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Grand Committee

Volume 831: debated on Wednesday 19 July 2023

Grand Committee

Wednesday 19 July 2023

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, welcome. Noble Lords know the drill by now, but if there is a vote in the Chamber we will suspend proceedings and allow noble Lords to vote. Let us kick off.

Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (High-Risk Countries) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Money Laundering and Terrorist Financing (High-Risk Countries) (Amendment) Regulations 2023.

My Lords, this Government recognise the threat that economic crime poses to the UK and our international partners, and are committed to combating money laundering and terrorist financing. To help respond to these threats, and building on the recently enacted Economic Crime (Transparency and Enforcement) Act, the Government are currently taking through a second Bill, the Economic Crime and Corporate Transparency Bill, which will bear down on kleptocrats, criminals and terrorists who abuse the UK’s financial and services sectors.

The money laundering regulations provide the legislative framework for tackling money laundering and terrorist financing, and set out various measures that businesses must take to protect the UK from illicit financial flows. Under these regulations, businesses are required to conduct enhanced checks on business relationships and transactions with high-risk third countries. These are countries identified as having strategic deficiencies in their anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing regimes that could pose a significant threat to the UK’s financial system.

This statutory instrument amends the money laundering regulations to update the UK’s list of high-risk third countries. It removes Cambodia and Morocco from the list to reflect changes agreed by the Financial Action Task Force, the global standard setter for anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing. The FATF found that both Cambodia and Morocco have made the necessary domestic reforms to improve their compliance with FATF standards, which have been confirmed through on-site visits to both countries.

The Government will pass further changes in due course to add to the UK’s list of high-risk third countries those that the FATF added to its own list in February and June 2023. The reason for passing these changes separately is to give time to complete a full impact assessment for these additions.

This is the seventh SI amending the UK’s list of high-risk third countries to respond to the evolving risks from third countries. This update ensures that the UK remains at the forefront of global standards on anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing. In 2018, the Financial Action Task Force assessed that the UK has one of the toughest anti-money laundering regimes in the world. The UK was a founding member of this international body, and we continue to work closely and align with international partners, such as the G7, to drive improvements in anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing systems globally.

Lastly, this list of high-risk third countries is one of many mechanisms that the Government have to clamp down on illicit financial flows from overseas threats. We will continue to use other available mechanisms to respond to wider threats from other jurisdictions, including applying financial sanctions as necessary. This amendment will enable the money laundering regulations to continue to work as effectively as possible to protect the integrity of the UK financial system. It is crucial for protecting UK businesses and the financial system from money launderers and terrorist financiers. I therefore beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing and explaining the regulations. I realise that all they do is follow the recommendations of the Financial Action Task Force, FATF, to change the list of countries designated as high risk and therefore subject to enhanced due diligence requirements in relation to anti-money laundering, counterterrorism financing and counterproliferation financing. In that respect, so far so uncontroversial.

It has to be said, however, that the list is somewhat surprising—both for those on it and, in particular, those not on it. The changes made by these regulations are also somewhat surprising: they remove Morocco and Cambodia from the high-risk list. It seems rather odd that Cambodia, which is generally regarded as among the most corrupt countries in Asia, is no longer treated as high risk. I am very fond of Cambodia and have spent a lot of time in that country, but that does not change the fact that it is extremely corrupt.

According to Transparency International’s Corruption Perceptions Index, Cambodia is ranked 150 out of 180 countries on the index. This is a slight improvement on previous years, but still considerably lower than many countries that remain on the high-risk list, such as Albania at 101, Panama at 101, the Philippines at 116, Barbados at 65, Burkina Faso at 77, Iran—which is on the blacklist—at 147, Jamaica at 69, Jordan at 61 and Mali at 137. I could go on. In fact, Cambodia has a worse corruption score than all but seven of the 27 countries that remain on the FATF high-risk list. It is not only Transparency International that ranks Cambodia badly. With perhaps more relevance to this regulation, the Basel AML Index ranks Cambodia as having globally the seventh worst money laundering and terrorism financing score. Despite that, we are reducing the level of due diligence that the regulated sector will have to apply to it. Seriously, is there anybody in this Room who believes that Cambodia should be treated better than, say, Gibraltar, Barbados or even the Philippines? I should like the Minister to look me in the eye and state that she really believes Cambodia is not a high-risk country for corruption.

This starts to beg the question about the value and legitimacy of the FATF high-risk assessment process, known as the mutual evaluation assessment. That value is called into even greater question when we look at the countries not included in the high-risk designation. I will give a high-profile example: until February of this year, Russia was a member of the FATF. In February, the FATF suspended its membership because of the war against Ukraine—somewhat belatedly, one could say. I emphasise “suspended”; Russia has not been expelled. It is evidently a paragon of virtue when it comes to money laundering and terrorism financing because, unlike the British territory of Gibraltar, Russia is not designated as high risk and therefore not subject to enhanced due diligence. It is odd, then, that we have spent so much time passing Bills in this House specifically to deal with the stolen laundered money coming from Russia. Almost unbelievably, in its last review of Russia in 2019, the FATF praised Russia’s efforts to prosecute terrorist financiers and suggested that AML/CFT is afforded the highest priority by the Russian Government. This is a country that finances and supports organisations such as the Wagner Group, while Putin’s Government is generally regarded as a kleptocracy. Other countries not on the list, and therefore not subject to enhanced due diligence, include such famously uncorrupt ones such as Somalia, Venezuela, Libya, Turkmenistan, Nicaragua and Zimbabwe, to name but a few. All score worse than Cambodia in the corruption index; all are apparently low risk, according to the FATF. The Explanatory Memorandum refers to the FATF’s “robust assessment processes”; frankly, those do not stand up terribly well to scrutiny, if this list is anything to go by.

It is worth quoting the recently departed FATF CEO, David Lewis, who was very highly regarded. He said the agency structure of “mid-level bureaucrats” means that it does not have the scale to take on the big global financial crime issues. He said that they are

“very comfortable dealing with the finest minutiae of technical detail, but aren’t comfortable or able to have big picture discussions and are often only in their jobs for one of two years”.

He stated that genuine reform of the FATF is difficult to achieve, with typically two to four countries blocking consensus, meaning it is rare that you can get any meaningful change, which probably explains the list we are looking at.

Concerns are often raised about the FATF’s lack of transparency. The minutes of plenary sessions that make these risk designations are not published and it is clear that political horse-trading plays a significant role in the decision-making process. To be fair, there is no doubt that the FATF has had a positive impact on global financial crime since its inception in 1989, but there are growing doubts about its ability to cope with the challenging global situation we currently face. In an article for RUSI, Tom Keatinge of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies makes some helpful suggestions about how the FATF could be improved. He suggests, first, greater transparency: it should provide greater assurance of independence and oversight. Its activities should be overseen by an independent board and its evaluation should be independently reviewed, not subject to the evidently politicised horse-trading that occurs currently. The minutes of the plenaries should be published, or the plenaries themselves could be livestreamed. Secondly, it needs to create a dedicated technical-assistance capability to ensure that unintended negative consequences, such as financial exclusion and the use of the FATF recommendations by autocratic regimes against civil society organisations, are addressed.

Thirdly, he suggests that the FATF needs to show greater ambition. Ultimately, the question is whether it is addressing financial crime effectively. It currently evaluates how effectively its recommendations are implemented, but not the extent to which financial crime is addressed as a result. He suggests an independent review of the FATF’s effectiveness, which seems a simple and sensible suggestion 45 years after it was founded.

Fatima Alsancak, also of the Centre for Financial Crime and Security Studies, suggests that Russia is a good

“case study in the deficiencies of the … FATF mutual evaluation process, which allows countries with high levels of institutionalised corruption to complete their evaluations despite the lack of integrity in their AML systems”.

She goes on to say:

“It is essential for the watchdog to revisit its standards”,

and again highlights the need for greater transparency in the decision-making and listing process.

I was going to ask why South Africa, Nigeria, Croatia, Cameroon and Vietnam are not the list, but the Minister answered that in her opening statement. I mentioned earlier that Gibraltar, a British Overseas Territory, is on the high-risk list. Will she please comment on that, too?

There are important questions to answer about the value of the FATF evaluation process. We should not rely passively on what are, frankly, flawed recommendations. Do the Government agree that FATF’s procedures and the high-risk list itself appear to have important deficiencies and, if so, what are they doing about it? Do they agree with the recommendations that I referred to earlier?

My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, who made a probing and persuasive argument about the deficiencies in some of the process. I have two questions for the Minister.

In a debate on a previous instrument, in which I spoke, the Government made the case that, with the new freedom as a result of Brexit, they would immediately make the decision to remove British sovereignty by having an automatic updated list of the Financial Action Task Force. I thought that rather inconsistent with the argument that we had left the European Union to gain freedom: the very first act was to give that freedom away.

The noble Lord highlighted the inconsistencies, and I will add another. The Minister has heard me talk about the Wagner Group and its lack of proscription, and the fact that it operates almost with impunity in many countries. One of the countries in which it has been operating, which is not on the list, is Sudan. It is beyond me that the UK, having done excellent work through our diplomats, development and security operations in that conflict-afflicted country, would not want the ability to act immediately in putting Sudan on the list, whose two warring parties, the Sudanese Armed Forces and the Rapid Support Forces, are operating across organised crime, including conflict. Why would that not be a high-risk third country? If the Minister is saying that we have made the decision simply to adopt an external organisation for making determinations of what would be high-risk third countries, what was the point of seeking the sovereignty to make decisions ourselves?

My second question relates to the United Arab Emirates, which maintains its position on the list. I have asked for the text of the UK-UAE investment agreement, but it has not been forthcoming. Why not? If there is an investment agreement that binds the UK into certain preferential market treatment for financial vehicles within the UAE, and the UAE is on a UK list of high-risk third countries, we should, as a matter of good governance, be able to see the text of the UK-UAE investment agreement and to consider what elements in it ensure that we comply with all the elements that would be required of our financial relationship with the UAE. This is even more important given that, in Grand Committee debates on the sanctions regime for Russia, we have raised the joint ventures that operate between the UAE, Russia, the Wagner Group and countries such as Sudan. I hope the Minister will be able to respond by saying that new regulations will be brought forward at pace to ensure that these loopholes are now closed.

My Lords, we come to this with several of us having been involved in the economic crime Bill and the National Security Bill, in which we touched on a number of related issues. Some of us, indeed, complained when the economic crime Bill was before us that there was a tendency in that Bill to treat economic crime as if it was entirely domestic, when anyone who knows a small amount about the subject knows that all serious economic crime is transnational and that one has to co-operate actively with other countries to combat it.

There was no reference to the FATF in the discussions on the economic crime Bill, but I thank the Treasury very much for the extensive briefing that my noble friend Lord Fox and I were given the other week on the FATF. It was extremely helpful and detailed, and showed how actively some parts of the Treasury are engaged in—one has to say this in the light of the comment by the noble Lord, Lord Vaux—trying to make the FATF work, or work better.

The FATF is a large, multinational organisation. I used to teach a course in international relations when I was an academic at the London School of Economics. I had to explain that it is a miracle that any international organisation works, because the difficulties are so intense. One has to recognise that there are limits to how far you can get agreement when you have as many member states as the FATF has, many of which are autocracies and systemically corrupt themselves. This creates considerable difficulties.

I was struck, as was my colleague and noble friend Lord Purvis, by the oddity that we have of course regained our sovereignty by leaving the dreadful European Union, which produced regulations that we had to adopt, only to align ourselves entirely with a much larger, looser and more opaque organisation, the FATF, in which we apparently follow what the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, described as its idiosyncratic listings. As I understand it, this is the grey list rather than the blacklist. I will talk a little about who is on the list.

There are two UK overseas territories on the list, which are listed as third countries. I point out to start with that the idea that an overseas territory is a third country is incompatible with the definition of a British Overseas Territory. That corresponds to the deep ambiguity with which the relationship between His Majesty’s Government and the overseas territories is carried on in so many different areas. It is, one would have thought, a scandal of British governance that there are overseas territories on the grey list. When I mentioned some issues to do with Gibraltar on the economic crime Bill, I rapidly received a communication from the Gibraltar Government. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, will shortly receive one in his turn. I understand that the fact that Gibraltar is still on the list relates more to delays in carrying a number of things through the Gibraltar Government than to the depths of the problem. The Cayman Islands, I suspect, is a more serious problem.

The Gibraltar Government said to me, “You have to understand that it is very much part of our position that we are entirely independent in how we carry through our adoption of these various new proposals”. As far as international illicit finance is concerned, the Treasury should be concerned that several British Overseas Territories—not just these two—have some things to answer on this area. They benefit from UK sovereignty and the UK system of law. In turn, that puts obligations on them to follow much more closely than some do, some of the time, British standards in this respect.

I hope that the Treasury has an active dialogue with the FCDO, which is responsible for the overseas territories, and that it pushes the Foreign Office to ensure that the overseas territories do not, as they have in a number of other areas, say that they will meet British standards— I am talking about transparency in beneficial ownership —then spend much longer than we had anticipated bringing their domestic practices in line with what the UK Government recommend.

I follow my noble friend Lord Purvis in asking some questions about the UAE, which is a major financial centre and has close links with the UK. There are 100,000 British citizens living there, some of them wealthy expats. The fact that the UAE is also on the grey list is a matter of real concern. I am sure that the Minister is aware that the largest donation given to the Conservative Party in the first three months of this year came from someone whose financial interests are centred in Dubai; I understand that the donor is also the treasurer of the Conservative Party and a former Minister in an Egyptian Government. This is just one illustration of how we perhaps ought to pay more attention to the delicacy of our financial and political relations with the UAE. On the importance of Dubai and Abu Dhabi as financial centres, as well as the worries and proper concerns that one has about them, I, alongside my noble friend Lord Purvis, note that the Wagner Group has managed its various transactions and financial arrangements through Dubai; this is not something that we should be happy about at all.

There are a number of questions to answer here. I am grateful for the briefing on the FATF that the Treasury provided for us, but Parliament deserves to be told more about this murky area of finance in which not just the overseas territories but, dare one say it, sometimes our Crown dependencies are caught up and which we ought to be more actively engaged in cleaning up as far as we can.

My Lords, I am aware that we always follow the FATF’s recommendations but, given what we have just heard, it is just as well that we have this procedure as an opportunity to ask the Minister about some issues of concern that arise from the recommendations we are considering. I will not repeat everything that has already been said, because immediately following this we have another SI that took three and a half hours to consider in the Commons and, looking around the Room, I anticipate that it may take a little while this afternoon as well.

This instrument is perhaps relatively straightforward, but I will highlight a couple of the points that have been made in which we are especially interested. On the issue of reputation and our overseas territories, the fact is that Gibraltar and the Cayman Islands are on this list. Do the Government think that this has any reputational impact on the UK? What is the Government’s assessment of that? When this issue was considered in the Commons, providing some kind of support or input from the UK to Gibraltar to move things along was discussed. I do not think that the Minister there gave a particularly expansive response at that point so it might be helpful, if there is an opportunity, to hear from the Minister here today whether a request has been made by Gibraltar and whether any input has been forthcoming from the UK.

I will leave it there for today, given the next SI that we will consider and the fulsome contributions that have already been made by others, which I know the Minister will answer fully.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions to this debate. I know that we have also touched on this issue in other Bills progressing through the House.

I will start with the FATF process. As I think I said in my opening speech, the UK is an active member of the FATF. We participate in mutual country evaluations, looking at its processes and rules, which we are fully supportive of. Indeed, we were a founding member of the FATF. The processes are agreed internationally and based on rigorous, detailed and robust technical assessment. The FATF also regularly co-ordinates with other major international organisations.

It is worth saying two further things on the FATF. First, as a member of the FATF, we will always look to improve its work and processes and we will always reflect on those. Secondly, it is an important piece of the picture on setting standards for international action on anti-money laundering and counterterrorist financing, but it is only one piece of the picture when it comes to the UK’s overall approach towards tackling economic crime more broadly and some of the issues raised in today’s debate.

Cambodia being delisted is within the scope of the SI. Cambodia has addressed key deficiencies relating to the legal framework for international co-operation and preventive measures, risk-based supervision, financial intelligence, investigation and prosecution of money laundering, asset confiscation and targeted financial sanctions for proliferation financing. By addressing those deficiencies, Cambodia met the criteria to be removed from the list.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, also raised Russia’s membership of the FATF. As he noted, in February 2023 the FATF suspended Russia from the organisation. It continues to call on all jurisdictions to remain vigilant to threats to integrity, safety and security of the international financial system arising from the Russian Federation’s aggression in Ukraine. We are absolutely clear that Russia’s actions run counter to the principles on which the FATF is based and we fully support the ongoing suspension of Russia’s membership of the FATF. We have taken a wide range of measures against Russia, including the most extensive sanctions regime that we have ever put in place. We will continue to bear down on the Russian state in that way.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, asked about the overseas territories and Crown dependencies. The UK has engaged with both on this issue to share best practice, improve understanding of risks and increase compliance with the FATF standards. I went to the ministerial meeting of MONEYVAL, which is a regional organisation that feeds into the FATF process. Some of the Crown dependencies are members and I met the Ministers responsible for FATF compliance as part of that forum. We will continue doing that, as several of the Crown dependencies have assessments that are either ongoing or upcoming this year.

Gibraltar and the Cayman Islands were mentioned. Gibraltar continues to make good progress against its action plan with only one action remaining—for it to show that it can pursue more final asset confiscation judgments commensurate with its high-risk profile. When it comes to that action, judgments coming through can take time and that timing is not all within Gibraltar’s control.

I met representatives from the Cayman Islands this year and we touched on this area. They have made significant progress in addressing deficiencies since the Cayman Islands were listed in February 2021. In June 2023—just last month—the FATF made the initial determination that the Cayman Islands have substantially completed their action plan. On this basis, it plans to conduct an on-site visit in September to verify this, which is the final stage before delisting. We have a positive story to tell in both those areas.

More broadly, the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, touched on one of the areas of the FATF process: technical assistance. The UK Government provide this in the correct circumstances and are cognisant of the correct constitutional relationship between the UK and the overseas territories and, separately, the Crown dependencies. We provide support on this where appropriate.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, asked about Sudan, which, as he noted, has not been listed by the FATF. We continue to work with Sudan through the FATF’s joint group and I will write to him if there are any further details on Sudan to share.

More broadly, noble Lords asked why the UK aligns with the FATF when, under the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018, we can create our own list of high-risk third countries. There are benefits to aligning with the international standard-setting body: the FATF has a detailed and extensive set of standards, which countries are monitored against, and it uses a peer-review mechanism to conduct that monitoring. In aligning with the FATF, the UK is in line with international standards and the identification of countries is underpinned by a consistent and technical methodology. As a result, enhanced measures are implemented in a co-ordinated manner by the international community, which can magnify the preventive effect. But it remains open to the UK to review our list and amend it accordingly if our assessment of the risks deems that to be necessary. To date, that has not been the case.

I look forward to the Minister writing to me, because I was a little alarmed to hear her say—if I heard her correctly—that the UK would work with Sudan on this. There is no one to work with in Sudan at the moment and, if a case cannot be made for the UK not to act on Sudan, which has a civil war, with two warring partners and with considerable financial interests on each side—SAF and RSF—then I cannot see a case that would be stronger.

I will write on Sudan to the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, as I committed to do, and I will copy in the Members in this debate.

The UAE is making swift progress on its FATF action plan. It has several actions still to complete, focused on money laundering investigations, transparency of beneficial ownership and the investigation of money laundering cases. We hope to see further progress on those areas, as it looks to deliver on its action plan.

I have not managed to cover in detail all the points raised by noble Lords. They have gone slightly wider than the countries in question on the listing today, but I understand noble Lords’ interest in the process that we use to update these lists, adhering to international standards. I will read Hansard and ensure that I write to noble Lords if I have not addressed any questions.

Motion agreed.

Postal Packets (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Postal Packets (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 46th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

My Lords, this statutory instrument will provide United Kingdom authorities with powers in relation to postal packets—parcels—moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. It does nothing more or less than that. It does not itself put in place the wider Windsor Framework arrangements.

These powers are part of delivering what we promised for consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland. They are necessary to ensure that we can implement the Windsor Framework and remove the burdensome regime that the old Northern Ireland protocol would ultimately have required. I am aware of some misunderstanding about what the Windsor Framework requires in respect of parcel movements, so I will attempt to address that also in my opening remarks.

Had it been fully implemented, the Northern Ireland protocol would have required international customs processes for all parcel movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. On the new arrangements, it is worth dealing up front with some of the issues where there has perhaps been a misunderstanding about what will be required in future under the Windsor Framework. In short, I would like to provide some reassurances to noble Lords in that regard.

First, someone in Great Britain sending a parcel to their friends and family in Northern Ireland will not need to engage with any customs processes under the Windsor Framework. Nothing will change for those movements, compared with today. Similarly, Northern Ireland recipients of parcels sent by their friends and family in Great Britain will not need to engage with any customs processes. For example, a grandson in Liverpool sending a package to his grandmother in Belfast will not need to do anything new to send the package and his grandmother will not need to do anything new to receive it.

British businesses in Great Britain selling to Northern Ireland consumers will not need to complete customs declarations, international or otherwise, and Northern Ireland consumers buying from sellers in Great Britain, including via online shopping, will not need to engage with any customs processes. They will buy from the seller in Great Britain and receive their goods without doing anything new.

I emphasise that this means the Windsor Framework explicitly removes one of the most onerous requirements on goods being sold to Northern Ireland consumers and, of course, on goods being sent to friends and families. There will be no routine checks or controls applied to parcels, with interventions only on the basis of a risk-based, intelligence-led approach. This means that the overwhelming majority of parcels will not be subject to checks.

I turn to parcels sent from a business in Great Britain to a Northern Ireland business. These will be treated the same as equivalent freight movements: they can be moved through the new green lane where eligible when it is introduced from October 2024. As with freight movements, the green lane will ensure that eligible goods will no longer require international customs processes. They will instead require only the provision of routine commercial information. Movements via the red lane, including goods destined for the EU, will be subject to the customs processes required by the EU, as noble Lords would expect.

The Prime Minister negotiated the Windsor Framework to ensure that consumers and businesses in Northern Ireland—and, indeed, British businesses selling into Northern Ireland—could benefit by protecting internal trade within the UK. The Government need to ensure that the powers of HMRC and Border Force are sufficient to allow them to monitor the rules for movements of parcels and that, where certain requirements are in place, they can be enforced.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s report suggested that we clarify the rationale for bringing the instrument into force on 31 August. There is a limited range of prohibited or restricted goods that the UK Government accept are required to comply with EU customs rules today—for example, certain drug precursor chemicals or products derived from or associated with endangered species covered by CITES. HMRC and Border Force cannot currently enforce these requirements, which is why this statutory instrument is needed now rather than in a year. The same powers will be used in respect of the new parcels arrangements that will come into force through the Windsor Framework arrangements for parcels from 30 September 2024. This is so that we are able to determine that parcels destined for the EU can be detected and ensure that they follow the requirements of the red lane.

The committee’s report also noted that arguments had been submitted to it that these regulations would contravene the principle of unfettered access within the UK by introducing a customs border. A submission by the Democratic Unionist Party argues that they would be contrary to the Good Friday agreement.

The Government recognise that there are a range of views on the Windsor Framework. Our view as the Government—as the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland have made clear—is that the arrangements support and protect the Good Friday or Belfast agreement in all its parts. They protect the integrity of the European Union’s single market and Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom’s internal market. These regulations are discrete and relate solely to powers available to HMRC and Border Force. That said, I hope I have provided some reassurance about what the Windsor Framework does and does not require, and therefore what the powers granted by the regulations will be used to monitor and enforce.

The report also notes the absence of a public consultation. It is the Government’s view that a public consultation on an SI of such limited scope is unnecessary. The instrument implements requirements under the Windsor Framework that have been discussed extensively. The Treasury and HMRC continue to engage with a wide range of businesses and sectors, and indeed with fast parcel operators, on both this SI and the wider Windsor Framework.

In summary, the parcel arrangements set out under the Windsor Framework are a significant improvement when compared with the requirements under the old Northern Ireland protocol. But as well as comparing them with what the protocol would have required, it is vital to understand how little will change compared with the status quo for the vast majority of Northern Ireland parcel recipients and those in Great Britain sending goods to them. This statutory instrument is not a barrier but an enabler to the agreement that we have negotiated. I therefore beg to move.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining the purposes of the regulations before us. As noble Lords probably know, just the other day this was a matter of some heated debate in a Delegated Legislation Committee in the other place, and was subject to a vote in that House yesterday evening. Some consternation was expressed in the other place about the manner in which the Government had removed Members from that committee and replaced them with those who would vote these regulations through, but that is a matter for another day and it can be followed by reading Hansard on those committee proceedings.

The Minister said probably the most significant thing at the very end of her speech: these regulations facilitate the Windsor Framework. A lot of the debate is about the benefits of the Windsor Framework compared with the protocol as originally agreed, but the regulations before us are not about implementing the Windsor Framework; they are purely about creating the border for parcels between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. After that, we come on to the Windsor Framework, which is all about the EU law in which it decided, after discussions, to reduce the requirements that would normally be in place to move parcels into the EU for Northern Ireland.

But that is not what is before this Committee. Before this Committee is purely the creation of the parcels border. Whatever the EU then decides to do, whether by agreement or unilaterally, is facilitated by that border. It is our job as parliamentarians to examine the actual regulations before us, not necessarily today, although we can comment on them. The Windsor Framework proposals, which are in EU legislation, are separate, but I will reference them and no doubt they will be referenced by other speakers in this Committee.

The regulations treat Northern Ireland as if it is a foreign country for the purposes of moving parcels. They put in place another piece of the jigsaw of the Irish Sea border. They do not ameliorate or remove it; this is a new creation that is not here at present. Their effect is to separate Northern Ireland from the rest of the United Kingdom in the sense of placing it outside the same single market as Great Britain for postal purposes.

They amend the Postal Services Act 2000 and the Postal Packets (Revenue and Customs) Regulations 2011, so that movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland cease to be unfettered within the same single market and become fettered by a customs barrier that effectively divides them into two single markets. As a consequence of the legislation before the Committee, postal packages destined for Northern Ireland from Great Britain have to be placed in the same group as packages destined for foreign countries. The definition of “export” is changed to include movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Reference to the United Kingdom has to be removed so that the only references in play are Great Britain and Northern Ireland, with the UK single postal market terminated.

It is very important to differentiate what will happen in future as a result of what the EU law happens to be—remember, it will be EU law that determines what happens as far as the Windsor Framework is concerned—from the changes to law secured by these regulations. Having presented these changes as being about the Windsor Framework rather than what the regulations actually do, I think it is important to point out the constitutional implications. Parliament is not passing EU legislation whereby the EU unilaterally says that it will not press home its rights in relation to private parcels. In these regulations, the Government are proposing a border against which the EU has the right to press its full rights, or less than its full rights. At present, under the Windsor Framework, the EU has determined that it will not press its full rights in relation to parcels, but if it ever has a change of heart there will be nothing in this legislation, or any UK legislation, that will provide any kind of safeguard, because we have created a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland for these purposes.

The EU has made it clear that it reserves the right to withdraw at any time from the trusted trader scheme, which means we would be left with the full impact of these regulations dividing our country. We have to take it that in the future the EU will decide not to implement its full rights as far as the moving of parcels is concerned. But in the past we have seen decisions taken unilaterally by the EU—for instance, in relation to its proposal to prevent vaccines being moved into Northern Ireland—so this is not unprecedented or unimaginable; it could happen. If it decides to withdraw from the trusted trader scheme, by default we end up in a situation in which the full panoply of EU rules applies to all movements of parcels—that is in the Windsor Framework.

These regulations create a border and facilitate the imposition of EU laws on Northern Ireland. If anyone has any doubt about that, look at the EU question and answer guidance on the Windsor Framework, which makes it very clear that the EU can at any time withdraw support from the trusted trader scheme, with the effect that all goods movements between Great Britain and Northern Ireland will be subject to the so-called red lane. It has to be said that the EU question and answer documents and associated papers go into much more detail and have proved much more accurate than what the Government put out in relation to these matters.

We are going to be totally reliant on EU law and, even as it stands, that is unacceptable. Why should businesses sending to other businesses within the United Kingdom be subject to full EU customs procedures and checks? We are conceding our rights as a nation for the future. Whether Northern Ireland consumers and businesses experience the full disruption of the border is entirely dependent on the attitude of the EU, which can change the legislation that currently moderates its approach to the border if it withdraws its support in the relevant articles of the legislation I referred to earlier.

The constitutional implications are stark, and they contradict what the Prime Minister said about the removal of any sense of a border in the Irish Sea. How can it possibly be claimed that that is true? He claimed that it would be as easy to move goods from Birmingham to Belfast as from Birmingham to the Isle of Wight. Again, that is simply not true, even within the terms of the current proposals of the Windsor Framework, because business-to-business movements are clearly subject to full custom checks and goods do not move in the same way as in the rest of the United Kingdom.

It would be good if we had a straightforward analysis and explanation rather than this continual attempt to pretend that everything is fine and nobody will notice. That is simply not the case. The DUP quite reasonably set tests that were based word for word on utterances and statements made by various Prime Ministers since the protocol was introduced. One of them was to remove the Irish Sea border, but here we have in this legislation, which is part of the Windsor Framework that is claimed to meet our tests, the building of a border in the Irish Sea for the purposes of these movements.

For those reasons we oppose this statutory instrument, and we will continue to press the Government to restore Northern Ireland’s full rights as part of the United Kingdom and the rights of all citizens of Northern Ireland to equal citizenship in this United Kingdom.

There are other matters that could be raised. The 46th report of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee asks a number of very detailed questions about why it is thought that these regulations are so urgent when they will not be implemented until autumn 2024. It is incumbent on the Government to set out in detail today their answers to the committee’s important questions.

It is not the first time that the Government have sought to rush through secondary legislation in relation to these types of matters. We had it with the so-called Stormont brake, on which the committee was not even able to do its business properly because the time was so constrained, and yet there was no particular urgency on that either. What is the urgency to introduce this today? Why have the Government not responded to the important questions set out in the scrutiny committee’s 46th report?

My Lords, I declare my interest as a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which has looked at this statutory instrument in some detail. As the Minister said, we had several questions and we are still seeking clarification. I am also a member of the Protocol on Ireland/Northern Ireland Sub-Committee.

I support the Windsor Framework and appreciate that this statutory instrument addresses business-to-business customs checks. For the wholeness of this debate, it is important that we in Northern Ireland can avail ourselves of our unique opportunities, being a member of the UK internal market and able to access the EU single market. There are major economic opportunities there, and the people of Northern Ireland should see them fully utilised and realised in order to underpin our economy.

Recently, I saw some interesting figures about economies within the UK. Northern Ireland was quite far down the scale, but it came up to about number 2 earlier this year. A contributory factor was us in Northern Ireland being able to avail ourselves of both markets.

Although I support this statutory instrument, I have several questions. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, referred to the burdens being placed on business. We members of your Lordships’ committee on the protocol and the Windsor Framework have just completed our report, which will be published next week. We looked at labelling. Will the parcels have to indicate that they are not for the EU and therefore not going through a certain lane? There are potential burdens and expenses there for businesses in Britain, and that has to be explored. What discussions have taken place with potential businesses? What information is available to them about requirements and practical arrangements?

My queries about the statutory instrument relate to the process of compiling it—the very issues raised by our standing committee on statutory instruments. I have several questions concerning three points. The measures that allow powers in relation to existing requirements, as opposed to those deriving from the Windsor Framework, have not been well explained. Why is this the case? Will a better explanation be provided for businesses? The noble Baroness referred to existing requirements in her concluding remarks about the dates for this to come into force, but what are those existing arrangements? The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, referred to this.

Why do the powers to enforce those arrangements not currently exist? Why are they needed, and what do the “appropriate powers”, which are now being taken, mean in practice? As a consequence of representations made by our committee, a revised Explanatory Memorandum was laid on 6 July and referred to “restricted goods” and better managing “any risks of smuggling”. Can the Minister provide further clarification and elucidation of this?

On the details of this coming into force, which the Minister referred to at the end, I note that the statutory instrument says that it will come into force on 31 August 2023. But others suggest that the arrangements will not come into force until September 2024, so why the urgency in scrutiny before parliamentary recess? What powers are being introduced that have effect before 30 September 2024 and why are they needed now? Do these relate to the existing arrangements and requirements?

Why was there no consultation with businesses, either in Britain or Northern Ireland? Why not consult on how the changes will be implemented? If it will affect only a small sector, would it not have been prudent to have a consultation? Why the lack of an impact assessment? Some who made comments to our committee raised the lack of an impact assessment. From memory, I believe that the Road Haulage Association, which will be directly involved in a lot of this, indicated that.

The regulations introduce quite specific changes in relation to customs procedures. What will the impact be and how will the changes ushered in by the regulations be funded and resourced in terms of staff? Will additional funds be provided for them? It is important that, in all this, additional challenges and burdens are not placed on businesses; and that any such challenges or burdens are mitigated to allow businesses to avail themselves of the good opportunities that I believe they can avail themselves of through access to the UK internal market and the EU single market. I do not think that things should be placed here in a punitive way.

I realise that I have asked certain questions. I look forward to the Minister’s answers.

The approach taken to this statutory instrument, both in this House and when it was introduced earlier this week in another place, has very much been one of, “No worries, there’s nothing to see here”. As with a car crash at the side of the road, we have been directed that there is nothing really to worry us. Indeed, in another place, the Minister tried to give an assurance that this is

“a very, very small SI”.—[Official Report, Commons, Second Delegated Legislation Committee, 17/7/23; col. 16.]

When this instrument was introduced in the other place, reference was made on four occasions to the fact that no change is being made, or words to that effect. That phrase has been echoed today by the Minister here, yet I suggest that significant changes are being made. For example, as has been mentioned, for the first time ever, parcels moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be put in a separate category and categorised alongside parcels from a foreign third country. For the first time ever, the UK market is being divided between the rest of the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland, but we are told that there is no change. For the first time ever, parcels going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland will be categorised and defined in the same way as exports and imports but, again, we are told that no change is being made. These are not simply changes in processes that could be dropped at the whim of any Minister. These are being put in place directly in the law of the land via legislation.

Similarly, let us look at the wording of the regulations. The Explanatory Note makes reference to the fact that part of the purpose of the regulations is

“to make provision to apply such enactments relating to customs and excise as are for the time being in force to goods contained in postal packets sent from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, and to ensure that duties and other charges payable in connection with such postal packets are recoverable by the postal operator concerned”.

They will give directly a power to impose customs duties and a financial burden, albeit one that will supposedly be reimbursed, yet we are told that there is no real change here.

In their boast, the Government also tell us that this SI is an improvement on the protocol. In some ways it is, although we should always remember who brought about the protocol in the first place. The remarkable extent to which the Government are distancing themselves from the protocol that they negotiated is unusual in and of itself but the great boast of the Government—reiterated in both Houses—is that an individual sending a parcel to a friend or family member in Northern Ireland can do so without having to fill in customs declarations. They say we should be grateful that a granny in Liverpool is able to send something to her grandchild in Belfast. However, we should also remember that that is on the basis, as has been particularly referenced in EU legislation recently, of an exemption. The opportunity for the granny to do this is at the grace and favour of the European Union. There is a clear diminution of sovereignty yet we are told that, like grateful natives, we ought to be suitably delighted that this has been given to us.

Similarly, it has been indicated that if a business is sending a package to an individual consumer there will no customs declarations required, but I seek some information from the Minister. For a business to do that, will it have to be part of a trusted trader scheme? Also, because it is put on the same basis as freight, presumably any business-to-business supply could be only where that business is part of the trusted trader scheme.

Leaving aside the general concerns that we have with that, some movements—particularly if we talk about something that is to be moved in a parcel—may be very infrequent between two businesses in different parts of the United Kingdom. Many businesses will come to the conclusion that going through the bureaucracy of having to join a trusted trader scheme for an occasional movement of goods to Northern Ireland is simply not worth it. What we are likely to see, which is also part of the purpose of what has been put in place, is diversion of trade. People and businesses will simply seek to source from outside the United Kingdom.

It has also been indicated in another House that the new powers to be given to HMRC and Border Force are to stop illicit goods—a very accurate but misleading term—moving from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. Let us remember that we are talking about giving powers to Border Force for movements entirely within the United Kingdom—from one part of it to another. When one talks of illicit goods, it conjures up a mental image of drug packages or another form of something illegal. But the powers already exist to stop movements of those goods, so when we talk about illicit goods we are really talking about goods that contravene what the EU says. This is not for something entering the single market but within the internal UK market.

I note that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has mentioned the question, which has not been answered particularly satisfactorily, of why, despite the fact that provisions are due to take place in 2024, these regulations are effectively being brought in now. When pressed on that in another place, the Minister gave two examples. One was: what if hazardous substances were being moved about? If hazardous substances were being moved by parcel, that should be a concern if it was moving from Glasgow to London, let alone coming into Northern Ireland. I am not quite sure why a provision needs to be put in place for that.

The other example given in another place was the risk of blood diamonds being moved. I have not had a recent conversation with my local postman. I am not altogether sure that they would tell me that they are burdened each day with blood diamonds moving from Sierra Leone or Liberia through Great Britain—because it would have to be there—and then on to Northern Ireland, with the risk of them moving into the EU. But supposedly, that is the excuse as to why these additional powers need to be given. Again, we are told there are no real changes.

Finally, in another place there was a subject of much controversy. This statutory instrument is so innocuous that the Government took the unprecedented step of removing five of their own MPs from the committee that was scrutinising it. One of the MPs said that whenever he indicated any level of scepticism towards it, he was first asked whether he would be happy enough to remove himself from the committee. When he said that he was not, he was then told, “Perhaps you want to take a week off—have a week’s holiday”. I think that MP missed a trick because, if they had held out with the Whips, perhaps the soon to be vacant post at the Ministry of Defence could have been lobbed in their direction as a reward for not being on the committee.

That is against the background that we should all be relaxed, as there is no real change. Rather than that argument, there is an equally strong argument that it changes everything for our sovereignty or is the first step towards that. I simply say to the Government that we are opposed to this statutory instrument, but it is high time that they, instead of doubling down and pretending with spin that everything is perfect, actually face the realities and make the changes that need to take place to restore the internal market of the United Kingdom. Once those changes are properly made and the union is restored, we can begin to see proper progress in Northern Ireland.

My Lords, in as short a time as a few months, noble Lords will realise just how serious these regulations are. It will be the first of many statutory instruments that result from the Windsor Framework or, indirectly or directly, from the European Union’s attitude to it. As we all know if we read the Windsor Framework, and what the Government and the EU said, they are very different. Even on these postal packets regulations, it is very different.

A number of noble Lords referred to what the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said about why there is a rush—why the hurry? Why the Government want to rush this through is very straightforward. They know that, as time goes on and there is more detail, scrutiny and need to work with this in, for example, sub-post offices across the country or through customs officials, we will see that this is not right. It is not going to work. They want to get it through.

It has been mentioned, so I do not want to go into what happened in more detail. I sat through the committee on this SI in the other place, and it is absolutely shocking that our Government have so little confidence in their own Members that they had to remove five of them because they knew that they would not get their support. That was because those Members had read it. They had read it and listened, and they knew what they needed to do, because what the Government had decided was not right or good for the people of Northern Ireland and certainly not for the union.

These regulations are, without doubt, changing the status of Northern Ireland such that it is being treated as a foreign country and a foreign part of the administration of the United Kingdom. For some people, that is fine. Some people do not really care about Northern Ireland. Let us face it: there are an awful lot of Members, not necessarily in this House but in Parliament generally, who probably think, “Oh, Northern Ireland—what a nuisance. If only we could forget about it”. This is precisely what many people who do not care about Northern Ireland want to see happening—this dividing, this moving, this drip, drip, drip taking Northern Ireland further and further from the rest of the United Kingdom.

Imagine a young person coming to this country as a student, sending a parcel. The Government are saying that it will not be very different, but we know that the European Union will eventually decide whether even individual parcels from person to person will need authorisation from somewhere. That is not for the person at the moment, but someone in the sub-post office will have to get the authorisation and that is going to cost money. Who is going to pay for that? There are business-to-business costs from that. More and more costs mean more businesses in Great Britain being clear that they will not bother sending things to Northern Ireland. This is happening already and is going to happen even more.

Imagine a young student coming over here to England and deciding to send a parcel to their grandfather. They will be told that they are sending it to a foreign country. That is quite outrageous. The instrument has the same instruction for Regulations 5, 6, 9, 15, 20 and 21, namely to insert

“and all GB-NI postal packets”

after “foreign postal packets”. It is quite outrageous that people in Northern Ireland who have given so much loyalty to this country—so many people died during world wars—are now being repaid by this glibness around how they are treated.

Many of my colleagues from Northern Ireland, from all parties, have put down lots of questions. I find it shameful that, every time, we get waffly answers that do not tell the truth. The Government skim around the issue. They will not answer in black and white because they know that answering in black and white tells us the truth. When I asked a Written Question some weeks ago about parcels to Northern Ireland, the Minister—the noble Baroness, Lady Penn—answered me very clearly. She said:

“The Windsor Framework safeguards parcel movements and maintains business as usual for Northern Ireland consumers, removing any need for international customs processes”.

That is typically deceptive—we can use that word here—because it is not saying that the Government have removed customs. Contrary to what is claimed, they have not done so. They have further embedded the Irish Sea customs border because they have removed international customs processes. That is almost inaccurate as well because, in the 2023 regulations, trade from GB to NI is now to be treated as the equivalent of exporting to a foreign country. Therefore, how can the customs declaration required even for goods that are not at risk of entering the EU be described as anything other than the international customs process?

I could go on for a long time but I appreciate that that will make no difference as the Government have decided to ram this through. However, I have three questions for the Minister; I would appreciate it if she could answer them specifically. First, can she confirm that the legal reality via the regulations is that Northern Ireland will be treated in the same category as a foreign country? Secondly, can she confirm that goods moving from GB to Northern Ireland will be treated as exports leaving GB and imports arriving in Northern Ireland, in the same way that foreign exports and imports are treated? One has only to read the regulations to see that that is obvious so, thirdly, how can the Government argue with any semblance of credibility that they have removed the Irish Sea border?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for outlining these regulations as she and the Government desire to present them. As we look closer at them, and upon further investigation, we know that the reality for people living in Northern Ireland will be quite different.

What does the Minister think Northern Ireland’s constitutional position is? Is it a part of the United Kingdom or not? In reality, all the Government are doing through this statutory instrument, these regulations, is strengthening opposition to the Windsor Framework within the unionist population in Northern Ireland because people are seeing the unfolding of the reality. The reality is that the Windsor Framework was sold by the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland on spin, not reality.

These regulations directly contradict what the Prime Minister stated when introducing the Windsor Framework on 27 February, namely that it

“removes any sense of a border in the Irish Sea”.

That is a very clear statement. So, does it? In reality, the framework deepens the border in the Irish Sea rather than removing it and does so without there being any redeeming upside in the regulations, which the Government claim exist and existed in the Stormont brake SI.

The regulations have been the subject of a critical report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which called attention to them on the grounds of there being no consultation or impact assessment. It also highlighted the Government’s refusal to answer key questions about the regulations, which creates the clear impression that they are hiding something.

The fact that the Government seek to hide the true implications of these regulations is reflected in the answers that they provided to the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Specifically, they claim that the impact of the regulations is modest and that they just need to be able to give HMRC and the border agency powers to detain and seize illicit movements. In an effort to change the subject, they go on to talk about the introduction of a “green lane” for packages on 1 October. Specifically, they say that their purpose is to secure the integrity of the Windsor Framework by

“ensuring that Border Force and HMRC have powers to detain, inspect, and seize goods moved illicitly in parcels from GB to NI”.

It is interesting that, when the committee in the other place discussed this, attention was drawn to the Minister’s reply that she was concerned about “hazardous” substances, “invasive species” and other things mentioned in the Explanatory Memorandum being transferred by post from Great Britain to Northern Ireland. However, would the Minister not be concerned about them being transferred in parcels from London to Scotland or to Wales? If the regulations are all about protecting markets, why are the Government singling out Northern Ireland?

It sounds reasonable that provision should be made so that the requisite authorities can detain illicit movements, for example of drugs, in parcels but, through the deployment of “illicit”, these words conceal the fact that what is in view is not the movement of drugs and the like but, rather, any goods movements across the border created by these regulations that is in violation of them—movements that are perfectly legal today and just part of what being in the same single market means. Therefore, rather than restoring Northern Ireland’s place in the United Kingdom single market, these regulations give effect to the additional sense in which Northern Ireland is placed outside the single market, which is increasingly becoming a Great Britain single market.

The simple effect of these regulations is to build in the Irish Sea a border that currently does not exist, in relation to which full customs requirements can be made. The consequences of this include packets going from Great Britain to Northern Ireland having to be put in the same category as foreign packages. That is why I asked this question: where does the Minister see Northern Ireland? Is it a foreign country, a third country, or is it a full constituent part of the United Kingdom, equal to every other part? The definition of “exporting” is being changed to include movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland, replacing references to “the United Kingdom” with “Great Britain”. On the question about what the Minister thinks, empty words and rhetoric will not be sufficient because this is reality. These regulations—the statutory instrument—are reality.

The Minister and the Government mentioned the Belfast agreement—I have no doubt that others will before this debate is finished—and how it is so important to protect it. It constitutes international law. At the heart of the agreement is the following statement:

“acknowledge that while a substantial section of the people in Northern Ireland share the legitimate wish of a majority of the people of the island of Ireland for a united Ireland, the present wish of a majority of the people of Northern Ireland, freely exercised and legitimate, is to maintain the Union and, accordingly, that Northern Ireland’s status as part of the United Kingdom reflects and relies upon that wish; and that it would be wrong to make any change in the status of Northern Ireland save with the consent of a majority of its people”.

I believe that the Postal Packets (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2023 plainly change the status of Northern Ireland such that it is to be treated as foreign with respect to the rest of the United Kingdom for some custom purposes. That is totally wrong and is deeply offensive to the people of Northern Ireland who, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, mentioned a few moments ago, sacrificed so much——many of them gave their lives—to remain part of this great, cherished United Kingdom.

My Lords, I rise to speak briefly about another milestone in what I see as the postal service’s disaster this week. I listened very carefully to what noble Lords said about the parcel service, or lack of, between Britain and Northern Ireland, but the other disaster is what many people call the most widespread injustice in British legal history, which is the Horizon IT inquiry. Will we have post offices at all in the future and will they operate properly? It is a very serious issue. The chair of the inquiry, Sir Wyn Williams, published his first interim report on 17 July, which is well documented in the Guardian today. I will give a few highlights of this long-running matter, which has been going on for 20 to 30 years. There are comments that Post Office staff were grouping the suspected postmasters, most of whom have been demonstrated to be innocent, by the colour of their skin. I find it quite extraordinary that this can happen in this century—this was in 2011.

My Lords, the Division Bell is ringing, so let us suspend proceedings for eight minutes. Scamper off, rush back, and we will carry on.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

I shall be quick, my Lords, because we have been at this for some time.

I was just saying that the Post Office has been continuing to prosecute innocent people. Suddenly, it has found 4,767 new documents, which will of course have to go into the inquiry, delaying it further. I suggest that it is not co-operating at all fully with the inquiry. Nevertheless, its chief executive got a bonus of £455,000 last year, so he must be all right. Fifty executives also got bonuses relating to the inquiry. I ask the Minister this, very gently: can the Government finally get a grip of this organisation? Most importantly, will they read the start of Wyn Williams’s report, which was published yesterday and says that the compensation schemes are running late? It also states:

“Under the legislation now in force all payments of compensation … must be made by 7 August 2024. My current view is that this will not be achieved”.

That is a terrible reflection on Ministers over the years—it is not just the present lot but many other people—but I hope that the Minister can give us some comfort that, once and for all, the Government will get a grip of this horrible project.

My Lords, it will spare the blushes of the noble Lords, Lord Dodds and Lord Weir, for them not yet to be in their places to hear me say that I agree with everything that they said. The debate that we have had, while more respectful and with more decorum than the extraordinary scenes in the committee of the House of Commons on Monday, does not undermine the seriousness of the measures that we are being asked to approve. “Yes Minister” could probably have had an episode on how to bring forward regulations with considerable impact and long-term consequences, but with an innocuous title, by taking powers very early, before they are necessary, without consulting those who have to implement them and without giving any data on their likely impact and, as a security measure, removing members of a committee which is asked to approve the regulations because you know that they will be significantly concerned about them.

I hope that this is not a trend. As the Minister said, this is not about implementing the Windsor Framework, but I hope that it does not start a precedent for how the Windsor Framework will be implemented. We were told, notwithstanding noble Lords’ concerns in a debate that we had on the Windsor Framework and the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, on the wider issue with the framework, that it was starting a new chapter. I hoped that that new chapter would be about transparency, openness, consultation, trying to build consensus, notwithstanding how difficult it would be, and bringing people with the Government on implementation, but this is in stark contrast to the way forward.

Stephen Farry MP intervened on the Minister on Monday calling for support for the business community in GB trading with Northern Ireland. I reiterate that call. It is necessary to carry on the support that is being provided to businesses to overcome some of the difficulties in the Government’s initial protocol so that they can overcome the difficulties that they will face with the implementation of the Windsor Framework. The Road Haulage Association said very clearly that this measure will bring new burdens on business and add to bureaucracy. That is not unfettering. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, was absolutely correct: this is fettering internal UK trade.

The Minister in the House of Commons said that this SI was the result of “a hard compromise”. That language was not used by the Minister here. It is, to some extent, more honest to say that it results from a hard compromise but when the Government have made that compromise, they then have to own it and act honestly and openly.

Let me give one example of where there is still confusion. I commend the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee’s report. I hope the Minister will have clear responses to its strong recommendations and concerns. They were not made lightly, as the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, indicated, but followed proper consideration from a balanced perspective. That should be taken into consideration.

The Government used the example of a granny in GB sending a birthday parcel to her granddaughter in Northern Ireland. That would not be affected by this SI, but if the granny used online purchasing from a company that then used another company to dispatch the parcel to the granddaughter, it would be covered by the SI. We do not live in the 19th century as far as how people send parcels. The Government need to be clear about the estimated number of parcels that are likely to fall under each of the lanes, the percentage that will now be opened for checks and the likely impact on the businesses that would be dispatching and receiving them. The Minister in the House of Commons said that the Government could provide only estimates at this stage, and there is no impact assessment, as there should have been.

On a previous occasion in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, raised the issue of measures. The Minister said that this is not about implementing the framework agreement but, conveniently, it is about implementing it in order to get out of having an impact assessment. The Government have said that an impact assessment is not needed because, as the Minister said, this is so limited in scope. When it affects all parcels being sent from GB to NI, it is not limited in scope; and when the definition of those will now have to be inserted after “foreign postal packets”, that is not limited in scope either. When will the Government provide the detailed information about the impact of all that is likely to be covered by these regulations?

Furthermore, will all those parcels deemed to go into the red lane be checked? The Minister in the House of Commons indicated that only a small proportion—5%—of parcels will be checked. That is not unfettered, but what will the process for the red lane be and who will decide on the rules and whether parcels will be checked? I understand that it will be the EU. A foreign power will be making determinations of whether internal UK postal services will be checked, under the authority of that foreign power. Can the Minister just clarify when in our nation’s history this has ever happened?

The Minister in the House of Commons also said that businesses were waiting to be informed about how they will operate this, but the Government have not consulted them, so what process is under way now to inform businesses of the considerable likely burdens and bureaucracies that the Road Haulage Association has highlighted? Where is a definitive list of those goods that will be singled out for differential treatment—goods going from Birmingham to Belfast, compared to those going from Exeter to Edinburgh? When will a business know about the differential treatment for what a sender wishes to dispatch?

How will parcels that are sent for onward delivery be covered? If a parcel is sent for an intermediary—a manufacturer, for example—from Exeter to Edinburgh and then from Edinburgh to Belfast, what lanes will be used for that purpose? How many businesses and packages do the Government estimate will have to be covered overall?

The lack of an impact assessment is very significant, and I hope that the Government will think again on future measures. As the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie, indicated—I agree strongly with her on this—without consultation or preparation, why are the Government seeking to have these powers now, in the absence of proper consideration for when they are going to be operable? Unfortunately, the Government are not making improvements on the current situation, because the current situation is under the grace period. The Government are indicating that we are in a better position than we would have been if we had implemented the protocol, but they have told us time and time again that they would not fully implement the protocol because of the mechanisms and infrastructure that needed to be put in place. What is the Government’s position now, and is this the final implementation of regulations when it comes to post? One estimate is that 75% of parcels will have to go through the red lane, because they will not be able to be defined definitively as going through the green lane, so what is the Government’s position?

I will also ask about a connected issue: what about the goods in the parcels? Because this covers business to business, they will not always be direct-to-consumer deliveries. It will often be business-to-business trade, which will then enter the Northern Ireland market. If that is the case, the Government are saying that, by December next year, they will all have to be separately marked with the UKNI conformity assessment marking. This has been delayed three times because it has been clear to absolutely everybody, apart from the Government until they announced a delay, that it was not workable. But the Government say that there are no longer any delays and that any good entering the Northern Ireland market for retail in that market will have to have a UKNI mark on it. At the same time, businesses are going to have to operate two lanes; they will have to decide on its end result.

Regardless of anyone’s position on the framework and of the deeply held views about Northern Ireland’s position within our union, this is no way to make legislation for a significant part of our union. I hope that the Government respond positively to the serious conclusions of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and I hope that the way they conducted these regulations is not repeated.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, is correct to emphasise what the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee observed about timing and the lack of consultation and impact assessment; of course, that is important, and I am sure that the Minister will want to respond to it fully. The reason it is so important is not just because it is our job to ask those questions, which we ask frequently; it is because, particularly in the matters before us today—as we heard, issues of Northern Ireland’s place within the union have been raised, as a consequence of the sense that this is being rushed or is not being done adequately—it is beholden on the Government to make an extra effort to make sure that this is done in a way that is beyond reproach, as far as Ministers are able.

These regulations implement part of the Windsor Framework, which we support. The Minister knows this, and we have been clear about it. We think it is a far better solution than that which was arrived at previously with the Northern Ireland protocol. It is also better than the approach that the Government sought to take with the protocol Bill, which we spent many weeks discussing earlier this year. Brexit brought us to this place. A solution needed to be found, and there was always going to be this kind of unsatisfactory compromise on Northern Ireland. This was raised before the vote took place. As we all know and have repeatedly said, Northern Ireland voted to remain and a solution needed to be found. I am afraid that this is probably the least worst option that we can land on at the moment.

Consumer-to-consumer parcels and business-to-consumer parcels will not be subject to regulations, and business-to-business goods intended to remain in the UK will use the green lane, while other goods will be subject to declarations and checks. We know that life will not be that simple and that there will be complications—in the real world, things will not always work as anticipated—and there will have to be some recognition of that as we go forward. The questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, will have to be answered—if not today, then in the execution of this. That is life, and that is how we will have to approach this. But, having come to the point of securing an agreement, which was approved by the other place by 515 votes to 29, it is incumbent on the Government to make good on what they agreed.

My noble friend Lady Ritchie spoke of the opportunities for Northern Ireland from its unique position, and she asked important questions about the advice and support for businesses that will have to navigate these new arrangements. Is HMRC adequately prepared and resourced to make this work, and can the Minister explain how the green lane will be policed? The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, described the EU as a foreign power, which it is, but it has our consent and agreement. This is the arrangement that we have come to with our negotiating partners. There were other options: the Northern Ireland protocol was the one that was settled on by Boris Johnson and the noble Lord, Lord Frost. We all agreed that it was unsatisfactory —no one seemed particularly happy with that outcome—and here we have moved on to something that is an improvement.

I completely accept what our friends the noble Lords, Lord McCrea and Lord Dodds, had to say. I understand the challenge, but I find myself searching for an alternative viable solution. I know that one could have been that we all stayed in the customs union or the single market, but that is not the position of any of the main political parties and I believe it is not the position of the DUP. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, may correct me if I am wrong about that—here he comes now.

I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. On alternatives, I refer her to the report by our Select Committee on the protocol, on which I have the honour to serve along with the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie. In July last year, it said—I do not have the precise reference, but I can supply it—that, in relation to parcels, the solution was to continue as with the grace period, and that there should be no fettering of parcel deliveries between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The cross-party Select Committee did suggest a very good solution—one that, unfortunately, the Government decided not to run with.

I read that report and I commend the noble Lord for bringing it to our attention, but we cannot arrive at a solution unilaterally, as the United Kingdom. Whatever solution we arrive at must be agreed with our negotiating partners. I was not part of that negotiation but, from what Ministers have indicated, it would seem they were not able, at this point, to settle on that with the European Union. We can regret that, but it is the reality of where we are. We are surely in the business of dealing with reality as we find it, not as we would wish it to be.

It really ought to be a priority for the Government to rebuild trust. I would urge far more candour and a franker approach when we discuss these issues, and not to do anything which would give the impression that we are somehow trying to steamroller these things through. Can the Minister explain exactly what a business would have to do to become part of the trusted trader scheme, so we are clear about exactly what we are asking businesses to do? We completely understand the dissatisfaction that some have with the framework but there is, at the moment, no other viable alternative solution.

I am not going to comment on the mismanagement of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and the debate that took place in the other place. I read Hansard and found the way it was conducted extraordinary, but that is not for me to manage. This is clearly not business as usual; it is different and unique. There have always been differences, which were previously brought to the fore regarding animals and other things, but it is obvious that some contributors this afternoon feel there is somehow a threat to their constitutional position, and we cannot be relaxed about that. We have to recognise that and take it seriously. I disagree; I am British and if I moved to Belfast I would still be equally as British. I might have to fill in some forms if I wanted to receive goods from a business in GB to my business. I could live with that without a threat to my Britishness, but is it not for me to tell other noble Lords how they should feel about it, and they are quite right to bring those points to the attention of the Committee.

I could not agree more strongly with those who said that what we need is a frank and open discussion, and perhaps a change of tone and being a little more relaxed as a Government about all this. I know we have had some torrid debates on these issues in recent years and that the protocol was a disaster. Things have happened and things were said; promises were made, but they should not have been because they were broken knowingly and very quickly. We have damaged our international reputation as a good partner to negotiate with and I regret that very much but, with a change of attitude from the Government, and a more respectful approach to colleagues in Northern Ireland and to this House, we could move forward in a much more positive way.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, on the approach that this Government should, and want to, take to implementing the provisions in the Windsor Framework. The noble Baroness described it as the least worst option for Northern Ireland; the Government describe it as the best option. In reality, there is not a gap between them, because it does restore the smooth flow of trade and protect Northern Ireland’s place in the union. It also delivers a robust framework for solving future issues, as we know they will come up.

The framework delivers by enabling smooth trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, resolving the problems that were undermining Northern Ireland’s place in our union and fixing the democratic deficit which has seen Northern Ireland have no say in its laws. It is worth responding at the outset that while we may disagree on the Windsor Framework in this Committee, it is important to be clear that with regard to the approach taken by the Government in the framework and the accusation that it reflects the fact that the Government do not care about Northern Ireland, the opposite is true. The effort put into negotiating for Northern Ireland by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, and many others across government, is because we care deeply about Northern Ireland and its place in our union.

To provide an answer and reassurance to the noble Lord, Lord McCrea, Northern Ireland is a full part of the United Kingdom in every sense, and we negotiated the Windsor Framework to protect the UK’s internal market and trade between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. We are confident that the framework does this. We reject the claim that the Windsor Framework changes Northern Ireland’s status within the UK.

Nevertheless, while I acknowledge the range of views on the framework in this debate, I encourage noble Lords to recognise the nature of what this statutory instrument provides. It is solely about the powers available to HMRC and Border Force to ensure the improvements in respect of parcels that we have secured through the Windsor Framework are delivered. Focusing on what this SI does provides, in part, some of the answers to the questions put forward to the Committee today. Noble Lords are right that the provisions relating to parcels will come into force at the end of September 2024 and that there is more work to be done in implementing those provisions. That work will be taken forward by the Government, HMRC and the Treasury, working with businesses in Great Britain and Northern Ireland and having discussions with them.

The Minister was describing the work and who would actually be involved in it. Can she provide the Committee with a little more detail about the type of work? Maybe she could elucidate that.

I was going to come later to ongoing co-operation with businesses in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, in terms of implementing the provisions when it comes to parcels. For example, we are working through in detail with the couriers and the people who take a lot of this traffic on how we can make it as seamless as possible. If I have anything further to add in my speech, I will do so later.

In respect of the point from the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, on this statutory instrument being about creating a border between Great Britain and Northern Ireland, as I said just now and in my opening speech, this instrument does not put in place the Windsor Framework arrangements. The noble Lord is right that that has already happened, but we disagree that the Windsor Framework or these regulations separate Northern Ireland from Great Britain in the way that he describes. The regulations do not treat movements from Great Britain to Northern Ireland as exports or movements from one country to another; they make some powers that are available in respect of international movements available in respect of movements from GB to NI. However, it is not the case that they treat them the same as parcel movements that are international or exports.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Chapman, said, these arrangements are unique. The Windsor Framework is a bespoke set of arrangements. If you move a parcel internationally, such as to your grandmother in France rather than in Northern Ireland, you and she would need to make customs declarations and possibly pay tariffs; that is not the case for the arrangements for GB to NI. Similarly, if you buy from an international retailer, the package goes through customs when it enters the UK; as I set out, that is not the case for GB to NI orders from internet sellers to individuals.

Does the Minister accept, however, that the reason for what she has set out is in EU law, and that nobody in Northern Ireland is elected and nobody in the EU is accountable to anyone in Northern Ireland—indeed, in the United Kingdom—for those laws? If those laws change—for example, if the EU changes, tweaks or modifies them—that is what will apply. So the Minister cannot give any guarantee or assurance that the position she is outlining will continue to pertain and apply because no Government, nor this Parliament, will have any power in that respect.

The Windsor Framework is a bilateral agreement. To the noble Lord’s point, there are detailed governance arrangements around the Windsor Framework. Either side can raise issues through those mechanisms. It is not the case that the EU could just impose new requirements without consultation. Of course, the Stormont brake will be available to the Northern Ireland Assembly, when it is sitting.

With regards to the lack of an impact assessment, that point takes me back to what this statutory instrument itself does. It does not impose any requirements on businesses; it is solely about the powers for HMRC and Border Force. The Government are dealing with the resources available to those agencies in the normal way. I cannot remember who asked about this—it was the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, I think—but we will of course ensure that resources are available, in particular to HMRC, to ensure that these agencies can engage with businesses in order to ensure that the process is as smooth as possible.

I understand the Minister’s point with regards to the powers for HMRC under these regulations, but it assumes that HMRC will not then use those powers to ask businesses to carry out certain procedures. If that is the case, there will be an impact on businesses. Secondly, my reading of Regulation 3 is that, for the first time, a postal packet going from GB to Northern Ireland will now be categorised alongside a foreign postal packet. That is what the regulation says.

Again, that takes me back to what these regulations do versus the wider process around how parcels will move under the Windsor Framework. These powers do not and cannot do anything to impose anything on businesses.

I come to a few of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, about understanding and beginning to quantify how the new process will work. It is not possible to give precise numbers on volumes of parcels and how they will fall into the different lanes, because volumes are not consistent year on year. However, based on estimates and commercial information provided by the parcel industry, we understand that about 5% of parcels are sent from business to business, with 90% moving from businesses to consumers and 5% from individuals to individuals. Based on those figures, for 95% of movements no difference will be felt in how customs operate now, under the easement that we have to the protocol. Compared to the protocol itself, they will face significantly fewer burdens.

There will be no routine checks or controls applied to consignments, with interventions made only on a risk-based, intelligence-led approach. This is decided by HMRC and Border Force. We expect a very small proportion of parcels to be checked or opened, only when there is reason to suspect circumvention of the rules.

The 5% of business-to-business goods will be treated the same, as if they were moving in freight. They can access the UK internal market scheme and the green lane, and they will benefit from radically reduced checks and data requirements compared to those under the protocol. Businesses can apply to HMRC to become a trusted trader and access the green lane. It is a simple process. Tens of thousands of traders are already in the scheme, and the Windsor Framework extends eligibility to it further. New arrangements under the framework are being phased in over nearly two and a half years. We will continue to use that time to undertake extensive engagement with stakeholders, including businesses in Northern Ireland and Great Britain, trader support services and parcel operators, to provide support and ensure that everyone is ready.

As part of that work, will the Government look at the extra cost to business? There will definitely be an extra cost to businesses in GB that want to send to Northern Ireland, whether they go through the green or the red lane. Those costs will eventually end up with consumers in Northern Ireland. Do the Government agree?

The whole purpose of the Windsor Framework is to reduce any extra costs and burdens from moving from business to business in Northern Ireland. We need to put this in the context of the figures that I gave earlier about personal packages and business-to-consumer packages which, on some estimates, account for around 95% of parcel movements from GB to NI. The aim of our ongoing engagement with parcel operators, in both GB and NI, is to make sure that this process is as easy and seamless as possible for those that rely on existing information and data, where that is possible.

Several noble Lords also raised the question of timing. As I said, provisions under the Windsor Framework are being brought in over two and a half years and will come into effect on 30 September 2024. As I said in opening, although the majority of Northern Ireland protocol requirements on parcels were not implemented as the Government sought to renegotiate arrangements, we accepted that certain categories of goods moved in parcels, as in freight, should require customs declarations to ensure that both their entry to Northern Ireland and possible onward movement to the EU were notified to HMRC.

These requirements related only to a specific list of prohibited and restricted goods that includes, for example, certain drug precursor chemicals, endangered animals, et cetera, covered under CITES. The powers we are taking now will allow those requirements to be monitored and enforced from now, and those same powers will be used in respect of the new parcels arrangements that come into effect on 30 September 2024.

In respect of those broader requirements, the Government need to work now to build the capabilities of HMRC and Border Force to ensure that the existing requirements, as I have just explained, can be enforced and that the new legal requirements of the Windsor Framework are not circumvented in future. The instrument before the Grand Committee today will ensure that HMRC and Border Force have the power to seize, detain or inspect goods sent from GB to NI, to verify that they are compliant with the rules.

I am sorry to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley; I understand the importance of the issue he raised, but it goes beyond the scope of our debate today. I have endeavoured to answer all the other questions that noble Lords put. I will look carefully at the debate we have had to see if I should add anything further via writing.

I think the note to finish on is that this Government, as we implement the Windsor Framework—and we absolutely think it is the best deal for Northern Ireland—know that we need to have the confidence of the people of Northern Ireland in how we approach this. That means working collaboratively with all those involved and affected by the rules under the framework as we bring it in.

The Question is that the Grand Committee has considered this instrument. As many as are of that opinion will say “Content”; to the contrary “Not content”.

Sitting suspended.

My Lords, it would be very helpful if Members could stay close by. We are just seeking advice on how to proceed, as this is quite an unusual situation.

We have now considered this instrument. It has not been agreed to, and therefore will go to the Chamber as usual.

Motion negatived.

Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

That the Grand Committee do consider the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 3) Regulations 2023.

Relevant document: 46th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

My Lords, these regulations amend the Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) Regulations 2019. This instrument was laid on 29 June 2023, under powers in the Sanctions and Anti-Money Laundering Act 2018. The measures in this instrument entered into force on 30 June 2023.

If I may digress from my script, once again we are debating Russia and its actions. As I came into the Room, I was catching up on some of the news on the Black Sea grain initiative. Yet again, we have seen tragedy; to say it is shocking is perhaps an understatement. According to media reports, Russia has not only scuppered the Black Sea grain initiative but attacked some of the grain ports, destroying much of the grain held in those warehouses. Again, it shows the tragic nature of this illegal war and the importance of our sanctions. I say at the outset that I appreciate the work of both Front Benches opposite and the co-ordination and unity that we have displayed in moving through sanctions at such a pace.

I turn to the SI in front of us. These measures have been co-ordinated with our international partners, while refining the approach to accommodate the particular circumstances of the UK legal sector. By restricting access to additional services from the United Kingdom, they will contribute to increasing pressure on Mr Putin for waging this illegal and brutal war against Ukraine. I know that noble Lords have been focused on this issue in previous debates too. These measures place further constraints on the Russian economy, and therefore Mr Putin’s war machine. They add force to the largest, most substantial package of economic sanctions that Russia has ever faced.

The instrument delivers on the commitment made by the UK Government to ban legal advisory services on specified commercial activities. This will further hamper the ability of Russian businesses to operate internationally. This legislation will make it illegal for any person working in the UK, as well as British nationals working abroad, to advise on or facilitate certain commercial activities that would be sanctioned by the United Kingdom Government if they involved a British national or entity or were taking place in the UK. In practice, this will make it harder for Russia to benefit from the United Kingdom’s world-class legal expertise. This goes beyond prohibitions already in place that cover a range of professional services, including accountancy, architecture and management consultancy. This latest measure demonstrates our continued determination to ratchet up the pressure on Mr Putin for continuing his illegal war.

Although this legislation will close down opportunities for Mr Putin’s associates and supporters to benefit commercially from the UK’s legal expertise, it is important that we ensure that legal services can continue to be provided where they contribute to upholding the rule of law and compliance with our sanctions framework. By protecting the fundamental right to legal representation, we, frankly and directly, distinguish ourselves from Mr Putin’s oppressive regime. By ensuring that legal advice can continue to be provided for the purposes of compliance with our sanctions framework, we enhance the effectiveness of our regulations and intensify the pressure on Mr Putin.

Legal professionals are under a strict obligation to ensure that their services support their clients to be sanctions-compliant and do not stray into enabling them to circumvent restrictions. However, it has become apparent that this legislation can be interpreted as having the unintended consequence of prohibiting persons in the UK and British nationals abroad from providing legal advice to clients seeking to comply with the sanctions regimes of our international partners. Let me assure noble Lords that it is not the intent of these regulations to prohibit this type of legal service. UK lawyers should be able to support their clients to be sanctions-compliant beyond UK law as we work closely with our allies to tighten the net on Russia’s economy.

We have looked at this issue thoroughly. As an immediate response, we are working, first, across government and, importantly, across the legal profession. We have met representatives of the legal sector. My colleagues, the Lord Chancellor and the Justice Secretary, have met members directly; indeed, the Lord Chancellor met the president of the Law Society this morning. I know that this is a concern that anyone would have but I assure noble Lords that we are working closely with the legal sector in this respect to ensure that we implement a general licence that will make it clear that this type of activity can continue. We aim to have this in place in the coming days. I put on record our thanks to the legal sector for its constructive engagement on this important issue.

We have sought here to provide a direct remedy to that possible unintended consequence; the valuable support and input that we have had from the professional legal sector is very much appreciated. Once we have issued the licence, we will consider whether further amendments to the SI to address the issue are appropriate and necessary. Of course, I will update noble Lords, particularly those representing the Front Benches, on this. We will do this in conjunction with the legal sector and, if amendments are deemed necessary, we will bring them forward at the earliest opportunity.

As with our sanctions, this latest package has been developed in co-ordination with our international partners, as I said. In doing this, we will continue to work with the legal community to monitor the effects of this legislation and ensure that it achieves the desired objectives. We will also continue to co-ordinate with our international allies to identify and address any gaps or loopholes that emerge in our respective sanctions regimes.

This latest measure demonstrates our determination to target those who participate in or facilitate Mr Putin’s illegal war of choice. Through our sanctions regime, and those of our allies, Russia is being increasingly isolated, cut off from western markets, services and supply chains. Key sectors of the Russian economy have taken a significant hit and its economic outlook is bleak. The UK Government will use sanctions to intensify the military and economic pressure on Russia until Mr Putin does the right thing and ends his brutal invasion of Ukraine. We welcome the clear and continued cross-party support for this course of action. I beg to move.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing these regulations in such a clear and comprehensive way. I will refer briefly to the concerns about unintended consequences in a moment but I will start by strongly agreeing with the Minister about what are likely to be the consequences of the decision on grain in the Black Sea.

Putin will again threaten the expansion to new victims of his aggression to Ukraine across those who are least able to feed and fend for themselves, especially as malnutrition and hunger ravage the Horn of Africa. Those countries that are dependent on the grain will be looking at this with doom. In a way, it is a horrific response to the leaders of countries, when they consider that they can effectively maintain the status quo ante relations with the Putin regime, to know how little he holds in his standing their people, who need this food.

I have comments to make only with regard to accepting the Government’s argument that we had an issue we had to respond in the UK in terms of our legal services. This had been highlighted over a number of years, including the reports of the “London laundromat” and those companies that used SLAPPs and were part of the circumvention and subversion of the sanctions regime, so we welcome the moves. However, in welcoming them, the Minister will not be surprised to hear that noble Lords received a Law Society briefing on concerns about unintended consequences. My understanding is that the principal unintended consequence, as the briefing said, is this: if an international company wishes to know whether a specific activity that it is contemplating is prohibited by UK, EU and US sanctions, a UK lawyer can answer whether it is prohibited by UK sanctions. However, if it is UK-prohibited activity, the lawyer cannot then advise whether it is also prohibited by EU or US sanctions. I am grateful to the Minister for stating that the Government are in active consideration of how these unintended consequences will not be brought about.

In relation to the position of having a general licence, the Law Society has indicated that the issue is perhaps of a more substantial and complex need rather than requiring a sticking-plaster solution, as they put it. However, I am glad to hear that meetings are taking place at a high level; and that the Government have indicated that either a general licence or amendments will be brought forward as soon as they are necessary. We will support them when they are brought forward because we want to avoid this issue causing more complexity when we need more clarity both that the UK legal system will not be—indeed, will never be—used as part of subverting the sanctions regime we have put in place and that the UK can be a leader in many respects. I am grateful for the Minister’s clarifications and his offer to keep us informed of any progress in these talks.

I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for discussing the proposed statutory instrument so thoroughly. I want to follow the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, in what he picked up from the Law Society’s briefing. It is certainly the case, as the statutory instrument is framed, that a lawyer who works for an international firm but may be based in New York cannot advise an international client on EU or US law in respect of, say, divesting from activities in Russia. It is really quite important to know how he can be compliant with the law. I note the intention to have a general licence but will it be such that there will be a lack of clarity and a concern that overseas clients consulting UK lawyers will not be able to get advice at the same time about where the law stands in respect of US and EU law?

My Lords, one of the issues we need to address is that Russia is highly dependent on western countries for legal expertise. As a country, we previously exported £56 million in legal services to Russian businesses every year, so it is important that we address this issue.

I also welcome the fact that we can use this debate to reiterate our cross-party support for these measures to show our unwavering commitment to and solidarity with Ukraine, its people and its sovereignty. Following last night’s Statement repeat on NATO’s Vilnius summit, I underscored the strength of feeling across our diplomatic and military alliance that we must stand with Ukraine until the war is won. It is vital that Parliament speaks with one voice.

The Opposition fully support the steps that the Government are taking to further strengthen our sanctions regime, prevent evasion and ensure that the Kremlin’s capacity to conduct this war is undermined. I stress that we recognise that this statutory instrument is common sense and prudent. It clearly should not be permissible that, more than 500 days into this conflict, it would be potentially lawful for a UK legal services provider to support commercial activities that advanced Russian interests because said activity did not have a sufficiently tangible connection to the UK, due to the territorial application of the 2019 regulations.

I hope the Minister can tell us what assessment the Government have made of how effective the 2019 regulations were and how we discovered any potential loopholes that people could get through. This leads on to my major point about this: can the Minister account for the delay in addressing these issues from the application of the regulations in 2019? If this loophole has been exploited, why has it taken us so long to address it?

I have read the Law Society’s letter and I appreciate the Minister’s response. I welcome the fact that the law officers and other departments are meeting with the Law Society but, to echo the point from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, I am keen to support the Government in strengthening these sanctions. I do not want to see any further escape routes for people. It is important that we hear the Minister’s view on how effective these new regulations will be at imposing the sort of sanctions that we believe are necessary to limit Russia’s ability to wage war.

I know that the Minister has heard me say before that it is one thing to adopt particular regulations on sanctions, but how we resource them and how we are satisfied that they can be implemented and monitored is another. Can he tell us how the Office of Financial Sanctions Implementation is resourced? Will it be able to police these regulations? If our sanctions regime truly is a work in progress, we must be capable of reflection and improvement. If exemptions are causing more issues, we need to know about them; the assessment must be based on that.

There is one other question I will briefly raise, which is that the regulations provide exceptions when the Act relates to diplomatic missions or consular posts. Can the Minister give me a practical example of that? I am not sure I understand the purpose of it.

I have addressed the point about the Law Society. Of course, this was also raised with the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which expressed the view that this issue needs to be addressed. The committee was approached by an international law firm.

I conclude by saying that we once again fully support the Government’s actions. We want to see the Russian regime sanctioned. The news I have just seen on the BBC website about not only breaking the agreement but bombing the very facilities that could feed Africa is absolutely atrocious. The sooner we bring this regime to account, the better. We fully support the Government in their actions.

My Lords, I put on record my thanks to the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins. I am sure I speak for all three of us in saying that, when we embarked on this journey of sanctions, we hoped that our debates and discussions would be limited. However, it is a real tragedy of the consequences of the war on Ukraine that we are continuing to have these debates. As I said in my opening remarks, and as was acknowledged by the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, the fact that, even as we speak, there continue to be not just acts of aggression but pure violations of international law shows the nature of this war.

One point I would raise is how we amplify these points to the sorts of countries that still sometimes challenge us directly. I was delighted to see the noble Lord, Lord Wallace—I am not tempting him into the debate, but I am sure he will have a view on how we address the issue of influence directly. Quite often on the world stage and as I have travelled, it has been said to us that our sanctions are causing problems of food insecurity. Russia’s actions today demonstrate what is causing the challenges to food security. We have always worked with the UN and other key countries to ensure that the Black Sea grain initiative is kept on the front burner. It is regrettable and tragic that it was not. Further, it is tragic that we have seen the consequences culminating in this Russian aggression on the very areas that store the grain.

That said, I thank noble Lords for their specific contributions. To clarify the point made by my noble friend Lady Lawlor, whose intervention I welcome, what we are seeking to introduce—we have identified this issue—is a general licence as an immediate first step. We are working directly with the legal profession, including the Law Society, to ensure that any other unintended consequences and any other loopholes that we can address directly can also be met first hand. As I said in my opening remarks, we will seek to bring legislation forward at the earliest opportunity. It is important that we continue to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, raised the issue of identifying, as things are, how we have been working to address particular issues and the delay. As I am sure he would acknowledge, legal services are distinct from other professional services in the constitutional role they play within our country in supporting and upholding the rule of law. Therefore, we carefully consider the implications of different policy options. This is ever evolving. In collecting an evidence base, we also work with legal services to ensure that, as far as possible, the measures we lay have the desired effect.

I am not saying that this is the last time we will have this conversation. As we are imposing these sanctions and taking further steps to restrict Russian activities, I am sure that we will identify areas, as we have on this occasion, that will further address those very issues. As a former person of the City myself, I fully understand the comprehensive scope of not just the banking services but the services industry around them. We have previously addressed consultancy and accountancy firms and today, in conjunction with legal representatives, we have worked through the implications for the legal industry.

I share with noble Lords that our level of engagement has included webinars. As I said earlier, I know that my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice are working with the Law Society of England and Wales to organise round tables with leading sanctions lawyers, as well as holding confidential discussions directly with firms. The MoJ is engaged in regular dialogue with representative bodies, and this has allowed the Government to identify key areas of concern.

As the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Purvis, identified, following the announcement of the SI, the sector raised concerns that the exemption for advice related to compliance with sanctions applies only to UK sanctions regulations. We are considering this issue as a matter of urgency and, as I said, looking to introduce this general licence to address that very issue. As to whether the Act complies with international sanctions imposed on Russia, including the EU and US sanctions regime—

I am sorry to interrupt but regarding the exemptions, I was going to ask about the provision of professional business services, specifically related to auditing services. I cannot understand why there is an exemption for that.

As I understand it, the auditing element of it is a professional and legal requirement, but if I can amplify that further I will of course write to the noble Lord.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis, and my noble friend Lady Lawlor raised the issue of the general licence and its application. Under the general licence, UK persons will be able to advise on global sanctions regimes, including but not limited to the United Kingdom, USA and EU. In response to my noble friend, the same applies to the scenario she illustrated of a UK person working in the USA. However, I will take all these elements and ensure that there is a specific response because these are understandably issues of concern.

At this juncture, I also say that our rule of law and justice system allow for the provision of representation services. I am sure that the fact that I did not get a question on that means that noble Lords have acknowledged and noted that it is right that a country such as the United Kingdom continues to protect that right of legal representation. We may have our personal views on particular people who seek to take advantage of our professional services but, at the same time, every professional, including legal professionals, will now be bound by the new regulations that we are putting forward.

On the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, specific to the Diplomatic Service, I am sure that some areas of privileges and immunities are covered in that. Again, in the interest of completeness, I will cover that in the appropriate letter.

On auditing, as I said, audits apply to the shareholders rather than the companies, in order to ensure that audits can take place where they are a statutory requirement. I have just had that confirmation from the Box—I remember some of my private sector experience quite well. It shows that when you do things off the cuff, you remember things from years past.

In all seriousness, we have sought to address some of the key areas identified as these new regulations and sanctions regimes are applied. While we have worked to ensure that Russia cannot access our legal expertise in relation to certain commercial activities, we have not hindered work that helps to provide judicial rights and access to justice.

These measures are the latest addition to our package of sanctions, which is having a damaging effect on Mr Putin’s war machine and his regime. I know that the UK Government and all Members of your Lordships’ House are united in keeping the pressure on Mr Putin until he ends this horrific and senseless war.

Finally, if, before the House rises, there are further details I can share with noble Lords on the issuance and the date of issuance of the general licences, I will do so. I will write to noble Lords on the areas that I have said I will address, particularly on diplomats. That said, I put on record my sincere thanks to all noble Lords, including my noble friend, who participated in this brief debate. Sadly, and tragically, I am sure that we will have further debates on this.

Motion agreed.

Official Statistics Order 2023

Considered in Grand Committee

Moved by

My Lords, I will begin with the purpose of the order and briefly take the Committee through what we are considering.

The order updates the list of non-Crown organisations that produce official statistics, as defined in the Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007. The Government and the UK Statistics Authority want to see official statistics enabling sound policy decisions and providing a firm evidence base for decision-making both inside and outside government. The role of the authority and the need for timely and high-quality statistics were never more evident than during the Covid-19 pandemic. The code of practice for statistics plays an important role in ensuring that producers of official statistics inspire public confidence by demonstrating trustworthiness, quality and value in the statistics they produce.

The order revokes and replaces the Official Statistics Order 2018, updating the list of UK non-Crown bodies that may produce official statistics. The Statistics and Registration Service Act 2007 established the non-ministerial department, the Statistics Board—known colloquially as the UK Statistics Authority—as an independent statutory body to promote and safeguard the production and publication of official statistics that serve the public good. The Act allows the flexibility to add non-Crown bodies to, or remove them from, the authority’s remit by order. The order provides an updated list of bodies whose statistical activities will be official statistics and so will be monitored by the authority.

The authority will work with bodies designated as producers of official statistics to promote good practice for the production and publication of official statistics, including through the code of practice for statistics; to monitor and report on the production and publication of official statistics; and to assess the treatment by producers of official statistics, at the request of those producers, against the code of practice and publish the results of those assessments. If statistics comply with the code, the authority will designate them as national statistics.

These changes are applied to UK-wide and English organisations. The UK statistical system follows the principle that the devolution of statistics should mirror the devolution of policy areas. This order takes the same approach to devolution as the order it replaces. Regularly updating the orders ensures that the scope of official statistics remains accurate and relevant in light of the establishment, abolition or name changes of public bodies. Section 6 of the 2007 Act provides that Scottish Ministers, Welsh Ministers or Northern Ireland departments can determine that statistics produced by non-Crown bodies are brought into scope. There have been equivalent amending orders for Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

It is important to note that, although the order covers a wide range of bodies, which are listed in the Schedule, the vast majority were already designated under the previous order, so this is a very minor adjustment. It adds five new bodies to the list in the 2018 order: the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the Joint Information Systems Committee, the Regulator of Social Housing, Skills for Care Ltd and the Trade Remedies Authority. It removes five bodies from the list in the 2018 order that are no longer legal entities: the Health and Social Care Information Centre, the Higher Education Statistics Agency, Monitor, the NHS Trust Development Authority and the Natural Environment Research Council.

The order also alters the names of two bodies that were contained in the last order. The NHS Commissioning Board is now recorded as NHS England, and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary is now recorded as His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services—and long may he live.

The UK Statistics Authority was consulted in preparing the order, in accordance with the Act, and is content for it to be laid. My department has laid the order on behalf of other government departments in preference to each department laying an order for the bodies for which it is responsible. That is intended to make the best use of parliamentary time.

My Lords, it is important for us to discuss this order. It may appear on the face of it to be simply a technical, procedural or managerial matter, but it does have a political import.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, it is appropriate for us to have a debate on this instrument. It is worth noting that the Commons dispensed with it in seven minutes. Perhaps the Front Bench is hoping for a similar record here but I will delay us for a little bit. Sorry, I am wrong; it was nine minutes.

The debate on postal packages caught me unawares; I thought that we would all be finished by now. Still, this is an important issue and I wanted to have my say about statistics, as I am interested in that sort of thing. Unfortunately—I apologise to the Committee for this—I did not do as much preparation early as I had intended. I shall ask questions that, of their nature, will be fairly technical so I shall indulge the Minister if she is unable to answer everything fully. It would have been a good idea if I had asked for a meeting before this debate; a meeting after the Summer Recess may be a helpful way forward but we will see.

We have these things called official statistics. There are actually two tiers of them because there are national statistics as well. As I read the rules, it has to be an official statistic before it can be a national statistic, and whether something is a national statistic is a matter of practical importance. It is not just a technical clarification; it makes a difference. This is a completely different issue, which I am not seeking to debate today, but the fact that the RPI is not a national statistic but an official one has an impact on the way in which policy is determined.

My problem is that I am still not totally clear what the point of an official statistic is. There is a certain circularity in the definition—important statistics are official statistics and official statistics are important statistics. It is quite difficult to break out of that loop and try to identify from published material what the criteria are by which official statistics are decided, what difference they make to the operation and what impact they have. I saw a claim somewhere in the documentation that there is an overarching policy on the scope of official statistics. If it exists, I have failed to track it down. It would be good to have a clear explanation online.

All this stems from the 2007 Act. In their wisdom, the legislators at that time decided that this order required the affirmative procedure, which to me means that they thought this was an important issue that required political review. I looked at the Explanatory Notes for the Bill; although there is an explanation of Sections 5 and 7, unfortunately there is a gap for Section 6 in the background explaining this legislation. It jumps straight from Sections 1 to 5 to Sections 7 to 21. It is a bit difficult to see what was in the legislators’ minds at the time about what exactly was the point of official statistics.

However, we have them now. We have this list of 40, if I am counting right. One by one, they all look entirely reasonable, although the sorts of bodies vary widely. The difficult thing is to spot which organisations are missing. I turned to the government website and looked up government bodies. Apparently there are 604, and here we have 40. The obvious question is why these 40 were chosen and the others excluded. There may well be good reasons but we do not know what they are, because there is a singular lack of clarity over the criteria and purpose of official statistics.

The Explanatory Memorandum to this order says that there was consultation. The way it is worded implies that it was the department—the Cabinet Office—consulting the UK Statistics Authority, but in practice it was plainly the other way around. This is all generated by the UK Statistics Authority. It consulted the Cabinet Office and all the departments, pulled all the information together and drew up this list. But it does not tell us what it said to departments about why they would want to put forward these public bodies to have official statistics status and not others. We just do not know what the criteria are, as far as I can tell. Maybe I am missing it; I hope the Minister can draw my attention to it.

So I got 604 results, and I looked through them all. We can dismiss the 24 ministerial departments; they are the Government, so they are included automatically. The non-ministerial departments are included—there are 20 of them. But 425 were described as

“Agencies and other public bodies”,

of which 33 are on the list—I went through them, and they raised all sorts of questions. I could go through all 390-odd remaining bodies and ask about them one by one, but I will save your Lordships that. Still, there are some that I do not really understand.

One oddity that I will mention is that the Financial Conduct Authority is included, but it is a subsidiary or part of the Bank of England, which is not. Another one that I was surprised about was the Certification Officer, which is very important as far as trade unions and employers’ organisations are concerned. It is not on the list, but one would have thought that its statistics were of some importance. The Electoral Commission is not on the list, and neither is the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, which has had some controversy. The list does not include the Secret Intelligence Service, but I think we can let them off that one. The Rail Accident Investigation Branch seems an obvious candidate to me. Of course, it is of interest that the Office for National Statistics is not on the list, but that would have been a bit self-referential. So there are questions about why only a limited number are included and many appear to be excluded.

One particular oddity is that included in the list of 40 is the Service Complaints Ombudsman. Why is that ombudsman included in the list when the seven other ombudsmen—whatever the plural of them is; is it “ombudsmen”?—are not? We do not have the Housing Ombudsman, the Legal Ombudsman and so on—noble Lords get the point. Yet another oddity concerns public corporations; should they be included? On the government website, there is a list of public corporations, along with other lists of public bodies and so on. Only one public corporation is included in the SI: the Pension Protection Fund. Others are not. The National Employment Savings Trust Corporation, which in many ways is very similar to the PPF, is not included. The Post Office is not included, nor is the Oil and Pipelines Agency.

Once you start poking and pulling a thread in this tapestry, the whole thing, to my mind, starts to unravel. I have made my point and I hope it is clear. I suggest that the Minister does not try to respond on every single item I included in the list, but it would perhaps be helpful to have a meeting after the Recess to go through this and set my doubts at nil.

My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister comment on where, if not under these regulations, one can find out who decides the measures that will be included in official statistics by any of the authorised bodies?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, on the care and attention he has dedicated to this. I regret that I was not as thorough, although I did discover what JISC was, and one or two other things, as I looked at the list. I start with a confession: I do vaguely remember that there was a point when I understood the difference between national statistics, official statistics and other statistics, but I think I have forgotten. There were some very subtle, but nevertheless significant, distinctions between them. I was a Minister at the time, so I had to understand it.

I echo the recommendation made by the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, that we might have a fuller briefing when we return. It would be very helpful to know what the Government’s overall strategy on statistics is. I would also welcome, and I think quite a number of us would welcome, a government briefing on where we are now on the use of statistics across departments, as the Government go through the digital transformation.

I recall from my time in the Cabinet Office that there were tremendous barriers to sharing statistics across government, because the laws under which the Department for Work and Pensions operated were different from those of the Home Office. Therefore, when it came to something such as the Windrush scandal, where it was quite evident that there was material in other departments which would have showed whether or not the people concerned had been in Britain, in employment and registered with a doctor over the previous 20, 30 or 40 years, it was not carried through.

The digital strategy within government is extremely important to the future of government. It is also very much a non-party issue. It would be very helpful to have a briefing for all Peers to say where we are with that now. How far have some of those legal barriers been overcome? Is there now appropriate sharing across Whitehall? How far have some of the hesitations that so many people have about privacy and the use of their personal statistics been overcome?

I recall, at the time of the last census, a number of people, including the then Minister, Francis Maude, now the noble Lord, Lord Maude, saying that the question of whether we need future censuses ought to be moot, because one agency or other of our Government is collecting most of those statistics all the time. If one were able to put them all together, it would save us the effort and expense of a census and would provide us with a moving interpretation of what is happening in our schools, our ethnic communities, our ageing population, et cetera. So there were some very large, important questions there.

I welcome what the Minister said about providing a firm evidence base for government. We have, after all, been through a period in which a number of people, including at least one Prime Minister, were not entirely sure that evidence mattered, and one rather senior Minister decried government by experts as something we should get away from. I am very glad that the with the current Government we are getting back towards a concern with evidence-based policy-making.

I too was puzzled by the list of inclusions and exclusions. We would welcome a letter at some point to explain what that might be about, without delaying where we are now much further. From these Benches, we welcome the greater use of statistics. We welcome the wider publication of statistics, and we recognise that effective government for all British citizens precisely does depend on accurate information on what is happening, and on where there are problems which need to be identified. Good governance depends on that.

My Lords, I suppose a lot of these questions stem from the 2007 Act and the establishment of the Statistics Board as a non-ministerial department that operates under the name of the UK Statistics Authority. The issue then was, and now is: what stats do we rely on? What has public confidence and what has public policy confidence? Of course, the authority is meant to do that job and draw from a number of sources, not least the bodies that are listed. Apart from the government departments, it can add other bodies to it, which raises the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, mentioned. The official statistics from the five new bodies that have been added to the list must be accurate, credible and reliable.

The question for the Minister is: what sort of additional support will be given to the bodies concerned to ensure that they are able to meet the standards required? The Equality and Human Rights Commission is one of the bodies that is being added. I am certainly aware of how much its resources have been reduced recently; its ability to conduct a range of statutory work has been curtailed because of the lack of resources. Is it solely up to the UK Statistics Authority to do that monitoring and evaluation? It must have felt confident to recommend that the Equality and Human Rights Commission be added to the list. The question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, was important: how is that decision made and how do we maintain public confidence in official statistics by the mechanism established in the 2007 Act?

The 2007 Act was designed to have an independent stats authority that can challenge the use of statistics where necessary. If the bodies are receiving government grants or are in any way overreliant on the Government—particularly the five that are being added to the list—will that reduce their capability to challenge the Government where necessary? I suspect that there is always the temptation for Governments of whatever colour to use the principle that he who pays the piper calls the tune. We need to see just what mechanism is involved. Can the Minister assure us that the independence and credibility of these bodies will be properly maintained? That is the main focus of my concern. I would certainly welcome any briefing, but the 2007 Act is a useful starting point to look at the issues that my noble friend raised.

First, I thank all those who have taken part in this debate. I am delighted that it is a bit longer than the equivalent debate that my colleague, Minister Burghart, took in the Commons. He must have been very disappointed.

I thank in particular the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, for challenging us in such a delightful way. What he does not know is that I am almost as passionate about statistics as he is, so I was delighted when I discovered that statistics was in my portfolio at the Cabinet Office. I would be absolutely delighted to agree to a meeting, where we can take the conversation a little further. That will perhaps save us a little time this evening, especially if the Division Bells ring again.

I draw the Committee’s attention to the code of practice for statistics, which ensures that official statistics serve the public. I find it a very useful document that answers quite a few of the questions that have been asked this evening. It is on the GOV.UK website. Indeed, the definitions of “official” and “national statistics” are on the UK Statistics Authority website. The purpose of official statistics is made very clear in the code.

On why there are 40 bodies and how we consulted, I will explain a little about what we did in the run-up to this order. It is the product of extensive engagement between the Cabinet Office, the UK Statistics Authority, the listed bodies and responsible government departments. The scope of the engagement was to establish whether the list of bodies in the old order was up to date and what changes were required. We contacted the authority, which obviously led this work—as was explained, it is independent—and it contacted senior statisticians at all the departments involved. This involved a review of the schedule in the old order to establish changes. The authority requested input from senior statisticians regarding new bodies under its remit and the changes that might be needed. Its role as the national statistics institute gives the authority a special position in all this.

As we noted, many of the changes are proposed because of the restructuring of the bodies since 2018. It slightly took one down memory lane that some of the bodies that we all dealt with have now been replaced by others. I do not think I can match the brilliant analysis that we heard, but I look forward perhaps to having a more leisurely conversation about some of the reasoning behind the list that we put before noble Lords. On the overarching policy, I hope that noble Lords find the explanations online and in the code of practice helpful.

My noble friend Lady Lawlor asked who decides about the official statistics. All statistics produced by the bodies listed will be official. The ONS does not direct bodies as to what statistics are to be produced and, under Section 12 of the Act, producers of official statistics have the opportunity to request an assessment of their statistics against the code of practice. If the UK Statistics Authority determines compliance with the code, the statistics are designated as national statistics. That also helps with the question that the noble Lord, Lord Collins, asked about the departments’ need for help with statistics—that engagement is helpful there.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, talked about barriers to sharing statistics. We have discussed this before in relation to legislation, where we have sometimes taken powers in Bills before this House to make sure that there is better scope for the sharing of statistics, which is important. From having visited the authority, my impression is that it plays an important role in bringing statistics together and sharing important information and consultations on important issues. Some migration statistics recently went out for consultation, and these kinds of things are useful and important.

I very much welcome agreement on the importance of evidence-based policy-making, which is one of the reasons why we have invested in this substantial statistics authority. I do not think that the future of the census is for today, but conversations continue about the terrific material that is now emerging from the last one, which is changing our view of things. We look forward to finding the best possible ways of collecting statistics for the future, which is an important focus of the authority’s work.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about challenge. Clearly, the UK Statistics Authority contains some of the best statisticians in the world and plays a world-leading role. The noble Lord’s question was about how the organisations supplying data to the authority would challenge. I am not sure I quite understand what he was getting at but, clearly, the code and the UK Statistics Authority’s links with different departments—

If I might assist the noble Baroness, it was a general point on statistics: he who pays the piper calls the tune. I suppose all statistics produced by government departments are official statistics. The Civil Service does that job, but we have these additional bodies—quangos and other things.

The point I was making was particularly about the Equality and Human Rights Commission, which has been added. Is that because of its restructuring? I do not think so, but it could be. It does collect important stats on the groups for which it has statutory responsibility, but its resources have been substantially cut. Its ability to do the job that it was given by statute has been undermined by government funding. What mechanism is there to ensure that, when it is asked to produce statistics or statistics are drawn from it, it has the capacity and capability to do the job? I was amplifying the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor.

Bodies such as the Equality and Human Rights Commission use extensive guidance on official statistics, which is available on the website and elsewhere. The Office for Statistics Regulation engages regularly with producer bodies. The impact of adding bodies to the list in the order is not huge, because various organisations are on this list because they produce interesting statistics. The commission, as we all know, produces very good research reports on a variety of topics relating to equality, race, ethnicity, disability and so on, which will be classed as statistics in the future.

I take the noble Lord’s point about resources, but I do not think the order makes a big difference. I note what he has said, and perhaps we will return to it when we discuss these issues further.

I hope I have responded to at least the spirit of this debate, which I found extremely interesting. The order updates the list of bodies subject to oversight by the UK Statistics Authority. I thank all those who have worked on this order and brought it forward. I hope colleagues will join me in supporting the order, which I now commend to the Committee.

Motion agreed.

Committee adjourned at 7.47 pm.