House of Lords
Monday 16 November 2020
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.
Retirement of a Member: Lord Ahmed
My Lords, I should like to notify the House of the retirement, with effect from 14 November 2020, of the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, respecting social distancing, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. If the capacity of the Chamber is exceeded, I will immediately adjourn the House.
Oral Questions will now commence. Please can those asking supplementary questions keep them to no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points? I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Covid-19: University Students
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact on the spread of Covid-19 of students returning to their universities.
My Lords, the virus has the potential to affect all corners of society and we all have a role to play in reducing the risk of transmission. The Government have provided detailed guidance on reopening to the higher education sector, informed by SAGE, and have ensured that universities have outbreak plans, have bolstered testing provision, and are planning for the end of term and the return of students in January. We are keeping the position under review and are monitoring developments closely.
The Minister will be aware of the outbreak of Covid cases in universities and colleges across the UK, with students having to self-isolate, often in very difficult circumstances. Can he give an assurance that there will be sufficient testing capacity for students returning home for Christmas? What plans do the Government have for testing every student again before they return to their colleges and universities in January so that they are kept safe, as well as those in the communities in which they live?
My Lords, we have established walk-through testing sites and deployed mobile test sites so that almost all universities are within 1.5 miles of a testing site. This means that staff and students alike will have access to tests if they develop symptoms. As part of our ongoing work, we have also started a series of pilots on lateral flow tests and are working with the Department of Health and Social Care to target mass asymptomatic testing at universities. The ambition is to work with universities to build testing provision, including through the use of lateral flow devices.
My Lords, the advice of the SAGE committee in September was that unless teaching in colleges and universities was moved online, Covid outbreaks in them would be inevitable. Given what has transpired there is now the likelihood that, after Christmas, many students will remain at home. Can the Government assure these students that they will not be bound by contracts for accommodation that they do not need, and will they also indemnify universities against the claims of companies that have provided new-build student accommodation for rents that they have been guaranteed?
My Lords, throughout the pandemic we have been working closely with universities to make sure that they have plans in place locally, shared with local directors of public health, to manage the specific risks in their area. We have been keen to keep universities open so that students and young people are not putting their lives on hold or finding that their education is disrupted. We are therefore keen for face-to-face teaching to continue as much as possible. Universities have risen to the challenge by providing a blend of online teaching and of course by working closely with students on accommodation and other issues.
My Lords, last week, 192 academics from the University of Manchester wrote to the vice-chancellor saying that they were ashamed and humiliated at the erection of a metal fence literally locking students into their residences. The student slogan said it all: “Paid, Blamed, Caged.” This incident might be extreme, but it is not a one-off. Will the Minister explain to vice-chancellors that such invasive and heavy-handed security measures are not necessary when Covid is not a lethal risk to the lives of students? I also draw the attention of noble Lords to a letter from a student, Harry Butcher, to the UCU noting the limitations of low-quality online teaching. He says
“how impossibly demotivating it is to be educated in front of a laptop; most likely in the same room that you sleep … sat on a chair half a metre from your bed.”
Can the Minister encourage more face-to-face teaching, because it is both safe and necessary?
On the first question put by the noble Baroness, I saw the occurrence at Manchester University, but that was a decision made by the university and was not encouraged in government guidance. I understand that the university is undertaking an inquiry of its own on the decision that it took and the communications around it. That will be reported by the end of this month so that it can learn the lessons it needs to. On face-to-face teaching, the Government’s expectation is that high-quality education should be maintained. Moving delivery online does not automatically mean that the quality of the provision is inferior, but we are keen to see face-to-face teaching, particularly in those subjects where that is important. The Office for Students has a role in monitoring this. It is keeping the matter under active review and, if it has any concerns, it can investigate further.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests as set out in the register. Could my noble friend update the House on the progress of the plans for the mass testing of students in readiness for the travel window proposed for early December? What is the Government’s thinking on the arrangements that will be put in place for the return of students to universities in the new year?
On 7 November, my honourable friend the Universities Minister wrote to the universities with details on the mass testing programme. We are working closely with the sector on that, targeting mass testing at universities based on factors such as the local prevalence of Covid-19 and the proportion of high-risk students at their institutions.
My Lords, as the chair of a university governing body, I pay my own tribute to the staff and students in universities who are adapting so well to these exceptionally difficult conditions, and I welcome the Christmas travel window guidance. But urgent guidance is needed so that staff and students are able to return after Christmas, to ensure minimum disruption of the new term. When will that be available?
My honourable friend also wrote this week to universities and to students about the plans for returning home for Christmas at the end of term. The noble Lord is absolutely right that people will want a bit of certainty about the resumption of education in January. Our hope is to be able to provide that guidance before the end of term so that everyone knows the situation going into the Christmas holidays. But of course, like everything, that will depend on developments in the virus and the pandemic.
My Lords, rolling out mass testing in time for the proposed travel window, even in a targeted manner, is an enormous undertaking, so universities are naturally keen to understand the details. For example, will students be required to have two negative tests, as in Scotland, before being cleared to travel, or will one suffice? Also, will there be any liability on universities?
My Lords, we are working closely with universities in line with the guidance that my honourable friend the Universities Minister has released. We are also working with the devolved Administrations and the Department of Health and Social Care. The guidance for students in England is that only one negative test is required.
My Lords, what arrangements are the Government advising universities to carry out in the way of practical and mental health matters for students isolating at university, including over the Christmas period? Student Space may be able to advise on who is around, but the right people, not just fellow students, need to be close by in the first place.
The noble Earl is absolutely right to point to the problems that many students are facing in mental health and well-being. Student Space, with funding from the Office for Students, is helping, while higher education providers can also access the £256 million-worth of funding for this academic year that is to go towards student hardship funds and to provide support for the mental health of those affected by the pandemic.
My Lords, it has been tragic to hear the stories of so many Covid outbreaks at universities, which have clearly impacted on learning and on students’ mental health. Universities were asked to plan for a return based on a fully functioning test, track and trace programme, which did not happen. Can we be assured that the lateral flow devices will be available to universities? How many of them will need to be provided? What steps will the Government take to ensure a safe return in January, with a staggered returning system? Will students require a testing service in the January period?
My Lords, part of our work is developing new testing technology. We have already started a series of pilots on lateral flow tests and are working with universities and the Department of Health and Social Care to roll them out. We welcome the efforts of universities to develop their own testing, which have shown the sort of innovation that we would expect from universities.
My Lords, I offer a local government slant. How much consultation was done with local authorities before the decision was made to take the “business as near to normal as possible” approach? Were there any financial considerations given to those towns and cities that rely heavily on university students as part of their local economies, as they will surely be affected?
We have required universities to have plans in place which have been signed off by their local directors of public health. This has obviously involved liaison with local authorities, local representatives and health professionals in their local areas.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the efficacy of the process for child victims of trafficking to seek leave to remain in the United Kingdom.
My Lords, UK children continue to account for a large proportion of national referral mechanism referrals. Children from overseas who are victims of trafficking may benefit from a grant of leave to remain under a number of different routes, depending on their individual circumstances. Unaccompanied children are only ever returned to their country of origin if safe and adequate reception arrangements are in place.
The Minister will be aware of the ECPAT UK report in the Guardian which spoke of those seeking solace in this country between 2016 and 2019. Of the 4,695 victims of people trafficking who applied for status in the UK, 2,000—half of them—are likely to have been children, yet only 28 were granted leave to remain in the UK? Why only 28? Also, what has happened to the other 2,000 who applied? Does the policy remain the same, or will we have a change of policy and a bigger heart?
I assure the noble Lord that we have a very big heart indeed; 81% of decisions on asylum claims from unaccompanied children resulted in a grant of some form of leave, 75% of which were grants of asylum or humanitarian protection. The article to which he refers is slightly misleading, in that many of the children who come to this country get leave under asylum grants.
My Lords, can the Minister publish and place in the Library a copy of the analysis that she has just given? She indicated that the situation is very different from the figure of 28 to which the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, referred. Given the Prime Minister’s announcement last week that he wished to see a kinder, gentler, more inclusive approach by his Government, would this not be the right place to start? With Christmas coming, can the Government not give some good news to these children?
I hope that I have explained that the broader context shows this country to be incredibly generous. The FoI might be looked at again to provide that broader context analysis. I am sure that it will be placed in the Library for noble Lords to see.
Can my noble friend confirm whether the Home Office removes unaccompanied children, including victims of trafficking?
As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Llandudno, it is important to highlight that 75% of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children who seek protection are granted it. It is our long-standing position that we will return unaccompanied children to their country of origin only where it has been established, including by the courts, that the child has no lawful basis to remain in the UK and where safe and adequate arrangements are in place in their country of origin.
My Lords, child victims of human trafficking should always be considered for the grant of leave to remain in the United Kingdom, as was agreed some time ago, indefinitely. Their best interests should be looked at as the primary factor in determining their length of stay or whether they stay indefinitely. They are victims of a crime. They do not choose to be trafficked.
I am not sure what the question was. All I can say is that I absolutely agree with the premise that, first and foremost, they are victims of a crime. In supporting them, that is exactly how they should be treated—as victims first.
My Lords, human trafficking is more lucrative than indulging in drugs. There is substantial evidence that women are brought into this country, particularly from countries such as Romania, and used for sexual trafficking by those who exploit them. Now that we have anti-slavery legislation, what is being done to stop the vile trafficking in human beings?
The noble Lord is absolutely right that crime is at the heart of this and that women play a big part in the lucrativeness of that crime. We have our modern slavery Bill, and the Home Secretary will be having further discussions with my noble friend Lord McColl on how we deal with victims of trafficking. This country has been a very safe refuge for people genuinely fleeing traffickers.
My Lords, where does the backlog on NRM cases currently stand? How long does my noble friend estimate it will take to clear?
The single competent authority recently launched a recruitment campaign to bring in 371 new operational staff members. This will significantly reduce the decision-making period so that victims can be given certainty, which is absolutely right.
The Minister said that the figures quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, were misleading. Could she give some more specific information? How many identified child victims of trafficking were denied leave to remain by the Home Office between 2016 and 2019? Are they in the tens or the hundreds? How many identified children of human trafficking have been deported by the Home Office over the last four years?
As I said to the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, the grant rate is 75%. No child is deported; a child will be returned to their country of origin only if there are safe and adequate reception arrangements in place. It is important to realise that there is a far more generous leave provision under an asylum claim than under discretionary leave to remain. Discretionary leave to remain is always the last consideration and leave of asylum is quite often the first—and a far more generous—one.
My Lords, the importance of certainty and stability for victims of modern slavery cannot be underestimated. Not having a secure immigration status not only causes great anxiety and harms the well-being of victims but means that they are unlikely to engage with police investigations, with vital intelligence and evidence thereby being lost. When will the Government offer all confirmed victims of modern slavery a guaranteed period of leave after they leave the support of the victim care contract?
I agree that certainty is crucial for anyone who has undergone such a trauma. A discretionary leave to remain provision is already in place. On the question of when a conclusive grant decision is made, this Government are committed to supporting people who have undergone that trauma, but the two do not necessarily go together. Sometimes they do, but we should not conflate immigration with the support needed for victims of modern slavery. They do not necessarily go hand in glove. However, I understand my noble friend’s premise—that people need support when they are most vulnerable.
My Lords, the Minister referred on more than one occasion to the generosity of the British Government in that 75% of unaccompanied child refugees are given a status to remain here, usually asylum status. Does she not agree that the majority of them have been trafficked, and that it would be far better to give them safe and legal routes to the UK rather than having them become victims of traffickers, with all the risks of the dangerous journey across the channel?
The noble Lord goes to the heart of the problem: traffickers are at the heart of all these awful crimes, some of which result in the deaths of people crossing the channel and suchlike. Safe and legal routes are at the heart of our philosophy, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has laid out.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.
Visas: Visitors from Peru
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to remove visa requirements for visitors to the United Kingdom from Peru.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as president of the Peru Support Group.
My Lords, there are no plans to change the visa requirements for citizens of Peru. Visas are a key part of the UK’s border and national security system. The UK keeps visa regimes under regular review. A visa regime does not set a higher bar; it merely changes where the decision is made.
My Lords, the UK is now the largest foreign investor in Peru, and the Government agree that they should strengthen their engagement with the Pacific Alliance, of which two other members, Mexico and Chile, are visa free. The requirements for Peru inhibit business, academic exchanges and tourism. Out of enlightened self-interest, would the Minister agree that on all economic and security criteria it is time now to restore visa-free status to Peru or, at the very least, remove short-term visa requirements as recommended by the international relations committee report last year?
My Lords, a visa regime is not necessarily a barrier to trade. We have really good trading relationships with many countries whose citizens require a visa to come to the UK. All non-EEA visitors to the UK are assessed against the same immigration rules, regardless of their nationality and whether there is a visa requirement. The processing times are very quick: 97% of non-settlement visa applications were decided within our 15-working-day processing time. As I have said before to the noble Baroness, we keep the regime under review.
My Lords, in keeping the visa regime under review, have Home Office Ministers had discussions about the position of visas for Peruvian citizens with the Prime Minister’s trade envoy, Mark Menzies MP, and the DIT’s trade commissioner? If not, would my noble friend agree to facilitate such meetings?
My noble friend obviously thinks I am far more influential than I am, but I know that bilateral relationships are very good with the countries that she mentioned. Those are certainly the sorts of countries with which we would like to see further trade relationships continue and expand.
My Lords, we cannot hear the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, in any meaningful sense, so I suggest we move on to the next speaker.
My Lords, responding to the report that the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, referred to from the international relations committee, on the United Kingdom and Latin America, the Government accepted the assertion of the committee that there is huge commercial potential in a relationship with Latin American countries. Indeed, they went further, saying that
“Latin America has huge potential for trade and investment with the UK. As we leave the EU, we … have been increasing our focus on Latin America.”
Given that that is absolutely contemporary, would it not be beneficial from that point of view to have a more flexible and less restrictive regime? Will the Minister—who I am sure is far more influential than she admitted—press for that in any future review?
Since the noble Lord asked so nicely, I will certainly take that back. I do not disagree with him at all that Latin America has great potential. I went to Mexico last year and I know that the Foreign Secretary has had talks with Peru. There is great untapped potential.
My Lords, I draw attention to my involvement with the Peru Support Group in the UK. The Minister indicated that security concerns were a prime issue in maintaining visas for Peruvian citizens coming to the UK. In 2016, Peru introduced a world-class biometric passport that complies with international security and control standards. Surely we now have the technical facilities needed to ensure that visa-free travel between Peru and the UK can be secure, or is there some other requirement that Her Majesty’s Government are looking to be fulfilled in order to facilitate visa-free travel—if so, what is it?
A number of considerations are taken into account when decisions are made to review visa requirements. They include, among other things, security compliance returns and prosperity. The noble Lord will understand that I cannot discuss the fine details of visa review changes on the Floor of the House, but these are just an example of some of the things that might be considered.
My Lords, following on from the point made by my noble friend Lord Reid of Cardowan, travel to the UK has understandably been devastated by the Covid-19 crisis, with knock-on damage to the economy through lost revenue and from reduced business, academia, commerce, tourism and travel. In the light of that, what action are the Government taking to ensure that there are no unnecessary barriers to Peru, Latin America or anywhere else in the world, so that, when we can enjoy travel again, trade and commerce can take place unhindered?
I can agree with almost everything the noble Lord says. Travel has been absolutely devastated and economies have been devastated through this period. I also agree with him that travel should be made as easy as possible, with no barriers in place. Having a visa requirement is not, in and of itself, a barrier. As I say, the grant rates are very high, and speedy, and visa requirements are kept under review.
My Lords, in asking whether the Home Office ever speaks to the FCDO or the Department for International Trade—or indeed, as has been said, to the Prime Minister’s trade envoy—I would also like to ask about the Department for Education. The number of students coming from Peru is currently diminishing. The process of getting a visa is lengthy and expensive, and the fact that Peru is treated differently from most other countries in Latin America for visa requirements is perceived as presenting a difficulty.
My Lords, as I say, a visa is required if you come to the UK from China, India, Turkey and the UAE. A visa should not be a barrier to travel. I understand the feeling that, if there were no visas, it would be better, but the situation is kept under review. I am sure there are noble Lords in this Chamber who look forward to the day when travel from Peru is visa free.
My Lords, to quote the UNHCR, Peru remains an important host country for large numbers of refugees. In the light of that, what changes do Her Majesty’s Government plan to make in Peru and other places around the world in response to the British Red Cross report last week on family reunion visas titled The Long Road to Reunion, calling for an initial online application process, noting that the cost, dangers and distance of travel to the visa application centre were the main challenges faced by families?
My Lords, I understand the noble Baroness’s point about visa application centres and some of the distances that people have to travel. We continually review our global visa operation to improve performance and accessibility so that people can make their applications as easily as possible.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.
UN Convention on the Rights of the Child
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to incorporate the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child into legislation.
My Lords, the Government are fully committed to protecting and promoting children’s rights. Our existing domestic legislation already protects children’s rights. We have acted to strengthen and enhance legislation, including through the Children Acts 1989 and 2004, secondary legislation and statutory guidance to promote children’s welfare. It is not usual practice in the UK for international treaties to be incorporated into domestic law, and we therefore do not have plans to incorporate the UNCRC into legislation.
My Lords, last year, Ministers stated that the promotion of children’s rights is essential and promised to redouble their commitments to strengthening protection for children. We have been consistently criticised by the Committee of Ministers for deficiencies in our implementation of the UNCRC. Wales has now committed to incorporate the convention into legislation; Scotland is working on this. What is England doing? Statements of intent are not enough.
My Lords, since the UK ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child in 1992, successive Governments have not incorporated it directly into domestic law. However, breaches of that convention can form the basis of actions in the domestic courts, and we have taken seriously any criticisms from the UN in relation to protecting children’s rights here in the UK.
My Lords, in the Second Reading debate on the CHIS Bill, the Government made it quite clear that in order to catch criminals and terrorists, they will continue to permit the use of children in covert and, yes, even criminal activities. This is despite the acknowledged danger to their mental and physical well-being, even with the promised safeguards. Is the reason why the Government will not incorporate the convention and make the well-being of the child paramount that they would have to stop the use of children in those activities?
My Lords, I have outlined the usual practice, which is why this convention is not incorporated directly into domestic law. As the noble Lord outlined, there are safeguards in relation to juveniles in those circumstances. We are known throughout the world as having one of the best systems to protect the rights of children in law.
Last week, the Scottish Government put an end to the legal defence of justifiable assault, which could be used by those committing violence against children. Will the UK Government follow suit and put an end to the equivalent defence of reasonable chastisement, which is against the convention and confusing to parents, and which discriminates against some children?
My Lords, the Government of course do not condone any violence against children and have clear laws and policies to deal with it. We have one of the best children’s social care systems in the world. There are no plans to legislate to remove this defence in England.
My Lords, since 1995, when more than 800 children gathered in the UK for the first United Nations pilgrims’ conference on the environment, the United Nations’ willingness to listen to children’s voices has greatly declined. Will my noble friend encourage the UN and our COP 26 team to change this and listen to children’s voices at scale next year?
My Lords, the voices of children domestically and on international platforms are course important—we can look at the role models of Malala and Greta Thunberg in this regard. We are working closely with the Italian Government, our partners, on the pre-COP youth event in Milan, where we will bring together 400 youth delegates. The Cabinet Office has already set up a dedicated youth engagement team responsible for co-ordinating our strategy to ensure that youth voices are heard at COP 26 and in its legacy.
My Lords, while I continue to hope for a full and direct incorporation of the CRC into domestic law, will the Government now make statutory provision for school holiday meals and well-being activities for children in need? Given the forthcoming spending review, will the Government, as promised in 2018, commit the total income from the sugary drink tax to a healthy school food fund?
My Lords, since the outbreak of the pandemic, the Government have spent more than £340 million on food vouchers for those who needed free school meals while schools were closed. There has also been the recent announcement of £170 million for the Covid winter grant scheme, and 80% of that fund is reserved for food and bills for the most disadvantaged families. The money is to be distributed by local councils, not schools.
My Lords, I have to say that the Conservatives’ commitment to children’s rights is very much open to question, not least since 2018, when the post of Minister for Children and Families was downgraded from Minister of State to Under-Secretary level. The Government have refused to introduce a statutory obligation to conduct children’s rights impact assessments on all new legislation, despite being called on to do so by the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child in 2016 and the Government-appointed Children’s Commissioner in 2019. This Friday is UNICEF’s World Children’s Day. Would that not be a suitable occasion for the Government to announce a change of heart?
My Lords, as I outlined, the UK Government take seriously the input from the United Nations. Children’s rights impact assessments have been devised in accordance with the recommendation in 2016 and are valuable in enabling civil servants—who have also undergone training—to consider children’s rights in policy and legislation. So the recommendation has been enacted, but it will not be put on a statutory basis. We have taken other measures that were advised, such as updating in 2018 the statutory guidance Working Together to Safeguard Children.
My Lords, the Civil Service training on children’s rights that was introduced in England in 2018, to which the Minister has just alluded, was a welcome step but was not mandatory. Can she say how many civil servants have now completed the training and whether it is available in all departments, and is the Department for Education actively monitoring the take-up of the training and its effectiveness?
My Lords, the training was one of the recommendations from 2016. I will have to write to the noble Baroness on her specific questions.
Regarding the voice of children and young people, if Article 12 had been in law, what might their input have been on their own situation in schools, universities and the like through the pandemic?
As I outlined with regard to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, there are protections in domestic law, and we have protected children’s right to education. Our schools, unlike those in many countries, were open to vulnerable children during the pandemic, and I am pleased to say that 83% of children who were in contact with a social worker were in school as of 5 November. Moreover, by the time delivery is complete, over 500,000 laptops will have been delivered to enable disadvantaged and other children to access education.
My Lords, at Second Reading of the CHIS Bill there was great unease and unhappiness at the seeming lack of protection for children who are used as CHIS agents. Will my noble friend explain, in view of these concerns, what special protections the Government envisage, as the Bill proceeds, for children in these circumstances?
My Lords, there are safeguards, as I have outlined, but I will have to write to my noble friend on the specific issue of protection. We have invested substantially in relation to children who are vulnerable to becoming victims of county lines crime, but I will have to come back to my noble friend on her specific question about covert human intelligence sources.
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the 5Rights Foundation. During the passage of the Data Protection Act 2018 this House introduced an amendment to create a data protection regime for children which specifically bound the legislation to the UNCRC. This provided an impenetrable barrier from what was to become a co-ordinated attack of global tech companies trying to water down the protections. It was impenetrable because government regulators and officials were bound by the convention being part of the legislation. Does the Minister accept that spoken assurances from government would not in this case have protected children to the same degree, and therefore that that explains the reluctance of Her Majesty’s Government to incorporate the protections of the UNCRC as a norm?
My Lords, the Government’s position is that the protections afforded by the UN convention are already present in domestic law. Specifically on the Online Harms White Paper, there will be a response later this year, and we plan to legislate to introduce a new duty of care on companies which will be overseen by an independent regulator. Protecting children is at the heart of what we are seeking to do in that regard.
My Lords, the time allowed for this Question has now elapsed.
Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Covert Human Intelligence Sources (Criminal Conduct) Bill has been committed that they consider the bill in the following order: Clauses 1 to 3, Schedule 1, Clauses 4 and 5, Schedule 2, Clauses 6 and 7, Title.
Road Vehicles and Non-Road Mobile Machinery (Type-Approval) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 12 October be approved.
My Lords, in this group of three statutory instruments, the first relates to type approval and the remaining two to carbon dioxide emissions from cars and vans and heavy duty vehicles or HDVs. The instruments have been considered by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, and neither drew them to the attention of your Lordships’ House.
First, the Road Vehicle and Non-Road Mobile Machinery (Type-Approval) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 will be made under the European Union (Withdrawal) Act 2018 and the Road Traffic Act 1988 and are needed for the end of the transition period. This instrument amends the previous regulations relating to type approval approved by your Lordships’ House on 20 February 2019, which I will call the 2019 regulations.
There are two main areas of amendment in this first SI. The first is to change the regulations so that they apply in Great Britain and not in Northern Ireland. This is to implement our Northern Ireland protocol obligations and is so that we maintain control over the registration of vehicles and ensure unfettered access to Great Britain for businesses in Northern Ireland after the transition period.
Currently, most new vehicles can be registered and placed on the UK market only with a valid EU type approval. Existing EU exit legislation provides for a provisional UK-wide type-approval scheme to maintain control of vehicle registration after the transition period. It must now be amended to implement our Northern Ireland protocol obligations. The protocol applies EU type-approval legislation to Northern Ireland, so this instrument disapplies the 2019 regulations in Northern Ireland, essentially leaving the status quo in place there, while ensuring unfettered access for goods produced in Northern Ireland to the GB market. Vehicles sold in Northern Ireland will continue to be registered using an approval issued against EU standards, either by an EU authority or by the UK’s Vehicle Certification Agency, known as VCA.
The second area of amendment in this SI is that it removes an EU restriction limiting the height of mass-produced vehicles and trailers to four metres. This rule was introduced by the EU to protect infrastructure such as overhead tram wires in some member states. Manufacturers can currently produce vehicles taller than four metres for the UK, such as double-decker buses, but must use a more cumbersome national approval scheme that is designed for low-volume producers. This change will allow the main type-approval scheme to be used, which is more straightforward and economical for manufacturers.
The second instrument in the group is the Road Vehicle Carbon Dioxide Emission Performance Standards (Cars and Vans) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, covering the setting of carbon dioxide emission targets and their enforcement on new car and van manufacturers. These regulations will create requirements in Great Britain only, given that they are also covered by the Northern Ireland protocol.
EU regulation establishes mandatory fleet average carbon dioxide emissions targets for all new cars and vans registered in the EU per calendar year. Manufacturers receive individual fleet targets based on this top-level target by comparing the average weight of their fleet against the average weight of all relevant vehicles registered in the EU. As only the fleet average is regulated, manufacturers may sell vehicles with emissions above their target, provided that the emissions of their entire fleet balance out. Fines are levied on manufacturers for non-compliance.
The draft instrument corrects deficiencies in the EU regulation as well as in associated delegated regulations and implementing decisions, providing the Government with the ability to set and enforce emissions targets that are
“at least as ambitious as the current arrangements for vehicle emissions regulation”,
which the Government committed to in 2018. It also amends a prior EU exit SI, the Road Vehicle Emission Performance Standards (Cars and Vans) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, reflecting changes to the EU regulation since that SI was laid.
Finally, the New Heavy Duty Vehicles (Carbon Dioxide Emission Performance Standards) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 establish carbon dioxide reduction targets for new heavy duty vehicles or HDV fleets designed to encourage the uptake of zero-emission vehicles and to promote efficiency improvements in new internal combustion engines. There are no Northern Ireland protocol considerations with this instrument.
Manufacturers receive individual fleet targets that match the EU-wide carbon-reduction targets in the legislation. As only the fleet average is regulated, manufacturers may sell vehicles with emissions above their target, again provided that the emissions of their entire fleet balance out. Fines will be levied on manufacturers for non-compliance from 2025.
As with cars and vans, this instrument ensures that the Government can set and enforce emissions targets on new HDV manufacturers that are
“at least as ambitious as the current arrangements”.
It also amends a 2019 EU exit SI on the collection of data from new HDVs to reflect subsequent changes to EU legislation.
The changes made in the type-approval and the carbon dioxide emissions standards SIs ensure that we retain control of the registration of vehicles, maintain continuity of vehicle approvals and emissions, minimise costs to industry and implement the Northern Ireland protocol. I commend these regulations to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of these regulations and recognise the urgent need to get them through in time for the end of the transition period, so I intervene not to oppose or amend the transposition, but to get a clearer idea of how the Government intend to proceed in this area, once we have a so-called independent system of regulation, and to put these regulations in a wider context.
My first concern relates to the degree to which any future revisions of these regulations can, in reality, be completely unilateral here in the UK. For example, just this week, the Government announced that they intend to phase out all new diesel and petrol cars by 2030. Presumably, in advance, the Government will tighten the regulations in stages to make a smooth transition away from fossil-fuel-based cars and lorries by making the worst carbon emitters, in effect, illegal first and then by making, in stages, all new vehicles, whether manufactured here or imported, illegal from 2030. Can we do that if the EU is not doing so on the same timescale or in the same stages?
The vast majority of cars and commercial vehicles registered in this country are made by EU-based companies, such as Volkswagen, Renault, Volvo and BMW, or by non-EU companies that have Europe-wide subsidiaries, such as Honda, Toyota, Ford and General Motors. Car production systems are, in effect, an integrated European shop floor, in which different components are produced in different countries, with assembly in different places according to the model. They are traded across Europe without regard to their final assembly location.
In the emissions area, EU regulations are, perhaps notoriously, set with the interests of German manufacturers firmly in mind. That is unlikely to change much after Brexit. It is possible, nevertheless, that the EU’s new commitments on climate change will impose tougher regulations on new models. It is possible, but not certain and probably not likely. So how, in this integrated world of cross-border manufacturing and trading of new models, is it possible for UK carbon-emissions limitations to be seriously out of sync with EU-regulated limits? I am talking about the 10-year period from now until 2030. In reality, can the UK move to tighter limits than Europe during that run-in period? If not, the target to phase out all new fossil-fuel-based vehicles by 2030 looks seriously more difficult.
Another query relates to integrating limits on carbon emissions, as the second and third regulations here do, with other vehicular emissions under air quality rules. In a different context, the Government have already announced in the Environment Bill that they will at some point require levels for area-based exposure limits on a number of exceedances of noxious emissions, from NOx and NO2 to particulates, in a way that would be better than current EU standards and closer to the WHO recommended maximum. At this point, I declare my honorary presidency of the Environmental Protection UK charity.
There are other sources of air pollution but clearly the biggest contributors to excess pollution and most level exceedances are vehicle emissions and the concomitant traffic problems. While the origins of particulates in the combustion system are different from carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide, the filtering systems are not very different. The engineering therefore could be combined. The history of successive phases of government attitudes towards diesel shows that, if not managed properly, there can be a conflict between air quality ambitions and carbon reduction ambitions. Would it not be better to seek a unified system of regulation and specification to cover all vehicle emissions? Are the Government considering this either unilaterally or with the EU or, indeed, the Japanese and American regulatory authorities? If not, why not?
Underlying all this, in all vehicular emission regulations are the Government really committed to an enhanced system of real-world testing of the actual level of emissions on the road, rather than relying on the results of laboratory trials? These are conducted largely by the manufacturers and, as we saw in the Volkswagen case, the results can be illegally distorted by them. Unless we guarantee the real-world accuracy of emissions claims, no amount of improvement in the regulations will deliver, in terms of either carbon saving or cleaner, healthier air.
My Lords, my questions, of which I have given the Minister notice, relate almost entirely to the enforcement of standards. Can she tell us who enforces these regulations? Are the bodies that enforce them up to strength? Can they conduct real-time, on-the-road tests, other than occasional visits to vehicle inspection points, occasionally police ones? Also, when an offending vehicle is found, which I think in most cases will likely be a vehicle registered outside the United Kingdom, do the arrangements we have with Europe allow the European courts to process the offence or will that be one of the things we will lose on leaving the European Union?
My Lords, here we are again, debating yet more of the necessary instruments ahead of the end of the transition period, following our leaving the EU. Of course, they are necessary; without them we would have no suitable regulations in place to replace those where the ultimate arbiter at present is the European Commission. However, these changes, like so many others in this plethora of statutory instruments, present us with a number of questions. I intend to concentrate on the third instrument, which deals with carbon dioxide emissions from heavy-duty vehicles.
To prepare for this debate I took it on myself to consult logistics managers and vehicle constructors. I have also looked with interest at some of the Department for Transport’s own plans and ideas for the future of road transport in the UK. The statement by the UK Government that they now aim to see the end of sales of new diesel and petrol engine cars and vans by 2030, not as previously planned, is interesting but it does not extend to heavy-duty vehicles, including buses and trucks. These are covered, as we all know, by the current EU regulations that set out targets for CO2 emission reductions of 15% in 2025-29 and 30% from 2030. It is those regulations that we seek to retain but under UK control.
We must realise that in recent years EU truck standards have tended to focus on air quality rather than CO2 emissions, hence the current Euro 6 standard for new trucks, which has radically and successfully reduced emissions of nitrogen oxide and visible soot but has made much smaller impacts on CO2 emissions. Transport emissions of CO2 in the UK have fallen by only 3% since 1990, compared with total domestic CO2 emissions, which have reduced by 43%. The provisions before us say nothing about the replication or replacement of Euro 6 standards. Can my noble friend point us in the direction of how this will change? Will we need to replace Euro 6 with “UK 6”?
UK logistics providers work on the basis of investment in trucks with useful lifespans to them of at least 10 years. This means that new diesel vehicles being ordered now will still be in service in 2030. Many of these vehicles that reach the age of 10 are then placed in a world marketplace and can enjoy many more years of active service in other parts of the world. In the case of UK trucks, that is normally in other right-hand drive markets, in Africa and elsewhere in the developing world.
As my noble friend knows, the DfT is working on an interesting set of future possibilities in its transport decarbonisation plan, which is promised by the end of this year. Can she confirm that in the deployment of the regulations we are debating today the outcome of that plan will be part of the process of future guidance to logistics operators and manufacturers? Among the areas being considered as replacements for petrol and diesel power are battery electric, hydrogen fuel cells, electric road systems such as trolley buses, biogas and synthetic fuels. Bearing in mind the long lead time for investment, the heavy-duty vehicle industry needs as much certainty as possible as to what the future direction will be.
The UK is lucky that we have many experts in engineering and academia who are willing to assist, but in order to meet future emissions standards we must be clearer as to our desired direction soon. With the hosting of COP 26 next year, the UK has a great opportunity to find a new set of objectives, not only for cars and vans but for HGVs. These regulations do what they have to do but, like so many other EU SIs, they answer only half the question. I mentioned the Euro 6 standard for nitrogen oxide and we have here specific targets for limiting CO2 but even if we adopt the agreed EU position now, how do we intend to maintain the standards which might be enhanced by the EU in future? Will we always agree to maintain international standards? If not, we could be left on our own in a gloriously isolated way, with implications for our manufacturers and operators of vehicles.
I note, and my noble friend confirmed this in her opening speech, that the Government maintain that the instrument has been designed to
“ensure the UK can meet its commitment to ensuring that UK CO2 emissions regulation is at least as ambitious as current arrangements; and … provide certainty to vehicle manufacturers”.
This is welcome but will my noble friend explain how, if we wish to improve on EU regulations, we will ensure that those improvements will be acceptable to the EU so as not to disadvantage our businesses? HGVs currently do not have the same time limits on their propulsion systems as cars and vans, but it is in everybody’s interest to deal with their emissions as part of our environmental improvements. I just want to be sure that after the end of the EU transition period we do not end up with confusion, contradiction or a deprivation of our businesses’ ability to succeed in this new and challenging international marketplace.
My Lords, I support other noble Lords who have already spoken. These statutory instruments cannot be argued with, because they are necessary and even innocuous. However, they raise the wider problems that we have with our transport system, one of which is air pollution.
We have a national problem with air pollution. It hits the poorest and most vulnerable hardest of all. Often, those who are more vulnerable are children, and when we affect children’s growth and lung capacity, we are storing up problems for the next 50 or 60 years, or possibly longer— problems for the individuals but also of course for the National Health Service. Therefore, reducing air pollution has to be a priority, in which case the Government’s idea of cutting out petrol and diesel by 2030 sounds very good, but of course it is not part of a coherent plan. It is no good saying that electric vehicles are a comprehensive answer to this, because clearly they are not; carbon emissions are inherent in their manufacture and their running, and it all depends on where their electricity comes from, how many times they are used and whether the number of cars on the road is reduced.
The other big problem is that we really have to reduce the amount of traffic. It is a problem for our city centres and for our towns and villages, and it is time that the Government came up with some sort of plan. Road pricing, launched today, is a very good idea. The Green Party has advocated it for many years, but the fact is that it has to be done properly. People have to have a guarantee of privacy—they do not want to sign up to something or use a system that will reduce their privacy.
There is also the issue of exceptions for people who need to use their cars—for example, those who run small businesses and people with disabilities. We must reduce the growing volume of traffic but, at the same time as the Government have come up with this plan for theoretically reducing traffic with road pricing, they have also given the go-ahead for the Salisbury tunnel. There seems to be no coherence in the government policy structure. I would be grateful if the noble Baroness could tell me who is putting together a strategic view of our transport system and if she could give me their name and address, so that I can write to them.
My Lords, I had some sympathy with the noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, when he started with the words “Here we are again”. These SIs are part of the mountain of paperwork which is part of the bureaucratic nightmare we have created for ourselves in leaving the EU. Those of us who deal with transport issues have been patiently working our way through a very large number of SIs to make it possible for us to leave the EU while, apparently, keeping everything exactly the same.
We thought that we had completed the first of these SIs last year. We had gone through it and replaced “EU Commission” with “Secretary of State”, but, thanks to the Northern Ireland protocol, it now has to be amended again to allow for the continued operation of vehicle and engine type approval schemes in Northern Ireland based on EU rules. Ironically, they will be operated by the UK approval authority, the Vehicle Certification Agency, which will also operate separate Great Britain-type approval schemes. This is a detailed first glimpse at the complexity of trying to operate two different systems across the UK. The SI allows Northern Ireland manufacturers to access the Northern Ireland market by using either an EU-type approval or a Northern Ireland approval issued by the VCA.
I conclude that all that means is that Great Britain as a whole will shadow EU standards; otherwise, Northern Ireland will, in practice, become a separate market, with much stronger links to the EU than to Great Britain. In addition, the Explanatory Memorandum confirms that, as standards are identical, Northern Ireland manufacturers will be able to sell and register vehicles in Great Britain using either an EU or a Northern Ireland VCA approval. We can begin to see from the discussion of the issues that the operators of big businesses such as Sainsbury’s and Tesco, in a very different field, are expressing concern about how the standard system will operate in the future.
However, there is, just for once, a plan to diverge from EU standards. As the Minister mentioned, there will no longer be a maximum vehicle height of four metres. It appears from the Explanatory Memorandum that we already have a lot of vehicles higher than that, but, of course, not having to adhere to that standard will mean that there will be a general tendency for vehicles to get higher.
A consultation was held. Were Network Rail or any of the train operating companies consulted on removing the four-metre limit on vehicles? I ask that because there are increasingly frequent collisions with bridges, which have a hugely disruptive effect on the railways. I know that Network Rail and the train operating companies are extremely concerned about the frequency with which these collisions occur. Almost all of them occur because someone tries to drive a vehicle that is too high under a bridge that will not accommodate it. Therefore, this is of great relevance to our railways. I hope that they were included in the consultation, or at least that the Government have informed them of this.
I now move to the issue of CO2 emission performance standards. These regulations are designed to ensure that the Government can continue to regulate CO2 emissions for newly registered cars and vans. As other noble Lords have made clear, CO2 emission standards have been the subject of huge controversy and could undoubtedly be measured a great deal more realistically. The move to on-the-road standards is important. This SI deals with the change in the way that manufacturers apply exemptions. It is pretty obvious that if you have too many exemptions, the standards will not be as effective as they should be.
I understand entirely the practical issue, which the Minister explained to us, that the system will not work at the end of this year, so the UK will have to give each manufacturer an individual threshold based on their EU shares of sales and registrations in the UK, but newly registered vehicles that are moved permanently to Northern Ireland or elsewhere outside Great Britain are removed from Great Britain’s emissions target. That leads me to ask the Minister: how will the emissions target for Northern Ireland be set? We will have a target for Great Britain, but obviously there needs to be a target for Northern Ireland. It also leads me to say to the Minister that this is a genuine opportunity for Britain to do better, to set higher standards than the EU. It is our chance to be different and to move faster.
I was delighted to hear suggestions that the Government are now committed to the 2030 target for the end of petrol and diesel vehicles. Other noble Lords have referred to that. I agree with their questions, so I will not repeat them in detail, about what plans the Government have to ensure that they take forward this obligation very swiftly. If it is going to work, it has to be adopted quickly.
On the final SI, I have a couple of questions relating to heavy duty vehicle emission standards. First, these regulations apply to the whole of the UK. I read the notes very carefully. Why does Northern Ireland not need a separate system as it has in the previous two SIs? Secondly, can the Minister clarify what the impact of the change of dates for the reporting year will be? The reporting year will move from the end of February to the end of September. Will the Minister explain why and how that extra six months will be taken into account?
I am pleased to see that the consultation has led to a change in approach from the Government on the number of data fields to be reported—in other words, I am pleased to see that the Government have responded to the consultation. However, the respondents suggested a study of the UK fleet as a comparator to the EU baseline. Will that study be taken forward?
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for her explanation of the purpose and content of these regulations. As has been said, certain regulations on vehicles and carbon dioxide emission targets are currently regulated by the EU. The draft Road Vehicles and Non-Road Mobile Machinery (Type-Approval) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 amend temporary regulations from 2019 to enable the continued operation after the transition period of
“vehicle and engine type approval schemes”
in Northern Ireland, to allow vehicles and engines produced in Northern Ireland that meet EU standards to be sold in Britain as well as to permit vehicles over 4 metres to be sold here. The regulations amend the 2019 regulations so that they apply to Great Britain only. There is a need to bring these regulation into effect to enable us to meet our obligations under the Northern Ireland protocol. EU rules relating to vehicle and engine type approved schemes will still apply to Northern Ireland.
The draft New Heavy Duty Vehicles (Carbon Dioxide Emission Performance Standards) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020, in essence, retain two EU regulations regarding heavy duty vehicles’ CO2 emissions in UK law. One sets out targets for reducing HDV CO2 emissions and the other sets out monitoring and reporting requirements. As has been said, these regulations apply to the whole of the UK.
The draft Road Vehicle Carbon Dioxide Emission Performance Standards (Cars and Vans) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020 amend retained EU regulations designed to lower CO2 emissions over the next decade so that the UK Government can regulate emissions from newly registered cars and vans in Great Britain after the transition period ends. In particular, these regulations change the way manufacturers can apply for exemptions from their CO2 targets. Under the current EU system, manufacturers can apply for an exemption if their total registrations for that year fall below a certain predefined threshold. After the end of the transition period, the UK will give each manufacturer an individual threshold based on its share of EU sales in the UK in—I think—2017.
Car CO2 emission regulations lowering such emissions that are permitted, backed up by penalties, are an important driver for manufacturers to increase the supply of electric vehicles, and sales of electric cars have grown considerably in the first nine months of this year compared with last year. The Government say they are setting, and will enforce, emissions reductions that are at least as ambitious as under the current EU arrangements for vehicle emissions regulation.
However, the independent Transport & Environment think tank has contested that claim on two principal counts. First, the regulations we are considering use the average mass of cars in the EU to set targets for future carbon dioxide emissions rather than the average mass of cars in the UK. This, Transport & Environment argues, will result in setting lower targets for the UK than under the current EU regime because UK cars are, on average, heavier. Secondly, these regulations allow manufacturers to use an additional 3.5 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre of super-credits—or free credits—as an additional allowance for producing CO2 for some battery and plug in-hybrid vehicles that, in many cases, also have internal combustion engines. The effect of this, Transport & Environment says, is that replacing EU regulations with the proposals in these draft regulations will mean that one-fifth fewer electric vehicles will be sold in the UK because the incentive for manufacturers to increase the supply of electric vehicles will be less, as they will not need to produce so many to enable them to comply with the lower carbon emission reduction standard.
As we all recognise, reducing the carbon dioxide produced by road transport needs to be a central priority for government. If it is the case—I repeat, if it is the case—that in reality these regulations in relation to cars and vans water down the existing EU requirements on reductions in CO2 emissions, that would be a backward step. This question was raised during the debate in the Commons on these regulations, but it did not really get a response from the Commons Minister to the case being made by Transport & Environment and the reasons why that case was either correct or incorrect.
I very much hope that the Minister will be able to address this question in more detail, either in the Government’s response or subsequently in writing. I also await with interest the Government’s response to the questions that have been posed by other noble Lords, not least the important questions raised by my noble friend Lord Whitty on the extent to which we will, in reality, be able to determine our own emissions standards and the phasing out of sales of new petrol and diesel vehicles.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their consideration of these draft regulations. I will respond to as many points as I am able in the time available and will of course follow up with a letter if needed; there have certainly been some questions on which I know I do not have the information to hand—but I will do my best.
I turn first to the role of the VCA. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, noted an interesting point about how the VCA was going to do both GB-type approval and UK/NI-type approval. She may be interested to know that it also does EU-type approval, in conjunction with other EU member states. The VCA is a really high-quality certification agency and I am really proud of the work that it does. So, although I am grateful for the concerns that the noble Baroness raised, I believe that being able to respond to different type approvals in different countries with different requirements is well within the grasp of the VCA.
The noble Baroness talked about the impact on trade with Northern Ireland and what it is going to look like over time. I agree that we are in quite an interesting moment as we settle down to the new regime and how it will all work, but it is the case that the role of the Northern Ireland protocol is to make sure that certain elements are reflected where needed and that trade can continue as much as possible, so unfettered access ensures that Northern Ireland businesses do not need additional approvals to sell in GB. However, we will monitor the situation and consider applying anti-avoidance measures if concerns are raised about goods potentially arriving into GB that have come from elsewhere via Northern Ireland. For the time being, though, we are perfectly confident that the new regime will work very effectively.
On the issue of the removal of height restrictions, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked if we felt that vehicles were going to get higher. We do not. The whole purpose of the removal of the height restriction is purely so that the vehicles can be approved under the more standard type approval process rather than the small-volume type approval process, so it is really just to make it easier for manufacturers. I do not expect our double-decker buses or trailers to get taller any time soon, although I recognise her concern about bridge strikes. They concern me too, particularly when they involve double-decker buses that could have passengers on them. That issue is a big concern for the industry; I have written to bus operators about it and asked them to make sure that their vehicles are going down the roads that they should be.
I turn to the carbon dioxide SIs. I reiterate that the Government are committed to our international and national environmental obligations. We absolutely recognise the need to go further than the existing regulatory framework, but of course what noble Lords are discussing today relates to the carbon dioxide framework in EU law as is, which we are just bringing across and making sure that it works—so it does not really apply to future considerations.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said his opposite number did not get a good response from the Commons Minister. I am going to do my best, but I fear that I will need to follow up with a letter. On the standards for cars and vans, the headline targets are 95 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre for cars and 147 grams of carbon dioxide per kilometre for vans. Those are being retained, as are the formulae setting out the individual manufacturer targets—so those things are set in stone. However, these formulae set individual targets by comparing the weight of a manufacturer’s new vehicle fleet against the average EU vehicle, and the UK average vehicle mass is above the EU average vehicle mass. One of the consequences of adopting the current regime is that the sum of the individual manufacturer targets in the UK will be slightly higher than the sum of the targets in the EU. So, while this may appear to be a loosening of standards, that is incorrect; it simply ensures that manufacturers must apply the same carbon ambition that they currently employ in the UK. Effectively, manufacturers will be able to sell the vehicles that they would otherwise have been able to sell in the UK after the transition period has ended. Noble Lords will note that we did a consultation around the carbon dioxide standards and this mechanism was felt to be the most appropriate, although it was recognised during the consultation that there was an issue.
I turn back very briefly to Northern Ireland and the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, about where NI-registered vehicles would count. They would count towards the manufacturer’s EU totals; NI will all be part of that. So it will not be that they are lost; they will just go into another bucket to be counted. That is what happens when a vehicle ends up in Northern Ireland; it may be manufactured in GB but then goes to Northern Ireland and it is very important that that figure is not counted twice, as it might otherwise have been.
The noble Baroness asked why Northern Ireland was not in the third SI, or why it is not pulled out of it. That is because heavy-duty vehicles are not included in the Northern Ireland protocol and therefore do not need to be dealt with in the same way that we are dealing with cars and vans. The UK-wide totals apply, so there will just be a different reporting requirement.
The noble Baroness also asked why the dates had been changed from March to September. I am reliably told that the reporting dates for HDVs have been changed at EU level. The EU legislation has changed, so we are simply transposing what has been changed at the EU level. Why the EU changed it from March to September, I do not know. If the noble Baroness would like a letter, I will send her one—but I am not sure I will be able to shed much light.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked who does roadside testing and enforcement. Emissions testing at the annual test is of course carried out by the DVSA for lorries and buses, while for cars and vans the DVSA obviously oversees all the MoT testing centres that we have around the country. The DVSA carries out a visual assessment of the emissions control system and visible exhaust smoke at roadside inspections but does not yet have emissions-testing equipment to measure emissions or smoke at roadside checks—although it does for the annual test. The DVSA is looking at trialling some new equipment that would be able to look at that in more detail, and we will have more on that soon.
On the number of spot checks that the DVSA has made, there were 172,000 checks on vehicles and drivers last year. I am not 100% sure about the arrangements for vehicles registered in the EU; I presume that they can be fined pretty much as well as anyone else can, but I will write to the noble Lord on that.
A number of noble Lords asked what we are going to do after the end of the transition period. While that goes slightly beyond the scope of the SI today, it is worth noting that we have great ambitions for our future UK carbon emissions regulation. As noble Lords will know, we have consulted on ending the sale of new petrol, diesel and hybrid cars and vans by 2035, or earlier if a faster transition appears feasible. The results of that consultation are coming in due course.
The matter of regulation and EU standards is very important. It is also something that troubles me greatly in terms of global standards. Vehicle standards are increasingly harmonised now at a global level—for example, through the UN and UNECE. The UK plays an active and leading role in UNECE and will continue to do so, so the majority of EU regulations actually arrive at the EU from a UN process that the UK is very involved in. So any changes to the regulatory regime would consider the views of and implications for all manufacturers and other interested parties, as well as having the UK regulations interact with the EU regulations and indeed the UN regulatory regimes.
Currently, carbon dioxide emissions are measured in the same laboratory test that is used to measure pollutant emissions—nitrogen oxides and particulates—and there are no plans to change this.
The noble Lord, Lord Kirkhope, mentioned Euro 6, and, of course, that standard will be retained in UK law after exit.
I was delighted when the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, said that these SIs could not be argued with: I took that as a result. However, she then went on to ask about who was looking after the transport strategy and to whom she could write. I would be very happy to receive letters from the noble Baroness, and I will pass them on to my fellow Ministers, depending on which portfolio she is writing about.
The Government have great ambitions both for reducing air pollution and for increasing the use of electric vehicles. There is an interesting dichotomy that the noble Baroness always comes up, which is about reducing road traffic, as if that in itself has to be a goal. While I agree that congestion in certain places is absolutely terrible and road-space allocation is really important, I am not entirely sure that I would wish just yet to take away an individual’s right to transport themselves from A to B in a non-polluting vehicle.
Road Vehicle Carbon Dioxide Emission Performance Standards (Cars and Vans) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 13 October be approved.
New Heavy Duty Vehicles (Carbon Dioxide Emission Performance Standards) (Amendment) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 13 October be approved.
European Qualifications (Health and Social Care Professions) (EFTA States) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 17 September be approved.
My Lords, these regulations relate to the recognition of professional healthcare qualifications in the UK and social work qualifications in England. They are part of the Government’s preparations for the end of the transition period. As noble Lords will be aware, the Government have signed agreements with the EU, the three EEA EFTA states and Switzerland in relation to the UK’s withdrawal from the EU. These agreements include provisions that protect the rights of EEA EFTA state professionals with qualifications covered by the directive, and Swiss nationals living and working in the UK, and vice versa.
European healthcare professionals have played, and will continue to play, an important role in the delivery of health and care services in the UK. We have been clear throughout the EU exit process how valued these professionals are and how we would like them to remain in the UK. It is for that reason that the previous SI, which we are amending today, maintains automatic recognition of relevant European healthcare qualifications for a limited time after the end of the transition period. It is also why a number of health professions, including doctors, nurses and social workers, are on the shortage occupation list.
These regulations specifically implement the agreements that we have signed with Switzerland and the EEA EFTA states, and as such affect a very small number of professionals. For example, on 30 June 2020 there were 80 doctors and 32 nurses and health visitors among a total of 134 Swiss healthcare professionals working in the UK. This legislation also makes some minor amendments to the provision for EEA EFTA-qualified professionals, of which there were 230 working in the UK on 30 June this year.
While the number of professionals impacted is very small, it is important that there is legislation in place to protect the rights of these healthcare workers wishing to come and play a part in the UK healthcare workforce. On 14 September 2020, the House considered legislation brought forward by the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy which set out arrangements for the recognition of professional qualifications from Switzerland and the EEA EFTA states. These regulations now cover a similar area. They implement the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement and the EEA EFTA separation agreement, in relation to the recognition of professional qualifications for healthcare in the UK, and social work in England.
Regarding the current framework, I will remind noble Lords of the background to the recognition of professional qualifications, or RPQ. The current system for this recognition is derived from EU law. It allows UK professionals to have their qualifications recognised in the EEA and Switzerland, and vice versa, with minimal barriers. There are seven professions where standards are harmonised under the relevant EU directive. This means that qualifications must comply with minimum agreed standards. Five of these harmonised professions are health professions: doctors, nurses, midwives, pharmacists and dentists. The recognition arrangements under the directive have supported the movement of European health and care professionals to the UK. Between 1997 and 2019, more than 77,000 EEA and Swiss qualifications in the professions of doctors, nurses, midwives, dentists and pharmacists have been recognised in the UK. At the end of the transition period, the EU directive will cease to apply to the UK and the mutual recognition of professional qualifications will end.
Last year, in preparation for the UK leaving the EU, Parliament passed regulations to amend the domestic law that implements the current EU system for RPQ. This included regulations in relation to recognition arrangements for health and care professional qualifications, namely SI 2019/593. These regulations, which come into force at the end of the transition period, include provisions which, first, ensure that healthcare qualifications which are currently recognised continue to be recognised automatically, for up to two years after the end of the transition period. Secondly, they protect previous recognition decisions. Thirdly, they allow applications for recognition submitted before the end of the transition period to be concluded. Fourthly, they remove the provision for healthcare professionals to deliver temporary and occasional services in the UK once such current registration comes to an end.
Since the passing of the previous regulations, the Government have secured agreements with Switzerland—the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement—and the EEA EFTA separation agreement. These agreements go further than the arrangements set out in the regulations that were passed last year. Therefore, the regulations before the House today amend the previous SI to implement the terms of the Swiss and EFTA agreements.
I will explain the main changes. First, they provide a four-year period of continuation of the automatic recognition system for Swiss nationals. Secondly, they allow Swiss healthcare professionals to continue to provide temporary and occasional services under certain conditions. Thirdly, these regulations will require UK regulators to co-operate with their EEA EFTA state and Swiss counterparts to ensure that EEA EFTA state EU-qualified professionals and Swiss nationals whose professional qualifications are recognised are treated on the same basis as UK nationals. These arrangements will be reciprocated by the EEA EFTA states and Switzerland respectively.
These regulations also make a minor amendment to ensure that the frameworks for RPQ will function as intended after the transition period. This makes sure that GP qualifications obtained before the reference date specified in the mutual recognition of professional qualifications directive are recognised in the same way as specialist medical qualifications obtained before that date, and are not eligible for automatic recognition.
UK regulators of healthcare professions have been consulted on an informal basis throughout the development of RPQ EU exit legislation, including these regulations. The devolved Governments were consulted regularly throughout the process. They are supportive of our approach and consent has been given by the Scottish Parliament to take this legislation forward.
These regulations are necessary to implement the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement and the EEA EFTA separation agreement, in respect of the recognition of professional qualifications. These agreements were signed after the passing of previous EU exit legislation on this matter. These regulations enable health and social care professionals and businesses to prepare for the end of the transition period. I commend them to the House.
My Lords, my understanding is that these regulations are a tidying-up exercise to continue to recognise existing Swiss and other EFTA health professionals with qualifications after the end of transition this year. This does not address plans for future pathways of recognition. However, I would like to focus on professionals of whom we need more to clear the backlog of treatments—that is, dentists, who are a bit different from other health professionals. Can the Minister confirm that, irrespective of any new agreement made with the European Union, the General Dental Council will be able to continue to recognise the qualifications of all graduates of dental schools within the EEA, without the need for candidates to sit the overseas registration exam?
Can the Minister also tell me what steps have been taken by the General Dental Council to resume overseas registration examinations for non-EEA overseas dentists, which have been halted due to Covid, and ensure a continuing pathway for recruitment of EEA and non-EEA dentists? In light of the backlog of 15 million treatments, surely we need all the dentists we can get.
As the Minister will know, the NHS dental service does not have a registration system like the medical services do. Each course of treatment is a separate contract. Even with the same dentist, there is no obligation for either party to continue the relationship after a course of treatment ends, except to sort out any issues relating to a recent course of treatment. The patient is free to go to another dentist, and the dentist is free to decline further NHS courses of treatment.
The result of the lack of any registration system is that after a course of treatment ends, nobody has any obligation to find another NHS dentist for any patient. This gives NHS patients no security whatever about continuity of treatment, either preventive or responsive. Given that this situation has been made worse by Covid-19, and given the shortage of NHS dentistry in some areas, does the Minister’s department have any plans to ensure we have enough dentists going forward after the end of the transition phase of exit from the EU?
My Lords, there is much to be welcomed in these regulations. It is essential that there are minimal disruptions in the NHS and social care workforce at the end of the transition period. The coronavirus pandemic has shown us that these workers are the most essential among us, and any measure that encourages workers to come to the NHS and our social care services is needed.
I am pleased the Government are going beyond the 2019 SIs to ensure that Swiss and other EEA workers have longer periods to apply for recognition and can continue to provide services. However, some detail is still in the dark. First, it is unclear what reciprocity there will be for UK nationals wanting to work in EEA countries. Will UK qualifications be recognised in EEA countries following the transition period?
Secondly, these are temporary measures, but individuals who wish to come and work in the UK need certainty for the long term. The health and social care sector needs sustainable and reliable immigration to fill posts with high-quality professionals. Can we get any indication today of what the long-term plan is for immigration from these countries?
There is a staffing crisis in our NHS and in social care. We are all well versed in the figures: 122,000 vacant posts in English trusts alone and a pledge of more than 50,000 nurses from this Government. Workforce issues that already existed have been exacerbated by the referendum result and the pandemic, meaning that wards are often understaffed as staff isolate. With the Government’s immigration Act receiving Royal Assent last week, I must use this debate as an opportunity to ask the Minister what steps the Government are taking beyond this legislation to encourage immigration within the health and social care sector.
As this legislation relates to Swiss nationals, it is worth remembering that in September, Swiss voters decisively rejected an accord that would end free movement. This is something our neighbours in Europe value, and we need to be shown to be making immigration as fluid and free of barriers as possible. That is not the current impression.
Finally, I would like to make a remark about parliamentary scrutiny. In 2019, we saw a huge number of SIs come through this House preparing for the worst-case scenario—leaving the EU with no deal. Debating the 2019 SIs was seen as almost pointless, since crashing out of the EU seemed so unlikely and, as the Prime Minister said, would be a case of failed statesmanship. However, we are now in mid-November and no deal is appearing more and more likely, with little news from Brussels or this Government about the progress of negotiations. Has adequate thought been given to what was initially seen as contingency planning? And was there enough parliamentary scrutiny of the 2019 SIs? I sincerely hope so.
Many of the issues I wanted to raise with the Minister have been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly. I accept that we will be supporting this regulation and that it is necessary as a tidying-up exercise.
As we know, nationals of the EU and other countries make up 9.1% of doctors in England’s hospitals and community services. They account for 6% of all nurses and 5.8% of scientific, therapeutic and technical staff. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, says, we have 106,000 vacancies across the NHS, including—according to my figures—44,000 nursing vacancies. And we have about 120,000 vacancies in social care. My question, echoing that of the noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, is: what will happen if we have no deal? What will happen to the ability of people to come to this country and work?
When we debated the previous regulations more than 18 months ago, we asked the then Minister what assurances could be given that the NHS would be able to stem the huge losses of those important health and social care staff. Given the numbers I have mentioned, can the Minister confirm whether any study has been made of the costs and barriers that might prevent applicants from the EEA and Switzerland entering the country and the possible impact on the health service? This might be a good opportunity to ask for progress and an update on the issue of the social care workers with which the Government agreed during the course of the immigration Bill.
It is clear that the regulations are temporary, but there is no clarity about the plans to introduce sustainable, long-term arrangements for registering and licensing EEA and Swiss nationals. Will the Minister give us some further information about what longer-term plans there are in the current timeframe and the four-year period provided by this statutory instrument?
My Lords, I am enormously grateful for the searching questions of the noble Baronesses. They have covered an enormous amount of ground, and I am not sure whether I can cover it all in my remarks. I will endeavour to write to them on some of their specific questions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked a large number of pertinent, relevant and searching questions on dentists. We are extremely conscious of the provision of dentists during Covid, the ongoing commitment to improving Britain’s dentistry and the significant contribution of those from overseas to the dentistry practice. Provisions such as this SI and many others like it are there to ensure that dentists from overseas continue to be welcome in the UK and that we can meet the needs of the British public. I would be happy to write to the noble Baroness with some detailed answers to her questions.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, rightly referred to the challenge of recruitment in health and social care, which we take extremely seriously. We have put in place an enormous marketing campaign to build the substantial and important NHS brand. We are recruiting more than ever before, and rather than reducing numbers, Covid has led to an increase in people stepping forward.
As I said in my opening remarks, we remain committed to workers from overseas. They make an invaluable contribution to health and social care, and nothing that we are doing through these provisions, the immigration Bill or any of our other provisions in any way diminishes that enormous contribution. As reciprocal arrangements will be subject to negotiated outcomes, I cannot make the commitments that the noble Baroness requested. However, I assure her that the regulations put in place in these statutory instruments and the others like it ensure that registration is possible and is part of our commitment to those who come to Britain from overseas to work.
I emphasise that the changes contained in these regulations are essential to ensuring that the UK meets its commitments, not only to overseas workers in general, but also, specifically, under the Swiss citizens’ rights agreement and the EEA-EFTA separation agreement. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, that is part of a general commitment to those who come to Britain from overseas to work in health and social care. The UK Government are committed to protecting citizens who benefit from rights under the Swiss and EEFA agreements, many of whom make valuable contributions to the UK workforce. These regulations maintain existing rights for EEA, EFTA and EU-qualified workers and Swiss nationals beyond the end of the transition period and ensure that the UK’s existing EU exit regulatory frameworks for RPQ will function effectively at the end of the transition period.
I am enormously grateful for the support shown by many noble Lords for these measures, and I commend these draft regulations to the House.
Reciprocal and Cross-Border Healthcare (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2020
Motion to Approve
That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 30 September be approved.
My Lords, this instrument amends regulations from 2019 to remove provisions that have now been superseded by the protections for people contained within the withdrawal agreement. It makes some technical fixes to reflect this and ensures that the statute book is fit for purpose. It also provides protections for people benefiting from the cross-border healthcare directive, as the directive was not carried forward in the withdrawal agreement.
Before I turn to the details, I will start with an overview of current reciprocal healthcare and our steps to prepare for the end of the transition period. Reciprocal healthcare arrangements with the EU have continued during the transition period. This means that people will see no changes in their access to healthcare for the rest of the year. From 1 January 2021 healthcare arrangements will also continue for those within the scope of the withdrawal agreement. I hope that this provides much welcome reassurance. State pensioners and workers who have moved from the UK to the EU or vice versa, and are residing there before 31 December 2020, will have lifelong reciprocal healthcare rights for as long as they remain in scope of the agreement. That includes the use of the European Health Insurance Card, the EHIC.
The agreement also protects those who are in the EU on a short stay at the end of the transition period. For example, someone who travels to an EU country before the end of the year can continue to use their EHIC there until they return to the UK. UK students on a stay in the EU, beginning a course of study before 31 December 2020, can also use their EHIC in that country for immediate and necessary healthcare for the duration of their course. Finally, people receiving planned treatment can commence or complete their treatment if authorisation was requested by 31 December 2020. All this provides much-needed certainty for UK nationals already living in the EU and vice versa.
As noble Lords are aware, future reciprocal healthcare arrangements are subject to ongoing negotiation with the EU. We understand the value of access to healthcare when travelling on holiday or for work, and I know that this is particularly important for those with pre-existing or long-term conditions. This is why the UK has been clear that it wishes to establish necessary healthcare arrangements such as the EHIC for tourists, short-term business visitors and service providers. I am sure that noble Lords will be aware that these discussions are continuing. I reassure them that, should these discussions not conclude with a healthcare agreement, we will continue to look at this issue carefully.
Should we not achieve an EU-wide deal, we would seek to agree reciprocal arrangements with EU and EEA countries bilaterally. But we cannot start these discussions until the negotiations with the EU have concluded. The one exception to this is of course Ireland. I am very pleased to report good progress on agreeing a healthcare arrangement with Ireland, under the common travel area. These arrangements will mean that residents of the UK and Ireland can continue to access necessary healthcare when visiting the other country, and it will cement co-operation between UK and Irish healthcare providers.
The instrument that we are debating today is a technical instrument to update legislation made in 2019. This now needs updating to reflect the terms on which we are leaving the EU. We need to ensure that our legislation is ready for the end of the transition period. We also need to ensure protections for those accessing cross-border healthcare on an ongoing basis at the end of the year, as this is not covered in the withdrawal agreement.
In April 2019 the Government made three statutory instruments to correct deficiencies in retained EU law relating to reciprocal healthcare. This was part of the UK’s preparations for leaving the EU without a deal. Those instruments made provision to revoke that body of retained EU law, protected people in the middle of a course of treatment and provided a mechanism for the UK to maintain bilateral reciprocal healthcare arrangements on a transitional basis until 31 December.
Some of this has now been superseded by the transition period and the withdrawal agreement protections. If we do not agree this instrument, the retained law will be incoherent and unworkable. There will also be uncertainty over protections for patients in the middle of a course of treatment.
As such, the first change our SI makes is a series of consequential and technical amendments to four EU exit instruments to make them workable and coherent. These instruments are: the Social Security Coordination (Reciprocal Healthcare) (Amendment etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019; the National Health Service (Cross-Border Healthcare and Miscellaneous Amendments etc.) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019; the Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland Arrangements) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019; and the Health Services (Cross-Border Health Care and Miscellaneous Amendments) (Northern Ireland) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. The second change is that this SI updates EU references in NHS legislation that will no longer be appropriate at the end of the year. Thirdly, as I mentioned, it will clearly set out transitional protections for people accessing healthcare under the cross-border healthcare directive.
The directive gives patients the right to receive healthcare in another EEA country and receive reimbursement from their home country. It is separate from broader reciprocal healthcare under EU regulations and was not included in the withdrawal agreement. This means that the directive will no longer apply from 31 December 2020, and it is therefore important that patients who are in the course of being treated are appropriately protected. This instrument will specifically allow the Government to fund patients in the middle of treatment, or who have already applied for authorisation, at the end of this year.
Turning to the impact on industry, as this instrument proposes no significant changes to the current regulatory regime, there would be no significant impacts on industry or the public sector. As this instrument makes technical amendments and does not introduce new policy, we have not conducted an impact assessment.
The instrument also makes provision in relation to Northern Ireland and Wales. The devolved Administrations have been consulted. There has been excellent engagement between the department and the devolved Administrations and I am confident that we have clear arrangements in place.
I am pleased to say that we have worked openly and collaboratively with NHS England and NHS Improvement, as well as the NHS Business Services Authority. They are our key delivery partners and have continued delivering their day-to-day operations, such as issuing EHICs to people, while making changes to successfully implement the withdrawal agreement.
In summary, the overarching aim of the instrument is to ensure that UK legislation is functional and reflects the withdrawal agreement. It also ensures that there will be appropriate protections for people accessing treatment under the cross-border healthcare directive at the end of the year. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction. The removal of free movement rights in the recent Immigration Act is a matter of great regret to millions of British people, who knew their value. It will also become a matter of regret to many more Brits once they realise that their dreams of working in Germany or retiring to Spain without hassle or paperwork have been torn from them. The triumphant tweet from the Home Secretary celebrating the end of freedom of movement was a tasteless mistake.
The loss of the European health insurance card will be understood and felt immediately by any British person wanting to travel within the EEA next year. If the promise of the vaccines is borne out and travel opportunities open up, people will want to spread their wings. But they will get a nasty shock from the travel insurers, as the price of a policy will be whacked up to account for the loss of free emergency healthcare under the EHIC. In the other place, it was mentioned that some 30,000 people on dialysis can currently travel throughout Europe and receive their dialysis free of charge thanks to the EHIC. This is not covered by commercial travel insurers and in future it will cost them up to £1,000 a week. The Minister in the other place talked about a recently launched directory of specialist insurers covering serious medical conditions. Well, maybe—but the premiums are likely to be eye-watering.
Brits are also losing the ability to go to another EEA country for, say, an operation when the NHS waiting list is too long. Can the Minister tell me how many procedures have been done under the cross-border healthcare directive since it was implemented in 2013? It is perhaps appropriate that the amendment to domestic legislation entails deletion of references to “EU rights” because, very sadly, rights are being torn from British people in the healthcare sector as in so many others.
The only brighter news is that, thanks to the withdrawal agreement, some people will retain rights after the end of the transition period. First, UK nationals living and working in the EEA on 31 December 2020 will continue to be entitled to healthcare funded by their member state of residence and get an EHIC issued by that state. Can the Minster clarify whether that EHIC will grant that UK national free emergency healthcare wherever they travel in the EEA or only in their member state of residence? Will those British nationals get free NHS care when they visit here?
Secondly, British pensioners resident in the EEA on 31 December 2020 who hold a so-called S1 form will continue to be entitled to UK-funded healthcare, including a UK-issued EHIC. Will that EHIC be usable throughout the EEA, and will the S1 form mean they will get free NHS care in this country? EEA nationals resident in the UK on 31 December 2020 will continue to be entitled to access the NHS, which I assume means free of charge. They will also get a UK-issued EHIC, which will surely make their British friends very jealous indeed.
Lastly, a British national who has previously worked in an EEA country can get a UK-issued EHIC plus planned treatment in an EEA country under the S2 scheme. They can also apply for an S1 form—this debate has a horrible amount of jargon—issued by the UK once they reach state pension age, on the same terms as now. Is there a specified minimum length of time that they would need to have worked in an EEA country, or could it be for as little as, say, a week? Again, there will be some jealousy from their British friends that a British national, by virtue of having worked for I do not know how long in an EEA country, will be able to get a new EHIC.
I welcome the agreement with Ireland that the Minister referred to. I was not sure whether the agreement had been finalised, but it is of course good news.
As the clock ticks down to 31 December, we know that even if a deal is reached with the EU, it will be a skinny one. How confident is the Minister that it will include any provision to continue reciprocal healthcare, including the EHIC? Discussion about rules of origin or customs arrangements might seem arcane to many people, but losing access to free healthcare if ill on holiday will hit home to most Brits. The Minister said that no impact assessment has been done because the instrument makes only “technical” amendments. British holidaymakers might disagree when they get their bill from their travel insurer. A Government celebrating “getting Brexit done” through gleeful tweets about the loss of rights might find themselves not so popular if they tweeted about the EHIC. They might think that the loss of free movement is popular, as many people have yet to discover that free movement is a two-way benefit, but the loss of the EHIC card will not go down well at all. I hope the Minister will be able to give us good news about continued arrangements.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford. I thank the Minister for setting out what this technical amendment does. As the noble Baroness said, it may be very technical, but it will hit a lot of individuals hard when they suddenly realise that Brexit is about more than sovereignty, taking back control and all the things people talk about. It is one of the first things that people will realise hit them personally.
Brexit has happened and we have to live with it, but it is very disappointing that on something such as this, with only a few weeks to go before the end of the transition period, the future systems have not been sorted out. With the best will in the world, it seems there will be a gap in which existing rights to emergency healthcare and other rights for British citizens who do not live in Europe or fall into the categories that will be protected will be lost. Nobody knows what the future will be.
My first question follows on from the noble Baroness’s speech: where are we with negotiations on future arrangements? Are they part of the discussions taking place now, which are concentrating on level playing fields, fishing and so on, or will they have to wait until those are concluded—either with no deal or with some sort of skimpy Canadian deal or whatever—and new negotiations take place? How long will it be, assuming everything goes well and negotiations take place on a friendly and co-operative basis, before a new system is in place? Does the Minister believe that an EEA-wide system—or perhaps an EU plus British system, or whatever it will be—will replace the present system, or will it be a series of bilateral arrangements between the UK and individual European countries which might be different from one country to another, some perhaps having arrangements and some not? That seems a recipe for chaos. There will be a number of instances where people come up against things that affect them personally in ways they had not expected. This is perhaps the first and one of the most important.
It is important that the impact assessment to the original regulations, which was published in October 2018—it was certainly an impact assessment then—said that the number of uses of EHICs in the EU by UK residents in 2016, which was a few years ago but I do not imagine these things change terribly, was 233,000. That is a lot, although it is concentrated in a few countries. It does not seem to say how many were in the protected categories and how many were just people like me; I once fell down a hillside, went to the local health centre in the Pyrenees, got some excellent emergency treatment and was able to reclaim a substantial amount of the cost afterwards. That is extremely useful. I do not know how many people it affects. It may be that it does not affect all that many, but even if that is the case, it is a very important backdrop.
People living in the European Union, people who organise trips via package holidays, people who visit regularly, semi-residents—of whom there are a lot; people say there are 1.3 million UK citizens living in the EU, and it is fairly well known that the number who live in the EU for at least a substantial part of the year is considerably more than that—regular visitors and people with jobs there are likely to have health insurance over and above their EHIC. They will continue to have that, although, as my noble friend said, it might cost a bit more.
However, many people are going to be at a severe disadvantage: casual visitors; people on shopping trips to Calais, if people are still going to do that; people going for weekends in Paris; those taking long weekends, borrowing a cottage or house from friends; people on short family trips to see students on a gap year or an Erasmus year in Europe; those going to stag parties in Prague, where people go at the last minute; and people who, because they have long-term health conditions, are not easily able to get economical combined health and travel insurance. Even people in the protected categories will be protected only up to the end of this year—after that, they will not be protected at all. The world is going to be very different.
Then there are all the European citizens living in this country who will not be protected if they come to live here after the end of this year. They will be involved in a whole new range of National Health Service bureaucracy. Questions have been asked about how much that is going to cost and nobody seems to be able to give any answers. What I am really asking is this: what is the timescale for sorting all this stuff out? How long will the gap that people are going to fall into be?
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, who, typically, has come up with some very important questions. I thank the Minister for setting out the terms of the regulations and their implications. I can see that, on one level, these are technical points, but in reality they are going to make a substantial difference to the lives of many millions of Britons. It is that that concerns me at the moment.
I accept that we are obviously moving out of the EU: that is a given. What is not clear is whether we are going to have an agreement at the end of the transition period, which is only some six weeks away. I can see that the six weeks of remaining rights relating to travel are not, in the great scheme of things, that significant, given that very few people will be travelling at the moment. But given the great news that we have had on the vaccines—and I pay tribute to the people who have worked on them, particularly the children of Turkish immigrants in Germany working for BioNTech, who made a massive breakthrough—the likelihood of increased travel, certainly towards the end of next year and thereafter, is very much in play, and we all welcome that.
Having heard the Minister setting out the position, I find it somewhat obscure, involving a rather confused set of rights and obligations. It is confused in the sense that there is any number of different combinations of obligations and rights according to how one looks at this; it is a positive Rubik’s cube of different obligations and rights, and is anything but simple.
What is clear—and it is good news—is that UK nationals living and working in the EU will be entitled to member-state-funded healthcare. That is good news. What is less clear—this was a point touched on also by the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford—is whether, if they return to the UK, they will be entitled to free healthcare here. Perhaps it is very much the case that that is so, but I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm it so that we all know, because it has not been set out very clearly. There are rights for EU citizens in the UK on a similar basis, and I certainly welcome that.
It is also clear that UK citizens who go on holiday or visit an EU member state for a business trip from the beginning of next year, in the absence of a comprehensive agreement, will no longer be able to use their health insurance card or a comparable card, and so will have to take out insurance to ensure proper cover in the absence of that EU-UK agreement, or in the absence at least of bilateral agreements with each of the other states—I think it would be 26 states in this instance, because Ireland is separately catered for. That is anything but simple, if we are going to have 26 separate agreements with different states. I hope we reach a position where there is cover with all of them, but it would be good to know that it is going to be the same cover; otherwise, the insurance position of, for example, young travellers or students on Interrail travelling overseas, having to get different insurance for different countries, will be anything but straightforward and anything but just technical.
I ask the Minister also about whether there has been proper publicity and promotion of the information that will be very much in play at the beginning of next year. If we have no agreement, then there is a need for insurance to ensure proper cover. I am not sure that people appreciate that, and I do not think there has been a sustained publicity campaign about this. I appreciate that we are still hoping for an agreement, but I think that some contingency arrangements should be put in place to ensure that people are aware of the position that will apply at the beginning of next year. The consequences otherwise could be horrendous. It is not simply the cost of insurance, which people will not welcome; it is the cost of what happens if you do not have insurance that is really serious. I would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could say something on that.
I too am concerned about the position for people with deep-seated medical issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, mentioned dialysis, and it is a point well made. What is being done to cater for people in this category, who have been previously able to travel without massive insurance costs because of reciprocal rights being applicable? Are we doing anything in that regard? I appreciate the timescales here but, given that we have known these timescales for some time, it would be good to hear that some contingencies are being put into place in relation to these situations.
The last point I wish to raise is in relation to the healthcare that we provide throughout the United Kingdom—not just within England. The UK was, of course, a member state and was subject to reciprocal arrangements for reimbursement of costs that are applied by the healthcare systems of the four nations in relation to travellers from the EU. Are we liaising with the devolved nations to ensure that we have some sort of common approach to the recovery of any costs? It seems to me that there is a recipe here for red tape and bureaucracy beyond what is needed. It would be good to hear that we are on top of this and looking at how we go about seeking reimbursement of these costs. As I say, that is something that I hope does not need to happen, but it may need to happen.
I thank the Minister for confirming that the devolution arrangements are working well with the devolved nations and that that is happening on a very good basis. I am pleased to hear that; it is certainly music to my ears. It would be good to hear that we are on top of that reimbursement issue.
With those thoughts, I rest the case. There are obviously some concerns, but I thank the Minister for setting out the position as clearly as he did.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, and the noble Lords, Lord Greaves and Lord Bourne, for their very useful and sensible comments at the beginning of this debate. I also thank the Minister for his, as ever, very courteous and thorough explanation of the SI. It would have been wonderful if this evening he had had a road to Damascus moment, realising that, whatever new arrangements are being put in place, and no matter how complicated and effective they are, they are likely to be inferior, more costly and more inconvenient than what already exists. However, I suspect that that moment has gone. I therefore wish to seek guidance and reassurance from him on a small number of points.
The first is on cross-border healthcare. This is perhaps at its best and most innovative on the island of Ireland, where co-operation on everything from research to critical care, staff training and development has helped transform services for all residents, north and south of the border. Indeed, seeing one of my relatives in a very remote village in Donegal being offered one of the most up-to-date cancer treatments at the Altnagelvin Hospital in Derry, rather than having to travel to Dublin, was a very personal example. Another was the opportunity to address an all-Ireland nursing conference alongside Health Ministers from both sides of the border, where the discussion was on how to improve nursing services for all residents. It made me realise that cross-border healthcare was more than a political ideal; it is the bedrock of a more civilised society.
I was delighted when the Minister, in his opening remarks, mentioned that an agreement had been made with the Republic on cross-border healthcare. But are we getting exactly the same arrangements as we have now? Will they be translated into a legal document? If not, can he identify what will change for residents both in the United Kingdom and on the other side of the Irish border?
Secondly, I recognise that from 1 January UK and EU nationals who are working or studying in either the EU or the UK will be able to continue to be in receipt of the current reciprocal healthcare arrangements—I am delighted that that has been clarified again. However, most UK nationals, particularly in areas such as IT, are working as fixed-term contractors and not as permanent employees—they are not permanently in the country of their work. Will the Minister clarify whether any fixed-term contractor who currently works between the UK and the EU but is currently fulfilling a contract in the UK before returning to one in the EU will qualify for continuation of reciprocal cross-border healthcare arrangements, or will they have to be working in the EU on 1 January, as mentioned earlier?
Will EU au pairs who currently reside with UK families—their number has gone down from 90,000 to around 20,000 since the Brexit agreement—continue to receive free healthcare, should they, as is very likely, return home over the Christmas period? I realise that they will get it if they continue to stay after 1 January but, if they go home for Christmas for two or three weeks, will they then be denied that healthcare when they return to their families in the UK after Christmas?
Thirdly, I am incredibly worried about the cross-border flow of students. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, mentioned the Erasmus programme, but it is not just that programme that has brought huge benefits to the UK, as well as to the EU over a great many years. Clearly, existing students will continue to enjoy reciprocal arrangements, provided that they continue in their course this year, but will universities—I use as an example Hull, which offers its German language undergraduates a year’s experience in Germany—as institutions have to fund health insurance? Will they pass on that cost to their students or will they be able to purchase exactly the same arrangements in some cross-border arrangement?
Finally—the noble Lord, Lord Bourne, referred to this briefly—will the Minister now, or in a note placed in the Library, say how successful the NHS has been in recovering health-related fees from non-UK residents over the past five years and what the administration costs have been as a proportion of overall recovered costs? I ask this because I have not seen anywhere assessments relating to the recovery of costs from the huge rise in claims that will be made by hospitals and other healthcare institutions when EU visitors, students and workers not currently operating in the UK do so after 1 January 2021. I am sure your Lordships would agree that it would be perverse if we had a system that costed the NHS in the UK far more than at present, simply because of the administration and bureaucracy surrounding those recharging facilities. As ever, I look forward to the noble Lord’s—as usual—courteous reply.
My Lords, these regulations are quite technical in nature but relate to a very important issue for many. I am grateful to my noble friends Lady Ludford, Lord Greaves and Lord Willis of Knaresborough, and to my friend the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, for their comments, questions and common sense.
Reciprocal healthcare has been and always will be of vital importance to those who travel between and live across European nations, in particular workers and students, as has already been mentioned. It ensures that health coverage is available as individuals undertake activities that are beneficial across our societies. However, it is extremely important that individuals are informed about their healthcare rights abroad, whether they need to be supplemented with insurance and whether they are covered by direct payment or a reimbursement system.
Could the Minister confirm the arrangements on the island of Ireland? He will be aware that, at present, residents in both the Republic and Northern Ireland have been treated freely on either side of the border. I do not mean “freely” in the financial sense, but in the sense that the border does not exist: ambulances travel from north to south without let or hindrance, and treatment for a single condition can be delivered in both the north and the south. I wonder whether the Minister could clarify whether the financial arrangements will have to change or be renegotiated—and will they be ready with effect from 1 January 2021?
I sit on one of the House of Lords Select Committees that has been looking at various issues relating to the situation in Northern Ireland with effect from 1 January next year. With a lot of despair, we have found that some departments have been very slow in working with the Assembly in the north. They are feeling abandoned by departments and anxious about whether things will be ready for 1 January. Could the Minister confirm that, as far as health is concerned, all arrangements will be completely wrapped up by the time 1 January comes?
Concerns have been raised that those with existing and underlying health conditions may not be covered when they travel to the EU. Can the Minister confirm whether any reciprocal coverage will be available, for those with a learning disability in particular? It is concerning if coverage is not complete for some individuals, as it will add extra pressure to an already stretched NHS resource, as well as having an impact on these individuals. Of course, a comprehensive deal with the EU, securing reciprocal coverage just as we have at the moment, would resolve any uncertainty there is. Can the Minister assure the House that the Government are still committed to negotiating such a deal? Can he confirm that agreeing a reciprocal healthcare scheme is a priority in these negotiations, as it is in the interest of both parties?
The withdrawal agreement agreed in October 2019 and ratified in January 2020, and separate agreements with other EEA states and Switzerland, made some provisions relating to this. First, the existing arrangements continue until the end of the transition period on 31 December this year. Can the Minister clarify who will retain rights after the transition period? What conversations have the Government had with the insurance sector, which I am sure is waiting for new business with bated breath? As was suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, this issue is important. I am concerned that there will be some less-than-ideal arrangements and wonder what assurance the public have that insurance offerings are reasonable and do not take advantage of the situation.
There are some provisions for health at the 23rd hour. UK and EU nationals in a cross-border situation over 31 December 2020—part-way through a holiday, maybe—can continue to use the EHIC to access needs-arising treatment, until they leave the country by travelling to another EU member state or returning to the UK.
People visiting the UK or EU for planned medical treatment under the S2 route can commence or complete their treatment if authorisation was requested on or before 31 December. If a UK national has paid social security contributions in a member state in the past but is not living in the EU on 31 December 2020, the rights that flow from those contributions, such as benefits, pensions and reciprocal healthcare rights, will be protected. This means that someone who has previously worked in an EU EFTA member state can apply for a UK S1 as well as EHIC S2 once they reach state pension age, on the same terms as now. So, we have a clearer picture of what the future arrangements of the EU on healthcare will be.
Many noble Lords have outlined how they have used their EHICs. My noble friend Lord Greaves has clearly had far more exciting experiences than I have in the Alps. I have managed to spend the last 50 years travelling happily around the EU without any problems at all and my EHIC has stayed happily in my wallet. These Benches regret that we are in this position, but we have to put our trust in the Government to arrange as good a reciprocal deal or series of bilateral arrangements as soon as possible. Will this be sorted by the end of the transition period? Can the Minister confirm that we will not be disappointed?
I thank the Minister for his introduction. I also thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate, raising an unenviable number of questions that the Minister will need to answer. I want to be clear that I understand the situation here. I am a veteran of this debate. I had a look and I have had this debate in one form or another at least four or five times in the last three years. This is the third Minister I have had dealing with it, so I hope noble Lords will pardon me for my sense of déjà vu.
My understanding is that we are all okay for the next six weeks while we are still covered by the transitional agreement, but on 1 January we are okay in terms of healthcare and other provision only if it already exists. If it does not exist and you are not resident in a European Union country—or, presumably, a European Union resident in this country—you will have to make new arrangements.
I remember being in a meeting with one of the noble Lord’s colleagues, probably about two and a half years ago, who assured us that, if necessary, we would have 27 absolutely rock-solid agreements on reciprocal healthcare, and that it would be okay. I have to say that I greet some of this with a certain amount of scepticism because I feel as though I have been led up this particular mountain at least three or four times in the last few years. I would like to know whether my assumption is right: that those of us who do not live in Spain, have not paid into the Spanish system and are not eligible to do so but who might want to retire there next year, will have to make our own arrangements. I suggest to the Minister that the way people will feel about Brexit will be judged partly on how this works, because healthcare and access to healthcare across the European Union is very personal to all of us.
I put on record some of the concerns that have been raised with us by a range of patient groups and healthcare organisations, who feel that the regulations do not go far enough in protecting the rights to healthcare of British citizens who travel in the European Union. As other noble Lords have said, this could leave some people with underlying health conditions not completely covered. The noble Baroness, Lady Ludford, used an example from Kidney Care UK that 30,000 people on dialysis can currently travel through Europe and receive their dialysis free of charge because of EHIC, even though dialysis for life-sustaining treatment for kidney failure is not covered by travel insurance; without reciprocal healthcare arrangements, it may cost up to £1,000 per week. I would like the Minister to answer the question of what will happen to people who receive dialysis after 1 January. How many more thousands of people with pre-existing health conditions will not be able to get insurance and could be put in the same situation if the Government fail to reach a deal?
If they fail to reach a deal in the next two weeks, will there be 27 agreements in existence? Are they there and ready to run? I would really like to know. The Brexit Health Alliance—a group of organisations that want to ensure that the views of healthcare users and providers are reflected in the Brexit negotiations, including the Academy of Medical Royal Colleges, NHS Providers, the Richmond Group of Charities and the Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry—says:
“The current arrangements involve minimal bureaucracy for patients and healthcare providers, underpinned by well-established systems for reimbursement between member states. The NHS will face unwelcome increased resourcing burdens, if it is required to handle new, more complex administrative and funding procedures when providing care to EU citizens in future.”
The British Medical Association says that failure to reach a deal would,
“lead to significant disruption to … individuals’ healthcare arrangements, an increase in costs of insurance, and uncertainty regarding accessing healthcare abroad. Moreover, the NHS would face a drastic increase in demand for services, which could dramatically increase its costs and place greater pressure on doctors and clinical staff.”
I said those words to the Minister’s predecessor about two years ago. I said if we do not sort this out, there will be increased pressures on the NHS. Two years later, having increased pressures on the NHS is even more serious than it was.
Those organisations have been completely consistent in what they have been saying to the Government about this issue for the last three to four years and here we are now, weeks from possibly falling off a cliff. It is very important that the Minister not only answers some of the very relevant questions he has been asked by other noble Lords but seeks to reassure us that we are not all going to find ourselves faced with huge costs and, possibly, not being able to travel at all in Europe because we have failed to reach an agreement.
My Lords, I express admiration and gratitude for the stamina of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for sitting through this debate several times. I have also sat through it several times. I fear that some of my answers will be the same as those the noble Baroness and others will remember.
I am grateful for this debate. It is a quite reasonable and touching reminder of a key fundamental that travel is massively valued, particularly by those who travel for work, for study and to see relatives, but also by the population generally. Travel is of huge personal and financial value and protecting your health when you travel is incredibly important. People have a close association with that and are naturally deeply concerned about it. I agree with those noble Lords who emphasised the importance of these arrangements and in no way do I undervalue the importance of the EHIC programme and its successor to the British public.
In the withdrawal agreement we have a robust framework for some reciprocal rights that include significant long-term and traditional protections for EU and UK nationals. This piece of legislation is very much in that spirit. It is there so that UK legislation remains functional by reflecting the withdrawal agreement and the transition period and ensures that there are appropriate protections in place for those accessing healthcare under the cross-border healthcare directive. As veterans of this area will know—I apologise if this creates a sense of déjà vu—I remind noble Lords that the changes in this instrument do not concern the future relationship with Europe. The UK has made it very clear, and we continue to work on the fact, that we want to agree clear arrangements for providing healthcare cover for tourists, short-term business visitors, service providers and for all manner of British people who are travelling to the EU and vice versa.
However, any agreed arrangements will be entirely subject to the outcome of those negotiations. There is nothing I can do at this Dispatch Box to answer the great many perfectly valid but completely unanswerable questions that have been put about what those future arrangements might look like. However, I can update the House: the UK has had constructive discussions with Switzerland and the EEA/EFTA states of Norway, Iceland and Liechtenstein on our future relationship, including social security co-ordination and reciprocal healthcare. Those are promising and reflect well on our conversations with the EU. The progress of those discussions is, however, linked to the outcome of the EU negotiations on social security co-ordination, so I cannot offer concrete guarantees in that department.
To answer a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, some people will be eligible for a UK EHIC under the terms of the withdrawal agreement. A new EHIC has been developed for those who are eligible, including people living, working and studying in the EU before the end of the transition period. We made that very clear very early on. Anyone with an S1 form or studying in a member state can apply for the new EHIC on the NHS website. For those not covered by the withdrawal agreement, the EHIC may not be valid from 1 January 2021, as the noble Baroness rightly pointed out. The Government are open to working with the EU to establish necessary healthcare arrangements that provide healthcare cover for tourists, short-term business visitors and service providers, but those conversations have not been finalised.
Future healthcare cover for tourists is subject to the future relationship. I understand that it is extremely frustrating not to be able to find exactly what that will look like. I acknowledge that one group which is particularly concerned will be those with pre-existing conditions; they will find it the most challenging to find the right travel insurance if there is no arrangement with the EU on necessary healthcare. This is something we are looking at closely. On a practical note, we know that getting insurance can be more difficult for those with long-term conditions. To support people, the Money Advice Service has recently launched an insurance directory for people with a serious medical condition, which brings together specialist firms with the aim of making it easier to find travel insurance that provides the right health cover. I understand that that service is proving of value.
In response to my noble friend Lord Bourne, communication has been incredibly important and we have gone about it in an energetic way. We have sought to prepare citizens for the change at the end of the transition period with advice tailored for different audiences, helping them to understand their choices and to act in their own best interests. Information is available and has been updated regularly on the NHS pages and GOV.UK to ensure that people are clear about their reciprocal healthcare rights. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office has been leading a campaign, supported by DHSC reciprocal healthcare advisers, to UK-insured people living in the member states, and my understanding is that those communications have been effective.
The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, asked about readiness to implement the withdrawal agreement. I reassure him that the DHSC has made good progress, working openly and collaboratively with other social security departments and its operational delivery partners in NHS England, NHS Improvement and the NHS Business Services Authority, to ensure that reciprocal healthcare arrangements will be successfully implemented for those covered by the agreement. I also confirm that UK S1 holders in the EU and UK students studying abroad can now apply for their new EHIC under the withdrawal agreement.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jolly, asked about Ireland, and it is good news that we seem to have made progress on our arrangements for Ireland. The UK and Irish Governments have been discussing future arrangements for healthcare co-operation within the common travel area. Great progress has been made in these talks. These arrangements will ensure that residents of the UK and Ireland will continue to be able to access necessary healthcare when visiting the other country and benefit from co-operation between UK and Irish healthcare providers, regardless of the outcome of the negotiations with the EU. The example the noble Baroness gave of ambulances travelling across the border was very powerful.
These arrangements build on previous commitments that UK and Irish citizens who are living in the other country will continue to be able to access healthcare on the same terms as local citizens. The Healthcare (European Economic Area and Switzerland) Arrangements (EU Exit) Regulations 2019, which we debated previously, provide the mechanisms to implement these arrangements, so there should be no interruption in healthcare arrangements between the UK and Ireland.
The noble Lord, Lord Willis, asked about money reclaimed from other countries. That amount has grown substantially over the last five years. I cannot give the precise number that the noble Lord asked for, but the amount recovered from overseas healthcare visitors has risen to £760 million in 2019-20. That is a substantial amount, but we are continuing to work to make sure that all that money is reclaimed effectively.
These essential measures are being put in place to protect those who seek to travel abroad. For that reason, I beg to move.
Her Majesty the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 12 November.
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a brief and important Statement about the Government’s plans to mark Her Majesty the Queen’s platinum jubilee in 2022. The 6th of February 1952 marked the dawn of a new Elizabethan age in our United Kingdom. For a nation emerging from the rubble of the Second World War, the new monarch represented an opportunity for a fresh start and a brighter future. The seven decades since have seen a huge amount of change, progress and—at times—turmoil. Fashions, technologies and many Prime Ministers have come and gone, but throughout there has been one constant: Her Majesty has been the golden thread that binds us, uniting our kingdom.
As you said, Mr Speaker, 2022 will represent an extraordinary milestone for Her Majesty, for the country and for the Commonwealth. No British monarch has ever celebrated 70 years on the throne, and I know the entire country will want to come together to celebrate Her Majesty’s remarkable reign, reflect on her legacy and look forward.
To honour this extraordinary historic occasion, the Government are working with the Royal Household and devolved Administrations on an extensive programme that will unite every generation in all 54 countries of the Commonwealth, from the south Pacific islands to the Canadian Arctic, in celebration of Her Majesty. There will, of course, be the traditional nationwide fanfare of street parties and celebrations, building up to a special four-day platinum jubilee weekend that we will celebrate by moving the late May bank holiday to Thursday 2 June and adding an additional bank holiday on Friday 3 June.
We are working with the United Kingdom’s leading creative minds to make this a jubilee weekend to remember—one that mixes the best of British ceremonial splendour and pageantry with cutting-edge artistic and technological display, recognises the global contribution made under Her Majesty’s reign, and offers thanks for her seven decades of unwavering public service. It will involve a mixture of spectacular moments in big cities, as well as local events in towns and villages across all our United Kingdom.
We will of course continue to honour some proud jubilee traditions. When Her Majesty’s great, great grandmother, Queen Victoria, reached her 50th year on the throne, she issued a special medal to mark her golden jubilee. Her Majesty has graciously approved plans to issue her own platinum jubilee medal, to be given to those who work in public service, including the Armed Forces, the emergency services and the prison services.
As you said, Mr Speaker, Parliament is preparing its own jubilee gift, organised by you, sir, the Lord Speaker and, of course, my right honourable and learned friend the Member for Northampton North, Michael Ellis, and we are working on a series of legacy projects that will serve as an enduring tribute to Her Majesty.
We will of course unveil further plans in the coming months as they develop, but 2022 will be a landmark year for the United Kingdom. The platinum jubilee will be the jewel in the crown of a series of events showcasing the very best of this country to its people and to the rest of the world, including the Birmingham Commonwealth Games and Festival UK 2022. After a very difficult year where we have come together to fight the common enemy of coronavirus, I am sure that the House will want to join me in looking forward to happier times for our great nation, when we will be united in celebration instead.”
My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement and the announcement that has been made. I thank the Secretary of State for setting out the plans for the celebration, and I am sure I join other noble Lords in looking forward with optimism to this happy event. We warmly welcome the good news that Her Majesty’s platinum jubilee will be recognised by an extra bank holiday, as I am sure will many people up and down the country.
The Secretary of State, in a recent newspaper article on the celebration of the 2012 Olympic Games, referred to a time that evoked much happiness for us, and one where we all came together to celebrate and mark our shared values. We all look forward to a time when we can enjoy collective events such as street parties, festivals and carnivals, enjoy live performances, listen to live music and be together to celebrate the very things whose absence is so keenly felt at the moment, particularly as we approach Christmas, usually another time of coming together.
Of course, 2022 is already shaping up to be a big year for celebration, with the centenary of the BBC and the hosting of the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham. It is in very large part due to the Queen herself that we see the success of the Commonwealth as a group of nations working together despite their huge differences and the cultural and historical context from which the Commonwealth was formed. We look forward to hearing more about the plans for these celebrations, bringing together our whole United Kingdom, as well as the Commonwealth, as we get nearer to 2022.
The numerous qualities displayed by Her Majesty throughout her long reign of dedicated service—particularly her incredible work ethic, kindness and patience—represent the very best of our values as a country. As we live through one of the most difficult periods of her reign, I am sure it was a source of comfort to many millions when the Queen addressed the nation earlier this year. Her promise that “we will meet again”, echoing the words made popular by Dame Vera Lynn, were especially poignant for millions of people for whom the Queen has been a constant presence during their lives.
The Opposition echo the Government’s hopes that the country will emerge from this dark period in time for these celebrations. Our hope is that they become in comity a wonderful way to mark a new optimism for our future as we seek to build back better and reflect more deeply on the great changes that have taken place over the past 70 years.
My Lords, we also welcome this Statement and the fact that the celebration—
Would the noble Baroness turn up her microphone, please?
I am so sorry, I did not put my headphones on. We welcome this Statement and the fact that the celebration of Her Majesty the Queen’s extraordinary reign and Platinum Jubilee will embrace and showcase our nation’s creativity. The Secretary of State harked back to the Cultural Olympiad, which was a triumph—a celebration that made us proud to be British and, more importantly, a unified nation. Since then, things have not gone so well on that front, so how very important it is to try to regain that moment.
Who can forget Danny Boyle’s opening ceremony—a beautiful, brilliant spectacular, with our monarch jumping out of a helicopter? What is she going to do to top that, I wonder? The ceremony was shot through with recognition of our creative accomplishments and was a huge one in itself—and of course, so presciently for today, it celebrated our wonderful National Health Service.
The Cultural Olympiad as a whole was a uniting experience. It pledged to encompass thousands of local and regional events as part of the nationwide celebration, and it did. The Olympiad was an inclusive experience; there was street art and high art, hip hop and ballet. Everywhere, it attracted new audiences. We must ensure that the innovative partnerships that creators forged happen again. So will the Minister confirm that the Platinum Jubilee will also pledge to encompass and reflect the whole nation—local, regional and diverse in every sense? Can the noble Lord update us on his department’s plans to convene key partners—cultural arm’s-length bodies, lottery distributors and others such as Channel 4 and the BBC—to help co-ordinate efforts?
The year 2022 is the centenary, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, said, of the BBC. It has been a staple of Her Majesty’s life and reign and, during the pandemic, it has been a lifeline. I am sure it will play an equally unique and crucial role in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations in bringing the nation together.
In announcing this central role for the UK’s leading creatives in these celebrations, the Government demonstrate that they understand their importance. However, for this to succeed, we need a healthy, functioning creative sector. As we know, the present Covid crisis is taking a terrible toll there. While we welcome the support the Government have given the sector, does the noble Lord agree that the quicker we get live events up and running the better? They will, of course, be central to these forthcoming celebrations. Does he also accept that securing affordable insurance is key to this?
We need to ensure that talent and skills do not leave these industries. Help is needed for the many creative freelancers and self-employed who cannot access support due to gaps in the system. We need them to be able to plan, produce and contribute to the festivities of 2022. Will the noble Lord commit to this Government helping the excluded?
Does the Minister agree there is talent everywhere in this area but that this cannot be said for opportunity, particularly for those from diverse ethnic and economic backgrounds and those with disabilities? Does he not agree that the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee can provide the opportunity for celebration across all our communities? Will the Government commit to working with cultural institutions and community groups to achieve this? I am a trustee of the Lowry in Salford, and I have seen how its outreach programme works across social and economic divides to support creativity. I am sure that my noble friend Lady Benjamin can bring a lot of experience and knowledge from the work she does with the Windrush Commemoration Committee.
Finally, there is Brexit—and, worst of all, a no-deal Brexit. The creative industries have massively benefited from our membership of the EU. As we reach the endgame, can the Minister assure the House that the creative industries are at the top table so far as negotiations are concerned?
We on these Benches join in congratulating the Government on raising our spirits with the tantalising prospect that we might be celebrating communally in the not-too-distant future. Let us make sure that there is proper support for those who will be so essential to those celebrations—our creative artists. Culture and creativity are jewels in the UK’s crown.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their warm and enthusiastic welcome for the Statement and the announcement in it, and for the cross-party support they have given to the Government’s plans. It is not surprising but it is very welcome, and a fitting tribute to the unifying figure who is Her Majesty the Queen, as we come together to prepare to celebrate this milestone jubilee.
As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, said, the occasion of the Diamond Jubilee in 2012 was indeed a very happy time. I remember it fondly although damply, having watched the Thames river pageant from a very rainy Southwark Bridge. We all hope for better weather this time around, although there was something distinctly British about it. They are right to point to its combination in that year with the London Olympics, which led to a truly special year for the United Kingdom. We want 2022 to be a landmark year as well. As the noble Lord said, we will also be seeing the Commonwealth Games in Birmingham that summer and we have Festival UK, which we will be celebrating throughout that year. We want 2022 to be a truly historic year to remember, celebrating all the things that make our nation so great. The noble Lord and the noble Baroness mentioned institutions such as our National Health Service and the BBC, which celebrates its centenary in 2022, and of course we want those institutions to form an important part of the celebrations. We will be liaising with them, along with the Royal Household, as the plans are firmed up.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, in particular, talked about the creative accomplishments of the country. I am pleased to say that, in relation to Festival UK*2022, this very morning the 30 selected consortia for the £3 million-funded R&D phase were announced. The 30 consortia that have been picked include an exciting mix from a number of different sectors, including organisations and individuals, freelancers and emerging talent from, as the noble Baroness said, the diverse communities that make up our nation—that is absolutely right—and from all four corners of the United Kingdom. They include universities, TV and film organisations, museums and galleries, tech companies and environmental organisations. The final commissions will be announced next year, but we can see already that plans are afoot for that to be a very special undertaking.
The noble Baroness is right: we want the opportunity for all of Her Majesty’s subjects to get involved in the celebrations, to pay tribute to the qualities that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, mentioned in his question. The Queen is indeed a shining example to us all, and that is the reason why I am sure all of us, in a grateful nation, will want to come together to pay tribute to her as she reaches this Platinum Jubilee, and indeed to say thank you.
We now come to the 20 minutes allocated to Back-Bench questions. I ask that questions and answers be brief so that I can call the maximum number of speakers.
My Lords, it is welcome news indeed that the Queen has approved plans for a Platinum Jubilee medal. The Diamond Jubilee medal was given to some 465,000 people from the Armed Forces, to the fire, police, ambulance and lifeboat services, to coastguards and those working for mountain rescue. Would my noble friend consider increasing the number of medals, perhaps to 550,000, and widening the criteria to mark the extraordinary work of so many people during the pandemic, including NHS front-line personnel and, possibly, postal and other workers?
My noble friend is right to point to the nearly half a million of Her Majesty’s subjects who received a medal on the occasion of her Diamond Jubilee, following the example set by her great-great-grandmother, Queen Victoria, when she celebrated her Golden Jubilee in 1887. As with previous jubilee medals, the Platinum Jubilee medal will be given to those who work in public service. That includes: the Armed Forces, the emergency services and those working in Her Majesty’s Prison Service. The qualifying criteria will be announced in due course, and further details will be set out by each of the government departments that have responsibility for each of those important parts of the public sector.
My Lords, it is serendipitous that the 2022 Commonwealth Games, originally meant to be held in Durban, are taking place not just in the UK but in Birmingham. I am proud to be the chancellor of the University of Birmingham, which will be playing a major role in hosting the Games. Can the Minister inform us how the Commonwealth Games will play a very prominent role in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations for Her Majesty the Queen?
The Commonwealth Games will take place in July and August 2022 in Birmingham. It will be the biggest sporting event ever held in the city, featuring thousands of world-class athletes from across the Commonwealth and over 1 million spectators. It will be an opportunity for competitors and spectators from all over the Commonwealth to come to the United Kingdom and celebrate what should be a very happy and historic year.
My Lords, I speak for all the Lords spiritual in welcoming this Statement about the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee. It is a great privilege for me to be here in person this week and to pray each day with 30 or so Members before the business of this House commences in a way that is currently not allowed in any of the churches or cathedrals in this country. Has ever a prayer been so fully answered as that for the Queen?
Grant her in health and wealth long to live … Long to reign over us. God save the Queen.
Before becoming the Bishop of Salisbury, I used to be the vicar of St Martin-in-the-Fields, which is known as the royal parish church. Like every parish church, the whole community belongs there—the homeless and royalty. In praying for the Queen, we pray for the whole community. I particularly pay tribute to Her Majesty’s recent visit to Porton Down in recognition of the remarkable role played there in addressing the issues faced by the people of Salisbury following the Novichok poisonings.
At her Coronation, the Queen was consecrated like a priest. She rules under God and the Government rule under the Queen, not in the self-referential way in which a nation is its own arbiter. In welcoming the proposals to celebrate a long and remarkable reign, I am sure that we will all pray and sing
May she defend our laws,
And ever give us cause,
To sing with heart and voice,
God save the Queen.
In the light of all that, how does the Minister see the religious nature of this Platinum Jubilee celebration of Her Majesty’s central role as a religious figure?
I agree wholeheartedly with everything that the right reverend Prelate has said, and indeed, he did so earlier in Prayers before the Sitting of your Lordships’ House. He is absolutely right that the role of Her Majesty the Queen as Defender of the Faith and Supreme Governor of the Church of England are central to her role as monarch, and she has taken that extremely seriously since her coronation. The Royal Household and Her Majesty’s Government are in discussions with the Church of England to ensure that that too is properly recognised in the Platinum Jubilee.
My Lords, in a moment of darkness and gloom, the proposed Platinum Jubilee for Her Majesty is a ray of light. Does the Minister agree that there is no better way to celebrate and thank Her Majesty for seven decades of dedicated and wise service than with a Commonwealth walkway in all four parts of her United Kingdom? Her Majesty has celebrated all her jubilees with walkways—1977, 2002 and 2012—and she opened all of them. With the Commonwealth canopy, you look up, but with a Commonwealth walkway, you look down, guided by permanent bronze markers.
It is a perfect legacy and gift for everyone to help them to get back on their feet post Covid. Let us not just fly a flag or plant a tree, but go for a walk with families, friends, politicians, athletes and film stars, and thank God with every step for the 70 years of steadfast leadership by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, our Queen and Head of the Commonwealth.
I hope that many of your Lordships will support this idea. I ask the Minister to take this suggestion seriously and talk about walkways in his Ministry.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend. She is right to say that walkways have been an important part of the Queen’s previous jubilee celebrations. Indeed, having walked around London rather more this year than I do in most, I have seen many of the plaques over recent months. I will certainly take that idea back to the department.
My Lords, Her Majesty epitomises continuity and stability. With her wisdom and steadfast commitment, she has held the Commonwealth together and earned the deep affection of all its nations. More than anyone else, Her Majesty understands the significance of the Commonwealth and all that we hold in common. More than ever, we must nurture our common bonds. Can the Minister please ensure that Her Majesty’s outstanding role as head of the Commonwealth, and what she cherishes about its people, will be marked enthusiastically and meaningfully?
The noble Baroness is right, and of course the 54 nations of the Commonwealth will want to make their own plans to celebrate the jubilee in their own ways. The Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office is liaising with them as they prepare to do so.
My Lords, the Queen is patron of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and of the English-Speaking Union, of which I am the immediate past chair. As such, she has championed effective communication and friendship between peoples and parliaments. So long has been her reign that, both as a child and as a Minister, I have witnessed her addressing the Parliament of Ghana. Will the Minister assure us that his department will consult with Commonwealth associations based in the UK, including the CPA and the English-Speaking Union, to ensure that this aspect of Her Majesty’s long and glorious reign is reflected in this jubilee year?
That is a very important aspect of Her Majesty’s reign. The Commonwealth Games give us an opportunity to reflect that, but as the noble Lord points out, the Commonwealth is so much more than those sporting endeavours that we will be celebrating through that event. We will ensure that, through the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office, we are speaking to all the Commonwealth nations in the run-up to the platinum jubilee.
My Lords, six of your Lordships have mentioned the Commonwealth in the last few minutes. Given the increasing importance of the Commonwealth network in this country’s future, and in global peace and stability generally, will my noble friend the Minister reassure us that as this excellent initiative unfolds, the 15 other countries or realms of which Her Majesty the Queen is also the sovereign, as well as the wider Commonwealth network of nations of which she is the head, will all have a very full opportunity to share in planning the event and in the event itself when it comes about, and in dovetailing their own plans in whatever way they choose?
I am very happy to reassure my noble friend on that point. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State said in the Statement, the Government are working with the Royal Household, the devolved Administrations and the Commonwealth on a programme of events that will unite every generation in all 54 countries of the Commonwealth, from the South Pacific islands to the Canadian Arctic, in celebration of Her Majesty. That is the depth of our undertaking.
My Lords, as a composer and broadcaster, naturally I very much support the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury. I suggest to the Minister that if the Arts Council, the DCMS and the BBC joined hands, they could commission a huge raft of artists in this country who have been stymied from producing creative work. Choreographers, composers and designers could join hands to make something substantial. In order to make something substantial, we must move quite soon, because these people are very busy, and creating great work takes time.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. The Statement is being made now to give people advance notice, so that they can get planning to make the most of a truly important occasion and to make these celebrations to remember. We are working with the UK’s leading creative minds on exactly the sorts of things that the noble Lord mentioned, to make the Platinum Jubilee a weekend to remember.
My Lords, it goes without saying that we need to ensure an even distribution of events throughout the nations and regions of the UK. In particular, will HMG engage much more deeply than they have in the past with local authorities, which know their localities best?
I completely agree with the noble Lord. My family tell happy tales of celebrating Her Majesty’s Silver Jubilee on the north side of the Tyne opposite the constituency which the noble Lord represented for many years. He is absolutely right: we want the celebrations to take place up and down the length of the United Kingdom and more broadly. We will be liaising with local authorities and elected representatives at every level.
My Lords, a huge part of this fantastic jubilee celebration will be underpinned by the talent, knowledge and expertise of the music, entertainment and creative industry sector. In his opening remarks, the Minister mentioned a consortium, with commissions to be made this year. Can he expand on that? Is it envisaged that spending on the preparations will be brought forward, so that support can be given as soon as possible to those in the music and creative industries, who need it now to survive?
The point I made earlier was about today’s announcement in relation to Festival UK*2022 and the consortia that have been selected for its R&D phase. Further announcements about the festival will be made over the coming months. The noble Baroness is right; as I said to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, we have made the announcement now so that we can begin to engage with people at every level to have the sort of creative outpouring that we want to see in the run-up to, and at the celebration of, this important milestone.
My Lords, I believe that, as Lord Chancellor, I may have held the nominal title of Keeper of the Queen’s Conscience. Will thanks for the highly conscientious way in which Her Majesty has performed her duties form an important part of this very welcome platinum celebration?
Her Majesty’s conscience will have been in very safe keeping in my noble and learned friend’s hands in the decade that he served as one of her Lord Chancellors. He is absolutely right. This is a moment for a grateful nation to pay tribute to Her Majesty and to thank her not only for her years of service but for the great leadership that she shows as an individual in the qualities that she has brought and the shining example that she sets to everybody in public life.
My Lords, it is fantastic news that the Government are spearheading plans for celebrations to mark Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022. Does the Minister agree that on such a momentous occasion it would be a huge honour for Members of both Houses to be able to celebrate Her Majesty’s 70-year reign by hosting a reception in Westminster Hall, paid for with contributions from the attending Members?
As the noble Earl, Lord Kinnoull, said on behalf of the Lord Speaker, as at the Diamond Jubilee, your Lordships’ House and the other place are joining together to think how best we as parliamentarians can celebrate Her Majesty’s jubilee, and, under the leadership of the right honourable Member for Northampton North, Michael Ellis MP, to think of a gift that we might be able to contribute towards. I would encourage the noble Lord to speak to the Lord Speaker about that and the other ways that Parliament can play its part in thanking Her Majesty at this important time.
My Lords, during the 2012 Diamond Jubilee celebrations I was privileged to be at the Lyric Theatre in Belfast for the historic handshake between Her Majesty the Queen and the late Martin McGuinness. Does my noble friend agree that such events demonstrate two of the defining characteristics of Her Majesty’s glorious reign: devotion to duty and an ability to bring people together from across our United Kingdom? Will my noble friend guarantee that Northern Ireland will play its full part in the Platinum Jubilee celebrations?
I wholeheartedly agree with my noble friend. I remember that occasion and indeed the state visit of 2012 to Ireland, in which I know he played a part working in government. He is absolutely right. All four nations of the United Kingdom will play an important part in celebrating the Platinum Jubilee.
My Lords, I very much welcome the Statement and the prospect of celebrating Her Majesty’s Platinum Jubilee. Does the Minister agree that the best jubilee legacy will be not monuments or memorials but, as he said, the opportunity for the whole country to put Covid behind us and to celebrate the identity and the diversity that we see in the heritage of every place and every community every day? Heritage has suffered badly over the past year, as have the heritage organisations, and yet they will—as I hope he will agree—have a great place in the celebrations themselves. Can he tell us what opportunities there will be for heritage organisations to make their mark on the jubilee? They are, after all, the foundations of our future as well as our past.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right. We want heritage organisations to play an important role in the jubilee celebrations, commemorating our past, celebrating the present and, indeed, safeguarding everything that is great about this country for the future. She is right too that Her Majesty the Queen’s address during the darker days this spring when the pandemic was new was such an important thing for so many of us across the country. As we grapple with the pandemic, it is nice that we have something to look forward to in 2022. We all hope for celebrations that are befitting of such an important occasion.
House adjourned at 5.32 pm.