Grand Committee

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Thursday 20 October 2022

China: Security and Trade (IRDC Report)

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Take Note
13:00
Moved by
Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns
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That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the International Relations and Defence Committee The UK and China’s security and trade relationship: A strategic void (1st Report, Session 2021-22, HL Paper 62).

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con)
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My Lords, I am pleased to present our report, The UK and China’s Security and Trade Relationship: A Strategic Void, to the Committee today. I thank members of the International Relations and Defence Committee and our staff, including our specialist adviser Dr Yuka Kobayashi, for all their hard work in producing this report.

The UK-China relationship is complex, of course. It has seen periods of both co-operation and confrontation. When David Cameron was Prime Minister, the focus on economic relations with China was characterised as a “golden era”, but tensions then rose rapidly as a consequence of increased concerns about matters such as security challenges, the imposition of the draconian Hong Kong national security law, and allegations of genocide in China’s Xinjiang province. Against that background, we launched our inquiry and published our report just over a year ago.

The central argument of our report is that the Government do not have a clear strategy on China, despite the shift in relations over the last few years. We found that the attempts made by coalition and Conservative Governments since 2010 to navigate complex interactions between trade, security and human rights had led to inconsistencies and uncertainties. We concluded that there was no clear sense of what the Government’s strategy was towards China, or indeed what values and interests they were trying to uphold in the UK-China relationship.

The Government claimed that they had set out their strategy in various speeches from time to time. We concluded that these did not provide clarity. In our view, the Government seemed to be

“using a policy of deliberate ambiguity to avoid making difficult decisions that uphold the UK’s values but might negatively affect economic relations.”

The committee therefore called upon the Government to produce and publish a “single, coherent China strategy” and a plan for how they would execute that strategy in the future.

The Government’s response did not confirm whether they would publish a written strategy on China. Instead, they referred us to the integrated review of security, defence, development and foreign policy. However, the IR simply alludes to the tension between balancing economic engagement with China with the need to uphold UK values and national security. It does not give any indication about how this tension will be resolved.

During this summer’s leadership contest, the Times reported that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister, then the Foreign Secretary, would class China as a “threat” to national security for the first time. However, the reporting was light on details—it was not clear what classing China as a “threat” would mean in practice, for example—and no further announcements have yet been made on this matter since the Prime Minister took office. What further details can my noble friend the Minister supply about the Government’s plans in this area?

I note that the Government have pledged to update the integrated review, saying that the updated review

“will ensure we are investing in the strategic capabilities and alliances we need to stand firm against coercion from authoritarian powers like Russia and China.”

I welcome the idea of updating the IR, but rumours are going around that it will not appear until next May. In the current volatility of events, one suspects that it may be even further delayed. Will there be any consultation on the key issues before the report is published?

I turn now to five specific issues: Taiwan; supply resilience; human rights; Chinese influence on UK universities; and, finally, the implications of China’s stance on Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine.

Our report argued that any assessment of China’s threat to the UK should take into account both the probability and likely consequences of conflict in Taiwan. We argued that the UK’s interests would be directly threatened, and concluded that:

“The uncertainty over the future of Taiwan therefore represents a major risk to the UK.”


The Government’s response to this section of our report provided limited information. It merely stated that the Government

“support a peaceful resolution through constructive dialogue”,

and that

“the numerous Chinese military flights at the beginning of October”—

in 2021—

“near Taiwan were not conducive to peace and stability in the region.”

It was astonishing that there was not a single reference to Taiwan in the integrated review.

Last weekend, the five-yearly Chinese Communist Party congress opened in Beijing. It is expected to endorse an unprecedented third five-year term for Xi Jinping as party general secretary—the de facto President. On the very first day of that congress, he said:

“We insist on striving for the prospect of peaceful reunification with the greatest sincerity and best efforts, but we will never promise to give up the use of force and reserve the option to take all necessary measures.”


I understand the diplomatic sensitivities on this matter but would be grateful if my noble friend the Minister can provide an analysis of the UK’s assessment of risks and a potential response to further developments in Taiwan.

The committee also explored the issue of supply chain resilience and vulnerability in the context of the UK-China relationship. The passage of the Telecommunications (Security) Act 2021 was a clear sign of the Government’s concerns in one area, but these vulnerabilities are much more widespread across the UK economy. We were particularly concerned about vulnerabilities exposed during the pandemic relating to the procurement of PPE and lateral flow tests. In subsequent correspondence, the Government confirmed that, as of 10 January this year, the total cost of lateral flow tests from China and procured by NHS Test and Trace or the UK Health and Security Agency was £5.8 billion.

Of course, it is important that the UK engages with China economically, and our report highlights a number of opportunities for UK businesses, particularly in the services sector. It is also vital to co-operate with China on global challenges, including public health and climate change—a subject on which my noble friend the Minister has particular expertise. This engagement with China should not, however, come at the cost of upholding the UK’s core values, including on human rights and labour protection—values which China does not share.

In April last year, a Motion was passed in the other place declaring that Uighurs and other ethnic and religious minorities in Xinjiang are suffering crimes against humanity and genocide. Our report stressed that the question of how to balance economic engagement with human rights must be front and centre of the Government’s strategy on China. We concluded that the Government cannot “sit on the fence” on this issue, and that they must not tilt the balance towards preserving economic relations at the expense of human rights.

I am pleased to say that the Government’s response indicated that they agree with the committee’s position in this area. In subsequent correspondence, the Government also confirmed that

“serious concerns about human rights violations in Xinjiang naturally inform our position towards China”.

I would therefore be grateful if my noble friend the Minister could give a practical example of how it informs our position What is the effect?

There has been increasing concern that British universities could be a target for technological espionage and that Chinese students in the UK could be put under pressure by the Chinese authorities. Clearly, the Government should seek to maintain the role and popularity of British higher education among Chinese students, but we recommended that the Government and the higher education sector should take steps to ensure that Chinese students can maintain freedom of research. The Government’s brief response to this recommendation did not, however, outline the steps that they intended to take. Moreover, when we raised this with them in subsequent correspondence, they referred us to the measures that they are taking through the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill, shortly to go through its next stage in this House. However, the relevance of that Bill to the specific issues facing Chinese students is not clear: the pressure they are facing comes from outside, from the Chinese Government, not from within the UK.

The Bill had its Second Reading on 28 June this year when several Peers raised specific concerns about China’s influence and pressure. When my noble friend Lord Howe wound up the debate for the Government, however, I could not find a single reference to China in his remarks. Can the Minister therefore provide clarity on the steps the Government are taking to protect Chinese students from political pressure from outside the UK and the role, if any, that is played by the Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill in providing that protection?

Russia’s illegal and unprovoked invasion of Ukraine dominates most of the immediate foreign policy of western leaders, which is of course wholly understandable. It is vital, however, that we do not divert our attention from the activities of the People’s Republic of China, which could be viewed as the biggest long-term threat to our economic and national security. For its part, China has refused to openly condemn Russia’s invasion. It has opposed economic sanctions on Russia. It has abstained or sided with Russia in UN votes on the war. The new NATO strategic concept document agreed earlier this year raised concerns about China’s “deepening strategic partnership” with Russia.

However, China’s support for Russia has not yet been full-throated. As far as we know, it has not provided Russia with significant military assistance and, at the recent meeting of the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation, President Putin admitted publicly that China has “questions” and “concerns” about the war. How does China’s position on Russia and Ukraine inform the UK’s own position on China? I would be grateful if the Minister could set out the Government’s thinking in this regard.

Engaging with China will always be an enormous challenge, given its economic weight and its fundamental political differences from us. It would be unwise to think that there will be any softening of President Xi’s hard-line policies of competition with western democracies. It is essential for the UK to be aware and wary of the implications of that for our own security, trade and prosperity. The UK’s strategy for its relations with China needs more clarity and certainty than it has had until now. Trade-offs need to be confronted and ambiguities resolved. I hope that the Government will now provide more clarity and fill the strategic void that has beset the UK’s China policy over the last decade. I beg to move.

13:14
Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the chairman of the committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. Undoubtedly, one of the most difficult areas of UK foreign policy is how it approaches relations with China. China is such an important global player that to shirk defining how we relate to it would be a serious failure of international policy-making.

In criticising the Government’s failure to define a coherent strategy, the committee did not underestimate how difficult it is to produce one. Moreover, no strategic position can be set in stone. Rethinking and updating will regularly be required. The invasion of Ukraine by Russia, which happened since the committee wrote its report, is the most obvious example of change that needs to be taken into account. My first question to the Minister is this: what steps are the Government taking, either bilaterally or multilaterally, to engage with China on the threat to long-term global security of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine? China probably has a unique potential to influence Russia. What assessment, if any, has been made of how to maximise this potential in the interests of peace?

My second question concerns the shocking human rights abuses against the Uighurs in Xinjiang province. Can the Minister give an up-to-date account of what is happening there now, including any recent developments in the work of the international community to condemn the policies of the Chinese Government? After all, Parliament has rightly claimed that what the Chinese Government have done in Xinjiang province are crimes against humanity. What progress is being made in getting the Chinese to withdraw the sanctions they have imposed on British parliamentarians and lawyers—including the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who is a member of the Select Committee—for criticising the Chinese authorities and using their right to freedom of speech? The Chinese argument that the international condemnation of the inhumane and repellent system of surveillance is unwarranted interference in China’s domestic agenda is clearly absurd.

I turn to some of the issues concerning our economic, trade and cultural relations with China. We cannot turn our back on engagement with a country with the second-largest economy in the world, which is likely to overtake the USA and become the largest within two decades. After all, China is the UK’s third-largest trading partner. As a member of the G20 and the UN Security Council, it is also a hugely important player in global security and the global economic order.

With respect to multilateral economic negotiations with China, the committee highlighted in its report the importance of World Trade Organization reform, where the role of China is crucial. It welcomed the Government’s intention to play a part in the WTO’s strengthening and reform, but regretted that it said so little about how it would do so. Can the Minister say what the Government have done so far and what their future intentions are, focusing on how they would support in this area our economic and strategic objectives with China?

The committee took the view that we should use our soft power wherever possible in engaging with China—a position I strongly endorse. The UK has one of the strongest higher education systems in the world, with many universities excelling in research, teaching or, in some cases, both. This is reflected in the very large number of international students choosing to study here, including those from China. While no single university should have so many Chinese students that the composition of its student population becomes very unbalanced—nor, incidentally, should they be admitting students with poor written and spoken English, as sometimes happens with Chinese students—there are benefits to the UK in students from China studying here. Many of them are extremely able and very hard-working. I remember in my time as Master of Birkbeck that the only students to be seen in the institution over Christmas were the Chinese—they were there throughout the holiday.

I certainly think that it is an advantage to us that young Chinese, able young people, should be exposed to a different culture and value system which has the potential to broaden their outlook as they perceive the importance of the UK attitudes to openness, human rights and democracy. However, if this is to apply, there must be no restraints on freedom of speech, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said, and there must be freedom to pursue research for Chinese students. There is a particular danger in researching some sensitive areas of technology which may have military as well as civilian uses, but the solution is not to withdraw from Chinese involvement but instead rigorously to assess the risks and to take action to mitigate such risks.

I hope too that the British Council and others will encourage cultural activities. There is, for example, a big appetite in Chinese cities for British performances of classical music and ballet, as well as an interest in English writing and literature and in British design, as I know from my experience as chair of the British Library. It is a missed opportunity to neglect soft power of this kind, and I hope the Minister will endorse that.

I will leave some of the threats to security posed by Chinese military power in the South China Sea and beyond, as well as the danger to some developing countries of belt and road policies, to other speakers. However, I ask the Minister, following the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, how the Government are reacting to the very worrying comments on Taiwan made by President Xi in his speech last weekend to the Chinese Communist Party’s 20th Congress, with the threat of possible force to secure the co-operation of incorporation of Taiwan into mainland China. Are we urgently discussing an appropriate response with our allies in the international community?

I turn to an important area where we may be able to find common cause with China, and that is climate change. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, asked, in her follow-up letter to the Government’s reply to the committee’s report, for further information on how the Government plan to co-operate with China following COP 26. The reply from the Minister for Asia at the time was rather vague and procedural, citing the various contexts in which collaboration was taking place but giving virtually no detail on the content of such discussions. China has been the largest global emitter of carbon since 2006 and is now the second-largest historic producer of emissions, although it is well behind the United States. Its very size and the extent of its industrialisation mean that its climate change policies have a huge global effect.

However, the positive side is that China’s per capita consumption-based emissions, taking account of international trade, remain lower than those of the UK. Moreover, according to the International Energy Agency, its investment in clean energy amounts to a massive 30% of total global investment. It would be appropriate for the UK to recognise the efforts China is making to tackle climate change, with a goal to reach net zero before 2060. Nevertheless, there are still areas of concern, notably the fact that China is continuing to invest in new domestic coal, even though it has committed to end funding for overseas coal investment. What progress has the UK made in debating with China the continuing use of new coal, which could certainly jeopardise its net-zero targets?

I end by pointing out that our engagement with China cannot be pushed on one side. It can and should be constructive, but we must never pull our punches, particularly on human rights abuses, Taiwan, Hong Kong and on stretching WTO rules entirely in its own interest. The abandonment of any semblance of collective leadership with Xi Jinping’s appointment for a further five-year term involves a dangerous concentration of power in the hands of one man—a man whose ideological fundamentalism poses quite a big threat both to China and the rest of the world.

13:24
Lord Campbell of Pittenweem Portrait Lord Campbell of Pittenweem (LD)
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My Lords, if I seem a little overexcited today, it is because, after 28 years in the House of Commons and seven in your Lordships’ House, I have at last been given something on which to rest my speaking notes. I should also declare an interest as the chancellor of the University of St Andrews, which has substantial numbers of Chinese students, who come to take advantage of the education provided there.

In preparing for this case, as I am sure others have done, I read again the terms of the summary of the report. It is almost entirely still relevant, but in almost every dimension there have been substantial changes—from David Cameron and George Osborne and from Hong Kong to Huawei. There can be no doubt that the relationship between ourselves and China has deteriorated.

I propose to adopt—brevitatis causa, as the law would say—the two contributions made by the noble Baroness who was the chair of the committee and, equally perceptive, the address recently made by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone.

Of all the differences, it seems to me that the disagreement over Hong Kong, involving as it does the suppression of the terms of its return by the United Kingdom to China by the Blair Government, has driven a horse and cart through the relationship, to the extent that it existed on mutual trust. Indeed, just 48 hours ago, we had an extraordinary feature of that suppression, when a peaceful protest was subject to what one might describe as assault and battery. That, I think, tells us the extent to which the atmosphere which characterised the return of Hong Kong has long since dissipated.

However, notwithstanding all these issues, we need a relationship. Some will seek to characterise it as being a contest between human rights and economic opportunity. The difficulty of that relationship is underlined by the fact that China and Russia make common cause, invariably, in the Security Council of the United Nations, in vetoing resolutions which would otherwise pass.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, made clear, there are several indications of the nature of the relationship between Russia and China, but it appears from time to time that the Chinese part of that relationship is put on its inquiry. I have regard, of course, to the fact that Mr Putin felt it necessary to offer an explanation in advance before what he anticipated might be searching questions from China at the recent summit. There are those who argue that China’s reservations about the military action in Ukraine are greater than perhaps has been publicly expressed. All this suggests that China may have an interest in these matters that is more than that of cheap oil and gas—not least because, with regard to China, anything approaching instability is to be avoided.

There does not appear to have been any material impact on the conduct of Mr Putin as a result of this discussion, to which I have referred and, indeed, one could argue, particularly in recent days with the deliberate targeting of civilians and civilian properties, the conduct of Russia and its forces has deteriorated even further. Indeed, one could argue that, particularly in recent days, in the deliberate targeting of civilians themselves and civilian properties, the conduct of Russia and its forces has deteriorated even further.

President Xi is, as the noble Baroness confirmed in opening our debate, likely to be elected for a record third term at the National Congress of the Chinese Communist Party. Some have described this as a watershed, politically, militarily and economically but, so far, it does not appear that the ambitions of China are anything other than more of the same, except perhaps more extreme. As far as the leader of China is concerned, his confirmation will give him historic authority and, perhaps, overconfidence, which may explain his unspecified warning of the threat of “grave international developments”.

All of this is coupled with the assertion, to which the noble Baroness drew our attention, that military means are still on the table, as far as China is concerned, to further its ambition to bring Taiwan back into the fold. It is an interesting feature of the personality and ambitions of both Putin and Xi that they share a common interest in the pursuit of territory which, once upon a time, was regarded as being within their influence, to restore it in some kind of missionary approach as being truly part of the motherland to which it should now be restored.

As I said, in the case of Hong Kong, there is more than simply disappointment that the terms of the return of Hong Kong to China have been so badly treated. They were maintained for a period and the conditions followed as stipulated, but it is against that unhelpful background of change that the United Kingdom now needs to consider the establishment of a clearly defined relationship with China. As has already been pointed out, there is far from clarity on that matter, when clarity is urgent. It must be a relationship which does not prejudice our values; it must be a relationship that, from the point of view of both parties, is of mutual advantage. It is trite to say that it will almost certainly not be easy.

Such a relationship would best be viable if it is done with allies—I have particularly in mind allies from Europe. Our departure from the European Union is of course unhelpful in this regard, but it is not prohibitive. Respectfully, it seems to me that this would be an important way of establishing a relationship with Europe in which, thus far, the present Government, have shown little interest in creating.

In any discussion about a relationship, there will inevitably be the issue of ethical foreign policy. I remind noble Lords—because I was there when he said it—that Robin Cook never said that we had to have an ethical foreign policy. What he said was that we had to have a foreign policy with an “ethical dimension”. The truth is that in extreme circumstances, where the interests of the nation are at stake, there might be a move to depart from a strictly ethical approach. I do not believe that that is anywhere near what we are discussing in this debate, but it is important to ensure that an ethical foreign policy is not to be used as a blanket and simply the basis for refusal. It also has to take account of the fact that President Xi is open in his belief that the rules conceived in the years immediately after the Second World War do not reflect the circumstances of 2022. There may be some scope for altering rules, but there can never be any scope for abandoning the principles which lie behind them—principles which are as important today as they were in the period after the Second World War.

Let me finish, if I may, on this point. Our interest and our interests in our relationship with China should not be episodic. This is a relationship, if it is achieved, that will require consistent and continuing review. We would not expect the Government to do anything other than to approach the matter in that way, but in addition to government implementation, there is an overwhelming obligation to ensure that the legislatures—both this place and the House of Commons—have the opportunity to keep responsibility for implementing any such agreement, as I have said I believe is appropriate. The reasons for that are very simple: as the summary says, the issue is complex, and it has certainly changed very rapidly over a short period of time. There is nothing to suggest that these two characteristics will not continue to have an influence on our relationship with China.

13:37
Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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My Lords, the International Relations and Defence Committee’s report The UK and China’s Security and Trade Relationship contains much material and covers a lot of ground, but the central thrust of its argument can be identified from the second part of its title A Strategic Void.

The Government’s integrated review contained many aspirations and listed many activities, including in the section on China and the Indo-Pacific. But lists are not strategies. They do not aid clarity; indeed, they often confuse. The committee’s report, like that of the Foreign Affairs Committee in another place, called on the Government to produce a strategy which would set out a framework for dealing with China, and indeed it suggested what such a strategy might look like.

In their response, the Government seem to suggest that they have a strategy but are not going to tell us what it is for security reasons. This, if it is more than just camouflage, is unconvincing. No one expects the Government to reveal exact plans, specific means and tactical details—if indeed they exist—and I for one certainly acknowledge that intentional ambiguity can be useful in certain situations. But businesses wishing to engage with China need to have a clear idea of the risks they might be running. Academic institutions, too, need to have a good idea of how the Government might react to certain developments on the international scene. They do not need to know exactly what those reactions would be, but they need to be aware of where the Government set their priorities.

The issue of Taiwan, already mentioned this afternoon, is clearly the most dangerous aspect of our engagement with China. Supporting that country’s independence, while avoiding a general war over it, should be our top priority. President Xi’s recent statements have only added to the tension. The Government’s response to the report acknowledges the importance of the issue, but it does not say what assessments have been made of the risk of the likelihood of conflict and its possible consequences. This is not an area where I would look for detail, but I do look for an assurance that such work is in hand.

Beyond that, it is clear that China is, as one inquiry witness put it, out to make the world safe for autocracy. For those who have not read it, the special report in the latest edition of the Economist sets this out in stark terms. The Government’s response to the committee’s report admits that:

“Aspects of China’s approach to the multilateral system run counter to UK interests and values”,


and goes on:

“We will continue to take targeted action with international partners to defend universal human rights, free and fair trade, and ensure that in areas, such as emerging technology or space, that new rules, norms and standards enable freedom and democracy to survive and thrive.”


This is woefully inadequate. It makes the whole thing sound like a piece of peripheral business.

In fact, we are, or certainly should be, engaged in a fierce contest to determine the rules of the international order under which we will have to live and operate for most of the rest of this century. Very few things could be more central to our future welfare and prosperity; securing the right outcome should be one of the highest foreign policy priorities for the UK. It certainly is for the United States. President Biden has made his Administration’s position very clear on this and has set about assembling the necessary international economic, technological and military weight to counter that of China.

None of this is to argue against the desirability of business, academic and cultural links with China, but setting out the UK’s priorities in this regard would make it clear that those other areas of engagement would all be contingent upon the pursuit of our objectives regarding the international order. It is hard to see how spelling this out would endanger our security. It would, however, give those in business and elsewhere a clearer idea of the downside risks associated with such engagement.

As it is, if one reads the Government’s response regarding Huawei, for example, one gets the clear impression that this company would now have a substantial hold over our 5G network had the Americans not rather annoyingly imposed additional sanctions on it. A little earlier, the Government’s response says that the National Security and Investment Act is “country agnostic”. That might be true with regard to the wording of the Act, but to suggest the same is true of its application seems to me breathtakingly complacent.

The principal risk for UK business is of course the likely adverse Chinese reaction to our opposition in the contest to determine the future rules of the international order. The committee called on the Government to conduct an impact assessment of such an outcome. The Government’s response is a fine example of departmental waffle:

“The … relationship … is multifaceted”;


they will

“manage disagreements and defend our values while preserving space for cooperation in tackling transnational challenges … and … continued pursuit of a positive trade and investment relationship in line with our national security and values.”

It is cakeism at its best. But what do we do if somebody takes away the cake? We are given no answer.

This Panglossian approach is also evident in the Government’s response on higher education. They say:

“We will also ensure that Chinese students are treated equally to all British and international students, including protecting them from any undue pressure on political issues.”


Really? How? Are we going to ensure that their families in China are protected from official pressure or sanction? Are we going to monitor all their interactions with their own Government? Or perhaps these matters do not fall under the heading of “undue pressure”.

The Government’s response on supply chain resilience is little better. We are told:

“The Foreign Secretary has been clear that it is important that the UK does not become strategically dependent, and that, particularly in areas of Critical National Infrastructure, we work with reliable partners.”


So what action has followed? What exercises have been undertaken with a range of scenarios to give us a better idea of critical vulnerabilities and how these might be reduced? What specific command and control processes have been set in place to train for and respond to threats to our national resilience? Once again, we are given only vague reassurances.

The Government could and should do much better. We are dealing with an increasingly autocratic regime in China. I would have thought that our experiences with Russia over the past decade would have taught us what we should never have forgotten: how dangerous such regimes can be, especially when they are militarily powerful and, most especially, when they have nuclear weapons. We need a long-term strategy for dealing with them.

The Government should set out such a strategy. They should give some shape and sense of priority to their otherwise all too comprehensive and sometimes contradictory aspirations with regard to China. The committee has proposed such a shape. Finding a satisfactory but peaceful outcome to the Taiwan issue is at the top, but close behind it comes our pursuit of an international order that is fair to all and helps to protect the world from autocracy. Trade and wider engagement with China should be pursued, but not at the expense of higher-priority objectives, and in the knowledge that such prioritisation will at times lead to Chinese retaliation and all the associated risks.

In its leader article on China this week, the Economist said that

“handling the most powerful dictatorship in history was always going to require both strength and wisdom.”

It is not at all clear to me at the moment that we see enough of either. I hope that we can get more from the next Prime Minister, whoever that will be.

13:46
Lord Goodlad Portrait Lord Goodlad (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Anelay and the committee on the report and my noble friend on her speech introducing the debate today. Much has taken place since the publication of the report, all of which underlines the importance of its deliberations and recommendations.

It is a great pleasure to follow the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, who spoke with such authority, particularly about the strategic considerations covered in the report. I agree with so much that was said by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, and, indeed, by the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, that I will try to be brief and avoid tedious repetition.

The main recommendation, that the Government publish a clear China strategy that identifies the long-term objectives and relative priorities, has been extremely well covered by my noble friend and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup. It is noteworthy that in the debate in July introduced by the noble Lord, Lord West, my noble friend Lord Sharpe said that the National Security Council leads the strategic approach to China and that the Government

“do not publish NSC strategies on China or other issues.”—[Official Report, 14/7/22; col. 1635.]

We all understand the reasons for that, as covered by the noble and gallant Lord. As the book of Ecclesiastes reminds us, there is

“A time to rend, and a time to sew; a time to keep silence, and a time to speak.”


It is certainly true, as the report says, that the Government have not set out a clear position on their strategy for balancing their ambition for increased economic engagement with China with the need to protect our wider interests and values. However, as the noble and gallant Lord said, there is a distinction between having a strategy and spelling it out in every detail publicly. The Government have not yet struck that balance, and must do so.

The strategic concept document accepted at the NATO heads of government summit in June summarised the situation starkly and succinctly. In the unprecedented joint address by the head of the UK Security Service and the head of the United States FBI in July, the former referred to China remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions and military build-up; the latter gave an informed summary of how their organisation viewed the threats to our—and their—economic and national security and how they were responding to them. I hope that when he responds, my noble friend the Minister will go as far as he reasonably can to reduce that opacity and amplify what has been said publicly by the Government.

In dealing with China, I use the word to mean the Government of the People’s Republic of China, rather than the country or its people.

I acknowledge that public utterances can sometimes make a bad situation worse. We in this country have historically taken, until recently, a very cautious approach. However, there is a distinction between counterproductive megaphone diplomacy and robust public exchanges. In my experience, Chinese government interlocutors respect plain speaking rather than circumlocution. Their own official spokesmen have seldom erred on the side of reticence or understatement. Speaking in private, which has been our tradition, may or may not carry more weight than public utterances, if indeed any weight at all, depending on the circumstances. The important thing in my view is to continue to engage. As the report says, there is no realistic alternative.

It is welcome that, in their response to the report, the Government said that they would continue to co-operate and engage with China in areas of shared interest, as my noble friend Lady Anelay, said, such as climate change, biodiversity and global health. To that I would add, among other things, Russia’s threats to use nuclear weapons in Ukraine, which I believe have rung alarm bells in Beijing as elsewhere, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, mentioned. China has considerable political leverage with Russia, and that is clearly an area where it is worth trying to engage.

In their reply to the committee’s report, the Government rightly recognised that British interests are best served by an international rules-based order—that has always been the British Government’s position. It is proposed that the Government should play a leading role in strengthening international organisations, such as the World Trade Organization, and assembling a group of nations with sufficient aggregate political, economic and scientific power to counter that of China and successfully influence uncommitted countries. It would helpfully serve that important and laudable objective if the British Government themselves continue to uphold and treat international law as a whole and not as an à la carte menu from which to choose their own preferences. In that context, I believe it to be important that this country continues to abide by our treaty obligations under the joint declaration on the future of Hong Kong, which continue for a further 25 years, whatever the future circumstances may be and whatever China may do.

The committee rightly pointed out that, in seeking to further any of our objectives and strategic priorities, careful diplomacy would be needed and that the necessary understanding of China was neither as deep nor as widespread across government as needed. I share that perception. We live, needless to say, in straitened economic circumstances, but in the totality of government expenditure the Foreign Office budget is exiguous. We have spent time and money in the past, through the Great Britain-China Centre and other organisations, seeking to help build capacity in China in such areas as law and accountancy. We should now devote resources to building our own capacity, both linguistic and in knowledge of China’s life, history and culture across government. It is encouraging that the Government in their response to the report have recognised that.

Nor should those efforts be restricted to government employees; there should be a holistic approach across government. The education system itself should be encouraged to foster a knowledge of Chinese languages, history and culture. I speak as the modestly proud father of one who studied Mandarin at both British and Chinese universities before working in China. This should be a high priority across government. Again, it is welcome that, in their response to the report, the Government commit to strengthening people-to-people links and support Chinese language teaching and cultural exchange with China.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell, referred to the disgraceful scenes in Manchester, which we all saw on our television screens earlier this week. In his book Experiences of China, published in 1994, the late Sir Percy Cradock recounts how after the sacking of the British embassy in Peking during the Cultural Revolution, he, bloody but unbowed, surrounded by a howling mob, quoted to his British companions in distress Virgil’s line from the Aeneid:

“forsan et haec olim meminisse iuvabit”—

perhaps even these things it will one day be a joy to recall. Perhaps we should today read a little further in the Aeneid:

“Durate, et vosmet rebus servate secundis”—


then endure for a while and live for a happier day. Or again:

“nunc animis opus, Aenea, nunc pectore firmo”—


now, Aeneas, for a bold spirit and a strong heart. The Government deserve our full support in this important and extremely difficult task of managing this relationship. We wish them well.

13:56
Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the very thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. I think the last time we were together at a public event was at the launch of the diaries of the noble Lord, Lord Patten, in which Sir Percy Cradock features quite prominently. Anyone wanting to understand the betrayal of the people of Hong Kong should most certainly read them. I declare my interests as vice-chair of the all-party groups on the Uighurs and Hong Kong. I am a patron of Hong Kong Watch and a member of the Inter-Parliamentary Alliance on China.

Notwithstanding the disappointment that it has taken so long for the Select Committee report to be debated, I put on record my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, for her superb chairmanship of the committee and for navigating us through controversial issues to produce a report which moves the debate beyond the naivety of the “golden era”—which was, as the noble Lord, Lord Patten, told us, an example of “doubtless well-meaning failure”. The report tackles hugely important questions about trade and security, not least the gaping wounds of lost national resilience and our phenomenal dependency on a country which stands accused of genocide.

Sir Malcolm Rifkind told us:

“China has become much closer to a totalitarian state than at any time since the death of Mao Zedong.”


We heard what we called

“conclusive evidence that China also poses a significant threat to the UK’s interests, particularly in light of the … tilt to the Indo-Pacific region.”

We concluded that the UK has had a lack of clarity and a policy of “deliberate constructive ambiguity”, as my noble and gallant friend Lord Stirrup has reminded us, and what the noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred to as the “cake-ism” of the 2021 integrated review, which regarded China as both a “systemic competitor” and an “important partner”.

The report criticises the failure to provide any details on how the Government will balance plans for

“increased economic engagement … with the need to protect the UK’s wider interests and values.”

It calls on the Government to produce a “single, coherent China strategy” and warns of serious risks to our security and prosperity—including to our international trade and investments over the longer term.

This month’s government announcement that China is to be formally designated a “threat” to Britain rather than a “systemic competitor” is a belated but very welcome move towards a clearer strategy. It follows the recent warnings by Jeremy Fleming, the head of GCHQ, about the CCP’s efforts to exploit control and surveillance capabilities in emerging technologies, such as satellite location systems and digital currencies, which he said represent a “threat to us all”. I have eight questions for the Minister about specific threats to which I hope he can give us some answers today—if not, I hope he will agree to write to us.

First, during the passage of the telecommunications legislation, the Government said they would strip out 5G Huawei components from our telecom network. This removal of 5G was to happen in January 2023, with fines if the deadline was not met. Now we are told that there will be delays, even though a designated vendor direction has been issued identifying, in the Government’s words, that

“covert and malicious functionality could be embedded in Huawei’s equipment.”

When will the decision on Huawei be fully complied with?

Secondly, why have the Government, unlike the United States, still made no move to ban and remove Hikvision and Dahua cameras made in Xinjiang and used to collect data up and down the length and breadth of the UK? There is an opportunity in the Procurement Bill to remedy this. Will the Minister be able to tell us whether that opportunity will be taken at Report stage of that Bill?

Thirdly, on Monday—the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, and others have referred to this—the Minister told us that the assault on Bob Chan, the young man at the Chinese consulate in Manchester, was “a very serious incident.” I met Bob Chan yesterday. Can the Minister tell us when the Greater Manchester Police are likely to provide a report to him and the Foreign Secretary and to spell out the consequences when the brutality for which the CCP is renowned is exported to the UK, threatening the safety of the 133,000 and more Hong Kongers who have fled to the United Kingdom under the Government’s admirable BNO resettlement scheme? I draw the Minister’s attention to a column in today’s Times, written by Jawad Iqbal, a freelance journalist, who says that what happened in Manchester was an

“affront to British democratic norms and values.”

Fourthly, the BBC reported last week that up to 30 former UK military pilots are believed to have gone to train members of China’s People’s Liberation Army, lured by the CCP with large sums of money to pass on their expertise to the Chinese military. What are we doing to address that threat?

Fifthly, with the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, we were in two of the Gulf states last week and were concerned to learn of joint military exercises between China, Russia and Iran. So imagine my consternation on return on reading a report in the Telegraph saying that:

“British academics have collaborated on thousands of research papers with Chinese military scientists, according to a government-funded report that universities sought to suppress.”


Some 13,415 collaborative partnerships with China, Russia and Iran were identified, and 11,611 were between Chinese and British academics. Why was the report suppressed, and what are we doing in partnerships on things as sensitive as rail gun design, hypersonic missiles and tracking systems for nuclear submarines? Why are we sharing expertise or developing partnerships to do those things?

Sixthly, despite our intelligence service publicly warning Parliament of the presence of CCP operatives and spies on our Parliamentary Estate, with one claiming that she had even secured amendments to legislation in your Lordships’ House, why has no action been taken to bring her here, for instance, to answer questions about these subversive activities?

Seventhly, in addition to subversion of UK institutions, we have seen the subversion of international institutions, with the votes of countries being bought and linked to belt and road indebtedness. How are we countering this? For instance, what will be included in the National Security Bill, currently in another place, to limit interference by people operating on behalf of the Chinese state?

Eighthly, the Minister is rightly regarded as one of this country’s leading champions of renewable energy and sustainability. What does he make of reports drawn to my attention by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that BMW is to stop producing electric cars in England in 2023 and moving the production of electric Minis from Cowley to China? Last year, Cowley made around 40,000 electric Minis. Why are we ceding our aspirations to be a leader in global electric car manufacturing? What can be done about this? How can we avert it? I will have more to say about resilience and dependency.

Ken McCallum, MI5’s director-general, has said

“what is at risk from Chinese Communist Party aggression is … The world-leading expertise, technology, research and commercial advantage developed”

by technology companies and universities in the UK. We have to take that seriously.

In addition to threats to cybersecurity and technology, our report highlighted threats to maritime security in the Indo-Pacific region and to Taiwan, as we have heard, where we said conflict would be “catastrophic” and that

“managing this risk should be the Government’s top strategic priority.”

We raised serious maritime threats, the imposition of the national security law, the trashing of an international treaty and destruction of democracy in Hong Kong—all illustrative of the CCP’s contempt for international rules-based order—and what Michelle Bachelet recently described as “crimes against humanity” in Xinjiang in a report commissioned by the UN.

In his evidence to the committee, Charles Parton went further and said that genocide—not just crimes against humanity but outright genocide—is under way in Xinjiang. When she was Foreign Secretary, Elizabeth Truss said the same. The appalling treatment of the mainly Muslim Uighurs, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, has included intense surveillance, much of it manufactured by Hikvision, mass detentions, forcible sterilisation and insertion of IUDs, forced migration, and the kidnapping of Uighur children, abducted from their parents and placed in state institutions, accompanied by terrible violence, torture and killing.

Both Sir Geoffrey Nice KC’s independent tribunal and the Holocaust Museum found evidence of coercive interventions by the Chinese government to prevent sizeable numbers of Uighurs from coming into being, suggesting that the deliberate goal is

“to biologically destroy the group, in whole or in substantial part.”

Nice’s tribunal concluded that this is indeed genocide.

I ask the Minister the same question that I put to George Osborne when he appeared before the committee. It was not a question about whether we should trade with countries that commit human rights violations, because we could identify countries around the world that commit human rights violations, it was: is it licit to do business as usual with a state credibly accused of genocide, which is the crime above all crimes?

In our report, we recommend that the Government

“should incorporate an atrocity prevention lens in its overall approach to trade. Current atrocity prevention tools and strategies have fallen short.”

When will the Government do this?

Then—as I said I would return to it—there is our appalling dependency on the CCP. Compare it with the clarity of its strategy of undermining resilience and security; acquiring intellectual property and data; and destroying competitiveness through slave labour in everything from green energy to surveillance equipment. One of the CCP’s reasons for wanting to destroy the freedoms of Taiwan’s 23 million people is to control the production of the world’s semiconductors—the cornerstone of modern economies. One Taiwanese company, TSMC, makes over 80% of the world’s most advanced semiconductors.

Meanwhile, further illustrating our incoherent strategy, we seriously consider allowing the sale to China of Newport Wafer Fab—our biggest producer of semiconductors. As Germany has discovered, love affairs with dictatorships come at a terrible price. Where does the sale of Newport Wafer Fab now stand?

During our inquiry, I was surprised to hear witnesses tell us how fortunate we were that China had made available invaluable help during a pandemic that had its origins in Wuhan. This included a reluctant admission that the Government had bought 1 billion lateral flow tests from China. They subsequently confirmed that they bought 24.1 billion items of personal protective equipment where China is recorded as the country of origin, at a phenomenal total cost of £10.9 billion. That is about the equivalent of the entire—reduced—British overseas aid budget.

This is not philanthropy. Increasingly, developing nations are being turned into dependent vassal states. We saw in the recent vote on the Bachelet report in the Human Rights Council that votes of those who voted with China not to even debate the report have been bought via indebted dependency. A diplomat recently said it was like having a

“1,000 pound gorilla on my back.”

Note, too, that by September, in the face of the global food crisis, China had given $10 million to the World Food Programme, compared with $5 billion from the United States of America. We see the same attempted systematic appropriation and subversion of international institutions, including the World Health Organization and the World Trade Organization.

Xi Jinping and the CCP have demonstrated time and again that they are unwilling to abide by international treaties, and that they are untrustworthy, cruel and unpredictable. This includes when it comes to the ongoing breach of the Sino-British joint declaration and the human rights crackdown in Hong Kong; the crimes against humanity or genocide taking place in Xinjiang; the launching of trade wars against countries such as Lithuania and Australia; the unlawful detention of Canadian diplomats; and the flouting of basic obligations under the WHO when it comes to sharing information regarding pandemics. Ministers could do well to look at the Biden Administration and recent legislation in the US Congress, including the CHIPS Act and the Inflation Reduction Act, to see a Government willing to invest in domestic industry, tackle climate change and reduce their dependency on authoritarian regimes.

If the West wants to protect itself, it must face up to the reality of the CCP’s history and its future intentions: executions; famine; deaths through forced labour; mass deportations; forced sterilisation and coercive abortion; purges of opponents; incarceration for dissent or unwillingness to comply with a brutal ideology—these are all the hallmarks of the CCP. With Vladimir Putin and Xi Jinping signing a declaration that there will be “no limits” to their friendship, it is crucial, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell, reminded us, that we build our international partnerships and alliances through NATO, AUKUS and elsewhere.

To conclude, the CCP has been holding its rubber-stamp Congress. Obsessed with control—evidenced by its lockdown policy—it is veering in the direction of belligerent nationalism. But as has been demonstrated by “Tank Man” in Tiananmen Square in 1989, “Bridge Man” on the Sitong Bridge last week or Bob Chan protesting in Manchester on behalf of those who remain in Hong Kong, and by the brave people of Taiwan, Ukraine and the young women of Iran, authoritarians often overestimate their hold on power.

Liu Xiaobo, the Chinese writer and dissident and Nobel laureate, who died in 2017 after serving four prison sentences, said,

“there is no force that can put an end to the human quest for freedom”.

He was right.

14:12
Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton. There has been a marked diminution of trust between the US and UK and China and its leadership, and the resulting tensions are likely to continue and even to escalate. The committee’s report is therefore extremely timely and important.

As we have heard repeatedly this afternoon, the main lacuna in the UK’s approach to China includes the lack of a clear strategy on what values and interests the UK is trying to uphold. What follows is a number of actions and policies which amount to a series of tactics rather than a strategy—tactics which are weakened as a result.

The report calls on the Government to remedy this by developing and publishing a single coherent China strategy which details objectives and how they plan to achieve them. The standard response to this request is either that it is already in hand or just about to be completed. So far, however, the UK Government have declined to publish their plans. China experts lament this and continue to push for details on both the overall strategy and the mechanisms by which it could be achieved.

What is needed is a new politics of balance: a stated policy of “on the one hand and on the other” approach. That would entail co-operation and reaching out to the PRC on matters of trade, environment and civil affairs while protecting national security, economic prosperity, personal data and values. If there were to be an unambiguous and consistent approach in all UK dealings with China that was clear not only to the PRC but to all countries in the Indo-Pacific region and beyond, red lines would quickly become apparent.

The takeover of Hong Kong by the PRC, dismissing all previous treaties and agreements, sadly, did not seem to constitute a red line, and fears that similar inroads on Taiwan would not evoke unequivocal action from the UK are realistic. Nor, apparently, is the widespread view that China’s actions against the Uighurs amounts to genocide eliciting strong enough condemnation and action by the UK Government, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

The inconsistency of the UK approach to China’s aggression is itself a weakness that could be resolved in part with a strategic plan of action. Meanwhile, actions that are being taken or planned by the UK Government have a somewhat capricious, even unserious, flavour due to the lack of a stated strategy to which all tactical actions could and should be directed.

To put meat on the bones of tactics, the report and other contributions from China experts suggest a number of innovations. These include an in-depth study on the extent of the security threat posed by the PRC, to be carried out in consultation with scholars and other advisers. The current FCDO China department refers to the PRC only as a “systemic competitor”, which tends to downplay serious efforts to infringe the UK’s integrity. A programme of recruitment is needed to ensure that there is wide expertise available to the civil servants and to government departments. Given that the PRC’s ambitions, intentions and methods shift constantly, there needs to be ongoing research, consultation and policy adjustments by the China watchers as well as effective cross-government liaison and co-ordination. Interestingly, there is no reference in the Government’s response to co-ordination with European partners on trade and security policies.

The Government’s response on Taiwan is to “grow our relationship”. Once again, what is needed here is a detailed inventory of actions to support Taiwan with strong lobbying for its inclusion in relevant international organisations; a willingness to accede to requests from Taiwan for asymmetrical—or porcupine—defence weaponry; and to encourage further visits by senior ministerial, parliamentarians and other arms of government personnel.

As in other nations with questionable values and freedoms, the outreach activities tend to centre around institutional and capacity building and non-traditional security areas, such as training and joint exercises. The BBC and British Council are long established and greatly valued soft-power organisations and their role in bridging peoples across nations cannot and must not be diminished. In this context, the planned or proposed cuts to the BBC World Service are, to say the least, disheartening.

Above all, there seems to be a consensus that the UK’s China policy must avoid being dominated by profit alone.

The Government’s response to the committee’s report is, to my mind, rather too full of intentions in place of actions: for example,

“We … intend to increase our broader Defence Engagement including through capacity building and training, delivered by longer and more consistent military deployments”;


or, to give another example, the Government intend to overcome barriers to investment and point to the potential export opportunities in education, food and drink, pharmaceuticals and medical technology, without any concrete suggestions as to how this will be achieved.

Overall, the grandiose statement in the Government’s response that

“we will harness the UK’s strength as an outward-looking nation, confident in its ability to innovate, compete, lead and deliver for British businesses and the British people”,

is not always matched by diverse actions and intentions. If a coherent strategy can be agreed on which makes all the red lines clear and emphasises both the opportunities and constraints, there will be increased room for trade and soft power initiatives to achieve a much greater return.

14:19
Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, it is a privilege to participate in such a highly informative and well-informed debate on such a vital issue. It is a bit hard to focus at the moment when I gather that we are once again in search of another Prime Minister, but that is an issue that we shall put aside for a moment and rightly concentrate on this one.

It is a very interesting report. It is remarkable that we are debating it now, a year after it was published. There seems to be something wrong with the machinery for deciding the timing of these things. It is an excellent volume, under the superb chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Anelay, and we ought of course to have come to it much earlier. Oddly enough, and ironically, because of that delay it has arrived for this debate at a very topical time indeed. China is now more than ever at the centre of our affairs—our home affairs as well as our international affairs—on energy questions and the climate issue, which has already been mentioned, where it is central. We have Xi Jinping at the 20th plenum eyeing up Taiwan again and saying that he is not ruling out force, and apparently we are being told by the strategists that Beijing says that, if China sees that America is getting too intrusive, it will, in those chilling words, “surround Taiwan” in three hours—a rather sinister warning of what is to come.

As for Ukraine, the Chinese role has always seemed to me—and, I think, to many others in this Room—pretty central to that as well. As long as Putin has felt that he has solid support from Beijing, he will not lose much sleep over threats from NATO and so on. Slightly encouragingly, I hear, and I am sure others will hear, that the Chinese are getting increasingly worried about Putin and feeling that they are losing control of him. Of course, what they are terrified of is that he will start with the tactical nuclear weapons. So I hope that, maybe if we have good back-track relations with China on that issue, we can exert some more influence on this evil man in the Kremlin.

Meanwhile, of course, China continues to be, embedded here at home right in the United Kingdom at the heart of our nuclear power replacement programme, which happens to be vital to the whole strategy of carbon reduction in the future. That is more and more important now, as our leaders realise that net zero is splendid but it will not be anything like enough to check the vast growth in emissions, coming not least from China but also from the rest of Asia, which is roaring ahead and for which entirely new policies will be needed. So here we are, dealing with and addressing an issue which is highly topical, despite this deplorable delay.

I just had one additional theme to add to the story, and indeed to the report and to the Government’s response, where it was a missing element. I refer to it in rather over-graphic terms used by one expert, who observed that China as part of its hegemonic strategy is hoovering up the developing world, and in particular the Commonwealth members of the developing world—the coastal states of Africa, but even more the islands of the global south: the South Pacific and the Caribbean as well, and indeed parts of Latin America too. This development does not get much mention from the witnesses in this report, and yet it is really the key issue in our relationship with China and the most serious threat in the medium term to our influence, to the transmission of our soft power and to our place in a transformed world with a rising Asia accounting for an increasing volume of world product activity and indeed a major contribution to security.

The most visible immediate sign of that is what has been going on in the Solomon Islands, which I think took everybody by surprise. Indeed, it seemed to me, listening to our distinguished diplomats, that they were only dimly aware that the Solomons were part of the Commonwealth, that the Queen was the Head of State and that we appointed the governor-general. However, that picture was soon asserted when we saw photographs of the Prime Minister of the Solomon Islands with the Defence Minister of China inspecting a rather grim formation of burly-looking Chinese troops on parade. Was that supposed to be what we were trying to achieve in the Solomon Islands? Rapidly, people reassessed and increased our influenced on them and realised that that is not the way we want things to go.

Then there is Vanuatu, of course, which has a huge Chinese base on it. Tuvalu has now been incorporated. Incidentally, the Solomons sit over one of the main maritime routes of the entire east Asian trade, which is a huge proportion of world trade, and the arrival of China there, and its proposal to have a nuclear base, is a matter that concerns us very much indeed.

Then we have Africa where, as we know, the Chinese have had their setbacks and are not always popular, particularly when they have used prisoners to do infrastructure work. But they call themselves Africa’s “dependable ally”, and are increasingly involved in a whole range of countries. Indeed, they have a military base in the top of Africa, in Djibouti, which is a real advance and departure. That is significant, because it brings home that we are talking about not just trade involvement—bags of gold, infrastructure, new conference centres, roads and railways and all that sort of thing—but about security co-operation. We are talking about military training, weaponry and the Sandhurst of China— the Sandhurst of Beijing, rather than the Sandhurst of Camberley—offering thousands of places for officer training to teach military values that are very different from our views of how armies should fit into democratic societies. All that is going on, almost—and I hope that I will be forgiven for saying this—with an oblivious disregard from our policymakers here about what is really happening.

That is the global south—and then we have the Caribbean, of course. I know that Barbados has not left the Commonwealth, although the media think that it has, because it has ceased to be a realm. They are very confused and do not actually understand what is happening in the Commonwealth at all. But those who went there tell me that, as they left, large jumbo planes were arriving and parking at the airport, covered in Chinese designations and signs. It turns out that the Barbadian Government have become dangerously involved, as have many other countries, in owing China a large amount of money for what they thought were grants, which turned out to be loans. They are going to cause a lot of grief when they have to be repaid.

So here is a picture of our Commonwealth of like-minded countries, which are privileged to be members of it—and it is one of the main sources of our transmission and influence in the world. We would like to think that it would be a chain of liberty and democracy containing China, but almost before our eyes it is being turned on its head into a chain of Chinese projection of its power, instead of a containment of its power. It is a very serious development, not mentioned here and not mentioned by the Foreign Office; it is not understood, and it is coming into our lives in very serious ways and at great speed.

We have, of course, huge involvement in south Asia. We have our involvement in Five Eyes and the Five Power system, which was mentioned very thoroughly in the report. We have our links with Japan, which are again covered in the report, and we have AUKUS and the submarine plans, which are important. We have our ambitions to join the CPTPP. We are not involved in the RCEP. All these are organisations far larger than the European market, and far more important in the long term for our development.

We have that; versus that, we have a China which at a very deliberate, practical and detailed level—with not too much ideology but in detail—is constantly moving from island to island and state to state. China is arranging not only the links that I talked about earlier but also technology links and opportunities that they can use as basis for GPS, which we are told is part of the next war, in space, and for drone development, which you do not need on a small island, for a large airport with a large airstrip, and for a whole range of other technologies controlling maritime movements through the continental shelf and the UN’s law of the sea provisions of immense strategic value.

I was saddened to hear from a leading Foreign Office expert a year or so ago that the Commonwealth was a bit boring; it was much-loved by the late Queen, but these little islands were very remote and of no strategic significance. The Chinese do not think that; they think the opposite. They think they are of high strategic significance, and they are involving themselves in these nations at a great rate and in many very effective, soft-power types of ways. I wanted to add that missing bit to our debate, to the Government’s response and to the report, because it is the most important bit of all.

I wish we could have a strategy and framework, which noble Lords with huge expertise are calling for, but I do not think it will be like that. The pace of change of events is enormous, and we have to, at best, try to fit in with the hard cop, soft cop pattern. We need to be hard cop.

We listened to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, with his ceaseless and superb indications of the nasty, illiberal side of China, and what it is doing to people in thuggish ways—there was a little demonstration of that in Manchester last week, which I thought was very interesting. These are Chinese thugs at work; we know that this is a streak in the Chinese character. We have to listen to Xi claiming his endless term of office and talking, frankly, ideological rubbish about how we must go back to Marx and Leninism. He has issued his own absurd “Little Red Book”. The Chinese are not fools; I do not know how they will tolerate that sort of thing, but I do not think that it will last.

We have to be the hard cop there, but we also have to be the soft cop, because China is a world leader in technology, it is a decisive part of the world economy—I understand that China is the second-largest source of imports to this country—and it is embedded in our nuclear power, as I said earlier, and indeed in many other aspects of our infrastructure, partly as a result of being perhaps overencouraged 10 years ago. As noble Lords have rightly said, the world has changed radically. We now have to look at China with the scales dropped from our eyes and realise that we have to deal with it—while holding our noses—but that it is also, potentially, an increasingly dangerous threat to the order of a democratic, free world.

14:32
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Howell, and his wise words, particularly on Chinese influence in Africa and beyond, because that is where the cut in our foreign aid budget has quite substantially taken away the power, prominence and respect that we had in international development. It is something that we pay for when our competitors take over.

My bedtime reading tends to be contemporary and modern history, rather than fiction—although obviously as you get close to the Trump Administration the two tend to merge. It is quite clear, and comes over in the report, that we as a nation were a major part of China’s humiliation through the opium wars. Perhaps there is a lesson there that, as you overtake people going up the global league table, it is good to remember occasionally that you might be on the way back down a few years later—maybe that affects the relationship.

I am reminded that we had President Xi here in this Palace in 2015, only seven years ago. He addressed us as the combined Houses of Parliament in the Royal Gallery, and I was privileged—I will use that word—to meet him personally for an instant afterwards at a reception, because I had chaired a committee delegation to China a few years before. We were given the chance to say one sentence to him. I do not know whether he understands any English—he certainly makes out that he does not, and he probably does not—or whether what I said was translated, but I made some fatuous comment about the importance of the European Union. What I really wanted to say to him was, “President of China, you don’t have to assert yourself as China in the globe, because the rest of the world realises that you as a nation will be a major player globally over the next century. You don’t have to assert that in other ways; it is evident in the economy, size, population and other issues.”

Unfortunately, he clearly has not taken the advice that I would have given him. As has been said, we have very much seen this in Hong Kong and the end of “one country, two systems”. We have also seen it in the gradual but assertive implementation around the nine-dash line in the South China Sea; although we have shown that we still treat them as international waters, along with our other allies, predominantly America, its taking control of that area continues. On Taiwan, both we and China have become more threatening, as we saw in particular with the Nancy Pelosi visit. I am pleased to say that India, which we often forget about, is also mentioned in this report, as is the control line, where China is claiming parts of the Indian nation—those are two nuclear powers occasionally facing off with border skirmishes. There is also the growth of its military power and the President going for life presidency of China. There are other big challenges that other Members have already gone through.

Connections with China are important, however. I will reflect some of the themes around climate change that the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, talked about, and then move on to supply chains, which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, said, it is quite clear that China is the largest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world, having overtaken the United States. It accounts for something like a quarter of emissions. Without getting too techie on this, even on a consumption basis—often we look at China as the workshop of the world, exporting to us, and we export its emissions back—it still accounts for about a quarter of emissions, given its economic growth and the way that incomes have gone up there. Even cumulatively, to look back through history, China is now the second most responsible for the greenhouse gases in our atmosphere. No longer can it blame the western world for being the major emitter; admittedly, on a per capita basis, although it is now ahead of us in the United Kingdom, it is still well behind the United States.

Partly through our good work—and that of Alok Sharma in his presidency of COP 26—China has now set a target of peaking its emissions in 2030 and meeting net zero in 2060. I do not know whether it will do that; ironically, it seems it might actually achieve it through the continued zero-Covid policy, which has crippled and will continue to cripple Chinese economic capacity for some time to come, until it has to make that break—I hope for the Chinese population that it will use western vaccines.

It is imperative that we engage China in that process globally. As the noble Baroness said, it is ahead globally on investment in renewables of all sorts. In fact, it has three times the level of renewables investment of the United States, which is second. It is a key player in that area and we must encourage and include it globally, despite the rest of the issues, in those conversations moving forward. It is so important that we remain global leaders in that area. How does the Minister see our leadership now that the present Government—and, I presume, the next Government under a new Prime Minister—have endorsed fracking in this country? I would be very interested in his comments on that.

That leadership on investment, however, has another difficult effect on us. Through its supply chain and economy, China produces some 80% of solar panels globally. It has, if not quite a monopoly, a dominant oligopolistic position in supply chains nationally and globally, which is expected to rise to something like 95% if trends continue in certain areas of that supply chain. We in this country are very much into wind, and offshore wind, but solar is the major area of renewables transition and China has, and will continue to have, a stranglehold in that area. In EV batteries—I think the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned EVs—it has a market share of about 60% at the moment in productive capacity. Even on wind turbines, 10 of the top 15 companies globally are Chinese. Most of those are for investment within China, but believe me, Chinese companies are predatory globally. Once they fulfil their own market and have extra capacity, they will move outside. There is real concern here about the transition needed throughout the world when China has a stranglehold on those technologies. I am interested to understand from the Minister, who I know is very strong in these areas, how we might start to change that so we do not have the equivalent of Russian gas dependency that the European Union has had until now.

I mention one more related area: rare earths. Again, China has something like an 80% stranglehold on the production of rare earths. As we know, there are 17 of these elements and, because of their conductivity and magnetism, they are used in all sorts of high-tech applications. I am not so much asking about alternative sources of supply—although that is important and I would be interested to also hear how the Government are approaching that. To me, this is the key area where we need to move from a linear to a circular economy; this is true in batteries—lithium and others. For all transition and high-tech sectors, we need to concentrate on and incentivise a circular economy, so that we can recycle these products and use them within our economy, increasing our security and lessening our dependence on other, chancier nations, securing our supply chain and helping the earth’s resources as well. Can the Minister say whether the Government are really going to push forward that agenda?

China may look on the United Kingdom as a not particularly helpful player in the past, but that is no excuse for its agenda at the moment. This report, produced under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, lays out a lot of those challenges. We must work with our allies in Europe, the rest of the world and the G7 to ensure that the rise of China is much more benevolent and less dangerous to us as a civilisation.

14:44
Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, particularly since he referred to a couple of themes I will mention myself: the pitiful state of our international aid performance and how that affects competition with China, and climate change.

We should perhaps be thankful for small mercies: we are debating this valuable report from the International Relations and Defence Committee a mere 13 months after it was published and nearly a year after the Government’s response to its conclusions and recommendations. I join those who say that if we cannot remedy that sort of delay, we are not performing very effectively. However, I would not give any criticism whatever to the excellent introduction and presentation by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, at whose feet I sat for the years I was on the IRDC—not, I hasten to say, when this report was being written—and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, who started that committee off on its voyage of discovery.

What a year it has been. It has upended some of the foundations of both the report and the Government’s response, principally with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, and it is now concluding with President Xi’s likely coronation for a further five years in power—or perhaps longer. It is no wonder that the Government are said to be going to revisit their pre-predecessor’s security review; it would certainly be welcome to have the Minister’s indication on the timing of that when he replies to the debate.

The first requirement for such a review would be the rather overhyped “tilt” in our security and defence policy towards the Indo-Pacific region—overhyped because not much has actually happened since it was proclaimed, other than the very welcome AUKUS agreement over the provision of nuclear propulsion submarine technology. In any case, the trouble about a tilt towards something is that it is necessarily a tilt away from something else, and this is hardly the time—following the invasion of Ukraine and Russia’s nuclear sabre-rattling—to be tilting away from European security, which surely remains at the heart of this country’s overall security and to which NATO has now committed itself with renewed vigour and determination. How do the Government plan to adjust that balance or, I suggest, potential imbalance? Do the Government recognise that perhaps the best contribution Britain could make to the security of Taiwan is to ensure that Putin’s Ukraine gamble fails?

It was somewhat surprising to see nothing in the report, or in the response to it, about China’s role as a nuclear weapons state, one which without much shadow of a doubt is substantially increasing its nuclear capabilities and arsenal. The need to draw China into a serious discussion of strategic stability between the P5 recognised nuclear weapons states is surely more necessary than ever, however daunting the obstacles may now look in the short term. What is the Government’s view and policy on that critical issue?

I found some contradictions, in both the report and the Government’s response to it, between the section on China’s role in the multilateral system, on which the report and the Government’s response were critical and rather negative, and what was said about the handling of some of the vital global multilateral challenges such as climate change and trade rules—and one should probably add health pandemics to that list. The report states bluntly:

“The challenge of climate change cannot be addressed without engagement with China.”


That surely cannot be gainsaid, in which case we will have to accept that China will need to play a major role in the search for solutions to these challenges. There I slightly differ from my noble and gallant friend when he said that we must lay down the rules; good luck to him, going off to the Chinese, telling them that we need their full commitment to climate change and saying, “By the way, here are the rules”. That sort of approach may be manageable with Russia, which can be treated as a pariah state, but it cannot be successfully used with China.

The problem of China’s human rights record, which several noble Lords have referred to, clearly cannot, should not and must not be ducked—whether one is talking about Xinjiang or Hong Kong. However, we need a rapier rather than a battle-axe when responding to the abuses taking place. Do the Government agree with that analysis? By the way, how will we handle China’s bid to join the CPTPP if, as is to be hoped, we succeed in joining that group before China does and thus acquire a say in China’s accession? How will we use that say?

In conclusion, I add one caveat to the committee’s broadly very welcome call for a clear British strategy towards China. It must surely be evident that Britain cannot, on its own, hope to fashion or apply such a strategy. We must work one out in concert with our main allies and partners. We also need to recognise that we will not get a lot of support for such a strategy from the wide range of countries in Asia, Africa and Latin America, which have been referred to by many participants in this debate, if we frame it simply as a “with us or against us” choice and, even more so, if we continue to shrink our overseas aid contribution to helping these countries face their own main challenges. We need to reach out to like-minded countries to fashion this strategy and not simply wrap a towel around our head and produce it ourselves. I noticed that the advice that the Foreign Minister of the European Union gave to the Heads of Government who are meeting today on toughening up the EU’s policy towards China bore a singular resemblance to the views expressed by many noble Lords around this Room this afternoon —so I think we know where to start.

14:52
Lord Bethell Portrait Lord Bethell (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, who speaks with such wisdom and experience in these matters. I thank my noble friend Lady Anelay, the chair of the committee, for bringing this remarkable report. I echo my noble friend Lord Howell in saying that it was always a hard-hitting, wake-up call of a report, but it is even more relevant today. While the delay is regretful, this debate could not be more timely.

I completely agree with those speakers who have noted the failure by the Government to publish a clear China strategy. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, was quite right when she said that that is a big mistake. My area is that of innovation and I just want to talk about what the implications are of that mistake in that area of innovation.

I saw for myself as a Health Minister during the pandemic the critical importance of trade and scientific dialogue with China. When the supply chains collapsed, I was on the phone trying to rustle up PPE from suppliers literally standing on the tarmac at Hong Kong airport. I had a role in the £3.5 billion-worth of LFDs that have been bought off China and which have been incredibly important in our battle against Covid. I also gave ministerial oversight to the development of new therapeutics and diagnostics, often with Chinese academic partners and suppliers involved. So I am in no doubt about the value of Chinese scientists to some of the great challenges of our time, including fighting disease and climate change.

However, we are entering a period where the CCP has outlined a clear manifesto for technological supremacy in a number of strategic fields—fields that we have a very keen and important interest in. Launched in 2019, as many noble Lords know very well, the Chinese Government’s “Made in China 2025” programme is a highly sophisticated state-led industrial policy, which has a clear purpose of making make China dominant in global high-tech manufacturing. This is, I am afraid, an example of China turning in on itself, making preparations in case there is a confrontation with its rivals. We would be absolutely foolish to ignore this. We should take this 10-year plan seriously as a piece of hard-edged industrial strategy with key metrics and a ruthless approach to success.

We know a lot about China’s approach. Beijing’s hybrid innovation system blends academic collaboration, industrial partnerships, cyberespionage, direct investment and influence operations to enhance China’s comprehensive national power and, in particular, to acquire modern technologies. I can report that it is absolutely working: China is making remarkable strides towards realising its dream of technological self-sufficiency. Chinese companies have caught up and even surpassed western firms in key strategic industries such as 5G, genomic science, AI, quantum computing, space and aerospace electronics. This does not necessarily contribute to the sum of human happiness because, unfortunately, China is at the same time becoming a competitive, authoritarian, imperial power, not necessarily apt to share its technological advantages. We will suffer if it dominates strategically important industries.

We should not give up in this battle for technology. We know that we have keen advantages still in important areas. The area of vaccines is one area where we have demonstrated the strength of our science. That is why I welcome the change in rhetoric from “golden age” to “global threat”. But the implementation of the Government’s new thinking is worryingly slow, as many noble Lords have noted, and I want to give two illustrations of the problem.

Let us take for instance the area of medical devices, an industry that we have very strong capabilities in, and one of the strategic industries identified in “Made in China”. China lacks technological leadership in this area, and it is therefore a valuable market for European and American companies, as China imports over 70% of its medical devices. Given the importance of this sector to the resilience of the health system, the Chinese Government have worked on a five-year plan to make at least six companies in China reach the top 50 globally from pretty much a standing start. It is going very well for them. During the pandemic, as my noble friend Lady Anelay pointed out, Chinese firms boomed. Off the back of that success, in the last few months, Chinese ministries and commissions issued notices prohibiting all public medical institutions from procuring imported medical equipment without approval. Overseas firms are being pressured into technology transfers. Many are backing off trade and production in China, with an impact on jobs at home. Meanwhile, Chinese medical technology firms are beginning to use their domestic market power to drive down costs.

We have already seen in fields such as telecoms and solar energy how Chinese companies can use domestic market power to dump product and crush our businesses. If we do not have a thoughtful fight-back, we can lose technological advantage in an industry that protects our people, provides jobs and is critical for a better life. That is why it is worrying that Chinese investors have such a strong presence in the British life sciences sector, embedded as investors, vendors and suppliers. For example, Tencent, China’s leading investment house, is an absolutely remarkable investor that takes bold creative investments in some of the most strategically important growing companies in the world, including British companies such as Oxford Nanopore and Congenica. Some British firms would not have flourished if Tencent had not got involved. But we should be worried if British investors cannot make the same investments in similar Chinese firms.

We should review our laissez-faire attitude to Chinese investment, now that the CCP has picked up its pace for dominance in this key life sciences sector. Whatever Tencent’s current governance arrangements, we have seen how the CCP can apply coercion on Chinese companies. How would we feel if, say, China invaded Taiwan, international relations deteriorated, and an investor with considerable China-state connections owned stakes in some of the most strategically important companies in the UK? This is a really important question, and I do not have the answer, but it is a question that the Government need to answer, and I do not know who is going to provide that up-to-date answer that reflects the latest events.

Secondly, we should be aware of the strategic threat around some of these industries—for instance, the genomics industry, which has grown massively after Covid-19. The value of health data now represents a new battlefield for parliamentarians, regulators and national security protectors. The CCP sees genetic data and genomics as a priority industry to target as part of its “Made in China” programme. It is acquiring and exfiltrating huge datasets to power its AI machinery for global surveillance, political control, mass disinformation and military strategic advantage. These datasets and the AI machinery will be key to future warfare and therefore have huge implications for our national security.

Allies in America, Australia and Europe recognise this threat and have sought to control the risk, including by blacklisting Chinese genomics companies, such as BGI Group, in response to human rights concerns and, possibly, participation in the persecution of Uighur Muslims. In the UK, BGI has links to British universities, companies and institutions on a grand scale, for instance with the University of Birmingham, the University of Exeter, the University of York, the University of Plymouth, Cardiff University and Newcastle University.

My fear is that we just do not understand the risks involved in commissioning genomics firms with close ties to the Chinese state—firms that have demonstrated the capability, resources and intent to misuse genetic data gathered from around the world. We do not understand what is being done to help keep this data safe. We seem to be relying on GDPR, and we are ignoring Article 7 of China’s famous national intelligence law, which states that

“organisations and citizens shall support, assist, and cooperate with national intelligence efforts”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly reminded us, we are at risk from Chinese Government-linked companies, and have sanctioned, for example, Huawei, Beijing Infinite Vision Technology and Hikvision. However, despite calls from MPs, noble Lords and campaigners, in the more sensitive area of human genomics the UK Government do not seem to show the capability to take even minimal action.

There is progress. The Procurement Bill and the National Security Bill present vital opportunities to address the UK’s one-dimensional approach to national security and plug the serious gaps in our coverage. I pay tribute to the Government for statements from the Prime Minister—as she was—and the appointment of Ministers such as Tom Tugendhat and Nus Ghani.

However, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, is right: there is no sign of implementation behind that intent. Even if the powers are now on—or heading for—the statute book, I do not see the implementation plans, the resource building, the institutional infrastructure or the expertise recruitment to tackle these complex issues. When I was a Minister and had concerns about national security, I was met with a fuzzy and unclear response, and I am not sure that has changed.

My specific concern is that, despite the warnings of Ken McCallum at GCHQ about tech theft, there is no mechanism for answering the Tencent or the BGI questions. Where is that China policy that should provide the strategic direction? Who are the people who should be thinking through these risks? Which office at BEIS or elsewhere should be responsible? Where is the risk assessment published? The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, emphasised the engagement with risk assessment, but who will actually do that risk assessing?

Speeches and laws are all very well, but our relationship with China is changing very quickly and we need agile, expert trade infrastructure so that we can walk the very delicate line that maximises valuable global trade and protects our national interests against a formidable threat.

That is why recommendation 56 in the report is so important. I join the committee in calling on the Government to publish a detailed plan for implementation of the National Security and Investment Act, to provide confidence for overseas investors and to help us understand how investment will protect British interests.

I support recommendation 57, calling on the Government to conduct scenario planning on supply chain vulnerability and identify where action is needed to mitigate the risks. I support recommendation 63 calling on the Government to conduct an impact assessment of the potential consequences of increased political tensions between the UK and China on British businesses or Chinese investment.

We have a lot on, but I urge the Minister that there is not much time to put in place this implementation so that we can avoid the inglorious scramble we saw when Russia invaded Ukraine—and that was a much less important trading partner.

15:04
Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, one of the report’s conclusions is that:

“An increased knowledge and understanding of China—including its languages—within Government, the civil service, and the public more generally will be crucial for both constructive engagement and managing periods of stress.”


The committee calls on the Government to provide greater support for Chinese language teaching and cultural exchange with China—an issue also touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Goodlad. I declare my interest as co-chair of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages, and my other language interests, as set out in the register.

The government response to this conclusion and recommendation was positive and pointed to the Mandarin Excellence Programme, the MEP, which funds the teaching and learning of Mandarin in state schools, aiming to

“provide an increased pipeline of fluent Mandarin speakers to meet the future business and economic needs of the country.”

Set up in 2016, the MEP has been extremely successful. Indeed, since the Government’s response to the committee’s report was published, the figures have improved still further, with over 8,500 pupils enrolled to date.

GCSE results have been excellent, significantly above the national average, with 91% of the cohort achieving level 5 or above last year, and 72% with level 7 or above. In one north London school with a very mixed intake, the entire cohort achieved level 9. In addition, PGCE recruitment is going well and is back to pre-pandemic levels, which is a lot more than can be said for MFL teacher recruitment more generally.

An independent evaluation of the programme found that it was well-designed and balanced, was achieving its objectives and was having a national impact on the numbers of pupils studying Mandarin over and above those in the MEP schools. Research published earlier this year by Cambridge University described the MEP as an exemplar model which could be replicated for other languages. Even more significantly, in the context of this Select Committee report, it concluded that, if language barriers were removed and more was invested in the teaching of Mandarin, the UK could increase the value of its exports by £5 billion a year.

The UK’s languages deficit has long been acknowledged as one of the barriers to export growth. In the SME sector alone, there is good evidence that language capabilities add 30% in value to success in export growth. The UK’s deficit inhibits both recruitment and employability. The CBI has said that better foreign language skills are critical to increasing the UK’s global competitiveness and ensuring that young people have the high level of cultural awareness that supports a successful career. The Government are to be congratulated on supporting the MEP.

The reason I wanted to speak today, in the context of this report, is to caution against throwing the baby out with the bathwater by responding in a disproportionate way to pressure to ban the Confucius Institutes which support the MEP, and instead to work with Taiwan rather than China for the teaching of Mandarin. These concerns have been expressed by the China Research Group of MPs and the Foreign Affairs Committee of the other place, and several others.

The Confucius Institutes have been described as effectively an arm of the Chinese state, which I have no doubt is a perfectly fair assessment, but the implication that they are having some sort of undue influence over the UK students learning Mandarin with the MEP in our state schools is, I suggest, rather wide of the mark. We should be clear that these worries are not shared by the students, parents, teachers or head teachers involved in the MEP.

Katharine Carruthers, the director of the consortium consisting of University College London’s Faculty of Education and Society, which actually delivers the MEP in conjunction with the British Council, points out that the DfE contract for the programme is with UCL, not the Confucius Institutes. In addition, every school participating in the MEP is responsible for engaging its own teachers locally, in exactly the same way as they employ teachers of Spanish, French or indeed anything else. The teachers are not provided by the Confucius Institutes; they do supply guest teaching assistants from China, but these are supplementary to the core classroom teachers. Some Confucius Institutes, however, also engage with Mandarin teaching in universities, and it is there that there is a potentially legitimate concern that some universities need to exercise caution to ensure that Chinese studies there are not influenced or delivered by Confucius Institutes.

There would be a major practical challenge to the support of the development of Mandarin teaching in schools if there were a switch to Taiwan from China, with obvious significant geopolitical ramifications too. The MEP’s main practical challenge at the moment has been in sustaining pupil visits to China, because of Covid restrictions, but a comprehensive programme of virtual interactive learning with the help of 16 universities right across China has been able to fill some of that gap. It is difficult to see how this could be matched by far more limited Taiwanese institutions and resources.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister two questions. First, will he ensure that his colleagues in government, across various relevant departments, are fully briefed on the importance and success of the Mandarin excellence programme and understand that the role of the Confucius Institutes should be seen in its proper perspective, and that any action should be proportionate and properly targeted, given the actual structure, control and delivery of the programme in schools by UCL and the British Council? Leave the schools alone and let them get on with it—but, at the same time, closer monitoring of the situation in some universities is clearly advisable.

Secondly, I understand that government funding for the MEP has been guaranteed until 2024, with an expectation that it will be extended for a further year to 2025. Will the Minister confirm this and commit to pressing the strong and positive case for continued funding after 2025? This would be good for schools, good for our young people and their future employability and, as the Select Committee report concludes, good for UK-China relationships, not just in security and trade but in the all-important intercultural understanding that underpins all those geopolitical challenges.

15:12
Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, but will express it differently. That difference is contained in the title of the report, which refers to a “void”. We are far short of understanding how to deal with China—and rather worryingly, that pertains to the US as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, referred to the next update of the integrated review possibly being delayed until next May. Continuous review is fundamental in today’s fast-moving world. I suggest that a rolling update should become the norm. She also referred to supply chain issues. Having returned from India and the Gulf last week, I believe that there is merit in encouraging countries such as India, and including countries such as Turkey and Brazil, to assist in the diversification of supply chain issues—not just for the UK but globally. This can also help the economies of developing nations.

The Government have become increasingly hawkish towards China and formally designated it a threat to Britain, with the redesignation bringing the UK’s official position towards China closer to its stance on Russia. I reaffirm at the outset that the Uighur situation is an abomination, the Taiwan threat real and regrettable, and the Hong Kong circumstance sad and unbecoming for a state of the importance of China. My overall assessment is that China is becoming more inward-looking and protectionist, which is not helped by constant hostile rhetoric, with the deterioration of relations transitioning from hesitation to deep freeze and China signalling alignment away from being a rule-taker to a rule-maker in the international community.

China is a major trading, investment and supply chain partner, but its economy is at a crossroads, with slowing growth and increased debt and facing a property crash crisis. However, it is currently the world’s second-largest economy and the world’s second-largest public capital market, with the third-largest stock exchange and an IPO market of importance. It is responsible for one-third of global emissions, but is also the world’s largest producer of renewable energy and committed to reaching peak carbon emissions by 2030 and net zero by 2060.

Its strategy is, on the one hand, to make its economy more resilient against external shocks and to fulfil self-sufficiency to counter the hostile geopolitical environment by being more reliant on the economies of scale of its large domestic market and increasing control over supply chains where import dependencies exist, most particularly for food, energy and high-tech inputs. The dual-circulation strategy, the interplay between domestic circulation of production, distribution and consumption by insulating the domestic market, whether in terms of natural resources or technology, is to vertically integrate its production. Chinese decoupling from the US is advancing, with China’s master-plan to enhance its position through third-market engagement available through the belt and road initiative.

It should be remembered that the UK became the first western country to join the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank, with a previous US Administration accusing the UK of “constant accommodation” with China. London’s stance towards Beijing has now shifted from the so-called, perceived “golden era” to a complex phase of diplomatic and military tensions and scrutinised economic relations, compounded by US pressure. US national security strategy since the integrated review reflects a world order where great power competition is back in town, representing a profound move away from a not-distant past advocating for a deeper relationship.

The integrated review made an economic and military case when it stated that the PRC is

“the biggest state-based threat to the UK’s economic security”

and that its military modernisation and assertiveness threaten British interests in the Indo-Pacific. To China, a Cold War mentality of encirclement exists. It believes that London, with its Pacific tilt, is advocating an anti-China diplomatic and military coalition in the Indo-Pacific, with the Government’s U-turn on Huawei, combined with the first deployment of HMS “Queen Elizabeth II” aircraft carrier to the Pacific, and the trilateral AUKUS security pact between Australia, the UK and the US, escalating the relationship to a new hostile era.

How comfortable is the UK, in reality, in attempting to organise a unified anti-China front behind the Build Back Better World label? The G7 Cornwall meet suggested a differing narrative in the making, but now increasingly there appears acceptance of the US narrative and Washington’s framing of the US-China strategic rivalry as a life or death struggle between democracy and autocracy, treating China as an adversary. There is no question but that the urgent need is to conduct an overall review and analysis of our relationship. We cannot afford to ignore China and must seek to balance the relationship in a manner which draws together shared interests and aligns on underlying challenges, or we will face a steady drumbeat.

All this is a far cry from the economic mantra of a global Britain, with a view held by some that if we deal only with countries that share our values, we will have a limited range of countries with which to engage. Constant barking, confrontation and economic sanctions, including diplomatic restrictions and isolation, can have their place, but I wonder how effective and sustainable they are and whether they are likely to achieve positive outcomes. We should be wide-eyed when taking a tough policy line on China without clearly understanding what the impact, including economic, will be. I have already mentioned that, for me, the key takeaway from the report before us was the use of the word “void”, which encapsulates our lack of understanding of the techniques required to engage in a manner that advances or contains a relationship.

So, how to engage with the Chinese state? Engage we must, but we must certainly lead by example. I fear that, if we fail to do so, it will have consequences for the longer term, including a clash of ideals that would include the likes of Russia and Iran, which are anxious to drive a wedge between our immovable principles. An accommodation must be sought, otherwise I see no alternative other than a slow drumbeat emerging over the horizon. The outcomes of the current party congress, which will set the tone on domestic policies and international trade relations for the next five years, should be analysed with care and taken as a renewed engagement starting point.

I ended a recent contribution with the conclusion that

“a window still exists to pour oil on troubled waters”.

However, I went on to say:

“Western policymakers and diplomats need to up the game and face the gravity of the situation with a supercharged, innovative carrot-and-stick strategy.”—[Official Report, 14/7/22; col. 1629.]


I remain of that view.

15:21
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, as always, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Viscount. This has been a characteristically serious debate which has done credit to the excellent report comprehensively introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. I had the pleasure of serving on the committee under her chairmanship, and indeed under that of the noble Lord, Lord Howell. We were blessed in this debate with contributions from both those chairs of the committee.

The IRDC is a significant and senior committee of this House, and the delays before its reports are debated are unacceptable. The fact that we made the same appeals when we debated the committee’s report on sub-Saharan Africa, which had been delayed and delayed until we had an opportunity to debate it, springs to mind. I hope that this is the last time there will be such a delay before we are able to debate such a significant report from this committee, because one of the purposes of these debates is not only to hold the Government to account but to inform the whole House of how we conduct that work in holding the Government to account. In that regard, I was struck by the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, who rightly highlighted how, in many respects, there is a delicate line to tread in our relationship with China, but in order for us to tread that line, there needs to be the guidance of a clear government strategy. The fact that such a strategy is absent was the underlying proposition of the committee. It struck me when the noble Lord said that as a Minister he sought clarity and that it was “fuzzy and unclear”.

The Government’s response to the committee’s report said:

“The National Security Council continues to provide clear direction for the Government’s China policy. It is supported by the work of the Integrated Review Implementation Group on China”.


Can the Minister tell us why the National Security Council was abolished by the current Prime Minister, Liz Truss? I understand that it has now been replaced by a Cabinet sub-committee, which will not provide the clear direction that is necessary. What is the current situation? Is there a current situation? If not, it highlights the void not just in government strategy but in government operation. We cannot afford that as a country.

This is my opportunity to state on behalf of the Liberal Democrat Benches that what the Conservative Government are doing to our international reputation at the moment is just unacceptable. During this debate, I had a message on my phone from a good friend of mine who served in the United States Cabinet, who was in shock when he woke up to see the news from the UK. He was bemoaning—and sympathising—the fact that we are a laughing stock. He said: “The UK is too important to be laughed at.” That is from a former senior US official. I agree with him.

This debate on this topic really must be the opportunity to start providing more clarity on our way forward for UK relations with China. The committee highlighted—as have the contributions today—a whole series of areas where that strategy is necessary. It highlighted that there has been a shift, but it is unclear where that shift is to. We are, theoretically, currently in year 7 of the golden decade announced in 2015. Whether this golden decade is now in deep freeze or is still government policy for trade and development, I do not yet know. The noble Viscount mentioned the Asian Development Bank; can the Minister clarify whether our support for that is still categorised under overseas development assistance or whether that has been cut? George Osborne said during that visit in 2015—like my noble friend Lord Teverson, I was there in the hall, but I did not have the opportunity of shaking the President’s hand—that

“No economy in the west is as open to Chinese investment as the UK.”


Is it still? What is the Government’s intent for that? The Government’s response to the committee did not provide a great deal of clarity on that.

When the House debated the committee report on sub-Saharan Africa, so many areas combined with regards to our relationship with emerging markets and emerging countries, as well as the need for clarity on China. It is an absolute fact that, in the absence of a clear direction for our relationship with emerging markets and countries in Africa, China will fill that void. In the absence of a clear strategy, understanding and stability in our relationship with China, other countries will not see us as a reliable partner either.

We recognise that China’s development and rise has been remarkable, lifting millions of its citizens out of poverty and single-handedly having a major impact on overall human development. However, we cannot use just one indicator alone. The noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Bethell, and others have highlighted these issues with our trading relationship—I will return to that in a moment. Over this period, growth in UK-China trade has been marked, but it is not equal growth, because the UK now has a trade deficit with China in goods of more than £40 billion. That is at an unprecedented scale in our trading history. Under this Government, this deficit has grown. We are now in the unhappy position that trade with autocracies has risen under this Government, but trade with democracies has fallen. This is not good for our national security, nor is it good for our resilience as far as our own industry is concerned.

This report is about how the UK Government now respond to these concerns. While recognising China’s growth in the positive areas, my party and others in this debate have recognised some of the concerns, including China’s challenges to the international liberal order, such as at the UN Human Rights Council. I have a little more sympathy with the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, than with—if he will forgive my saying so—the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The issue about rules, values and standards is not necessarily that we impose them, but that we work with allies on what we consider to be the most beneficial areas. If they are unclear on our approach in some of these areas, an alternative approach will become the norm. From data transfer to e-commerce, regulatory reforms, privacy, and human rights within supply chains, we have been at the forefront, with consensus, of establishing some of these norms and rules. There is, in many areas, a competing narrative with which, if we are not robust, they will be filled. On human rights abuses, which have been referred to, we have debated them repeatedly and, unfortunately, will have to continue to do so.

We have heard in the debate about the aggressive posturing towards Taiwan, including the latest address by President Xi in the congress. A further concern is surveillance technology, which is used at home in China as a tool for suppression but has been bought here in the UK and by others abroad without the level of reliance on a set of standards, which we believe would be right for the use of surveillance technology. Of course, we have seen a regrettable and increasing trend of interference in civic debate in other countries—and, as my noble friend Lord Campbell of Pittenweem said, here in the UK, just within the last 48 hours.

We strongly support the need for a comprehensive China strategy but, in our view, a comprehensive industrial strategy too. They are intertwined. I hope that we will see some clarity on this soon from a new Government. It will mean that the UK has to have a significant review of China’s preferential market access in a whole sweep of areas, from foreign direct investment screening to pension fund investments. It is not acceptable that local authorities and public sectors are not aware, when investing in a Chinese-indexed market, whether their investments are in regions and enterprises in China that are conducting significant human rights abuses. There needs to be much more clarity in this area. I have repeatedly asked the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, whether any of the preferential agreements signed in 2015 have been reviewed in light of the grotesque human rights abuses, and the Government have failed to provide any clarity as to whether they have.

In an industrial strategy, we need a review of supply-side security. The noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, and others are absolutely right. On concerns with regard to Taiwan, how resilient is the UK if China seeks to weaponise our trade deficit in certain key sectors? We have seen this within the domestic UK market with regard to chip supplies, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said. Why has not the UK opened up discussions about the equivalent of a US chips Act? Why is the United States looking at this in a strategic way, while the UK has, as the committee put it, a complete void in that regard? We must be willing to cease research co-operation and technology sharing if our Chinese colleagues are unable to provide adequate reciprocity and transparency in the regulatory framework.

The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, was absolutely correct to raise the issue of data. I am genuinely concerned about the Government’s current approach. He rightly said that China has access from government officials. The UK has now signalled that we will be leaving GDPR principles, but there is no clarity as to their successor. In some of our key sectors, the service sector and financial reform, this is critical, and I hope that the Minister has a response in his remarks.

I close on Hong Kong. It is a necessity for the UK to audit UK-based assets owned by CCP officials, state-owned enterprises and Hong Kong officials. We need to review bilateral FDI with Hong Kong relations. I hope that the Minister can say that the global human rights sanction regime is now being considered very carefully with regard to officials in Hong Kong. All those areas are vital, and we need to signal that we are now in the process of considering UK resilience in our relationship with China, in case of disruption. It is not a signal that we are seeking to remove ourselves entirely from our partnership with China or indeed to have, in certain areas, a weakening of the positive cultural relationship with the people of China. However, it is necessary for the United Kingdom to be resilient and to stand up for the rules, standards and values that we helped shape and should invest in, and we should work on with our partners.

Finally, I could not agree more strongly with my noble friend Lord Teverson. Many of the countries in emerging markets and developing nations that are looking at the UK and China at the same time see that the UK has stepped back. We have slashed support with very little notice, and there is a lack of stability and reliability in our relationship with them. That is creating a new void which China will fill, and that will be to the United Kingdom’s long-term detriment.

15:35
Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I start by commenting that we have of course all been looking at our mobile phones during this debate. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howell, that the Prime Minister’s resignation earlier today is not a matter for debate now, but I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, that we should not underestimate the impact of the Government’s actions on our global reputation and credibility. It will come back to haunt us.

I very much welcome this report, and certainly the excellent introduction by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. We have discussed elements of the report in previous debates, and I repeat what we said then: this is about making a very clear case for a consistent written strategy setting out the Government’s security relationship with China. As long as Ministers maintain their policy of ambiguity, we cannot be confident that they are properly balancing the need for economic engagement with the importance of the UK’s interests and values.

Unfortunately, as noble Lords mentioned, the response to the report gave no further indication of a wide-ranging strategy—far from it. Instead, there were only piecemeal points about the UK’s interests and values. It focused on things such as the importance of avoiding strategic dependency on China. The Government argued that the National Security Council provided clear direction for their China policy, and that it was supported by the work of the integrated review. I too welcome the fact that events have overtaken us and the integrated review will be re-examined in the light of Russian aggression. I accept that that does not undermine the case that the committee has made. The fact that events have overtaken us does not undermine the fundamental case for a clear strategy in dealing with China.

As the noble Baroness said in her contribution and in her follow-up letter to the Minister, ambiguity and uncertainty are

“damaging to businesses and detrimental to our partnerships and alliances in the region.”

I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Howell, said about those alliances, but unless we are clear, they will not know what we stand for. The noble Baroness wrote that it was unclear how the Government intended to balance human rights issues with the economic relationship with China, and how they

“will prioritise when these considerations clash.”

Amanda Milling said:

“We will uphold our values and protect our national security while promoting a positive and reliable economic relationship”.


As I have asked in previous debates, can the Minister say what exactly is the extensive programme of engagement with UK businesses to ensure that our policy is fully understood? The noble Baroness was absolutely right: the ambiguity continues to damage both our business interests and our political interests. Noble Lords will want to hear some concrete examples from the Minister, not just vague words.

The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, mentioned the language deficit. It is a sad fact that, under the Conservative Government, the number of Mandarin speakers in the Foreign Office has fallen to a pitiful 14, the deployment of personnel to the strategically vital Pacific region has shrunk, and the often-mentioned China strategy is nowhere to be seen. The resultant drift and confusion undermine our position on the world stage, leave our allies unable to rely on British support and risk our technological and industrial advantages, while Chinese companies single out emerging technological advantages in areas such as semiconductors and biotech. Let me be clear. Labour will take a strong, clear-eyed and consistent approach to China, standing firm in defence of human rights, national security and international law while, as my noble friend, whose name I have forgotten—I am sorry.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I had a mental block; it is age, I fear. As my noble friend Lady Blackstone urged, we will engage with China where it is in our interests to do so, particularly, as noble Lords have highlighted, in the global challenges we face that we cannot address unless we work with it, such as climate change, trade and especially global health. For years, the Government have turned a blind eye to human rights and national security concerns. Now they are divided and have no strategy, lurching between U-turns on issues such as Huawei and nuclear power.

In government, Labour will carry out a complete audit of UK-China relationships so that we can ensure the relationship reflects our interests and values and set a consistent strategy for the long term. China remains crucial to addressing those global challenges I have mentioned and is deeply integrated into the global economy. We will engage with China on the basis of our national interest and those clear principles but will not be afraid to speak out on human rights, particularly in Xinjiang, Hong Kong and Tibet. It is simply wrong that China has brought sanctions against UK parliamentarians for raising those concerns. I too pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

The brutal campaign of oppression in Xinjiang is a scar on the conscience of the world. In this House we have consistently raised the plight of the Uighur people, which the UN has said constitutes a crime against humanity and which our Parliament has voted to recognise as genocide. We support absolute, strong action, including a ban on cotton produced with forced labour, and the extension of human rights sanctions against the individuals responsible. As part of that strategy, a Labour Government will increase our independence in critical national infrastructure and will not repeat the sort of mistakes the Government have made in the past, particularly over nuclear power.

However, as the report and noble Lords have mentioned, it is really important that we underline our soft power activity, particularly the British Council and the BBC, which are key elements of an overall integrated strategy. I noticed in today’s Guardian an article showing how the Chinese Communist Party was using influencers in social media—it spreads without us even noticing that it is happening. What is our strategy in response to that? I do not see one. It is really important that we work cross-departmentally and across government to have that absolutely clear strategy.

As the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Hannay, mentioned, we cannot do this on our own: it is really important that we work with our allies to provide real alternatives to China’s finance and investment in the developing world. Again, we have sort of turned a blind eye to that. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, is also absolutely right to mention the Commonwealth; our response to that has been minimal. In fact, as noble Lords have mentioned, we have seen how we have cut our influence by going to 0.5%. We use a statistic such as 0.5% and 0.7% but those bilateral programmes, particularly in Africa, were cut overnight. There was no plan or strategy—no understanding of the impact. Instead, they were cut straightaway. The speed of those cuts, not just the amount, was incredibly dangerous.

I repeat what has been said about the importance of our relationship with Taiwan. We absolutely support and want to see dialogue and peaceful moves to address those issues across the Taiwan Strait. We have been clear about our serious concern about China’s increasingly aggressive actions towards Taiwan and the attempts to intimidate its democratic leaders. We need to be clear about our support for that beacon of democracy. We also need to understand—I have said this about the global challenges—that we are not challenging the recognition issues that we addressed, but it is important that the globe does not miss out on the expertise that Taiwan has developed, particularly on global health. We should ensure that it is included in our discussions wherever possible.

I conclude by addressing the discussion this afternoon in the other place on the Urgent Question on the events in the Chinese consulate in Manchester. We had the Urgent Question repeat here, and I made the point to the noble Lord that it was absolutely essential that Ministers and the Foreign Secretary took responsibility and communicated the Government’s concern about these actions. The fact that it was left to officials and the ambassador was not summoned was a disgrace. It is time for the government to be very clear. Jesse Norman said in the other place that the ambassador is not in this country. We have seen clear evidence of what has happened in Manchester, and we cannot tolerate that those sorts of people who conduct themselves in that manner should be allowed to stay in this country for a day longer.

15:48
Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Anelay for tabling this debate and for her committee’s work, as well as for her introductory remarks. I thank all noble Lords for their insightful contributions.

Last year in our integrated review, the UK Government assessed that China’s increasing assertiveness and growing impact on many aspects of our lives will be one of the defining geopolitical factors of the 21st century. This is, therefore, a key and timely debate.

In line with the IRDC’s report, I will cover the UK’s approach to China, our trade relationship, regional security, and the importance of working with our allies and partners, and I shall do my best to answer as many of the questions that were raised as possible.

The global geopolitical context has changed greatly in the last year, and in response the Prime Minister has commissioned an update of the integrated review. Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine has threatened our collective security and stability, and it has had an acute impact on global economic resilience, supply chains and energy security. We will continue to press China to use its relationship with Vladimir Putin to push for an end to his war, rather than condoning or excusing his actions.

The noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, made the point that China’s influence on Russia is considerable. There is no doubt that that is true, so we continue to engage with China at every level—in Beijing, in London and at the UN—to make it clear that the world is watching what it chooses to say and do. Of course, we condemn any military support to Russia for its illegal invasion of Ukraine, and we expect China to stand up for Ukraine’s sovereignty and territorial integrity and to uphold its commitment to the UN charter. Without going into detail, I note the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Howell, on China’s anxiety about Russia’s potential use of strategic nuclear weapons.

As the Foreign Secretary recently made clear in his speech in Singapore, it remains a top priority for the UK to pursue deeper engagement with our partners in the Indo-Pacific region. China is a major global actor as a G20 member, with a permanent seat on the UN Security Council. This Government are committed to doing more to adapt to China’s growing impact and influence. As we do so, our policy will be defined by our national interests, particularly our sovereignty, security and prosperity. It is in our interest to have a mature and robust relationship with China in order to manage disagreements, defend our freedoms and co-operate where our interests align.

One of the greatest strengths in our relationship with China is the link between the people of our countries. It is worth emphasising that the British-Chinese diaspora play a key role in our communities and culture. We continue to welcome hundreds of thousands of Chinese students to the UK and work to ensure that they are treated as well here as British and other international students are. International research collaboration, including within our universities, is central to the UK’s position as a science superpower. However, as a number of noble Lords suggested, we will not accept collaborations that compromise our national security, and we work closely with universities, funding bodies and industry to protect our higher education and research sector.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, who raised Confucius Institutes in particular and asked what the UK is doing about them, the Government obviously take seriously any concerns about the operation of international organisations at UK educational centres. Like all similar bodies, the Confucius Institutes need to operate transparently and with a full commitment to our values of openness and freedom of expression. As with any international collaboration, universities have a responsibility to ensure that any partnership with a Confucius Institute is managed appropriately and that the right due diligence is in place. We encourage providers with any concerns whatever to contact the Government directly.

A number of noble Lords mentioned the importance of engaging China on the global issue of climate change, and they were absolutely right to do so. The committee rightly observes that we cannot deliver our global climate goals without engaging with China. It is just not feasible; it is not possible. That point was well made by the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone. As the world’s largest greenhouse gas emitter, and the world’s largest investor in renewable energy, China plays a critical role. In particular, we are working with China and other financiers of international coal to accelerate momentum and ambition for the global transition from coal to clean energy through our COP 26 energy transition campaign. As a consequence, and on the back of very extensive diplomacy in the run-up to COP 26, we were able to have an influence on China’s position. Noble Lords will know that China has committed to net zero by 2060 and has said that its intention, and its policy, is to see emissions peak by 2030, the end of this decade. China also committed to ending the financing of overseas coal, which we also pressed hard for in the context of our presidency of COP.

Scientific collaboration also plays a key role in mitigating climate change. The UK Government supported work by meteorological experts in both countries to model extreme climate change impacts around the world. We are increasingly working with China at the diplomatic level: first, to support efforts to secure an ambitious outcome for the CBD COP 15 in Montreal, at the end of this year; and, secondly, to follow up on commitments that we secured from China—quite late in the day, as it happens—to join other countries that signed the Glasgow leaders’ declaration, the commitment to end deforestation by the end of this decade.

Even more importantly, we secured a commitment from China’s biggest commodity trader, COFCO, to align its purchasing criteria with 1.5 degrees and our efforts to break the link between commodity production and deforestation. It was COFCO coming to the table that allowed us to encourage countries such as Brazil, under President Bolsonaro, to sign up to a commitment that they were absolutely not willing to sign up to that point. There are numerous ways in which we are seeking to work with China on climate change and the broader environmental challenge we face.

As an open economy, the UK Government welcome foreign trade and investment to support growth and jobs, including from China. However, we will not accept commercial activity that compromises our national security or values, and we have safeguards in place that enable us to engage with Chinese investors and businesses with increasing confidence.

The National Security and Investment Act came into force in January 2022. It is not specific to China and applies to all investors in the UK, regardless of nationality. We will not hesitate to use the Act’s powers to intervene if and where necessary—including to block the most concerning acquisitions. The Act’s annual report and final orders document the use of NSI powers to date, including to block two acquisitions by Chinese companies. In May this year, a package of measures came into force to update the UK’s export control regime. This enhanced our military end-use controls and added China to the list of destinations to which those controls must now apply. These changes strengthen our ability to prevent exports and address threats to national security and human rights.

In different ways, the noble Lords, Lord Campbell and Lord Alton, and the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, referenced the controversy over Huawei, which rightly dominated the news for some time in the year before last. On 13 October this year, the Secretary of State for DCMS issued a designation notice to Huawei and a designated vendor direction to 35 telecom providers. This gives 12 specific restrictions to telecom providers in their use of Huawei. The Secretary of State has decided that these legal controls are necessary and proportionate to our national security risks. The UK is now on a path towards complete removal of Huawei from the UK’s 5G networks by the end of 2027.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also asked about Hikvision. I needed to check, but we continue to make clear our concern about human rights violations in Xinjiang—which I will come to in a few moments—including the use of mass surveillance and the technology used to facilitate it. We take the security of our citizens and establishments extremely seriously and have a range of measures, some of which I have just identified, to scrutinise the integrity of those arrangements.

The committee rightly identifies the risks to trade and investment and our supply chains in today’s increasingly interconnected world. We recognise that China has clearly set out to use its influence in the global economy to pursue its broader foreign policy objectives. We monitor this closely and are working to strengthen the UK’s critical supply chain resilience and avoid strategic dependency. This includes international collaboration with allies and partners to discourage trade restrictions and coercive measures.

My noble friend Lord Bethell emphasised this particularly well. To him I just say—he may even have been part of this—that BEIS launched the UK’s critical minerals strategy in July, which sets out measures to improve the resilience of critical mineral supply chains. Obviously, supply chains are complex and markets are volatile, with most critical minerals sourced from just a small handful of countries. China is a big player, for reasons that noble Lords have already identified.

I will move on to respond to comments from the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, who talked about British investment partnerships. Through BII, we are providing a positive development finance offer in the Indo-Pacific region and around the world. Our offer is characterised by high standards, transparency and reliability. It supports the Build Back Better initiative—I hesitate to use the term—specifically as an alternative to the belt and road initiative. With a particular focus on climate finance and green infrastructure, we are helping developing and emerging countries in the Indo-Pacific meet their financing needs for infrastructure and enterprise.

The Government have deepened economic ties with our partners in the Indo-Pacific region in the last two years. We have signed free trade agreements with Australia and New Zealand and a digital economy agreement with Singapore, and we continue to make progress towards a new free trade agreement with India. We are also now in the second and final phase of accession to the CPTPP. By acceding to the CPTPP, the UK will join a valuable network of countries committed to the international rules and norms that underpin free trade. Meanwhile, as an ASEAN dialogue partner, and the only European country to have been given such status, we recognise the key role that ASEAN plays. We have made clear our full support for the ASEAN outlook on the Indo-Pacific.

The committee rightly recognised the importance of working with allies and partners in the Indo-Pacific and beyond with regard to China. We speak to those partners on a regular basis to understand their approaches towards China, their hopes and concerns and more. There is much common ground between us; we share many of the same concerns. We and our international partners have a clear message: China must live up to its international responsibilities.

A number of noble Lords rightly referenced the horrors in Xinjiang—in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has raised the issue many times with me in our various exchanges in the Chamber. The noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, also spoke powerfully about the issue, as did a number of other noble Lords. Clearly, China must be held to the same human rights standards as all other members of the international community. The UK has led international efforts to hold China to account for its human rights violations through the UN and through our sanctions regime and measures to ensure that no UK organisations are complicit in these violations through their supply chains.

Given the gravity of the recent UN High Commissioner’s report, which found that China has carried out serious human rights violations—including, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, possible crimes against humanity in the area—it is important that UN members are given an opportunity to consider those findings fully. On 6 October, the UK brought a vote to the United Nations Human Rights Council requesting a vote on the report. We did not succeed—the vote did not pass—and China successfully managed to stifle debate temporarily. However, we are convinced through our efforts that that will not endure and that we will be able to ensure that the report and its findings are properly digested and responded to in that key UN context.

I echo the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Collins, about those Members of Parliament in the UK who have been sanctioned by China, and pay tribute to them. Those sanctions are not only unwarranted but completely unacceptable, and we have provided, as noble Lords will know, guidance and support to those sanctioned by China, including a specialist briefing from relevant government departments on such things as cybersecurity.

Just to move to Hong Kong, China’s national security law has undoubtedly stifled opposition and, more than that, criminalised dissent. In response, the UK has declared China to be in a state of ongoing non-compliance with the Sino-British joint declaration. As noble Lords commented, we also introduced a bespoke immigration route for British national overseas status holders and their immediate family members. The UK will continue to stand up for the rights and freedoms of the people of Hong Kong, as agreed in the Sino-British joint declaration.

I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who asked why the Prime Minister had scrapped the National Security Council—I hope that I have attached the question to the right noble Lord. My understanding is that she replaced it rather than scrapped it; she replaced it with a foreign policy and security council. From my understanding, there is no difference in function, so we are talking about semantics and a label, as opposed to anything meaningful.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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I am grateful for that clarification; perhaps the Minister could write to Members who took part. I looked at No. 10 Downing Street’s briefing on the new Cabinet sub-committees. It is a markedly different committee which includes trade; it is not simply a change of title with the same definition—as I understand it, but I am happy for him to write to me with more information, because it is important.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I doubt I am qualified to get into a scrap on this issue, but my understanding is that there is nothing that the NSC was doing that is not done within the new council. But I shall seek clarity on the issue.

Regional partnerships are especially important in defence and security. We are deepening our engagement with Indo-Pacific partners bilaterally, multilaterally and with smaller groups of like-minded partners. The Five Power Defence Arrangements, where we work together with Australia, Malaysia, New Zealand and Singapore, reached their 50th anniversary last year. The AUKUS defence partnership with Australia and the US also strengthens regional peace and stability, and the UK has responded positively to the requests of our partners to build their capacity in maritime security. The deployment of the UK carrier strike group to the Indo-Pacific last year, where it engaged with 40 countries, demonstrated our commitment to partnership. Two Royal Navy offshore patrol vessels, now stationed permanently in the region, are further deepening this partnership and supporting capacity-building.

The former Prime Minister—my apologies: she is the current Prime Minister—has commissioned an update of the integrated review to be completed by the end of the year. That integrated review will take account of and reflect the dramatic changes that have happened as a consequence of Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine, but the priorities within the integrated review will remain the same: we are not looking at any dramatic shift.

I am so sorry, but I cannot read the names of who asked me certain questions; I apologise if I attribute them to the wrong noble Lords.

On Taiwan, the UK has a clear interest in peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait. As we have always said, the issue must be settled by the people on both sides of the strait through constructive dialogue, without any threat or use of force or coercion. On the issue of visits to Taiwan by western politicians—this is an example of where I cannot read the name of the noble Lord who asked the question—and specifically the visit of Speaker Nancy Pelosi to Taiwan, it is our view that China’s military exercises were inherently destabilising. They form part of a pattern of escalatory Chinese activity over recent months which includes a growing number of military flights near Taiwan. These are not the actions of a responsible international actor. They undermine peace and stability in the Taiwan Strait, which is clearly a matter of global concern. The UK’s long-standing policy on Taiwan remains exactly the same. We have no diplomatic relations with Taiwan, but we have a strong unofficial relationship based on deep and growing ties in an increasingly wide range of areas, underpinned by shared democratic values.

On the issue of academic freedom, particularly in relation to students from China here in the UK—a question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay—academic freedom and freedom of speech are obviously fundamental values to us in the UK. They are cornerstones of the UK’s world-class higher education system and central to a student’s experience. Universities have specific legal responsibilities to protect academic freedom and freedom of speech within the law. Academics, students and visiting speakers must therefore be empowered to challenge ideas and discuss controversial subjects. If institutions or individuals feel under pressure to compromise on those values, to compromise on academic freedom or freedom of expression, we strongly encourage them to come to the Government and provide us with that information.

It is essential to maintain the UK’s place at the heart of an unrivalled global network of economic, diplomatic and security partnerships—partnerships that deliver for British businesses and British people. That is why the Government continue to invest in China expertise and Mandarin language skills across government and our international network. This expertise, coupled with a deeper understanding of the wider Indo-Pacific region, will be even more important as China’s international assertiveness increases and our ties to the region continue to grow.

Before I come to the end, I want to address recent events in Manchester, which we discussed yesterday on the back of an Urgent Question. However, the Minister in the other place has since said more on the subject. Like other noble Lords, I have seen the consul general’s Sky News interview, which has been referenced in the debate today, in which he claimed that it was his duty to get involved in a physical altercation with a protestor. I would add, as my colleague in the other place did, that no matter how absurd those comments may appear to us, it remains important that we follow due process and await details from the police investigation before determining whatever actions we should take.

However, as the Minister for the Americas and the Overseas Territories, Jesse Norman, set out in the other place, we will take further action without any hesitation, depending on the outcome of that investigation. Our ambassador in Beijing will deliver a clear message directly to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and we will send a public message to the Hong Kong community in the UK. I was asked by a noble Lord—again, I sincerely apologise that I cannot read my own writing to see who it was—when that police investigation is likely to end. I am afraid I cannot give a specific date, but I will seek to extract one from the authorities and to share it if I can.

To conclude, the International Relations and Defence Committee’s report makes a valuable contribution to this hugely important topic. We welcome the committee’s scrutiny of our approach to China as we manage disagreements, defend our freedoms and co-operate where our interests align. I end by thanking my noble friend Lady Anelay once again for tabling this debate and all noble Lords for their insightful contributions.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, I asked a number of questions—eight in particular—which have not been answered. I recognise that the Minister cannot answer everything in the course of the debate, but I did ask if he could give an assurance that he would write to answer those questions he was not able to deal with.

Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park Portrait Lord Goldsmith of Richmond Park (Con)
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I apologise if I did not answer all eight questions. I am quite sure I did not; I will check Hansard and will certainly follow up on whatever questions remain unanswered.

16:12
Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to all those who spoke in this debate and contributed information based on their own expertise. They did so with a great depth and breadth of information, which has advanced the debate. Of course, I also thank my noble friend the Minister. I hope his offer to respond to all the questions posed by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, may be extended to other Members who have spoken today. I appreciate that the officials sitting behind him will be thinking, “Oh no”—or something rather stronger—but I know that the questions were asked with a genuine commitment to ensuring that our relationship with China is on the right track, so we would be grateful for responses to them.

It is always said that the first duty of any Government is to ensure that the defence of their country is secured. Of course, that includes economic security. At the beginning of the debate, I referred to my right honourable friend Liz Truss as Prime Minister, but during the course of the debate she has resigned.

Baroness Hooper Portrait Baroness Hooper (Con)
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As leader of the party.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con)
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As leader of the party—and ipso facto, et cetera. It is a brutal world we inhabit, as we know, but that is the nature of democracy, however it is defined.

I refer to my right honourable friend having expressed the view that the approach to China in the integrated review was no longer the full description. Instead of being a systemic competitor, she recognised it in its true state as a “threat” to the security of this nation. I was very pleased to hear my noble friend the Minister make that important differentiation between the description of the Chinese people and the description of the CCP as it runs the Government of China. It is important that we always all remember that. I hope that whoever succeeds my right honourable friend as leader of the party, and potentially Prime Minister, espouses the same views on China as expressed by Liz Truss.

My friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to our visit just two weeks ago to the Gulf—to Bahrain and Qatar—and the fact that we learned there about the joint exercises shortly to be carried out by China, Russia and Iran in the region. It was a real example of “in your face” diplomacy by them. We should always remember that China likes to show what its power really is.

We saw a series of alliances, agreements and co-operation which works very well in that region. I put on record today my thanks to the Governments of Bahrain and Qatar for their hospitality. I also thank our UK ambassadors in Bahrain and Qatar for putting together such a really exhaustive—and exhausting—programme, which enabled us to see so much of the defence co-operation by our allies and friends in that area. I also thank our serving personnel there and those of the United States Air Force, whom we also met.

I mention this in a little more detail than other matters simply because it comes back to the matter of trust. The work we are doing in the Gulf, which is crucial to the security of this country, is possible only because of the way in which so many countries—France, countries across western Europe, the United States and others in the whole of the Middle East region—trust us and work with us to secure what is also our security. Therefore, I reflect very carefully on what the noble Lord, Lord Collins, said, about the importance of Governments remembering that they need to retain international trust if they wish to secure their objectives.

I hope that the objective of our Government continues to be to trade with China, because with its economic heft we need to do so, but to do it in a way that in no way undermines our adherence to the core values that have made this country a great place to live, and to ensure that it remains a great place to live for future generations, who must be watching with some concern today. They need to know that they have a safe future.

Motion agreed.
Committee adjourned at 4.18 pm.

House of Lords

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Thursday 20 October 2022
11:00
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Oaths and Affirmations

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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11:05
Several noble Lords took the oath or made the solemn affirmation.

Arts: Energy Cost Support

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:07
Asked by
Earl of Clancarty Portrait The Earl of Clancarty
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To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the rising cost of energy, what support they will provide for arts venues, museums, libraries and other community spaces.

Lord Kamall Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Kamall) (Con)
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My department, the DCMS, has engaged with the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy to ensure that the energy bill relief scheme is supporting businesses and other non-domestic customers, such as arts venues, museums, libraries and other community spaces. The support provides a discount on gas and electricity unit prices applied to energy usage initially between 1 October this year and 31 March next year. DCMS continues to liaise with all the different sectors under our portfolio to support BEIS’s three-month review of the scheme to determine what support might be needed.

Earl of Clancarty Portrait The Earl of Clancarty (CB)
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My Lords, the arts and cultural sector emerged late out of Covid and some spaces are still recovering. In terms of current problems, to take the example of theatres, threefold and more increases in energy bills are being reported, even allowing for government support. Apart from the clear concern of arts and community spaces about getting through the winter, what reassurance can the Minister give that they will not fall off a cliff edge at the end of March, bearing in mind that energy cost for many spaces is not all about heating but includes other significant year-round usage?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The Government fully realise that after March some organisations may need assistance. One of the reasons that we have a three-month review, which started in October, is to see how effective the scheme is and to look out for unintended consequences and perverse incentives.. After the review, we want to make sure that we target those organisations that really need help after March—some of the more vulnerable ones that we may not have picked up initially—and know how best to help them.

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, I first declare an interest: I am a trustee of two galleries and my daughter works for V&A Dundee. Museums and galleries have to keep to specific temperatures and light levels to ensure the protection and security of valuable collections, so reducing energy consumption is just not an option. Modern Two, part of the National Galleries of Scotland group, has closed due to rising energy costs, and other galleries and museums are warning of closures. What support is the DCMS going to provide to protect our cultural assets from cuts and closures beyond the end of the six-month energy price cap? Does the Minister think that closed galleries are a reasonable price for the public to pay for the Government’s incompetent mismanagement of our national economy?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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My department is in conversations with museums and others and is fully aware. I am sure that many noble Lords will recognise that my department does not just wait until it is contacted by the sector; we are in constant dialogue with different parts of the sector. One of the things we have been discussing is how we protect vulnerable collections and what sort of extra protection might be needed.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Portrait Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD)
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The cultural sector needs support. Alongside the effects of the pandemic and now the rising cost of energy there is also the knock-on effect of inflation, which inevitably means that fewer people are able to afford to visit art venues which involve paying. Does the Minister, whom I welcome to his role, not agree that part of the solution is a reduction in VAT on tickets? This would help venues to absorb some of their increased running costs. A temporary VAT reduction was introduced during the pandemic. The sector is facing another crisis. Does the Minister agree that the same remedy should be applied?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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Officials in my department are constantly talking to the sector to understand the best way to support it, and we want to listen to it rather than assume that the Government have the best answer. One thing that is quite clear—I am sure that the noble Baroness will recognise it—is that during Covid we had a Cultural Recovery Fund. We continue to talk to all areas of the sector to make sure that people still have access, up and down the country, whatever their background and wherever they live, to the rich culture of this country. It is very important, especially during difficult times.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, made some very important points. Many people have been suggesting that galleries and libraries could be places of refuge where people could go to find comfort. If that is the case, will the Minister make proper arrangements to ensure that galleries are introduced to the people who go to them and that they get some cultural benefit as well as physical warmth?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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In a recent conversation with my officials, we were talking about how galleries, museums and other community spaces may well be used this year by people who do not normally attend them. I do not want to overplay this card, but it may well bring a new audience to libraries. Central government needs to be careful because local government is very fierce and tells us that it knows what is best for local communities, so we are working at local level with galleries, museums, libraries et cetera to look at whether they can be warm hubs or whether there are other solutions.

Baroness Bull Portrait Baroness Bull (CB)
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My Lords, at the height of the pandemic, local arts centres demonstrated their commitment to their communities by pivoting business to meet their needs by supporting education catch-up and health and well-being and even providing food banks. It is likely that they will attempt to do the same in the current crisis, opening as warm banks and possibly offering well-being activities too. What will the Government do to incentivise and encourage partnership working between local authorities, statutory services, the voluntary sector and the cultural sector to maximise this kind of much-needed provision and make sure that it is advertised and available to the people who need it most?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes a very important point about partnerships. Government partners, the sector itself or even individual galleries cannot do this alone; we have to work in a clear partnership. It is quite clear that public libraries are run by local authorities, but some are run by local communities and are a great example of civil society. We want to make sure that we understand the picture. We are talking to local authorities, the sector, the Arts Council and UK Theatre, for example, to understand the granularity of these needs and the best way to help people during this difficult period. We know very well the role that the cultural sector has played in the past. It will continue to play a role and we hope it will be open to new audiences.

Lord Harrington of Watford Portrait Lord Harrington of Watford (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a trustee of the Royal Albert Hall. I would like to ask the Minister to grant it and other such institutions the same sympathy and consultation facilities that were given by the commendable acts the Government took to help us during Covid.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord—or was it my noble friend? I could not see him—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Behind you!

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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Ah, it was my noble friend; I thank noble Lords. Next time I will bring my rear-view mirror. One of things we have to be very careful about are those organisations that are commercial but also receive taxpayer or lottery funding. It is important that we understand which sectors needs support. We are constantly in conversation with individual venues, and the umbrella organisations of different sectors. We want to understand how the plan that we have put in place works and where it might not work, so we can look at the plans beyond March next year.

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall (Lab)
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My Lords, I can assure the Minister that the entire sector needs support at the moment. Of course he is right that choices have to be made. We are well aware that some of those choices may be very uncomfortable and will be threatening to a number of sectors. Could he reassure the House that the DCMS will fight the corner of the cultural sector when these challenges come forward? It can look very successful from in front, because it is a very successful aspect of our economy, but behind the scenes it is really struggling and it will need all the support it can get from the department.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes a very important point about the importance of our cultural sector to our economy, but also to the social life and well-being of so many people across the country. Sometimes that cannot be measured in simple econometric terms. I remember, from my time as Health Minister, how much social prescribing was helpful. Cultural organisations and individuals play a role in well-being, and help people get through difficult situations. I assure her that I am so excited to have this job because I am now the Minister for Civil Society—my dream job. I want to work right across the sector, with the heritage sector, the museum sector and others, to champion them, not only to the outside world but also within government.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, rising energy bills are affecting businesses across the economy, but I am glad to hear my noble friend recognise the particular role that cultural organisations play in community life. We saw that recently, after the death of Her late Majesty the Queen, when all the major cultural organisations along the South Bank opened their doors—and their loos—to the many people who wished to queue to pay their respects. Some larger organisations have formed consortia to buy their energy up front and in bulk. Have the Government given any thought to encouraging smaller organisations to see how to do this? Might there be a role for the Arts Council or other umbrella organisations to negotiate better deals on their behalf?

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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I take great pleasure in thanking my noble friend, my predecessor, for his question. I pay tribute, once again, to him for the work he did during the Queen’s funeral, working together across the sector and with the cultural organisations in the examples he gave. This scheme is led by BEIS. We have to work very hard to make sure that BEIS understands any specific needs of the cultural sector, and those of community organisations and civil society. I do not know about the specific example he gives, but it seems very sensible and I will take it back to the department.

Unemployment Figures

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:18
Asked by
Lord Haskel Portrait Lord Haskel
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made as to whether unemployment figures provide an accurate picture of the situation in the labour market.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)
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My Lords, no specific assessment has been made. DWP monitors a range of labour market statistics to understand the labour market situation, including the overall employment rate and economic inactivity rate as well as unemployment. The unemployment rate is accurate and independently produced by the Office for National Statistics. We welcome the fact that unemployment is at its lowest level in 50 years, but we are also expanding the help and opportunities for the growing number of economically inactive people.

Lord Haskel Portrait Lord Haskel (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that reply, but the statistics do not properly identify the approximately 9 million inactive people—yes, 9 million—who are ready and willing to work but are unable to do so because of caring responsibilities, mental or physical illness, because they have been let down by back-to-work programmes and failed by the Government or because of changes in the world of work. Since the pandemic, the number has grown by 640,000, whereas in other similar economies the number is declining. What are the Government doing to properly identify and address this inactivity? With low unemployment and many job vacancies, they should be doing this as part of the growth agenda.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I completely agree with the noble Lord on the points he raises and the fact that there are 9 million economically inactive people. We have a breakdown of the groups that they fall in. We know that 1.7 million are looking after family at home, and 2.5 million are people with sickness issues. That is why we are increasing our efforts to increase the support we give. The noble Lord points out that these people have very complex issues; there may be more than one or two reasons for them not working. I am very pleased that we were able to look at the noble Lord’s son’s report on this and, in fact, give it to the Secretary of State, because she is very keen to read and understand it.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, I very much welcome the Government’s apprenticeship schemes and the support that the Government gave to businesses. Apprenticeships are of course an important route into employment, particularly for some of our young. However, as my noble friend will know, the numbers of apprenticeships have fallen quite significantly. What are the Government doing to support young people, and to identify the barriers that businesses are experiencing, to ensure that these schemes can continue?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I believe that there are a number of activities that the Department for Education is working on to ensure that employers take full use of apprenticeships, and that the National Careers Service and Jobcentre Plus are also encouraging young people to take up apprenticeships. They have a big impact on their lives and are in fact some of the best ways to enter the world of work.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine Portrait Baroness Falkner of Margravine (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister comment on a particular sector which is very adversely affected in terms of economic inactivity: that is, older women, particularly ethnic minority women, who suffer from digital exclusion? Is she able to say what conversations her department is having with employers to facilitate training to bring back into the workplace older women who now, due to the Covid changeovers in working practices, have become excluded due to technology?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I sometimes worry about using the term “older workers”, but rising economic inactivity in the over-50s is contributing to shortages in the labour market. We are working with employers: one example in terms of technology and skills is the STEM returners work task force that we have introduced. In that way, we are trying to upskill people who have left the workforce and get their skills back on STEM so they can go into high-paid work.

Baroness Janke Portrait Baroness Janke (LD)
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My Lords, with job vacancies at record levels—for care workers it is 52%, the highest level since records began—what are the Government doing to invest in the supply of much-needed care workers? Is it not time that the Government addressed the pay of care workers, currently less than that of supermarket workers, rather than trying to find solutions by recruiting workers from the poorest countries in the world, where they are desperately needed at home?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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We are cognisant of the vacancies in the care industry. We are promoting work, in partnership with the Department of Health, but we want employers to pay the right rate for the job. The Government cannot subsidise employers, so that is what we will encourage them to do.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, this is obviously a hugely important issue and the statistics are very difficult to make sense of, so it is a remarkably good Question. Does the Minister realise that the importation of workers on a scale that is likely to have any significant effect on the economy would be huge in terms of immigration? Will she therefore make sure that the Government fulfil their promises to the electorate on the sheer scale of overall immigration?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I am not wishing to duck the issue, but the answer to that question should really come from the Home Office. I will take it back and ask the Home Office to respond to the noble Lord.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, the number of inactive people in this country of working age is increasing inexorably. In the last three months alone, it has increased by 80,000 people, and of the 640,000 who have become inactive since the onset of the pandemic, 55% say that they are long-term sick. Instead of tinkering about at the edges of this problem, as Kwasi Kwarteng was intending to do with benefits, all of the informed experts who write extensively on this are saying that we need significant investment in health, social care and childcare to release the potential of these people who are being wasted. Is the noble Baroness’s department encouraging the current Chancellor of the Exchequer, when he makes the economic Statement that we are all waiting for, to announce the sort of investment that will release that capacity? We will otherwise not get anything like the growth we need.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I take the point that the noble Lord makes. Those people who are long-term sick may have mental health issues that are complex, and the mental health support service is an essential element to it. As regards influencing the Chancellor, I am not aware that my Secretary of State has spoken to him, but I will ask her and respond to the noble Lord.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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Is my noble friend not worried about the operation of universal credit, which of course is paid as an in-work benefit? People can work for as little as two days and still qualify for universal credit. Should this not be looked at quite closely?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I say to my noble friend that we are increasing the AET hours from nine to 12, and then from 12 hours to 15. We are trying to get to a minimum of people working part-time, but it must take into account the barriers that they face. There is no point in trying to push people into work if it creates more havoc in their life without the proper support to get into work and stay there.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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Does the noble Baroness recognisethat there is a clear link between the lengthening waiting time for operations and those who are outside the labour force? Is that not one of the problems that the Government need to address—to speed up operations—if they want to get people in middle age back into the labour force?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I believe that the Secretary of State for Health, Thérèse Coffey, is focusing on this. I am sorry; I am really not trying to duck the issue, but the fact of the matter is that it is one for the Department of Health to look at. Clearly, we need more people to clear the backlog.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, I think the Minister is here to answer—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Front Bench.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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I am grateful to my noble friend and will try again. The Minister is here to answer for the whole Government, but if she does not want to answer for anything but her own department, can I tell her that one-fifth of adults between 50 and 65 who have left work are currently on NHS waiting lists? Does she accept that the very least her department could do is ensure that it can assure those people that, as well as that problem, it is not about to cut the value of their benefits as well?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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We will have to wait and see what is in the Secretary of State’s review of uprating. We have honoured the pledge we made on the triple lock and I am afraid that until we get to 25 November I will not be able to answer that question in all truth.

Minister for Equalities

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:28
Asked by
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what the responsibilities of the Minister for Equalities will be, and whether they will update the gov.uk website to list those responsibilities.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, and Parliamentary Under-Secretary, Department for Work and Pensions (Baroness Stedman-Scott) (Con)
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The Minister for Equalities’ role represents all aspects of the women and equalities portfolio in Cabinet. The portfolio has not changed and includes all areas of his predecessor’s portfolio. This was confirmed by the Prime Minister’s spokesperson shortly after the appointment of the Minister for Equalities and has been reflected on GOV.UK. The Cabinet role will be supported by the newly appointed Minister for Women in the other place and by me here in the House of Lords.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that Answer, but I am still curious as to why Minister Zahawi is nervous of having women and equalities in his job title; you would think he would be proud to carry a title showing concern for over half the population. Even more puzzling—maybe it shows the priority this Government are giving to equalities issues—is that it took six weeks and my questions for the responsibilities to be put on GOV.UK. Well, better late than never. When can we expect an equalities impact assessment of the mini-Budget and how it will affect women, black and minority ethnic communities, disabled people and others with protected characteristics?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I do not know when an impact assessment will be available, but I am sure one will be. On the whole question of having “women” in the title, the designation of job titles is way above my pay grade. I cover all aspects of the portfolio in the Lords, and I would rather be defined by what we do and not what we are called.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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My Lords, I too checked the Government’s website this morning, after recent events, to check who is responsible for women. I saw that Katherine Fletcher MP is down as the current Minister for Women, which of course we welcome—the more Ministers we have focusing on these issues, the better. Figures show that women have been brutally exposed to and are bearing the brunt of the cost of living crisis. They are disproportionately affected by surging poverty levels. That in turn affects their families and children particularly. I am sure that the Minister, who we know is extremely sympathetic to these issues, has heard harrowing reports of women missing meals in order to feed their children. Will there be an impact assessment specifically on the impact of the cost of living crisis, given the stark figures? If there has not been one, are there any plans for one—particularly for disabled women and women from minority communities, who are really suffering? Their children are suffering as well. Will the Minister take this up?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I will be very happy to take it up.

Baroness Gohir Portrait Baroness Gohir (CB)
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My Lords, I am very concerned about the push in society to erase the word “women”. It is very worrying. It is disempowering to 50% of the population; it makes women’s experiences invisible. Will the Equalities Minister, as one of his responsibilities, protect the word “women” and prevent it being replaced by gender-neutral language—particularly in public service institutions where Governments have power to do something?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I think that is a very important intervention and the noble Baroness can see from the House’s response that people agree with it. I have my first meeting with Nadhim Zahawi next week and I will put that on the agenda.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, there is nervousness about using the word “woman”. Last night at the PinkNews Awards, Keir Starmer declared that he would make it a crime to misgender. That means people might use the word “woman”, but nobody will define what a woman is. Maybe that nervousness is because people are frightened of misgendering and getting dragged into the gender wars. Can the Minister assure us that “equalities” means that biological women will not have their rights sidelined by an equalities agenda based on gender identity?

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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Why has he dropped “Women” then?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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One at a time, please. As far as I am concerned, I agree completely with the noble Baroness and will try to ensure that that happens.

Lord Bellingham Portrait Lord Bellingham (Con)
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My Lords, this House has a really superb reputation for equality, inclusion and diversity. Can the Minister explain why it is necessary in these challenging economic times for the House of Lords to be advertising for a new inclusion and diversity officer on quite a hefty salary?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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That is a very good question. I do not know as I have not seen the advert but I will go away and find out. I am sorry that I did not know that that position had been advertised and cannot answer the question accurately. I think I am going to be speaking to the Clerk of the Parliaments to get an answer, but it is a very good point.

Baroness Penn Portrait Baroness Penn (Con)
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Does my noble friend agree that there is one area where, to advance women’s equality, we need to improve men’s rights? That is on paternity leave. If we want parents to be able to share caring responsibilities, we need to give them more equal rights. That means improving paternity leave and pay. However, given current economic circumstances, maybe a smaller step the Government could take would be to make paternity leave a day one employment right, as it is for maternity.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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That is another very good point. In 2019, the Government consulted on high-level options for reforming the parental leave and pay system, including making changes to paternity leave. We are currently considering responses to the consultation and will respond in due course.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, could the Minister demonstrate how, with this very broad role, she is actively engaging with women and ensuring that they are linked to the issues that other noble Lords have raised, and promoting equality for women in this country in her daily workload, including tackling low pay in care and the NHS?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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The noble Baroness again raises the issue of people in the care industry on low pay. Obviously, we need to increase pay so that people can live a decent life, but as far as my job is concerned, I am full strength on equalities issues relating to women. I have just come back from the G7, where I represented women. I spoke really vociferously because, as I said in my speech, women are underrepresented, they are underpaid and they are underutilised.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, my views on identity politics are pretty well known both in this House and publicly. I might help the Minister by suggesting that it might be that the inclusion and diversity post is about ensuring that all people from all backgrounds—whether they have disabilities or not—feel included in and are given the support they need to fully participate in this House. Would that not be a good thing?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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It certainly would be a good thing and I am sure people in this Chamber are listening to the recommendation of the noble Lord.

Baroness Browning Portrait Baroness Browning (Con)
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Will the Government reconsider the decision to abolish the Women’s National Commission, which represented over 100 different women’s organisations around the country? I speak as a former government co-chairman of the Women’s National Commission. The opportunity for women to meet and speak to a Government Minister who then took up the cudgel for whatever the issue was with any other government department had a lot of value at the time. I hope my noble friend will reconsider it.

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I had no knowledge of this organisation, but I am very happy to ask the question in the equalities department and come back to the noble Baroness in writing. I will place a copy in the Library.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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Can the Minister tell the House whether the Government base their equalities policy on evidence or, as the Prime Minister does, on campaigns run by certain groups following a distinct ideology against women?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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As far as I am concerned, evidence is the only thing on which to base a decision. My understanding is that that is the position of the Government.

Baroness Fookes Portrait Baroness Fookes (Con)
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My Lords, among all the excitement about what people are called, would it not be better if we return to a common-sense approach where courtesy and kindness to all prevail?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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I could not have put it better myself. I hope we all take up the cudgel on that.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, with the greatest thanks and courtesy to the Minister for mentioning the gender pay gap earlier, does she agree that when the state cares about an area of law or regulation, it takes some direct responsibility for its enforcement, whether it is school standards or environmental protection? Is it not time that we considered amending the Equality Act so that a state agency takes responsibility for enforcing equal pay?

Baroness Stedman-Scott Portrait Baroness Stedman-Scott (Con)
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On the gender pay gap, we have set up a reporting system: we are requiring employers to report their gap, and our gap is now down to 14%. It is not good, but it will get better; we are focusing our efforts on that. In relation to the technical point made by the noble Baroness about having somebody responsible for that, I am being asked a lot of questions today that I have to take back. I hope that nobody takes that as me trying to avoid answering the question.

Warm Hubs

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
11:39
Asked by
Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to support the establishment and maintenance of warm hubs in England.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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Warm hubs, as with Covid support, are a fantastic example of the way in which faith and community groups can work together with local authorities to provide support and help for their communities. The Government strongly support these initiatives, but local government, which knows the needs of its communities, is best able to give support. We have made an increase of £3.7 billion to local government this financial year. We have also made available £1.4 billion through the household support fund.

Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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I thank the Minister for her reply. Warmwelcome.uk is a coalition of many Christian charities that so far have signed up more than 1,600 halls, organisations and buildings to act as warm hubs providing lunches after school, homework clubs and so on. What consideration has been given to using these places of meeting to communicate and help people understand whether they can access other benefits, health advice, local charities and other support that is available during these very troubling times?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right. Warm hubs are there to do one specific thing, but we have the opportunity to make them not just warm, welcoming places to go but places where people who might be lonely will not be as lonely, with ongoing support for loneliness, which we know is a cause of mental health issues. He is right that hubs are an opportunity to ensure that local people get the support and knowledge they need and are entitled to, including information on such things as flu and Covid vaccines. We should be using them, and to that end I will talk—and have already talked—to the Local Government Association about best practice to move this forward.

Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate for this important Question. The Minister will be aware that there are deep issues with the shortage of funding within all local authorities. They are having to scrape the barrel to fund services for children, adults with learning difficulties and a whole range of others. Can the Minister say with serious courtesy and conscience that the sixth-largest economy in the world can justify failing large sections of the community and rely on the use of these hubs? The most significant amount of work has been done by charities and interfaith organisations. Can we seriously say that we are satisfied with this?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have given large amounts of money to support people, households and businesses with their energy issues. I do not agree with the noble Baroness; I think communities are where these things are best delivered, and communities and local government know how to deliver them in the best way. I know that local authorities are always strapped for cash, but it is a matter of prioritisation for those local authorities and we have increased their grant by £3.7 billion this year. There is also the household support grant, a third of which is for supporting families and a third for pensioners. The other third is not ring-fenced and can very well be used for these sorts of projects.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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I commend my Liberal Democrat colleagues in the London Borough of Sutton, who have already announced that they will use their libraries as warm hubs throughout the winter. Does the Minister agree with me that many commercial businesses inevitably have to use energy for their business? Will she ensure that some of the funding that goes to local government enables it to turn businesses, where possible, into warm hubs? I am thinking of places such as shopping centres, for example, which have to have a minimum amount of heating.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right: we must never forget the private sector. We talk a lot about the public sector, the voluntary sector and the faith sector, but there is always the private sector. The private sector is getting energy bill relief from the Government, as are the voluntary and public sectors, so they are also getting support on their energy. I quite agree that, if we can encourage more private sector companies to look at this locally, it will help them as well as the people they support.

Baroness Bull Portrait Baroness Bull (CB)
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My Lords, given that my question earlier was about joining up, will the Minister answer the same question I asked her colleague from DCMS? What can the Government do to encourage and incentivise local authorities, statutory providers, faith organisations, the voluntary sector and the cultural sector, including libraries, to work together to maximise this kind of provision and make sure that it is advertised and made available to those people in the community who need it the most?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I do not think we are starting from the beginning. I googled “warm hubs” today, and I suggest that noble Lords do the same. Across the whole country, these partnerships are happening now. I spoke to the chairman of the Local Government Association last night, and I encouraged it to ensure best practice—this is now happening with our partners in faith and other community groups and the private sector—and to put that information out so that all local authorities do it. Look at Leeds. Today it has put out a map of where all its warm hubs are in the city. That is a wonderful idea and should be taken up by others.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, it is quite clear that higher energy prices are going to have the effect of cutting the amount of energy that people use. Have the Government done any calculations on the demand for energy dropping as a result of higher prices?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I am very sorry, but I do not know the answer to that. I will go to BEIS, which is responsible for this, ask it for an answer and make sure that the whole House gets that answer.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, in addition to supporting organisations in providing warm hubs, since 2011 the Labour-led Government in Wales have invested almost £400 million into more than 67,000 homes to improve energy efficiency. Will the Minister commit to improving energy efficiency in homes across the UK? I ask her to begin by accepting the amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, to the social housing Bill, to which noble Lords agreed earlier this week.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I think the time has come for that amendment, but the noble Baroness is right. Warm hubs are about this winter and the immediate. We have a longer-term plan: Help to Heat is the Government’s investment of £12 billion into schemes to ensure that homes are warmer and cheaper to heat. They include boiler upgrades, local authority delivery schemes for sustainable warmth competitions, home upgrade grants, the social housing decarbonisation fund and, of course, the energy company obligations. There are a number of schemes that the Government are investing in, as is the private sector, to make sure that, in the long term, our homes are better insulated and can keep warmer on less energy.

Baroness Jolly Portrait Baroness Jolly (LD)
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My Lords, a lot of the solutions we have heard today are very much urban-based. I live in the middle of Cornwall, where we have 10 miles between villages. Picking up on libraries, which is a good idea, that is not quite as workable. Do the Government have any bright ideas on the rural sector?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I do not think the Government necessarily do, but local government certainly does. If you google them, you will see the number of village halls and parish councils in these small rural areas that are doing exactly what the more urban areas are doing. We have village halls all across the country, and they can use the energy scheme for businesses and the voluntary sector. Working with their local councils, they can also get small grants to support their local villages. Also, in most of our rural villages there is a church. Working together with faith communities and parish councils, you can deliver in rural areas.

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, I will make a constructive suggestion in relation to rural areas; I wonder whether the Minister can help on this. We need a national campaign to encourage people in small villages, such as the one I live in, to welcome people into their homes for coffee or tea and to enable people to walk to a local warm hub, which could just be a local person who reaches out. I believe that many people would be committed to doing that. My anxiety is that we will end up with loads of people feeling that they need to go to a warm hub and sit still, which is not a solution either.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I am more than happy to talk further with the noble Baroness. Some of these things are happening, but it is a matter of making sure that we keep them all together and that good practice is transferred across the country.

Hereditary Peers By-election

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Announcement
11:50
The Clerk of the Parliaments announced the result of the by-election to elect a hereditary Peer, in place of the Earl of Listowel, in accordance with Standing Order 9.
Twenty-two Lords completed valid ballot papers. A paper setting out the complete results is available in the Printed Paper Office and online. That paper gives the number of votes cast for each candidate. The successful candidate was Lord Hampton.
Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, I did not want to test the patience of the House, and there will be so many more opportunities if they keep coming at this rate. If there are any anoraks like me who look at these results, they are well worth reading—I enjoyed reading them. In yesterday’s election, in which 190 people voted, there were 17 rounds of voting to sort them out, under the electoral system that the House has determined. Had they declared the result after the first round, exactly the same two people would have been elected as was the case after the 17th round. These elections cost us: we pay an outside organisation to do it. The winning candidate got 36 votes, and the turnout was 28.6%. I am bidding to become the Lords’ answer to Professor Sir John Curtice.

Communications and Digital Committee

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Deputy Chairmen of Committees
Procedure and Privileges Committee
Services Committee
Justice and Home Affairs Committee
Public Services Committee
Motions to Approve
11:52
Moved by
Communications and Digital Committee
That Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Buscombe.
Deputy Chairmen of Committees
That Baroness Williams of Trafford be appointed to the panel of members to act as Deputy Chairmen of Committees, in place of Lord Ashton of Hyde.
Procedure and Privileges Committee
That Lord True and Baroness Williams of Trafford be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Evans of Bowes Park and Lord Ashton of Hyde.
Services Committee
That Baroness Williams of Trafford be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Ashton of Hyde.
Justice and Home Affairs Committee
That Lord McInnes of Kilwinning be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Pidding.
Public Services Committee
That Baroness Chisholm of Owlpen be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Davies of Gower.
Motions agreed.

Violent Crime, Gang Activity and Burglaries

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Take Note
11:52
Moved by
Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape
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That this House takes note of (1) the current level of violent crime, gang activity, and burglaries, and (2) the strategy of His Majesty’s Government for addressing these problems.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape (Lab)
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My Lords, violent crime and the fear of crime concern many people in this country. I will illustrate some statistics, particularly in the West Midlands area, which I am familiar with—I represented part of it in the other place for some years. I am grateful to the police and crime commissioner of the West Midlands, Mr Simon Foster, for providing these statistics.

The Office for National Statistics’ figures for violent crime, which is mentioned in the Motion, show that there were over 1.5 million such incidents in the current year, from March 2021 to March 2022. There were no fewer than 710 homicides in the United Kingdom, which represents a 25% increase year on year.

Of course, other crimes fall within the category of violent crime, and I shall deal with them solely in the West Midlands in the next few minutes. Some 3,601 rape crimes, for example, were recorded in the West Midlands in 2021, representing a 562% increase in rape offences from 2012. Similar increases in other sexual offences short of rape were recorded, particularly over the last year for which statistics were collected.

There was a 116% increase in homicides in the West Midlands between 2014 and 2022. I could continue with offences of violence against the person, but one in particular that concerns people countrywide is the increase in domestic burglary, particularly in the West Midlands, where there was an 88% increase between 2014 and 2019.

On gang activity, which is also mentioned in the Motion, the Children’s Commissioner estimates that some 27,000 young people are active in gangs engaged in criminality in the United Kingdom, particularly the movement of drugs through county lines. “County lines” is where illegal drugs are transported from one area to another, often across police and local authority boundaries, usually by children or vulnerable people who are coerced into such activity by gangs. The county line is the mobile phone line used to take the orders of drugs. Importing areas—areas where the drugs are taken to—are reporting increased levels of violence and weapons-related crimes as a result of this trend.

In 2019, the NCA estimated that over 2,000 individual county lines were in operation. It said:

“These deal lines are controlled by criminal networks based primarily in urban hubs and facilitate the direct purchase of illicit drugs, primarily class A (crack cocaine and heroin), by drug users in smaller towns and rural areas.”


The three urban areas most affected by county lines are London—obviously—Liverpool and Birmingham. When the Minister replies, could he say what activities the Government are planning to reduce the involvement of children, particularly young children, in such county lines?

According to police statistics, there were almost 50,000 knife crimes in the year to March 2022. In the West Midlands, there is considerable concern about such incidents, with an increase of 163% between 2010 and 2021. It is of course easy for His Majesty’s Government to blame knife crime in London on the Labour mayor. The previous Home Secretary—I cannot remember who that was because there have been so many—was adept at blaming Sadiq Khan, although surely the Government must bear most of the responsibility for criminal activity and the response to it in the capital.

Countrywide, there were 192,060 burglaries between March 2021 and March 2022. That is 526 every day, or one burglary every 164 seconds. As I indicated earlier, there has been an 88% increase in domestic burglaries in the West Midlands between 2014 and 2019. I will detain your Lordships on burglaries for a moment because I feel strongly about this. I have lived at my present address in south Birmingham for 32 years. In that time, I have been subjected to no fewer than five burglaries, two of which were successful—from the burglars’ point of view—and I assure your Lordships that few incidents are more depressing than arriving back from London to find your front door smashed and every room in the house turned over. Burglars are not known for tidying up before they leave; the contents of every drawer and cupboard are taken out and strewn across the place.

Although it is sometimes said that burglary is a victimless crime because we claim on our insurance, it is sometimes months after the event that we realise that certain items are missing. Many of the items stolen are not particularly valuable financially but mean a great deal to the people concerned. In my case, among the things stolen was a silver casket I received from the borough of Sandwell with my citation as a freeman of the borough. They dropped the medal and the citation itself in the garden, so at least I can still prove that I am still a freeman of the borough of Sandwell but the solid silver casket disappeared with the other valuables. Various other silver items were taken on this occasion, which, quite frankly, were irreplaceable: a silver tankard which I and other members of the Bredbury and Romiley Urban District Council received when we were abolished—by a Tory Government, incidentally—following the Local Government Act 1972. I cannot replace that and it was not worth very much, but these are the sort of items and the sort of distressing results of the number of burglaries that take place in the United Kingdom.

The Home Secretary—at least, the Home Secretary until yesterday—made a speech to the Conservative Party conference recently, promising to restore police numbers to those we enjoyed when the Conservatives first came to power in 2010 and that a police officer would visit every burglary. No consultation has taken place with the Police Federation about the practicalities of such a scheme but, then again, it served its purpose by drawing a standing ovation at the Conservative Party conference. Alas, her opportunities to draw such a standing ovation in the office of Home Secretary have now been curtailed by her own act of yesterday, but it placated the crowd at the time. Indeed, it roused it to some degree of enthusiasm.

I have dealt with the outline of the situation so far as the terms of the Motion before us are concerned, but I could not leave this subject without talking about police morale generally. Under a Conservative Government—a so called Government of law and order—police morale has plummeted considerably. The vice-chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales has lobbied the Government over many years, particularly about the reckless cuts made to police forces during austerity, which have resulted in rising levels of crime. He said that

“we are seeing this pressure disillusion colleagues with years of experience, driving them to leave the service due to pay and morale issues and the devastating impact of unfair and discriminatory pension changes.”

I spent a couple of years when a Member of the other place as a home affairs spokesman and spent some time during that period accompanying police officers on their duty, some in the Metropolitan area and some in the West Midlands. I read lately of the problems in the Metropolitan Police area and the decision of the new police commissioner to get rid of, as he puts it, literally hundreds of police officers for improper behaviour. Of course, I support that. However, I have to say, without in any way defending the sort of behaviour that the new police commissioner outlined, that I was struck by the youth of some of the police officers I accompanied and by the sort of tasks they had to undertake.

One that sticks firmly in my mind was accompanying two police officers, a man and a woman, in their mid-20s to the flat of an old person who had not been seen for some months. It was necessary to break down the door accompanied by a member of the local authority. The sight and smell of a corpse that had been in that property for some three months remains with me after 30-odd years. When we give police officers tasks such as that at a fairly young age, it is perhaps inevitable that they develop a carapace—a thick skin—concerning the duties they have to undertake. We followed that up within a couple of days by picking up a hopelessly incontinent drug addict from the arches near Waterloo Station. We should appreciate that young police officers perform tasks that no one else would want to do and, while quite properly taking action against those who misbehave, we should recognise that, for many of them, coming to work means the sort of role that I have just outlined.

As for police officers in the West Midlands, I am grateful to the police commissioner for some of the facts and figures on financial cuts to policing in the West Midlands since 2010. In 2010, the West Midlands had a total of 8,765 police officers. Austerity meant that 2,221 were cut and £175 million slashed from the police budget. That is 25% of police officers in the West Midlands, plus hundreds of essential police staff, including 300 community support officers. At the same time, there were huge cuts in the services vital to preventing crime in the first place, such as youth clubs, mental health services, local council funding and probation services. When these arbitrary cuts are made, it is often forgotten that although the Government of the day can show an instant saving, the cumulative cost of those savings far outweighs the initial amount saved. So many young people in the West Midlands being deprived of some of the services that I have outlined has resulted in the increase in crime that I have mentioned. As of March 2022, because of the Government’s change of heart, the total number of police officers in the West Midlands now stands at 7,642 but that is still over 1,000 officers short of the situation back in 2010 when that Government came to power.

As of today, we are to have a new Home Secretary, Mr Grant Shapps, who is taking over. He has had a versatile career since he entered the House of Commons. He has changed his name a few times as well, but I will come to that in a moment. He has been the Transport Secretary, the International Development Secretary, the Conservative Party chairman, the Housing Minister and now he is the new Home Secretary. He is a very versatile chap. According to this morning’s Guardian, he is a man of many roles and many names. He has been known as Mr Michael Green, Mr Sebastian Fox and, most unlikely of all, as Ms Corinne Stockheath during his career. Which name and guise he will adopt in his present role, only time will tell. I hope he will prove a better Home Secretary than he was a Transport Secretary. Noble Lords might recollect that I have bored the House on numerous occasions with transport stories. He was notorious for every problem being a photo opportunity when he was Transport Secretary. One would hope that he will change his tune in his new and extremely important role.

For a Government who pride themselves on their economic abilities, this Government have virtually bankrupted the nation. For a Government who wrap themselves in a flag of patriotism on every occasion, they have reduced the British Army to its lowest level for two centuries. For a Government who brag about law and order, there is nothing at all to brag about, given the situation that many of our people in this country find themselves in at present. I beg to move.

12:09
Lord Bishop of St Albans Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Albans
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, not only for obtaining this timely debate but for his introduction to it. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Local Government Association.

I will focus on just one specific area of this huge topic, which I imagine many of us will want to address: knife crime. The diocese I serve encompasses Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire; in Bedfordshire, knife crime has increased by a third since 2010. There are various estimates about the increases over the last year, but it is something in the region of 10% across our nation. There was a fall during the lockdowns, but we are now rapidly reaching the same levels as pre Covid and the projections are stark—so it is deeply worrying.

It is engendering huge levels of fear: as I go around talking to people, many of the elderly are fearful of their houses being broken into, although they are statistically unlikely to be the victims of knife crime. However, when you go into schools, it is a topic of which many young children are terrified, not least as they make their way to and from school. Hospitals are dealing with soaring numbers of stab victims: 4,112 cases were recorded last year, a 2% increase on the previous year. Of those, 855 were in London, 405 in the West Midlands, 310 in Greater Manchester, 240 in West Yorkshire hospitals, 175 in South Yorkshire and 140 in Merseyside. In other words, this is not just a case of stories being particularly highly reported in the papers of London; it is something that affects areas—particularly urban but even sometimes rural—across our country. It is particularly concerning that a recent report suggests that only one in six crimes involving a knife in London has been solved by the police over the last two years.

I know that others will comment on the police, but we need to start by thanking them for being on the front line, which is the most terrifying place to be when you are confronted with a knife. Having been out sometimes with a night shift to watch what our police are having to cope with, I have nothing but admiration for them putting their lives on the line and having to deal with situations I would not know how to begin with—and some of them are doing it night after and after. We really need to support our police. This is why we need to ensure that the promises that have been made to recruit 20,000 new police officers are met, and that we get those people in place. The latest I can find out on recruitment is that we are sort of half way there. I will ask the Minister a bit more about that at the end. We need to have people on the ground who are policing, and we need to support our police and everybody in our criminal justice system.

Having said that, when someone is convicted, it is too late: we need to get far ahead on preventing it before we are simply dealing with the effects. As noble Lords know, some people say it costs—we hear various figures—something like £40,000 a year to keep someone in a young offender institution. It would be far better if we were spending that money on preventive work with youth workers and other people to get ahead of the game. We need to try to work out how we can support the police and get ahead of this terrible problem that is affecting so many communities.

How can we work to beat our swords into ploughshares and our knives into useful tools? In the areas where I work with voluntary groups and churches, there is an awful lot of work going on and a lot of analysis about how we can build the sort of communities that are likely to reduce the levels of knife crime. This is not a problem for just the left or the right; we need solutions from all political sides if we are going to get on top of this. According to a very interesting analysis I read, there is poverty of resources, poverty of relationships and poverty of identity.

On the poverty of resources, we are not investing in the way that we used to in youth work, and we are not investing in enough groups, sports and other activities to give young people activities to engender their sense of competition, pride and so on. We really need to think about how we are investing in this. In the communities in which I work, so many of our youth centres are being sold off. I think I am right in saying that my diocese now employs more youth workers—as a voluntary organisation—than Hertfordshire County Council and the Bedfordshire unitary authorities combined. That is good, but we need to invest more and recognise that there is a poverty of resources.

From the perspective of the right, there is a poverty of relationships. We have a crisis of children being brought up in families with absent parents and where there are no role models. A lot of the extended family has gone—where, for example, when a marriage broke up there was probably an uncle who would come round and be in loco parentis. A lot of that has gone. We need to look at how we can invest in our family life and how we think about young people having real mentors who can hold them responsible. It is vital that we think about these role models.

Finally, on the poverty of identity, many young people feel as though there is nothing to which they can aspire. They are being sold an awful lot of guff in the media about how everybody can be successful and famous. It is no wonder that they are dismayed when they know there is no way out of their local community. How can we provide ways for these young people to see that there are alternatives to finding their identity and role in society that are not based on holding a knife and saying, “Do what I say, or else”? Some of the very interesting work that has gone on with our churches has involved knife amnesties. Some noble Lords will have seen the extraordinary sculptures made of the knives that have been handed in; we had one recently in one of our churches in Luton.

I will ask the Minister three questions. First, may we have an update on the recruitment of police and police community support officers? That needs to include how many are leaving, not just how many we are recruiting: are the total numbers going up, because we need to ensure that we have the resources on the ground? Secondly, may we have an assessment of the success of serious violence reduction orders in reducing knife crime? Thirdly, may we have an assessment of the troubled families programme, which ran from 2013 to 2020 and worked with over 400,000 families? What lessons did we learn and are we implementing them?

12:17
Lord Bach Portrait Lord Bach (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate and thank my noble friend on securing this debate. I intend to speak about my experience as the police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland between 2016 and 2021, in particular in the area of serious violence and particularly as it affects young people. To be fair, it is an area in which the Home Office has acted over the last few years, significantly with the introduction of the serious violence duty—the guidance was published in May last year, the month I stood down.

However, to begin, it is important to state in the clearest possible terms, so it is never forgotten, that a major factor in the depressing figures around crime mentioned by my noble friend, including serious violence, was the early decision taken by the coalition Government to sharply cut the number of police officers in England and Wales year after year from 2010. This was a disastrous decision, the consequences of which are felt today everywhere. My feeling is that my friends on the Liberal Democrat Benches now regret their part in this, but I have never heard an apology from the major party in that Government, which continued the policy after 2015. There was no acknowledgement that the policy was wrong, counterproductive and hugely expensive in human and financial terms.

Of course, very late on, the Conservatives came to their senses and now boast constantly about the 20,000 new officers being created in the next three years. That is not enough to get back to the 2010 figures, but they are still not apologising for those wasted years. Will the Minister, who is new to his job—I welcome him very much to it—apologise today for cutting police numbers in that way and can he confirm that police cuts will not play a part in the cuts the Chancellor promised earlier this week? I am not sure that all Conservatives have learnt the lesson.

In Leicestershire, there were 2,317 police officers in 2010. At its lowest, the figure went down by 23% to 1,777. By 31 March this year, it was 2,242, with an agreed extra 100 officers by 31 March 2023, at last reaching the 2010 figure. I am afraid that my successor cut the 100 extra planned for this year, even though it was agreed by all parties. Claiming that it was unaffordable, he called in the Home Office civil servants to back him up. Unfortunately for him, both they and the then Policing Minister disagreed and the plan for an extra 100 was given a clean bill of health. The extra 100 officers would have mostly been in by now. Given the recent violence and unrest in the great city of Leicester and the need for four other forces to supply reinforcements at enormous cost, I hope the present police and crime commissioner regrets his damaging and irresponsible decision.

In 2006, there was one officer per 430 residents of Leicestershire and Rutland. In 2018, that one officer was for 615 residents. Last year, the figure was 500 residents. By March next year, it should have been 488 residents, but now it will not because of the cut of 100 officers. That is a sad story. My question to the Minister is this, although he may not be able to answer it: has the Home Office made any representations about the decision taken in that particular part of England, which is obviously against government policy?

I want to say a word about serious violence. Noble Lords will know of the Scottish violence reduction unit based in Glasgow, led by an ex-police superintendent, Niven Rennie, which over the years has inspired other police forces and police and crime commissioners in England and Wales and has, I believe, influenced the Government favourably too. We in Leicestershire were certainly inspired listening to him speak at a conference at our multiagency committee, the strategic partnership board, held at police headquarters in Leicester.

The principle behind all this is common sense. If action can be taken early with young people who have suffered what are called adverse childhood experiences, or ACEs, and suffered trauma as a consequence, and who may be susceptible as a result to committing criminal and even serious criminal behaviour, including violence, that multidisciplinary action may prevent them becoming involved in crime in the first place and, if they do, give them a second chance to get out of it. Examples and evidence of success are there. Of course, it takes a long time.

The Government were impressed enough to give grants for the setting up and support of violence reduction units in 18 of the 23 police force areas, including Leicestershire. Ours has been going for three years now, brilliantly led by Grace Strong. It has much police force involvement, of course. It is a multiagency network, existing to tackle and prevent serious violence and violent crime, particularly that involving young people.

To give an example of what it does, it has organised a small team, often made up of young people, who visit the local A&E at the Leicester Royal Infirmary to try to talk to victims and perpetrators of knife crime, who of course end up in hospital, at what is called the changeable moment—that crucial moment—with the hope of persuading them that knife culture and violence is wrong and counterproductive. I think that is a wonderful initiative.

We set up something called people zones in my time in Leicester. These are small, specific geographical areas in which we established multiagency groups to deal with preventing all offending, from anti-social behaviour at one end to serious violence at the other. I am extremely proud of this initiative and am glad that my successor, who I have perhaps been a bit hard on in this speech, has confirmed the scheme. I congratulate him on doing so.

I end by saying how right the right reverend Prelate was in saying that we owe so much to our police. I learned that very much as a police and crime commissioner.

12:26
Baroness Donaghy Portrait Baroness Donaghy (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Snape for initiating this debate. I have lived in Peckham in south London for over 40 years. I am afraid that it has had its fair share of knife crime. One claim to fame is that we have one of the world’s expert consultant surgeons on knife injuries. His name is TJ Lasoye, and he ought to get a knighthood or something. He spends his time going round schools telling children what the real effects of injuries are. Some children did not believe that stabbing somebody in the temple hurt or caused any problems. He devotes his time to the seriousness of knife crime.

I witnessed an invasion by a gang at King’s College Hospital, where he works. They came to look for the knife victim to finish the job. It was a terrifying experience which affects the local community every day. Having said that, it is a warm, wonderful community. It has more churches per square inch than probably anywhere else in the United Kingdom and so deserves better from the government policy on law and order.

One of the worst aspects of a failing Government treating deadly serious subjects as if they are a game in a children’s sandpit is that it drags all of us and the work we try to do down, and ignores the misery and stress of people waiting for justice, walking the streets in fear or working in a failing service and longing for early retirement. The only way to improve things is to have a general election, but we know that that is the one issue that unites the Conservative Party—not to go to the country until they absolutely have to. I understand that 5 January 2024 is the absolutely final date, so that is 442 days to go.

Although the resignation of the Prime Minister would not improve a single statistic in the sorry state of law and order, as outlined by my noble friend Lord Snape, it would be one of the only other options to achieve some stability. I checked the rules on the pensions of Prime Ministers and senior officeholders—moved, incidentally, in the House of Commons by a former Member of this House, Lord MacGregor. We were on the Committee on Standards in Public Life at the same time in the early 1990s, and I can only imagine what Lord MacGregor’s view of the current situation would be.

Anyway, back to the Prime Minister’s pension. If I understand the rules correctly, she is entitled to a Prime Minister’s pension when she leaves office. I would not like to see her go into poverty like the WASPI women who have been deprived of state pension money because they were not given sufficient notice. The WASPI women did nothing wrong, such as taking the “Great” out of Great Britain. If I have misread the rules on the PM’s pension and she is not so entitled if she goes, say, tomorrow, for the sake of argument, I would be happy to contribute to some crowd-funding venture, if that would persuade her to go.

I was distraught when I heard that Suella Braverman was sacked as Home Secretary yesterday, because the other half of my speech was devoted to why she was unfit for high office. She was Attorney-General in 2020—a government law officer. Not only did she not resign when the Government announced that they intended to override the Northern Ireland protocol, she publicly defended the situation. When Mr Brandon Lewis, as Northern Ireland Secretary, said that the new Bill in 2020 to amend the UK’s Brexit deal with the EU

“does break international law in a very specific and limited way”,—[Official Report, Commons, 8/9/2020; col. 509]

Sir Jonathan Jones, the Permanent Secretary of the Government Legal Department, the most senior lawyer advising the Government, resigned over this statement. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, resigned as a Government Minister in this House—a careful and thoughtful man who took 48 hours to do so.

This was a serious issue leading to serious resignations. Mr Brandon Lewis’s statement was not contradicted by No. 10 Downing Street. Clearly, we would not wish to put Mr Brandon Lewis anywhere near the law and order brief. Oh, wait a minute, he is Justice Secretary. I always have this image of a young urchin in Peckham, where I live, being held by a security officer for stealing juice and a bar of chocolate from the local supermarket saying, “I did break the law, but in a very specific and limited way.”

I turn to one of the aspects of the Government’s strategy to tackle crime and gang activity. I do not have time to deal with the virtual collapse of the probation and social work services, which is a stain on our country. A lot more could be said, if I had the time. But I do want to say something about our police and prison officers. Ms Braverman, when she was still in office, promised the Conservative Party conference that there would be 20,000 more police officers by March 2023. Is that still the Government’s policy? Does it simply make up for the 20,000 reduction when the Conservatives came to power? Is it sufficient when we have 4 million more people in the country? Nothing was said about prison officers. Will the Minister indicate the Government’s plan for recruiting more prison officers?

As chair of ACAS, 20 years ago I participated in a two-day residential seminar on how to improve working conditions in the Prison Service. The issues identified have worsened tenfold since that time. If prison officers are not valued for the important work they do, how will we achieve better safety, security and skills training in our prisons?

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, has already referred to Ché Donald, the national vice-chair of the Police Federation, who said that the increase in the number of police officers is desperately needed, but also pointed to other issues of stress and disillusion, pay and the impact of unfair discriminatory pension changes. These are such basic HR issues that only a Cabinet of millionaires could fail to see their importance. The pensions issue alone, capping the pension contributions of public service pensions, has had the consequences that I predicted when it was first imposed—a 10% cut. Ask any HR officer if he would like to hang on to 10% of his staff and not lose those skills, training and experience—

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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I remind the noble Baroness of the eight-minute speaking time.

12:35
Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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I would like to congratulate those governors of certain prisons who, I have been told, are wise enough not to allow the release of prisoners on a Friday. This is because out of the 70,000 a year who move out of the Prison Service, about 500 a month go straight into homelessness and the problems that they had before they came in. Lo and behold, in spite of all the efforts of people—probation officers, prison officers, policemen, members of the public and homeless organisations, et cetera—we still find that people end up back in prison.

I do not know how many governors do this; it is difficult to find out. As noble Lords know, governors are like captains of ships, who can do all sorts of things that we would like them to do. Some of the do and some of them do not. I used to go into a prison very regularly and talk to the prisoners. I had a brilliant time and took the mickey out of them and told them they were not as bright as me, because I was out and they were in. I had fun about it and actually built up a kind of attitude around education and social change. But lo and behold, another governor comes in and I find it incredibly difficult to get in because they do not have the same concerns.

When I spoke to a conference of governors and senior officers in the Prison Service, I asked how many of them had rehabilitation in the first five items of things that they considered. Not one of them had rehabilitation, because they had the usual stuff: security, so that the chaps and chapesses do not get away and officers are not attacked and hurt; and so that people do not commit suicide. They had those considerations and very few officers had rehabilitation.

I am really pleased there are governors—and I thank them—who have faced up to the fact that if prisoners are let out of prison on a Friday and they have had problems before, they will not be able to get to social security or support systems and will get into trouble over the weekend. Lo and behold, they might find themselves doing things that, after the event, they did not want to be doing. As I said, 70,000 prisoners a year leave the Prison Service and about 500 fall into homelessness.

We spend about £3 billion on our prisons. That is not a lot of money; it adds up to about £44,000 for each prisoner, but if they have problems and are likely to try to commit suicide or are violent, that figure can go up another £10,000, £20,000 or £30,000. We have prisoners who cost £100,000. As the right reverend Prelate said, we are spending the money in the wrong place. We are not spending it on prevention.

When I was banged up, it cost £63 a week, I think. That seems low, but it was three times what my dad was earning as a plasterer—so there is a kind of weirdness. I would like to see the complete and utter reformation of not just how we treat prisoners but how we treat crime. The noble Lord, Lord Snape, talked about the enormous increase in burglary in the West Midlands. What is burglary? You can call it burglary, but you can also call it an economy. You could call it a form of trade. You could call it all sorts of things.

Something is going desperately wrong in our country when we are putting so much effort into all sorts of things but we are not putting any effort into dismantling poverty. What do you think knife crime is? I will tell you what it is. I remember, as a boy, being a member of a gang and having a flick-knife. I went round imposing myself on people who did not have a flick-knife. We did not use knives as often then because we had hanging over us the threat that, if we killed somebody, we ourselves would be killed—if we were over the age of 18.

I am not very liberal about the fact that what we have now is a complete devaluation of human life. When there is poverty, how do people who are stuck in poverty express themselves? How do they make themselves something on the block, something in their block of flats or something on the street? I know that, if I was back there, I would be seeking some kind of identity. A knife is a brilliant way of getting some identity. If, at the same time, you are surrounded by TV, Netflix and all this other rubbish that shows the devaluation of human life, with no spirituality or love for each other, you will not give a toss if that knife goes into somebody and reduces them to nothingness.

We are in the middle of a crisis. We are not in a crisis just because Truss has screwed things up. That is a manifestation of a crisis. There is a deeper crisis. When I came into the House of Lords, I came here to dismantle poverty. I did not come in to make the poor a bit more comfortable or move the chairs on the “Titanic”. We really need to stop, think and wonder why we let our police officers down. I know them. I know the guys who are coming back beaten up by what they have to see and the lives they live—like our prison officers, teachers and people in the community. It may sound weird, but I think we really need to reinvent our thinking around crime. We have to sit back and say, “Whatever we’ve done is not working”.

12:43
Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, I wish I could speak with the same passion as the noble Lord, Lord Bird. I thank my noble friend for introducing this debate: it is very timely.

Recent ONS figures show that police recorded crime data for “violence against the person” offences in the year ending March 2022 showed an 18% increase on the 1.8 million offences recorded in the year ending March 2021, and the similar figure in the pre-coronavirus year ending March 2020. The 710 homicides recorded for the year ending March 2022 was a return to pre-pandemic levels, while knife-enabled crime recorded by the police saw a 10% year-on-year increase to more than 49,000 offences in the same period. There were increases across all knife-enabled violent and sexual offences, with the sole exception of attempted murder. Violence with injury offences increased by 22% to more than 560,000 in the year ending March 2022 compared with the previous year. This was also 5% higher than the levels recorded in the pre-Covid year ending March 2020.

While overall levels of homicides fell during 2021—a decrease that coincided with the pandemic and related restrictions to social contact—it is the case that young people, particularly girls, have been disproportionately affected, as recent terrible headlines have reminded us. In a survey this year, the ONS found that people now feel less safe walking alone, in a park or in an open space. Young people in particular feel unsafe using public transport after dark. We are going backwards rather than improving lives for the better.

Of course, recent statistics on crime levels have been affected by the coronavirus pandemic. There are also difficulties around how data is collected, whether it is by crime surveys or as crimes reported to the police. However, there is no escaping the stark truth that, despite more than a decade of tough talking by the Government, we are still facing truly shocking levels of violent crime in this country.

Many of these crimes are driven by drugs and gang activity. Gang involvement with drugs is often, and most destructively, manifested through county lines activities. I saw the impact of this in my housing work, and I will focus my comments on violent crime as it affects young people—specifically county lines drug dealing and the dangers for young people, particularly those in care or in vulnerable families who get caught up in gang violence and knife crime. My noble friend outlined how county lines operate.

The Government have declared that this a priority for the police to tackle. In October 2021, they published their Beating Crime Plan, and money has been spent on dedicated task forces and 18 violence reduction units. They have also set up the youth endowment fund to fund early intervention projects. We have been given the stats to show that this is having some impact. Policing responses have interrupted and closed down some gang activity. In 2019, the National Crime Agency estimated that there were more than 2,000 individual county lines in operation. It revised that in April last year to nearer 600, ascribing the reduction to increased policing and new guidance on tackling this issue.

However, there is no room for complacency. The National Youth Agency warns that the county lines business model is adapting, making offending harder to detect and increasingly resilient to disruption by law enforcement. This is far more deeply embedded than can be resolved by policing alone. The threat of gang-led county lines drug dealing to young people and the risk of violence and exploitation remain at shocking levels. It is estimated that 20% of those involved in county lines are children. The most common age range is 15 to 16, but the NYA notes anecdotal reports of children as young as 7 or 8 being exploited.

It is our most vulnerable children who are most likely to become ensnared. This means those who lack a safe or stable home environment; those who have prior experience of neglect, physical and/or sexual abuse; those who have mental health or substance misuse issues; those who have been excluded from mainstream education or are in care; and those who are homeless, in social housing or in insecure accommodation. They are the most vulnerable to exploitation.

We know the criminal exploitation of children is a common feature of county lines activity, yet we still have no statutory definition of child criminal exploitation. This potentially makes it all the harder for our public services to work together to identify how much support a child needs or, indeed, the level of risk surrounding an exploited child. Can the Minister tell the House when the Government will implement in law a definition of child criminal exploitation?

If we are to tackle the threat from gangs and violence associated with county lines, we must have sufficient youth services and support for young people living in areas of deprivation and disadvantage. Further, they must be trained and upskilled so that they can build capacity and outreach in order to work with vulnerable young people wherever they are. Sadly, along with years of cuts to policing and the courts—this has been mentioned already—we have had years of cuts to funding for youth services. The provision of safe spaces and group activities for young people, with trained youth workers and skilled volunteers, is enormously patchy. This leaves young people vulnerable and prey to gangs. Again, from my work in housing, I have seen where youth workers now have so few resources that they are not able to offer alternatives to keep young people out of gangs and off the street.

The YMCA report Out Of Service noted that, since 2010, more than 4,500 youth work jobs have been cut and more than 750 youth centres closed. In 2010-11, local authorities spent an estimated £1.36 billion in real terms on youth services in England. By 2018-19, the real-terms reduction was £959 million—a 71% cut during that period. The consequences of these cuts during 12 years of this Government are seen in our shocking levels of knife crime, rates of serious violence and the rise of mental health difficulties among young people. Youth services are a lifeline for many young people, but these cuts have left many without local safe spaces or support.

The NYA’s 2021 report, Between the Lines, called for a high-level government strategy—a youth workforce development to recruit, train and deploy 10,000 full-time qualified youth workers. This goal should sit alongside the target of 20,000 more police officers outlined in the Government’s Beating Crime Plan. The NYA is now also calling for revenue investment to recruit a further 20,000 youth support workers and 40,000 trained volunteers. Have the Government listened to the call from the Home Affairs Select Committee last year for a youth service guarantee? How have they responded?

If it is the case that violent crime is disproportionately committed by young people, we need investment to deliver viable alternatives. We must increase support for those initiatives that have proved successful. All this points to the vital importance of the levelling-up agenda and investing in skills development to put people on a more productive path.

The pattern of job-related crimes is changing all the time. Our most disadvantaged communities and our most vulnerable young people continue to live with serious crime and the reality of gang violence. We need to tackle the roots of these problems, but we are running out of time if we are to keep our communities safe.

12:51
Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Lord Austin of Dudley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for securing this important debate. He commented on the fact that the former Home Secretary received a standing ovation for announcing that the police would in future visit every home that had been burgled. It was amazing that she thought it was something to boast about or something that should be applauded. It is a complete disgrace that the police have not had the resources to visit homes that have been burgled. In the majority of cases, people who have been burgled have not even had the police visit them at all. It amazes me that you expect to be applauded for presiding over a situation such as that and announcing that it is going to be changed.

I want to raise two issues, both shocking instances of gang violence. The victims in both cases were children. I draw your Lordships’ and the Government’s attention to the shocking murder of Dea-John Reid. He was a 14-year-old black lad from Birmingham, killed by a gang in the city last year. What more can the Government do to secure justice for him and for his family? I have spoken about this case in the House before and I shall do so again and again until justice is secured for his family.

One evening in May last year, after an altercation between two groups of teenagers—the sort of thing that happens routinely—Dea-John was chased down a busy street by a group of five males, including two grown men, shouting racist abuse. One of them, who was 14 years old at the time, killed him with a knife. A 14-year-old black boy was chased by a gang and stabbed to death. His mum, Joan Reid, said he was

“hunted by a lynch mob reminiscent of ‘Mississippi Burning’”.

Following an earlier altercation, the boy who killed Dea-John had phoned George Khan, aged 38, who was drinking in a pub with his friend, 35-year-old Michael Shields. They collected the three boys in Khan’s car and, the court was told,

“set off to hunt down the Dea-John group”.

According to the prosecuting barrister:

“Khan carried the plan to seek retribution forwards and actively encouraged the attack.”


A witness said that Khan pointed and shouted, “Oi, you …”, using the N-word. Dea-John and his friends ran but he went in a different direction from the group to get away. Khan and the other defendants ran after him. A witness said that the men had their tops off, using them to cover their faces. They were carrying weapons. Khan allegedly shouted “Bang him out” and “Eff him up” to one of the teenagers. These were grown men. If that is not incitement, tell me what is.

The 14-year-old lad had asthma, ran out of breath, was caught, stabbed and killed. Imagine it: on the streets of Birmingham last year, a boy chased by a racist mob, cornered, stabbed and killed. This is incredible. No one doubts that those five people were responsible, but four of the five defendants who chased him, including the two adults, were found not guilty by an all-white jury. The fifth, aged 15, was convicted of just manslaughter. He will be free in less than three years. Someone in Birmingham asked me what lessons have been learned from this—a gang shouting racist abuse and the stabbing of a black boy?

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, will remember Birmingham in the 1980s, as I do. Failings of the police and the criminal justice system resulted in riots on the streets. Handsworth, Lozells—on fire. There is never any justification for such behaviour.

Dea-John Reid’s mum called for calm in the black community. It listened, because it trusted the authorities, but it has clearly been let down. Why are those men walking free? Was there a problem with the evidence? Did the CPS not prosecute it properly? Did someone get to the jury? What happened? Why has there not been an immediate public outcry about this?

If this had been in London, it would have been a national scandal. It was a racist attack—an issue about knife crime, community safety, policing and the failure of the criminal justice system. The Opposition should be all over this, holding the Government to account. Why am I the only person who has raised this in a detailed way in either Chamber of Parliament? I want Ministers to look at it. I think the Attorney-General should refer it to the Court of Appeal. I know that we cannot have political direction of the police and the courts, but this cannot be allowed to stand. Will Ministers call in the chief constable and the CPS of the West Midlands to find out what has gone on. Could other charges be brought, such as affray or racially motivated assault? Something has to be done to secure justice for this family and for the black community in Birmingham.

The second case I want to raise is the racist attack on a group of Jewish children celebrating Hanukkah in Oxford Street last December. They were attacked by a mob of anti-Semites who made Nazi salutes, yelled, “Eff Jews; eff Israel”, spat at the children and threatened to smash the windows of their bus. The whole terrifying incident was caught on camera yet, despite clear CCTV evidence, mobile phone footage and multiple witnesses, investigators concluded their investigation, and the attackers remain at large.

The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who is a former government reviewer of anti-terror legislation, said:

“The police must start to prioritise violent and explicitly racist attacks, especially where there is photographic evidence of a kind which would enable the perpetrator to be identified.”


Referring to this, and to another attack in London last year, he said:

“Both of these cases are examples of institutional failure to prioritise significant cases involving serious danger to members of the public. Letting this slide makes other incidents and even possible terrorist incidents more likely.”


The Board of Deputies has demanded an urgent meeting with the Home Secretary. Dave Rich, the director of policy at the Community Security Trust, said:

“This comes in the same week that the Home Office revealed only eight % of all racist and religious hate crime lead to a charge or summons.”


The Campaign Against Antisemitism said:

“If even high-profile hate crimes such as this are not solved and the perpetrators brought to justice, what hope do the many other crimes against Jewish people have of being satisfactorily investigated?”


That campaign, the Jewish News and the Jewish Chronicle have jointly offered a reward of £30,000 leading to the conviction of any of the perpetrators. I draw attention to my declaration in the register as a columnist for the Jewish Chronicle. Will the Minister or his colleagues speak to the Met and find out what else can be done to bring those responsible to justice?

12:58
Lord Davies of Brixton Portrait Lord Davies of Brixton (Lab)
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My Lords, I join previous speakers in thanking my noble friend Lord Snape for introducing this important debate. It is clear from what we have been told so far that the Government are not doing enough to address the problems. There is not a simple solution, but I do not think the solutions are mysteries. We know where we need to go; it just takes an effort of will and the resources to achieve it. We know that the solution does not rely on tough talk. We have to reject the “bad actor” model of crime as a simple way out. We have to recognise that society as a whole has a responsibility to set the circumstances in which crime will not flourish. The obvious example of this is poverty and what society can do to alleviate the circumstances in which crime will develop. I think that is well understood. What is also understood, but I want to say more about, is the intersection between crime and poor mental health.

I need to be clear that I am not saying that people with poor mental health are a cause of crime. They are actually far more likely to be victims of crime than the culprits. There is no doubt, however, that improvements in mental health services can have a major impact on the current levels of crime, including violent crime and gang activity, both in reducing the incidence of crime in the first place and then in more effectively supporting the measures that we can take to ensure that the perpetrators of crime can escape the cycle of their criminal activity.

I draw particular attention to the joint inspection report by the Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Inspectorate of Prisons, the Inspectorate of Probation and the Care Quality Commission. Last year they produced a report that set out some important conclusions about what needs to be done. They identified how thousands of people with mental illness are coming into the criminal justice system each year, but their needs are being missed. That, of course, is a tragedy for us as well as for the individuals concerned. There is a shortage of services and there are long delays in accessing what services are available—made worse by the pandemic, of course. A specific problem is delays in reports for the court and for transferring extremely unwell prisoners into secure mental health hospital beds. Clearly, these problems do not help. They let down the individuals and society as a whole.

One interesting reference in the report is the finding that police officers had a good understanding that the causes of minor crime required a health response rather than a crime response. This is a key issue. I hope we will address these issues in the context of the forthcoming mental health Bill, and I hope the Minister can tell us in his reply that the Government understand the nature of this problem and that dealing with the issues that people have identified today is a priority.

Secondly, I want to say something as a resident of the inner city, where youth crime is a particular concern. It needs to be understood that it is not a middle-class panic about crime in the inner city. The people who really suffer from crime in the inner city tend to be those who are least well off; they are the real victims of what is going on. It is not a question of victims versus criminals and a case of just locking them up, going hard on them and throwing away the key. Most of the young people who tragically fall into this cycle of crime are victims of crime themselves and have gone through difficult and challenging childhoods. It is not just a question of telling parents to be tougher; those parents are struggling as well. The parents themselves have often had complex childhoods, and they need support. That is the pattern and, if we do not fund services correctly and fully, we will see these problems repeated generation after generation.

I thank my noble friend Lady Warwick of Undercliffe for a very clear and good exposition of the issues involved, particularly in county lines crime, and the fact that children are being exploited. I very much hope the Government will give a clear response to the points raised. It is a wide problem, but it is worth emphasising again that there is a specific issue of local services, both from councils and from community groups. It is a totally false economy to cut back support for this work with young people, because we pay a higher cost in the longer term. I ask the Minister to say something specifically about the support provided by public services and the community to support young people so that they do not fall into this cycle.

In my final minute, I want to say something about the police. We very much rely on the police to look after us, and that is right. That is why it was of particular concern to get the report from the noble Baroness, Lady Casey. It seems that the Metropolitan Police is addressing these issues, and we need to recognise the good work it is doing. Last night the Met Excellence Awards showed the good side of what the police can do. We have to encourage that and root out the problems identified by the noble Baroness’s interim report.

13:06
Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe Portrait Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe (Lab)
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My Lords, I express my gratitude to my noble friend Lord Snape for introducing this very important debate. I also welcome the Minister to his new role. I think it is going to be rather a bed of nails for him. My noble friend and I last worked together on the Select Committee on Crossrail, which after long delays is finally with us. The Minister who is now the new Home Secretary supervised a long delay. Let us hope he will not take so long in dealing with many of the issues confronting us today.

We have had a very important debate, covering a wide front—perhaps there is something there for us to reflect on when we come to address some of these fundamental issues. One thing that came through very clearly is the requirement for more money to be spent in this area. It behoves us to see how we can raise the money. Invariably, it will mean that taxes have to be found in one way or another, but I also share the view of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, that there ought to be more fundamental work done in shifting from dealing with the problems that arise in crime to looking at the fundamentals that cause crime in the first instance. That takes us back to really basic issues about the family and so on. Yes, poverty is a very big factor in dealing with this, but the other factor is the poverty of spirit that we now have in the country. We really ought to go back to some basics. Even though we were in poverty, people in my youth did not necessarily commit crime. Therefore, it is not solely an issue that stands on its own ground.

I am grateful to the Lords Library for providing us with an excellent, comprehensive briefing. I am also grateful to the Alcohol Health Alliance for the briefing it provided me on crime and alcohol. It will probably not surprise noble Lords that I will say a few words about the link between crime and alcohol. If I had more time, I could spend as much time on drugs as well, because these are two really major factors that cannot be ignored in the context of trying to find solutions.

Some 53% of police time on casework is spent on alcohol-related issues, in the widest possible sense. That is a very big amount of time. Serious violence is often linked in some way to alcohol. In more than a third of homicides, either the victim or the suspect has consumed alcohol prior to the incident. Alcohol-related violence accounts for two-fifths of all violence in England and Wales, and one in 10 people experiences alcohol-related anti-social behaviour every year. Evidence has demonstrated that the most deprived groups in our society bear this burden to the greatest extent.

Alcohol use can also increase the occurrence and severity of domestic violence, with approximately 1 in 3 victims reporting that the perpetrator was under the influence when they were attacked. Again, those in the lowest socioeconomic groups experience up to 14 times as many incidents of alcohol-related domestic violence, compared to the least deprived.

As my noble friend Lord Snape reported, alcohol is often used to exploit children in the context of county lines. He talked about the county lines problem, and you often do find that there is an alcohol factor. Alcohol-use disorders are significantly more numerous within the prison population. Despite this, the number of those in alcohol and drug treatment in prison has steadily dropped in recent years, again because of a shortage of cash. Volunteer organisations are finding that because of shortages of prison staff, it is very difficult indeed to help people with alcohol and drug problems because they cannot gain entry as they used to and so, in turn, the voluntary services they can offer are not being made available on quite the previous scale. That is no fault of the prison officers. There are just not enough of them to provide the facilities required to admit people from outside.

In England, alcohol-related crime is estimated to cost £11.4 billion per year. Cuts and freezes to alcohol duty since 2012 are estimated to have led to more than 111,000 additional crimes in England. There has also been a large loss of revenue because of the Government’s decision to freeze or cut those duties, although in fairness to the new Chancellor of the Exchequer, one good thing he has done is to reverse the previous Chancellor’s decision to freeze duty on alcohol in the mini-Budget, which is a very welcome change.

With the right package, we can reduce alcohol-related harm by limiting the affordability and availability of alcohol. Two measures were recommended by the World Health Organization as two of the most effective and cost-effective interventions to reduce alcohol consumption and tackle alcohol-fuelled crime. The first is reducing affordability, which is directly linked to consumption levels. As with petrol, if you increase the price, less of it is used. Increase the price of alcohol and there is less consumption. There is much evidence to indicate that this works. We have minimum unit pricing in Scotland, and the Welsh Government have adopted it too. It is high time that the Government turned their attention to this.

In the absence of MUP, Ipswich pioneered “reducing the strength” schemes, reducing the strength of alcohol in the area. There was a very substantial gain in reducing the incidence of street drinking—a 23% reduction by persuading people to move from high-alcohol to lower-alcohol drinks. Anti-social behaviour went down, crime fell in stores and crime overall fell in the Ipswich area.

The second initiative is to reduce availability of alcohol. Why are we able to purchase alcohol all through the night at petrol stations? That invariably will cause trouble. It is not of benefit to society, so we hope again to look at that wide availability.

If I had the time I could speak at length on drugs. There is a fundamental link between alcohol and drugs and violent crime, burglaries and gang activity. Importantly, we now have the Government’s 10-year drug strategy, which I welcome. It is time that they set up an inquiry to see whether we should have a similar strategy for alcohol, particularly in relation to crime and violence.

13:14
Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for the opportunity to debate these issues. It has been an interesting debate, with much of the focus being on policing and resources.

When I joined the Metropolitan Police, in 1976, sometimes it was very busy, you were rushing from one call to another, and it was difficult to empathise with the third burglary victim you visited that day. At other times, there was time to sit on a wall on a housing estate and talk to the skinheads and punk rockers—I am that old. However, not any more. Police are seriously under-resourced and overstretched. Difficult decisions had to be made to cut costs. It is unfortunate that we have not been able to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, about the very difficult decision that he had to make when he was Metropolitan Police Commissioner, in the light of those cuts. It is very easy for me to say that I would not have made the cuts that he did. I was not the commissioner at the time and so did not have the accounts.

The noble Lord, Lord Bach, talked about cuts during the coalition. Cuts were universal during that time, and we have seen the consequences of unfunded public spending. But, as the noble Lord said, the Conservative Government continued to cut after 2015, when the 2015 Liberal Democrat manifesto said that we wanted to increase public spending in line with economic growth.

Public trust and confidence in the police are essential. The significant reductions in—and, in places, almost total absence of—visible policing, with cuts in police community support officers, have not been restored by this Government. There has been decimation of frontline supervision. Putting a chief superintendent in charge of multiple London boroughs, given that I just about managed to effectively lead one London borough, Lambeth, as a commander—the equivalent of an assistant chief constable—illustrates why we have some of the current problems with the Met.

I fear that it has gone past unreasonable cuts to police budgets. There may now be a culture whereby cuts are used as an excuse not to provide the service the public requires and deserves—a policy-driven situation. Police officers on the front line want to give members of the public the service they deserve, but they are unable to. For example, there was a burglary at the block of flats where I live, and there was CCTV footage of the suspect. Nobody came, and the crime was written off within days. I spoke to a serving superintendent who said that many crimes that could have led to prosecutions are now being written off, rather than being investigated.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, and the noble Lord, Lord Bird, have said, this is about the whole criminal justice system, not just the police. When I made an allegation of homophobic abuse, the police were great. It was a hate crime, to which they responded very positively. Then we went to court, my husband was a witness, and we were both treated as though we were the ones on trial—we were the ones in the dock. He is Norwegian, and he says that he would never give evidence in a British court again after the way he was treated. The examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Austin of Dudley, are of course far more compelling.

We operate a system of policing by consent, and the support and co-operation of the public are essential to the police operating effectively. That means we have fewer police, unarmed police, who rely on the public being their eyes and ears and dialling 999 when they see something suspicious and giving evidence in court as witnesses, rather than large numbers of armed police officers acting without the active involvement of the public.

If the public do not like and do not trust the police, it is not just a PR disaster; it makes the police ineffective. We cannot have, and do not want, a police officer on every street corner, routinely armed—policing by force rather than by consent—but without the active support of the public, the current system fails.

I will comment briefly on the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, talking about young people being seen not as criminals but as victims. When I was the police commander in charge of Brixton, I said that if you randomly stopped a young black man in Brixton, they were statistically far more likely to be a victim than a perpetrator of crime. Unfortunately, that was not the way a lot of officers treated them. That is why the report of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, is so important. It is not just about what is morally right about political correctness: it is about treating everyone with dignity and respect, and the fundamental effectiveness of the police, by getting the public on their side.

The Government are clouding the crime figures, claiming that crime is falling, by ignoring the fact that criminals are increasingly moving online, committing telephone fraud by conning vulnerable people—many of them elderly—who can lose their life savings. They are not including these crimes in their publicity. They claim that crime is falling, but when you include online crime, it is actually increasing. But there is hope. The current Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Mark Rowley, whom I do not know, seems determined to turn things around. Nationally, the police have committed to attending every burglary. In my opinion, either a forensic examiner or a police officer should attend, but only if it is necessary should they both attend.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans said, the issues of gang violence and knife crime are complex and deep-seated. Restoring a visible police presence may at least stop the vulnerable from carrying knives for their own protection, but only if they believe that the police will be there to protect them, whatever the colour of their skin.

Concerning gangs—here we go, I am going to be controversial—drug law reform needs to be seriously looked at, to take drug dealing out of the hands of criminals and put illegal drug dealers out of business. The two main political parties in this country need to get over the ideological aversion to serious drug law reform. People are dying: from knife crime, from drug misuse and from overdose—including a former partner of mine—because of ideology.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe, said, county lines is child criminal exploitation, and the victims of that exploitation need to be treated as such. As the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, has again reminded us, alcohol misuse is an even bigger problem in terms of the damage that it causes and the drain on police resources.

Not only has the Conservative Party lost the confidence of the public for financial competence; it can no longer claim to be the party of law and order.

13:23
Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a great privilege to take part in the debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Snape on introducing this incredibly important topic which we discuss here today, and also so many members of your Lordships’ House, who have made really important statements and contributions to this debate.

I will start by saying that the statistics tell us to an extent what is going on, but every statistic is about an individual, a family, a community. I think of the point that the noble Lord, Lord Bird, reminded us of: many of those individuals live in incredibly difficult circumstances of poverty et cetera. Those are never an excuse for a criminal act but are something that we ought to understand. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, in her contribution, pointed out that it is not only the police but the youth services and all the other services that people depend on that actually matter. Homelessness and housing are clearly one of those as well.

Let us remind ourselves: just over the last few weeks, we have read of horrific crimes. Just a few weeks ago, a nine year-old girl was hideously killed in Liverpool. In the summer, an 87 year-old pensioner was killed in Greenford. Another nine year-old was killed in Lincolnshire. There are regular murders on our streets: as the noble Lord, Lord Snape, pointed out, over 700 homicides last year. I would point out that, whether the statistics are going up or down, that is an awful lot of crime, and violent crime, that is taking place.

I ask the Minister: it would be helpful to know what the actual figures are. It is not helpful that the Office for National Statistics says one thing and the police recorded crime figures say another—which is why I say that violent crime is too high however you measure it. That is the real issue.

My father was a police officer. He was not in the Metropolitan Police when the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, was commissioner: it was before then. It was a long time ago. But I know, as the son of a police officer, that he said it was important that, whatever the level of crime, you treat every single crime as the most important crime. That is the point. We can argue about statistics and get carried away with them, but it is actually the crime itself which is important.

The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, and I think the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and others, mentioned the county lines phenomenon. Let me give one statistic that I think should shock us all: 27,000 children are involved in county lines, according to the Children’s Commissioner, some of them under the age of 10. That is an absolute disgrace, and something that this Parliament and our country should be jumping up and down about: that criminal gangs are exploiting children, some as young as eight, in county lines. You can argue why that is, and what has happened, but it should be a priority for any Home Office Minister or Home Secretary to do something about it.

In too many communities, that happens, and it seems that we fail to tackle it. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, pointed out, however many police officers have been recruited now, what we need to know is whether they are simply replacing the thousands of police officers that were cut and the neighbourhood policing teams that were slashed, or are we actually seeing an increase in the numbers of officers on our streets?

Let me just ask the Minister some specific questions. Can the Minister tell us what the latest police recorded crime figures for this year are for gun and knife crime? Despite the recent announcements by police chiefs, over the last three years a burglary was reported in 21,000 neighbourhoods in England and Wales, but in 17,000 of those areas, not a single burglary was solved. How will the Government ensure that the recent announcement by police chiefs that a police officer will visit the victim of a burglary is followed through, and that that shocking statistic, which was unearthed recently, will not be repeated in the future?

Is it not true that rape and sexual offences are at a record high, with a woman who is raped having only a one in 77 chance of seeing her attacker prosecuted? Is it not true that police forces are now solving only 6% of reported crimes, down from 15.5% six years ago? How many cases of violent crime are waiting to go to court? There are 58,000 cases waiting to go in front of a judge and jury. The average delay between a crime and verdict is nearly 15 months. How will that reduce violent crime, and why is that not a priority for the Government to solve?

The Government have published their crime plan, because it does not have to be like this. Poverty needs to be tackled, youth services need to be improved, local government needs to be given the money it needs to deliver the services people require, and police numbers need to be dramatically increased with the restoration of neighbourhood policing.

The majority of violent crimes are committed by a small number of offenders, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, would be able to point out. How are the Government targeting the offenders who offend again and again to give communities a rest from them but also to give them a chance of preventing their reoffending? My noble friend Lord Davies and others have talked about mental health.

The majority of violent crime takes place in a limited number of hotspots across the country. What are the Government doing to tackle those hotspots of violent crime, where—whatever the level of poverty among the families and communities, to be fair to them—the victims of violent crime are nearly always other people within that neighbourhood? What are the police doing about that?

I want to make an important point to the Minister. It has been demonstrated that the argument that if you push down on hotspots then they occur somewhere else is not true. The evidence does not point to that. If you tackle violence in an area, you reduce violence overall, and that is what has to happen. Can the Minister give us an update on that?

There is no doubt that the Government’s crime plan says that they are going to take action. I say to the Minister that there are a number of particular things that they need to do: the restoration of local government services and youth services; the restoration of neighbourhood policing; targeting particular individuals who perpetrate the majority of offences and concentrating on those offenders; and targeting hotspots. If we were to do that, we could make a real difference.

I said to the Minister that I would cut my remarks short to give him time to respond. The fact is that it is violent crime, crime on the individual such as burglary, that people fear most. What people want to know, and what the Government should push, is that if people report a crime they will be visited by an officer and it will be taken seriously. In that way, we can push down crime wherever and whenever it occurs. We cannot have a situation, whether it is serious crime or less serious crime, where the response to too many people is, “You can have a crime number”. We will not get rid of or reduce crime if that is the response. I do not believe that is what the police want. The first thing we should say to the police is that where a crime occurs we should investigate it, try to find who the perpetrators are and put them before the courts.

13:32
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Snape, for securing this debate and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in it. Tackling crime is a key priority for any Government. As set out in our Beating Crime Plan, we are particularly determined to see reductions in homicide, serious violence and neighbourhood crime. These offences strike at our sense of security in our homes, on our streets and in our country, which is why combating them forms a key part of our Beating Crime Plan.

As the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, noted, at the heart of efforts to reduce crime will always be the police. I pay tribute to the work of the many dedicated police officers who do the difficult and sometimes dangerous job of keeping our communities safe, day in and day out. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Snape, about police morale but, as an ex-policeman myself, joined on the Front Bench today by my noble friend Lord Davies of Gower, another ex-policeman, we can say categorically that morale is affected by many factors, internal and external.

I detected a degree of gang activity on the Opposition Benches when it came to members of the Government. I will not engage with all of it. I am afraid I will not apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Bach. I appreciate that the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bird, was passionately delivered, and I will make sure that the Ministry of Justice is alerted to his contribution in Hansard. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, that I will visit a petrol station after I have given this speech.

We need to make sure the police service is properly supported and resourced. That is why the Government set a target to recruit an additional 20,000 police officers across England and Wales through the police uplift programme by March 2023. These are new posts. We are on track to succeed: as at 30 June 2022, 13,790 additional officers had been recruited. To the right reverend Prelate’s point, we are actually better than half way.

It is worth remembering that, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, pointed out, the nature of crime has changed and moved, as have our times. If this descended into a debate solely about numbers, we would not be taking into account technology, tactics and all the rest of the factors that go into effective policing.

I turn to some of the specific crime types that are referenced in the title of this debate and that noble Lords have discussed in their contributions today. The Government are determined to reduce serious violence and bear down on violent criminal street gangs. We are pursuing a robust twin-track approach that combines tough enforcement with measures to prevent young people becoming involved in the first place. I will talk to this strategy more in a moment, but first I shall outline the data. I accept the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about data; it can of course be used in many ways. He asked me a number of detailed questions about data. I will write to him on all those, because I simply do not have time to address them all. I hope that is acceptable.

I start with serious youth violence. I remember that behind these numbers and percentages, which are of course very dry, there are real people; I am not forgetting that. Serious youth violence, as measured by hospital admissions among under-25s for assault by a sharp object, is falling. In the year ending June 2022 it had fallen by 11% across England compared with the year ending June 2021. We know that those figures, as with all crime, have been affected by the pandemic, and we are not complacent in our efforts to continue to do all we can to reduce violence.

I noted the comments from the noble Baroness, Lady Donaghy, about the surgeon in Peckham, and I commend his efforts. I am afraid she rather lost me at the PM’s pension; I will not go into that. I also noted and was moved by the comments from the noble Lord, Lord Austin, about Dea-John Reid. Obviously, my thoughts and prayers are with his family. That is an appalling set of circumstances and I will investigate a little more.

To go back to the serious violence and gang situation, the Government have made £130 million available this financial year, 2022-23, building on similar levels of investment in previous years, to tackle serious violence including murder and knife crime. This includes £64 million for our network of 20 violence reduction units, which are delivering a range of early-intervention and prevention programmes to divert people away from a life of crime, and £30 million for Grip, a police programme that—to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker—uses a highly data-driven process to identify violence hotspots, often to individual street level, and target operational activity in those areas.

I shall give the noble Lord one specific example of how this works. In a hotspot policing pilot in Southend-on-Sea in Essex, which has recently adopted Grip, a 30% reduction in serious violence on days when patrols took place compared with days when they did not was noted. As he rightly points out, the activity was not displaced. VRUs and targeted police enforcement programmes have prevented an estimated 49,000 violent offences in their first two years of activity.

The noble Lord, Lord Snape, specifically asked me about the West Midlands. It has had £16 million devoted to this programme since 2019, and £5.9 million this year. Its VRU is projected to support more than 21,000 young people in the region next year. The West Midlands is also very active in Grip.

We are determined to do more and to strengthen our response, including in the prevention space, which is why we have invested £200 million through our 10-year youth endowment fund to test and evaluate what works in reducing violence. Next year we will commence the serious violence duty, which will require specified agencies across England and Wales to work together collaboratively, share data and information, and put in place a strategy to prevent and reduce serious violence within their local area.

We will also pilot serious violence reduction orders, which will provide the police with the power to stop and search adults already convicted of knife or offensive weapons offences. Serious violence, as has been noted across the House, destroys lives, shatters families and plagues our communities. The Government remain wholly committed to confronting these crimes wherever and whenever they occur.

The noble Lords, Lord Snape and Lord Coaker, both referred to the homicide figures. The figures in England have remained relatively stable in recent years. That is not an endorsement, I have to say; I still think they are shockingly high. There were 710 homicides in the year to March 2022, while in the year to March 2020 there were 714. Obviously there was a decrease in homicide in the lockdown year.

I turn to county lines gangs, which were noted, movingly, by the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick of Undercliffe—I share her opinion on and outrage about child exploitation—and to which the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Brixton, also referred. They are driving crime across the country, not just by supplying illicit drugs but by perpetrating violence and exploiting the most vulnerable and, in some cases, the very young. Cracking down on this pernicious, poisonous threat is an obvious priority. The Government have a 10-year drugs strategy to save lives and cut crime. We have committed to investing up to £145 million to bolster our flagship county lines programme. The programme has provided targeted investment in those areas with the greatest county lines threat, with dedicated task forces in four key areas—London, Merseyside, the West Midlands and Greater Manchester—but county lines affect all forces, which is why we also established the National County Lines Coordination Centre to co-ordinate a national law enforcement response.

We are bringing the full force of our law enforcement capability to bear in tackling this issue, but we recognise that a wider system response is needed to support those vulnerable individuals being exploited by these gangs. That is why, through the programme, we are investing up to £5 million over the next three years to provide specialist support to victims of county lines exploitation, and their families. From the start of the programme in 2019 until April this year, the police have closed more than 2,400 lines. That includes 8,000 arrests and more than 9,500 individuals engaged through safeguarding interventions. Since April 2022, the programme has delivered a further 500 line closures, bringing the total line closures since the programme was launched in November 2019 to 2,900. It is a move in the right direction, but these gangs are resilient. We are not, and will not be, complacent, so we will continue to target county lines relentlessly, persistently closing them and putting those responsible behind bars.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans made a very good point when he reiterated how important civil society is. Much of that is down to local authorities and activities in local areas, but the Supporting Families programme has helped thousands of families across England—162,000 this year alone—through a whole-family approach.

Before I get on to the thorny subject of burglary, the noble Lord, Lord Snape, suggested that the Government are blaming the Mayor of London for the state of play in London. Rather than repeating what I said yesterday in answering the Question asked by my noble friend Lord Lexden about the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, I refer him to Hansard where I endeavoured—I am afraid it is quite boring—to describe the split of accountability and responsibility as it exists in London. We can debate whether it is the right split, but it exists.

As many noble Lords have pointed out, burglary is a particularly harmful crime. The feeling that your own home, which should be a place of safety, has been invaded and your possessions rifled through is distressing and disconcerting. The impact on victims and wider communities can be profound. It is therefore right that proper priority is given to tackling burglary. Of course, primary responsibility for this, as it does for any crime, rests with police forces which are accountable to locally elected police and crime commissioners. It is therefore worrying that in a report published only two months ago, the independent His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services noted that when it comes to tackling burglary and robbery

“too often there is a failure to get the basics of investigation and prevention right.”

I know this is something that the leadership of the police service is very concerned about, and we will continue to work with the police to ensure that they do get the basics right. This is a top priority for the Home Secretary.

Providing reassurance to victims and making sure that evidential leads are followed up is a key part of this. We were therefore very pleased when, just two weeks ago, the head of the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the chief executive of the College of Policing confirmed that chief constables and commissioners in England and Wales had collectively agreed that we should have police attendance at all home burglaries. I want to be clear that the Government are playing their part. As well as the police uplift programme, we have invested £120 million over the past three years in our flagship Safer Streets programme, which is supporting a range of crime prevention measures, including practical measures such as improved home security, street lighting and CCTV. According to the most recent statistics covering the year to March 2022—I appreciate what we have been discussing about statistics—burglary, as recorded by the Office for National Statistics’ Crime Survey for England and Wales, has fallen by 23% compared with the year ending December 2019. Of course, that number was recorded during the pandemic and showed a dramatic 27% decline, but I should note that as lockdown restrictions have eased police have recorded residential burglaries starting to increase a little. The figure for December 2021 was 11% higher than the figure for March 2021, but volumes remain substantially lower than pre pandemic.

The focus on preventing crime, including burglaries, sits across government. One core strand of this is our ambitious whole-of-government drugs strategy, which will drive down the burglary committed by those with a dependence on opiates and crack cocaine, who are responsible for almost half of all acquisitive crime, but I take note of the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, about alcohol. Evidence shows that drug treatment can have an immediate and sustained impact in reducing offending, which is why the Government have committed to expanding and improving treatment and wider support to tackle drug-related offending, which blights communities across the country.

I have had a go at answering all the questions. This has been a very worthwhile debate, and I reiterate my thanks to all who have participated. There is much that all noble Lords who have spoken have agreed on. Crime has a profound effect on victims and the communities where they live, and it is vital that we do everything we can to tackle it. As I have emphasised, this Government are committed to bringing down crime, and I have set out some of the many measures that we, working with colleagues in the police and across the criminal justice system, are taking to achieve that result. Our message is clear: we will not stand by while decent, law-abiding people suffer at the hands of criminals. We will support and empower the police to fight crime in all its guises, and we will use every available tool and resource to keep the public safe.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, before the Minister sits down, could he address the point I raised about the legal definition of child criminal exploitation?

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom (Con)
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I am afraid I will have to disappoint the noble Baroness regarding the legal definition, but what I can say is that the data picture for group-based child sexual exploitation is currently poor. However, the Government are improving data quality in policing to support this. We are funding the Tackling Organised Exploitation programme, as well as regional abuse and exploitation analysts in every policing region, to develop enhanced intelligence about all forms of this. I appreciate that that does not answer the noble Baroness’s question, and if I may, I will write to her with a more enhanced answer.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape (Lab)
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My Lords, in view of the somewhat unusual circumstances going on in Downing Street, may I draw this debate to a conclusion by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part?

Motion agreed.

Departure of the Previous Home Secretary

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Commons Urgent Question
13:47
Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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My Lords, the answer to the Urgent Question is as follows:

“I am sure that the right honourable Member is aware that breaches of the Ministerial Code are a matter for the Cabinet Office, not the Home Office, and that is why I, not the Home Secretary, am here to answer the Urgent Question. The Prime Minister took advice from the Cabinet Secretary, as we saw from her letter, and she is clear that it is important that the Ministerial Code is upheld and Cabinet responsibility is respected. The Prime Minister expects Ministers to uphold the highest standards. We have seen her act consistently in that regard.

These were breaches of the code. The Prime Minister expects her Ministers to uphold the Ministerial Code, as the public also rightly expect, and she took the requisite advice from the Cabinet Secretary before taking the decision.

I am mindful that it is not usual policy to comment in detail on such matters, but, if some background would be helpful—I appreciate that much of this is already in the public domain—the documents in question contained draft government policy, which remained subject to Cabinet Committee agreement. Having such documents on a personal email account and sharing them outside of government constituted clear breaches of the code—under sections 2.14 and 2.3, if that is helpful to look at. The Prime Minister is clear that the security of government business is paramount, as is Cabinet responsibility, and Ministers must be held to the highest standards.”

13:49
Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for repeating the earlier statement about the crisis in government. I had intended to ask a number of questions about the resignation or sacking of the Home Secretary and, indeed, ask whether he could say anything more about the resignation or sacking of the Chancellor of the Exchequer. We have had one of the shortest-serving Chancellors of the Exchequer in history, the shortest-serving Home Secretary ever and now, as we were sitting in the Chamber waiting for the statement, the Prime Minister has announced her resignation.

What an utter shambles this Government are. Crisis after crisis is heaped on this Government and yet, who is paying the price for that? It is the people of this country, who are seeing food prices go up and increased fuel bills, and they do not know what is happening to their mortgage payments. The Government think the answer to all this is to reshuffle the deck chairs on the “Titanic”. Perhaps the noble Earl is answering questions today because he is the only member of the Government left. This is not a game of pass the parcel, whereby the office of Prime Minister is in the personal gift of the Conservative Party, which can keep passing it on like it is Buggins’s turn. That is not how it works.

I said yesterday at the Dispatch Box on another issue that the Prime Minister’s job is one of the most important in the country. It is a job that brings enormous responsibility, particularly when the country is in such a state. This Government now have no mandate to govern. Replacing the top person with another top person who has been around the Cabinet table for all the years that have led to this crisis will not address it. The next Prime Minister who serves this country needs to have the consent of the British people. It is a straightforward issue: no Government should be able to govern without consent.

This morning I did an interview on BBC Essex with a very articulate and distressed member of the Conservative Party and a Liberal Democrat. The lady from the Conservative Party came on to defend the Government and say that there should not be a general election. She had changed her mind overnight after the shenanigans in the other place. So, there are a number of questions to be asked about the resignation of the Home Secretary, but there is a greater and more fundamental question that the Government need to address as a matter of urgency. There is no mandate for this Government any longer. It is not just a case of taking one person from the top and putting in someone else. Each time we have seen the change, there has been a fundamental shift in policy. This is not what the people of this country voted for. It is time for the Government to seek a mandate, move over and let somebody else run the country who can do it better.

Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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My Lords, I note what the noble Baroness has to say on various issues that are not really relevant to this exact Urgent Question. She mentioned the situation relating to the former Home Secretary and the former Chancellor of the Exchequer. The fact is that it was clear that there was a breach in Cabinet confidentiality and a breach of the Ministerial Code. This was accepted by my right honourable friend the former Home Secretary, who immediately resigned. As far as my right honourable friend the former Chancellor of the Exchequer is concerned, as noble Lords know, the Prime Minister can request a resignation for any number of reasons. Details of the former Chancellor’s resignation were shared in the exchange of letters last Friday. These are different cases with different causes.

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, it is blindingly obvious from the former Home Secretary’s resignation letter that the underlying reasons for her departure from the Government were fundamental disagreements within Cabinet on fundamental policy issues. How can the Conservative Party continue when even members of the Cabinet are fighting each other? Now that two Prime Ministers have resigned, how can this Government continue to treat the electorate with contempt by refusing to call a general election? When will Conservative MPs do their patriotic duty, put country before party and trigger a general election?

Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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My Lords, I am afraid I will make the same comment that I made in answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Smith of Basildon, on the relevance of that to the Urgent Question but I note what the noble Lord has said.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, first, I agree with everything that my noble friend the shadow Leader of the House said. Secondly, although it is water under the bridge, if I may ask about the actual Statement, I understand the point made that there was a breach of the Ministerial Code but can the noble Earl tell the House exactly how this came to light?

Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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My Lords, as I understand the situation, my right honourable friend the former Home Secretary shared a document with somebody outside government and realised her error. I also understand that another individual was copied in on her email and brought it to the attention of the powers that be.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, can my noble friend assure me that there will be a full Statement in your Lordships’ House on Monday? I feel very sorry for him. He is not in a position to give details and always behaves with impeccable courtesy to the House. But we need a full a Statement on Monday, coupled with an assurance that the choice of the leader of the Conservative Party in another place will be taken by the Members of the other place and nobody else. The absurd election procedure we went through recently did infinite damage to the country and to the reputation of democracy in general. It is important that this is resolved; it is then of course up to the new Prime Minister to take into account the points made from the Opposition Benches this afternoon.

Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend Lord Cormack asks whether a Statement could be made on Monday. Of course, I cannot promise that. I am sure that if there is anything that the House is required to be aware of at some stage, it will be informed of such. I will pass on those comments to my noble friend the Chief Whip. My noble friend also talked about the election of a new leader of the Conservative Party; that is, of course, up to others and is more of an internal matter.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape (Lab)
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My Lords, if a Prime Minister resigns on a Thursday afternoon, why does this House have to wait until Monday for a Statement from the Dispatch Box? Who is running this ship for the next three days?

Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Snape, asks who is running the ship. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister stays in post as Prime Minister at present and the House will be made aware of any information that it should be made aware of in due time.

Lord Judge Portrait Lord Judge (CB)
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My Lords, to be politically neutral, I have a question of a different kind. I do not want to diminish what has been said, but we are going to have a new Prime Minister and then another, and then maybe an election and another Prime Minister. There could be a whole series of Prime Ministers. Can we go back to the question of the Ministerial Code and take this opportunity to have a look at the extent to which the Prime Minister of the day is in charge of that code and its enforcement?

Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, for his comments. He makes some very valid points and I will of course pass them on to the relevant Minister in the Cabinet Office.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, perhaps I may ask two brief questions. First, and this is directed not just to the Minister but to members of his party, if they have not done so, will they consider looking at the video of Sir Charles Walker, which is on BBC News at the moment, talking about the current state of his party and some of the people who have risen well above their pay grade? Perhaps they might look at it and consider it carefully. Secondly, may I have some advice? I am coming in tomorrow morning as part of a “Learn with the Lords” session to speak to no fewer than four schools. I would be grateful for any suggestions as to the sort of answers I might give to some of the questions I might receive.

Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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The noble Lord, Lord Russell, has been in the House for some years. He will be very much aware of the great work their Lordships do on the scrutiny of legislation, debating issues and holding the Executive to account. So I will not be able to tell the noble Lord how he should respond to this group of schoolchildren but I am sure he will do it very well.

As for the matter relating to my honourable friend Sir Charles Walker, I am sure many people have viewed that video because I think it is on social media.

Net-zero Emissions: Behaviour Change

Thursday 20th October 2022

(1 year, 8 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question for Short Debate
14:00
Asked by
Lord Bishop of Oxford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Oxford
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to support behaviour change as part of the pathway to net zero emissions.

Lord Bishop of Oxford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Oxford
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My Lords, I appreciate the time given to this debate, despite all that is happening elsewhere in Westminster today. We face many challenging issues as a country and a world, but none is more serious than climate change and the environmental crisis. The context of our debate is the real prospect of global heating of more than 1.5 degrees by the middle of the century, with escalating extreme weather events in the UK and across the world, rising sea levels, devastating fires and floods, significant loss of life and damage to infrastructure, wars over scarce resources, shifting patterns of harvest, an increase in zoonotic disease and a massive displacement of people as large parts of the earth become uninhabitable.

Your Lordships may well have seen the final episode this week of BBC documentary “Frozen Planet II”, detailing the effects of global warming on people and wildlife. The most sinister pictures for me were of the small bubbles of trapped methane being released in great quantities from the permafrost, with devastating consequences for the earth.

It is a privilege to be a member of your Lordships’ Select Committee on the Environment and Climate Change under the able leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. Last week we published our first major report, In Our Hands: Behaviour Change for Climate and Environmental Goals, which I commend to the House. My questions to the Government are based on the report’s findings.

The world is agreed that to avert disaster in our lifetimes we need to reach net zero by 2050 or before. That means radical action in this decade and the next. The committee agreed with the Committee on Climate Change that behaviour change is a key element in that journey. Around 32% of the change needed involves some kind of behaviour change. This includes the adoption of new technology and changing habits and practices around diet, transport, heating and consumption. Each of these behaviour changes has significant co-benefits and all have potential economic benefits. They are essential stepping stones on the path to net zero.

Responding to climate change is a challenge for all of us—every individual and family, every charity, every church and faith community, local government and business. The Church of England has an aspiration to reach net zero by 2030. In my own diocese we are encouraging every church to become an eco-congregation and to be a community of change. We initially set aside £10 million, over three years, to begin to insulate more than 400 vicarages across the diocese. All the different agencies must work together, but to do that means common policies and clear leadership.

I believe, personally, that our Government have given imaginative and committed leadership in the area of climate and the environment, including at COP 26 and in the recent Environment Act. The Government have also acknowledged the need for behaviour change across the board. We must all play our part. It is helpful to see government commitments to behaviour change summarised in the Library briefing for this debate. To give one example, the Minister said in your Lordships’ House last year that the Government wanted,

“to make it easier and more affordable for people to shift towards a more sustainable lifestyle while at the same time maintaining freedom of choice and fairness”.—[Official Report, 16/09/21; col. 1571.]

The committee takes a broadly similar view. We know that the public are looking for stronger leadership from the Government in this area. Some 85% of the general public are concerned or very concerned about climate change, double the number from 2016. However, the committee found a very significant gap between what the Government want to do and the leadership actually being offered. There are significant gaps in understanding the challenge from department to department. There is too little joined-up thinking and policy. There are quick wins not being adopted. There are massive areas for development and new policy, particularly around domestic heating, which is the subject of our next inquiry. The leadership and committee structures within government are opaque. There is a lack of expertise and knowledge within government. There has been no real attempt at public information and engagement campaigns. Confusion and discord over public guidance on energy-saving tips for this winter have been reported in just the last week. The party leadership debate that we had over the summer raised real questions about the new Government’s commitment to net zero, which were being worked through yesterday in the other place.

Our report offers a set of recommendations to the Government in this area of leadership. Other speakers will no doubt have other questions to the Minister on other aims. Can the Minister reassure us that the Government will take these concerns and questions seriously and will put real energy, creativity and determination into the process of supporting behaviour change into the future and as a matter of great urgency?

14:06
Lord Frost Portrait Lord Frost (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate, the Government and the Minister for proposing and enabling this debate today. It is an extremely important subject. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for her committee’s report on this subject, as has been mentioned.

We all agree, I think, that decarbonisation is a very desirable goal, but that aspiration is different from the specific net-zero 2050 policy. That target was essentially invented by the Climate Change Committee in 2019, passed through secondary legislation in this Parliament with limited debate and, since then, has been creating radical change to the economic structure of this country. My own party is just as much to blame for this situation—possibly even more so—as the parties of noble Lords opposite.

To be fair to the Climate Change Committee, it correctly stated in 2019 that there would need to be policy change to deliver this goal. It specifically mentioned decarbonisation of industry, the grid, insulation, renewables, boilers, carbon capture and storage, and so on. Now, however, we find, first, that all these technical measures are extremely expensive to install; secondly, they make energy and normal life very expensive for people; and, thirdly, they are increasing the unreliability of the energy sector, worsened by the destruction of energy supply that is actually reliable and by the addition of too many renewables that destabilise the grid.

We see a situation where the technology does not deliver the goal or aspiration by 2050 and behavioural change is beginning to fill that gap, which I find somewhat troubling. I will make three remarks. First, “behavioural change” is a nice phrase, but let us look at what it actually means: it means making it harder for people to do things that they would otherwise choose to do. One of the Government’s slogans is:

“Make the green choice affordable”.


Another way of putting that is: subsidise substandard and ineffective technologies, chosen politically by government, which people would not choose to use otherwise. Behavioural change, then, reduces human welfare, making people do things that they do not want to do, rather than things they do.

Secondly, if we take the phrase at face value, behavioural change should be voluntary. It means encouraging or nudging, but it often feels as though that is not what is being described. In 2021, the Climate Change Committee said:

“Behaviour change … comes through consumer adoption of low-carbon technologies such as electric cars”.


You do not get any choice about that: from 2030, you have to buy an electric car. That is not nudging but compulsion. The same is true for heat pumps from 2025 and closing roads for cyclists—it is all compulsion.

The same is true of the aspiration to learn from the pandemic set out in the committee’s report, from which I note my noble friend Lord Lilley wisely dissented. Yes, behavioural change was encouraged during the pandemic, but the key aims were achieved by legal compulsion: making it illegal to leave your home and meet people, and fining you if you did so. That is not nudging but simple compulsion, and if people mean legal compulsion, they should say it.

Finally, we are already in a society where far too much is governed by politics, which is too much in every sphere of everyday life. I worry that behavioural change and climate measures are shrinking the private space of individuals. They turn every decision—every time you go to the supermarket or travel—into a political act, which is a bad thing for society. Free societies should have large spaces where there is free choice.

I conclude by urging the Government on this. They have done quite enough encouragement of behavioural change as it is; there is no need for more. The right way to the decarbonisation goal is on the supply side. Provide the energy that people need but do not tell them not to use it. The right way forward is from natural gas to nuclear, with renewables at the margin, and investment in new technology—batteries and hydrogen—so that we have the low-carbon power that a modern industrial society needs. That is the way forward.

14:11
Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, I am also a member of the Environment and Climate Change Committee, and I congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on securing this extremely timely debate so soon after the publication of our committee’s report on the importance of changes to people’s behaviour, by which I mean the importance of securing changes to our behaviour to achieve the legal target of net zero by 2050. I also congratulate the right reverend Prelate on his excellent opening remarks, which set the scene and tone for the debate well.

The Question tabled underlay much of the proceedings of our committee’s inquiry. Helped by the last contribution, this short debate centres on whether the Government have a role to play in encouraging change that will contribute to a lessening of our emissions. It also centres on what that that role is and whether such initiatives are, in themselves, unreasonably restrictive, nannying, bossy or any other word plucked from the Rolodex of adjectives employed reflexively by those ideologically suspicious of any attempt by the state to engage in any way with individual freedom of choice. Lastly, it centres on whether such behaviour change will make a substantive contribution to smoothing our path to net zero.

In conducting this inquiry, the Select Committee heard evidence from across government, industry and the third sector, but I was particularly struck by the evidence we received from former members of the Climate Assembly. Like the vast majority of witnesses, they made it clear in their testimony that the public supported behaviour change and that they were looking for greater government leadership to make it happen. It is unfortunate that the pandemic eclipsed the report’s release in September 2020 and that it consequently gained rather less public traction than its contents deserve. It makes clear that the participants in the assembly regarded cross-party co-operation as essential, that government has a significant educative function in mobilising public consent for the changes needed and that the deliberative process involved in the assembly had motivated each of them to make changes in their individual consumer choices designed to minimise their environmental impact. This is perhaps the best evidence we heard of the effect that education and knowledge can have in prompting individuals to make decisions for the collective good.

To address the concerns of those who feel that the cause of net zero is being hijacked by a group who wish us to regress to some kind of pre-industrial world, I gently point out that at no point in the 550 pages of the assembly’s report is any mention made of abolishing industry, travel and the edifice of post-modern capitalism and returning to some prelapsarian world structured around our circadian rhythms. The citizens’ assembly on climate change was not constrained by moderating voices from inside or, much more importantly, outside government, which allowed it to apply the common sense that led it to balance the demands of business and individuals, supply chains and customers, and individual choice and broader social goods in its deliberations.

Our report takes the same approach. Led by the evidence, we concluded, as we record in the summary:

“People want to know how to play their part in tackling climate change and environmental damage, and the Government is in a unique position to guide the public in changing their behaviours. The Government should provide clarity to individuals about the changes we need to make, in how we travel, what we eat and buy, and how we use energy at home, and should articulate the many co-benefits to health and wellbeing of taking those steps. A public engagement strategy, both to communicate a national narrative and build support for getting to net zero, is urgently required. Behavioural science evidence and best practice show that a combination of policy levers, including regulation and fiscal incentives, must be used by Government, alongside clear communication, as part of a joined-up approach to overcome the barriers to making low-carbon choices. A behavioural lens must be applied consistently—


and this is the important one—

“across all government departments, as too many policies … are still encouraging high carbon and low nature choices.”

To address the concerns of those who feel that the cause of net zero is being hijacked by those who wish that regression, I encourage them—including, with respect, the noble Lord, Lord Frost—to actually read both reports before levelling these groundless accusations.

In short, the role the public wish the Government to play is that of an enabler, not an enforcer. Both the assembly’s report and ours are clear that it and we do not wish this—or any future Government—to remove the power of decision-making from individuals. We want them to fashion a context in which the gap between ethical and practical decision-making is closed. For those who wish to preserve individual liberty, including the noble Lord, surely a context within which people can make the decisions they wish to make, on an ethical basis rather than by purely practical considerations, is desirable.

14:16
Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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My Lords, I start by acknowledging the report, In Our Hands: Behaviour Change for Climate and Environmental Goals, produced by the Environment and Climate Change Committee, chaired by my noble friend Lady Parminter. I also thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, who, by tabling this debate, has given us an early opportunity to address the crucial role of behaviour change in meeting our net-zero targets—a debate I was hoping would be informed by hard evidence, experience and sound judgment. The future of our planet deserves no less.

That we are in a climate emergency is borne out by hard evidence—the evidence of our own eyes and the experience of those who are already feeling the catastrophic impact of extreme weather events and slow-onset effects such as the depletion of nature and the rise in sea temperatures. I think that a sentence or two here on the evidence for the need for urgent action would not go amiss, given that we still have parliamentarians who deny that climate change is real, that immediate action is necessary and indeed that the public even want change.

There can be few harder indicators of the damage we are doing to our planet than the monthly measure of the concentration of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere carried out by the Mauna Loa Observatory. The annual peak in May this year was the highest ever, at 422 parts per million of carbon dioxide. In the preceding 800,000 years for which we have ice core data, concentrations have ranged between 170 parts per million to a peak of 300 parts per million. To put this into context, over the mere 150 years since the start of the fossil fuel era, carbon dioxide concentration has rocketed from about 200 parts per million to the 422 parts per million we see today.

We are in uncharted territory. It is a fact that the temperature of our planet rises in tandem with concentrations of carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The effects of that temperature rise, at a rate unprecedented in geological time, must dictate urgent and immediate action—anyone who denies that is wearing blinkers, quite frankly. Hard evidence clearly says that the Government must act now to fulfil the aims of their laudably ambitious agenda to reach net zero by 2050, with an interim goal of a 78% reduction by 2035. However, the Government’s own advisory body, the globally respected Climate Change Committee, has said that this is unachievable—not difficult, but unachievable—without leadership by the Government and a well-designed campaign to get the public on board. The British public have indicated that they stand ready to play their part; all that they lack is leadership in how best they can do this, and there is plenty of evidence in the report to back that up.

Experience shows that where the Government have taken a lead and delivered a well-designed policy, the results have been positive. Take the example of renewable electricity: emissions from electricity generation have fallen by nearly 70% in the last decade. A second example where clear leadership by the Government has had excellent results is in the uptake of electric vehicles, which are being adopted in greater numbers each year.

I will mention two important areas where decisive leadership from the Government has been sadly lacking. First, the gap in policy for better-insulated homes is, quite frankly, shocking. A well-designed, government-led campaign to effect behaviour change would reduce demand in homes and deliver the co-benefits of reducing emissions and helping to bring down energy costs for vulnerable households. What is holding the Government back? This is a question I would really like the Minister to attempt to answer.

Secondly, agriculture and land use policies are vital to delivering net zero but are virtually non-existent and, like everything that this Government have touched, currently bathed in confusion. Yet it is clear that a well-designed and well-communicated policy will generate a number of co-benefits, not least in long-term food security and biodiversity.

In conclusion, the public have clearly indicated that when behaviour change is urgently needed, they will step up to the mark; for example, with the unusual demands made of them during the days of the Covid pandemic. It is time that the Government too stepped up to the mark.

14:22
Lord Lucas Portrait Lord Lucas (Con)
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My Lords, I too have the happy duty of being a member of the Environment and Climate Change Committee. I congratulate both my colleague on that committee, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford, on having obtained this debate, and the chair of our committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, who has been remarkably good in the face of the differing opinions of the committee in reaching what I think is an excellent report.

We as a society have committed to decarbonisation. I hope that we have also committed to allowing a lot more space in our lives for nature. In making those sorts of commitments, we need the Government’s help to see it through. In playing our part, we want to be owning that process and to have a sense of agency, knowing that what we are doing is doing good. But even in the most basic aspects of this, the Government are failing.

Most of us recycle, but do we know what happens to our recycling? In my experience, a lorry turns up and tips my recycling into the back of it; the next sound I hear is the crunching of glass being shattered and mixed in with the paper. What happens after that? Is it all shipped off to Africa? Can someone unmingle it? Is it actually a useful thing to do? No one trusts us with that information. If the Government want us to be part of what is going on, we need to know.

The Government would like us to consider a more vegetarian lifestyle. That is fine; I have been persuaded of that by my daughter and am enjoying the process, except when I go to the shop and find that oat milk is twice the price of cow’s milk. Why? Again, who can help us? The Government should be helping us. You cannot say you want a change and then find that you are asking people to consume half as much of something that should be, according to the theory of things, a great deal cheaper. What is going on? That is what I want the Government to tell us.

Similarly, we are told that we should not travel so much by air, but the cost of a lot of the flights we might take is a third or a quarter of that of the journey by train. Are we being given the honest figures? The answer is no, we are not. We are just told the fuel consumption, not the total cost of the two systems. It is not explained to us why air travel is so much cheaper. Usually, things are cheaper because they have a lower impact on the environment and use fewer resources. Again, the Government owe us some detail.

Similarly—this will come up in our next inquiry—Nesta has shown in a recent report that heat pumps are substantially more expensive to run than gas central heating. Just comparing the fuel consumed by one against the fuel consumed by the other does not give us the total systems impact of changing from one to another. If the Government want us to have agency to be part of the national narrative in making changes that decarbonise the economy, they must share with us the information that allows us to understand and have a grip on the decisions they are asking us to take.

I am sorry that the Government decided not to publish help for people on how to use less fuel and live in a house with the thermostat turned down. I think we need honest, truthful, open information. It helps us sort the myths from reality. I—along with many other noble Lords, I suspect—spent a great deal of my youth in the company of my noble friend Lord Frost’s cousin Jack. We know that, apart from the displeasure of chilblains, it is possible to live without central heating, but none of us wishes to. We are all delighted that we have it, but when we started out with central heating the British kept their thermostats at 15 degrees. It was only the Americans who pushed it above 20, but now people seem to consider that 24 is normal. We need help to get back and reset society, and to think whether we need to have such an impact on the environment or whether we can moderate what we are doing.

14:28
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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I am very grateful to have been nominated to join your Lordships’ Environment and Climate Change Committee on the retirement of our esteemed colleague Lord Puttnam in January. It is a great privilege. I thank the committee’s excellent chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for her welcome and the committee members for their tolerance throughout. I join others in congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford on securing this debate today, so soon after the committee’s report was published last week—he must have had a premonition.

The Minister and many of his colleagues have already admitted the case and its urgency from the analysis of the Climate Change Committee, yet the paucity of government support is clearly exposed with recommendations for action in this report. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Frost, that, without change, human behaviour is proving destructive to the planet, and that should concern us all.

In their net-zero strategy of last October, the Government set out six principles needed to underpin behaviour change. I highlight the three critical elements: make the green choice the easiest; make the green choice affordable; and set out a clear and consistent vision and pathway of how people and businesses can engage to get to net zero and fulfil their role with changed behaviours.

The committee’s report sets out a detailed analysis with clear recommendations. I am glad to be able to keep the report on the agenda, keep raising the issues, and keep the urgency on the Government to respond more fully with an exhaustive reply to the report as soon as possible.

If behaviour change is accepted in all quarters—so that, in the grudging words of the most recent former Secretary of State for Defra, George Eustice:

“Behaviour change is quite integral to many parts of Government policy”—


I would like to concentrate my remarks on the most crucial area of everyday behaviour with the most crucial need for improvement and change: everybody’s homes and buildings. They are where most people spend most of their time. This also highlights a key area for the Government to co-ordinate and encourage with resources and responsibility, namely with local authorities, schools, health authorities and businesses.

The UK’s housing stock is among the oldest and least efficient in the developed world. The private rented sector has some of the least fuel-efficient homes, with high numbers not connected to the grid. Figures from the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities show that heat and power currently make up 40% of the UK’s total energy use. In the net-zero strategy, carbon emissions from new-build homes must be around 30% lower than current standards and emissions from other new buildings, including offices and shops, must be reduced by 27%.

Under the heat and building strategy, the future trajectory for the non-domestic minimum energy efficiency standards will be EPC B by 2030. Clearly, the Government must initiate a national engagement strategy to highlight the benefits of improved energy efficiency of homes, which also comes with the benefits of reducing household bills and the cost of living.

As the Minister highlighted at Second Reading of the Energy Prices Bill last night, ECO Plus with ECO 4 needs to be prioritised, and learning the lessons that he recognises from the past failures of the green homes grant is a crucial and central plank to encourage the necessary behaviour change to be embedded in the consciousness of the public. This will call for determination and consistency of support. Results from Climate Assembly UK’s findings into public perceptions on retrofitting homes showed that, in addition to the costs involved, major anxiety concerned the scale of disruption to be lived with throughout the process.

Will the Minister assess whether the new efficiency schemes could reintroduce the landlord energy savings allowance, to permit landlords to offset the purchase and installation of the most important energy-saving measures from their income returns? Have the Government reconsidered the zero-carbon homes measures for housebuilders? Although it is encroaching on the Treasury’s recent confusing energy statements, may I call for consideration of the promotion of green mortgages and reductions in stamp duty should a property qualify with energy-efficiency ratings?

Necessarily, the Government need to prioritise support for energy cost relief this winter. However, they cannot row back on the long-term imperatives necessary to achieve the crucial targets to ensure that net zero can be reached with the least cost.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, is the noble Lord aware of the speaking limit? He has rather exceeded it.

Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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My last sentence is this: this is the first mixed message the Government must learn to avoid in the report today.

14:33
Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the right reverend Prelate on securing this debate and apologise that, through my incompetence, I am speaking the gap—although, sadly, because of events in Downing Street the whole debate is likely to slip not through a gap but into a black hole.

The committee on which the right reverend Prelate and I served called for and received evidence about the lifestyle changes necessary to meet net zero. The sixth carbon budget from the CCC provided the answer:

“Around 10% of the emissions saving in our Balanced Pathway in 2035 comes from … Particularly … an accelerated shift in diets away from meat and dairy products, reductions in waste, slower growth in flights and reductions in travel demand”—


in short, lifestyle changes. The other 90% comes from industry and households adopting new technologies which are intended to enable us to maintain our lifestyles.

The 10% saving from lifestyle changes was far lower than expected and a disappointment to those who wanted to make us adopt more frugal lifestyles, so the committee decided—quite consciously—to omit the 10% figure and, after the report had been drafted, asked officials to find a larger, headline-grabbing figure. They provided two figures, both of which the committee adopted. The first was that 63% of the required savings rely on

“the involvement of the public in some form.”

Apparently, this includes savings from industry deploying carbon capture and storage; I am not sure what public involvement is required in that, but it is certainly not a lifestyle change.

The second, less outrageous, figure was that 32% of savings rely on

“decisions by individuals and households”.

This was rounded up in the committee’s press release, which claimed that

“a third of emission savings … must come from people changing their behaviours.”

That is doubly disingenuous, first since the bulk of the savings comes not from individuals’ decisions but from removing their right to decide to buy fossil-fuelled cars and boilers in future. Secondly, if electric cars and heat pumps work as their advocates claim, they will not require lifestyle changes. We will be able to drive, not cycle or walk, and heat our homes as at present rather than having to adapt to lower temperatures. Yet the bulk of the report claims that behaviour change will involve more active and frugal lifestyles, which will be good for our bodies and souls.

I respect and like my colleagues on the committee, most notably our brilliant chairman, but the committee’s brazen economy with the truth was sadly distressing. Presumably, it was designed to shield the public from inconvenient facts that might undermine their willingness to go along with the net-zero agenda. The Climate Change Committee showed that we could meet net zero with pretty minimal changes of lifestyle, but some people are so eager to manage our lives that they ignored that advice and advocate re-enacting the hugely intrusive policies of the pandemic, which were mercifully temporary, on what must be a permanent basis. I regret that conclusion.

14:36
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. We have listened carefully to him throughout our proceedings. I find that, in politics, it is not worth always talking to people you agree with. In our committee, we listened carefully and based our conclusions on the evidence. That is the role of a Select Committee in the House of Lords. The evidence is clear. The noble Lord was in a minority: he was the only member of the committee who disagreed with it. We stand by it.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford for calling this important debate on a day when, sadly, the focus will be much more on the evidence of an incompetent Government. In the area of behaviour change, it is quite clear what a competent Government would be doing. First, they would be setting targets for net zero and willing the policies to deliver that. This Government have rightly set targets for net zero, but the evidence is that they will not be reached without members of the public changing their behaviour, both in adopting new technologies and in reducing their carbon consumption. Our report clearly showed that the Government have failed in that second task of willing policies.

Secondly, if they wanted to address behaviour change, a competent Government would be leading. They would be helping the public to make the choices they want. Now, she is not going to be doing any leading any more but, at her conference only last week, the then Prime Minister said:

“I’m not going to tell you what to do or what to think or how to live your life.”


She is not going to be doing that any more, but that is entirely consistent with the mantra of the Government’s net-zero strategy, where they say that they will go only

“with the grain of consumer choice.”

That is not leadership.

Leadership is about understanding that the public care passionately about climate change and want help to get to net zero. Leadership is about giving them the information to enable them to make the choices they need to make and providing the policies to help them get there. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, said, what we need are policies that do not stop people getting to net zero. We are still getting far too many policies that are high-carbon, low-nature. So those are the three things that a competent Government would be doing on behaviour change.

We are about to get a new Government under a new Prime Minister. What do we want them to do? First, there is the opportunity to refresh the net-zero strategy. Chris Skidmore’s review of the strategy is welcome. It means that the Government will not respond to the Climate Change Committee’s recommendations on getting to net zero until next March. This is good. Let us hope that the new Government take the opportunity to refresh the net-zero strategy and put behaviour change at its heart—because they will not get to net zero unless they refresh their strategy.

Secondly, the Government need to bring forward a public engagement campaign. Al