed, but also, vitally, as partners, particularly to private funders and providers and as managers of homes owned and/or developed by others.

The private sector encompasses landowners, commercial developers, the construction industry and specialist, mostly private affordable housing funds and investors. I will touch on landowners in a moment but will otherwise speak briefly about the specialist funds. If there is not to be a Trussian renouncement of all discipline in public borrowing, which your Lordships will know would not happen under my right honourable friend the shadow Chancellor, private equity capital is needed to play its part in achieving the challenging targets for new homes—not just the capital but the development skills as well.

PFI and private equity’s role in the utility industries, notably the water industry, understandably cause concern at the prospect of private capital playing a larger part in the affordable housing sector. We should learn from this history. In the water industry, there has been a toxic combination of a disgracefully weak regulator and unfettered, aggressive maximisation of financial returns by some private equity houses. On the one hand, the Government and Parliament must ensure that the regulator for social housing is strong and robust. On the other, the specialist funds need to behave in a responsible way. I believe this is not a forlorn hope in the light of these funds’ culture and central position in the ESG and sustainable investing movement. We should also ensure that net zero is embedded in all they do.

Finally, central government must drive and co-ordinate all of this, and provide the funding for the grants to local authorities, housing authorities and private funders alike, which are needed to deliver the homes at affordable and social rents. It has to be recognised that much of these subsidies will be for the southern half of England, given that this is where the gap between market and affordable rents is greatest. This needs to be reconciled with levelling-up ambitions.

Should landowners provide more of that subsidy through the imposition of more ambitious Section 106 conditions without choking off the supply of land? That would require cross-party agreement about a long-term policy to remove the incentive for landowners to hang on and hope that a future Government will introduce a more advantageous regime.

A friend with long experience in both the housing association and private sectors said to me this week, “Remember the two Harolds”. Not the two Ronnies, but the fact that only under Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson in recent history have there been material state-driven expansions of affordable housing. My right honourable friend the Leader of the Opposition may not be called Harold, although though he is a strong admirer of the Labour Harold’s career. I am confident, though, that he and my right honourable friend Angela Rayner would become honorary Harolds if a Labour Government were elected. I am sorry that we will not have the opportunity to hear today from many latter-day Macmillans from the Back Benches opposite, but I hope the Minister’s reply will make up for that.

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for initiating this debate, I congratulate him on an excellent opening speech, and I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes.

The background to our debate is a rather frightening recent deterioration in the availability of affordable housing. I have just seen the figures out earlier this month, showing a rise of 21,000 children now living in temporary accommodation. The figure has risen from 121,000 to 142,000 over the last five quarters. Temporary accommodation is the best barometer of acute shortages. It is also a hugely expensive alternative to having a sufficient supply of genuinely affordable housing, to use the noble Viscount’s phrase, which is seriously compounding local authorities’ budgetary problems.

The simple reason why tens of thousands of children are being expensively and inappropriately housed in temporary accommodation is that there is just not enough housing to go round. The UK has not been building new homes at an equivalent rate to other European nations. If we had achieved the average new-build output for all members of the European Union, the Centre for Cities estimates that we would have an additional 4.3 million homes nationwide. When there is an overall shortage, it is, of course, those on the lowest incomes who are hardest hit.

The independent Affordable Housing Commission, which reported in 2020, spelled out the twin phenomena of, first, the decline of social housing—namely, provision by councils and housing associations—from 34% to 17% of the nation’s stock and, secondly, the growth of private renting from 9% up to 20%. Simultaneously, there has been the loss of more than 1.5 million social rented homes from sales under the right to buy—more than a third of these are now in the hands of private landlords at much higher rents. The private rented sector is unsuitable or unaffordable for many, so doubling this sector’s size and halving that of social housing has left many households with no options.

To rebalance the market between the private rented sector and the social rented sector, the commonly acknowledged solution is to increase the supply of social rented housing—that is, homes that are let at often half the market rents, according to a formula used for most existing social housing. Several studies have concluded that a figure of around 90,000 such homes should be built every year. Secretary of State Michael Gove told the Lords Built Environment Committee on 6 February this year that

“we need to aim to have a net addition of 30,000 homes for social rent every year”.

This target from the Secretary of State may sound unambitious, but it would mean far greater numbers of social rented homes than have been added in recent years.

However, without major changes, there is no possibility of achieving either the overall government target of 300,000 homes a year or, within that, 30,000 social rented homes. Indeed, rather than there being a growth in supply, output in both the private and social sectors has been falling significantly. Higher interest rates and inflation of building costs mean that social housing grants fund fewer new social rented homes. At the same time, it has become necessary to channel more social housing investment into the existing stock, rather than funding new supply. This follows a number of high-profile cold and mould cases, most notably causing the death of little Awaab Ishak.

With the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 and more powers for the Housing Ombudsman, the housing associations and the stock-holding councils are rightly spending more on retrofitting their existing stock. The result of these trends is a big reduction in the pipeline of new affordable homes. One major housing association, for example, has self-imposed a two-year moratorium on any new development. Overall starts on site by social landlords are expected to fall by more than 30% this year. Meanwhile, because the private sector housebuilders, faced with lower profits, are postponing their developments, fewer new social rent homes are being achieved through planning gain contributions from the developers.

What can be done? I did not declare earlier my housing and property interests, as on the register. A starting point must surely be to have a national housing strategy. This would comprise an agreed vision for achieving the quantity and quality of new and existing homes that we all seek, with a road map to take us to this destination. Following the Church of England’s report Coming Home, a number of noble Lords have been supporting the Church’s subsequent efforts to help create such a strategy. We suggest the establishment of a statutory national housing committee, modelled on the Climate Change Committee. This would provide a long-term mechanism that holds government to account, irrespective of changes of Housing Ministers—we have had 16 in the last 14 years—and Secretaries of State, monitoring progress toward the agreed goals. It would be wonderful if this concept found its way into party-political manifestos.

In the short term, there is no escaping the need for government funding, principally via Homes England and the GLA. Most immediately, more investment is needed for property acquisition and modernisation to switch private rented sector properties into social housing and reverse the shocking rise in temporary accommodation spending—but more fundamental change is needed.

The Labour Party has made bold statements for growth through developing “grey-belt” land and building a new generation of new towns. For initiatives such as these, any Government will need to find ways of making available funding that goes much further and securing a better-resourced planning system. To that end, I advocate adoption of the model spelled out by Sir Oliver Letwin in his excellent report which, disgracefully, has been sitting on the shelf since 2018. The Letwin approach involves ending the dependence on the oligopoly of volume housebuilders, whose interests seldom coincide with the public good, and shifting the initiative for all major housing projects to locally established development corporations. These corporations—which are less susceptible to local opposition—would have CPO powers to acquire land at a price that reflects the content of a master plan that embraces the necessary infrastructure, green space and facilities. The site would then be parcelled out to the appropriate providers, including social landlords, SME builders, community land trusts, providers of retirement housing et cetera. By capturing the uplift in land value for the public good, this model makes possible affordable, quality homes at scale.

In conclusion, I therefore suggest that the way forward begins with establishing a statutory national housing committee, just like the Climate Change Committee, which sets out the path to agreed goals and provides the continuity and persistence to see the job done. To get there, as well as the necessity of more public investment—which is handsomely repaid in lower health, care and welfare spending and improved productivity—there are also bigger and bolder changes of approach to planning and land acquisition that could make a huge difference. It is certainly worth trying, against the backdrop of human misery that the severe underprovision of genuinely affordable housing has created.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Chandos on initiating this debate. I am particularly pleased at the terminology used for the Motion; “genuinely affordable” housing is what we are on about. In the Government’s jargon, “affordable” has become meaningless. In many parts of the country and for hundreds of thousands of families, 80% of private rent levels are not affordable. To use that as a term of art in legislation and regulation on affordable rent and in affordable housing statistics is misleading, given the depth of the problem that we have to address.

I likewise look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes; I hope that she can bring a different perspective to this. I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Best, except that he has pinched most of what I was going to say—that is not going to shut me up, but I nevertheless agree with pretty much all that he said.

In the days of Lloyd George, to which my noble friend referred, after the First World War about 75% of people lived in private rented accommodation—most of it pretty squalid and a significant part of it very insecure, with the powers of landlords being strong. We transformed that over most of the last century, until relatively recently when we started to go backwards. By the 1980s we were in a position where, since the 1920s, social housing had provided decent housing and affordable prices for a large section of the population, rising to about 30%. Since the 1980s, however, with right to buy without the proceeds being 100% fed back to new building, with demolitions and with stock transfers, that figure for social housing has fallen; it is now down to about 17%. For those in the property market, the prices of new homes have risen from three and a half times average earnings to something over eight times. Mortgage holders, aspiring mortgage holders and private renters are now struggling. For many people, mortgages are now unattainable, and many who had secured mortgages are threatened by the phenomenon of rising interest rates.

In every part of the housing market, there is insecurity, unaffordability and distress. There is also a decline in physical conditions, which I will come on to. At the same time, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, said, household formation has continued apace and, according to the figures that everybody has accepted in recent years, we need to build or provide, one way or another, 300,000 new homes a year. We have never attained anything like that figure—the figure that we have from time to time hit 200,000 or slightly over is an exaggeration, as it is a gross figure, not a net one, and does not take account of demolitions.

It has been the case that, for most of the last century, social housing has provided a positive, safe and affordable alternative. Regrettably, that has declined over recent years. There have been a number of scandals in both local authority and housing association accommodation, with mould and damp, unhealthy conditions, and repairs not being addressed. This has made social housing less attractive.

In the days when both the numbers and standards of local authority social housing were improving and setting the benchmark for good housing associations, the relationship between local authorities, social landlords and the construction industry were very different from what they are now, as the noble Lord, Lord Best, has implied. On the one hand, local authorities had substantial in-house staff and architects, and had their own direct maintenance staff in most cases; they were likely to be the main procurers of house construction work in their areas. On the other hand, in the days of Harold Macmillan and Harold Wilson, the construction sector was highly competitive locally, with a dozen or so SMEs—mainly large family businesses—competing for their local authority’s work. Nowadays, as the noble Lord said, most architect departments and direct works have been dispensed with, and even a competent clerk of works does not exist. The housebuilding sector is dominated by large housebuilders and large developers, which means that the balance of power within the housebuilding market has changed dramatically. We need to do something about that.

There are people who blame the planning system for the lack of new housing provision. It is not perfect, but we do not want to uproot the planning system entirely, because it protects the environments in which people live and the provision of decent housing. It is not the planning system that is the major problem but, frankly, the fact that even when planning permission has been granted there are probably up to a million homes which have not yet been started. It is that, rather than blockages in the planning system, which means that the supply of new homes has been so diminished. The reduction of environmental standards or the loosening of planning restrictions will not speed up that process unless we address it directly, by insuring that starts are made in those areas.

We also have to recognise that the usual figure for new homes completed is the gross figure, not the net figure. In other words, it does not take account of demolitions, particularly those of social housing. I have argued before in this Chamber that the predilection of many developers, and in some cases planning committees, to demolish and rebuild both public and private estates, rather than take the option of retrofit—which is both environmentally more sensible and likely to be much less socially disruptive—is a problem. We need to make sure that, in all major planning permissions, the alternative of retrofit is always considered.

We will need more social housing, and most of it will come from local authorities. As I have said, local authorities have been sadly diminished, financially and in their expert staffing, since their great days. At one point, I thought—or was nearly persuaded—that the idea of having hived-off arm’s-length companies owned by local authorities would help provide social housing, but we have seen local authorities of all political persuasions have their fingers severely burned by going down that road. We need something closer to what the noble Lord, Lord Best, was arguing for—regionally based multi-local authority area corporations to become the major procurer within the housing market and therefore face down the housebuilders in their intentions to, for example, keep the level of social housing low in any mixed development, and then halfway through the project say that they can no longer afford it and get it reduced yet further. That phenomenon must be removed from the housing market.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Best, that we need a new housing strategy. Whether that is a housing committee, a housing corporation, or a housing Cabinet committee, I do not mind, as long as we have an overall approach that can face up to all these problems.

For many families and key workers, as the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, has said, it is impossible to find a place to live that they can both afford and be safe and secure in. We need to make a change. I hope the Labour Government will make that change. Whoever is running this country in the next few years, the housing problem for the least secure people must be urgently addressed.

My Lords, when my colleague, my noble friend Lord Wigley, made his maiden speech in your Lordships’ House, he spoke of his election alongside the noble Lord, Lord Elis-Thomas, to the other place in 1974. He said:

“It was once suggested that the two of us entered the place as revolutionaries and departed as mere reformers. But if the objectives which we then had, and to which I still aspire, of a new relationship between the nations of these islands can be achieved by reforming the structures of government, that is all to the good … If the process of devolution allows Wales ... to take appropriate decisions on an-all Wales level, and to have its voice heard when other decisions are taken on a wider basis, that is also to the good”.—[Official Report, 27/1/11; col. 1118.]

As I begin my time in your Lordships’ House, I associate myself with those words. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Wigley, not only for his many years of dedicated service in your Lordships’ House but for his decades of public and political service to my party, and to Wales. I can only hope to follow in his footsteps and, in time, perhaps, to earn the same level of esteem in which he is held.

It will not have escaped your Lordships’ attention, and I know that my noble friend will not mind my saying this, that I look rather different from him. Since my nomination was announced, much comment has been made on my age, the colour of my hair and my choice of footwear. I assure your Lordships that I will be proud to wear my Doc Martens in this place. I am young, I am a woman and I am from Wales. Your Lordships know well that that is not the norm in this place. I am now one of only 36 Members of your Lordships’ House below the age of 50, one of only six below the age of 40, and the only one below the age of 30. I am conscious of the responsibility which now falls to me, not only as the youngest current Member of your Lordships’ House but as the youngest life Peer ever to have been created.

My responsibility as I see it is to not just be my own voice, or that of my party or my country, but to be a voice of my generation. My own experience is of growing up on a council estate in Llanfaes in Ynys Môn, as a young carer to my dear late father: battling on a daily basis the kind of prejudices that too many of our fellow citizens still face; trying to find hope and build a future for myself in a world where the odds seem to be stacked against people like me; and burning with anger at the deprivation to which my community had been subjected.

These experiences are not unique to me. My generation has a particular experience, a particular perspective, which deserves and needs to be reflected in this place. We grew up through the global recession at the end of the first decade of this century. We grew up in the shadow of terrorism, at home and overseas. We grew up with the internet and social media. We grew up in the age of devolution. We grew up with the ever-growing threat and reality of climate change, and mankind’s destruction of the natural world. We grew up at a time of increasing and often aggressive polarisation in our politics, in the age of Trump and Brexit, and we became adults in the age of Covid. During our short lifetimes, we have seen inequality grow and poverty deepen.

Despite our protests, we see world leaders still to respond adequately to the climate and nature crises. We see wealth inequality all around us. We see high debts and housing costs, low wages and unstable work. That is why I am particularly pleased to be making my maiden speech during this debate, and I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for moving this Motion today.

In August last year, the Wales Expert Group on the cost of living crisis noted that rising rent and mortgage payments are affecting households’ disposable income, and that low-income households are particularly affected. It also said that the full impact of poor housing security is yet to be felt, and that by May 2023 the number of people placed in temporary accommodation, including children, had increased by a third on the previous year. The housing and homelessness charity Shelter Cymru meanwhile says that:

“Young people are not on an even footing with their older peers. They tend to have lower incomes and are more likely to be earning minimum wage, and/or working zero-hour contracts. They are penalised by the UK welfare system, which limits their entitlement to housing benefit, and are routinely discriminated against and exploited by landlords and letting agents when attempting to rent in the private sector”.

Housing is, of course, a devolved subject area, but social security is not. It is the interplay of these two dimensions that is of critical importance. Data shows that, by the spring of last year, around 67,000 people in Wales were on social housing waiting lists, and almost 7,000 were in emergency accommodation. By October of last year, almost 90,000 were on waiting lists, and over 11,000 were in temporary accommodation, of which almost 3,500 were children. Of course, many of us in Wales know all too well the difficulty that so many people—especially young people—face in buying a home in their own community, particularly in the rural and coastal parts of Wales where the Welsh language is the strongest. For these reasons, it is imperative that the voices of young people are included in your Lordships’ deliberations.

Since the announcement of my nomination to this place, I have been quite open in my view that, although I believe that Welsh voices are necessary here now while this place has a say in the laws that govern Wales, I do not believe that an unelected upper Chamber has a place in a modern, democratic society. While I may be in the minority in your Lordships’ House in holding that view, I would not be doing my job if I did not continue to express it. Nevertheless, it is my intention to be constructive in my contributions here, and I look forward to offering my perspective and sharing my voice in your Lordships’ deliberations, and I look for your support as I do that.

In closing, I thank my supporters—my noble friend Lord Wigley and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett—and all those noble Lords and Baronesses who have taken the time to welcome me and offer me their advice since my arrival. I have been touched and humbled by the welcome that I have received, and I also offer my thanks to Black Rod, the clerks, the doorkeepers, the security services, the police and the many and various members of staff, both party and parliamentary, who have all been unfailingly warm and courteous in the welcome that they have given me.

I thank my friends in the other place and I look forward to working alongside them in Wales’s interests. Finally, I thank my family and friends for the love and support that they have given me. I am the person I am because of them, and I can only hope to do them proud. Diolch yn fawr iawn.

My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to follow the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, whom I will call my noble friend because constructive, co-operative politics has to be the way forward in this changing, challenging world. I am delighted to congratulate her on her spectacular maiden speech. The voice of Wales has very definitely been heard, as it so often has been heard from the noble Lord, Lord Wigley. The arrival of Doc Martens has been duly noted. We need to hear many more younger voices in your Lordships’ House, and I hope that she will not be the youngest Member for too long. She and her peers are the experts in the experience of being a young person in the world today. It is crucial, and I have no doubt at all that she will bring so much of that voice to us.

As we have just heard, and as the noble Baroness told the Times, she plans to stand up for the people of Wales. Of course, as a former chief of staff for Plaid Cymru in the Senedd, and having worked in the European Parliament, she brings great experience and knowledge from that. We are also talking, of course, about the balance of representation. In respect of gender, we are still a very, very long way from the 50:50 Parliament that the excellent campaign group of that name is calling for. There is also an issue about age. We desperately need these experiences. The newspapers have also got very excited about the noble Baroness’s desire—which I share—to replace your Lordships with an elected body. She, with greater cause than me, has great reason to ensure that she does not have a life sentence in your Lordships’ House.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for giving us the opportunity to debate this absolutely crucial issue, and particularly, as the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, commented, on the way the debate is titled in talking about “genuinely affordable housing”. That qualifier is needed because, of course, we now have something of a word soup of terms relating to the kinds of housing tenure. There is the Government’s term “affordable rent” and the related “intermediate rent”. Affordable rent was introduced in 2021, set at 80% of market rates, inclusive of charges. Intermediate rent is also available, but at levels of about 20% lower than the market rate, primarily to lower-income households in London and the south-east. We have the London living rent, introduced to help middle-income earners save for a deposit to purchase a house. We have shared ownership—a form of tenure that, all too often, we increasingly hear, is not so much a step up on to the housing ladder as a great weight around the neck of people who are unable to escape from service charges and unaffordable mortgages. We have the first home scheme—a kind of discounted market sale house offered at a minimum reduction of 30% against the market value. We have to hope that there are not too many people in the current level of mortgage rates who find that also a great burden.

We have to look at this in the context of how genuinely affordable housing rent—what has been termed a “genuine living rent”—can be calculated. The general rule is that households should not have to spend more than 30% of their monthly income on rent. That is in a broader frame of what is known as the 50:30:20 rule: households should be able to spend 50% of their income on their needs and 30% on their wants, and have 20% available for paying off a debt or saving. There are very few households in the UK today that are in that situation—the situation that we should actually aim for.

If we look at some figures from the National Housing Federation, we see that it estimates that by the end of the next Parliament, one in five households—more than 4.8 million households—will be forced to spend more than 30% of their income on rent. That is an increase of 30% on the figures now.

Of course, the other end of this rather disastrous housing pipeline is rough sleeping. We all see this every day—we see it on the streets around your Lordships’ House. There has been a 20% increase in rough sleeping in the last year, and 280,000 households in temporary accommodation.

I have done the depressing stuff; I want to focus on the positive—just a hint of what is possible. For this I am going to Lewes District Council, and Fort Road in Lewes. In 2020, the council took a disused council office building there and replaced it with an award-winning block of 13 council-owned apartments, providing safe, spacious, bright apartments with a very high level of building performance and a renewable energy strategy. Designed using fabric-first principles, they have a large solar photovoltaic array, with 13 individual domestic batteries. That means that the electricity costs are estimated to be 60% below the normal level. The house also, importantly, has fire safety features which are currently not required but are anticipated for the future, with fireproof materials and cutting-edge suppression systems. These are not only affordable quality homes but are very safe to live in—something we need to think more about.

I point to this because it is not simply a one-off. I go to announcements made by the Green leader of Lewes District Council, councillor Zoe Nicholson, who in March pointed out how the council has purchased brownfield land around the Peacehaven golf club and is hoping to also develop a council-owned brownfield site in Ringmer. Twenty-four homes will be built on the Peacehaven site and more homes on these other sites. The council is also looking at old garage sites: 11 locations that could see 45 new homes.

I focus on that because both the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Whitty, focused on a centralised, national approach to solving our housing crisis. There is no doubt that resources and changing regulations and rules need to come from the centre, but I argue that we need to resource local authorities to provide the housing they need in their local community according to their local desires, rather than having something enforced from the centre.

The need for change in the centre comes to one particular issue that I want to focus on in this speech, which is right to buy. That has been one of the enormous privatisations, continued over decades under Governments of different hues, that has done great damage to our national social structure and our communities, and continues to do so. I spoke about the exciting things happening in Lewes; similar things happened a few years ago in Norwich, in Goldsmith Street, where ultra-low-energy Passivhaus homes just outside the city centre were built in 2019 and won the RIBA Stirling Prize for architecture. However, after three years, the tenants have the right to buy, and it now looks as if Norwich will lose a number of those brilliant social homes to the private sector.

Of course, this has happened to 2 million homes since 1980. Norwich has more than 4,000 people on the waiting list, yet there and all around the country, we are still losing more social homes than we manage to build. I have a question for the Minister: what is the current rate of loss of social homes to right to buy? I also have a question that perhaps noble Lords on the Labour Front Bench might like to address: why do they not plan to abandon this disastrous policy of privatisation?

I come now to some of the other costs. I should perhaps declare my position as a vice-president of the Local Government Association. Councils are spending £1.74 billion a year on temporary accommodation. This situation is a large part of what is driving councils towards bankruptcy. On LGA figures, 10,896 homes were sold in the last financial year under right to buy, and only 3,447 were replaced—a net loss of more than 7,000 homes. Since the scheme began, £7.5 billion has been handed out in discounts through right to buy.

I am not sure that many people know about this, but it is worth highlighting that, in desperation, Wandsworth Council in south-west London is offering £120,000 help to tenants to buy a house anywhere in the UK—or anywhere in the world—provided it is not a council property. The council is so desperate to save its homes that it is offering people this very large sum of money. I note that four in 10 of the homes sold off under right to buy are now owned by private landlords. I talked about the cost of temporary accommodation, but we also have the massive cost of commercial-level rents on what were council homes for which the state is having to pay housing benefit. This is, clearly, a disastrous policy.

We knew that from the start because the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, back at the origins of this policy, said that

“no single piece of legislation has enabled the transfer of so much capital wealth from the State”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/1/80; col. 1443.]

That is, under that ideology, a description of reducing the size of the state, but of course what we are actually doing is making all our communities and our societies much poorer.

What we should be doing is moving towards a housing policy that treats homes as comfortable, affordable, secure places to live, not primarily as financial assets. So my final question to the Minister is about community land trusts, co-operative housing and other alternative tenure models. I absolutely champion council housing, but there are other models that can protect communities from the government policy of right to buy. What are the Government doing to encourage them?

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Chandos for tabling this debate. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, on a powerful and, if I may say so, very feisty speech. I was moved at the sheer amount of responsibility she has had to take on at so young an age, and I look forward very much to hearing more such contributions.

Two events this week highlighted the timeliness and importance of this debate. In the upper waiting-room above Central Lobby, there is an exhibition of photographs of families living in temporary accommodation in the Manchester area. A mum with three kids said, “After I was evicted … the first temporary accommodation was for two years. It is a long time. The school was three miles away. If I was late or the kids could not get there, it looked bad for school reports and stuff”. Another mum said, “When you look at other children, they are able to eat proper meals and things like that. My son has had infection after infection. Since we have moved after the hotels, I have been to A&E just under 15 times”.

The exhibition is well worth seeing. It was organised by the APPG on homelessness. In opening it, Dame Siobhain McDonagh MP urged the need for a long-term solution that crossed social divides and party-politics. That plea was echoed in the second of the two events I referred to, the launch of the Church of England’s report, Homes for All: A Vision for England’s Housing System, which was referred to by my noble friend and by the noble Lord, Lord Best. Echoing the conclusions of other reports, notably from the National Housing Federation and Shelter, the report identified that the housing crisis continues to escalate, perpetuated by a lack of policy stability, ambition and urgency across successive Governments, and a failure to connect the issues through a systematic and co-ordinated approach. The Minister and my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage both spoke eloquently at the event.

It is clear that a change in approach is needed. There are currently over 8 million people in England who cannot access the housing they need. For 4.2 million of these—around 1.6 million households—social rented housing would be the most appropriate tenure to address that need. Our failure to deliver the homes we need is breaking down our communities. It is driving families and key workers into financial hardship, and away from work, schools and support networks.

Some groups of people are feeling this crisis even more acutely. Black, Asian and minority ethnic households, and disabled people, are more likely to experience homelessness or live in poor-quality, unsuitable or overcrowded homes. Women’s Aid points to the lack of affordable housing as a primary barrier to those escaping abuse.

Yet, despite our severe housing emergency, the supply of genuinely affordable housing is falling. Last year, 29,000 social homes were sold or demolished, and fewer than 7,000 were built. Many households are now forced to live in expensive, insecure and often poor-quality homes in the private rented sector.

Most damning of all is the impact of this crisis on children. A record number of children are homeless and are forced to live in inadequate temporary accommodation, including bed and breakfasts. This disrupts their education, affects their life chances and puts huge pressure on families, as the exhibition I referred to so graphically illustrates. Some 138,000 children are currently living in temporary accommodation, and this is estimated to rise to 310,000 by 2045 without government action. These figures are a stark illustration that a radical change in approach is urgently needed.

I hope the Minister will not respond to this debate simply by asserting the work that the Government are doing, a lot of it good, and the number of homes currently being built. Whatever that number, it simply is not enough. I urge the Minister to focus on the key question in her response: how do we increase supply?

For those at the sharp end of the housing crisis, we need to build 90,000 new social homes every year to keep up with demand. In 2010, the amount of grant funding available for new social housing was cut by 63%. The consequences of this decision have been dire. Does the Minister agree that we need a new, long-term and substantial grant programme that can be used more flexibly to deliver new social homes, regenerate and refurbish existing homes and acquire more existing homes where appropriate?

Does the Minister agree that we need bold planning reforms to deliver the highest possible level of affordable housing, incorporating new, large, mixed-tenure communities? My party recently announced proposals to allow grey-belt development, which includes 50% affordable housing. This is a welcome step in the right direction.

Does the Minister agree that government funding and fiscal rules need to be reviewed to incentivise long-term public investment in social housing? I must also ask the Minister to comment on the need to invest in a skilled workforce if this ambition is to be realised. Does she agree that the Government must ensure that there is resilience within the supply chain and workforce while unlocking innovation in the construction industry, which could include exploring new technology and supporting new methods of delivery?

There are huge economic benefits to be gained. We need to move away from the outdated idea that social housing is a drag on the public purse. In fact, it is a long-term driver of sustainable growth. Every £1 invested in social housing delivers at least double that of wider economic benefits. Recent research from the National Housing Federation and Shelter, carried out by Cebr, showed the positive economic impact of building social housing. These include savings on housing benefit, reduced homelessness, increased employment and improved healthcare.

I have said before in other debates that building social homes that meet local need can offer stability in people’s lives. This helps people to get and keep work, and reduces the long-term scarring effect that being homeless or in temporary housing can have on employment prospects. It also supports children’s education and the mental and physical health of families.

I support the Archbishop of Canterbury’s report in its call for an end to “short-termism” in housing policy and its advocacy for decent homes across England. As the report states, everyone should have a home that is comfortable and safe. Sadly, and to our shame, decades of piecemeal and short-term policy have left us with a failing housing system that is affecting our health and well-being and costing our country billions. It is also holding back our economy and making communities unsustainable.

The housing crisis is a complex problem. It will take long-term political commitment, investment and collaboration across government and with partners across the country. I echo the call from the noble Lord, Lord Best, reflected in the Church of England’s report, for a housing strategy committee, modelled on the Climate Change Committee or the Low Pay Commission, which will hold the Government to account.

Does the Minister agree that, to meet the scale of the challenge we face, there needs to be a comprehensive and policy-led long-term national plan, agreed in its fundamentals across political parties, with the Government in partnership with local authorities and the social housing sector? Perhaps then we can begin to solve this worsening housing crisis.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for initiating this important debate and applaud the maiden address from the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes. I assure her that the House will welcome now and into the future her spirited advocacy, not least for Wales.

I think the inadequacy of the UK’s housing provision, adversely affecting most in our society—the middle classes as well as the poor—is our most pressing national problem. It is a problem many decades in the making and I do not think that we will resolve any specific aspect of housing difficulty without addressing the totality of housing provision in the round, right across the United Kingdom.

Around 300,000 people—there are some slight differences in the figures that noble Lords have cited, but I am sure we all have good sources—including 200,000 children, are without a home and live in temporary accommodation, in shelters or with friends. One million households are on council waiting lists. According to the English Housing Survey, 4 million live in substandard homes, in the oldest housing stock in Europe. One-third of under-34s still live with their parents and struggle to buy a home. Home ownership overall is in decline. At the same time, our population is growing rapidly. In addition, more of us live longer and young people form single-person households and marry later. For these many reasons and others, overall demand for housing is increasing rapidly. Yet housing provision—as pretty much everybody has said—has manifestly not kept pace with growing demand.

As I think the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, was the first to remind us, just over 100 years ago, just after the First World War, the then Government began building “homes fit for heroes”. I do not think anybody has mentioned that in 1953, under a Conservative Government, social housing build peaked at 200,000 units per year. I think this is the most remarkable statistic. Today, there are 2 million fewer units of social housing than there were 40 years ago. You do not have to look very far to see at least one of the root causes of our housing malaise.

What are we doing to close that awesome deficit? Not much—local authority and housing association build in recent years has been around a modest 20,000 units per year. A huge increase in private renting, which has doubled over two decades, has taken the strain, often with poor quality, underinvested housing.

Many factors, most of which have been mentioned, stand in the way of increased homebuilding, including planning restraints, land hoarding and shortages of skilled labour. Estimates vary on the scale of the overall housing gap—the gap between demand and supply—but all are in the range of 1 million and 2 million homes. That is a measure of just how far behind we are from where we need to be. Despite the recent improvements in housebuilding, it is a very long journey to get anywhere near to filling that gap. The noble Lord, Lord Barwell, put the issue simply and bluntly, and I think everybody here would agree, when he said that building more of every level of housing is what is needed.

I echo what a number of others have said in this excellent debate so far. We need to take out a clean sheet of paper and build a new housing strategy from scratch. What we have been doing in recent decades has simply not been working. We need to create a plan developed from a national, not regional or local, perspective. This is not for housing in our precious green belt, of course, but near where people work. We need a strategy for housing close to services, which is well-insulated, with decarbonised heating, and of beauty—something which the UK has achieved brilliantly again and again in our history and must do again.

We will not solve our housing crisis overnight. It will take 10 to 15 years of systematic hard work to do that. However, we will not resolve it at all without, as others have said, speedily framing a comprehensive national plan that addresses and deals with the many causes of our most pernicious national problem.

My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend for giving us the opportunity to address this very important issue, which affects all of us directly or indirectly. I add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, in Ynys Môn. She certainly made us aware of the fact that she will represent the interests of Wales during her time here, but perhaps the extra value will come from what she has to say about a generation that many of us have long left behind. It is wonderful to welcome a fellow Welsh person, and on such an important issue.

Many speakers have quoted statistics of one kind or another. Some, by the weight of repetition, have brought home in a focused way the needs of the moment and the dire situation in which this whole area is dragged down. One statistic that has not been mentioned is that we are in the year of the 16th Housing Minister since 2010. Having 16 Housing Ministers in 14 years is not something to glide over or just have a chuckle about; it represents where housing sits on the agenda of this present Government. We must, therefore, as gravely as we can, point to that. We would like to wish the present Minister in our House a long life in her current job, but there is a bit of me that does not want to go that far in this year of grace.

We have to admit that initiatives, programmes and financial packages have been attempted or implemented by the present Government that we should at least recognise as pointing in a direction that we all want to travel in. However, the House magazine issued just a month ago, focusing on housing, recognised that this is a moment of crisis, when the Government are facing unprecedented pressure over their housing record. I like to quote voices other than those of our own parties, to make the points that need to be made as being more general than simply the result of one’s own party-political position.

The wonderful briefing notes that we had from the Library omitted from the title of the report one word which is integral to my noble friend’s Motion before us—the word “genuinely”. As others have mentioned quite properly, if “affordable” just means 20% off the going rate, it is certainly not affordable for the large majority of people. So “genuinely” must claim its place in the phrasing of this Motion and in our discussion of the issues it raises. House prices are 8.3 times higher than the median wage, which means that even people with 20% or 30% discounts will not be able easily to arrange mortgages or pay rents. We have heard how many of them have to resort to alternative forms of accommodation because housing is now beyond them.

I hesitated long and hard before putting my name down to speak in this debate, because I have never owned a house in my entire life. I have lived in tied accommodation, and so many of the issues mentioned here have never been within my direct experience. But I have three children, and these issues lie very definitely within the ambit of my children’s generation. They themselves have come up with mixed responses, and abilities and inabilities, as to how to fashion a housing future for themselves.

It is admittedly a very complex area. National plans and strategies have been mentioned again and again, and they have to take in many diverse and often conflictual strands of experience. I received, as I am sure we all have, briefings ahead of this debate—for example, from Women’s Aid—about not forgetting the needs of women who have been domestically abused, who will have housing needs. Then there is the news that there is no guarantee that the ban on no-fault evictions can be implemented before the election. That took us all by surprise too, and affected radically the way we were thinking about a particular piece of legislation before us at the moment. Then the Residential Freehold Association came in, all guns firing, to have its own particular interest defended too.

It has all left me feeling, in agreement with those who have said it already, that we need some kind of bipartisan national effort for what is a universal need. It is no good having my plan versus your plan; rather, we need to be thinking together to achieve an outcome that would and can, as is the only way, benefit the world at large.

I have a couple of personal examples, which I use not because of the personalities involved but for illustrative purposes. I have been in conversation this week with a young person—although it is some time since I was young. Having graduated during the Covid years, and looking to his future career and the rest of it, he has received a very good offer of a further degree in one of our prestigious universities. But as he says, unless he can find funding, with £48,500-worth of debt already, how does he do it? Some £3,500 of that debt is the interest accrued on the debt last year—what is that all about? We are eliminating this from the frame of young people’s possibilities and needs, by the punitive way that these things happen.

I shall perhaps a bit more personal, if noble Lords will permit me. My parents divorced when I was a child. I still have at home, and I thought to bring it, just to wave it around, the letter from my father’s lawyer that ordered my mother and her boys out of the family home at one week’s notice. It was October. The winter was nigh on. We had nowhere to go. In the little locality where I lived, various neighbours took us in for a week or a few days at a time until my grandparents, who were caretakers in a factory, decided that they would share the three rooms that they lived in with my mother and her two boys, so I was raised in one room in a brickyard. I mention this not to alarm people or to draw attention in some kind of pathos moment, but because I can never forget my mother’s feelings, which were never expressed verbally, of panic, fear, depression, and—what the Centre for Economics and Business Research refers to as being the case for people who have gone through that—long-term scarring. Long-term scarring is what people who have been thrown on the garbage heap carry with them for the rest of their lives. I have to say that in my worst moments I give evidence of it myself. I feel that we must keep in view the needs at large of young people, marginalised people and those who have no hope or stake in society when we utter our fine words, analyse the statistics and form the resolve that as a nation we need to do better than we are doing right now.

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, on a tremendous speech, one that I—as someone with forebears from the beautiful island of Ynys Môn, or Anglesey if you prefer, one of the most beautiful places in the world—particularly welcome. She is very welcome, and I am sure will be a tremendous asset to this House. I also thank my noble friend Lord Chandos for introducing this debate. In his and all the other contributions, a powerful case has been made. I am looking forward to the Minister’s reply. I hope she will adopt a constructive response to what has been said rather than just defending the Government’s record. We have to look to the future and to what needs to be done.

I am going to talk about the crying need for more council housing, especially but not necessarily for those on lower incomes. This need has become increasingly critical, given today’s housing crisis, which has been so ably laid out by previous speakers. I emphasise that I am talking about council housing: housing that is publicly owned and subject to a degree of democratic accountability, where tenants have secure tenancies and rents are, in general, substantially lower than in other forms of renting. As a result, as has been argued by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Council Housing, it offers the only real opportunity for mass affordable rented housing in the whole of the UK. There is obviously a significant role for other forms of social housing, but the long-term sustainable solution to the problems we face relies on council housing.

Extraordinarily, it is one of those areas of social policy where we know what works but, for one reason or another, are blind to what needs to be done. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, joined us briefly—he is not here now—to make the point from the opposite Benches about the success of the Macmillan housing programme. That depended on council housing; it was not done by private developers. The success of our new towns, to which I hope my noble friend Lady Taylor of Stevenage will refer in winding up, relied on council housing. We know it works. Council housing provided millions of families with their first opportunity of a decent family home. For one reason or another, we choose to ignore that success.

The changes we have seen in housing during the last decades, have resulted in pushing low-income families into insecure, substandard housing, with overcrowding and—to an increasingly worrying extent—homelessness. Council housing has played a crucial role in ensuring a basic standard of living and security for all.

The case for expanding the use of council housing is grounded in both social justice and economic practicalities. First, I believe that housing is a fundamental human right, crucial for personal stability, dignity and family life. By providing more council housing, Governments can directly support those in need, fulfilling their basic responsibility toward their citizens. Secondly, as other speakers have mentioned, low-income families often spend a disproportionate amount of their earnings on housing, squeezing what is available for other essentials such as food, healthcare and education. More council housing, with socially appropriate rents, would increase disposable income levels, leading to greater consumer spending and more contentment with human life, but also economic growth. Thirdly, councils provide stable and affordable homes for low-income families, reducing their risk of homelessness with the associated social costs which come back on all of us. Finally, having a secure living environment can lead to better educational outcomes for children, greater employment opportunities for adults, and overall improved health for families. Not for nothing were health and housing in a single ministry in the Government following the last war. Good health requires and needs good housing.

From a broader perspective, increased investment in council housing can stimulate the economy. Construction projects—of which there are all too few at the moment—generate jobs, boost local businesses and can lead to the revitalisation of undeveloped areas.

Given the manifest need for more council housing, we must talk about the adverse, malign effects of right to buy. While the scheme has allowed many tenants to achieve home ownership and has been popular among those who have benefited from it, its long-term implications for the availability and affordability of housing have been malign. Clearly, there has been this massive reduction in the stock of social housing that has been referred to, but we have seen that many of those properties which were sold to create this property-owning democracy have been bought up by commercial letting agents. We end up with families still relying on rented accommodation, provided more expensively by the private sector and of not such a good standard.

That has led to a reduction in social cohesion and, although there is not time today to go through all the details, an adverse effect on the financial stability of local authorities—it is one of the major factors in why local authorities are facing the problems they are—and to lengthening housing lists and more people in need of accommodation. To address this problem, we require a comprehensive strategy involving the multiple stakeholders involved, but government at all levels must commit to long-term funding and policy support for council housing development. Public support is essential. Community involvement in planning and decision-making can ensure that developments meet local needs and integrate well with existing neighbourhoods.

I particularly emphasise the importance of cottage estates. That is the sort of housing people want to live in. All too often the financial rules on the development of new housing force the building of flats, which are fine for some, but the great majority of people want to live in the cottage estates that we built between the wars and during the 1950s, but which for some reason are no longer being built in the numbers people require. It is a matter of some concern that Goldsmith Street in Norwich, a Stirling prize-winning development that was built as council housing, is now to be sold off to the private sector for right to buy. This simply has to stop.

Increasing the availability of council housing is a pivotal step towards addressing the housing affordability crisis and the support that is required for low-income families. Not only will it provide the basic need for shelter, but it will serve as an economic catalyst and promote social equity. By prioritising this approach, Governments can make significant strides towards a more stable and just society.

My Lords, I shall say a few words in the gap. I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton; he has brought some passion to this debate, and rightly so. I identify with that passion, having just read in the book This Boy by Alan Johnson, a former Labour Minister in the previous Labour Government, about the way he and his sister fought to secure a place to live after they lost their mother in the 1950s in London. Going back to that would be a disgrace, and we have to ensure that that never happens.

I warmly congratulate my noble friend—it is nice to be able to say “my noble friend” in the narrow rather than broad sense in this Chamber—on a memorable maiden speech; llongyfarchiadau. I hope she will inspire many more of her generation, across party-political boundaries, to follow her lead and find a way to get their voice heard in this Chamber. We need a spectrum that includes all the ages that can participate and educate us.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for facilitating this short debate and particularly for his reference to my constituency predecessor David Lloyd George. The fight for social justice ran through the early decades of the century, as in the 1950s and 1960s and indeed in the last century, and we obviously have to grasp it again.

I first entered Parliament 50 years ago, as my noble friend graphically described, and housing remains a pressing issue, particularly for young people, so it is good to have a persuasive voice for them in this Chamber, one who can speak effectively for the needs of Wales and of course for Plaid Cymru. I am glad to welcome my noble friend Lady Smith of Llanfaes to her place in this Chamber. I congratulate her again on her maiden speech and hope that we hear much more from her on these social issues, as well as the battle facing us in Wales.

My Lords, I draw attention to my declared interests, as I work in housing and planning in various ways. It is an immense interest of mine. That work came out of policy reviews for successive Governments in this arena.

Before I turn to the issue at hand, I want to address a few comments to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. She made an excellent maiden speech. I remember making my own in the other place rather a long time ago as the then youngest Member of Parliament just elected. She may possibly match one record I think I still have. Ten years later I was still the youngest Member of Parliament. I have a suspicion she may achieve something similar in this place, but we will see.

I have one word of advice. One comes in and people think of you as radical because you are young. Time passes and you are no longer young, but it is very important to remain radical. I have always been a firm believer that the people who should be here, or in the other place or in any other form of public life, should be those who want to change things. Holding on to that is not always easy when you are the beneficiary of the establishment, so I hope—I think she will, to judge by her speech—she will remember that.

Turning to change, it is clear from the speeches across the House how much concern there is, irrespective of party, about the difficulties people have in finding a home. It can be addressed as affording a home, but the truth is that it is finding a home because there are literally millions of people in this country who do not have the home they would wish for. Much of that is hidden. It is young adults living with their parents far beyond the length of time they used to. It is people in inappropriately small accommodation who need larger family accommodation. It is people in flats with children who deserve gardens. It is people in houses in multiple occupation, each of whom should have their own home.

There is a simple fundamental reason for this. It is not addressed by simply saying, “Oh well, the planning system is not really the problem; it is the developers”, or “We need to have more affordable homes”. The fundamental underlying reason is that we have not been building enough homes for decades. We have failed to build enough not by a small amount, but by a very large amount. In the last decade, for all the Government have done, we were about 1 million homes short of what we know needed to be built. In the decade before that, we were at least another 1 million homes short of the numbers we knew we needed to build.

While the 300,000 figure is pretty much universally acclaimed, let us remember what it is built off. Around 250,000 of that is merely addressing the demographic need. The remaining 50,000, which comes originally from work by Kate Barker in two reviews, was a very slow process of building back the undersupply that, at that time, was 1 million or so homes over a decade. It is now 2 million homes over two decades. The figure of 300,000 is only slow progress over many years to address the under-provision that has taken place over so long. Kate Barker said that there is only so fast you can go without causing an impact on house prices that will destabilise household finances. That is properly right. But the truth is that we are coming nowhere near to what needs to be provided.

In my remaining time, I want briefly to address the history of this. Between the two great wars, we were delivering enough homes. It was largely done through the private sector, but also the “homes fit for heroes” policy and the rest of it. Part of the reason for that was that there was a ready supply of land. Anyone who owned land could build on it or sell it to be built on. The problem was that, as people no longer had to walk from home to work or to the shop, and they became able to move more freely, we saw the spread of suburbanisation around towns and cities, and the coastlines and countryside being built up. That is why, after campaigning by organisations like the CPRE, we saw the planning Acts introduced in the 1940s.

However, when they introduced the planning Acts, they knew full well the impacts of restricting the ability to build, so they set out a clear strategy to make sure that enough homes were built. First, they said you should renew the bombed-out cities and the slums—in effect, a form of brownfield first. It was urban renewal, but not with densification and towers; it was on garden city principles of removing the dense slums and giving people decent homes with gardens. You see that in London and the other cities around the UK. We seem to have forgotten that lesson, because what we are building today is not fit for families, as we densify, go up and build flats.

I do not know how many Members of the House of Lords choose to live in a flat as their main home. I suspect some do for second homes. I asked this question when I did a planning review at a time when 45% of all homes being built were flats—it will be similar now. I asked: what proportion of the public did not have to live in a flat because that is all they could afford or because it was a moment in their lifetime? How many actually wanted to live in one? The answer was that, while 45% were being built as flats, just over 1% wanted to live in them.

This is a country where, particularly when you go through the stages of family life, you want access to gardens and open space. Of course there is a role for flats—there is in every country—but we need to remember that those buildings turn to slums very quickly when people who cannot afford to maintain them are in them. Councils could not maintain them and housing associations struggle to maintain them because, over time, their lift shafts, heating systems and windows need to be renewed. All of that is enormously expensive for these properties. I fear that we have forgotten that, the last time we did this, they turned into slums. I fear they will turn into slums again—particularly with offers for the private sector to buy buildings that have been built with 40-year or 50-year lifespans and no intention of renewing them in the long run.

Secondly, they wanted urban renewal around the edges, but they understood that you do not want parasitic development with no facilities and poor-quality housing that destroys historic communities—the towns, villages and cities that we love. They wanted planned urban extensions that would have facilities, schools, hospitals, shops and neighbourhoods. We understand these here in London—we all understand the process of city by neighbourhood, with each neighbourhood in walking distance of the facilities you need for everyday life. That is how they planned those urban extensions, but we have forgotten that. We build housing estates with no facilities at all, cut off from shops and schools. We talk about them as sustainable extensions, but they are anything but; they are just dormitories for people with cars, with no facilities and people struggling to get a dentist or a doctor’s appointment, or struggling to find a school on the other side of town. Everyone in them has to drive because all the facilities are scattered around.

Thirdly, they said that, if you built well in the cities and urban centres on the brownfield sites, there would not be enough homes. If you built well in the urban extensions around the towns and cities but respected people’s desire for them to remain historic places, there would not be enough homes. So you also needed to create new communities, using the ideas of Ebenezer Howard and the new towns programme. Why do we forget that lesson? It is what we need today. The answer is: in the late 1970s, we built enough homes and it worked, but we stopped. When the demographic numbers started to go up again—because people lived longer in their own homes, there was more migration and more babies were born—we forgot all those lessons and started to try to build towers in cities and little urban housing estates around the edges, pretending that you could deliver communities by delivering a minimum number of homes.

We need to go back to the origins of planning and plan long term for place and how places evolve. We need to stop fighting about whether it is 20, 30, 40 or 50 homes this year or next.

My Lords, I add my welcome, or croeso, to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, and thank her for her excellent speech. I do not share her youth, sadly, or her hair colour —I may have done back in the day—or Doc Martens, but I did grow up in a council house, as she did, and I share her strong passion for housing. I think that she will find quite a good cross-party housing coalition in your Lordships’ House and I look forward to working with her on that. I thank my noble friend Lord Chandos for bringing such an important debate before your Lordships’ House today and all noble Lords who have spoken. My noble friend gave an excellent, thorough and cogent introduction to this very important debate.

I start by emphasising the words in the Motion, “genuinely affordable housing”, as did my noble friends Lord Whitty, Lord Griffiths and Lady Warwick. Unfortunately, the term “affordable housing” has become widely misused in recent years. For example, in my Question for Short Debate last week on right-to-buy receipts and how they should be used—in my view, entirely to replace the social housing from which they accrue—the Minister seemed to use the terms “affordable housing” and “social housing” as though they were interchangeable; they are not. That is particularly so given the rather dubious definition of affordable housing used by this Government, which includes six categories of housing, only one of which would be affordable on average wages in my area.

Shelter tells us that the focus for the definition of affordable housing should be on social housing, which is the only housing with rent pegged to local incomes, is resilient to local fluctuations in house prices and is usually the most affordable type of housing. It also provides secure tenancies, which enable people to secure employment and establish themselves in communities.

Let me say, by the way, that I in no way intend to be personally critical of the Minister in my comments. I have met many of the succession of Housing Ministers we have had since 2010—I think that there have now been 16, which does not help—and this conflation of affordable and social housing happens more often than not. I know that she is committed to using her time in housing to improve matters where she can.

The Government definition means even a private house selling for over £300,000 can be designated affordable. For residents in my area, with an average wage of about £35,000, that is absolutely not affordable. Homes now cost eight times the average salary. The average three-bedroom, private-rented home in my area costs £1,400 a month; that would mean almost 60% of average income being used for housing costs—no wonder we have a cost of living crisis. In contrast, a three-bedroom council home in my area costs £524 a month.

My noble friend Lord Chandos is right to point out that the extraordinary stranglehold that this Government have put on local government has hollowed out both planning functions and housing development teams. We know that the building of social homes has fallen off a cliff. Last year, 29,000 social homes were sold or demolished, including over 10,000 right-to-buy sales, and only 7,000 were built. We have 1.2 million on housing waiting lists and 1.4 million fewer families in social housing than there were in 1980. The cost of this falls significantly on the taxpayer in housing benefit and, secondly, on council tax payers, with £1.7 billion for the cost of temporary and emergency accommodation last year. The outstanding report by Cebr for the National Housing Federation and Shelter, flagged the impressive £51.2 billion benefit to the economy that would accrue from building 90,000 social homes and also pointed to the social benefits of stable, secure tenancies in relation to employment, healthcare, helping people out of the vicious cycle of temporary and emergency accommodation, lower crime and the education benefit for children and young people.

This crisis in social housing delivery is just one of the factors impacting the affordability of housing—I agree with my noble friend Lord Davies that good housing should be a human right. As we have heard, there are many others, including: housing supply, which was not helped by the Government caving in over housing targets at the end of last year; the imbalance of demand; the planning system and its failure to deliver against housing need; quality and sustainability; and the need to meet higher environmental standards, which we welcome but is causing a slowdown.

In the excellent Church of England report, Homes for All, published this week and mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Whitty, and the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, the need for a comprehensive housing strategy with a vision for the next 20 to 30 years is set out very powerfully—and I agree with it. The failure to have a vision for housing and a clear plan of how it should be implemented is at the heart of this issue, and reflects many of the recent discussions in Parliament. It is why we have ended up with a Bill to ban leasehold that ignores 70% of leasehold properties in this country, which are flats, and neither does it scrap the scandalous money-for-nothing regime of ground rent. We will shortly have a Renters (Reform) Bill, which was intended to ban Section 21 evictions but will not do so because, in spite of being years in the planning, the mechanisms are not in place to make the change. There can be no greater indictment of 14 years of Tory housing policy than 142,000 children in temporary and emergency accommodation.

After the Second World War, there was a Labour Government with a real vision for housing, especially when it came to replacing the slums and other housing that had been destroyed across the country with new developments designed to support communities, and with all the facilities that they would need. My town, Britain’s first new town, was the first post-war manifestation of that vision, which built on the tradition of the pre-war Garden Cities. I will not pretend it was easy; the tradition of the nimby goes back a very long way—in fact, I found an example from 1539, but I will leave it for now. Poor John Silkin, the Housing Minister in 1946, arrived in the small market town of Stevenage—population around 6,000—to tell them, at a very noisy public meeting, that the new town would add 60,000 homes. He found that the railway sign for Stevenage had been replaced with one that said “Silkingrad”. Let us hope that better consultation and collaboration can avoid such situations in the future.

It is time to be bold and visionary again. It is time to get Britain building to enable millions to plan their lives, start families, and build a future for themselves and their kids. It is time to meet the needs of those who aspire to own their home and those for whom social housing will be the only affordable option. It is time to make sure that key workers can live wherever they work, across the country—they are our heroes, as the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, said—and have the high-quality housing that they deserve. It is time to get the economic benefit that can come from reinvigorating construction and development, giving investors the confidence they seek by focusing on the builders, not the blockers, and ensuring that SME builders get the support they need.

That is why my party has set out our vision to get Britain building again, with a package of reforms to the planning system. The aim is to build 1.5 million homes over the next Parliament, alongside our five golden rules. I will take no lessons from the Green Party, who say one thing in this Chamber while its councillors block building all over the country.

Our plan includes a housing recovery plan, a blitz of planning reform to quickly boost housebuilding for homes to buy and rent, and delivery of the biggest boost to affordable housing in a generation. We will ensure that local people have a say in how housing is built, with communities confident that the plans they have worked on will be delivered. We have plans for the next generation of new towns—“Hurrah!”, says this new-town girl—which will be new communities with beautiful homes, green spaces, reliable transport links and bustling high streets. We will work with the local development corporations described by the noble Lord, Lord Best. We will unleash mayors, with a package of devolution with stronger planning powers and control over housing investment.

There will be a planning passport for urban brownfield development, with fast-track approval and delivery of high-density housing on urban brownfield sites. We will prioritise those poor-quality and ugly areas of green belt, so that they become grey belt, which will protect the nature-rich, environmentally valuable land in the green belt. The plans for the grey belt must have a target of at least 50% affordable housing. There will be first dibs for first-time buyers, and support for younger people by giving them the first chance at homes in new housing developments, with a government-backed mortgage scheme.

I end with a quote from the preface of Homes For All:

“What could that vision look like? An end to the stress and worry of being locked out of home ownership. Everyone having a safe, warm home that supports their health. Homes for all that release the constraints of poverty. All of us going into our later years with the sense of comfort and dignity that comes from a secure place to live. Every child having the stable foundation they need to thrive”.

Whoever is entrusted with the confidence of the British people at the general election will have a huge amount of work to do, and some of it will have to be done as a matter of urgency. Let us have the election and get on with it.

I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, for introducing the debate on the topic of more affordable homes. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and others, that I am not concerned about my personal career, on the basis that I am covering my noble friend Lady Penn’s six-month maternity leave while she spends some time with her newborn son, and therefore I will be leaving this position in September.

I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Llanfaes, to your Lordships’ House, and I congratulate her on her maiden speech. Croeso i’r Farwnes Smith o Llanfaes i Dŷ’r Arglwyddi a llongyfarchiadau ar eich araith—that was awful, and my mother will not forgive me for my pronunciation. I thank all other noble Lords who have spoken in this afternoon’s debate. They raised important points, which I hope to address in my response.

We all agree with the need for more affordable, high-quality homes in this country, to meet growing demand. The Government recognise the real pressures facing the housing market right now. As noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, have said, full-time workers in England expect to spend some eight times their annual earnings buying a home. Private sector rents have also increased by an average of 8% over the last 18 months. We also recognise that housing providers are facing a more challenging financial position. The Government continuously work with their delivery agencies to ensure that the affordable homes programme can still deliver effectively, in the light of this.

All this underscores the need for more homes of all tenures: homes to rent, homes to buy and homes to part-buy. Affordable homes that the average working family can comfortably live in is the ambition that underpins the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, launched in 2020. This represents a significant investment in affordable housing by the Government, and a clear commitment to deliver tens of thousands of affordable homes, for both sale and rent, throughout the country.

I will briefly outline how, and why, they have been broken down, and how the affordable homes programme in different tenures gives us the results. I start with homes for social rent. We recognise, as do many in this House, that these are the vital homes that we need to build to maintain thriving communities. As was so eloquently stated by numerous noble Lords, homes for social rent are a fundamental part of our housing stock—indeed, they are a lifeline for those who would struggle to secure and maintain a home at market rates. With that in mind, it was right for us to bring social rent homes into the scope of the affordable homes programme, which the Government did in 2018. Since then, we have affirmed our commitment to increase the supply of social rented homes in our levelling up White Paper, while improving the quality of housing across the board, in both the social and private rental sectors. We have also changed the parameters of the affordable homes programme to support this commitment, enabling further increases to the share of social rented homes that we are delivering.

Furthermore, the affordable homes programme is committed to funding a mix of tenures, enabling developers to deliver mixed communities. For that reason, we have kept a commitment to delivering homes for affordable rent as part of the programme. Whereas social rent is calculated using a formula, which takes into account regional earnings, homes for affordable rent is where rent is capped at 80% of the market rate—or lower, in London. This is an important way to support mixed communities with different tenures in new developments. It enables the programme to build more of the affordable homes that this country needs, because they need less subsidy than homes let at social rent.

Although social rent and affordable rent are clearly key elements of our approach, we also support aspiring homeowners to take their first step on the housing ladder. We understand what a difference that increased sense of security can make in all aspects of someone’s life and the lives of their family. That is why home ownership continues to be a fundamental part of the affordable homes programme offer. We will continue to deliver a significant number of homes for shared ownership.

This builds on our record to date of helping hard-working families to buy homes under shared ownership and build real capital in their properties. Between 2010 and 2023, we have delivered 156,800 new shared ownership homes, and our ambition is to build tens of thousands more as the affordable homes programme gathers pace. Since 2010, we have delivered over 696,000 new affordable homes, including over 482,000 affordable homes for rent, of which 172,600 are for social rent. To put this into perspective, the overall number of new homes during this period has been 2.5 million.

Local authorities are a critical part of delivering on the levelling up White Paper commitment to increase the supply of social housing over time. We are empowering them with flexibilities to make locally led decisions that deliver the best possible deal for their communities. In 2022-23, local authorities delivered over 8,900 affordable homes, representing 14% of the overall affordable housing delivery and the highest recorded number of local authority completions since 1991-92. To support continued delivery, in March last year we announced that local authorities will now have access to a new concessionary Public Works Loan Board interest rate for council house building from June this year.

Affordable housing is not delivered just through our affordable homes programme; around half of all delivery each year is through the planning system. As noble Lords will be aware, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act gives the Government powers to create the new infrastructure levy, which aims to capture even more land value uplift than the current system, continuing our drive to deliver more affordable housing.

I reassure the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, that the Government are committed to the delivery of onsite affordable housing through the new levy, and to delivering more affordable housing than the current system of developer contributions. Under the existing system, negotiation of Section 106 planning obligations can cause significant delay and uncertainty, which often means less affordable housing for communities and uncertainty about when key infrastructure is going to be provided. The new levy will be mandatory, non-negotiable change. It will be clear to developers what they are expected to pay, and this change can be used to secure the delivery of onsite affordable housing as a non-negotiable in-kind contribution, which offers significant protection of affordable housing delivery over the present system.

The technical consultation to inform the design of the levy regulations closed at the end of the year, and we are currently analysing consultation responses. The Government are committed to consult again on the design of the infrastructure levy and I hope that, with the passing of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Act, we will actually get this working to deliver more homes.

Finally, it is worth noting that councils continue to benefit not just from the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme that we have discussed today, but from the scrapping of the housing revenue account borrowing cap and greater flexibility in how they can use receipts from right-to-buy sales. I strongly urge councils to make full use of these measures, so we see more homes being built in the places where they are needed the most.

I turn to a number of questions—

I rise to make a brief intervention. The Minister is once again using the term “affordable homes”. Does she mean under the current six definitions of affordable homes—five of which are not affordable to anyone where I come from—and can she confirm that we will continue to have a permitted development regime that does not deliver any affordable homes at all?

I will bring forward the question that I was about to answer in response to both the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, and the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, who asked how I define “affordable”. The Government do not prescribe a definition of affordability. We recognise that the fundamental purpose of social housing is to provide affordable, safe and secure homes to those who cannot afford to rent or buy through the open market.

The purpose is reflected in the definition of affordable housing in the National Planning Policy Framework. This defines affordable housing as:

“Housing for sale or rent, for those whose needs are not met by the market”.

So, to fall within the definition, homes must meet one or more other conditions: for example, affordable housing for rent must have rents that are set in accordance with the Government’s rent policy for social or affordable rent, or, alternatively, have terms that are at least 20% below the market rate. It is a very broad definition because there are lots of tenures and lots of people providing this housing for the different audiences that require it.

With regard to planning reform, which noble Lords—including the noble Viscount, Lord Chandos, the noble Lord, Lord Best, and the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor—have mentioned, the Levelling-Up and Regeneration Act 2023 creates a simplified and strengthened plan-led system. The Act puts local people at the heart of development. This, we hope, will deliver more homes in a way that works for more communities.

Turning to questions put to me by the noble Lord, Lord Best, I would like to reassure him that the social housing stock has grown by 151,000 since 2010, compared with the previous 15 years, when it fell by more than 420,000. So we have a big gap to make up and we are aware of that.

With regard to the affordable homes programme, this currently allows for 30% of the homes in the programme to be delivered through acquisitions. In practice, this tends to be the conversion of new homes that would otherwise have been sold on the open market to alternative affordable tenure types.

I turn now to temporary accommodation, which many noble Lords have mentioned. Indeed, when it comes to this, the Government are committed to reducing the need for temporary accommodation by preventing homelessness before it occurs. However, the current global context and the significant economic challenges we are facing are making our objectives on homelessness more challenging. We remain committed to preventing homelessness where possible and helping people to stay in their homes. Since 2022, we have provided £104 billion in cost of living support, an average of £3,700 per UK household, helping those most in need while acting in a fiscally responsible way. Where homelessness cannot be prevented, temporary accommodation is an important way to ensure that no family is without a roof over their heads.

However, we appreciate that it is not ideal and needs to be temporary. The £1.2 billion local authority housing fund enables councils in England to obtain better-quality temporary accommodation for those owed a homelessness duty, providing a lasting, affordable housing asset for the future. Indeed, between 2022 and 2025, we are providing local authorities with over £1.2 billion through the homelessness prevention grant.

With regards the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, there are mechanisms by which social housing tenants can receive housing support to help pay their rent. For these tenants, the costs of rent increases are met by their housing benefit or the housing element of their universal credit. Discretionary housing payments can be made to those entitled to housing support who face a shortfall in meeting their housing costs.

In respect of social rent levels, they typically are at between 50% and 60% of market rent, set in accordance with government rent policy for social rent, using a formula that accounts for relative county earnings. Indeed, 90% of the stock is done through social rent. As to affordable rents, they make up some 10% of the rental stock, and they are actually available at 80% of the market value—although the 80% number is much lower in parts of London. So we are talking about the difference between some £98 a week under social rent and £143 a week, although all the social benefits and the DWP benefits are not specific to the tenure.

Turning to the right to buy, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lords, Lord Birt and Lord Davies, the Government believe that the housing market should work for everyone. We believe that those who want to rent their homes should be able to rent their homes, but those who wish to buy them should also be allowed to do so. We remain committed to the right to buy. This, since 1980, has helped more than 2 million social housing tenants become homeowners. We want to support councils to continue to deliver new and existing supply plans, and there is a requirement for replacement homes to be put in place as these are sold.

To help councils deliver more replacement homes in the current economic context, the Government have frozen the cap on acquisitions. Councils will be able to continue to deliver up to 50% of their right-to-buy replacement homes as acquisitions each year until 2025, with a focus on the purchase of new-build homes. From 1 April 2024, the Government are also increasing the percentage of the cost of replacement affordable homes that can be funded from the right-to-buy receipts, from 40% to 50%. We have listened to calls from councils to increase this cap, which some have said is making some build schemes unviable due to higher build costs.

With regard to the statistics that the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, asked for, in 2022-23, local authorities sold 10,896 homes; they built 8,900. With all sources of affordable homes considered, there was a net increase of 14,680 affordable homes for rent.

Turning to the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, I agree that we need to do more. All measures to increase the rate of housebuilding for the provision of affordable homes should be considered, and we are including things such as the preferential borrowing rate for council house buildings from the Public Works Loan Board, which we have extended to June 2025. We have tried to allow them to retain, on a temporary measure, 100% of their right-to-buy receipts for 2022-23 and 2023-24, and indeed we have therefore allowed them to increase their capital buffer to provide more homes in the short term. Abolition of the housing revenue account borrowing cap, alongside the £11.5 billion affordable homes programme, I hope means that local authorities and housing associations are supported to maximise the delivery of new homes, and we strongly urge them to mobilise and utilise these flexibilities in order to do it quickly.

I have another question, from the noble Bar