All 19 Parliamentary debates in the Lords on 15th Jun 2022

Wed 15th Jun 2022
Wed 15th Jun 2022
Wed 15th Jun 2022
Wed 15th Jun 2022
Wed 15th Jun 2022
Wed 15th Jun 2022
Wed 15th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 1 & Lords Hansard - Part 1
Wed 15th Jun 2022
Schools Bill [HL]
Lords Chamber

Committee stage: Part 2 & Lords Hansard - Part 2

Grand Committee

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Grand Committee
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Wednesday 15 June 2022
16:15
Lord Geddes Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Geddes) (Con)
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My Lords, it is now 4.15 pm. As is customary on these occasions, in the unlikely event of there being a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.

Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2022

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:15
Moved by
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2022.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, on 9 March 2022, your Lordships’ House debated the Goods Vehicles (Licensing of Operators) (Amendment) Regulations 2022, which govern the goods vehicle operator licensing regimes in both Great Britain and Northern Ireland. The regulations came into effect on 17 March. During the debate on 9 March, I explained that an error in transcribing our policy intent into legislation would mean that a second debate might be necessary on an instrument to make the necessary correction. This is that debate.

First, I would of course like to apologise to noble Lords for taking up valuable parliamentary time with this correction to a previously laid and debated instrument. The reason for the correcting instrument is that the original instrument went beyond the policy intentions. The intent was that the regulations should apply only to the operation of goods vehicles. However, one provision unintentionally also applied to the operation of passenger vehicles; in doing so, it disrupted the Public Passenger Vehicles Act 1981, which has made the regulation of passenger vehicles slightly more complicated. While the traffic commissioners have been able to continue their important work, this added complication is not tenable in the long term. The Committee will know how disappointed I am that an error has occurred, and I assure all noble Lords that the causes are being addressed within the department, as a wider review into SI processes is now under way.

To touch in a bit more detail on the real-world consequences of what has happened, the error in question was in Regulation 7 of the original instrument. In being drafted as it was, Regulation 7 incorrectly applied certain provisions to road passenger transport operations. The effect of the error, applying these provisions to all transport managers of certain road goods vehicle operations and road passenger transport operations, was not the original policy intention.

Essentially, the effect of the gap was that the regulators, which in Great Britain are the traffic commissioners, have used other options. They are using case law rather than legislation to minimise the gap, but of course we think that legislation should be put in place. We had originally hoped to lay this as a negative instrument. Indeed, we did so, but it was upgraded by the sifting committee, which is why noble Lords are having the debate today.

I turn to the practical effect of whom this impacts. It relates to those transport managers within the public service vehicles jurisdiction, either those already on licences who are subject to regulatory intervention—because they have not done something correctly—or those who seek to be nominated as transport managers. Looking back at the numbers in previous years, for example, in 2019-20, around 19 transport managers would have been affected by such actions, so it is not a great number. The traffic commissioners have been able to cope and have taken particular care in communicating their decisions during this quite short gap period of just over three months. Their hard work is very much appreciated, so I commend these regulations to the Committee.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister. I had a sense of déjà vu when I saw this instrument on the list for today. To be honest, it is tedious enough that we have to go through the vast list of SIs as part of the replication of EU regulatory structure without having to deal with errors, although it is not surprising that there are errors. One can hardly process the amount of legislation that we have been dealing with for the last couple of years without the occasional error creeping in. I was horrified today to read that Jacob Rees-Mogg has a plan for us to go through all 2,000-plus pieces of EU legislation within the next two years to re-examine them.

May I cut to the core of the issue? The Minister has explained that road transport operators were mistakenly included in the original SI alongside goods operators. One of my questions was going to be about the impact on the traffic commissioners’ powers, but the Minister has explained that. She has also explained clearly the number of cases involved.

My other question is, to go back to the original SI, why are passenger vehicle operators excluded? Why do they not need transport managers in the way that goods vehicles and their fleets need them? Is there separate legislation that covers passenger transport operators or is it that, for some reason, they are not regarded as in need of managers in the same way? Other than that, I am delighted to see that this error has now been corrected and it should, I hope, be fully operational and effective.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the introduction of this SI to amend the errors in the previous regulations approved by this House in March. As the logistics sector experiences an unnecessarily difficult time, it is disappointing that even the initial piece of secondary legislation has problems. There is an important point here in that the Government previously claimed errors in the initial drafting would be rectified through the negative procedure, which clearly has not been the case.

Three months later, the House is finally to approve a technical instrument to right the wrongs of the previous legislation. I hope this will bring this specific matter to a close, though unfortunately it will not solve the chaos that is still plaguing British business. Weeks away from the summer holidays, the Government must bring forward a plan to fix the crisis and bring much-needed certainty.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am grateful to both noble Lords who took part in this short debate and will answer the issues they raised. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about passenger vehicle operatives needing transport managers. They do need transport managers and always have done. If the noble Baroness recalls, the issue we were discussing here was the extension of the requirement to have transport managers to much smaller vehicles. It was basically down to vans between 2.5 tonnes and 3.5 tonnes, I think. It was only because it was a requirement of the TCA that we matched what the EU was doing in that area, but the passenger service vehicles require transport managers now and always have done, so there is no change for them.

On the point about procedure raised by the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, I sincerely wish this had been done by the negative procedure; I feel that we could have got away with it but the sifting committee did not agree, which is why we are before the Committee today. As he knows—we had a debate around it the other day—the Government are very focused on what might happen in the summer in terms of challenges to road traffic in Kent. We are working closely with the Kent Resilience Forum and will continue to do so.

Motion agreed.

Hovercraft (Application of Enactments) and Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution) (Law of the Sea Convention) Amendment Order 2022

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:25
Moved by
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Hovercraft (Application of Enactments) and Merchant Shipping (Prevention of Pollution) (Law of the Sea Convention) Amendment Order 2022.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, this order amends two distinct instruments to give the Government powers in two areas: first, to apply pollution prevention requirements in the International Convention on Standards of Training, Certification and Watchkeeping for Seafarers, which I will refer to as the STCW convention, to hovercraft; and, secondly, to provide strengthened enforcement powers for breaches of requirements by all ships, including hovercraft, relating to the prevention of pollution. These powers must be contained in an Order in Council because the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 and the Hovercraft Act 1968 require it.

This order has no impact in itself on the only commercial hovercraft route in the UK—Southsea to Isle of Wight—in respect of which there is one operator and two hovercraft, operating in inland waters. In addition, there is no impact because this order simply creates powers to make secondary legislation. These powers are needed as a result of the repeal of Section 2(2) of the European Communities Act 1972, following the UK’s exit from the European Union, which provided the powers for the pollution prevention requirements in the regulations that currently implement the STCW convention. The repeal of Section 2(2) means that such provision relating to hovercraft cannot be made, or existing provision remade.

The STCW convention sets the standards required for seafarers to obtain the internationally recognised certificates required for seafarers to work on vessels that operate internationally. The convention has been subject to a number of recent amendments affecting seafarer training; these amendments are intended to be implemented in regulations, replacing existing regulations that implemented the STCW convention. Criminal sanctions relating to breaches apply to shipowners, operators and masters who fail to ensure that their seafarers are qualified, certified and discharge their obligations in accordance with the convention requirements, including the latest amendments to the STCW convention. Although these amendments do not affect hovercraft, other provisions of the STCW convention, such as manning, watchkeeping and the requirements to ensure that seafarers are trained and certified in accordance with the convention, will continue to be applied to hovercraft and will be contained in the new replacement regulations.

In the absence of Section 2(2), the current powers to provide for criminal sanctions for a breach of STCW training and manning requirements relating to the prevention of pollution do not include custodial penalties. This contrasts with the criminal sanctions available for breaches of safety requirements, which include custodial sentences of up to two years. It is therefore necessary to have the same provision available for contravention of the pollution prevention requirements in the new regulations implementing the STCW convention, as the training and manning requirements in the convention relate to both safety and prevention of pollution. Without the powers created by this order, the recent amendments to the STCW convention cannot be adequately enforced in UK law, and existing provision for custodial penalties and hovercraft cannot be remade. This order provides those powers.

In even more detail, this order will ensure that the pollution prevention obligations in the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, known most commonly as UNCLOS, can be applied in full to hovercraft in the same way that they apply to ships. It also applies other up-to-date pollution prevention-enabling powers in the Merchant Shipping Act 1995 to hovercraft. This means that UK regulations governing hovercraft can include provision for pollution prevention that derives from UNCLOS. This order also enables manning requirements in Section 47 of the Merchant Shipping Act 1995, which apply to ships, to be applied to hovercraft. Finally, this order makes discrete amendments to the order enabling the implementation of the pollution prevention obligations in UNCLOS. The UNCLOS order needs to be updated so that regulations made under it can prescribe custodial sentences in respect of offences for breaches of requirements in those regulations.

I have highlighted the importance of this draft Order in Council so that, in the absence of Section 2(2) of the ECA, we can, first, continue to apply pollution prevention provision in the STCW convention to hovercraft and, secondly, impose custodial penalties in relation to all ships in so far as they relate to prevention of pollution. I look forward to contributions from noble Lords.

16:30
Lord Mountevans Portrait Lord Mountevans (CB)
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My Lords, I have no comment to make on the hovercraft provisions but should like to raise two points. I am concerned about possible creeping criminalisation for seafarers. A pollution incident could take place due to a fault in a valve, a pipe or some such—work that could have been done by a shipyard or other third party—or something for which the crew are arguably not specifically responsible. I want the Minister to be very careful about extending to seafarers in this way criminalisation which might not be appropriate.

The second point is that shipping is a reserved power, but the legislation will generate different actions depending on the registered port of the vessel, so that a vessel registered in Aberdeen would not be liable to action, whereas a vessel registered in Southampton would. It would not matter per se whether the incident happened in the UK or elsewhere in the world, but the provisions in Scotland appear to be different and, if the ship is registered in Scotland, British ships could incur different penalties for a similar offence.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her introduction of this very interesting SI. My first question is: why now, apart from the fact that Brexit has happened? We have all been travelling on hovercraft for 40 years or more, and one could assume, therefore, that it has been all right to pollute from hovercraft for 40 years without anyone worrying and you need only one person on the bridge because the regulations do not apply to hovercraft. Can the Minister explain why hovercraft are different? There are other types of fast passenger boats around these days—they are probably called “jet boats”, or something like that. I am not sure why a hovercraft is so different, apart from the fact that it gets its lift from air which does not leak out. It is still a craft and therefore obviously still needs to be subject to the pollution regulations and the manning rules.

On manning, is the intention to make rules for hovercraft the same as for any other passenger vessel, where, I think, the rule is that if you do not have more than 12 passengers, you can have one person as the crew, whatever the size of boat? But then there are various rules according to the number of passengers, size of ships, weather conditions and everything else. Hovercraft generally do not operate in bad weather in the way that many ships can. Perhaps the Minister can explain how the manning regulations would be different on a hovercraft from an ordinary ship in the number of crew wanted.

Lastly, I think that, as the Minister said, the only service now in the UK is the one across to the Isle of Wight, but there used to be one across the channel. If that re-emerges in some shape or form—between the UK and France or another EU country—will we get into the same knot as has happened with P&O Ferries with manning and everything else? I hope that will not involve coming back here with some more regulations; I hope it is already covered. I look forward to her answers.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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I thank the Minister for her introduction, and the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, for pointing out that the situation will be different in Scotland. It will also be different in Northern Ireland, so far as I understand it from my reading of the SI.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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What about Wales?

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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No, the situation will not be different in Wales; as so often, it is a case of “England and Wales”.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, in asking why this is happening at this point. My research suggests that not only is there only one public hovercraft service left in Britain, but there appears to be only one commercial hovercraft service left in the world. If that is the case, hovercraft really are yesterday’s technology. They are even less likely to make a comeback following the huge increases in the price of fuel, because they consume very high amounts of fuel as well as being unreliable as a passenger service, of course, because they are difficult to operate in bad weather—and we get a lot of that in the UK. In modern terms, although hovercraft are exciting and interesting to travel on, they are environmentally unacceptable because of their high fuel consumption.

My suspicious mind led me to wonder whether there was a specific Isle of Wight issue. I would be grateful if the Minister would address in her answer whether specific aspects will be applied to the Isle of Wight service, which, despite all that I have said, is an important part of the infrastructure connections for people living on and visiting the island.

When I had stopped wondering why the measure was being introduced now, after all these years, I wondered whether this was part of the major catching-up exercise that the Minister has bravely embarked on in her department. We know that the Department for Transport has a backlog of marine legislation that long pre-dates her coming into her position there. Is this part of a routine catching up to ensure that we can apply rules to hovercraft that apply to other types of seagoing vehicle? I would be grateful if the Minister could answer my questions now, or in writing afterwards if she is unable to do so immediately.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome this order to support the Government in meeting pollution prevention requirements and ultimately making our waters safer in compliance with international standards. Hovercraft are a technical wonder but can be particularly harmful to the natural environment. Although the usage of these vehicles in the United Kingdom is not particularly widespread—indeed, it is not spread at all—Ministers are right to consider how we can eliminate their negative effects.

Although the UK is currently no longer a world leader in sea transport, by decarbonising maritime we can certainly aspire to become one yet again. I hope this instrument can form a small contribution towards that goal.

However, it is disappointing that the development of this order has not been used as an opportunity to properly engage with the limited hovercraft industry that exists today in the UK. While I appreciate the reasons given by the department for not formally consulting on this legislation, I hope the Minister can at least clarify that discussions took place with those who operate in the sector. I also hope she is able to confirm the Government’s wider strategy for improving the cleanliness of the seas through better regulation of the maritime environment.

The noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, raised a point about the criminalisation of seafarers, and I am sure we all share with him that this should not be unreasonable. But we are in an environment—I think Grenfell has brought this environment to our attention—in which the assurance that regulations are fit for purpose, which is the responsibility of government and its agencies, and the execution of those requirements must have a clear responsibility chain. I have no idea about the detail of these orders, but it has to be a good thing for seafarers to be required to be responsible for their craft and confident, as far as reasonably practical, that the state of their craft and its operation are properly regulated.

I am all in favour of this sort of regulation. The important thing is that it must be good regulation that is easy to understand and fairly implemented. There is no case for poor regulation. There is much that good regulation does, and in circumstances where it breaks down it sometimes has a catastrophic consequence.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for their consideration of this order. It was a helpful discussion, and I will address some of the points raised as I am able. I may well write a letter, but I hope not to on this occasion because I think I have some answers, which makes a change.

I turn first to the noble Lord, Lord Mountevans, and the creeping criminalisation of seafarers. It is right that seafarers are held to account, and we should not expect anything other than that. However, it is also the case that we need to make sure that the right seafarers are held to account, and that it is not those at the bottom of the tree who bear the brunt and end up receiving the penalties. It should be those with the responsibility for ensuring that vessels meet the requirements, wherever they come from. It is not our intention to criminalise unnecessarily, but we want to make sure that the appropriate penalties are available where breaches occur and, in this case, that breaches of both safety and pollution prevention incur criminal penalties.

The noble Lord mentioned differences between Southampton and Aberdeen, but I am not sure that there would be. The order enables the Secretary of State to make regulations to make provisions to impose fines and a custodial sentence of up to two years, and that would be the same under the Scottish system as under the England and Wales system. If I have got that wrong, I will write to him. It would not be right that vessels could just go off to Aberdeen and say, “Sorry, you can’t put me in jail up here because I am in Scotland”. I am sure nobody wants that. I will look into that in a little more detail.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, asked: why now? This is resulting from an international obligation, and we are very keen to make sure, particularly on maritime—as the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, pointed out—that we really are working in as close a lock-step as we possibly can. Noble Lords may say, “Why hovercraft? Aren’t they some outdated technology, et cetera?”. We may think that now, but that does not mean it will be the case in future. Who knows what may come along in future?

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, also questioned why it is different. There is an entirely different legislative underpinning to hovercraft, as I have now learnt. They are viewed as very different vessels. Certain regulations apply just to them because they have their specific foibles. The point about what we are trying to do today is to make sure that there is as level a playing field as possible. It is all about bringing together as many vessels as appropriate under the same umbrella to create that level playing field, which I think noble Lords would all agree is fair.

16:45
More specifically, hovercraft are subject to something called the high-speed code, within which many of the underlying requirements are the same. For example, manning requirements are the same, although the training required under the high-speed code is slightly different. That is where the differences really occur for hovercraft. This is really more about good housekeeping: because we have lost Section 2(2), we need to make sure that we still have that power available so that everybody has the same requirements as are needed.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about the maritime backlog. I am reliably told that this order is not actually part of that backlog, but who knows? There is still a maritime backlog, but it is getting better. My colleague the Minister for Maritime, Robert Courts, appeared in front of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and we were able to update that committee in April this year to say that there are now nine SIs left to make, out of the original backlog of 13. I think that backlog of 13, which is now nine, possibly has things in it which are slightly more substantive than this provision. This is just an opportunity that we took.
The noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, asked about discussions taking place with those who operate in the sector. This is difficult, because nobody actually operates in the sector and there is no indication that the people who currently operate to the Isle of Wight, which is an internal service, are going to change their service at all. They would therefore not be covered. The noble Baroness, in her suspicious way—I was very perturbed about this—assumed that something terrible was going to happen to the Isle of Wight service. I can reassure her that this has nothing to do with the Isle of Wight, so she should not worry: that service will continue.
There will of course be consultations and impact assessments relating to the wider STCW regulations, but that is not for today. That is a whole different kettle of fish that we will, no doubt, have much enjoyment with in due course. For the time being, I hope I have managed to cover all of the questions, apart from that of the noble Lord, Lord Tunnicliffe, about decarbonisation of the maritime sector. I probably do not have time for that today, but perhaps will on another day. In the meantime, I commend this instrument to the Committee.
Motion agreed.

Public Procurement (International Trade Agreements) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:49
Moved by
Lord True Portrait Lord True
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Public Procurement (International Trade Agreements) (Amendment) Regulations 2022.

Lord True Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, the instrument brought forward today will give legal effect in domestic regulations to the United Kingdom’s procurement obligations under the free trade agreement between the UK and EEA EFTA states of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway. The EFTA agreement sought to reflect many of the provisions of the EU-EFTA agreement by which the UK was bound when an EU member state. This is part of the Government’s wider approach to provide continuity, as far as possible, in existing trade and investment relationships with third countries that had an agreement with the EU before we left.

The UK-EFTA agreement was signed on 8 July 2021 and completed its scrutiny period prescribed under the Constitutional Reform and Governance Act in October 2021. This instrument is concerned with implementing the procurement obligations contained in that agreement. The procurement provisions will ensure that UK businesses will continue to be able to access procurement opportunities in these three countries. This coverage is reciprocated by the UK giving businesses from those EFTA states no less favourable treatment when conducting its procurements covered by the agreement.

The UK has an open procurement market underpinned by principles of non-discrimination and equal treatment. However, without this instrument, there is a risk that, in respect of procurements covered by the agreement, relevant EFTA businesses will not be entitled to the legal remedies that the UK has committed to in the agreement. This instrument therefore ensures that we fulfil our obligations.

In terms of the coverage in the agreement, the UK is an independent party to the World Trade Organization’s Agreement on Government Procurement—or GPA, as it is known—along with Iceland, Liechtenstein, Norway and other major world economies. The GPA aims to mutually open global public procurement markets and is worth some £1.3 trillion in guaranteed access to global procurement opportunities for UK firms.

The UK-EFTA agreement incorporates the relevant GPA provisions, and goes further. The procurement coverage is similar to the UK’s coverage under the EU’s agreement with the EEA EFTA states, with some exceptions including in respect of health services.

This instrument is being made using powers set out in Section 2 of the Trade Act 2021. It will add the UK-EFTA agreement to the existing schedules of international trade agreements contained in the various UK and Scottish procurement regulations to ensure that no less favourable treatment is accorded to businesses of Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway, where the procurement is covered by the terms of the agreement. It will also make explicit in those procurement regulations that contracting authorities can make inquiries as to whether subsidies form part of an abnormally low tender, as provided for in the agreement.

Importantly, these amendments do not add any burdens to the UK’s procurement process, nor do they reduce any of the UK’s procurement standards.

The provisions will be implemented across the United Kingdom. We have consulted officials from the devolved Administrations throughout the process. We have also formally notified each Administration, via ministerial letters, of our intention to lay this instrument. The Scottish and Welsh Governments have formally agreed to our approach and the Northern Ireland Executive Minister responsible for procurement has confirmed that he did not have any objections. I therefore thank each Administration for their engagement and collaboration.

Any amendments to the procurement coverage in the UK-EFTA agreement, or other international trade agreements, will require further legislation to give them legal effect. Any future trade agreements which the UK signs or has signed—for example, with Australia and New Zealand—will be implemented by separate legislation.

I hope that noble Lords will join me in supporting these draft regulations. I commend them to the Committee and beg to move.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I am very glad to have the opportunity to say a few words about these regulations and I thank my noble friend for introducing them so clearly. As somebody who laboured long and hard on the Trade Act 2021, it is always a pleasure to see the powers being used. There may not be many such further events but it is interesting to see it being used in this case.

I must confess that the reason I looked at these regulations was that, as my noble friend will recall, at Second Reading of the Procurement Bill I raised the interaction between that legislation and the Trade (Australia and New Zealand) Bill, which had, of course, been introduced at the same time in the other place. I looked at this instrument and thought, “How does this relate to the Procurement Bill?” Like the Australia and New Zealand Bill, as far as I can see, the Procurement Bill will supersede these regulations when it becomes law. Schedule 9 to the Procurement Bill incorporates the UK-EFTA agreement into the list of treaty state suppliers. So far, so fairly straightforward: we need these regulations to give effect to the agreement in the intervening period.

However, there is an issue about what these regulations do, because they also amend public contract, concession contract and utilities contract regulations to include the further provision relating to abnormally low tenders. It is a question of whether the price or costs take into account the grant of subsidies. First, I ask: does the preceding EU-EFTA economic area agreement have the same language? It seemed surprising if it did, on the face of it, because existing regulations, which are part of the structure of EU regulation, already take account of whether—to cite Regulation 69 of the Public Contracts Regulations, for example—the abnormally low tender price is because of the possibility of the tenderer obtaining state aid.

I should have thought that, in the EU context, the question of state aid and grant of subsidy were regarded as effectively the same thing. I suspect, therefore, that EFTA countries are saying that the words “state aid” do not necessarily have the same meaning in United Kingdom in future as “state aid” did in the EU in the past. I may be wrong about that, but I should be interested to know whether that is the case.

Anyway, this additional provision in the regulations changes, for example, Regulation 69 of the Public Contracts Regulations, which relates to abnormally low tenders. I thought, “Let’s see how this is incorporated into the Procurement Bill”, but I cannot find it. So, my other question is: how will that Bill incorporate the provisions of, for example, Regulation 69 relating to abnormally low tenders into the structure of our regulation in future? I am happy to be guided by my noble friend on that, not least because it will no doubt give us an opportunity to learn a bit more about how the Procurement Bill itself will work in future. Subject to those questions, I am glad to take the opportunity to welcome the regulations and support my noble friend.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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I, too, am pleased to speak to some of the issues before us this afternoon and thank and congratulate my noble friend on bringing forward the regulations. My noble friend Lord Lansley has eloquently addressed a number of issues on the relationship between this instrument and the public procurement Bill. But there is also the broader context of our new relationships with the EU and, now, with the three countries before us this afternoon. What is generally understood by “state aid” and has our policy towards them changed in that regard?

Perhaps the thing that concerns me most is this. My noble friend spoke about the GPA, the global procurement agreement to which we have signed up, and mentioned that it is worth £1.3 trillion to the UK economy. When the Trade Bill was passing through—I also took an interest in that at the time, and my noble friend Lord Grimstone spent hours trying to allay our concerns in this regard—it was curious that any public service was obliged to declare a contract worth, I think, €130,000 and to put it out for tender.

17:00
I thought that one of the biggest dividends of leaving the European Union might be that our schools, colleges, hospitals, Army, Parliament—all public bodies that were putting out a public contract for tender for, say, food—could be opened up to local suppliers. I was told by my noble friend Lord Grimstone that that was not the case and that any contract worth more than $130,000—I think that is the figure now—is covered by the GPA. If that is the case, we have not benefited from leaving the European Union but are bound by the GPA, which—I accept—brings trillions of pounds of value to this country.
The Government Food Strategy launched and published on Monday clearly states that we want:
“Public procurement leading by example”.
I will read out paragraph 2.4.2:
“To deliver this vision, we are consulting on public sector food and catering policy, including the Government Buying Standards for Food and Catering Services ... We will consider widening the scope of the policy to be mandatory across the whole public sector. Within the consultation we will propose that the public sector reports on progress towards an aspiration that 50% of its food expenditure is on food produced locally or to higher environmental production standards such as organic, Linking Environment and Farming (LEAF) Marque or equivalent, while maintaining value for money for taxpayers.”
There are two issues here. First, I absolutely welcome the fact that it will be produced to our UK standards. It was in the Conservative Party manifesto on two separate occasions that any food we eat, whether imported or home produced, would be produced to the same high standard. That is absolutely super. But there is something I am failing to understand. I have always wanted to have the local farmer, or grower if it is fruit and vegetables, produce for the prisons, schools and hospitals locally, but my understanding—I would be most grateful if my noble friend the Minister would clarify this—is that that can apply only to contracts for tender of less than $130,000, which I presume is about £100,000 or £110,000.
I am trying to square the circle between what was announced in the food strategy—which I have always wanted to do and was told we could not do when we were part of the European Union—and, our having left the European Union, being told that we could not do it because we are still bound by the GPA. If that is the case, presumably the public procurement leading by example is only for government buying standards for contracts of less than $130,000. They are quite meaningful, but smaller contracts than would otherwise be the case.
To return to the instrument before us, I would love to know how many instances my noble friend and his department might expect of contracts under the EEA EFTA agreement that would be deemed to be “abnormally low tenders”, as in paragraph 7.5 of the Explanatory Memorandum. I have never visited Liechtenstein, but I am reasonably familiar with Iceland and Norway and I would have thought that their contracts are quite expensive, so I would like to know in how many instances my noble friend thinks they might be faced with “abnormally low tenders”.
With those few remarks, I welcome the regulations before us but seek clarification on the public procurement aspects.
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for introducing these regulations. As he and others have stated, they are basically a continuity agreement while we process the much bigger piece of legislation to which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, referred, the Procurement Bill. One of the things I open with is to repeat the mantra that the Minister often does about how this House conducts its role in scrutiny of legislation. When I read Hansard from the other end, I thought I would get some useful questions from the Opposition—and of course there was none, so I am grateful for noble Lords here today who have prompted an interesting debate. I suspect that most of the questions will be answered on the general legislation on procurement—the Procurement Bill—including some of the issues that we will address in amendments, not least defence and security, which are critical issues.

I do not want to repeat the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s response, but the Opposition support the instrument and are happy that it provides the continuity necessary before other legislation takes over. I should add that I am not formally becoming a shadow Cabinet Office Minister; I am simply standing in for my leader, who covers these issues—and as deputy leader I of course do as I am told. I have at least been able to speak for a short time in support of the instrument. I echo some of the comments already made and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I thank those who have spoken, including the noble Lord opposite; I nearly always say “my noble friend opposite”. I also looked at the proceedings in another place, but I will tread no closer to that than he did.

I am grateful for the general welcome for these provisions. I was asked a couple of points. I am not sure I can answer every one, but if I do not I am sure we will pick them up. On the question of whether state subsidy is defined in the regulations, it is not defined in this SI. It was also not defined in the UK-EFTA agreement procurement chapter from which this follows.

I was asked about abnormally low tenders and subsidies going more widely than the definitional point. Article 6.9 of the UK-EFTA agreement provides that, where a tender appears to be abnormally low, the contracting authority may ask a supplier whether the price in a tender takes subsidies into account. That was the point to which my noble friend acutely referred. The instrument makes this explicit—it is on the face of the procurement regulations. Prior to the UK leaving the EU, contracting authorities and utilities receiving an abnormally low tender could investigate whether the supplier had obtained state aid and, if that was not compatible with Article 107 of the Treaty on the Functioning of the European Union, it could reject the tender. These provisions were removed from the public procurement regulations through EU exit legislation.

The current procurement regulations are largely transposed from the EU directives, which include a number of permissive provisions. For this reason, it makes sense to make explicit mention of the fact that, when investigating abnormally low tenders, contracting authorities are able to make inquiries as to whether the bid includes subsidies. However, overall the Procurement Bill will aim to deliver a simpler regulatory framework and increased flexibility and does not include every possible action that a contracting authority might take. Therefore, there has not been such an impetus to make explicit this provision in the new Bill.

So far as the relationship is concerned between the Bill and where we are now—and both my noble friends referred to the period between now and the coming into being of the Procurement Act, if your Lordships so please; I am never daring enough to take that for granted—we need to bring forward this statutory instrument now to amend existing procurement regulations to enable the procurement provisions of the UK-EFTA agreement to come into force as soon as possible. When the Procurement Bill has received Royal Assent, during its implementation period it will repeal certain UK procurement regulations, including the UK public contracts regulations; the UK utilities contracts regulations; and the UK concession contracts regulations, to which the UK-EFTA agreement is being added. However, this is not expected until at least six months after Royal Assent.

The UK-EFTA agreement is included in Schedule 9 to the Procurement Bill, along with all other relevant international trade agreements, which ensures that the procurement obligations regarding EFTA suppliers will be carried forward seamlessly into the new regime. The amendments made by these regulations also add, as I said in my opening remarks, the UK-EFTA agreement to the corresponding Scottish procurement regulations, which will not be affected by the Procurement Bill.

I assure my noble friend Lady McIntosh, as again I said in my opening remarks, that nothing in this SI or, indeed, in the UK-EFTA arrangements overall, reduces any standards. We remain committed to holding up high environmental product and labour standards, and I can certainly give that assurance.

On the question of the lower thresholds in legislation, there are provisions—and I am happy to correspond or at least send advice to my noble friend before we reach the Procurement Bill. As she will see, there is a whole section relating to the level below which there are exemptions. We must abide by our international obligations in relation to trade under the GPA; that is, to give fair access to both sides of the agreement, which is reflected in these regulations.

We have enjoyed a strong trading relationship with Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway for many years, as some noble Lords were kind enough to refer to. Indeed, I think that Norway is in the top 10—perhaps our 10th most important trading partner. By implementing UK-EFTA procurement commitments, this instrument will, we hope, help to continue and build on this prosperous and friendly relationship between our four countries.

I hope that colleagues will join me in supporting these regulations. I am grateful for the general tenor of the debate. I commend the regulations to the Committee.

Motion agreed.
Committee adjourned at 5.14 pm.

House of Lords

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Wednesday 15 June 2022
15:00
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Vaccinations

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:06
Asked by
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what lessons they have learned from the high uptake of Covid-19 vaccinations in the United Kingdom; and what plans they have, if any, to apply similar strategies to increase vaccination rates for other conditions, such as shingles or influenza.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, on behalf of the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Lord Kamall Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Kamall) (Con)
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We have seen high levels of Covid-19 vaccine uptake by being flexible and innovative in how we get vaccinations into patients’ arms and being supported by strong national and targeted communications and community-led initiatives. We have sought to learn lessons from the rollout and the NHS is working collaboratively with partners to design future NHS vaccination services for Covid-19 vaccines and other vaccination and immunisation programmes, considering how we can better use data to improve access to information.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister. One of lessons of the pandemic was that flu vaccines were given free to people aged between 50 and 64. The Government have said that from next autumn people will have to pay. The Minister will be aware that vaccination rates around the world, particularly in Australia, have increased dramatically. Will he reconsider this policy, given that we need to encourage that age group to have the vaccine?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right; we have received advice on the flu vaccine and at the moment it is free to those aged 65 and over. The issue, frankly, is balancing resources. A number of people in the system are saying that if you keep mandating vaccines, it means they cannot get on with tackling the elective backlog. On balance, at the moment it seems better to focus on the elective backlog, but UKHSA and others are monitoring the situation very closely.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con)
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My Lords, the whole House will know that the great success of the Covid vaccine’s development was not built during the pandemic but over many years of visionary research and investment. What steps are the Government taking to invest in a similar amount of research in next-generation vaccines for things such as cancer and universal flu?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that question. She will know that we are investing in a number of different areas via NIHR and other research bodies. Those research bodies also welcome applications for research funds in specific areas. We do not necessarily ring-fence that funding, but we ask for applications. One issue we learned about is that there is the potential for future vaccines to cure, or be used as therapeutics for, a wider range of issues. In addition, we are looking at blood tests which can identify far more conditions.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, we have a virtual contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, the shingles vaccine is available in the UK only to those aged between 70 and 79, whereas in the USA it is automatically available to everyone over 50. NICE data says that shingles is much more prevalent in those with a weakened immune system, yet they are not offered it until they are 70, resulting in severe cases of shingles, possible sight loss and other serious consequences which could have been mitigated by an early vaccine. Can the Minister say when Shingrix, the shingles vaccine suitable for the immunocompromised will be automatically offered to this group of patients?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for that question. I am afraid I will have to write to her with the details.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, the country deserves credit for the high level of people coming forward to get vaccinated. As we move forward to the spring booster kicking in on 30 June, will the Government ensure that we maintain the high level of vaccinations? Will every individual who has received a vaccination then receive a letter informing them of their spring booster, either from their GP or the NHS?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The noble Lord makes a very important observation about the programme and it is very important that we learn from that. One of the difficult issues was that, quite often, when you publicise the fact that there is a vaccine, a certain number of people come forward but, after that, there is hesitancy in different communities. Sometimes we have to show a bit of humility in Westminster or Whitehall; we are not always the best people to connect with some of those communities—so we have worked with various local community and civil society organisations. There is also innovation: certain places have a jab cab, a bus goes around Merseyside encouraging people to get vaccinated and there is often encouragement to get vaccinated at music festivals, local community festivals, mosques, gurdwaras, temples et cetera.

Lord Framlingham Portrait Lord Framlingham (Con)
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My Lords, there is wide- spread and growing concern that vaccinations against Covid-19 may be having a damaging effect on our natural immunity, leading to an increase in diseases such as shingles. Is the Minister aware of this? If he is not, perhaps he ought to make himself so. Could we have a government comment on this?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I am afraid I am not aware of the details to which my noble friend refers, but I would be happy if he wrote to me. I will then take that back to my department.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, more than one in 10 children are not fully protected against measles by the time they start school, and research shows that many parents are unaware that it can lead to serious complications, such as pneumonia and brain inflammation —or, indeed, that it can be fatal. With the major focus on Covid vaccinations over recent years, what assessment has been made of the effect on the uptake of routine vaccinations, including MMR? What steps are being taken to restore any affected vaccination levels?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises a very important point. We have to recognise that the UK has one of the most comprehensive childhood and adolescent immunisation programmes in the world. We have seven national childhood immunisation programmes, three adolescent programmes and two elderly programmes. Vaccine uptake in the UK remains high overall, but there has been some decline in routine childhood vaccines—so we have been looking at school-based immunisation programmes, some of which were clearly interrupted due to Covid. At the same time, from October to December 2021, the coverage of childhood vaccination programmes actually increased.

Lord Suri Portrait Lord Suri (Con)
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My Lords, it is vital that primary carers help increase the delivery of a structured mass vaccination programme to deal with conditions such as shingles and influenza. Are the Government going to act promptly, given that the fundamentals are in place since Covid-19 has been dealt with?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question. There is a lot of innovation in vaccines. Over the years, we have seen combined vaccinations, and some places have moved away from vaccinations to orals or to not necessarily needing vaccinations at all. I am aware of that, and I would be very happy to write to my noble friend with more details.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, we have a virtual contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Masham of Ilton.

Baroness Masham of Ilton Portrait Baroness Masham of Ilton (CB) [V]
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My Lords, after having a coronavirus vaccine, for how long will a person remain protected? Do the Government propose a vaccine campaign next winter, and would it be possible to give the coronavirus and flu vaccines alongside each other to save administration and protect communities?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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This year, what the officials call the “delivery model” is likely to be broadly similar to previous rollouts, with a similar mix of vaccination sites—mass vaccination centres, GP surgeries, pharmacies, hospital hubs, pop-ups et cetera—as well as NHS services. NHS England and NHS Improvement try to emphasise co-administration of Covid-19 vaccines with flu vaccines and other vaccines. At the same time, NHS England, NHS Improvement and MHRA are looking at current guidance to see how we can ensure that we encourage this more.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, my understanding is that uptake of the Covid vaccine has been much lower among some of the most marginalised communities, reflecting that hesitancy to which the Minister referred. In part, it would appear that this is because of a lack of trust in state institutions. I very much welcome what he said about the deployment of other agencies, but what are the Government doing to build that trust for the future?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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Indeed, this is a really important point: the essential issue must be trust. As politicians in Westminster or officials in Whitehall, we must all have enough humility to recognise that we may not be able to cut through that. We have been looking at working with a number of different people in those communities and working out what the best message and channels will be. For example, we have spoken to faith leaders in some places. Even though some people may not be of a certain faith—they may be agonistic or atheist—they still respect faith leaders. In other places, we are looking at where people who are vaccine-hesitant go, and whether we can get the message—or even the vaccines—across to them.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, much of the success of our own vaccine development programme was based on investment in global health over many years. Is the Minister confident that, given the possibility of future pandemics, the research capacity in this country, and our contribution to international agencies such as the Global Fund, will not be prejudiced by the cut in our ODA spending?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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How we work together globally, learn from each other and co-operate are really important. One of the bits in my portfolio is international relations and, particularly, co-operation on health issues. I have been in G7 and G20 meetings on this. One of the big issues we must all look at is AMR—antimicrobial resistance—and how we can, first, stop the use of antibiotics in both human and animal health and, at the same time, help those countries that use quite a lot to build capacity.

Fire and Rehire

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:17
Asked by
Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to prevent the use of fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government asked ACAS to investigate fire and rehire, and it published guidance in November. The Government have announced their intention to publish a statutory code on fire and rehire in March, and the draft is due to be published for consultation this summer. The code will set out good practice, helping parties to reach a negotiated agreement. In cases of dispute, the code will be admissible in relevant legal proceedings and may result in increased compensation.

Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s response. Codes and consultations are helpful but, with respect, they do not go far enough. Ministers, including the Prime Minister, are paying lip service to condemning fire and rehire as an unacceptable practice. However, talk is cheap; we need legislation to stop the many abuses by numerous big-name companies and others. Today I will introduce a Bill banning fire and rehire, except in the most extreme circumstances—the same Bill that the Government so cynically squashed in another place. Therefore, my question to the Minister is simple: will he do the right thing and back my Bill —yes or no?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My Lords, we always do the right thing. I realise that it is an easy soundbite for the noble Lord to say “ban fire and rehire”, but even he would accept that you cannot ban redundancies, for instance if a company is going bust. You would end up banning the rehiring part of the equation.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab)
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My Lords, legislation is useful, and I hope the Minister pursues that course, but in the meantime will the Government look very carefully at giving any new contracts to a firm which engages in such atrocious behaviour?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We want to see all companies engaging in responsible employment practice. The UK has an employment record to be proud of. We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the western world, one of our lowest post-war records—down again yesterday. If you contrast that to many countries in the EU or on the continent, with much less flexible labour markets, the best employment right of all is a job.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Jones of Cheltenham, is making a virtual contribution.

Lord Jones of Cheltenham Portrait Lord Jones of Cheltenham (LD) [V]
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My Lords, I draw attention to my registered interests. Sometimes employment contracts need updating to reflect new legislation. Under current law, if agreement cannot be reached between employer and employee, notice can be given and new contracts offered. Then employees can opt for a tribunal claiming unfair dismissal, but tribunals are taking up to 18 months to determine. What are the Government doing to speed up tribunals?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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There has been a delay from the pandemic, as in many parts of the public service, but we are doing all we can to make sure that cases are expedited as quickly as possible.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
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The Government promised in their manifesto that there would be an employment Bill. When is it coming?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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We have said that we will deliver when parliamentary time allows, but there are many other ways of delivering what were manifesto commitments than a formal government employment Bill.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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My noble friend has pointed out that unemployment levels are at an all-time low, but is he not worried about the rising number of those who are not seeking work?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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That will depend on the individual circumstances of many people. The pandemic resulted in a number of people reassessing their life choices and if they have decided not to go back into the labour market, I am not sure that is something we can implicitly control. But as I said, we have 600,000 more people in work than before the pandemic and one of the lowest unemployment rates in the western world.

Lord Monks Portrait Lord Monks (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government were right in their condemnation of the disreputable behaviour of P&O Ferries recently, but I also read a lot in the papers about the Government considering introducing a Bill which will make it lawful to replace striking workers with agency workers. I am puzzled about what the difference is between what P&O has done and the kind of thoughts that are obviously alive in Government at present. What is the difference?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The difference is very clear. What P&O did is potentially illegal. Investigations into both criminal and civil wrongdoings are ongoing, so I cannot comment on those particular investigations, but if trade unions are considering holding the travelling public to ransom, as many of them are, then it is right that we should look at all available options, and we will do so.

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, British Airways, Accenture, and the DP World-owned P&O Ferries—significant players in the UK economy—have all used fire and rehire to replace their workforce. They have faced down government criticism and the public’s disdain. For this to change, legislation is required to outlaw this practice. Will the Government take a lead by bringing forward a definitive code of practice that bans fire and rehire? Further, will the Government commit now to ensuring that companies found to have been using fire and rehire will neither be awarded contracts for any public body nor be allowed to take over provision of public services?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I said that we are committed to bringing forward a code and we will consult on it shortly, but as I said in response to the noble Lord, Lord Woodley, it is a complicated area of industrial relations and employment law. I assume that even the Labour Party would accept that we cannot ban redundancy if a company is going bankrupt. Therefore, by banning fire and rehire we would end up banning the rehiring part of it, which I am sure nobody wants to see.

Lord Hendy Portrait Lord Hendy (Lab)
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My Lords, I take the point that banning fire and rehire would be extremely difficult, but what is the objection to regulating it by law?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for accepting the point that I am making: it is a complicated area and an outright ban would not be appropriate. Therefore, I assume that he will not support the Bill from his noble friend. However, we are prepared to regulate in this sector, which is why we are talking about introducing a code. That code will have a positive effect and will be able to be taken into account in any industrial tribunal proceedings, potentially resulting in an increase in compensation awarded.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government take credit for the high employment in the UK and compare it with our neighbours in Europe, but if we compare poverty wages in the UK with the EU we find a different situation. Are the Government going to do anything about the poverty wages that exist in this country but are not allowed in other countries in Europe?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am absolutely taking credit, on behalf of the Government, for the record low levels of unemployment. I assume the noble Lord would be arguing something different if the opposite were the case. The minimum wage in the UK was increased by 6.6% to £9.50 an hour earlier this year. We also now have one of the highest minimum wages in western Europe, something else I thought the Labour Party would recognise.

Lord McLoughlin Portrait Lord McLoughlin (Con)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interest in the register as chairman of Transport for the North. Will the Government, in ensuring that employees get a fair deal, also look at the position of the travelling public getting a fair deal when they are being held to ransom by strikes that are deliberately protracted over a week, which will therefore bring disruption to the travelling network for more than a week, in spite of the fact that the strike days will be only three days and no more?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My noble friend makes a very important point. He has long experience of industrial relations. It is almost as if these strikes were specifically designed to make life as inconvenient as possible at some of the worst times of the year for the travelling public. That is unacceptable. They should think again, and I hope the Labour Party will join us in urging the trade unions to think again.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, clearly the strikes are designed to make sure that those workers who worked extremely hard during the pandemic, and work very hard all the time, achieve decent wages and conditions, but does the Minister agree that, by failing to outlaw fire and rehire as a negotiating tactic, the Government are giving the green light to bad bosses to exploit workers?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am sorry the noble Baroness does not want to join us in condemning the potential strike action on the railways and elsewhere. As I said, we want to see good labour relations and employer-employee relations conducted in a meaningful and contented spirit, which is why we will try to introduce a code that will regulate these matters.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, does the Minister recall an action 20 years ago in the Friction Dynamics factory in Caernarvon—the former Ferodo factory—where the employer had locked out the employees and hired a new workforce? It was taken to an industrial tribunal. The employees and the union won, but they were unable to get any compensation whatever. Can he assure the House that any forthcoming legislation will safeguard against such circumstances?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am not familiar with that particular case; I will certainly look at it. I would be interested to know why they were unable to enforce the order that was made. Perhaps it was because the company went bankrupt, but I do not know; I would have to look at the particular case.

Defibrillators

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:27
Asked by
Lord Aberdare Portrait Lord Aberdare
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to widen the availability of defibrillators in both public and private settings, including schools.

Lord Kamall Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Health and Social Care (Lord Kamall) (Con)
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The Government encourage organisations across England to consider purchasing a defibrillator as part of their first-aid equipment. Many community defibrillators have been provided in public locations, including in shopping centres, through National Lottery funding, community fundraising schemes, workplace funding or by charities. There are now more than 43,000 registered AEDs in England, and from May 2020 the Government have required all contractors refurbishing schools or building new ones through centrally delivered programmes to provide at least one automated external defibrillator, or AED.

Lord Aberdare Portrait Lord Aberdare (CB)
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My Lords, each year, some 60,000 people in the UK suffer out-of-hospital cardiac arrests. Fewer than one in 10 survive and every minute of delay in receiving defibrillation reduces their survival chances by 10%. I recently attended a drop-in event to introduce the world’s first personal defibrillator, which is around 1/10th of the size, weight and price of current models and actually fits in my jacket pocket. Have the Government considered how development such as this might affect their approach to widening access to defibrillators? Will the Minister agree to meet me and leading resuscitation organisations to discuss ways of increasing access to and awareness of defibrillators in schools, workplaces, sports locations and even homes?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the noble for raising the issue of this particular defibrillator. I am personally not aware of it, but I would be very happy if the noble Lord would send me more information on it—it sounds just up my street when it comes to innovation, as it were. We are working across the UK, with different sectors. In some ways, it is almost like a channel marketing campaign. How do we get defibrillators out to as many locations as possible? There is the Circuit and the National Defibrillator Database, and there will be an app that will allow people to find their nearest defibrillator. We are working with schools, educational institutions, sports grounds, transport, the Health and Safety Executive, the British Heart Foundation, Resuscitation Council UK and other partners.

Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen Portrait Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome the fact that there is a rise in the number of defibrillators across the country, but one of the problems is that a lot of people do not realise where they are located, particularly the emergency services and indeed the general public. My noble friend mentioned the national defibrillator network, known as the Circuit, but a lot of people are not aware of this—this is where outlets can register where their defibrillator is and the general public can find out where a defibrillator is when they need them. Is there some way that the department can raise the awareness of the Circuit so that more people are able to use it?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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My noble friend raises a very important point, in her usual assertive manner. The British Heart Foundation, in partnership with Resuscitation Council UK, the Association of Ambulance Chief Executives and the NHS, has set up the Circuit, which is now live in 13 to 14 ambulance services across England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. In January this year, the BHF launched a website that will assist members of the public to locate defibrillators; it is also looking at apps so that people can find out where defibrillators are. We recognise that in some places people themselves are putting in their own defibrillators and we are trying to make sure that they are aware that they should be feeding into the Circuit, so that more people are aware of where they are.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Portrait Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, if I may slightly broaden the Question, the Minister will be aware of the increasing difficulties caused by a lengthening of ambulance response times. This makes first aid at the point where the patient is located even more imperative. Could the Minister say what steps the Government are taking to increase training in first aid, and also whether introductory classes in first aid are given in schools?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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Clearly, one thing is making sure the defibrillators are there and people know how to use them, but also, as the noble Lord rightly says, they should be educated in CPR and resuscitation. All state-funded schools in England are required to teach first aid, including CPR. Those requirements came in in 2020. To support schools further, the department’s teacher training modules cover all the teacher requirements in that. We are looking at how we roll that out further. As the noble Lord rightly acknowledges, it is all very well having defibrillators, but people have to use them and we also want to make sure we raise awareness of CPR.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, I call the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD) [V]
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My Lords, 12-year-old Oliver King died suddenly of sudden arrhythmic death syndrome, a condition that kills 12 young people under 35 every week. The Oliver King Foundation has been campaigning for a defibrillator in every school. Last September, the Secretary of State for Education said this should happen. The DfE has been working with the NHS to make this possible, but the NHS Supply Chain website says that, in December last year, only 3,200 were advantageously procured for schools to then purchase. Can I ask the Minister: is the NHS expanding its procurement to enable all 22,000 schools to be able to purchase defibrillators now and not just when the school is rebuilt?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises an important point: while we require defibrillators to be purchased when a school is refurbished or built, one of the things we are looking at is how we can retrofit this policy. We are talking to different charity partners about the most appropriate way to do this. What we have to recognise is that it is not just the state that can do this; there are many civil society organisations and local charities that are willing to step up and be partners with us, and we are talking to all of them.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I declare that I am patron of CRY, a charity that looks at cardiac arrest in the young. Of the 270 children who die each year, 75% of them would still be alive if a defibrillator had been readily available. Do the Government recognise that, as well as having a defibrillator in a school, one must also be on the sports ground because many of the cardiac arrests occur during athletic activities? Therefore, having only one in a school is inadequate. Will the Government consider asking Ofsted to ensure that there is a defibrillator on every sports ground specifically as well as centrally in every school?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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As the noble Baroness rightly says, it is important that we get these defibrillators out as widely as possible, including in sports grounds, for the reasons she mentioned. We are looking at how we work with partners in this area; for example, the Premier League announced that it will fund AEDs at thousands of football clubs and in grass-roots sports grounds. Also, Sport England is working with the Football Foundation on this. The defibrillator fund will see AEDs in a number of different sports grounds. We are also looking at other locations and working in conjunction with Sport England and the National Lottery fund. Not only do we have to put defibrillators in place, but people have to know where they are and how to use them.

Lord Geddes Portrait Lord Geddes (Con)
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My Lords, in days of old there were defibrillators in your Lordships’ House. Are they still there?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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All I can say is that I hope so. I will try to find out and commit to write to my noble friend.

Baroness Merron Portrait Baroness Merron (Lab)
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My Lords, with Travelodge, Tesco and Royal Mail all announcing that they will participate in the British Heart Foundation use training pilot, will the Minister undertake to look at the potential impact of this training on saving lives and work with his ministerial colleagues across government to encourage such training on defibrillator use by other companies, the public sector and other organisations?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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If noble Lords will excuse the pun, one of the heartening things in answering this is that, when I received briefing on this, it is really important and interesting how we are working across government. It is not only in the Department of Health; we are working with the Department for Transport on transport locations, DCMS on sports grounds, the Department for Education on education settings and other departments. This is really a cross-government initiative.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I was privileged to be at a meeting with Jamie Carragher and Mark King of the Oliver King Foundation and Secretary of State Nadhim Zahawi only a few weeks ago. At that meeting with some senior civil servants, he more than indicated that the Department for Education would be very keen to ensure that defibrillators will be in every single school and will not be waiting for the rebuild that has been mentioned. I urge the Minister to go back to the Department for Education and ensure that this happens. The Oliver King Foundation was founded because Mark King’s son, Oliver, passed away at 11 or 12 at a swimming baths in my old school in Liverpool because there was no defibrillator. The point about sports places is right. Can he go back to the Department for Education, get this commitment which I have heard with my own ears and make sure that every school has a defibrillator as soon as possible?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his question. I know he has a long-term interest in this area. Of course I will go back to my department and talk about this. The important thing is making sure that we have more locations, that there is awareness and that people are educated in how to use defibrillators and in wider CPR.

Civil Servants: Reduction in Numbers

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:38
Asked by
Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley
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To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the impact of reducing the number of civil servants by 10 per cent on the processing of applications by (1) the Passport Office, (2) the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, and (3) UK Visas and Immigration.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, all departments have been asked to develop options for how we can return the number of civil servants to 2016 levels. As part of this work, departments have been asked to assess the impact of different options on the delivery of public services so that we can make informed decisions and focus resources on the right priorities. The work is ongoing in the Home Office and the Department for Transport.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister for that Answer, but is she aware that at the DVLA delays have risen by 65% in the last year and that the waiting time for a new driving licence is now six months? It takes three hours for British passport holders to get through some of the passport checks at airports to get home and 10 weeks to get a new passport from HM Passport Office. It has taken three months and rising for a friend of mine trying to get a sponsorship scheme from the department of the noble Baroness for someone from Ukraine. Is there not one common thread here—bad management by a monopoly supplier of essential services? Does the Minister agree that, if a private company were providing these services, it would take on more staff to deal with the backlogs? Here we are reducing by 10%. Can she explain why?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, there were quite a lot of questions there. I will try and deal with some of them, maybe starting from the noble Lord’s first question about driving licences. There are no delays to the online application process for driving licences. The only delay in the driving licence system is for those with additional medical needs, and I understand that was because the PCS union went on strike and that caused a delay. Almost 99% of passports are being delivered in the timeframe of 10 weeks. I cannot remember the noble Lord’s final question, but I think I have answered most of it.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lady Randerson had to wait three and a half months for the renewal of her driving licence after it had expired, apparently because of her title, which does not appear on her driving licence, so I am not sure that it is true to say there are no delays. The highly regarded former head of the National Crime Agency has said she fears Ministers’ plans to cut civil servant posts could have a “devastating” impact on tackling serious and organised crime, which includes people smugglers, as the Home Secretary confirmed this afternoon. What impact will these cuts have on the ability of the NCA to tackle people smuggling?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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Again, there are a number of questions there but regarding the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, I go back to the point I made previously: there are no delays in the production and delivery of driving licences, and passports are being done in 10 weeks. I listened to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, because there has been a lot of noise around reductions in the NCA, and she was absolutely clear that there are no reductions in NCA staffing. Anyone who has been involved in a large organisation, as I have, will know that you prioritise areas which need prioritisation and do not do a blanket cut across the piece.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, the need to change the structure of the Civil Service may be imperative, but I cannot understand why we are going to reduce the number of fast-track graduate entrants next year. Other companies are trying to increase this to increase productivity and influence change. Those at university have had a pretty tough time. Can the Minister confirm that the Government accept this suggestion, or is it still under review?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I must confess to the noble Baroness that I do not have an up-to-date position on that; I will write to her.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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Is the Minister telling the House that, contrary to the experience of the vast majority of people in this country, including people I know, there is no delay in getting passports or in the visa and asylum-seeking system, and that the Government’s answer to this situation is to cut staff numbers by 10%? How on earth is that going to help? Will the Minister confirm that, actually, many people are waiting an inordinate amount of time for their passports? The last thing the visa and immigration system needs is more staff cuts.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I repeat that the areas that need more resource will be provided with it, and the figures I gave on passports within 10 weeks and driving licences are absolutely correct. However, there has to be recognition that new ways of working demand that we look at our workforce and decide how it is best served to deliver for that organisation—for example, in the area of automation.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend has touched on working from home and trying to reach an accommodation with civil servants in this regard. Will she give us an assurance that civil servants who are working from home are not claiming and being paid a London weighting allowance?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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What I can say to my noble friend is that the reductions will be laid out in more detail in due course. I cannot give her an answer, because I suspect that there is not one at this time.

Lord Reid of Cardowan Portrait Lord Reid of Cardowan (Lab)
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Can the Minister provide figures for the effect of the Covid lockdown on passport applications, and of the rise or diminution in Covid lockdown regulations on subsequent passport applications?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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During lockdown, there was a massive diminution in the number of people applying for passports. Last year, we sent out reminders to people that their passports were going to expire. Unfortunately, that did not result in an increased number of passport applications, but we are currently processing 250,000 passports a week.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, may I move to other agencies? At this time of increasing threats, can the Minister give us an absolute assurance that there will be no cuts in the staff of the intelligence agencies?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The security of our people is the number one priority for this Government, and the security and intelligence agencies will have the resources they need to do their job.

Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, the three bodies that have been mentioned—the Passport Office, DVLA and UK Visas and Immigration—all handle hard-copy sensitive documents. Therefore, on the point my noble friend made about working from home, there would indeed be a problem in that respect. Will the Minister please tell the House what proportion of employees in these three areas are now back in the office and no longer working from home?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I really do not know the details of those figures, but I can find out for my noble friend.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister has referred several times to—or implied—an idea of planning the way that Civil Service numbers might be reduced. It is not clear to most of us whether there actually is a plan, but there is a number: 10%. Can she say what the magic of 10% is, and what the significance of 2016 is?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I think 2016 is when some of those numbers went up. The noble Baroness homes in on the point that planning is vital, and the health of the future workforce and the department’s ability to deliver depends on how we do those reductions. I have been involved in some of that work thus far.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, suggested that the private sector would hire more workers if it was involved in this. Does my noble friend accept that that might well not be true, because the private sector might get more out of existing workers, and it might indeed say that working from home is not acceptable and insist that they work in the office?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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I totally agree with my noble friend.

Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
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The noble Baroness is on a different planet from citizens’ experience in this country of service from both the public and private sectors. Has she tried trying to get through to British Gas or BT? We wait, wait, wait on the telephone. It is time we had a review of the way public and private services are being handled, and not look simply at cuts but at more efficient operations and the need, perhaps, to employ more people.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Lord will not recognise this, but he and I are saying a similar thing: we all need to look at our workforces and make sure that they are fit not just for the present but for the future and the development of new technology and processes.

Private Burial Grounds and Cemeteries Bill [HL]

First Reading
15:48
A Bill to make provision for the regulation of private burial grounds and cemeteries.
The Bill was introduced by Baroness Hussein-Ece, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Employment and Trade Union Rights (Dismissal and Re-engagement) Bill [HL]

First Reading
15:49
A Bill to amend the law relating to workplace information and consultation, employment protection and trade union rights to provide safeguards for workers against dismissal and re-engagement on inferior terms and conditions; and for connected purposes.
Lord Woodley Portrait Lord Woodley (Lab)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a former general secretary of Unite the Union.

The Bill was introduced by Lord Woodley, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Motor Vehicles (International Circulation) (Amendment) Order 2022

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:49
Moved by
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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That the draft Order laid before the House on 11 May be approved.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 13 June.

Motion agreed.

Contracts for Difference (Allocation) and Electricity Market Reform (General) (Amendment) Regulations 2022

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:50
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 11 May be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 13 June.

Motion agreed.

Construction Contracts (England) Exclusion Order 2022

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:50
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the draft Order laid before the House on 11 May be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 13 June.

Motion agreed.

Social Security (Special Rules for End of Life) Bill [HL]

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Order of Commitment
15:51
Moved by
Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott
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That the order of commitment of 24 May committing the Bill to a Grand Committee be discharged and the Bill be committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Motion agreed.

Migration and Economic Development Partnership with Rwanda

Wednesday 15th June 2022

(2 years ago)

Lords Chamber
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Statement
15:51
Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement given in the other place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary earlier. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement about the Government’s world-leading migration and economic development partnership with Rwanda.

The British people have repeatedly voted for controlled immigration and the right to secure borders. This is a Government who hear that message, and we are determined to deliver. Last night, we aimed to relocate the first people from our country who arrived here through dangerous and illegal means, including by small boats. Over the course of this week, many and various claims to prevent relocation have been brought forward. I welcomed the decisions of the Hight Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court to uphold our right to send the flight. However, following a decision by an out-of-hours judge in the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg, minutes before our flight’s departure, the final individuals remaining on the flight had their removal directions paused.

I want to make something totally clear: the European Court of Human Rights did not rule that the policy or removals were unlawful; it simply prohibited the removal of three of those on last night’s flight. Those prohibitions last for different periods but are not an absolute bar on their transfer to Rwanda. While this decision to intervene was disappointing and surprising given repeated and considered judgments to the contrary in our domestic courts, we remain committed to this policy. These repeated legal barriers are similar to those we experience with other removal flights. We believe that we are fully compliant with our domestic and international obligations, and preparations for the next flight have already begun. Our domestic courts were of the view that the flight last night could go ahead.

The case for our partnership with Rwanda bears repeating. We are a generous and welcoming country, as has been shown time and time again. Over 200,000 people have used safe and legal routes to come to the UK since 2015. Most recently, Britons have opened their hearts and homes to Afghans and Ukrainians. But our capacity to help those most in need is compromised by those who come here illegally and jump the queue because they can afford to pay the people smugglers.

It is illegal, and it is not necessary; they are coming from other safe countries. It is not fair, either on those who play by the rules or on British taxpayers, who have to foot the bill. We cannot keep on spending nearly £5 million a day on hotels. We cannot accept this intolerable pressure on public services and local communities. It makes us less safe, because those who come here illegally do not have proper background checks and because evil people-smuggling gangs use the proceeds of their ill-gotten gains to fund other wicked crimes. It is also lethally dangerous for those who are smuggled. People have drowned at sea, suffocated in lorries and perished crossing deserts.

The humane, decent, moral response to all this is not to stand by and let people drown or be sold into slavery but to stop it. Inaction is not an option—or at least not a morally responsible one. There is a complex, long-standing problem. The global asylum system is broken. Eighty million people are displaced and others are on the move, seeking better economic opportunities. An international problem requires international solutions.

The UK and Rwanda have shown the way forward by working together. This partnership sends a clear message that illegal entry will not be tolerated, while offering a practical, humane way forward for those who arrive in the UK via illegal routes. It has saddened me to see Rwanda so terribly misrepresented and traduced in recent weeks. This is another example of how, all too often, the critics do not know what they are talking about.

Rwanda is a safe and secure country with an excellent track record of supporting asylum seekers. I am proud that we are working together, proud that the UK is investing in Rwanda and helping that great country to thrive, and proud that those who are relocated to Rwanda will have a new opportunity to thrive, too. They will be given generous support, including language skills, vocational training and help with starting a business or finding employment.

It would be wrong to issue a running commentary over ongoing cases but I will say this: this Government will not be deterred from doing the right thing. We will not be put off by inevitable last-minute challenges, nor will we allow mobs to block removals. We will not stand idly by and let organised crime gangs—who are truly despicable, evil people—treat human beings as cargo. We will not accept that we have no right to control our borders. We will do everything necessary to keep this country safe and we will continue our long, proud tradition of helping those in genuine need.

I have met refugees, both abroad and on British soil. I have listened to stories that have chilled my blood and broken my heart. Helping develop safe and legal routes to this country for those who really need them is a core part of my job. I have overseen efforts to bring to the UK thousands of people in genuine need, including from Hong Kong, Syria, Afghanistan and Ukraine. I am the first to say that controlled immigration is good for this country, including immigration by refugees, but we simply have to focus our support on those who most need and deserve it and not on those who have picked the UK as a preferred destination over a safe country such as France. It is no use pretending they are fleeing persecution when they are not.

Our capacity to help is not infinite, and public support for the asylum system will be fatally undermined if we do not act. The critics of the Rwanda partnership have no alternative proposal to deal with uncontrolled immigration. I promise to look carefully at any proposal to reduce illegal entry that the Benches opposite might care to suggest. Meanwhile, the Government want to get on with delivering what the British people want: an immigration system that is firm and fair. I commend this Statement to the House.”

15:58
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. However, I am afraid that the Statement, and the words of the Home Secretary in the House of Commons earlier today, failed to answer any of the serious questions about this shocking policy.

The Home Secretary refused to give any transparency at all to the taxpayer or Parliament around how much taxpayers’ money is being spent. She refused to answer questions about whether those intended for yesterday’s failed flight included victims of torture or trafficking or people who have fled Afghanistan. The Home Secretary has also refused to confirm her support for the European Convention on Human Rights, which Britain helped to draft and proudly ratified decades ago.

Yesterday, on the day when Ministers were insisting that a flight with fewer than seven asylum seekers would take off, come what may, over 400 people risked their lives to cross the channel. We need serious co-operation with our close neighbours in France to take action on the border, and dedicated action against criminal gangs. There is one suggestion for the Minister.

This is not, and never has been, a serious policy or a genuine attempt to get to grips with either of these very real issues. Can the Minister confirm that victims of torture were originally identified to be on yesterday’s flight, and that the Home Secretary was aware of that? What screening processes are in place before people are identified for offshoring, including age assessments to prevent children being put on a flight? Can the Minister confirm that a number of people who were due to be on the flight were removed by the Home Office itself because officials knew that there were problems with the cases?

The Home Secretary has made it clear that she considers those fleeing Afghanistan and Ukraine deserving of asylum in the UK. Can the Minister confirm that it is true that yesterday’s flight was due to include people who have fled to the UK from Afghanistan? Can she give a guarantee that no person who has fled from Ukraine will be deported by this Government to Rwanda? The Government have failed to do that when asked previously. For those fleeing persecution and danger in Syria, Iran and Iraq, what safe and legal routes are available for them to access? How many people have we taken from those countries in the past year?

On cost and the use of taxpayers’ money, the Permanent Secretary refused to sign the policy off because of a lack of evidence that it is value for money. Has any evidence been found, or are officials still telling Ministers that there is no evidence at all that this will work? The Home Secretary has written a £120 million cheque for this policy before it has even started and paid out more than £500,000 for a flight that did not take off. She has refused to answer any questions or give figures for the additional payments that have been promised. How much was Rwanda promised for each of the people who were due to be on yesterday’s flight? Why will the Government not share those numbers clearly with us and the taxpayer?

Of course, we need action to tackle dangerous criminal gangs. Of course, a Government have a right to police their borders. However, Ministers know, and ought to be honest, that this policy will not achieve that. If that was a key objective of the Government’s decisions, it would not be the case that the National Crime Agency, whose job it is to target criminal gangs, has been asked to draw up 20% staff cuts. There is another idea for the Minister. In answer to MPs, the Home Secretary denied that she has asked the National Crime Agency to make any cuts. Can the Minister confirm that that is the case, and that government policy is that the NCA will not be asked to make any cuts?

Earlier, the Home Secretary herself said that, on this Government’s watch, asylum costs “are soaring”. Under the current leadership, the number of basic decisions taken by our asylum system has collapsed from 28,000 a year to just 14,000 a year. There is another example of a policy that the Minister could adopt: sorting that out. Why are the Government not dealing with the failures in our system to operate the basic necessities rather than paying a country thousands of miles away to take these decisions for us? How shameful does that make us look around the world?

Can the Minister confirm it is true that the Government are seriously looking to change the law and even leave the European Convention on Human Rights, which the court interprets? We helped to set it up in 1950. We were proud of it, as was every subsequent Prime Minister. Is that what this has come to—saying that we will get rid of the European Convention on Human Rights because we do not like it any more?

Lastly, is this really the image of our country that we want beamed across the world: deportation flights from a guarded RAF base because the policy is so unpopular? There is a better way, with a policy based on humanity and the values that this country holds dear. That is what we should be doing.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement.

The Home Secretary began her Statement by saying:

“The British people have repeatedly voted for controlled immigration”.


This Government have dramatically increased immigration into this country, allowing visa-free entry from even more countries while retaining visa-free entry for those from the European Union. The National Audit Office estimates that between 600,000 and 1.2 million illegal immigrants are in the UK. In 2010, there were more than 10,000 removals of those illegally in the UK; in 2021, it was 113. Why are the Government increasing immigration and reducing removals?

The Home Secretary talked about “intolerable pressure” being placed on public services. In 2019, the Government allowed 680,000 economic migrants and foreign students into the country, while the number claiming asylum in the same year was 41,700. Only 6% of all long-term international migrants in 2019 were asylum seekers. How much pressure are asylum seekers placing on the system compared with other migrants?

The Home Secretary said that she welcomed the decision of domestic courts and blamed the European Court of Human Rights for grounding the flight to Rwanda. Reportedly, 130 asylum seekers were issued with notice of removal to Rwanda and the European Court of Human Rights removed three asylum seekers from the plane. Yet the Home Secretary seeks to blame a European judge in Strasbourg. How many asylum seekers won their cases in domestic courts?

The Home Secretary talked about it costing £5 million a day to house asylum seekers. The Rwandan authorities say that it will cost about the same to house a refugee in Rwanda as it does in the UK. Why are the costs so high? It is because since Priti Patel became Home Secretary, the number awaiting a decision on their asylum application, unable to work and reliant on the state has trebled. What will the cost be for those removed to Rwanda compared with those who stay in the UK?

The Home Secretary said that Rwanda was being terribly misrepresented, that it was in fact a safe and secure country with an outstanding record when it comes to supporting asylum seekers, and that those removed to Rwanda will be given generous support, language training, and help to find jobs and to set up their own businesses. Leaving aside a dozen asylum seekers reportedly having been shot when they protested about conditions in Rwanda, if Rwanda is such a desirable location, how is threatening to remove asylum seekers, and only some asylum seekers, to Rwanda, supposed to deter those crossing the channel?

Some 75% of the people affected by this Government’s policy of deporting asylum seekers, based on those crossing the channel whose claims are processed in the UK, are genuine seekers of sanctuary who have the right to settle in the UK under the UN refugee convention. They are vulnerable and traumatised. They are likely to include victims of modern slavery and victims of torture, who are unlikely to reveal the extent of their trauma on arrival in the UK. They are likely to be further traumatised by being removed to Rwanda. A Rwandan government spokesperson said today on Sky News that Rwanda does not have the facilities to care for these kinds of vulnerable asylum seekers. What will happen to these particularly vulnerable asylum seekers? Will they be returned to the UK and, if so, at what cost, both emotionally to the victims, and to the taxpayer?

The UK must take its fair share of asylum seekers and not export our legal and moral responsibilities to Rwanda. In 2020, the UK had six applications for asylum per 10,000 population, while EU countries on average had 11. In 2002, over 84,000 people claimed asylum in the UK and in 2019 it was less than 36,000. The asylum system is broken because this Government broke it. This immoral, impractical and expensive policy is not the answer.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their comments. They will understand, as I said yesterday, that there are certain things which I cannot say because of ongoing legal challenges, one of which is around costs. However, you cannot put a cost on saving someone’s life.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me about the convention on human rights. Earlier today, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary confirmed that the Deputy Prime Minister was looking into a Bill of Rights for this country. The noble Lord talked also about action on criminal gangs. I found this interesting because of some of the resistance I encountered during the passage of the Nationality and Borders Bill to tackling some of those problems. I repeat that when it comes to funding for the NCA, the NCA will have the funds that it needs to tackle some of them, and that upstream work is not an either/or, as might have been debated in the other place, but an “as well as”. We must do both. We must tackle those criminal gangs upstream and do what we can, but we must also deter the illegal crossings.

The noble Lord also asked me about victims of torture and people being taken off flights. If anyone claims they are a victim of torture, they are taken off their flight so that their claim can be assessed.

The noble Lord also asked about Afghans, Ukrainians and Syrians. Since 2015, we have resettled over 20,000 Syrians through the vulnerable persons resettlement scheme and the vulnerable children’s resettlement scheme. We have also been incredibly generous to our Ukrainian friends and through the schemes for Afghans. Afghans really do not need to attempt to cross the channel; they need to apply through the safe and legal routes that we have set up for the Afghan people.

The noble Lord asked about the Permanent Secretary, whose letter to the Home Secretary made it clear that he considers

“that it is regular, proper and feasible”

for the Home Secretary

“to make a judgement to proceed”

with this policy

“in the light of the illegal migration challenge the country is facing.”

It is the responsibility of the Permanent Secretary

“as Principal Accounting Officer to ensure that the Department’s use of its resources is appropriate and consistent with the requirements set out in Managing Public Money”.

The reasons for writing are set out clearly in the published letter.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about there being far fewer asylum seekers than migrants. That is absolutely true. We are talking here about controlled migration and people not taking illegal and very risky journeys, across some of the busiest shipping lanes in the world.

Again, vulnerable asylum seekers are part of an ongoing legal challenge, so I cannot answer the noble Lord on that for the time being.

16:12
Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I declare an interest as a practising barrister. Yesterday, in rejecting an application to stop the flight to Rwanda, the President of the Supreme Court, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Reed, said:

“In bringing that application, the appellant’s lawyers were performing their proper function of ensuring that their clients are not subjected to unlawful treatment at the hands of the Government.”


Do the Government agree with that? Will the Minister deprecate the criticisms of barristers and solicitors who have acted for asylum claimants in these proceedings, wherever they have come from?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord knows I am on quite delicate territory, because legal proceedings are ongoing. I repeat the earlier words of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, who described our legal system as

“the best in the world.”

Lord Bishop of Southwark Portrait The Lord Bishop of Southwark
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, in response to the Home Office Oral Statement, we on these Benches ask if it is not immoral that those who are to be deported to Rwanda have had no chance to appeal or to reunite with family in Britain. Is it not immoral that they have had no consideration of their asylum claims, recognition of their medical or other needs, or attempts to understand their predicament, given that many are desperate people fleeing unspeakable horrors? Would the Minister welcome the very good work done in parishes up and down the country in support of refugees and asylum seekers—endeavours that are strongly endorsed by these Benches? In the light of the Home Secretary’s challenge to articulate more clearly alternatives to government policy, I ask the Minister what consideration Her Majesty’s Government have given to humanitarian corridors, as practised in France and Italy, and in which churches have played a prominent part.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we had a good discussion on morality yesterday. As I said then, and shall say now, I think it is not moral to not do everything you can to prevent people drowning at sea or being delivered into the hands of criminals; I do not find that moral at all. On alternative humanitarian corridors, we have provided resettlement schemes for our Afghan, Ukrainian, Syrian and Hong Kong friends who are fleeing regimes which put them in danger. They are the sorts of things that we are doing. There are safe and legal routes. It is perfectly legitimate to say that we should widen the safe and legal route so that literally anyone can come here, but we have to tailor our hospitality and our refuge to the people who need it most, and that is what we are doing. However, I will not let this go by without thanking the Church for the work it does in supporting those in need.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I cannot hear either noble Lord.

Viscount Hailsham Portrait Viscount Hailsham (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I shall repeat to my noble friend the question that I put to her yesterday to which she did not respond. She responded instead to a question I did not ask, so now I repeat my question: given that the judiciary is going to come to a determined view on the legality of this policy of migration to Rwanda in the near future, is it not right, in accordance with natural justice and fairness, to defer any further flights until the judiciary has come to a considered view on the legality of the Government’s policy?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the judiciary has come to a considered view not once, not twice, but three times, and none considered the policy unlawful. My noble friend is correct in what he says about the ECHR and its ruling at 10 pm last night. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary will reflect on that judgment.

Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, this disgraceful Statement is made more disgusting by the crocodile tears which are shed by the person who is making the Statement and the pseudo call on a kind of democratic decision. Does the Minister not recall that this is reminiscent of another decision made by the British Government? I speak as a British subject, loyal to the Crown, and as a British Jew. I remember very clearly that boats that went to Palestine in the 1940s were turned back under the most cruel circumstances, with the inevitable death of those migrants who were seen to be illegal by the Government. This is a disgraceful example of continuing policy, and it seems to me that the Front Bench should not be sitting there but should be hanging their heads in shame.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I object to pretty much everything that the noble Lord has just said. Using what happened to the Jews in the 1930s and 1940s as a reason to undermine and criticise the Government for everything really diminishes what the Jews went through, so I hope that this House does not deploy that any further. There are no pseudo crocodile tears from me or my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. It is a very desperate situation, and it is a global problem that requires a global response.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Can my noble friend tell the House whether there is any truth in the extraordinary story that is currently running in the newspapers that the Democratic Administration of President Biden are negotiating with Spain to take Spanish-speaking illegal migrants from central America away from the United States.? Is that true?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I must confess to my noble friend that I have read that story but cannot corroborate it.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, first, does the Minister agree that the courts yesterday, domestically and in Strasbourg, were dealing with the narrow question of whether people should be sent off pending the substantive consideration and judicial review in July? Secondly, does she agree that, while I was disappointed by courts in London and her side was disappointed by courts in Strasbourg, what we in your Lordships’ House do not do is have a go at the referees—the judges—because we happen to be disappointed on a given day? Thirdly, does the Minister, for whom I have enormous respect, agree that the European Convention on Human Rights was drafted in principle by Conservative lawyers as part of Churchill’s legacy and that in these difficult times, domestically and in Europe, we should keep faith with the Council of Europe and keep our commitment to the European Convention on Human Rights?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I would say all yes on all three counts—but on that last point, as I said earlier, I know the Deputy Prime Minister is looking at a Bill of rights, and there is nothing wrong with revisiting things from time to time.

Lord Singh of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Singh of Wimbledon (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, last week we were given a clear assurance that refugees from Ukraine would not be sent to Rwanda. Does this two-tier system of human rights fit with any sort of concept of equal rights for every human being? While I deeply sympathise with the plight of the Ukrainians, other people are also suffering and all people should have equal human rights.

Secondly, does the Minister agree with the sentiments expressed by all the Bishops of this House in yesterday’s Times that this policy of sending suffering people—people fleeing for their lives—to Rwanda goes against all the concepts of Christian teachings and, if I may add, the teachings of other faiths too?

Lastly, does she agree that the whole concept of tearing up treaties, such as the Northern Ireland protocol and now the European Convention on Human Rights, makes us look ridiculous in the eyes of the rest of the world?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The question of tearing up treaties probably goes slightly beyond the purview of today’s Statement. As for going against all Christian and other faith teaching, as I said on the question of morality, watching people die because they are paying traffickers and drown in the channel is the most tragic point of all of this. We should do everything that we can to stop it.

Lord Dholakia Portrait Lord Dholakia (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, Rwanda has been mentioned on a number of occasions and we now know the cost involved in detaining people there. Which other countries have been approached for similar arrangements and what has been the refusal rate?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The noble Lord will understand that I cannot talk about other countries, but I know that other countries are interested in the scheme we have agreed with Rwanda.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, two points are absolutely clear here when one talks about the rule of law. I declare an interest as a practising barrister. First, I would not like to be identified with several of my clients, with the greatest of respect to them. A lawyer should not be identified personally with the cause for which they are arguing, nor should a lawyer be identified, with the greatest of respect, with the people smugglers engaged in this enterprise.

Secondly, does the Minister agree that the European Court of Human Rights would do itself more favours if, instead of passing orders with no named judge attached to them, just as justice is done in this country by judges whom we can identify, orders of the European court were also in the name of an identified judge?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I used to be so grateful to have my noble friend beside me. I am now very grateful for his wisdom behind me, and he is absolutely right.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the Refugee and Migrant Children’s Consortium has expressed grave concern that, because of the Government’s flawed approach to age disputes, it is already seeing children who have been detained as adults and issued with a notice of intent to remove them, despite Home Office assurances to the contrary. What steps are being taken to ensure that no unaccompanied asylum-seeking child is wrongly removed as an adult?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, my honourable friend Tom Pursglove made clear in the other place that no unaccompanied asylum-seeking child will be sent to Rwanda, and I am sure I repeated it in this House.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, is the Minister familiar with the statement by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Filippo Grandi—he is, after all, the guardian of the migration convention—that the action by the Government was not in conformity with international law? If that is the case, what right do the Government have to elevate their view of international law above that of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, whose job is to guard that convention?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we had much discussion about the UNHCR’s view of the Nationality and Borders Act. We disagreed. He is perfectly within his rights to say what he did, but we respectfully disagree.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, saying in answer to my noble friend that we are committed to a Bill of rights for this country does not answer the question about the European convention. Britain initiated the European Convention on Human Rights and Winston Churchill was one of its architects. The great advantage of it is that it holds other countries to an international standard. If we are going to ask countries such as Turkey, Hungary and Azerbaijan to adhere to standards, we have to do so as well. To suggest—even to hint—that we will withdraw from the European Convention on Human Rights is an absolute disgrace. If it happens, this country will not be able to show its face in any international fora again.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I did not state that we were going to withdraw; I said that the Deputy Prime Minister was looking at a Bill of rights. All through the passage of the Nationality and Borders Act, we were absolutely clear that that Act complied with the ECHR.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, there seems to be a lack of transparency about the whole scheme. I ask the Minister, who knows I have enormous respect for her: what criteria were used to select those asylum seekers to be deported to Rwanda? It has been reported that it is quite random and not based on their circumstances, such as their having been trafficked. The Government and the Minister have emphasised that they want to stop trafficking, so what sense does it make to deport someone who has suffered trafficking and is a victim?

My second question is about how we learned that Britain has agreed to take refugees from Rwanda under the scheme Priti Patel signed up to. What details can the Minister give us about this? How many will be coming here? It seems to be a reciprocal scheme. If Rwanda is such a safe and secure country, why are we taking refugees from Rwanda?

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To answer the noble Baroness’s second question first, taking people from Rwanda is to do with problems in the region. It is not deportation, by the way. An awful lot of noble Lords and Members of the other place are calling this deportation but it is not. Deportation is for criminals.

On the criteria, with the exception of unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, any individual who has arrived in the UK through dangerous, illegal and unnecessary routes since 1 January this year may be considered for relocation for Rwanda. Those decisions are taken on a case-by-case basis.

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Portrait Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My noble friend knows my unhappiness with this provision. Indeed, I moved amendments in Committee on the nationality Bill to try to remove offshoring. As a former Immigration Minister, I revealed then that I looked at the possibility of offshoring asylum applications some years ago. After considerable research, I came to the conclusion that it was not a good thing for this country to do.

I am a lawyer, though not in the same league as some of the other speakers today, and my understanding is that someone who claims asylum in a particular country is entitled to the matter being considered by the country in which they claim asylum. In offshoring the whole application, which is not made to the Rwandans but ends up in their hands, how are we complying with the 1951 convention and general international law?

Finally—I am sure that my noble friend will be aware of this—I am most surprised that, once an application has been considered in Rwanda and accepted there, this does not entitle an applicant who initially made that application in the UK to come back to this country. They have to remain in Rwanda, where they have not made any form of application whatever.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My noble friend refers to the long-standing inadmissibility rule, which states that the asylum seeker should claim asylum in the first safe country.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, without getting embroiled in the politics of this, I would be grateful if the Minister could say why Rwanda was chosen and, generally, on what terms. If I heard her correctly, three were in question and were part of the legal process last night, so why did the flight not continue in any event?

Have the Rwandans given an assurance that they will not further deport refugees to another country? The Minister spoke about Rwanda being misrepresented and that it supports asylum seekers. Would she care to comment on the fact that Rwanda is looking for the extradition from this country of people associated with the genocide in that country? It has been doing so for a very long time, but the UK is not in any way accommodating that request.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will not comment on legal matters. The three that I mentioned were the court applications, not people. Rwanda is a nation of refugees that has known terrible horror, including genocide; it is very sensitive to the plight of refugees. In fact, most of the people whom I spoke to when I was there were themselves refugees from other parts of Africa. At this stage, it is right to let the legal processes take their course. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said in another place, she will consider the judgment of last night.

Committee (3rd Day)
16:34
Relevant documents: 2nd Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 1st Report from the Constitution Committee
Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will say a few words following days one and two in Committee on the issues your Lordships raised about the Bill. Your Lordships heard me say that we are listening and that, after hearing concerns during the earlier days in Committee, I am acutely aware of the strength of feeling in the House. Your Lordships are aware that there is a process which is followed after Committee. Noble Lords can be reassured that, when we return to the Bill on Report, I will be able to clarify and confirm the Government’s position, having heard the views of the House in Committee. Any such statement will reflect the Government’s position, will be subject to usual processes of agreeing policy and will be shared ahead of Report.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I will press the Minister. Should those amendments that she comes back with on Report, which is how I interpret what she has just said, be as substantial as we would hope and expect given our concerns, which I appreciate she says she had heard, would she perhaps consider reconvening the Committee for us to examine those new amendments? We expect that they will substantially alter the way the Bill is currently drafted.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I will just follow up on that. It would be helpful if we could get some clarity on what else is coming through, if not that process. It is not the Minister’s fault, but she was given a car crash to drive, and we have now got to where we are. Can we please have a little more consultation about the new form of this Bill?

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Is the Minister intending to conduct some kind of regulatory review and consultation prior to Report?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am sure all your Lordships understand that the timing and content of what we discuss at Report is a matter that will be agreed with the Chief Whip and through the usual channels. I really cannot say any more on that today.

Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

Does the Minister still intend to have Report in July this year?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I repeat to my noble friend that this is not a decision that I can make; it is a decision for the Chief Whip and the usual channels.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, the specific question my noble friend Lady Chapman asked was about a quite common procedure in this House: if very substantial changes are proposed between Committee and Report, involving large numbers of new clauses et cetera, it is common that a Committee stage should be resumed to consider those precise additions so that the conversation can take place under Committee rules rather than Report rules. I know that the Minister cannot decide on the procedures of the House, but she is—I hope my saying so does not ruin her career—a very accommodating Minister, as far as she is able to be, who does listen to the House. Having listened to most of the Committee so far myself, it is quite clear that many issues need to be discussed if and when there is some clarification about the content of the Bill. That needs to be discussed in Committee.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am unable to give any more clarification on that point at this stage. I am sorry that I cannot say anymore to your Lordships.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I realise that the Minister is not able to say anything further about the timing with regard to Committee and Report, but could she say anything further in response to my noble friend Lord Knight about regulatory review, leaving aside the question of Report?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have already said at the Dispatch Box that the regulatory review will begin within weeks. I am unable to say anything further about the other stages of the Bill.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, may I just try this then with the Minister, who is doing her best in very difficult circumstances? Would she be prepared to talk with the Secretary of State, who is one of the most able members of the Cabinet—that might not mean a lot to others, but I think in this particular case it does—on whether it would be beneficial, not just to the passage of this legislation but to the whole education system, if he were able to see his way to taking time to reach a substantial consensus on the majority of this Bill, which I think we can do, if time were allowed to do so?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I am more than happy to commit to taking back the views of the House to the Secretary of State.

Clause 29: Local authorities: power to apply for an Academy order

Amendment 59

Moved by
59: Clause 29, page 23, line 23, leave out “of its maintained schools” and insert “maintained schools in its area”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment makes the language in this section consistent with language used elsewhere in legislation relating to maintained schools in a church context.
Lord Bishop of Chichester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Chichester
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I rise to speak on behalf of my colleague, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who regrets that he cannot be here to move the amendments in this group tabled in his name. I declare his interest as chair of the National Society.

Firstly, I shall say a brief word about Amendment 59, which is a small effort to ensure consistency of language used throughout the legislation relating to maintained schools in a church context. The particular amended line in Clause 23 removes the wording that assumes control of all maintained schools and replaces it with language that is applicable in a church context.

On Amendment 64, diocesan boards of education, as set out by Section 8 of the DBE Measure, exist to promote and assist the provision of religious education in church and other schools throughout the diocese. However, they also co-operate with other educational providers in their dioceses and play a vital role. In the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s own diocese, around 50% of schools are academies. Across the Church of England as a whole, it is about a third of our schools, including secondary schools, and this is growing all the time—working in a range of different kinds of multi-academy trusts. There is a strong and growing diocesan trust in Durham, serving the needs of all the community it serves, working in strong partnership with a range of school-led MATs across the north-east. The joint diocesan board of education for Durham and Newcastle has been crucial to the success in the diocese and has contributed much to serving the whole community.

Amendment 64 requires the consent of the relevant diocesan board of education before seeking an academy order on a school for which it is the religious authority. Consultation with the diocesan boards of education before seeking an academy order is an important step to retain the cohesion that they already help to promote, and to ensure that the governance of schools with a religious character is maintained by the religious authority. DBEs will also be increasingly important as the education system nationalises, which is evident in this Chamber as we discuss questions of adequate funding for rural schools and other issues for which more local insight is invaluable.

Amendment 65 and the consequential Amendments 66, 67, 71, 72, 73 and 74 are intended to reflect the position of the churches as partners in state education. Amendment 65 inserts proposed new Section 3B, which mirrors the power of local authorities in new Section 3A and applies the power to submit applications for an academy order to the religious authority for church schools. The drafting also reflects the expectations of each religious authority before applying the power and accounts for schools with a religious character that do not have a religious authority. This would enable the religious authority, or appropriate religious body, to apply for an academy order in respect of its schools, in line with a strategic plan to enable a fully trust-led system.

This is important because the churches and other religious authorities have a strategic role in the development of the educational landscape. The move towards all schools being in a strong academy trust is not something that can be allowed to happen in an ad hoc or piecemeal way but requires strategic planning and the development of a system that works for all schools concerned. It requires the religious authority to be able to propose strategic change to ensure that none of its schools is isolated or left behind. This will be particularly important as we consider the large number of small schools, often in isolated rural communities, many of which, as we have already heard in previous discussions, are church schools.

16:45
We need to ensure that the religious authority has the ability to seek change for the good of the whole family of schools, not simply on an individual school basis. The Church of England and the Roman Catholic Church provide one-third of state schools in England. One reason I believe these are schools that are often sought after by parents is that we have been on the block a long time—more than 200 years—seeking to provide free education for the children of this land. It is essential that those authorities have the same power as outlined for the local authorities, to ensure that they have the ability to function as a strategic partner with the state in this way. I beg to move.
Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (CB)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 60A and I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, for countersigning it. It is a probing amendment. As the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, who I am pleased to see is in her place, said so correctly last week in Committee, this is a very difficult Bill to amend. My amendment was the only way I could find to stimulate a discussion on the point that I raise in the amendment. What is absolutely clear from the debates at Second Reading and the two days of Committee so far is that this Bill gives very great powers to the Secretary of State over any school that receives funding from the taxpayer. The concern that I and others have is how a number of very specialist schools will be treated in future.

I realise that there are many matters in the White Paper that are not included in the Bill and will probably be in another Bill in the future or in regulations. However, it is stated government policy, as I understand it, that all schools should become academies and all academies should, by 2030, join multi-academy trusts. I am particularly interested in two types of schools which may not fit into this standardised structure. As I said at Second Reading, I am a patron of the King’s Maths School. There are four maths schools in England and two more will be launched next year. They are all sponsored by universities and have impressive statistics for numbers of girl students, percentages of students from ethnic minorities and numbers on free school meals, and all the students get into leading universities.

These schools have been a huge success, both academically and socially, and we should have more of them. However, their success comes from their direct and close relationship with the sponsoring university.

I am very grateful to the Minister for two discussions that I have had with her on this matter. As I understand it, the Government’s view is that putting a maths school in a multi-academy trust would spread some of this academic excellence around a number of other schools, but I suggest to the Minister that this is not what they maths schools were created for. The country needs, and the Government at that moment—Michael Gove, I think it was—recognised, that we need many more mathematicians and others who wish to study engineering at university. All students at these maths schools do A-levels in maths, further maths and usually physics as well. The ethos of the schools leads to high levels of achievement. If they were to join multi-academy trusts they would certainly lose this ethos and are likely to cease performing at this excellent level.

I therefore ask the Minister to confirm that these maths schools will not be forced, either by the Secretary of State or any other authority, local or otherwise, to join a multi-academy trust without the consent of the governing body and the sponsoring university. These schools have a very special status and an amazing track record.

The other schools referred to in my amendment are the music and dance schools. Of course, they are very different from maths schools. Here I declare an interest, as my wife was, for 10 years, chairman of the Royal Ballet School. There are, I believe, eight schools within the music and dance programme. They are independent but receive taxpayer support under the music and dance scheme. The students are all selected for their talent. They come from diverse backgrounds, and many are from very low-income households. The graduates go on to perform in orchestras and dance in ballet companies all over the world. These schools must retain their independence and they will always need considerable taxpayer support.

The powers being vested in the Secretary of State through the Bill are so great that I hope to receive from the Minister an assurance that these very special and specialist schools will be allowed to retain their present status and will not, by future regulation, be forced into a multi-academy trust. They must remain independent. They must continue to receive taxpayer support directly from the Department for Education.

The Bill appears to be changing, very substantially, the structure of education in England. There may be many schools—more than the ones I have referred to—that will not fit in to the new Department for Education standard structure. My amendment simply seeks to protect the independence of two particular types of school, and I hope the Minister can allay my concerns and give reassurance to specialist schools.

Baroness Morris of Yardley Portrait Baroness Morris of Yardley (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the arguments just made by the noble Duke about maths schools. I am not sure what the Minister will say—maybe she will solve the problem. I am not arguing that they need to be more independent than any others; the argument about the MAT is about the nature of the partnership the school is going into. I value partnerships—they are really important—but I can see the argument that maths schools need different partnerships from other secondary comprehensive schools that might go into MATs.

This is because we are not likely to have a whole host of these maths schools throughout the country. They are few in number, a bit like the music and ballet schools. Whatever you think of them, their aim is to take the most able children in that subject and support them to reach as high a level as possible. We will never aim to have thousands of them, so I worry that, if you make their key partnership in future—if you do not want them to stand by themselves—to be part of a MAT, you give the ownership of that scarce resource to that MAT. Just as we have competition between stand-alone schools, I am absolutely certain, because it exists at the moment, that we will have competition between MATs. They will not all share their resources; they will compete with each other. That is what they are doing now and will do in future. I am just not confident that the competitive environment in which MATs exist—trying to get more kids and the best results—will lead to them sharing the special skills in the maths schools in the way they should.

The maths schools have a different set of partnerships. Unlike the MATs, they have very good relationships with universities and business. Progress-wise, they look up. So I am not fearful that they will fall prey to the problems of standing alone. I do not think they stand alone; they have a different set of relationships in their partnership. To take them out of that partnership and make them a legal part of the ownership of one MAT would make it far more difficult for them to share their skill across a geographical area. I can just bet which MAT they will end up going into—the one that already has the most high-performing children, because it will think that it can use them better than anyone else.

Go for the partnership, as they already have existing ones, but be really wary of treating them the same as any other academy, as they were never set up in that way. I hope that complements what the noble Duke said about independence; the nature of the partnership needs a great deal of thought.

Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, I support the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham’s amendments, so ably spoken to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. I do not have an awful lot of experience of academies; we do not have them in Wales. I suppose we are a bit old-fashioned, but the system seems to work quite well. However, I have nothing against them. They were introduced by the Government of which I used to be a member and I wish them well.

It is particularly important that church and state schools should have the same opportunities as academies. There is no reason in this wide world why a Church of England school or a Roman Catholic school—I am a Catholic—should not have the same opportunities as a state school. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester rightly referred to the fact that, in England, one in three schools is a church school. Ten per cent of all schools in England are Catholic schools, and 850,000 pupils go to them. Both Church of England and Catholic schools do a tremendous job in very deprived areas all over England—and, indeed, although it does not apply in this debate, in Wales.

There is a very strong case for ensuring that church schools have equal status in the Bill; handbooks and various bits of guidance from the Department for Education are okay, but they are not enough. If there is to be proper equality between church schools and state schools, that has to be recognised in law. Those issues revolve around governance structures, appointments, religious education and collective worship. I know that the Catholic authorities, all dioceses in England and the Catholic Education Service warmly support the amendments spoken to by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester, as I do. I wish them well.

17:00
Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I should perhaps declare an interest on the amendments moved by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, given that my children attend academy schools in the area of that diocese.

We would like to put on record our appreciation for the contribution of the Church of England to education in the country. I think it was very well put that there needs to be a strategic approach. The amendments tabled by the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Durham would better able that to happen, so we are sympathetic to the case that was made.

We were already minded to support Amendment 60, and my noble friend Lady Morris made the case better than I could. The issues highlighted prove that the Bill would have benefitted from some pre-legislative scrutiny.

I was particularly pleased to hear comments about fair access and admissions. Should we be forming a government any time soon, we would probably want to explore that and push it still further.

Given the very solid case that was made by both the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, and my noble friend Lady Morris, we would want the Minister to be as sympathetic as she can be in response to these amendments at this stage.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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My Lords, I will start by responding to Amendments 59, 64 to 67, and 71 to 74 in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester for moving these amendments on his behalf.

I acknowledge the very important role played by churches and other religious bodies in state education. As the right reverend Prelate has said, these amendments relate to powers to support schools to join multi-academy trusts, helping to fulfil the Government’s ambition to have all schools in or joining a strong trust by 2030. I welcome the right reverend Prelate’s support for that ambition. I understand that, as he said, the purpose of Amendment 59 is to make the language used in Clause 29 consistent with other legislation relating to maintained schools in a church context. However, the existing wording of the clause already captures these particular schools and so this amendment would have no material effect.

Amendment 64 relates to requirements for local authorities to obtain consents before applying for an academy order on behalf of a school with a foundation. The Government understand the desire for the appropriate diocesan authority, as the religious body for a church school, to be among the bodies whose consent is required for an application. However, as drafted, the amendment captures only the diocesan authorities and not religious bodies for other faiths, and the position should be fair for all religious bodies.

The remaining amendments tabled by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham seek to enable certain religious bodies to apply to the Secretary of State for academy orders in relation to schools for which they are responsible. As I have said, the Government want schools with a religious character to enjoy, like all others, the benefits of being part of a strong academy trust. The Government are sympathetic to the principle of these amendments but further consideration is needed to establish the scope of the religious bodies that could apply for an academy order and the types of maintained school to which it should apply. As drafted, the amendment may not adequately capture all the religious bodies involved in maintained schools with a religious character. It may also inadvertently include bodies which are responsible for schools without a religious character.

Although I have set out some concerns relating to Amendments 64, 65, 67 and 71 to 74, the Government understand the intentions behind them and will reflect further on the issues raised by those amendments and the right reverend Prelate.

Turning to Amendment 60A, first, I want to reassure the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, on a specific point—though this may be unnecessary, because he said that this was a probing amendment. He will know that music and dance schools are typically independent schools, and that 16 to 19 maths schools are already academies. As such, they will not be affected by this clause. However, it would be wrong to exclude any schools in the maintained sector with a music, dance or maths specialism from the benefits of being part of a strong trust. I recognise the importance of preserving the unique characteristics of specialist schools within a fully trust-led system, as we have heard from the Committee. I can confirm that, in the event that a local authority applied for an academy order in relation to a specialist school, the regional director would have regard to the capacity of the proposed trust to preserve and support that school’s specialism. But to be absolutely clear to the noble Duke and the Committee, there are no powers in the Bill that would force an existing academy to join a multi-academy trust, and that might be why he was struggling to amend the Bill to address his concerns.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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I am a little confused. In the White Paper, the Government’s intention around MATs is quite clear. I think the noble Duke is seeking some assurance that that will not apply to the schools that he is interested in.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I absolutely understand that point. I was simply reassuring the noble Duke that within this Bill there are no powers to compel anyone to join a multi-academy trust. It is the Government’s vision for every school to be part of a strong trust by 2030. The intention is for the Government to work with academies and to move people with the Government in pursuit of that vision. I was simply saying that there is nothing in the Bill that would compel an academy to join a multi-academy trust. That said, we have consistently seen that schools in multi-academy trusts are stronger together. The collective focus, vision and community creates opportunities, facilitates collaboration, enables resilience and improves educational outcomes.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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I have listened to what the Minister has said, having not joined in on the debate on this amendment before. Are we saying that specialist schools which stand out from the normal run of schools are not expected to join because it goes against their ethos or because they do not fit in terribly well but that it is a jolly good idea if they do? This is a little confusing. We need some clarity before we move on. Effectively, the Government are saying that joining a multi-academy trust is a good idea but that these schools do not have to, but they then say that they want every school to join one. Can the Minister clarify this?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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We are saying that joining a multi-academy trust is a good idea and that we would like everyone to do it. We are encouraging everyone to do it, but there are no powers within the Bill to compel people. The reason we think it is a good idea is that we have seen that schools in multi-academy trusts are stronger together. Of course, it would be open for such specialist schools to, for example, perhaps form a multi-academy trust with each other. We know that there are many high-performing, stand-alone schools that have the capacity to support other schools within the combined accountability of a MAT model.

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
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I may be wrong, but is there not a route to making it enforceable, or close to enforceable, by way of secondary legislation, given the way in which the Bill is drafted?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I sought to confirm the point that was directly raised by the noble Duke about the powers within the Bill, and I have been given the reassurance that there are no powers within the Bill to force an existing academy to join a multi-academy trust. I will seek further, triple reassurance on that point, but I sought clarity on it before addressing this.

Duke of Wellington Portrait The Duke of Wellington (CB)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for her various replies. I am not nearly as expert on these matters as the many former Education Ministers who are Members of this House clearly are. Nevertheless, my concern remains that the way the Bill is constructed means there will inevitably be regulations and other secondary legislation coming forward, or indeed even possibly another Bill. I am trying to seek an assurance from the Government that these sorts of schools will never be forced into a multi-academy trust without the consent of their own governing body. In the case of the maths schools, as the noble Baroness, Lady Morris, so rightly put it, each of them has an existing partnership with a university. Therefore should a maths school ever be forced to join a multi-academy trust, or the Government of the day forces one, surely it should not be done without the consent of its own governing body and its sponsoring university.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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I understand the reassurances that the noble Duke seeks. I reassure him that we understand the unique nature of these schools and we want to see them thrive. We think that is possible within a multi-academy trust model. However, I reassure him that in the Bill before us today there are no clauses or powers that would force an existing academy to join a multi-academy trust. I am afraid it is not possible for me to think about any future Bill that could come before this House. We have a stated policy aim—an ambition—but we have chosen not to put any powers in this Bill to force any academy to join a multi-academy trust. We have been clear that in pursuing that policy aim we want to bring schools and academies with us. That is the approach we would seek to take.

Lord Knight of Weymouth Portrait Lord Knight of Weymouth (Lab)
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My understanding is that the powers in the Bill including ones for single-academy trusts to be subject to all the directions and all the compliance that we discussed on Monday. I believe there is a recent government amendment to make this possible. Therefore, my reading of it would be that the powers are there. If a Secretary of State decides that all single-academy trusts are going to go and they are all going to join multi-academy trusts, the powers are there for them to find reasons to do so and use the powers in the Bill to close down the single-academy trusts, which are then left having to find a home.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I take the noble Lord’s point. I absolutely reassure him that that is not the intention. I will also go away and double check that there is not the ability to do that under those powers. Given the discussions we have had on those parts of the Bill and our commitment to reflect on them, our discussion on this issue and the reassurance that is being sought will also form part of the discussions.

Viscount Eccles Portrait Viscount Eccles (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

May I just articulate another problem I have? The noble Baroness used the word “intention”. When I think about the summing up and read the summings up in Hansard, we have been presented a stream of good intentions. The problem is that I do not think Parliament is at all wise or sensible to live on good intentions; we all know where they can take you. I reiterate that it seems that the scheme of this Bill, broadly speaking, allows the Secretary of State to find a way of imposing the policy that every school should be in a multi-academy trust one way or another. At the moment, that is the position. I am afraid that both the right reverend Prelate and the noble Duke must view the future rather pessimistically.

17:15
Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I was clear about the Government’s intention for these powers, which is not to use them to make single academies join a multi-academy trust. I also gave two undertakings in listening to this group in Committee. One is to go away and confirm, on the scope of the powers as drafted in the Bill, that it is not possible to do that, but the other relates to our wider conversations about those parts of the Bill where the Government have already given an undertaking, having heard the views of the Committee, to listen and reflect. My noble friend the Minister started today’s Committee by trying to give an assurance to your Lordships that that is what we are doing. Therefore, on this particular question it is important to be clear about the Government’s intention, which I hope I now have been, but I will also undertake two further actions, which speak louder than words, both to confirm on the powers as drafted and to reflect on how we have drafted those powers.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

In that spirit, will my noble friend also discover whether the Government have the power to use the money they give to these individual schools in a way which could in fact insist that they become members of a multi-academy trust? My own experience is that the most important thing is to ring-fence the money from the interference of a Secretary of State who would use it to say, “You don’t get your money unless you join this”, or, “You get more money if you join this.” We need that reassurance too.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My noble friend’s contribution falls within the remit of the undertaking that I have already given to the Committee.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, to my mind, the various assurances the Minister has given present a further complication. If she is able to give reassurance to the noble Duke about a particular type of school, which is pretty well defined, being able to guarantee its continued independence away from a multi-academy trust, as it were, what does that say to other schools which may have particular characteristics? What is the defining characteristic that distinguishes schools which can remain if they want to from those that cannot?

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

To be clear, the undertaking I gave was around the Bill’s powers being used to compel an existing stand-alone academy—the noble Duke gave the example of a specialist maths school but it is not restricted to that—to join a multi-academy trust, not based on any further characteristics of the school. I hope that reassures the noble Lord.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I think the noble Baroness knows what we are getting at here. She has said that she will endeavour to come back with something concrete for us, and that is appreciated. However, reflecting on this, this is not just about requiring these schools to join MATs. The noble Duke has highlighted for us that the powers contained in the Bill could get to the activities of these schools and undermine the essence of them, which my noble friend described. There is nothing in the Bill to protect those schools from that. Previously, my noble friend said that she would quite enjoy the ability to impose standards across all schools, but I do not think she was thinking of these schools when she said that. There is a bigger problem that we have come across here, which the Minister should also attend to.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

The most successful multi-academy trusts build on the strengths of these types of schools. The intention is to build on the strengths that we see in all sorts of academies, including specialist academies, in building the school system that we want to build in future. That is what is set out in the schools White Paper and what we are trying to deliver and achieve. Looking at and building on the freedoms that those kinds of schools have used to strengthen our education system is the direction of the travel that the Government have set out. We certainly want to continue to support that. We believe that these schools do an excellent job and we want to protect them in future.

I think I have gone as far as I can in setting out my understanding of what the Bill does and in seeking to reassure noble Lords that I will go away, check this point and look at it in the context of the wider concerns about the powers in certain sections of the Bill.

We heard in the debate about the partnership model that these schools have and their important role in providing outreach to other schools in the local area; indeed, that is part of the model that they have. Although it is our view that they can be part of a successful multi-academy trust, I have none the less given an assurance about our intention behind these powers and an undertaking once again to go away and confirm that point for noble Lords. With that, I hope that the right reverend Prelate will withdraw the amendment for now.

Lord Bishop of Chichester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Chichester
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My Lords, the amendment in the name of the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington, has produced far more energy. I have to say, what I think is shared here is a concern that what happens in our schools is not done in a piecemeal, ad hoc way but intentionally. So it is not just about the intention of the powers that are brought but about what their effect will be. Of course, finding that you are alone is a dangerous place to be in a powerful, fast-moving organisational circumstance.

I am grateful to the Minister for her assurance that she is sympathetic to and understands the Church’s concerns over church schools. The need for a wider scope for what we had drafted in this amendment will be considered. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in the name of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Durham.

Amendment 59 withdrawn.
Amendment 60
Moved by
60: Clause 29, page 23, line 24, at end insert “only with the consent of the governing body that is the subject of the application”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment ensures that a local authority cannot apply for an Academy order to be made unless it has the consent of the governing body.
Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, in moving Amendment 60, perhaps I might be of assistance to the noble Duke, the Duke of Wellington. This amendment specifically says that nothing will be applied for without the consent of a governing body. It seems to me that that this would add to the points made by the noble Duke and to his position.

All the amendments in this group—I have added my name to Amendments 60, 61, 62, 69, 70 and 75—are about consultation. I would have made this point in the earlier debate but, knowing that I would come to it with this amendment, it seemed appropriate to wait. I think that there is a way round this. We could have something in the Bill to preclude the possibility of a school being forced to change its status if the consent of the governing body could not be achieved. It may be that this is a helpful amendment.

I am very grateful to the National Governance Association for all the work that it has done on this. I have been a governor at various schools and have had the pleasure of being a local authority-appointed governor, a staff governor, and a parent governor. These roles are all very important and I continue to believe that membership of the local governing body is an important role which is of value to the institution and the individual. As we have seen, it may be even more important if it is able to protect certain kinds of establishment.

The governing body should both provide the link to the community and be the voice of the community. For that reason, Amendment 60 is important. It is a way of saying that without that voice the status should not be changed. Hitherto, this central role of working with the school but also connecting with the local authority or with other relevant parties is really about how good decision-making should continue.

It appears that the Government’s intention is for all schools to be in a MAT. We are not quite sure whether that is genuinely their intention, so let us say that it is not the Government’s intention to force anyone, but that it is their intention that all schools should seek to be in a MAT, and that any movement out of the MAT into which a school or a stand-alone academy has been put or finds itself would be only in exceptional circumstances.

The National Governance Association has described that relationship as the possibility of

“marriage with no prospect of divorce.”

This may warm the hearts of those who think that divorce should never happen, but divorce does happen. On this basis, it is important that governing bodies should engage with schools and local authorities to make the possibility of an unhappy marriage a distinctly avoidable one. Therefore, the notion that there should be proper consultation with all relevant and interested parties before decisions are made is really important.

The NGA says that governors should consult widely with stakeholders, including staff, parents, pupils—we should note that—and the wider community, on all possible options. That is significant. The NGA is suggesting that the stakeholders should think about what the possibilities are for the institution with which they have been associated. If, ultimately, joining a MAT is required or desirable, it should certainly be one that the school feels is appropriate to its current ethos. That point is made several times by the National Governance Association.

I turn to Amendments 61, 62 and 75. The NGA has some clear and particularly helpful advice on consultation. It says:

“Formal consultation will need to be carried out as part of the official process”


and that:

“Stakeholder engagement is a core governance function and buy-in from the school community will be essential in making a success of any decision to form or join a MAT.”


It talks about ensuring therefore that all stakeholders are able to engage properly in that. It makes some suggestions as to how that consultation can be done: staff meetings, engagement with the relevant trade unions, a letter to parents, information on the school website, a question and answer session. Here, the National Governance Association is really talking about the widest possible and, from its point of view, the most effective consultation, to ensure that whatever path is chosen has the biggest possible buy-in, because it must be clear that if that is the case, the way forward for the school is likely to be the most successful.

It also says that a school

“may also wish to set out what it regards as the advantages of joining or forming a MAT”.

That is critical. In making this decision, it should be clear why it is being taken. Accepting that particularly the noble Baronesses opposite are enthusiastic to make sure we have a successful system, an individual institution must also explain why it is to its advantage to join a MAT or, as the noble Duke has said, not to join a MAT. There is a lot to be considered here and significant amounts of work for governing bodies to do.

17:30
The purpose of all these amendments is to say that consultations with all the relevant parties are particularly important. The NGA says
“they should be undertaken when proposals for the subject of the consultation are at a formative stage”.
I note in passing that this is why I find government Amendment 68 less than helpful, as it suggests that consultation can be done “before”—appropriately—or “after” an application has been made. I am sure all noble Lords agree that, once something looks like a fait accompli, it probably is. Therefore, anything that can properly be said to be consultation should happen before that stage.
The NGA also talks about schools providing enough information to enable anyone to make an intelligent appraisal of what is being put to them and allowing enough time for those consultations to be considered. Obviously 2030 is a long way away, so we have a long time before we end up with a fully MAT-led system, if the Government should manage to bring their vision to fruition. It is critical that sufficient time is made available for each particular change of status.
The NGA further states that
“consultation responses should be specifically considered by the decision-maker when deciding whether or not to implement the proposal”.
This brings me back to Amendment 68. It is much more difficult for a body to resile from something on which it has already made a decision than to consult on something in advance of the decision being made. For all the reasons given by the NGA, these amendments seem particularly appropriate.
The National Governance Association highlights timely consultation, which is one of my reasons for saying that Amendment 68 is not taking the right position and is not the most encouraging way to think about how consultations should be done.
I am very enthusiastic about all the other amendments and—this is my first attempt to do this—I beg to move.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend. I have added my name to her Amendments 60, 61 and 75. I have my own Amendment 62, and my Amendments 69 and 70 seek to amend Amendment 68 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, on which my noble friend Lady Blower has already spoken.

I very much support what my noble friend said and could not help reflecting on the previous debate, where the argument was about the extent to which this legislation is forcing single academies to join multi-academy trusts. My view is that although the noble Baroness was explicit on this, we do not really need it, because the system is putting so much pressure on individual academies anyway. The combination of the government policy in the White Paper, the regulator, the regional apparatus and what people can see happening is putting tremendous pressure on those schools. I think that this is a really underhand way of doing it; if the Government have a policy, on this or on another Bill, they should be explicit.

The underhand way in which this is all being done reinforces the points we are making in this series of amendments about the importance of governing bodies. What seems to be happening is that all sorts of secretive talks take place between MATs and the heads of the schools that they want to take over, and left out of these discussions are the parents and staff of the individual schools. They are usually presented with a fait accompli. As my noble friend said, this formal consultation stuff is really an attempt to legitimise a decision that the system has clearly already made. Our amendment seeks to put this right.

In addition to the excellent National Governance Association submissions, the work by the LSE and by Professor West and colleagues, which has looked into the governance of academies in detail, is very striking. I draw the Minister’s attention to the recent instance of what I regard as high-handed action at Holland Park School. Since March, when staff and parents first learned of the governors’ plan to transfer the school to a MAT, they have been seeking dialogue with the governing body to negotiate the involvement of the entire school community in a transparent, accountable consultation. As Ministers know, the school has been through a great deal of turbulence resulting from management changes in the past year or so: the sudden departure of the new head, the imposition of a new governing body and the absence of much of the leadership team for quite lengthy periods. It has clearly been a challenge to maintain a sense of coherence and direction for the children on a day-to-day basis. I have met some of the teachers. I believe that they have worked hard to provide continuity for pupils, but that is put at risk by this kind of unilateral, opaque decision-making and poor communication from the governing body.

This is often reflected up and down the country. The absence of meaningful consultation in the MAT acquisition process is a common theme. There have been numerous examples of high-handed governors ignoring parents and teachers, who have then fought hard to stop the school being taken out of local authority control and turned into an academy or forced to join a multi-academy trust. Public meetings organised by parents and staff, with large attendance, often make it made abundantly clear to the governing body that the larger school community does not want to go down that path, but they are often dismissed by the people making the decisions. Parents, governors, staff and pupils have no official rights to detailed information on the reasons why their school might choose to academise under a particular trust, let alone to have their views taken into account in the process.

As Warwick Mansell has written, the academies policy sees all decision-making as a closed-loop process between central government and academy trusts, with no decision-maker answerable at a local level to the people who depend on the decisions. The comment often made from the Dispatch Box is that we will talk to the academy trust. Once again, we do not hear about maintained schools. Ministers constantly harp on about MATs and point to their achievements—which are many—but they do not point to their defects and they give the sense that maintained schools are second-class entities. I object to that.

The Government’s amendment reads:

“Before a maintained school in England is converted into an Academy following an application … the local authority must consult such persons as they think appropriate about whether the conversion should take place.”


So, as I read it, it is only after you have made the application decision that the consultation has to take place. My argument is that that is far too late. Once the conversion application has been made, effectively the decision has been taken. Asking the parents what they think about it then is, frankly, a waste of time. Seeing the noble Baroness, Lady Shephard, here reminds me of health service consultations, which she will know about over many years: you make a decision and then you put out a consultation. My noble friend Lord Winston will also know about the way that the health service does consultations: you make the decision, you consult on it and then you reach the view that the original decision was right in the first place. For me, that is what the amendment is talking about.

Essentially, with the combination of our amendments we seek to ensure that a consultation must be comprehensive and in a timely fashion with the parents and staff of the school that is subject to the application. As my noble friend said, we are entitled to have it shown how the proposal will benefit children’s education and, most importantly, what alternatives have been considered. I do not think that is at all unreasonable. If the Government are asking us to believe that this is all going to happen by a process of gradual change rather than mandation, I would have thought they would welcome a proper process of parent and staff involvement.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 75, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath. It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, and I agree with pretty well everything that he said. I shall build on it with a practical example.

Amendment 75 says that consultation with parents and staff has to happen before the application to join a MAT. I entirely agree with what the noble Lord just said about the problems with the government amendment. Across many fields of government, not just the health service, the term “consultation” now has an extremely bad odour. That is something that really needs to change, or we need to find a new word or a different process that genuinely addresses the collection and exploration of views before a decision is made. That is not what people think of when you say “consultation” now, but that is the word in the amendment because that is the word we currently have.

I draw the Committee’s attention to the sad and traumatic case study of Moulsecoomb Primary School in Brighton, which is of course of particular interest to my noble friend Lady Jones. We have just seen first-choice applications to the school fall to their lowest level ever after the school was forced to become an academy despite considerable local community, family and parent resistance. Of course I wish the school all the best and very much hope that things work out for it, but we have to focus on what kind of disruption happens both to pupils and to a community if a decision is made that parents and the community are unhappy with. We have seen a number of pupils leave that school and a huge amount of time, energy and attention that might have gone into doing the best possible for the education of pupils going instead into resistance to an ideological decision being made. It is important that this whole set of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would make this a co-creation and co-production process, not an imposition.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, I cannot resist making one general observation about the whole debate on these amendments. In winding up the previous debate, the Minister said that the strength of multi-academy trusts is that schools are stronger together. Talk about rediscovering the wheel; the whole argument of those of us who have been unhappy about so many aspects of academisation is precisely that we could see the strength of schools together in a community with local democratic control. I suppose that if you wait long enough these things come around again.

17:45
Having said that, the strength of these various amendments to me—I would be interested to see, if the Government resist them, precisely how they resist them—is that they try to bring some element of local decision-making and involvement, if not control, to the structure and nature of the schools in their area. This is something which, time and again, we have found has not applied with the process of academisation. So often, schools have been forced, by fair means or foul, to become academies and now the same thing is happening in terms of their becoming parts of multi-academy trusts.
I share all the concerns that have been expressed about the great word “consultation”. It is a wonderful thing, and I am sure we all feel warm when we hear the word, but it depends on what the consultation involves and whether there is any evidence that, once a number of consultations have taken place, the organisation, body or Minister responsible for making the decision at the end of day has taken any notice of it. Those things can only be tested by the passing of time.
I have to exercise a preference in the various amendments before us—all of which I would be happy with, though I share the same reservations as other Members about the government amendment—for the one in the name of my noble friends Lady Chapman and Lady Wilcox. I like it as, if a school’s governing body opposes a local authority’s application to the Secretary of State for its academisation and
“the Secretary of State intends nonetheless to accept the application, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a statement explaining how the application will benefit children’s education”.
I am sure the Government will support that with alacrity because they have told us repeatedly that their overwhelming concern is to benefit the children’s education—but I am not holding my breath.
I like that this amendment brings some semblance of accountability at some level—which has been so absent from the academy system. It is very weak accountability; a Secretary of State standing up, as we have said before, would be responsible for any number of schools in one way or another. But at least someone would stand up in this House, the other House or both, and justify their decision about the future of our children in a particular local area, which the people living there and the people whose children go to the school may not agree with. The Minister will have the opportunity to explain the benefits couched in the terms of whether it is for the benefit of the children’s education. Let us hope the Ministers are as enthusiastic about consultation and local involvement as we would hope they are and, even more, that they show their enthusiasm for democratic accountability by ensuring that Amendment 63 is agreed to.
Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
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My Lords, if I can beg the Committee’s indulgence for a second, it is my birthday today.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Hear, hear!

Baroness Wilcox of Newport Portrait Baroness Wilcox of Newport (Lab)
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For the second successive year, I am here in the Chamber debating an education Bill. At least when I taught, I could leave at 4 pm.

For the avoidance of doubt, this group is about consultation. I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Blower for proposing such a sensible way forward and reminding us of the value of governing bodies. We are supportive of the thrust of these amendments, which would give a greater voice to parents and staff and consideration to the local context and challenges. A struggling local authority may want to offload a school that is not equipped to academise yet—or indeed at all—so we cautiously note the government amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Barran, which requires consultation with appropriate persons before this can happen.

However, we have a genuine question about why this consultation can be carried out after a local authority’s application, as noted by my noble friends Lord Hunt and Lady Blower. It cannot possibly be meaningful, and it looks as if it is a done deal. It is another example of the cart before the horse. Many times in this Committee we have mentioned the word “consultation”, so we need to put it in the correct context and the appropriate order.

I will speak specifically to our Amendment 63, and I thank my noble friend Lord Grocott for his support. It aims to be proportionate. If the Secretary of State intends to accept an application for academisation and the school’s governing body opposes it, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a Statement explaining how academisation will benefit children’s education—it is as clear, simple and straightforward as that. Over the coming days, this whole debate will be about the benefit to children’s education.

These amendments speak to the Bill’s general approach of imposing academisation in a top-down fashion on schools, children and parents. If a governing body is opposed, the Secretary of State must give robust consideration to, and justify the case for, approval. After all, they are the arbiters of the community, and parents, teachers, governors and children will have a much clearer insight of the situated context of the school and the wider community issues than—with the greatest respect—a Whitehall official. Many great plays have been written about the disruption caused when a stranger enters a community and the chaos that subsequently unfolds.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, the amendments in this group are concerned mainly with rights of consultation and consent when a local authority intends to apply for an academy order on behalf of a maintained school.

The picture drawn by your Lordships of some kind of Machiavellian plan to impose multi-academy trusts on schools is not a fair representation of how the Government propose that the system should work in the future. I will come on to specific examples, but, in response to the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, and the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, on academies coming in and being imposed, I say that they are imposed because those schools have failed children—both noble Lords know that that is the case. When schools are judged to be inadequate, as was the case with the school that the noble Baroness referred to, academies come in to turn them around because they are failing children. I will leave it there, but I think that it is fair to set the record straight on that point.

Amendment 60, in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Blower, and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, would require a local authority to obtain the consent or support of the governing body of a school where it is proposed that the school join a strong trust.