House of Lords
Monday 17 May 2021
The House met in a hybrid proceeding.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.
Introduction: Baroness Black of Strome
Dame Susan Margaret Black DBE, having been created Baroness Black of Strome, of Strome in the County of Ross-shire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Valentine and Lord Judge, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, the Hybrid Sitting of the House will now begin. Some Members are here in the Chamber, others are participating remotely, but all Members will be treated equally. I ask all Members to respect social distancing; 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 no longer than 30 seconds and confined to two points. I ask that Ministers’ answers are also brief.
Official Development Assistance: Landmine Clearance
My Lords, we have prioritised our aid to be more strategic and remain a force for good across the world. On landmine clearance, this will mean a reduction in financial support compared to the previous financial year. However, we remain a leading donor in the sector. The United Kingdom’s demining work will continue to save lives, limbs and livelihoods across the world, supporting those most in need and, importantly, delivering on our treaty commitments.
My Lords, I am sure the Minister will note that the first Oral Question of this Session is on the cut to ODA, something which is not in keeping with the aims of the integrated review and which is opposed on all sides of both Houses. Does he agree that clearing landmines is essential for development and for meeting the STGs? One of the countries most affected is Angola, where Princess Diana brought the issue to the world. Will the Government maintain their support there, and elsewhere?
My Lords, first, I welcome the Lord Speaker to his new role. This is the first Question that I am answering with the new Lord Speaker on the Woolsack and I am sure I speak for the whole House in wishing him well for this Session. The noble Baroness rightly raises the important work of demining, particularly in the context of the integrated review. It very much remains a priority. She specifically mentioned Angola. UK funding is key in supporting the Angolan Government’s demining strategy and we have seen success already, including the clearance of landmines in an area constituting about 3,700 football pitches and life-saving education being delivered to more than 86,000 people. Angola will continue to be a country of focus.
Can this issue be on the table for the G7, the G20 and COP 26, because landmines are everywhere? We see that they are going to be left in Gaza. We know that in other areas, such as Yemen and Syria, when people do the clear up, they find more landmines. Although there is the protocol, we must ensure that landmines are no longer allowed to be used in any dispute or any war. We absolutely have to ensure this. Can we have an undertaking that this can be put on the agenda?
My Lords, what I can say to the noble Baroness is that we will continue to focus on this important work. We have seen the importance of leadership in this respect. The UK will use our commitment, and the presidency of the 2008 cluster munitions convention, as an opportunity to bring more focus and more support to this important priority.
I am certain the Minister will agree that we are the world leaders in landmine clearance. Does he also agree that the soft power and good will that we build with countries where we show such leadership manifests in trade benefits? This is therefore a huge own goal if it is not reversed.
My Lords, notwithstanding the reduction, I agree with the noble Lord that we remain among the leading donors, but we recognise the large gap between donor funding and the resources required. We are now investing in research into innovative financing options—for example, exploring the use of social impact bonds and public/private partnerships—to meet that funding gap. I assure the noble Lord that it remains an important focus, not just in soft power but because we save lives by the investments we make.
My Lords, conflict and its legacy, such as landmines, disproportionately affects women and girls. Cutting support to these and other programmes is undeniably going to make life harder for women and girls around the world. While full impact assessments of the cuts were not carried out, there was an equalities impact assessment. Will my noble friend the Minister commit to publishing this, in line with the Equality Act 2010?
My Lords, as Foreign Secretary, Boris Johnson, while in Kiev, announced funding for mine clearance in Ukraine. As Prime Minister, last year, he decried giving as much aid to Zambia as Ukraine—the latter being vital for European security, he said. Now, contrary to the integrated review’s humanitarian causes and security priorities, the Government are cutting their support in this area. The Minister has said “priority” three times in his responses to this Question. What are the priorities and are any priorities safe from any cuts?
My Lords, on the broader issue of ODA, the noble Lord will be aware of the seven areas prioritised by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary. The noble Lord also mentioned Ukraine, and, again, our work there has cleared more than 1.5 million square metres, the equivalent—I am using football analogies today— of 210 football pitches, and educated people as well. While there have been reductions—I was very upfront in my original Answer—we are focused on continuing our work in this important area, as one of the world’s leading donors.
My Lords, echoing the noble Baroness, Lady Sugg, there appears as yet to be no published information on the impact assessment of the reduction of ODA programme funding. Will the cuts affect priority projects, such as HMG’s announcement at the G7 Foreign Ministers’ gathering last week to provide education for an additional 40 million girls? Furthermore, as has already been mentioned, does the fact that no legislation was brought forward in the Queen’s Speech to reduce the statutory commitment of 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%, resulting in an approximate £4 billion loss, indicate that HMG are having second thoughts?
My Lords, on the issue of legislation, as I have said before from the Dispatch Box, we remain fully aware and cognisant of our obligations both under law and to this House. Let me assure the noble Baroness that we remain committed to £400 million of funding for girls’ education, and we look forward, with Kenya, to hosting the global education summit in July this year.
My Lords, let us come back to the original question by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. The UNDP argues that landmine clearance is a multiplier. These cuts are going to have a huge impact beyond simply removing landmines. They are going to affect economic activity in countries that are the priority of this Government. Can the Minister tell us what impact assessment this Government have made of these cuts on their own priorities, and when they will publish it?
My Lords, I have already alluded to the importance of transparency in our decisions, and I assure noble Lords that in all the decisions that have been taken across the board in the reduction—I have never shied away from the fact that it is a reduction—in our overseas development assistance, we have applied the criteria quite specifically but also looked at programmes to ensure their continuity and, importantly, scaling up as the economic conditions will allow for.
My Lords, I declare my interest as set out in the register as an ambassador for the HALO Trust, whose activities include essential mine clearance in Afghanistan and other countries. The United Kingdom aid budget has been cut by one-third, whereas HALO support from the United Kingdom Government has been cut by two-thirds. Why?
My Lords, as I said in my Answer, we have made reductions, which I have not shied away from. But with the HALO Trust, among other key partners, we have an important relationship, and we continue to work with the HALO Trust quite specifically. Overall, as we have assessed over a four-year period, we will be spending over £146 million in this area, including over £21 million this year.
My Lords, I can give the noble Lord that assurance, and that is why we need to ensure all international conventions are signed up to by other countries. But also, importantly, in country, it is not just about the clearance but about the education, so that once the countries are back on their feet and able to sustain their own position, they are able to ensure the prioritisation of keeping land clear of mines as something that they give specific focus to.
My Lords, I should make it clear that I attended the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions, and I have also observed the clearance of cluster bombs and ammunitions in south Lebanon, where I saw the teams working first-hand. The consequence of the Government’s reduction in funding is that land will no longer be useable by villagers, and children and women, particularly, will have their legs burned off or be killed because they cannot farm and cannot go out and collect water. Surely it is a monumental tragedy when we are cutting the money when, otherwise, we would be saving more lives. How can the Government go on with this?
My Lords, I appreciate the noble Lord’s personal insights into the experiences, and I have certainly seen the value of our demining work across the world. But these are challenging circumstances; noble Lords are fully aware of the challenges we faced on the domestic front. However, that is why we are investing in research, including, as I said earlier in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, on scoping new ways of working to ensure that we can identify where the gaps are and then plug those gaps, including through innovative financial mechanisms. The research of those particular programmes will be completed in May, and I look forward to engaging with noble Lords in that respect.
Eating Disorder Services: Referrals
My Lords, eating disorders are serious, life-threatening conditions. We recognise eating disorder services are facing increased demand from children and young people, with 719 urgent cases starting treatment in the fourth quarter of 2020-21. That is why we made £10.2 million of additional funding available to mental health charities, including those that address anorexia, at the beginning of the pandemic, we convened a cross-government ministerial group to publish a mental health recovery plan and we are holding a ministerial round table on eating disorders.
My Lords, Q4 data on waiting times released last week showed, as the Minister said, 719 patients starting treatment for urgent cases of eating disorders, but this compares to 353 at this time last year. At this point in 2020, 18 people awaited urgent treatment, and 543 awaited routine treatment; those numbers are now 130 and 1,404. While much has been said about the pandemic’s role in driving this spike, most studies into young people’s mental health over the last year were not designed to detect eating disorders so, beyond anecdote, the reason for this increase, and therefore the best way to address it, is not clear. What will Government do to better understand this sharp increase? Does it represent broader and lasting behavioural changes among young people? Will the Government closely monitor the impact of their obesity strategy on referral rates, given that some of the planned measures—calorie labelling on menus, for instance—are shown to exacerbate existing eating disorders and increase the risk of their development in the general public?
My Lords, undoubtedly, the increase in referrals is something of concern. It is something we are monitoring closely, with the round table and the ministerial group dedicated to looking at this. That shows the seriousness with which we regard it. The reduction in the impact of community services, which is the best way of addressing these kinds of issues, has undoubtedly had an effect on urgent needs. During this period, there has also been a large increase in the number of young people who have started treatment, which is encouraging. If the noble Baroness has evidence that measures such as nutrition information on packaging has an effect on anorexia, I would welcome correspondence from her.
My Lords, as the noble Baroness has said, we know that eating disorders among children and young people have increased during the pandemic. There is a very welcome increase in the grant of £11 million from the grant in 2018-19. Despite this, total spending by CCGs on children and young people’s community eating disorder services increased by just £1.1 million, from around £54 million in 2018-19 to £55 million in 2019-20. This increase is cancelled out if you adjust for inflation, and this means that total spend flatlined in real terms. What are the Government going to do to ensure that this money is spent on what is growing into an epidemic of eating disorders and the suffering they cause?
My Lords, the noble Baroness is entirely right that community eating disorder services are critical. They are the backbone of our measures to address these difficult cases. But money for the treatment of eating disorders comes from many different pots. During 2021, a total of 10,695 children and young people started treatment, which is up from 8,034 children in the year before. So, clearly, resources are getting through to cope with a large number of people, and that is an encouraging sign.
Is the Minister confident that all referrals to a community eating disorder specialist can be managed without excessive travel on the part of the individual and their family and that, where necessary, local in-patient services are available right across England?
The noble Baroness refers to a perennial issue in any national health service, which is the inevitable concentration of expertise in some hubs where there is particular specialist knowledge. But she is entirely right that we should try to avoid excessive travel. That is why community eating disorder services are so important, because they bring the treatment as close as possible to the people who are suffering.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, is quite right to raise this important issue today. Young people have had their lives turned upside down over the last year, their plans put on hold and their prospects blighted and, with a sense that they have lost control, it is hardly surprising that we have seen a huge rise in mental health issues. Can the Minister give us an indication of the waiting rates at the moment, especially for those diagnosed as urgent cases? Is it his view that we have enough practitioners? If not, does he have any plans to discuss the need for more training and a recruitment drive?
My Lords, my noble friend puts it extremely well. Young people have been under huge pressure during the pandemic. It is a huge tribute to the young people of Britain that they have borne it so well. I do not have to hand the statistics on waiting lists that she asked for, but I would be glad to write to her with the details. We are recruiting right across the NHS at the moment; it has been an extremely successful recruitment round, and those kinds of recruits will go to services such as those dealing with eating disorders.
My Lords, to return to calorie labelling on menus in restaurants, as raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, there is limited evidence for its efficacy in reducing levels of obesity, but there is clear evidence from the Royal College of Psychiatrists eating disorders faculty—and anecdotal evidence from my daughter and others—that it can be responsible for triggering those with eating disorders. Can the Minister respond to what the noble Baroness, Lady Bull, asked for and confirm that, should the Government introduce this labelling on menus, they will review its impacts not just on reducing levels of obesity but on those suffering from eating disorders?
My Lords, the eating habits of the nation have changed considerably in recent years. The amount of food that people eat that has been prepared by others has risen dramatically, and many people have no idea what is in the food they are eating. That is why we have moved to bring in calorie labelling on food that is delivered and in restaurants. I am acutely aware of the concerns of the noble Baronesses, Lady Parminter and Lady Bull. We are committed to engaging with eating disorder charities, Beat and other key stakeholders, and to listening very carefully to their concerns on this.
Social Care: Person-centred Dementia Care
My Lords, we want a society where every person with dementia—and their families and carers—receives high-quality, compassionate care from diagnosis to the end of their life. The Government are committed to sustainable improvement of the adult care system and will bring forward proposals in 2021. We are working closely with local and national partners such as the Alzheimer’s Society to ensure that our approach to reform is informed by diverse perspectives, including those with lived experience of the care sector.
My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register as an ambassador for the Alzheimer’s Society and as a carer. This is Dementia Action Week. I am grateful to my noble friend and urge him that, as people with dementia are by far the majority of users of social care, the promised reforms deliver person-centred care to enable people with dementia to live in places they call home, take part in activities they enjoy and live their lives safely with meaning, purpose and connection with others.
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to my noble friend for raising Dementia Action Week, a time to celebrate the contribution of those who care for people with these conditions. I know from my own experience the incredible importance of personalised care and of being able to have loved ones at home for as long as they can safely and reasonably be cared for there. My noble friend puts the experience of living with dementia for families and carers extremely well. I entirely endorse her sentiments.
Does the Minister agree that person-centred care for dementia sufferers must include support for those who care for them? Since today’s survey by the Alzheimer’s Society says that carers are at breaking point and 95% of carers say that their caring has affected their physical or mental health, how and when is that support to be provided? Will support for carers be an essential element in the proposals for social care reform when they eventually appear?
My Lords, I completely acknowledge the pressure the pandemic put on both formal and unpaid carers. That is why we put £6 billion into local authorities, to help support them in the care they gave to carers. However, I acknowledge the concerns of the noble Baroness about the pressure of the last year and reassure her that the full spectrum of social care will be considered in the forthcoming review.
My Lords, Alzheimer’s disease has been described as a future epidemic. Without a known cure, research into causes of and treatments for Alzheimer’s and other dementias is vital. At the last election, the Government committed to a dementia moonshot, which would double research funding to over £160 million a year. Can the Minister say when this funding will become available?
My Lords, according to the briefing before me, the 2020 dementia challenge commitment to spend £300 million on dementia research over five years has been delivered already, with £344 million spent over four years. However, I am happy to clarify that point with the noble Baroness, just to ensure that I have got my briefing correct.
My Lords, one cruel aspect of dementia is how the condition gradually eats away at a sufferer’s individuality. In the context of this disorientation, with individuals forgetting who they are, one key to clinging on to personhood is family and friends. Can the Minister ensure that any Covid inquiry looks at the specific problems of those with dementia in care homes, who were deprived of any visits from relatives and forcibly isolated from familiar faces, robbing them of the resilience to fight the virus? Will he consider that, as a quarter of those who died of Covid had dementia, this one-size-fits-all approach to protecting the vulnerable did not work and makes person-centred dementia care all the more important?
My Lords, I am afraid it is beyond my reach to define the terms of the inquiry, but I entirely endorse the noble Baroness’s depiction of the very cruel dilemma we have faced over the last year: between safety—the preservation of life—and the care, love and consideration we owe to older people, particularly those with dementia. It has been a horrible and extremely uncomfortable dilemma. I pay tribute to those in social care who have sought to navigate it as thoughtfully as they could, but there is no doubt that it has been a horrible moment.
My Lords, as we have heard, dementia is a cruel illness because it strips away both individual personality and memory. Does the Minister agree that, learning the lessons of this past year, we must in future do everything possible to reinforce the message to each sufferer that they are loved for who they are, a unique person, rather than for what they are, just another patient with dementia?
My Lords, I entirely agree with the extremely touching way the noble Lord put that. To take a glass-half-full approach for a moment, I have been struck in the pandemic by the huge amount of public support for the protection of those who are older and vulnerable, including those with dementia. It has been a very touching feature of the national response to the pandemic that the country has come together to protect the most vulnerable, and I think there has been a national rethink about how we relate to those in that condition.
My Lords, we know that the costs for families of caring for those with dementia can be long-lasting and catastrophic, as the Commons Health and Social Care Committee has emphasised in setting up a new inquiry, and from our excellent Economic Affairs Committee report on social care, which found that the typical cost of an individual’s dementia care is £100,000. According to the Alzheimer’s Society, two-thirds of this cost is currently being paid for by people with dementia and their families, either in unpaid care or in paid-for private social care, in contrast to other conditions, such as heart disease and cancer, for which the NHS provides care free at the point of need. People with dementia should not bear the sole responsibility for saving and paying for their care. When will this Government address this key parity of esteem issue, end this disparity and protect people with dementia from the catastrophic costs of care?
My Lords, the Prime Minister has made it very clear that he is committed to bringing forward proposals to address this issue before the end of the year. He stands by that commitment. I look forward to the kind of cross-party and cross-society collaboration that will be necessary to address that massive generational challenge.
My Lords, as someone who knows the demands of caring for a close relative with dementia, I ask the Government to ensure that there are enough high-quality short-term placements for person-centred dementia care to give carers the chance of an occasional break. Given that person-centred care is at the very heart of the care provided by our hospices, do the Government have any plans to review the sector’s long-term financial situation and move it on to a more sustainable footing?
I pay tribute to those who deliver person-centred care. The noble Lord referred to hospices, and I am extraordinarily touched and impressed by the way in which they delivered on an enormously difficult task during the pandemic. We debated earlier the financial arrangements around hospices and the delicate state of their finances. We continue to be in touch with the industry and will take whatever measures necessary to ensure its financial stability.
My Lords, will the Minister explain what plans the Government have to invest in socially rented supported housing for people with early dementia? It is very clear that this would reduce short-term admissions to acute hospital beds, which will be necessary in order for us to meet the challenges that the NHS faces with current waiting lists. If the Government have no plans for considering this kind of supported housing, which many people who can afford it purchase for themselves, can the Minister assure us that he will ask the Government to consider this issue?
My Lords, the noble Baroness puts the case for supported housing social care for those with low levels of dementia extremely well. It is slightly beyond the purview of the Department of Health, but the case she makes is strong. I would be glad to go back to the department and find out if any measures are taking place.
My Lords, I hope I am unmuted. The impact of Covid has reinforced the evidence that early detection and intervention can help defer the worst impacts of dementia and significantly help with the quality of life of those affected, their families and carers. Can the Minister reassure the House that this will be given priority in the long-awaited social care Bill?
The noble Lord hits the nail on the head. Our entire response to the pandemic has taught us that early intervention and diagnostics are absolutely critical, and that is at the very centre of not only the NHS Long Term Plan but the departmental priorities for the years ahead. This can indeed make a huge difference to the treatment of and prognosis for those with dementia, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s, and we are very much focused on taking that forward.
Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting
My Lords, the UK looks forward to the gathering of the Commonwealth family in Kigali and to a smooth transfer of the Chair-in-Office role to Rwanda. As my noble friend knows, the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting has been postponed a second time because of the pandemic, and we remain as Chair-in-Office. We will continue to pursue the shared priorities which leaders set out on fairness, security, sustainability and prosperity at CHOGM in 2018.
My Lords, delegates at this month’s meeting of the Commonwealth Women’s Ministers Action Group committed to putting women’s issues at the very top of the agenda for the next CHOGM. Do the Government support that proposal? What are the Government doing to support the reform of laws in those 35 Commonwealth countries which still give husbands some form of exemption—a “get out of jail free” card—from prosecution when they commit criminal sexual offences against their wives?
My Lords, I assure my noble friend—I am sure she is already aware—that we have put the issue of gender-based violence at the centre not just in terms of planning the handover to Rwanda but at the heart of the work we are doing within the G7 and our presidency, and we will continue to do so. In terms of our own commitment to fighting gender-based violence in the Commonwealth, preventing sexual violence and girls’ education, they will remain priorities during our continuing role as Chair-in-Office.
My Lords, at the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2013, heads agreed to work
“to improve the monitoring and documentation of cases of sexual violence in armed conflict without fear of reprisal and empower victims to access justice”.
Can my noble friend tell the House what efforts have been made for this commitment to be renewed and treated as a priority for the Commonwealth nations?
My Lords, in part I think I have already addressed my noble friend’s question. The issue of sexual-related conflict and preventing it across the world remains a key priority alongside, more broadly, gender-based violence and girls’ education. This is all part of addressing the core challenges we face, not just within the context of the Commonwealth but across the world.
My Lords, I hoped that the Commonwealth would be recognised for its even-handed condemnation of the abuse of human rights—but this is not so. We stridently condemn human rights abuse in China or Myanmar but are comparatively silent when Muslims in India are called “termites” by the Indian Government, laws are passed to deny them citizenship and forced conversions take place in Pakistan. Today, the common ethos of the Commonwealth is common hypocrisy. Will Her Majesty’s Government take urgent steps at the meeting in Rwanda to reverse this trend?
My Lords, if I could give a personal reflection—as someone who is Muslim by faith, Indian in origin from my father’s side and Pakistani in origin from my mother’s side—I assure the noble Lord that this remains a priority for myself and stress the equality and rights of every citizen across the Commonwealth, irrespective of faith, creed, sexual orientation or any other definition. It is important that we stand up for all citizens across the Commonwealth and for equal rights.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that specific actions are needed—as called for by CHOGM in 2018—to provide 12 years of quality education for girls in particular, as this will be the surest way to work towards both global social justice and greater equality? If so, what specific actions will Her Majesty’s Government support and pursue?
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government have already supported girls’ education through £200 million of funding for nine Commonwealth countries. We are holding the global education summit with a Commonwealth country—Kenya—in July this year, and these issues will remain key priorities. It is a priority for our Prime Minister.
My Lords, the London CHOGM made a commitment to meet the SDG charter to end modern slavery, which affects 16 million people, or one in every 150 citizens in the Commonwealth and throughout Africa. The Government have already invested some £15 million in the Global Fund to End Modern Slavery, but will they now use the extended period as Chair-in-Office to strengthen the resolve of their Commonwealth partners where, at the last count, only 29 out of 54 had national guidelines on identifying victims of slavery and to carry forward the London commitment as an essential priority at Kigali?
My Lords, as Chair-in-Office, the Government set a number of priorities following on from the last CHOGM. Can the noble Lord tell us what assessment they have made of progress on these priorities in preparation for the next CHOGM—particularly the priority of ensuring the decriminalisation of homosexuality across the Commonwealth? There is a key role for civil society, so will this include a commitment to fully support the Commonwealth Equality Network?
My Lords, it is not often that I say “Yes, yes and yes” to a Member of the Opposition, but I do so in this particular instance. We have prioritised this. Three countries have decriminalised homosexuality. We continue to work across the board. Yesterday, as the noble Lord will know, we announced both our commitment to hosting an LGBT conference and the appointment of my noble friend Lord Herbert of South Downs as the PM’s special envoy on LGBT rights and the important role of civil society. The noble Lord and I have discussed this matter extensively; I know that he has been a champion of it. It demonstrates the strength of this House that we are seeing progress in this very sensitive but important area.
My Lords, I declare my interests as in the register. Does my noble friend accept that the enormous Commonwealth network never sleeps and that, despite the regrettable postponement again of the Heads of Government Meeting, vigorous Commonwealth connectivity continues at all levels and has in fact been intensified greatly over the past year or by Zoom technology? Does he also accept that the Commonwealth is a major transmitter of Britain’s soft power as well as a growing source of our security? Further, although my noble friend himself has been thoroughly assiduous in everything to do with Commonwealth matters, does he accept that a good deal more could have been done during Britain’s chairmanship and should now be done not just to fulfil communiqués but to strengthen the institutions of the Commonwealth family?
My Lords, on the personal note that my noble friend raises, having just come out of Ramadan and having been in Rwanda during Ramadan, I fully appreciate the importance of day and night work on the important agenda of the Commonwealth. However, we have published what we have achieved, including our progress on the important issues of Covid-19, girls’ education and cyber—which is demonstrable of the prioritisations that we agreed in 2018.
My Lords, I commend the Minister and his team on the work that they have done in their capacity as Commonwealth Chair-in-Office. However, does the Minister agree that hosting COP 26 will be a good opportunity for the UK to engage the Commonwealth and set an ambitious agenda? Can he tell the House what steps he and his team are taking to ensure that the Commonwealth is fully involved in COP 26?
My Lords, the Minister is absolutely correct that the Prime Minister regularly expresses a firm commitment to girls’ education; he did so again last week. Given that that is the case, why on earth are the Government cutting the budget by hundreds of millions of pounds?
My Lords, quite rightly, the integrated review stressed the importance of global rule-making. Will the Government use CHOGM to pay particular attention to the sourcing and trading of precious and rare metals and gemstones? This is one area where trading security and fairness are often overlooked.
My Lords, does my noble friend the Minister agree that our leadership of the Commonwealth provides an excellent platform for global Britain to encourage a common approach to free trade, especially in agricultural products, which would do so much to boost development in the poorer member countries? Does he wish to see a commitment in principle to a zero-tariff, zero-quota Commonwealth free trade area, to be introduced in stages over time?
My Lords, I cannot go into the specifics of my noble friend’s suggestion, although it is a practical one and I will certainly reflect on its importance. We are signing a raft of free trade agreements across the globe, including with Commonwealth friends and countries. I assure my noble friend that we will use our continuing role as Chair-in-Office to ensure that the ambitions to enhance trade and co-operation and boost intra-Commonwealth trade—for example, through the Commonwealth Connectivity Agenda—remain key priorities. We have set an ambition, which we hope to achieve, of $2 trillion of trade between Commonwealth countries by 2030.
Ballymurphy Inquest Findings
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 13 May.
“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement on the findings of the Ballymurphy inquest. I want to put on the record the Government’s acknowledgment of the terrible hurt that has been caused to the families of Francis Quinn, Father Hugh Mullan, Noel Phillips, Joan Connolly, Daniel Teggart, Joseph Murphy, Edward Doherty, John Laverty, Joseph Corr and John McKerr.
I also want to pay tribute to the great patience with which the families have conducted themselves during their determined campaign, which has lasted almost 50 years. The Prime Minister is writing personally to the families, having yesterday expressed his deep regret to the First Minister and Deputy First Minister of Northern Ireland and apologised unreservedly on behalf of the state.
The findings of the coroner are clear: those who died were entirely innocent of wrongdoing. The events at Ballymurphy should never have happened. The families of those who were killed should never have had to experience the grief and trauma of that loss. They should not have had to wait nearly five decades for the judgment this week; nor should they have been compelled to relive that terrible time in August 1971 again and again in their long and distressing quest for truth.
Over the course of the Troubles, more than 3,500 people were killed, and tens of thousands injured, with families torn apart forever. The majority of those killed were innocent civilians, such as those on the streets of Ballymurphy.
The vast majority of those who served in Northern Ireland did so with great dignity and professionalism, but it is clear that in some cases the security forces and the Army made terrible errors too. The duty of the state is to hold itself to the highest standards at all times. When we fail to meet these high standards, we must recognise the hurt and agony caused.
There is no doubt that what happened in Ballymurphy in those awful few days also fuelled further violence and escalation, particularly in the early years of the Troubles. The Government profoundly regret and are truly sorry for these events, for how investigations after these terrible events were handled, and for the additional pain that the families have had to endure in their fight to clear the names of their loved ones since they began their campaign almost five decades ago.
In order to make lasting change, actions are required as well. The Belfast/Good Friday agreement was the defining action that allowed Northern Ireland to begin to move away from violence, but the events of the past continue to cast a long shadow, as we have seen. Those who were killed or injured during the Troubles came from all communities, and they included many members of the security forces and Armed Forces. Immense and difficult compromises have since been made on all sides, including the early release of prisoners, which was so difficult for many people to accept.
To a very large extent, Northern Ireland has moved away from violence, so we stand by those compromises and the progress made towards a more peaceful society. Yet the desire of the families of victims to know the truth about what happened to their loved ones is strong, legitimate and right. The campaign for justice in Ballymurphy has reminded us all of that—if we needed to be reminded at all.
Twenty-three years after the signing of the Belfast/Good Friday agreement, thousands of murders remain unresolved and many families still yearn for answers. With each passing year, the integrity of evidence and the prospects of prosecution diminish, and the Government are not shrinking away from those challenges. We are determined to address them in a way that reflects the time that has passed, the complexity of Northern Ireland’s troubled history and the reality of the compromises that have already been made. But, above all, we are determined to address them in a way that enables victims and survivors to get to the truth that they deserve. We must never ignore or dismiss the past; learning what we can, we must find a way to move beyond it. The coroner’s findings this week are part of that often very painful process.
The Government want to deliver a way forward in addressing the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland; one that will allow all individuals or families who want information to seek and receive answers about what happened during the Troubles, with far less delay and distress. We want a path forward that will also pave the way for wider societal reconciliation for all communities, allowing all the people of Northern Ireland to focus on building a shared, stable, peaceful and prosperous future. I commend this Statement to the House.”
My Lords, some years ago I met the Ballymurphy families and I was appalled, obviously, by their story. Ten innocent civilians died, including a priest, a mother of eight and a veteran of World War II, and 57 children were left without a parent. Since these events of over half a century ago, all Governments, including the one of which I was a member, have let these families down. I applaud the families for their resilience and determination in getting to the truth of that terrible day in August 1971.
The conclusions of Mrs Justice Keegan are clear: those who lost their lives were innocent and posed no threat. Their deaths were without justification and their fundamental right to life was violated. That these families have had to fight for so long for the truth is a profound failure of the criminal justice system, and we must learn from this dreadful story. Other families in Northern Ireland are still fighting for answers. As Northern Ireland Secretary, I initiated three public inquiries and spent many hours trying to resolve this very difficult issue of the legacy of the past, including going to South Africa to look at their truth and reconciliation process. There is no simple answer, but the Government must ensure that there is the widest possible consultation on legacy, including with all the Northern Ireland parties, the Irish Government and especially, of course, with victims and their representatives.
I fully appreciate that the Government have apologised for this tragic event but, frankly, they should go further. The Prime Minister should have delivered the Statement himself in the Chamber of the House of Commons, like his predecessor David Cameron did on the Bloody Sunday inquiry. He should now travel to Northern Ireland to meet the families personally. After 50 years, they deserve no less.
My Lords, first, I associate myself with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, who has long experience of the situation in Northern Ireland and this particular case. Given the long and bitter history of the Ballymurphy killings and Operation Demetrius, which was the genesis of the events of 9-11 August 1971, I agree also that the Prime Minister’s apology appears somewhat graceless and inadequate. Sending a stereotyped collective letter, rather than making a public statement and apology in Parliament, falls short of the sensitivity and compassion required following such a clear and stark verdict.
It has taken almost 50 years to get to this point— 50 years during which, as the verdict confirms, the victims were slandered and vilified, including by the most senior members of the Armed Forces. As the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, pointed out, Mr Johnson’s predecessor, David Cameron, whatever his faults, came to the House of Commons and made a sincere and unqualified public apology over the Bloody Sunday report. This event surely required nothing less. Once again, it reveals a dangerous lack of understanding of or consideration for the raw wounds left by the Troubles and the delicate path Northern Ireland is now treading as a result of the Prime Minister’s reckless haste to get Brexit done without adequate concern for its impact on the Belfast agreement.
The Ballymurphy killings were among a larger number of deaths that occurred during Operation Demetrius, when the Army was systematically rounding up terrorist suspects for internment without trial. Internment, a deeply controversial sanction, was made worse by poor intelligence leading to innocent, non-violent members of the nationalist community being targeted—often brutally, according to reports—by soldiers who perceived almost anyone as a potential terrorist. Not surprisingly, for such a draconian course of action, it was resented and provoked demonstrations and, in the heightened tension this created, the Army reacted by firing living ammunition and, as is now confirmed, killing innocent citizens. Despite the fact that loyalist paramilitaries also perpetrated acts of violence, it appears that Operation Demetrius was focused entirely on the Catholic community. Paddy Murray, the solicitor who represents the families of nine of the 10 victims, has said that following the verdict further legal action is being planned.
Before the verdict, the Government appeared determined to press ahead with legislation to limit the scope for future prosecutions on crimes related to the Troubles. The Secretary of State trod carefully around the issue in the other place on Thursday but, nevertheless, made it clear that the Government are still planning legislation. He talked about finding a solution that can work for “families in Northern Ireland”, but if the Government are really committed to finding a solution that works for families, does the Minister agree that the victims of Ballymurphy, and indeed of all the atrocities committed during the Troubles, and their families must come first? They must have confidence in any process that is established going forward; otherwise, the peace and reconciliation that everybody wants for Northern Ireland will be more difficult to achieve.
I remind the Minister of the key principles set out in the Stormont agreement. These are:
“promoting reconciliation … upholding the rule of law … acknowledging and addressing the suffering of victims and survivors … facilitating the pursuit of justice and information recovery”
and that the agreement is
“human rights compliant … balanced, proportionate, transparent, fair and equitable.”
Can there be any justification for setting these aside? Are the Government reassessing their position on any limitation? Is it possible or acceptable to exempt veterans from prosecution without denying recourse to victims of terrorism? Is there any support for the Government’s approach within the Province? Is it helpful or necessary to introduce this into the mix at a time of such volatility and uncertainty? Without clear cross-community support for any government proposals, will the Government accept that pressing ahead would be insensitive and unwise, and should not be imposed?
My Lords, I thank the noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Bruce, for their comments and their points. As is now apparent from the inquest verdict from Mrs Justice Keegan last Tuesday, we can all agree that the deaths of 10 entirely innocent people in Ballymurphy over three days in August 1971 was one of the most appalling events of all the years of the Troubles. It was a new and particularly dark low, the results of which may have—or are likely to have—exacerbated further incidents in subsequent years. Noble Lords will have read the Statement. In normal times in the House, I would be repeating it. A Statement such as this, one of such gravity and sensitivity, deserves as much.
I start by emphasising that my thoughts are with the families of the Ballymurphy victims. It is sobering for me to consider that I was 15 in 1971. The deaths left no fewer than 57 children—as the noble Lord, Lord Murphy said—without a parent, with all the tragedy, the loss of loved ones, and the permanently changed lives that stemmed from this. I want to put on record again today the Government’s acknowledgment of the terrible hurt that has been caused to the families of the victims: Francis Quinn, Father Hugh Mullan, Noel Phillips, Joan Connolly, Daniel Teggart, Joseph Murphy, Edward Doherty, John Laverty, Joseph Corr and John McKerr. The events at Ballymurphy should never have happened. The families of those who were killed should never have had to experience the grief and trauma of the losses, or the decades of waiting for last Tuesday’s verdict.
The noble Lords, Lord Murphy and Lord Bruce, raised issues around the Government’s apology to the Ballymurphy families. I start by saying that it cannot change what they have endured. The PM, on behalf of the UK Government—the state—has apologised by writing to the families. He has also spoken to the First Minister and the Deputy First Minister. My right honourable friend in the other place, Brandon Lewis, also apologised in his Statement last Thursday and, today, I add my own heartfelt apology, as I address the House.
The results of Mrs Justice Keegan’s report and the apologies given will be followed by action to prevent others who have lost loved ones, from all communities, whether civilians, paramilitaries or solders, continuing to go through the same lengthy and traumatic experiences. To answer the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, that is why the Government are committed, as spelt out in the recent humble Address, to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. We are doing so in a way that allows all individuals or families who want information, including those from Ballymurphy, to seek and receive answers about what happened during the Troubles with far less delay and distress.
Again to answer a question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Murphy, it is important that we do this with all parties involved in Northern Ireland, from the parties themselves to civic society and victims organisations, to ensure that we bring everybody along with us in what is being proposed.
My Lords, having met the Ballymurphy families a number of times, I commend their dignity and tenacity and express the genuine hope that the coroner’s conclusions, which are clear, provide them with some comfort. On the past, given that the Stormont House agreement, which I helped to negotiate, is now nearly six and a half years old and that its legacy sections have yet to be implemented, is it not right that we look at possible alternative approaches that protect those who served and provide better outcomes for victims and survivors of terrorism? Finally, does my noble friend agree that, while we do not defend the reputation of the British Army by defending the indefensible, as in this case, the vast majority of those who served did so with courage, professionalism and restraint and all of us owe them and the RUC a huge debt?
I agree with my noble friend that the current system is working for no one, failing to bring satisfactory outcomes for families and placing a heavy burden on the criminal justice system, leaving society in Northern Ireland hamstrung by its past. But we must never forget, dismiss or ignore the past. We must find a way forward to move beyond it, which is why the Government want to deliver a process that will, as I said earlier, allow all individuals or families who want information to seek and receive answers about what happened during the Troubles. On my noble friend’s point about the Armed Forces, the UK Government are committed to delivering on their commitments to Northern Ireland veterans.
My Lords, can the Minister tell the House why the Statement and press release issued by the Northern Ireland Office do not state that nine of these 10 victims were shot dead by the Army and that three of them were shot as they went to the help of people who had already been shot? In the 10th case, because of a massive failing by the state, the coroner could not attribute responsibility. Given the families’ response to the coroner’s finding and that this country proudly proclaims its respect for and adherence to the rule of law, surely we must continue to use our resources positively and in the interests of truth and justice, rather than in trying to prevent future prosecutions and abandoning the various agreements made between the UK Government and Ireland, supported by the political parties.
I agree with the noble Baroness that it is important to get to the truth and provide justice. With regard to her earlier points, questions arising from the deaths of the victims at Ballymurphy are a matter for the coroner and should be directed to her office.
My Lords, if something is wrong, it is wrong. What happened in Ballymurphy in 1971 was wrong. My noble friend is aware that, in that year, 171 people were killed in Northern Ireland, including 60 members of the security forces. I suspect that there was no closure or truth for the vast majority of them. Should the Government now provide resources to the existing, established and acceptable security forces so that, if fresh evidence is available, they can pursue it, rather than spending hundreds of millions of pounds on setting up new organisations that will take up to 15 years just to complete their case work?
I take note of my noble friend’s points about the 171 people who were killed that year. Today, our focus should be on the Ballymurphy victims, but my noble friend makes a wider point, which is that, looking ahead, we must also focus on all victims of the Troubles. The Government are clear that any system to deal with the legacy of the past must be fair, proportionate and focused on reconciliation to deliver for all those affected by the Troubles.
My Lords, the report is clear, and our sincere sympathies are with the families and loved ones of those who lost their lives needlessly in the terrible events of August 1971 in Ballymurphy. Can the Minister also assure the grieving families of the many hundreds of victims who are forgotten and were never named that their loved ones will also receive recognition, even an acknowledgement or perhaps even an apology from the political spokespersons of the terrorist groups, some of which are in government in Northern Ireland today? Can they expect justice as a result of the forthcoming proposals on legacy? Will the Minister guarantee that the representatives of victims are fully consulted before the legacy proposals are brought forward?
I hope I can reassure the noble Lord that consultations are continuing with civic society and victims organisations to help us do what we have set out in the Queen’s Speech. As the Government have said, we will bring forward legislation in this Session to address the legacy of the past in Northern Ireland. I hope that those points reassure the noble Lord.
My Lords, the events at Ballymurphy were a stain on the UK Armed Forces. Our sympathy goes out to the families who have had to wait so long to prove the innocence of their lost loved ones. More broadly in the context of resolving the contentious issue of historic investigations and prosecutions, will the Minister confirm that the Government see no moral equivalence between our servicemen, who left barracks daily at the risk of their lives, with the intention of ensuring the safety and security of the people of Northern Ireland and their property, and the terrorists, who left home with the intention of killing and maiming citizens of Northern Ireland and those protecting them?
The Government want to find a way forward that provides information for all those caught up in the Troubles, helps families to get the answers that they want and lays the foundation for greater reconciliation and a shared future for all communities. As I said earlier, we must not dismiss the past but find a way forward on reconciliation because we must think about the future and young people in Northern Ireland. We must find a way not to dismiss the past, but to secure the future of Northern Ireland, which is very bright.
My Lords, I welcome the full apology given by Her Majesty’s Government to the families of those killed in Ballymurphy. Fifty years is a long time to wait for justice and this verdict. I pay tribute to them for their fortitude and determination. Truth and justice must be possible for everyone but, sadly, there are too many victims in Northern Ireland who will never have justice, particularly those who saw many of the IRA terrorists given royal pardons or on-the-run letters by a former Prime Minister. Does the Minister agree that there is now an imbalance of legacy trials against our state forces, the vast majority of whom did their best to protect people? Maybe it is time for Her Majesty’s Government to announce their own public inquiries into unsolved terrorist atrocities.
Well, it is clear that certain court cases that have been brought forward have been unsatisfactory. As the noble Baroness alluded to, we are talking about events that happened 40 to 50 years ago, so it is extremely difficult to find admissible evidence that is helpful. But I go back to the point that, in bringing forward issues on legacy, as we have pledged to do, we must do our best to get to truth, find justice and get the information that victims’ families want.
My Lords, I know Ballymurphy rather better than I would wish. The Statement says that the Army made terrible errors. The 1st Battalion Parachute Regiment showed itself to be out of control and without any proper discipline, both in Ballymurphy and a few months later in Londonderry, on Bloody Sunday. I was 20 at the time, a probationary officer at university. I could have told you that then. Now it is 50 years ago—the same distance away as the Boer War was when I was born. This is tragic, but it is time to move on from this terrible, shameful disgrace, and from the many hundreds of murders committed by terrorists. For instance, we will not be able to convict Gerry Adams for his involvement in the 1972 murder of Jean McConville, a mother of 10, or those responsible for many other victims—police, Army and civilians—of the IRA and loyalist terrorist groups. Is it not now time to draw a line in the sand?
Well, my noble friend makes a point, to the extent that those who were killed and injured during the Troubles came from all communities and also included many members of the security forces. The state must hold itself to the highest standards and acknowledge where its role has fallen short of these standards. As I said earlier, I hope that the PM’s apology and my comments today make it clear that we are not afraid to do this, and that all sides must look at their actions and work together to enable Northern Ireland to move forward. This is why the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland has committed to working closely with the Irish Government, Northern Ireland parties, civic society and the wider community, in the weeks and months ahead.
My Lords, I was serving in Belfast in August 1971, when a badly thought-through policy of internment was enacted. Many people died that month, including soldiers, paramilitaries and, tragically, innocent civilians such as the 10 in Ballymurphy. Given that the collapse of the recent trial of soldiers A and C showed that prosecutions for alleged offences committed decades ago are likely to fail because of the lack of admissible evidence, and that the same would probably occur if any prosecutions were to follow the Ballymurphy inquest findings, will the Minister comment on the proposal for a qualified statute of limitations for all alleged offences connected with the Troubles that were committed before the signing of the Good Friday agreement in April 1998—policy that was proposed more than 10 years ago in the Eames-Bradley report and successfully followed by the Dublin Government in 1924?
I alluded earlier to the recent court case regarding soldiers A and C, so I will not go over that again, but I take note of what the noble Lord said. The Government are very clear that, as I said earlier, the current system for dealing with the legacy of the Troubles is not working for anybody, particularly the bereaved families, such as those who lost loved ones in Ballymurphy in 1971, as the noble Lord said, whose grief has been compounded by the long and difficult process of waiting for answers for so many years. Every family who wants them deserves answers about what happened to their loved ones, so, to answer the noble Lord’s question, the Government want to deliver a way forward that will provide information about what happened during the Troubles.
My Lords, I have met the Ballymurphy families on many occasions and have always been impressed by their sincerity and tenacity to find out the truth about why their loved ones were murdered. Will the Minister ensure that the Prime Minister meets with the families to discuss their quest for truth as to why their loved ones were killed? Will he also ensure that the proposed legacy legislation reflects the Stormont House agreement and ensures that there will be no amnesty for those who committed acts of murder, irrespective of whether they were military or paramilitary, in our society?
I will certainly pass the request from the noble Baroness further up the ladder to the Prime Minister. The Government are looking closely at the report which has come from Mrs Justice Keegan. There are some 700 pages and, given that it came out last Tuesday, time is required to look at it carefully.
My Lords, I associate myself with the comments made by my noble friend Lord Murphy and the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. The coroner’s report emphasises the end of a legacy in Northern Ireland’s past. It is vital that the Government have a clear policy on this with timelines, as they currently have no policy and are failing. They must consult with all the families and those giving support, and the groups in Northern Ireland. Again, I emphasise that there must be a timeline, otherwise we will never see the end of this. This is not a situation for totalitarianism: the Government do not know best.
I can understand that the noble Baroness would like me to give a timeline today. I am unable to do that, but I can reassure her that, despite it being 50 years ago that the awful events in Ballymurphy took place, we pledged in the recent Queen’s Speech to bring forward details regarding legacy in this session.
Like my noble friend Lord Murphy and other Members of the House, I met the Ballymurphy families years ago. I was impressed by their determination in the face of intolerable grief and sadness. What is puzzling is why the Prime Minister did not himself meet the Ballymurphy families. Surely the right thing would be not to leave it to other Ministers but to go to Belfast, meet the families in person and express his apologies face to face.
As I said earlier, the Prime Minister has written to the Ballymurphy families to apologise directly for the events that unfolded between 9 and 11 August 1971, and the Secretary of State also apologised as part of his Statement to the Commons on 13 May. Both did so on behalf of the UK Government and I repeat that apology today. But whatever the nature of the apology, it can do nothing either to reduce the suffering that the families have endured or to lessen the sincerity of our sorrow.
My Lords, it is shocking that this coroner’s finding has been delayed for 50 years. Do the Government acknowledge the insuperable difficulties for the Crown Prosecution Service in preparing cases for trial about the Troubles in Northern Ireland that will achieve clear outcomes due to the passage of time? Does the Minister agree that a decisive lead to seek a wide politically agreed solution to this dreadful legacy is now the only realistic one?
Yes, indeed—the noble and gallant Lord makes a very important and sobering point about the delay. It is fair to say that it was further delayed by Covid, but we are talking about 50 years here and I am not making light of that; it is too long. I assure the noble and gallant Lord that, as I have said before, we are determined to bring Northern Ireland forward and to address the legacy matters. It is complex and sensitive. It is not easy, but we are determined to do it.
My Lords, it is surely right that a historic wrong that occurred during the Troubles 50 years ago in Northern Ireland is acknowledged and that the names of innocent victims are cleared of wrongdoing, which is what the inquest found. This was a time of extreme conflict, and injustices occurred on both sides. Unless there is powerful and compelling new evidence, it heaps injustice on injustice to charge British soldiers who are now reaching the autumns of their years for acts committed under orders so long ago. Does the noble Viscount account agree with me that some kind of commission to achieve peace and reconciliation on both sides of the conflict is a more constructive way forward in these very difficult matters?
It is true that there are a lot of challenges and difficulties because of the time that has passed, and the noble Lord makes some extremely good points about those challenges. As I said earlier, this is a very sensitive, challenging and difficult matter. I reiterate that, in order to go forward, we must continue to bring with us as many groups as we possibly can in Northern Ireland, to liaise with the Irish Government, and to bring on board victims’ groups, civic society and the rest in what we need to do.
My Lords, will the Government learn from the reception of this apology—the rightful and understandable upset of the families of the innocent Ballymurphy victims, who heard that it was going to be delivered from journalists and who were not consulted on its contents—which was not delivered by the Prime Minister personally, in future apologies relating to events all around these islands? Will they take further steps to support the families of the Ballymurphy victims and acknowledge their disappointment at the way the apology was delivered?
Debate (4th Day)
Moved on Tuesday 11 May by
That an humble Address be presented to Her Majesty as follows:
“Most Gracious Sovereign—We, Your Majesty’s most dutiful and loyal subjects, the Lords Spiritual and Temporal in Parliament assembled, beg leave to thank Your Majesty for the most gracious Speech which Your Majesty has addressed to both Houses of Parliament”.
My Lords, on behalf of your Lordships’ House, I thank Her Majesty for her gracious Speech. I am greatly honoured to be called on to open today’s debate on the Motion for an humble Address. I am delighted to be joined by my noble friend Lord Goldsmith, who will deliver what I am sure will be an excellent summing-up. Given the wealth of experience represented on all sides of the House, both my noble friend and I look forward to a spirited and well-informed debate.
Today, I will outline the Government’s plans regarding communities, welfare, transport and the environment, which are at the heart of our agenda as we bounce back and build back from the pandemic. The Government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic was focused on two things: protecting lives and protecting livelihoods. To protect lives, we have secured access to more than 400 million vaccine doses and established the largest testing infrastructure in Europe. The vaccine is now available to everyone over 38 years old. To protect livelihoods, the Government have provided an unprecedented level of financial support for businesses and individuals, protecting more than 9 million jobs with the furlough scheme, while helping millions of businesses to stay afloat. Today, we embark on the next phase of cautiously easing national lockdown restrictions, including overnight stays between households and the reopening of hotels, pubs and restaurants indoors.
Building back better from the pandemic means delivering decent, safe and well-designed homes for everyone in our country. That is why the gracious Speech includes a planning reform Bill. It will simplify and modernise the system, embracing digital tools to allow people to visualise and engage with local plans. It will provide a quicker, simpler planning process, speeding up the delivery of the homes that the country needs. It will give a new focus to environmental protections, streamlining environmental impact assessments. It will ask every local area to produce its own design code to reflect its unique identity. It will ensure that developers pay for their fair share of affordable housing and infrastructure, which is why we are exploring a simpler, faster and more transparent infrastructure levy.
We must also take measures to ensure that those homes are a safe and secure environment to live in. I have been horrified by the testimony at the Grenfell inquiry, which highlighted where corners were cut and lives unnecessarily put at risk. That is why the landmark building safety Bill will bring about once-in-a-generation improvements to building safety in this country. The House may recall my remarks to the construction sector last year, when I said that that my goal as building safety Minister was to make it raise its game and thus put myself out of a job. Those noble Lords who wish to see that day come to pass may wish to consider supporting this legislation. The Bill will establish the new building safety regulator, with clear duties and responsibilities for building owners and managers. It will improve accountability and responsibility, ensuring that residents are able to raise concerns and that building owners are held to account.
Our commitment to fairness in the housing market includes securing a fairer deal for future leaseholders. For too many, the dream of home ownership has been soured by leases imposing crippling ground rents, additional fees and onerous conditions. People’s homes should be theirs to live in and enjoy, not an income stream for third-party investors. That is why the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Bill will put an end to ground rents for new leasehold properties, as part of the most significant changes to property law in a generation.
Last Thursday, we launched the Commonhold Council, an advisory panel of leasehold groups and industry experts which I will chair, to inform the Government on the future of commonhold ownership. This follows recommendations made by the Law Commission to simplify and expand the commonhold system. It will pave the way for millions of homeowners in England to take greater control over their homes, with a greater say on their buildings’ management, shared facilities and related costs. Together, these reforms put us on a journey to give more security to millions of existing leaseholders across England, making home ownership fairer, simpler and cheaper.
The Government also want to deliver a better rental sector that works for tenants and landlords. We will bring forward a White Paper in the autumn detailing our broad package of reforms. This will include more detail on how we will reform tenancy law to abolish Section 21 no-fault evictions; measures to improve security for tenants in the private rented sector, empowering them to hold their landlord to account; and measures to strengthen the repossession grounds for landlords when it is fair and reasonable to do so. We will also outline proposals for a new lifetime deposit model, easing the burden on tenants when moving, and continue to deliver on the social housing White Paper proposals, including implementing the charter for social housing residents, and to legislate on social housing regulations as soon as practicable.
As we look towards our future, we know that people are worried—for themselves, for the people they love and for their communities. We have always been honest that we will not be able to protect every job and every business. Nevertheless, this Government have done everything we can to protect our communities through this difficult period. We provided over £7 billion of extra support through our welfare system in 2020-21. We increased local housing allowance rates for universal credit and housing benefit claimants, so that they covered the lowest 30% of local rents, and we will sustain this cash increase this year. We introduced the Covid Winter Grant Scheme, now the Covid local support grant, with almost £270 million to support vulnerable households with the costs of food and other essentials. In 2021-22, we are extending the temporary uplift to the universal credit standard allowance for a further six months, giving working tax credit claimants an equivalent one-off payment of £500, and we have maintained our commitment to older people through a generous basic state pension, now worth over £2,050 more in cash terms than in 2010, thanks to the triple lock.
The Government’s commitment to building back better after the pandemic also means building back greener, and 2021 will be a landmark year for environmental policy. In November, the UK will be hosting the UN Climate Change Conference in Glasgow. With that global leadership position, alongside our new-found independence from EU environmental laws, now is the moment to put a spotlight on this critical work.
The Environment Bill we are bringing forward is a pivotal part of delivering the Government’s manifesto commitment to create the most ambitious environmental programme of any country on Earth. We will legislate to set long-term, legally binding targets to drive environmental improvements such as in air quality, resource efficiency and waste reduction. A new independent office for environmental protection will provide scrutiny and advice, investigate complaints and take legal action where necessary. The Environment Bill will also give new powers to local authorities to tackle air pollution in their areas and make it illegal for large UK companies to use key agricultural commodities cultivated on illegally deforested land.
Twenty twenty-one will also be a monumental year for animal rights, with our recently published Action Plan for Animal Welfare. The plan will set out our intention to recognise animals as sentient beings through the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill. We will strengthen existing enforcement against animal abuse and ban the import and export of endangered animal hunting trophies. We will make further improvements to farm animal welfare in transport and slaughter, and support farmers in sustainable food production. We will also take action to prohibit the unsuitable keeping of primates as pets, raise standards in zoos and conserve animals in the wild. Shortly, we will bring forward a kept animals Bill to tackle puppy smuggling and ban the keeping of primates as pets. Later in the Session, we will bring forward an animals abroad Bill to tackle issues outside the United Kingdom.
Improving our transport infrastructure is a key part of our agenda to ensure that everyone has the opportunity to succeed. The Government intend our railways to be the backbone of a modern, affordable and green transport network. We will publish a White Paper with proposals to transform the railways and deliver for passengers, ending the complicated franchising model and creating a simpler, more effective system. We also intend to deliver better bus services for England through our national bus strategy, with more frequent, cheaper and reliable services, integrated services and ticketing, and 4,000 new zero-emission buses.
I believe that Her Majesty’s gracious Speech affirms this Government’s commitments to build back a better future for our country, levelling up opportunities across the United Kingdom; to make every part of our country a great place to live and to start a family, own a home and start a business; and to ensure that no community and no person is left without hope or opportunity. These are ambitions I am sure every part of this House shares. Over the course of today’s debate, my noble friend Lord Goldsmith and I look forward to hearing your Lordships’ valuable insights on the measures I have outlined, especially of course in the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introduction to today’s debate on the gracious Speech. I particularly welcome my noble friend Lord Coaker and the noble Lord, Lord Morse, and look forward to their maiden speeches today. I should begin by declaring a couple of interests: as chair of Rothamsted Enterprises, part of the Rothamsted agricultural research institute; and as a member of the South Downs National Park Authority, which has planning as part of its statutory remit.
Today’s debate takes place against a backdrop of two global environmental emergencies: the rise in global warming, already heading beyond the 2% irreversible ceiling; and the fall in biodiversity, which is declining faster than at any time in human history. Both require international leadership to achieve buy-in from the world’s economies and to save our planet from its own man-made destruction. We will have the opportunity later this year, at the Convention on Biological Diversity conference in China and then at the COP 26 event in Glasgow in November.
Already, President Biden is leading the way but we must play our part too. Sadly, as the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, acknowledged recently,
“to speak with authority internationally, the UK needs to get its own house in order.”
He then admitted:
“This is not the case at the moment.”—[Official Report, 13/4/21; col. 1149.]
This is true. A leaked report from Defra recently revealed that there is still no plan to deliver on the Government’s carbon emissions targets, while the recent Public Accounts Committee report concluded that Defra does not have
“the clout to lead the rest of government”
to deliver their environmental programme. Can the Minister set out what steps Defra is taking to raise its game and prepare government for the huge challenges in the year ahead?
Of course, we welcome the arrival of the Environment Bill to the Lords—as they say, third time lucky. It has been described as a flagship Bill but its history is one of downgrade and delay, causing huge frustration among all of us who have been waiting for this robust new legislation to set environmental targets that are truly meaningful. But now we have the opportunity and we will want to work across the House to make this a landmark Bill of which we can all be proud.
In particular, we want to strengthen the environmental targets in the Bill to make them comprehensive, measurable and legally enforceable. We want to ensure that the office for environmental protection has the powers and independence it needs to hold the Government to account. We will be tabling a range of amendments to reverse the decline in biodiversity, clean up our rivers and oceans, restore peatlands and afforestation, and set WHO limits for air quality.
In the meantime, we welcome the Government’s new announcement on tackling the discharge of sewage into rivers—only weeks after they voted down a similar amendment we supported in the Commons. I hope the Minister will confirm that this spirit of listening and compromise will run through our consideration of the Bill.
We also welcome the announcement of the new animal welfare legislation. Again, this has been a long time coming and the proposals seem based largely on Labour’s recently published Animal Welfare Manifesto. As ever, the devil will be in the detail and we will scrutinise those Bills with great care, undoubtedly with the support of the many animal welfare charities which share our ambition to be a world leader on these issues.
If we are to deliver on climate change and biodiversity, concerted government action across departments will be required. Clearly, transport has a huge role to play in cutting our carbon emissions, which we need to achieve, as it represents 22% of the 2019 UK total. That is why we were so disappointed at the lack of ambition on transport in the Queen’s Speech.
In its sixth carbon budget, the Climate Change Committee made it clear that:
“A comprehensive … package will be needed to deliver the … commitment to phase out new sales of petrol and diesel cars and vans by 2030.”
It recommends that, in addition, diesel heavy goods vehicles should be phased out by 2040, with clear alternatives identified now. It identifies that a comprehensive recharging and refuelling infrastructure will be needed to support clean fuel for cars. It recognises the urgent need for aviation and shipping strategies to deliver net zero, and urges an essential rethink to “reduce travel demand” and focus on public rather than private transport—including, of course, a bold vision to reverse the millions of miles of bus routes lost across the country. Where is the legislation to deliver all of this?
The Government have flagged up that a transport decarbonisation plan is in preparation. But where is the urgency? The Government have signed up to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 78% by 2035, which is only 14 years away. Where is the urgency that will drive this forward?
We support the extension of High Speed 2 from Crewe to Manchester but it is clear that lessons need to be learned from earlier mistakes. Can the Minister say what steps the Government will take to increase consultation as part of this project? Will the Government support new railway stations in the smaller towns around Crewe and Manchester? How will the Government ensure that the extension is developed with more sensitivity to its environmental impact, particularly on ancient and modern woodlands? Does the Minister accept that this project should be one small part of a government investment in rail capacity to address the climate change crisis and better connect our towns and cities?
Planning and housebuilding also have a crucial role to play in protecting biodiversity and delivering our net-zero obligations, so we will need to be reassured that the application of biodiversity net gain principles to new developments will trump the pressure to build on land at any cost.
Local people know what is best for the size and character of their community, but these proposals will prevent them from objecting to inappropriate developments in their own street or neighbourhood. Instead, their involvement will be limited to consultation on the area’s local plan every few years. As the Local Government Information Unit has said, the proposed changes
“leave local government with the political liability on planning whilst depriving them … of the powers to manage it effectively.”
We believe that these proposals are a developers’ charter: removing powers from local representatives and handing them to Whitehall-appointed boards of developers. It does not address the scandal of planning permission already having been granted for an estimated 1 million homes that are yet to be built. It does not require all new-build homes to meet the stringent energy and sustainability standards that are crucial to meeting our climate change obligations. It does nothing to address the growing housing crisis our country faces.
Young people have been hardest hit by the Government’s failure to build the homes we need, especially social and affordable homes. However, there is nothing in this Queen’s Speech that captures the scale and urgency of the housing challenge or which provides any consolation for young people priced out of the housing market.
So many young people cannot afford to buy their own home because they have been forced into insecure, low-paid jobs; and it is getting worse. The lesson from the pandemic is that 11 years of government failure have left our country ill prepared for a job and welfare crisis. A recent report from the Trussell Trust shows that 700,000 households now need to use a food bank, with a 49% increase in children being supported, and 95% of people referred to food banks are described as “very deprived” or “destitute”.
We have to end the insecurity and lack of opportunity in the economy by tackling the jobs crisis and replacing universal credit with a fair and compassionate system that offers security for all. But there is nothing in the Queen’s Speech to address this. In fact, the Department for Work and Pensions is not mentioned once. Where are the plans to protect workers and create jobs for the future? What happened to the employment Bill, which would have protected workers from exploitation and created new jobs for the future? Why have the flaws in the Kickstart scheme not been addressed?
This Queen’s Speech fails to meet the key challenges of our generation. Coming out of the pandemic, we have the opportunity to build something better: a fairer and more equal society, with well-paid jobs, delivering a greener economy built on strong environmental principles. Sadly, we must conclude that this gracious Speech fails to address this ambition or meet the challenge.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his opening speech, and I look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse. As the Minister’s speech highlighted, today’s debate covers a cornucopia of issues. But hanging over all of them is the climate and ecological emergency which threatens every area of our lives and requires a response with every policy lever at the disposal of our Government.
Last week, in another context, the Minister for the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, reminded us of Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi’s wise words when he warned that the future is decided by what you do today. That is both instructive and alarming because, while the Government are happy to promise the world tomorrow, in this Queen’s Speech today they propose to do nothing, in effect, to tackle the climate crisis.
In the year that we host what may turn out to be the most critical conference in the struggle to contain global warming, the Government’s legislative programme is silent as the grave on the subject. That matters, because every year we delay taking the required action ensures that the measures we will have to adopt in the future will be that much more difficult. The Government need to wake up to the fact that the one thing we do not have is the luxury of time.
Carbon Tracker, an NGO expert in this field, has calculated that, at the current burn rate, the world will exceed its carbon budget within 15 years and that, if we burn all the fossil fuels in known reserves, the world will have no prospect of keeping within its Paris targets. Yet still our financial institutions continue to finance exploration for new oil and gas reserves which, if exploited, can bring us only to catastrophe. However, in this Queen’s Speech the only legislative proposal relating to any aspect of the energy sector is the draft downstream oil resilience Bill, which seeks to provide resilience for the oil sector rather than the planet.
It is astonishing. It would be easy—but, I suspect, unproductive—to spend the afternoon criticising the Government for their lack of action, so I will try to be a little more constructive instead and suggest some ideas for the Government to take up.
First, they could introduce the climate and ecological emergency Bill proposed by a civil society coalition with cross-party support, which asks the UK to take responsibility for its fair share of greenhouse gas emissions, actively restore biodiverse habitats in the UK and set and implement a strategy to tackle the climate and ecological emergency.
Secondly, the Government would be very welcome to take forward my green finance capital requirements Bill, which would properly price the macroprudential risk that further fossil fuel exploration and exploitation poses to the entire financial system, not to mention the planet as a whole.
Thirdly, they should bring forward a new energy Bill to set the framework for the smart and resilient generation and distribution systems that will be needed, as we place ever-increasing demand on the electricity sector. This framework will need to be capable of facilitating the expansion of decentralised and community power generation and providing the incentives to deliver the innovation to expand our energy storage capacity.
In 2013, when Ed Davey, as Secretary of State for Energy and Climate Change, piloted the last Energy Act through Parliament, 40% of electricity was generated from coal and just 7% from wind. Last year, coal accounted for just 1.3% of power generation and renewables accounted for well over 40%. We need similar radical thinking today further to transform our energy sector and to allow zero-carbon fuels, such as green hydrogen, to play their full role in decarbonising industry and the heavy transport sector.
We also need significantly to reduce wasteful and unnecessary energy consumption in transport and buildings. On transport, we welcome plans to improve and decarbonise bus services, but we have concerns about how the money will be deployed, which my noble friend Lord Bradshaw will say more about. This Queen’s Speech should have gone much further and set out a clear route map for the wider decarbonisation of the transport system. It should have announced the restoration of differential vehicle excise duty, depending on vehicle emissions, and introduced steps to make electric vehicles affordable to those on middle and lower incomes, including measures to ensure that motorists are not fleeced by on-street charge point operators, where electricity costs can be up to six times higher than for those who can charge their vehicles from their domestic electricity supply. It should also have abandoned the consultation on reduced air passenger duty and instead introduced a ban on fossil-fuel-powered domestic flights between points where the train journey is less than two and a half hours. This would both reduce emissions from domestic flights and incentivise the development of non-fossil fuel aviation.
My noble friend Lord Stunell will speak in more detail about the Government’s failure to tackle emissions from buildings. I simply note that, despite all the hype about building back better and a manifesto commitment to invest £9.2 billion in the energy efficiency of homes, schools and hospitals, the Queen’s Speech and the Prime Minister’s accompanying letter had literally not one word to say on tackling greenhouse gas emissions from buildings, which represent 19% of total UK emissions.
We propose a green buildings Bill that would require all new buildings to be built to the zero-carbon standard, with the energy component rising to Passivhaus standard by 2025. All existing homes in the social sector would be required to reach at least energy performance certificate band B by 2025 and all other homes and non-domestic buildings to reach the same band by 2030.
An effective planning framework will also be critical in tackling climate change and biodiversity loss, but the proposals for the planning Bill have nothing to say on either issue, instead riding roughshod over local democratic decision-making. If the Government actually want to see more houses built, they need to recognise that it will not be achieved by stripping powers from local authorities. The facts are clear: we have never succeeded and will never succeed in delivering the 300,000 homes annually that the Government have set as a target without a significant municipal housing programme so, instead of curtailing local authority powers, as the Government propose, they should restore their ability to finance, build and maintain large-scale social housing programmes in their communities.
In line with the Government’s climate policy, the planning Bill should also have at its heart a requirement for all planning decisions to have regard to the 2050 net-zero objective. We will be happy to assist the Government with an amendment to this effect when the Bill comes before Parliament.
The Queen’s Speech should also have set out new commitments to protect and enhance biodiversity and improve land use to reduce climate impacts. While we look forward to the long-overdue Environment Bill coming to our House, there is no mention in the Queen’s Speech of biodiversity or the major shifts in land use that will be required to reduce the carbon footprint of agriculture, which is currently responsible for about 10% of our greenhouse gas emissions. There is no Bill to provide for the protection of peatland, and there is no clarity about whether the environmental land management scheme will be used to transform land-use practices to tackle climate change or whether they will simply sustain business largely as usual.
There is no doubt that the Government face many complex and challenging issues but, reading this Queen’s Speech, you would be hard put to believe that it represents the programme of a Government who have set themselves some of the most demanding climate objectives of any country on earth, so I have this nagging worry: do they really mean what they say? Do they really have the stomach for the difficult decisions that are required or are these climate commitments to be as fleeting as the 2019 manifesto pledge to
“proudly maintain our commitment to spend 0.7 per cent of GNI on development”?
Will these climate commitments evaporate as easily into the dark winter nights that follow COP 26, accompanied with the same sort of excuses: “The circumstances have changed” or “We are doing more, in any event, than others”? Will we squander our global leadership on this issue just as casually and with as little care for the consequences to others as we have done on overseas development aid? I hope that my cynicism is misplaced, but if the Government are to dispel such concerns, they will have to move rapidly from the realm of targets to the sphere of action.
This brings me back to Mohandas Mahatma Gandhi, who chose his words advisedly. He told us that the future is decided by what we do today, not by what we say today or the distant targets that we set today but by the actions that we take. By that standard, this Queen’s Speech falls tragically and woefully short.
My Lords, I declare my farming interests as set out in the register. I, too, enormously look forward to hearing the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse.
I welcome many of the measures outlined in the gracious Speech, particularly the opportunity to consider the Environment Bill, which forms part of a trio of measures—including the Agriculture Act and the energy White Paper—moving from the environmentally damaging basic payment scheme to sustainable farming and the enhancement of the environment.
However, the Agriculture Act and the Environment Bill are enabling legislation and, therefore, lack sufficient detail to allow land managers the tools to plan a forward business strategy. Despite this regrettable deficiency, farmers and land managers are doing their best to prepare by carrying out capital audits, improving soil structure, mitigating methane, researching carbon offsetting opportunities and investing in forestry and trees.
However, without detail, much of this preliminary work, which is often done at considerable expense, is totally at their own risk. For instance, in the case of soil condition, methane measurement, carbon sequestration and wider natural capital audits, there appears to be no agreement on the recommended measuring tools and standards. Surely this is fundamental to the success of environmental legislation. We need to know more about regulatory standards and financial incentives as a matter of urgency.
In the Environment Bill, there are many areas that need further thought. For instance, the only reference to trees is in Clause 100, which covers tree felling and planting, except that there is no further information on tree planting. Surely this is the opportunity to place the new English tree strategy in the Bill. The planting and maintenance of woodland are central to policies on climate change and carbon capture, and much more, but further commercial realism is required for planting at scale in England to succeed, due to the likely devaluation of land and farm income by switching from farming to forestry. Although grants largely cover the cost of establishment and early maintenance, there is no current return to the grower. I therefore urge the Government to investigate the reintroducing of basic annual payments for up to 25 years that existed under the farm woodland scheme of the 1980s. That was successfully brought in to counter the huge loss of elm trees by incentivising the creation of new woodland.
On biodiversity net gain—BNG—which is central to the Bill, farmers and growers should be in prime position to provide developers with BNG. However, pressure on land use needs to be carefully considered, as environmental policies must recognise the importance of food security. Details of how the BNG market will work are scarce. The measurement—again—and financial benefits are very unclear, but the likely cost of implementation will undoubtedly be high. We await the updating of Defra metrics. Other issues, such as what happens at the end of the scheme, how tenant farmers can be involved and taxation, all need resolving before BNG can be effective.
The Bill needs also to address the issue of field drains, which impact on farm productivity, flooding and much more. In many instances, field drains benefit net zero and are very important in underwriting domestic food security. This issue should also be in the Bill, as it is not really something that should be dealt with under the Agriculture Act or the environmental land management schemes.
Finally, I believe that public education is key in just about every aspect of the Environment Bill and climate change in general. I urge the Government to review and update the national curriculum as required to achieve this, as use of knowledge and behavioural change are cheaper than remediation.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Carrington, and I look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse. My entry in the register of interests tells of my family business in agriculture and horticulture. In Holbeach, we have an outlier of the University of Lincoln in the form of the National Centre for Food Manufacturing and a food enterprise zone.
I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Goldsmith is to sum up this debate. We are all looking forward to the Environment Bill; it will be interesting legislation which I think is seen by the whole House as important. I also welcome the secondary legislation following on from the Agriculture Act, which was taken forward with such great aplomb by my noble friend Lord Gardiner of Kimble, who has now been promoted and who we look forward to seeing in his new role. I welcome my noble friend Lord Benyon on his return to Defra, where we served together as Ministers in the coalition.
I have a further interest, however, about which I wish to speak. I have become the chairman of the visitor economy group of the Midlands Engine APPG. This is a really interesting group; your Lordships will be hearing later from the co-chairman of the Midlands Engine APPG, the noble Lord, Lord Ravensdale. I want to raise the visitor economy because, although it is relevant to a whole range of government departments, it is essentially community based and, much to my surprise, is a key sector. It is in the top five sectors of significance as an employer and of value. It is, however, fragmented into many SMEs. The proposals for a national skills fund and lifelong training through the skills and post-16 education Bill will greatly assist this fragmented sector of our economy.
As I have said, the visitor economy is a significant area of employment. In the Midlands region as a whole, it accounts for nearly 10% of employment. In some districts, it is double that—in East Lindsey, Derbyshire Dales and Staffordshire Moorlands, it is 20%—while it is even higher in towns such as Skegness, Mablethorpe and Bakewell, where seasonality can be a real challenge. Last week, we as a group of parliamentarians met Nick de Bois of VisitEngland—some noble Lords will probably remember him as a Member of another place. Much is going on. English Tourism Week starts next weekend; Coventry began its year as our City of Culture this past weekend; and Birmingham is looking forward to the Commonwealth Games in the summer of next year. It is not just about the seaside or the open air; it is about cities and the attractions they have to offer. Of course, it is also about place—the need to be local—and about communities. In Lincolnshire, the destination management organisation works well with local authorities, including those with towns funding such as Skegness and Boston, and the Greater Lincolnshire enterprise partnership.
Put all this together and we see that the visitor economy can be fully part of the engine for bounce-back and building back better. That is why I look forward to this Session of Parliament and the measures in the Queen’s Speech, which have been so ably spoken to by others.
My Lords, I too look forward to hearing the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse, but I want to start by congratulating the Minister on introducing the leasehold reform Bill.
Ending ground rents—or, as one person called it recently, the serfdom charge—in new developments is an important and positive reform, and I will welcome this opportunity to be mostly congruent with the Minister, after been being on opposing sides of the Fire Safety Bill. While this is a great victory for future leaseholders, existing leaseholders, particularly those in developments affected by the building and fire safety scandal, nervously await their fate.
During the previous parliamentary Session, those Members, including myself, who sought to amend the Fire Safety Bill to protect leaseholders were told that Her Majesty’s Government would address our concerns in the building safety Bill, which I was pleased to hear announced in the Queen’s Speech. There is an urgency to this crisis. Bills of debilitating proportion are already being handed to leaseholders, bankruptcies have occurred, and, tragically, so have related suicides. This is a financial and a mental health crisis that is growing worse every passing day that it is left unaddressed. I therefore urge Her Majesty’s Government to move with haste to bring forward their building safety Bill, so that we can finally provide leaseholders with peace of mind.
Having said that, I want to get this Bill right. The pre-legislative scrutiny committee for the building safety Bill crucially raised the absence of any measures in the Bill to pursue developers for inadequate historic works. While ACM cladding was legal prior to 2019, there are now numerous documented cases where this was fitted not to regulations, without requisite firebreaks or adequate compartmentalisation measures. During this injustice, the six-year limitation preventing legal action is conspiring to force leaseholders into bankruptcy, rather than what the Government have always claimed that they want to do: to get those responsible to pay for remediation. I was grateful for the Minister’s assurances during debate on the Fire Safety Bill that Her Majesty’s Government were
“committed to developing stronger avenues for redress”,—[Official Report, 28/4/21; col. 2369.]
and I hope to see this in the revised Bill. The £2 billion levy on developers is, frankly, derisory, particularly when they are essentially receiving £5 billion in subsidy to fix their own defective developments—a net taxpayer subsidy of £3 billion.
I would like to see some strong action from this Government. Now that we are out of the EU, perhaps they could look at excluding developers who fail to remediate their own buildings from applying for public contracts. The Government should also look seriously at extending the forced loan scheme to include other historic, non-cladding related, fire safety defects, given that they were estimated by the Institute of Residential Property Management at between £26,000 and £38,000 per lease. These bills alone still have the propensity to bankrupt leaseholders.
Finally, I turn to the proposed changes to planning laws. Too often, those with disabilities and their families struggle to find suitable homes and are forced into inaccessible and unsuitable homes. The latest figures from the housing association Habinteg found that, outside London, only 1.5% of homes planned over the next decade will be suitable for wheelchair users, despite the ageing demographic shift. Many leading housing associations have called for the mandatory baseline for all new homes to be raised to category 2—broadly the same as the lifetime home standard. I hope that the Government will move forward and publish their responses to the accessible homes consultation, so that parliamentarians know that they intend to make our housing stock more inclusive and prepare it for the challenges of the future.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate; I hope he will forgive me if I concentrate on other matters in the Queen’s Speech. Like other speakers, I welcome the prospect of the maiden speeches from my noble friend Lord Coaker and the noble Lord, Lord Morse.
I was interested at the way in which the Minister glibly waved aside the future of franchising in the railway industry. I have spent the last decade listening to Ministers at the Dispatch Box telling me how wonderful the system was, yet it is to be abolished in one sentence. What exactly is to replace it? The Williams report, which has been around for some time, is unique in that it will actually be published, unlike the 30-odd other reports into the future of the railway industry over the past few years, and I welcome that. The obvious question is when; I hope that the Minister can tell us when he comes to reply.
One thing lacking in the Queen’s Speech is any detail about the future of the eastern leg of HS2. I hope that the Minister will agree that, if we are to—in the phrase used in the Speech—“build back better” through our transport industries, HS2, particularly its eastern leg, will properly be built. However, I fear that what will happen is what we are seeing at present. The Treasury, which, I suspect, is not madly enthusiastic about the prospect of HS2, will tinker at the edges. We are seeing that tinkering at present—a platform less at Euston; rather than one Bill to take the eastern leg forward towards Leeds and beyond, two or three short Bills for short stretches of HS2. Do we never learn? When it is eventually built, as I hope it will be, it will therefore cost far more than building it in one swoop, which would be the intelligent way forward. We never seem to learn that lesson. Teams with experience in electrification and railway building are continually disbanded and reformed. We then wonder why, in the case of the Great Western electrification, the posts and masts cost more to install than previous electrification schemes in this country and certainly far more than such schemes in other parts of the world.
I also look forward to seeing the Williams report’s findings on fares. I did a random exercise this morning. An elderly gentleman, with a senior citizen’s railcard, who is not used to travelling by rail, might decide to travel from Solihull to London Marylebone. This non-regular traveller would find 15 different tickets between the two stations. If he wanted a single ticket, he would have a choice of paying between £7.90 to £100.80. He would be unlikely to pay £100.80, but it is a listed single fare between Solihull and London. If he decided to come back, he would have 16 different fares, varying from £21.80 to £124.60. I think that is crackers and I suspect that most other people who look at the railway fare structure think so too.
If he decided to travel on different trains he would pay different fares, which is why there are so many. If he decided to come back in the rush hour it would cost him more, but if he came back before 4 pm he would get a cheaper fare. That is provided he stuck to Chiltern Railways, which is the operator between Solihull and London Marylebone. If he decided to use the west coast main line and came back on an Avanti train, which has the franchise for that line, he would find that the rush hour leaving Euston starts at 3 pm, although if he got the underground to London Marylebone it does not start until 4 pm. This sort of lunacy has gone on for far too long and the Government really ought to do something about it.
It is not just the fares and HS2. There are lots of other aspects of our railway industry that the Government ought to look at, such as the electrification of the Midland main line. Are we going to get the go-ahead from Corby? Good luck to the people in Corby; it is remarkable that we are going to provide a half-hourly electric train service to London from Corby, a town that did not have any railway at all 30 years ago, because it was closed down. Yet cities such as Sheffield, Leicester, Nottingham and Derby are to be served only by diesel or bi-mode trains. It is lunacy and I hope that the Government can do something about it.
While I welcome some aspects of the Queen’s Speech, there is a long way to go.
My Lords, I too look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse. I will speak to the three animal welfare Bills which were mentioned in Her Majesty’s most gracious Speech: the Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill, the kept animals Bill, and the animals abroad Bill. These three Bills hang under the Action Plan for Animal Welfare, also recently published, which has over 40 reforms across five different workstreams—a large undertaking, but I welcome it.
However, I am disappointed that the protection of children, both physically and mentally, will not receive such a strong commitment. Many will not benefit from the protections they require and deserve. It is a sad fact that 40% of children have viewed unsuitable images on the internet, yet the Government are dragging their feet on providing the necessary stringent protections for children.
I digress, so I will now return to my main purpose. The first of the five themes of the animal welfare action plan is “sentience and enforcement”. Not many weeks ago, we debated the Animal Welfare (Sentencing) Bill, which increases the maximum prison sentence for cruelty to animals from six months to five years. This brings the UK into line with many countries with which we trade internationally and was long overdue. There have been many debates in this Chamber about animal sentience. Like many others, I signed a petition against the revolting practice of ear cropping, which has no useful purpose whatever and is purely cosmetic. The Animal Welfare (Sentience) Bill is short, and solely about the setting up of a committee to look at the possible effects of government legislation on animals as sentient beings. Who sits on the committee, its remit, and the way it reports are solely the purview of the Secretary of State. I will have more to say on that at Second Reading.
The second theme is “international trade and advocacy”. During the passages of the Agriculture Bill and the Trade Bill, many of your Lordships raised the issue of trade negotiations with countries whose animal welfare standards are inferior to our own. If we are to continue to be a global leader in this field, we must protect endangered animals abroad, including the elephant. Having spoken many times on the Ivory Act, I am frustrated in the extreme that it has not been implemented. Can the Minister give us a reason why this has not happened—apart from the antique ivory lobby—and a timetable for when the Act will be implemented?
The third theme is “farm animals”. Currently, some farm animals are exported for fattening and slaughter. This transportation is distressing for the animals, completely unnecessary and must be stopped as a priority. Similarly, the use of cages for laying hens and farrowing crates for pigs must be phased out as soon as possible. The meat from pigs raised in farrowing crates abroad should no longer be imported into the UK. Effective and clear food labelling is essential to ensure public confidence on animal welfare. The Government must also look at the length of journeys within the UK from farm to abattoir. Many of these journeys are extremely long and distressing. A network of effective abattoirs close to rural communities is essential.
The fourth theme is around “pets and sporting animals”. My colleagues and I have spoken many times about the smuggling of puppies. There has been an increase in the demand for dogs and puppies during the lockdowns and I fear that many new family pets are the result of puppy smuggling. These puppies have been separated from their mothers far too early and will go on to have problems in their adult lives. There are incidents of adult pets being stolen to order, with an increase of 170% in dog thefts in 2020. This can have a devasting effect on a family who have lost a beloved pet. I welcome a crackdown on such practices, with stiff sentences being passed on perpetrators by the courts.
Lastly, the welfare plan covers wild animals. This section seems to be somewhat limited to prohibiting keeping primates as pets and cracking down on illegal hare coursing. Will the Minister consider widening this section? Currently, hare coursing is rising at an alarming rate. with evidence of links to organised crime. Again, can the Minister give the House a timeline for when legislation will be implemented to effectively regulate hare coursing?
Many of the Government’s proposals are to be welcomed. However, as always, the devil will be in the detail. There is unfortunately little actual detail in these proposals and no detail at all on the Kept Animals Bill or Animals Abroad Bill; hopefully, they will be published shortly. We see warm words but little actual commitment.
In the meantime, I welcome the welfare plan and the three Bills and look forward to the Minister’s response to my questions and those of others.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I very much look forward to the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse. I declare my interests as a director of the cross-party group Peers for the Planet and an engineer and consultant working for Atkins. I also bring to the attention of the House that I am co-chair of the Midlands Engine APPG. So it was most welcome for me to hear the focus of the gracious Speech on levelling up. I would like to build on the remarks of my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach, who made some excellent points about the visitor economy in the Midlands, and to focus on the opportunities for a green recovery to level up the Midlands region.
As we emerge from the shadow of the pandemic, we need to build back better, greener and faster. With their unique strengths, the regions have a great opportunity to be at the forefront of this change. Data from the Midlands Engine shows that gross value added per capita in the Midlands is nearly £22,000, or 9% of the England minus London average. If this gap were closed, it would add an extra £76 billion each year to the UK economy—£76 billion. That is the scale of the opportunity here. Playing to existing regional strengths, the green recovery can be a key part of closing this gap.
The Midlands was at the forefront of the Enlightenment and the Industrial Revolution. The new thinking that led to these epochal events is perfectly symbolised by the painting “A Philosopher Lecturing on the Orrery” by Joseph Wright of Derby, who was himself a key figure in the Midlands Enlightenment. The painting depicts a lecturer giving a demonstration of a mechanical model of the solar system to an awe-inspired audience, their illuminated faces emerging from the darkness of ignorance and superstition into the light of reason. The region now has the opportunity to continue this historical thread by leading the way with a new, green industrial revolution.
One in four energy and low-carbon jobs in England is based in the Midlands and the sector is worth almost £27 billion to the region. It is home to nationally and internationally leading projects, assets and research in low-carbon transport, fuel, heating and energy. The Midlands Engine is the first pan-regional partnership to propose a plan for delivering this and will issue its plan for consultation within the next few months. Can the Minister say what plans the Government have to work with the regions on such initiatives, supporting existing regional strengths to enable a clean economic recovery?
Innovation will of course be vital in meeting our net-zero targets. The Government already have a desire to increase the R&D intensity of the economy to 2.4%, but additional focus is needed on how deploying research funding can help to level up the economy. If the Midlands receives its fair share of this funding, it will equate to a £2.3 billion increase in R&D spend in the Midlands, providing the potential to create tens of thousands of jobs. Crucially, R&D will bring in skills and wider investment from industry, which will boost the productivity of the Midlands and help the Government meet their targets for levelling up. I highlight here the fantastic universities and research assets that we have in the region.
Some thinking is required on the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, ARIA, to ensure that its spend is constructively deployed in aid of the levelling-up agenda, rather than defaulting to research capacity in the south-east. I look forward to returning to this when the Bill comes before the House.
There is a fantastic opportunity here to use the green industrial revolution, along with existing regional strengths, to level up the Midlands, which is home to 11 million people. A year ago, the Chancellor vowed to do “whatever it takes” to support households and businesses through the Covid crisis. If the Government are serious about delivering levelling up, they should make a similarly unambiguous commitment to do whatever it takes to level up the regions. A shock to expectations can in itself produce the momentum required to level up our economy.
My Lords, I stand humbly in this historic Chamber today. I am humbled by the warm welcome of my fellow Peers and the support of all the officers and staff; I wish to thank each and every one of them. I am truly humbled by the enormity of the honour that I feel—a pride that I know is shared by my family, my friends, and so many of my former constituents in Gedling, whom I was proud to represent for 22 years, the people of Nottingham City, the people of the county of Nottinghamshire and beyond.
As I stand here discussing this Queen’s Speech on the theme of communities, voices from my past are calling out to me. I can hear my 94 year-old father, a former Metropolitan Police officer, saying, “Don’t forget neighbourhood policing.” I can hear the man I was named after, my uncle, who is buried in a war grave dated 6 June 1944 in Ranville, in Normandy near Caen, saying, “Never take democracy and freedom for granted.” I hear the voices of Nottingham school pupils, many from disadvantaged backgrounds and growing up in poverty, whom I taught for some 20 years, saying to me, “Make sure every pupil succeeds, whatever their ability, and that we end the academic/vocational divide.”
I can hear the pleas of the many former constituents of mine who needed help with claiming their welfare benefits when the state often made it incredibly difficult for them to do so, when their only crime was poverty. I can hear the voices of young people, including my own grandchildren, demanding that we save the planet for them, if not for ourselves. I can hear so many voices, including me as a younger man, an idealistic socialist standing on the miners’ picket lines or ferociously protesting on behalf of local councils and communities for a better deal. All of them, including the younger me, are calling out: “Vernon what are you going to do with this privilege and this honour you have?”
I say to them, as I say to all noble Lords—this is something we all share, whatever our party background—that I will stand up and speak out, as others have already done on these and other issues, through this House as a proud, working Labour Peer. I say to the Minister that I am no cynic about these things. I know that change has occurred and will occur. However, if the pandemic has shown us anything, it is the power of the state, both at local and national level, to act swiftly and decisively for the benefit of all communities in every region. Why does the state not act with the same level of urgency now for the sake of our communities? I do not want another Peer to be raising in 30 years’ time exactly the same issues of poverty and inequality in our communities as I am.
I wonder what Lord Stanley of Alderley would think. He spoke of the need for a Notification of Poverty Bill, in which he raised many of the issues we still discuss today concerning the working poor. That was in 1935. In discussing welfare and all these other issues, it cannot be right for 2.5 million people to rely on food banks, 980,000 of them children. It cannot be right for over 6 million people to depend on universal credit to survive. It cannot be right for 14.5 million people in our country, including 4.3 million children, to live in relative poverty. It cannot be right for life expectancy, health outcomes and so on still to depend on where you live and where you come from.
It cannot be right for 793 million people across the world to face starvation and for so many of our elderly not to have the social care they need and deserve. We have to act with greater urgency. The cry from communities and the demand from those who were on the frontline during the pandemic, often the poorest paid, is that they want something different. Indeed, is that not the cry from every community? My task, through the vehicle of the Labour Party, will be to play my part, however small, saying that my vision is, “It does not have to be like this”. The state needs to act, and I say to the Minister that that is how this Queen’s Speech will be judged.
To quote the great Romantic poet, Percy Shelley:
“…to hope until hope creates
From its very own wreck the thing it contemplates”.
What inspiring words. My hope, my vision, is to do all I can for a fairer, more equal society. To those voices of my past and present, I say, I have heard you. The power of our words needs to ring out across our nation. The dream of a better future is one we all have to make a reality, and as soon as we can.
My Lords, what a heartfelt and moving maiden speech. My noble friend’s dad and family, watching today, will rightly be so proud.
In 1976, a very young Vernon Coaker started teaching, and that very first classroom set him on the road to here today in your Lordships’ House. That class was 5C. They were tough kids, many struggling to read, with little appetite for authority or school. He recognised then that education would help them, but only so far; real change, the ability to make a difference, not just to those kids in that classroom but to his community and to his country, could come only through Parliament and government. Vernon won Gedling in 1997. It was a marginal seat and he held it, against the odds, at election after election. He was able to do that because he came from—but, crucially, always remained part of and at the heart of—that community.
He is also a principal research fellow in modern slavery and human trafficking at the University of Nottingham, taking the responsibility he had as a Home Office Minister and continuing that engagement and responsibility. I am sure that he will bring his thoughtful and analytical approach, as well as his strong sense of social justice, to debates in this House. Vernon, welcome.
Turning to today’s debate, I want to focus on not the adversities of climate change but the solutions. At this point in history we have not just an opportunity but an obligation to solve the problem of climate change. It is us who can take hold of the lid of Pandora’s box and firmly close it. We want to and can do this through decarbonisation—driving the removal of carbon dioxide from the UK’s economy. Decarbonisation involves two simple actions. First, the Government must invest in renewable energy; secondly, we must reduce and ultimately stop the extraction and use of fossil fuels. These two simple actions, taken together, are the best way to set the future of our planet back on the right track.
Currently, 79% of the UK’s energy comes from fossil fuels. The Government have taken steps to decarbonise the economy. The 10-point plan for the green industrial revolution has made some progress towards decarbonisation, particularly in its uptake of offshore wind energy. However, the steps have been half hearted at best. This Government have seen a regression on the policies that would promote the use of renewable energy. For example, the renewables obligation scheme that created more than 23,000 generating stations and generated 25 gigawatts of energy was closed in 2017, ending its benefit to the renewable energy sector. The feed-in tariff, a policy designed specifically to increase investment in and uptake of renewable energy, has been all but abolished. This has led to uncertainty in Britain’s domestic solar panel industry, reducing Britain’s opportunities for success in the renewable energy and business sector.
As an alternative to this bleak continuation, the Labour Party has a green new deal and has the potential to restore the country’s economy through new business deals and opportunities. Clean energy lies at the heart of the Labour Party’s green new deal and it has the golden touch of creating high-quality, skilled new jobs for people up and down the nation—from solar panel technicians to data scientists, to green financial investors. As the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, we urge Her Majesty’s Government to work across the political spectrum to deliver.
David Attenborough, who has been named COP 26 people’s advocate, stated:
“We have one final chance to create the perfect home for ourselves and restore the wonderful world we inherited.”
COP 26 is the conference at which we will ultimately decide which path humanity takes. Let us take that right path.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, on—as the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, said—such a heartfelt and moving speech. I also look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Morse, later. I declare an interest as the owner of rented accommodation and farmland.
Her Majesty’s Government plan to publish a consultation on reforming tenancy law to abolish Section 21 no-fault evictions. It is impossible to do this without introducing rent controls, which historically have never worked and would do immense damage to the rented housing market.
A recent example is Berlin, where controls were introduced in 2020 to maintain rents at 2019 levels for five years. The result was that the number of new rental properties coming on to the market fell by almost half; the scheme is ending after less than two years. There were other factors, but they do not alter the fundamental, which is that freezing rents caused the supply of rented accommodation to dry up.
To state the obvious, landlords let premises in order to get rent; it is preferable to have the income. Landlords ask tenants to leave only with very good reason because replacing a tenant is an expensive and laborious business. You have to advertise the property. There are lawyers’ fees, letting agency fees and fees to check gas and electricity. You must comply with emission rules, and there are almost always redecoration costs. The longer the same tenant stays in place—so avoiding these costs—the greater the benefit to the landlord.
It is blindingly obvious that only a tiny minority of tenants are asked to leave, even by rogue landlords. Removing Section 21 would massively reduce the value of rented properties and be a slap in the face for all those aspiring individuals who have put their savings into rented property—especially those who have taken out a buy-to-let mortgage. Some 90% of all landlords are individuals, nearly half of whom own only one property.
Before the 1988 Act, the average discount for tenanted properties was between 40% and 50% of vacant possession value. At a stroke, by introducing sitting tenancies, the capital value of the present tenanted sector will have nearly halved. In the case of landlords with buy-to-let mortgages, the security for these loans may no longer meet the loan-to-value requirement, with the consequent financial hardship.
Rented premises are well protected by law. If there are problems with the property that the landlord will not deal with, a tenant can complain to the local housing officer, who can compel a landlord to make changes. A gas certificate is needed every year. An electrical installation condition report is required every five years or for each new letting. An energy performance certificate is required. Deposits are now limited to five weeks’ rent, which is unlikely to cover a bad tenant’s damage. Given the massive incentive to prolong tenancies and the continuing drive towards improvements to rented property, it would be counterproductive to introduce a measure that will reduce the availability and quality of rented accommodation and will cause financial hardship for many.
There are many other arguments against the abolition of Section 21, for which there is no time today. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will think carefully when reviewing the abolition of Section 21.
My Lords, I draw the attention of the House to my relevant interests as a member of Kirklees Council and a vice-president of the Local Government Association.
I listened to the gracious Speech with eager anticipation, then read the Government’s more detailed explanation of their intentions. I was to be disappointed. There was the slick headline of “Build Back Better” and a sub-heading of “Public Finances”. I looked in vain for any mention of local government finances.
The Conservative Government have a cunning plan, it seems. First, cut grant funding to local government by 60%—£16 billion in cash terms—forcing deep cuts to the fabric of local places. Then, accuse councils of closing these selfsame services. The trump card of levelling up is then played, where central government comes to the rescue by carefully selecting additional funding for a few cash-strapped areas. Meanwhile, more councils are on the verge of issuing Section 114 notices—the equivalent of bankruptcy. A positive change to local government funding is one major missing element.
Another is the absolute failure to reform social care funding. This matters to local government, as 57% of council tax income is spent on social care. Council tax—a regressive tax—is being forced to bear the burden of the Government’s failure to deal with the challenge of social care funding. Each year since 2016, the Government have added the adult social care precept to council tax, resulting in a 13% rise to council tax bills. As council tax rises, so potholes increase, to the extent that even the Conservative-led County Councils Network is complaining publicly about the £400 million cut to local roads maintenance even after the pothole fund has been taken into account.
The two major Bills outlined in the gracious Speech that affect local government are the planning Bill and the building safety Bill. It is, I suggest, disingenuous to state in the “Key facts” section on the planning Bill that
“only … 3 per cent of local people engage with planning applications”,
when the majority of applications are, of course, of a minor nature. People are concerned about the changing nature of the place they live in, whether it be the loss of green fields, pressure on local facilities, traffic congestion or air quality. Neighbourhood planning showed that people will engage positively when given the opportunity. Sadly, the principle behind this Bill is that local voices need to be excluded in the interests of development companies—the same development companies that have failed to build 1 million homes for which there is a current planning permission.
The building safety Bill is to be welcomed in that it is the major response to the Hackitt review and the Grenfell inquiry. It will, I hope, put right the decades of regulatory failings in the construction industry. Unfortunately, it will fail to respond to the cries of anguish from leaseholders who are trapped in tower blocks where flammable cladding has to be removed and where the costs of other fire safety defects are being passed to leaseholders. These costs amount to tens of thousands of pounds. It is a scandal of growing proportions, and the Government have an absolute duty to put it right. Are they committed to fulfilling their responsibility in this regard?
Councillors of all parties and none have at their heart a passion to improve their local place. They are the people who can truly help level up. They need the tools to do so. Starving councils of funding and essential powers will seriously hamper any hope of significantly growing and improving the opportunities and prosperity of both people and places. With that, I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morse.
I very much appreciate the opportunity to address your Lordships for the first time in this debate and follow the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. I am very grateful for the welcoming and helpful attitude I have encountered on all sides, most particularly from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, Convenor of the Cross Benches, and from his secretary, Kate Long, as well as the doorkeepers and all those who have helped guide my uncertain steps as I find my way around this place. Please keep going.
I am a Scottish chartered accountant. They are the humorous, interesting, original ones. After a career in public practice and three years at the Ministry of Defence as defence commercial director, I was Comptroller and Auditor-General and chief executive of the National Audit Office for 10 years. Since leaving the NAO, I have become chair of two London hospital trusts—Hillingdon and London North West. I am lost in admiration for how they both responded to the Covid crisis. I am very proud of them.
At the NAO, I was responsible for auditing central Government and published approximately 600 reports over 10 years, assessing the efficiency, effectiveness and value for money of Government’s use of public resources across a whole spectrum of public sector activity. The largest single area for these reports was the NHS, followed by major projects in transport and defence, and welfare and benefits. Many of the projects and programmes I examined I looked at more than once, and they still continue today—High Speed 2 and Crossrail being two notable examples in transport, and universal credit in welfare.
Let me briefly mention a few of the lessons I learned over 10 years, which I hope are relevant to this debate. In the context of major projects and programmes, including transport ones evidently, considerations of efficiency and effectiveness are often outweighed by the political agenda, which can demand eye-catching but often overoptimistic announcements about the costs, timescales and benefits of the project concerned. Unfortunately, the sugar high of publicity passes all too quickly and is replaced by reality and, quite often, years of highly visible and avoidable underperformance follow. In this context, the independence of the Civil Service in raising concerns about public value is of great importance. Civil servants need to be able to do their job without risking career damage.
In the area of welfare and benefits, the Government need to make sure they understand, from the ground up, the harsh realities of life for people with low or no income before legislating or making benefit rules which can affect those people’s lives so fundamentally.
Finally, I learned that, over time, Governments are judged not just by policies or announcements but by their perceived competence, evidenced by the results delivered to and experienced by the taxpayer and the citizen, who have, after all, underwritten the whole enterprise. It is worth while getting it right first time.
I look forward, in conclusion, to expanding my experience and knowledge in the service of your Lordships' House.
My Lords, it is an enormous pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Morse, in this debate. I warmly congratulate him on his excellent maiden speech. It will not surprise the House that I particularly endorse his comments about the Civil Service.
Most of us will know him from his decade as Comptroller and Auditor-General of the National Audit Office, which he stepped down from in 2019. However, the noble Lord, Lord Morse, had a long and distinguished career before that at the Ministry of Defence and PricewaterhouseCoopers. He brings a forensically sharp mind and a fearless willingness to speak it. His passion, as Comptroller and Auditor-General, was to improve the way the public sector did things. However sharp his criticisms might have been sometimes—and they were—it was always clear to me, as head of the Civil Service, that he had its best interests at heart. His subsequent actions in becoming chair of two trusts demonstrates this. We are very fortunate that he has joined us in this House.
Before going on to comment on the Queen’s Speech, I should declare my interests as chair of Peabody, Be First and Stockport Mayoral Development Corporation, and as president of the Local Government Association. My other interests are listed in the register. These interests are very relevant to what I will focus on in my short speech—the Government’s proposals on planning.
The Government’s legislative programme contains the usual mix of the good, the bad and the very bad, as well as one frankly disgraceful omission, namely, the lack of any plan to respond to the growing crisis in social care. The planning Bill, if it follows the proposals set out in the White Paper, will fall into the “very bad” category. This is not to say that everything in the White Paper is bad. We certainly need to simplify the local plan process, improve design and increase the use of digital technology. However, it is based on a completely erroneous view that the way to more and better housing is yet another reform of our planning system.
As someone who is passionate about the need for more housing, and chair of three organisations that are collectively responsible for building thousands of new homes a year, I can say with a fair amount of confidence that planning is not the main problem. Of course, a few schemes take longer to get approved than they should do, and some councils are better than others. But, in the round, the Local Government Association’s figures tell the real story: nine out of 10 planning applications are approved by local planning authorities, and there are more than 1 million application permissions from the last decade that are still to be built.
In his independent report, Oliver Letwin also found that the planning system was not the main barrier. Viability, infrastructure, grant rate for affordable housing, delivering zero carbon and developer caution on build-out rates for larger sites are much the bigger issues. Yet, based on a completely incorrect understanding of the true barriers to building new homes, the Government plan to remove a basic democratic right of local councils to make decisions on individual applications, and to replace it with a zonal system and a single national infrastructure levy.
The comments by former Prime Minister Theresa May in the other House are worth noting. She said that the proposals
“would reduce local democracy, remove the opportunity for local people to comment on specific developments, and remove the ability of local authorities to set development policies locally … the White Paper proposals would also lead to fewer affordable homes, because they hand developers a get-out clause … I fear that, unless the Government look again at the White Paper proposals, what we will see is not more homes, but, potentially, the wrong homes being built in the wrong places.”—[Official Report, Commons, 11/5/21; col. 39.]
I could not have put it better myself.
There is still time for the Government to listen and take a different path on this. I sincerely hope the planning Bill that comes forward retains the sensible parts of the White Paper and ditches the rest. If not, both Houses will have a lot of work to do.
My Lords, what a privilege it is to hear the maiden speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Morse, and my noble friend Lord Coaker. I look forward to many more debates with both noble Lords.
Although this debate covers welfare, there are no Bills concerning the welfare state nor, for that matter, employment, pensions policy, health and safety, child maintenance or anything else within the DWP’s core remit. Yet challenges abound. The pandemic has exposed the impact of poor working conditions, low pay and job insecurity. They could have been addressed in the flagship employment Bill announced in the 2019 Queen’s Speech, which promised to:
“Protect and enhance workers’ rights”.
Had action been taken pre pandemic, maybe things could have been different, but we still have no sign of that legislation, just endless promises to level up. Can the Minister tell us where the employment Bill is? When will Ministers legislate to ensure all gig economy workers have basic rights and protections? When will we see action to ensure everyone has access to decent statutory sick pay and adequate in-work benefits?
Young people have been hit hardest by this pandemic. The unemployment rate for 16 to 24 year-olds is now 14.3%—575,000 young people out of work. This needs urgent action, something like Labour’s jobs promise to end long-term unemployment and our promise to ensure furloughed workers who lose their jobs get intensive support as soon as they need it.
The Government’s answer is Kickstart, which Ministers claim has created 195,000 jobs. However, figures suggest that fewer than 20,000 young people have actually started work. I have some questions for the Minister, though I accept he may have to write to me. Is the target still to reach a quarter of a million young people? What is being done to deal with the awful regional disparities? Why end Kickstart in December when so few young people are in jobs and the target has not been met? Both Labour and the CBI have called for an extension. Will Ministers think again?
The pandemic has also hit older workers. ONS figures show employees aged 50-plus were more likely to report working fewer hours than usual or not working at all, with the biggest effects among those 65-plus. Resolution Foundation research shows that older workers who lose their jobs tend to take longer to get back into work and, when they do, they are likely to earn substantially less than previously. This will hit them now and in retirement. The Government’s answer is the restart scheme, but that will not start until at least July, and it will use payment by results. How will the Government ensure that providers properly invest in those participants, such as older workers, who may have a lower chance of getting a job? What new support will be given specifically to skill and upskill older workers in new and growing industries?
Another major gap is around disability. The Queen’s Speech brief said:
“The Government will bring forward a Health and Disability Green Paper”
“The National Strategy for Disabled People will set out practical changes for disabled people that remove barriers and increase opportunity.”
That is all well and good, but the disability strategy has been delayed for months, having been promised in the previous Queen’s Speech. When will it be published? Are the Government satisfied that the consultation was adequate, given all the protests, and are they really still committed to reducing the disability employment gap?
Finally, there is poverty, which was raised so powerfully by my noble friend Lord Coaker in his cracking speech. As he said, government figures now show that 4.3 million children—equivalent to some 31% of all UK kids—were in poverty last year. Three-quarters of them live in a working household. Since the pandemic started, we have seen food insecurity increase and food bank use reach its highest ever levels. This should shock us to our core.
What have the Government done? In March last year, they announced an extra £20 a week in universal credit as a temporary uplift, effectively acknowledging that it was not enough for families to live on. Disgracefully, this was withheld from those on legacy benefits, most of whom are sick, disabled or carers. The Budget extended that by six months, but it will now be cut at the end of September, something we will fight vigorously. The furlough scheme and the self-employment income support scheme will both end at the same time. Is the Government’s plan that workers who lose their jobs when furlough ends will be pushed on to universal credit at a rate £20 per week less than today?
In this country we have a crisis of poverty, a crisis of unemployment, a crisis of low pay, a crisis of insecure work and a crisis for disabled people, yet the Government could not find room for a single piece of legislation to tackle these problems. How very disappointing.
My Lords, it was a great pleasure to hear the maiden speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse. I would characterise them as forcefully illustrating what value this House can bring in speaking out for freedom and against injustice, exactly as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, and, equally, for efficiency and effectiveness and exposing the Government’s legislation and policies to the test of meeting not only the broad principles we are looking for but their practical application as well. We are all grateful to both noble Lords and look forward very much to their future contributions.
I will briefly talk about two things. First, in relation to the planning Bill, I declare my interest as chair of the Cambridgeshire Development Forum. I do not entirely share the view of the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, on that Bill. Clearly, Oliver Letwin’s report was right that it is not just all about planners and their speed, but they should not be absolved from the difficulties that those who are developing and delivering sometimes have in pre-commencement planning conditions and the like. A great deal of it is about diversity of supply and the delivery processes. This planning reform Bill will do very well if it focuses on that. For example, simplifying the processes of levying on developers for infrastructure is necessary, but a single infrastructure levy may not be the right answer because it must meet both the broader infrastructure objectives in an area and the infrastructure and social obligations of that development. These two things cannot be readily and easily merged into one infrastructure levy.
While I support the zonal development system, I do not think for a minute that it necessarily takes away the democratic involvement of local planning authorities. It is perfectly possible for planning authorities and the democratic process to be delivered through local plans in a zonal system. Indeed, given the importance that local plans will acquire as a result, it may encourage many more people to be involved in the plan-making stage, as at the moment they very often do not get involved and take an interest in plans only when planning applications come forward, which are largely predetermined by the structure of the local plan.
Secondly, I will mention the environment. The noble Lord, Lord Oates, is absolutely right that it must be at the heart of not just every fiscal event but every legislative programme. Given the urgency of the issue, every Queen’s Speech should be about how we meet our climate change objectives. Perhaps my noble friend will say something in responding to the debate about how we will do this, not just by setting targets and hoping that there will be the necessary transformations in production and consumer behaviour, but by putting the incentives in place between those two things. In the year ahead, we must set out, for example, how our carbon emissions trading scheme will incentivise a net-zero regime. Phasing out free allowances, increasing the auction reserve price and perhaps raising the carbon support price will take us to the point where the incentive structure gets us to net zero on the timescale required.
However, frankly, if we do it, but nobody else does, it will not succeed. We need not just the European Union to do it but the United States. We know that China is considering it, but we need them all to work together or we will end up with carbon border adjustments, which are a major source of trade friction and conflict. Not least—as the noble Lord, Lord Oates, is looking at me—we need a development programme which is sufficiently well resourced to fund decarbonisation in the developing world and developing economies as well. In this year ahead, we therefore need COP 26 to be a negotiation which delivers on an aligned structure of carbon taxation/pricing/emissions trading, which must be consistent internationally or it will fail. I look forward to that in the year ahead.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his speech opening this debate and congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse, for their powerful maiden speeches. I look forward to their future contributions. I draw attention to my interests as co-director of the Quadrature Climate Foundation and co-chair of the Peers for the Planet cross-party group.
As noble Lords have previously noted, we are facing the interrelated and urgent threats of global climate change and biodiversity loss. We should not, however, make the mistake of seeing the growing climate risk as merely an environmental issue. Human society has arisen and thrived during a period of relative climatic stability, but we have changed this. We are now entering a period of instability. We have rendered our planet less safe; like an alcoholic who has damaged their body through excessive consumption, our addiction to fossil fuels has rendered our unique home prematurely fragile. The effects of our continued reckless use of the planet’s resources will touch on all aspects of our society and economy. We are gambling with the youth of today’s future, and they are rightly demanding that we do more.
Within the Government’s Queen’s Speech, it is regrettable that not more is said on the subject. I do not, however, agree that we need a new climate change emergency Bill. We may not need legislation at all to meet many of our decarbonisation goals. I say this because Part 3 of the existing Climate Change Act was designed to give future Governments the powers that they need to take action to tackle sources of greenhouse gas emissions. Therefore, public consultation is all that is needed in order to use secondary legislation to, for example, reach 100% sales of electric vehicles by 2030 or to bring agricultural sources of emissions into a carbon cap and trade regulation that would create much-needed clarity and incentives for carbon-friendly farming. I urge the Government to use these powers now and consider whether they need to reinstate the information-gathering powers in Schedule 4 to the Act, which were subject to a sunset clause.
It is welcome that, we hope, the Environment Bill will be finalised this Session. However, the Bill is not new and lacks the specific long-term targets that will give it power, such as passing the Climate Change Act without the carbon budgets and long-term target. I am afraid that, as it stands and without clarity on the policies that tackle the reasons why existing targets are not being met, it will therefore be ineffective.
I am particularly concerned by the treatment of air quality. Just six clauses devoted to this most pressing of challenges for the Government, at every level, is not dealing with it effectively. As the coroner recently confirmed, polluted air has the capacity to kill and preys on the most vulnerable in society—the young, the old and the poor. I am told that the Government have many of the powers that they need to crack down on the sources of the problem. Why, then, have we not made more progress? I support a much more comprehensive approach, consolidating and updating existing powers and reorienting to be more specific about the goal. We should be completely eradicating sources of airborne pollutants that cause harm to human health—those that arise within our borders and are, therefore, within our control. This goal would have the triple benefit of solving air quality, helping to meet our climate goals and rejuvenating our towns and city centres.
This is a short speech and I am glad to be back in the Chamber after a considerable absence. I look forward to engaging in this Session. I conclude with the suggestion that the Government take a close look at the recently passed climate change law in Spain. Over a decade ago, the UK led the world in legislating to protect the world from a looming climate catastrophe. But just a few days ago, Spain stole our crown, passing a Bill with a set of clear and unequivocal regulations, including: outlawing the sale of vehicles that emit carbon dioxide by 2040 and their circulation on the streets by 2050; limiting all new coal, oil and gas extraction projects; and stipulating that, within two years, all towns or cities with more than 50,000 residents must have a low-emissions zone, such as those in place in Madrid and Barcelona.
I believe that we can and should be doing more. We need a global race to the top, with countries competing to reinvent our economies, so that we no longer pollute our lungs, skies, rivers, seas and soils. I support the Government in all the efforts they take to make this a reality.
My Lords, I congratulate both of my noble friends Lord Coaker and Lord Morse on excellent maiden speeches. I am privileged to know both well and know that they will make valuable and valued contributions to the work of your Lordships’ House. I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests, particularly the reference to my relationship with St Catharine’s College, Cambridge, and BioRISC, a research initiative that has set itself a challenge to provide cutting-edge evidence-based information about existing and emerging biological security threats and interventions.
I will make three brief points. The first draws on BioRISC’s work and advice. Biodiversity continues to decline at an unprecedented rate, as shown by the 2019 ground-breaking report of the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services and the 2020 report Global Biodiversity Outlook. Our natural environment underpins the delivery of clean air, water and food production, as well as promising solutions to the climate crisis. We have been reminded over the past year of the inextricable link between human health and the health of the natural world.
Public investment on environmental policies has had, at best, mixed success, as illustrated by the failure of many agri-environmental schemes which, despite costing billions, are accepted as having achieved little in preventing the dramatic decline of nature on farmland. This is unsurprising since, typically, their design and implementation have not been informed by the best available evidence from a wide range of sources. In medicine and public health, not using the best available evidence would be unconscionable, but it appears to be acceptable in this space. Does the Minister think that existing processes consistently use the best available evidence on the effectiveness of actions to inform decision-making and, if not, what mechanism will the office for environmental protection deploy to ensure the transparent use of the best available evidence, enabling scrutiny by experts and members of the public, to ensure that taxpayers’ money for our environment is spent cost-effectively?
Further, and also about evidence, six years after receipt of the completed report of the Government’s own Lead Ammunition Group recommending that lead ammunition be phased out, on 23 March, the Environment Minister Rebecca Pow announced plans to do just that. The fifth sentence of Defra’s press release is:
“A large volume of lead ammunition is discharged every year over the countryside, causing harm to the environment, wildlife and people.”
It accurately summarises the extensive harmful consequences of its use, which makes a compelling case for regulation as soon as possible to protect human and animal health and to enable us to move towards a greener and safer future. But, inexplicably, it goes on to announce the commissioning of
“an official review of the evidence to begin”
“with a public consultation in due course.”
Information on the impacts of lead ammunition on wildlife, the environment and human health has been known for years. The LAG report was informed by a comprehensive review of all available evidence. Given the Government’s view that extensive harm is being caused today, why have they commissioned a further evidence review?
Yesterday, speaking on the BBC’s “The Andrew Marr Show”, America’s climate envoy John Kerry said,
“I’m told by scientists that 50% of the reductions we have to make (to get to near zero emissions) by 2050 or 2045 are going to come from technologies we don’t yet have.”
UK FIRES, a major research programme funded by BEIS through UKRI, and comprising six leading universities, a consortium of UK-based industries and several policy advisers, in its report, Absolute Zero, published in November 2019, told us the same and set out the first description of the delivery of zero emissions in the UK with today’s technologies. The report informed the Council for Science and Technology’s letter of 20 January 2020 to the Prime Minister on whole systems and was the topic of a debate in your Lordship’s House on 6 February 2020.
The primary recommendation of Absolute Zero, reflected by the Council for Science and Technology, is that the Government should create a delivery authority to guarantee compliance with the Climate Change Act. It reminded us that the London 2012 Olympics were delivered on time and on budget by such an authority which, interestingly, adopted a principle of using no new technologies to guarantee risk-free delivery. The delivery authority would need to be substantive and enduring, able to hold accountability for delivery across different government departments and through to 2050, and necessarily an exemplar of the whole-systems approach recommended by the CST to co-ordinate across the government departments charged with emissions responsibility in different sectors.
The Institute for Government, in its report Net Zero: How Government Can Meet its Climate Change Target, said, at page 9,
“Government should also assess gaps in delivery capability and consider creating the net zero equivalents of the Olympic Delivery Authority to tackle infrastructure challenges, such as housing retrofit and renewable heat.”
Do the Government plan—
My Lords, I declare my interest as co-chair of Peers for the Planet.
Last week, in a speech setting out the Government’s objectives for COP 26 in November, Alok Sharma, chair-designate of the meeting, was very clear that
“the science is getting starker”
“Whether we like it or not, whether through action or inaction, we are now choosing the future.”
It was another in a series of powerful speeches from Government Ministers setting out a commitment not just to our net-zero targets but to the need for our recovery from the immediate crisis of Covid to be one that underpins our resilience against the longer-term and even more deadly crises of climate change and biodiversity loss.
In that speech Alok Sharma also highlighted the need for urgency in taking action and the crucial nature of what we do in this decade in influencing the future globally, echoing the words of many others, notably those of Professor Dasgupta in his review and the Climate Change Committee. So it was disappointing, as others have said, that there was little sense in the gracious Speech of the necessity of moving on from ambitious words to practical policy action—to act, to quote the mantra of the Government’s Project Speed, in ways that are “faster, greener and better”.
We need to put a green lens on all policy decisions and a green thread through all legislation from all departments. This is not just Defra business and it cannot be dealt with through the Environment Bill alone. For there to be a coherent strategy, the interactions between different departments, different Bills and different policies need to be understood and integrated. I hope the Minister will reassure me that this will be a particular consideration in relation to the impacts of the proposed planning reform Bill on many areas of climate and environment policy. Perhaps I could ask him for some words of encouragement and even government support for my Private Member’s Bill relating to the planning aspects of onshore wind.
We need to use all the levers that we have—the hidden wiring of government, to use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy—not only to achieve net zero in nature recovery but to improve health and well-being, cleaner air being an obvious example; to bring new jobs and skills, from innovative energy sources to retrofitting heating systems; and to drive our economic recovery post Covid in a way that is both sustainable and fair. The Government’s levelling-up agenda is a key opportunity to align innovation and infrastructure, jobs and skills training with an overall environmental goal.
The need for this type of approach is clearly demonstrated in the challenges posed by decarbonising homes and other buildings. Despite buildings being responsible for up to 23% of UK emissions, there was only passing reference in the gracious Speech to the much-heralded heat and buildings strategy. The record of successive Governments in this area is lamentable, the recently withdrawn green homes grant being only the latest in a series of failed schemes. So how do the Government plan to ensure that we have the infrastructure, finance and skills to meet the projected need to install 600,000 heat pumps by 2028? Will the Government now commit to bringing forward the future homes and buildings standards from 2025? If they do not, we face the prospect of a million homes being built that we already know will require expensive retrofit in the near future.
It is well understood that finance is a crucial lever for meeting our net-zero goals, yet there are no concrete plans for delivery in this area. The report by the noble Lord, Lord Stern, on economic recovery and growth, commissioned by the Prime Minister in preparation for the G7, proposed putting a strong price on carbon, eliminating fossil fuel subsidies by 2025 and strengthening international co-operation on tax and climate finance. Can the Minister indicate whether the Government will be taking forward these recommendations, particularly at the G7 meeting?
As many contributors to this debate have said, this Government are strong on rhetoric but what we need now is action and, above all, leadership that brings strategic vision, systemic change and an urgent focus on delivery. Without such leadership, we are in danger of moving from the ravages of Covid to the even greater perils of unchecked climate change.
My Lords, I intend to speak about buses. The Government’s recent proposal, Bus Back Better, is a welcome spotlight on an industry that has not been the subject of significant legislation since 1985. The proposals have been broadly applauded by the Campaign to Protect Rural England, the Women’s Institutes and the APPG representing county councils, all of which have been calling for action to halt the decline in bus services, particularly in rural areas. The expectations raised by the proposals are high. I received through my door on Saturday a brochure from the CPRE appealing for money to press the case for the 56% of small towns it investigated that are becoming transport deserts or are close to becoming so.
I want to examine how the Government are proposing to spend the money available—some £3 billion—and the likely outcomes. It is proposed that much of the money will be spent on purchasing new hydrogen or electric buses. A modern diesel bus built to Euro 6 standards costs the operator about £250,000. In terms of amenity and comfort, these will be very good and the emissions standards very high. An electric bus costs around £450,000 and a hydrogen bus £560,000. An operator buying one of these new buses is expected to pay the base cost of a new Euro 6 vehicle plus 25%, with the Government covering the balance of 75%.
That is not an attractive deal for the operator, who will lose the premium that he now receives for operating a low-carbon bus and the fuel duty rebate, which together account for 20p per kilometre. In Scotland there is provision to meet the cost of this ownership gap, and I urge the Minister to make inquiries north of the border because I am afraid there will not be any orders for new buses without some movement on the part of the Government. There will have to be some sort of green bus service operator grant. If the department’s object is to reduce immediately the amount of diesel oil being burned, a very modest infill of rail freight electrification would achieve that by removing a large number of HGVs from the road.
How much of the available money will be spent on new buses and how much on the ambitious programme of service improvements? Organisations such as the CPRE are anticipating hourly services from small towns, giving access to jobs, hospitals, shops, leisure facilities, education facilities and other amenities throughout the day. There is the question of timescales, with bus improvement plans beginning in October, when many newly elected councils will not meet to consider the matter until July. There are competition issues to be resolved, and the role of the traffic commissioners. Some highway works will be necessary, as well as some new bus priority measures.
Many local authorities are desperate to make the new arrangements work. There is much to do, and I ask that sufficient time is allowed for the House to examine these welcome proposals in detail.
My Lords, I first congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse, on their excellent maiden speeches.
We should never have too many expectations of a Queen’s Speech, as the reference to “other measures” is often the precursor of most of the legislation that we actually consider and pass. This year, the Speech was certainly quite limited in its extent, so trying to find proposals with a specific aim was difficult—especially in the field of transport, the subject I wish to talk about.
The record of promises in this area is not a happy one. Looking at the previous Speech at the beginning of the 2019 Session, we were told of specific government intentions to provide minimum levels of service on railways during strikes. A Bill was promised but did not appear. Legislation to cover airline insolvency and the repatriation of passengers in such circumstances was to follow after a review. The review reported, and we await something further to occur. Bus services were to be improved as part of the Government levelling up transport connections throughout the country. The Bus Services Act 2017 was to be updated to meet this new initiative to improve future provision, especially in the north and the Midlands. In April this year we were still awaiting legislation which the Government Minister Rachel Maclean then indicated might be brought forward “in due course”.
Of course, the references to transport in this Queen’s Speech included a further reference to levelling up and the need to transform connectivity by rail and bus. This should be welcomed, and organisations such as Transport for the North and Transport Network have done so. But, quite rightly, they have asked to see more action than mere words. Rural areas in particular need assurances that future needs will be better served, especially as we try to meet environmental challenges by discouraging the overuse of polluting vehicles. With our record of implementing measures announced at the beginning of a Session, I hope that we will actually see some early results this time.
I do not want to criticise too much; I know how difficult it is to move on in this sphere of activity. The way in which our land transport is controlled and financed is very complicated. Attempts to reduce bureaucracy and encourage investment have not always been straightforward. I hope my noble friend will use the opportunity of his wind-up speech to flesh out a bit more exactly how the levelling-up process for infrastructure will be taken forward. Will we get a firm commitment to an integrated rail plan which gives strong backing to the full HS2, including the vital eastern spur connecting Leeds, and development of the northern powerhouse rail networks? What might be contained in the much-heralded Statement that we are to hear on Thursday?
The development of a successful public transport system is a critical element in satisfying the Prime Minister’s ambitions to level up. I am confident that we will see some clear assurances and action, and I am sure my noble friend will indeed offer these. But apart from the rather general contents of the gracious Speech, I am also pleased that there is evidence of progress in other areas of the Department for Transport’s responsibilities. Following the work of an inquiry into UK lower airspace—which I had the privilege of chairing—I was delighted when speedy legislation followed to reorganise this and bring the United Kingdom’s control of its air corridors and facilities and the work of the CAA post Brexit up to date. I also commend the enthusiasm of my noble friend and his ministerial colleagues, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, who have done so much in relation to environmental improvements in the transport industry and vehicles. This country is building a deserved reputation for leadership in the construction and distribution of green vehicles and in meeting future needs through electric battery manufacture and innovation, including taking forward hydrogen as a new power source. Sales of electric and hybrid vehicles have taken off in the UK in an exciting way.
Cleaning up transport—whether it is cars, lorries, trains, ships or planes—is a worthy and urgent aim that we simply cannot delay. Covid-19 has changed much of our use of and attitude to transport. I hope that things will reverse so that expectations can be met as before, but we must be prepared to re-examine all areas of transport to both meet future needs and benefit from new ideas and new ways to provide our services.
The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, has withdrawn from the debate, so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow two such fabulous maiden speeches, and I look forward to working with both noble Lords. There is much to welcome in the Speech, but there is much that still seems to be about rhetoric rather than action, as many noble Lords have said. It is probably no surprise to anyone who knows me that I am going to confine my remarks to food.
I want to give the House a few facts. These are not suppositions or the ideas of radical NGOs; these are facts and figures drawn up by the IPCC, the Treasury, Defra, the FAO and reputed world experts. It is like looking at climate change targets 30 years ago. Some 34% of emissions globally come from our food system, and it accounts for 30% of all our anthropogenic emissions. Food and drink account for 25% of the footprint of every individual in the UK, and 50% of all habitable land is used for agriculture. It is the driver of 80% of deforestation worldwide and an identified threat to 24,000 of 28,000 species, as documented by the IUCN—the International Union for Conservation of Nature. According to our own Professor Partha Dasgupta, whose report was commissioned by the Treasury, 80% of land-use related biodiversity loss is attributed to biomass extraction, of which the primary products are food and crops. Unless we change our eating and food waste patterns, we will need to double our agricultural production in the years ahead just to stay where we are. The point of all this is what it adds up to, and this is absolutely incontrovertible: even if all other sectors that noble Lords have referred to reduced their emissions to zero tomorrow, we would still overshoot the 1.5-degree target that we are all aiming to achieve at Glasgow and around the world. We must take this on board.
I understand as well as anyone does that food is a real mess, and I have spoken about this. It is in every department, it is extremely complicated, it does not fit into a box and it does not easily subscribe to a target. It is not like saying that we will stop having fossil fuel-powered cars by 2030 or 2040; it is very difficult. But however messy and difficult it is, we can no longer duck this. We cannot ignore it and we have to take it on board. It is the most important thing that we all consume, and it is the one thing we cannot do without. We can all rage about cotton T-shirts causing environmental damage and we can do without so many of them, but we cannot do without food.
What worries me in this gracious Speech is that food really does not get much of a look in. We have the Agriculture Act coming through at the moment, and I welcome the ELMS as much as anyone, but I just want to see how it will work. The gracious Speech makes reference to the food strategy written by Henry Dimbleby, which I have been an adviser on. I am a huge supporter of this because it will help our diets and our comeback from Covid, and it will stop us being such an unhealthy nation and, to some extent, start to work against climate change if we implement it. But noble Lords cannot assume that 34% of global emissions can be dealt with by one White Paper produced by one individual. That is crazy. This must be rethought. I am also really worried that it says that the Government’s response is to consult. I know that they are meant to do this within six months, but it is my understanding from people I know that Defra is commissioning a whole other ball game to try to look at these facts. They are there, and we know them. We have to go much further.
We cannot leave the question of climate change merely to a food strategy, however good it is. Bloomberg News said—it is a ridiculous quote, but I will read it out anyway— last week:
“There is no escaping that beef is a climate villain.”
Some 14% of human-driven emissions come from livestock production.
We are not alone as a country in doing this. It is not something that should be political, but I would welcome a chance to work on it. It can be done. It needs to be seen as a whole, and in the light of the spectacular benefits it will bring us. We went into Covid as an unhealthy nation eating rubbish food. Every single bit of rubbish food is a result of bad farming practices. When you eat a cheap chocolate mousse, you are actually probably destroying the habitat of an orangutang in Indonesia. The same things are true right across the board: if we fix the food system, we fix an incredible number of other things. I really hope that the Government will step up to this and not see it as a party-political issue, but something from which we will all hugely benefit.
My Lords, it is always a tremendous pleasure to hear the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, speak. It is a particular pleasure to be able to follow her, because she speaks from such a depth of knowledge and has such good practical sense. I associate myself with all her remarks today.
I will touch on three Bills in my short contribution. First, I will welcome, when it gets here, the Environment Bill. It is long overdue and has many important provisions and powers. It also, however, has some notable gaps and I will mention just one. It talks of public enjoyment of green space, but there is no actual provision of it in either the Bill or the planning White Paper. There needs to be a duty to create new public green spaces, especially in urban areas. The value of parks has been well highlighted by the pandemic as a necessity for physical and mental health, but it goes deeper than that. A good town or city plan must include green space.
The press release accompanying the planning White Paper merely says:
“Valued green spaces will be protected for future generations”—
in other words, those spaces that already exist—
“by allowing for more building on brownfield land and all new streets to be tree lined”.
However, the planning Bill must make powers and provision for new parks, playgrounds, sports fields, greens and allotments. The fact is that developers will get money for all of the new houses, but unless there is a requirement on them to provide green spaces, they simply will not do it. That needs to be firmly written into the Bill.
Let me take the example of allotments. Sadly, since the Allotments Act 1925 was repealed, waiting lists for allotments in most towns and cities have become longer and longer. Waiting lists of up to 400 people are not uncommon. One member of the National Allotment Society put it vividly when he said, “We will get a burial plot sooner than an allotment.” The pandemic accelerated the demand and, with the combination of healthy outdoor activity, local fresh food production, communities strengthened through shared interests and even biodiversity improvements, allotment provision should surely be a No. 1 issue for new-build areas. The definition of infrastructure for levy purposes must therefore include green spaces of all kinds.
I thoroughly agree with my noble friend Lady Pinnock, who made a powerful speech on this issue, and the noble Lord, Lord Kerslake, that it looks like the planning Bill will cut local people out from being able to make representations on individual developments. They might be able to make representations on the overall local plan, but that is far from the same thing. There will be storms of protest when people realise what this Government have done to their rights.
I must mention how astonishingly crafty, or misguided, is the section on protests in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. “Kill the Bill” protests have already shown the strength of feeling against this part of the Bill, and young people especially are right to fear for the future of our democracy. As the effects of the lack of democracy begin to bite—I just mentioned the example in the planning Bill—I imagine that protests will spread to Tory heartlands and across all age groups. Freedom of speech and assembly and freedom to protest have always been at the heart of British democracy, but now this Government are seriously proposing to hand to the police the authority to decide which protests can go ahead and which cannot. I am not sure that this is a power that the police even want to have.
It is clear that for a protest to be effective, it needs to be noisy and, often, disruptive. However, there are already many laws and safeguards to ensure that a protest cannot be violent or disruptive, and if it is, it is already against the law. I urge the Government to rethink this part of that Bill, because it will come back to bite them. In some ways, of course, I hope it does. However, we as a House have a duty to make sure that we remove this provision from the Bill.
My Lords, I add my warmest congratulations to the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse, on their excellent maiden speeches and I welcome them to the House. I declare my interests as set out in the register. I will speak principally about the passage in the gracious Speech that refers to the Environment Bill.
The Government deserve much credit for their ambitious tree-planting targets and for their success in implementing them so far, despite the delay in the detail being forthcoming in the environmental land management scheme programme, as highlighted earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Carrington. There is no doubt that when the fine print has dried on this document, there will be an even greater take-up of the schemes on offer and an even greater hectarage of planting undertaken. Furthermore, in the light of the Nature for Climate Fund intending to provide significant funding for the creation, restoration and management of woodland, and of the English Tree Action Plan this spring, there is every reason to have confidence that we can move on from the current figure of 13% woodland cover in England towards the 30% enjoyed on the continent. This is to be celebrated in the week of the launch of Her Majesty’s green canopy project.
Nevertheless, I ask the Government to consider two further courses of action that would be most helpful to the supporters of silviculture. The first relates to the importance attached to, and the value of, coppicing. Not only does such regular harvesting provide the opportunity for a new generation of carbon capture—arguably more so than from mature stands, which begin to die back at a certain age—it also has substantial benefits for woodland flora and fauna and goes a long way towards mitigating some of the concerns expressed in the latest report from the Woodland Trust. Will the Government consider increasing the level of grant available specifically for coppicing? It is better properly to manage existing healthy woodland rather than to devote too much resource to the planting of new woodland, particularly given that in certain parts of the country the likelihood of successful planting and cropping of hardwoods is much reduced where the populations of deer and squirrels are uncontrollable.
The second course of action that I ask the Government to consider is the wider application of carbon credits to woodland, not just for newly planted woods—which is currently the case—but for existing woodland that is actively managed in an approved fashion. In the context of the Government’s net-zero ambitions, the use of carbon credits in a wider application across both agricultural and silvicultural assets seems to be an obvious government tool for achieving net zero. If you create a commercial, actively traded commodity, you will get a market response—preferable, in my view, to merely qualifying for grants. It would be an easy contributor to both climate and environmental concerns.
The gracious Speech also contains details on the Government’s determination to improve the energy performance of the housing stock. With new builds, this requires straightforward legislation. With older buildings, particularly in rural areas, however, it is not straightforward.
The current proposals regarding energy performance certificates place a totally unrealistic level of expectation on the shoulders of landlords. The proposal to increase from band E to band D by 2025 is out of step with reality. Increasing the level of expense paid by the landlord from £3,000 to £10,000 to demonstrate an attempt to comply with the new regulation will not solve the problem. Many old buildings can never reach these energy-efficiency standards, no matter how much money is thrown at them.
If the consequence of government policy is to make landlords sell tenanted buildings because they cannot comply with the new regulations, the problem is merely moved to the private owner-occupier sector, without a solution being found and with targets for emission reduction being missed. It would be much better to undertake a more detailed consultation with interested parties, to see where workable and responsible exemptions can be identified. To that end, I applaud the Government on publishing an EPC action plan but urge that it is followed up with some alacrity.
My Lords, I declare my interests in several environmental charities as listed in the register. I am very glad that the Environment Bill is finally going to be with us in this House, as was announced in the gracious Speech. It was first promised in July 2018, so we have been waiting quite a while. I hope the Minister can assure us that it will receive adequate time in your Lordships’ House, even though the Government are keen to get it onto the statute book before COP 26, because the Bill still needs improvement.
The state of nature amendment, which was well aired in the other place, needs to return to provide for statutory measurable targets and interim targets for biodiversity to match the statutory targets we have for climate change, and to enshrine in law a commitment to a 2030 target to halt and reverse biodiversity decline. The Environment Bill also needs to provide overdue statutory protection for ancient woodland. It is a disgrace that, in reality, ancient woodland has only permissive protection, as provided by planning guidance. We need similar protection at a statutory level, as is currently given to sites of special scientific interest, and I intend to put down an amendment to that effect. We also need a statutory basis for the England tree action plan, the publication of which—as I understand from the Minister, who very kindly saw me last week—is imminent. For the England tree action plan to fulfil its name, we need it to be actioned, and a statutory basis would mean that that would be more likely. I would also like an assurance that the Bill will give proper priority to native woodland and does not end up overfocusing on commercial forestry.
Perhaps the most important thing, as we see the Environment Bill proceed through this House, is to help the Government join up two very important pieces of legislation in the Queen’s Speech. The planning reform Bill is not yet published, and I share the suspicions of my noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch. Rumours abound that it will designate land in a topdown way as either to be developed or to be protected, and it will leave local communities powerless to do anything to stop inappropriate development, other than making sure the damaging development looks lovely in accord with the local design code. That is not very much; you can put lipstick on a pig, but it is still a pig. If the planning Bill is not to counteract completely the protection provisions of the Environment Bill, we need in statute measures to link and harmonise these two pieces of legislation.
The Environment Bill needs to give a legal status to local nature recovery strategies, for example, so that plans, planners and indeed developers have to take account of them. We need to enshrine this in statute, as I tried to do during the passage of the Agriculture Act. I hope noble Lords who supported me in that will join with me again, in trying to bring forward a land-use framework for England. The planning Bill sounds as if it will have an oversimplistic binary approach to land use: land is either worth protecting or worth developing. The reality is that the demands on land are multiple and growing: biodiversity, conservation, carbon sequest-ration, flood-risk management, other climate change mechanisms, water quality, food production, timber production, physical and mental health to name but a few. Land needs to be multifunctional and deliver a whole range of public and private benefits. We need a land-use framework to help optimise the use of land, which is a very scarce resource. We need to make sure that we recognise that a much more sophisticated and complex set of decisions needs to be made nationally and locally about land—far more complex than the Government’s oversimplistic planning White Paper envisaged.
I hope that the Minister can tell the House what co-ordination measures will be put in place between the Environment Bill and the Planning Bill, and whether the Government will introduce a land-use framework for England.
My Lords, I declare my housing interests as on the register and will use my time today to address the housing issues raised in the gracious Speech. If we did not know it before, we certainly know after the Covid experience that the widest divisions, the greatest inequalities in our quality of life, are found in our housing circumstances. For those of us in a comfortable home, maybe with a nice garden, the pandemic has been infinitely more bearable than for our fellow citizens in cramped, overcrowded, insecure, poor conditions. We can appreciate more than ever the space indoors, the access to green space outside and the security that comes from owning our home. For so many others, life during Covid has been made utterly miserable by accommodation where there is no room to play, no room to work, and by the impossibility of home schooling and the insecurity that comes from the threat of losing even the poorest quality flat because earnings from an insecure job may be lost.
Covid has revealed the impact of acute shortages of affordable housing, not least in the huge numbers of children living in temporary accommodation, which has followed the halving of social housing—of housing association and council housing—from a third to just 17% of all homes, and the hazards of our dependency on a fragile private rented sector. Does the gracious Speech contain the ingredients to fix these problems, which are causing such damage to our physical and mental health while undermining the wider economy?
Government have provided excellent Covid-related emergency help by enabling local authorities and voluntary bodies to secure accommodation for those sleeping rough, by restoring part of the recent cuts in the benefits for housing help, and by requiring landlords to postpone evictions, but the nation’s underlying housing problems remain. The Queen’s Speech mentions forthcoming measures to enhance tenants’ rights and to support leaseholders. I look forward to the Bills introducing these helpful changes, but the Government’s main proposition for ending housing shortages—thereby stabilising prices and improving affordability, as well as reducing homelessness in its different forms—rests on reforms to the planning system to make it quicker and easier to gain planning consent. The downside of this would be the much-reduced opportunity for input by local communities and their local planning authorities. I understand the Government’s frustration that local opposition can delay new home building, but objectors fearing the worst have often been proved right.
The Government hope to prevent their new arrangements being abused, and instead to improve design and quality by strengthening the rules governing the behaviour of the notorious volume housebuilders. However, it seems unlikely that these planning reforms will achieve a big increase in housebuilding and, disastrously, they could mean fewer affordable homes. Planners have already been releasing land on an extensive scale, but house prices are still rising faster than incomes. The LGA estimates that enough land has been allocated to develop over 1 million homes that have not yet been built. We know from the seminal report from Sir Oliver Letwin that the main reason the housebuilders take their time is so that the speed of sales is slow enough to maintain high house prices.
Sir Oliver called for the nation to take back control of housing development from the oligopoly of major housebuilders to ensure that this country’s precious land resource fulfils society’s needs. He advocated local authorities setting up development corporations to acquire larger sites, paying landowners a reasonable price, underpinned by CPO powers, and then producing master plans that would meet local needs, with plots parcelled out to several housebuilders and to social housing providers, with green spaces, community facilities and so on. Coupled with a real increase in the grants that enable social landlords to make their homes truly affordable, the Letwin proposals for capturing land value for the public good could represent the fundamental change that is so badly needed.
Sadly, the Queen’s Speech suggests that the Government are not yet ready to take the really robust action needed to address the underlying causes of this most pressing national need. Any reassurance from the Minister that there is more to come would be greatly appreciated.
My Lords, I add my welcome to the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse.
I support the Queen’s Speech, which has announced bold and innovative measures to deliver our national recovery from Covid-19 and create new opportunities for all. As a vice-president and former chairman of the Local Government Association, I know that councils are committed to working with Government to help shape and deliver the proposals, so that local communities are empowered to deliver meaningful change.
In the brief time allocated, I shall focus my remarks on levelling up, devolution, the environment, adult social care and building safety. First, I welcome the Government’s commitment to investing in local areas through their upcoming levelling up White Paper. Councils will be key to achieving this ambition, and I know they are looking forward to working closely with the Government to help deliver on this commitment. With the right funding, freedoms and powers, councils can work with partners to drive improvements in public health and economic growth. They can revive town and city centres, build more homes, improve our roads and equip people with the skills they need to succeed, so that no one is left behind.
As a member of the APPG for devolution, I think this is a good opportunity to remind the House of the group’s most recent report, which successfully demonstrated how devolution could play a part in levelling up opportunities and inequalities. As we look to the future, the British state needs to be reimagined to manage the burden on central government and turbocharge the powers of local areas to deliver on both national and local priorities. With this in mind, can the Minister confirm whether the levelling up White Paper will take forward the Government’s commitment to devolution?
I also welcome the Government’s ambition for the environment, including the reintroduction of the Environment Bill and the 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. Councils share this ambition and want to work with the Government and business to establish a national fiscal and policy framework for addressing the climate emergency. Councils can play a significant role in supporting national government to create green jobs. They can use their role as local leaders to bring together the skills and low-carbon agendas to unlock growth in their areas. The LGA’s report on local green jobs estimates that, across England, there could be as many as 1.8 million direct jobs in the low-carbon and renewable energy economy by 2050.
I want to touch on adult social care. While it was promising to see the Government commit to bringing forward proposals on social care reform, councils urgently need a clear timeline and a commitment to new funding proposals. These should provide sustainable support to people of all ages who draw on social care to live the life they want to lead. The LGA and councils are keen to work with the Government and with other stakeholders on a cross-party basis in order to achieve this.
I support the building safety Bill. As well as the crucial issue of fire safety, we should use this Bill to reduce the pain, loss of life and financial burden associated with falls in the home. I declare an interest as vice-president of RoSPA. This is not a party-political issue. Enshrining British Standard 5395-1 in law as part of the building safety Bill would save lives. It would also give much-needed relief to our NHS, which has to deal with more than 300,000 accident and emergency admissions every year because of falls on stairs. Will the Minister for building safety meet with RoSPA to discuss this proposed amendment to the Bill on stair design? This is a vital issue which the Government should address as part of its agenda to keep people safe in the home.
In closing my remarks, I commend the Government’s legislative agenda to the House. As its response to Covid-19 has demonstrated, local government does deliver and can be trusted. I therefore look forward to national and local government working together to truly level up and build back better.
My Lords, along with others in this House, I welcome the speeches of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse. I remember making my own maiden speech in the debate on the Humble Address in 2019, though of course in rather different circumstances. When I gave that speech, we were looking ahead to 2020 as the year of climate action. Instead, the impact of Covid-19 has understandably been the focus of global activity. However, the situation for our planet is becoming more urgent, not less. With another year of action now lost because of Covid-19, we need meaningful global, national and local agreements on the climate and biodiversity issues more than ever before.
Your Lordships will be well aware of the reasons: mass deforestation, ocean acidification, wildfires, unsustainable farming practices, excessive use of harmful fertilisers and pesticides, and unabating plastic pollution, to name just some. Other noble Lords have named others. Our planet and its ecosystems are delicate. Each organism has a valuable role and purpose. As Covid-19 has so painfully revealed, we cannot continue to violate this symbiotic community with impunity.
Our political life is similarly symbiotic. Let me explain. While it is true that we cannot simply legislate our way out of this crisis, we must do more to attempt to keep the global average temperature below 1.5 degrees centigrade and bend the curve on biodiversity loss. I will not speak in depth now about the forthcoming Environment Bill, given that there will be the opportunity to do so in the coming weeks, but I will record my desire to see an increase in its ambition. I and other right reverend Prelates look forward to working with colleagues across this House to ensure that the legislation addresses ecological degradation and biodiversity loss as an integral part of addressing the climate emergency. Furthermore, I welcome the spirit of the climate and ecology emergency Bill and the urgency with which Members in the other place are trying to draw attention to these issues. Both Bills are long overdue and much needed.
However, to go to back to political symbiosis, what is really needed is a fundamental change of perspective. Rather than an environmental policy, we need every policy to be environmental. We need to join up our thinking and ensure that every department and every sector of society is making efforts to combat rising global temperatures. A proper agreement to protect our planet will affect every single sector of every single society—our private and public sectors, our businesses, our farms, our waters, our schools, our cities and our homes. It will affect every individual and until we understand our collective responsibility, we will not have the impact that is needed.
I want to speak briefly about the work that the Church of England is doing. While it is an intrinsic human instinct to care for our environment, people of faith in particular are mandated to care for the planet because creation is a gift of God. We acknowledge that we have not always acted on this belief—to our shame, rather the reverse—but now the Church of England has committed to achieving net zero by 2030, a decision made by synod last year as a bold statement of intent.
As an example of our action, to achieve net zero we need to decarbonise all our heating. This is as true for our churches and cathedrals, our clergy houses and church halls, as it is for the rest of society. My diocese was the first to declare a climate emergency and commit to net-zero carbon by 2030. As part of that work, we have calculated our baseline carbon footprint and found that the largest portion of emissions—38%—is from our school estates. We have started working closely with head teachers and estates managers to explore options for decarbonisation.
We have also hugely benefited from the green interventions of Bristol City Council. One of our flagship schools and largest emitters, St Mary Redcliffe, has already benefited from the installation of solar panels and full LED lighting. It will soon gain from linking into the Bristol heat network, after which the school will be carbon neutral. This partnership with a local authority shows the real, positive impact that local government can have on meeting both its and our net carbon targets so, following the speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, I record my thanks to Bristol City Council for its work on this.
To develop that work nationally, I eagerly await the Government’s heating strategy to understand what help will be given to transition from fossil fuel-based systems. In addition, laid on the local and national plans but supporting them, we need an ambitious global plan to be agreed at both the CBD COP 15 and COP 26—one that puts nature and the planet firmly back on the road to recovery by 2030. While nations rightly rally to eradicate the Covid-19 virus, we have another and even greater crisis on our hands: the loss of biodiversity and—
My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the Cornwall and Isles of Scilly Local Nature Partnership. I am also a director of Aldustria, of Wessex Investors and its associate companies, and of the Green Purposes Company, where I am also a trustee.
I want to talk mainly about the environmental side of things but I was particularly struck by what the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said in his maiden speech: that we must never take democracy for granted. He illustrated that, if I am correct, by referring to his uncle, who lost his life on the beaches of Normandy. I want to restate that because we have in this Queen’s Speech a piece of legislation—the electoral integrity Bill—that takes not just a page but a whole chapter out of the Republicans’ playbook in the southern United States, which is around restrictions of the franchise. That Bill crosses the red line in terms of restricting the franchise in this country and I hope either that the Government will withdraw it or that we will defeat it on Second Reading in this House. I feel that strongly about it and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is absolutely right about defending democracy. This House must make sure that that is done.
I come back to the environment. COP 26 is coming up later this year, as we know. I used to be in corporate business; it was tough but somehow predictable. It had its systems that worked. I went through processes, either with people who reported to me or the board that I reported to, where we would set a strategy; we then had budgets and then we had to do stuff—we actually had to make it happen. In this topsy-turvy world of Parliament, it somehow does not work that way. We might say, “Right, we’re going to set a target”, and then that we will do strategies. The timetables that were absolutely rigid in corporate life sort of slip in the parliamentary sense. One thing I would never have said in a board meeting was: “Never mind about that—just look at my past performance. Look how well I’ve done in the past.” If I had said that in one of my board meetings, those there would have looked at me with incredulity. They would have said: “How naive are you, Robin? Forget that—it’s not about the past. That’s banked, so it’s about what you do in the future.”
In this country we have a great track record, yes, through various Governments. What we do not have is a plan to meet those targets that are some way in the future and which we need to meet. What are we waiting for at the moment? We are waiting for a hydrogen strategy and for Her Majesty’s Treasury’s review of net zero. We are waiting for the heating and building strategy and for the transport decarbonisation strategy, which I am sure my esteemed colleague and noble friend Lady Randerson will talk about later on. My noble friend Lord Bradshaw already did. We do not know when those strategies are going to arrive and yet we have six months until we are on the international stage in Glasgow, at COP 26, to lead the rest of the globe in meeting this crisis. I ask the Ministers and the Government: when are the strategies going to be delivered, let alone the actions? We need them.
When it comes to biodiversity, we are waiting for a nature strategy. I congratulate the Treasury on the Dasgupta report, but when will we have a government response to that? There is the 25-year environment plan that Michael Gove brought forward: I would give it 10 out of 10, except that the National Audit Office gave it a scathing report last year. Regarding COP 15 in China, I can get nothing out of the Government about who is going to represent us at that conference to ensure that we approach the biodiversity crisis in the same way as we intend to approach the climate one.
In my last few seconds, I want to talk about one other area: the marine. I am absolutely delighted that the Government have chosen to bring the noble Lord, Lord Benyon, back into Defra. It is absolutely excellent. He had a report, I think it was last year, about higher-level marine conservation areas. When is that going to be implemented? I hope that he will do so. We are great at putting protection around our overseas territories—I think there are 40 million square kilometres of marine zones—but what about our own coastline? We need to have that right as well, so what about protection for those areas? Lastly, Defra has had a consultation out on remote electronic monitoring. When are we going to hear the answers?
Marine, biodiversity and climate change are all key areas. Let us get on and do stuff.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson. I agree with almost every word of his speech. It is also a pleasure to welcome my noble friend Lord Coaker and his maiden speech, which was heartfelt and delivered against the background of a thunderbolt. He is very welcome in this House; it is just slightly alarming that I was already in this House when he was pointed out to me as a promising young new Labour MP, and now he has made it to the House of Lords—well done.
I also welcome the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Morse. To be honest, I had not worked out who he was until he spoke—I thought he might be a retired policeman—but, in practice, I now remember that his is the name at the end of a number of trenchant, important and constructive reports on the way in which the machinery of government works. He is also very welcome here.
I must register my disappointment at this legislative programme, particularly the absence of three important Bills and the inadequacy, as we understand it at the moment, of at least two of those that are on the list. First, there is no social care Bill. This Covid crisis has thrown up, and shown to the whole population, the inadequacy of present system of social care in this country, particularly for the elderly. We need a new plan, a new injection of money and a long-term move to a proper social insurance method of dealing with us in old age. That is absent, despite the promises.
Secondly, there is no employment Bill. The situation in the labour market post Covid is grim and made grimmer by the long-term undermining of the status, security and prospects of much of our labour force, with the disintegration of different parts of the labour market. We need a comprehensive employment Bill that provides employment rights and a major training and retraining programme.
Thirdly, I deplore the absence of an energy Bill. We have bits and pieces of what make up an energy strategy but not a full energy Bill, and I will come back to that in a moment.
Two Bills that are on the list that are inadequate in their present form or what is likely to be their form. I welcome the fact that the Environment Bill is coming back to us, but in many respects it is still an inadequate Bill. In particular, the structure of the institutions is not clear, which regulator has what powers is unclear and the clear commitment to deliver what is set out for us very clearly by the Climate Change Committee is not really made a responsibility for the totality of government. That Bill needs significant strengthening.
The other Bill, which does not yet exist but has been rumoured, is the planning Bill. What has been said about it suggests to me that we might be moving the planning system in entirely the wrong direction, in a way that not only does not deliver public support but does not deliver more environmentally sustainable housing and other buildings or the social demands for housing, which the noble Lords, Lord Best and Lord Kerslake, and others were talking about. It is a Bill to try to increase the amount of development, but it does not make it subject to either public accountability or the social need for housing for the poorest in our population, in particular.
I return to the energy side. We have a clear plan, put to us by the Climate Change Committee, for how we will reduce energy in our system. It is a combination of what we do in energy supply, transport, housing and other construction and industry. However, we need much more than that: we need the means to deliver it. We need new investment institutions for green investment and the manufacturing sector to support it. We need new planning processes that recognise net zero and put it centre stage. We need a new highly trained, high-status workforce to manage and operate our new green sectors. We need new sorts of regulators to deliver this, and we need investment in R&D to deliver new forms of green technologies and solutions. None of that is provided in the legislation promised in this gracious Speech. I hope that we can put some bones on it in the next few months, but, at the moment, I will be rather critical of what is before us.
I congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse, on their impressive maiden speeches; they will clearly make powerful contributions to our deliberations.
I wish to address what is described in the Queen’s Speech as a transformation across the union of
“connectivity by rail and bus”.
I will briefly address the extension of 5G mobile coverage and gigabit-capable broadband. I support what others have said on these issues, including my noble friend Lady Hayman, the noble Lords, Lord Bradshaw and Lord Kirkhope, and others. These capabilities will of course be vital if we are to remain economically competitive as a nation and maintain a high quality of life for our citizens.
However, to be economically competitive, we will have to build and maintain more of this infrastructure ourselves, with our own industrial capability, than we do at present. We need to stop buying most of our infrastructure from others and to recognise and support our own exceptional abilities to innovate and engineer the technologies of the future.
In addition, to meet our climate change targets, transport, especially by rail, bus and aviation, will have to be transformed. Debate remains about which technologies should be used. The same can be said for heavy freight trucks, earth-moving equipment and other heavy-duty industrial equipment. Electrification will be extremely difficult here because it is unclear whether batteries can be developed to be capable of economically powering the vehicles and equipment for these heavy-duty applications. The mining of vast quantities of lithium for batteries is already threatening the environment, and large quantities of carbon dioxide are already being emitted in battery manufacturing, offsetting the reduction gained from electric propulsion. In addition, green electricity will have to be used to charge the batteries of all electric vehicles before the benefits of electric propulsion are fully realised.
It may be better to use hydrogen in heavy-duty applications. We are already introducing hydrogen-powered trains, produced in Germany, and buses are to follow. Hydrogen may also be used as an aviation fuel, offering the possibility of long-range carbon-free flight. Needless to say, much has to be done before this becomes feasible. At the moment, hydrogen costs much more than diesel and aviation fuels, and excessive quantities of carbon dioxide are emitted in its production.
Deciding which approach to take is fraught with unknowns, but it is clear that, in all cases, we will need carbon-free electricity and heat. This can be achieved with wind and solar power, backed by nuclear power, as has been done in France, although with a different combination of renewables. Electrolysis can then become the primary means of generating hydrogen. All forms of nuclear power plant produce both electricity and heat, and high-temperature gas reactors are especially suitable for hydrogen production because they produce high-temperature heat. This combination would completely avoid the use of fossil fuels and the accompanying need to capture and store CO2, a technology that is far from being demonstrated at the vast volumes required. Batteries would be used for cars and to meet other relatively low-energy needs, and hydrogen would be used for rail, bus and other heavy-duty applications, including aviation.
We have the skills to produce much of what would be needed to follow this path; let us ensure that we enable our industries to provide it. It is comfortable to say that we should pursue all alternatives for reducing carbon, but we have neither the resources nor the time to do so. We now need to make focused, strategic choices and then establish the project-management framework to deliver them, as we have in coping with Covid-19. I say “Hear, hear” to the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, on this issue.
Before finishing, I will say a brief word about 5G communications, where we find ourselves once again at the mercy of others because we lack the ability to provide our own equipment. Here, and with semiconductor chips—my speciality—I suggest that we collaborate closely with international partners, especially the Americans. The Biden Administration are working with all of their leading industrial companies to address these issues at scale, and they should welcome our participation.
My Lords, I too commend the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse, on their maiden speeches, which were excellent in their different ways. I declare my interest, as set out in the register, as a shareholder in an electric vehicle company.
On the Environment Bill, the gracious Speech and the Government’s accompanying briefing contain many admirable goals, but there is little mention of the realistic true costs or challenges involved in reaching net zero. As we know, the Government’s central target is to achieve a 78% reduction in greenhouse gas emissions over 1990 levels by 2035, which will mean a 58% reduction over the next 14 years.
I will look at two key sectors; the first is electric vehicles. The Government have now said that there should be no new internal combustion engine vehicle sales after 2030. I draw attention to a few points regarding this stipulation. UK car manufacturers have recently called for this deadline to be put back five years, against a background of electric vehicles currently representing less than 10% of new car sales. The CEO of Vauxhall Motors recently said that owning a car after 2030 might become the preserve of the rich. It is also estimated that 1 million charge points will be needed by 2030, against a current background of a third of UK homes not having off-road parking. How will the national grid cope with the accompanying increase in electricity demand?
I turn to homes. It is estimated that about 20 million homes will need to be converted from gas to heat pumps; in other words, about 1 million heat pumps will need to be installed each year by 2023. Who is to pay for all this? If it is individuals or the taxpayer, then they must be told the likely cost by the Government. Several noble Lords have commented that the Government are strong on rhetoric. I would adopt the recent words of the chairman of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee:
“Making 19 million homes ready for net zero Britain by 2050 is an enormous challenge that the Government appears to have not yet grasped.”
Realism must be injected into the Government. A much better understanding of cost, pace, scale, and the feasibility of skills development, is desperately needed for net zero.
In debates on Scottish independence, the Government rightly ask the SNP to be honest about the true economic cost of an independent Scotland. Should the Government not be equally honest with the UK population and taxpayers about the real economic costs and practical challenges of net zero? I hope that they will, but if they will not, people may reasonably ask whether they are hiding something.
My Lords, the Public Services Committee on which I sit, so ably chaired by my noble friend Lady Armstrong, published its first report, A Critical Juncture for Public Services: Lessons from Covid-19, in the autumn of last year. That juncture was about the importance of recognising the effects of the pandemic on communities as well as on public services. I will focus on two parts of those communities: the charity sector and unpaid carers.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, charities have faced a double whammy, with a huge increase in demand and a vast drop-off in their income, as charity shops, street collections and fundraising events stopped overnight and led to reduced donations by the public. On the plus side, there were huge innovations. Things which would have taken months were organised overnight and rigid rules became relaxed. Process was replaced by greater trust and collaboration. The intimate knowledge that voluntary organisations have of their clients and users suddenly became a thing of value, and charities report being consulted by local public services about the best way to provide those services. This acknowledgment of the special skills, knowledge and experience of local charities must not be allowed to retreat and slip back into the old meaning of consultation with the local voluntary sector. All too often that has meant post hoc consultation, telling the sector what it is to do once policies have been decided, instead of very early involvement. If the failure of track and trace means anything, it is surely that you must rely on local networks and local knowledge, rather than a top-down approach.
Across the United Kingdom, local community organisations, often working closely with local authorities and primary care providers, have recruited volunteers to support those who are vulnerable by organising food banks and helping in vaccination centres. This volunteering response to the pandemic has the potential to create a legacy that will make civil society stronger. Local authorities in the charitable sector want these good experiences to inform their relationships going forward, but this will need support by local authorities, which are so cash-strapped that many can fund only the very highest level of need and are unable to fund the vital preventive work and early warning systems at which charities are so good. Voluntary organisations are very good value, but they are not cost-free. They need support so that the public duty ethic can flourish, as we have seen it do during this last year.
When it comes to public duty, there is no better example than that of unpaid carers. Until the Government set out concrete measures for social care reform, the reality for millions of families is that they have no choice but to take on more and more care for their older or disabled relatives, costing them their livelihoods and relationships, and at the expense of their own physical and mental health. Unpaid carers could not be clearer that they are worn out and overwhelmed; 81% have been providing more care for relatives during the pandemic and 64% have been unable to take any breaks at all for more than a year. A huge majority have seen their loved ones’ health deteriorate.
Without the United Kingdom’s millions of unpaid carers, our health and social care systems would have collapsed in the last year. While the Government have committed to social care reform proposals being brought forward, we have been hearing this for far too long and further delays cannot be tolerated. We need to see detailed plans for reform which ensure that unpaid carers get the practical and financial support that they need to care.
The NHS White Paper failed to mention unpaid carers at all. Support for them must be a core part of the health Bill which we will be scrutinising over the next year. We must see a duty on the NHS to have regard to unpaid carers, to promote their health and well-being, and to ensure that they are identified, supported, and included across the NHS and social care. That is a goal to which everyone should be committed. Social care can work only if unpaid carers are visible, recognised and counted.
Finally, I remind the Minister that we are still waiting for the Government’s response to the consultation on carers’ leave and need to see, as soon as possible, concrete plans about how this will be taken forward.
My Lords, I add my welcome to the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse.
We face a climate and nature crisis, yet this Government are not on track to meet their fourth or fifth carbon budgets and have failed on almost all the global targets to reverse losses in wildlife and the natural environment by 2020. We needed the gracious Speech to offer up new plans to deliver for our environment, protect our rights to environmental justice and ensure that all of government aligns with climate and biodiversity goals.
Despite some welcome steps, the gracious Speech is not sufficiently transformational. The Environment Bill should include a legally binding target to halve the decline of biodiversity by 2030. Doing so will drive action across government to restore nature and encourage other nations to raise their nature ambitions in advance of COP 15. Your Lordships must amend the Bill to include such a target and to strengthen measures to tackle waste and to improve resource efficiency and air and water quality, if we are to deliver the scale of environmental improvements that future generations need.
This Defra Bill also risks being undermined by other departmental plans, as other noble Lords have mentioned. The planning system should create great places for people to live and contribute to nature recovery, but the Project Speed planning proposals and recent decisions on extending permitted development rights and excluding major infrastructure proposals from biodiversity net gain run counter to that. The Government must do far better in encouraging co-ordination between departments to deliver climate and biodiversity goals.
The Queen’s Speech comes at a time when the clock is ticking for environmental action to protect our planet. All of us, not just the Government, must act. As citizens, we must transform how we travel, what we eat and how we heat our homes—in short, live sustainable lifestyles. Some 59% of the measures in the climate change committee’s recent pathway for the sixth carbon budget contain some element of societal behavioural change. Securing those changes requires public engagement, yet the one climate assembly in the UK to build consensus on how to do that was initiated not by the Government but by six Select Committees in the House of Commons.
The Government must provide more opportunities for participation in environmental decision-making alongside better education and communication. Doing so is part and parcel of delivering our right to environmental justice. Worryingly, the Queen’s Speech points in three ways to a Government determined to undermine that right—a right established in the Aarhus convention, to which the UK is a signatory.
First, as proposed, the office for environmental protection, which will hold public bodies to account on environmental law, is insufficiently independent of the Government and has limited remedies, including no powers to fine. This means that we have weaker sanctions to hold the Government to account now than when we were members of the European Union. I wish the body well, but it is even blocked from advising the Government on planning proposals contrary to environmental legislation in the way that the climate change committee did so effectively recently on the impacts of allowing a new coal mine in Cumbria.
Secondly, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill proposes measures that could curtail peaceful environmental protest, despite the police already having powers to limit protest to ensure safety, as my noble friend Lady Miller rightly said.
Thirdly, the judicial review Bill could neuter environmental groups seeking to hold the Government to account. Only last week, three climate activists applied for a judicial review to challenge the Government’s support for continued North Sea oil and gas production. Maintaining the right of citizens to challenge the Government of the day to deliver the climate and environmental goals that we must deliver is a fundamental cornerstone of British democracy.
The threats in this Queen’s Speech to our right to environmental justice, alongside insufficiently transform-ational initiatives to deliver for our environment, show a Government not yet fully committed to putting climate and biodiversity goals at the heart of all their agendas.
My Lords, this Queen’s Speech proposes many Bills. Some are controversial, and some will have a long-term effect on sections of the population. One such Bill is the flagship Environment Bill, because the Government seem determined to push on with achieving net-zero carbon—and rightly so. This is laudable, but we must also consider the practical and downside effects.
Let us take energy performance certificates, which currently apply to rental properties. I declare my interest as an owner of such places, and hope that this does not bar me from pointing out the flaws in the scheme. First, why only rental properties, which account for 20% of the housing stock? Can the Minister confirm that all houses will be subject to the higher criteria by 2025?
Secondly, the Government propose increasing the landlord cap to £10,000 spend every five years. This is a huge percentage of capital and rental value, and will, as many agencies, and the noble Lord, Lord Colgrain, have pointed out, lead to a rush of sales as landlords realise the unpalatable economic effect on their investment. This will have an exacerbated effect in rural areas. Where will farm workers move to when their landlord informs them that he can no longer physically or economically improve the energy efficiency of his traditional home so can no longer legally let it?
The flaw is in the assessment methodology, where unchangeable physical criteria such as solid wall construction and off-gas heating automatically downgrade the result because the formula was designed for modern buildings. The conflict between energy costs and carbon reduction must be reassessed urgently, long before the 2025 rules come into force. There is equal concern about the damage done to heritage buildings in attempts to retrofit crude efficiency patches in order to continue letting them.
The Government are pressing on with banning the sale of diesel and petrol cars by 2030. That is splendid but, again, the practical consequences appear to be being overlooked. That date will be here in nine years, yet working charge points are way behind schedule and the £20 million fund will not ensure that these points are installed in sufficient numbers. So who will supply and pay for them? Where will the electricity be generated, given a peak demand forecast of a 10% increase on present use? I was interested to see today that the Services Committee has commissioned a demand survey for such things on the Parliamentary Estate.
Electric vehicles are not a panacea. A lithium ion battery, giving a 250-mile range, takes 20 tonnes of CO2 to manufacture. Batteries also need rare-earth metals, which cause environmental degradation in their mining. So, I wonder, are the Government turning their back on hydrogen cell vehicles when hydrogen is probably the cleanest fuel and the most suitable fuel for HGVs and trains, and should be developed in tandem with EVs? Once again, an infrastructure lacuna appears.
Today’s debate topics include welfare. Does this include the welfare of harmless foreigners caught up in the Government’s aggressive war on immigration? From asylum seekers in Glasgow to those looking to find work legally being detained at Gatwick and taken to Yarl’s Wood, this confrontational posturing to exclude anyone not deemed useful to this country is very unattractive and creates bewilderment and fury. Of course, it will be reciprocal, and the EU will react tit for tat by coming down on Britons living out their retirements in Spain and France when they do not have their paperwork in order in time.
Brexit may be done, but that should not mean punishing well-meaning people so harshly. Who came up with the 90/180-day rule for non-workers, which will impact on people’s lives so unnecessarily? Surely a gentler formula that looks after the welfare of all citizens could be found. Petty aggression from Border Force officers—such as confiscating phones, crowding detainees into holding rooms at risk of Covid and ignoring offers to buy an immediate return ticket—are unacceptable actions in a civilised society. The Home Office rules explicitly allow non-visa holders to attend job interviews, so why this humiliating and traumatic treatment? Welfare? What welfare?
My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to speak during this debate and to support Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, with today’s important focus on communities, welfare, transport and the environment. I also congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse, on their excellent maiden speeches.
I support the levelling-up fund, the future high streets fund and the towns fund. They will culminate in driving forward the regeneration of towns and delivering long-term economic and productive growth. They will play an important role in supporting our country’s economic recovery by bringing forward public investment to create jobs and boost confidence in towns, as well as by levering in investment from the private sector to improve everyday local life. As we have been reminded, many places have been left behind for too long, demonstrating the need for cultural identity, strong viable communities and enabling people to feel good in their surroundings.
The end of the common agricultural policy provides a framework for how we choose to manage and improve our land for increased food production and our horticultural sector, all while balancing our support for managing nature and the environment. Brexit helps us to create and exploit our own opportunities and decisions on what is right, particularly to deliver the highest standards of animal welfare while promoting our values in our worldwide trade deals. Importantly, it provides the UK with an opportunity to improve food labelling for meat by requiring that products containing meat be labelled British only if the animals were born, bred and slaughtered in the UK. Also, food produced outside the UK but processed in the UK should not be classed as British.
I welcome the increased protections to eradicate cruel practices for all animals: in particular, ending the export of live animals for fattening and slaughter; the banning of battery cages for laying hens, of sow stalls and of veal crates; and an end to the terrible welfare conditions found in puppy farming—many are transported in poor conditions often at a too-young age. Tougher penalties are needed to stop heavily pregnant bitches being illegally brought into the UK to dupe buyers into buying UK-bred puppies.
Businesses are our wealth creators and the Government have been on their side, with the undeniably unprecedented £352 billion package of support during this pandemic and further measures to make the lives of small business owners across the country easier as they seek to recover their businesses and livelihoods after the pandemic.
Much has been made of the current planning system in England. With a full overhaul, the reforms will give communities a greater voice from the start of the planning process. Local plans will be protected, making planning much more straightforward and accessible, with protected areas to include heritage and outstanding natural beauty sites. However, we must ensure the greater use of our brownfield sites. The target of 300,000 homes per year, together with the proposed future homes standard, will ensure that all new homes from 2025 will produce at least 75% fewer carbon emissions than those built to the current standard.
The Government’s economic recovery will be a green recovery, which I welcome, and ensure that the UK remains on track to meet its net-zero target. This was demonstrated by the early announcement of £8.8 billion of new infrastructure, decarbonisation and maintenance projects—including a £3 billion green investment package. This could help support around 140,000 green jobs, upgrade buildings and reduce emissions.
A green light has been given to eight freeports in England, with the commencement of the first one this year and further freeports planned in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. This helps strengthen economic ties across the union, as a growing clustering of businesses leads to economic advantage and can play a large part in rebalancing economic equality across the UK and boosting international trade.
Finally, there are much-awaited measures to revolutionise how we recycle and reduce air pollution. But we must secure long-term resilient water supplies and wastewater services which protect nature, improve biodiversity and, importantly, lead to a reduction of sewage discharges from storm overflows into rivers. We must also not forget the protection of our peatlands, which are our biggest terrestrial carbon store and home to some of our rarest species. As only 13% of our peatlands are in a near-natural state, we cannot delay any further.
Brexit done, we need to build on it by being bold in rebuilding our economy post pandemic to benefit all in the UK. It is all about place.
The title of the Government’s energy White Paper is Powering Our Net Zero Future. It addresses the need to staunch our emissions of carbon dioxide in view of the advancing crisis of climate change. It proposes that, by 2050, we should double our generating capacity for electricity, while reducing our overall energy consumption to two-thirds of its present level. This is a gross underestimate of our requirements for electricity and power.
According to a widely accepted analysis, the electrification of transport would require a 75% increase in generating capacity. The decarbonisation of the economy will create numerous additional demands, some of which I will mention later. The only source that could meet such demands is nuclear power. Therefore, I believe we should embark without delay on the necessary infrastructure projects to create this supply and exploit it.
An alternative opinion has been offered by the FIRES report, which is the work of a group of academic engineers. FIRES is an acronym that stands for “Future Industrial Resource Efficiency Strategy”. The report argues that we have run out of time. It proposes that the only way we can hope to meet the 2050 target of net zero emissions is by a radical regression which would entail abandoning much of the technology that accompanies our present state of affluence.
According to that report, we would have to immobilise ourselves by forgoing our present means of transport, including automobiles and aircraft. International shipping would also need to be much reduced. Building construction involving steel and concrete would need to be severely curtailed, and we should cease to eat red meats. Such a curtailment of economic activity involving a further abandonment of manufacturing would lead to mass unemployment and the immiseration of much of our working population. It is an appalling prospect to contemplate.
As evidence of the lack of time, the report talks of the 30-year period covering the time from the inception of a new technology to its realisation in a fully operational system. One can point to the length of time it has taken to design and complete the third generation of nuclear plants, such as the European pressurised water reactors, or EPRs, at Olkiluoto in Finland, Flamanville in Normandy and Hinkley Point in Somerset. However, there are convincing recent and historical counterexamples suggesting that such projects can be accomplished far more rapidly. In fact, an EPR reactor which is virtually identical to that at Hinkley Point has been constructed at Taishan in Guangdong province in China. Work began in 2008 and, in spite of numerous reported setbacks, it began full operation in 2018.
One might also consider the post-war experience in Britain in establishing our civil nuclear industry, which, at the time, embodied a wholly new technology. Britain’s first nuclear power station at Calder Hall in Cumbria was opened officially by the Queen in October 1956. The construction had begun in 1953 and its design work could not have begun much before 1952 when Churchill called for the construction of the plant. There should be ample time between now and 2050 to revive our nuclear industry.
We should now consider some of the uses of the enlarged supply of electricity which would be required for domestic heating and to power numerous industrial processes. Steel, which is currently manufactured in coal-fired blast furnaces, could be made in electric arc furnaces fed by both iron ores and scrap metals. Hydrogen and ammonia, which would be among the predominant vectors of energy, should be produced by high-temperature electrolysis of water, the heat and electricity for which should be provided by nuclear reactors.
Provided that the hydrocarbon fuels are created in a manner that does not add to the burden of atmospheric carbon dioxide, there should be no need to forgo the use either of the internal combustion engine or jet engines. The technology for the direct air capture of carbon dioxide, which is energy intensive, already exists. It could be deployed on a large scale to provide the carbon component of the fuels.
Portland cement, which is used in concrete, has become a major element in modern building construction. Its manufacture emits large quantities of carbon dioxide and it should be greatly reduced. However, a reversion to the use of lime mortar in brickwork could be mandated, since the setting of the mortar reabsorbs the carbon dioxide that has been emitted in the reduction of the calcium carbonate limestone to quicklime. Bricks that are now fused inseparably by a sand and cement bond could be reused extensively, as they are in much of present-day domestic building.
The time is not available for me to describe such a scenario in more detail, and to realise it will require energy, imagination and government initiatives. At present, all three of these ingredients are in short supply.
My Lords, I too join other noble Lords in welcoming the maiden speeches from the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse. I look forward to their participation in this House.
I am a novice in this area so feel slightly trepidatious in speaking about the environment and transport, but that is what I am going to do today. I express disappointment, along with other noble Lords who know a lot more about this, at the lack of a transport decarbonisation strategy. It is particularly disappointing to find the lack of a coherent strategy to tackle aviation emissions. I know this issue was close to the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, so I hope he will touch on it when he winds up.
CO2 has a lifespan measured in centuries. Today’s emissions will combine with those that have accumulated since the start of the Industrial Revolution. Yet, nearly a quarter of a century ago, Kyoto did not want to tackle it, instead leaving it to the UN agencies responsible for the aviation sector to attempt to find some sort of consensus. We know how difficult it is to get consensus at the UN—I would not look there if we really want to make progress. I understand that the only goal adopted by the UN aviation agency, ICAO, is to keep net emissions from international aviation at or below 2020 levels, mainly through the use of carbon offsetting and reduction, not through tackling the heart of the problem: excessive recreational and business flying and the overuse of distant supply chains.
Inexplicably, we have left international aviation and shipping emissions in the UK out of the five-yearly carbon budgets. One can only assume that that was because they fell into the “too difficult for now” category—and that is for a Government with an 81-seat majority. Given that technology has shown that we do not need to leave home to engage with a large part of commerce, that businesses have found that having executives jet over from London to New York for a three-hour meeting is not vital to success, and that consumers are discovering the merits of staycations, now would appear to be the ideal time to reduce aviation emissions permanently.
Tackling them in domestic legislation is important. We have left the EU emissions trading system, so an ambitious plan to set clear targets in law would be appropriate. I would call it a “levelling down” for the climate. I say this because in the UK we have a particular problem with overusing aviation as a means of transport. It is mainly people on higher than average incomes, who fly about 50% more than the average for other advanced economies. While emissions in many sectors are falling, UK aviation represents around 10% of total CO2 emissions, compared to 2% of global emissions. I urge the Government to come forward with a strategy to tackle this and to announce bold targets to reduce air travel and transport before COP 26.
Inevitably, one element of this issue is airport expansion and here, the greatest challenge is Heathrow, arguably the biggest emitter of CO2 in Europe. We have to ask ourselves why we should allow a never-ending expansion of this particular airport. The economic case for a third runway, which was always weak, has now become untenable. Even the Supreme Court ruling last year that the expansion strategy was legitimate was based on previous, less stringent climate targets and invites reconsideration. The noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, will know all about this; it is very much his interest area. When the courts point to Parliament and effectively say, “We cannot solve the problem; it is for the Government in Parliament to change the law”, the public rightly expect to see such action reflected in the Government’s programme—the one we are discussing here.
In 2009, when the Labour Government pushed through Heathrow’s third runway, our determination as a nation to tackle climate change was less developed. Now that we know about the damage to the environment caused by aviation, we need to tackle it through legislation. However, here, the chance to do so has been missed again. If, when the third runway’s inevitable public inquiry is concluded, it finds against expansion, will the Government act to stop it? They cannot avoid their responsibility. If we have to have “long grass”, let it grow over the north-west third runway at Heathrow.
The noble Lord, Lord Deben, has withdrawn so I call the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker.
As a daughter of Nottinghamshire, I applaud the warmth and passion of my noble friend Lord Coaker’s splendid maiden speech. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Morse, on his important speech. I shall focus on the climate emergency and declare that I am a member of Peers for the Planet.
However, first, outside of my five minutes, I hope your Lordships will allow me to say a word about the contribution to sustainability of my noble friend Lord Rogers of Riverside, who is barred from membership of this House through absence. He is, in fact, gravely ill and would not have left of his own volition. As he cannot make his own valedictory speech, I just want to say that as president of the All-Party Group on Design and Innovation while I was vice-chair, his distinguished and conscientious contributions were invaluable in furthering the case of sustainable design and architecture. That is quite apart from all his other extraordinary achievements, both public and professional.
I am concerned that the Government have not integrated their environmental policies throughout departments. They have announced some good policies, not least the undertaking on 20 April to reduce the UK’s carbon emissions by 78% by 2035, compared with 1990 figures. In an excellent debate in your Lordships’ House, several questions about how the commitment would be implemented, notably asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the mover of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, went unanswered. My noble friend Lord Whitty asked which Cabinet committee would oversee implementation. I ask that question again.
There are other signs of a lack of embedding the essential aim of net-zero carbon throughout government policy and programmes. My noble friend Lady Jones of Whitchurch referred to the Public Accounts Committee’s criticism of the Treasury. This is the department that commissioned the seminal Dasgupta report. Do the different branches talk to each other? Do they require environmental impact assessments? Why is the Treasury—and, for that matter, the Ministry of Defence—exempt from Defra’s environmental principles? A key department is obviously Environment but, as has been said, we have not heard what its plans are to meet the carbon emission targets.
The United Nations published a report last week charting the large and increasing contribution of methane gas to global heating, and proposing means to reduce it. What are the departments’ plans to deal with this environmental hazard, notably in agriculture?
The authoritative Energy Transitions Commission says that we shall need to increase our production of clean energy by two to two-and-a-half times to meet the demands of transport, industry, buildings and so on. How is this to be managed without intolerable cost? How can it be done without legislation to reform the grid? Where is the promised energy Bill?
Then, there is the specific question I have often asked about domestic gas heating in blocks of flats. Here, we are far below Germany, France and the Netherlands in the installation of heat pumps. Domestic gas boilers are a very large source of carbon, because most building emissions come from homes and the majority of these are gas-fired. Residents of blocks of flats are numerous—some 20% of homes are flats, about 4.7 million in total—and on average they are far from the wealthiest, so a programme to enable them to exchange their boilers, perhaps on a building-wide basis, will need to be devised and funded. Following the noble Lord, Lord Fairfax, I ask: what is it to be?
In general, my questions to the Minister are as follows. What are the structures to ensure that all government policies and programmes contribute to arriving at zero carbon by 2035? Which posts are tasked with monitoring this and how is it co-ordinated at Cabinet level? What is the accountability structure within departments? It needs to be in job descriptions at specific levels, so that performance in the outcome of reducing carbon emissions is measured, incentivised and censured or rewarded accordingly. Finally, the legislature has a right to know what these structures are and to be reassured that they are as developed and effective as the targets themselves. I look forward to the Minister’s answer.
My Lords, the 2021 Queen’s Speech includes an emphasis on levelling up, research, development and innovation, and the environment. This was always going to be a crucial Queen’s Speech post Brexit and in the midst of the awful Covid-19 pandemic. The skills and post-16 education Bill proposes a lifelong learning entitlement, which is very close to the recommendation of the CBI, of which I am proud to be president, for more people to develop higher-level skills throughout their working lives. It is also in line with the recommendations of the Centenary Commission on Adult Education, of which I was a member, which reported in November 2019. CBI research shows that nine in 10 people will have to acquire new skills by 2030. The noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, mentioned the Kickstart Scheme and a request to the Government made by the CBI that this be extended by six months until June 2022. Will the Government please agree to this, to enable more young people to take part in and benefit from this excellent scheme? The noble Lord, Lord Oates, quoted Mahatma Gandhi. One of my favourite sayings of Gandhi is: live as if you are going to die tomorrow and learn as if you are going to live for ever. Enabling lifelong learning for our nation is crucial.
I was privileged to chair the B7 last week. The B7 feeds into the G7 next month. One of our members said, “Thank God for digital in this pandemic”. What would we have done without digital today? We would not have been able to hold this Hybrid Sitting of the House in which we are all taking part. With more digitisation, however, comes more vulnerability. Therefore, the online safety Bill is crucial in dealing with cybersecurity. The product security and telecommunications infra-structure Bill will deal with gigabit coverage. Will the Government confirm that, having earlier committed to 100% national broadband coverage by 2025, they rolled back their commitment to 85% in the spending review in November? Surely this pandemic has shown more than ever that we need 100% gigabit broadband coverage. Does the Minister agree?
The Advanced Research and Invention Agency Bill—ARIA—is great news to enhance the UK’s R&D capability. Do the Government also agree with the CBI’s recommendation that we should create clusters around the country, with universities at their heart? The best example is the Cambridge cluster. Initially a tech cluster, it now also encompasses life sciences, with the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine being manufactured by AstraZeneca, which is headquartered in Cambridge. Do the Government agree that we need to do much more to help businesses and universities work together on research, development and innovation, which in turn would power forward our nation’s productivity?
The Queen’s Speech contains a lot, but some important things were missing; for example, the reform of business rates. Business rates reform is fundamental to the levelling up agenda and to reviving our high streets and stimulating business investment, let alone encouraging greener buildings. Surely the Government agree that we need a full reform of business rates, which is long overdue.
The Environment Bill is a positive milestone to us building a greener United Kingdom. Businesses are looking for the legislative measures needed to reach the net zero emissions target following the Government’s 10-point plan for a green industrial revolution. It appears that the Bill does not provide for this. Will the Government confirm that? Furthermore, the planning Bill is a key element of the Queen’s Speech. Do the Government agree that modernising the planning system must be done in lockstep with the vital task of decarbonising homes and buildings? I was privileged with the CBI to chair the heat commission along with the University of Birmingham, of which I am proud to be chancellor. The commission highlighted that one-third of greenhouse gas emissions comes from heat. Half of that comes from buildings. We need to convert our 29 million houses in the United Kingdom from gas boilers to either hydrogen boilers, heat pumps—as the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, said—or community heating if we are to reach net zero by 2050. To do this, the heat commission recommended the creation of an Olympic-style delivery body, including green finance, and there is a proposal that this delivery body could be the national centre for decarbonisation of heat, which is located in the West Midlands and of which the University of Birmingham is a member. Do the Government agree with this approach?
This is a watershed year for the United Kingdom to show global leadership, in hosting not only the G7 but COP 26 in November. There is, therefore, an urgent need for legislation to speed up the race to net zero. The Prime Minister said at the B7 last week that the race to net zero is not a zero sum game. In true Boris style, he also said: “Green is good.” Kwasi Kwarteng, our new Secretary of State for Business, says that his priorities are the acronym ENZI, standing for enterprise, net zero and innovation. Thankfully, the Queen’s Speech is full of ENZI.
My Lords, I welcome the gracious Speech and will take this opportunity to draw together some strands on the environment, transport and communities. I warmly congratulate the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse, on their outstanding maiden speeches. I refer to my entries in the register. I am a member of the Church of England Rural Affairs Group, vice-president of the Association of Drainage Authorities, president of National Energy Action, and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Water. I also had the privilege of chairing the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee in the House of Commons between 2010 and 2015.
I will focus on the role of farming in the rural economy, market towns and the hinterland of rural communities. I am an enthusiastic advocate of the Government rural-proofing all their policies on health, social care, education and transport, so that they are fit for purpose in a rural setting. Rural communities must have good access to banking and post offices, access to cash so that the elderly, young families and others can pay their bills, affordable housing and good transport, as well as fast-speed broadband and good mobile connectivity.
I would like to consider the challenges to rural areas in the context of the planning Bill and ask my noble friend whether the Government will end the practice of building in inappropriate places, especially flood plains. Will they use more natural flood defences and sustainable drains? We all know that Flood Re does not apply to houses built after 2009, so how will the Government protect existing developments from the consequences of building on flood plains and ensure that future developments are flood-proof? Will the Government use the planning Bill to finally implement the recommendation of the Pitt review in 2007 to end the automatic right to connect for major new developments?
I turn to the Environment Bill and its link and relationship to the Agriculture Act, in particular the fact that details of the environmental land management schemes and current pilot schemes are very sketchy. We must ensure that the link is recognised and made between the active farmer and those taking the economic risk, as well as the importance of livestock farming in upland areas and issues relating to common land. I recognise that farmers have a role to play in tackling climate change, for example carbon sink—capturing and storing carbon in that way—but, for a sustainable farming future for the whole of the UK, tenants must be able to benefit from the new schemes, not just landlords. I add a note of caution on banning the live trade of animals, which is already heavily regulated and very limited. We must consider the economic consequences of losing a very considerable market and losing market share to other countries, such as New Zealand, particularly at this time of year with the sale of spring lambs to France. The loss of that market would have a huge negative impact on hill farms in the north of England and elsewhere in the United Kingdom—I am thinking of Perthshire. Imagine the consequences of losing flocks through such a loss of market.
I also recognise the role of framework agreements and partnership committees with EU parliamentarians under the UK and EU trade and co-operation agreement, as well as working with the devolved Administrations in setting and implementing agricultural policy and environmental law in all the jurisdictions of the United Kingdom. We must be ever-vigilant about animal health and welfare and ensure that the Government make good their excellent commitment to a level playing field on environmental standards. The Government have repeatedly said that they are committed to ensuring that food imports meet the same high standards of production as foods produced here. I hope that that will continue to be the case in the legislation set out before us.
I pause for a moment to consider the future challenge of mental health in the farming community, particularly in rural communities. I pay tribute to all the charities involved.
As well as broader issues in the Environment Bill, in view of the fact that landfill sites are full to bursting, should we be exporting our waste to Holland, Denmark and Turkey or looking to expand the opportunities for energy from waste at home? Can my noble friend confirm that the Environment Bill extends to the marine environment and that the Government will use that opportunity to ensure that offshore wind farms in the North Sea are environmentally safe and friendly. Finally, given the rule of the OEP, how will the Government guarantee that it operates independently? How will its relationship with its opposite bodies in Scotland and Northern Ireland work?
My Lords, there have been many excellent contributions to the debate today, including those of the noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Morse. I am sorry to add yet more to the Minister’s workload at the wind-up, but I can at least start by welcoming the announcement that the building safety Bill will come before your Lordships’ House this Session. I urge the Government to give this Bill every priority to achieve that. Can the Minister confirm that it will be published before the fourth anniversary on 14 June of the Grenfell Tower fire? The residents and survivors have waited long enough.