Grand Committee

Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Wednesday 7 June 2023

Arrangement of Business

Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Announcement
16:15
Lord Haskel Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Lord Haskel) (Lab)
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My Lords, if there is a Division in the Chamber while we are sitting, this Committee will adjourn as soon as the Division Bells are rung and resume after 10 minutes.

Climate: Behaviour Change (Environment and Climate Change Committee Report)

Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Take Note
16:15
Moved by
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter
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That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the Environment and Climate Change Committee In our hands: Behaviour change for climate and environmental goals (1st Report, HL Paper 64).

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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My Lords, if we are to achieve climate and environmental goals and wider benefits for society such as better health, greater energy security and sustainable prosperity, changing our behaviour is essential. Successive Governments have made welcome progress in reducing emissions through technological innovation and changes in energy supply, but far less attention has been paid to making it easier for people to switch to new products and services, and to reduce consumption.

Drawing on the Climate Change Committee’s assessment, our first Select Committee report identified that 32% of UK emission reductions by 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low-carbon technologies, choose low-carbon products and services and reduce carbon-intensive consumption. One-third of our emission reductions require us as individuals to act. Encouragingly, there is widespread public concern about climate change and a desire for action. We cite government polling showing that 85% of the public are “concerned” or “very concerned” about climate change, but the evidence is that the majority of people lack awareness of the most effective actions that they can take to reduce the impacts of climate change. It means that people need a clear vision now of what they can do about how we travel and heat our homes, and what we consume, including what we eat and waste. The barriers to making those changes—cost, convenience and availability—need to be addressed. This requires action and leadership from government. We found that the Government’s approach is inadequate to meet the scale and urgency of the challenge. Although they have refreshed their net-zero strategy since our report, their approach, Powering Up Britain, to enable behaviour change remains exactly the same. We outline that the Government need to do three things.

First, they should use every lever at their disposal, by which we mean regulation, fiscal incentives and disincentives, adapting the individual’s choice environment and providing powerful informational tools. The importance of using every lever echoed the findings of the 2011 Science and Technology Committee’s inquiry into behaviour change. To be clear, the Government have taken some important decisions, including phasing out the sale of new petrol and diesel vans by 2030, but not across all high-emission areas—including helping to cut waste from our homes. We have had government consultations on introducing consistent collections for household and business recycling, on an extended producer responsibility scheme for packaging and on a waste prevention programme. But there has been no government response, despite all three consultations closing more than two years ago.

I ask the Minister: when will the Government act to help cut the mountains of waste in our homes? Not enough has been done to tackle the high carbon emissions from our 27 million homes. Not enough is not nothing, and our committee has taken a keen interest in how the Government are seeking to pump-prime the market for heat pumps as a means of bringing costs down with stretching targets and the boiler upgrade scheme. However, while we welcome the Government’s intentions and that they listened to some of our recommendations to strengthen the boiler upgrade scheme, barriers around awareness, cost and finding trusted installers remain.

Secondly, we need to enlist the public. Sir Patrick Vallance told us that

“individuals need to know what is expected of them and what they can do”.

The Government have provided online energy advice to the public, which, since our report, has been supplemented by a welcome £18 million energy advice campaign, “It All Adds Up”. However, given the urgency of consumer action and the comparisons with personalised advice services available in other countries, we were left underwhelmed. We saw no evidence of delivery on two of the Government’s six net-zero principles, namely,

“to motivate and build public acceptability for major changes and to present a clear vision of how we will get to net zero and what the role of people and business will be”.

We called for a public engagement strategy to be developed —a call echoed by the right honourable Chris Skidmore MP in his subsequent independent review of net zero.

It is good that the Government have now said that they will set out further details on how they will increase public engagement on net zero. I ask the Minister: will they do so in a strategy, like the Scottish Government’s public engagement strategy for net zero, and consult on it, as the Welsh Government have just done on their draft strategy? As part of increasing that public engagement, will he commit to using climate citizen assemblies, given that the evidence from those forums, including the House of Commons in 2020, is that when the problems and solutions are exposed to members of the public, they are largely supportive of making the changes needed?

Thirdly, we need to help people cut high-carbon activities, such as flying, where technologies are currently insufficient or underdeveloped. The Government soundly rejected the approach we took, arguing that they will go

“with the grain of consumer choice”.

France’s then Minister for Ecological Transition, Barbara Pompili, told us of their approach to help people cut the number of flights with a ban on short-haul domestic flights under two and a half hours. In contrast, our Government, with their techno-optimism, are pinning all their hopes on new fuels, whereas we conclude that the Government should launch a call for evidence on introducing a frequent-flyer levy on long-haul flights. That could make a meaningful contribution to emission reductions as well as meeting public support for fair measures to address them.

Delivering this behavioural change requires working alongside other institutions and organisations in a more collaborative way than existing government structures and intentions support, especially local authorities, which, due to their proximity to households, active civil society and faith groups, and their ability to tailor place-based solutions, are in a key position to help deliver the green transition, yet the evidence we received identified that they lack the necessary powers and resources to do so. Our report welcomed the creation of the local net-zero forum to support partnership working between national and local government, although there have been reports in recent months that it has been hard to get Ministers to attend. How do the Government plan to enable the necessary net-zero and environmental behaviour changes that local authorities are best placed to deliver, while providing them with limited funding and support?

The Government’s approach to behaviour change, with their mantra of going with the grain of consumer choice, is out of step with science, which demands urgent action. It is also out of step with public support for government leadership, and with the opportunities to grow net-zero services, products and, critically, the jobs of the future. Clearly, it is driven by political imperatives. Part of that is the cost. Overcoming the upfront barriers requires subsidies, with the accompanying case for taxes, which for some is the ultimate in coercive intrusion into personal choice—never mind, as the noble Lord, Lord Stern, reminds us, that the cost of climate action is far outweighed by the cost of inaction.

Part of the problem is that behaviour change for the climate requires collective action and building community infrastructure, such as better public transport, which smacks to some of enlarging the state and shrinking the private space of individuals. Part of it, too, is the fear of it being pulled out of the nanny state, when in fact, choosing not to regulate markets means that you allow companies with no interest in societal roles to shape social norms and choices. It is the opposite of strong government, let alone delivering climate justice, given that going with the grain of consumer choice means consumers have the liberty to do what they want but the resulting impact of climate change will mean suffering for others.

Our report drew on behavioural science, the evidence of what works and the responses from over 150 individuals and organisations to our call for evidence. We thank them for that, the Government for their engagement and our staff, Connie Walsh, Laura Ayres and Oli Rix, with the support of POST fellow Jo Herschan and our specialist adviser, Professor Lorraine Whitmarsh. We are also thankful for the insights from our youth engagement programme, from the six schools: Stockton Riverside, Birkenhead School in Liverpool, Grove Academy in Dundee, Ulidia Integrated College in Northern Ireland and Ysgol Cwm Brombil in Port Talbot. We thank them all for the insights they gave us. I also thank the committee members, many of whom are here today, and look forward to hearing what they have to say. It is invidious to call out one person from whom one is particularly looking forward to hearing, but I must point to the noble Lord, Lord Rees, who speaks so knowledgeably on science, politics and ethics: the three things that intersect at the point of our report. I beg to move.

16:26
Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, this is a very interesting report about people’s motives and communications, from a very distinguished committee, which many of us have read with great interest. My only regret is that there is a certain coyness in the report about cost—the cost of buying into the green energy transition. You may say, “What about cost?”. The point is that costs and savings are the decisive behaviour issue for most people when they have to look at their budget and decide how much to spend and by how much they will be supported from outside.

Of course, it is all okay for the wealthiest 10%—that, we know. They have enough cash to install ground heat pumps or air heat pumps and hope that they will perform and be efficient. That is no great skin off their nose and no great challenge because they have the money. That is for the 10%, but for the other 90%—not just the poorest end but practically every family in the land, certainly throughout the middle and lower-income groups—it is not like that at all. They are dealing with a budget where every penny counts and having to embark on new expenditure and decisions such as this for their homes, small businesses or whatever, is quite a different proposition.

I declare an interest in that I advise Mitsubishi Electric in Europe, one of the biggest producers of heat pumps and air-conditioning. It is working very hard to bring down the cost of this machinery, particularly heat pumps, making them more amenable and accessible for those living in flats, apartments and so on, and making them more efficient in delivering the heating, comfort, hot water and so on that people want. It has some way to go.

The report states, very frankly, that there is “limited understanding” of this whole area. That is certainly true and it applies particularly to the confusion in the public mind, which is aggravated by disgraceful media coverage claiming that decarbonising the present electricity sector is the answer to everything. One gets ridiculous headlines in the newspapers on days when wind power supplies 100% of our electricity, saying that that has solved the problem—“We’ve decarbonised; no need to worry”—so people sit back, unaware that that is only a tiny part of the decarbonisation process. Last year, the electricity sector accounted for 18% of our total energy usage, so the other four-fifths—the other 81% or more—of fossil fuel energy has to be decarbonised. We have hardly started; this is just the foothills. What about the other 80%? This is a gigantic new area, which will require vast low-carbon investment in nuclear power and wind, as well as a virtually new national grid.

My simple message today with this excellent report is that people need to understand the scale of what is to come and how little distance we have gone, and they should understand who is going to pay, whether it is taxpayers again, who are already pressed, or the wretched consumer—one of the Government’s ideas is that the consumer will pay for the new Sizewell C reactor.

My own preference would be that we should give far more effort to mobilising private investment—billions or trillions under management in pension funds are presently going abroad—and injecting that into the vast new expenditure needed so that people can make safe decisions that mean they will not bankrupt themselves and their families by rushing into new projects which are not proven. That is the reality. Cost will guide the decisions and behaviour of most people. The more we understand that and the more we explain where the cost will be covered, the better chance we have—I think we will get there—of achieving our NZ goals.

16:32
Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, I had the pleasure of joining the Environment and Climate Change Committee after its work on the report on behaviour change was completed. However, I have read the report and absolutely concur with its findings, very ably articulated today by our excellent chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter.

The report makes it clear that behaviour change is one part of the necessary toolbox to achieve our net- zero target by 2050. Government policies and fiscal incentives can go only so far. There has been a lot of talk of hectoring and compulsion, of the danger of pushing through policies against the wishes of the people, but there is huge public support for actions to tackle climate change. As the ONS report makes clear, 64% of adults say they are worried about the impact of climate change, and 59% feel that this and the environment are among the top issues concerning voters today. People want to do the right thing. What they lack is a clear road map to make the necessary changes in their lives in the most cost-effective way.

Leadership and direction need to come from the top, but when did Rishi Sunak last make a meaningful contribution on the need to tackle climate change? He is remembered mostly for turning up late and leaving early at COP 27.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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Using helicopters.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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And using helicopters. He is increasingly pandering to the anti-green faction on his own Back Benches, who put fossil fuels before green energy.

This lack of government leadership and awareness of the scale of the challenge was reflected in the response to the committee’s report. It is, by any measure, disappointing. It refers to a plethora of policies and strategies which we know are not being enacted effectively. This failing is clearly demonstrated in our report in relation, for example, to the delays in the boiler upgrade scheme, which we will debate at a later date.

The government response to the committee also fails to grasp the need for greater co-ordination and leadership across departments to provide the public with a clear narrative about the road to change. Yet when Grant Shapps recently gave evidence to our committee, it became clear that net-zero policies were still not a priority for some of his colleagues.

The government response to the committee also failed to recognise the huge benefits in delivering behaviour change in partnership with civil society, local government and business groups. This is particularly important given that the BEIS public attitudes tracker shows that the UK Government are now one of the least trusted sources of accurate information about climate change, so working with other, more trusted partners is key.

On key policy areas, such as aviation and food production, there was a marked reluctance to intervene, yet we know that individuals will have to make difficult choices in these areas if we are to have any hope of reaching our targets.

Since our report was published, Chris Skidmore MP has published his impressive net zero review, which examined how the UK could better meet its net-zero targets in a changing world. He identifies that huge economic opportunities of clean technology could be taken if we moved quickly and acted decisively. But his report echoes the themes of our report. He emphasises that the Government need to ramp up engagement with the public by publishing a public engagement strategy this year, and he proposes the creation of a carbon calculator to provide consumers with better information to make informed decisions on their carbon footprint.

As the evidence for a proper behaviour change strategy stacks up, I hope that the Minister will feel able to give a more positive welcome to our report’s recommendations in his response.

16:36
Lord Birt Portrait Lord Birt (CB)
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My Lords, our behaviour can adapt at the required pace only if government itself provides the right policy framework and puts the appropriate incentives in place—and that, I regret to say, is not happening.

The majority of carbon emissions in the UK, as we all know, stem from road transport and from heating 30 million homes and buildings. The number of EVs is rising fast and outpacing a charging network which is haphazard and unreliable—viz the recent queues over the holiday at motorway service stations. Range anxiety will not dissipate until a charge point is as quickly and easily accessed as a petrol pump. We need a comprehensive national plan to ensure that, wherever you travel and wherever you live, whether in a tower block, a terraced street, or a country village, a charge point is readily and reliably to hand. When will we have such a plan?

We have the oldest housing stock in Europe—poorly insulated and heated overwhelmingly by gas. For most households, the cost of migrating away from hydrocarbons to effective insulation, which is vital, and a heat pump is prohibitive. How will government transform the incentives —making electricity far cheaper than gas, for instance? When will the Government deliver on the challenge that they set themselves in the 2021 strategy to

“make the green choice the easiest”

and

“make the green choice affordable”?

Precisely how much electricity do the Government forecast we would need if by 2040 we were successfully to decarbonise transport and heating? Where is the analysis underpinning the “doubling” current need assumption in the Powering Up Britain plan published earlier this year—if it exists? Will it be published? Where is the plan for, and what is the cost of, the massive upgrade of our electricity distribution network that such extra demand would require?

Powering Up Britain would not pass muster in any decent boardroom in Britain, for it is full of headlines but largely devoid of analysis and assessment—for instance, of the economics of hydrogen or carbon capture, or clarity about what part both technologies might play. For hydrogen, yes, it would most likely be maritime and heavy rail freight on non-electrified lines —but what else? Mankind, as most here will agree, faces no greater nor more important challenge than net zero, but achieving that goal requires co-ordination right across Whitehall. I worked at the centre of government for six years, and I know just how hard it is to herd the cats and achieve integrated and holistic cross-departmental objectives.

If the UK is to play its part, we need appropriate machinery of government in place. It is plainly right to have an energy department, but I think it is wrong to assign it the lead responsibility for net zero. That can be achieved only by a muscular entity at the centre working hand in glove with all departments and with powerful analytical support evaluating competing technologies, assessing the economics, integrating planning, identifying the costs, and monitoring progress against detailed plans. Until we have such machinery in place—and I greatly regret to say this—we can have no confidence whatever that we are on a certain and optimal path to net zero, and all those many well intentioned individuals who want to play their part and change their behaviour will lack the opportunity to do so.

16:41
Lord Bishop of Oxford Portrait The Lord Bishop of Oxford
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to be part of your Lordships’ committee under the excellent leadership of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and to present this report and debate it today. Many in your Lordships’ House will have seen the 2021 Hollywood film “Don’t Look Up”, which was written and directed by Adam McKay. It explores the world’s response to climate change through the metaphor of an asteroid hurtling towards the earth bringing destruction in its wake. The scientists and world leaders in the film have a way through the crisis, but only if the scientific facts are acknowledged and the world works together. As noble Lords may know, in the film the world fails that test spectacularly.

Each year brings fresh reminders of the reality of global heating in floods, fires, extreme weather events, natural disasters and rising sea levels. The IPCC continues to publish ever more solemn warnings to the world, including most recently that we are likely to see a 1.5 degree rise in average temperature in at least one year in this decade. The human consequences of climate change are seen in wars, migration, changing crop patterns and the loss of islands and coastal areas. The burden falls most on the poorest and those who have historically used the least in terms of carbon, yet still we do not listen.

Our inquiry confirmed that public concern about climate change is rising. We confirmed that the population is looking for guidance on how best to respond in the key areas of diet, travel, home heating and transport, but we also confirmed that the tools are not in place, the leadership is uncertain and co-ordination is lacking, so our report calls for a serious, committed and joined-up campaign of public engagement and information to create the appetite for and support behaviour change. We have not yet seen a convincing response. This is a relatively small step forward, but something only government can do to encourage the whole sector.

The United Kingdom has become in some areas a world leader in combating climate change with ground-breaking legislation and policies. I appreciate and welcome all that the Government are doing across a range of fields. There are many other actors in this space. My diocese of Oxford has set aside a very large sum to engage with net-zero work on more than 400 vicarages. We have more than 800 church buildings and almost 300 schools. We are on a pathway to net zero by 2035, and we have a vision that every local congregation will be an agent of change in its own community.

However, this report demonstrates very clearly that this is a battle which must be waged on a number of fronts in a co-ordinated way. To use the title of another recent film, we need to be doing everything, everywhere, all at once.

We now have a very narrow window to respond to this emergency. In 10 years’ time, the choices facing the world and our successors in this House will be very different from those we face today if we do not act. The Government’s review, conducted by Chris Skidmore, reached very similar conclusions to our behaviour change report on public engagement and leadership and policy to support behaviour change, yet we still have seen very little action. Will the Minister say when the Government’s energy and leadership in this area of behaviour change will match the scale of the crisis which we face?

16:45
Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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My Lords, it was a privilege for me to serve on the committee, even though it was a pain for its other members to have me on it, since I voted against this report. I will explain why.

Our starting point was that there are two ways to achieve net zero, both potentially necessary. One is to adopt carbon-free technologies, and the other is to adopt more frugal lifestyles, reducing the demand for carbon. The committee decided to investigate how great a role lifestyle changes could play in meeting net zero and how to motivate people to adopt them. Our call for evidence explicitly defined “behaviour change”, for the purposes of this inquiry, as

“the lifestyle changes that may be required by individuals, households, and communities”.

We did not seek evidence about adopting carbon-free technologies such as electric vehicles or heat pumps since, by definition, if they are good replacements for the present fossil-fuelled technologies, they require no behaviour change.

So we invited witnesses to give evidence about lifestyle changes, like driving less, walking or cycling more, flying less, eating less meat and shunning fast fashion. Many witnesses, and some committee members, were keen on these lifestyle changes, for reasons quite independent of reducing carbon emissions. They believe, no doubt correctly, that more frugal lifestyles would be good for our bodies and souls. That appeals to puritans, to those who love bossing people around and to eco-warriors who want us to regress to the pre-industrial world.

An early draft of our report criticised government for a lack of leadership and suggested restricting the number of flights that anyone might make. I proposed that the committee should demonstrate leadership by pledging to limit ourselves to two flights per annum. This was rejected out of hand—lifestyle changes are for them, not us. None the less, the committee was all set to proclaim that, without major lifestyle changes, Britain cannot reach net zero. Our draft criticised government for relying too much on technology change and too little on behaviour change.

Then came the inconvenient truth. We discovered that the Government’s official advisory body, the Climate Change Committee, said that 90% of the carbon reductions on the path to net zero could be achieved by adopting carbon-free technologies. A mere 10% of carbon reduction required lifestyle changes, particularly

“a shift in diets away from meat and dairy products”,

as well as reductions in waste, slower growth in flights and reductions in travel demand. Suddenly, the huge role we had imagined for behaviour change was reduced to something pretty insignificant. So what did the committee do? It voted to exclude any mention of the 10% figure, even in a footnote. I repeat: it voted to exclude that information. I wait for other members of the committee to justify that.

We needed a big figure to get a good headline, so we asked our excellent clerks to conjure up a larger figure over the Summer Recess, however loosely associated with behaviour change. They duly returned with two numbers: 63% and 32%, both of which appear in the final report. The 63% includes savings from carbon capture and storage, a fact omitted from the report, since no one would seriously associate that with behaviour change. The 32% figure mentioned by our excellent chairman as relying on savings that are the result of voluntary changes includes contributions from electric cars and heat pumps, which people will have no option but to buy from the 2030s onwards.

The justification that I was given for redefining “behaviour change” to include these technologies was that range uncertainty and recharging times require complex journey planning that is inconvenient, and heat pumps will likely leave you needing to wrap up warm in winter. That is doubtless true, but it is obviously not mentioned in the report, lest we provoke opposition to electric vehicles and heat pumps.

I have the highest respect for my noble colleagues’ integrity and sincerity, but, instead of producing evidence-based policy proposals, this report is an exercise in policy-based evidence selection. Inconvenient truths were deliberately suppressed, definitions were changed deliberately to mislead, and evidence was cited for which we had not carried out any investigations. However noble the cause, this is not the way that this House should go about producing its reports.

16:49
Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, it was a pleasure to serve on the Environment and Climate Change Committee for close to two years, during which time the evidence was laid and this report was published. It was a distinct pleasure to serve under the excellent, able and inclusive chairmanship of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter. It was also a pleasure to work with the excellent staff and advisers who we had in this inquiry—too many to name; I am conscious of my time.

I must say that, having looked at the list of possible speakers, I had hoped that I would not be in the position of having to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. We had very good-natured and interesting debates between us in the course of this inquiry. I really wanted to make another speech, but I cannot resist the temptation. Over a lot of our time together on the committee, I tried to persuade the noble Lord that, for example, my family’s decision to change from a petrol-driven car to an electric vehicle was a lifestyle change, and one whose consequences caused us to make other lifestyle changes. Because of the limited range of the vehicle, we changed the way in which we drove it—indeed, whether we drove it at all. We made distinct changes to the way in which we travelled. I cannot guarantee that I will not make any more than two flights in a year, but I have not yet made two this year. I travel less by carbon-fuelled vehicles and more, happily, by public transport, which is electrified, including trains where I live. These changes, like those of many of my friends and colleagues, have encouraged other lifestyle changes. For example, because we have solar panels on our roof, we make hay while the sun shines. We change the time at which we do certain things and therefore try to use only carbon-free energy if we can.

I could never convince the noble Lord that that was lifestyle change, that the technology was driving lifestyle change and that people’s decision to adopt this technology was not so that they could continue to live as they had but to change and live a more carbon-free lifestyle. I do not think that I ever will convince him. That is, I think, why he was in a minority of one in relation to the point that he made. The last time that we debated this issue, the noble Lord made an almost-identical speech. I was pleased to see that it got quite good coverage in certain media the next day; I suspect they may have been briefed in anticipation and I hope that they have been again today, so that this can be published. The fact of the matter is that, in the committee, all but one of us agreed that the report was a reflection of the evidence that we had heard and that the statistics that we quoted—and shared by the Government—reflected the reality.

I am almost out of time, but I had hoped to make one point, which I will make by referring to another report. We have already heard of the Chris Skidmore independent review, which the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, referred to. There is an important conclusion in that report, which I came to in the course of listening to the evidence and being on this inquiry. The review by Chris Skidmore echoes a point that was made in the committee’s report about local action being the key to the delivery of net zero. His review highlighted:

“Taking a more locally led, place-based approach can deliver a net zero transition with more local support, better tailoring to local needs, and bring economic and social benefits”.


Having heard the overwhelming evidence that I did in this context, I have come to the conclusion that the future for net zero relies on activating our communities to work in that way to challenge these issues, that we should do this with the support of civic society and local government, and that the Government should enable that.

16:55
Lord St John of Bletso Portrait Lord St John of Bletso (CB)
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My Lords, I, too, congratulate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and her committee for this important and topical report. I warmly commend the recommendation to develop a public engagement strategy to inform the population about the need for greater behavioural change and greater awareness of the risks.

So-called climate anxiety has taken centre stage. I say this as a parent of four young ones, who are all acutely conscious that the seemingly inevitable climate crisis is here and that the ambition of maintaining and restricting global warming to less than 1.5 degrees is now, sadly, beyond our reach, with several leading scientists forecasting that—I stress—without significant efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, global average temperatures could rise by between 2.5 and 4.5 degrees Celsius, with catastrophic implications.

There is no denying that by adopting more sustainable behaviours we can mitigate some of the worst effects of climate crisis, reduce the depletion of resources and promote environmental well-being. Reducing the information gap around individual carbon footprints is essential. It is important to understand that being climate positive does not just mean driving an electric car and switching off the lights when you leave home. I welcome the Department for Education’s initiative to promote sustainability and to focus the climate change strategy on children and businesses. Indeed, we recently had a Topical Question on what can be done to improve the awareness of SMEs so that they embrace the ambition of getting down to zero carbon.

Transportation accounts for only 29% of global emissions. The largest contributor is the built environment, which accounts for a staggering 40%. The challenge is now how we can change the narrative around which personal decisions and behaviours can truly move the needle. I welcome the Government’s commitment to spend over £6.6 billion to improve energy efficiency and the decarbonisation of heating in homes. New carbon capture and storage technologies, smart grids, sustainable agriculture solutions and carbon removal technologies can all play an important role, but for these technologies to be effective we need supportive policies. We need more investment and collaboration among the stakeholders. As the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned, climate-friendly appliances such as ground source heat pumps can reduce one’s individual carbon footprint, but they continue to be significantly more expensive than gas-powered alternatives, with a huge upfront cost.

Amid a cost of living crisis, I welcome initiatives such as the ECO+ scheme to incentivise the implementation of these technologies. I am a great advocate of the circular economy and I welcome a change in this paradigm, with materials flowing back into the economy, where they can increase our productivity. What are the Government doing to work with organisations such as the Carbon Disclosure Project, which is gathering information around the constitution of our economy’s carbon footprint? How can they encourage further monitoring?

In conclusion, while I warmly welcome the report and the public engagement strategy, its effectiveness will depend on an approach of shared, joined-up thinking between Governments, businesses, local authorities, civil society and individuals. As with the US Inflation Reduction Act, we need to think bigger, think bolder and act now.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, I remind noble Lords that there is an advisory time of four minutes. We are going well over in some circumstances.

17:00
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the chairman and those who served on the committee on their excellent report and their work, and the experts who contributed. I declare my interests on the register—mostly that I am honorary president of National Energy Action. The noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, ably set out why the report is so important—the need to change behaviour and especially how we heat our homes, what we eat and how we can, I hope, rely on government advice to help us in that regard. I am not asking my noble friend to take up the role of nanny, which would not be welcome, but the Government should provide certain parameters.

I should like to draw some parallels with water. After the terrible floods of 2007, where surface water appeared substantially for the first time, there was the Pitt review. Most of its recommendations have been implemented, though not all. There was the Kay review on competition, which was brought into effect—apart from the recommendations on household competition. Then there was the Walker review. Perhaps because she was the only woman to have contributed to this trio, nothing ever happened about its proposals on water efficiency. The link between water efficiency and energy efficiency is close and I hope that it will come out of this report on an ongoing basis. However, it was disappointing that that issue was not progressed at the time of the Walker review.

The chairman of the committee and others have referred to transport, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Birt. I am not going to change any time soon to an e-vehicle because there are simply no means of charging it in rural parts of the north of England. We must address—my noble friend Lady Vere was kind enough to reply on this—the dearth of power points in rural areas. The other confusion on the part of manufacturers is: why should everyone be encouraged to change to electric vehicles when, at the same time, we are told that hydrogen is coming on stream? Which is it? As an MEP, I was heavily involved with the car industry when it made a massive, world-changing investment in diesel. Now we are being told that from 2030 we can no longer buy petrol or diesel cars.

I should like to refer briefly to electricity companies behaving badly. The unit charge we can control but the standing charge that goes to the distributors is something over which we have no control whatever. I hope my noble friend the Minister will look closely at the fine of £9.8 million imposed on SSE by Ofgem for overcharging the National Grid at a time when it was asked to produce less electricity when it should have been clear, as Ofgem said, that SSE was violating its licensing conditions. That is unacceptable. We each are paying 3% on our electricity bills for renewables. If the electricity companies are going to behave badly, that is not good enough.

I welcome the fact that the Government are looking to have more food produced locally, especially food meeting high environmental and animal welfare standards but, please, can these be reflected in international free trade agreements? Currently they are not in the agreements with Australia and New Zealand.

To conclude, we need clear guidance for waste collection and all these other issues to achieve the core theme of the report—behavioural change is in our hands—but with a clear steer from the Government.

17:04
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, I have sympathy with my noble friend Lord Browne and hope he does not feel that he drew the short straw in his place on the speakers’ list. I am at risk of endangering my four minutes but, to carry on the film analogies that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford began, the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, reminds me of “Last Tango in Paris”.

For those of us who have not seen this film, it is very lewd, with a particularly interesting scene involving butter. I would suggest that, if noble Lords are of a nervous disposition, they do not watch it. I saw it in Edinburgh many moons ago and, halfway through the butter scene, the lady in the front row, who had a pearls and twinset look about her, leapt to her feet and shouted, “Filth, pure filth!” Then she sat down and watched the rest of the film right through to the end. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is a bit like that, but he is still with us, and we very much value him on the committee.

I absolutely believe that the noble Lord, Lord Browne, is right that behaviour change includes technology adoption. If we do not get the mood music right for the public in adopting new technologies, anything that deters them in terms of ease or price signals will stop them doing the right thing.

The thing that staggered me about this inquiry, which was excellently chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, our wonderful chairman, was the strength of feeling among the public. They were very clear that they wanted to know what the highest priorities were, what they could do about them and what the Government were going to do to make it cost effective, affordable and easy for them to change their behaviour. People were very clear. We know what the four priorities are, so we could in fact tell them that they are about travel, eating, purchasing, and heating and fuelling our houses. But the Government were not keen to meet the public expectation that they were clear about—that they would take a leadership role in being clear about those priorities and say what they should do in each of those four areas. In fact, we were very firmly told that the Government were going to go with the grain of public behaviour.

So we need a strategic approach. Above all, as well as removing barriers by means of incentives, pricing schemes, regulation and other mechanisms, we need a proper marketing strategy. We spend less on this highest global priority in marketing what we want to happen and what the public want us to tell them should happen than Apple does in marketing its next global product. We have really got to get to the point where marketing and behaviour change are a fundamental part of the policy basket of instruments. I was incredibly upset by the evidence that we got from the Government Communication Service; it was underwhelming in the extreme, and we really have to look at what that service is all about.

Just to finish—because I am conscious of time—with a heart-warming story, there was a thing called Climate Assembly UK, from which we took informal evidence. This was a bunch of folk who were selected from across the UK public to represent all ages and stages, political views and socioeconomic backgrounds, but mostly to represent everything from climate change deniers and flat-earthers to folk at the opposite end of the spectrum—green geeks. They worked together for a year to develop a consensus on a programme of action to respond to climate change. It was amazing how much consensus had developed among that group. It was clear that they were calling for some simple actions and for government leadership in promoting them. I leave noble Lords with some of their propositions —to buy only two pieces of clothing a year; to have only one long-range flight every two years; and to have a meat-free Friday. I commend them to you, but most of all I ask the Minister to tell us what the Government’s strategy is for behaviour change and when we might see it.

17:08
Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend for her very patient and expert steering of this vital new select committee through its first major inquiry and for introducing this debate so effectively. The science on climate change is very clear, and staying below 1.5 degrees looks almost impossible already. The need for action is urgent, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford has said. The Climate Change Committee has made it clear that we will not reach net zero unless everyone plays their part with changes in the way we all live—behaviour changes. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, has a rather surprisingly limited view of what behaviour change is—it is about how we live, which includes using different technology.

Given the crisis, the Government seem distracted, unable to focus with sustained attention, clarity or resources on what needs to be done. They say they want to reach net zero but are not putting in place what is required. I am glad to see the new department for net zero—DECC never should have been disbanded— but where are the game-changing policies in this area, in the way that China and now the US, with the Inflation Reduction Act to which the noble Lord, Lord St John, referred, and the EU are taking forward?

The Government say they want to tackle climate change, but they shy away from assisting the public to make the choices that would help to enable that, as my noble friend and others have said. The Government have a major role to play: pointing the direction, redirecting industry. Therefore, it is welcome that they have said no new fossil-fuel cars should be sold by 2030. That redirects the car industry; now that industry is falling over itself to develop electric models. But the Government also need to make sure that this is feasible by putting the infrastructure necessary in place for this—charging points, for example, as the noble Lord, Lord Birt, made clear. This enables behaviour change.

One of the things we heard was worry about fairness and ensuring that things were affordable, as the noble Lord, Lord Howell, mentioned. With the cost of living crisis and the economic consequences of Brexit and the pandemic, this further reinforces the need to invest in, for example, public transport. Housing was another area we examined. How are the Government ensuring that new houses meet certain standards, and what are they doing to bring forward the retrofitting of old building stock, in which people live their lives?

We heard quite a bit about heat pumps, despite what the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, indicated. On their implementation, we are far behind our neighbours on the continent—I was really surprised at the evidence we received as to how far they had gone. The grants for heat pumps nowhere near meet the cost of purchase and installation. The Government even have policies here where the perfect is the enemy of the good, by demanding that insulation, which is obviously worth while, goes alongside installation, further increasing the cost. If someone simply bought a gas boiler, they would not need to do that, and that needs to be examined.

As several noble Lords have said, Chris Skidmore has looked at whether the “guardrails”, as he puts it, are in place to meet the target of net zero by 2050. In terms of what the Government were doing to guide the population, we had to conclude that Chris Skidmore’s guardrails were pretty weak, even non-existent. I therefore look forward to hearing what the Minister says in his reply.

17:12
Lord Bilimoria Portrait Lord Bilimoria (CB)
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My Lords, I congratulate the Environment and Climate Change Committee and its chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on its report, In Our Hands: Behaviour Change for Climate and Environmental Goals. It clearly addresses the twin crises of climate change and nature loss, and the role of government—although we as a country are committed to net zero by 2050—and it refers to the Committee on Climate Change about behaviours, drawing on the CCC assessment that 35% of emissions reduction up to 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low-carbon technologies and choose low-carbon products and services, as well as reduce carbon-intensive consumption.

The report points out very clearly that the public are ready for leadership by the Government in this area, and the Government must do far more. It also speaks of the role of organisations in civil society and local authorities to work on this. Business can do a lot. I am an adviser to the Climate School, a wonderful initiative which trains employees in companies. When a company sets a goal of net zero by 2050, what does that mean to the employee and how can they understand the whole concept of climate change, net zero and what role they can play? Much more needs to be done on that. The report makes many recommendations about changing behaviour, including government needing to provide a positive vision and clear narrative. The information is not enough. It talks about fairness, which is absolutely true, and business having a critical role, and that is what I will focus on.

Of course, we have led the way by being the first country to legislate for reaching net zero with the Climate Change Act. In fact, 2019 marked the first year in which low-carbon electricity overtook fossil fuel power in the UK, and our offshore wind industry is respected around the world. In his wonderful report, The Economics of Biodiversity, Professor Sir Partha Dasgupta of the University of Cambridge says that nature is “our most precious asset” and that 1 million plants and animals are under threat of extinction. To quote my noble friend Lord Rees, an authority in this area,

“Our Earth is 45 million centuries old. But this century is the first when one species—ours—can determine the biosphere’s fate”.


I was privileged as president of the CBI to spend a lot of time at COP 26, where business played a much bigger role than ever before. An impact report from the goal 13 platform found that 79% of businesses believe that climate is a mega-trend and that 89% of businesses have at least one climate-related target. Almost two-thirds of FTSE 100 companies have committed to net zero by 2050. That is wonderful.

My noble friend Lord St John spoke about the circular economy. There is no better example of the circular economy than my own business and industry, brewing, where nothing goes to waste. A huge proportion of bottles are recycled to make bottles, spent yeast is used to make Marmite, spare grain is used for cattle feed, CO2 is captured and reused, and the water is treated and the effluent water reused.

Technology plays a major role, which the report refers to. At the University of Birmingham, of which I am chancellor, we developed the world’s first retrofitted hydrogen-powered train, which was up and running at COP 26 in Glasgow. His Majesty the King was on the train, as was our Prime Minister at the time.

We need to accelerate investment. There is a lot of investment, but we need to work much faster: we have not started building even one small modular reactor. We do not spend enough on R&D and investment: only 1.7% of GDP, versus the USA and Germany, which spend 3.1% and 3.2% respectively. Climate finance has not been addressed enough in this report. A huge amount of private finance needs to be addressed. All this change and transition, including with homes, will lead to the creation of 240,000 new jobs, a lot of which will be in SMEs.

To conclude, we should be looking forward to COP 28, led by its president, Sultan Al Jaber, the business ambassador, Badr Jafar, and Razan Al Mubarak, the IUCN COP 28 champion. To cite the president, there is a lack of finance. Some four times the amount of finance is required than is available at the moment, and we need “a business mindset”, as he said. The scale of the problem requires everyone working in solidarity. We need partnerships not polarisation, and we need to approach this with a clear rationale and execute a plan of action.

17:17
Lord Grantchester Portrait Lord Grantchester (Lab)
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My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, for her chairmanship of the committee and for securing this debate. I was grateful to be asked to join the committee during this inquiry on the retirement of our well-beloved Lord Puttnam.

The report concludes that the Government’s performance concerning the behaviour change needed to secure net zero by 2050 is inadequate. It has since been echoed with reports from the Committee on Climate Change and the Chris Skidmore review of the net zero strategy. The size of the challenge cannot be overestimated. There must be no delay. The climate emergency is of such magnitude that the Government should respond in similar fashion as was necessitated by the pandemic, as in recommendations 7 and 8. The costs of everyday transition towards decarbonisation must be recognised, not shied away from, as the costs of doing nothing are far greater. That balance must be recognised by everybody.

The challenge includes tackling environmental degradation, as recognised in the Dasgupta review. The significance of behaviours—how we behave—as opposed to doing activities must be recognised, as it includes attitudes and values. The Government’s response did not really seem to get this point, sounding almost on the complacent side, claiming to be already responding to the challenge with their policies and measures. They agreed, in the Net Zero Growth Plan of March 2023, that:

“The public will play a key role in the transition”.


Yet they are still to recognise the importance of behaviours with a serious public engagement strategy, as in recommendation 3—allocating increased spending on communications with information and education, and making affordable choices available.

The Government responded last year to the climate emergency with an array of strategies across all sectors of the economy, but in a somewhat scattergun approach, as exampled in the 10-point plan, and without recognising the importance of co-ordination and consistency across government, which is a key focus for the Cabinet Office. A full public engagement strategy was recognised in the Skidmore review, most notably in three of his 129 recommendations: to expand public spending and public reporting on net zero; to publish a public engagement strategy this year; and to create an office for net zero delivery. Once again, the Government were somewhat complacent in their response, stating that they were already doing the task.

The Government must recognise that a full, rounded public engagement strategy involves a deliberative process and methods. They must engage with the challenges in delivering behaviour change interventions faced by local authorities, the devolved Administrations, civil society and business. The Government have necessarily tackled the decarbonisation of the power sector, yet they still have far to go in decarbonising transport, especially aviation and shipping. They also have much to undertake to address the deficiencies in the built environment, especially in the housing sector, notably energy-efficiency measures and future homes standards. A key indicator of progress is provided by the BEIS public attitudes tracker statistics. The size of the behaviour change needed is revealed in two contrasting statistics: 54% of homeowners do not believe they need any more insultation, which contrasts with a statement by the Climate Change Committee that around 60% of the measures needed to reach net zero require changes to public behaviour. Climate change has already resulted in deep challenges with adaptation requirements to society’s way of life.

Defra’s adaptation programme has yet to address many key areas. Can the Minister indicate when the Government might publish the national adaptation programme and confirm that it will address the full range of climate risks to the UK with mitigating measures? To join up these strategies and action plans, what approach are the Government taking in their own behaviour to ensure that their policies towards achieving climate and emergency ambitions are clear and consistent? It certainly is not easy being green.

17:23
Lord Harries of Pentregarth Portrait Lord Harries of Pentregarth (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the committee for its important and wide-ranging report and the Government for their response. Particularly welcome is the assumption of both documents’ recommendation 38 that if there is to be a change in individual behaviour it involves engagement with all sectors of society. I believe that behaviour change is brought about by two main factors: a shared vision of the kind of world we want and an appeal to what is in our interest. Recommendation 65 talks about

“a shared vision of net zero and environmental sustainability”.

I suggest that, as stated, this is more in the nature of a goal, which is good in itself, but that a shared vision goes wider than that. I think we would all agree that at its heart this is a moral issue, for it concerns the well-being of our children and grandchildren and, not least, those people living in parts of the world at risk from rising sea levels and increasingly severe floods and droughts. I also suggest that it is a spiritual issue, for it concerns humanity’s place on earth and our attitude to nature, whether it is one of exploitation irrespective of consequences or one of respect for and co-operation with natural processes.

Those of my generation have, on the whole, been terribly slow in responding to the challenge which has been put to us at least since the 1960s, some 60 years ago now. A combination of blindness, indifference and short-term interests has left us now with very little time to act. On the other hand, as we know, many young people care deeply about the planet and what is happening to it. It matters to them. They have a vision, a genuine, serious care for the earth and its future, and for many of them it is a kind of spiritual vision. Not many of them claim to have an official religion, but they see this as a spiritual matter.

In that connection, I wonder whether the Government, in their public engagement strategy, should not be making more of the role that the different major religions in our country could play on this issue. Although religion is not fashionable in the media, there are large and significant Muslim, Hindu and Sikh denominations, in addition to the Christian denominations. I was very glad to listen to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford about what is going on his diocese. I believe that, in their different ways, all religions could play an even more prominent role, not just in achieving a particular goal but, behind that, in giving people a spiritual vision of what it is to be human in relation to the rest of the earth and in shaping an attitude of respect for the environment. There is one brief reference to faith groups in the recommendations, but I should like to see more being done by the Government—perhaps a behind-the-scenes initiative by the departments for business and local communities. I believe that faith groups could have a greater role in fostering that attitude of respect and co-operation with nature, which is so essential for the future and which lies behind particular goals as an overall vision.

A shared vision of the kind of world that we want is one major factor for change; the other is an appeal to what is in people’s best interest. This means that the Government must not be frightened of using their power to change behaviour, by both regulation and financial incentives and disincentives, as set out in recommendation 15 and elsewhere. The Government have a responsibility to use the power that they have, for this is not just an individual private matter but about the good of all. Not least, they must not be frightened of using their power in relation to business. In particular, given the fact that business is driven by what it thinks of as its interest—often seen in very short terms—the Government have a clear responsibility to be aware of corporate lobbying, as mentioned in recommendation 18, and to counter false claims and half-truths, as set out in recommendation 63. Self-interest can be shaped and guided but, sometimes, short-term interest has to be thwarted, and there will be occasions when the Government must be very clear and firm in relation to business.

17:26
Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to take part in this debate and I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on her chairing of this committee and the content of its inquiry. It is a novel and important subject, which really emphasises the importance of lifestyle and personal involvement.

Reading it through, I think the government response is rather sad, really. The Government seem to agree with everything the reports says, but say that they are doing it already and lots of money is being spent—that is about it. I do not think that is quite true. I am sad that there is not more discussion about the fuel duty and train fares debate. Obviously, the committee talked about net-zero air services—we have heard a few comments from noble Lords about that—and of course charging points, which we deal with quite often.

We need behaviour change, however. I want to concentrate my remarks on active travel, which is recommendation 32 in the report:

“The Government must deliver on its ambition to improve active travel infrastructure and local public transport systems by providing the necessary resources and supporting local government bodies to implement projects on the ground”.


Paragraph 64 of the Government’s response says:

“Government is investing more than ever before in walking and cycling”.


The National Audit Office has published, today, a report on active travel. The NAO says that the Government will miss all their targets for 2025 after years of stop-start funding. The report also reveals that there are new cuts of 20% year on year in revenue funding for active travel in 2023-24. This is the kind of money spent, for example, on Bikeability, which is training for school- children so that they can cycle more safely.

This comes on top of a three-quarter cut for dedicated capital spending, announced in March. It is good that the NAO supports active travel, but it says that there needs to be long-term ring-fenced funding to address its requirements. It goes on to say that those investments, which are quite small in transport terms, represent very high value for money—4.3:1—and contribute to many good targets in different departments. The sad thing is that it says that the Government will miss at least three of their four targets on active travel by 2025. These are increasing annual cycling stages and annual walking; increasing the percentage of children aged five to 10 walking to school; and increasing the percentage of journeys of under five miles in towns and cities that are walked, wheeled or cycled.

I could go on citing that NAO report for a long time and I hope noble Lords will read it—it has come out today. A statement in paragraph 64 of the response says:

“Government is investing more than ever before in walking and cycling”.


I am sure they can arrange for some figures to demonstrate that that is true, but it certainly is not enough and we need to be very careful and support the NAO and press the Government for some responses on this issue.

17:31
Lord Rees of Ludlow Portrait Lord Rees of Ludlow (CB)
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My Lords, Governments are torpid in their response to the climate threat. This is, of course, because its worst impacts will not be manifest until the second half of the century, beyond the time horizon of political and even investment decisions. We are like the proverbial boiling frog, contented in a warming tank until it is too late to save itself.

Most of us do care about the life chances of children and grandchildren who will be alive in 2100, but even well-intentioned individuals feel helpless. Politicians respond to pressure from voters, and voters are responsive not to scientists but to charismatic influencers. I shall highlight a disparate quartet of these—first, Pope Francis, through his 2015 encyclical; secondly, our secular pope, David Attenborough; thirdly, Bill Gates; and, fourthly, Greta Thunberg. Thanks to those personalities, public opinion has shifted. More people care and the rhetoric of business has changed. Climate has gained prominence on the political agenda.

To take a small example, Michael Gove, when at Defra, introduced legislation to ban non-reusable drinking straws. He would not have done this had not David Attenborough’s TV series alerted millions of voters to the downsides of ocean pollution. Likewise, the public would accept regulations that constrain our driving, flying and eating behaviour, and they would support measures to nudge industry towards the circular economy. For instance, buildings with short-intended lifetimes contain materials such as girders and piping that are re-usable. Better still, of course, is to use timber rather than steel, and there has been remarkable progress in timber-frame buildings.

Achieving a net-zero target is a major technological challenge—let us not forget that—but it is a realistic challenge that could be met not just by the UK, which contributes only 2% of the world’s emissions, but by all the countries of the prosperous global North. However—crucially—that is not enough. By 2050, there will be 4 billion people in the global South. Their individual per capita energy consumption is currently less than a quarter of ours, but they will suffer most from global warming and its effects on food production and water. If they gain prosperity, as we surely hope, they could collectively by 2050 be using more energy than the global North does today. If that energy comes from fossil fuels, the world could then be as far from net zero as it is today, and the prospects dire for all, but especially for equatorial nations. It is crucial, therefore, that these nations do not track our trajectory of economic development but leapfrog directly to clean energy, just as they have adopted smartphones without ever having landlines. This benign scenario requires renewables, energy storage and perhaps nuclear to advance technically and fall in cost.

We in the UK contribute only 2% of the world’s emissions, but we could have more leverage if we led a campaign to establish a kind of mega-Marshall plan to stimulate these developments, best of all by collaborating with other countries in the global north. This is perhaps a kind of foreign aid that the public may well endorse ungrudgingly, and it could be to our economic benefit too.

17:35
Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Rees of Ludlow, and his wise words. Like everyone else, I particularly congratulate my noble friend Lady Parminter, who I know feels that this area is very important, both in practice and in theory. I also congratulate the committee on its work. I congratulate too the Minister and the Government because the Minister has obviously been persuasive in that I have heard today that we have a net-zero objective for Ofgem, after many years of trying to persuade it. I was interested that Ofgem welcomed it, whereas, in the Energy Bill, we heard that it was against it—but there we are; it shows that things can change. I am sure that the Minister was very persuasive in that, so I thank him.

Coming back to the report, I echo very much the feelings and statements of many Members of this Grand Committee and this House that the overall view of the Government’s response is disappointing. Exactly as other noble Lords said, it goes through the list and says, “We’re doing it”, implying that they need to do no more—yet, in a way, it exposes those siloes of each of those areas within the department, not tying them together.

One of the things that we need to take into consideration—I do not think it was mentioned in the debate—is that, although we are being very successful, relative to the globe, at reducing our emissions, the vast majority of this so far has been because we have substituted gas for coal and, increasingly, renewables for gas. That has been easy because none of us have noticed it: we plug in our hairdryer, iron, washing machine or whatever, and they work just the same—we have not had to change anything whatever. Just maybe, despite the problems with the charging networks, we may have that opportunity with EVs as well, with the market and the convenience of EVs meaning that there can be a natural market change, like there was with iPhones, which we moved to without any persuasion from government. At that point, it gets a lot more difficult: we have to make changes that we will notice, which is why this report is so important.

I have great sympathy with what the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, said: technology will be an incredibly important part of this. But I do not think we know enough about that percentage split between behaviour and technology—he has obviously heard more evidence than me, and I am interested in that proportion. But, whatever it is, behaviour change will clearly be an important part of that mix, which is why I welcome that report. But, my goodness, we have to carry on with technology, which is why it is important that we get on with rejoining the Horizon programme now that we have the Windsor agreement. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, mentioned the appalling level of R&D expenditure —we need to get that up generally as well. We need help with that for the next stage of decarbonisation.

I was particularly interested to read about the models that might already exist. I like the pensions one, although it is nothing to do with net zero. The Government successfully put in a process that was not obligatory: it sort of happened, and you had to positively say no if you did not want it. It has been very successful. This is one of those areas where you think about the future—maybe 20, 30 or 40 years ahead—when you are normally not too bothered about it. Unfortunately, with carbon, we already have those challenges.

The climate assembly was particularly important, and I ask the Minister whether we can proliferate those assemblies because, as I understand it from speaking to committee members, whatever their background, they have become great advocates of the cause because they were persuaded by the facts. It is also important to have a positive message about climate change. One big problem—I fall into this category—is that we can be incredibly pessimistic about the future of this planet. We all know the challenges of meeting the 1.5 degrees target. However, we need positive messages and to involve communities in particular.

I always mention this, but some 310 local authorities have declared climate emergencies. While some of that may be cynical or done just because it is fashionable, most of those authorities want to implement climate policies, but because of the incredible constraints on local authority expenditure and because those policies are not statutory requirements they tend not to happen much. That is one of the areas that we have to change. There should be more community and district heating schemes. My wife is a member of a parish council and has taken on the role of climate and nature advocate, but she has had to travel down the learning curve like thousands of others in similar positions. We are not spreading that knowledge.

Regulation is usually positive. Biodiversity net gain is a recent example and I congratulate the Government on that, but a main question around environmental regulation is enforcement. It is weak in the UK at the moment. We have been too slow on housing regulation, as others have mentioned.

I say to my noble friend that the one area about which I was slightly disappointed—it was mentioned also by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria—was the biodiversity crisis, which is not mentioned a great deal in the report, and yet, although connected to climate change, is an equal challenge.

To conclude, we and the Government—this country—are able to show the leadership in this area that we have done as regards technology in terms of delivering on climate change. This should be one or our national missions globally, to be the place that shows that behavioural change is important, can work and can ease all the difficult political decisions that our colleagues at the other end of this building have to make to bring forward this agenda. What I would ask the Minister most is to come back to a strategy of public engagement. We do not have that and are not near it. Chris Skidmore has said that it is essential. Where are we on that? What will its content be? Will it be anything like this excellent report?

17:43
Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, I begin by also thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and the other members of the committee for producing a thorough and focused report. I was not a member of the committee but will set out my observations on its key findings and recommendations, and the Government’s response. No doubt, the Minister who follows me will tell me whether I have got it right.

Behavioural change is essential if we are to achieve climate and environmental goals and deliver wider benefits. The Government’s current approach to enabling behavioural change to meet climate and environmental goals is inadequate to meet the scale of the challenge. I draw on the Climate Change Committee’s assessment, which identified that 32% of emissions reductions up to 2035 require decisions by individuals and households to adopt low-carbon technologies and choose low-carbon products and services, as well as reduce carbon-intensive consumption.

While the Government have introduced some policies to help people adopt new technologies, these have not been replicated in other policy areas. There has been progress in some areas, but not all—the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, mentioned electric cars.

There is a reluctance to help people to cut carbon-intensive consumption. Time is not on our side, and there is too great a reliance on as yet undeveloped technologies. A quote that I liked in the report was from Sir Patrick Vallance, who said:

“Dreaming that something brand new will appear and save us by 2050 is not sensible”.


Priority behaviour change policies are needed in the areas of travel, heating, diet and consumption to enable the public to adopt and use green technologies and products and reduce carbon-intensive consumption. Polling shows that the public are ready for leadership from the Government in this space. 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 they should articulate the many co-benefits to health and well-being of taking those steps.

A public engagement strategy, both to communicate a national narrative and to build support for getting to net zero is urgently required, but information is not enough to change behaviour. The Government need to play a stronger role in shaping the environment in which the public act through appropriately sequenced measures including regulation, taxation and the development of infrastructure. A behavioural lens must be applied consistently across all government departments, as too many policies, from planning and building standards to advertising regulations, are still encouraging high-carbon and low-nature choices. As the country faces a cost of living crisis, the Government must tailor behaviour change interventions to avoid placing a burden on those who can least afford it—a fairness clause. They must also work with the many groups and organisations at different levels of society which have a critical role in securing behaviour change for climate change and the environment. Behaviour change interventions will not be effective nor consistent unless existing structures for the cross-government co-ordination of climate and environment policy are overhauled and made more transparent and accountable to Parliament and the public.

The Government have responded. In September 2022, the Government were under Liz Truss. The one thing that she achieved during her premiership was commissioning Chris Skidmore to lead an independent review of net zero. The purpose of the review was to determine an affordable and efficient approach for the UK to fulfil its net-zero commitments, specifically an approach that was pro-business, pro-enterprise and pro-growth, which I have no doubt members of the committee would welcome. In January 2023, the review’s findings were published in the report, Mission Zero: Independent Review of Net Zero. The review praised the UK for the steps that it had taken towards achieving net zero. However, it warned that the Government, industry and individuals needed to

“act to make the most of the opportunities, reduce costs, and ensure we deliver successfully”.

In March 2023, the Government published their response to the recommendations made in that review. In their report, the Government agreed that “decisive action” was needed to seize the “major economic opportunities” that net zero could bring to the UK. The Government also addressed the review’s 129 recommendations. These included the following three recommendations. The first was to expand public reporting. The Government stated that

“there are many existing mechanisms to regularly scrutinise the government’s performance on net zero, including by Parliamentary Select Committees … independent bodies such as the National Audit Office, and … the Climate Change Committee”.

The second was to publish a public engagement strategy. The Government said that they had outlined their approach to public engagement in their net zero strategy. They also committed to providing additional details on public engagement “in the coming months”. This included plans to support public awareness through their digital platforms, to develop a road map outlining net-zero proposals, to establish a framework to “amplify net zero messaging” and to create an office for net zero delivery. The Government stated that the creation of the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero meant that there was now a

“department dedicated to delivering on our ambitious climate ambitions and a senior ministerial voice at the Cabinet table”.

The impact of behaviour change, the actions taken by individuals or organisations to reduce their energy use, can be significant and an essential part of the journey. On the Chris Skidmore review, while we quite rightly have a duty to ourselves, to each other and to the planet to achieve net zero and halt the temperature increase, far too often the argument focuses only on that side of things and fails to acknowledge the opportunities that net zero can bring. The Skidmore review was scathing in its assessment of the Conservative Government’s failure to recognise the huge potential for economic growth and good, green jobs that come with the transition to net zero.

What would we do? As your Lordships know, Labour would put net zero at the heart of our plans for a fairer, greener future with our green prosperity plan and invest £28 billion per year in tackling climate change, growing the green economy and creating good, green, secure local jobs across the country. Last year, the independent Climate Change Committee warned that the Government’s current climate strategy will not deliver net zero and that credible government plans exist for only 39% of the UK’s required emissions reductions.

I conclude where I began: by congratulating the committee on its impressive report and ask the Minister whether he truly feels that the Government are ready for the scale and speed of implementation to achieve environment and climate goals.

17:50
Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, first, I join virtually every other speaker by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, on bringing forward this debate today, the committee on the report on the Government’s approach to enabling behaviour change, and the many businesses, local authorities, charities and others who contributed to its content.

I start by reassuring the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, and my noble friend Lord Howell that we take very seriously the need to engage the public on net zero and the environment, and we recognise that achieving our goals will require changes not only to our energy systems and infrastructure but to our everyday life, such as the way we travel and heat our homes.

The Government will continue to engage the public on the challenge of delivery and on their role and their views, building on what I think are existing strong levels of public support. We very much view the transition to our goals as a joint effort between government, business and civil society. On this point, I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, that the transition must involve all society working together. We continue to work closely with partners in local authorities, voluntary sector organisations and, of course, crucially, business, which all play an extremely important role in how we use and choose different services.

I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Lilley for his points on this matter, and I reassure him that our approach is to support the public in making these green choices in a way that maintains choice and freedoms, which includes adopting new low-carbon technologies and using energy technologies and services more efficiently—but emphasising the importance of individual freedom.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford asked how the Government’s energy and leadership on behaviour change match the scale of the crisis—I think that was how he put it. The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, also asked about our strategy on behaviour change. I point both noble Lords to our net-zero growth plan and our environmental improvement plan, where we set out clear principles about how we will empower the public to make those green choices by making them significantly easier, clearer, and, crucially, more affordable, and we continue to work with industry to remove some of those barriers. The plans set out a consistent and co-ordinated approach for engaging the public across net zero and the environment, in both communicating the challenge and giving people a say in shaping future policies.

The purpose of the Government’s approach and the principles we have set out is not, again to reassure my noble friend Lord Lilley, to stop people doing things; it is about enabling people to do the same things differently and more sustainably—to make society greener by design, if you like. We also want the approach to support co-benefits—whether that is in health, well-being or, crucially, our wallets.

The noble Lords, Lord St John of Bletso, Lord Grantchester and Lord Teverson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, made points about our approach to public engagement and asked when we would publish a public engagement strategy. Again, I reassure noble Lords that, in the net zero-growth plan, we announced that we will set out further detail on how the Government will increase public engagement on net zero. As part of this work, we will develop a guiding framework on public engagement, in conjunction with partners and trusted messengers, of course, to amplify the net-zero messaging. In the net-zero growth plan, we committed to supporting public awareness of our actions through our various digital platforms, and we are developing a road map, setting out plans and proposals under net zero.

The noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, asked about government plans to enable behaviour change at a local level and how we can take a place-based approach to the delivery of net zero. They both made good points on this. Again, the Government recognise that local authorities can and do play an essential role in driving local action. For example, the Government have provided funding for local on-street electric-vehicle charging infrastructure for all local authorities in England, and they have committed £470 million for local electric vehicle charging over three financial years, up to 2024-25. Of course, as I have said many times in this House, virtually all our energy-efficiency programmes are delivered through, and with the support of, local authorities and housing associations.

I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, for highlighting the importance of working with trusted messengers, including faith groups. The above-mentioned public engagement framework will consider this point.

On the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Parminter, about Defra’s action on waste, it is important to balance the urgency with the scale of the change needed. We need to ensure that our policies are effective. In that respect, we are working to introduce extended producer responsibility for packaging from 2024, to move the cost of dealing with household packaging waste to businesses that supply that packaging. Emphasising the importance of getting it right, we of course look at what is happening in Scotland and aim for our deposit-return scheme to begin from October 2025, ensuring that consumers are able to redeem a deposit when they return a single-use drinks container. We aim to publish our response to that consultation on local authorities, providing a comprehensive and consistent service across the whole of England.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to a carbon calculator and we have considered this recommendation. In fact, several carbon calculators are already in use, and we are exploring whether there is a user need for new content on net zero on GOV.UK, or whether there is a greater need for additional digital information, rather than a stand-alone calculator tool.

I agree with the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, about making green choices easier for consumers. We will seek to address all the major practical barriers to individual behaviours by removing frictions and minimising the disruption to people’s lives. We need to take people with us on this journey.

The transport decarbonisation plan commits to better integrating transport modes, including many more bus routes serving railway stations and improved integration of cycling and walking networks. To make green choices clearer, we aim to increase the provision of high-quality information to the public, including exploring how we better label products and services.

The noble Lord, Lord Birt, referred to the need to work together to achieve our behaviour-change goals, I reassure him that the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has a steering and co-ordinating function across government to deliver our net-zero strategy. Teams from across government continue to seek ways to support co-ordination across net zero and to support environmental, green choices.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Birt, asked about the UK’s electric vehicle infrastructure network. In March 2022, the Government published their extremely ambitious electric vehicle infrastructure strategy, which sets out a coherent vision and commitments to accelerate the rollout of world-class electric vehicle charging networks and get charge points on to the ground more cheaply and quicker. The majority of EV drivers at the moment charge at home, and we expect that to continue, but we are also committed to ensuring that a robust public charging network is in place to enable long distance journeys and, of course, for the many people who do not benefit from on-site parking and need to charge on the street.

The noble Lord, Lord Grantchester, asked about the Government’s action to reach net zero. The Government are committed to making their own estate and operations more sustainable and resilient, and the greening government commitments illustrate what they are doing to improve their environmental impact and promote greater efficiencies. I also point him to the public sector decarbonisation scheme, which is very successfully rolling out energy infrastructure improvements across the public sector.

The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, referenced the Government’s commitment to active travel. I reassure him that the Government are committed to helping people to walk and cycle where they can, and that we are investing around £3 billion in active travel up to 2025, despite the efficiency savings needed due to global financial pressures. The Department for Transport has also recently established a new executive agency, Active Travel England, responsible for making walking, wheeling and cycling the preferred choice for everyone in England to get around, where they can.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rees, for raising the important issue of the circular economy. Again, we want to make it the norm to reduce, reuse and recycle. The previously mentioned policies on waste reform will play a key role in delivering that strategy. Alongside that, we continue to support key developing technologies, including funding the circular economy hub, which will establish circular innovation centres for industries including textiles, metals and chemicals.

The noble Lord, Lord Teverson, and my noble friend Lady McIntosh raised the importance of listening to people’s views on climate change across the spectrum and highlighted some of the work of the Climate Assembly UK. Of course, we listen to any views put to us by either individual members of the public or assemblies and we have the Public Attitudes Tracker and the People and Nature Survey for England, which inform us where the public are on these issues. We also regularly fund public workshops and deliberative dialogues to inform a wide range of policy areas, including, in recent years, on net zero, heating, transport decarbonisation, hydrogen, carbon capture usage and storage and advanced nuclear technologies.

As I have set out today, the Government recognise that achieving net zero and environmental goals has to be a shared endeavour, requiring action from everyone in society, including people, businesses and, of course, the Government. We are committed to taking practical steps to support the public to make green choices in a way that supports their choice but, crucially, maintains their fundamental freedoms. We will continue to take this approach across our net-zero and environmental policies to support the UK’s transition to a green and sustainable future.

18:03
Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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I thank all Members who have contributed to this excellent debate, including the noble Lord, Lord Lilley.

Baroness Parminter Portrait Baroness Parminter (LD)
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Including, not especially. The noble Lord is never a pain. The whole point and value of a House of Lords Select Committee is to bring together people with different perspectives and values and from different parties. We look at the evidence, hear people’s views and come to an agreed position, which in this case was a majority position. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, was in a minority of one. As we heard from the Minister, even he agrees with our definition of behaviour change. As the noble Lord, Lord Browne, rightly articulated, we see behaviour change as not just about cutting consumption—the 10% referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley—but about helping people adopt new technologies and services. The Minister’s definition of behaviour change was “enabling people to do the same thing greener”. The noble Lord, Lord Lilley, is in a minority of one. I am a Liberal Democrat; I am used to losing. It is time, as they say in “Frozen”, to let it go.

I thank the Minister for his response, although we could disagree about the pace of some of the things he mentioned. We have been calling for an extended producer responsibility scheme for many years. France had one about a decade ago, and the Government called their first consultation on an extended producer responsibility scheme in 2019, so the pace is pretty glacial when the challenge is so big.

However, we are pleased to hear that the Government are at last going to be getting together a net-zero strategy. This needs to be shared endeavour. People around the Room have talked about the need to bring on board local authorities, civic groups, faith groups and businesses, but the only people who can offer that leadership are the Government. We hope that they will accept that people out there are crying out for change. They want to do something about climate change, and they want the Government to lead. The Government have made some good baby steps but need to move much faster and with much greater depth if we are not going to continue having policies that are high-carbon and low-nature. As the noble Lord, Lord Birt, said, we need far greater co-ordination across government to achieve that. I thank the Minister for what he is trying to do in certain areas, but the Government need to do far more, and the evidence of our behaviour change inquiry shows that, unless the Government help people to change their behaviour, we are not going to meet the net-zero goals that the Government have set.

Motion agreed.

Science and Technology Superpower (Science and Technology Committee Report)

Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Grand Committee
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Motion to Take Note
18:08
Moved by
Baroness Brown of Cambridge Portrait Baroness Brown of Cambridge
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That the Grand Committee takes note of the Report from the Science and Technology Committee “Science and technology superpower”: more than a slogan? (1st Report, HL Paper 47).

Baroness Brown of Cambridge Portrait Baroness Brown of Cambridge (CB)
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My Lords, I am delighted to introduce for debate this Science and Technology Committee report on the UK as a science and technology superpower. Before I start, I declare my interests as a non-executive director of two UK technology companies: Ceres Power and Frontier IP.

The Science and Technology Committee is highly engaged, and I thank everyone on the committee at the time for their significant contributions to the final report. As ever, huge credit is due to the committee’s staff, our former clerk George Webber, Thomas Hornigold and Cerise Burnett-Stuart, who did so much of the hard work in managing the consultation and the witnesses and in preparing the report.

The committee conducted a broad-ranging inquiry into the UK science and technology ecosystem, centred around the Government’s ambition to make the UK a science superpower by 2030. The inquiry considered: defining UK priorities as part of a science and technology strategy; international aspects of the strategy; the organisational structure of UK science, including the roles of UKRI, government departments, Cabinet sub-committees and the Civil Service; the target to boost R&D spending to 2.4% of GDP; and the role of government as an investor in technology companies.

The inquiry also motivated a shorter follow-up inquiry into the people and skills in STEM, concluding with a letter to Ministers, to which we may also refer in this debate. The inquiry ran from February to July 2022, taking evidence from a wide range of UK and international science policy experts, researchers, public research establishments, universities, private companies, start-ups and technology investors. We also heard from civil servants, chief scientific advisers—including Sir Patrick Vallance and Dame Angela McLean—the chief executive of UKRI, research council heads and Ministers.

I will summarise the key messages from our report. There is a strong consensus that science, technology and innovation have a key role to play in the delivery of economic growth, improved public services and strategic international advantage. It is clear that the UK still has a strong science and technology base to build on. When the report was written, some welcome steps had already been taken, such as setting the 2.4% target, increasing funding for UKRI in government departments and establishing new bodies like the National Science and Technology Council—NSTC—as a sub-committee of the Cabinet, and the Office for Science and Technology Strategy, the OSTS. My apologies in advance for the acronym soup that this speech will now turn into.

However, the report identified many key concerns about the implementation and delivery of a science strategy, many of them familiar—indeed, some we might even call perennial problems. The first that concerned us was that the “science superpower by 2030” slogan was vague and without specific outcomes. We did not know what being a science superpower was intended to feel like. How would it be different?

Although numerous sectoral strategies exist across government, they did not appear to fit into a clear, prioritised plan. The UK cannot be “world-beating” at everything. We urged clarity about which capabilities the UK wanted to develop domestically and where it would collaborate or access. These debates remain lively, with the announcement of £900 million for exascale computing and the debate over a sovereign AI model, for example. Linked to this was the lack of a joined-up international approach. We cannot be a science superpower in isolation—collaboration and scientific openness are fundamental—but the UK remained out of Horizon Europe, and other changes, such as the reduction in ODA support, high visa costs and complex processes, risk the UK’s reputation as a destination that welcomes top international science talent and as a desirable partner in international collaborations.

On increasing complexity and lack of clarity, the committee felt that bodies like the NSTC and OSTS would provide strategic direction, but their interactions with other key bodies like UKRI were unclear and risked adding to bureaucracy. There has been inconsistency and short-term thinking, which is anathema to R&D and developing new sectors of the economy. This is exemplified by the scrapping of the industrial strategy after just a few years.

There is an urgent need for scientists, technologists and engineers, both trained domestically and welcomed from abroad. There is the challenge of scale-up: although some commercialisation metrics, like numbers of start-ups, are improving, it remains challenging for companies to scale up here, especially for those requiring significant capital investment. The recent comment by Oxford PV’s chief technology officer that the UK was the “least attractive” place to build its new factory for perovskite solar cells is a stark reminder that we continue to see companies built on ground-breaking UK science listing overseas.

As regards engaging the private sector and increasing private sector investment in R&D, a range of areas for policy reform have been identified but details of how this will work—indeed, of how the impact will be different from previous approaches—have not been set out, and the Government’s own role as a direct investor in technologies was also unclear. Disappointingly, the private sector witnesses we heard from indicated that the sector did not feel that it had been engaged in the development of the UK’s science and technology strategy. As inflation worsened during the course of the inquiry, concerns were raised about the cost of conducting research and that R&D budgets may be an easy target for departments and Governments looking to make short-term savings at the expense of long-term prosperity.

Our report made a number of recommendations. We asked for further definition of the science and technology strategy, with specific outcomes in priority areas and, critically, with an implementation plan so that it was about not just targets but action. We wanted the science and technology superpower ambition to be defined with specific metrics and suggested an independent body to monitor progress. We wanted more Cabinet-level agreement and focus on science and technology policy with a Science Minister in Cabinet and more frequent meetings of the NSTC. We wanted to see the UK rebuild its reputation as an international partner, starting with association with Horizon Europe.

We asked for clarity on how the Government were going to use their range of policy levers to stimulate private investment in R&D and more detail how tax credits, pension fund rules and procurement would need to change to support private investment in R&D and especially in scale-up companies. We suggested that reforms could be driven by specific taskforces in each area, headed by clearly accountable individuals, providing a single point of contact for stakeholder engagement. Our people and skills letter focused on four key areas: the domestic skills gap; the precariousness of research careers; visa policy for scientists and STEM workers; and our ability to retain and recruit science teachers and educators.

A great deal has happened in the year or so since this report was published, some of which I am sure some of us would rather forget. However, more positively, this includes the establishment of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology and the appointment of a Secretary of State for Science. This is a positive development in giving science and technology a strong voice in Cabinet, but cross-departmental co-ordination through NSTC will remain critical. We look forward to hearing more from the Minister at a future appearance before our committee about her role and responsibilities and how the new department will interact with the rest of the science landscape in government and further afield.

The Windsor framework has allowed Horizon Europe negotiations to resume, and the committee urges the Government to associate at the earliest possible opportunity. The Government have published Science and Technology Framework, which sets some key targets and outcomes across 10 different science and technology areas and, although not all of them are measurable metrics, substantially builds on and defines the science and technology superpower agenda, as we urged in our report. We are promised a

“clear action plan for each strand”

by summer 2023, so we look forward to seeing them soon. Given that delivery will be overseen by the NSTC, we also hope to hear that it is meeting more regularly.

Science and Technology Framework also sets out new, if broad, priority areas including quantum, AI, engineering, biology, semiconductors and future telecoms, alongside

“life sciences, space, and green technologies.”

That is a slightly odd mixture of specific technologies and whole industry sectors, but it is a start in defining priorities for the UK. The Government say that DSIT will oversee strategies in each area, with some, like the semiconductor White Paper and AI White Paper, recently published, and associated packages of funding for semiconductors and life sciences announced.

This goes some way towards addressing our concerns that the UK’s science and technology strategy was insufficiently specified, but concerns about the scale of investment remain. For example, the semiconductor strategy announced £1 billion in funding, compared to the US support under the CHIPS Act, which totals some $52 billion, and the EU equivalent, which will amount to about €43 billion. Cambridge-based Arm is still planning to float in the US, despite government efforts. On green technologies, the approximately $400 billion investment under the Inflation Reduction Act in the US and efforts by the EU are driving a step change, which the UK has not yet responded to. It is difficult to see how we can be world beating without at least world-class investment. One has to ask whether the UK may be spreading itself too thinly by trying to compete in all these areas of science and technology. In this context of renewed industrial strategies worldwide, Make UK’s recent criticism of the UK’s lack of a long-term industrial strategy, and hence lack of pull-through for commercialising technologies, echoes the concerns raised in our report.

A further development since our report has been the recalculation of R&D GDP statistics by the ONS. This has increased estimates of R&D spend from 1.7% to 2.4% of GDP. We welcome the Government’s acknowledgement that

“a stronger baseline does not change the underlying rationale for growing investment in R&D”

and urge them to adopt an appropriate new target. A science and technology superpower should spend more than the average OECD country. We welcomed the increase in funding for R&D at the time, and we are pleased to see that it was defended in subsequent Budgets, but double-digit inflation will absorb most of this increase, while high inflation and interest rates may deter business investment in R&D.

The overall landscape of science policy and publicly funded research in the UK is responding to some major recent reviews, including the Grant review into UKRI and the Nurse review into the research and development landscape. Many of the recommendations from the Nurse review echo our own. We look forward to seeing how DSIT, UKRI and the NSTC will drive forward the recommendations from these reviews. It is encouraging to see that some promises of reform of public procurement, regulation for innovation, tax credits and intellectual property are under way. Sir Patrick Vallance’s review of regulation for emerging technologies is a positive development, and we wait to see how its recommendations are implemented.

Overall, there are promising signs that the Government view science and technology policy as a crucial area to get right. We agree that the potential is there, but the scale of the challenge must not be underestimated. Some of the recent changes are encouraging, but there is much more to do across the whole of government. Ensuring that “science and technology superpower” does not become another forgotten Panglossian political slogan will need clear strategy, commitment and co-ordination across government, business engagement, internationally competitive levels of funding and an unrelenting focus on delivery.

I shall finish by asking the Minister three specific questions: first, what is now holding up our association to the Horizon programme and when is this likely to be resolved? Secondly, what has happened to the Office for Science and Technology Strategy in the process of forming the new Department for Science, Innovation and Technology? Thirdly, will the Government be developing a science superpower skills strategy? I beg to move.

18:21
Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to take part in this debate, as it was to be a member of the Science and Technology Committee when we undertook this inquiry. It is a pleasure to follow my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, who eloquently set out the extent of the report’s findings so effectively. I echo her in thanking all the staff of the committee who did such excellent work supporting our inquiry. I declare my technology interests as set out in the register.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, did such an effortless job in covering the ground of the report, I would like to describe how I see our findings in five words. We need all five: clarity; long term; international; investment; and implementation. Perhaps the most powerful phrase of all came from Sir Patrick Vallance when he talked about the need for a laser focus on implementation. If we take those five words—those five pillars—what might that look like in reality?

The noble Baroness, Lady Brown, rightly highlighted the importance of regulation and the Vallance review into regulation in this area. I believe that the positive power that regulation can have to support innovation and technology in this country should not be underestimated for one second. We can look recent examples such as what we with the telecoms industry to regulate to enable mobile telephony in this country and what we did even more recently with the fintech sandbox to effectively enable in a regulatory environment so many scale-ups and start-ups to come through. What is the best measure of success for that regulatory sandbox? It has been replicated in well over 50 jurisdictions around the world. That is the positive potential that we have.

Let us put the “science and technology superpower” phrase to one side for a moment. We have, in truth, a real opportunity in the UK for science, technology and innovation. That comes from the great good fortune of the combination of common law, the financial centre in London, the English language, geography, time zone and many other factors. None of that should in any sense take us into a state of believing that we are a superpower, but we should fully appreciate the possibilities that it gives.

What might that look like with a particular sector? AI is much talked of at the moment, but if we can get safe and secure rules, it could enable positive growth in this country. We heard from the Prime Minister only days ago along the lines that if we are to grapple with and solve the problem of AI, we must do this together, not just the companies, but countries. That sounds pretty positively international to me, and that has to be the right approach.

Will the Minister say where specific sectoral strategies, such as the AI strategy, fit into an overall coherent approach across all sectors, all areas and all opportunities, not least, as we have already heard, semi-conductors but quantum and DLT, to name just three? How do we enable all this to fit together? I believe that so much comes down to having innovation right through every Whitehall department, a golden thread of innovation running through every single department. It is that cross-Whitehall working point again. I believe that the difficulty is that we have only ever had cross-Whitehall working twice, once for the Olympic and Paralympic Games and a second time for Covid. It has happened only twice, but look at the results that we had when we got that cross-Whitehall working. We had the very best of our Civil Service and the very best of our state. The possibilities are immense for the United Kingdom but, ultimately, what are science and technology superpowers? They are not nations; rather they are connection, collaboration, coming together and co-creation. That is what we need to be focused on. Tout le monde, if you will. I think we all must will it.

18:27
Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
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I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for her excellent chairmanship of this committee and the work we got through. I also thank the wonderful team behind her. I want to suggest first of all that one of the great risks to the Government is that they start to feel very self-congratulatory. I feel that the idea of the word “superpower” was disastrous. If you talk to average scientists working in laboratories, they were horrified at it because they felt that it was yet again an example of the British Government talking themselves up without any data.

One issue is that we need to have a serious review of our international standing, which would be quite informative. I remember that some years ago, when I was a member of the UKSRC, we spent a lot of time each month looking at that standing at regular stages and trying to work out where we were doing well and where we were doing badly and we reacted in consequence. I do not know whether that still goes on in government, but it is certainly not mentioned in the Nurse review.

We have been talking about pathways to impact for a long time. One problem with impact is just what the noble Lord, Lord Holmes, said: innovation. We should forget about innovation. Innovation is a word that is so easily bandied around. What we are talking about is basic research, because it is the data that we get from basic research, not innovation, which really matters. The fact that we end up trying to suggest that we are going to change our economy with innovation because of the use of science in universities tends to be detrimental. I will come back to that in just a second.

The accent on financial value puts some academics off research. Indeed, I emphasise that the word “innovation” does not ring much with many people. In saying this, I declare my interest in a company called Startransfer, which is looking at some aspects of trying to change embryo culture. It is registered as a company, but nonetheless I still feel that the innovation side is really unimportant. It is the research that we are doing which will be important.

A key question that I want the Minister to answer is about the assessment of a project afterwards. When we talked to the people in charge of UKRI, they talked about the first 20% of grants being awarded. It would be very interesting to know whether those grants are tracked long term, what happens to them and whether they have the pathway to impact that they say they do in the application.

More importantly, I would argue that we are losing a lot of people in research. If 20% of our applications to UKRI are working, that means that 80% of scientists working in really good universities are not getting funded by a key body that is essential to their career. That is a very important consideration for the Government, and it seems to me that, unless we track what happens to the next 20%, the people who do not get a grant, we are failing in our duty to the whole situation.

I remember one of my colleagues who was working in my laboratory for a long time on splice sites, which was not very popular at the time, spending a year doing three different applications, none of which was successful. Eventually, he left without a research grant, and of course he has now retired early. Five or six years later, we are starting to see that the work that he was doing was really brilliant; it is now being recognised internationally, but of course it was never funded. That is important, too.

Finally, we need to be much more aware about UKRI. I did not think that we were doing this at all well, and we did not get the answers that we needed in the committee about researchers getting feedback from the organisation. When I was working in the United States, if you put in for a grant to the American equivalent for health research, you could phone up and get somebody to speak to who would give you some advice about how you might make your project more effective and successful as well as more topical and relevant to what the body was trying to do. We need to do that, and that goes with public engagement, which we have already been through in the previous debate.

18:32
Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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My Lords, it was an honour to be a member of the committee, and I pay tribute to our chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, and our very helpful staff. We heard compelling evidence that, desirable though it may be, the ambition of the UK to become a science superpower is not on track. There is not much time, so I shall just make a few points.

The government response announced that we have reached the target of 2.4% of GDP spent on R&D. However, all our witnesses agreed that we must continue to keep pace with other nations if we are to reach the Government’s goal of becoming a science superpower by 2030. How are the Government tracking what other nations are doing?

Ten months has passed since the publication of the report, and we now have DSIT, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. One of our recommendations was about the Office of Science and Technology, which has not met many times nor produced any major papers. It has now been moved to DSIT and the Secretary of State will decide its remit. Can the Minister tell us when that will be published and how it will interact with the National Science and Technology Council, which I am glad to say has survived the reorganisation?

To achieve the Government’s objective, we need to be open to the brightest and best from abroad, but we have the most expensive and unwieldy visa system among comparable countries, apart from Australia and New Zealand. Additionally, successful applicants and their dependants must pay upfront for health services for the whole period of the visa. This is a substantial disincentive. The Government denied that our system costs more, which is blatantly not true, according to their own table, but said that the immigration system should be paid for by the users and not the taxpayer. We have asked for details of the actual costs attributed to the relevant visas, but these have not been supplied. Is it the case that scientific visa applicants are subsidising other functions of the Home Office?

The Government rejected our recommendation that health costs could be paid in annual instalments, saying that this would be too onerous for the Home Office and the NHS. It may be too onerous for the Home Office, but it cannot be beyond the capability of the NHS, because it already has to verify the eligibility of foreign visitors to use our health services. Can the Minister justify the Government’s attitude?

The Government want to become a regulatory superpower. The committee accepted that regulation can make countries more attractive to investors by indicating the direction of travel, but companies operating in international markets are concerned about regulatory divergence. We recommended that the Government should work with industry and the research base to identify the areas in which the UK can take a global lead, because deregulation for its own sake will not automatically spur innovation. Apparently, DSIT will be responsible for regulation of AI in a “pro-innovation fashion”. Will the Minister explain how taking a lead on regulation will encourage innovation without the potential downsides of divergence?

Turning to homegrown people and skills, we heard about the lack of routes for technicians, referred to as the gap in the middle. Higher-level apprenticeships can fill the gap. The committee recommended that higher-level apprentices should be given the financial support to enable them to move around the country to find an appropriate place—like university students. The Government’s response mentions a few small bits of support, but they hardly add up to what the committee had in mind. Can the Minister do better?

Finally, if we are to recruit more STEM graduates, we need more specialist teachers. There is a jumble of incentives for IT, chemistry and physics teachers, but nothing for specialist maths teachers, particularly in the light of the Prime Minister’s objective of having all young people study maths until they are 18. You cannot do that without teachers, so can the Minister say how it will be achieved?

18:35
Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, I, too, add my thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, for her comprehensive and, as usual, well-articulated speech. It is a pity that the Government in their response to the report did not recognise that its recommendations are an excellent blueprint for making the UK a global leader in science and technology. In my brief contribution, I shall focus on one recommendation relating to the need to develop global science partnerships, where the Government have not, as yet, a clear policy, without which their ambition for us to be a science superpower and for the UK to be a global Britain—terms often used by the Government—will not be accomplished.

Superpowers in defence, security and foreign policy use their power for greater influence in the world. That applies equally to countries that are leaders in science and technology, which position themselves to have a greater global impact. Collaboration is at the heart of being a science superpower. Acting in the national interest and for global benefit is not in conflict when it comes to research.

Our membership of the EU’s Horizon programmes allowed us to be one of the world’s leading countries for global partnerships in science and technology. We became the destination of first choice for young, talented, ambitious researchers. Many stayed on, were welcomed and went on to become principal investigators, some even winning prestigious awards, including Nobel prizes. Securing the UK’s research relationship with Europe, as has already been mentioned, is very important, and I hope the Government will pursue that and succeed, but we must also forge new relationships beyond Europe.

Freedom of movement of scientists to the UK, not just from the EU but from the wider world, demonstrated that the UK was open to talent, without barriers or high cost to individuals. Our open border to scientific talent is now closed, driven more by our immigration policy, as described by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, than by our ambition to be a global leader in science. Visas, health premiums and other costs, and now possible restrictions on families being able to accompany, are policies that make the UK seem an unwelcoming and expensive country. As highlighted by many, such as the Wellcome Trust. the ABPI, the Royal Society, et cetera, the UK needs to articulate more clearly its policies of global co-operation that will attract science talent to the UK.

Some key principles should guide this policy. The UK must be open, creating an environment where ideas can flourish and talent is welcome, creating a globally connected science community. The UK must build networks around the world and drive the policies that make our country the centre of those networks in a collaborative way. There is a need for more strategic thinking that allows a small country such as the UK to be an important partner in big, global projects. We need to use the UK’s influence for the global good and explore more the soft power of science collaboration. In this respect, stopping the ODA programmes by cutting funds gave completely the wrong message. Building a reputation—the one we had in the not-too-distant past—as the go-to research partners of choice for talented individuals and countries will not only supercharge our domestic research but attract foreign investment and talent.

My time is running out, so I ask the Minister: when will the Government publish a strategy for global partnerships in science and technology and remove current immigration barriers?

18:39
Lord Wei Portrait Lord Wei (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for tabling this debate and ably chairing our Select Committee, and to the team supporting it. I declare an interest as a member of the committee, as an adviser to Future Planet Capital, which invests in the UK and global venture ecosystem for innovation, and as an adviser to or being on the board of a number of tech-related start-ups such as Sweetbridge EMEA and Dot Investing.

The report rightly highlights areas where the UK must improve to achieve its ambition of becoming a science and technology superpower, whether you define that in terms of the amount of innovation generated, the number of patents, ideas or even Nobel prizes, the value of ideas commercialised or simply our influence. The report highlights the areas that are key to success: increasing R&D funding; forging closer ties between academia and industry and between different parts of government, industry and academia; changing the way visas are charged for; and supporting start-ups to scale up. But without action, “science and technology superpower” remains merely a slogan. The Government must turn pledges into progress if the UK is to strengthen its position as a global leader in innovation.

However, even if we succeed in these areas, the UK faces structural challenges in the size of its domestic market, in access to capital markets for innovation in the City, in talent, in commercialisation expertise and in other resources, which the report acknowledges by rightly highlighting priority areas that we need to focus on. Our venture ecosystem, while thriving, remains small-scale in global comparison, although there have been laudable recent attempts to ramp this up by working with larger investors such as sovereign wealth and pension funds and insurers.

Our ageing population means taxation policies must account for the needs of tomorrow as well as today if we want sustainable public funding for R&D and education. We must pick our battles in areas where we can differentiate ourselves and lead. Therefore, to get bang for our buck, we should welcome a focus on areas such as artificial intelligence and machine learning, space and satellite technology, fintech, energy transition technologies such as nuclear, renewables and battery storage, and precision medicine and life sciences.

The report could have gone further in articulating how the UK can harness its advantages of agility, expertise and a focus on global impact to overcome disadvantages of scale. We showed what is possible by developing a world-class vaccine at record pace. By being more flexible and sandboxing regulations more, attracting capital from overseas and matching it with our own large domestic investment sources, and harnessing government procurement in a smarter way, we can still edge ahead. Our time zone and legal and regulatory systems enable the UK to become a launch pad for new technologies and be a leader that can attract the finance needed to make firms global without their having to shift their base abroad.

It saddens me that we have not sufficiently built on the success of the Vaccine Taskforce led so ably by Kate Bingham, or gone further—simplifying regulation and procurement where we could have to achieve greater freedoms for pioneers and innovators to build world-class supply chains based on science and tech. I ask the Minister what we are doing to build on this success as part of our science superpower strategy. With vision, the right targeted investments and, crucially, the right culture, we can navigate the challenges of size through global leadership in emerging sectors.

In conclusion, while the report highlights actions the Government must take to achieve their bold ambition, the UK must go further in playing to its strengths, particularly by being more nimble and having STEM-savvy, trained regulators and policymakers. By targeting support for sectors where we can differentiate globally, providing access to talent and long-term funding, and enabling an agile approach to regulation and policy-making, the UK can overcome its disadvantages of scale and smaller market to cement its role as a pioneering science and innovation leader on the world stage.

If we match rhetoric with resource, “science and technology superpower” can become more than a slogan, but it will require the right attitude and culture. As it says in Zechariah chapter 4, verse 6:

“Not by might, nor by power, but by my Spirit, says the Lord Almighty—you will succeed because of my Spirit”.


May the UK have that plucky spirit, which has served it well in the past and can do so again in the future.

18:44
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord. I very much welcome the chance to take part in this debate, not least because I have recently joined the committee. I refer to my entry in the register of interests, but my main declaration is that I have an interest in science—not a financial but a real interest in it.

I congratulate the members of the committee, the chair and the staff on their work on this report. It makes some excellent recommendations, which I support. It takes a long time for Select Committee reports to finally get debated in your Lordships’ House. I would have preferred this debate to take place in the Chamber, thereby exposing more Members to what we are talking about, which would be a very good thing, but it is better than nothing to hold it here. I say to the Minister and the Government Whips: we need more debates about science and not fewer.

I thank all of the outside organisations that took the time to contact me and provide background briefings for today’s debate, including, in no particular order, the Royal Academy of Engineering, the Royal Society, the Campaign for Science and Engineering—I note its comprehensive report, published by the Foundation for Science and Technology—Cancer Research UK, the Protect Pure Maths campaign, Imperial College and, of course, our own House of Lords Library. With only a few minutes for each Member, there is no way in a million years that I can refer to all the points that have been made, but I want their contributions to be recorded in Hansard.

We hear a lot about the phrase “science superpower” —I first heard it in 2016—but what does it actually mean? We are all familiar with the basic strengths of science in the UK—the oft-cited statistics about the number of research papers in proportion to the population, the excellence of our world-class universities, and so on. We have strengths and, now, strategic objectives in a number of key areas, such as quantum computing, AI, engineering and synthetic biology, semiconductors, future telecoms, life sciences, space and green tech. We know all of that and, yes, the UK does punch above its weight in science, but we need a range of things to fall into place to turn the slogan of a “science superpower” into reality.

Since this report was issued, there have been some important structural changes in the way the Government now approach this. We have the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, which gives the Secretary of State a place at the Cabinet table. We had the Nurse review and the welcome step forward in making integrated recommendations for the future of the research landscape. We have an active and assiduous Science Minister, to whom I pay tribute. So we have this organisational structure, but I hope it will last. I recently asked the departed Chief Scientific Adviser, Sir Patrick Vallance, whether it would have helped his job if all these things had been in place when he started. The answer was: yes, it would.

However, we need a sense of commitment and sustained effort. I give the Prime Minister credit for giving every appearance of being committed, but can the Minister tell us how often these Cabinet committees now meet and how often the Prime Minister chairs them? What is the role of the new Chief Scientific Adviser and technology adviser, and how do their respective offices work? If the Minister is able, can he tell us how ARIA is getting on?

In the short time available, I will emphasise one point, on Horizon Europe. Will the UK rejoin it, and when? It would be remiss of me not to mention this, as I have put down Question after Question in the House over almost the last year and a half, and it has been a deeply damaging story, to put it very mildly. If today’s debate can achieve anything, it would be helpful if the Minister could tell us a bit more about what exactly is going on. Are we still negotiating? Are we doing so in good faith, or are our fingers crossed behind our backs in the hope that plan B is perhaps better? Is the row just about different UK and EU assessments about the effect of not being a member for two years? It is not just about the money—it is about the collaboration, contacts and networks, as other Members said. It is not just in Europe that we should collaborate; we signed a memorandum of understanding on science and technology with the United States and, last December, the Government signed an important international science partnership fund in Japan.

Whatever else a “science superpower” may prove to mean, it will definitely involve making sure that the UK is open to worldwide scientific co-operation, making it the most attractive place in which to do science research and then developing and commercialising it for the benefit of the UK and humanity.

18:48
Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I am also a new member of the committee—I joined after this inquiry. I declare my unpaid interest as a council member of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine. This is a vital report, extremely effectively and comprehensively introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown.

In the 2021 integrated review, the Government claimed that so-called “Global Britain” was a science “superpower”. By the time that this apparently once-in-a-generation review had to be refreshed, only two years later, the Government simply said that we had a “strategic advantage” in science and technology, if we specialised—Patrick Vallance had probably corrected the original claim. However, in neither review was the vital Horizon programme even mentioned. Despite scientists urging association, the problem at first was our potentially breaking international law in relation to Northern Ireland. Then it was whether Horizon was value for money; the Prime Minister was apparently sceptical about its value.

The head of one of our higher education institutions told me that before we left Horizon he would get many inquiries about potential collaboration from EU scientists he did not know. Those approaches have completely dried up. Scientists report that they are muddling through, with UKRI temporarily helping to fill gaps, but that is not sustainable long term. As the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, emphasised, we cannot be a science superpower without that international collaboration. The Royal Society argues that an international approach is vital and that,

“association to Horizon Europe, Euratom, and Copernicus are crucial,”

The Nurse review says that it is “essential” that we rejoin Horizon.

There are many advantages to a multi-country programme over a merely national one. Problems and solutions cross international boundaries—for example, climate change or the pandemic. Funding and access to research infrastructure is increased, with further opportunities to commercialise research. Skills and expertise can be pooled. Can the Minister update us on Horizon and not simply give us warm words, which is what we have been hearing so far?

Sustained UK support for science remains vital. The report is right to emphasise the need for an industrial strategy. Out of an analysis on the coalition of the strengths and weaknesses of the UK economy came the catapults and, for example, significant investment in the Crick Institute as the largest biomedical centre in Europe. This Government seem strangely proud of not having an industrial strategy, and that just seems bizarre.

When ODA was suddenly cut from 0.7% of GNI to 0.5%, and then focused on supporting refugees, no one in Government seemed aware of how much had gone to supporting research, and it was suddenly removed. Thus investment in the Jenner Institute on the Ebola vaccine helped to pave the way for the Covid vaccine. We did well in this sector due to earlier investment. ODA money, as the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, indeed helped to build our international reputation in science.

The Government now talk of,

“shaping the global science and technology landscape through strategic international engagement, diplomacy and partnerships”.

That is double-speak right now. The Royal Society states that, if the UK wants to be a world leader in this area, it also needs to be world-leading in its approach to researcher mobility. The Nurse review points to immigration policy hindering wider objectives for research. Now we hear that masters students should not bring dependants with them. What does that do for our universities, for families and particularly for women?

Therefore, my questions to the Minister in his new department, welcome as it is, are: will it start advocating effectively in Cabinet for those in science and higher education? Should immigration policy remain in the Home Office? What is taking the Government so long to sign up to Horizon, and how will they put right the damage that has already been done?

18:53
Lord Krebs Portrait Lord Krebs (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register and join others in thanking our excellent chair, the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, and the clerk and policy analyst who helped us produce this report.

Some of our witnesses told us that we are already a science superpower, while others said it was a meaningless slogan or possibly, as the noble Lord, Lord Winston, said, unhelpful boasting. My conclusion is that the slogan is largely hot air. Why do I say that? It is because the Government have not learned the lessons of history. The first person to try to quantify the UK’s position in the world of science was the late Lord May of Oxford when he was the Government’s Chief Scientific Adviser. He quantified the performance of the UK relative to other countries in terms of major prizes such as the Nobel, Crafoord, and Balzan, and, in terms of bibliometrics, the numbers of papers published and citations. The UK was second only to the United States in scientific output and productivity. With 2% of the world’s scientists, we published 10% of the world’s papers and 13% of the most highly cited papers. If you look at input as well as output, the UK was well ahead of all other large countries in terms of bangs per buck.

Those are facts that Lord May of Oxford established —but the question is: why were we so successful? It cannot be that we are somehow inherently superior or innately better at science than anybody else. I shall mention three factors. The first is long-termism. In scientific research, major discoveries or breakthroughs usually follow many years of dedicated pursuit and many blind alleys. Nobel Prize winner, Max Perutz, referred to the long, lean years in his 22-year quest to determine the structure of haemoglobin, the molecule that carries oxygen to every cell in our bodies. Furthermore, the lag between discovery and application is generally measured in decades rather than years. Katalin Kariko, the Hungarian-American scientist whose research led to the development of RNA vaccines against Covid, such as Pfizer and Moderna, made her key discoveries in the late 1980s and early 1990s with no application on the horizon.

The second ingredient in the recipe for success is openness, which many other noble Lords have mentioned. Of the 72 Nobel Prizes in all fields awarded to UK scientists in the past 50 years, 20 were awarded to people born overseas who moved to the UK to do research. We have benefited hugely from welcoming overseas scientists.

The third ingredient in the recipe for success is freedom of inquiry. Were Watson and Crick on a mission to solve a practical problem? No. They were driven by an impulse to unlock the secrets of nature. As a result, they made one of the most profound discoveries of all time in the life sciences, which has transformed medicine. In fact, you could argue that, if you know how the results of your work are going to be applied, it cannot be very interesting or novel work in the first place.

In the Government’s quest to become or remain a scientific superpower, have they learned the lessons of history? Our evidence suggested not. Here is what we heard. First, in recent years the Government have published no fewer than eight different strategies for science with 25 priority areas: there is no long termism here. Secondly, the Government have slammed the door on many scientists from overseas by bureaucratic and financial hurdles and as a result of Brexit. Thirdly, the pipeline of young scientific talent is being strangled by a combination of precarity and bureaucratic overload in UKRI for early career researchers and further back in the pipeline by the persistent shortage of science teachers in state schools. Becoming a science superpower is not a sprint—it is a marathon, and the Government have tied their shoelaces together at the start of the race. I hope that the Minister will answer my questions about the lessons of history and say whether he agrees with them.

18:58
Lord Rees of Ludlow Portrait Lord Rees of Ludlow (CB)
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My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and the committee staff. I will venture a few words on schools, universities and R&D. Ideally, these crucial sectors should be governed by a bipartisan consensus that offers long-term stability. In depressing contrast, turbulence in government has triggered unstable policies, a rapid churn of Ministers and the proliferation of committees.

Attainment levels in our schools are poor compared to nations in the Far East and northern Europe. In particular, there are far too few good science teachers. There are three things that can be done: ensuring that conditions are good enough and pay levels are appropriate for practitioners of a serious profession; encouraging mature individuals to move into teaching from a career in research, industry or the Armed Forces; and making better use of the web and distance learning.

Our international rankings are higher in higher education, but there are some worrying trends. Academia is becoming less alluring. Some people will become academics, whatever happens—the nerdish element, of which I am one—but a world-class university system cannot survive just on them. It must attract a share of young people who are savvy about their options and ambitious to achieve something distinctive by their 30s. They increasingly associate academia with years of precarity and undue financial sacrifices.

A further off-putting trend is the deployment of ever more detailed performance indicators to quantify outputs, and the labour involved in preparing grant applications with a diminishing chance of success. This pressure gives two perverse incentives to young academics: to shun high-risk research and to downplay their teaching. Indeed, the declared rationale for setting up ARIA is to foster “long-term”, “blue-skies” research and freedom from bureaucracy in a fashion not available elsewhere in the system. It should surely be a higher priority to render less vexatious the bureaucracy of UKRI, whose budget is 50 times higher than ARIA’s.

In the UK, research is still strongly concentrated in universities—not so in France and Germany—but the encroachment of audit culture and other pressures are rendering universities less propitious environments for research projects that demand intense and sustained effort. Dedicated, stand-alone labs may become preferable —although there is a downside, as they reduce contact between talented researchers and students. Indeed, the UK owes its strength in biomedical science to its famous labs, which allow full-time, long-term research, with government funding massively supplemented by the Wellcome Trust, the cancer charities and a strong pharmaceutical industry. To ensure effective exploitation of new discoveries, these institutes must be complemented by organisations that can offer adequate development and manufacturing capability. This fortunate concatenation certainly proved its worth in the recent pandemic. We likewise need this in energy, AI and other crucial technologies.

One should welcome Paul Nurse’s recent report, whatever one’s views of his earlier report that created UKRI—and the web of new committees that it embedded into. However, our ability to attract and retain mobile academic talent, and our ranking as a destination of choice by those people, is now at risk. I will not reiterate the overwhelming case for rejoining the ERC, but there is now an international market for the best students as well: they are academic assets and a long-term investment in international relations. To retain its competitiveness as a “destination of choice” for mobile experts, despite the setback of Brexit, the nation must remove impediments and raise its game. Ways of doing this are a key theme of our committee’s report.

19:02
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I join everyone in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, and her committee; I look forward to its future work and future reports—which I hope will be debated more promptly.

This report from August 2022 reveals gaping holes where government action should have been. I thank Imperial College London for its useful briefing, which identified how some of those gaping holes have been plugged, at least with stopgap measures. However, as many other noble Lords have already noted, the remaining enormous holes in the house of scientific and technological endeavour, out of which human and financial resources are fast flowing, are the lack of UK association with the Horizon Europe programme; the disastrous hostile environment immigration policies; and the collapse in the genuine official development assistance support. The Royal Academy of Engineering also provided useful reflections, stressing principles including a willingness to act for the long term; moving with agility and at pace; trusted and capable leadership; and action that accelerates progress. Those are not, I am afraid, anything with which this Government are associated.

However, rather than taking pot shots—as tempting and easy as that is—I will seek to bring a unique Green perspective to this debate, and make three challenges to the very foundations of the Government’s approach and, in some respects—and with respect—to that of your Lordships’ committee. The first is the assumption, underlying much of the Government’s rhetoric, that the aim of the science and technology framework—with its talk of bringing technologies to market and of private sector involvement and profit—is to make things, or to create services or intellectual property, to sell.

Certainly, when one looks at the UKRI five-year strategy from March 2022, I am not going to argue with the aim of driving the development, adoption and diffusion of green technologies, but also in that list is developing preventive measures to improve the nation’s health and well-being. The new Secretary of State talks of helping British people to live longer, smarter, healthier and happier lives, but what if achieving that means not making things or creating services to sell, not improving profits but finding ways in which to heal lives and environments without making a profit, thus cutting demand for expensive drugs or invasive treatments, ending the need for farmers to use pesticides or herbicides, or co-creating essential knowledge, working with researchers and communities in the global South and sharing that knowledge for free? Identifying the bad things that we do now and stopping them is also science, even if that means cutting profits and reducing GDP. We need to think hard about how we find funding for research and development for such measures, and that has to be a government priority.

Secondly, I disagree with the five critical technologies identified in the science and technology framework. Crucially, there are two things that are not there: ecology and social innovation. I disagree particularly with one that is there:

“Engineering biology–the application of rigorous engineering principles to the design of biological systems”.


That is such a 20th-century reductionist and outdated view, the kind that we saw on full display in the creation of the so called Genetic Technology (Precision Breeding) Act. Are they really the same Government who occasionally, at odd moments, will claim to believe in the principles of agroecology and to understand that the survival of human systems on this planet to maintain a liveable climate and natural systems means working with the incredibly complex and still little understood natural systems of animals, plants, fungi, bacteria, viruses and archaea that together have created life on this planet?

Finally, although noble Lords may think that I have been radical enough, I am going to finish with an even more radical thought. The UKRI again speaks of securing UK strategic advantage in game-changing technologies, but rather than thinking about beating others in a world facing the climate emergency and nature crisis, with epidemics of poverty and ill health, rampant pandemic threats and a planet poisoned with plastics, pesticides and pharmaceuticals, we have to co-operate with others to make the best possible collective use of human ingenuity, skills, talent and time to survive and thrive through this next dangerous century.

19:07
Viscount Hanworth Portrait Viscount Hanworth (Lab)
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I express my appreciation to the staff and the leadership of the committee.

British science is in a parlous state. We are in the process of crippling our academic institutions, which have traditionally fostered our scientific discoveries. We are also losing the technological industries that have stimulated our inventiveness. Many are quietly disappearing, if they are not falling into the hands of foreign owners, which is often a prelude to their eventual demise.

During the committee’s inquiry, a plethora of reviews were under way concerning the governance of science and technology in the UK. These included the second review by Paul Nurse of the R&D organisational landscape, the Tickell review into research bureaucracy and the Gluckman review into the research excellence framework, which audits the research activities of universities.

The second Nurse review, which was delivered after the publication of the report of the committee, contains some interesting revelations. The first of these, as other noble Lords have mentioned, is that there has been a systematic underestimation of the percentage of GDP that the UK devotes to research and development. For many years, it was thought to be a mere 1.7%; it now appears that it is close to the OECD average of 2.5%. The second revelation is that the amount of R&D directly sponsored by the UK Government is well below the OECD average and far behind that of most research-intensive nations.

In putting this finding into perspective, it helps to take a long historical view. The country that emerged from the Second World War was endowed with a wealth of government research establishments and with many scientific and technological projects that were supported by the Government. The aviation industry was in receipt of large subventions. It was generating numerous prototypes of advanced military and civil aircraft. To restrain these expenditures became an obsession of the Civil Service. It developed a methodology of project cancellation that became more effective with the passage of time.

The restraint of government expenditure on research and development extended far beyond the aviation industry. It greatly affected Britain’s nuclear power industry, which was brought to a virtual halt. The restraint also affected many of the research establishments that had been supporting industry in both the public and the private sectors. Britain’s computer and telecommunications industries collapsed through a lack of support. This litany can be continued with many other examples. The advent of the Conservative Administration of Margaret Thatcher saw the culmination of this process of governmental disengagement, and there has been no significant re-engagement subsequently.

A truth that the report does not acknowledge sufficiently is that a nation cannot aspire to become a scientific superpower if it lacks a basis of scientific and technological industries that are ready to call upon the skills of the research workers. Britain has a severely attenuated industrial base. The decline of British industry has been a gradual and an inexorable process, to which several factors have contributed. The foremost of these has been the failure of our export industries, for which the persistent overvaluation of our currency has been largely responsible. The resulting balance of payments problems have been addressed by the Government’s encouragement of so-called inward financial investment, which has amounted to the sale of our infrastructure and industries to foreign owners. Among the companies that have been most attractive to foreign investors are those within our high-tech industries.

In the absence of a commercial and an industrial stimulus, British research and innovation is liable to retreat into British universities, which are also in peril. It is a familiar nostrum that, although British universities have been excellent at pure research, they have been less successful at applying it in practical contexts. The blame has tended to fall upon the academics and hardly at all upon industries that might have been their clients. The nostrums of the knowledge exchange framework and the demands for practicality that have arisen within the research excellence framework are a testimony to this tendency.

Universities are now in severe financial straits. Their staff, who have suffered severe erosions of their incomes and growing insecurity of their employment, are frequently on strike. The prospects for British science are poor, at a time when, in consequence of Brexit, many foreign academics have left the country and when senior academics are inclined to discourage their research students from thinking of joining the profession.

19:12
Lord Mair Portrait Lord Mair (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests in the register and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, and her committee on producing this important and comprehensive report. It rightly emphasises the need for government to have a clear and consistent science and technology policy, with a laser focus on implementation to prevent “science and tech superpower” simply being an empty slogan.

I will make just two points. The first relates to the vital role of industry engagement, and the second concerns the crucial importance of association with Horizon Europe. On the role of industry, the Government’s R&D spend of 2.4% of GDP requires significant private sector investment, which is expected to be around twice the public sector spending. The apparent increase to 2.4% is, of course, welcome, but it represents a significant increase in industry funding. As the Select Committee report notes,

“industry does not yet feel engaged with the strategy process”

of the Government.

A vital ingredient of the pathway to the UK becoming a science and tech superpower will be effective translation of research for application and exploitation by industry. The recent Nurse review, published in March, addressed the importance of translational research organisations, rightly emphasising the need to bridge

“the gap between discovery research and the translation of that research into real-world uses”.

The review highlights the important role of catapults in achieving this. They are independent, not-for-profit technology and innovation centres first established by the Government in 2011. They are intended to foster collaboration between research organisations in the public and private sectors, and their main purpose is to assist industry with turning innovative research ideas into commercial products via connections and networks. The Royal Academy of Engineering emphasises the importance of connections and networks, as exemplified by catapults, in its recent position paper, Strategic Advantage through Science and Technology: the Engineering View, which was published in April.

This House’s Science and Technology Select Committee considered catapults in detail in its report, Catapults: Bridging the Gap Between Research and Industry, published in February 2021. I was privileged to have been a member of that committee under the excellent chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Patel. We made a number of recommendations regarding catapults, and our report was debated in the House last year.

In particular, we highlighted the crucial question of the future role and long-term continuity of the catapults. We recommended that the Government prioritise scaling up the Catapult Network, promoting it as the UK’s national innovation asset. In the light of the ambition for the UK to become a science and technology superpower, can the Minister provide an update on the Government’s strategy regarding catapults and their role in promoting substantially greater industry R&D investment?

My second and final point relates to Horizon Europe. The noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, referred to this critical post-Brexit issue in her excellent introductory speech, as did other noble Lords speaking in this debate. The Select Committee rightly highlights the damage already caused to the UK’s reputation and scientific capability by the ongoing lack of association with Horizon Europe. UK universities have built high-impact science, technology and innovation networks over many decades of collaboration within EU framework programmes. These are now in jeopardy.

The UK must be seen by all international research communities as a reliable partner, and the Government must recognise that their plan B in the event of non-association with Horizon Europe is in danger of being a poor second best. The Nurse review concludes that it is essential that the UK associate with Horizon Europe. If it does not do so, the UK is in real danger of losing its prestigious position in the global R&D hierarchy, becoming less attractive as a research partner and for foreign investment and less likely to become a science and technology superpower.

19:16
Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, in particular as chair of the council of Queen Mary University of London. This has been a wide-ranging debate, demonstrating that the committee’s report, despite being nearly a year old, still has great currency and relevance and its conclusions are as valid as they were a year ago. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, for her clear, comprehensive and challenging introduction to the report.

Many noble Lords mentioned the Government’s science superpower ambition. The “hot air” comment from the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, was pretty fair. Sir James Dyson was even ruder, describing the Government’s science superpower ambition as a political slogan. There is probably a common view that it should be dropped, but it being clearly overblown as a slogan should not detract from the fact that there are opportunities in so many different fields, as many noble Lords have said.

I very much liked the way in which the noble Lords, Lord Holmes and Lord Krebs, both talked about the secret—the essence—of success in terms of collaboration and cocreation. The noble Lord, Lord Krebs, mentioned long-termism, openness, freedom of inquiry and the fact that those lessons had not been learned. As the committee noted and a number of noble Lords have said, we have had a proliferation of strategies in various areas, but with what follow up and plans for delivery? We have had a whole series of reviews, some of which were mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, but where is the result? What will the KPIs be? What is the shelf life of these reviews and where is the practical implementation?

I will take just one example: the Life Sciences Vision, which was launched back in 2021. Dame Kate Bingham is quoted as believing that the vaccine scheme legacy has been “squandered” despite that vision. Business investment is crucial and nowhere more than in the life sciences sector. A couple of weeks ago, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, highlighted the issues relating to business investment in the life sciences sector in his regret Motion on the Branded Health Service Medicines (Costs) (Amendment) Regulations 2023. All the levers to create incentives for the development of new medicines are under government control but, as his Motion noted, the UK’s share of global pharmaceutical R&D fell by more than one-third between 2012 and 2020.

The noble Lord rightly argued that the voluntary and statutory pricing schemes for new medicines are becoming a major impediment to future investment in the UK. We seem to be treating the pharma industry as some kind of golden goose so, despite the Government’s Life Sciences Vision, we see Eli Lilly pulling investment on laboratory space in London because the UK

“does not invite inward investment at this time”

and AstraZeneca has decided to build its next plant in Ireland because of the UK’s discouraging tax rate. The excellent O’Shaughnessy report on clinical trials is all very well, but if there is no commercial incentive to develop and launch new medicines here, why should pharma companies want to engage in clinical trials here? The Chancellor’s growth package for the life sciences, announced on 25 May, fails to tackle this crucial aspect, and I could repeat that for other sectors.

On these Benches, we welcome the creation of the new department and the launch of the Science and Technology Framework to inform the work of the department to 2030, but what are the key priority outcomes? What concrete plans for delivery lie behind it? Does it explicitly supersede all the visions and strategies that have gone before? The crux of this committee’s report seems to me to accord with that. It states:

“The Government should set out specifically what it wants to achieve in each of the broad areas of science and technology that it has identified. There should be a clear implementation plan.”


It also stated that,

“the Government should consolidate existing sector-specific strategies”

into that implementation plan.

We have heard from a number of Lords about vital cross-departmental working and joining up government on science and technology, but we do not yet really know the role of the National Science and Technology Council and what its key priorities are and, indeed, what the priorities of the Office for Science and Technology Strategy are.

This applies particularly with regard to the Home Office’s policy on visas. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, my noble friends Lady Walmsley and Lady Northover, and the noble Lord, Lord Patel, about the fact that the policy on visas and migration is directly at odds with an effective science policy. If we are going to be world-leading in our approach to research and mobility, we need to correct that in many different ways.

There are important systemic issues that should be a top priority for resolution by the new department. We have had the independent review by Sir Paul Nurse, which has been mentioned. I suspect he has calculated our spending in a rather different way from the way that the department has, but he concluded that funding, particularly provided by government, was limited and below that of other competitive nations such as Germany, South Korea and US. My noble friend Lady Walmsley asked whether we track how other nations are spending.

There is the question of Horizon, which we have disproportionately benefited from in the past, yet we have a complete lack of clarity in this area, as the noble Baronesses, Lady Brown and Lady Bennett, the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, the noble Lord, Lord Mair, and my noble friend Lady Walmsley said. We need a clear commitment to re-entering Horizon. What is the position nearly two months after the Prime Minister’s letter to Sir Adrian Smith on 14 April assuring him about our intentions on Horizon? Many other nations that are not members of the European Union belong to Horizon.

The way the UK delivers and supports research is not optimal. We have heard from a number of noble Lords about the way that the bureaucracy of UKRI operates. The Tickell review found that there are issues with bureaucracy around research and development funding. As the noble Lord, Lord Rees, says, it is extraordinary that ARIA was specifically designed to avoid bureaucracy. Its budget is tiny in comparison to UKRI, yet we have not reformed the processes of UKRI to make them less bureaucratic.

The noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth, talked about the role of university research, and others talked about the research excellence framework. We seem to have a rather perverse approach to this. As the noble Lord, Lord Patel, said, we should encourage strategic partnerships, which should be very much part of the warp and weft of what we are trying to achieve. At the moment, our research in universities is cross-subsidised by overseas students, which is an extraordinary state of affairs. We really need to look at that in some detail.

With the greatest respect to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, commercialisation is a crucial aspect linking R&D to economic growth. This, in turn, means the need for a consistent industrial strategy—as the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, and my noble friend Lady Northover said—with the right commercial incentives and an understanding of the value of intangible assets, such as IP and data. The noble Lord, Lord Mair, talked about catapults—I am a huge fan of them—and he was entirely right to raise the resources and the strategy that is being pursued. An update from the Minister on that would be extremely welcome.

There are many other aspects to do with the scale-up finance issues, which Sir Patrick Vallance mentioned in his evidence to the Commons Science, Innovation and Technology Committee last month. We have seen the whole question of listing problems in London, as well as the delay in the pension fund issue and helping to de-risk their investment in new technology—I have seen the new initiative from the British Business Bank, which is long overdue. Then we have the whole question of regulatory divergence. I disagree with those who, like the noble Lord, Lord Wei, seem to think that, if we stand out in terms of regulation, everything will be fine. Regulatory divergence is one of the real problems; it creates uncertainty. We need to align ourselves in so many ways. I could have given a whole speech on AI regulation, but I have desisted. However, needless to say, I am highly critical of the Government’s White Paper in this respect.

Finally, the whole area of diversity in STEM is absolutely crucial. In the wise words of the British Science Association, we must ensure that the opportunities and benefits are equitable in any future science strategy. There is not enough time to go into that, but I believe that that could be a real key to unlocking so much of our success. I do not have time to mention pure maths, but we also need to look at that.

There is much to do for the new department. I wish the Minister and his colleagues well, and I am sure that they will rise to the challenge. But we need to create the kind of consensus that the noble Lord, Lord Rees, advocated. That is another secret to success.

19:28
Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, like everyone else, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Brown of Cambridge, on the excellence of her committee’s report and the contribution made to putting that together by our clerks, the evidence given by witnesses and the sheer quantum and excellence of the contributions made—it is a really profound look at the Government’s science and technology programme and approach.

I am suffering a bit from imposter syndrome. Everyone else who spoke can speak wisely from their experience in the field of science, but I cannot. It is now some 50 years since I left school without a single science qualification—I was one of only two art students in my old secondary modern. Most of my colleagues who survived until the sixth form all went off to do maths and science subjects—and did them very well. But that does stop any of us having a view on government policy. This report should bring the Minister up sharp in terms of the Government’s response. The report was published nearly a year ago, as many have said, but time has not treated it badly; in fact, quite the reverse—it still seems very fresh and current to me on reading it.

As the committee noted, and as the Government acknowledge, science and technology are key to the UK’s future. If we get policy right, it will have untold benefits for our economy and our people right across the country. Research and development are essential to the development of a robust and thriving economy, and we certainly need a more effective strategy than we currently have for developing manufacturing and industry.

However, as we so often hear when we debate the output of your Lordships’ excellent committees, there are worries about a significant gap between the Government’s stated ambitions and their output. The report argues that, although individual sectoral strategies may successfully identify key challenges or contain eye-catching headlines and targets, there is, worryingly,

“little sense of how they fit into an overall plan”.

That is not the first time that this accusation has been levelled at this Administration, and, with all his talk of delivering on the priorities of the British people, it is disappointing that the Prime Minister and his ministerial team seem to struggle so much with timely, effective implementation—their great Achilles heel. With a seemingly never-ending flow of Prime Ministers, Chancellors and junior Ministers in recent years—there have been nine Science Ministers in five years, which is something of a record—the science and technology sectors have seen multiple relaunches and rebranding exercises, which hardly helps people to buy into a single core strategy.

As noble Lords have said, the Government published a Science and Technology Framework in March, outlining their goals and vision for science and technology for 2030. This follows the innovation strategy, an R&D road map, a science plan, an Office for Science and Technology Strategy, The Grand Challenges, half-baked industrial strategies, various sector deals, the establishment of the Advanced Research and Invention Agency, the first National Science and Technology Council, a new science and technology council and two reorganisations of UKRI. The organogram on page 21 of the report shows just how complex the Government’s decision-making and arrangements for R&D and science have become. There may well be merit in many of these steps—indeed, we have supported certain initiatives—but the sheer volume of announcements, rebrands and reorganisations points, in my view and that of many others, to a Government concerned with media headlines rather than day-to-day delivery.

If we look at the Government’s record, exactly what do we see? The number of women starting STEM apprenticeships was down in the most recent year-on-year data, which fed through to unfilled maths and physics vacancies in schools, as noble Lords referenced—these are exactly the subjects that the PM says he cares about. The UK is an international outlier in terms of investment: many UK-based tech and life sciences start-ups and scale-ups are struggling to get access to funds, leading some to relocate overseas. The geographical spread of investment is uneven, meaning a lack of support for businesses and jobs in places like the north-east, and far too much of the R&D budget is lost to error and fraud. The Government’s AI strategy is, seemingly, already out of date. While the Prime Minister seems to have woken up to the threats of AI in recent weeks, it is not clear that he has the appetite or clout to facilitate an international response. The lack of a clear cross-cutting industrial strategy means that the UK is losing the race on new green technologies and lagging behind on reskilling, and the Government’s ideological opposition to trade unions means a failure to embed new technologies with the support of our workforce.

We wholeheartedly support the ambition of making the UK a science and technology superpower, but there seems to be no clear strategy to secure that status. Many of the essential ingredients are in place: we are home to brilliant businesses and entrepreneurs, and we have a fantastic workforce and a track record of innovation—the Covid vaccine is one of the glowing examples.

We hope that the recent machinery of government changes—the Government are to be congratulated for having a Science Minister at Secretary of State level—will result in a new strategic focus. Ministers need to know and understand that we are not a million miles away from 2030 and, if the Government continue on their current course, there is little to suggest that we will break free from their decade of low growth.

I join others in wanting some answers to the questions about the Horizon Europe programme, which all noble Lords who have spoken this evening have referenced. We really need this to be resolved. It is a big mistake in the making, and if we do not grasp the opportunity to work with our partners and collaborate across boundaries and borders, we will miss the biggest trick in the R&D world.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and others, who pointed to the clunky nature of the visa system. It is stopping and inhibiting scientists from across the world coming to our country. In the past, we have benefited greatly from that. It is a drag factor in terms of current policy.

On the Horizon programme, is there a plan B? Will one be published? Does it exist? Is it something we can rely on? There are many questions for the Minister to answer. It has been a fascinating debate, and I am sure that all noble Lords are looking forward to hearing the Minister’s response.

19:36
Viscount Camrose Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (Viscount Camrose) (Con)
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My Lords, I add my thanks to the noble Baroness for securing this important debate and indeed to the whole committee. On a personal level, as a still relatively new Minister, it is incredibly helpful to have set out in the report a not always positive but clear-eyed critique of where we are going in science policy. I am grateful for that and for the excellent contributions made by all noble Lords in today’s debate.

As a number of noble Lords mentioned, in February, the Prime Minister announced the creation of the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology—DSIT. It will promote a diverse research and innovation system, connecting discovery science to new companies, growth and jobs. I believe and hope that the creation of DSIT has addressed many of the challenges raised by the Select Committee in its report. It will provide strategic coherence in policy and strategy for science and tech. I recognise that there are different views on this, but it has been warmly welcomed by a large number of external stakeholders for putting science and tech at the heart of the Government’s agenda. Of course, all government departments undertake R&D to support their own policy objectives, but DSIT plays a unique role as steward of the UK R&D system across Whitehall and nationally, supporting world-class R&D and the underpinning investment through our universities and labs to enable a thriving R&D system.

On 6 March, the Prime Minister and the DSIT Secretary of State launched the science and technology framework—the Government’s plan to cement the UK’s place as a science and tech superpower by 2030. The framework is there to challenge every part of government to put the UK at the forefront of global science and technology. Action will focus on creating the right environment to develop critical technologies; investing in R&D, talent and skills; financing innovative science and tech companies; creating international opportunities; providing access to physical and digital infrastructure; and improving regulation and standards. We have already taken significant steps. Since the launch of the S&T framework we have announced £2.5 billion over the next decade for quantum tech; launched a £250 million tech missions fund for AI, quantum and engineering biology; launched the AI regulation White Paper; and announced a £1 billion strategy for the UK’s semiconductor sector.

In addition, we have been progressing work to define clear strategies for individual sectors, such as the AI action plan, the life sciences strategy and the national space strategy. These actions will help to ensure that the UK has the skills, talent and infrastructure to take a global lead in game-changing technologies and ground-breaking science.

While DSIT is taking the lead on the S&T framework, this is necessarily a cross-government effort. For example, use of government procurement to stimulate innovation is led from the Cabinet Office but needs to harness the big budgets, such as defence, to really have impact. By the end of 2023, we will publish an update setting out the progress that we have made and the further action that must be taken on our path to being a science and tech superpower by 2030.

As set out in the 2023 Spring Budget, the Government will turn their vision for UK enterprise into a reality by supporting growth in the sectors of the future. This includes the five critical technologies alongside life sciences and green technologies. Underpinning the Government’s long-term strategy and support for the sectors of the future is a commitment to increasing publicly funded and economy-wide R&D spending. The Government have recommitted to increasing public expenditure on R&D to £20 billion per annum by 2024-25. I take the points that were raised about needing to compete in a high-spending international environment. This represents a cash increase of around one-third and is the largest ever increase in public R&D spending over a spending review period.

I turn to the matter that I think almost everybody raised of international collaboration. We need to think globally if we are to make the most effective progress and tackle global challenges. We want to be the partner of choice for other leading science nations and to tap into the rising potential of emerging economies, ensuring that we are seen as a natural partner. For example, the UK in April signed a landmark memorandum of understanding on research and innovation with India, enabling quicker, deeper collaboration that will drive economic growth, create skilled jobs and improve lives in the UK, India and worldwide.

Attracting high-skilled international talent will bring long-term benefits to the whole of the UK. Science and Technology Framework presents a talent and skills vision for 2030 in which the UK has a large and varied base of skilled technical and entrepreneurial talent, able to respond quickly to the needs of industry, academia and government. This includes our immigration offer for talented researchers and innovators to come to the UK, including via the high potential route for recent graduates of top global universities and the scale-up route for individuals recruited by a UK-based high-growth scale-up company.

I turn to Horizon, which I know is a subject of great importance not just here but around the research community and the country. The Government are fully committed to science and research collaboration, including with our European counterparts. That is why we continue to be in discussions, which, contrary to the point raised, are in good faith, with our European counterparts on the UK’s involvement in Horizon Europe and hope that our negotiations will be successful. That is our strong preference, but we are clear that our participation must be fair for the UK’s researchers, businesses and taxpayers. We have set out our bold, ambitious alternative to Horizon Europe—Pioneer—if we are not able to secure association on fair and appropriate terms. Negotiations are ongoing, so I cannot comment on their content except to say that our priority remains to ensure that the UK’s R&D sector gets the maximum level of support to allow it to continue its ground-breaking research and collaboration with international partners.

I will now turn to some of the specific points raised. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, whose remarks I thank her for, I shall focus my comments on her three key questions. First, on Horizon, as I have noted, we are moving forward with the discussions and our involvement in EU science and research programmes. As several noble Lords have noted, delays over two years have caused serious and lasting damage to UK R&D. As I say, we hope sincerely that negotiations will be successful, but the guiding principle remains that participation has to be fair for UK researchers, businesses and taxpayers.

To provide the industry with certainty, we recognise that we must come to a resolution as quickly as possible. To be as clear as I can be, we want to associate with Horizon Europe, but it has to be on fair terms, and if we cannot reach fair and appropriate terms, we will launch Pioneer. Meanwhile we have established the Horizon guarantee to ensure that there is no loss in funding for the UK sector. This will be in place to cover all Horizon Europe calls that close on or before the end of June 2023. We are keeping the scope of the guarantee under review and will ensure that there is no gap in funding flowing to the sector.

Following the recent machinery of government changes, OSTS has now been integrated into the newly created Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. The National Science and Technology Council will remain a Cabinet committee following the recent changes, with the Prime Minister as chair.

On skills, which were also raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, the Government welcome the committee’s inquiry on people and skills in STEM and have responded to the recommendations. The Government remain committed to taking forward the R&D people and culture strategy. The Science and Technology Framework prioritises action on talent and skills which looks at the wider system, supporting STEM skills across the economy.

In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Brown, my noble friend Lord Wei and the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, in relation to NSTC, there is a long-standing convention that the frequency, attendance list and minutes of Cabinet and its committees are not made public to protect the principle of collective agreement by Ministers.

On the science and tech framework, by the end of 2023, we will publish an update setting out the progress that we have made and the further action that must be taken on our path to being a science and technology superpower by 2030.

My noble friend Lord Holmes asked how the specific strategies fit into an overall coherent approach. The Government have set out their priorities through a suite of strategies, including the R&D road map, the UK innovation strategy and the people and culture strategy, which take a strategic or thematic overview to drive delivery of the Government’s priorities. We agree that policy coherence is essential for the success of the UK’s R&D mission.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Winston, for his comments and agree with the points he raised about the importance of support for researchers. UKRI is working to improve the experience of applying for funding through its Simpler and Better Funding programme.

In response to the question about ensuring good monitoring and evaluation data on the R&D that UKRI funds, information about research outputs is tracked by UKRI and other funders as a requirement. Monitoring and evaluation of the impact of funding is undertaken to understand that impact.

The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, asked how we track what other nations are doing. The FCDO’s science and innovation network based in embassies across the world provides valuable intelligence on the science and tech strategies of other nations which informs the UK’s approach and supports international dialogue. The noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Northover, asked whether scientific visa applications are subsidising other functions in the Home Office. I accept that the global race for science, research, technology and innovation is increasingly competitive, and the Government aim to make the UK the best place in the world for scientists, innovators and entrepreneurs to live and work. The Government are committed to ensuring that the UK’s immigration system supports growth and is clear and supportive for scientists, academics and entrepreneurs—

Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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I am sorry to interrupt the Minister but I wonder if he would write to me with the answer to my question.

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I am happy to write to the noble Baroness.

In response to how the Government are taking a lead on regulation without the downside of regulatory divergence, the Government recognise that technological innovation is fundamental to unlocking growth and are committed to growing the UK’s global reputation for regulatory best practice.

In response to the question from the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Rees, on how we will get more specialist teachers, specifically in mathematics, I support the Prime Minister’s aim to ensure that every young person has the skills that they need to succeed in life. Higher maths attainment will also help to grow the economy, creating better paid jobs and opportunity for all, which is why I also support his ambition to ensure that every young person studies some form of maths up to the age of 18.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Patel, I thank him for his helpful comments on the importance of developing a global science partnership. I very much agree that collaboration is at the heart of being a science superpower. Last year we announced the first phase of the new International Science Partnerships Fund, underpinned by funding of £119 million over this spending review period.

My noble friend Lord Wei asked about building on the success of the Vaccine Taskforce. There will be ongoing lessons to learn from the Covid pandemic. We are demonstrating our ambition and delivering outcomes for patients through our healthcare missions. We have announced the chairs and details of the mental health and addiction missions as well as the cancer mission chair. These missions seek to replicate the success of the Vaccine Taskforce in areas where we face the greatest healthcare challenges, and illustrate the impact of industry-government collaboration.

In response to the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, who asked about ARIA’s progress, it has been established and is still in its early stage of development. Over the coming months, ARIA is recruiting its first cohort of programme directors, who will help to shape and inform the agency’s first set of research programmes. None the less, funding transformative research with long-term benefits will require patience, as prepared for in the agency’s design.

In response to the noble Lord, Lord Krebs, I strongly agree with him on the vital importance of long-term thinking and learning the lessons from history. This is why the S&T framework necessarily takes a long-term view of the strategic outcomes that we seek to deliver in the decades to come.

The noble Lord, Lord Rees, brought up the risks of precarity for research careers. Postgraduate researchers are key to the success of research groups, and we are looking at how to support them through a new deal for PGRs. UKRI has undertaken a sector consultation as a first phase of this long-term programme of work, and the results will be published soon, in 2023.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, raised the grant review of UKRI. DSIT is working closely with UKRI to implement the recommendations of the review while overseeing UKRI’s transformation programme to support improved governance and decision-making. The noble Baroness mentioned the recent changes to the ONS numbers on total R&D investment in the UK, as did the noble Viscount, Lord Hanworth. It is good news that the ONS has improved its methodology for estimating R&D spend in the UK and that, as a result, we have moved above countries such as France in terms of R&D spend as a proportion of GDP. The Government are taking great strides in growing public R&D spend in the UK, with the Chancellor recommitting in the most recent Budget to growing public spend to £20 billion per annum by 2024-25.

A number of noble Lords have raised the recommendations of the recent Nurse review. The Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology outlined in her letter to the lead reviewer, Paul Nurse, that the landscape review would play a foundational role in delivering the UK Government’s vision and would set out a detailed response to the review’s recommendations in the coming months.

The noble Lord, Lord Mair, discussed industry engagement. The innovation strategy set out our plan for driving investment in UK R&D. We have increased funding for core Innovate UK programmes which are successful in crowding in private sector leverage, so that they reach £1.1 billion per year by 2024-25. This is over £300 million, or 66% more per year than in 2021-22, and will ensure that it can support business in bringing innovations to market.

In closing, I thank noble Lords for such a detailed, well-informed and wide-ranging debate. The newly created department will continue to address the challenges offered by the Select Committee and make clear progress to achieve our science and technology superpower ambitions, with a clear focus on delivery.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, may I say that I fully appreciate that the Minister is not personally involved in the negotiations over Horizon Europe? But in his remarks, he has referred to serious and lasting damage by non-association. Can he at least take back to the department the near-universal view in this debate that we should join and consider the fact that the Government specifically said after Brexit that this is the one thing that we want to join? Let us think of the consequences of our future co-operation with our European neighbour on a whole range of things if it turns out that we do not join what we said we wanted to.

Viscount Camrose Portrait Viscount Camrose (Con)
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I am happy to take not just the noble Lord’s remarks but the sense of the Committee on that back to the department.

19:55
Baroness Brown of Cambridge Portrait Baroness Brown of Cambridge (CB)
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My Lords, I thank all speakers in what has been a very interesting debate. I welcome and thank the noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, the relatively new Minister from a relatively new department, and agree that we celebrate the creation of DSIT. It does indeed address a number of the issues in our report—indeed, we rather hope that our report may have been a useful little prod to encourage the creation of the department. It was very good to hear the Minister say that we needed to challenge every part of government, and also good to hear that attracting overseas talent is so close to DSIT’s heart.

I hope that we are all impressed that the importance of this topic to Members of the House is indicated by how many people have been prepared to exchange a comfortable dinner and a chance to watch “Springwatch” for a four-minute speaking slot in the Moses Room. I hope that noble Lords get a comfortable dinner very shortly, after I have sat down.

The message that I hope the Minister will take back is that we are hearing of some good progress, but we must go further and faster—and we must go further and faster in terms of associating with Horizon. It was good to hear him recognise the damage that our lack of association has caused; the only fair and economically rationale conclusion—fair for UK researchers, fair for businesses and fair for taxpayers—is that we reassociate as quickly as possible.

We must go further and faster, too, in welcoming overseas talent. I hope that the meetings of the NSTC will be a forum in which Ministers from the new department and the Department for Education can bring home to their colleagues from the Home Office the importance of welcoming scientists and technologists from overseas. We heard from the Department for Education that they are looking at bringing in overseas teachers to cover our lack of teachers in areas such as physics and maths. They need to be supported by a Home Office that makes that an easy and welcoming process—which, we heard, is so clearly not the situation at the moment. I hope that the NSTC will be a forum where these issues can be debated, as the Minister has reminded us, in private. Perhaps some heads will be knocked together; we will be listening for the knocking.

We need to go further and faster in setting our targets for our spend on and investment in R&D. It is not good enough to chase the average level in the OECD: if we want to be a science superpower, we need to be at leading levels. We are seeing huge investments being made in the US, Europe and China, and we really need to up our game. We need to be doing more on stability and the long-term view.

As noble Lords have mentioned, we also need to go further and faster in thinking about how we improve diversity in STEM and see how that can help us with our STEM workforce shortage in many areas. I have to gently admonish my noble friend Lord Krebs for mentioning the outstanding work of Watson and Crick but failing to mention the outstanding work of Rosalind Franklin.

To conclude, it is a good start. We are pleased to see DSIT, which will have a have a big challenge. It will have the support of many people in this House in driving that challenge forward, but we need to go further and faster.

Motion agreed.
Committee adjourned at 8 pm.

House of Lords

Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Wednesday 7 June 2023
15:00
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.

SMEs: Net-zero Targets

Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:07
Asked by
Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to support small and medium-sized enterprises in working towards net-zero targets.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have launched a campaign aimed at increasing the energy efficiency of businesses, charities and public sector bodies. We continue to support UK businesses to meet their net-zero commitments via the UK business climate hub. SMEs are encouraged to join the UN’s Race to Zero initiative; more than 4,200 UK small businesses have done so. We are also developing a dedicated energy advice service for SMEs, which is due by the end of the year.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I am sure that we all value the important contribution that SMEs make to our economy. One of the issues consistently facing them is their ability to employ and retain skilled workers in a highly competitive jobs market. This is especially prevalent where skills are lacking, such as in retrofitting buildings and in new green technologies. The scale of the challenge of achieving net-zero targets presents SMEs working in these areas with a great opportunity. However, barriers such as shortages of skills and available finance are preventing them making the progress that they seek to achieve. What steps are the Government taking to promote green jobs, skills training and competitive supply chains, particularly by working with industry, the education sector and the finance sector to create pathways into these jobs?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes an important point. The encouragement of green jobs and helping workers to go from the old fossil fuel economy to new jobs is a challenge. We are spending several billion pounds a year working with the DfE and across the various green homes grants. We have a number of highly skilled green jobs funds, which industry accessed. There is no one simple answer but she is right; it is a job that we are working on.

Lord Teverson Portrait Lord Teverson (LD)
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My Lords, earlier today, I spoke to an owner-manager of an SME in the print industry in my part of the world. She said that her biggest issue in trying to become a B Corp SME is getting information from big suppliers on their scope 3 emissions, which is really important for SMEs that want to go down this path. Could the Minister take this issue and how it might be solved back to his department, or give me an idea of how that issue might be approached by the Government in future?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Lord makes an important point. We are aware of this issue. We are increasing the reporting requirements for bigger companies. We must be careful to make sure that we do not put too many undue burdens on business but I will certainly have a look at the issue for the noble Lord.

Lord St John of Bletso Portrait Lord St John of Bletso (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that there is no clear consensus as to what net zero entails for SMEs? With them accounting for 99% of all businesses in the United Kingdom, what are the Government doing to standardise pathways to net zero among these businesses?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Of course it will vary depending on the type of business. Many businesses are already working in green areas. A lot of them are involved in retrofitting. On the other hand, some of them are very energy intensive. There are different solutions for different businesses.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, given that their competitors in Germany and elsewhere are extending the deadline for ending the production of motor cars with internal combustion engines, are we not in danger of making our large car manufacturers into small and medium-sized enterprises as they are being forced to reduce production, with great consequences for employment and competitiveness?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I normally agree with my noble friend, but I do not on this solitary occasion: I think he is wrong. Other major economies, including the EU, are essentially doing a similar job—they have made a couple of small exceptions to the ban with things such as novel fuels. Providing certainty for industry and business is the direction they need to go in. Supporting them in the appropriate areas, ensuring that the right gigafactories are completed in the UK, is the way to go, in my view.

Baroness Blackstone Portrait Baroness Blackstone (Lab)
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My Lords, one way to help small and medium-sized businesses is to remove barriers to trade. Given that the UK and the EU both have carbon pricing, would it be possible for the UK and the EU to agree to waive the requirements for exporters and importers to calculate and report on carbon emissions from products traded between the EU and the UK?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes an important point. We want to make trade as simple and easy as possible. I will certainly take the point back to the trade department.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. The Minister talked about the importance of providing certainty for business and small and medium-sized enterprises. One of the barriers to those enterprises investing in skills training is uncertainty about programmes such as retrofitting and energy efficiency, which have been marred by stop- go policies in the past. Will the Minister look again at the Government’s opposition to the energy efficiency proposals in the Energy Bill?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am afraid that I do not agree with the noble Baroness. We have an extensive energy efficiency programme. We are spending £6.6 billion over this Parliament. I agree that long-term consistency and certainty are important, which is why the Treasury has guaranteed an additional £6 billion from 2025 for precisely these measures.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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My Lords, the Government have a very ambitious net-zero target and part of that is their ambitious target for the installation of heat pumps, which, frankly, at the moment they look like they are not going to meet. The Minister’s own department’s figures suggest that the great majority of heat pumps so far installed in this country are produced abroad. Is there not a way in pursuit of this ambitious target to ensure that a much greater number of heat pumps installed in this country are produced in this country by British manufacturers rather than sending the business abroad?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I agree very much with my noble friend, and we are working with a number of manufacturers looking to relocate production to the UK. I think his figures in terms of the percentage produced in the UK are slightly wrong. Mitsubishi in Scotland produces a large number of heat pumps and there are a number of ground source heat pump manufacturers as well. We want more relocated into the UK. We are looking at a market mechanism with the boiler manufacturers, and have a grant programme to relocate production facilities into the UK.

Lord Bellingham Portrait Lord Bellingham (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord St John, pointed out, 99% of businesses in this country are SMEs and many will not be able to reach carbon neutrality. What are the Government going to do to try to help them with carbon offsetting?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My noble friend makes a good point. Of course, carbon offsetting is a controversial area. We must ensure that any offsetting that takes place is genuine, viable and reduces real-world carbon production.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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My Lords, because the net-zero metric does not include all the emissions associated with imported products, does the Minister agree that we must bear in mind our total carbon footprint on any activity in the UK which uses imports, so that we are not unnecessarily exporting our emissions? That would be of no help whatsoever in combating global warming.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I agree. Carbon leakage is an important problem, and one of the reasons why a number of the larger industries are subject to international competition, as the noble Lord mentioned. We give them free permit allocations under the emissions trading system.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, are the Government looking at the efficiency of heat pumps? Have they monitored them, and will they produce a report on their cost and effectiveness?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Indeed, we have already done so. There have been a number of reports on the efficiency of heat pumps. Efficiency varies depending on the quality of the installation. We must ensure that they are installed properly in the appropriate properties with the right number of emitters. I am happy to send copies of the reports that we have done to the noble Lord.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, a number of SMEs operate in old buildings. When retrofitting to improve insulation considerably, we rapidly come up against planning restrictions. Are the Government doing their best to reconcile the preservation of the built environment with the need for much more efficient insulation of old housing?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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“Yes” is the short answer to the noble Lord’s question. I am on a working party with DLUHC looking at some of the planning barriers that exist. The conclusion is that there are not many legislative barriers; it is just the views taken by different planning officers in different local authorities. Like the noble Lord, we value local authority autonomy to decide these things for themselves, but there is perhaps more of a role for government guidance in these matters.

Water: Wales and England

Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:17
Asked by
Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions, if any, they have had with Welsh Government Ministers concerning proposals to secure greater quantities of water for use in south-east England from sources in Wales and from rivers running from Wales to England.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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Under the intergovernmental protocol, Defra and the Welsh Government collaborate on water resources management. Water companies have a statutory duty to provide clean and reliable water to customers. They have been consulting on their new water resources management plans, including the water infrastructure needed to meet their water-supply duties. The plans will be referred to the Secretary of State and Welsh Ministers for decisions on whether the plans can be finalised later this year.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, as this is the first Wales-specific opportunity in the House since the sad death of Lord Morris of Aberavon, I pay tribute on behalf of Plaid Cymru to his lifelong work for Wales. We extend our sympathy to his family.

We in Wales fully recognise the needs of south-east England for adequate supplies of drinking water, and that it may need additional capacity from Welsh reservoirs and agreed flows of waters down rivers emanating from Wales. However, will the Minister accept that it is not unreasonable for Wales to receive fair financial benefit for such water supplies and that development control over any such projects in Wales should be in the hands of Senedd Cymru and the relevant local authority?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I think that we all concur with the noble Lord on his condolences for Lord Morris.

There is a long-established protocol for transferring water from water-rich parts of the United Kingdom to areas where it is needed. Wales has been providing water to Liverpool and other cities in the north-west, and there are plans that water can now reach the Thames through a new arrangement. On charging, there are a number of existing transfers where water companies receive money from water companies in England for water that they have received from Wales, and that will continue. Additionally, there are investments in the Welsh catchments which protect water quality, support biodiversity and sequester carbon, and that finance does flow into those schemes.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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As somebody of Welsh ancestry, who could have played rugby for Wales—although it is unlikely I would ever have caught the selector’s eye— I welcome how the water that falls on the beloved islands of the United Kingdom is used for the benefit of everybody in the United Kingdom. We thank the Welsh for storing water in Wales, but I understand that people on the Welsh side of the border use hospital services in Shropshire and elsewhere. Surely we should be grateful that we are a United Kingdom and that all members of the United Kingdom can use water and hospital services to their benefit.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend. There are a number of different actions in the Wales Act which will see more control over these issues in the Senedd when Section 48 is put into place—that is under negotiation now. On a small island such as this, there is a free-flowing use of services by businesses and individuals, and that will always continue.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
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My Lords, it is very sad that there is not more messaging around how precious and finite a commodity water is. When the British public were asked how much they use, they guessed between 20 and 40 litres a day; in actual fact, it is 145 litres a day. The Environment Act set a target of a 20% reduction within the next 10 years, but last year our use went up by 3.7%. What are the Government going to do in terms of public messaging to encourage people to use less of this precious stuff, whether we get it from Wales or from the water-stressed east?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises a crucial point. Household consumption amounts, on average, to 60% of public water supply and has decreased 5.2% since last year from 152 to 144 litres per person per day. This remains above the forecast of 136, but our environment improvement plan gives very strict targets for further reduction. Some of that is about communication, but it is also about demand-led measures, which can cause the dramatic reductions that we want to promote.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, in 2020 the Government reported that 3 billion litres—a huge 20% of the UK’s total supply—are lost every day through leakage from the pipes. Last month, Ofwat expressed concerns that some water companies do not have plans to meet the minimum requirement of a 50% reduction over the period 2017-18 to 2050. Can the Minister explain what urgent action is being taken to make sure that the water companies address this really serious concern?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Through our direction to Ofwat, the Government have made this an absolute priority. The latest figures show that three-quarters of companies are meeting their leakage targets and some have reduced leakage by more than 10% in the past two years. We will continue to crack down on the amount of water lost through leaks with targets; we expect leakage to reduce by 16% by 2025.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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The noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, is obviously right when she says that water supplies are limited and finite. On the other hand, if the water companies stopped all their leaks and if we built more reservoirs when there is surplus water, we would not have a problem.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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There are plans for more reservoirs. A reservoir in East Anglia has increased in size and, I hope, we will very soon see plans being brought forward by Thames Water for a major reservoir that will resolve many of these issues. The reservoirs in London were closed because a ring main was created, which is sometimes quoted erroneously in this case.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, water is an essential resource, but we have seen it being polluted on a grand scale through legal sewage overflows. This week, we have also seen that the water network of Ukraine is vulnerable to catastrophic attack, causing great personal distress and huge environmental damage. The noble Lord, Lord Wigley, has highlighted the need to move water around the country, from areas of plenty to those suffering scarcity. Is the Minister confident that, nationwide, we have sufficient water resources to meet the current population’s demands?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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If you draw a rough line from the Bristol Channel to the Wash, all that is north and west of it has a surfeit of water, but there are areas that are south and east of it where rainfall is often below that of some countries in sub-Saharan Africa. That is why our environment improvement plan sets a clear reduction of demand, halving leakage rates, developing new supplies, moving water to where it is needed and reducing the need for drought measures that can harm the environment.

Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent Portrait Baroness Anderson of Stoke-on-Trent (Lab)
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My Lords, we all appreciate the urgency of ensuring sustainable water supplies for the entire country. However, 60 years on from the flooding of Capel Celyn, the sensitivities of the reallocation of Welsh water resources to English cities needs to be understood. As not a single reservoir has been built since privatisation in 1989, will the Minister update the House on what recent meetings Ministers have held with Thames Water, the National Infrastructure Commission and the relevant local authorities to discuss the proposed Abingdon reservoir and associated schemes?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The Abingdon reservoir was brought to Ministers over a decade ago, and the case made by Thames Water was not correctly put forward. We told them to go back and do it again. They have, and this will now be part of their water resources management plan, which will go to Ministers this year. I hope that we can learn from this. It should not take two to three decades for really important infra- structure to be built.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend knows of my affection for the Wye, that glorious river. Can he give any encouragement on the cleaning up and reduction of pollution in that river since his last answer?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Agricultural pollution, primarily through slurry spreading and the use of inorganic fertilisers, was responsible for roughly 70% of the phosphate pollution in that extraordinarily beautiful river. My Secretary of State has made this a personal mission: she hosted a round table in Hereford, bringing together all the stakeholders, where the main focus was to find the best ways to restore this river to a favourable condition. She identified a key point: one local authority, which was then run by the Greens and independents, had not even looked at, let alone refused, the application for a phosphate-stripping plant, which was put in by a company that was using chicken manure to produce energy. We really need to make sure that we are joining things up so that local authorities, the Government, the regulators, water companies and farmers are all working together to save this river.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the answers. I note the way that a question about a Welsh resource rapidly turned into an exchange of views about water in general. In asking my question, I pay fulsome tribute to my noble friend Lord Wigley in persistently asking for a listening ear for real Welsh concerns. It is not a question of generosity; Wales is happy to be generous. At the heart of my noble friend’s Question was a co-ordinated and focused policy with proper consultations and with a key role for the Senedd especially. I would like some reassurance that, of all the questions asked, that one was noted by the Minister.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lords, Lord Griffiths and Lord Wigley, are totally sincere in the points that they make. We are very keen that there should be an understanding of the need for fairness in all such discussions, whether we are talking about cross-border issues relating to water, the health service or the needs of a catchment such as the Wye, which we were just discussing. We treat these negotiations with the Welsh Government, Welsh organisations and local authorities very seriously and, I hope, with respect.

Housebuilding

Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:28
Asked by
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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To ask His Majesty’s Government when they expect that they will reach their target of building 300,000 new homes a year.

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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My Lords, we are continuing to work towards our ambition of delivering 300,000 homes a year. This has always been a stretching ambition, and we have made strong progress: the three highest rates of annual supply in over 30 years have all come since 2018. We are aware that increasing supply even further will be made more difficult due to the economic challenges we face, but we are engaging with Homes England, developers and registered providers to understand the delivery challenges they face.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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Has my noble friend seen today’s Times, which reports that new housebuilding is at its lowest level for 14 years, outside the Covid years? Has a much-needed recovery not been delayed by the concession on planning made in another place to a number of government Back-Benchers, which has already resulted in over 50 local authorities withdrawing their local plans with a view to submitting new plans with a lower number? If a Government make a manifesto commitment to build 300,000 homes, can they rely simply on the good will of local authorities to deliver it, or should we amend the levelling-up Bill to ensure that the country gets the homes it needs?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I will start at the end. The proposed changes to the planning system set out in the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill are designed to support more areas to get an up-to-date local plan in place, and therefore deliver more housing. The Government do not recognise the figure on withdrawn plans. Pauses and delays to plan-making are not something new, which is why we are determined, through our reforms, to reinvigorate local plan-making by simplifying it, speeding it up and strengthening the weight of democratically produced plans in this country. As for the article in the Times, yes, I have seen it and all I can say is that we still want to build more homes of the right type in the right places. We know that increasing housing supply will be made more difficult because of economic challenges, but we are working with the market very closely on the impacts, and to see what more the Government can do to provide support.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, we have a virtual contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, could not a land commission be established to research what the impact would be of building on land acquired at agricultural prices, as proposed by Lisa Nandy, and sold for housing of a new form of ownership title, as I proposed in previous debates in the House? Only by that means can we guarantee the target of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, thereby providing affordable housing to a new generation of young people who, without inherited wealth, may never be home owners.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The Government need to look at all opportunities for housebuilding but we have to look at brownfield land first, before agricultural land.

Lord Bird Portrait Lord Bird (CB)
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Are the Government looking at the possibility of expanding home ownership to groups of people who do not have that chance at the moment, thereby creating greater sociability out of poverty, because home ownership is one of the best ways of ending poverty?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I absolutely agree with the noble Lord, and this Government are committed to supporting home ownership and first-time buyers. Since spring 2010, more than 837,000 households have been helped to buy their own home through the government-backed schemes, including Help to Buy and Right to Buy. We have looked at stamp duty and made that much more positive for first-time buyers, and I believe we are spreading the opportunity to more people through our First Homes Scheme, giving a minimum of 30% discount to people who cannot otherwise afford to buy in their areas. That is what we are doing to support home ownership.

Lord Porter of Spalding Portrait Lord Porter of Spalding (Con)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my interests in the register. May I point out to my noble friend that Governments do not build houses—the private sector builds them? The private sector will build only when it thinks there is a market for them. The Bank of England’s crashing of interest rates in its failed policy to drive down inflation is not going to be the solution. My noble friend must remember that the only time this country has ever delivered 300,000 units a year was when councils were freed up to deliver 70,000 or 80,000 units. Her department has removed two of the historic barriers, but will she look at removing the third? We removed the cap on right-to-buy receipts being spent—councils can now spend 100%, which is brilliant—and the cap on councils borrowing against the existing value, but we still need to remove the cap on their ability to set locally determined discounts.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My noble friend is right: it takes a whole government, and many departments of government, to ensure that we have housing supply. DLUHC and the Housing Minister cannot do it on their own, so we need to work across government. As far as local authorities are concerned, my noble friend is right that we are removing the barriers and local authorities are now building houses.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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It is in fact the turn of the Labour Benches.

Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe Portrait Baroness Warwick of Undercliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, following on from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, the recent proposal by the Labour Party to remove hope value would allow social landlords more easily to develop the affordable homes our country so badly needs. Fewer than 7,000 were built last year but we need 90,000 every year, so it is not surprising that these proposed reforms are supported by a wide range of organisations, including the National Housing Federation and Shelter. What assessment have the Government made of the impact of high land values on our ability to deliver new social housing?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The noble Baroness has been involved in some of the Committee sessions of the levelling-up Bill, and she will know that we are looking at hope value and land prices. The Government particularly recognise the need for homes for social rent. That is why social rent homes were brought into the scope of the affordable homes programme, for example, in 2018. As I say, the levelling-up White Paper committed to looking at ways to increase the supply of social rented homes.

Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD)
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My Lords, 40 years ago SME builders built 40% of all new homes. Today the figure is around 10%. The Minister might therefore understand my disappointment that the Government have not accepted my amendment to the levelling-up Bill that would assist SMEs to build on small sites. Will she offer assurances today that the new NPPF, which is being revised and will appear soon, I hope, will have something in it to give SMEs hope that they can get back to building at scale?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I am not going to get into what will and will not be in the NPPF at this time. What I can say about government support for SMEs is what we are doing at the moment. We have launched the Levelling Up Home Building Fund, which is providing £1.5 billion in development finance to SMEs and MMC builders and supporting them to deliver more homes. As the noble Baroness said, the Levelling-up and Regeneration Bill will make changes to the planning system that will support SMEs by making the planning process faster and far more predictable.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, it is the turn of the Cross Benches.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Order!

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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It is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Lord Birt Portrait Lord Birt (CB)
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My Lords, we have long had a housing crisis. Hundreds of thousands are homeless, millions are living in substandard and overcrowded accommodation, there are 2 million fewer social housing units than some decades ago and home ownership among the young has fallen dramatically. Does the Minister agree that we need to create many more than 300,000 new dwellings per year if we are to achieve a reasonable equilibrium in reasonable time in the UK’s housing market?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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The Government’s view is that we need to deliver 300,000 houses per year by the middle of 2025. The noble Lord is right that we then need to look again at those numbers. The key to this is that local authorities look at the housing need in their areas and build to that housing need.

Electronic Passport Control Systems

Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:39
Asked by
Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what action they are taking to improve the reliability of their electronic passport control systems.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Migration and Borders (Lord Murray of Blidworth) (Con)
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The UK border has a highly resilient e-gate infrastructure, with over 50% of all arrivals successfully using automation in the year ending March 2023. On Friday 26 May we had a nationwide border system issue, the unintended consequence of a change, which meant that we had to take our e-gates offline. We are undertaking a full review of the incident and are fully committed to ensuring that resilience is at the heart of our transformation of the border.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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I am grateful to the Minister for that explanation. When you are standing for many hours at an e-gate, resilient is not the adjective I would use, but at least the Home Office issued a press release the next day, saying that it had put in place “robust plans” to deploy officers. That is useful. Is it not time that we had a contingency plan for e-gates, three years after the Government vowed to take back control of our Brexit borders, rather than relying on the odd person to check your passport manually? Is it not more important to do that than to see the Prime Minister flying off to Dover, putting on a life jacket, standing in a dinghy and pretending he is King Canute to keep a few illegal immigrants out?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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As the noble Lord well knows, 95.9% of recorded wait times in the first three months of 2023 were within published service standard. The UK border system has, as I have already said, a highly resilient e-gate infrastructure, with circa 65 million passengers being processed in the year to May 2023. There are currently 288 e-gates operational, comprising 22 at air and rail terminals, including in Paris, at Gare du Nord, and Brussels, at Gare du Midi. From April 2011 to June 2021, e-gates processed 258 million passengers through the UK border. As the noble Lord will see, it is a highly effective addition to our UK border infrastructure.

Lord Pannick Portrait Lord Pannick (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister said there was an issue. Will he give the House a hint as to what this issue was and who was responsible for it?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Lord asks a fair question. However, as he probably knows, it has never been government practice, for reasons of law enforcement, to comment on operational issues relating to border security and immigration controls. This includes offering commentary on the performance of border systems and e-passport gates specifically. The e-gates process passengers arriving in the UK, and provide a secure border check on approved travel documents, and refer passengers to an officer if required. The current e-gate estate was upgraded in 2021. Incidents impacting the availability of e-gates are proactively managed, and lessons are learned. They have certainly been learned from this most recent incident.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend accept that more people would accept waiting rather better if everyone was polite? I have to say that border officials are very polite, but why is it that no notices say “please”? Could we please have notices that are polite instead of peremptory?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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My noble friend makes a valid point, and I will certainly take that back to the department.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, this was a short-lived issue but there is a long-term issue for our airports, ports and Eurostar around longer times trying to get through passport control since Brexit. This week saw the final Eurostar Disneyland Paris train from London. The service is no longer viable because of longer check-in times, and Ebbsfleet and Ashford International have in effect been mothballed as Eurostar stopping points. Does the Minister agree that, instead of a declining network, the Government should be encouraging Eurostar to increase its network, because that is the most environmentally friendly way of travelling to and from Europe? What are the Government doing to renegotiate passport control arrangements to make travel easier in the future?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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International rail infrastructure is a very valuable part of our international travel systems. I am afraid it is beyond the ken of the Home Office to require Eurostar to run any particular route, but Border Force does facilitate the clearance of passports, as I have already said, in Brussels and Paris, and this works very effectively. As a result of the agreement with our French friends, they run checks in London, and those are sometimes the subject of delays. That can impact the running of trains; I entirely accept that.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, I appreciate that the Minister probably does not want to use the word “cyberattack”, but I have a specific question. Will he go back and ask the department if it can open discussions with those producing and designing the technology to make it possible for those with little or no sight to use e-gates? At the moment, the design is so bad and the equipment so inadequate that it is not possible to use them.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a very important point. I will certainly look into that.

Baroness Foster of Oxton Portrait Baroness Foster of Oxton (Con)
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My Lords, unfortunately we are going to experience, by all accounts, a summer of discontent which will come from the security staff at airports; notwithstanding that the airlines and airports—the entire industry—suffered terrible hardships throughout Covid, this is pretty bad news. It is therefore not acceptable that we then have a repetition of these technical failures at e-gates. It obviously concerns inbound passengers and some who are on transfer but, in large airports, the backlog causes damage to our reputation among tourists and people travelling into the UK. Will my noble friend please speak to the Home Office and give us some assurance that we can minimise any of these failures in the future?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for that question. The Home Office is not responsible for security facilities at the airports beyond those provided by Border Force. I reassure her that Border Force takes seriously maintaining the operation of the e-gates during peak periods. As I have said, we have certainly learned lessons from what happened last week.

Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Lord said that 95.9% of travellers go through the e-gate system within the published wait times. What is the position during half terms, when people are travelling with children and there are many more people travelling? Are extra staff put on during half terms?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I do not have those statistics to hand—I will of course find them and write to the noble Lord in respect of them—but, as your Lordships will recall, there was an SI approved by this House to lower the age at which children could use e-gates from 12 to 10. I am pleased to report that the pilot was incredibly effective and that it will now be rolled out across the e-gates by the end of July, so 10 year-olds across the country will be able to use them. This will increase the flow through airports, particularly during peak periods of half term and holidays.

Lord Cormack Portrait Lord Cormack (Con)
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Will my noble friend point out to the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, that he was maligning King Canute? King Canute sat at the water’s edge to prove that he could not rebuke the waves, not that he could.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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I expect my noble friend does not really expect an answer to that.

Baroness Wheatcroft Portrait Baroness Wheatcroft (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister tell the House how he intends to control British borders in the case of people coming from Northern Ireland via the Republic?

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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As a consequence of our long-standing treaty agreements with the Republic of Ireland, the common travel area means that one can travel seamlessly from the Republic into Northern Ireland and from all the other parts of the common travel area, the Channel Islands and the Isle of Man. It is obviously part of that agreement that the external parts of the common travel area operate border security of their own. That seems to have worked very effectively for the last century.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, my interest in this is that I was at Heathrow at the time in question. My flight was cancelled and I found myself in the unusual position of entering the UK barely two hours after I had left it. When I re-entered, it was just before the incident that we are discussing and I could not get through the e-gates, so I had to queue up. I can tell the House that, as I am sure the Minister is aware, even on occasions when the system is allegedly working there are many e-gates not in use. As part of the review that the Minister says is being undertaken into this important incident—by the way, the place was full of schoolchildren on their half-term holiday—he might want to take into account the fact that even on a normal “good” day, many e-gates are not in operation.

Lord Murray of Blidworth Portrait Lord Murray of Blidworth (Con)
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The noble Viscount identifies a good point and is as perspicacious as ever. We are certainly looking into having more of the e-gates operational more of the time. The plan in due course, as I have already informed the House, is to dispense with the need to place the passport on the e-gate and that it will recognise people’s faces as they approach it. That should accelerate the speed with which they can go through the e-gate. I hope that might address in due course the problem raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, as well.

British Nationality (Regularisation of Past Practice) Bill

First Reading
15:50
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Animal By-Products, Pet Passport and Animal Health (Fees) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2023

Wednesday 7th June 2023

(11 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Packaging Waste (Data Reporting) (England) (Amendment) Regulations 2023
Motions to Approve
15:51
Moved by
Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 18 and 20 April be approved.

Relevant document: 38th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 5 June.

Motions agreed.
Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 34th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee and 16th Report from the Constitution Committee
15:51
Clause 5: Removal for the purposes of section 2 or 3
Debate on whether Clause 5 should stand part of the Bill.
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I propose that Clause 5, Schedule 1 and Clause 6 should not stand part of the Bill. I appreciate the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, on this. Clause 5 relates to the removal of a person, as the Minister said on Monday, “swiftly” after they arrive in the UK or, as he put it, “shortly” after their 18th birthday. But Clause 5 actually says

“as soon as is reasonably practicable”.

Without the regulatory impact assessment, we in Parliament cannot judge what is a “reasonably practicable” period. What we do know—the Ministers know this all too well because they are lawyers—is that case law determines that

“as soon as is reasonably practicable”

cannot be considered as “as soon as possible” or “as soon as feasible”, although the Minister wanted us to think that it does. I guess the Bill would be a deterrent if one assumed that no lawyers for anyone would read it. Of course, there is no baseline estimate of the amount of accommodation and staffing or other logistical requirements that will be needed. We need central government estimates on costs, as we debated on Monday.

As we start today it is worth reflecting on the Minister’s comments in Committee on Monday as to who is included as a person—or “P”. As we found, “P” includes a young woman trafficked to the UK—potentially via multiple trafficking handlers, blackmailed and threatened, most commonly with threats of rape or family retribution—for criminal sexual or labour exploitation.

Home Office data shows the number of irregular arrivals of women since 2018 who received a positive referral to the national referral mechanism was 520. Those 520 women had been criminally exploited, and now they would be imprisoned and deported to a strange third country and, as the Minister confirmed to me on Monday, with no statutory duty for resettlement, readmission or support. Of those women, 73 were 17 and under. Last year, 13 girls came from countries to which we cannot return them. So those sexually exploited girls are now due to be detained and possibly sent to Rwanda. Last year, 13 girls were trafficked for exploitation in the UK, and the Government would now no longer allow their referral for protection. Well, not in my name—and nor should be in the name of any Member of this Parliament.

The Minister told us on Monday that they were part of the gaming of the system. He repeated to me on Monday the false assertion that

“the numbers of people claiming to have been modern slaves in this scenario indicates that there is extensive abuse”.

He also said that

“the simple reality, I am afraid, is that our modern slavery protections are being abused”.

These are misleading talking points from the Minister, and from Suella Braverman, which led, in December, to a formal complaint from Ed Humpherson, the director-general for regulation in the Office for Statistics Regulation, the formal watchdog. In response to those assertions, he investigated the data and wrote to the Home Office on 8 December. In his letter, he said:

“However, policy officials in the department could not point to any specific evidence for this when we enquired. What is more, the proportion of referrals deemed by the Home Office to be genuine cases of modern slavery in its ‘conclusive grounds decisions’ has risen year by year from 58 per cent in 2016 to 91 per cent in 2021, which does not suggest in itself that gaming is a growing problem”.


He continued:

“I would be grateful if you could raise this matter with communications and policy colleagues, encouraging them to ensure that claims in public statements are clear on whether they are sourced from published statistics or from other reliable evidence. This will avoid the risk of misleading people to believe that the statistics say something that they do not”.


So the Minister came to us in Committee in the British Parliament and misled us to believe that the statistics say something that they do not.

What makes that worse is that, in January, Home Office officials accepted the rebuke. Professor Jennifer Rubin, the Home Office Chief Scientific Adviser, replied to the regulator:

“I am glad that you highlighted this issue … The Deputy Director responsible for the publication of the NRM statistics has recently written to the policy and communications Deputy Directors to encourage them to ensure claims made in public statements are sourced from published statistics or other reliable evidence”.


So I hope that, on subsequent days in Committee and when we get to Report, the politicians in the Home Office will also do what the officials have been told to do: not seek to mislead us but use information based on the data.

The data the Minister cited on Monday was also partial. He told me:

“In 2022, there were around 17,000 referrals to the NRM—the highest annual number to date and a 33% increase on 2021”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; cols. 1199-1203.]


That is correct, but what did he not say? He did not say that, according to the latest Home Office data that he cited, 49% of all referrals—half—are for exploitation in the UK. That has nothing to do with overseas or from small boats; 41% are for exploitation overseas. The biggest increase that contributed to his statistics was child exploitation, growing from 498 to 4,410 in the UK. I ask the Minister: are these abused children in the UK gaming the system?

16:00
Half of all referrals came from central government—his own department—and this was a 79% increase compared to 2021. If it were not bad enough that the Minister suggested it was the arrivees gaming to a much higher extent, he is not even accurately relaying the Home Office data. But it is even worse than that. The Home Office Analysis of Modern Slavery NRM Referrals from Asylum, Small Boats and Detention Cohorts was published on 4 May 2023. I quote from paragraph 2, “Key findings”:
“From January to September 2022, people arriving via small boats were no more likely to be referred into the NRM (about 7%) than those referred from the asylum population (also about 7%)”,
so there is no particular issue. The Home Office went on, in key finding 6:
“This analysis demonstrates that the behaviour of asylum claimants and those arriving on small boats … does not appear to be drastically changing (demonstrated by the consistency in the proportion of those populations who are referred to the NRM)”.
The Home Office’s own statistics, published on 4 May, show that behaviour
“does not appear to be drastically changing”,
but the Minister told us on Monday that it was. I hope he has an opportunity to clarify the record today, at the soonest opportunity in Committee, and to refer to the Home Office statistics published in May, not a political assertion. Maybe he thinks we do not read these things or care what Ministers say. Well, I read the data and I care. Clearly, Home Office officials are with me; that is why they cared when they accepted the official rebuke from the regulator in January.
A system not being gamed, assertions not backed up by data, and partial use of data to seek to mislead us—who is accountable for this? It is not a Minister, but it is a 17 year-old Eritrean girl trafficked for sexual exploitation in our country, where she will now not be referred for any protection and instead detained on her 18th birthday and shipped off to somewhere we do not know where and nor will she. According to the Government, it could be one of the 57 countries “safe” in Schedule 1. But we also demonstrated on Monday that, regrettably, for many of what the Government had said were safe countries, the Justice Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, in the conscientious way in which he responded to the Committee, and I respect him for doing so, said that they are not, but that a suspensive claim can be brought to the Home Secretary—not directly to the tribunal but to the Home Secretary—a mechanism that renders the whole point of the schedule entirely otiose.
The 2002 Act defined the word “safe” for the purposes of an individual review of a person. Now the Government think just that stating the country will suffice, but FCDO advice for seven on the list of 57 includes significant red areas and advice against all travel, and for others we showed through Home Office country notes that there is also widespread risk of persecution on the basis of personal characteristics. I asked what would prevent someone being returned to a third country considered safe but then that person being moved to an unsafe country or region. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, gave a straightforward answer:
“I suppose that the direct answer is that one would have to negotiate an appropriate agreement with the country concerned”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1229.]
I agree, but remember that the noble Lord, Lord Murray, earlier on Monday dismissed the need for such agreements to be in place. He said that
“they are not silver bullets”,—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1138.]
but what is necessary for the Ministry of Justice is not necessary for the Home Office. Furthermore, as UNHCR has pointed out:
“Nothing in the Bill makes removal dependent on the receiving country having an effective asylum procedure, or agreeing to admit a person to”
such a procedure. Clause 5 sets out only two conditions for removal to a third country under the Bill but is silent on there being an effective system.
As an EU member state, the UK participated in 14 readmission agreements. The Minister said to us that the UK is party to 16, but I have not been able to find a list of those and nor has the House of Lords Library, so I would be grateful if he would provide a link to Members of the Committee of all those 16, plus the new ones which have been scrutinised by the International Agreements Committee of this House. As of May this year, we have new agreements with Albania, India, Nigeria and Pakistan, but not all those countries are considered safe in the schedule, so what is the interaction between those areas where the Minister has said we have agreements and those the schedule alleges are safe countries?
The Explanatory Notes are grossly misleading. Paragraph 1 states categorically that someone will be
“promptly removed to their home country or to a safe third country to have any asylum claim processed”.
This is repeated in paragraphs 5 and 15, in relation to their humanitarian or protection claims being processed. However, nothing in the Bill that the Explanatory Notes purport to explain provides for the processing in a country with which we have no agreement. Paragraph 3a) of the European Convention on Human Rights memorandum from the Government is equally misleading. It says that people will be removed to
“a safe third country for consideration of any asylum claims”.
Nothing in the Bill guarantees the process of their claims and, as the Minister, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, said—with whom the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, disagreed—one would have to negotiate an appropriate agreement with the country concerned. The schedule fell apart when the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, replied to my noble friend Lord Scriven:
“In general terms, the Government’s view is that it is not desirable to enshrine in statute descriptions of which countries are safe or not, or of particular groups of individuals or those with protected characteristics”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1229.]
That is exactly what the Government have put in Schedule 1 and Clause 6. At least I am not the only one who believes that the Bill, nor this schedule, nor these two clauses, are desirable. The Minister responsible agrees also, and I hope that he will take them out.
Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I support the intention expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, to oppose the question that Clause 5 stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5(1) seeks to put into effect the removal of any person who arrives in the UK other than through a safe route even though, as we have already debated at length, safe routes are virtually non-existent for the vast majority of people coming to this country from Afghanistan, Sudan or Eritrea, for example.

Amendments 27 and 30, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, dealt with two of my major concerns about Clause 5, but there are other concerns. Amendments already tabled and some of those debated seek to protect victims of modern slavery and trafficking, as well as children. If this House approves those amendments, which I expect we shall, Clause 5 would contradict them. I will speak as briefly as I can. For example, Clause 5(1)(a) requires that the Secretary of State must ensure the person is removed, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has said,

“as soon as is reasonably practicable after the person’s entry”

to the UK. Subsection (4) restricts that requirement if the person has made a protection or human rights claim, but only if the Secretary of State considers that there are exceptional circumstances which prevent the person’s removal. Newly arrived people with no knowledge of the language or systems of the UK would need assistance for any such claim, and the Bill restricts access to assistance. Under Clause 5, therefore, a person is likely to be removed before they have had a chance to make a protection or human rights claim. Also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has argued, it should not be possible for the Secretary of State to counter a protection or human rights claim, if one has been made, with a subjective power to determine that there are not “exceptional circumstances”. The inclusion of Clause 5 in the Bill would undoubtedly enhance the risks to victims of modern slavery or trafficking and to children, along with all others seeking asylum in the UK. I hope the Minister will agree that Clause 5 should not stand part of the Bill.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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My Lords, I would like to ask some questions of the Minister, in relation to Schedule 1 and Clause 6. I have four concerns about these provisions.

First, I do not understand the rationale for the list in Schedule 1 and I would be very grateful if the Minister could explain it. It seems to me that, of the 57 countries listed, with only two do we have any form of removal agreement: Rwanda and Albania. Does it concern the Government, as it concerns me, that we are setting out a list of destinations without having any international agreement underpinning it in relation to particular countries?

Secondly, some countries among the 57 listed in Schedule 1 are not party to the refugee convention, so they are in no way bound by the same commitments on the treatment of asylum seekers that bind us. Are the Government concerned about that? I am concerned about it, and I am inclined to think that they should be.

Thirdly, it is not clear to me that all the countries of the 57 in Schedule 1 have any kind of asylum system or procedure. I am not sure that all these countries recognise the concept of asylum in law. Can the Government assure me that I am wrong, and that although some of these countries are not party to the refugee convention—that is a fact—they all have working asylum systems? If not, are the Government not concerned about that? I think we should be concerned about it.

Fourthly, we must ask the Minister to construe the language “in general”, which occurs twice in Clause 6(1). The Secretary of State may add to the list in Schedule 1 if he is satisfied that

“there is in general in”

the country in question

“no serious risk of persecution”.

How are we meant to construe “in general”? I do not think it is the kind of language that should be on the statute book.

The second occurrence in the clause is that the removal of persons to a country to be added to the list is possible only if it would not “in general” contravene the human rights convention and our obligations under it. Hold on: pacta sunt servanda. It is not a question of whether “in general” there is a contravention of the human rights convention—there is or there is not. If sending somebody to one of these 57 countries would be a breach of our obligations under the human rights convention in any way, it does not matter if the Government think that “in general” it is all right. The language “in general” should not be here, both on constitutional and legal grounds and on grounds of pacta sunt servanda. If it would breach in any way our commitments under the convention—I believe it would —we should not add the territory in question to the list in Schedule 1.

My last point is also a question about how we should construe the language. Clause 6 talks not just about countries or territories that could be added but about parts of a country or territory. The noble and learned Lord on the Front Bench spoke eloquently about India when we last discussed this, and I have been thinking about what he said. If I were a serving diplomat, I do not know how I would persuade any country—particularly India, but any country—to accept an international agreement with the United Kingdom in which it accepted that parts of its country were unsafe for an asylum seeker. I do not see how any self-respecting country such as India could possibly accept an agreement including a restriction to a part of its territory where an asylum seeker might be sent. We need the Minister to explain to us how we are meant to construe, in Clause 6(1), “in general” and

“part of a country or territory”.

16:15
In my view, we cannot send people to countries that are not party to the convention and do not have an asylum system. Remember that we are sending people not to have our asylum processes carried out offshore by some other country. We will have declared these people inadmissible—they will never be allowed into our asylum process. We are going to deport them to other countries, where an application that they never made for asylum in those countries will be considered by us and by the country in question to have been made. But how can the country in question do that if it does not have a system for doing it? How should we accept that it is reasonable to require people to seek asylum somewhere else—which in my view is contrary to the convention—and to do so in a country that is not a party to the convention and has no asylum system? I put that all interrogatively—I may be wrong on all or several of those points—but the Minister needs to address them.
Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, in the submission that Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 should not stand part of the Bill. The reasoning becomes increasingly repetitive and circular, because these provisions are parasitic on the meat of the Bill, which is really Clause 2. That is the duty that the Secretary of State is quite deliberately taking upon herself so that it looks as if no discretion is being exercised, she must remove people and therefore the courts have no ability to supervise that judgment. That is the heart of the moral and practical problem with the Bill, so when we look at the parasitic clauses that follow on from Clause 2, we come back to that central problem.

There are so many reasons why this is wrong in both principle and practice. As always, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, a most distinguished senior diplomat and former Permanent Under-Secretary to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—which is important. The poor old Home Office gets lumbered with all the tough talk and rhetoric and with translating press releases into legislation, but the foreign department has to represent this country all over the world, negotiate further treaties and hold its head up in its attempt to do so. The foreign department will no doubt try to persuade people that Mr Sunak is so right and that, as I said last time, we should be the hub of AI intelligence and the world regulator, and everybody should support the idea that these treaties should be formulated here. Once upon a time, we could have said that.

If any noble Lords, particularly on the Benches opposite, want to understand the importance of the refugee convention, not as it is being flexibly interpreted by the current Government but as it was intended after the war, they might care to read the correspondence between our wartime Prime Minister and the then Archbishop of Canterbury. That correspondence between Winston Churchill and William Temple is very revealing of what the obligations of the future treaty were going to be in relation to individuated justice for refugees, which of course is the problem.

We were treated last time to good cop, bad cop by two Ministers, from the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice respectively; I will leave Members of the Committee to decide who was which. But I think that the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, was right in his rather forensic—if I may say so—examination to point out some tensions in the case as it was put by the two Ministers.

The Home Office Minister concentrated, quite rightly, on the message as we have heard it thus far: this is about deterrence; we do not want people to come here; this is all about stopping the boats. Therefore, he stressed the automaticity of Clause 2 and the absolute commitment—no ifs, ands or buts—to a duty to remove anybody who comes by an irregular route; no matter how genuine a refugee, they must be removed. When, as amendment after amendment was debated, and noble Lord after noble Lord gave the litany of heartbreaking cases of trafficked people, of gay people who should not be sent back to certain countries, and so on, the Minister from the justice department pointed up the possibility of exceptional non-suspensive claims—it will be all right, there will be the possibility of individuated justice in those cases. But, of course, both positions cannot be the case, and they were not intended to be. It was excellent advocacy, perhaps, but it does not stand up, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, said so clearly in his introduction to the debate.

This is the blanket treatment of claims that were always intended to be considered in a case-by-case analysis. As the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, pointed out, there are countries, including very large democracies such as India, perhaps, that are perfectly safe for some people but not at all safe for others—because they are political dissidents, because they are queer, because they are women. That is conceded by the Home Office in the schedule that lists some countries as safe only for men.

It is a diplomatic nightmare to be creating this automaticity of “These are safe countries; these are unsafe countries” and to be telegraphing it in the schedule to the Bill. The noble Lord, Lord Murray, will say, “There has been this development for some years under Governments of both stripes to have inadmissibility and presumptive safety”. It is one thing to say to your officials considering individual claims that some countries might be prima facie safe, but you still have a duty to consider the individual asylum seeker before you to determine what their story is. That was always the intention in the refugee convention and that is the obligation on signatories to it—and, I would argue, not just signatories any more because non-refoulement has become accepted as a principle of customary international law. That is what we propose to breach by this legislation.

That is how serious it is. The Bill is wrong in principle, wrong in practice and internally incoherent. Certainly, the arguments that have been put by Ministers—elegantly, charmingly, patiently, late into the night—do not hold together, and these provisions should not stand part of the Bill.

Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
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My Lords, following the eloquent speeches of my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, I would like to refer again to the proposal that Schedule 1 should not stand part.

Some of those countries breach protected rights. I ask the noble and learned Lord the Minister which of the countries on the list practise female genital mutilation and do not reserve refoulement only for men? Which criminalise homosexuality? Which criminalise humanism? Noble Lords may remember the case of the president of the Humanist Association of Nigeria, who has received a life sentence.

Surely it is very odd to remove people to those countries. Does the Minister think that that conforms to our signature to the treaties of international law?

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I endorse everything that has been said in the debate so far, so ably introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. I particularly want to follow on from what the noble Baroness said to the Committee about the suitability of some countries in Schedule 1 as places to which people should be returned; my noble friend Lord Kerr and the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, developed that point in their interventions earlier. I will take one example but the arguments I am going to put to the Committee could be applied to other countries on the list as well.

The country I want to talk about is Nigeria. In a later group of amendments, I have Amendment 85C in my name, which seeks to establish

“how the Secretary of State will assess Equality”

provisions

“listed in Schedule 1 and the potential harm to those with protected characteristics including victims of Modern Slavery”.

However, I want to ask the Minister specifically to engage with the issue of justice in Nigeria. This is a country to which we have said it is safe to return men but not women. I argue that it is not safe to return anybody to Nigeria, given the way in which the internal factors in that country currently stand.

The seriousness of the situation was underlined by the visit of Karim Khan KC, the prosecutor for the International Criminal Court, to Nigeria in 2020. He is continuing the investigation into the war crimes and crimes against humanity perpetuated by Boko Haram and other factions—as well as the involvement, I might add, of the Nigerian security forces. That investigation began in December 2020 and continues. Whether or not the ICC will determine that a genocide or crimes against humanity are being perpetrated against the religious minorities in the north of Nigeria lies in the future, but the evidence of why this is a hostile environment in which people face outright persecution is overwhelming.

Simply consider the role of what are sometimes euphemistically called “bandit groups”. They have killed, abducted, forcibly converted and displaced vast numbers of people, many of whom end up in small boats. According to government figures, 4,983 women were widowed; 25,000 children were orphaned; and 190,000 people were displaced between 2011 and 2019, with more 3 billion naira paid to bandits as ransom for 3,672 individuals who had been abducted.

In one incident last year, IS West Africa killed eight people and kidnapped 72 people on a Kaduna-bound train from Abuja while, in 2022, Boko Haram killed at least 60 people from the community of Rann, in Borno State, and killed more than 15 women in Gwoza, also in Borno State. In June 2022, the United Nations reported that Boko Haram and splinter factions abducted at least 211 children, recruited at least 63 children, killed or maimed at least 88 children, raped or sexually violated 53 girls and attacked at least 15 schools. In September 2022, UNESCO estimated that 20.2 million Nigerian children were out of school as a consequence.

I think particularly of the plight of Leah Sharibu, who has just turned 20. At the age of 14, on 18 February 2018, she was abducted by Boko Haram, raped, impregnated and forcibly converted. She is one of 110 girls taken from the Government Girls Science and Technical College in Dapchi, in Yobe State. Here in your Lordships’ House, I met her mother, Rebecca. I promised that I would never miss any opportunity that might come my way to raise Leah’s case. I do so again today because it illustrates the dangers faced by people being sent back to Nigeria, whether they are women or men; indeed, if they come from religious minorities that do not fit a particular mindset or ideology, they are doubly endangered.

Elsewhere in the country, secessionist forces in the south-east of Nigeria and protests by the Indigenous People of Biafra led to gunmen killing, maiming and destroying the properties of citizens in the region. Armed forces against separatists have also been involved in at least 122 extrajudicial killings. Media reports suggest that more than 287 people were killed in the south-east between January and May.

16:30
Consider other rights that we take for granted. Some 75 years ago this year the United Nations promulgated the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Article 18 of which insists that everyone has the right to believe or not believe or change their belief. Theoretically, Nigeria is signed up to Article 18 and all the 30 articles in the UDHR. But Article 18 is honoured, as the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, has just reminded us, only in its breach in Nigeria, and there are no safe and legal routes for those who are subjected to persecution for their religion or belief. With a cap on total numbers, there should be a safe and legal route and no refoulement for certain categories of people.
I am particularly glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is in her place today, because this is an issue I have raised previously with her. As the Government now consider the creation of further safe and legal routes—I welcome what they have said about this—persecuted people might form part of that. If they allowed for, say, a maximum of 5,000 people per year, that would be a great step forward for many endangered people in many parts of the world.
The urgency of addressing this issue is illustrated by the case of Mubarak Bala, president of the Nigerian Humanist Association, who was sentenced to 24 years in prison for a “blasphemous” post on Facebook. He received an excessive sentence but is at least still alive to challenge it. In most cases the extremist sentiment fuelled by blasphemy laws and accusations, coupled with the impunity surrounding blasphemy-related violence, means that many of those accused never get to have their day in court and are in effect lynched, as occurred in the case of Deborah Samuel in Sokoto state. In an indication of the degree of impunity surrounding blasphemy allegations, only three men among the mob who killed her were arrested for beating her to death and her immolation. They were merely charged with “public disturbance”, as opposed to murder. Moreover, they were freed by Chief Magistrate Shuaibu Ahmad in January 2023 due to the absence of the police prosecution during the scheduled hearings.
Nigeria is one of 71 countries that criminalises blasphemy in a law introduced during the colonial era that contravenes the country’s constitution which theoretically allows for the freedoms of thought, conscience and expression that we all uphold in this House. It is also incompatible with the nation’s international obligations with regard to those Article 18 obligations that I referred to earlier. In addition, the enactment of sharia penal codes in 12 northern states effectively rendered Islam a de facto state religion in violation of Nigeria’s secular constitution, which only theoretically recognises sharia courts for non-criminal proceedings. As well as contravening constitutional stipulations, this action effectively endowed the systematic marginalisation of followers of non-majoritarian expressions of faith that has existed for decades with quasi-legality.
The Tijaniyya Sufi singer Yahaya Sharif-Aminu, whose death sentence was overturned on a technicality and following an international outcry, but who still faces a retrial and a possible death sentence, is currently petitioning the Supreme Court, challenging Nigeria’s blasphemy law and the legality and constitutionality of the Kano sharia penal code. He is not alone in facing wholly unacceptable penalties for simply expressing dissent.
Consider the denial of freedom of expression and arbitrary arrests—breaches of Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. For seven months there was a ban on Twitter, while the Nigerian Broadcasting Commission suspended Vision FM for criticising the Government, sanctioned four media outlets and suspended 52 broadcast stations. The Government shut down five pro-opposition media outlets.
Last November, a Kano court sentenced social media celebrities Mubarak Muhammad and Nazifi Muhammad to detention, flogging and a fine for defaming the governor. The blogger Bashiru Hameed was detained for publishing the criminal record of the Ogun state governor. Journalists Abdulrasheed Akogun and Dare Akogun were detained for WhatsApp messages that alleged corruption by the Kwara state governor. Peoples Gazette staff were arrested for a newspaper article said to “defame” the former chief of army staff, with Umaru Maradun detained for undisclosed reasons. Meanwhile, radio worker Casmir Uzomah was detained for airing an “offensive” song.
Recall that several prominent End SARS activists were obliged to flee the country in an irregular manner after surviving the Lekki toll-gate massacre in October 2020 and following a harsh crackdown. Among those who stayed, nine detained protesters were acquitted and released by a judge in Oyo state only in January 2023, and at least 30 remain in pre-trial detention across the country.
I am telling the Committee all this because we are going to send people back to Nigeria. We have said that it is a safe place for men. This cannot be right. Does anything that I have said to the Committee suggest that this is a safe country to which people should be returned? Many refugees or asylum seekers flee their countries after facing injustice, mistreatment, harsh imprisonment without due process and even threats to their lives on account of peaceful political protest or because of their religion or belief.
Nigeria is also a nation on the edge of a precipice. It represents nearly 3% of the global population in extreme poverty, with the emergence of a critical security vacuum that has resulted in citizens across the country facing terrorism or violent armed groups, and being commoditised, as abductions for ransom have unfortunately become a growth industry. The UN says that 1.4 million people are internally displaced. Over 95 million Nigerians are living in poverty, and food inflation reached 22% in July 2022.
As violence by non-state actors continues, the economic and political climate remains uncertain following the inauguration of a president whose victory remains disputed and who, in any case, belongs to the party that oversaw Nigeria’s critical decline. Observers warn of a final descent into failed statehood which in turn could spark an exodus of people legitimately in need of safety. In the absence of defined legal or regular routes for those seeking refuge in the UK who perhaps have family or other ties to the country, these people would also be denied entry. Not only does this suggests that what we categorise as a safe country does not match the reality, it illustrates why this Bill misses the point.
With over 100 million people displaced in the world, we need a strategy to tackle the root causes, not legislation which will do nothing to end the desperate journeys of people who are desperate to make better and safer lives for themselves and their families.
Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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My Lords, I will not repeat what has already been said. I agree with most of what has been said in the preceding speeches, particularly the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Kerr about the inadequacy of Schedule 1, and all the examples that have been given, including those given very clearly by my noble friend Lord Alton, of cases which create real dangers of injustice which are plainly contrary to the international conventions to which this country subscribes. Instead, I want to obtain confirmation from the Minister of some short propositions which relate to Clause 6 of the Bill.

Clause 6 provides that the Secretary of State may amend Schedule 1 in certain circumstances. Can the Minister confirm that if a cogent application is made to the Secretary of State to amend Schedule 1 in particular ways and he refuses, that would immediately open the gate for judicial review proceedings? I foresee a menu of 57 opportunities in Schedule 1 for 57 applications for judicial review—perhaps a few fewer—being made by well-known and well-funded NGOs for amendments to be made to that schedule because of circumstances in those countries.

Further, would not the Secretary of State face considerable obstacles if such judicial review applications were made? First, there is the weakness of the standard of proof that is set by the Government for themselves—“if satisfied”, whatever that means. Secondly, in Clause 6(1)(a), which was referred to earlier, the Secretary of State can add a country or territory if satisfied that

“there is in general in that country or territory, or part, no serious risk of persecution”.

Does that not contradict certain other legal provisions which, for example, provide guarantees of safety to a group of people we discussed earlier this week—the cohort of LGBTQ+ people who might be affected?

Thirdly, Clause 6(1)(b) states:

“removal of persons to that country or territory, or part, pursuant to the duty in section 2(1) will not in general contravene the United Kingdom’s obligations”.

Is that not pathetically weak, and contradictory to other legislation? I again take the LGBTQ+ cohort as my example.

If that analysis of Clause 6(1) and Schedule 1 is not entirely coherent, surely it is enough to persuade the Government that they should really reconsider the drafting of Clause 6 and the contents of Schedule 1. If they insist on keeping Schedule 1, it should, from the start of the Bill coming into effect, reflect all the dangers in all countries in which there are dangers for certain groups of people who could not be described as people “in general”. This is ineffective, and I am sure it will put substantial fees into the hands of my learned friends, but that is not what this place should be trying to do.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, I support these amendments and the speeches that were just given. I want to make two points only. First, it is extraordinary to me that Schedule 1 shows a list of countries with which this country has no agreement. I cannot understand how one can put into primary legislation a list of countries with which the Government hope to have an agreement, when that is not yet happening.

Secondly, I spoke earlier, at greater length, about the unaccompanied child who comes to the age of 18. Your Lordships have only to think of a child of 10, and we know that some children of 10 have come through. With any luck, a child of 10 will not be kept in Home Office accommodation; he or she is likely to go into the care of a local authority under the Children Acts and will very likely be fostered. It is comparatively easy to be fostered at 10. The child would have spent eight years at an English school, would have grown into speaking English, probably forgetting his or her own language to some extent, and will be settled.

Immediately after the age of 18—subject to the Home Office’s inordinate delays in removing people, but assuming that it achieves something better in the future—he or she can be removed and will go to a country. At the moment, there is only one, unless the child is Albanian, when they would have gone back earlier. That child aged 18, just grown up, will find him or herself in a country the language of which they probably do not speak and he or she will know absolutely nothing. I hope your Lordships agree with me that that, quite simply, is cruel.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I return to the terminology in general. I had tabled amendments in the last group on Monday night, which was a very big group. I could not find a polite way of describing drafting that I regarded as very poor. I resorted to saying that I thought it was

“not a very imaginative way to describe a situation”.

The Minister responding said that the term “in general” is

“not new: it is the test set out”

in legislation of 2002. He continued:

“Including a country in Schedule 1 simply requires the Secretary of State to be satisfied that it is considered generally safe”.


He then said that “the individual”—and noble Lords are absolutely right to remind us that we are talking about individuals, not amorphous cohorts of people—

“would still have the opportunity to challenge their removal”.

Later in the debate, when a similar point came up again, the Minister said:

“This is going to be a matter for the judicial process—through the appeal process, the legal advice and the legal representation that these people have. If they can show serious and irreversible harm, then they will not be sent to these places”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; cols. 1216-35.]


Having criticised the terminology in general, given that the opportunities to challenge Home Office decisions in 2002 were considerably more than are presented in the Bill, I would like a detailed understanding of the Minister’s explanation of using the processes available.

16:45
Lord Scriven Portrait Lord Scriven (LD)
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My Lords, in Committee on Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Murray, used the example of India. We need to question not just how the list has been devised but the minimum criteria the Home Office wishes to have for each country before it even starts to discuss any agreement with it.

India does not have national asylum legislation: anyone who is a non-Indian citizen is determined as a foreigner under the Registration of Foreigners Act 1939, the Foreigners Act 1946 and the Foreigners Order 1948. This legislation generally governs foreigners within the territory of India. Article 2 of the Registration of Foreigners Act defines a foreigner as

“a person who is not a citizen of India”.

The other two pieces of legislation use the same definition. The Act and the order grant the Indian Government the power to restrict the movement of foreigners and carry out compulsory medical examinations, limit foreigners’ employment opportunities, and control the ability to refuse and return foreigners to their home country. All of these contravene the UN refugee convention. Refugee status is granted, but only to certain nationals of neighbouring countries. People with certain characteristics—for example, Muslims—are predominantly excluded from being granted refugee status.

People who are foreigners in India have further challenges when seeking asylum there: because of restricted employment, they find that they do not have sustainable livelihoods; there is no reliable community support network for refugees there; and access to specialised services for certain people or groups does not exist.

Quite bluntly, I ask the Minister this: is that the kind of situation he wishes to send some of the most vulnerable people in the world into? Ultimately, for every single country listed in Schedule 1, what criteria are the Home Office using before starting any negotiation with those countries?

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, many very cogent points have been made in this debate, and I will not repeat them, but I will mention one or two relating to the international dimension. I, too, believe that the use of “in general” is one of the slipperiest pieces of drafting that I have seen in a long time. I suppose that the Home Office may have been ashamed to put “in principle”, the words more often used to get out of commitments in international law than any others, but it means much the same thing. It has no place in this legislation.

Secondly, it seems an enormous hostage to fortune to put a list of countries described as “safe” into legislation tabled in March this year and which will not become statute until much later this year at the earliest. By that time, I suspect that quite a lot of things will have happened in some of the countries listed that will make them completely unsafe. I do not want to refer to individual countries, although people will be aware of what happened last week in Uganda. It is a moving agenda, and it is not wise to fix it in that way.

My third and last point is that there has been much talk of the Government concluding agreements with countries to enable us to send asylum seekers—without considering their asylum applications—to them. I imagine —and perhaps the Minister could reply on this point; it would be quite helpful if he could listen to what I am saying—that it would be useful to know whether those agreements would come before Parliament in the form that the International Agreements Committee of your Lordships’ House takes them. I take it that the answer will almost certainly be “No, they won’t, because they will be based on a memorandum of understanding”. This House has already debated this and established beyond peradventure that the use of a memorandum of understanding in the case of Rwanda was entirely designed to avoid any parliamentary scrutiny. Will the Minister say whether an agreement that will be reached for return will be subject to the international agreements procedure—CRaG—or not?

Lord Paddick Portrait Lord Paddick (LD)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend Lord Purvis of Tweed for his devastating critique of the government reasoning behind the measures in this Bill. As he said, the measures could have serious consequences for women and girls who have been trafficked, and he provided some examples of the sorts of numbers that might be involved. The facts presented by my noble friend appeared to show clearly that the system of referrals to the national referral mechanism is not being abused. As he said, much of the increase resulted from claims from those who were already legally in the United Kingdom.

I am very grateful—going back to Monday—to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, for indicating something of the thinking behind this Bill as far as the Government are concerned. He said:

“All I am saying is that one should have this power; I am not necessarily saying the circumstances in which one should exercise it”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1229.]


I am beginning to wonder whether this is a sort of remake of “The Wizard of Oz”, with these very scary things being put up front with very little behind them. In reply to what my noble friend said about the vulnerable women and girls who could be detained and then deported from this country, the Minister said it might not happen because, as he said, all the Government are saying is that the Government should have the power to do that, but they are not necessarily going to use it.

In relation to Schedule 1—the safe countries—many noble Lords have given graphic examples of why countries do not belong on a safe list. I have to say: what is the point of the list? As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Bellamy, said on Monday, in response to the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who gave a particular example of a gay man being sent back to a hostile country:

“Secondly, and in practice, this is all predicated on the country being willing to accept them. At the moment, the only agreement we have is with Rwanda. There may well be others. I hesitate to give any commitment but it seems, if I may say so, most unlikely that the fears of the noble Lord are well founded. It is most unlikely that these postulated circumstances will arise in practice”.—[Official Report, 5/6/23; col. 1234.]


Well, if the Government are saying that each individual case will be considered on its merits, and if a country that is on the list is found to be not safe for that individual, what is the point of the list? What is the point if there is only one country—or potentially two countries—on the list to which the Government can return people? Is this just to try to scare the horses, with no substance behind it? That is increasingly what this Bill looks like.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, I start, as other noble Lords have done, by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, for his introduction, the quality of his speech and the comments that he made, which deserve a full answer, and I thank all noble Lords for the detailed and important contributions that they have made.

In that light, I ask the Minister whether he will take back to Downing Street the fact that we do not need to read on the front page of the Daily Telegraph that the PM is set to overrule the Lords on boats Bills. The quality of the contributions that have been made in today’s debate show the importance of the consideration in detail of the legislation. Indeed, the Minister will know, as has been reiterated through the usual channels, that it is not the view held by every single noble Lord that the Bill should be blocked; indeed, we on the Front Bench of His Majesty’s Opposition have said categorically that we will not block the Bill. However, we will not be intimidated by having people, even the Prime Minister, attempting to intimidate us into not properly scrutinising, in a detailed and forensic way, the operation of the Bill.

We can see from the way in which noble Lords have put forward various points and considerations today that there are real questions to answer. I do not believe that the Government Front Bench here or the usual channels did that; to be frank, I think they were probably taken by surprise by it as well. But it is important that we in this House recognise that we have a role to play, which is to revise and improve legislation. The Government are then perfectly entitled to turn around and say, “We totally disagree and we’re not going to take any notice”, but we do not need to be lectured on how we should not attempt to revise it in Committee or on Report. That is an important point to make.

The other point to make as we consider this is for us all to wish the noble Lord, Lord Murray, well in his attempt to get the impact assessment out of the Home Office well before Report. It is too soon for me to ask him in a nasty way whether he has yet had any success, but even if I do not return to this throughout the Committee, I am sure a number of other Members will ask him how it is going—so I will start the process by asking the noble Lord how it is going with regard to getting the impact assessment out.

I will say, without repeating many of the points that have been made, that my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti summed up a point that has been reinforced by many noble Lords. At their heart, Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 give effect to Clause 2. In other words, the Government require a blanket ban on asylum claims and therefore require, in a blanket way, people to be removed from the country. I have said time and again that that removal, as we have heard from many noble Lords, is without any real understanding of where to or what the consequences will be. I ask again: is it a fact that the Government believe that the threat of deterrence overcomes or supersedes individual human rights? That goes to the heart of what we are debating, and is a point that the noble Lords, Lord Carlile, Lord Kerr and Lord Hannay, have made on numerous occasions. Is it the case that the Government are prepared to accept that, under Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1, individuals may well be at risk of persecution or may have a well-founded asylum claim but, because they have arrived irregularly, that does not matter and they are going to be sent to wherever? Is that the case or not? We could do with knowing the answer to that.

17:00
At the end of the day—as the amendments from my noble friend Lord Cashman and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Etherton, say—there are countries listed in Schedule 1 where it cannot in any sense be confirmed that an asylum seeker who is gay will be safe. Victims of modern slavery and trafficking will potentially be returned. Fundamentally, Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 mean that there is no case-by-case assessment of the individual rights of an asylum claim, and therefore they will be automatically returned. That, at its heart, is not consistent with the UN convention on refugees or any of the various international treaties we have signed up to.
I return to the question of refoulement. Is it the case that we could return somebody to Rwanda and that person could then be sent back to another country where they might be at risk of persecution or various human rights abuses? How will Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 work with respect to the general principle of non-refoulement that we have had? I think it was the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, who asked a question about refoulement; it might have been the noble Lord, Lord Kerr. A question was certainly asked about the whole point of refoulement and what the Government’s position is with respect to that.
At the heart of this, because there is no case-by-case assessment, under Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 we very much run the risk—if the situation is not inevitable —of individuals who have a quite legitimate case for the granting of asylum being returned to dangerous situations. As such, there are very real concerns across the Committee about that.
Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, with permission, I will first respond to the first point from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and confirm that the Government’s Front Bench was as surprised by the report in the Daily Telegraph as everybody else.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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Can I just confirm that the Minister means the Lords Front Bench?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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Yes, the Lords Front Bench—this Front Bench. I cannot speak for other colleagues, but I can assure the Committee that no one is attempting to intimidate this House. As I understand it, the Prime Minister is misreported in the Daily Telegraph—it is not the first time the press has misreported a politician—and the Government fully recognise the role that this House has to play in scrutinising the legislation. The Government’s duty, if I may say so, is to listen, reflect on what is said and respond as they think fit, depending on the strength of the points made and the Government’s general policy. I emphasise that there is no question but that this legislative process should be followed duly and properly throughout.

That said, and in relation to following established due process, as it were, we debated Clauses 5 and 6 in detail in Committee on Monday. With your Lordships’ permission, I will not repeat what I have already said in that respect and refer your Lordships to the record in Hansard. To the extent that some points have been repeated, I refer to what was said in the last debate.

If I may also respectfully say so, on various other points that have been raised—for example, in relation to Clause 2, to trafficking, to unaccompanied children and to agreements with third countries and so on— I will not go over the ground that has already been covered or is to be covered in debates on other clauses. These are matters that we are debating on another occasion—the legal rights and remedies, for example—so for today’s purposes I will concentrate on Clauses 5 and 6.

I should perhaps once again go over the ground of what Clauses 5 and 6 actually say. If I am right and your Lordships accept the analysis, I venture to suggest that at least a considerable part of your Lordships’ concerns may be reduced or laid to rest.

In simple terms, Clause 5 deals with two different groups. The first group are nationals, including persons holding an identity document, of the European countries listed in new Section 80AA of the 2002 Act, which are the EU member states plus Switzerland and Albania. If a national of one of those countries makes an asylum or human rights claim, they may none the less be removed unless there are exceptional circumstances. The exceptional circumstances, which again were referred to today by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, are defined in Clause 5(5). This part of the Bill is essentially the same as the structure that has stood for many years, including when we were part of the EU, with the addition of Switzerland and Albania. These are safe countries and, in the Government’s view, no reasonable objection can be made in relation to this group.

Now we have the second group, who are nationals of all other countries: those outside the European countries defined in new Section 80AA. What is the position in relation to those nationals? The first point to make is that if the migrant is a national of another country—with all respect to the Republic of Ghana, the Republic of Uganda or India, let us take Nigeria—and they make an asylum or human rights claim, for example because of a risk of persecution for their sexual orientation, they cannot be sent back to that country. That is clear from Clause 5(8), so a lot of the concerns expressed about persons being sent back to these countries will relate to nationals of those countries who do not want to be sent back to them. Unless others correct me, if they make a protection—that is to say, an asylum or human rights—claim, they cannot be sent back as nationals to those countries where they fear persecution. That is a very considerable safeguard.

Where can they be sent back to? They can be sent back only to another Schedule 1 country, but subject to very important conditions. The most important condition in this context is that set out in Clause 5(3)(d): only if there is reason to believe that they would be admitted to that country. In other words, it depends on whether we have an agreement with that country to take them back. That is not at present the case, except in relation to Rwanda, but it may in future be the case in relation to other countries.

To take a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, or possibly the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, as to whether such future agreements would be—forgive me, it was the noble Lord, Lord Hannay—subject to parliamentary scrutiny, that is a matter for the future. I cannot commit the Government on that here at the Dispatch Box. However, I think your Lordships can be reassured that the availability of all kinds of remedies and the force of public opinion in this country would necessarily require a very full debate to take place before we made an agreement with another country. There is the constitutional safeguard of the constitution of public debate in that regard.

There is no indication that the countries mentioned in this debate—very understandably, Nigeria, Ghana, Uganda and even India—are likely to be, in any foreseeable future, places to which the relevant migrants could be sent. If we were ever to reach an agreement with another country, the Secretary of State has powers in Clause 6, in particular Clause 6(3), to exclude from that agreement persons of particular sexual orientations or with particular protected characteristics set out in that clause. That is a further protection against the fears noble Lords have expressed.

If all of that were to fail, it remains the case that the individual affected could make his suspensive harm application on the basis that he would suffer irreversible serious harm in that context. I think I can legitimately offer noble Lords reassurance that a great deal of the fears understandably expressed in your Lordships’ Committee rest on a particular view of the Bill that is not entirely correct.

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—it was implicit in most of the other comments—what Schedule 1 is for. I think the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, asked what the rationale of Schedule 1 is. The answer is that Schedule 1 is a reproduction, an amalgamation and a restatement of all the existing legislation from 2002 onwards, in which various countries over the years have been added as safe countries. For example, in 2005 the Labour Government added India on the basis that it was, in general, a safe country.

This also enables me to deal with the “in general” point, which has stood as a statutory point for the last 20 years at least. It might not be entirely within the active career of the noble Lords, Lord Hannay and Lord Kerr, but it has been on the statute book for 20 years. It has not so far given rise to any particular difficulties. That is the background to what we are considering.

In the future, it might be appropriate to keep Schedule 1 updated; it might be necessary to make changes from time to time. Let us cross those particular bridges when we get to them. At the moment, there is no practical possibility of Uganda, for example, accepting migrants who arrive in Dover into Uganda. It might be, to take a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, that the existence of Schedule 1 or the failure to amend it, might be challenged in judicial review. If I may respectfully say so, it would be a somewhat adventurous case to compel a Minister to legislate or to amend primary legislation, but let us again cross those bridges when we get to them.

I hope that I have not taken up undue time and have covered most of the questions that I was asked. I am sure that I shall be reminded if I have not done so; I will do my best to answer them, if anyone reminds me.

17:15
Baroness Whitaker Portrait Baroness Whitaker (Lab)
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The Minister kindly said that, if he had not answered anything, he would do so. Would he please write to me about which countries practise female genital mutilation, criminalise homo- sexuality and criminalise humanism?

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her question, but I cannot answer it today at the Dispatch Box. My respectful reply is that this issue does not arise for the reasons I have given. The Bill does not envisage, at the moment, returning people to such countries. The general position is that we can continue discussing the provisions on legal requirements, trafficking, unaccompanied children and so forth, but this part of the Bill is an essential part of the Bill. I therefore beg to move—

Lord Carlile of Berriew Portrait Lord Carlile of Berriew (CB)
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I am most grateful to the Minister and have great respect for his legal analysis. However, I will correct him on the point I made about judicial review. I was not saying that a judicial review could be taken in which the order would be for the Minister to amend the law. The Minister cannot amend the law; we in this Parliament amend the law. The application would be for a judicial review of the refusal of the Minister to take steps to amend the law. That is quite a different matter, and I do not apprehend any difficulty in making such an application for judicial review.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, if I misunderstood his point. I respectfully continue to beg to differ as to both the likelihood of such judicial proceedings or the relevance of such judicial proceedings to today’s stand part debate. So, if your Lordships permit me, I beg to move—

Lord Swire Portrait Lord Swire (Con)
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I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. I ask, gently, whether my noble and learned friend the Minister would not agree that it is worth reminding ourselves that some of these countries—indeed, all those we talked about in the last hour—are Commonwealth countries, including Uganda, India and Ghana. It is worth remembering that Rwanda is not only a Commonwealth country but the current chair-in-office of the Commonwealth, so, surely, that must count for something.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I entirely accept the point my noble friend makes and thank him for it.

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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The noble and learned Lord is so reassuring, and his manner is so friendly, that one is tempted to believe that this might all be as good as he says. On the two-part process, he says that the list sets out possible destinations, but that the Secretary of State would make a judgment about the individual and whether the individual should not be sent to a particular country for reasons particular to the individual. If it were the noble and learned Lord making these decisions, I would be very reassured; unfortunately, it is the Home Secretary.

I am sorry to press the Minister but he has not really answered my question. He says that the list is based on history, but in the past we have not sent people compulsorily to go through an asylum process in another country—so there is something new here. Further, we have not been sending people to countries where there is no asylum process but we are insisting that they must seek asylum there. I do not think the noble and learned Lord has addressed that point.

I would also be grateful if the Minister would construe for us the language in the first paragraph of Clause 6, which addresses “in general” and “a part”. I have not heard his answer to my question as to why it is all right that a country should not in general contravene the human rights convention—implying that if in particular it does, we do not care—and, secondly, why it refers to part of a country or territory. I do not understand how we can get an international agreement with a counterpart. If I am a negotiator, how do I persuade him to accept that there are parts of his country that are unsafe and parts of his country that are safe? Surely the agreement has to be with the other country in respect of the full territory of the other country, not in respect of part of the territory.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, in relation to the latter point, I repeat the point I made on Monday that this is precautionary. There is no reason to deprive oneself of the possibility of providing for “a part”. With an enormous country such as India, it may be that up in Nagaland or somewhere there are some disturbances, but that does not prevent us saying that India is a safe country. That is the Government’s answer to the first point.

Our answer to the second point is that the words “in general” have—I am open to correction and I will correct myself if I am wrong—stood for 20 years on the statute book without difficulty and do not preclude, in an individual case, an application being made to oppose removal on the grounds of irreparable harm. It is the combination of a general view that the country is safe with the possibility of individual protection. Those are essentially the answers I gave on Monday.

I entirely accept the noble Lord’s point that this is new, but, for the reasons I have tried to explain, it is a workable and, I submit, balanced approach to a very difficult problem which the Bill is trying to solve.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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As always, the Committee is very grateful to the Minister. I want to be absolutely certain that I have understood his case, because this is so important. My understanding is that he is reassuring the Committee on the basis that, first, nobody is going to be sent to the country that they fear in the first place—they are not going to be sent back directly to the country that they have escaped from and which they say was originally persecuting them—and, secondly, they can be sent only if there is a deal with a country. So maybe this is all going to be rhetoric in the end: we are going to tell the British people that we are stopping the boats, and we are going to warehouse more and more people under this whole edifice because there will be a duty under Clause 2 to remove people to places where they are irremovable to because there is no deal. Thirdly, the Minister points to the little chinks in the scheme whereby somebody might make some kind of exceptional non-suspensive claim. That is what I understand to be the three parts of his case.

On sending people to third countries that are unsafe because they are gay or because there is some other reason why that individual person would be at risk, it matters not that they would be unsafe in a third country or unsafe in a first country. In relation to the other little nudges and winks that he offers us—that this is perhaps fiction because in the end we do not have deals with a lot of these countries—that might be some comfort to people coming, and maybe even to those smuggling them, but it is certainly no comfort to the British people on the cost or on the toxicity of the debate we are having about stopping the boats, when actually the boats are not likely to be stopped.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, it is a question of judgment. The Government’s judgment is that this legislation will go a long way towards reducing the terrible risks that people and unaccompanied children are facing in crossing the channel in difficult circumstances, and will destabilise the business model of the people smugglers. Those are surely legitimate objects for any Government to pursue.

The noble Baroness’s analysis is essentially correct: if I am a national of a particular state and I make an asylum claim or human rights claim then I cannot be sent back to that country; I could be sent back to a country with which—she puts it somewhat colloquially, and I would not quite use these words—we have a deal. The country with which we have a migration partnership at the moment is Rwanda, so that is still a possibility, subject to the individual in that case being able to make an application for either a factual suspensive application or an application based on imminent and foreseeable and serious harm. That is how it works, and that is how the Government see it.

While I am on my feet, I will address the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about whether the threat of deterrents supersedes individual human rights. For the reasons I have given, our answer is that there is no question of superseding individual human rights due to the protections I have just explained. Refoulement is covered by the existing agreement with Rwanda, and I am sure it will be covered in future agreements.

Baroness Kennedy of Shaws Portrait Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws (Lab)
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My Lords, I wonder if an answer could be given to the question from the Minister’s colleague on the Benches behind him, who asked about Commonwealth countries. Would the Minister agree that many of the Commonwealth countries have laws which criminalise homosexuality? Indeed, Uganda has just passed legislation which says that the death penalty can be used in relation to homosexuality, and in India there are currently a lot of issues and questions about the treatment of Muslims there. There might be very real issues even when it comes to Commonwealth countries.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, as the noble Baroness says, there might indeed be issues. Their legislation is a matter for them. The fact that they are members of the Commonwealth which upholds, or seeks to uphold, barest basic standards is a relevant background consideration, as the noble Lord pointed out.

For the reasons I have given, as best I can, the protections in the Bill are adequate to deal with the problems that have been raised. I respectfully say that Clauses 5 and 6 and Schedule 1 should stand part of the Bill.