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Lords Chamber

Volume 831: debated on Thursday 20 July 2023

House of Lords

Thursday 20 July 2023

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.

Introduction: Lord Kempsell

Ross John Kempsell, having been created Baron Kempsell, of Letchworth in the County of Hertfordshire, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton and Lord Mott, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Lord Ranger of Northwood

Kulveer Singh Ranger, having been created Baron Ranger of Northwood, of Pimlico in the City of Westminster, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Verma and Lord Howard of Lympne, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Oaths and Affirmations

Lord Clarke of Hampstead took the oath.

Schools: Absenteeism


Asked by

My Lords, the latest data show improvements in attendance across all phases, with 350,000 fewer pupils being persistently absent in spring 2023 compared with summer 2022. Our new expectations ask schools to appoint a senior attendance champion and meet termly with local authorities to agree individual plans for at-risk children, as well as using our attendance data to identify where to intervene early. We have launched the attendance action alliance for system leaders and have expanded attendance hubs and mentoring support.

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend’s voice has recovered.

Last autumn, two years after the lockdown ended, a quarter of children were persistently absent from school—double the rate before lockdown. That means that 2 million children are persistently absent from school, falling behind on education, missing out on social education with their friends and running the risk of falling prey to drugs and criminal gangs. There is something seriously wrong here. What research has my noble friend’s department done to find out the reasons for this worrying increase, which shows little signs of diminishing?

As ever, my noble friend asks a very important question. If we look at the reasons underpinning persistent absence, the majority of persistent absence is authorised, with higher than normal levels of sickness particularly in the last autumn term. We are also aware of suggestions that parental attitudes towards sickness have changed, with parents keeping children home when previously they might have sent them into school and, of course, high levels of reported anxiety. However, we are also actively exploring the matter of those children who perhaps missed so much education during the pandemic that their level of reading, for example, is not sufficient to engage properly with the curriculum. That is also something that we are keen to address as quickly as possible.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Young, and to support his Question. I think the answer just given by the Minister is very insightful. I want to ask her a question that might be from the side. Could we get a message across to parents, particularly those who have started to believe that working from home is the norm, that when they get up, they have to get their children to school?

I know that the noble Lord will know that the relationship with parents is incredibly important. He is right: it seems clearer, now more than ever, that there needs to be great communication with parents and a high level of trust. We have prepared materials to support parents getting their children into school. The Secretary of State has just written to all responsible bodies, local authorities and trusts about this importance, including highlighting really good, clear communication with parents.

My Lords, can the Minister give us some guidance on what progress has been made in making sure that mainstream schools are identifying reasons why children are failing? Often this is because of neurodiversity and special educational needs. What are we doing to improve the awareness of these? I remind the House of my interest in this area.

The noble Lord knows we are working extremely hard, and in our latest publications—both in relation to the commissioning of schools and our description of what a really strong trust looks like—there was a very big emphasis on inclusivity and making sure children with special educational needs are well supported in mainstream education. To give the noble Lord a specific example, we are aware that in some areas children with education, health and care plans have high attendance as a specific objective on that plan. That is not the case in all, and many schools have suggested to me that it should be.

My Lords, children with some form of special educational needs and disabilities accounted for 24.9% of all persistently absent children in the year to 2022. Having 100% attendance may not be possible for them, yet some schools offer awards and prizes to children who have a full attendance record. Does the Minister agree this is discriminatory? It not only impacts their well-being but perhaps impacts their longer-term view of how they will be valued in the workplace. What are Government doing to ensure schools tailor their approach to take into account the needs of young people who cannot be there all the time?

I understand where the noble Baroness’s concern comes from. Obviously, the children I meet tend to be hand-picked for perfection, but when I talk to children and suggest to them that not all their friends are in every day, they tell me they need incentives to come in, whether that is fun at the end of the day such as extracurricular enrichment activities or reward schemes. Some of the best reward schemes I have seen are run on a weekly basis, which addresses the point the noble Baroness raises: no child feels they have fallen behind so far they can never catch up.

My Lords, I declare an interest here as somebody who, as a schoolboy, regularly bunked off school. Noble Lords will be happy to know that I went straight to the library and studied medieval poetry—so that was helpful. I would like to ask my noble friend the Minister if she could give us some good practice examples and models of schools or academy trusts that have brought children back to school.

I find it hard to believe that my noble friend bunked off school—although, obviously, medieval poetry was the first thing that came to mind. In terms of examples of good practice, there is a lot going on around the country. One of the trusts we work particularly closely with is the Northern Education Trust, which runs schools in places such as Middlesbrough, Hartlepool and Stockton. I went to visit its North Shore Academy in Stockton, where they are identifying children for whom reading is a particular barrier to engagement. They then communicate when children start to catch up with their reading to the parents, so parents are getting a good news story about their child at school and encouraging the child to go back to school. That, in turn, helps behaviour in the classroom because those children are no longer bored and potentially disruptive. That is the kind of thing on which we are encouraging schools to get together and share best practice.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chair of the National Society and thank the Minister for visiting the north-east recently. The Church of England has just published a flourishing schools document, which I know she has. Absenteeism appears to also be connected to mental health and well-being; there are particular issues around special educational needs. Could the Minister comment on the work that is being done to note the connection with mental health and well-being and improve that to help with absenteeism?

The right reverend Prelate will be aware that we are rolling out senior mental health leads in schools. I think it is really important—and this potentially relates to my noble friend Lord Sewell’s question as well—that we are clear where mental health is a genuine barrier for a child to be in school, and where a child’s mental health would improve if they were in school. When I talk to school leaders, they say it is absolutely the exception that a child would not be better off in school, even if they are experiencing anxiety or depression.

My Lords, three times as many children receiving free school meals are severely absent from school compared to those who are not eligible. This puts the UK’s poorest children at yet another disadvantage compared to their peers. What steps are the Government taking to support these pupils? The Government outlined plans to tackle absence rates two months ago. How long will these take to fully implement? When will we get the first feedback from these programmes?

The noble Baroness is right, and it is an area of real concern for us. She may also be aware that there is quite a lot of variation, including between schools in very deprived areas. That is why bringing schools together in attendance hubs, so that those with a very similar demographic can share their good practice with those who are finding it harder to turn this, is something we are keen to do.



Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what consideration they have given to a multilateral approach involving a coalition of both Eastern and Western powers in resolving the crisis in the Ukraine.

My Lords, in February, at the UN General Assembly, 141 countries called on President Putin to withdraw Russian troops from Ukraine. This is the quickest way to end the war and deliver a just and lasting peace. The United Kingdom welcomes President Zelensky’s peace formula, which reflects principles of the UN charter. On Monday, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary chaired a UN Security Council briefing on Ukraine, and we will work with the Ukrainian Government to follow up on June’s discussions in Copenhagen between the G7 and several G20 countries on the principles for sustainable peace in Ukraine.

My Lords, notwithstanding any difficulties we have with China, but recognising that China, like us, needs a peace process that stabilises its world markets while safeguarding as much as possible the sovereignty of Ukraine, could we not initiate a dialogue with China, drawing on its special relationship with Russia, that seeks an end to the conflict—a dialogue that promotes international protectorate status for Donetsk and Luhansk, and limited restoration of Russian oil supplies, substantially top-sliced to fund the cost of Ukraine’s reconstruction? Someone, somewhere, from a position of strength, must make the first move, as a policy of “last man standing” suits nobody. Can China open that door?

My Lords, the first thing I would say is that there is someone who can stop this war. That is Mr Putin, and he can stop it right now. We welcome the role China has played in engagement with President Zelensky, but these discussions about Ukraine must be led by Ukraine. As I said in my original Answer, we are working with key partners, including an extended engagement with the G20, including the likes of Turkey, Saudi Arabia and India. This war can stop today: if President Putin withdraws from the occupied territories then peace can prevail. Let us not forget what he did yesterday: he bombed the very grain depots where he stopped that grain from leaving Ukraine. This is not a sign of peace; it is a sign of furthering war.

My Lords, I agree with the Minister 100%, but there is no case for the West telling Ukraine what to do in a settlement. It must be up to Ukraine’s elected Government, because after all it is their country that has been desecrated by this evil force that has invaded and committed war crimes. Surely we should reject the suggestions of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.

My Lords, I agree with my noble friend. That is why my right honourable friend convened a meeting of the UN Security Council. The UN, as an organisation, is set up for exactly these purposes. It negotiated the Black Sea grain initiative. It is Russia that stopped the Black Sea grain initiative. It is Russia that not only stopped it but then went and bombed the very same grain supplies. When we talk about food insecurity in the world, it is not Ukraine’s fault—it is Russia’s.

My Lords, I intervene early to completely associate the Opposition with the words of the Minister. We are at one with the Government on this: any peace process must be initiated and led by the Ukrainians. We fully support that. I also associate myself with the Minister’s comments on the outrageous bombing of the grain stores. I hope the noble Lord will convey to the African Union just what impact that will have on African nations and food security. On the International Fund for Ukraine, is the Minister satisfied that the £770 million is delivering what it set out to do? Ukraine needs arms and it needs them now.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord and reiterate what I said in the Moses Room yesterday in thanking the lead shadow spokesmen on foreign affairs for both the Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats. We are very much at one on this. The noble Lord will know that the United Kingdom has stood firm in its humanitarian, military and economic support. That is why we convened the Ukraine Recovery Conference. On the wider point that the noble Lord raised about peace, we are again very much on the same page. We are working very closely with Ukraine to ensure that all avenues can be explored, but any decision on the peace process must be led by Ukraine.

My Lords, these Benches also agree with the Minister in that regard. He referred to the egregious war crime of attacking the grain supplies; the hungriest and the poorest people on earth will be the victims of Putin’s aggression on this. Does the Minister agree that this provides an opportunity to say to those countries in Africa that are currently neutral that we can do two things with them? First, we can proscribe the Wagner Group, active in Africa, as I have called for since February last year; and, secondly, we can immediately restore humanitarian assistance for those suffering from acute hunger and malnutrition in the Horn of Africa. Restoring that, plus an active view on Wagner, will send very strong signals to the Horn of Africa and the African continent.

My Lords, both the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Collins, referred to the important role of Africa. I will be travelling to Kenya at the start of next week, and that will be an opportunity once again to emphasise the importance of the Black Sea grain initiative—unfortunately and tragically these humanitarian supply lines have been brought to an end. Tragically, this is not the only action Russia has taken. We have also seen it reject humanitarian corridors to Syria; we sought to restore the current pathways, as well as those at al-Rai and Bab al-Salam. Russia rejected these. It is very clear that it is not Ukraine, western support for Ukraine or the 141 countries that have backed Ukraine that have blocked this and caused food insecurity; it is Russia, supported by a small number of countries. Of course I will take that back. On the issue of the Wagner Group, the noble Lord knows that I cannot go further. We have proscribed a number of key individuals, through sanctions, but on proscription overall I cannot comment any further.

My Lords, Mr Putin likes to depict himself as a strongman defending Mother Russia against perceived threats from the NATO alliance. Does the Minister agree that it would totally destroy Putin’s credibility, help end the suffering of the Ukrainian people and further the cause of world peace if the West were to openly offer Russia the bait of membership of NATO in return for its total withdrawal from Ukraine?

My Lords, I refer to Indian supply and the breaking of sanctions. There is no doubt that a large amount of oil is going to India, and is then being mixed up and sold on the open market as oil not from Russia. Are we doing anything to focus on this, not least because there is something like 40 or 50 tankers, which are actually very dangerous—they are not well fanned—being used to supply this oil around the world?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we are working bilaterally with other partners and directly with India in raising the bar on the importance of sanctions to be sustained. Of course, the deals that have been done—what has been referred to as the “rouble-rupee” deal—have not actually leveraged anything beyond one particular deal that was done in December last year. I take on board what the noble Lord has said, but that is why we are engaging through the Copenhagen process, where we opened up to other G20 countries.

My Lords, can my noble friend bring the House up to date on the latest figures on the number of Ukrainian children kidnapped by the Russian authorities and resettled in Russia? Is he in touch with our allies, Saudi Arabia and Turkey, which are reported to be trying to broker a deal to return these children to their parents? Regardless of the success that our allies may have, does he agree that President Putin, and his many crimes against humanity, must be brought to justice for the dreadful business of tearing children away from their parents?

My Lords, I assure my noble friend we are doing just that. We are working with key partners in this respect, including the International Criminal Court and Karim Khan. The numbers run into hundreds, but I will update my noble friend when I have exact numbers that I can share with him.

My Lords, has the noble Lord seen reports this week that children are also being sent to Belarus? Will he ensure that the International Criminal Court investigates that, along with the previous reports of abductions to Russia? In answering the substantive Question that was asked this afternoon, will he also refer to those countries that have aided and abetted Putin, including China and including Iran, which has provided weapons to the Russians?

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord that we are working with the International Criminal Court on all elements. The taking of children from Ukraine, be it to Russian territory or Belarus, is abhorrent, and we are very focused on and seized of this. This is part of the conversations we are having with the chief prosecutor at the ICC. On the wider question of the malign influence of Iran, we are well-versed in that. It supplies drones. The issue of China I have covered. We have seen China at least not block action at the UN Security Council, and that action is welcome.

Reducing Parental Conflict


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with the Reducing Parental Conflict programme, and what plans they have for the future of that programme.

My Lords, since its announcement, we have allocated £77 million to the reducing parental conflict programme, 151 local authorities have been directly supported, and the programme has developed evidence and approaches to relationship support that benefit families. We are committed to a cross-government approach to provide a strong, early help offer to families, and we continue integration into local services and alignment with other key government programmes, including family hubs and Supporting Families.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. I am very encouraged about the encouragement of cross-government department working. If I have understood it correctly, Supporting Families is being more aligned to DfE work and family hubs. Does my noble friend agree that there is much to be gained by aligning the reducing parental conflict programme in this way?

I believe the work achieved and continuing to be done within the RPC is invaluable. The programme has had three interim reports published that give strong evidence for that. As announced yesterday, three reports to be published in due course further demonstrate the impact of the programme with more granular detail. We are working to integrate RPC outcomes into other key government programmes, including family hubs and the Supporting Families programme, but for the moment the RPC programme remains firmly within DWP.

My Lords, for this programme, the DWP developed a national offer of parental relationship support. In 2015 it piloted a local family offer in local areas, in 2019 it invited top-tier authorities to apply for strategic leadership support funding and developed a practitioner training offer, in 2021 the DWP offered workforce development grants, and last month it announced £2.8 million funding for eight projects to reduce parental conflict. The Government have just now committed £33 million to be spent on this programme between 2022 and 2025. Will the Minister tell the House where the £33 million is going and the outcome of all these activities?

It certainly remains work in progress. As the noble Baroness said, the reducing parental conflict programme was initiated in 2017 in response to two key pieces of evidence, one of which was the number of children who live in coupled families reporting conflict, which in 2020 was as much as 12%. We have three further evaluation reports coming out. They are enormous—I have seen them. This granular detail will be coming out shortly. It shows, for example, that 90% of those parents who have gone through it have a satisfaction rate, meaning that there is already some valuable information about its success.

My Lords, I am not reassured by what the Minister said about how this is being rolled out. Is there adequate support for people without easy access to digital services? We seem to have an academic exercise. The Minister said it is being rolled out through local authorities. He will know that most local authorities have straitened financial circumstances at the moment. Does the Minister have evidence that they are actually doing something to give face-to-face support to families with these problems?

Very much so. The noble Lord may know that we had a first challenge fund, and we now have a second challenge fund with eight interesting initiatives as part of RPC. For example, one of the challenge funds is looking at the digital side. This has a particular focus on ensuring that those who are not particularly digitally aware can be. The results of that will come out in due course, but I hope that answers directly the noble Lord’s question.

My Lords, I am delighted to hear about all the work that my noble friend and the department are doing and that they have recognised how important the role of stability and the family unit is in creating family cohesion. Does my noble friend agree that it is also important to include the role of grandparents and intergenerational aspects? What are the Government doing in this respect on policy and actions?

My noble friend makes an excellent point about the role of grandparents because I think, and I am sure that the Government think, that for stability within families—which now come in all shapes and sizes, and we must recognise that—the role of grandparents is incredibly important to feed down to their grandchildren certain lessons in life. The family test, which the House will know about, was introduced by the Government in 2014. It aims to bring a family perspective into policy-making, and various tests are used. This is something for which we are responsible in my department, particularly looking at the guidance and the raising of awareness about this initiative.

My Lords, can the Minister assure the House that his civil servants are briefing Opposition spokesmen on this and other DWP programmes to ensure that there is a smooth transition to the next Labour Government?

I am not going to be tempted into giving an answer to that. I have to tell the noble Lord, as he will expect me to say, that we are fully focused on a major programme of change, including in my particular area. Our aim is to focus on children, and that is the most important thing that we are doing.

My Lords, it is heartening to hear that there is integration going on between departments of government, which has always been a bugbear for us to contend with. I just mention family courts, which post-separation conflict clogs up very expensively, leaving families in destructive limbo. Is my noble friend the Minister taking this area into account to integrate into the policy?

Yes, and my noble friend makes an important point about the link with the MoJ, particularly its work in the family courts. We are watching with interest the progress of work on mediation between parents who are separating. I also endorse my noble friend’s point on wider integration. I would like to reassure the House that the Government are working closely with a focus on relationship dynamics. That is what it is all about. Evidence shows that conflict, which can be intense, frequent and poorly resolved, as we know, can really damage children’s mental health and their longer-term outcomes, including attainment and employment.

My Lords, as a former family judge, I saw a great deal of this. To what extent are the Government able to help with the traumatic effect on so many of these children?

I think I have already alluded to a number of points of help because, first of all, the reducing parental conflict programme sits within my department. We have the Supporting Families programme, which is moving into the DfE quite shortly, and we have the family hubs. On the noble and learned Baroness’s question, we are working across government on family-focused policies, and it is very important that we continue to do that to provide cohesive answers to these very challenging matters.

My Lords, will my noble friend pay tribute to the work of volunteers who man child contact centres, which permit access to warring parents often in a very tense situation? They do a fantastic job. Will he ensure, through the MoJ, that they are properly funded, whether they are in the public or the private sector?

Yes. My noble friend makes a very good point about those who are outside the main programmes but set aside their own time to help, often with some extremely challenging matters. That is often within families themselves. The role of grandparents was mentioned. If there are some issues regarding the parents, the grandparents often have a most important role to step in and help in linking in with those who are skilled and trained in these matters.

My Lords, has the Minister seen the report by Domestic Abuse Commissioner Nicole Jacobs, The Family Court and Domestic Abuse: Achieving Cultural Change, produced this week? I refer the Minister to it in this discussion. It is a very simple but important report that I hope he will take account of.

I have not seen that report. I want to provide clarification for my noble friend that reducing parental conflict and domestic abuse are not exactly linked. It is easy to make a link, but the RPC programme seeks to address conflict, not domestic abuse. Having said all that, as my noble friend will know, domestic abuse is incredibly important and this Government are very much committed to preventing it and to ensuring that victims get the support they need.

MMR Vaccine


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what further steps they will take to work with schools to encourage greater take up of the MMR vaccine among pupils.

The UK Health Security Agency is closely engaging with the Department for Education to boost uptake of the MMR vaccine, especially in areas with lower uptake. Earlier this month a messaging campaign to the education sector encouraged uptake among pupils, and an NHS England national MMR call/recall campaign between September 2022 and February 2023 reached approximately 940,000 parents and guardians and resulted in the delivery of over 160,000 vaccinations.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the London Resilience Forum and as someone who contracted viral encephalitis as a child, albeit from mumps, not measles. Measles in children can cause death or serious disability. The increase in measles breakouts comes as research finds that the number of nurses in schools has dropped by 35%, with some local authorities scrapping the role altogether. Does the Minister believe that the decline in school nurses has contributed to falling MMR take-up in schools? Have the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care set a joint target to achieve an uplift in the take-up of MMR, and what is it?

I do not necessarily believe that that is the reason for the reduction. What we saw during Covid, as with so many things, was a couple of years when people were not attending school so much and were not attending GP surgeries for their vaccinations. That is why we have had a series of catch-up campaigns, which are working. We are getting there, but clearly there is a long way to go.

My Lords, we learned from Covid that high-uptake vaccine programmes can be effectively delivered only with a firm foundation of high-quality data and surveillance. The UK measles and rubella elimination strategy set out by UKHSA commits to a target of rigorous case investigation and the testing of over 80% of suspected cases with an oral fluid test. Can the Minister update the House on our performance on surveillance so that we can get on top of falling vaccination rates?

I thank my noble friend. I was speaking to the senior epidemiologist at UKHSA just this morning about this. My noble friend is right to point out the concerns in this area. On exactly where we are on oral fluid testing, I will need to write to her.

My Lords, the NHS says that susceptibility is not just among the under-twos; it is particularly high among 19 to 25 year-olds whose parents were affected by the unfounded Wakefield stories two decades ago, and many may still not be vaccinated. What is the NHS doing to reach this cohort, including at further education colleges and universities, to ensure that they are fully vaccinated before they start their own families? Catching measles when pregnant can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth and low birth weight.

The noble Baroness is correct. The unfortunate Wakefield effect had quite an impact on that cohort of people, so the campaigns have been targeted particularly at specific communities in particular areas. Outreach campaigns are being done as part of that, looking at every area where it can be done. Sometimes that involves looking at colleges and sometimes it involves going specifically to community centres themselves.

My Lords, the Minister referred to outreach campaigns in relation to the take-up of MMR. Will that extend to children who are disabled and who are forced to be off school for certain periods of time to ensure that they are able to access their MMR vaccines?

Yes. This whole campaign is looking particularly at hard-to-reach communities. The concern is particularly in London. Whereas we have about 85% take-up across England as a whole, in London it is around 75%, so that is where the particular outreach is. That also involves looking at children who are not able to go to school or who are home-schooled.

My Lords, I welcome the catch-up campaigns that the Government are running. They are very welcome. I particularly note the campaign in London. As the Minister will know, there is variation across the country. The WHO stipulates that 95% is the target reach, yet we are at 89%. So how are those hard-to-reach communities, particularly the ethnic-minority communities, being targeted? The uptake is slightly lower in those particular areas.

There are two main approaches. If a child is under 11, we would prefer to have a parent present, for obvious reasons—because it involves a vaccination—so that is normally done through the primary care system, through nurses. Post 11, because you do not need the parent there, that is where schools really come into effect. In particular, there is a school-age assisted immunisation providers programme that goes into every school in a particular area, targets it and speaks to every child to see whether they have had their vaccination—and they can give it on the spot if they have not.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the experience of both the MMR and Covid vaccination programmes shows that vaccine hesitancy is actually a very complex problem with multiple factors? Given the importance of high vaccination rates for public health, are the Government commissioning any research from academic experts in misinformation and disinformation so that we can understand what kinds of government campaigns will work and which ones will not and will only reinforce vaccine hesitancy?

The noble Lord is correct about trying to make sure that we learn the lessons from all these areas. The approach that they have been responding to so far is very much “horses for courses”. In the last six months alone, they have had four different types of campaign. We do not have the results from those campaigns yet, but the point is a very good one and I will make sure that we get those results from the research and share them.

My Lords, as my noble friend has referred to, it is very important that young people, children, get vaccinations when they are due, but the current government campaign to encourage adults to have a shingles jab, and indeed other areas, seems to point out—I have heard this from GPs—that the fact that adults are not now taking boosters for things such as tetanus, and other areas where vaccination is so important, means that there is a gap. Does my noble friend not think that we ought to do more to encourage adults to take up vaccinations, renewals and boosters where appropriate to safeguard their health?

Yes. That is where we really see UKHSA coming into its own in terms of taking an intelligence-led approach. The concern came from its modelling: its epidemiologists brought this up as a concern, which led to the alert going out on 14 July. Likewise, it is looking into other categories and, where there are those concerns, it will come out and suggest such outreach programmes.

My Lords, I refer to the question asked earlier by the noble Lord, Lord Young, about the high level of absence of children from school at the moment; I believe the present figure is in the order of 24%. What special steps are being taken there, where the appeal to the school will not make any difference yet we have to try to get to the homes of the individual parents?

As mentioned, there are outreach programmes, particularly for home-schooled children or children who are not there. There are also programmes in community centres, with the idea of trying to pick them up in as many places as possible. Obviously, there is concern about certain communities that are harder to reach than others. That is particularly the case in London, as I mentioned earlier. That is where we are trying to specifically target those community centres with outreach work.

My Lords, in April the UK Health Security Agency’s director of public health told the Health and Social Care Committee in the other place that the workload for delivering vaccines now falls disproportionately on general practices—particularly after the 2012 NHS reforms—and that this is one of the weaknesses we are trying to put back together.

In that context, the Minister may be aware of the issue around the quality and outcomes framework payment to GPs. GP practices in deprived areas are missing out on payments for delivering vaccines that could help them deliver more vaccines because it is extremely difficult for them to register the patients whom they have tried to contact multiple times when those patients do not respond. So, the GPs are missing out on payments they need to be able to reach those difficult-to-reach patients.

I am sorry, I am not quite sure what the question was there. Clearly, we need to make sure that the system is working in terms of making sure that the payments are there so the doctors can follow up. If the noble Baroness would like to follow up with me, so that I can fully understand it, I will get her a response.

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

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the Regulations laid before the House on 26 June be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 19 July.

Motion agreed.

Postal Packets (Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 29 June be approved.

Relevant document: 46th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument). Debated in Grand Committee on 19 July.

Motion agreed.

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

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the Regulations laid before the House on 29 June be approved.

Relevant document: 46th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 19 July.

Motion agreed.

Non-Domestic Rating Bill

Order of Consideration Motion

Moved by

That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 17, Schedule, Clauses 18 to 20, Title.

Motion agreed.

Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership

Commons Urgent Question

The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Tuesday 18 July.

“The Secretary of State for Business and Trade signed the accession protocol to the comprehensive and progressive agreement for trans-Pacific partnership on Sunday 16 July in Auckland. The UK will be the first new member since CPTPP was created. With the UK as a member, CPTPP will have a combined GDP of £12 trillion and will account for 15% of global GDP. Accession to the agreement sends a powerful signal that the UK is using our post-Brexit freedoms to boost our economy. It will secure our place as the second largest economy in a trade grouping dedicated to free and rules-based trade. It gives us a seat at the table in setting standards for the global economy.

The agreement is a gateway to the wider Indo-Pacific, which is set to account for the majority of global growth and around half of the world’s middle-class consumers in the decades to come. That will bring new opportunities for British businesses abroad and will support jobs at home. More than 99% of current UK goods exports to CPTPP countries will be eligible for zero tariffs. The UK’s world-leading services firms will benefit from modern rules, ensuring non-discriminatory treatment and greater transparency. That will make it easier for them to provide services to consumers in other CPTPP countries.

In an historic first, joining CPTPP will mean that the UK and Malaysia are in a free trade agreement together for the first time. That will give businesses better access to a market worth £330 billion. Manufacturers of key UK exports will be able to make the most of tariff reductions to that thriving market. Tariffs of around 80% on whisky will be eliminated within 10 years, and tariffs of 30% on cars will be eliminated within seven years. Joining CPTPP marks a key step in the development of the UK’s independent trade policy. Our status as an independent trading nation is putting the UK in an enviable position. Membership of that agreement will be a welcome addition to our bilateral free-trade agreements with more than 70 countries. I pay tribute to the many officials and Ministers who have worked on this deal over the past two years, some of whom are in the Chamber today.”

My Lords, while we will always welcome improved trade relationships, the political capital invested by the Government in this announcement seems disproportionate to the potential economic impact. The deal will increase the UK’s GDP by 0.08% after 15 years. Since the Government were not able to negotiate the terms of the UK’s membership, I will ask the Minister two questions. Will it lead to the lowering of food standards or of our intellectual property protection standards? China applied to join CPTPP in September 2021—what assurances on economics and security have Ministers asked for from existing CPTPP members in relation to China’s membership?

Noble Lords, it is a momentous occasion to be able to talk in this House about the signing of the CPTPP. This is a tongue twister, but we are all going to have to get our mouths around it because we are going to hear a lot more about this in the future. This is a massive region of 11 countries in the Indo-Pacific, which account, together with the UK, for 15% of world trade GDP.

We know that this trade deal originally had the US in it, and Donald Trump took the US out. That created a gap. For those of us who play the game of rugby football, you always go for the gap. The UK has taken that gap and got into this deal, which, to come to the specifics of the question, will in no way impact on our food standards and regulatory standards.

On the matter of China, China is not a member of this group. China has expressed some interest, but there are other interested countries such as Costa Rica, Ecuador, Uruguay, the Philippines and Korea that are in line before China. So, as far as we are concerned, at the moment we are not commenting on China’s accession. China has expressed an interest but, on the exact question, there will be no reduction of food standards and general regulation through this deal.

My Lords, I very warmly welcome the 0.08% estimated growth over 15 years of this momentous agreement. But, with regard to China, it is more than simply expressing an interest; it is seeking to commence the accession process. If that happens, we will be bound to share data with China under part of the CPTPP common data provisions. That will mean that we will no longer have data adequacy with the European Union. We currently have a trade deficit in goods with China of £43 billion. Would it not make more sense to have eased trade with Europe rather than more trade deficit with China?

Some 45% of our trade in the world is with the EU. In fact, if you take Europe as now being 34 countries—if you take the likes of Norway, Switzerland, Israel et cetera—it is pushing 50% of our trade, whereas China is £100 billion, which is more like 10%. So we are very clear that our primary market is with Europe and the first deal we did on Brexit was a free trade agreement with Europe. So we have free trade with Europe, as we stand, and that will continue to be our dominant market. This is the bonus that we get from going to international markets that we could not get access to before. If we were inside the EU, we could not have signed this deal, just as we could not have signed a deal with India. When you have 28 people wanting 28 different things, it is difficult to negotiate, is it not? Here we have a deal with the CPTPP which we would not have access to otherwise and I think we should celebrate.

As to the number on GDP, we are talking about a £2 billion impact on trade, which is a big, big number. It will go all around the UK, not just to London and the south-east. I can give you a breakdown of the numbers in every region, if the noble Lord needs it. The fact is that it will be a dynamic deal. This is going to be the fastest-growing consumer sector in the world. It is going to have a big increase in GDP. As the Secretary of State said at the press conference, it is up to us now. It is up to the UK now to maximise the benefits of this deal and I am very convinced that we will get great trading opportunities out of it.

My Lords, the slightly negative terms introduced by some noble Lords on this is regrettable. Some of the countries within this grouping have very fast-growing economies and represent huge potential for British exporters, so I really do believe that we should welcome this move. We want to see many more trade deals of this sort. I think it is the largest trade deal since we have come out of the EU, but certainly there will be many British exporters up and down this country who would perhaps express warmer feelings towards this than some noble Lords have so far done today.

I thank the noble Lord for that. In fact, the Department for Business and Trade, being ahead of the game as always, is already thinking about how to get utilisation of this trade deal done, to get through to all the regions and nations of the United Kingdom, to make sure in particular that all of our SME community has access to this deal—for example, Malaysia is a country we have never had a trade deal with before, and we now have tariff-free trade with Malaysia. A particular focus of mine, as the export Minister, will be to increase the level of access to our SMEs, because these are real companies, employing real people in real places,

My Lords, does the Minister not agree that there is a geostrategic aspect to this agreement? By almost every measure—investment and everything—the UK has more involvement in that region than any other EU country. We also run global shipping from the UK. In that sense, there is a geostrategic aspect, which is to be welcomed. Does the Minister agree?

The noble Lord will be able to comment much more on the geopolitical aspect than I can, because I come to this looking at it very much as a trade deal. When I was introduced to the deal, I looked at the map and could see that we were nowhere near the Indo-Pacific. The fact that we have come into that deal must surely be because we have such extensive reach in the region, and therefore in addition to trade there will be a knock-on effect for our geopolitical security, I am sure.

My Lords, the nature of the CPTPP is that the countries that are trading with each other have to police the new trade that results from that agreement. Can the Minister tell your Lordships how the Government will set up the process of monitoring and ensuring that the trade we have with this new group is truly free?

The whole idea of the CPTPP deal is precisely to do with free trade and fair trade. That will be very closely monitored within the group. The benefit to our importers and exporters will be considerable, particularly around some of the rules of origin. We will now be in a position to accept goods coming in from these 11 countries, bring them into our supply chains and then export thereafter. The benefits are significant and, in the meantime, fair trade will be monitored, as it always would be.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the impact assessment may significantly understate the potential economic benefits, for two good reasons? First, there is increasingly a worldwide digital economy and CPTPP has world-leading digital provisions within the agreement. Secondly, we are predominantly a services economy and those services are likely to grow more rapidly in the member countries. Can he further confirm that we will be full members of CPTPP and therefore able to exercise a view, with others, on the membership of any other country, including China?

I thank my noble friend and will take his last point first. Yes, we have just joined the club and the first thing you do when you join a club is not necessarily to comment on its existing or incoming members. We will get to that in due course, I am sure, but when we are fully ratified we will absolutely have a fair voice at the table on the membership. I thank him for raising digital and services because in my new job I am looking carefully at where and how our trade is conducted. There is an obsession with manufactured goods to the EU, but the fastest-growing part of our economy is digital services to non-EU countries. Our economy is moving rapidly to be two-thirds services versus one-third goods. Having a deal in this region, which has a very young and well-educated middle class, all fully digital, will provide a great opportunity to access this market, particularly for our SMEs.

My Lords, on the point of membership of this partnership, has the Minister considered the effect of trade with Taiwan in relation to this and relationships with China? What is the percentage of trade currently undertaken with Taiwan, and will the Government protect the future of that trade?

Taiwan is an important trading partner of the United Kingdom. Taiwan has expressed some interest in the CPTPP but, again, it is not currently in the queue. As I said before, we will take our membership; we will then have a fair voice at the table and consider those matters when they arise.

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Bill

Commons Reason

Motion A

Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 2D to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 2E.

2E: Because the Bill already contains adequate provision for consultation and parliamentary control of regulations made under it.

My Lords, the House will be pleased to know that I can again be brief, as we have debated this Bill and the remaining issue at length on a number of occasions. The other place has again considered the Bill, as requested by this House. The House will be unsurprised to hear that it has come to the same conclusion as previously, again with a significant majority. This is now the third time that the other place has made its will clear, and I therefore hope that noble Lords will take that into account today.

Noble Lords last sent the Bill back to the other place with the justification that the International Labour Organization had issued new information. As my colleague, the Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business, noted in the debate there earlier this week, this is ground which has already been well covered by both Houses. I therefore hope that knowing that the other place has considered the issue again, and voted with that in mind, will give noble Lords the confidence that this issue has now been extensively scrutinised.

The Minister in the other place also explained that the Government will provide clarity in respect of the reasonable steps which a union must take to be compliant with the legislation. I know that this has been a concern for the noble Lord, Lord Collins, in our previous debates. I am therefore pleased to confirm that the Government will bring forward a statutory code of practice on the reasonable steps which a union must take. We will do that using existing powers under Section 203 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act 1992. That code will be subject to statutory consultation, including with ACAS, and will of course need to be approved by both Houses of Parliament. This consultation will provide an opportunity for trade unions, employers and any other interested parties to contribute to providing practical guidance on the steps that a union must take to make the code as practicable, durable and effective as possible.

I hope these steps go some way to reassuring the House that the Government’s plans for minimum service levels are within our international obligations and that we will provide clarity where that is required. I hope therefore that this House will now feel able to allow this legislation to pass to Royal Assent. I beg to move.

My Lords, in form, this skeleton legislation with its Henry VIII powers defies every legislative principle, as the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Select Committee on the Constitution have reported. As to content, the less said the better. Although the Government’s impact assessment was held by the Regulatory Policy Committee to be not fit for purpose, it contains the revealing analysis that, far from obviating the disruption that strikes inevitably cause, the Bill

“could mean a general increase in tension between unions and employers. This may result in more adverse impacts in the long term, such as an increased frequency of strikes for each dispute”.

No doubt that is part of the reason why employers, as well as trade unions, have opposed the Bill.

This House tried to redeem the Bill with amendments to protect workers from unfair dismissal and unions from damages and injunctions, as required by international law, but the Government’s majority in the other place rejected them. This House, in its latest modest amendment, sought to mitigate the Bill’s excesses by requiring consultation before regulations were made, but even this was rejected by the other place on Monday.

The fact is that the Bill abridges the right to strike, a right established by many international treaties to which the UK adheres. A letter written by the general secretary of the European Trade Union Confederation to the Secretary of State the day before yesterday sums it up. She said:

“It is clear that the Bill introduces provisions which weaken or reduce existing law in relation to the protection of the fundamental right to strike and which do not respect or implement ILO Convention 87”.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights said the same thing. The letter points out the specific respects in which the Bill fails to meet ILO conditions for permissible MSL legislation. Among its list of non-compliances, the letter points to the absence in the Bill of: any requirement for trade union and employer dialogue in the setting of MSLs; any obligation on the employer to negotiate an agreement with the trade union about service levels; and any independent adjudication mechanism in the event of a failure to agree.

Your Lordships’ amendment would have gone a long way to rectify these non-compliances without such remedial action. As ETUC points out, the UK will not only be in breach of ILO Convention 87 and paragraph 4 of Article 6 of the European Social Charter, but it will also violate Articles 387 and 399 of the trade and co-operation agreement. However, the Government have a problem with consultation with the social partners. Just a week ago, the High Court held that the purpose of the statutory obligation to consult before making regulations under the Employment Agencies Act was that:

“Parliament can then proceed on the basis that the case for the measure has been tested with interested parties in the sector and that their views and interests have been taken into consideration in fashioning the draft regulations which are laid before it”.

The Government’s failure to consult was, the court held,

“so unfair as to be unlawful and, indeed, irrational”.

Less than a month ago, the relevant ILO committee told

“the Government to provide information to and facilitate the dialogue between and with the social partners with a view to … improve consultation of the social partners on legislation of relevance to them”.

Of course I accept that the undertaking by the noble Lord to introduce a code of practice imports a duty to consult, but such consultation is apparently limited solely to the issue of reasonable steps. It does not require the social dialogue that compliance with international law does. In truth, as was said by Mick Whitley MP in the other place,

“no number of amendments could ever salvage this Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/7/23; col. 721.]

That is why the Labour Party is committed to repealing it.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his comments. I appreciate his ability to be brief, but sadly I do not think I will be able to be as brief as him on this occasion because there are, as my noble friend Lord Hendy has just raised, a number of issues outstanding.

This House acknowledged, I think from all sides, that this is a skeletal Bill. It is an example of legislating and then determining policy and procedure. It is really the wrong way around. There is not a proper process of consultation, as my noble friend has just outlined. I repeat the intention of a future Labour Government to repeal the Act because it does not have the support of workers’ representatives or employers. It is impracticable and will simply result in not achieving the objectives of the Bill the Government set out, while worsening the situation in industrial relations. Even the Government’s own impact assessments have said it could possibly increase strikes.

The position on the Bill has been one, in this House, of principled objections to the methodology used and the practical application. I stress the importance, when Parliament is starved of the ability to properly scrutinise legislation that impacts on fundamental human rights, as in this case, of the fact that we have a duty in this House to keep reminding Parliament of that situation. My noble friend highlighted that the International Labour Organization’s Conference Committee on the Application of Standards called on the Government to ensure that existing and prospective legislation conforms to the article he mentioned. The Minister has said in the past, “That’s all right because we will ensure that this legislation will conform”. I am not sure, and I do not think employers or union representatives have any confidence, that that will be the case.

What this House asked the Commons to consider was precisely what the ILO is asking the Government to do anyway: to undertake genuine consultation before implementing minimum service regulations. That means that, when regulations are published, they include an impact assessment and there should be genuine consultation, including on the protection for workers named in work notices and the reasonable steps that trade unions need to take to ensure compliance. The consultation on the selected sectors has taken place, which we have not seen the results of. We will not see those results before the Bill is enacted. Again, that is outrageous in my opinion.

On the reasonable steps the noble Lord has referred to, we have, rather late in the day, heard a Minister saying that a new code of practice will be brought forward. This is certainly an improvement on the Government’s previous position that it was for courts to decide what reasonable steps are—so unions would not even know until challenged in the courts what they may be required to do. However, we are told that the code will be subject, using existing powers, to statutory consultation, including consultation with ACAS, and the approval of Parliament. The Minister in the other place said:

“The consultation will give trade unions, employers and any other interested parties an opportunity to contribute to practical guidance on the steps that a union must take”.—[Official Report, Commons, 17/7/23; col. 713.]

What is the timetable for this? I take that Minister’s words as not simply meaning the obligation to consult ACAS without a timeframe. I hope that we will not see a rushed consultation over the August holiday period. If that is the plan, it will make a mockery of that process and people will fully understand the true intent of this Government.

I seek assurance from the Government that there will be a proper timetable. I remind the noble Lord the Minister that, on 23 January the Government announced strong action against unscrupulous employers which use the controversial practice of fire and rehire through a planned statutory code of practice. That announcement followed ACAS guidance to employers a year before. The consultation announced on 23 January ran for a period of 12 weeks, with views sought from not only interested groups but from the public. Parliament has the right to be satisfied that union workers and the public will be given the same consultation rights and period for the statutory code under the Bill as given for the fire and rehire one. We are entitled to know today that this is what the Government will do.

As my noble friend highlighted, last week the High Court said, in relation to the consultation process for the regulations that allowed agency workers to break strikes, that

“this is not a case in which the evidence is that the proposal had obvious and undisputed merit based on cogent evidence, and enjoyed strong support from representative bodies in the sector”.

It could have been talking about the Bill—and no doubt in time it will be. I hope the Minister fully understands the position of these Benches. I hope he also fully understands that the concern I have expressed, and my noble friends have expressed, is not just restricted to this side. All sides of the House fully understand the importance of protecting fundamental freedoms and Parliament having the proper opportunity to scrutinise legislation, which we have not had in the case of the Bill. I will not repeat all the objections made by the committees my noble friend referred to; they are on the record. But I hope the Minister, in his response, will be able to give us a full explanation of what he intends to do in terms of the consultation on the code of practice.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lords, Lord Hendy and Lord Collins, and I completely associate myself with their critical process and legal analysis of this Bill. From the outset, this was a political Bill and I make no apology at the end of this process for making a political comment.

It may have escaped your Lordships’ notice, but there are three by-elections going on today across different parts of the country. In knocking on those doors, the number one or number two concern of the people in those houses in those communities is the delivery of the health service in this country. I refer to this Bill and the challenge that this Government have in dealing with the industrial disputes going on within the health service. It is quite clear that this Bill will do nothing to bring those disputes to an end and, if it is deployed, it would exacerbate them. Those people answering their doors and talking to politicians as they are being canvassed would love to have a minimum service level every day of the week. The Government need to solve this industrial issue as well as the service delivery within the health service, and this Bill when it becomes an Act will do nothing towards doing that.

My Lords, I thank all three noble Lords who have contributed to today’s debate. The Government always listen carefully to the views of this House.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, I have seen the letter from the European TUC, which I read with interest. I am sure the noble Lord will accept that it is hardly an impartial referee on these matters. It is also fair to say that it had nothing new to say. We have been over all this ground many times before and have provided explanations of the type it has sought.

It is also fair to point out that, in our view, this legislation is compatible with the ILO convention, and I am sure the noble Lord will accept that there are many other ILO states that already have minimum service levels as part of their domestic legislation. We will, of course, ensure that any secondary legislation is also in compliance with all our international obligations.

I can also confirm in response to the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that the Government will launch a consultation on the draft code this summer, following consultation with ACAS. The code will be put to both Houses for approval in line with the procedure set out in Section 204 of the Trade Union and Labour Relations (Consolidation) Act, and we will consult for an appropriate period.

Can the noble Lord be more explicit? We are just about to go into the Summer Recess. August is a month when many people take holidays. I hope that he will be able to confirm, as with the previous statutory codes, that the public consultation will start in September and run for 12 weeks at least.

I am afraid I cannot confirm that for the noble Lord. No final decisions have been taken yet, but it is our intention to get on with this as quickly as possible, so we will consult over the summer. We will leave an adequate period for responses to that consultation and then, as I said, the code will have to be approved by both Houses.

I understand the Opposition’s principled objection to this Bill. Taking on board the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Fox, I suppose all legislation is political. We are a political House at the end of the day. We are all party politicians, so it should not be a great surprise to find that legislation is also political.

We have thoroughly debated this matter now on many different occasions. The House has asked the Commons to think again on a number of occasions; they have done so and have responded. I appreciate that noble Lords opposite do not like the outcome, but it is what it is. In our view, this is a vital piece of legislation that will give the public confidence that, when workers strike—which they are fully entitled to do—lives and livelihoods are not put at undue risk.

I hope the House, despite the reservations of noble Lords opposite, will now let this legislation pass to Royal Assent.

Motion A agreed.

Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill

Report (4th Day)

Relevant documents: 24th and 39th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee. Scottish, Welsh and Northern Ireland Legislative Consent sought.

Clause 161: Locally-led urban development corporations

Amendment 146

Moved by

146: Clause 161, page 195, line 25, after “may” insert “, by order made by statutory instrument,”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the Minister’s name at page 195, line 35.

My Lords, we have reflected on the debate in Committee and the report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, and I reiterate my thanks to the committee for its work in relation to this Bill. We want to ensure that the designation of locally led development corporations by local authorities is appropriately scrutinised, and therefore these amendments, in line with the DPRRC’s recommendation, apply the affirmative procedure to the orders establishing locally led urban and new town development corporations. I beg to move.

My Lords, I welcome the government amendments which, as the Minister has said, bring decisions made by the Secretary of State on urban development areas back to Parliament in the form of affirmative resolutions rather than negative resolutions. In my view, which I have expressed frequently, far too much in this enormous Bill is set out in the form of decisions left entirely to the Secretary of State to fill in by way of statutory instruments. Far too often, the only restraint is the wholly inadequate procedure of negative resolutions. I am pleased that the Minister has recognised the overreach in the original drafting and has brought forward amendments to correct that.

In Committee, I expressed general support for the proposition of locally led development corporations, and that was helped on by the Minister’s reassuring words to the effect that the wide discretion given to the Secretary of State in Clause 162 to designate a development corporation is, in practice, entirely conditional on there first being a positive initiative from that locality. That is all the more important in view of the strange reluctance to include town and parish councils in the formal consultation process.

In responding to this debate, I would be very grateful if the Minister could make assurance doubly sure on that point of local initiation and leadership of the new generation of development corporations. I look forward to hearing her reassurance on that point.

My Lords, my intervention on this subject will be brief. I did not speak on development corporations in Committee, but I have been following the subject very carefully. In response to this very short debate, or perhaps more appropriately in a subsequent letter, might my noble friend explain to us a little more about how the various forms of development corporations are intended to be deployed?

As far as I can see, in addition to the mayoral development corporations—which are not much affected by this Bill—we will continue to have scope for urban development corporations initiated by the Secretary of State, we will continue to have scope for new town development corporations initiated by the Secretary and we will have locally led urban development corporations and locally led new town development corporations that may be established at the initiative of local authorities under this Bill. By my count, we have five different forms of development corporations.

There is a certain amount of speculation about under what circumstances, in what areas and for what purposes these development corporations may be deployed, and about the Government’s intentions. It would be reassuring to many to hear from the Government about that, and in particular about their presumption that they would proceed, particularly for new towns and new development corporations, by reference to those that are locally led and arise from local authority proposals, as distinct from continuing to use the powers for the Secretary of State to designate an area and introduce a development corporation at his or her own initiative. It would be jolly helpful to have more flesh on the bones of what these various development corporations look like and how they will be deployed by government.

My Lords, those who have heard me speak in this Chamber will know that I am a great fan of development corporations, having grown up in a town that, apart from our historic old town, was created and, for the most part, built by Stevenage Development Corporation. At that time, the innovation of development corporations took a great deal of debate in Parliament to initiate, and we have hopefully moved on a bit towards devolution since the middle of the last century.

If there is to be parliamentary scrutiny of the establishment of development corporations, it is absolutely right that it should be done by the affirmative procedure, so we welcome the movement on that in Amendments 146 and 147, to ensure that the establishment of locally led urban and new town development corporations is drawn to the attention of both Houses, in the same way as those that are not locally led.

We hope that it will be the intention of government to scrutinise only the technical aspects of governance, for example, as it would be entirely against the principles of devolution that the Bill sets out to promote for any Government to effectively have a veto on whether proposals for a development corporation go ahead. During the passage of the Bill, we have talked about a new relationship of mutual trust between local and central government, and we hope that such parliamentary scrutiny will not be used to undermine that.

I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, about the importance of determining the nature of parliamentary involvement in different types of development corporation. Of course, we would have concern about Parliament intending to have a veto on the locally led ones. The other amendments in this group are consequential on the Minister’s previous amendment on page 195. We look forward to her comments about the points raised.

My Lords, I assure the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, that, yes, locally led development corporations will come from local authorities—they will put them forward.

My noble friend Lord Lansley brought up the different forms of development corporations. Rather than standing here and taking time, I would prefer to write to him and copy everybody in. I suggest that we might have a small group meeting about this when we come back in September so that any questions can be asked. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, for her support for these amendments.

Amendment 146 agreed.

Amendments 147 to 149

Moved by

147: Clause 161, page 195, line 35, leave out subsection (3)

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is the first of a number that remove provision applying negative procedure to orders establishing locally-led urban and new town development corporations, and instead bring those orders within the existing procedures for such corporations that are not locally-led. The result is that affirmative procedure will apply (without hybrid procedure).

148: Clause 161, page 197, line 42, leave out “to (10)” and insert “and (7)”

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the Minister’s name at page 198, line 19.

149: Clause 161, page 198, line 19, leave out subsections (8) to (10)

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the amendment in the Minister’s name at page 195, line 35.

Amendments 147 to 149 agreed.

Clause 162: Development corporations for locally-led new towns

Amendment 150

Moved by

150: Clause 162, page 202, line 1, leave out paragraphs (a) to (d) and insert “in each of subsections (3), (3B) and (3C), after “1,” insert “1ZB,”.”

Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the amendment in the Minister’s name at page 195, line 35.

Amendment 150 agreed.

Schedule 14: Locally-led development corporations: minor and consequential amendments

Amendment 151

Moved by

151: Schedule 14, page 442, line 17, at end insert—

“(5A) In subsection (4), after “(1)” insert “or (1B)”.(5B) In subsection (4A), after “(1)” insert “or (1B)”.”Member’s explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the amendment in the Minister’s name at page 195, line 35.

Amendment 151 agreed.

Schedule 16: Conditional confirmation and making of compulsory purchase orders: consequential amendments

Amendment 152

Moved by

152: Schedule 16, page 451, line 15, leave out sub-paragraphs (2) and (3)

Member’s explanatory statement

This amendment removes a power that is no longer needed in the light of the conclusion of proceedings in Senedd Cymru on the Historic Environment (Wales) Bill.

My Lords, government Amendment 152 relates to a consequential amendment on compulsory purchase. In light of the successful passage of the Historic Environment (Wales) Act through the Senedd Cymru, there is no longer a requirement to include a regulation-making power and associated provision under paragraphs 7(2) and (3) of Schedule 16. As such, these provisions are not required and should not form part of the Bill.

Government Amendment 153 seeks to add Part 7 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016 and Section 9 of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992 to the definition of “Relevant compulsory purchase legislation” under Clause 177(6). The amendment is required because both Acts, or regulations relating to compulsory purchase made under them, make provision requiring the preparation of compulsory purchase documentation to which approved data standards published under Clause 177(3) should be applicable. I hope that the House will support government Amendments 152 and 153.

Government Amendments 154 to 160 relate to compulsory purchase land compensation. They seek to ensure that the compulsory purchase compensation hope value direction measure already included in the Bill applies comparably and consistently in Wales. The amendments are being made at the request of the Welsh Government, who asked for the hope value direction measure to apply to the Welsh Ministers’ CPO powers under the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 for housing provision and to Welsh NHS trusts’ CPO powers. The amendments will allow the Welsh Ministers and Welsh NHS trusts to include in their CPOs a direction for the non-payment of hope value, providing they can demonstrate that there is a compelling justification in the public interest to secure the direction. I therefore beg to move Amendment 152 in my name.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for this group of amendments, which largely—not entirely—relate to the rights and responsibilities of Senedd Cymru. Throughout the Bill the Government have had to bring back, as amendments, changes to it to reflect the devolution rights and responsibilities of both the Scottish Government and the Senedd Cymru.

It strikes me as unfortunate that, even 10 years or more after devolution has become fully developed, the Government are still unable to understand that different nations of the UK have particular rights and responsibilities. They are unable to appreciate that or to understand the extent of those rights and responsibilities. It would be good to know that the lesson has reached the distant parts of the Government and that we will have no more of these hasty amendments to put right government legislation impinging on the rights of the devolved nations. Would it not be great if the Minister could give us that assurance?

My Lords, this group brings up to date the provisions in the Bill so that they are appropriately applied to Wales. It also updates the list of types of compulsory purchase that can be made, subject to common data standards—we accept that this is important. We have had much discussion about the issues of hope value during the passage of the Bill, and it is therefore absolutely right that the Minister responded to Senedd Cymru’s request to make that apply in Wales as well.

I associate this side of the House with the comments by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock. It would be helpful if these types of provisions could be consulted on with the Welsh, Scottish and Northern Irish Administrations before they come before this House. But I am grateful to the Minister for listening to the Welsh Senedd’s request, and we are pleased to see these amendments coming forward today.

I thank the noble Baronesses for their input. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, that we understand the devolved authorities’ rights and responsibilities, but, as always, there is negotiation on any legislation that we put through which may affect them. The Government and the Welsh Government did not reach a settled position on the CPO powers until after the Lords Committee stage had concluded. As these things are complex, our devolved authorities also need time to discuss and make decisions. I can assure the noble Baroness that we are working closely with them all the time.

Amendment 152 agreed.

Clause 177: Common standards for compulsory purchase data

Amendment 153

Moved by

153: Clause 177, page 219, line 22, leave out “or” and insert—

“(fa) section 9 of the Tribunals and Inquiries Act 1992,(fb) Part 7 of the Housing and Planning Act 2016, or”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment adds further legislation to the list governing the types of compulsory purchase documentation which can be made subject to common data standards.

Amendment 153 agreed.

Clause 180: Power to require prospects of planning permission to be ignored

Amendments 154 to 160

Moved by

154: Clause 180, page 225, line 19, leave out from “is” to end of line 27 and insert “constructed or adapted for use as a separate dwelling and—

(a) in the case of a building in England, is to be used as—(i) social housing within the meaning of Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, or(ii) housing of any other description that is prescribed, or(b) in the case of a building in Wales, is to be used as housing of a description that is prescribed.”;”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment and the amendments in the Minister’s name at page 234, line 23 and page 235, line 43 adjust the definition of affordable housing used in Clause 180 so that an existing definition relevant only to England is not made to apply in Wales.

155: Clause 180, page 225, line 32, at end insert—

“A1 Section 21A(1)(c) and (2)(c) of the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 (acquisition by Welsh Ministers of land in England for Welsh development purposes).”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment extends the power to direct that compensation be assessed without regard to potential planning permission so that it applies to acquisitions of land in England by the Welsh Ministers under the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975.

156: Clause 180, page 226, leave out lines 14 and 15 and insert—

“9 In the National Health Service (Wales) Act 2006—(a) paragraph 20 of Schedule 2 (acquisition by local health board);(b) paragraph 27 of Schedule 3 (acquisition by NHS trust).”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment extends the power to direct that compensation be assessed without regard to potential planning permission so that it applies to acquisitions of land by NHS trusts in Wales.

157: Clause 180, page 232, line 41, at end insert—

“(3A) In the case of a compulsory purchase order made under section 21A(1)(b) or (2)(b) of the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 (compulsory acquisition by Welsh Ministers of land in Wales for Welsh development purposes)— (a) the reference in paragraph 1(4) to submission under section 15A(3) of the Acquisition of Land Act 1981 is to be read as a reference to preparation under paragraph 3B(2) of Schedule 4 to the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975, and(b) the references in paragraph 1(4) and sub-paragraph (1)(a) to the confirmation of the order are to be read as references to the making of the order.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is consequential on the amendment in the Minister’s name at page 236, line 8.

158: Clause 180, page 234, line 23, leave out from “is” to end of line 31 and insert “constructed or adapted for use as a separate dwelling and—

(a) in the case of a building in England, is to be used as—(i) social housing within the meaning of Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, or(ii) housing of any other description that is set out in regulations made by the Secretary of State, or(b) in the case of a building in Wales, is to be used as housing of a description that is set out in regulations made by the Welsh Ministers.”;”Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the amendment in the Minister’s name at page 225, line 19.

159: Clause 180, page 235, line 43, leave out from “is” to end of line 8 on page 236 and insert “constructed or adapted for use as a separate dwelling and—

(a) in the case of a building in England, is to be used as—(i) social housing within the meaning of Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, or(ii) housing of any other description that is set out in regulations made by the Secretary of State, or(b) in the case of a building in Wales, is to be used as housing of a description that is set out in regulations made by the Welsh Ministers.””Member's explanatory statement

See the explanatory statement for the amendment in the Minister’s name at page 225, line 19.

160: Clause 180, page 236, line 8, at end insert—

“(3A) In Part 1 of Schedule 4 to the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975 (procedure for compulsory acquisition under that Act), after paragraph 3A insert—“(1) Where the Welsh Ministers prepare a compulsory purchase order in draft under section 21A(1)(b) or (2)(b), they may include in the draft order a direction that compensation is to be assessed in accordance with section 14A of the Land Compensation Act 1961 (cases where prospect of planning permission to be ignored); and if they do so the following provisions of this paragraph apply.(2) The Welsh Ministers must prepare a statement of commitments together with the draft order.(3) A “statement of commitments” is a statement of the Welsh Ministers’ intentions as to what will be done with the project land should the acquisition proceed, so far as they rely on those intentions in contending that the direction is justified in the public interest.(4) Those intentions must include the provision of a certain number of units of affordable housing. (5) The statement under paragraph 3(1)(a) of Schedule 1 to the 1981 Act must include a statement of the effect of the direction; and paragraphs (ba) and (bb) of the same sub-paragraph apply in respect of the statement of commitments as they apply in respect of the draft order.(6) The Welsh Ministers may amend the statement of commitments before the compulsory purchase order is made.(7) But they may do so—(a) only if satisfied that the amendment would not be unfair to any person who made or could have made a relevant objection for the purposes of paragraph 4 of Schedule 1 to the 1981 Act, and(b) only if the statement of commitments as amended will still comply with sub-paragraph (4).(8) If the Welsh Ministers decide to make the compulsory purchase order in accordance with the applicable provisions of Schedule 1 to the 1981 Act—(a) they may make the order with the direction included if satisfied that the direction is justified in the public interest;(b) otherwise, they must modify the draft of the order so as to remove the direction.(9) If the order is made with the direction included, a making notice under paragraph 6 of Schedule 1 to the 1981 Act must (in addition to the matters set out in sub-paragraph (4) of that paragraph)—(a) state the effect of the direction,(b) explain how the statement of commitments may be viewed, and(c) explain that additional compensation may become payable if the statement of commitments is not fulfilled.(10) In this paragraph—“the project land” means—(a) the land proposed to be acquired further to the compulsory purchase order, and(b) any other land that the Welsh Ministers intend to be used in connection with that land;“unit of affordable housing” means a building or part of a building that is constructed or adapted for use as a separate dwelling and—(a) in the case of a building in Wales, is to be used as housing of a description that is set out in regulations made by the Welsh Ministers, or(b) in the case of a building in England, is to be used as—(i) social housing within the meaning of Part 2 of the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, or(ii) housing of any other description that is set out in regulations made by the Secretary of State.(11) A statutory instrument containing regulations under sub-paragraph (10) is subject to annulment in pursuance of a resolution of—(a) Senedd Cymru, in the case of regulations made by the Welsh Ministers, or(b) either House of Parliament, in the case of regulations made by the Secretary of State.””Member's explanatory statement

This amendment duplicates the new power to direct that compensation be assessed without regard to potential planning permission for acquisitions of land in Wales by the Welsh Ministers under the Welsh Development Agency Act 1975.

Amendments 154 to 160 agreed.

Clause 183: Vacancy condition

Amendment 161

Moved by

161: Clause 183, page 238, line 15, leave out paragraph (a)

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment removes the provision requiring premises to be considered as vacant for the purposes of Part 10 when occupied by a trespasser (other than in cases caught by paragraph (b) of the same subsection, i.e. squatting in commercial premises).

My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 161A. Together, the amendments bring us back to an issue raised in Committee relating to premises that are counted as vacant. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, and others for bringing this issue to our attention and for meeting me and my noble friend Lord Howe to discuss it. We have proposed amended wording to clarify what is meant by the clause in question.

Amendment 161 will clarify that occupation by true “squatters”—for example, persons who have broken into commercial high street premises and are using them as their residence—will not count as occupation for the purpose of assessing the vacancy condition for a high street rental auction, but occupation by other types of trespassers, such as commercial tenants who have remained in occupation following the expiry of their lease, may do so. This will be achieved by removing the reference to trespassers in Clause 183(4), while retaining reference to people living at premises not designed or adapted for residential use.

Amendment 161A adds words to the clause to clarify that “count” in this context means counting as occupation. I beg to move.

Amendment 161 agreed.

Amendment 161A

Moved by

161A: Clause 183, page 238, line 18, after “count” insert “as occupation”

Member's explanatory statement

This amendment makes a drafting clarification.

Amendment 161A agreed.

Amendment 162 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.

Amendment 163

Moved by

163: After Clause 202, insert the following new Clause—

“Support for pubsWithin 120 days of the day on which this Act is passed, a Minister of the Crown must publish a strategy to support the pub industry and reduce the number of pubs closing.”Member's explanatory statement

This amendment is intended to help support the pub industry.

My Lords, I might take a little longer over this set of amendments. Our Amendment 163 addresses the severe impact that the cost of living crisis has had on the pub industry in the UK and asks that Ministers address it with a strategy to support this trade, which has such a unique and special place in the culture of our country.

The number of pubs in England and Wales continues to fall, hitting its lowest level on record. According to new research by the Altus Group, there were 39,970 pubs in June, down by more than 7,000 since 2012. After struggling through Covid, when it received welcome support from the Government, the industry is now facing soaring prices and higher energy costs. Over the past decade, thousands of pubs have closed as younger people tend to drink less—they do not all drink less; they tend to—supermarkets sell cheaper alcohol and the industry complains of being too heavily taxed. According to Altus, 400 pubs in England and Wales closed in 2021 and some 200 shut in the first half of 2022 as inflation started to eat into their profits. That brought the total number of pubs down to its lowest since its records began in 2005.

My noble friend Lady Hayman, who, sadly, cannot be in her place today, drew to the attention of the Minister during debates on the Non-Domestic Rating Bill concerns from the British Beer & Pub Association about the proposals for improvement relief. That is because pubs that are not directly owned and managed by the ratepayer—namely, those in tied or leased arrangements, which are apparently around 30% of UK pubs—become a much less attractive proposition for investment, as improvement relief can be guaranteed only on directly managed pubs. We urge Ministers to take this seriously and consider working with the pub industry to develop a strategy to support it in the medium and long term.

All the amendments in this group draw attention to some of the serious issues facing our high streets and, importantly, to the negative contribution that the current business rates system makes to those problems. I am very aware of proposals in the Non-Domestic Rating Bill currently making its way through the Lordships’ House, but while we welcome many of them, they do not go far enough. We see that Bill as merely tinkering at the edges of an outmoded and outdated system. During my many years on the Local Government Association’s resources board, successive attempts have been made to encourage government to get to grips with both a fair funding review and a comprehensive review of the non-domestic rating system. Unfortunately, the Non-Domestic Rating Bill does not do that, and even the measures it does contain bring concerns about the capacity of the VOA to enact them. It is a huge missed opportunity.

I was very grateful to the Minister for providing me and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, with an extensive briefing on the Non-Domestic Rating Bill. During it, she pointed out that consultation had not resulted in a call for major reform of the business rates system. I looked at the detail of the consultation and it was, as government consultations often are, a technical consultation framed around government’s questions relating to the existing system, on matters such as transparency of the VOA, penalties for non-compliance, transition to online services, changes of circumstance, improvement reliefs, valuations, the multiplier, local discretionary relief, et cetera. What it absolutely did not do was encourage wider comment on whether the business rates system was fit for purpose in the first place.

The Local Government Association published its response to government proposals. It welcomed some of them, but it said:

“The LGA will continue to argue for a sustainable local government finance system which conforms to the principles we submitted in our submission to the Business Rates Review; sufficiency, buoyancy, fairness, efficiency of collection, predictability, transparency and incentive. We published commissioned work examining alternatives for reform in January 2022. Only with adequate long-term resources, certainty and freedoms, can councils deliver world-class local services for our communities, tackle the climate emergency, and level up all parts of the country”.

We firmly believe that there is a case for further reform of the business rates system. Our Amendment 273A and that in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, Amendment 282D, ask that the Secretary of State consider again the issue of non-domestic rates and the contribution they can make to levelling up and regeneration.

The major example I would give is that the Non-Domestic Rating Bill does nothing to address the very unfair advantage currently enjoyed by online businesses as compared to our high street businesses. The Centre for Retail Research found that 17,000 shops closed last year—that is 47 shops a day, the highest annual total in five years. More than 5% of retail staff lost their jobs last year and hospitality suffered a similar fate. Not all those failures are because of business rates, of course, but I am sure they are a contributing factor.

High streets have been hit hard and are increasingly run down, with hard-working business owners having to accept defeat in the face of impossible financial difficulties. While crisis relief was made available during the pandemic, there does not seem to be a long-term strategy to address the issues that businesses are facing, which will be critical to ensuring that every town or neighbourhood centre in the UK has the opportunities it needs to regenerate and level up.

Labour has a clear plan to scrap business rates and bring in wide-reaching reforms to even out the playing field, but we are still not clear about what the Government’s long-term plan for business taxation will be. The threshold for rates relief for small businesses is still too low, and online giants are still not paying their fair share of taxes, with a digital service tax not high on the agenda—as far as we can see, it still sits in the “too difficult” box. How can we say to our communities that high street shops such as Marks & Spencer—known, valued local businesses—are paying more in tax than online giants such as Amazon? That is not levelling the playing field. Each loss of a much-loved store, pub, bank, post office or leisure facility is felt by our communities like a kick in the teeth, and worse than that is the feeling of helplessness that the Government are standing by and watching this happen.

Many local authorities are engaged in the Herculean endeavour of trying to regenerate and bring to life their town centres and high streets. Some have benefitted from the bidding pots dished out by the Government. However, even these are not necessarily going to where they are most needed but simply to areas which have the resources to put together good bids. A comprehensive reform of the business rates system would ensure that those who benefit the most would pay more, and that would fund the support needed by those who struggle. That would be a real step towards levelling up.

On these Benches, we strongly support the amendment submitted in the name of the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Scriven, and my noble friend Baroness Hayman, on the development of regional mutual banks in the UK. I have seen at first hand how effectively these operate in Germany to support the SME sector, and in his excellent article for City A.M., the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, sets out that in 2021 SME funding was £600 billion in Germany, whereas in the UK it was only £57 billion. I am not going to steal any of the noble Lord’s lines, but he is right in his aim to increase financial inclusion for SMEs. I hope our amendments will be accepted by the Minister. I beg to move.

My Lords, Amendment 282D in my name would require the Chancellor of the Exchequer to undertake a review of the business rates system. The Government know that the current system is flawed and fails to reflect modern business practices. There have been several Bills in the last few years that have tweaked the non-domestic rating system—as the Minister knows, we have one currently before the House—but these are just tweaks to a complex set of business taxation that is in desperate need of fundamental reform.

The system is basically flawed, as illustrated by the fact that the Treasury pays out billions of pounds in support of small businesses every year, via the small business rates relief. This demonstrates that there has to be a more effective way to levy businesses to support the local services on which they depend.

It is not only me saying that business rates need fundamental reform. Many business commentators have urged for a fundamental review. The Centre for Cities published a report in 2020 which proposed 11 changes to the business rates system. The IFS has published a report pointing to spatial inequalities that are “profound and persistent”.

A fundamental review is long overdue, and the amendment in my name simply asks that a review considers the effects of business rates on high streets and rural areas, and compares that information with an alternative business taxation system—for instance, land value taxation, which was referred to in the IFS report. The spatial inequalities explored in the report are at the heart of the levelling-up agenda. Any detailed review of business rates should gather relevant data on the impact of business rates on different parts of the country.

The Government have recognised what they have called “bricks vs clicks”, and in the Financial Statement earlier this year raised rates for warehousing. However, that steers clear of the major issue facing our high streets, which is the competitive advantage that online retailers have over high street retailers when it comes to the rates applied for business rates.

I have mentioned several times in this Chamber the glaring difference between warehousing for a very large online retailer, which may be at the rate of £45 per square metre, compared with the rate for a small shop in a small town of £250 per square metre. The change to raise the rates for warehousing does nothing to address that vast gap. For instance, it was reported that the change introduced this year by the Government cost Amazon £29 million. That might sound a considerable sum to some people, but it is pennies in the pot for a big online retailer such as Amazon. It really needs to start paying its fair share towards local services. Its little vans whizz round our streets, and Amazon needs to pay for the upkeep of them. The rate of its contribution is small in comparison to the services it uses. That is the argument for a huge, fundamental review of the system as is stands.

We also have to take into account the impact of any changes on local government. A large portion of a council’s income now derives from business rates, and any changes to the system by the Government to reduce the burden on businesses—which they did in the Statement by freezing the multiplier—results in compensation to local government for those changes. This again demonstrates that the system is not fit for purpose.

We currently have a system that says that these are the rates, but oh dear, they are too big for charities, small businesses and so on, and then provides relief which costs the Treasury billions of pounds a year. When any further changes are made, that has an impact on desperately needed income for local councils. Therefore, there will have to be compensation in that regard also. This demonstrates that the business rates system, as currently set up, is really not doing the job it needs to do. I repeat that a fundamental review is essential.

It is important to add that the way in which business rates income is demonstrated, via the tariffs and top-ups arrangements, creates further unfairness This becomes more noticeable as councils struggle to balance their budgets.

A business rates system that encourages business development and growth must be at the heart of any strategy to bring more prosperity and jobs to those areas defined in the White Paper as being the focus for levelling up. I do not need to spell out what that might mean, but it could perhaps be reduced rates for some areas, to encourage development and the movement of businesses to those areas.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, raised similar issues in moving her amendment to support the pub industry, which we support. My noble friend Lord Scriven has signed the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, who I do not think is in his place, regarding the establishment of regional mutual banks. We support this approach as another way of empowering regional businesses and entrepreneurs to take financial decisions which meet local ambitions, rather than the more risk-averse national banks. The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, used the comparator of Germany. She is right that the mutual banks in Germany have done much to support their regionally-based industries, which does not happen in this country because of the way our banking system is set up.

I really hope the Minister will be able to say in her reply that the Government accept that the business rates system as currently devised is not fit for purpose and that they are looking to have fundamental review to reform it to the benefit of those places—because this is the levelling-up Bill, and I shall keep saying it: anything we do in the Bill should be in support of the levelling-up agenda. This does not do it, and that is why we need a reform of the business rates system.

My Lords, Amendment 163 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, concerns the support for our pubs. We are all aware of the importance of our local pubs; they provide space for people to come together, they provide jobs and they support local economies. But we also know that the past few years have been a challenging time for our pubs, with the Covid-19 pandemic and the current high prices, caused by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, conspiring to put pressure on already tight operating margins.

Through the pandemic, we recognised that the hospitality sector needed to be more resilient against economic shocks. That is why, in July 2021, we published our first hospitality strategy, Reopening, Recovery and Resilience, which covers cafés, restaurants, bars, nightclubs and pubs.

In 2021—this is important for the issue raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, of listening to the sector—we also established a Hospitality Sector Council to help deliver the commitments set out in the strategy. The council includes representatives from across the sector, including UKHospitality, the British Beer & Pub Association and the British Institute of Innkeeping, as well as some of our best-known pub businesses. While we fully agree with the aim behind the noble Baroness’s amendment, the strategy she asks for already exists.

Moving on to Amendment 279, I notice that my noble friend Lord Holmes of Richmond is not in his place, but the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, brought it up on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman of Ullock, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, so I will respond. The amendment would require the Secretary of State to report to Parliament within three months of Royal Assent on the existing barriers to establishing regional mutual banks in the United Kingdom and instruct the Competition and Markets Authority to consult on barriers within competition law for this establishment and identify possible solutions.

I make it clear that the Government are supportive of the choice provided by mutual institutions in financial services. We recognise the contribution that these member-owned, democratically controlled institutions make to the local communities they serve and to the wider economy. However, regional mutual banks are still in the process of establishing themselves here in the United Kingdom, with some now in the process of obtaining their banking licences. It is therefore too early to report on the current regime and any possible limitations of it for regional mutual banks.

I know that my noble friend Lord Holmes was interested in how regional mutual banks have performed in other jurisdictions and how we could use these examples to consider the UK’s own capital adequacy requirements. In this instance, international comparisons may not be the most helpful to make. The UK is inherently a different jurisdiction, with different legislation and regulatory frameworks from those in the US, Europe and elsewhere. Abroad, some regional mutual banks have been in existence for centuries and have been able to build up their capital base through retained earnings. In the UK, regional mutual banks are not yet established and are continuing to progress within the UK’s legislative framework.

Additionally, the Competition and Markets Authority plays a key role in making sure that UK markets remain competitive, driving growth and innovation while also protecting consumers from higher prices or less choice. It is very important to note that the CMA is independently responsible for enforcing UK competition and consumer law. The Government cannot instruct the CMA to undertake a consultation. The Treasury is continuing to engage with the mutuals sector and other industry members to assess how the Government can best support the growth of mutuals going forward. I hope that this provides sufficient reassurance to my noble friend on this issue.

Finally, I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman of Ullock, Lady Taylor of Stevenage and Lady Pinnock for tabling their Amendments 273A and 282D, which I will take together. Both amendments would require the Chancellor to undertake a review of the business rates system. I understand the noble Baronesses’ concerns here, but, as noble Lords are no doubt aware, the Government have only recently concluded a comprehensive review of the business rates system, supported by an extensive public consultation exercise, with the final report on that review having been published in the Autumn Budget 2021.

The Government of course recognise that the conditions for business are a concern for many noble Lords and have taken action to help ratepayers up and down the country through a significant package of rates support. The review recognised the importance of the rates system in raising funds for critical local services in England, worth around £22.5 billion in 2022-23 and concluded that there was no consensus on an alternative model of taxation that would be able to replace business rates revenue.

The review did, however, identify several significant improvements to be made to the business rates system, and noble Lords will of course also be aware that the Non-Domestic Rating Bill, which was considered in this place only earlier this month, delivers on the major rates reforms called for by stakeholders. That Bill will bring into law the conclusions of the business rates review, most notably a move to more frequent revaluations. This will ensure that the system is fairer and more responsive to changes in the market and will mean that bills are more accurate and reflect current economic circumstances and trends.

In addition to modernising the tax by moving to more frequent revaluations, the Non-Domestic Rating Bill also brings forward changes to make the valuation process more transparent, to deliver new reliefs to support investment in property improvements and to give local authorities greater flexibility to provide relief to local businesses. I trust that noble Lords will continue to support the safe passage of that legislation through this House.

This, of course, is on top of other changes emanating from the Government’s rates review that have already been delivered, including the exemption of renewable plant and machinery from rates. Together, these changes have reduced the burden on businesses in England through support for businesses worth £7 billion. But the Government are not resting on their laurels. In the Autumn Statement 2022, the Government went further and announced additional business rates measures, effective from 1 April 2023, worth an estimated £13.6 billion over the next five years. As part of that package, the Government announced that the tax rate would be frozen for 2023-24. This real-terms cut to the tax rate is worth around £9.3 billion over five years.

In addition, the retail, hospitality and leisure relief will be extended for a further year and made more generous. The retail, hospitality and leisure relief is, in 2023-24, providing eligible businesses with 75% off their bills, up to a maximum of £110,000 per business. This is worth an estimated £2.4 billion to ratepayers, many of whom are on our high streets.

In response to the concerns of businesses in England, the Government have delivered a transitional relief scheme for the 2023 revaluation, which, subject to the passage of the Non-Domestic Rating Bill, will be funded by the Government, not by the ratepayer. This is expected to save businesses £1.6 billion. This has meant that 300,000 ratepayers have seen reductions in their rateable value at the rate of revaluation and an immediate fall in their bills effective from 1 April 2023, rather than seeing reductions phased in over the life of the list. This makes the rates system fairer and more responsive, and it ensures that ratepayers can benefit from the revaluation as soon as possible.

The Government have also delivered a supporting small business relief scheme, which ensures that ratepayers losing some or all of their small business or rural rate relief as a result of the revaluation will see their increases capped at a maximum of £600 in 2023-24. This is worth over £0.5 billion over the next three years and will protect an estimated 80,000 small businesses. That is on top of the generous existing package of statutory support provided to small businesses through the small business rates relief, which ensures that over 700,000 of our small businesses can continue to pay no rates at all, with an additional 76,000 benefitting from reduced rates.

I reassure noble Lords that the amendment is entirely unnecessary. A review has only recently concluded, and the Government remain committed to delivering on the conclusions of that review. We have already taken the first steps towards that and are delivering on our further commitments through the Non-Domestic Rating Bill. I understand why noble Lords have raised their amendments, but I hope that I have provided assurance that the concerns underpinning the two amendments are already being addressed through the changes the Government are delivering to the business rates system, through both legislation and the generous and wide-ranging support that we have made available to ratepayers. I therefore ask the noble Baronesses not to press their amendments.

My Lords, I am grateful for the very detailed and thorough response from the Minister, as ever. I thank her for her comments on the Hospitality Sector Council. I have a question for her, to which I am happy to receive a response in writing: were the views of the Hospitality Sector Council on the non-domestic rates taken into account in the drafting of both this Bill and the Non-Domestic Rating Bill before your Lordships’ House?

I turn to the issue of regional mutual banks. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, is not in his place, because he has been a very good champion of this sector. It would be a big step forward for levelling up and regeneration to have those banks, which would work with local government and local communities on the economy of local areas.

I point out that, through the work I have been doing with both the Co-operative Party and the Co-operative Councils’ Innovation Network, I know that regional mutual banks are already being delivered in Wales with the support of the Welsh Government, but in England there are still considerable barriers and hurdles to overcome. My colleagues in Preston have been engaging with this process, but it is highly complex.

We appreciate that financial security is paramount in the development of a regional banking sector, and we are very pleased to hear that that sector has the Government’s support, but we need to work as quickly as we can to overcome the barriers to that. We genuinely believe that, without a switch from the centralised banking system that we have in this country to a much more regional sector, we will not be able to reach the full potential of local areas.

On the issues with the business rates review, I have pointed out the technical nature of that consultation process and the concerns we still have about the resources needed to enact the provisions of the Non-Domestic Rating Bill, particularly in relation to the Valuation Office Agency. There are still concerns around the appeals process, which takes far too long and can leave both businesses and local councils hanging on for years, in some cases, while appeals are settled.

The noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, was right to raise the issues of tariffs and top-ups, which are not very efficient at making sure that the funding from non-domestic rates gets to where it needs to go. They are not structured enough to ensure that, where you have poorer parts of better-off areas, the funding gets to where it needs to go.

We note that many concessions on business rates are coming forward in the Non-Domestic Rating Bill, which we welcome, but changes to the multiplier are giving cause for concern; it is no good giving businesses concessions with one hand and then taking them away with the other. Our fear is that if there is not a radical and different approach to both fair funding and the business rates system, it will be more difficult to achieve levelling up or regeneration. That said, I am happy to withdraw my amendment at this stage.

I will quickly respond to the noble Baroness. I will look at what was discussed with the Hospitality Sector Council and will write to the noble Baroness. I am sure that all the other issues will be discussed further in the NDR Bill.

Amendment 163 withdrawn.

Consideration on Report adjourned.

Building Safety (Leaseholder Protections etc.) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 12 June be approved.

Relevant documents: 45th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and 44th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments (special attention drawn to the instrument)

My Lords, in moving the draft regulations, I will also set out why the Government oppose the amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton.

The regulations amend the leaseholder protection regulations 2022 to address points raised by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments last July, as well as two stayed judicial review applications, and clarify some provisions to ensure the leaseholder protections have the effect originally intended. While many noble Lords will be aware of the background to the leaseholder protections, I will start by providing some context and background to these regulations. Before the Government introduced the leaseholder protections, many leaseholders found themselves liable for unlimited costs for remediating historical safety defects in their buildings—costs that they could not afford for problems that were not their fault. Since the provisions came into force last summer, many leaseholders have either been protected from these costs entirely or had their liability firmly capped.

During the debates on the affirmative regulations last July, the Government committed to bring forward further changes should it become apparent that they were necessary. Contrary to what the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, purports, these regulations do just that: delivering additional detail needed to address a number of operational points that had come to light in the early operation of the leaseholder protections. The regulations also address points raised in two stayed judicial review applications and points raised in the Joint Committee on Statutory Instrument’s report of July 2022, and make further changes to clarify and simplify the provisions in the 2022 regulations.

Since the protections came into force last summer, we have engaged extensively with leaseholders, landlords and others affected, including lenders and conveyancers. The Government do not consider that a formal consultation would add to our understanding of the issues specifically covered by these regulations, and I note that there is no requirement under the Building Safety Act 2022 to consult formally on these regulations. We have also engaged in two rounds of pre-laying scrutiny with the Joint Committee. In its 44th report of the 2022-23 Session, it reported the regulations for one case of defective drafting in relation to a lack of consequence for the failure to notify the landlord associated with the developer of their liability.

The Government are grateful to the Joint Committee for its careful scrutiny of these regulations and have considered this issue carefully. As set out in the department’s memorandum, published by the committee, the Government are satisfied that there are no issues with the regulations that will prevent the process operating successfully. We believe it is imperative that the regulations come into force before the Summer Recess to alleviate the issues facing named managers and landlords. However, we will, of course, monitor closely the progress of future cases, and if it becomes apparent that further changes are necessary we will come back to Parliament with proposals.

The House will be aware that the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has stated that the Explanatory Memorandum should provide further information about the judicial review applications. I am grateful to the committee for its recommendations, which the Government have carefully considered. I can confirm that we have replaced the Explanatory Memorandum to include the information provided to the committee and set out in the appendix to its report.

These regulations can be considered in three parts. First, the regulations address points raised in the ninth report of the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments of July 2022. The regulations we are considering make it clear it that L—the body responsible for managing the building, be that the landlord, resident management company, right-to-manage company or named manager—must issue a notice to the landlord with the liability to pay to recover the remediation amount and set out the information to be included in the notice, which is the amount to be recovered and information on the appeals process.

The regulations clarify the powers of the First-tier Tribunal in determining the outcome of an appeal. If the appeal is unsuccessful, the appellant will have to pay the amount set out in the notice. If the appeal is successful, the appellant will have to pay nothing, or an alternative amount determined by the First-tier Tribunal.

The regulations remove Regulation 6(1) from SI 2022/859, which purports to allow a leaseholder to provide a leaseholder deed of certificate to their landlord. The Joint Committee considered this to be ultra vires, but nothing prevents a leaseholder doing so voluntarily. The regulations clarify that failure to provide a completed leaseholder deed of certificate and the required evidence will result in the lease being treated as if it were not a qualifying lease, and provide that “shared ownership lease” has the same meaning as that used in Schedule 8 to the Act.

Secondly, the regulations address points raised in two stayed judicial review claims. The regulations make provision for “named managers” to recover the cost of relevant measures in relation to relevant defects from building owners and landlords in the same way as resident-led management companies. The regulations also provide for L to be able to recover notified amounts as a civil debt, and for them to be able to pursue a remediation contribution order to recover costs, such as from a building owner or a developer. The regulations provide that landlords associated with the developer must be notified of their liability to pay for relevant measures or relevant defects, but nothing in the regulations stops L instead pursuing, for example, a landlord who met the contribution condition.

Thirdly, the regulations deliver additional detail to clarify the intended effect of the leaseholder protections. The regulations also provide for Homes England—the department’s delivery partner for remediation work outside London—to apply to the First-tier Tribunal for a remediation order or remediation contribution order. The regulations provide that a landlord may apply for an extension to the appeal process of 30 days with the permission of the First-tier Tribunal, to enable out-of-court engagement. The regulations also provide for an additional point where the landlord must update the landlord certificate: within four weeks of becoming aware that a leaseholder deed of certificate has been submitted.

Finally, the Schedule to these regulations replaces and simplifies the existing landlord certificate, and amendments are made to the information regulations so that the current landlord does not need to provide certain evidence where they accept liability for a relevant defect. This reduces the information-sharing requirement to that essential for the leaseholder and L to determine liability. The regulations also provide that current landlords must provide L with copies of the landlord and leaseholder certificates within a week of completion or receipt, to enable them to apportion costs in line with the 2022 regulations. Where the current landlord fails to comply, the regulations provide that costs cannot be passed on to leaseholders.

The regulations are a key step to improve the implementation of the leaseholder protections set out in the Building Safety Act and regulations. They serve a specific purpose to provide the detail needed to give full effect to the leaseholder protection provisions, and they address concerns raised last summer by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and points raised in the two stayed judicial review applications.

As my honourable friend the Minister of State, Rachel Maclean MP, noted in the debate in the other place on Monday 17 July, there is more to do on leaseholder protections, some of which will require primary legislation, and the Government will come back to the House with further proposals in due course. On the basis of the information I have set out for your Lordships, I hope noble Lords will join me in opposing the regret amendment to the Motion and supporting the draft regulations, which I commend to the House.

Amendment to the Motion

Moved by

At end to insert “but this House regrets that they have been laid without provisions to remedy operational defects in the Building Safety (Leaseholder Protections) (England) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/711) and the Building Safety (Leaseholder Protections) (Information etc) (England) Regulations 2022 (SI 2022/859); and further regrets that His Majesty’s Government have not adequately consulted relevant practitioners prior to the laying of these Regulations.”

My Lords, before I proceed, I thank the Minister for reaching out. We did not succeed in getting a meeting together, but I hope that the bullet points I submitted to her office yesterday were of some help.

As the Minister explained, these regulations amend two previous sets of regulations, SI 2022/711 and SI 2022/859. It is true that these new regulations streamline some of the aspects in those regulations. My point is that they fail to deal with the fundamentals of those earlier regulations, which, given where we are now and what is known about their operation, should have been a proper matter for consideration in the application of regulatory power. They represent a theoretical approach at best and, from all that I have heard from practitioners, do not accord with the real world of buying and selling leasehold flats nor the technical or practical issues associated with conveyancing in particular.

It leaves one wondering where to start with all this. There are too many unknown issues: the extent of remediation; the responsibility that would arise under the Building Safety Act for defects; the true legal liability for those defects having arisen; the cost of remediation; and the potential for “known unknowns”, to quote Donald Rumsfeld, or indeed currently unknowable remediation requirements and their likely cost.

Professionals tell me that they do not believe that the comments made by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments have been properly addressed. Why is that? There are too many variables, exclusions and qualifications in the process of leaseholder certificates of registration, the content and accuracy of requests to the landlord, the landlord certificates themselves, and the extent to which the landlord is, in turn, reliant on information from others not within its control. There is an essentially continuous iterative process of company worth evaluation and liability assessments. The time lag where land registration is an essential part of the information package, which I understand might occur, is governed by the fact that the Land Registry has a backlog it is working through of several months’ duration.

There seems to be a disparity between the information prevailing on 14 February 2022, which is the mandatory date when matters have to be assessed—certainly as regards matters of company ownership and so on—and the relevant facts relating to the financial consequences of remediation, which will arise only as a result of the regulations tabled initially last summer and not at some point in February at the whim of the Secretary of State. I am told that the timescales are too tight in many instances, leading to a high risk of default liabilities and perhaps setting in place a liability for something not caused by the person deemed liable. I feel that that is unlikely to procure a beneficial result. The strict application of four weeks—or seven days, as the case may be—is severely inflexible and, I believe, an impediment.

All of the above will lead to uncertainty, risks and pitfalls, including, as I mentioned, default liability for remediation or for contribution in full, in part or not at all. The latest clarification on whether a leaseholder’s certificate of registration is required in an application for a landlord’s certificate is that a failure to provide it means that they fall into the non-qualified category; as I understand it, once something is non-qualified, it is non-qualified for ever. I fail to see how that is the advantage that the Minister appears to claim for it. I would be grateful if she could provide better detail about how leaseholders are supposed to check the accuracy of the information provided in that landlord’s certificate. Do the Government intend to use their powers under Part 11 of the Bill, which is entitled “Information about Interests and Dealings in Land”, to ensure that those certificates are in fact accurate? If not, I do not see how it is possible to verify this.

As for the certificates themselves, paragraph 15.c. of the department’s own guidance says that a landlord’s certificate must be provided

“within 4 weeks of them becoming aware of a relevant defect which was not covered by a previous landlord’s certificate”.

How much of a rolling event might that be? The things that affect that certificate were not crystallised on 14 February 2022 but are on an ongoing continuum. I see that as a real question of a practical nature. It means that a fresh certificate can be issued as and when new relevant facts emerge, which is intrinsically inimical to the concept of a reliable landlord’s certificate even if it could be deemed accurate at the time of its issue. It simply opens the door to more arguments about who knew what and when and whether the information provided could have objectively been deemed accurate, with all the consequences that flow from that in terms of recovery, accuracy and liability for cost, not to mention potential arguments through litigation.

Going on from that, the reason why 14 February is so important is because paragraph 17.b. says that the landlord’s certificate must

“be based on the circumstances of whoever was the relevant landlord on 14 February 2022”.

The circumstances of that person may be one thing but the practical and factual basis of what may be germane to that is, as I say, something that happens in real time—today, not 18 months ago. I assume from this that the legal situation is therefore taken at one date but the circumstances that may be germane to making that calculation in fact accrue at another date; I will leave that to one side for the moment. The facts may create a completely moveable feast in terms of whether you take one subsequent piece of information and then feed it back in. How is this loop ever going to be broken?

Does the Minister dispute this assessment? It seems that there is a disparity between the valuation date in question and the facts that are germane to that. It is essential that the financial information about landlords, particularly landlord groups, is provided in the landlord certificate and is accurate. Any inaccuracy could make the difference between a leaseholder paying nothing or up to the £15,000 cap. Concerns have been raised with me that landlords are, for understandable reasons, using the accounting definition of “a group” when it comes to assessing their net worth, rather than the definition of “associated” in the Building Safety Act.

I will give the House a couple of examples where there is, I believe, some ambiguity about which companies should be included in a landlord group. Section 121(8) of the Act states that:

“A body corporate (X) controls another body corporate (Y) if X has the power, directly or indirectly, to secure that the affairs of Y are conducted in accordance with X’s wishes”.

Rothesay Life plc, an insurer, has provided significant loans to a number of ground rent funds. In return, the landlord company borrowers are believed to have agreed that the ground rent should be paid into the bank accounts controlled by Rothesay rather than to them, assigning the rights to insurance policy then to Rothesay. The company then requires consent from Rothesay in turn before undertaking legal action against any leaseholders in breach of leases. There are also restrictions on further borrowing asset disposals and voting rights. Can the Minister clarify whether these extensive powers over the operation of landlord companies constitute control for the purposes of the Building Safety Act? I am bound to say that practitioners are not at all clear?

Another example is Jetty Finance DAC, one of the Long Harbour fund group of companies. Its shares are held on trust by Sanne Fiduciary Services Ltd. According to its annual report, the original shares entitle holders to receive notice of and vote at any general meeting of the company, to ordinary dividends as may be declared by the directors from time to time, and to participate in the winding up of the company. Can the Minister clarify whether she thinks that Sanne Fiduciary Services should be considered as part of a landlord group under Section 121(6)?

There are numerous other niggles. For instance, a Property Law UK article states that a tribunal can deal with a situation where false claims are made on the certificate but have no jurisdiction to force a landlord to provide a certificate where one has not been provided. Another is measurement of the height of buildings, which has become so mission-critical that it is now being regarded as a fairly high-risk exercise in itself.

There is some gaming of the system going on and suspicion in professional circles that some landlords are offering lease extensions at bargain prices, counting on the Government clarifying in due course that the protections will not apply retrospectively to leaseholders who have extended their leases since 14 February 2022, doubtless hoping that leaseholders see this as a good deal that will make their property more mortgageable but hopefully not with them realising or being advised by their conveyancer that they would lose their leaseholder protections as a result. One professional told me of a client’s case where a housing association landlord tried to present height measurements, saying that the building did not meet the requirements for a certificate thereby but then provided a photograph showing clearly that it was five storeys and covered in cladding. You would have thought that the measuring of building and setting out whether it was more or less than five storeys would be straightforward, but it seems that even the simplest thing cannot be got right.

Property experts tell me that the complexity of the whole matter has resulted in confusion and a degree of mayhem in transacting leasehold flats, with several significant outcomes. First, UK Finance is the parent of the lenders, if I can call it that. In its handbook, at paragraph 5.14.17, there is an instruction to the effect that landlord certificates are required for all leasehold properties, regardless of height, meaning that everybody gets caught up, not just a few hundred thousand hapless leaseholders.

Secondly, legal and conveyancing professional indemnity insurers are already advising that no work on blocks over 11 metres should be undertaken, whether for sales, purchases or remortgages. That means that practitioners who are affected by that are effectively prevented from participating in that work. The evidence is that mortgage valuers are now starting to get concerned that they are at risk through being unable to ascertain the sort of discount that should be applied for non-qualifying leaseholds, as against qualifying ones that might be identical and in the same block.

I understand that there may be a further, growing issue about the very basis of measurement of the height of buildings. Apparently, the requirement is to use a basis of measurement that is defined by—and, as I understand, produced for—a wholly different purpose. It is not surprising that practitioners and others are withdrawing from this area of work. As a result, leaseholders are unable to sell, remortgage or purchase property and may be caught, regardless of the actual need for remediation. This has a very wide and pernicious effect.

We already know that there are about 1.7 million non-qualified leaseholds. Not all of them will be faced with remediation costs, but a very significant number may, in fact, end up being coloured by the same issues as those that are. How many more are we going to add by the default mechanisms in these regulations? How much detriment do the Government think it reasonable to visit on the wholly innocent home owners in this category? All these regulations assume a theoretical path that is not matched in reality. I think unsaleable property will become a growing issue. It is in a very important market sector. These are not generally flats; we are dealing with relatively high-density development on scarce urban land. It is where people very often have their first home. It is near facilities, jobs and public transport—the things people need when they are first setting up. Is it really the Government’s intention to substantially prejudice this sector of the market? I suggest that is a mistake.

I offered the Government a way out of this more than a year ago when we were discussing the Building Safety Bill, as it was then. It was then labelled the “polluter pays” amendment. It is not labelled that any more, because I felt that was a bit tendentious. It is now called the building safety remediation scheme, and I have retabled it in the context of the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill. It is not true that there is not an opportunity, in terms of legislative time, to deal with this if the Government simply had the will. It seems to me that they prefer to have an approach that is based on a hideous level of complexity and has unspeakably detrimental outcomes for individuals. I continue to offer my solution to the Government for a consumer protection issue that they really need to address. As I say, it is not the case that the Government can do nothing, or nothing without further primary legislation. They have all the tools and the opportunity ready right now.

This is not a static situation. I have seen suggestions that perhaps things will settle down in due course. How many years do noble Lords or the Government think it will take for this matter to settle down? How much grief do noble Lords think it is reasonable to visit on an often quite impecunious but entirely innocent part of the home-owing sector? I apologise for the length of my explanation, but those are the reasons why I think these regulations are a significant missed opportunity, which is why I tabled my amendment. I beg to move.

My Lords, I remind the House that my noble friend Lady Pinnock moved a regret Motion on 21 March on a previous version of this statutory instrument. She pointed out that the Government’s poor drafting had led to scores, perhaps hundreds, of innocent leaseholders having to foot a bill for remediation of fire safety defects that should have been paid by landlords. Your Lordships supported my noble friend, and the regret Motion was passed by 185 to 138. Today, the Government are having their third go at getting this particular set of statutory instruments right. They have been challenged in court, have had stern criticism from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, and now have reluctantly come back with some amendments and clarifications, which the noble Baroness set out from the Front Bench very clearly a few minutes ago.

The Government’s statutory instrument that we are amending had four cases of defective drafting and one of ultra vires, and generated two judicial review cases, which is quite a hefty charge list. I think the Minister, in presenting to your Lordships in this debate, has been skating over some pretty thin ice, because she did not exactly acknowledge the pedigree, if that is the right word, of the document that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has brought to our attention today. She did say that she was leaving the door open to a fourth or fifth iteration of the document, and possibly primary regulation, if it turned out that it was even worse than she thought. That seems not a very satisfactory way to proceed with legislation in this Parliament. Sadly, it is not an unusual circumstance; a very high proportion of statutory instruments have to be corrected after the event—not necessarily corrected twice more, with a promise of more to follow.

In the debate in March, the Minister was not able to tell noble Lords how many innocent leaseholders had fallen foul of the first version of the defective statutory instrument. She did say, by way of mitigation of her offence, so to speak, that the liability of those leaseholders was limited and capped, and that it could not get any worse than them having to pay £15,000, which I am sure they found a great consolation.

The Government will, of course, eventually find out about those who have wrongly been charged more than £15,000 because, the cap having been exceeded, the cost falls back on to the Treasury. Is the Minister in a position to improve on the complete lack of information she had about the impact of the defects in the original version when she spoke last time? How many cases of charges exceeding the leaseholder cap have come to the attention of the department? What help and advice have been given to those who have found themselves in that position? It will be a pity if she says that she is disinclined to help rectify the errors exposed at that time.

I hope that we will get a bit more of an apology than the Minister was able to offer when moving the regulations at the beginning of this debate. I hope she can do a little better than the repetitive circumlocutions in the Explanatory Memorandum. I am pleased to hear that more explanatory notes are being issued, although I note that announcing it from the Front Bench in the debate on whether these are good regulations is rather late in the day for noble Lords to have absorbed what the new information contains. It may be that the Minister would like to say a little more about that.

I am reminded that when the first version was produced, MPs were assured by the then Minister that it was in good order. By the time we got to the second version, he was still assuring MPs—in fact, I could better say that he was swearing blind—that everything was in order. Now we are back for a third time and I am sure that the Minister, in a very polite way, will assure us all that they are absolutely fine. Except, actually, she did not; she said that there might be further amendments. I wonder, when we consider the detailed and thorough explanation that the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has given us of the technical problems of a professional industry grappling with this statutory instrument, whether this story is anywhere near over.

For innocent leaseholders watching the Government’s halting and error-strewn work in this area, the latest episode confirms their worst assumptions. We all know that errors happen, but when accidents and errors are always in the house’s favour, the punters begin to suspect that something worse than a mishap is happening. It seems that due diligence is not being practised. There is a certain carelessness, perhaps even recklessness, in the impact on innocent leaseholders of what has been going on.

This reminds me of some elements of the Windrush scandal, where a department completely failed to grasp what it needed to do, and the spirit in which it needed to do it, in order to achieve the policy outcome that it said it wanted to achieve. It seems to me, on the third time round, with the promise of a fourth time round, that this is rapidly escalating into one of those circumstances. I hope the Minister can give us some reassurance on that very important matter.

My Lords, while we do not object to this regulation’s contents in principle, we too regret that it has been necessary for the Government to bring this instrument forward. After all, the regulations consist mostly of technical amendments to regulations previously made under the Building Safety Act after it came into force. Surely the need for such basic definitions could have been anticipated in the drafting of the previous regulations. We appreciate fully that these are not simple matters, but instruments coming forward to correct what are largely obvious deficiencies and admissions in the drafting of previously approved regulations do not exactly inspire confidence in the Government’s approach to leaseholder protection and to the building safety crisis more generally.

At the heart of this issue are the millions of leaseholders who are losing sleep and their hard-earned cash over the remediation costs issue. During the passage of the Building Safety Bill, Members of both Houses warned about the consequences of rapidly overhauling what was already a complex and technical piece of legislation in order to reflect the Government’s belated change of approach. Indeed, my honourable friend Matthew Pennycook MP said at the time that

“this is no way to make good law”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/4/22; col. 191.]

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, referred to a previous regret Motion tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Pinnock, regarding judicial reviews and attempts at redrafting.

All this could have been avoided if the Government had just grasped the nettle and brought forward a comprehensive Bill to abolish the outdated and anachronistic system that leasehold tenure is. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Kennedy of Southwark’s work—he has brought this matter before the House so many times—but we still seem to be no further forward. The Secretary of State described leasehold as an outdated feudal system in January this year and promised to bring forward a Bill to scrap it, saying that

“the fundamental thing is that leasehold is just an unfair form of property ownership. In crude terms, if you buy a flat, that should be yours. You shouldn’t be on the hook for charges which managing agents and other people can land you with”.

That should apply to remediation costs, too.

The Law Commission, asked to review leasehold by the Government, produced a report proposing an overhaul of the right-to-manage process and suggested that landlords’ legal costs should not be passed to leaseholders. Yet here we are, seven months later, with no sign of a Bill so far and increasingly complex instruments coming before us to try to sort out the mess that the Government have made in previous regulations. The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said in its report on 29 June, which has already been highlighted by the Minister:

“We are disappointed that this is a further example of a wider concern we have highlighted in recent reports, whereby we have had to ask basic questions about the rationale of changes made in an instrument and report the answers in our weekly reports, when such information should have been in the EM accompanying the instrument”.

What assurances can the Minister give that, in rectifying the deficiencies and omissions in previously approved regulations, the same errors will not recur in respect of the many other building safety instruments we still need to consider? What is the Minister doing to ensure that the overall quality of statutory instruments that come before this House is improved so that they are not the subject of amending instruments and judicial review?

The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, set out in great detail the technical issues in relation to this regulation. Our concern is that, while we understand that the Government’s intention is to ensure that landlords cannot avoid their responsibility to leaseholders in relation to building safety through complex corporate structures, if the instruments are not properly drafted, they will provide loopholes that enable that avoidance. What reassurance can the Minister give us today that this new instrument is sufficiently tight in its drafting to ensure that landlords will have to meet their obligations? The introduction given to us by the Minister, which referred to potential further redrafts and potentially even further primary legislation, does nothing to reassure us.

We note that Regulation 4 adds Homes England to the list of interested persons who may seek remediation orders and remediation contribution orders. Leaving aside the obvious question of why it was not included from the outset, particularly given that it administers the Building Safety Fund outside London, the Minister in the other place, Rachel Maclean, clarified that it is not the Government’s intention that Homes England takes over these responsibilities from government. However, the regulation does give it new responsibilities, so will Homes England be provided with further funding to fulfil these new responsibilities?

While we understand and share some of the concerns that sit behind the amendment moved by the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, the instrument contains a series of perfectly sensible refinements to previous regulations, the effect of which, we hope, will be to streamline the landlord certificate and leaseholder deed of certificate process. We take no issue with those measures, but we regret that, although the instrument makes the necessary changes, it is a missed opportunity to resolve other glaring deficiencies in the Building Safety Act that the Government should have resolved by now, such as the gap relating to leaseholders extending or varying their lease on or after 14 February 2022, which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, referred to, which the Government promised in this House on 2 May that they would legislate to resolve as soon as parliamentary time allowed, and the fact that service charges to cover remedial acts were sent out to leaseholders quickly before the Act came into force, because those charges could not be applied retrospectively. That has left leaseholders at the expense of litigation to resolve the matter. We, too, are interested in the cost to the Treasury of claims that exceed the cap referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Stunell. Why are the Government not using this instrument to address the shortcomings I have mentioned?

I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for moving his amendment to give us the opportunity to have this debate, and I thank noble Lords who have contributed. I look forward to hearing the response from the Minister.

I thank the noble Lords for their contributions today. I will try to answer as many points as I can, but I imagine that on many points, particularly those from the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, I will have to write. I reiterate my invitation to him to meet us to talk about some of his concerns.

The noble Earl asked about the complexity and clarity of existing regulations and what they do to address the concerns of the SLSC and the JCSI. As I said, this is what these regulations are for. They are there to address those concerns. The department will be publishing further guidance on GOV.UK to accompany the regulations. This will be published shortly after the regulations come into force.

The noble Earl also asked why the regulations do not address his concerns in relation to some leaseholders being liable in some circumstances. I am aware that I responded previously to the noble Earl when he brought forward his “polluter pays” amendments recently, which I now understand are being called building safety remediations. He seeks to return us to a subject that your Lordships debated extensively in the spring of last year, in what was then the Building Safety Bill. I say once more to the noble Earl, with the greatest of respect, that this House and the other place considered his arguments very carefully last year and rejected them. I still do not think that the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill is an appropriate place to try and reopen these issues.

In any event, the noble Earl presents his amendments—I thought it was “polluter pays”, but it is now building safety remediation—as though that is not what the Act and the various government schemes do. His scheme seeks to use the planning system to force compliance, as does the Government’s responsible actors’ scheme. We are told that the proposed scheme would avoid expensive litigation, yet it would replace the expanded jurisdiction of the First-tier Tribunal, which is now dealing with a significant number of cases, with that of the High Court, where costs and delays are far higher. The noble Earl’s scheme would not make a significant difference to leaseholders, other than to set back the progress of remediation by over a year as the industry and leaseholders work to understand yet another new system, just as they get to grips with the Building Safety Act.

The noble Earl also asked whether liability should fall on L for unavoidable errors in certificates. Under the leaseholder protection regulations, as he will know, L is the person with managing and repairing obligations. It is the current landlord who must provide the landlord certificate, not L. Where the current landlord produces a certificate that does not meet the prescribed requirements, liability for the relevant defect falls to them. L, the person responsible for the maintenance and repairs, may pursue them for amounts owed via a remediation contribution order.

The noble Earl also asked about consultations with practitioners and leaseholders, including those who have been prevented from selling. I set out in my opening speech that the department has engaged with numerous practitioners, including landlords, named managers, conveyancers and lenders. I can confirm that this was done through written correspondence to the department and stakeholder round tables. I reiterate that the department is not required to consult on these regulations.

The noble Earl also asked about the ability of leaseholders or professionals, in particular, to check facts in landlord certificates. There is no expectation on any party to verify the information set out in the landlord certificates, and these regulations do not change that. Regulation 11 of SI 2022/711 provides that those leaseholders may apply to the First-tier Tribunal for an order, where they have a reason to believe that the information in a landlord certificate is incorrect. He also asked about the volume of information required to be sourced and collected. I have said before that regulations reduce the evidence requirement or burden on landlords where they accept liability for a relevant defect.

The noble Earl asked about the disparity between ascertainable facts, as at 14 February 2022, and subsequent facts coming to light at a later stage. The tests apply on 14 February 2022 to ensure that landlords cannot circumvent the rules, particularly in relation to their net worth. Subsequent facts are not considered for the purpose of the tests. Where the landlord has since sold their assets then their liability, determined on 14 February 2022, falls to the person who bought the landlord’s asset, but the original landlord may still be pursued by a remediation contribution order. The Building Safety Act 2022 provides for insolvency orders to recover remediation amounts from a company that is in the process of winding up, and associated companies of that insolvent company may be held liable.

The noble Earl then asked about the need for the landlord to gather information from L. We are aware of the issues concerning the landlord being unable to legally enforce the provision of information in relation to relevant defects in the building. It is of course in the leaseholders’ interest for the person responsible for repairs and maintenance, often resident led, to provide that information to reduce a qualifying leaseholders cap. We are looking to bring forward primary legislation to resolve this issue as soon as parliamentary time allows.

The noble Earl then asked about the operation of the concept of associated companies and landlord groups. The term “associated person” was defined in the Building Safety Act 2022 and amended in the February regulations SI 2023/126. As the noble Earl will recall, it is not being amended for these regulations.

The noble Earl asked about UK Finance requiring a landlord certificate. I would like to clarify that a landlord certificate is not normally required for the sale of a leasehold property. On 20 December, the six major mortgage lenders committed to lend on properties in buildings in England of 11 metres or five storeys and above, and there is no requirement for the building to have been remediated, providing it is part of a developer or government remediation scheme or the property is protected by the leaseholder protections in the Building Safety Act, as evidenced by the leaseholder deed of covenant only.

We are working with UK Finance and representative bodies from the conveyancing industry to ensure that the positive impact of a mortgage lender’s commitment is fully understood and customers experience a smooth customer journey when buying or selling a property. UKF has given its commitment to DLUHC that it will update the handbook and engage with the conveyancing sector to address wider concerns with the lender instructions.

The noble Earl asked about professional risks and PI insurance for this. We are working closely with representative bodies from the conveyancing industry to ensure conveyancers fully understand the protections provided in the Building Safety Act and the solutions in place to fix buildings so they can advise clients looking to buy impacted flats appropriately. We do not consider these regulations have a material impact on the market or the other issues raised by the noble Earl.

The noble Earl asked about leaseholders losing their protection as a result of failing to provide a leaseholder deed of certificate. Where the leaseholder does not provide the certificate in the required timeframe, they may be held liable for remediation costs as if they were not qualifying for that relevant defect. These regulations provide that a landlord must update their landlord certificate to take into account a new leaseholder deed of certificate. Therefore, if a leaseholder provides one at a later date, their qualifying status and protections can then apply.

Finally, the noble Earl asked about lease extensions. I have said to noble Lords before, most recently on Monday, that we are aware of the issue concerning leaseholder protections where leases are extended or varied and are looking to bring forward primary legislation to resolve this issue as soon as parliamentary time allows. This is not something that could have been addressed through these regulations.

I am pretty sure that I missed more than one issue, but as I said, we will look at Hansard, respond in writing and put a copy in the Library and send it to everyone who has spoken today. I am very happy to have a further meeting because these are very technical issues, and I am happy to speak further on them

The noble Lord, Lord Stunell, asked why the Government are amending leaseholder protections again. I thought I had made it clear, but I want to assure the noble Lord that the Government absolutely committed in the House last summer to making any necessary amendments to the leaseholder protection regulations. That is exactly what we are doing. The Building Safety (Leaseholder Protections etc.) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2023, which came into force in February, corrected an error in the definition of associated persons to ensure that complex corporate structures cannot avoid liability, which was always the Government’s intention. Those regulations were able to be dealt with under the negative procedure, which is why were able to bring them into force the day after making them. It was important to do that to ensure that landlords could not avoid the new requirement of these regulations. These regulations, considered under the affirmative procedure, minimise information sharing requirements for landlords and provide clarity to ensure the protections have the effect in the way they were originally intended.

I am sorry that I still do not have the number of cases that were affected—we may never get the full numbers. I think the noble Lord said that the cap on the amount of money that would be paid by these cases would be £15,000; just to clarify, it is £1,500.

I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage, who spoke on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that as I have said many times at this Dispatch Box, we will bring further leaseholder reforms. That was in our manifesto and we will bring them forward in this Parliament.

My Lords, I am grateful for the Minister’s comments, for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Stunell, who has much greater credibility in this area than I will ever have, and for the support and comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor of Stevenage.

In a sense, I shrug my shoulders slightly here, because the cat is already coming out of the bag. Yesterday, my attention was drawn to the case of URS Corporation Ltd v BDW Trading Ltd, which is a defective premises case which looks set to attach liabilities to all sorts of people, not just the developer. I appreciate the Minister’s comments about my building safety remediation scheme, which tries to effect strict liability for defects rather than this rather curious containment process that is neither fish nor fowl. None the less, if the Minister does not accept it, and the Government cannot take it on board, I think interaction with the courts and litigation will probably procure it but in a slower, more painful and more gruesome fashion. That is where I think things are heading.

I want to take a moment to pay tribute to some of the people who have helped me. Alison Hills, Zahrah Aullybocus and Stephen Desmond are practitioners who have been very happy to share their experiences with me—and their experiences seem to be widely shared by other professionals. What the department is saying and what is happening in reality seem to be two quite different things.

I quoted from the UK finance guidelines, which are the ones that people look to at the moment, and commented on the professional indemnity insurance issues. These are not matters of regulation. This is not a case of raising a magic wand and saying, “We have made a regulation and therefore it is all right, is it not?” This is the court of practical application in real life.

It appears to me that, notwithstanding what the Minister says, the department does not seem to have consulted in depth with practitioners, otherwise I would not be getting all this feedback from people who have attended seminars and courses and discoursed with specialists in this area. All sorts of people, from the likes of Falcon Chambers downwards through a number of specialist firms and practitioners, are saying the same thing. I suspect that, whatever consultation and discussion process is going on—noting that they do not have a duty at all to consult on this—the Government do not appear to be getting their information from the sources they need, and the proof of the pudding is what is happening in the market.

The Government do not appear to have acquainted themselves with the actual experience of leaseholders and professionals. Over recent weeks, some 240 individuals have written to me about one thing or another—not necessarily about this particular set of regulations but about the way in which the Building Safety Act provisions and regulations are not working for them. I believe that is simply the tip of the iceberg.

Although I will continue to press for much more significant reform, and I appreciate the support from all round the House on this, it is not my intention to put this to a vote. I end by saying that I am grateful for the positive points of clarification that the Minister has been able to make on landlord certificates and leaseholder extensions. I certainly look forward to the opportunity of having a dialogue with her and her officials as time goes forward, and perhaps bring together some of the experts that have been helping me. With that, this is not the time to press this amendment, and I beg leave to withdraw.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.

Motion agreed.

Royal Assent

The following Acts were given Royal Assent:

Employment Relations (Flexible Working) Act,

Equipment Theft (Prevention) Act,

Child Support (Enforcement) Act,

Social Housing (Regulation) Act,

Illegal Migration Act,

Electronic Trade Documents Act,

Strikes (Minimum Service Levels) Act.

Veterans Update


The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Wednesday 19 July.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like expand on the apology delivered by the Prime Minister this afternoon for the unacceptable hurt caused to LGBT members of our nation’s Armed Forces by the 1967 to 2000 ban on homosexuality. It was not acceptable and it was not what the brave men and women it affected deserved. For that, on behalf of the Government and the Armed Forces, I am deeply sorry.

For hundreds of years, joining the British Armed Forces has been a career choice full of opportunity, adventure and self-improvement; one of the most fulfilling and stimulating occupations a young person can choose. But it is also one of self-sacrifice and bravery. This morning, we published the independent review into the service and experience of LGBT veterans who served prior to 2000. It makes for miserable and distressing reading. It is only right that the House takes the time to acknowledge and reflect on those veterans who have shared their experiences with the review.

I, along with a number of colleagues in the House, served in our Armed Forces when the ban was in place. I cannot imagine what it must have been like for someone to join the Armed Forces, buoyed up by that great spirit of service, only to discover, to their horror, that many believed they did not fit. I cannot imagine what it must have felt like to be hounded out of a job they loved simply on account of their sexuality. Nor can I imagine what it must have been like to lose their livelihood, their family and their home simply because of the person they chose to love, yet that was the experience of many sailors, soldiers and aviators over decades, and it happened here—in this country—little over 20 years ago. The report published today brings the experience to life for us and spotlights the hurt felt by those affected. For that, I am truly grateful.

The ban was introduced in 1967—unbelievably, after the Sexual Offences Act 1967 decriminalised same-sex sexual acts in private between consenting adults. To add to the injustice, when the ban ended at the beginning of the millennium, the stories of those who suffered were forgotten and their records were buried. Additionally, in 2010 and 2011, in line with Government policy agreed by the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Ministry of Defence enacted a policy to destroy legacy police investigation records concerning decriminalised sexual offences, so that historical decriminalised convictions could not show up on criminal record checks of service personnel. I assure veterans that this was not a cover-up and does not mean that their wider service records have been destroyed.

I want to place on the record my thanks and gratitude to Lord Etherton and his team for compiling this comprehensive report. It was commissioned in January 2022 and, since, 1,128 people have responded with their experiences, many in substantial detail. I pay particular tribute to all those who came forward. They have shown tremendous courage in chronicling traumatic experiences, which for many had been causing grief and groundless shame for decades. I also place on record my admiration and thanks to Fighting With Pride, and especially Craig and Caroline, who have held the baton for so long.

The testimonies make truly harrowing reading. They paint a shocking and shameful picture of a Defence that is hard to comprehend. The enforcement of the ban became something of a witch hunt. The testimonies detail investigations, invasive searches and examinations, degrading tests, brutal bullying and, in some cases, sexual abuse. One doctor who joined in 1984 describes how he had to perform a test for which there was no medical or clinical basis. Some who thought they could confide in their chaplains were stunned to find their details were passed to their superiors.

For those affected, the hardships impacted every aspect of their lives. Reputations were demeaned and defamed. Commissions were surrendered and officers demoted by multiple ranks. Veterans who served with distinction, awarded medals in famous campaigns from the Falklands to the Gulf, were stripped of their medals.

We cannot turn back the clock, but we can make amends and take action. This report makes 49 recommendations. My department, alongside the Office for Veterans’ Affairs, the Department for Health and Social Care and others across Government, in partnership with the devolved Administrations and the charity sector, all have a role in delivering the report’s recommendations. Many in the LGBT veteran community have been eagerly awaiting the publication of this report, and rightly so—they have been waiting for decades to be heard. I am pleased to say that, since we received this report at the end of May, multiple government departments have been busy working through the recommendations to ensure that we come to the House today accepting, in principle, the vast majority of the report’s recommendations. While we agree with the intent behind them, we may deliver a number in different ways from that described in the report.

We will set out those differences when we publish the Government’s full response to the review after the summer recess, but I assure the House: that will be the time when we can not only deliver restitution and redress to the LGBT veteran community, but make sure that the House properly debates the report and the Government’s response to it and its recommendations. This of course is a statement today. While I welcome all colleagues’ challenges and requests on it, I have decided specifically that a debate in the House should take place to give a chance to debate the Government’s recommendations. That is the right thing to do. Although that may take the summer, it is important that both Opposition and our colleagues can hold me or my successor to account. In fact, we have already delivered six of the recommendations today; the Prime Minister delivered the first this morning at the Dispatch Box.

Importantly, we have set up a digital front door, which went live today at midday, to offer information on veterans’ services, support and restorative measures to those affected by the ban. I encourage LGBT veterans to visit it to see what support is available to them now, and to stay informed as our delivery of the recommendations is rolled out. I am happy to be drawn on further details on the recommendations during today’s questions but, as I said, the House should have proper time to debate and scrutinise them.

I am glad that today’s MoD is a very different place today from the Defence of the late ’60s to ’90s. Our LGBT colleagues are an integral and undifferentiated part of the Defence family, making a fantastic difference all over the world. At the start of this month, the Minister for Defence People, Veterans and Service Families, my right honourable friend the Member for South West Wiltshire, Dr Murrison, met LGBT members of our Armed Forces and veterans before they marched at London Pride. The occasion has become a celebrated part of our military calendar. Today’s MoD policies are geared towards LGBT issues. There is training for LGBT allies and thriving LGBT staff networks.

There is no place for prejudice in the modern Armed Forces. However, things are by no means perfect, which is why we continue to improve on our zero-tolerance policy towards discrimination. We should not forget that we could not have reached this point were it not for some incredibly brave people. I pay tribute to those who have campaigned for justice over the decades, including Fighting With Pride, Rank Outsiders and the Armed Forces Legal Action Group.

Cultural change takes time, particularly in such large organisations as our Armed Forces. But it can only really begin when individuals are prepared to stand up and be counted. This Government have shown they care about righting historic wrongs. That is why we brought forward this review. Once we have taken the time needed to fully work out how to deliver recompense for this community, we look forward to being back at the Dispatch Box to outline those details.

In his preface to the report, Lord Etherton notes:

‘The survivors have waited for at least 23 years for acknowledgment of what they have suffered, and for justice and restitution.’

Today is about that acknowledgment. It is about recognising the saddening personal accounts and the deep traumatic hurt that the historic ban has caused. It is about acknowledging the adversity they overcame. It is about celebrating the spirit of service they displayed. And it is about taking the time to acknowledge their importance within our Defence family, serving or veteran.

I was struck by one particular quote in the report from a veteran:

‘I don’t feel I am a veteran. I have never asked for help. I don’t feel like my service was recognised.’

Today, we want to say to all those ex-soldiers, sailors and aviators, many of whom are in retirement: you are one of us, you belong to our community and, in choosing to put yourself in harm’s way for the good of your colleagues, your community and your country, you have proven yourselves the best of us.

I say again to the veteran community—I am deeply sorry for what happened to you. The very tolerance and values of a western democracy that we expected you to fight for we denied to you. It was profoundly wrong. I am determined as Defence Secretary, and as a veteran, to do all I can today to right those historic wrongs, so that you can once again take pride in your service and inspire future generations to follow in your footsteps.”

My Lords, I begin once again by associating His Majesty’s Opposition with the Prime Minister, the Defence Secretary and the noble Baroness, Lady Goldie, and thank them for their full and heartfelt apologies yesterday following the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, which highlighted the appalling and disgusting treatment of LGBT+ military personnel between 1967 and 2000. I also pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for his excellent report, and to fellow Peers such as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and my noble friend Lord Cashman, who have continually raised these issues with other Members of your Lordships’ House. It is an outstanding report by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.

I spent much of this morning reading the report, which highlights this disgraceful policy and its consequences. It is worth reminding ourselves what it was. I make no apologies for quoting from the report again and putting it on record:

“The policy was that no person subject to service law who was gay, lesbian, transgender or transitioning due to gender dysphoria, or who was perceived to be such, even if they were not in fact, could be or remain a member of the armed forces”.

The consequences of this were horrific, and have only now been truly exposed through the bravery of those who suffered. One can only imagine the strength and courage that it has taken for these individuals to come forward. In the call for action, 1,128 responses were received. Harrowing stories are told by these men and women—service personnel who would, or indeed have, put their lives at risk for their country in defence of our freedom and liberty.

This is not in some bygone age centuries ago but in all our lifetimes, right up until the year 2000. Some 20,000 LGBT+ veterans were jailed, dismissed, outed to their families, assaulted or abused, often sexually. Many lost jobs, pensions and honours and could not wear their uniforms at remembrance events—not to mention the impact on their self-worth and self-esteem. It is important that these testimonies and this evidence are heard, as individuals recall what happened to them.

In particular, I will recount one such piece of evidence, which seemed to me to sum up the horrific prejudice that led to these barbaric and sickening practices. Page 64 of the report says that, on HMS “Norfolk”, one of our warships,

“there was a Defence Council Instruction … kept in the sickbay safe called ‘Unnatural Offences’”.

This testimony says that gay people were labelled “deviants” and “disgusting”. The instruction set out procedures for an “intrusive forensic medical exam”—unbelievable. Testimony after testimony shows the consequences of this shocking prejudice.

The report details a number of helpful and important recommendations that cannot undo what happened but can try to put right, as far as possible, the continuing hurt, pain and injustice. Can the Minister outline how these various recommendations are to be implemented and how we will ensure that this is done quickly? How will we ensure that all those who are eligible are made aware of their entitlements under these new processes? How is eligibility to be defined?

The Defence Secretary said that the intent of some of the recommendations is accepted but will be delivered in a different way. Which recommendations are these, and will discussions continue with LGBT+ veterans’ groups and individuals to ensure their consent to this approach? Is there any timeframe for the application for the restoration of pension rights, compensation or financial assistance, and the restoration of medals? Will all military personnel affected by this ban now be rightfully entitled to wear their military uniform or, where it has been confiscated from them, have it returned in time for this year’s remembrance events? The Defence Secretary rightly spoke of the need for a “zero-tolerance” approach in our Armed Forces today. Can the Minister outline how we are ensuring that this is the case and that anyone who has concerns today can come forward, be supported and, where necessary, have the appropriate action taken?

This was an appalling failure by many Governments. Men and women bravely serving their country were subject to the most appalling abuse—a policy officially sanctioned. This is a scandal of immense proportions that we must put right. We cannot undo the past, but we must do all we can, as quickly as we can, to put right this historic injustice. So many still live with the horrors of the past; the least they can expect is for us to do all we can to bring, as far as we can, their nightmare to an end as soon as possible.

My Lords, from these Benches I too very much welcome the report from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. We talked about some of these issues yesterday, but it is absolutely right to put on the record again how wrong it was that the ban was in place and to give the apologies of this nation to those who were forced to leave Her Majesty’s Armed Forces, whether because they were homosexual or because they were perceived to be so.

The history is shocking. The ban was wrong, but the way it was enforced was absolutely repugnant. The report gives testimony after testimony from former LGBT members of the Armed Forces and those who were not LGBT but, in some cases, were perceived to be so. How on earth could we have had a piece of legislation that even talked about someone being “perceived to be” so? Who was supposed to make the decisions or the judgment about how somebody looked, dressed or walked? What world had we taken ourselves into, and what right did the Ministry of Defence have to put forward a set of rules for men and women who only wanted to serve their country in the best way possible?

There is a tragic case, outlined on pages 78 and 79, of somebody now in their sixties who had only ever wanted to be a Royal Marine, and at 15 they were finally allowed to sign up and put their name forward. Then, after a drunken night out, another male youngster, also of 16, ended up in his bed. The person who gave their testimony now was not homosexual but was subjected to an examination that, as he said, was not with his consent, and he was forced to leave the Royal Marines. As a country, we need to do everything possible to make reparations to those who lost their careers and their dignity.

The cases outlined here are tragic. Following some of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I would like the Minister to give the House a sense of the timeline that His Majesty’s Government have in mind for responding to all the recommendations in this report and, where they do not accept the recommendations, to make explicit what alternatives are being put in place to ensure that justice finally can be given to veterans and the families of those who have already died. There is a suggestion in here of a recommendation that interested parties who are sufficiently close should be able to make a case for veterans who have passed away, or perhaps committed suicide because of the way they were treated. I would like to know what His Majesty’s Government propose for people being able to bring cases, whether legislation is going to be brought forward and what role Parliament will play, because we all need to make sure that any changes and reparations are done in a timely manner. We are talking about justice being denied for at least 23 years, but for many people more than half a century. This needs to be rectified as soon as possible.

Finally, in light of the comments in both the report and the Secretary of State’s Statement on Wednesday, can the Minister reassure the House that nobody in His Majesty’s Armed Forces today faces injustice and prejudice because of their gender identity or sexual orientation, or even—heaven forbid—the perception of either of these, because we really need to have moved on?

My Lords, I thank both the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for their very helpful introductory remarks and observations, with which I entirely associate myself, particularly their passionately expressed sentiments about just how wrong, unjustifiable and unacceptable this ban was, not to mention its brutal enforcement. I said yesterday that I pay tribute particularly to the courage of those who have come forward, and I hope that by doing so they will feel that, at long last, they have been able to speak in safety, knowing that their testimonies will not just add cogency to the report, which they have done, but be respected, and that there will be a genuine attempt by government to respond to the appalling, atrocious experiences they endured.

I will deal specifically with some of the points raised. Before doing so, I will move some of the glasses next to the Dispatch Box; it is a bit like a cocktail bar here. It is slightly less enlivening in the imbibing sense, but still slightly cluttered.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was interested in the broad frame of eligibility. I double-checked that myself and think that it is pretty explicit from the terms of reference given by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton. In particular, page 212 of the report says that the intention is that this should be

“an independent account of the service and experiences of LGBT veterans who served in Her Majesty’s Armed Forces between 1967 and 2000”.

That is a qualifying criterion. Indeed, the noble and learned Lord reiterates that on page 251, when he comes to deal with:

“Restitution, recognition and just satisfaction”.

I cite that to clarify these aspects.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, also asked about implementation, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. I can confirm that a full implementation plan with details on how those affected can access restorative measures will be published in due course. I can further confirm that a government website page went live online yesterday to give further guidance. With specific reference to that plan, I would say that nothing is intended to be either elusive or evasive about this response.

As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State made clear in the other place yesterday, we have to consult over the summer with all the interested groups that have been so supportive and helpful to the noble and learned Lord in contributing to his review and report, and we have to discuss with them how best we can deliver on the recommendations. My right honourable friend also indicated yesterday that, while we absolutely accept in full the spirit of the recommendations, there may be some areas where we have to look at delivery in a slightly different fashion. If your Lordships look at the breadth of the recommendations, it is fairly clear that they cover a wide spectrum of delivery agencies—some will be within the control of the Westminster Government, others not—but the noble and learned Lord has very helpfully provided further advice as to how he thinks the other agencies should approach these responsibilities.

I will give an example of where there has to be discussion over the summer. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State, in the other place yesterday, took as

“an example: the veterans badge”.—[Official Report, Commons, 19/7/23; col. 294.]

We agree, in principle, that it absolutely should be given. However, some members of the LGBT community would say that they are veterans, so they want to be part of the whole veteran family and do not wish to be differentiated; they want the same badge as everyone else. Then there are others who want a separated badge—so there is no easy answer at the moment as to how we approach this. That is indicative of the kind of discussion that will be necessary over the summer months, requiring careful, engaged and sensitive discussions with those who can help to inform us.

The same goes for financial provision. Again, there will be, I think, hugely varying views from applicants as to what they seek, and there has to be sensible determination about how the applications will be treated, particularly in relation to pensions. As your Lordships will be aware, there is now a website giving advice and either the information is on yesterday’s new website or there is a link to where such advice can be received.

As my right honourable friend made clear yesterday in the other place, and as I make clear, we are very happy to work with the Opposition. We would welcome discussions and contributions, because this is not about party politics; this is about the British state, through all our different agencies and all the different existing conduits, doing whatever we can to deliver this long-awaited restoration, compensation and recognition of just how badly things went wrong.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, specifically asked about uniforms. Yes, veterans who were dismissed will be able to wear their uniforms. He also asked about the Remembrance Day service this year. It would be a very laudable objective for that to be achieved, and I am sure that it will be very prominent in the discussions over the summer. I want to assure your Lordships that this is an open door; the Government want to do everything possible to facilitate delivery of the recommendations.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, asked in particular about deceased veterans. The intention is that, yes, representatives of deceased veterans should be able to benefit from the recommendations in the report.

The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, has suggested a time period of 24 months for everyone. That is sufficient to allow everyone to be informed of what is happening. I hope that, if people wish to avail themselves of the recommendations, restitutions, rights and entitlements that the noble and learned Lord laid out, this will be sufficient time for them to activate that.

I have a little note here to assist me. I can indicate to your Lordships that six of the recommendations have already been implemented; it might be helpful for noble Lords to know that. Yesterday, we implemented recommendation 1, which is about apologies, both in the other place and in this Chamber. Recommendation 4 is about Armed Forces veterans’ badges. They should be given; there is a link on GOV.UK and, as I say, there is just a decision to be made about what form this is to take. Recommendation 5 says that medals should be restored. Absolutely; provision has been made for that and, again, there is a link to inform veterans. Recommendation 6 concerns campaign medals. Where these were with withheld, they should be restored; again, advice is available. I mentioned pension rights; steps have been taken to provide clarification on those. Recommendation 25 is that Sections 194 and 195 of the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act 2022 should be brought into force; action has been taken to achieve that. I lay these out merely to reassure your Lordships that there is a very serious direction of travel here.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, mentioned two things. One was the case of a Royal Marine. I wish to say that I read that case with absolute horror. I found it quite extraordinary that a 16 year-old, a complete innocent in the Armed Forces environment who was away from home, could be treated at that age as that individual was. We know that there were lasting consequences; that is explicit from the evidence. All I can say is that I hope they are one of the witnesses who feel that something positive has happened as a result of their courage in deciding to give their testimony to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.

Finally, the noble Baroness asked whether I could give an assurance that no one today faces such prejudice. I can give an absolute assurance that mechanisms exist to ensure that anybody who faces such absolutely unacceptable behaviour will be dealt with. This requires, in the current Armed Forces, people being prepared to speak up. We recognise that that is still a difficult thing to do, but we have made it clear that we have both simplified the complaints procedure and introduced an element of independence to that procedure. We are told that many people find that helpful and reassuring and that it gives them confidence to call out behaviour, whether it is to do with the LGBT community or any other form of unacceptable behaviour.

As noble Lords will be aware, we have also reformed our approach to the service justice system, again to ensure that it is simpler, that it is much easier for the victim to use and that, at all stages, support and help are being given. It would be absolutely marvellous if I could stand at this Dispatch Box and guarantee that no one will ever be inappropriately addressed or be the victim of unacceptable conduct, but we live in a life where human beings are not perfect. However, we certainly have procedures in place to ensure that, if any such completely unacceptable conduct takes place, there are mechanisms by which it can be addressed.

I have tried to address the points that have been made. As ever, I will check Hansard and, if I have missed anything out, I shall undertake to write.

My Lords, having yesterday expressed the hope that the House would be given an opportunity to comment on the Secretary of State for Defence’s Statement yesterday, perhaps I may now express gratitude that such an opportunity has been provided at such an early point, even though it prevents me speaking in the debate in the Grand Committee as I had intended.

The report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, is a truly remarkable document of some 270 pages which reveals suffering on a truly appalling scale, as we all agree across the House. I want to raise a few points about the Government’s response to it.

First, will it not be vital for carefully co-ordinated work to be done across government departments to ensure that action in response to the 49 recommendations made by the noble and learned Lord is successfully implemented? Has an implementation team been set up to provide direction and momentum for the necessary work?

On pensions, will the Government follow the recommendation that the MoD should invite LGBT veterans to seek clarification as to their entitlement to a service pension where they have not received any pension but believe they were entitled to it?

I also express the hope that the Government will consider very carefully the important recommendations in relation to memorialisation, particularly a public memorial at the National Memorial Arboretum.

Finally, will the Government commit to updating the relevant discharge papers of LGBT people, as recommended, and, if necessary, introduce legislation contained in Annexe 10 of the report to record officially that discharge was unjust and unfair? That would be very much in line with the recent extension of the disregard and pardon schemes to service personnel that I worked over many years with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and Professor Paul Johnson to achieve.

I thank my noble friend for his presence here today—we are the beneficiaries of that presence, even if the Committee elsewhere is a loser. I thank him too for his clearly expressed wish yesterday that we should have a little more time to discuss this matter. In answering his Question yesterday, I deliberately took fewer questions, because I thought it was important for the Chamber to understand the broader hinterland of how the Government were responding to and proposed to deal with the noble and learned Lord’s report. I am delighted that we have had a broader opportunity to discuss it today.

I can reassure my noble friend that cross-government activity has already been happening in anticipation of the report. He is absolutely correct that cross-government activity will be critical. It will also involve reaching out to devolved Administrations, because they will be involved in implementing some of the recommendations. On the team, certainly within the MoD we have a very well resourced and skilful directorate dealing with these matters. They will be the lead presence in the MoD. Again, because of the widespread awareness of and interest in the report, I reassure my noble friend that we will be communing at top level with other relevant offices—because the Office for Veterans’ Affairs is also involved—to make sure that there is leadership through the summer to supervise this.

On pensions, my noble friend is quite right that there has been doubt and uncertainty as to who is eligible. Advice is now available on the website to which I referred. I hope that will be helpful to potential applicants.

My noble friend raised the issue of the desire for a memorial to be an enduring acknowledgment and testament to those who were so badly treated. My understanding is that the National Memorial Arboretum is administered by independent trustees, so this may be one area where we absolutely understand the spirit of what the recommendations wish to achieve but where the power of delivery may be slightly beyond either the MoD or the Office for Veterans’ Affairs.

On the matter of discharge papers, I too looked at that recommendation and think it a very reasonable one to make. Subject to the administrative challenges of identifying papers and personnel records, the desire would be to absolutely ensure that these papers were amended and issued as they should have been originally.

My Lords, I first became involved in this issue in 1991 when, along with Robert Ely and Elaine Chambers, the founders of Rank Outsiders, I gave evidence to the Armed Forces Select Committee to lift the ban. The ban was duly and rightly lifted by the courage of Duncan Lustig-Prean, Jeanette Smith, John Beckett and Graeme Grady, who with Stonewall took the case through the courts to the European Court of Human Rights.

I see this rather brilliant report as the final part of the mosaic of reparation and national apology. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, has become somewhat embarrassed by the adulation that he and the report are receiving. My advice to him is to get used to it, because it is going to go on for a very long time, so long as this report is read and referred to. Therefore, I come to my question and my recommendation to the Minister, which I raised yesterday. As the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, indicated, the work that he and I—with Professor Paul Johnson and others and, indeed, the Minister—have done has widened the pardons and disregards to include the armed services. Working cross-party, we have shown what we can achieve by working together. In that respect, I urge the Minister to consider, at departmental level, bringing forward, as I have suggested before, a small task force to oversee the implementation of the 49 recommendations and indeed the additional suggestions. We have six under way, with 43 more to go. I think a task force that oversees how they are being undertaken and, I might say, enforced, will enable the House to call on the department periodically to report back on the progress of the implementation of the recommendations and suggestions of the independent review.

I thank the noble Lord and pay tribute to him for his passion, commitment and dogged pursuit of justice for those who were so badly wronged over so many years. I join him in the accolades he has extended to my noble friend Lord Lexden and of course the academic Professor Paul Johnson. I know they have all been instrumental in pushing forward, and doing that with great determination, energy and vigour. We are indebted to them for the dogged determination they have shown and we see the fruits of this today.

On the matter of the small task force, I hear what the noble Lord says. I am very happy to take that back to the department and see if we bring greater clarity to the concern of your Lordships that this should be constantly monitored, supervised and progress measured. I totally understand all that; I will take that suggestion back and undertake to reply to him.

My Lords, I declare an interest as patron of Opening Doors, the charity for older LGBT people. In that capacity I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, very much for bringing to the attention of the nation the stories of individuals—some of whom I have known for over 30 years—and explaining to the nation the harm that was done to these people.

I want to raise a very few specific issues with the Minister. First, because I know some of these people, I know there is something that happened a lot. Compassionate officers resorted to euphemism or other excuses to try to minimise the harm of implementing a policy, which sometimes they had to do against their better judgment. It is quite often the case that people had to leave the service, but their records do not state explicitly the actual reason. Therefore, I ask the Minister whether, in the implementation of this report, there will be latitude given when people come forward for consideration to be included under this policy.

Secondly, and related to that, the disproportionate effect on women is something that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, notes in his report. I think that, quite often, women suffered a great deal in silence. Therefore, I ask whether and how particular attention will be paid to the experience of women who were badly affected by this policy.

Thirdly, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, talks about health in general terms. I understand why, and I am glad that he does. However, given the time period that we are talking about, it is remarkable that there is no mention of HIV. Because of a particular Answer that the noble Baroness gave to me recently about current treatment of people with HIV in the military forces, I wonder whether she would be willing to meet me and other members of the APPG on HIV/AIDS, because I think that there is still an issue of discrimination happening there.

Finally, to follow my noble friend Lord Cashman, it is commendable that there is going to be cross-government working on this. However, at the end of the day, who will be accountable for the implementation and to whom will we be able to go to check what the progress has actually been?

On the information contained in records, I am able to reassure the Chamber that, because of the destruction of many of the criminal records, we are satisfied that intact personnel records exist. Often these coexist with medallic award records, so we think that we have a good body of information. That means that, when people apply, feeling that they have been wronged, we will be prepared to consider their accounts in conjunction with what the records disclose.

On the matter of women, I entirely agree. Indeed, one of the horrific experiences that I have read from one of the witnesses involved a medical examination which would constitute a criminal assault nowadays. It was absolutely terrible. We are very conscious of the vulnerability of many women who suffered these experiences, but I think the noble and learned Lord’s recommendations are a comprehensive and supportive collection of proposals to support and assist them.

The matter of HIV did not seem to feature, certainly not in the services during that time; it has very much featured thereafter. As the noble Baroness is aware, we have taken great steps within the MoD to help and support people with HIV. As I indicated in my recent Answers to her Questions, we always have to weigh up operational safety; we have no other risk assessment that we can apply. At the end of the day, we ask our Armed Forces to do extraordinarily responsible things, at times in very difficult circumstances, and to operate some very technical equipment. As with everyone—it could apply to someone with any health condition—we have to make an assessment as to whether safety would be compromised. We apply that rigorously, but with an understanding that there may be other areas of activity where people with health conditions can be usefully and productively employed.

My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of Members’ interests, and in particular to my position as the Prime Minister’s special envoy on LGBT rights. I add my thanks to my noble and learned friend Lord Etherton for his work on this comprehensive report. Nobody who was read it, and in particular the nearly 100 pages of personal testimonies of veterans, can be in any doubt that a terrible injustice was done to people who were serving their country, and that an apology by the Prime Minister and other Ministers on behalf of the state was entirely the right thing to do.

These people not only lost their jobs for no other reason than that they were gay, which would be a terrible thing in any walk of life, but they were people who, as serving members of the Armed Forces, had a particular attachment to their work. They regarded themselves as members of a family. To be forcibly removed from that family undoubtedly had a severely traumatic effect on very many of them, and in some cases a devastating and tragic effect.

Would my noble friend the Minister confirm that, as well as implementing the recommendations entirely—in spirit if not to the letter, for the reasons that she has explained—the Government will do so in a timely manner? These people have waited a long time for this moment. It has been some 23 years since the law was changed, and for a while their position, having been affected so badly by the previous law, was forgotten. The great good that will have come from the publication of this report and the apology yesterday would be undone were there to be an elapse of time before all the recommendations were implemented in full. A timely response would be immensely appreciated by all those concerned.

I seek to reassure my noble friend and say that there is a desire to give a timely response. By way of affirmation, I remind your Lordships that, yesterday, in the other place, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State anticipated a debate there in the autumn that would consider not just the whole report but the progress made. This is a classic situation where the Government will have their feet held to the fire by the presence of opposition politicians. The Government are aware that that is a perfectly legitimate call to account. We anticipate being in a position in the autumn to be able to take this much further and to explain to the other place and to your Lordships what progress has been made.

My Lords, I associate myself with so many of the comments made by noble Lords around the Chamber, especially those from my noble friend on the Front Bench. I pay tribute to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, for his report, which is a very difficult read but is, and will remain, a remarkable historical document of what happened. The whole House can be grateful to him for that.

Many of the questions I wanted to ask, especially about the follow-up group that will take these recommendations forward, have been asked and answered already, but there is one thing I want to ask the Minister: what steps are being taken by the Government to disseminate the report within the Armed Forces now? It is important that those serving now have access to what we now know happened during this difficult and bad period. What are the Government actively doing to ensure that it is disseminated and can be understood for the future?

I can confirm to the noble Viscount that the review was published and can be found on GOV.UK, so it is publicly available. The MoD has numerous internal modes of communication, including DefNet. I am certain that, through our directorate of diversity and inclusion, there will be spirited attempts to ensure it disseminates down through the Armed Forces so there is widespread awareness.

My friend the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, is ahead of me; I am delighted to hear that. We have a variety of extremely effective communications media within the MoD, and I am thrilled to hear it has reached them. I think there will be broad awareness within the MoD. I noticed that there was media coverage today, so that will have reached another audience.

The questions have now finished, so we will move on to the next item. Oh, I am sorry, we shall hear from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton.

I thought it would be important to finish the debate by acknowledging what many other noble Lords, including the Minister, have said, which is that, without the live contributions from those veterans who were affected by the ban and suffered under it, and who sent statements to us, the report would have been a mere shadow. I ask that the whole House acknowledges the extraordinary courage that compelled some of these people, for the very first time in their lives, to reveal things of the greatest intimacy that they would never have revealed to anyone else. At the end of the day, that courage is really what the report is about, and it leads us, as so many here have said, to implement as much as we can in order to meet the injustice that these people have suffered.

Higher Education Reform


My Lords, I shall now repeat the Statement made in the House of Commons on Monday 17 July:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to announce the publication of the Government’s higher education reform consultation response. This country is one of the best in the world for studying in higher education, boasting four of the world’s top 10 universities. For most, higher education is a sound investment, with graduates expected to earn on average £100,000 more over their lifetime than those who do not go to university.

However, there are still pockets of higher education provision where the promise that university education will be worth while does not hold true and where an unacceptable number of students do not finish their studies or find a good job after graduating. That cannot continue. It is not fair to taxpayers who subsidise that education, but most of all it is not fair to those students who are being sold a promise of a better tomorrow, only to be disappointed and end up paying far into the future for a degree that did not offer them good value.

We want to make sure that students are charged a fair price for their studies and that a university education offers a good return. Our reforms are aimed at achieving that objective. That is why the Government launched the consultation in 2022 in order to seek views on policies based on recommendations made by Sir Philip Augar and his independent panel. The consultation ended in May 2022, and the Department for Education has been considering the responses received. I am now able to set out the programme of reforms that we are taking forward.

I believe that the traditional degree continues to hold great value, but it is not the only higher education pathway. Over the past 13 years we have made substantial reforms to ensure that the traditional route is not the only pathway to a good career. Higher technical qualifications massively enhance students’ skills and career prospects, and deserve parity of esteem with undergraduate degrees. We have seen a growth in degree-level apprenticeships, with over 188,000 students enrolling since their introduction in 2014. I have asked the Office for Students to establish a £40 million competitive degree apprenticeships fund to drive forward capacity-building projects to broaden access to degree apprenticeships over the next two years.

That drive to encourage skills is why we are also investing up to £115 million to help providers deliver higher technical education. In March we set out detailed information on how the lifelong loan entitlement will transform the way in which individuals can undertake post-18 education, and we continue to support that transformation through the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill that is currently passing through the other place. We anticipate that that funding, coupled with the introduction of the LLE from 2025, will help to incentivise the take-up of higher technical education, filling vital skills gaps across the country.

Each of those reforms has had one simple premise: that we are educating people with the skills that will enable them to have a long and fulfilling career. I believe that we should have the same expectation for higher education: it should prepare students for life by giving them the right skills and knowledge to get well-paid jobs. With the advent of the LLE, it is neither fair nor right for students to use potentially three quarters of their lifelong loan entitlement for a university degree that does not offer them good returns. That would constrain their future ability to learn, earn and retrain. We must shrink the parts of the sector that do not deliver value, and ensure that students and taxpayers are getting value for money given their considerable investment.

Data shows that there were 66 providers from which fewer than 60% of graduates progressed to high-skilled employment or further study 15 months after graduating. That is not acceptable. I will therefore issue statutory guidance to the OfS, setting out that it should impose recruitment limits on provision that does not meet its rigorous quality requirements for positive student outcomes, to help to constrain the size and growth of courses that do not deliver for students. We will also ask the OfS to consider how it can incorporate graduate earnings into its quality regime. We recognise that many factors can influence graduate earnings, but students have a right to expect that their investment in higher education will improve their career prospects, and we should rightly scrutinise courses that appear to offer limited added value to students on the metric that matters most to many.

We will work with the OfS to consider franchising arrangements in the sector. All organisations that deliver higher education must be held to robust standards. I am concerned about some indications that franchising is acting as a potential route for low quality to seep into the higher education system, and I am absolutely clear that lead providers have a responsibility to ensure that franchised provision is of the same quality as directly delivered provision. If we find examples of undesirable practices, we will not hesitate to act further on franchising.

As I have said, we will ensure that students are charged a fair price for their studies. That is why we are also reducing to £5,760 the fees for classroom-based foundation year courses such as business studies and social sciences, in line with the highest standard funding rate for access to higher education diplomas. Recently we have seen an explosion in the growth of many such courses, but limited evidence that they are in the best interests of students. We are not reducing the fee limits for high-cost, strategically important subjects such as veterinary sciences and medicine, but we want to ensure that foundation years are not used to add to the bottom line of institutions at the expense of those who study them. We will continue to monitor closely the growth of foundation year provision, and we will not hesitate to introduce further restrictions or reductions. I want providers to consider whether those courses add value for students, and to phase out that provision in favour of a broad range of tertiary options with the advent of the LLE.

Our aim is that everyone who wants to benefit from higher education has the opportunity to do so. That is why we will not proceed at this time with a minimum requirement of academic attainment to access student finance—although we will keep that option under review. I am confident that the sector will respond with the ambition and focused collaboration required to deliver this package of reforms. I extend my wholehearted thanks to those in the sector for their responses to the consultation.

This package of reforms represents the next step in tackling low-quality higher education, but it will not be the last step. The Government will not shy away from further action if required, and will consider all levers available to us if these quality reforms do not result in the improvements we seek. Our higher education system is admired across many countries, and these measures will ensure that it continues to be. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, what is higher education for? If you looked at the approach summarised by the Government’s response to the Augar review, you would assume it was solely aimed to monetise learning so that the higher the income of the graduate, the higher the value of the course. The letter from the Minister to Peers says that the Government believe that higher education should give students the right skills and knowledge to get well-paid jobs and that the parts of the sector that do not deliver this need to be shrunk.

Labour also believes that people should have the opportunity to get well-paid jobs, whatever their background or whatever part of the country they come from. We think that they should have the same access to opportunities that present value beyond the Conservative Government’s limiting definition. Narrowing the definition of a successful university course solely to earnings means putting a cap on the aspirations of our young people. It ignores the social value and economic importance of areas such as the arts and humanities—I stand here in the House as a language graduate—and targets newer institutions in parts of the country to which we should be spreading opportunity. These universities and higher education establishments tend to draw local students, students whose families may not have attended university, who may not otherwise have the opportunity to participate in higher education. Do the Government really think that this does not represent value of at least some sort?

I am concerned that this approach is the thin end of the wedge and that other courses and routes through education will be targeted next as not having a value. This is not to say that we should not have mechanisms to ensure that the education that students of all ages take up, which the lifelong learning entitlement should allow people to take up throughout their life, is good quality. There already exist mechanisms to assess the quality of courses and limit recruitment for low-progression courses through the Office for Students. Should the Government not simply make sure that they are being used? Is it the Government’s view that the Office for Students is failing in this regard? Does the Minister believe that good quality and social value always equate to the highest-paid roles?

In 2022, 86% of surveyed graduates agreed that their current activity fitted with future plans, with 93% saying that their employment or study was meaningful. Why then do the Government think that they are better placed than students or graduates to make judgments about what is valuable for their future? Labour is concerned that the measures proposed would limit their opportunities, with those from more affluent backgrounds not limited. The announcement on foundation years seems to unfairly punish institutions that recruit a high proportion of students from working-class or ethnic-minority backgrounds. Can the Minister tell us what assessment the DfE has made of the impact that this will have on access to university for students on low incomes, those from minority-ethnic backgrounds and those with disabilities, and how the Government intend to address other issues? The Minister referred to other barriers to high-paid work, such as limited access to paid internships, particularly for those who do not have parental networks to access them through.

In our view, investment in careers advice in schools would ensure that children and young people have the advice to make the right decisions. Good careers advice has to be in place to ensure that the LLE works effectively throughout someone’s career. Can the Minister say whether the Government will increase and improve careers advice both at school and for adults?

Labour also has concerns that the announcement in relation to foundation years will limit opportunity and choice for many young people. Are the Government clear that their intention to phase out some foundation courses will do this?

Labour supports improvements to apprenticeships. We think the Government’s record on apprenticeships demonstrates that they have not made them the attractive alternative that young people—indeed, people of all ages—need in terms of more technical education. Clearly, with major skills shortages in the country, the UK needs more people with the skills to fill the skills shortages in order for us to grow the economy, but the Government have failed to see that the improvements need to be made before other routes are cut off. You cannot improve the take-up of apprenticeships by blocking other currently more attractive options. You have to improve apprenticeships in the first place.

Following the Statement in the Commons earlier this week, the Financial Times and the Times ran articles making it clear that the current apprenticeship offer is inadequate. Will the Minister say how the Government plan to move from a situation in which, as a Times article stated:

“Too many apprenticeships are slave labour”

that do not lead to good and—dare I say it—well-paid jobs?

In conclusion, I want to be clear that this Statement and these measures miss the point. The Government are missing the point about education and are putting a cap on aspiration, particularly for those who do not have a family history of accessing higher education. It is never their own children who the Government feel should not be at university, and never their children who should not get the opportunities that they might put off for others.

My Lords, from these Benches I find very little to disagree with in the questions and comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross. She looked across at me as I was voicing approval, as if slightly confused that there should be agreement across the Opposition Benches. On the defence side of things, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and I tend to agree, but on this higher education Statement, a lot of questions need to be raised to understand His Majesty’s Government’s understanding of the purpose of higher education.

Before I go any further, I declare my interests as a professor at Cambridge University, one of the UK’s four of the top 10 universities mentioned in the Statement. I am also a non-executive director of the Oxford International Education Group, which runs pathway colleges that in turn run foundation courses. That is something I want to come back to, because there are a couple of questions about the domestic versus the international dimension of higher education that could be explored a little more.

Finally, I feel that I have to admit that I am a professor of European politics, which puts me in the school of humanities and social sciences, the sort of area that the Government seem to be a little sceptical about. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, has in the past suggested that if we rejoin Horizon Europe we should not be part of the social sciences aspect. Yet social sciences and arts and humanities play a vital part in educating our young people, whether at 18 or through lifelong learning. The noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, mentioned being a graduate of languages. Surely that is an area where we should be encouraging young people to go into higher education, to learn languages as a tool for working internationally. As a country that wants to look globally and have global trade markets, we need to be able to communicate internationally. Yet if you were a graduate of modern languages, you might not earn a high salary.

This is where the Statement leaves open a lot of questions. What do His Majesty’s Government really understand by value for money in higher education? We cannot always evaluate value for higher education purely in monetary terms. For some people, a higher education matters because they have an intrinsic love of the subject they are studying. You cannot put a financial metric on that. Also, there are people who go through higher education because they want a particular career track. They get the job they want in the industry to which they are attracted—perhaps the creative industries. They will not necessarily earn a high salary but they will be doing the vocation that they have trained for. Do His Majesty’s Government think that they should not be doing that? What do His Majesty’s Government mean by “a good job”, a phrase used in the Statement? Is it good in terms of salary or interest? Clearly, it is right that people should not be paying into the future for a degree that has had no benefit, but how do we evaluate that? Does it mean that the training needs are not met or simply that some arbitrary metric on income is not met?

His Majesty’s Government say that there are 66 providers where fewer than 60% of graduates progress to highly skilled employment or further study within 15 months of graduating. Can the Minister tell the House what is meant by highly skilled employment? That really matters for how we understand what His Majesty’s Government are seeking to do.

Finally, in terms of foundation courses, pathway colleges train international students who perhaps want to learn English and transition to being able to undertake degrees in British universities. Do His Majesty’s Government feel that they should be evaluated against the same metrics being outlined here, or is there perhaps a need to understand a little more about foundation year study? It could be about international students transitioning to the UK, but it may also be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, mentioned, about widening participation. We need to think very carefully about foundation courses, because there should not be some arbitrary mechanism whereby decisions by the Government or the OfS lead to foundation year courses being closed down, thereby diminishing the chances of participation rather than widening participation.

My Lords, I thank both noble Baronesses for their remarks and for the opportunity to clarify what feels like a bit of a misunderstanding about where these reforms are focused. Where the Government have sought to specify quality as the issue, both noble Baronesses took that to mean potential earnings, and that is not what the Government intend—and I will seek to clarify that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, started by philosophically asking what higher education was for. I am sure I cannot do justice to this, but I think it is reasonable to say that one of the key things that this Government and, I think, her party believe is that higher education is an incredible route to opportunity and social mobility and a great mechanism for fairness in our society. But we also believe that it is not the only engine—hence our emphasis on apprenticeships, degree apprenticeships, level 4 and 5 qualifications as opposed to exclusively level 6 and, of course, the flexibility, which I know both noble Baronesses support, that will come from the lifelong loan entitlement. The definition of “quality” is not earnings: the definition we are using comes from that used by the Office for Students—looking at continuation from one year to the next, completion and entry into graduate jobs or continuing education 15 months after completing a degree.

The point we are trying to get across is that degrees vary significantly in quality. One element of that is earnings potential. Because of the way I work, I went on the Discover Uni website, which I commend to noble Lords who have not looked at it already. You can say, “I want to study maths”—which in my case would have been quite a push. But anyway, I pretended I wanted to study maths and put in four different institutions and it gave me a great deal of information about earnings potential. Most of us think of maths as the highest earnings potential degree that one can do, but there are institutions where, if you read maths, three years later you are earning £20,000. I do not think that is the expectation of a young person going to university to read maths. So just understanding the difference is important for empowering the student. The same is true for law degrees and business study degrees and, I am sure, many others. In addition, on Discover Uni you get a huge amount of feedback from students about quality of teaching, student experience, et cetera. I know it is not the only source, but it is a helpful one.

Earnings do matter because we know that feeling financially secure is incredibly important for any individual’s sense of well-being. It gives them choices in life about how many children they have, where they live, where they work, and so on. I absolutely understand both noble Baronesses’ points that it is not the only metric but to ignore it is not realistic either.

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked in particular about creative arts. She is right to raise that because if one looks at creative arts degrees and future earning potential, that group stands out as being lower. But the focus here is where institutions have failed to meet the B3—which she will understand very well—OfS quality metrics. To repeat, that is about continuation, completion and graduate employment. B3 does not include earnings and there are very few foundation years in creative arts, so I really do not think that is going to be an issue there.

The other point that your Lordships will have heard me make more than once is the fairness between student and taxpayer and fairness to students who do not complete their degrees and then are left with part of their student loan to pay off.

In relation to accessibility, the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, questioned whether this is going to be discriminating against other people’s children rather than our children. I remind her that record numbers of 18 year-olds went to university this year, with the highest percentage ever from the lowest quintile in terms of deprivation, so 25.1% of those children. A child from a disadvantaged background is 86% more likely to go to university today than in 2010.

Both noble Baronesses questioned whether our focus on foundation years might be discriminatory. The data on foundation years suggests that there are a few subjects that have grown exponentially at a relatively limited number of providers. The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, talked about modern foreign languages. In 2015-16, 360 students completed MFL foundation years; in 2021-22 it was 465, so there was very little growth. Bring on those students who want to do more MFL. If we look at medicine and dentistry, the growth was very high, but from 125 students to 555. Business and administrative studies over the same period has gone from 4,250 to 35,580. There really are some examples that warrant greater focus.

I hope that I have addressed most of the points. Forgive me, the noble Baroness, Lady Twycross, talked about quality of apprenticeships. I have to say that I thought she was being slightly harsh. When this Government were elected, one of the things we really focused on was improving the quality of apprenticeships. A huge amount of work has gone into that. Actually, if we have a worry about the apprenticeship levy now, it is that it is going to be overspent rather than underspent. She will know that last year it was fully spent. I genuinely worry, with her party’s proposal to give employers a choice, that we will end up with half the number of apprenticeships that we have today.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement in this place this afternoon, giving us the opportunity to question her. I declare my interest, such as it is, in that I completed an internship—a stage—in the European Commission, followed by a Bar apprenticeship, both of which counted towards my professional qualification as a Scottish advocate.

Can I just press my noble friend on two small issues? One is that the academic institutions concerned will have sufficient notice of the phasing out of any of the courses concerned and that those who might have applied to them will be given alternatives to which they may be equally suited, with better outcomes for them.

Secondly, my noble friend will be aware that one of the challenges at the moment is obtaining skills and finding those with skills in plumbing, joinery, building, construction and other such areas. Will the new qualifications to which she referred actually plug that gap? That would tick a box because they are among the highest earners at the moment.

In relation to where qualifications might be phased out, I think that my noble friend is referring to the imposition of recruitment limits by the Office for Students. To be clear, that will happen after it has judged that an institution has not met the quality standards known as the B3 standards. The scale of limit will be a judgment for the OfS to make. There could be a limitation on growing a course. At the other extreme, the OfS might judge that it is not suitable to be delivered at all. I am not taking a view on either of those. I am just saying that it would follow an investigation by the OfS into quality.

I hope very much that universities are considering alternatives. Obviously, they are autonomous organisations, but there is a great human opportunity in offering some of the qualifications to which she referred. Also, from their responsibility for the financial viability of their institutions, there is an opportunity as those courses grow in popularity. For building, construction and other areas, from T-levels through to apprenticeships and other higher technical qualifications, the Government are trying to make sure that there is a pipeline of skills to meet the opportunities to which she refers.

My Lords, the last time I got up and asked the Minister some questions I was able to be very congratulatory to the Government in relation to the Lifelong Learning (Higher Education Fee Limits) Bill. Regrettably, I cannot be for one second congratulatory about this Statement. I think it is both retrograde and ill thought-out. In implementation, it is going to end up as an unholy mess.

Let me begin with the criteria that the Government are using to define quality, which is essentially drop-out and earnings. I thought the Minister was equivocating in her response to the noble Baronesses, Lady Twycross and Lady Smith, on this subject, saying that it is not only about earnings and that she knows that other facets of higher education are important. But, when it comes to the criteria for closing down courses, this Statement makes it absolutely clear that the level of earnings from different courses is going to be a factor. It is a ludicrous thing to take, because there are many areas where people are badly paid but will have done very good degrees. There are other areas where people will be well-paid graduates but will not have done especially strong degrees from the many different academic criteria that you could use. This needs to be thought about again. It is just so mechanistic. Moreover, there is a well-established system of regulation of the quality and standards of degrees in universities, and that is what should be used to try to do something about those which have low standards.

Take the criteria of drop-out. I spent 10 years running an institution, Birkbeck College, with part-time mature students where there were very high levels of drop-out. But if anybody dares to say to me that it was because the courses were poor, I shall tell them they are talking nonsense. The reasons for drop-out are very rarely anything to do with the quality of the course. It is something about the problems students face, particularly disadvantaged, part-time or mature students. It would be far better if the Government focused a bit more on trying to find support for universities which have a large number of these students so that we do not have fewer disadvantaged students getting to the end of the courses, which of course we want to avoid.

I must not talk for too long, but I will comment on a couple of other things. I do not know how the Office for Students will collect evidence about all of this that is up to date, clear and valid. It will be enormously expensive and extremely complicated, and the OfS is bound to end up with errors about which courses it decides should not be continued and which should continue. What kind of discussions have the Government had with the Office for Students about exactly how to implement this particular programme?

I will make a final point about the social sciences. As a social scientist myself, I was somewhat offended to see that they have been identified as an area where we perhaps want fewer students doing foundation courses. I do not know why that should be the case; they are popular among students who want perhaps to come back to university a little later. Incidentally, economics is a social science, and it has some of the most highly paid graduate jobs that exist. The whole thing is an awful muddle, and more attention needs to be paid to the details of how to implement this, because standards are not static; they change all the time.

I am obviously disappointed that the noble Baroness did not give the same feedback as in the Statement the other day, but I am more concerned because I think that there is still a misunderstanding about how this would work in practice. I will try to go through the noble Baroness’s points in turn.

I am not equivocating about earnings: the criteria are clear. They are the new B3 quality criteria, which are continuation, completion and graduate-level or further study or employment 15 months after graduation. However, obviously, higher earnings normally correlates with graduate-level jobs—not across every sector and industry, but frequently. If I was confusing, I apologise, but we are not equivocating.

On how it will work, the regulation and the potential for recruitment limits will happen only after intervention. So the OfS will have gathered evidence—this goes to the noble Baroness’s later point about evidence—that shows concerns about whether an institution is meeting the B3 standards. It will investigate and, if it finds that those standards are not met, it will consider recruitment limits.

The noble Baroness referred to her experience at Birkbeck. On the profile of students accessing different courses, I tried in my earlier answer to give examples of how one compares some courses. Obviously the noble Baroness is right: we know that, overall, the profile of non-completion is higher among mature and disadvantaged students. However, it is when a particular course at a particular institution appears to be an outlier in that that we think it is appropriate to apply recruitment limits.

On the social sciences, let me be clear that we are reducing the foundation year funding for classroom-based subjects, among which by far the biggest growth has been in business and management—I gave the numbers earlier. There have been some other subjects where it has grown, but business and management is the outlier. We are reducing it to the same level as that at which an access to higher education course is funded. The question I put back to the noble Baroness—perhaps unfairly, because she cannot reply—is this: is it fair to ask a student to pay almost twice as much and take on almost twice as much debt for two courses that purport to get students to the same level?

My Lords, looking round the House, I venture to ask the Minister two questions.

The Statement refers to trying to deal with students

“paying far into the future for a degree that did not offer them good value”.

That led me to look at a recent House of Commons report on student debt in general, which has some terribly telling figures. The total level of student debt is about to pass £200 billion, the maximum rate of loans that students are paying is 7.1%, and the average debt at graduation this year is £45,600. Looking back at the history, I see that 2002 was the first year of a cohort with large amounts of debt. More than 20 years later, 44% of those debts are still not paid off.

So my first question to the Minister is: paying far into the future, are the Government really taking account to the impacts—economic, social and health—of now the second generation of students having to keep paying off debts, many of which they will never pay off at all, that will now weigh them down over 40 years?

My second question builds on the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, and others. Even if, as the Minister asks us, we put the question of income to one side and just look at graduate jobs, as the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, there is very much a regional issue here. People may do a maths degree in some places, but they might choose, because of the circumstances of their life, not to move to a place where they can get a graduate job, as defined by the Office for Students. But that does not mean that they are not benefiting from that degree.

What about, say, a grandmother—the Government say that they are keen on lifelong learning—who does a history degree and puts all her time, energy and talents, when she is not caring for her grandchildren, into doing local history and writing up local history? That is never going to make any money, but it is hugely contributing to the community and her enthusiasm will undoubtedly transmit to the grandchildren and their friends. Or what about someone who is a carer; they start a degree, the university knows they are a carer, it has affected their studies at school and they drop out half way through to go back to their caring responsibilities? Are we not going to see an impact on admissions? Will institutions be forced to direct themselves towards admissions of people who are then going to fulfil the criteria down the track?

In relation to the noble Baroness’s first question about the impact of debt on students far into the future, it is genuinely very interesting—given the level of debt and the amount of debate about debt—that demand to go to university continues to increase and continues to increase in very disadvantaged communities. Young people with an older brother or sister who is grumbling about repaying their student loan know that this is the case, yet there is huge demand for our universities.

I think the noble Baroness would also recognise that there are other taxpayers. Somebody must pay the costs of higher education and currently we have a balance between the students themselves and other taxpayers, some of whom have not been to university. That is a delicate balance to strike. But if one were to do away with student debt entirely, somebody would have to pay and that would obviously fall on every other taxpayer.

In terms of the individual examples she gives, whether it be deciding to live in a particular part of the country or choosing not to take a graduate job, or the grandmother, or the carer, I do not think any of those things change as a result of this. What we are saying is, you have two courses delivering the same thing, and in one course 40% of people drop out and in the other course 10% of people drop out with a similar profile; should we not be asking why that is happening?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for her interesting analysis of the Statement in replying to questions. I was particularly interested in the questions from the noble Baronesses, Lady Smith and Lady Blackstone. Can I probe my noble friend on two points?

The noble Baroness, Lady Smith, referred to salaries not necessarily being a good indicator of the value of a course, particularly in arts and humanities. Humanities graduates can earn lower salaries than those who go into other subjects, but might I suggest that there is a middle way on this? History is my subject; I began my professional life in Cambridge as an academic historian for my first two jobs. But I found that many historians went into other jobs: they converted by the GDL—a law conversion course—or moved into media and the BBC, or the Civil Service. What humanities give, and I urge my noble friend to pay full tribute to this, is that a subject such as history encourages the training of the mind, which can be adapted and applied to more professional or vocational subjects. For instance, it is no accident—this is anecdote, but I think it is true—that classicists helped to start Silicon Valley, so there is not such a gap.

With regard to the point made about dropouts by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, I could not agree more that one cannot necessarily blame an institution for poor teaching. Good heavens—Birkbeck College is renowned for attracting good students who take advantage of the flexible courses on offer, which can be taken at night. However, I suggest that we have a real problem here. It must be for the institutions to pay particular attention to selection procedures, so that applicants for their courses are suited to the courses on offer, despite the pressure for fees which most institutions are under today.

I thank my noble friend very much for her remarks. She does not need to convince me about the importance of a history degree in allowing you to do different things. Personally, I read history, went into the City, ran a charity and now I am here. I am not quite sure what your Lordships might take from that, whether it was a training for the mind or that I just got lucky. My noble friend is absolutely right that the kind of critical thinking skills that one gets in a number of academic disciplines, including history and other arts and humanities subjects, are incredibly important—arguably, increasingly so as we move into a world of AI and beyond.

Again, my noble friend is right about selection procedures. I would say in addition that we see really excellent examples of not just selection but initial support for students, whether that be in an institution such as Birkbeck or in an institution which typically takes more students who have just left school. That is clearly very important and something that many institutions work on. The last point I would make in relation to her remarks about selection also relates to the remarks in the Statement about franchise providers. It concerns the importance of the care that we believe the main institution that is issuing the degree needs to take on which franchise providers it works with.

House adjourned at 3.58 pm.