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Grand Committee

Volume 817: debated on Wednesday 19 January 2022

Grand Committee

Wednesday 19 January 2022

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, this is an unexpected pleasure, but I am very pleased to be here now. Members are encouraged to leave some distance between themselves and others and to wear a face covering when not speaking. If there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells ring and resume after 10 minutes.

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Entry to Venues and Events) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Entry to Venues and Events) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021.

Relevant document: 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I start by thanking my noble friend for stepping into the breach unexpectedly. In moving the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Entry to Venues and Events) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2021 I will speak also to the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021. These regulations are part of the Government’s balanced, proportionate and evidence-led approach to managing the virus.

Test, trace and self-isolation measures remain an important part of our line of defence, but we continue to keep our approach under review as we learn more and gather more data, to ensure that we have an evidence-led response. The self-isolation regulations we are debating today made important changes to the rules from 9 December by helping to align our domestic and international arrivals self-isolation policy on vaccination recognition. This issue has been raised many times and I know these changes are welcomed by many noble Lords. The regulations mean that a person who has been vaccinated outside the UK is exempt from self-isolation if identified as a close contact of a positive Covid-19 case, if their vaccine status is recognised for the purpose of international travel rules. Those who have taken part in qualifying clinical trials abroad are also exempt from self-isolation if they are a close contact of a positive case.

The regulations also clarify the process for those who are unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons to provide evidence of this in line with the Covid-19 pass scheme. We hope these changes will benefit visitors to the UK, returning UK nationals who have been vaccinated abroad, international students and families with relatives overseas. This is part of the Government’s approach to ensuring that the regulations are balanced and proportionate to the risks we face from the virus.

Financial support measures continue to be available to people who are required to self-isolate because they have tested positive for Covid-19 or been identified as a close contact and are not in one of the exempt groups. The Government are also continuing to provide funding to enable local authorities to offer support to those who are eligible and require assistance to self-isolate.

Since 15 December, showing evidence of being fully vaccinated, a negative lateral flow test in the past 48 hours, proof of medical exemption or evidence of participation in a clinical trial has been a condition of entry into certain settings in England. This was introduced following parliamentary approval as part of the package of plan B measures in response to the omicron variant. The regulations that we are debating today make small amendments to correct some minor cross-referencing errors and an omission in the original regulations. They correct how venues calculate attendee thresholds and adhere to spot-check criteria, and they provide a designation to a police authority that collects fixed penalty notices. The correcting regulations were made as soon as possible and came into force at 6 am on 15 December, in line with the original regulations.

Perhaps I should stress that the NHS Covid pass was not seen, and is not seen, as a vaccine passport. People have different ways in which to show how they are eligible. An NHS Covid pass can be obtained either through full vaccination or by showing proof of a negative lateral flow test in the last 48 hours, proof of a medical exemption or evidence of participation in a medical trial. We recognise that certification does not on its own eliminate the possibility of infectious people attending or transmitting the virus in those settings but it does help reduce risks in these settings.

As the Government have said, restrictions must be an absolute last resort and we should not keep them in place for a day longer than absolutely necessary. The Prime Minister has announced today that plan B measures introduced to respond to the omicron wave will end. For certification, this means that mandatory vaccination or test certification in night clubs and large events will end when the regulations expire at the end of 26 January. Updated guidance will be published that encourages voluntary use of vaccine or test certification in those settings, supported by continued availability of the NHS Covid pass.

However, we also want to remind people that it is not over yet. While we are relaxing some of the measures, we should continue to be vigilant. We encourage ventilation and masks to be worn in crowded or close spaces, but we want to trust the judgment of the British people. The most important thing that we can do to safeguard lives and protect the NHS from being overwhelmed, and for economic recovery, is for everyone to get their vaccines and get boosted now. I remind anyone listening that it is not too late to get your first or second vaccination. We encourage everyone to come forward.

I end by thanking everyone working in our system of health and social care for all their tremendous efforts in again supporting our country in these challenging times. I look forward to hearing the valuable contributions from noble Lords to this debate. I beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his informed and helpful introduction, coming as he does from the cockpit of European politics of yesteryear. I also acknowledge my noble friend Lady Merron. When I was in another place, I always observed how cogent and persuasive she was when debating business from the Front Bench and elsewhere.

The second sentence of these regulations indicates why they should be passed in this formal, low-key manner. In the third sentence, however, we can see that some history is made. In the Explanatory Memorandum, at paragraph 3.1, we can see the status of Parliament writ large. In paragraph 3.2, at line 3, there is the failsafe for Parliament: “cease to have effect”. The Minister has introduced a quite exceptional and very necessary procedure.

These regulations enable one to acknowledge the magnificent way in which our hospital trusts responded throughout to this virus. I still live in what was my constituency of 31 years, and our Deeside Community Hospital manager, Mrs Cheryl Froom, took charge of a new hospital—our leisure centre. The jabbing went like clockwork, despite daily football match-sized crowds. The local GPs and nurses were brilliant; they were so efficient and professional, and the volunteers so co-operative and willing. It all went so well that Mrs Froom also took charge at the seaside resort of Llandudno. Our hospital trust faced up to an exceptional challenge superbly. Arguably, I dare say that the Minister knows of many other trusts that did so very well.

In the Explanatory Memorandum there is reference to fixed penalty notices. Were any served? How many? What amount was charged? Will the Minister give further insight on FPNs? In paragraph 6 of this helpful Explanatory Memorandum—thanks should go to Ms Stockley and Mr Vereker—reference is made to Wales. Does Wales operate the exact FPN as England? My understanding is that Wales can be different and do its own thing legislatively.

I note the reference to small businesses in paragraph 13. Was there consultation with, for example, the Federation of Small Businesses? The Minister might know that the economy of Wales is based largely on small businesses, as well as some very great and considerable businesses.

If I may say so, the Government of Wales have, in my opinion, responded very well to this crisis. We took the people with us in Wales. The Welsh point of view was expressed frequently on the influential Radio 4 programme, “Today”; the nation got to know our First Minister on the “Today” programme—perhaps the Minister did too, and might remember him from his Welsh accent.

What estimate is there from Her Majesty’s Government of the impact so far of decisions by devolved Governments on English Covid policy? Do different Covid policies cut across English ministerial policy in a negative way? Is the department now assessing such impact? Which of the Governments got it right? Have these conclusions been arrived at or not? Who is considering that big issue in governance? Devolved government is now coming up front, after some 20 years—the unforeseen consequences of devolved government.

On these matters, how often did the First Minister of Wales confer with Her Majesty’s Government? When the First Minister embarked on a different Covid path, how was Downing Street informed? Did English officials debate, criticise or confer with Welsh officials? What attempts were made to achieve a unified approach? Were there any? I am talking here of governance—how it affects a great crisis and as a consequence of devolved government. It is only right to pose these questions in a forum such as this; many of the regulations that we consider here, from time to time, impinge hugely on the daily lives of our fellow citizens, but we tend to debate them in this low-key manner, and across the Floor, there is usually friendship and co-operation.

For certain, the consequences of devolved government have manifested themselves in the British state. Health is the current issue: a highly centralised state, some two decades later, has experienced the consequences of its devolution legislation. That is a fact; we have seen it broadcast across the nation, time and again.

Has the Covid crisis signposted the way to a federal Britain? The regulation does not concern the constitution, but there is the question, as a consequence of central government dealing with a crisis in health: has the Covid crisis signposted the way to a federal Britain?

I participated as a Minister in the legislation concerning devolved government as it was put forward, and rejected, in 1979. I remember the campaign, as I do the one that succeeded. I must say that things have moved on, hence my questions. When I entered the other place in 1970, it quickly became apparent that there is a constant battle between the House and the Executive. We may have observed it today—arguably, quite importantly. It often crossed the boundaries of parties. Parliament always needs to be vigilant, but in this instance, for these regulations, there was immediate co-operation in the other place. Throughout, however, that co-operation was shot through by the considerations of devolved government, the consequence of decades-old legislation.

Lastly, having seen the emergency regulations put forward, and now addressed again by the Minister, I was in the Chamber of the House of Commons early in the 1970 Parliament, when that iconic manufacturing company, Rolls-Royce, became bankrupt. Overnight, the British House of Commons—in 24 hours—took into state ownership a dying company. I am not making a specific parallel, but the measures in the other place and here today conjure that up for someone with a long parliamentary memory, such as me, and it seems apposite to dare to remind this Committee of those moments.

My Lords, some of us may remember a propaganda campaign during World War II—if people are old enough, that is; we were not necessarily there. It was called, “Careless Talk Costs Lives”—in this case, livelihoods. I did not support the imposition of plan B before Christmas as I foresaw certain consequences.

It was infuriating that, despite the Prime Minister announcing a balanced approach and that we would monitor events closely, Dr Jenny Harries took to the airwaves to warn everyone to ratchet up precautions. Regrettably, the Chief Medical Officer also contradicted the policy we had, and we watched the hospitality sector once again descend into free fall. Restaurants, pubs and hotels had spent millions on food, drink and recruiting extra staff; reservations were sky-high; at last, they could make some money. But no, tens of thousands of cancellations took place that affected them all. In addition, elective surgery was halted immediately, despite a waiting list of several million people. Some hospitals allowed relatives of dying patients only a one-hour visit per day and the same then occurred in care homes. Many GPs opened their doors for jabs, but not if you needed a face-to-face appointment or a referral for surgery or treatment.

The decisions which also caused those draconian measures were also based on the modelling. It was flawed modelling, yet again: 200,000 cases a day; 25,000 to 75,000 deaths between January and March. That was blasting through the airwaves, too, and it was way out. The media, meanwhile, were back in what I call hysterical overdrive, pressing for tougher measures—just like, I fear, some of the parties opposite, along with Scotland and Wales.

The PM made the right decision. The NHS has had billions of pounds of extra investment, yet it still cannot deal with additional capacity in winter. We know it needs probably 20% more beds for respiratory infections at that time—and that was before Covid—so why was that not planned for? Meanwhile, surgeons and medics were unable to carry out their operations and their treatments. Frankly, this is just not good enough. Those responsible for managing and planning the operational structures are clearly out of their depth, and that needs to change. For far too long, too many patients have been treated like second-class citizens.

Mass testing needs to stop. Of course front-line medics and people in care homes and other areas need to be tested frequently, but to test 1 million, sometimes 1.5 million, people per day, 99.9% of whom have no symptoms and are fit and healthy, is financially extortionate. If, for example, a test costs, say, £10 a head to manufacture and process and there are 1 million tests a day, that is £10 million a day of NHS funds—or government funds or taxpayers’ funds, whichever you want to say. That works out at £300 million a month, so in three months we have spent nearly £1 billion testing people who do not need to be tested. No other country tests in this way; you are encouraged to take a test if you have symptoms or if you work in an area where it would clearly be beneficial.

That brings me to my final point, which is the horrendous effect of these restrictions on children. They are the age group least affected by Covid, yet they are subjected to the most awful, cruel treatment. Despite the Royal College of Paediatricians and the JCVI being opposed to children under 16 being vaccinated, that went ahead, and they are now being pushed to have a booster. That is in addition to the imposition, yet again, of wearing face masks for several hours a day. Face masks have little or no benefit because most children—in fact 98% of the population—are immune. We have great immunity. Face masks have also caused unnecessary stress and mental health problems and are particularly difficult for deaf and special needs children. This sort of treatment is now, frankly, inhumane, and it needs to stop.

I believe all restrictions need to be lifted now. Everyone needs to get back to work. We need to manage the situation like responsible adults, and I believe that the British people will do that. Only then can we get back to living our lives in the normal way, which is what we should be doing.

My Lords, here we are, rather surreally, at a debate about regulations that were passed so many weeks ago that we are debating them as they are being abolished. It makes a mockery of the idea of scrutiny before we start. Since I have been in the House, I have not liked the idea of nodding things through—what has felt like rubber-stamping so many important decisions.

As I listened to the announcement of the abolition of plan B in the other place, I reflected that it sometimes feels as though our freedoms are treated as gifts from those on high, to be withdrawn from the public far too easily on the precautionary principle—we are being told even now to be cautious—and then given back to the public as though an act of generosity. None the less, I do not want to be churlish, and the announcement that plan B is consigned to the dustbin of history is great news. Hurrah. Perhaps, then, this discussion is just us going through the motions, and we should be celebrating—with wine and cheese—the end of an awful policy.

I particularly did not like the demand for people to show their vaccine certificates and reveal their private medical information to access or engage in public life. However, there is no room for complacency. I ask the Minister if the vaccine passes—which he says were not vaccine passes—might have set up a dangerous template, still in existence, in which equal treatment for all citizens is jeopardised by access, particularly to certain jobs, being contingent on medical status. That has not changed with the abolition of plan B. Is this not a coercive and discriminatory new normal that divides society into the vaccinated and unvaccinated?

Look at the way that employers such as Morrisons and IKEA are depriving unvaccinated staff of sick leave. They are taking a lead from a government policy that gives the vaccinated privileged access to jobs. I am referring to the Government’s continued retention of VCOD1 and VCOD2—the demand that care workers and NHS staff have to be vaccinated to keep their jobs. In the other place earlier today, MPs across parties noted that getting rid of plan B is incomplete, in spirit at least, when at least 70,000 NHS staff could be sacked from 1 April. As we speak, NHS trusts in England are preparing to send out dismissal letters from 3 February. I agree with Royal College of Nursing CEO, Patricia Marquis, and would like to know whether the Minister does, that the Government need to instigate a major rethink here:

“Mandation is not the answer and sacking valued nursing staff during a workforce crisis is reckless”—

“reckless” is a very strong word.

Despite that, the Prime Minister’s response was to mutter about following the evidence. We know from the evidence that while having vaccines and boosters may be invaluable to protect individuals from serious illness—I am a great supporter of that—the evidence on lessening transmissibility is just not there. Can the Minister comment on the latest ONS estimates on vaccination and reinfection status that showed that there is no significant reduction in the likelihood of testing positive after two vaccinations? Has he any views on the leaked memo from his own department that makes clear that there are those in the department who are saying, privately at least, that this anti-worker mandate is irrational and disproportionate?

Beyond pragmatism about unnecessarily losing vital health and social care staff in the face of weak evidence, the constant official line that such policies are necessary to protect vulnerable patients and care home residents fuels a climate in which the unvaccinated are accused of being selfish and dangerous. That is a dangerous, divisive message when you think that it is aimed at care workers, who have worked their guts out for months looking after the elderly but have decided, for whatever personal reason, that they do not want a vaccination and have now been dumped. It sets up a terrible template for society, dividing citizens into safe and unsafe categories, with the unvaccinated demonised as unclean, disease carriers and so on. This divisive and misanthropic message can only undermine social cohesion. That narrative comes from the very regulation we are discussing of vaccine accreditation and could cause us real problems in the future.

I say good riddance to vaccine passports. I am loath to pat the Government on the back too much for rescinding the policy, because I think it should never have been brought into law, but I want to credit grass-roots campaigners, such as the tireless Together coalition, which has kept up extra-parliamentary pressure. The worst thing about that—which should have been an inspiring example of civil society—is that, for their trouble, those campaigners have been dubbed anti-vaxxers. That term is now too often promiscuously thrown about to close down debate on vaccine-related policies and to discredit individuals and campaigns, rather than engage in open-ended arguments.

It is good that plan B has gone, but there is still a lot of animosity and tension in society around vaccines. Of course, we all know that there is a small fringe group with nihilistic views who are preoccupied with conspiratorial theories about Bill Gates and big pharma. I think that society can live with that small group existing, but I worry about the positive case for the vaccine—which I consider to be a fantastic medical intervention and a great tribute to human ingenuity—being jeopardised if we lose all nuance and lump all views together.

I was shocked when the Opposition, arguing for a ban on people gathering outside schools to protest against vaccines to be part of the police and crime Bill, labelled such people as anti-vaxxers. I know parents who have organised some of those events; they were concerned about young children being pressurised into having vaccines, even though they were vaccinated themselves. They also quoted the JCVI; how can we call its members anti-vaxxers? I worry that young people who are healthy and full of antibodies, who may have had Covid or had one vaccine or two, but who do not want the booster, for whatever reason, are called anti-vaxxers. I worry about pregnant women who are nervous about the vaccine being called anti-vaxxers. I worry about the disproportionate number of ethnic minorities who, for all sorts of reasons, seem reluctant to have the vaccine being lumped in with anti- vaxxers. Those supporting the NHS100K campaign, which comprises health workers, doctors, nurses, midwives and anaesthetists across the board, all of whom oppose the mandating of vaccines, have been labelled anti-vaxxers. It should be noted that many are fully vaccinated but believe in the medical ethics of bodily autonomy and choice.

Will the Minister go back to the department and say that, while the vaccine certification regulations that we are discussing are being abolished, the differential treatment of the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, as institutionalised in the regulations, with the unvaccinated treated as lesser citizens, is very dangerous? I shall not celebrate freedom being restored until that has been abolished as well.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing these regulations and welcome the opportunity to debate the important issues they concern. However, in common, I am sure, with other noble Lords, I feel that our timing is not exactly right. I must confess that I am struggling with the tense that I am going to use, about whether things were, are or will be, but I am sure that noble Lords will bear with me.

The measures that we are discussing have been necessary to keep the public safe and to get the country back on track, and we certainly give them our support today, albeit that they came into force last month. The first instrument relates to entry to venues and events. In the face of a rapidly spreading omicron variant, people certainly needed to feel confident about going out in public, knowing that the Government were taking action to reduce the risk of superspreader events. The Government’s decision to take up our suggestion of a recent negative lateral flow being accepted as an alternative to vaccination status was a good one. It enabled struggling hospitality venues to continue to operate while keeping those using them as safe as possible.

There are a few points on which I would appreciate clarity from the Minister—as I say, I can speak only for the moment which we are in. At present, full vaccination is defined as two doses of the vaccine at least 14 days before permitted entry into an event. Given that research has highlighted the efficacy of the booster vaccination in tackling omicron, what discussions have been had about updating the definition of full vaccination to three doses? Is that something the Government are considering? I make that point because, if the Government are to go down that road, it would take time to adapt to.

It would also be helpful to know about progress on the booster rollout for immunocompromised, clinically vulnerable and clinically extremely vulnerable people, which has stalled recently. I take the opportunity to ask the Minister: how is progress going to get this incredibly important aspect absolutely right? I understand that the Minister in the other place recently said that letters were going to those in that group, so perhaps he can say what will be in these letters and what further measures are being planned.

We of course know that these restrictions are to be reviewed—if we look at the current restrictions, there is an expiry date of 26 January. Again, it would be helpful to have an update from the Minister on how discussions are progressing.

I thank my noble friend Lord Jones for his kind words and his introduction of what we might call the Welsh angle, which is always helpful in these discussions. Close working with the devolved Administrations, as I am sure the Minister will acknowledge, is absolutely crucial when faced with a pandemic.

My noble friend might recollect that the midwife of the National Health Service was a Welshman: Aneurin Bevan.

I have great pleasure in acknowledging that—where else could such an innovator and leader have come from?

It is important to make reference to the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, about those who take action around schools and vaccination centres. Noble Lords will remember that we had a vote very recently on this matter; an amendment was brought forward by these Benches, and I am glad to say that your Lordships’ House agreed that the Government should speed up the use of exclusion zones around schools and vaccination centres, so that people should not feel unfairly and unreasonably abused and pressured and are able to seek the healthcare that they need. I ask the Minister—I raised this in the Chamber this week—how are discussions going to progress that matter?

In more general terms, last month the Government faced an extraordinary rebellion from their own Benches. It is thanks to the support of the Opposition that these proportionate and sensible measures to protect the health of the nation passed. Can the Minister give assurance that public health decisions will be based on evidence and not influenced by pressures such as this—nor influenced by any need to provide cover for any activities, parties or events that were not permitted under the regulations to which the rest of the country was adhering? We remain, in the words of the Prime Minister today in the other place, in a situation where the pandemic is not over. People want reassurance that their lives and liberties are not being impacted other than because of facts as they emerge—they do not want it to be because of political manoeuvring. I am sure that the Minister will have much reassurance to give us as to how decisions are made.

My Lords, first, I pay tribute to the NHS—not just to our hospitals but to GPs, upon whom a very large burden has fallen with the good news about the reduction in hospital cases with the omicron variant. There has been a surge of requests for help from people who are ill at home, even if they are not ill enough to go to hospital. I also pay tribute to the continuing work of the vaccination teams, and to those working in social care; we know there has been a rise in cases in social care, whether in homes or among people being looked after at home. I particularly pay tribute to school staff, who have had to try to manage surges and the large numbers of cases since children returned after the Christmas holidays.

It is important to note that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee noted that this SI, No. 1416, was implemented with immediate effect in December, but the following day, after errors were found, No. 1435 was laid to correct it—the Minister referred to this. However, it was not debated in December. I assume, although it is not listed so on the Order Paper, that we are actually debating both versions of this regulation. As the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said very clearly and in bold, leaving nothing to the imagination:

“This is not an efficient way of handling legislation.”

We are beyond the time when, as in early 2020, we genuinely had to make regulations on the hoof as things about the pandemic became clear. As other speakers have already said, we knew that the omicron variant was building up, and these arrangements should have been clear. I want to ask the Minister about one of my concerns. Are officials in his department under considerable pressure because of the Health and Care Bill, as well as other legislation, meaning that things like this are just getting missed? It really is not an efficient way of handling legislation.

Given the Prime Minister’s Statement earlier today, which we will debate in your Lordships’ House tomorrow, and assuming that things are going to change, I presume that both of these regulations will be very short-lived. However, I want to make the point from these Benches that one of the key things that seems to be missing, again, is the difference between formal regulation—that is, rules—and strong messaging and guidance with strong communications messages, so that everybody can consider the broader picture, rather than thinking, “Phew, all the regulations are gone”. Instead, as others have said, we appear to be back to yet another freedom day, rather than understanding the level of Covid currently in our community.

Even if regulations were not renewed, and even with the encouraging drop in cases, the ONS says today that early estimates show that just under 3 million people in England, or 1 in 20 people, have had Covid in the last seven days. With omicron, reinfections are nearly double those of previous variants, even among those who are vaccinated. Despite it being milder and despite 60% of the public having had three vaccines, we still have these high figures. The Government’s own Covid dashboard confirms that data: yesterday, over 94,000 people tested positive and there were 438 deaths, with just under 2,000 over the last week. Hospital admissions are plateauing at just under 2,000 a day. Be in no doubt that our NHS, social care sector and schools are still very much in the eye of this storm.

The noble Baroness, Lady Foster, says that plan B should never have been introduced, but without those protections, our NHS and other public services would have fallen over. I note that in France, yesterday, they had well over 400,000 cases of omicron. The noble Baroness says the modelling numbers were way out. That is an appalling distortion of the truth. The whole point of modelling and having a range of models from different scientists is to plan for a range of numbers for cases, hospitalisations and deaths, as well as staff being off sick or self-isolating. The figures we have had have definitely fallen within that range—that has been well publicised.

The noble Baroness, Lady Foster, also proposed that all testing should stop, right now. How on earth would we have any idea how many cases there are in our community? Perhaps more importantly, how would we pick up new variants without testing? How on earth would people know when it is safe to visit elderly relatives in care homes or in hospitals, when we know that Covid spreads very quickly in hospital, with severe consequences for the vulnerable and immuno- compromised?

It is good that the numbers are beginning to fall, but it is not a total freedom day. So the cheers from the Benches—I was going to say Conservative Benches but they are also from the noble Baroness, Lady Fox —ring slightly hollow for me. I ask the Minister what advice will be given to venues, schools and people? Will it be the tone of the PM today to forget it all, as it is freedom day, or will there be a stronger message about taking responsibility for keeping people safe and encouraging them to consider continuing with masks?

I turn to the self-isolation regulation. Self-isolation has been absolutely vital over the last month. Can the Minister say what will happen if, as a result of stopping plan B, numbers start to increase again? Will we have to meet in Grand Committee again to look at reintroducing this regulation?

The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, raised the vaccination of NHS staff. I want to raise an issue the Health Service Journal picked up in the last couple of days about problems with the data for NHS staff. HSJ says it has talked to several trust chief executives and directors, who have all expressed concerns about the National Immunisation Management System and the National Immunisation and Vaccination System, which support the management of flu and Covid vaccination programmes across England. The functionality of these two bodies includes helping to identify priority patients and record vaccinations given.

NHS England said that a small number of designated members of staff have been given access to this data to see whether NHS staff had been vaccinated or not, but some chief executives of NHS trusts say that almost one-third of staff members identified as unvaccinated have since come back with proof of vaccination. Many of them are outraged because, clearly, the database was wrong and they had been vaccinated a long time ago. Can the Minister say what will be done to sort out this data and make sure that people are providing the right information and, more importantly, that the NHS has the right information?

Finally, I turn to a topic that the Minister knows I raise whenever I can: issues relating to the clinically extremely vulnerable. In the light of the abolition of plan B, the clinically extremely vulnerable and the severely clinically extremely vulnerable continue to remain so. What advice will be given to them if everybody else stops wearing masks? What will happen to those still waiting for their third primary dose and their fourth booster? What will happen to those still waiting to hear whether they are eligible for treatment because they come into this category? From my postbag and from social media, it is clear that a large number of people who should be in that group have not yet been notified.

I thank all noble Lords who took part in this debate and for the continued scrutiny to which they subject the Government. It is important—I am sure all agree—that any Government of the day should be held to account. It is our responsibility to come here and be held to account, but also to answer as many questions as we can. Can I perhaps ask if there is a time limit on how long I have?

The Government believe that the measures we are debating today are balanced and proportionate responses to the virus. Mandatory vaccine or test certification was brought in as part of the plan B measures to control the transmission of the omicron variant. Test, trace and self-isolation remains an important line of defence, but we will continue to keep our approach under review as we learn more about the virus and the effectiveness of the vaccine. In the department and in government, I always ask my officials and others what the evidence is. It is incredibly important that we are evidence-led.

Sometimes we opened up and then we closed down and so on, but we did not go back into lockdown. What it was about for us was making sure that the evidence was robust enough, challenging it and the models that we were given, but considering the wider responses. It was far more than a matter of considering just one model in our daily omicron meetings over the Christmas break. We were shown the models and the data. The models were scenarios, as the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said; they did not have to consider the wider impact and looked purely at the data. We politicians and others had to consider the wider impact on health—let us not forget the impact that further measures would have had on mental health, people with eating disorders and those with obesity and other issues. We also had to balance those carefully with the wider societal issues such as the impact on businesses and so on.

When the data showed that there was a potential risk of overwhelming the NHS, we had to act and bring in some measures. However, compared to many other countries, we were still relatively open. Believe me, I am a civil libertarian, as the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, whom I have known from years ago, will, I am sure, know. I am always sceptical when government tells us to do things, but these measures were evidence and data led. The latest data shows that Covid-19 cases are falling, and the high levels of vaccination and booster uptake have helped to reduce the risk of severe disease and hospitalisations. That, in turn, is helping to reduce the pressure on the NHS.

Let me turn to some of the points raised by noble Lords—first, those of the noble Lord, Lord Jones, who is the original noble Lord, Lord Jones, as he reminded me. I thank him for his kind words. He rightly said that these regulations are necessary, and I echo his thanks to all those in health and social care who have worked so hard throughout the pandemic and helped deliver an extremely successful vaccine rollout.

While I have the floor, I also thank the wider workforce. I was once told that lockdown was when the wealthy, white middle class stayed at home to be served by immigrant workers. Let us not forget all those delivery drivers, including those from Uber, Deliveroo, Just Eat, Amazon and others, who brought stuff to people in lockdown and made sure that they could continue with their lives. We should always remember the wider workforce—the postmen and women who carried on delivering and the public transport workers who carried on despite the risks. We owe them all a great deal of gratitude. However, we also have to thank those in health and social care for enabling the vaccine rollout, as well as the volunteers. One of the great things about this country is our great history, going back many years, of civil society, local society and volunteers. They worked to make sure that those in need and those working in the NHS got some support.

The noble Lord, Lord Jones, asked a number of sensible questions. I am not flattering him in order to avoid answering on vaccine or test certification. The number of fixed penalty notices is not known at this stage, but I will endeavour to get the information that he asked for. I make this commitment: I will write to him once I get that data. I also assure him that there has been extensive consultation with business groups on vaccine or test certification, including the Federation of Small Businesses and the CBI, as well as with the public via a call for evidence. We have also engaged closely with all the devolved Administrations, including the Welsh Government on, for example, sharing the NHS Covid pass with Wales and on the level of fixed penalty notices, which broadly align. However, as a general concept or principle, one thing that this Government are clear about is that we respect the constitutional settlement and the devolved Administrations. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Health and I have been in meetings with the Health Ministers of the devolved Administrations. Only last week, I chaired a meeting with their relevant Ministers on the UK life sciences strategy, for example, and how we can all work together. Public health is a devolved matter, but we have tried to have a co-ordinated approach wherever it is sensible and appropriate. However, what we cannot do is mandate that just because we can do something in England we expect the devolved Administrations to do the same. That would be disrespectful to them.

My noble friend Lady Foster raised some important issues about additional support for the NHS. Having sceptics is one of things that is very important in politics. In fact, it is how we make progress. If there are no sceptics who challenge the existing wisdom, we do not make progress. I thank my noble friend for her scepticism, even if we do not always agree. The Government have provided the NHS with a six-month cash boost of £5.5 billion to help manage winter Covid pressures and tackle backlogs, which takes our total extra Covid-19 funding to health and social care services to more than £34 billion this year.

My noble friend asked about the Government’s policy of large-scale testing. We believe that testing remains crucial to help protect the people who are most vulnerable to Covid-19 by identifying those who may unknowingly have the virus. Enabling those who test positive to self-isolate helps to break the chain of transmission. For example, one of my team notified us only yesterday that she had tested positive. I felt it was my responsibility, even if it were not required, to take a test to make sure that when I came into the House today I was not positive—if I had been, I would not have come here—to ensure that I did not irresponsibly spread Covid-19. It is important that we continue to test when we are in contact with someone who has tested positive. Testing also helps to build up a strategic understanding of the prevalence of the virus. One of the great things about PCR tests and the link to individual patients has been the data it provides so that we can understand the spread of the virus and the variants.

My noble friend also raised concerns about the vaccination of children, which are understandable. Only the other day in the Chamber, the Government were criticised for not rolling out vaccinations for children early enough. My answer then was that we had to make sure that before we moved to children we had sufficient data about the most appropriate vaccination for children because their behaviour is clearly different from that of adults. We believe that the vaccination of school pupils helps to reduce the need for young people to have time off school and the risk of spreading Covid-19 within schools. The vaccine will protect young people from Covid-19 and reduce disruption to education, not only if they catch the virus but for their welfare and mental health. I have spoken to a number of parents—indeed, I am a parent myself. One of the things they say is that during lockdown they were very concerned about the mental health of their children and they are pleased that their children are able to go to school safely because those who are isolated having tested positive will not spread it to them.

I accept my noble friend’s criticism of the restrictions that we have put in place. She called for them to be lifted. We do not think that is appropriate, given the data and evidence that we have at this stage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Fox, asked about vaccination as a condition of deployment. This was first put forward to combat the delta variant. Vaccine effectiveness against that variant has been estimated at around 65% with the AstraZeneca vaccine and 80% with the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. As the pandemic has evolved, and with the emergence of omicron, the latest data show that after three months a full primary course of an approved vaccine no longer provides the longer-term public health protection against the spread of Covid and severe disease that it was intended to provide. The safest way to develop resistance to the virus is through the Covid-19 vaccine, as it does not come with the risk of severe illness or death, unlike natural infection. As such, we are looking carefully at the evidence and the clinical advice on whether the requirements need to be strengthened to include further doses. As I have said before, the Covid-19 pass is not a vaccine passport. Vaccine status, a recent test or a medical exemption are the ways to gain access.

On the wider point about civil liberties, it is a difficult balance, but it is important that people are allowed to express their criticism. In a free society, whatever we think and no matter how much I may disagree with my noble friend Lady Foster or the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, it is important that they are able to express their views freely so we can have a fair debate in a free society.

However, if anyone goes beyond the bounds of acceptability, if anyone threatens violence or engages in acts of violence—I am not saying that people have done, but a couple of centres have been attacked in this country—that is unacceptable. However, people should be free to say what they believe in a free society, and it is about getting that balance right. I may disagree with someone, but the noble Baroness has a right to disagree with me.

That is so important. The point that I made was about lumping everybody together. That is what I was really saying about schools. It is one thing to invade a vaccine centre, which is one reason to introduce public spaces protection orders—the super-fast ones, which I think are illiberal anyway—but it is important constantly to emphasise that everybody is not the same. Even if they do not like vaccines, they will not all be invading places and beating people up or threatening anyone and being violent.

I take the noble Baroness’s point that not everyone who is against vaccines is unvaccinated or an anti-vaxxer. It is a very difficult balance to get in a free society. It is important that people are allowed to criticise, but they also need to be challenged robustly. That is what we need in a healthy society.

On the point from the noble Baroness, Lady Merron, about the importance of evidence-based decision-making, let me assure her that it is one of the things that I take very seriously. My officials probably get bored of me saying, “Where is the evidence? Is it evidence-led?” It is really important that this is evidence-led. The Government’s approach has always been informed by the scientific and medical advice, the latest data and advice from the Chief Scientific Adviser and Chief Medical Officer, members of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies—SAGE—experts from the UK Health Security Agency as well as many others considering the wider factors within health and society.

I also agree with the noble Baroness that vaccination is a key part of our defence against Covid-19, and the latest data show that boosters are even more important. In answer to her question, we have said that once all adults have had a reasonable chance to get their booster jab—as the Secretary of State said in the other place—we intend the booster dose to be regarded as being fully vaccinated for vaccine or test certification, which can continue to be used voluntarily for venues and events using the NHS Covid pass. We will consider whether and if any changes are needed to other policies that rely on people being fully vaccinated. Once again, we urge everyone to get boosted now. We have delivered the fastest booster programme in Europe, with more than 36 million boosters now in arms across the UK.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, raised the timing of this debate. I agree with noble Lords—in some ways, it has embarrassed me—that we seem to be in a time warp. In fact, it was funny that, in preparation for this, I was wondering which tense to use. I agree that parliamentary scrutiny is incredibly important. That is why the certification regulations were considered and approved in the other House before coming to this House very shortly after coming into force. The amending statutory instrument that we are debating today on certification corrects minor errors of omission in the original certification regulations. The issues were identified and corrected promptly and came into force at 6 am on 15 December 2021. The amending SI does not affect the sunset of the regulations on 26 January.

The noble Baroness also asked why plan B is expiring. Plan B measures are being removed because we believe, led by the evidence, that it is safe and proportionate to do so. We believe that we have made good progress, but it is important that we remain vigilant. As the Prime Minister said in the other place, it is important that we do not give the impression that this is over. We have to remain vigilant. We have to let fresh air in if we meet indoors, but meeting outdoors is safer. The Government suggest continuing to wear a face covering in crowded or enclosed settings where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet. Please get tested and self-isolate if required, try to stay at home if you are feeling unwell and wash your hands.

I do not have a specific answer to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about the immuno- suppressed, so I will make sure that I get that. I am sorry that I do not have that answer here; I really should have had that. I will get that to the noble Baroness as soon as possible and lay a copy in the Library so that others can see it.

Covid is not over, and it is important that people continue to follow safe behaviours. Please let fresh air in if you meet indoors, and meet outdoors if it is safer, although I know that can be difficult in this weather unless you are one of those people who likes to jump in the Serpentine on a cold morning. The Government suggest that you continue to wear a face covering in crowded and enclosed settings where you come into contact with people you do not normally meet. Get tested and self-isolate if required. Try to stay at home if you are feeling unwell. Wash your hands. Download and use the NHS Covid-19 app for contact tracing.

The Minister rightly emphasised the continued need to get tested, as did the Prime Minister in the other place, but we hear that free lateral flow tests are to come to an end. What assessment has been made of the impact of that cessation when we are still being encouraged to be tested?

All I can say to the noble Baroness at this stage is that I, too, heard the rumour today that some paper had been leaked. I have not had a chance to have it verified that there is any truth to the story. As soon as I do, I will write to the noble Baroness and inform others in the usual way. As far as I understand the situation at the moment, there has been a rumour, a leaked paper or a story. I have not caught up with the news.

On a point of clarification, I did not say that we should not continue testing; I said that there are clearly circumstances where we must and that there are sections of society that need to be tested. My point was that the tests are not free; they have a cost to the economy and to the NHS budget.

I thank my noble friend for the clarification, but I suspect that the debate will continue, and that is what we expect in a free society.

I end by continuing to urge everyone to get vaccinated and have their booster dose. We are looking at how we can get to communities which are sometimes distrustful of authority and at how we can work with people in those communities who have trust, for example, with faith groups, on a number of different initiatives. Let us continue to urge them to get vaccinated. Let us help to manage Covid-19 and keep ourselves and those around us safe.

I end by thanking noble Lords for their contributions to this debate and previous debates on other Covid-19 legislation. I apologise to noble Lords whose questions I have been unable to answer in full, but I will look through Hansard and make sure that I get answers to noble Lords who took part. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (Self-Isolation) (England) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2021.

Relevant document: 24th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Motion agreed.

Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Motor Vehicles (Driving Licences) (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

My Lords, I beg to move that these regulations be considered.

This SI updates regulation in two areas. The first concerns the removal of the need for drivers of medium-sized lorries and minibuses to take another manual test if they already hold a manual entitlement in another category. This change is primarily to reflect the technological developments in, and increasing use of, more modern, safer and greener vehicles equipped with a range of semi-automatic, automatic or hybrid transmission systems. It sensibly amends regulations in a way that brings the acquisition of driving licence entitlements for medium-sized lorries and minibuses into line with those for larger vehicles—so larger lorries. Essentially, it fills a gap.

The second element of this SI also reflects technological developments, this time for motorcycles. The development of engines and chassis design in recent years has made smaller-engined motorcycles more powerful. This SI will permit candidates to use a broader range of motorcycles when they take their practical motorcycle test on a medium-sized motorcycle—also known as the A2 category motorcycle test.

Turning to the content of the SI, for ease, I will take noble Lords through the two elements separately, starting with the changes to driving licence acquisition. These are for medium-sized lorries that are up to 7.5 tonnes in weight and for minibuses, with or without a trailer. These regulations extend changes that were made for heavier vehicles, such as heavy lorries, in 2014. Before the 2014 changes, all drivers would have to pass a test using a vehicle with a manual gearbox to obtain a manual entitlement. However, since the 2014 changes were introduced, drivers of large lorries and buses have been able to drive both manual and automatic vehicles when they pass a test using an automatic vehicle because they have an existing manual entitlement—usually for a class B vehicle, such as a private car.

The regulations before the Committee today will amend the regulations to extend exactly the same flexibility to a smaller category of lorries and buses—medium-sized lorries and minibuses. It is important to note that manual gearboxes on these vehicles are similar to the gearboxes on modern cars. Consequently, specific techniques are not required to learn how to change gear. Typically, the proposals in the regulations would apply to a person who already holds a manual car licence and then passes a test in, for example, a newer minibus that has automatic transmission. They would be granted both the automatic and manual minibus licence entitlements.

The changes made in 2014 were implemented because the road safety case was not proven either way. Since those regulations were introduced, there has been no evidence to indicate a reduction in road safety as a result. Furthermore, the review of the driving licence regulations undertaken in 2018 raised no concerns about this change. A public consultation on these further changes was held between 9 February and 23 March 2021, and 68% of respondents supported this proposal, some noting that manual clutch operation is a “transferable skill”, that the 2014 change

“worked well in the bus industry’,

and that this is a “logical step” that is “long overdue.”

The respondents who objected to this proposal commented that gear boxes are significantly different on large vehicles. While acknowledging those concerns, we consider that this change has already been successfully applied to larger vehicles—which normally have the most different gearboxes—and that therefore they may not relate to mid-sized vehicles, which have very similar gearboxes, and perhaps there is a bit of misunderstanding there.

Others said that drivers might not have used their manual entitlement and have lost their motor skills, which again was not an issue for the 2014 changes. We would recommend refresher or familiarisation training for any driver returning to driving a manual car after a long period of absence if they feel they have lost confidence. People sometimes drive an automatic private car for many years and then go back to manual, and there is no difference; it is a question of whether they feel confident in driving a manual car once again.

The second element of the SI is all about the range of motorcycles on which a driver can take their A2 motorcycle practical test. I shall just take a moment to explain a little about motorcycle licences and the motorcycle practical test. Motorcycle licence acquisition can be staged so that a candidate progresses from a very small machine to a larger, much more powerful one. The staged licence categories for motorcycles are: A1, small machines up to 11 kilowatts in power; A2, medium-sized machines up to 35 kilowatts in power; and unrestricted A3 motorcycles, of any power over 35 kilowatts.

The current requirement for an A2 category test is for the motorcycle to have an engine that is at least 395cc. Noble Lords will recall that the size of the engine is not set out in the licensing—that is about only the power of the engine. The 395cc motorbikes are typically quite heavy machines that can be less easy to manually manoeuvre. Following the 2018 review of driving licence regulations, it was identified that many motorcycle manufacturers now sell a 250cc motorcycle that meets the power criteria to be included in an A2 licence—namely, it has a power of up to 35 kilowatts. However, unless we pass these regulations, someone could not take a test on a 250cc motorcycle, even though it falls into that licence category, because they would have to use a 395cc motorcycle. Noble Lords will understand that there is a little bit of a mismatch here.

This review was used to inform the proposed changes, which reduce the engine size requirement for A2 motorcycles used in a test to at least 245cc. This change will broaden the range of motorcycles that a candidate can use for that test and permit candidates to be tested on motorcycles that are more representative of the actual A2 licensing category. It will align the test criteria much more closely to the licence criteria.

Again, a public consultation was carried out on the same dates on this proposal, and 67% of respondents agreed with the change. Some respondents said that it was an excellent and long-overdue proposal and suggested that it could improve road safety, because riders would be encouraged to take additional training and acquire a fuller licence, rather than riding round on smaller bikes with L plates as a learner and just doing the CBT. I note too that some respondents said the proposals might better suit female riders and those of a smaller frame, because the 250cc bikes are slightly smaller and not as heavy, despite the fact that they have a very significant amount of power.

This SI implements small but worthwhile and important changes to modernise the regulations and align them more closely with the vehicles of today. Both measures were supported by the Government prior to leaving the EU and the coronavirus pandemic, so they are not a consequence of either event. For example, they are not a consequence of the HGV driver shortage and have been planned for some time. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

I thank my noble friend for bringing the regulations before the Committee this afternoon and giving us the opportunity to discuss them. I broadly welcome them, but have a number of questions. If my noble friend would be good enough to answer them, I would be very grateful.

My noble friend explained that a test will not be required in the circumstances she set out, which is very welcome indeed. I refer to paragraph 7.5 on page 3 of the Explanatory Memorandum, where it was felt that

“most drivers who will drive a medium sized lorry or mini-bus will do so in a professional capacity and that companies would provide remedial training if a driver required it.”

I disagree. There is a whole cohort of voluntary drivers in the community, particularly minibus drivers, often of older people and many from patient referrals, who have access to a minibus for these purposes. Was this case covered by the consultation? Is this a gap in the regulations, which my noble friend may wish to address?

When driving licences came before the European Parliament many moons ago, I was involved in a cross-party effort to make sure that the licences we use in this country are fit for purpose across the EU. I am delighted to say that we achieved that.

What my noble friend and the Government are trying to do here is welcome, but I hope there is not an incident whereby a driver of a minibus who is a volunteer, and is therefore unpaid and not professional, does not have the confidence to know that, if he needs retraining, it will be applied. I hope there is not a loss or deficit of voluntary or community minibus drivers in that regard. That is my first question for my noble friend to address.

My second question refers to the list of categories and figures given on page 1 of the Explanatory Memorandum. Why are e-scooters excluded? It may be that they fit into other regulations, but I am having great difficulty in finding which regulations cover the safety of e-scooters. I have been looking at a helpful posting from the Metropolitan Police, which tells us that e-scooters fall into the category of “powered transporters”, which

“covers a range of personal transport devices which are powered by a motor … E-scooters are classed as motor vehicles under the Road Traffic Act 1988.”

Riding without a licence or insurance can lead to a fine being imposed. I think this will come as a surprise to some e-scooter drivers, who are hell-bent on crashing into me when I am walking the pavements of London. Curiously, this is not a problem I encounter on the pavements of North Yorkshire—as yet. I hope and pray that that does not happen. I think it will come as a surprise to many e-scooter drivers that they must be at least 16 years of age and hold a correct driving licence. I understand from the Metropolitan Police that that is a category Q or P/M licence.

My question to the Minister is: how do the drivers of the suspect e-scooters, who I encounter on the pavements of London—and I am sure this happens elsewhere—go about getting a driving licence? Perhaps we can point them in the right direction. Having acquired a driving licence, how do they pass, or are they required to pass, a test? Do they spend a period being a learner driver?

I understand the only legal version is rental e-scooters. There is nothing to demonstrate that the e-scooters on the pavements and roads in London are rented. They all appear to be motorised e-scooters driving at considerable pace, putting the lives and safety of other road and pavement users at risk. There is nothing to indicate that they fall within the category of rental motor scooters, which I understand is allowed. They are clearly not riding—driving is the correct term to use—these e-scooters in a private place, which is the only circumstance in which someone over the age of 16 with the commensurate driving licence, having passed the commensurate test and been insured, can operate them. I would be happy to understand which regulations cover them and how we can make sure that the users of e-scooters, whether they are rented or privately owned, are abiding by the law. Fundamentally, why are they not covered by the regulations before us?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very clear explanation. As a matter of principle, it is clearly sensible to update the various driving tests from time to time, but I have some concerns about the rather sketchy approach towards road safety that is revealed in the Explanatory Memorandum for this SI.

The EM speaks of “modern cars”, modern motorbikes and modern technology, but the average age of cars on our roads in the UK is now the highest it has ever been, at 8.5 years. Recent figures from the Society of Motor Manufactures and Traders reveal that the average car on our roads was built in 2011 and, of course, reflects technology prior to 2011. The obvious reason for this is that cars last longer these days. We are facing a cost-of-living crisis in the coming months, so the figures that I have cited are hardly likely to change dramatically. Cars are likely only to get older. Just to give an estimate of progress in our big technological march forward, only one in 80 cars on our roads is a plug-in electric car.

When changes are predicated on recent developments in technology, as is the case with this SI—the Minister referred to modern gearboxes and so on—that ignores the fact that a very high percentage of people taking tests are going to drive very much older vehicles. Young people have access to older-than-average vehicles, because in many cases they tend to be less well off.

While the changes in respect of motorbikes seem relatively straightforward—it is clear that modern motorbikes have developed in a way that means that they are more fuel-efficient, which is greatly to be welcomed—the changes in relation to manual and automatic gearboxes in the rest of the vehicles covered by this SI are more complex.

Paragraph 7.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum states that if you have passed a test in a bus with automatic transmission and a test in a manual car, you will be entitled to drive a bus with a manual gearbox. It makes the point that almost all buses have automatic or semi-automatic transmission. I am sure that, since the Explanatory Memorandum says it, that is the case, but it then refers to concerns from respondents to a consultation in 2014, which is of course a very long time ago—eight years ago—about the ability of people to cope with different types of gearbox. Paragraph 7.6 brushes those concerns aside, saying that most drivers who will drive a medium-sized lorry or minibus do so in a professional capacity and would receive remedial training. The noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, has already made the points for me, so I shall not repeat her concerns, but her remarks entirely reflect my own. As well as volunteer drivers for elderly people on outings and so on, there is a thriving market nowadays—much more thriving than in 2014—in minibus hire and the hire of vans for things like do-it-yourself removals.

I ask the Minister: what account has been taken of that sector and has it been consulted? Does she agree that these changes generally need to be reviewed, possibly in two or three years’ time, and that statistics need to be collected separately for that review, because I gather from the Explanatory Memorandum that that is currently not the case? At the moment, all this is a bit of a stab in the dark. Paragraph 7.8 states that the Government decided to go ahead in the absence of direct evidence to the contrary, which is pretty flimsy decision-making. Have the Government looked at the experience in other countries, including EU countries, perhaps the Republic of Ireland? Has this been done successfully elsewhere? Are we following a well-trodden path?

Paragraph 7.9 of the memorandum spells out that the changes will also affect drivers towing horse boxes, caravans and trailers. These are not professional drivers. Most will not have the benefit of remedial training, which has been put forward as the answer to the problem elsewhere.

The same principle applies to both the changes in the SI and the changes introduced in a recent SI that we dealt with, involving removing the requirements for the car and trailer test in categories B and E. The Minister said in her letter sent after that debate to the noble Lords, Lord Berkeley and Lord Rosser, and me, referring to the bonfire of regulations in 2010:

“At that time, we were obliged to meet the provision of the various driving licence directives which harmonised testing and licence arrangements within the EU. We now have an opportunity to exercise our sovereignty and this allows us to increase the number of HGV tests available to improve the HGV driver shortage.”

My question to the Minister is: if, as her letter implies, EU regulations require stiffer standards for lorry tests than we will now require in the UK, what is the situation for drivers visiting EU countries, particularly commercial drivers wishing to drive professionally in both the UK and the EU? Will they need additional tests to do so or additional insurance? If there are two different sets of standards, it would not be surprising if there were insurance implications. My question applies both to that SI from a couple of weeks ago in relation to the noble Baroness’s explanation supplied since and very much to the changes in today’s SI, because they are of the same nature and will have the same sort of implications. If she cannot reply now, I am sure that we would all be pleased to receive a letter with some detail about this issue.

My Lords, I will be relatively brief, not least because all that I was going to say has largely been said already by the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Randerson. I start by thanking the Minister for her explanation of the content and purpose of this instrument, which, to paraphrase, permits drivers who pass certain tests using a vehicle with an automatic transmission to acquire the manual entitlement for that sub-category, provided that they already hold a manual licence for another category, such as a car. Likewise, the instrument reduces the engine size of motorcycles that can be used by candidates taking their A2 category test; candidates will be able to take their A2 test on a wider range of motorcycles that is more representative of the A2 class.

As has been said, the Explanatory Memorandum tells us at paragraph 7.14 that:

“Both these measures align with the government’s policy of relaxing regulations where possible.”

Without deliberately trying to make a pun, that appears, frankly, to be the driving force behind what is in front of us today, rather than safety issues. However, in making that statement, I am not saying I believe that the Government do not care about safety; that is not my stance at all.

As I understand it from the Explanatory Memorandum, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee asked for further information to be included in the EM about motorcycle categories and information that was more reflective of the response to consultation, especially around road safety concerns with these new licence upgrade arrangements. It seems that paragraphs 2.2 to 2.4 and 7.4 to 7.8 of the EM are a response to the recommendations of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Apparently—although I may be corrected by the Minister—without the recommendation and pressure from that committee, we would not have had that information, particularly that in paragraphs 7.4 to 7.8, which addresses the safety issue. If that is the case, I find it rather surprising that it was not there from the word go. I have no doubt that the Minister will comment on that point and say whether she thinks it has any validity or not.

On the issue of the safety concerns expressed in the consultation on the licence upgrade measures, the Explanatory Memorandum now states in paragraph 7.8 —one of those that appears to have come in following the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee representations—that:

“In the absence of direct evidence, and on the balance of probabilities, the Government has concluded, as it did in 2014, that it is safe to extend the principle to smaller vehicles.”

Frankly, that is not exactly a ringing endorsement that safety will not prove to be an issue. The Government’s view, which may or may not prove right—let us hope that it is right—appears to be somewhat intuitive rather than evidence-based. It reflects the concern that has already been expressed by the noble Baronesses, Lady McIntosh of Pickering and Lady Randerson.

Indeed, what was said by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, seemed like a prelude to tomorrow’s debate on e-scooters. As someone who has not sat down and prepared anything, I think the noble Baroness may have helped me write at least part of the four-minute contribution that I am allowed.

Paragraph 7.9 of the EM states that

“some drivers will not have to take another test using a manual vehicle if they want to be able to drive a medium sized lorry or a minibus, or to tow a trailer, caravan, or horse box with a manual car.”

As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, we recently had another instrument that removed test requirements for towing a trailer. With the reduction in specialist road traffic police officers, and the impact that this may have had on what I understand to be recent fatality rate figures on our roads, I hope we do not find that we are starting to take steps in relation to tests that we may come to regret.

I shall ask just three brief questions. I make it clear from the beginning that I will be more than happy to have a written response, since I did not tell the Minister in advance that I was going to ask them and I do not expect people to be walking encyclopaedias.

What I am not clear on is the extent to which there may have been a purpose behind this instrument in relation to freeing further test space—as I understand it, it involves a reduction in tests. My first question is: how many further tests do the Government estimate this instrument will free up? Secondly, what is the current backlog of tests in each category? Thirdly, what consultation took place with driving schools on these proposals?

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords for their contributions. We have potentially gone slightly beyond the relatively minor changes that are before the Committee today, but I am always very happy to answer as many questions as I can and to write with detailed follow-up afterwards.

The consultation was fairly significant and widely publicised among trainers and driving instructors. We received 1,276 responses, and the consultation was open for six week. I therefore feel that we got a good understanding of how people feel about the changes.

I will focus most on the licence upgrade, because I think that issue is causing more angst than that of motorcycles, but we will see how we do. Some 26% felt that road safety would be reduced, but we dug into the response and a fair amount of the concern could be a misunderstanding of the proposals. Some respondents expressed concern about drivers switching between automatic transmission and split gearboxes, but these are used in larger vehicles and you can already drive a larger vehicle if you have a manual entitlement for a car. So this is filling in the gap in the middle. I do not know whether noble Lords have ever driven a minibus. I have, and it is not difficult; it is perfectly easy. Changing gear on a minibus is the same as changing gear on a car. It is right that, if you are driving a larger vehicle, you may need to have a particular test, but it is not the case that the reason for that test is to make sure that you can cope with the gearbox—because the gearbox is no different. We dug down in a bit more detail, and no specific evidence was provided to indicate that this change or the change in 2014—which was much bigger than the change before the Committee today—would reduce, or has reduced, road safety.

I could talk about road safety for hours because it is a very difficult subject when it comes to data. If any noble Lords are feeling a bit bored this weekend, I encourage them to look at my appearance in front of the SLSC, where I went into some detail about how I feel about road safety and about the data we are and are not able to collect, and how we fill in those gaps.

It was the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, or perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who seemed to say that, because there is no evidence and nothing that we could point a finger at, that was somehow terrible. That is a good thing. If you cannot point your finger at something and say that it has made it worse, that is a good thing. That is how much of road safety works. Road safety is incremental. There are very few changes in the road safety world that you could implement tomorrow and then look at the stats the following year and say “Yeah. That’s when we did that, and look what happened.” Road safety does not work like that. It is a hugely complicated environment involving drivers, vehicles, roads and enforcement. We are very focused on road safety, and when we make any change, such as the one that we are making here today, we are very cognisant of our responsibilities. We drill down into the data. There is no data from STATS19 that not being able to operate a gearbox, fumbling with the gear or using the incorrect gear is a contributory factor; it is not something that happens to qualified drivers with a manual licence.

We recognise people’s concern. What we then have to do is understand where the concern is coming from and whether it is based on evidence. In this case, we have done the same for much bigger vehicles, since 2014. Therefore, without evidence that there is a negative impact on road safety, we feel content bringing the measure in, because it has significant advantages.

We are cognisant of and always grateful for feedback from the SLSC, and we did make changes to the EM. When I went to the SLSC, I committed that, from now on, my Explanatory Memorandums will be perfect, every time. Obviously, this one was written some time ago, and so I could not say that about it. I appreciate it when people say that we have not put enough in our Explanatory Memorandum. It is never our intention to do that. Therefore, I have put in place various steps within the department to make sure that our Explanatory Memorandums are perfect in the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, raised driving overseas, and I will focus my comments on these changes. They have already been implemented in the EU, in November 2020, and we are not aware that there has been any impact on road safety there. Of course, most EU countries—in fact, nearly all of them—have a worse safety record than we do. I would not expect these regulations to have any implications on travelling.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned, there are changes to the number of tests that would be needed. To be honest, we would not know what entitlement somebody had before they came in to take a C1 manual test, so it is difficult to figure out exactly how many test times would be freed. We think it is about 500, which is nothing in the context; it does not make a difference to anything.

We expect there to be more people taking the A2 motorcycle test, which is a good thing, because it provides a level of rigour that you do not get from the CBT, which you take for smaller motorbikes. I will write to the noble Lord on the exact waiting times for the different categories, but I reassure him that it is nothing like as bad for motorcycles as it is for private cars. I am content that more people taking their A2 test will not have a big impact on the DVSA backlog.

Voluntary minibus drivers can have MiDAS training, which is the Minibus Driver Awareness Scheme. Many voluntary organisations do that, and it is administered by the wonderful Community Transport Association. We do not think this will impact the number of minibus drivers. Indeed, it might be positive, because somebody with a manual car licence, who happens to take an automatic, might have more flexibility in the vehicles they drive. We are not aware of any impact on volunteer drivers. There will be a review of these regulations in three years.

I will finish on my favourite topic of e-scooters, which noble Lords will be able to discuss with me tomorrow—I am extremely excited about that. Specific regulations were passed for e-scooters. My noble friend Lady McIntosh may recall that, in the summer of 2020, we passed regulations allowing e-scooter trials to go ahead. It remains the case that a private e-scooter cannot be used on a public road or pavement; it cannot be and should not be. I agree with the noble Baroness—I would lock them all up immediately. It is a matter of enforcement, I agree, but we have 31 trials around the country. No doubt noble Lords will come back to this tomorrow. We need robust enforcement, because you should not use a private e-scooter on a public road; you can have it confiscated, be fined and get points on your licence.

Having said that, we will look at the trials very deeply. We believe that micromobility has benefits for the future and therefore will consider what to do going forward. I am looking forward to the Question for Short Debate tomorrow, when noble Lords will have the opportunity to spend an hour speaking—perhaps without interruption from mobile phones, as now—about e-scooters. I recognise there are significant concerns about them in your Lordships’ House and I am happy to answer them. As a Government, we need to think carefully about how we are going to mitigate them.

I will write with a bit more information on some of the issues raised today, but I hope noble Lords will appreciate that these changes will update existing legislation to account for small developments in technology. The changes are relatively minor. We do not believe that there will be a negative impact on road safety but that there will be a positive impact on business and other organisations.

Motion agreed.

Data Protection Act 2018 (Amendment of Schedule 2 Exemptions) Regulations 2022

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Data Protection Act 2018 (Amendment of Schedule 2 Exemptions) Regulations 2022.

Relevant document: 25th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, Schedule 2(4) to the Data Protection Act 2018 outlines specific rights under the UK general data protection regulation, otherwise known as UK GDPR, that can be restricted if they would likely prejudice either

“the maintenance of effective immigration control”


“the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control”.

This is known as the immigration exemption.

These regulations amend the immigration exemption, following the judgment in the case of Open Rights Group and another v the Secretary of State for the Home Department. In that case, the Court of Appeal held that, while there was nothing in principle unlawful about having an exemption for the purposes of maintaining effective immigration control, the legislation itself did not fully reflect the safeguards required by Article 23(2) of the GDPR. As a result, the department made a commitment to amend the immigration exemption, setting out additional safeguards where further safeguards were considered relevant. The deadline for bringing these changes into force is 31 January this year. As part of the process of preparing these draft regulations, the department has consulted the parties to the litigation and the Information Commissioner’s Office and considered carefully their observations and comments, making amendments to the draft as appropriate.

I will now provide some detail about the new safeguards. The right of the data subject to be informed of the immigration exemption’s use, save in certain circumstances, is now on the face of the legislation, once again proving our commitment to be as open and transparent as we are able to be. We have also put in place an immigration exemption policy document—the IEPD—explaining how the immigration exemption must be operationally applied and the circumstances in which data rights might be exempted. The IEPD has been published and we will, of course, keep it under review. Publication will give stakeholders the opportunity to offer their views on the IEPD and where it can be improved, and we will act to make it so.

We are committed to addressing legitimate concerns, promoting high standards in the application of the immigration exemption and protecting individuals’ personal data. The IEPD builds on the rights and safeguards already enshrined in legislation and adds to the existing guidance that the Home Office and the ICO have published. As we said in court, we follow the ICO guidance and welcome its comments and the changes it would wish to make to the document. We are also limiting use of the immigration exemption to the Secretary of State. In doing so, we have now put it beyond doubt that the immigration exemption may not be used by so-called rogue landlords to restrict a migrant’s rights, a point that was raised in court by other parties.

I want to be clear that by laying these regulations, we do not see to remove anyone’s rights but to add more safeguards to those rights and increase transparency on how the immigration exemption will be used. This builds on the guidance that the Information Commissioner’s Office has issued, which we are adhering to and will adhere to.

I shall highlight why the immigration exemption is vital to how we protect our borders and our citizens. For the main part, it is used when individuals request the data held about them by the Government, usually as part of a subject access request. The immigration exemption enables the Home Office to, for example, redact certain information about ongoing operational activity or security checks in circumstances where releasing it would be likely to prejudice the maintenance of effective immigration control. After all, it is common sense that someone in this country illegally should not be given information about the enforcement activity that is about to be used to remove them.

Through targeted use of the immigration exemption, we are able to maintain an effective watchlist capability at the border to prevent criminals and those who seek to halt cause us harm threatening our country as well as to support other agencies and international partners in their vital work. We can frustrate and prevent sham marriages and protect the integrity of ongoing immigration removal and enforcement action and forgery investigations. The immigration exemption is also used to protect people being forced into a marriage and to prevent individuals absconding where there is a planned immigration visit.

There are many other ways in which the immigration exemption is used, but the central aim is to protect our citizens, ensure the integrity of the border and prevent abuses of the immigration system. It is not, however, used in a blanket way. It is applied on a case-by-case basis to the minimum amount of relevant data for the shortest possible time. The immigration exemption can be used only when we have identified the likely prejudice to the immigration system that releasing the data would be likely to cause. Once those concerns are addressed, the data may be released.

I know that noble Lords will appreciate the urgency and sensitivity that accompanies these regulations, and I think that the Committee will today support the regulations, given the safeguards that they provide. They are vital for our effort to protect the border and our citizens, and I hope that the Committee will support the measures to ensure that this tool remains part of that endeavour beyond 31 January this month. I beg to move.

My Lords, the Minister will not be surprised that I have comments on the immigration exemption. We have discussed it a number of times. When I first came across it, in the Data Protection Bill, I was outraged and affronted. The Minister is nodding. I know that she is not agreeing with me; she is just nodding that that was my reaction. I felt affronted because it is basic to me that a solicitor should be able to ask, and get an answer to, what a department of state knows, or thinks it knows, about his client—not about the evidence against him. Immigration control is a very wide issue; it covers far more than national security. More than that, it is basic for everyone, because we are all data subjects, to ask that question and get an answer. If the Home Office, the UKVI, says no, we should know why. That is why the Liberal Democrats divided the House on the issue on Report on the Data Protection Bill.

In the first of the Court of Appeal’s judgments, referring to Home Office evidence, Lord Justice Warby said:

“it is clear that the Immigration Exemption plays a significant role in practice as a brake on access to personal data”.

As I said, this was taken from the Home Office evidence, which referred to the first year of operation of the DPA and gave numbers of subject access requests. The immigration exemption was relied on in 59% of responses. Lord Justice Warby went on to say:

“The Exemption is available in principle in a wide range of … situations.”

Article 23 of the UK GDPR of course allows for the restriction on subject access requests by way of legislative measure that is necessary, proportionate and subject to safeguards. Article 23.2 says that the legislative measure—the “legal basis”, as the court termed it —provides for restrictions, but, again, as the court says, the article is “remarkably specific”. The court also referred to transparency, the equality of decision-making and facilitating a review of proportionality. These of course are all important and characteristic of good law, which is why the measure should be clear and precise and its application foreseeable.

The immigration exemption policy document—at any rate, the current one which has been circulated with the statutory instrument—may or may not be clear and precise. I have to say that the same may be said of the statutory instrument itself, and it relies on—if I may use the acronym—the IEPD. Its own limitations preclude clarity and precision. The IEPD is not legislation. To say, as the Minister did, that it is on the face of legislation is stretching the description. It is not “part and parcel” of the legislation, which was the phrase used in the litigation, not even of secondary legislation, which in practice of course is unamendable. By definition, it is not foreseeable, because it can be varied. The IEPD or any successors introduced by the Secretary of State under the proposed amended provisions can be varied in part or in whole without any legislative process. The SI does not attempt to address this; there has been no attempt—at any rate, none that has seen the light of day—to produce anything such as a code of practice or codification of safeguards. It is simply a Home Office policy document, which, as I understand it, repeats existing safeguards and contains no new ones beyond what is already imposed by the general law or already in place in respect of Home Office data. I think that the Minister said that this builds on previous arrangements. Perhaps she could explain how.

Added to that, the policy document seems not even to be quite consistent within itself. Paragraph 7 uses the words

“for as long as is strictly necessary”,

while paragraph 9 uses the term “necessary and proportionate”. Those words are almost hyphenated in the way we use them now, but they are separate criteria, and “strictly necessary” is more than “necessary”.

The fourth bullet in the checklist in paragraph 9 of the document tells the caseworker and the Home Secretary that

“there should be a rebuttable assumption to inform the data subject of the use of the exemption and only not do so where it would be prejudicial to the immigration purposes”.

Thinking about this, I got quite caught up in a loop, because if it is prejudicial, the exemption kicks in, but one cannot find out how or whether it is prejudicial, and I am not really sure how it works in terms of informing the data subject.

If the Home Office think that it would be prejudicial to disclose, should the Home Office simply refuse to respond? Does it intend any change of practice in responding to a data subject request—a data access request—or will everything continue as previously? If the Minister can explain what happens in a case where the Home Office thinks it will be prejudicial to good, effective immigration control, I should be interested to know.

I have a rather similar query about the SI and new paragraph 4B(2) of Schedule 2, which will go into the Act. Under that, the Secretary of State is not required to inform the data subject of the determination, if doing so may be prejudicial to effective immigration control. In any event, paragraph 4B requires a record of reasons for determination, but not that they are given to the data subject even if he is told of the determination himself. How extensive is the information given in response to the access request? The reasons for refusal of a visa could be much less even than that you have a step-grandson living in a dodgy part of the world, but what you do not know, you cannot challenge, which is really my objection to so much of this.

I remain concerned that maintenance of effective immigration control is everything that the UKVI and parts of the Home Office dealing with immigration do day in, day out. The term itself is not clear and precise. So why are there no safeguards in a legislative measure—the SI—which would qualify to meet that term? Why is everything in draft Home Office policy and what is the difference in the draft policy from what the Home Office already do? And why do we not have the formality of a code of practice approved by Parliament?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for explaining these regulations. For the record, I think that it was the noble Baroness’s mobile phone that was making a noise, rather than the noble Baroness herself.

As my noble friend Lady Hamwee has explained, the Liberal Democrats opposed the immigration exemption when we debated the Data Protection Bill as it was—now the Data Protection Act 2018—which incorporated the EU general data protection regulation into UK law to ensure that the UK could be issued with a data adequacy certificate to enable the continued exchange of data with EU member states after Brexit. The Government sought to exempt data controllers to bypass and restrict fundamental rights where compliance was prejudicial to the maintenance of effective immigration control through the immigration exemption. This could be used by the Home Office to withhold information from those applying for leave to remain in the UK, for example, hampering their ability to challenge Home Office decisions to withhold permission.

The Court of Appeal decided that the immigration exemption contained inadequate safeguards to protect individual data subject rights and was therefore incompatible with UK GDPR. This SI, as the noble Baroness the Minister has explained, is an attempt to comply with the Court of Appeal judgment. Legal minds greater than mind say that this statutory instrument does not bring the legislation into line with the Court of Appeal judgment.

As noble Lords will know, I am not a lawyer, this SI is technical and I have been frying other fish. However, if providing applicants for asylum, for example, with all the information that the Home Office holds on them—information that it is using to decide their case—is considered to be prejudicial to the maintenance of effective immigration control, then the Government must surely withhold only that information that is likely to be prejudicial to the maintenance of effective immigration control.

For example, information from an informant, the disclosure of which would compromise the source, could be blocked, but the immigration exemption is not a blanket licence to refuse to provide any information on any claimant. Nor would it be acceptable for the Home Office to say, “We are not disclosing information under the immigration exemption”. It is surely in the interests of justice that if information is withheld an explanation is given about what kind of information is being withheld and for what reason. So even if the full details cannot be disclosed to the data subject, the data subject can tell an immigration tribunal the nature and extent to which they are appealing blindfold.

As noble Lords have said, the Court of Appeal said that greater safeguards needed to be incorporated into legislation, not just into guidance, as this SI proposes. The Court of Appeal said that legislation needs to be clear and precise, not simply that the withholding of information is in the interests of immigration control. The Court of Appeal also said that the consequences must be foreseeable, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, unlike this SI, which relies on guidance that can be changed at any time without notice and without parliamentary scrutiny. I understand that the Home Office has been distracted by conjuring up new public order legislation at short notice that it introduced into this House at the last minute. Bearing in mind what a waste of time that turned out to be, perhaps it should have been concentrating instead on the Court of Appeal decision in this case.

I am advised that this statutory instrument does not comply with the Court of Appeal’s decision. This needs to be brought to the attention of the House, and we will table a regret Motion to that effect. I am also advised that a court challenge is inevitable if these regulations are the basis of the response to the decision of the Court of Appeal. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I want to add a brief coda to my noble friend’s remarks. As the Liberal Democrats’ digital spokesperson, I was closely involved in the passage of the Data Protection Bill. I commend my noble friend Lady Hamwee for her consistent and determined opposition to this immigration exemption. Sadly, during the passage of the Bill, we did not succeed in deleting these provisions, but we are quite clear that this new SI does not at all, in the words of the Minister, reflect the safeguards required by the GDPR. I thought that her statement that the original did not fully reflect the safeguards required by the GDPR was somewhat provocative, given the Court of Appeal’s decision. However, it is clear.

On this side of the Committee, we all supported the case taken by Open Rights and the3million in order to overturn this exemption. One can only wonder what kind of advice the Minister has had. How has she been able to convince herself that this SI will not meet the same fate as the previous provisions? If you read what Lord Justice Warby had to say last May, what needs to be done is blindingly obvious:

“It is not to be forgotten that the Immigration Exemption applies to a range of private bodies and individuals. In any event, the term ‘legislative measure’, whatever its precise scope, must refer to something other than a non-binding code promulgated by a regulator that counts as a relevant consideration for the purposes of administrative decision-making … I have indicated a provisional view that the legislative measure in question must be”—

the words quoted by my noble friend Lady Hamwee—

“part and parcel of the legislation.”

Surely there must be legal advice underpinning all this which must have examined very closely precisely what Recital 41 of EU GDPR had to say—again, my noble friend quoted this:

“Where this Regulation refers to a legal basis or a legislative measure, this does not necessarily require a legislative act”—

that means primary legislation—

“… without prejudice to requirements pursuant to the constitutional order of the Member State concerned. However, such a legal basis or legislative measure should be clear and precise and its application should be foreseeable.”

It is utterly clear that the provisions being put in place today do not comply with any of that, and certainly not with the way in which Lord Justice Warby interpreted Recital 41. One could almost say that the Home Office is being reckless in going forward with this construct, with an IEPD which is simply not good enough. There has been no consultation. As both my noble friends have said, it adds nothing in the way of safeguards, which were there. Essentially, it seems that the Home Office is disrespecting the decision of the Court of Appeal. As we know, the Government have form in disrespecting the decisions of the judiciary and maybe this is just a continuation of that. It is very sad to see, but I cannot imagine that the Minister would want to proceed on such shaky foundations.

My Lords, we support these regulations. There is currently an exemption in our data protection law known as the immigration exemption, as the Minister explained when she introduced this statutory instrument. It disapplies some data protection rights and obligations where applying them would have a prejudicial effect on maintaining effective immigration control or on detection of activities that would

“undermine the maintenance of effective immigration control”.

In practice, this means that the Home Office and other organisations processing information on its behalf can refuse an individual access to their personal information. That has been the burden of the points made by the other noble Lords who have spoken in this short debate. Concerns were raised about the immigration exemption in both Houses of Parliament when the Data Protection Act 2018 was passed. The Government refuted the concerns raised, stating that it had adequate safeguards.

We have heard about the court case, and I suspect we have received the same briefing; my briefing is from the3million and the Open Rights Group, which took the case to the Court of Appeal. I will quote from the letter I received which, as I said, repeats some of the points noble Lords have made. Those groups consider that the draft statutory instrument “does not meet” the requirements of the Court of Appeal and state that:

“The basic problem is simple to identify. The Court of Appeal decided that Article 23(2) of the UK GDPR required additional safeguards. The draft Regulations do not contain those safeguards … At paragraphs 53 and 54 of the first judgment, Lord Justice Warby expresses his provisional view that the legislative measure in question should be ‘part and parcel’ of the legislation that creates the derogation. The proposed regulations do nothing to expand the safeguards applying to the existing exemption; it retains its imprecise and unclear wording. No changes have been made to adopt the above observations of the court … The draft legislation instead makes reference to guidance … that is removed from the legislation, and which cannot be said to be ‘part and parcel’ of the legislation. Such guidance has no force in law and can be changed with ease and no scrutiny. Nor has the guidance been approved by Parliament. It does not have, for example, the status of a Code of Practice that is approved by Parliament. This undermines the principles set out for legislative measures to be clear, precise and foreseeable.”

Those points have been made by all noble Lords who have spoken, and we agree with them. It is clear from other noble Lords’ contributions that they have considerably more history on this subject than I have.

However, I read the debate in the other place and was interested in the questions put by the Conservative Back-Benchers to Kevin Foster, the Minister concerned. Michael Fabricant asked whether there was likely to be another appeal. This is not the Government appealing to the Supreme Court—they have obviously decided that they are not going to do that—but appeals by other groups such as those mentioned. Indeed, may there need to be further legislation? That is another point to which I can see the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, nodding his head. The Liberal Democrats have stated their intention to move a Regret Motion for further debate at another time.

As I said, I came to the wider debate recently and listened with great interest to what the Liberal Democrats said. We support these regulations as far as they go but I suspect the story will be ongoing and I am interested to hear the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I had a question that I forgot to put to the Minister. She said that the Government have consulted the parties and made amendments to their initial proposals, as appropriate. If she is able in her response, or subsequently, to explain more about that consultation and what form the responses take, it would be helpful. I forgot to note that down. What the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, meant was that we have form as well as history.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their questions. Regarding the question of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about whether there will be another appeal, not from us but from those groups represented, it will be a matter for them as to what they decide to do. I thought that it might be helpful at this point to give a bit of a background on the measures.

The Home Office introduced into the Data Protection Act the immigration exemption, as noble Lords know, which came into law on 3 May 2018. The Open Rights Group and the3million issued a judicial review later that year to challenge the legality of the immigration exemption, their case being, first, that the exemption was not expressly mentioned in Article 23(1) of the then GDPR and, secondly, that it did not satisfy the requirements laid out by Article 23(2). Our position was that it fell to be covered by Article 23(1)(e) under,

“other important objectives of general public interest”.

The Court of Appeal agreed with that position, thereby putting the matter to rest. It agreed with the appellants, though, on the second point, in that the requirements of Article 23(2) needed to be contained within the immigration exemption itself and not, as we had argued, covered elsewhere. It is that point on which we are bringing forward the legislative changes necessary to address the findings. In doing so, as noble Lords said, we have consulted the Open Rights Group, the3million and the Information Commissioner’s Office, and taken on board any issues that they have put forward.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me to detail those issues. I cannot do so today but will provide those responses if they are not data-protected.

My Lords, perhaps I may interrupt the Minister briefly. The Minister seems to be saying that the Home Office had taken on board the points made by the Open Rights Group and the3million. Surely, that cannot be the case—otherwise they would not be briefing us that this proposal is totally unsatisfactory and that the Home Office is in great danger of having another judicial review against it precisely on these regulations.

I said that if another judicial review is forthcoming, it will be a matter for those who bring it forward. I said to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that I do not have details of that but will provide them if I can. However, by developing the immigration exemption policy document, we have sought to make it easier to change our policy to address future concerns and to be seen as being as open and transparent as we can be.

The only other major change is to make the immigration exemption available only for the use of the Secretary of State. This was due to arguments about so-called rogue landlords, who could use it to deny immigrants’ rights. We have always maintained that only a person with intimate knowledge of the immigration system would be able to lawfully justify the prejudice that is built into the immigration exemption, and we think that this change puts those arguments and concerns to rest. We have also added a requirement to inform a data subject where the immigration exemption has been applied, except where to do so would be prejudicial to the purpose of the immigration exemption itself. That is, to go back to it, the maintenance of effective immigration control or the investigation or detection of activities that would undermine the maintenance of immigration control.

I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, who asked: “How can people challenge what you have on them if they don’t know what you hold?” I would say to that that we redact only small parts of documents that contain sensitive data that could affect operations. The information we redact therefore mainly relates to operational matters. The immigration exemption is used only on a case-by-case basis, when necessary and proportionate, and is subject to the safeguards set out in the instrument.

On the number of cases, we have to be able to show that it is necessary to use the immigration exemption when relying on it. Even when it is deployed, it is used in a proportionate and necessary way, and only the minimum amount of data is ever redacted. On solicitors, the exemption is not used to prevent a person establishing a legal claim, and that is stated in the immigration policy document.

On individuals not knowing what the Home Office holds on them and how they can rectify any errors, the immigration exemption can be used only to the extent that releasing information would be likely to prejudice the maintenance of effective immigration control, as I said. It is likely to be applicable only to a limited amount of information—for example, information specifically relating to attempts to locate an individual, such as an absconder, could be withheld—if the prejudice test is met, and an individual making a subject access request would still receive the rest of the personal data that did not satisfy the prejudice test. Individuals can also request rectification of their data. The immigration exemption does not restrict the right to seek rectification of inaccurate data, and anyone who seeks the Home Office’s help—for example, to prove residency—will not ordinarily be restricted by the immigration exemption.

On safeguards in the statutory instrument, the court did not specify which limbs of Article 23(2) we need to address, and expressly envisaged the possibility that some might not be relevant. The Secretary of State considers that the legislative measure wholly addresses the reasons for incompatibility referred to in the judgment in the Court of Appeal. We think that the immigration exemption is fully compliant with restrictions allowed in the UK GDPR, and Article 23(2) of the UK GDPR states that any legislative measure restricting obligations and data rights must contain specific provisions, where relevant. We have determined that some limbs of Article 23(2) are already sufficiently covered in the Act, and that one is not relevant; therefore, no amendments will be made to legislation in relation to that limb. The immigration exemption policy document is a guidance document; it is open to the public and, if necessary, to court scrutiny.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about the safeguards in the SI. They include restricting the application of the exemption to where the department itself is the controller, and the requirement to inform where the data subject has applied for data about them, save in circumstances which I think I have gone through.

My Lords, just in case the Minister does not have a note on this yet, she has not dealt with the fundamental issue of the mechanism being used to introduce this new form of exemption. She has not dealt with the comments of Lord Justice Warby; she has not dealt with Recital 41; she has not explained to us what legal advice she has as to why she thinks this is in conformity with that judgment and with Recital 41. That is the underpinning issue in terms of the legality of the SI that she is desirous of introducing today. I hope that she has a brief on this.

My Lords, I hope that I have outlined what we have done in trying to comply with the Court of Appeal. As I said right at the beginning, if a judicial review is brought with respect to our not complying, I am sure that it will be forthcoming. I hope that I have outlined the steps that we have taken.

We are satisfied as a department that the judgment and Article 23 have been complied with in full. The Court of Appeal was clear that it was for the department to decide which safeguards were relevant and that not all of them necessarily would be—that was in paragraph 54 of the judgment.

I will study what noble Lords have said and add to what I have said today if necessary—obviously, the Liberal Democrats are going to bring forward a regret Motion—but, with that, I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Burundi (Sanctions) Regulations 2021

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

My Lords, the instrument before us was laid on the 13 December 2021 under the powers provided by the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, which is also known as the sanctions Act. It revokes and replaces the Burundi (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019 to remove one of the purposes of that regime and its corresponding designation criterion.

After reviewing the Burundi sanctions regime in the annual review in accordance with our statutory obligations under Section 30 of the sanctions Act, the Minister decided that the 2019 Burundi regulations were no longer appropriate for all their purposes. The purpose in Regulation 4(b) of the 2019 Burundi regulations encouraged the Government of Burundi to

“participate in negotiations with its political opponents in good faith to bring about a peaceful solution to the political situation in Burundi”.

Following elections in Burundi in May 2020, there was a managed and broadly peaceful transfer of power to a new president and, although political tensions remain, there is no longer an immediate political crisis. As such, my noble friend Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, the Sanctions Minister, decided to revoke and replace the 2019 regulations to remove the purpose in Regulation 4(b) and its corresponding designation criterion, Regulation 6(2)(a)(ii).

Apart from this, the Burundi (Sanctions) Regulations 2021 maintain the same effects as the 2019 Burundi regulations. Noble Lords should note that there are currently no designations under this regime.

In response to the improved political climate in Burundi, we decided not to transition the specific individual designations under the EU sanctions regime to the UK’s autonomous Burundi sanctions regime at the end of the transition period. We have seen more positive developments in Burundi since that time, and we warmly welcome the Government of Burundi’s closer co-operation with the international community over the past year. We also note, for example, that the Government have re-engaged with some media outlets. We welcome this increased commitment to human rights.

While these are encouraging steps towards peace and stability in Burundi, the UK Government still want to see further progress over a sustained period. We remain concerned by reports of human rights violations and abuses being committed against the political opposition and other critical voices, and we are concerned about the treatment of human rights defenders in Burundi, and ongoing impunity for those who have violated or abused human rights or are currently doing so. Breaches of human rights and impunity for perpetrators sully and compromise the gains made towards long-term stability in Burundi.

The purposes of the sanctions regime now are to encourage the Government of Burundi to respect democratic principles and institutions, the rule of law and good governance in Burundi; to refrain from policies or activities which repress civil society in Burundi; and to comply with international human rights law and respect human rights. Maintaining the regime, even without designations, underlines the seriousness of our desire to see that progress. It also allows us to designate persons for sanctions swiftly should the need arise.

Finally, I draw the attention of the Committee to an error that was identified in one of the purposes of the Burundi (Sanctions) Regulations 2021, after laying them in Parliament on 13 December 2021. The error is the inadvertent omission of the word “including” from the language of part of the purposes in Regulation 4(c)(ii). This provides that the purposes of the regulations contained in this instrument are to encourage the Government of Burundi to comply with international human rights law and to respect human rights including, in particular, the right of persons not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in Burundi, in the context of rape, other forms of sexual violence and gender-based violence.

The intention had been to refer to the right of persons not to be subjected to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment in Burundi, including in the context of rape, other forms of sexual violence and gender-based violence. The word “including” was omitted. However, this omission does not make a substantive difference, as the purposes are clear and they encourage the Government of Burundi to comply with all international human rights law and human rights, not just in the context of sexual or gender-based violence. That Regulation 4(c)(ii), which is missing the word “including”, is an example within a wider definition. The intention is, nevertheless, to correct the error as soon as a suitable opportunity to amend the regulations arises. I welcome this opportunity to hear the views of noble Lords on these regulations and I beg to move.

My Lords, I rise to make some comments—I should probably explain why a bishop is doing so. I have been a regular visitor to Burundi since 2000. I have made a number of visits, which have largely been to church leaders, but one occasion included meeting President Nkurunziza when he was in power. I have therefore experienced the deep poverty of Burundi first hand—and it is very deep. It is one of the five poorest nations on earth. My visits are not confined to staying in the capital city—it was Bujumbura but is now Gitega—but include going out meeting ordinary people in villages around the nation.

I fully understand why sanctions were placed and I am not opposing them being continued. I am pleased to see the changes being made. However, I note the significant impact that these sanctions can inadvertently have on the poorest in the nations and their unintended impact on civil leaders, such as church leaders and others, who feel slightly constrained in what they are able to see and do. I am concerned that, in speaking up for their nation, they might be thought to support things that we may not wish them to support.

In agreeing that these should go forward, I hope that the Government will keep them under regular review, so that they can be lifted as soon as possible, because there is no doubt that the new regime is behaving very differently from its predecessor. Yes, there are more moves that could be made around human rights. However, it is definitely going in the right direction and I think that the more encouragement it can be given by recognising and accepting that—this is one small step in that direction—the more it will help the leadership to serve the nation to the very best.

I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will recognise the important place of the church and other civil society in the life of Burundi and encourage them through other means. Ongoing support through overseas aid and so on is significantly important and is often best delivered by organisations such as Christian Aid and Tearfund and through the local churches—obviously, my particular connection is with the Anglican Church, but other churches as well. It is very rare that I get a chance to speak up for the wonderful nation of Burundi and its people. This is an opportunity, so I hope the Minister will address the questions that I have raised.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I have not had the pleasure of going to Burundi, but I have had a lot of experience in sub-Saharan Africa. I want to go rather farther than the right reverend Prelate; in fact, I want to ask my noble friend on the Front Bench what the purpose of these sanctions is. They have been in existence since 2015—I think I am right in saying that, because of course there were European Union sanctions dated 2015—and it seems to me that these sanctions are a carryover from our membership of the European Union.

When we think about Burundi, with its 12 million people and its poverty—it is way, way down the list of states; there is abject poverty in much of Burundi—it does not seem very relevant that the United Kingdom’s policy towards it should be, as it were, led by sanctions. Can the Minister say whether we have actually designated anybody under these sanctions in the past? This seems an automatic reaction to what has happened in the past.

If we think about sub-Saharan Africa, with all its problems, and relate them to Burundi, the central issue is economic development and not the behaviour of any particular Government at any particular time. Burundi has a very difficult past. There was the arrangement in 1884, whereby it became German. Following the First World War League of Nations agreement, it effectively became Belgian. Then, after the Second World War, there was the amalgamation—or attempt to amalgamate—with Rwanda. Frankly, none of these arrangements was in any way successful from the point of view of the people of Burundi. They were complicated by the fact that the settlement at the end of the First World War was of course all part of the settlement about Tanganyika, which up until then had been German. If we think about what has happened in what is now Tanzania, and relate that to Burundi, all I can say is that the contrast is extreme.

While going through this 50-page document and thinking to myself, “What is our Government’s policy towards Burundi?”, I came to the conclusion that this sanctions regime is basically irrelevant. It has nothing to do with the interest of our Government in what happens in sub-Saharan Africa and Burundi. I end by saying that the fertility rate in Burundi at the moment is 5.1, which means that its population doubles every 30 years or so. At the moment, the lifestyle and well-being of the Burundian people is not improving and, as far as I can see, the only active interest this country is taking in Burundi is that taken by the Church—well done the Church. I hope that when my noble friend replies, he will forgive me and widen his reply somewhat from the narrow purposes of this regulation. If he does not feel that it is the right time to do that, I should be very grateful for a letter on the subject of HMG’s policy towards Burundi.

My Lords, I speak for the Liberal Democrat Benches to express considerable concern about the decision to remove people from being designated under the sanctions regime in relation to Burundi, even if, in principle, the sanctions regime potentially stays in place.

It was of course when we were in the EU that the UK played a part in widening the sanctions regime which was then applied by all EU members. We maximised our impact by doing this; as the noble Lord will surely agree, sanctions are most effective when a number of countries group together to impose them. We carried over most of the sanctions that had been set in place in the EU into UK law, then later introducing the Magnitsky sanctions, which we had already been taking forward in the EU, as a tribute to both the Russian lawyer Sergei Magnitsky and of course Bill Browder, who campaigned tirelessly for them to be introduced. These focus on individuals who are abusing human rights. There are many instances where such sanctions are surely justified, and they were applied in relation to Burundi, including by the EU.

Our sanctions regime clearly needs to be responsive. The Government are arguing that the transition of power in Burundi, despite human rights abuses, justifies the removal of certain designations. They make the point that there has a been a transition of power, that the immediate political crisis has resolved and that therefore sanctions should be removed. I note that the Government say that they remain concerned by reports of human rights violations in Burundi. The Minister has just repeated the words of the Minister in the other place, who stated that:

“We are concerned about the treatment of human rights defenders in Burundi, and the ongoing impunity of those who have violated or abused human rights in Burundi and of those who do so now.”

He went on to say—the noble Lord has said the same—that:

“The purposes of the sanctions regime now are to encourage the Government of Burundi: first, to respect democratic principles and institutions, the rule of law and good governance in Burundi; secondly, to refrain from policies or activities that repress civil society in Burundi; and, thirdly, to comply with international human rights law and respect human rights.”—[Official Report, Commons, Delegated Legislation Committee, 17/1/22; col. 4.]

However, this is maintaining the regime without designating anyone under it—that seems totally ineffectual.

I hear what the Minister says about being able to act quickly if they do decide to designate someone, so could he spell out clearly what he sees as the human rights situation in Burundi? Could he say why the Government have not designated anyone? Why have they not rolled over cases, particularly where these individuals have been accused of human rights abuses in the past, yet will see that they are no longer under threat from sanctions? This is a country where there were serious human rights abuses before the transition of power. Despite the fact that this transition took place, that the new president said encouraging things and that some journalists, for example, were released, real change is not being delivered.

The UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi, which was established in 2016 but continues to report, has noted major concerns and urged people to look below the surface in Burundi, with its chair stating that

“not only have grave human rights violations continued to occur, but in some respects the situation has deteriorated.”

In 2020, the commission reported continued arbitrary detentions, torture and executions. It concluded in September 2021 that no structural reform had taken place and that, in fact, the rule of law continued to be “progressively eroded.” Crackdowns on civil society and the opposition continued, including summary executions, arbitrary arrests, killings and disappearances. Human Rights Watch has also borne that out.

Why are we taking the line that we are? Might it be that we are more isolated than when we were in the EU and need the support of countries at the UN? Precisely why is now the right time to remove sanctions designations on individuals? Can the Minister tell us whether the new Foreign Secretary has signed up to the sanctions regime in the way that her predecessor did? Can he also tell me how many staff worked in the sanctions unit at the end of 2020, how many are there now and what is their budget? A strong feeling is emerging that we are underresourcing this important department.

Are we in lockstep with the EU over this change, because it makes a difference to be working with other countries? In February 2021, the EU resumed dialogue with Burundi—I hope that the right reverend Prelate and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, were reassured by that—and said that it would resume financial support, but only if reforms were implemented. The EU was reported as considering lifting sanctions. They were reviewed by the EU in October, and its sanctions expire next year. What action is the EU taking, and are we in lockstep with it?

More widely, are we discussing with EU allies what other countries might also need sanctions? I do not need countries or individuals to be specified—the Minister will not tell me—all I want to know is: are we talking to the EU about this? It is better to act together. In addition, I should like full details of which sanctions the EU has which we have not taken into UK law and whether there are any that we have put in place that the EU does not have. I do not expect him to be able to tell me that now, but I should like him to write to me with full details of precisely what has not been taken into UK law from the EU sanctions regime of which we were part.

In conclusion, this SI concerns us, although I hear what the right reverend Prelate and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, say about trying to address poverty and making sure that we do not target the poorest. It feels that we, perhaps like Burundi, may be going backwards on those individual designations. I therefore look forward to hearing what the Minister says in response.

My Lords, I, too, recognise the genuine concerns of the right reverend Prelate and the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles. Burundi is an incredibly poor country; I even read that the subsistence economy has contracted by 25% through soil erosion and population, so even the poorest of the poor are getting poorer, which is clearly a huge problem.

However, I want to reflect some of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, because, although we will not oppose these largely technical regulations in relation to sanctions, we have strong concerns about their limitations. On Monday in the other place, Chris Heaton-Harris, the Europe Minister, said:

“Maintaining the regime that we have encourages the Government of Burundi to build on the recent positive political developments.”

That was reflected by the Minister this afternoon. The Europe Minister continued:

“It also underlines the seriousness of our desire to see further progress. It allows us the flexibility to designate, should we see fit and should the evidence suggest that is what we need to do. It also allows us to designate swiftly if the need arises. ”—[Official Report, Commons, Delegated Legislation Committee, 17/1/22; cols. 6-7.]

That addresses the point made by the right reverend Prelate that these measures are about targeting sanctions, not harming the poorest of the poor in Burundi.

However, whatever the initial optimism, President Ndayishimiye has not marked any meaningful shift in human rights. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said, the UN Commission of Inquiry on Burundi reported in September that arbitrary detention, execution, torture and intimidation have continued despite the regime change. The decrease in political violence, while welcome, should not detract from those ongoing violations. They are incredibly serious. Does the Minister acknowledge and share the concerns of the UN commission of inquiry?

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, raised the rollback of sanctions and how the Government plan to encourage Burundi to change course and respect human rights. Can the Minister advise us why there are no designations and rollovers of individuals? What assessments were carried out on individuals who had previously been designated? He will be aware that the rollback of designations reflects similar actions by the US and EU.

I reiterate the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover. Precisely how have we engaged with US and EU counterparts on this decision? The noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, constantly reiterates the point that sanctions are effective only if we act in concert. So if we are changing policy, how did this happen? Was it in concert with others? What consultation took place? These are important questions to which we need answers.

It has been said in recent reports, particularly press reports, that cuts to the FCDO may be constraining the capacity of Ministers to sanction individuals and groups. I hope that the Minister can tell us that that is not the case in the lack of designations applicable to people in Burundi.

To conclude, while the Opposition will not oppose these regulations on the grounds that doing so would hamper efforts to introduce future designations, we are concerned that the Government are not properly holding the Burundi Government to account. As I said, the reduction in political violence is welcome but we cannot ignore the continued violations of basic human rights. I hope that the Minister, in reflecting on the questions raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, will tell us in concrete terms how we will work with our allies to encourage the Burundi Government to change course.

I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to today’s insightful and timely discussion. I will try to address the questions raised in order. In particular, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for sharing his personal experiences and commend the Church’s work, of which I am obviously aware, not just in Burundi but across Africa.

In essence, this debate has been about why we have not removed the sanctions and why we have not gone slightly further. I will try to answer those points in order. The noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, asked why we have not removed Burundi sanctions. I take the point from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham about unintended consequences, which is a good point and was very well made. The UK remains concerned by reports of human rights violations and abuses being committed against the political opposition and other critical voices. We are also concerned about the treatment of human rights defenders in Burundi. Breaches of human rights, coupled with impunity for perpetrators, compromise gains made towards long-term stability—in all countries.

I was asked what we think about human rights in Burundi. The Government recognise that the Government of Burundi have taken some steps which demonstrate greater commitment to human rights, including some prisoner releases, engagement with some media outlets and so on. However, we remain concerned by reports of human rights violations and abuses being committed against the political opposition and other critical voices, as I said. We are also concerned about the situation of human rights defenders. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, was correct to say that no one is currently designated.

Why have we decided to replace the Burundi regime? As I said in my opening speech, the review of the Burundi regulations in 2019 concluded that not all of the regime’s purposes were appropriate. The UK Government acted quickly on 13 December 2021 to revoke and re-lay the regime with the purpose in the previous regulation 4(b) removed. The UK Government revoked and replaced the UK’s autonomous Burundi sanctions regime to reflect the current situation in Burundi by, as I said in my opening remarks, removing the purpose relating to bringing about a peaceful solution to the political situation. Again, as I said earlier, following elections in Burundi in May 2020, there was a managed and broadly peaceful transfer of power to a new president, so they have gone quite a long way to fulfilling their original obligations. Maintaining the regime encourages the Government of Burundi to build on the recent positive developments that I have just described and underlines the seriousness of our desire to see further progress. It also allows us to designate persons swiftly if the need arises.

I have probably dealt with the questions on human rights, but will expand a little on why Burundi is no longer a human rights priority country. As I have said, the human rights situation remains concerning for the UK, but we recognise the positive steps and progress under the new president’s leadership. Obviously, we want to see that progress continue.

On ongoing engagement in-country with Burundi, we have a small diplomatic presence through the British Embassy Liaison Office—I will not attempt to pronounce the name of the capital—through which we continue to work with the international community resident to advocate for improved human rights there. The UK also engages through international fora such as the UN Human Rights Council. We continue to call on the Government to co-operate with all UN human rights mechanisms, including the new special rapporteur, and to enable the reopening of the OHCHR office in Burundi. The UK Government have also provided support to a range of local human rights and media freedom players, as well as the National Independent Human Rights Commission.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about the budget and staffing of the sanctions unit, but I am afraid I will have to write on that as I do not have the details—that probably does not surprise her.

Both the noble Lord, Lord Collins, and the noble Baroness asked about our international co-operation and co-ordination, in particular what we are doing to co-ordinate our sanctions with the EU. The UK and the EU are pursuing independent sanctions policies driven by our respective foreign policies, although I take note of the point from the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about how sanctions regimes are more effective if they are multilateral. The UK will continue to work with the EU and other international partners to tackle shared global challenges; we do that through good diplomatic practice. We are continuing to seek opportunities for international co-operation on sanctions, including with the EU and close allies such as the US, Canada and Australia, and have imposed sanctions in co-ordination with allies on a number of occasions in different parts of the world.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, also asked about removing the designations. To expand a little on the EU designations that have been removed, there were four of them after the EU exit, because the political situation had improved, as I tried to explain earlier. In some cases, our legal tests for designations actually have a higher threshold than those of the EU.

On the international situation, the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the UN’s concerns. Of course, we share them, but we note that there has been some progress. I reiterate the point that we want to see Burundi engage fully with the UN human rights mechanisms and allow the special rapporteur into the country.

I will study Hansard carefully and, if I have missed any specific questions, I commit to write.

I thank the Minister for giving way. I asked about the interaction with our continued overseas aid. I recognise that he will not have the answer, but I would be grateful if he could write.

I happily commit to write on that and apologise that I do not have the answer.

As I set out in my opening speech, the Burundi (Sanctions) Regulations 2021 maintain essentially the same effects as the previous regime. The UK Government are pleased to work with the Government of Burundi on priority issues, which obviously include human rights. We continue to call on the Government of Burundi to co-operate with all UN human rights mechanisms and, as I have just mentioned, to facilitate the reopening of the office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in Burundi. With that, I commit to write if I have missed anything and thank noble Lords for their participation today. I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.27 pm.