House of Lords

Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Wednesday 24 January 2024
15:00
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.

East Coast Main Line

Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:06
Asked by
Lord Beith Portrait Lord Beith
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with train operators about changes to the East Coast Mainline timetable in December 2024.

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Transport (Lord Davies of Gower) (Con)
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My Lords, the department holds regular discussions with its operators to ensure that they continue to respond to changes in demand, balancing capacity and reliability with value for money for taxpayers. As part of the December 2023 timetable change, the department agreed that London North Eastern Railway should provide some additional Sunday services and the Rail North Partnership agreed some reductions to TransPennine Express services to stabilise the service while it completes its driver training programme.

Lord Beith Portrait Lord Beith (LD)
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My Lords, Berwick-upon-Tweed station, serving the Scottish borders and north Northumberland, normally has a quite good hourly train service on the east coast main line. However, now LNER has resurrected the previous abandoned plan to slash that service by half from December, so that the trains will be only every two hours and with longer journey times. Is the Minister prepared to challenge this—or is publicly owned LNER doing what the Government have told it to do?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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The industry is currently close to finalising its response to the east coast main line major timetable change consultation that was undertaken in 2021. While it will not be possible to address every concern raised, I am confident that the industry proposal is an improvement over what was offered in consultation. The Rail Minister is in regular contact with Transport for the North, having met with the chair and chief executive in recent months.

Lord Haselhurst Portrait Lord Haselhurst (Con)
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My Lords, has the Minister been able to assess the amount of spare capacity on the rail system serving both north and east of a critical place in what we call the east of England? Does he agree that there needs to be a plan for the future—maybe one that cannot be implemented immediately but that we can set our minds on to ensure that it takes place without waiting another 10 or 20 years?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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My noble friend will be aware that we had the Williams-Shapps review into the creation of Great British Railways but unfortunately have not had time in this Session to introduce legislation. However, I take his point, which is well made.

Lord Berkeley Portrait Lord Berkeley (Lab)
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My Lords, will the Minister explain why this government-owned railway, LNER, has apparently changed all the fare structures to remove most saver and supersaver fares—presumably with the intention of reducing the number of passengers that use it?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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At the Bradshaw address, the Secretary of State committed to expanding single-leg pricing, on most of LNER’s network, for example. This went live on 11 June 2023. In the plan for rail, we set out our intention to simplify fares and improve the passenger experience. We are determined to find innovative ways to get people back into rail.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, next year will celebrate the bicentenary of the original railway line, between Darlington and Stockton-on-Tees. Would it not be extraordinary to reduce the service from Darlington—and Northallerton—to London in what is its bicentennial year? Will the Minister use his good offices to examine the timetable which LNER is proposing for next year, to ensure that we continue to have good hourly services to these regular commuter runs?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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I hear what my noble friend says. I will certainly take it back and have a look at it.

Lord Tunnicliffe Portrait Lord Tunnicliffe (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister implies that the 2024 timetable is more or less complete. That would have involved seven railway operators, Network Rail and the DfT achieving a consensus. Such a consensus would have had winners and losers. Who made the decision as to who would be the losers?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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With great respect to the noble Lord, I am not too sure that I understand his question. Perhaps we can have a look at it later.

Baroness Randerson Portrait Baroness Randerson (LD)
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My Lords, when there was a proposal to close railway ticket offices, we saw how essential public consultation was in revealing the true impact of a planned change. In the Minister’s response, he referred to a consultation on this LNER timetable change that took place in 2021. Three years on, things are very different. Can he assure us that there has been public consultation since then and that there was full public consultation before this changed timetable was introduced?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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I assure the noble Baroness that the Government are committed to full consultation on the issue.

Lord McLoughlin Portrait Lord McLoughlin (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of Transport for the North. Some of the difficult decisions that have had to be taken have been partly because of the upgrading of the trans-Pennine route, which is a huge investment as far as the Government are concerned over the next few years. Will my noble friend assure us that the planned upgrade for York station, which will allow greater capacity eventually to serve areas such as Berwick-upon-Tweed, is in the Government’s future plans?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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A lot of these changes to the trans-Pennine route are part of the Making Journeys Better plan, outlining how TransPennine Express under DfT OLR Holdings will work to make things better. Having completed an in-depth review of the business, these services are expected to be restored from December 2024. I will have to come back to my noble friend on his question about the railway station.

Lord Snape Portrait Lord Snape (Lab)
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My Lords, does the Minister accept that the problems of the east coast main line, important though they may be, pale into insignificance for those of us who have the misfortune to use the west coast main line? Given the fact that Avanti trains’ punctuality levels in the last six months of 2023 plumbed the depths of 43.5%—the worst in railway history, as far as I can ascertain—can he tell the House what those improvements outlined by the Secretary of State were before it was given another nine years of inflicting misery on the rest of us?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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As the noble Lord knows, the department awarded a new National Rail contract to First Trenitalia to continue operating the west coast partnership in September 2023. The decision to award the contract to it was contingent on the operator continuing to win back the confidence of passengers. The Rail Minister and officials have met regularly with First Group and Avanti’s senior management to understand the challenges and hold them to account for issues within their control. In fact, I understand that the Rail Minister met with them only this month.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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My Lords, as I was coming in on a very pleasant journey from the beautiful city of Salisbury in the south-west on Monday, I went through the new schedule of train strikes that have been thrust at us again. I seem to remember that a couple of months ago we spent many long nights debating minimum service levels. I am confused, so could the Minister help me in my confusion?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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My noble friend is right; we did spend many hours debating this. We now have the minimum services levels Act and, frankly, the department expects train operators to make use of the legislation wherever appropriate.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is the decision by the Government to award Avanti another contract not rewarding failure? Do we not need a regulator that will put passengers first and the companies second?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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I take the noble Lord’s point, but the Government do put passengers first. The Government are concerned with passengers getting value for money, and we take this very seriously.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab)
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My Lords, in the last 10 years, £75.2 billion of subsidy has been handed to rail companies. In return, the public do not own a single engine, carriage or seat, and it is impossible to even get the machines at rail stations to tell you what a good route or fare is. How many more billions need to be handed to rail companies before we can get an affordable and reliable train service?

Lord Davies of Gower Portrait Lord Davies of Gower (Con)
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The Government have put an awful lot of money into the railways. It is about time perhaps that some of the railways delivered back for the good of the people—the taxpayer, who has put an enormous amount of money into the railways.

Schools: Persistent Absenteeism

Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:16
Asked by
Baroness Twycross Portrait Baroness Twycross
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of persistent absenteeism in English schools; and what steps they are taking to address it.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, tackling attendance and persistent absence is a top priority for my right honourable friend the Secretary of State and all her ministerial team. We have a team of specialist attendance advisers, are increasing the number of attendance mentors to support vulnerable students, are expanding our attendance hubs—supporting over 1,000 additional schools—and have launched a campaign to emphasise the importance of school for learning, wellbeing and friendships. We also now expect schools to meet termly with local authorities to agree plans for at-risk children, and our attendance data tools give schools the information they need to allow earlier intervention and avoid absences becoming entrenched.

Baroness Twycross Portrait Baroness Twycross (Lab)
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My Lords, there is a link between levels of deprivation, poor mental health in children and persistent absence. The children’s mental health charity Place2Be has told me that, for every £1 invested in mental health interventions in schools, there is a social benefit of £8. What assessment have the Government made of the financial benefit of mental health interventions in schools? How are they targeting the most disadvantaged children in tackling mental health-related persistent absence?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The Government look at both the impact of mental health support on students and the financial impacts. As the noble Baroness knows, we are working with the Department of Health and Social Care to have mental health support teams, which are now covering 35% of pupils in schools and further education. This will increase to around 50% by March 2025.

Lord Baker of Dorking Portrait Lord Baker of Dorking (Con)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware that, in disadvantaged areas of the country, absenteeism could be as high as 20%, where you cannot expect parents to get their children to go to school every day of the week? The reason why they are not going is that, when they go to school, they have to study just eight academic subjects, which is the curriculum that the Government have imposed upon schools. They do not believe that they are learning anything that will get them a job. Will the Minister accept the recommendations of the Education for 11–16 Year Olds Committee of this House, which recommended that technical, practical and useful subjects, and also computer studies, should be introduced immediately into the curriculum?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I cannot accept entirely my noble friend’s assertion, because persistent absence, which the noble Baroness’s Question points to, has more than doubled since the start of the pandemic and the curriculum has not significantly changed.

Lord Storey Portrait Lord Storey (LD)
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My Lords, when the Minister kindly replied to my Written Question tabled on 11 January, she said that there were

“335 state-funded alternative provision schools”.

But in terms of unregistered alternative schools or settings, she said that because they are unregistered, they

“do not meet the criteria to register as a school”.

So local authorities are sending children to these unregistered provision settings, yet we do not know whether a record is taken of their attendance or whether they are safeguarded. This is not a satisfactory state, is it? Can the Minister look into this to make sure that these children are safeguarded, properly educated and recorded for attendance?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I share many of the noble Lord’s concerns and am more than happy to follow up on his points.

Baroness Hollins Portrait Baroness Hollins (CB)
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My Lords, we know that mental and emotional distress has increased hugely since the pandemic, that children who are distressed cannot learn, and that children who are not learning but failing at school will stay away from school. I think the Minister said that, by 2025, 50% of schools would have good mental health support, but I cannot see 50% as being enough. Can the Minister comment?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I think we have to be careful: without question, mental health and anxiety have increased from the pandemic and the disruption that children experienced but, equally, a prolonged period of absence is also likely to heighten a child’s anxiety about attending in the future. I say to the noble Baroness, and to the House, that there are schools doing remarkable things, particularly in relation to children on education, health and care plans and children with special educational needs. I was in two schools in Birmingham on Friday: Lea Forest primary and Four Dwellings secondary. Those schools have a remarkable attendance level, particularly for the vulnerable children to whom she refers.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton Portrait Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB)
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My Lords, I know that the Government have looked carefully at areas where there is deprivation. In the light of the questions we have already heard, have the Government made any correlation geographically between areas that are recognised as being disadvantaged, as opposed to other areas which are better off?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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Disadvantage has always been, and sadly continues to be, a major element in whether a child attends. However, we really need to look at those schools in areas of particular disadvantage or with particular challenges—for example, in coastal communities—to see which schools are beginning to break the back of this attendance and persistent absence challenge. We should listen and learn from them, which is where our attendance hubs come in. Those are schools which are having greater success in addressing attendance and sharing that insight with their neighbours.

Lord Sewell of Sanderstead Portrait Lord Sewell of Sanderstead (Con)
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My Lords, can my noble friend the Minister tell us about some of the data analysis that the ministry has managed to work on over the last few years and how that relates to school attendance?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for his question. The data that the department is now collecting daily from about 88% of schools in the country—we are shortly going to make that mandatory, so that it will be 100%—gives us a real opportunity to have a more granular insight. Understandably, and rightly, there is much emphasis and attention on children who are described as severely absent, who are missing more than 50% of school. However, about a third of children, nationally, have between 6% and 15% absence. That is around the persistence absence threshold, and focusing on those children could make a real difference not only to them but to their teachers, their parents and their peers at school.

Lord Bishop of Gloucester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Gloucester
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My Lords, when a parent goes into prison, no one is notified if they have a child. The charity Children Heard and Seen, which works with children who have a parent in prison, has shown that, with its support, those children’s attendance has significantly improved. Will the Government put in place a statutory mechanism to identify and support children with a parent in prison, as this would significantly reduce school absenteeism for those families?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am interested by the right reverend Prelate’s suggestion and the suggestion from the charity she refers to. One of the things I hear a lot in schools is the importance of a child feeling that they belong—the relationship they have with staff and their friends. I hope we would not need a statutory duty and that a school would know a child well enough, but if it would help, I am happy to meet with the charity and discuss this further.

Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top Portrait Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top (Lab)
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My Lords, I am somewhat concerned by the fact that we have now been talking about this fairly consistently for some time. In the north-east, the difference between now and pre-Covid is marked; there are many children with whom schools have now lost contact, but they are also enormously under pressure financially. There are circles to be joined, which schools and local authorities are finding incredibly difficult. There are still too many school exclusions, and the Government have not come down hard enough on places that are still excluding children, because then the perpetrators of bad things know where to find them and know where to pick them up. Will the Government seriously look much more at how they support those areas of disadvantage, where children look as if they are having their lives blighted for the next generation?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I think the essence of the noble Baroness’s question is about funding for schools; I remind her that funding for schools is the highest it has been in real terms per pupil in 2024-25. I am not saying there are not challenges, but there are also things every school can do that do not cost money that would mean more children were there, and we want to support them to be able to do that.

Gender Equality

Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:27
Asked by
Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns
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To ask His Majesty’s Government, further to the White Paper International Development in a contested world published in November 2023 (CP 975), what steps they are taking to achieve gender equality and the autonomy of all women and girls by 2030.

Lord Benyon Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, and Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Benyon) (Con)
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My Lords, our White Paper sets the course for transformative change, including countering efforts to roll back women’s and girls’ rights. It builds on our new International Women and Girls Strategy, which commits to educating girls, empowering women and girls and ending gender-based violence. Evidence shows that these are the areas of greatest need. To deliver our ambition, we will ensure that at least 80% of FCDO’s bilateral ODA spend has a focus on gender equality by 2030.

Baroness Anelay of St Johns Portrait Baroness Anelay of St Johns (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome the Government’s commitment to work with new partners to counteract the rollback that certainly has happened globally on women’s and children’s rights. Can my noble friend inform the House who the new partners are, and what the proven solutions referred to in the White Paper are? Will they help, for example, women and girls most at risk in Afghanistan, where the Taliban’s inhumane policies mean that women and children there have no right to education, work and freedom of movement?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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My noble friend is absolutely right. Throughout the White Paper, a theme of trying to focus our development support on women’s and girls’ projects is justified by the fact that if you are doing the right thing for women and girls, you tend to be doing the right thing across the development piece. She is right that what is happening in Afghanistan is appalling. We have repeatedly condemned the Taliban’s decision to restrict the rights of women and girls, including through UN Security Council and Human Rights Council resolutions and public statements. The UK is committed to ensuring the delivery of humanitarian assistance in Afghanistan, including the continued participation of female aid workers and full access of women and girls to humanitarian services.

Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, unsustainably high fertility rates in sub-Saharan Africa—for example up to eight births per woman in Niger—lead to poverty, desertification, conflict and emigration and are surely unsustainable. I welcome the Government’s reply so far and ask the Minister to continue to ensure that the status of women is high in our priorities and that therefore, over time, this will lead to an easing of the pressures on population, particularly if we insist that women are educated for longer.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right and there are some stark statistics here. But the advantage from the global perspective is that every £1 spent on contraceptive services beyond the current level would save £3 on the cost of maternal, newborn and abortion care by reducing unintended pregnancies. Over 800 women or girls die every day due to pregnancy or childbirth complications and at least 200 million women and girls alive today, living in 31 countries, have undergone female genital mutilation. These are stark statistics and underpin the determination to address this area in our bilateral aid.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D'Souza (CB)
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My Lords, the reality is that in many areas, the Taliban’s policies are deeply antithetical to women. However, there are also persistent efforts on the part of Afghans themselves, with support from external NGOs, to evade some of the most extreme policies. I know that the Minister is sympathetic to the plight of Afghan women and girls, but can he confirm both political and financial support for the cluster education schemes that are now spreading rapidly in Afghanistan?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises an area of human courage that is almost impossible to imagine—people are defying the repulsive acts of this regime by providing education in sometimes very dangerous situations. We will look at anything that helps those groups of people. Of course, she understands the difficulties we face: we cannot take action other than multilaterally and through UN resolutions, but if we can find a way of supporting those groups, we certainly will.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, today is the International Day of Education and I agree with the Minister that education is critical to securing equality by the target date of 2030. Does he agree that it is concerning that access to education for girls, and for disabled children in particular, is getting worse? UNICEF has set an international benchmark for donor countries of 15% of their ODA being allocated to education. The UK had been at 5%; it has now fallen to 3%, putting us 22nd among donor countries. Will the Government look again at this to ensure that we are moving up to the benchmark rather than down from it?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Many of these areas will be taken into such programmes by our drive to achieve the 80% figure by 2030. A child whose mother can read is 50% more likely to live beyond the age of five —that is an extraordinary statistic—and girls living in conflict area states are almost 2.5 times more likely to be out of primary school and 90% more likely to miss secondary schooling, compared to those who live in more stable countries. We have to make sure that we are taking action now that means that future generations in these countries will have more of a chance. We know that that chance will be improved to a massive degree by education.

Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee Portrait Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, one of the most important ways to ensure that we move to equality internationally is to enable more females to become involved in public life. Will the Minister outline how we in the UK can use soft power, particularly in places such as west Africa, to ensure that more females are coming into public life, particularly peacemaking, because that is really important.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am throwing statistics around today, but it is interesting to see that peace agreements are 35% more likely to last if women are involved in the process. We are doing a great deal in this area. The Westminster Foundation for Democracy’s programme, sponsored by the FCDO, helped to embed gender analysis throughout all aspects of parliamentary business, support women’s political leadership and end violence against women in politics. We are giving substantial sums to a variety of organisations to ensure that we are supporting women in public life and that their contribution can feed through to a lasting peace in areas where there is instability, providing a more stable community around the world.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I return to a subject that I have raised on numerous occasions, including with the Minister: malnutrition and nutrition. He mentioned childbirth complications, and it is clear that girls and women are disproportionately impacted by malnutrition, which affects future generations and impacts on a lot of the SDGs. This Government committed at the last Nutrition for Growth summit to follow the OECD nutrition policy marker so that we can assess the impact of our interventions, particularly on women and girls. When will we hear that that has been implemented, and see how much we are spending on nutrition-sensitive policies?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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We are determined that there should be transparency throughout the drive towards hitting the target of 80% of our programmes being focused on such areas. That is why we are working with the OECD through its Development Assistance Committee gender equality markers, which rate the bilateral programmes as significant or principal, so that this House or anyone else can identify the value of these programmes and where they are going. The nutrition summit at the end of last year was an enormous success in bringing together a great many countries, organisations, faith-based bodies and civil society to make sure that nutrition issues are written into our development aid programmes.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean Portrait Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean (Lab)
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My Lords, it is not only women but men, is it not, who need to be educated on and helped with contraception? When I dealt with these issues a few years ago, I talked to a woman who was under 30, who had nine children. I told her about the importance everyone attaches to contraception, but she said with tears in her eyes that her husband would not let her use it. In many parts of the world, the men need educating on the importance of contraception quite as much as the women.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, and when we talk about the focus of our aid being on trying to increase the amount for women and girls, it is vital that we address that fundamental, often cultural difficulty. I take the point she has made. It is incumbent on us to make sure, working with our partners, that the large amounts of funds that flow to medical bodies such as Gavi are focused on tackling that fundamental part of the human relationship that causes so much difficulty.

Alan Bates and Others v Post Office Limited

Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:38
Asked by
Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka
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To ask His Majesty’s Government, following the December 2019 High Court judgment in the case of Alan Bates and Others v Post Office Limited, how many Post Office directors have been charged for breach of statutory duties under the Companies Act 2006, or for conspiracy to pervert justice.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business and Trade and Scotland Office (Lord Offord of Garvel) (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his Question. I can confirm that no prosecutions have been brought against Post Office directors to date. The Horizon inquiry will establish the facts of what went wrong. It would be wrong to take action before we have all the evidence. Punishing people without looking at all the evidence first is how this scandal started. We should not repeat that error.

Lord Sikka Portrait Lord Sikka (Lab)
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My Lords, I remind the Minister that the Government have the sole responsibility for law enforcement. It is no good saying that they are relying on some committee to turn up evidence; they have had 49 months, and in that time little has happened. The Government need to take steps to charge people for violation of the Companies Act, false accounting, lying under oath and conspiracy. After six years, they have not even yet managed to deal with the directors of Carillion. That does not inspire much confidence that they will be able to deal with the Post Office directors. The whole thing is being kicked into the next decade. Rather than hiding behind this inquiry, will the Minister now publish a schedule showing a timetable for the Government’s actions?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for that. I know that there is a lot of frustration in this House and the other place on the timelines. This has been going on for a very long time—almost one generation. However, we have been very clear that we have to separate the two elements of this sad story. The immediate action we are taking is to overturn convictions and give compensation. We then come to accountability. A statutory inquiry is in place, and it will look at all the facts of the matter. At that point, a cascade of actions will be taken by the various bodies concerned. We need to understand the role of directors, the ministerial oversight and the role of Fujitsu and the auditor, EY. All that will be done once the facts are established and the Williams commission has reported.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, that is all very well and good, but is it not obvious that there was a catastrophic failure of governance on the part of the Post Office? This is a government-owned business. It is inconceivable that the board did not read the newspapers and was not aware of this. The Post Office is still operating. Should there not at least be a review of the standards of governance on that board?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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The Post Office is publicly owned and set up as a limited company with a sole shareholder, which is the Government. Its governance is as an arm’s-length body with its own board, where the Government have a shareholder representative. It is clear that, over the years, not enough inquiry was made—particularly by non-executive directors—about what was going on. Why was it not asked why, pre-Horizon, prosecutions were between five and 10 per annum and then moved to between 80 and 100 per annum? The question is obvious: what happened here? As a High Court judge said at the 2019 appeal, the faith in the Horizon system was the modern-day

“equivalent of maintaining that the earth is flat”.

There has been a massive failure of corporate governance. Once we have the outcome of the inquiry, steps will be taken to make improvements to ensure this will not happen again.

Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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My Lords, is it sensible for the Post Office to even continue in business as presently constituted? Is it not now a totally and irredeemably toxic brand? I personally would not trust the Post Office if it told me that today is Wednesday. As well as holding individuals to account, as owners, should the Government not look at a fresh start with a new brand, new leadership and a new business model incorporating the appropriate ethical principles?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble and gallant Lord. That is exactly what the outcome will be. No prosecutions have been brought since 2015. The board has been reconstituted. There is a new chief executive, a new Postal Minister and new oversight. I take issue with the view that the Post Office brand is irredeemably damaged, because I believe the Post Office brand is based on the 11,500 postmasters and, if anything, their reputation has been enhanced by this. The reputations that have been damaged are those of management, directors and perhaps Ministers.

Baroness Butler-Sloss Portrait Baroness Butler-Sloss (CB)
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My Lords, did the shareholder member of the board report to government what was happening? The board must have known about the faults of Fujitsu. If that shareholder member did not, has government asked why?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble and learned Baroness. This is exactly the issue we need to get to the bottom of. It goes back over a large number of years. We will be going back through files, ministerial appointments and meeting notes to find out exactly what notice was given and when. A ridiculous level of faith was given to the Horizon computer. Fujitsu has acknowledged culpability in this matter. Once the Williams report establishes the facts, we will be able to take necessary action to hold people accountable.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, to date, all the talk has been around what happened to sub-postmasters, but we should remember that Horizon was being used in the Crown offices, the branches that Post Office Ltd managed, so it would have seen the shortcomings of this system through its own management. It is not just a question of having to read the papers, as the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, said; it was happening to its own businesses, and it was covering it up. Is this not further evidence that things should be done now, rather than waiting for some far judgment?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. The Horizon system has been upgraded—and upgraded again since 2017—and we now have a reasonable audit that it is now working satisfactorily. It will now be further replaced by a cloud system that will run alongside the current system, so I think there is now a feeling that there is efficacy in that system. What the noble Lord refers to is why there was an unshakeable belief in the computer system that went on for so long. We need to understand exactly how that happened, what the role of Fujitsu was in that, whether this was corporate malfeasance or the role of one or two individual bad actors, et cetera. We need to get to the bottom of that, and that is what the Williams inquiry will do.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, the reference my noble friend Lord Sikka made to the comparative inaction in respect to the directors of Carillion is but one of a number of scandals of which the Post Office Horizon scandal is the latest. It is another example of how poorly equipped the UK is to deal with corporate abuses.

Let us look across the Atlantic to New York. At the instance of Manhattan’s District Attorney, 17 of the Trump Organization’s many corporations were convicted of criminal offences, including tax fraud. Its chief financial officer pleaded guilty, was fined the maximum in compensation, and went to jail for five months. Now, the Attorney General of New York is asking a court to ban Trump and his three eldest children from ever running a corporate business in New York again, and to fine them $250 million. Can the Minister point me to any similar type of prosecution in this country, or tell me how that could ever happen here? I believe it could not.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for that question. The Financial Reporting Council is the UK body that deals with accounting failures. It had a considerable review following the failure of Carillion and British Home Stores—the Sir John Kingman review in 2018. A number of Carillion’s previous directors have been disqualified and other cases are still under way. The FRC is now much more effective as an audit regulator—it has had a change of personnel, and the relationship between the FRC and the audit companies has been removed at further arm’s length. There is still a long way to go, but the FRC is now in a position to take more stringent action.

Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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My Lords, this is not a new question. Noble Lords from across your Lordships’ House have been asking it, and I first raised it in 2019 after the court case. As a sole shareholder, His Majesty’s Government have both a right and a responsibility, so I take the Minister back to those original questions. What are we going to do to hold to account the board members who failed in their Companies House and directors’ duties when the Williams report comes?

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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The noble Lord is right to say that it is for the members of a company to take action against directors who have breached their statutory duties. In this case, the sole shareholder is the Government. Therefore, once the inquiry has finished, the Government will be in a position to take action specifically against any directors who have failed in their duties.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

1st reading
Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2024 View all Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2024 Debates Read Hansard Text
First Reading
15:48
The Bill was brought from the Commons and read a first time.

Business of the House

Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion on Standing Orders
15:49
Moved by
Lord True Portrait Lord True
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That, in the event of the Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill having been brought from the House of Commons, Standing Order 44 (No two stages of a Bill to be taken on one day) be dispensed with today to enable the Bill to be taken through its remaining stages and that, in accordance with Standing Order 47 (Amendments on Third Reading), amendments shall not be moved on Third Reading.

Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, it may assist the House if I set out how the proceedings this afternoon are expected to run. Attentive Members of the House will have noticed that the Bill arrived from the House of Commons very recently. We will, therefore, commence Second Reading after the repeat of the Prime Minister’s Statement, which will follow shortly.

After Second Reading, Members will have a further 30 minutes to table amendments and should contact the Public Bill Office should they wish to do so. Once the time for tabling is over, if there are no amendments, the House will return, and I expect all further stages of the Bill to be taken formally. The House will then proceed to Committee on the Victims and Prisoners Bill. If there are amendments to the Bill, they will be debated in the Committee and arrangements for that will be advertised on the annunciator.

Motion agreed.

Built Environment Committee

Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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House of Lords Commission
Communications and Digital Committee
Constitution Committee
Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee
Economic Affairs Committee
Environment and Climate Change Committee
European Affairs Committee
Finance Committee
Financial Services Regulation Committee
Joint Committee on Human Rights
Industry and Regulators Committee
International Agreements Committee
International Relations and Defence Committee
Justice and Home Affairs Committee
Liaison Committee
Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy
Procedure and Privileges Committee
Public Services Committee
Restoration and Renewal Programme Board
Science and Technology Committee
Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
Committee of Selection
Services Committee
Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
Food, Diet and Obesity Committee
Modern Slavery Act 2015 Committee
Preterm Birth Committee
Statutory Inquiries Committee
Special Public Bill Committee (Arbitration Bill)
Membership Motions
15:50
Moved by
Built Environment Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Baroness Andrews, Lord Bailey of Paddington, Viscount Hanworth, Baroness Janke, Lord Mair and Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Berkeley, Lord Best, Lord Carrington of Fulham, Baroness Cohen of Pimlico, Earl Russell and Baroness Thornhill.
House of Lords Commission
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord McLoughlin, Lord Morse and Baroness Scott of Needham Market be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord German, Lord Hill of Oareford and Lord Vaux of Harrowden.
Communications and Digital Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Dunlop, Lord Knight of Weymouth, Lord McNally, Baroness Primarolo and Lord Storey be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Featherstone, Lord Foster of Bath, Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie, Lord Griffiths of Burry Port and Lord Lipsey.
Constitution Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Beith, Lord Burnett of Maldon and Baroness Goldie be appointed members in place of Lord Hope of Craighead, Lord Mancroft and Baroness Suttie.
Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Baroness Chakrabarti and Baroness Finlay of Llandaff be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Hendy and Lord Janvrin.
Economic Affairs Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Burns, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, Lord Razzall and Baroness Wolf of Dulwich be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord King of Lothbury, Baroness Kramer and Baroness Noakes.
Environment and Climate Change Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Frost, Lord Giddens, the Earl of Leicester, Lord Ravensdale, Earl Russell, Baroness Sheehan, Lord Trees and Baroness Whitaker be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Boycott, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, Lord Lilley, Lord Lucas, Baroness Parminter, Lord Whitty and Baroness Young of Old Scone; and that Baroness Sheehan be appointed Chair of the Select Committee.
European Affairs Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Baroness Ashton of Upholland, Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, Lord Jackson of Peterborough, Baroness Lawlor and Lord Stirrup be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Hannay of Chiswick, Lord Lamont of Lerwick, Lord Liddle, Viscount Trenchard and Lord Wood of Anfield.
Finance Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Baroness Buscombe, Baroness Goudie, Lord Morse, Lord Redesdale and Lord Young of Old Windsor be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Altrincham, Lord Davies of Brixton, Lord Lee of Trafford, Lord Levene of Portsoken and Lord Vaux of Harrowden; and that Lord Morse be appointed Chair of the Select Committee.
Financial Services Regulation Committee
That a committee be appointed to consider the regulation of financial services, including consultations notified to it under:
a) paragraphs 28 and 29 of Schedule 1ZA to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000,
b) paragraphs 36 and 27 of Schedule 1ZB to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000,
c) paragraph 33B of Schedule 17A to the Financial Services and Markets Act 2000, and
d) paragraphs 14A and 14B of Schedule 4 to the Financial Services (Banking Reform) Act 2013;
and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
Bowles of Berkhamsted, B, Donaghy, B, Eatwell, L, Forsyth of Drumlean, L, (Chair) Grabiner, L, Hill of Oareford, L, Hollick, L, Kestenbaum, L, Lilley, L, Noakes, B, Sharkey, L, Smith of Kelvin, L, Vaux of Harrowden, L.
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;
That the Committee have leave to report from time to time;
That the reports of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.
Joint Committee on Human Rights
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Murray of Blidworth be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Henley.
Industry and Regulators Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Altrincham, Baroness Armstrong of Hill Top, Lord Best, Viscount Thurso and Viscount Trenchard be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Bowles of Berkhamsted, Lord Burns, Lord Hollick, Baroness McGregor-Smith and Lord Reay; and that Baroness Taylor of Bolton be appointed Chair of the Select Committee.
International Agreements Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Anderson of Swansea, Lord Boateng, Lord German and Lord Hannay of Chiswick be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, Lord Razzall and Lord Watts.
International Relations and Defence Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Alderdice, Lord Bruce of Bennachie, Baroness Crawley, Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie, Lord Grocott and Lord Houghton of Richmond be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Anderson of Swansea, Lord Boateng, Lord Campbell of Pittenweem, Lord Stirrup, Baroness Sugg and Lord Teverson.
Justice and Home Affairs Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Berkeley, Baroness Buscombe, Lord Dubs, Lord Foster of Bath, Lord Henley and Lord Tope be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Beith, Lord Blunkett, Baroness Chakrabarti, Baroness Hamwee, Baroness Sanderson of Welton and Baroness Shackleton of Belgravia; and that Lord Foster of Bath be appointed Chair of the Select Committee.
Liaison Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Baroness Garden of Frognal be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Scott of Needham Market.
Joint Committee on the National Security Strategy
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Browne of Ladyton and Baroness Tyler of Enfield be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Reid of Cardowan and Lord Strasburger.
Procedure and Privileges Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Haskel, Lord Lisvane and Baroness Pitkeathley be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Butler-Sloss, Lord Faulkner of Worcester and Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall; and that Lord Goddard of Stockport be appointed an alternate member of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Alderdice.
Public Services Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Mott be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness Bertin.
Restoration and Renewal Programme Board
That, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, this House appoints Lord Vaux of Harrowden as a member of the Restoration and Renewal Programme Board, in place of Lord Morse.
Science and Technology Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Drayson, Lord Lucas, Lord Strasburger, Baroness Willis of Summertown and Baroness Young of Old Scone be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Viscount Hanworth, Lord Holmes of Richmond, Lord Krebs, Lord Sharkey and Lord Winston.
Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Watson of Wyre Forest be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Hutton of Furness.
Committee of Selection
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Geddes be appointed a member of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Smith of Hindhead.
Services Committee
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Faulkner of Worcester, Lord Hogan-Howe and Baroness Stedman-Scott be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Lord Clark of Windermere, Baroness Deech and Lord Haselhurst.
Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, with effect from Wednesday 31 January, Lord Haselhurst and Lord Meston be appointed members of the Select Committee, in place of Baroness D’Souza and Lord Smith of Hindhead.
Food, Diet and Obesity Committee
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the role of foods, such as “ultra-processed foods”, and foods high in fat, salt and sugar, in a healthy diet and tackling obesity, and to make recommendations; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
Boycott, B, Brooke of Alverthorpe, L, Browning, B, Caithness, E, Colgrain, L, Goudie, B, Jenkin of Kennington, B, Krebs, L, Pitkeathley, B, Ritchie of Downpatrick, B, Suttie, B, Walmsley, B, (Chair)
That the Committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;
That the Committee do report by 30 November 2024;
That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.
Modern Slavery Act 2015 Committee
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the Modern Slavery Act 2015, and to make recommendations; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
Barker, B, Bristol, Bp, Butler-Sloss, B, Hamwee, B, Henig, B, Hope of Craighead, L, Kempsell, L, Randall of Uxbridge, L, Shephard of Northwold, B, Smith of Hindhead, L, Watson of Invergowrie, L, Watts, L, Whitty, L.
That the Committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;
That the Committee do report by 30 November 2024;
That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.
Preterm Birth Committee
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the prevention, and consequences, of preterm birth, and to make recommendations; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
Colville of Culross, V, Cumberlege, B, Hampton, L, Owen of Alderley Edge, B, Patel, L, (Chair) Seccombe, B, Thornhill, B, Watkins of Tavistock, B, Winston, L, Wyld, B.
That the Committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;
That the Committee do report by 30 November 2024;
That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.
Statutory Inquiries Committee
That a Select Committee be appointed to consider the efficacy of the law and practice relating to statutory inquiries under the Inquiries Act 2005, and to make recommendations; and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following members be appointed to the Committee:
Aberdare, L, Addington, L, Berridge, B, Chakrabarti, B, Davidson of Glen Clova, L, D’Souza, B, Faulks, L, Grantchester, L, Hendy, L, Norton of Louth, L, (Chair) Sanderson of Welton, B, Wallace of Tankerness, L.
That the Committee have the power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the Committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;
That the Committee have power to meet outside Westminster;
That the Committee do report by 30 November 2024;
That the report of the Committee be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House; and
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.
Special Public Bill Committee (Arbitration Bill)
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be appointed to the Special Public Bill Committee on the Arbitration Bill [HL]:
Bellamy, L, Hacking, L, Haselhurst, L, Marks of Henley-on-Thames, L, Ponsonby of Shulbrede, L, Roborough, L, Sandhurst, L, Smith of Hindhead, L, Thomas of Cwmgiedd, L. (Chair)
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records; and
That the evidence taken by the Committee be published, if the Committee so wishes.
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Senior Deputy Speaker (Lord Gardiner of Kimble)
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My Lords, the Committee of Selection met last week. These 30 Motions give effect to the rotation rule, which is applied each January to secure a regular turnover of Select Committee membership. I wish to thank those Members who are rotating off committees for their service and to welcome those noble Lords who will be joining the hard-working committees of the House.

There are also Motions to appoint the 2024 special inquiry committees and to give effect to the decision of the House to appoint a new Select Committee on financial services regulation. Your Lordships will note that, while the appointments of the new special inquiry committees and the Financial Services Regulation Committee are effective from today, the Motions to appoint new members to the sessional committees will take effect from Wednesday 31 January. This will allow the special inquiry committees to meet as soon as possible, which I hope will prove useful in the event of their work being disrupted by a general election at some point later this year.

I know that a number of the sessional committees still have work to complete; the prospective Motions give them the time to do so with their existing memberships. The difference of approach is for the convenience of all committees. I beg to move.

Motions agreed.

Iran (Sanctions) Regulations 2023

Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 4) Regulations 2023
Russia (Sanctions) (EU Exit) (Amendment) (No. 5) Regulations 2023
Motions to Agree
15:52
Moved by
Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

That the Regulations laid before the House on 13 and 14 December 2023 be approved.

Relevant document: 8th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 23 January.

Motions agreed.

Action Against Houthi Maritime Attacks

Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Statement
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Tuesday 23 January.
“Overnight, at my order, the Royal Air Force engaged in a second wave of strikes against Houthi military targets in Yemen. We did so because we continue to see, for instance in intelligence, an ongoing and imminent threat from the Houthis to UK commercial and military vessels and to those of our partners in the Red Sea and the wider region.
I told the House last week that we would not hesitate to respond if the acts continued, in order to protect innocent lives and preserve the freedom of navigation, and that is what we have done. We acted alongside the United States, with support from Australia, Bahrain, Canada and the Netherlands. We acted on the same basis as on 11 January—fully in line with international law, in self-defence and in response to a persistent threat—and, and as with the first wave, the strikes were limited to carefully selected targets, with maximum care taken to protect civilian lives.
Attempting to counter every Houthi attack after it has been launched is simply not sustainable. We have already shot down dozens of missiles and drones targeted at civilian vessels and at the Royal Navy, and the Houthis have conducted at least 12 further attacks on shipping since 11 January, including just last night, shortly before our strikes were conducted. So we acted to further degrade their ability to mount such attacks.
Last week I gave the House our initial assessment of the first wave of strikes. Since then, we have seen further evidence that they were successful in degrading the Houthis’ military capability. Last night, we hit two military sites just north of Sana’a, each containing multiple specific targets which the Houthis used to support their attacks on shipping.
I want to be very clear: we are not seeking a confrontation. We urge the Houthis, and those who enable them, to stop these illegal and unacceptable attacks. But, if necessary, the United Kingdom will not hesitate to respond again in self-defence. We cannot stand by and allow these attacks to go unchallenged. Inaction is also a choice. With that in mind, and given the persistent nature of the threat, it was important to update the House again today. I listened carefully to right honourable and honourable Members last week, and we will give the House a chance for a full debate on our broader approach in the Red Sea tomorrow.
We took extensive steps to address this threat to international security before taking military action. We launched Operation Prosperity Guardian in December, with over 20 other countries. The international community issued repeated statements on 1 December, 19 December, 3 January and 12 January condemning the attacks and urging the Houthis to desist. On 10 January, the United Nations Security Council passed a resolution demanding that they stop the attacks. I think it is important to note that the internationally recognised Government of Yemen have also condemned the Houthis for their actions, accusing them of
‘creating a conflict for propaganda’
serving only their own selfish ends.
As we saw in the House last week, Members are rightly keen to hear how this situation can be brought to an end. The answer must include the vital right to self-defence when we are attacked, but that is only one part of our wider response, which I want to say more about today. First, we are increasing our diplomatic engagement, because we recognise the deep concerns about, and the complexities of, the current situation. I spoke to President Biden about these issues last night. The Foreign Secretary will be in the region in the coming days, and he met his Iranian counterpart last week. He made it clear that they must cease supplying the Houthis with weapons and intelligence and use their influence to stop Houthi attacks.
Secondly, we must end the illegal flow of arms to the Houthi militia. We have intercepted weapons shipments in the region before, including components of the very missiles used by the Houthis today. This brings home the importance of maritime security in the region, and it includes working closely with our allies and partners to disrupt and deter the supply of weapons and components.
Thirdly, we will use the most effective means at our disposal to cut off the Houthis’ financial resources, where they are used to fund these attacks. We are working closely with the US on this and plan to announce new sanctions measures in the coming days.
Fourthly, we need to keep helping the people of Yemen, who have suffered so terribly as a result of the country’s civil war. We will continue to deliver humanitarian aid and to support a negotiated peace in that conflict, not just because it is the right thing to do but because we need to show the people of Yemen that we have no quarrel with them—as the Yemeni Government understand. This is our strategy and we will keep all other tools under close review as well.
I repeat that there is no link between our actions of self-defence in the Red Sea and the situation in Israel and Gaza. Those who make that link do the Houthis’ work for them, and I want to be clear that those here at home who glorify the Houthis’ attacks are glorifying terrorism, plain and simple. They will be met with a zero-tolerance approach. All of that said, I would like to address the situation in Israel and Gaza directly because it remains at the forefront of Members’ minds. President Biden and I discussed this again yesterday and he shares my deep concerns about the situation and the terrible suffering and loss of civilian lives, so together we are working to establish a new aid route through the port of Ashdod.
The UK wants to see an end to the fighting in Gaza as soon as possible. We are calling for an immediate humanitarian pause to get aid in and hostages out, as a vital step towards building a sustainable, permanent ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life. To achieve that, Hamas must agree to the release of all hostages. It can no longer be in charge of Gaza. The threat from Hamas terror and rocket attacks must end, and an agreement must be in place for the Palestinian Authority to return to Gaza to provide governance, services and security. That pathway to peace should unite the whole House. I believe we are also united in support of a two-state solution.
Through all the complexity of the current situation, our principles hold firm: resolute in the face of threats, compassionate in support of those in need, and determined in maintaining stability, security and the rule of law. That is what our allies and partners have come to expect from the United Kingdom, and that is what we stand for.
I commend this Statement to the House”.
15:52
Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, the principles set out in this Statement are similar if not identical to those in last week’s Statement. Perhaps that is why noble Lords are leaving—they knew that they would be much the same.

The issues are similar, but they are also absolutely crucial. All efforts must be made to resolve this issue by diplomatic means; where military action must be taken within international law, it should be targeted and proportionate; and there is a need to ensure ongoing international support and co-operation. As we have said, any potential further action should be judged on a case-by-case basis. So, in the light of Houthi attacks continuing in the Red Sea and the intelligence regarding their ongoing military capacity, we back the military action taken on this occasion. We support the ongoing diplomatic engagement as well as the principles of sanctions that were outlined in the Statement.

The Houthi Red Sea attacks are a danger to civilian shipping and a danger to life, and they bring serious economic risks, particularly to the poorest and the most vulnerable. The attacks are unacceptable and unjustified, and there is a clear imperative to protect those waters for international shipping. Again, the professionalism, commitment and bravery of our Armed Forces, both in defending commercial shipping and in the military response, are impressive and commendable, despite the pressures they face. They are so often the best of us, and we are grateful for their service.

In his Statement last week, the Prime Minister seemed optimistic that there were unlikely to be further military strikes because of the success of the operation. I appreciate that, following the attack on Houthi military sites, any assessment of the remaining capability is not immediate, and intelligence about a range of issues has to be taken into account, including any flow of resources to the Houthis. Last week, I asked the Lord Privy Seal for more information on the strategic objectives of the military response and to confirm whether the objective was to degrade or destroy the capability to launch attacks on international shipping. He confirmed that the strategy was

“to ensure and maintain the principle of free and open navigation”.—[Official Report, 15/1/24; col. 272.]

We concur with this.

However, when reporting on the UK-US military action, the Prime Minister used the term “eliminated” regarding the identified targets. Yet the Houthi attacks have continued, so we know that they retain capability. We agree with the strategic aims, as set out by the Government and the noble Lord, but it would be helpful for your Lordships’ House to understand how effective our military strikes have been in achieving these. So can the Lord Privy Seal say something about when he will be able to share any further information about the Houthis’ military capacity following this week’s action?

More broadly, the avoidance of any escalation across the Middle East obviously remains a primary objective, and collaboration with the international coalition is absolutely vital. We share the Government’s rejection of Houthi claims that their action in attacking international shipping can be justified in any way by the conflict in Gaza. There is no benefit to the Palestinian people, who desperately need a sustained and effective ceasefire and urgent humanitarian aid and support. We continue to urge the release of all hostages. The only way forward for a just and lasting peace is a secure Israel alongside a viable and secure Palestinian state. A sustainable ceasefire and humanitarian truce are needed, first, to allow the return of all hostages and the provision of urgent humanitarian relief, but also to enable progress to be made towards a two-state solution. Israel existing alongside Palestine is the only path to a just and lasting peace in the region.

We welcome that the Foreign Secretary is visiting the region today. Given the desperate need for increased humanitarian support and a path towards peace, I hope he will make a Statement to your Lordships’ House on his return, and I hope the Lord Privy Seal can confirm or give further information on that.

Finally, and crucially, the Prime Minister’s Statement set out the continuing humanitarian aid and diplomatic support to the people of Yemen. We agree and would welcome any further information from the Lord Privy Seal about what specific steps are being taken towards these ends. The people of Yemen have suffered civil war for almost 10 years, and any recent efforts to bring stability to the country risk being undermined by opportunistic action from those who would seek to encourage further conflict.

Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Leader for answering questions on this Statement. It is useful to have this debate, although, as the noble Baroness said, large parts of the Statement are almost verbatim what the Prime Minister said last week. I will therefore repeat what I said last week: these Benches support the proportionate military action taken against the Houthi aggression and salute the professionalism and courage of the RAF personnel involved in the raids.

The Statement illuminates the complexities of the situation in the Red Sea and the region as a whole. I hope the noble Lord will find space in government time for a proper debate on this issue, as it is very difficult for noble Lords—other than the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and I—to engage with such a complicated issue via a single question. I believe that such a debate is happening in the Commons today; I hope we can have one in your Lordships’ House in the very near future.

The Statement says that the UK’s diplomatic efforts are being increased and that the Foreign Secretary spoke to his Iranian counterpart last week. This is extremely welcome, but it leaves us in the dark about the Iranian response to our requests for a cessation of arms supply to the Houthis. Did the Foreign Secretary feel that he had made any progress with Iran? What happens next in our engagement with it?

Next, the Prime Minister says that he plans to

“end the illegal flow of arms”

to the Houthis. How is this to be achieved? How many naval vessels have we deployed to intercept these flows and what other navies are supplying vessels for this purpose?

On sanctions, what estimate has been made of the use by the Houthis of western financial institutions to channel resources for buying weapons? Do we have the ability to freeze or cut off these resources? Which other countries, beyond the UK and the US, would need to do so for any sanctions to be effective? On humanitarian aid to Yemen, I pointed out last week that our current level of aid can feed only a small fraction of the children currently wholly dependent on it for their food. Have we any plans to increase our humanitarian aid, given the scale of the need?

The Prime Minister repeats his assertion of last week that there is no link between our actions of self-defence in the Red Sea and the situation in Israel and Gaza. This may in a limited sense be technically correct, but the Government cannot credibly argue that the Houthi attacks have nothing to do with what is happening in Gaza. It is noteworthy and worrying that this very link is increasing the popularity of the Houthis, not just in the areas they control but across the whole of Yemen. It is therefore only appropriate that the Statement proceeds as if they are linked and sets out the latest UK position on the Gaza conflict as a whole.

It is welcome that the Government are working to establish a new aid route through the port of Ashdod, and for a humanitarian pause, but progress is, to put it politely, very slow. In the meantime, thousands more men, women and children are being indiscriminately killed in Gaza. There have been reports in recent days about a possible new deal on the hostages which would lead to a pause in hostilities, and there appears to be an Arab-led initiative that would see Palestinian control of Gaza without Hamas involvement, alongside concrete moves towards a two-state solution. Predictably, this initiative has been rebuffed by the Israeli Prime Minister, but can the noble Lord give any indication of the UK’s involvement in this move and the extent to which the Foreign Secretary will feel able to put pressure on the Israeli Government to respond more positively towards it?

The situation in the Red Sea and in Gaza remains extremely volatile and dangerous. The Government need to continue to act with both determination and care. It is also important that they do so with the united support of Parliament, so I hope that we will continue to have further regular updates on what is happening in this most troubled region.

Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful for the remarks of the noble Baroness and the noble Lord. Following on from what the noble Lord said, I understand that there is a high degree of concern and interest in these matters in your Lordships’ House and outside it. The Government’s accountability to Parliament takes place partly here and partly in the House of Commons; the House of Commons is debating matters relating to the Red Sea and on Friday we will debate the situation in Ukraine, which is not being debated in the other House. That does not absolve either House from being concerned about both things, but the Government are aware of their responsibility to keep both Houses informed on these matters. We will reflect through the usual channels on what the noble Lord and the noble Baroness have said.

Of course, I am very grateful for the considered support that has been given from the Benches opposite. When there are matters of conflict and matters in which people’s lives and livelihoods are in peril, whoever and wherever they are, it is right that not only support but action should be considered, commensurate with the problems seen. I assure the House that this is very much the attitude of His Majesty’s Government. We feel fortified in that by comments opposite. I very much welcome—and I know that the Armed Forces would welcome—the comments by the noble Baroness opposite about those members of our Armed Forces involved.

I do not think the Government have ever claimed that this defensive action to defend freedom of navigation—so far as we can and intend to—was going to be resolved by the first strike. In response to this gross violation of international law by the Houthis, which is threatening humanitarian aid, among other things, the Government are seeking to degrade the Houthis’ ability to carry out their dangerous and illegal attacks. Our assessment of the first round of attacks was that they were successful and had that impact. Obviously, we are currently assessing—and, as those who have been involved in these matters will know, it takes time to accurately assess. In the present light of knowledge, it is our belief that the actions undertaken by His Majesty’s Armed Forces were successful in their objectives and have hopefully degraded further the Houthi capacity.

Since the first round of strikes, the Houthis have conducted 12 further attacks on international shipping. I am not going to come to this Dispatch Box and say that there will not be more, but I think we are agreed across the House that it is vital to take a realistic, proportionate and legal response to this—the legal case has been set out.

The noble Baroness asked about strategy, quite legitimately. These matters have to be very carefully thought through. I can tell the House that it is not isolated, individual action; there is a coalition of nations involved in the operation in the Red Sea, Operation Prosperity Guardian. As was repeated in the Statement, a number of nations have been involved in this latest action. We will continue to keep our posture under review, alongside our allies. The House will forgive me if I do not speculate on any further specific action, but we will not hesitate to ensure the security and safety of the British people, our interests and our assets. Strikes are one tool we have used in order to do this. They work alongside the deterrence and defence work in Operation Prosperity Guardian and importantly, as noble Lords opposite so rightly said, the diplomatic pressure we are seeking to apply bilaterally and in forums such as the UN.

Again, I do not wish to go into specifics, but there is work going on by the international coalition to seek to prevent weapons smuggling, and weapon parts have certainly been intercepted in these circumstances. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary, who was sitting here last week when we had the Statement, is not able to be here, precisely because he is engaged on a new round of diplomatic activity of which a major part will be to try to encourage further movement towards perhaps opening a new route through Ashdod, as the Prime Minister said in the Statement. He is meeting the Israeli Prime Minister and, I believe, the Foreign Minister. He is also going on to meet other counterparties in the Middle East. I take note of what the noble Baroness said about coming back and I will take that away and consider that with my noble friend and others, in the general light of accountability to Parliament.

On escalation, the Government and their partners, including the United States, believe that we are confronted with, as I said, a grossly illegal breach of international law in the interception of shipping. What is escalatory is the Houthis’ attempt to interrupt lawful occasions on the sea by launching missiles and drones against not only commercial ships but UK and US warships. I think Noble Lords have said that they would expect— as I would—that military action was and is a last resort, and it will continue to be a late resort. We have provided warning after warning, and the Foreign Secretary has twice said to the Iranian Foreign Minister that he hopes very much that Iran will use its restraining influence—if that term is well understood there. The Iranian regime needs to be judged by its actions and by the actions of its dependants, which have not been encouraging so far.

The fundamental point remains that the Houthis have the ability to stop these attacks. If we did not take action, it would weaken international security and damage the global economy, including—as the noble Baroness opposite rightly said—some of the poorest people in the world, who suffer from the interruption of the movement of goods by sea. As I said on the Statement last week, I totally agree with her on that important point.

As far as sanctions are concerned, the Prime Minister said in his Statement that these matters are under consideration. I hope that, if action is taken, information will be given to Parliament.

As I said, the Foreign Secretary has humanitarian matters at the forefront of his mind during his current trip to the region. We have to recognise that the Houthis, by their actions, are making it much more difficult to do the things that we all want to do to get humanitarian aid into Yemen. On the Gaza conflict, which noble Lords alluded to, we are very much focused on the need to make humanitarian aid more substantial, more proximate and more open.

If I have not answered any questions, I apologise to the House. I will look very carefully at Hansard and reflect on the matters of further engagement with the House as we go forward.

16:12
Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, it is surely obvious to everyone—at least, I hope it is—that the Iranians are completely behind all these Houthi operations, with their advisers crawling all over northern Yemen and Sanaa. Indeed, some of their advisers may be actively helping to launch the rockets. It is pretty obvious that the motive is that they want to assert, against the opinion of the Saudis and others, that they are the top dogs in the region. I do not think they want escalation—otherwise, they would have given the green light to their Hezbollah friends, which they have not done—but they are very determined to show that they are the leaders in the axis of resistance, looking east.

In light of that, what moves does my noble friend suggest that we can take now to contribute more effectively? That could be either through stronger sanctions than those that came into action last December or by working in closer alliance with other powers in the Middle East. How can we build up and contribute to that kind of pressure and bring even more clearly to the attention of the world stage the fact that this is a murderous regime that is highly unstable internally and well in a position to be surrounded and not cowed to in any way?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, my noble friend quite rightly stresses the importance of the role of the Iranian Government and the Iranian regime. One must not forget that, looking at the whole span of human history back to ancient times, Iran has been a vital and greatly civilised place in the world, and it will always be a powerful force in that region, whatever the circumstances. However, it is incumbent on people who have authority, power and strength to use them with wisdom and for specific and constructive purposes. That is not, as my noble friend said, what the Iranian regime is doing at all; it is doing the reverse and is responsible for a lot of the instability in the region, including in relation to the Houthis. We have made it clear to Iran that we view it as bearing responsibility for the actions of these groups. We will continue to discuss with allies what the appropriate further actions on Iran may be.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, the Leader of the House is clearly right when he says that it is often difficult to assess the effectiveness of the kind of action that has taken place, although the Statement says that the first assessment of the wave of strikes that took place provides

“evidence that they were successful in degrading the Houthis’ military capability”.

Surely one other, perhaps more precise, measure of the effectiveness of any strikes would be the effect on traffic in the Red Sea and through the Suez Canal. Does the Leader of the House have any precise information about the effectiveness so far on the levels of shipping in that area?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the efforts that we are making with Prosperity Guardian are to seek to secure, so far as we may, the most secure and most effective situation for the movement of traffic by sea. The choice of where to travel in such circumstances is a matter for those who are operating vessels. It is the case that some vessels are diverting and some other vessels are not diverting. The noble Lord is quite right to say that these matters need to be kept under careful examination. We are doing that, and our allies are doing that. The end result we wish to see is that all people operating commercial shipping feel able to continue using these waters, rather than feeling that they have to divert around the Cape.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, in his Statements this week and last week, the Prime Minister suggested that it is wrong to accept that there is any relationship between what is happening in the Red Sea and what is happening in Israel/Gaza, and yet we have already heard from my noble friend Lord Newby and the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, that one of the key links between those two areas is Iran. What assessment have His Majesty’s Government made of the role of Iran in supporting Hamas, the Houthis and Hezbollah and of what response the United Kingdom can make? I may be a lone voice, but however persuasive the Foreign Secretary may be, conversations between him and the Government of Iran may not be sufficient to persuade the Government of Iran to take the decisions that we all need to bring about greater security in that region.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, it is a challenge. In the international world, people in different places make their calculations on different bases. The fundamental point that I have been trying to relay, and my right honourable friend the Prime Minister has been trying to relay, is that there is an issue which this country for centuries has been concerned about, which is ensuring freedom of navigation and freedom of movement and trade on the seas. That stands as an integral, vital, independent issue. Noble Lords have referred to the complex and dangerous tapestry of activity around the region and the role of Iran. I can only repeat, without going into specifics, that we have taken action against the Iranian proxies in Yemen, the Houthis. We are on due guard to make sure that we protect our interests in the region as a whole. The British Government do not favour war; it is not the first resort of the British Government to resort to military action, but I assure the noble Baroness that we are watching very carefully the role of the Iranian Government and that they know they are being watched.

Lord Robathan Portrait Lord Robathan (Con)
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My Lords, I am glad to hear what the Leader of the House just said, because we must never enter lethal conflict lightly; we have to consider it very well not just to avoid deaths of our own service personnel but for the sake of civilians and others elsewhere. Regarding Iran, does my noble friend consider that in fact, the Iranians’ wish—the whole purpose of this—is to test the resolve of the West by attacking shipping to see whether we are actually willing to stand up? Regarding Gaza, does my noble friend agree that, if Hamas was to lay down its weapons and release the hostages and the criminals responsible for the attacks of 7 October were to flee to the Gulf and live in luxury hotels with their friends, there would be an immediate ceasefire, the possibility of a new Government in Israel and a possibility, however remote, of a decent settlement which allowed both Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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I fully agree with my noble friend. The Houthis should cease their action; Hamas should never have undertaken the action it did. We are putting the Iranians under pressure, and I remind the House that we have already sanctioned 400 Iranian individuals and entities, including the Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, and we will continue to watch their role in weapons proliferation, regional conflict and human rights violations—all the things they are up to in the region.

Earl of Courtown Portrait The Earl of Courtown (Con)
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My Lords, it is the turn of the Cross Benches.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
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My Lords, the RAF operations have been widely publicised, and they have come from Cyprus. Are the Government absolutely satisfied that any necessary defence of our facilities in Cyprus is in hand and will continue to be in hand as long as we operate against the Houthis?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, the noble and gallant Lord is quite right that the strikes were launched in that way by, in this case, four Royal Air Force Typhoons, supported by a pair of Voyager tankers. I repeat what I said: the Ministry of Defence has very much in mind the safeguarding of our assets and British nationals and British forces right across the region, and that is under constant review.

Lord West of Spithead Portrait Lord West of Spithead (Lab)
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My Lords, the large-scale attack we made first of all was never going to stop the Houthis making their attacks, as the Minister said; it was going to degrade only. Indeed, post then, the Americans have made a number of strikes in retaliation when weapons have been fired at them. The attack we are talking about now will hopefully degrade the capabilities of the Houthis to attack innocent shipping even more. I fear that the shipping companies seem to be showing a huge reluctance to think about getting back in the Red Sea, even though the Houthis have been degraded, and I can understand that. Therefore, this is likely to be quite a long, ongoing operation. It is quite right that we are enacting the rules of self-defence, and it is very good if you can do that immediately. In other words, when someone fires something from the shore at you, you hit where they fired at you from. That is why the Americans have been making these responses. One of our problems is that our aircraft are attacking from Cyprus, as the noble and gallant Lord said, several thousand miles away from this operation. Is the Minister surprised that we have not put an aircraft carrier there, because one could then respond immediately to these things and put that much more pressure on their ability to fire weapons at us? Having said all that, it is absolutely right what we are doing: freedom of navigation is so crucial to our nation.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I agree with much that the noble Lord said. We are working in a coalition here. The Prosperity Guardian operation involves 21 nations plus ourselves. The strikes, the response, the action that was taken which we are talking to, took place with the support of Bahrain, Canada, the Netherlands and Australia. This is an international response to unlawful action at sea. We always review deployment of our assets, but, for the moment, the British Government believe that the forces that the coalition has available are sufficient to deal with the threat that is currently presented.

Lord Bellingham Portrait Lord Bellingham (Con)
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My Lords, I support the Minister and what the Government are doing 100% because this action had to be taken. However, to reinforce the point, it is vital that every effort is made to avoid unnecessary civilian casualties, because unfortunately the Houthi movement appears to be gaining credibility and support in the Arab world as a result of what has happened. The action must continue but can the Minister reassure me on that point?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, in these strikes we have been very careful to take those matters into consideration. That the strikes took place at night also minimised the risk of civilian activity in these areas.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, the House understands why the military action has taken place and the Prime Minister reported that it has had some degrading effect on the Houthi attacks. However, it is the nature of this situation that it is unlikely to be immediately successful and that this could escalate.

I have two brief questions for the Leader of the House. First, at what stage might the Government decide that it would be beneficial to consult Parliament, with debates and votes on what should occur in the future? Secondly, when it comes to diplomacy, a great deal of the sea traffic that is being adversely affected by the current situation comes from the Far East, especially China, and surely in diplomatic terms there is a case—perhaps it is happening—for China to be brought into play to exercise and bring to bear some pressure on, for example, Iran. Are there moves to this effect going on?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, there is an enormous weight of diplomatic activity going on. It is important to note that China backed the UN resolution which called for this activity to stop and to enable lawful traffic on the seas to go ahead. As far as the accountability of Parliament is concerned, I have spoken about it. We also have a Question on the matter from the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, tomorrow, which may provide a further opportunity.

The Government are conscious of their duty and of their duty to protect servicepeople who may be sent into hazardous operations. There is also a balance there as to the time and nature of information that can be disclosed.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, the UK is a penholder within the United Nations. In addition, the UK signed a development partnership agreement with the internationally recognised Government of Yemen last summer. Can the Leader of the House outline whether that agreement is still in place? Also, in the Statement he said that humanitarian assistance was central to this issue. I agree with him, but he will know that the UK has reduced humanitarian assistance for Yemen by up to 80% over the last three years. If the partnership agreement with the internationally recognised Government is still in place, what plans are there to restore the humanitarian assistance to Yemen that we have reduced?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, these arrangements are still in place. My noble friend Lord Ahmad on the Front Bench here was whispering in my ear that he was speaking to the Foreign Minister of Yemen only last week, so we count this to be extremely important and ongoing.

It is vital that we continue, if we can, to get support into Houthi-controlled areas of Yemen. As noble Lords will know, the Houthis have said that UK and US staff working for the UN in Yemen should be ready to leave their controlled areas of Yemen in 30 days. Those kinds of statements, plus these unlawful attacks on the shipping that imperil the bringing in of aid by sea, suggest that the noble Lord should use considerable influence, as I know he does, to ensure that these malefactors cease making it more difficult to get humanitarian aid to their own people.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I think that Denmark and Germany have not yet supported the action and that Maersk and Hapag-Lloyd are sending their ships around the whole of the continent of Africa. What are the security implications for this country? I entirely support the government action against the Houthis but notice that the Foreign Office advice is that a terrorist attack in Denmark may be likely. I presume that our alert here must be at an increased level as well.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, I do not wish a comment on the postures or action taken by other friendly nations. I again remind my noble friend that there is, not just through Operation Prosperity Guardian but through the United Nations, a very strong, broad coalition of nations, which are using diplomacy and all their efforts to try to bring this situation to an end. It is true that the economic impact of attacks could be severe if there were ongoing disruption and ships continued to divert around. There would be delays and additional fuel, insurance and shipping costs. But these are commercial decisions for people making shipments as to the course that they take. Our effort is to try to make the Red Sea a safe place for them to send their ships and the brave merchant seamen who trek the waters of the world every day.

Lord Turnberg Portrait Lord Turnberg (Lab)
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My Lords, it is difficult to understand what advantage there is to be gained by the Houthis in sending their missiles into the Red Sea. The idea that it might be in support of their friends in Hamas does not seem to hold too much water. It is much more clearly the result of Iran’s sponsorship. Influencing Iran’s behaviour is extremely difficult, as we have heard from many noble Lords. One way is by encouraging in some way, perhaps surreptitiously, the poor people of Iran, who are rising up and suffering under the regime of the ayatollahs. What efforts have been made to utilise that approach?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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My Lords, that is a little beyond the scope of the question, and I would not like to comment or speculate on anything in that region. What I will do is agree profoundly with the noble Lord that this is a regime that governs in the name of God but acts in a way that seems to be in defiance of the great moral principles of the ages. Ultimately, it will be judged by its own people and by history.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

Second Reading
16:33
Moved by
Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Caine Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Northern Ireland Office (Lord Caine) (Con)
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My Lords, before I move to the Bill, this is the first opportunity I have had at the Dispatch Box to welcome my noble friend Lord Empey back to his place and to pass on formally my commiserations on the loss that he suffered at the end of last year. I also wish the noble Baroness, Lady Ritchie of Downpatrick, a speedy recovery from the bout of Covid from which she is currently suffering.

As many in this House will be aware, I am an unashamed and unapologetic unionist who believes that the best future for Northern Ireland lies within a strong and prosperous United Kingdom. Over my 35 years of involvement in the affairs of Northern Ireland, defending, protecting and strengthening the union has been at the forefront of everything I have sought to do, while always recognising the legitimate interests and aspirations of nationalism. That, of course, will never change. It was for these reasons—to raise up a new Northern Ireland that works for the whole community and to strengthen the union in so doing—that I supported the agreement reached on 10 April 1998. That agreement has been the bedrock of all the progress we have seen over the past 26 years. The commitment of His Majesty’s Government to the agreement, including devolution and power sharing, remains unwavering.

The focus of this Government has always been on facilitating the return of the devolved institutions and upholding the Belfast agreement in all its parts. We want to see locally elected representatives taking local decisions, accountable through the Assembly to the people they serve. That is what this short Bill is intended to help achieve.

This House is well known for, and rightly prides itself on, its ability to scrutinise line by line detailed, complex and lengthy legislation. This Bill does not fit into any of those categories: it has a sole purpose and one main clause. The legislation will retrospectively extend the Executive formation period set out in the 2022 Act from 18 January to 8 February this year. This short extension will create the legal means to enable the Northern Ireland Assembly to sit and re-establish the Executive, which, as the law stands, expired on 18 January.

Importantly, a restored Executive will have access to the significant financial package announced by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland shortly before Christmas, worth around £3.3 billion, to secure and transform Northern Ireland’s public services. Ministers will be empowered immediately to begin working to address the needs of local people and realise Northern Ireland’s potential. Our firm desire is that this Bill will help to deliver that outcome and support the return of devolved government to the people of Northern Ireland, which, in my view, is the soundest and surest foundation for the future of the union.

On that note, I hope that, for the very last time, I commend a Bill of this nature to the House.

16:36
Lord Dodds of Duncairn Portrait Lord Dodds of Duncairn (DUP)
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My Lords, I am pleased to follow the Minister. It must be one of his shorter speeches in a Second Reading debate, but it beats the length of the speech of his Secretary of State in the other place, which was even shorter.

The Bill is inevitable, but putting the election back by two weeks is clearly designed to put pressure on unionists. It should include powers to get the money paid out to the public sector workers which the Government have announced they have but are withholding, for political reasons, from workers who are entitled to it.

The Minister said that he hopes this is the last time he has to do this. But as he knows, we are in this position because the current talks and process have to resolve the issue of the Irish Sea border, which is the consequence of the constitutional outrage, as it was described by one commentator this week, of the sovereignty- denying Northern Ireland protocol—or Windsor Framework, as it has been renamed—and the denial of equal citizenship to the people of Northern Ireland.

One way of looking at this is that the legislation is inevitable, since the deadline for formation of the Executive has passed. However, the interesting aspect is that the election deadline is being put back by only two weeks, so we are going through the whole process of rushing emergency primary legislation through the other place and this House in one day, to get Royal Assent, in order to push a deadline back by two weeks. One has to question what is really going on.

We want devolution in Northern Ireland. The DUP has been in a difficult position on previous occasions and took the courageous decision, when there was much opposition in the unionist community, to move ahead and restore Stormont back in 2008. We took decisions then that many people did not agree with, because we are committed to devolution and are prepared to try to move Northern Ireland forward, even though the people in power along with ourselves and other parties continue to eulogise, promote and defend terrorism. That is very difficult for many of us who were personally on the receiving end of assassination attempts; but many of the people we represented for many years had their lives destroyed through the activities of the IRA, and other terrorists from the loyalist side.

The fact is that we now have only Sinn Féin going about eulogising these people, so this is a difficult position that people find themselves in as democrats, never mind as unionists. Nevertheless, we have been committed to devolution. Some of the strongest and most sustained periods of devolution were when the DUP had the First Minister’s position. Nobody need come to us and say that we do not want devolution, but it has to be on a sustainable basis—one to which unionists as well as nationalists can give assent. It has to be on the basis of fulfilment of the Belfast agreement, as amended by the St Andrews agreement, and it has to restore equal citizenship for the people of Northern Ireland. Those are not major or surprising demands; those are basic demands—rights that we are entitled to.

On the issue of what the Government should be doing, it is really an abdication. I know that the Minister said he is a committed unionist. It really is the responsibility of His Majesty’s Government to move ahead on those areas for which they have responsibility. They are the sovereign power and under the Belfast agreement, as amended, they ultimately have responsibility for Northern Ireland’s internal government. To see a political manoeuvre being perpetrated on those public sector workers, whereby money that has been announced is being withheld for political reasons, is really unconscionable.

There is a whole list of other areas of which one could say the same. Fifty pay awards, I think—it is certainly many dozens—have been made in Northern Ireland in the period of the Assembly’s suspension. Yet when it comes to this major issue, which was the subject of strikes across Northern Ireland last week, the Government are deliberately withholding the money. They need to step up and move that issue forward.

The Minister thinks that two weeks will be enough to get out of the present position. I hope that is the case and trust that, in the next few weeks, we will get proposals that, as the leader of our party in the other place, Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, made clear, meet the seven tests and deliver on what we have been discussing with the Government for some considerable period.

There are constitutional, democratic problems, and we saw a number of examples just last week. On the Rwanda Bill, the supremacy of the protocol means that the EU’s charter of fundamental rights continues, including article 18 on the right of asylum. The issue of addressing immigration will not apply in the same way to Northern Ireland, and we already have major issues as far as that is concerned. There was animal welfare legislation last week that could not apply to Northern Ireland because of the protocol. Whatever your views, yea or nay, on the live export of animals, it could not apply there because of the protocol. On the Trade (Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership) Bill, we had the bizarre situation whereby the legislation extended to Northern Ireland but according to the Explanatory Notes, the substantive parts of it did not apply because of the protocol.

Our Select Committee looking at the Windsor Framework protocol is taking evidence on veterinary medicines. We heard evidence last week from farmers and the agri-food industry of serious concerns about the fact that we are approaching a deadline whereby essential veterinary medicines will not be able to be supplied to Northern Ireland from Great Britain, with possible knock-on effects for public health. The Government say they are working on it, but we have not seen anything come forward. There were other examples in the newspapers back home—and that was in only one week. I say to the Government: that is why it is important that these issues are dealt with in a fundamental and complete way, because when any unionist decides to accept or settle for any deal on these issues, they will take ownership of them.

That is why it is important for the people who are negotiating, for all of us within our party and for other unionists to be absolutely certain that these issues are properly addressed, now and in the future, so that we are comfortable with how Northern Ireland will be treated with regard to these constitutional, democratic and economic issues. We will not be subject any more to this unacceptable, anti-democratic and unconstitutional difference. Of course, within the Northern Ireland Assembly, when devolution is open, it is up to the Assembly to decide for itself, under its devolved powers, what it wishes to do compared with England, Scotland and Wales.

But in Northern Ireland we are the recipient, across 300 areas of law governing our economy, of laws made by a foreign polity in its interests, to which we have no input. We have no power to develop or amend and, under the Stormont brake proposal, only the power to reject—and even then, not necessarily effectively and subject to retaliation from the EU.

That is no way to govern part of the United Kingdom; it is not the basis on which the Assembly was set up. It is not equal citizenship. Therefore, I urge the Minister to take the message back to the Secretary of State and the Cabinet Office that these are the issues that are causing the problem. I share his desire that this is the last time that he has to bring such legislation, but it is really dependent on him and his Government as to whether that is the case.

16:46
Lord Empey Portrait Lord Empey (UUP)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his kind remarks. I watched very briefly the beginning of the debate in the other place, and I have to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, on the opening contribution from his right honourable friend in the other place. Indeed, I thought the shadow Secretary of State stole the show with at least some attempt to put some kind of gloss on what was before us in a very threadbare Bill.

I am entirely unconvinced as to the rationale for even having this Bill at this point, because I cannot imagine that there is any case at this stage, a few days after the last deadline ran out, for anybody to stand over a judicial review against the Secretary of State for not calling an Assembly election. For the sake of a few days, I do not think that that would survive. I hope that it is not a piece of political theatre that we are witnessing here.

Before dealing with the substance, I will follow on on the point about public sector pay. If ever there was any ambiguity over whether there was cross-party support for the Secretary of State’s actions in withholding this money, that was set aside in the Commons by the shadow Secretary of State earlier today. He made it very clear where he stood, saying that this tactic—because that is what it is—was fundamentally flawed and morally and politically wrong, and will not sustain itself even if we are forced through the fortnight this Bill provides for. I note the strikes that have occurred and the stresses that the withdrawal of significant parts of public services are putting on people. Let us imagine the parents of, say, children with severe disabilities, who are depending on a bus to arrive to take them to a day centre. Those parents do not know whether it will be coming this day or not. Do they have to make alternative arrangements? Do they have to get a relative to come in? Do they have to stay off work?

What are we putting these people through this for? We know the money is there; the Government are boasting about it. So let us sort that out; I think it would almost improve the atmosphere if it were done that way, because all we are doing is adding more stress to people who are already highly stressed. I hope that my noble friend can take that back to his right honourable friend in the other place, making it absolutely clear that there is no cross-party support for this policy. It is entirely counterproductive.

I also have to say that I feel that, when these one-day wonders come through—as they do from time to time on Northern Ireland affairs—one almost feels that this Parliament is like a legislative takeaway. You send out for a piece of legislation and ram it through both Houses in one day. People are fighting for pieces of legislation for a lifetime and yet we can stuff them through in one day. It is a terrible way to do business. I know that is not my noble friend’s choice, but it is almost always Northern Ireland stuff that is treated in this way.

The Secretary of State tells us that great progress is being made on restoring devolution. I hope that is true. In his opening remarks my noble friend talked about the Government’s commitment to the Good Friday/Belfast agreement. I point out to him that that was an all-party agreement, yet talks have been going on for two years in secrecy and none of the rest of the parties has been engaged except in a peripheral way. We all have talks with government and always have done, but this has gone on far too long. In fact, the best solutions always come when all the participants are at the table and accept the outcomes of the negotiations—otherwise we would have had no agreement. Trying to do it in a hole-in-the-corner way, with nods and winks here and nods and winks there, does not work. It does not stick. What happens if the DUP and the Government agree and come together? What about the rest of us? Maybe some of us will not agree with it when we see it: what happens then? It is a bad way to do business. Yes, people have to have their concerns addressed—I totally support that—but I think we have taken it far too far.

I do not want to rehearse the arguments that went on in this Chamber for so long over the departure from the European Union. I am no Europhile fan of the European Union. I am against the principle of a federal state: I never agreed with that. But the sort of problems that have arisen over our departure from the European Union were foreseeable, and they were foreseen in this House time and time again. A party delegation went to meet Prime Minister Cameron in February 2016 and, after that meeting, it was perfectly clear that there was no adequate plan to deal with our departure from the European Union should the people so wish.

We pointed out that a referendum has two outcomes and asked what the plans were if the people decided to leave. The answer we got was entirely unsatisfactory. Consequently, we recommended that people did not support leaving at that point under those terms and conditions. I would have to say that things are actually worse than I expected and that what we are dealing with now is the latest version of an attempt to bridge the virtually unbridgeable—which, of course, is the Windsor Framework, which is heralded as one of the Prime Minister’s most significant achievements since he has been in office.

I am quite sure that my noble friend will want to share with the rest of us what changes have been made to this agreement since February last year, and to show us the pages and the paragraphs where improvements have been made and some of the constitutional absurdities referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dodds, dealt with. How are the seven tests that my noble friend behind me alluded to earlier today getting on? Is it going to be the case that this framework mark 2 is going to come up and we will have solutions? Perhaps the Minister can tell us what negotiations have taken place with the European Union, whether they have been successful and what mechanisms are going to be adopted and changes made to make these arrangements more palatable and more constitutionally correct—because, at the end of the day, that is what a two-year boycott has been about.

I listen to people talk about the Act of Union. We hear that some keyboard warriors have suddenly discovered that they have great skills in this area. It is a pity they were not exercising those skills when we had to deal with the Provisional IRA’s campaign against Northern Ireland over the years. Anyway, they have suddenly discovered the word “subjugation”, and I know my noble friend thinks of little else. However, can he explain to me why, if the Act of Union is the be-all and end-all and such a great thing—given that it was introduced in 1801 and it covered all of Ireland and Great Britain—there is an Irish Republic?

The truth is that this Parliament can legislate to say that apples are oranges. Important though it is, the Act of Union with Scotland would have been worthless if one more person had voted to leave than to stay. The same principle applies here. The best way to maintain the union is to maximise the amount of support on the ground so that more people want to stay in it than want to leave, and no Act of Parliament can substitute for that. In my view, we are fighting a sham fight while the people of Northern Ireland are suffering. We have heard about all the problems over health, education and industrial relations, which used to be the best in the UK. Now we are in a parlous situation.

Whatever comes out of this measure over the next couple of weeks, there at least has to be honesty, not a spin that something is something that it is not. People are sick of that. They want to know. If there are changes of substance, let us see what they are. If there are no changes of substance, people can say, “Look, we tried our best. It hasn’t worked out. We can’t go on like this. We’ve got to try another way”. Fair enough; we do not always get what we want, and not everything is successful the first time round. But the one thing I do not think people will tolerate is being led up the garden path and told something that is fundamentally untrue, so we will be watching very closely.

Lastly, I heard Sir Jeffrey in the other place saying that threats have been made against him. I totally deplore that. I can well understand it, because I know the threats that were made 25 years ago against our colleague Lord Trimble. He was tormented for years, I suspect by many of the same people who are tormenting Jeffrey today. The question is: what did they ever achieve? What did they ever get us? More misery, more deaths and destruction, and no progress. If anything is to come out of this, it is that that is not the way to go forward.

16:58
Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee Portrait Baroness Foster of Aghadrumsee (Non-Afl)
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I thank noble Lords who have already spoken. I shall kick off where the noble Lord, Lord Empey, finished. I think all of us from Northern Ireland involved in public life are shocked to hear Sir Jeffrey refer in the other place to threats. It appears that there is nothing new under the sun. These people who hide in the shadows and use the internet, in the way that we have talked about on so many occasions, seek to do damage and to push things in a particular way. I send my solidarity to Sir Jeffrey and I am sure the whole House will want to echo that in respect of the threats that he has received.

The Minister has made remarks about the union and his strong support for it. I very much welcome those remarks at the opening of this short debate on this very short Bill.

I will make three points. First, these negotiations between the Government and the DUP are essentially about the union and its operation. The union brought me into politics at a very young age, as the IRA tried to terrorise us out of the union in the late 1980s. Of course, the union is about more than trade and transactions. It is about cultural, political and social issues. It is about our shared institutions, security, safety, defence, and our place in the world; it all depends on the union. Economics and internal trade have been the focus of discussions around the protocol and Windsor Framework. It is so important that the internal market of the United Kingdom is restored and that the promise—I will use the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Empey—of the Act of Union is fulfilled in so far that internal trade is unencumbered.

During the three years that devolution was blocked by Sinn Féin—between 2017 and 2020—civil servants in Belfast and Dublin constructed arguments for what they called the all-Ireland economy. They did this by retrofitting areas of co-operation between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland—perfectly normal, practical co-operation between two jurisdictions. They used that as a way of constructing an all-Ireland economy. Very clearly, there was not an all-Ireland economy before they constructed it and there is not one now. A cursory look at the Northern Ireland economy shows the integrated nature of the supply chains between Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

This assertion, by civil servants—who by their very nature were unaccountable because devolution was blocked at that time—caused untold difficulties in the negotiations between the United Kingdom and European Union, because the assertion was just accepted as fact and was not challenged. I am pleased that the United Kingdom Government moved, after the May years, to grasp that fallacy and assert the primacy of the United Kingdom economy. That is really important. I hope that the negotiations, when they conclude, will underline the importance of the United Kingdom internal market and reject the notion—because a notion is what it was and is—that there is an all-Ireland economy, built up by civil servants. Many of them, Members of the House will be interested to know, are now political commentators on everything that goes on in Northern Ireland.

My second point relates to finance. It is so important that the finances of Northern Ireland are put on a secure footing. I welcome the funding package that has been referred to. Given that a lot of the money in that package—I think it is £538 million—is recurring expenditure, which will happen year on year and is not a one-off, can the Minister confirm the position regarding that funding? Is it an ongoing commitment? Will it be baselined into the Northern Ireland block grant or is it a one-off amount of money that has been made available? I think the Minister will agree that it is important to have stability in finances as well as in politics, because the two are often inextricably linked.

The third and final point is that we have heard a lot from Members of this House, and from outside, about reform of the Belfast agreement. There was very little talk of reform of what Mark Durkan, the former deputy leader of the SDLP, used to refer to as the “ugly scaffolding” when it was working to the advantage of others in Northern Ireland. Now it is not, the calls are very loud. Reform will come when there is an all-party and all-community consensus in Northern Ireland for it. Imposed changes will not work. It appears that there are many who want to use the parts of the Belfast agreement they agree with but change the parts they do not agree with.

I was no fan of the Belfast agreement, especially in relation to the release of terrorist prisoners and the lack of linkage to the decommissioning of paramilitary weaponry, but the Belfast agreement was endorsed fully by a referendum of people in Northern Ireland and people in the Republic of Ireland. The basis of that agreement is consensus politics between the communities—not imposition. Noble Lords should remember that when speaking about issues in Northern Ireland.

I say to the Minister that I wish the Government and the parties well as they seek to find a sustainable, workable and—God willing—durable solution to the problems of the protocol and the Windsor Framework.

17:05
Lord Morrow Portrait Lord Morrow (DUP)
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My Lords, before I come to what I want to say today, I want to remind the House that on Saturday evening I attended a memorial service at a local border school to remember its former headmaster. He was abducted by the IRA while across the border having a meal with his wife and was found the next day with a bullet through his head. The memorial also remembered three former pupils of that small border college in Aughnacloy on the Monaghan border.

There were many people there that evening who had served in the security forces, and I looked across their faces and wondered whether I would have been as brave as those men during the Troubles, when more than 3,000 people lost their lives. Some 60% of those deaths are attributable to the Provisional IRA, 30% attributable to loyalists and 10% to the security forces—but, as I have said in this House before, when you drill down into that last figure, it is something like 1%, because the 10% includes incidents where the security forces intercepted terrorists en route to shoot or blow up something.

That was a very solemn occasion and it vividly reminded me of what went on in Northern Ireland during those years. We hope that is behind us. I have three colleagues sitting on these Benches today who have the marks of those years on their bodies. The IRA tried to murder them. Today, those same people are feted as great, courageous people. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Dodds mentioned that we took risks beyond what we should have ever been asked to take to bring us to the situation we have today.

Did we need to be here today discussing this Bill? If only government had listened to us when we said the protocol would not work. But who did they listen to? They listened to the rigorous implementers saying, “Get it done—implement it rigorously and vigorously”, until government then had to acknowledge. We would not be here today had government listened to us. For two years, we pleaded with the Government: “This is not going to do the job. This will not work”. It was only when Sir Jeffrey Donaldson removed the First Minister, and then removed his Ministers, that government started to sit up, listen and take note. I hope and pray that we never have to get to a situation again where government will just turn their heads, look the other way and listen to only one side of the debate.

I commend the three speakers who have spoken before me. They have hit all the right notes and all the issues. But, in looking at the Bill, which changes the date by which the Assembly election must be called, we must be real about why we are here. We are here for one reason and one reason only: the Northern Ireland protocol—now renamed the Windsor Framework; I do not know whether it will eventually come out like that —creates an injustice that is very simple. In 300 areas of law, it subjects the people of Northern Ireland to laws by a foreign parliament.

It thus effects the partial disfranchisement of 1.9 million people. Does anyone in that House care that that is happening? We in Northern Ireland certainly do. We need to see that fixed. Until the end of 2020, it did not matter what part of the United Kingdom you resided in; we could all stand for election to make all the laws to which we were subject. From 1 January 2021, that changed. Today, when UK citizens in England, Wales and Scotland can stand for election to make all the laws to which they are subject, people living in Northern Ireland are afforded the right to stand for election to make only some of the laws to which we are subject. To date, around 700 laws have been imposed on us; that figure will continue to increase as the years go by.

I am not going to debate the Stormont brake, as it has been mentioned here before, but what does it do? It cements this injustice rather than removing it. In the first place, it applies to only some areas of imposed law, and so falls at the first hurdle. In the second instance, even if it can be made to work, which many doubt, it does not restore to the people of Northern Ireland the right to stand for election to make all the laws to which we are subject. It just gives us the demeaning second-class—perhaps third-class—right to stand for election to try to stop laws that have already been made for us by a foreign parliament applying to us. As such, it is a far more humiliating provision than Poynings’ law—noble Lords can look up what that was; I did but I will not go into it—which is now regarded as a matter of shame by many people in GB. At least under Poynings’ law, the Irish Privy Council had the power to initiate and define legislation in the first instance.

In this context, we must be clear that it would not make any difference whether or not the Government removed every check on the green lane; let us remember that that pertains only to consumer goods that have a confirmed address in Northern Ireland. The fundamental injustice that is the protocol would remain. If we are not to find ourselves back here again in a short while with a similar Bill, the Government need to take responsibility for their own citizens and explain to the European Union that our votes are not tradeable—we are not some sort of a commodity—and that the integrity of our political system depends on treating all citizens as ends in ourselves rather than as a means to an end.

The Good Friday/Belfast agreement—whatever term you wish to place on it—ended a 60-year period during which the Republic of Ireland refused to recognise the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom. Its constitution claimed the north, as it would call it; however, as a result of the Belfast agreement, the Republic recognised the territorial integrity of the United Kingdom for the first time and ceased to claim “the north”, in return for the provision of a border poll in the event that polling suggested majority support for the break-up of the UK and Northern Ireland joining the Irish Republic. The agreement also contains cross-border provisions that then became necessary to facilitate a good working relationship in the context of recognising and respecting the reality of the newly recognised border. I emphasise that at no point does the Good Friday agreement say that there can be no customs border.

There is much more that I could say, but, before I sit down, I want to say this. A guarantee was given that Northern Ireland’s constitutional position would not change without a referendum and the consent of the people of Northern Ireland. I stand in your Lordships’ House today and contend that Northern Ireland’s constitutional position has changed, but we have had no opportunity to say anything. So do I now conclude that that guarantee in the Belfast agreement—that there will be a constitutional referendum—has now been pushed aside and is no longer relevant? I am fearful, and I would like the Government, the Opposition and everyone else from any party that sits in this House to declare where they are. Our constitutional position has been changed and we have had no say whatever. I will stop there.

17:15
Baroness Hoey Portrait Baroness Hoey (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the chairman of the Democratic Unionist Party, the noble Lord, Lord Morrow, and to listen to his words of real experience. I hope that some of that gets back to the Secretary of State.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Empey, I listened to a lot of the debate in the House of Commons earlier, and I was pretty horrified by the Secretary of State’s short and contemptuous speech of less than two minutes to introduce the Bill. Like others, I thought the shadow Secretary of State tried very hard to deal with some of the issues. It was as if he genuinely understood the issue and the problem. I did not necessarily agree with his final analysis, but at least he made an attempt. The Secretary of State has continued to show contempt for unionists, unionism and the very important issue of why we are here.

Let us face it; it is not about money. The DUP was perhaps rather short-sighted in getting the money aspect and the constitutional issue linked. But I agree with all those noble Lords who said that it is disgraceful that the Secretary of State, knowing that the money is there to solve and to end the public sector workers’ strike, has refused to do that and simply said no. He probably thought, “Great—all the trade unions will now blame the DUP”. Of course, from the headlines—even yesterday in one of the Northern Ireland papers—we have seen the trade unions fairly and squarely blaming the Secretary of State. So that has backfired very much on him.

The contempt shown today has been going on for some time. All the things it was said that the Windsor Framework and the protocol were going to solve have proven to be nothing: there has been no real change. Northern Ireland is in the UK customs union, they said—but then of course we have to apply the EU customs code. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, mentioned something that happened last week. It was very nice to see the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, moving the amendment, which clearly showed that, once again, a Bill that we were saying extended to Northern Ireland—most people would think, “Great, Northern Ireland is part of it”—in fact does not apply to Northern Ireland. That is quite disgraceful.

Again, there is an attempt to hide things with words and flannel, almost as if the Secretary of State feels that Northern Ireland people are not clever enough to understand and see through some of these words—for example, saying the framework removed the Irish Sea border. What nonsense. That contempt now continues with the fact that there is no transparency whatever in what is going on. Even very active members of the Democratic Unionist Party probably do not know what is in this so-called deal.

I expect noble Lords will be very relieved to hear that the Public Bill Office ruled out my two amendments because this is a very narrow Bill—probably designed very carefully to make sure that we could not extend the discussion too much. However, when it comes to discussing Northern Ireland, we all find ways of hammering home some of the issues and points that so many noble Lords have not engaged with. I was trying to table an absolutely crucial amendment that was a real indictment of how the Government behaved right at the beginning of all this when they changed, in a statutory instrument, the mechanism at the end of this year for the Northern Ireland Assembly to approve or disapprove of the protocol from cross-community consent to a straightforward majority. Nothing else gets through via a majority, but suddenly, somehow, the Government felt that it was fine to change that from cross-community consent.

I was also trying to move that we should absolutely ensure that, when there is something in writing—I do not even know whether there is anything in writing being discussed—it should be published within a very short period of time. If there is any draft legislation, we need it as early as possible. We need clear answers from the Government on how long they will continue with these kinds of discussions. We keep hearing, “There’s progress and we just need a little bit more”. I have no idea what that “little bit more” is and neither do the vast majority of people in Northern Ireland—but we should know more about what is happening and what the Government are offering. Deep down, we all know that they have not been negotiating with the European Union. The EU has not been involved and, therefore, it is very unlikely that anything in the Windsor Framework will change sufficiently to satisfy the DUP’s seven tests.

So let us not try to put the blame on the DUP or say that it created the problem that we are dealing with today. This problem was created squarely by a United Kingdom Conservative and Unionist Government who decided that Northern Ireland was expendable when it came to leaving the European Union. As I say every time, we had the same ballot paper and the same discussions; it was a United Kingdom vote, but Northern Ireland has not got Brexit.

Forget talking about the Act of Union—the question for me is whether, at the end of all this, Northern Ireland will still be under EU law for substantial parts of its trade agreements. Everything coming to this House and the other place now needs additional bits about not applying to Northern Ireland. The one that is quite disgraceful, which we will discuss in a few weeks’ time, is the Animal Welfare (Livestock Exports) Bill. Hardly any live animal exports go from Great Britain to the European Union, while lots of live animal exports go from Northern Ireland and the Republic to the European Union. Yet the one area being left out is Northern Ireland, because the EU does not have the same law and we quite rightly want to keep the flow between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland. The Government have now used the excuse that the WTO will not allow it. Why have they not tried even to challenge it? That is perhaps an issue for another day.

I want to say one more thing about how the Government have handled and are handling this issue. Without doubt, a former Secretary of State has been ringing round senior DUP people, senior unionists and others, making suggestions about how they might be rewarded or that they should definitely begin to think about giving in.

I think that is absolutely shocking from any ex-Secretary of State, who has probably been brought in by the current Secretary of State because they feel that he knows quite a lot about what is going on in Northern Ireland. Those kinds of threats in a nice way will not work with people. We have seen some of the things that have been done in the past by Secretaries of State who did not listen, and perhaps in the whole working of New Decade, New Approach, who handled it in a way that was seen to be more in support of the Irish Government than our own Government. That is something that I hope the Minister—who knows Northern Ireland very well—will take up.

Obviously, I condemn any threats to Sir Jeffrey, and any other threats. However, all of us who come from Northern Ireland or have relatives in Northern Ireland who are involved politically or are living there now have all had threats of different kinds. It is important that, while we condemn that, we do not think that it is just one person who is being threatened. Threats come in different ways and in different strengths and are taken very seriously by the PSNI.

Everyone says that this Bill is inevitable. It is not inevitable. The Government could have said that they were going to go along with what they have said, that if by such and such a date, the Assembly was not back, there would be an election. They do not want an election, because they know that the mandate that the unionists—the DUP, in particular, and the TUV—would get to stay out until the seven tests are met and until we are back as an absolutely integral part of the United Kingdom would be bigger. That is why they do not want an election, and that is why, in a sense, the Bill is something that could have been solved by simply having an election. However, I am afraid we may well be back in a few weeks’ time because a two-week gap is pretty ridiculous.

In the end, the Government will realise that from day one they have handled this extremely badly. They have not stood up to their commitment to be Conservatives and unionists. Probably very soon, we will see a new Government, who I hope might take a slightly different approach from the way they have been handling unionists—pro-British people in Northern Ireland.

17:26
Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown Portrait Lord McCrea of Magherafelt and Cookstown (DUP)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his introductory remarks. I have no doubt whatever in his strong unionist credentials. I must say that I do not have the same confidence, perhaps, in some of the other colleagues, but nevertheless, I have no doubt in his unionist credentials.

In preparation for this important debate, I attended the debate in the other House to listen to it. I found it very informative. I did indeed hear the words of my leader, the right honourable Sir Jeffrey Donaldson, in mentioning the threats that have been made against him. That is despicable, wherever that has come from or from whomever it has come. I and some other noble Lords in this House know exactly what it is to live under threats and to have those threats carried out. I had to be driven in an armoured police car for 25 years to carry out my duties as a Member of Parliament in the other place. Indeed, as noble Lords know, I received an actual bomb at my home on my 40th birthday and the house was shot up with over 50 bullets, just as the last action of the IRA, so that I would not be here. However, I thank God there is a greater power than the Provos, and that is why I am here. I thank God for his sovereignty and his providential care.

If anyone thinks that the threats across our community have finished, we know that dissidents are still threatening people. It is not only dissidents: outside Dungiven, we saw how those people went into the GAA place with their guns and threatened the people there. They had their weaponry with them, and they said they were the IRA. Therefore, those threats still go on.

I make this clear: irrespective of where the threats come, over the years those with principles have been willing to stand by them. We will not be threatened; we will not be bullied. Whether it be by the terrorists, government or anyone else, we will not be bullied into submission or move away from the principles that we believe in with all our hearts—I must lay that down right at the beginning.

Like my noble friend Lord Morrow, I attended an event on 17 January to commemorate the 32nd year since eight young men, who were travelling home from work, were brutally murdered on the Omagh-Cookstown road. For the past 32 years, I have stood with the families along that roadside. Come hail, snow or rain, we have stood there every year at the commemoration stone, even though others have sought to destroy it with bullets, hammers, sledgehammers and other things. The stone commemorates the lives of Gary Bleeks, Cecil Caldwell, Robert Dunseath, Oswald Gilchrist, David Harkness, Bobby Irons, Richard McConnell and Nigel McKee. We still remember them, and we will continue to remember their sacrifice and the pain that is still real in their loved ones’ hearts.

As I listened to the debate in the other place, I heard impassioned speeches from some, as well as some of the usual threats from others—not from the gun, but the usual political threats—should unionists not conform. In his introductory letter, the Secretary of State said that Northern Ireland has been without a fully functioning devolved Government since February 2022 and that the Government’s utmost priority remains restoring strong, stable and locally elected devolved institutions as soon as possible. Of course, the Government and Members of this House are fully aware of why my party pulled out of the Executive at Stormont. The Democratic Unionist Party did not create the impasse. Northern Ireland was plunged into constitutional uncertainty because of the actions of this Government in entering into an agreement with the European Union, over the heads of the people, that places Northern Ireland under laws from Europe that no representative of the people had any input in, influence over or ability to change. So much for democracy—and yet we are often reminded of what democracy would demand of us in going back into the Assembly.

What is being forced on the people of Northern Ireland under the protocol and the Windsor Framework is not democracy at work. How can we have 300 areas of law forced on the people of Northern Ireland when they have no power to change them? They have no representation in the place where those decisions are being made. In fact, they are being told to suck it up and take it—that is the way.

I am sad to say that the vast majority of Members in this House, when both the protocol Bill came through and the Windsor Framework was being debated, were willing to say, “Let’s have it”. In fact, when we debated the protocol, this House said that it could not be changed in any shape or form. Members sitting in this House said that the Democratic Unionist Party can blow in the wind and that this does not matter because the protocol will not, and cannot, be changed. We know that was not true; nevertheless, that was what was said. They were then forced into the position of saying that another agreement, the Windsor Framework, was the best thing: “Let’s forget about the protocol, let’s go with the Windsor Framework”. It involves a foreign jurisdiction making laws that we in Northern Ireland must adhere to, even though they are divergent from those that apply to the rest of the United Kingdom. We are supposed to be an equal part of the United Kingdom.

The Government said out of the other side of their mouth that they now wish to strengthen the union of Great Britain and Northern Ireland and that they may bring forth legislation to do so. Did they really think we that we would believe them? Actions speak louder than words. We were told in this letter from the Secretary of State that a restored Executive would have access to a significant financial package, an extra £3.3 billion, to secure and transform Northern Ireland’s public services. That is a large amount, but when we realise that there is a major black hole in the finances at Stormont because Northern Ireland has been underfunded compared with the other devolved Administrations, and on top of that moneys have been allocated for the remuneration of public sector workers, we find that that substantial package is greatly depleted. Let nobody be under any misunderstanding: if they think that that amount of money will transform Northern Ireland’s public services, they are mistaken. There are major problems in the health service in Northern Ireland. There are major problems with education. Finances are needed across a vast area of Northern Ireland life, and yet we are told that this will solve the problem.

One of the most disgraceful and callous actions of the Secretary of State was using public sector workers who have not had a pay rise for three years and, as the shadow Secretary of State in the other House said in the debate, holding them hostages in this political game. We say that, yes, they were hostages: they were being held hostage and were pawns in his political game of trying to put the blame on the Democratic Unionist Party. Like every other Member in the other House, he has been told today, as he had already been told, to stop playing politics with teachers who provide an excellent education for our children under very difficult circumstances, stop using nurses and doctors who walk the wards of our hospitals day and night to aid our sick, stop abusing police officers who stand between us and those who terrorise the community. Secretary of State, release the money now that they are overdue. It was a deliberate decision by the Secretary of State to refuse to act. I trust that the noble Lord the Minister will take the message from across this House that that money should and must be released. Last week, my party colleagues personally put into the hand of the Chancellor of the Exchequer a demand that he release the money. I have been told that the Chancellor of the Exchequer is willing to release that money. Therefore, there is no excuse under the sun why the Secretary of State could not immediately order the payment that is due to those who keep our public services going in different spheres across the Province.

I noticed that the former Secretary of State, Julian Smith, said in the other House that what is being offered is a very good deal, that it is not perfect, but it is much better now. That is interesting, because he must have seen it. If he has seen it—and I am glad he has seen it —perhaps he could let some of the rest of us see it as well. He may have seen it, but if anyone thinks that anyone in Northern Ireland is going to take this Government at their word on trust, they are sadly mistaken. We have learned from the reality of the situation of life in Northern Ireland that we have to look at the detail and scrutinise the small print and then decisions can be made.

I notice that the Alliance Member for North Down once again threatens unionists that, if they do not give in, submit, surrender, they will be faced with Dublin’s involvement. It is sad that that Member comes from a very unionist constituency—there is a vast unionist constituency in North Down—yet, since he has come into the other place, he acts as a surrogate for Sinn Féin-speak. It is a total and absolute disgrace that he threatens unionists that if we do not bow to the diktat, we will have Dublin rule. I appeal to all unionists to stand united and strong as we face the onslaught of propaganda—and we will—and be sure not to give the enemies of unionism a bonus by turning in on ourselves. The old statement has always been: “United we stand, divided we fall”. Much has been heard about the Belfast agreement and its 25th anniversary, but we were told that the foundational principle of that agreement was cross-community consent: a majority of nationalists and a majority of unionists. It will be most interesting to see whether, whatever deal the Government finally offer unionism, a unionist Minister in the Assembly will be made to implement and enforce the Irish Sea border, as under the Windsor Framework, or has that been dealt with? Governments in the past have sold Northern Ireland short before; we are aware of that. Therefore, actions will speak louder than any pious words.

17:41
Lord Weir of Ballyholme Portrait Lord Weir of Ballyholme (DUP)
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My Lords, as perhaps the unelected Member for North Down, it is appropriate that I follow my colleague after his remarks. This is a very net Bill, and I understand the concerns raised by the noble Lord, Lord Empey, that this is a form of takeaway legislation. Those are valid criticisms, although I would also say that, whatever concerns we have about that, the appropriate places to discuss such matters are this House and the other House—in democratic institutions. That is why I join others from across the House in saying that any attempt to threaten or intimidate any Member from whatever source—towards whichever Member—is utterly wrong. Politics must always be decided in a democratic and peaceful manner, and had others applied that lesson over the last number of decades, we would be in a much better place in Northern Ireland.

The Bill itself is one that, given the circumstances, is, as my noble friend Lord Dodds said, effectively inevitable. As for whether an election takes place or not, I am fairly relaxed one way or the other. Perhaps, given the polls, my party would pick up an extra seat or two, but the reality is that an election would not really tell us anything different from what we already know. It would, broadly speaking, highlight where the divisions are. Similarly, we have a shift of dates, but, as have we always said, what is actually important is not the calendar but whether the conditions are met. If extra time is being provided, what the Government will do with the extra time will be the critical matter to be resolved.

In resolving the problems that lie before us, the solution does not lie in bullying or bribery through a financial package. For months, I and my colleagues in this House and the other Chamber have highlighted that Northern Ireland has been underfunded. That is not something that we have simply plucked out of the air, but the application of the Holtham formula, if it were applied to us on the same basis as Wales, suggests what the fiscal floor should be for Northern Ireland. Those figures have been worked up through the Northern Ireland Fiscal Council. We have made the case time and time again. I know that the Member for Belfast East in the other place has highlighted this.

It is useful that, finally, the Government have accepted the merits of this argument; but to tie this in with a belief that you get this only if you are good boys and accept whatever is thrown at you is unacceptable. The crassest example of this culminated last week when the Secretary of State clearly tried to use the issue of public sector pay as pressure to say, “Well, if only the DUP agreed to this, all this money would be available”. The reaction, not just across the Chamber but from the trade unions, was remarkably consistent. I saw on television a range of trade union leaders whom I know and who, frankly, would run a mile before voting for the DUP. In the advantage that we have of PR elections, they would probably vote on the ballot paper for every preference other than the DUP. Yet they consistently said, to a man and woman, “No: if the Secretary of State has the money, government should be releasing the money”. The attempt by the Secretary of State was not only ill-judged but entirely counterproductive.

What will resolve this is dealing with the constitutional issues of the Irish Sea border. From the start of this process, it has been consistently said over many decades that we will have stable government in Northern Ireland only when we have systems which both unionists and nationalists buy into. Back in 2017, the Irish Government and Irish nationalism took a very tough line on north-south trade. At one stage, to his discredit, the then and current Taoiseach raised the spectre of violence re-emerging across the border if any level of customs was put within that.

In many ways, Irish nationalism got what it wanted in terms of north-south trade, but we have not seen equality of treatment for the concerns raised by unionists. It is perfectly reasonable for the EU to say, “For trade coming into the European Union, there need to be arrangements that protect the single market”. That is perfectly understandable. What is not understandable or acceptable is to extend arrangements which interfere entirely with the internal workings of the United Kingdom. For example, goods that are never going to go within the EU are subject to a range of restrictions and pressures; democratic institutions are held hidebound because of the lack of democratic accountability. This is not simply a constitutional issue, but one which applies from a practical, economic point of view.

We have seen—and not just in a theoretical sense—some large companies already starting to divert trade away from movement between Great Britain and Northern Ireland. A question mark exists as to whether a company in Northern Ireland could produce something to the same standards as GB and sell it in its own hometown, for example. That is the level of restrictions in place. Removing that Irish Sea border is the key to unlocking this solution.

Unfortunately, I have heard at least one noble Lord—not one who has spoken in this debate—parroting the line of Sinn Féin that the real reason why the DUP is opposed to restoration at this stage is that we cannot accept a Deputy First Ministership. Well, if that is the case, call our bluff. Deal with the constitutional issues and we will either accept it or be exposed to the world. We do not seek supremacy. What we seek is equality with our fellow citizens across the United Kingdom and equality between unionism and nationalism. Only with that level of stability, of getting something that both unionists and nationalists can buy into, can we have long-term stability in Northern Ireland. We need something that is clear, transparent and does the job. Part of the problem with the Windsor Framework is not simply that it did not solve the problems created by the protocol but that it was so overspun that there is a lack of trust in anything the Government put forward. Therefore, we need solutions that can clearly be demonstrated to have solved the problem.

I hope that today, small though this piece of legislation is, can be the first step on a route map to resolving the problems—either that or we will be back in a few weeks’ time in Groundhog Day. The choice very much lies with the Government to be able to deliver on that.

17:50
Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow that speech by the noble Lord, Lord Weir, which was one of the most thoughtful that we have heard this afternoon.

Lord Weir of Ballyholme Portrait Lord Weir of Ballyholme (DUP)
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The noble Baroness should not dare to accuse me of thoughtfulness.

Baroness Suttie Portrait Baroness Suttie (LD)
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I also agree with what the noble Lord said, and share his sentiments, about the threats to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson. As he said, such threats, wherever they come from and whoever receives them, are never, ever acceptable.

I thank the Minister for his introduction to this short Bill and echo his sentiments in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Empey, back to his place. We always enjoy his contributions, and we missed them when he was not around so much recently.

It is now nearly two years since the Northern Ireland Executive collapsed—two years in which civil servants have had to take decisions which should have been taken by the politicians elected to deal with the very difficult situation that faces the people of Northern Ireland on so many issues. As other noble Lords have said, the health system is in crisis, and vital decisions are not being taken on education, the economy and future financing. The people of Northern Ireland are being badly let down and, as others have already said, last week’s public sector strikes showed all too clearly the level of frustration that people now feel. Ample time has been provided to reach a conclusion. There have now been so many occasions when we had been led to believe that a decision was close, and then it does not materialise.

However, from these Benches, we recognise the huge amount of work undertaken by the Government in the last two years and that some progress has been made. We welcomed the Windsor Framework, and we welcome the financial package announced before Christmas—in particular, the separate stabilisation fund to undo some of the harm created by cuts and to tackle backlogs, and the transformation fund to allow Northern Ireland to improve its public services.

However, financial stability alone will not address all the issues. Financial stability requires political, constitutional and institutional stability. In that context, from these Benches, we sincerely hope that this latest attempt and necessary extension of the timeframe will result in a return to a fully functioning Executive and Assembly. For that reason, we will not oppose the Bill. We can but hope that this latest attempt is successful and that this is indeed, as the Minister has said, the last such Bill of this kind.

However, if this latest extension to 8 February does not result in the outcome that we all hope to see, will the Minister confirm that the Government intend to return with a more comprehensive Bill, which would not be subject to this truncated timetable? As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, said, this really is not the way to do business. Will the Minister further confirm, were such a situation to arise—which we all hope it will not—that he would be willing to consider more extensive reforms at that point?

Northern Ireland has to be governed and, however good the civil servants are, it is unacceptable—including for the civil servants themselves—to continue with the current situation. The people of Northern Ireland have been incredibly patient, but, every day that these issues are parked and the can is kicked further down the road, more and more damage is being done. Northern Ireland deserves better.

17:54
Lord Murphy of Torfaen Portrait Lord Murphy of Torfaen (Lab)
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My Lords, we have been here before—quite a few times. Even though that is the case, I and the Opposition support the Government in bringing the legislation forward. It will avoid an election, which I do not think anybody wants, and, because of the shortness of the period that the extension is covering—just two weeks—perhaps we are allowed some hint of optimism that something might be happening, and that there may indeed be a breakthrough or a deal before two weeks are up. We will not oppose the Government on this.

It has been an interesting debate. I certainly endorse the views of Members of the House about threats to Sir Jeffrey Donaldson and others. It is entirely improper. I know from my time in Northern Ireland that those threats sometimes became real and ended in tragedy. I am sure that that will not be the case for Sir Jeffrey, but we nevertheless sympathise with him. He does not deserve that.

I also agree with the Minister that we welcome the noble Lord, Lord Empey, back after some months away. I very much welcomed his contribution. As always, it was wise, useful, important and came right to the heart of the matter. I also regret that my noble friend Lady Ritchie cannot be here as she has Covid, because she would have put a different point of view in this Chamber. We have heard, rightly, from the DUP, the noble Baroness, Lady Hoey, and the noble Lord, Lord Empey, a unionist point of view. I sympathise with the dilemma that unionism in Northern Ireland is in—of course I do. What I do not sympathise with is, however important that is—I will come to that in a second—it meaning that Northern Ireland should be without proper government and a proper democratic Assembly for two years now.

As a consequence of that, the civil servants are taking, or trying to take, major decisions that they cannot take; we have seen a strike of 100,000 people with 16 trade unions, which is, in effect, a general strike in Northern Ireland; we have seen a real collapse in public confidence in politics in Northern Ireland; and we have seen an apathy elsewhere in the United Kingdom about what is happening in Northern Ireland. If it were happening in Wales or Scotland—or, for that matter, Yorkshire—and a part of this United Kingdom was without government for two years and a proper decision could not be made, there would be an uproar. Instead, we hear, “Northern Ireland—it always happens there”. But it does not. The Good Friday agreement and subsequent agreements were all about avoiding this happening.

I was the direct rule Minister for five years in Northern Ireland. I did not like doing it, because it was not up to me as a Welsh Member of Parliament to take decisions about the future of men, women and children in Northern Ireland. The way it is going, we will drift back into that unless there is an agreement. We will drift to the general election, because that will put people off making decisions. That cannot be right.

I come back to the points that noble Members of the House from the DUP made about the protocol. I understand the dilemma that it puts unionism in, but that constitutional difficulty arose from the simple fact that Brexit occurred. Had there been no Brexit, there would not have been a protocol. Had there been no protocol, we would not be in the position that we are in at the moment, without democratic institutions in Northern Ireland.

We should always remember that there is another side to this argument: 56% of the people of Northern Ireland, a sizeable majority, voted to remain in the European Union. I know that that is not constitutionally proper because the United Kingdom is the member state. Nevertheless, if we are to talk about what the people of Northern Ireland thought about Brexit, it was a result of a constitutional and democratic referendum. It is not as simple as that, of course: if you break that down into how nationalists and unionists and those who belong to neither voted, it becomes more complicated. But my argument has always been that you can resolve, or hope to resolve, that issue simultaneously with the continuation of democratic institutions in Northern Ireland. Now, we are where we are and that has not happened, so we have to hope that there will be progress in the next two weeks.

I endorse the views of every Member of the House who has spoken on the pay settlement for public sector workers in Northern Ireland. They should be paid because it is the right thing to do, and they deserve that increase. Their cost of living should not be made worse because of this disagreement. Of course, they should be paid, and I hope that the Minister can give us a positive answer on that. It does not answer the dilemma of how Northern Ireland receives its money. There is a case, made convincingly in this Chamber over the past two years, that the Barnett formula as it operates is unfair to Northern Ireland. That must be remedied too, but let us remember that all these things can be more properly done if there is a working Executive and Assembly.

I do not know what is going to happen in the next two weeks. Let us hope that there is an agreement. If there is, or if there is not, when that Assembly returns, and when there is a working Executive, they should turn their minds to how to avoid this situation in the future. The Good Friday agreement has to be implemented in all its forms, but that includes a consensus among all Members of the Executive and Assembly, and all politicians in Northern Ireland. The Northern Ireland Affairs Select Committee of the other place has suggested an independent review of the workings of the Good Friday agreement. As the noble Lord, Lord Empey, will know, the agreement itself said that there could be reviews of the agreement after a quarter of a century. Instability has ensued over the last number of years—not just because of what the DUP has done, because Sinn Féin did exactly the same thing—so there has to be a prospect of stability and durability about democracy in Northern Ireland. I hope that is resolved by people in Northern Ireland themselves. Whatever the problems, differences or dilemmas, all of us in this Chamber hope that this will be resolved in the next fortnight.

18:01
Lord Caine Portrait Lord Caine (Con)
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My Lords, as always, I am incredibly grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate this afternoon and into this evening.

I, like a number of noble Lords, listened to the speech of Sir Jeffrey Donaldson in the other place this afternoon. It was a powerful contribution from the leader of the DUP, and I supported much of what he said, particularly in respect of those who—as my noble friend Lord Empey said—have tried to frustrate progress in Northern Ireland over many years and have delivered nothing. I was also moved by his comments about the threats and intimidation that he has received. I know I speak for all Members of this House when we pass on our support for him and wish him well. It was one of the Mitchell principles back in the 1990s that politicians in Northern Ireland should pursue their objectives exclusively by peaceful and democratic means. That is as sound a principle today as it was then and should be for the future.

With the leave of the House, I will try to respond to a number of the points that have been made. Inevitably, a number of speeches this afternoon strayed outside the scope of the Bill. Perhaps that was inevitable, given it has only one main clause and one main purpose, which is to move a date.

I am pleased that, at least, there appears to be broad agreement on the substance of the Bill, and I am particularly grateful to the opposition parties for agreeing to its expedited passage through this House and the other place. Our priority must be the restoration of devolution in Northern Ireland, and this is the issue on which we are completely focused. I agree entirely with the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Murphy of Torfaen, on that.

We all want to see progress within the next fortnight. As was said during the debate in the other place this afternoon, there is no deal at the moment. We hope there will be one within the space of time that this legislation provides. I say in response to a number of noble Lords who were looking for more detail that should there be a deal it will be brought before Parliament, and both Houses will have the opportunity to carefully scrutinise the details or, as my Democratic Unionist Party colleagues normally put it, the fine print. We are not there yet, and the House contains enough seasoned negotiators in Northern Ireland politics to recognise that it would be unwise, even if I were able, to go into detail at this stage about any discussions that might be taking place. In response to my noble friend Lord Empey on the rationale for the Bill, suffice it to say that we believe the next fortnight provides an optimum period for the possibility of reaching an agreement. That is where we are focused.

I say in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, that we will continue to prepare for all eventualities, and will update the House if it has not proven possible to restore the Executive by the date which is set out in the legislation, 8 February. She asked whether we would bring forward more substantial legislation. We are currently looking at all eventualities, but if new legislation comes forward, Parliament will have the opportunity to examine it carefully.

The noble Baroness mentioned the possibility of further reform, and my noble friend also touched on reforms to the institutions. The approach of the Government to this has been consistent over a number of years, and we will always look at sensible suggestions for reform. I agree with those who suggested that the Belfast agreement was never intended to be set in tablets of stone. It has already evolved, and there were changes. The noble Lord, Lord Dodds, refers to the Belfast agreement as amended by St Andrews, as there were significant changes in the St Andrews agreement, and changes in the Stormont House agreement, and so on. The test for any reforms has to be that they will command widespread support and consent across the community, and they must be consistent with the underlying and enduring principles of the Belfast agreement.

Much of the debate focused on the reasons why devolved government is not currently in place in Northern Ireland, and the principal one is the DUP’s current opposition to the provisions of the Windsor Framework. If noble Lords will forgive me, and in the interests of time, I do not intend to have a lengthy debate about the Windsor Framework, which has been debated in this House on many occasions. Suffice to say, the Government are well aware of the concerns of the Democratic Unionist Party—it would be strange if we were not given the number of times they have been expressed. We are looking at what we can do to clarify any outstanding points there might be, recognising that the substantive negotiations came to an end shortly before Christmas. We are, and always have been, willing to clarify certain points that might arise.

Another key theme of this afternoon was the union. I set out my own rock-solid support for the union at the beginning of my opening speech. I will part company slightly with some of my colleagues behind me in respect of the constitutional position of Northern Ireland. There are two constitutional outcomes provided for in the 1998 agreement, which are reflected in the Northern Ireland Act 1998: Northern Ireland is either part of the United Kingdom, or part of a united Ireland. I am very sure that Northern Ireland remains an integral part of this United Kingdom, something I wish never to see change.

The noble Baroness, Lady Foster—she is my friend—referred to the concept of the all-Ireland economy. I entirely agree with her, and the Government have made it clear, that there are two economies on the island of Ireland. One of those, the Northern Ireland economy, is an integral part of the world’s sixth-largest economy, from which Northern Ireland gains considerable strength and security. We should never forget that fact.

I hear what has been said about public sector pay; there appears to be unanimity among most of the parties in the House on this issue. I see the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, confirming that from his sedentary position. Let me reiterate, as I did at the outset, that the £3.3 billion package is very much on the table for an incoming Administration in Northern Ireland. The noble Baroness, Lady Foster, mentioned money for tackling current pressures. She will be aware that the issue of the block grant is, rightly, one for negotiation between His Majesty’s Treasury and an incoming Northern Ireland Executive, but I will take back her comments and may write to her in more detail on that subject.

In conclusion, I hope shortly to be in a position where we have the return of devolved government in Northern Ireland and no longer need to have these rather novel pieces of legislation. I agree with my noble friend that it is very unsatisfactory. All I would say is that it is certainly not the first time we have introduced novel and expedited legislation in Northern Ireland. I look forward to a time when any Northern Ireland legislation is dealt with in a proper and considered way while most of the decisions are taken, rightly, in the Assembly, by local politicians in that Assembly answerable to their electorate. On that note, I very much hope that we can make some progress in the next two weeks, before 8 February, as set out in the legislation.

Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
Lord Roborough Portrait Lord Roborough (Con)
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My Lords, we will now have a short period to allow Members to table amendments. Members wishing to table amendments should do so by 6.43 pm, so in 30 minutes, and should contact the Public Bill Office. We will now have a repeat of an Urgent Question and then a short adjournment at the end of the tabling period. When we return, if there are no amendments, we will take the remaining stages of the Bill formally and then move straight to Committee on the Victims and Prisoners Bill.

Extreme Weather: Resilience

Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Commons Urgent Question
18:14
Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Baroness Neville- Rolfe) (Con)
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My Lords, I will repeat the Answer to an Urgent Question in the form of a Statement:

“First, I would like to say how sorry the Government were to hear that four people sadly lost their lives due to Storm Isha, two in this country and two in Ireland. I extend my sympathy to their families and friends. At the same time, I praise our emergency and utility workers, who have worked so hard in some very difficult conditions to help the public.

Forecasters at the Met Office raised a rare whole-country weather warning for the wind over the weekend, in preparation for Storm Isha. The warning encompassed even rarer amber and red warnings for wind in the areas forecast to experience the worst of the storm. Indeed, wind gusts reached a peak of 99 mph in Northumberland and 124 mph across the Cairngorms. Although the storm had the potential to be extremely destructive, the vast majority of the transport and power infrastructure stood up well and recovered quickly, which is a credit to the resilience of our critical infra- structure and the response capabilities of our operational partners on the ground.

Storm Isha was closely followed by Storm Jocelyn, which reached a peak of 97 mph. I am informed that it was the 10th named storm to impact our country this season. Again, the impacts from Jocelyn in England were less than feared. There were operational partners working around the clock to clear any disruption on our transport and power networks.

The forecasting capabilities of our experts in the Met Office, and the accuracy and speed at which they can warn and inform the public of incoming severe weather events, no doubt saves lives and protects our homes and businesses. My officials and those across government were working hard last week, and over the weekend, to co-ordinate the extensive preparation and mitigation measures being taken across the Government. The fact that no escalation to a COBRA-level response was required for either storm is testament to our effective response structures at local and national levels. I am very grateful for the response from colleagues in the devolved Administrations and to local resilience forums around the country. Our local authority and agency partners kept public services running and reacted to any local issues that emerged.

We are adapting to weather events not previously experienced in our country, and events such as these coming with increasing frequency and severity. The UK is driving forward cross-government action to respond to climate risks and their impacts on our economy and way of life. Our third national adaptation programme, published in July last year, sets out an ambitious five-year programme of work, driven by three themes: action, information and co-ordination.

We are ensuring a more integrated approach to climate adaptation over the next five years, through stronger government engagement and co-ordinated policy-making. As part of this, we have already established the right government structures not only to monitor progress but to tackle strategic cross-cutting challenges which will drive the UK’s resilience to climate change. This is all in line with the Government’s broader strategy, as set out in the resilience framework, which committed us to strengthening the links between our understanding of the risks that the UK faces and the action we take to prevent those risks materialising. We must continue to drive forward the initiatives that help us curb the impacts of climate change and, at the same time, build systems that help us to withstand extreme events as they arise”.

18:18
Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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My Lords, I echo the words of the Minister in saying how sorry we all were to hear of the loss of four lives as a result of Storms Isha and Jocelyn in the UK and Ireland. Our thoughts are with their families and friends. Our thanks go to the emergency and utility service workers who worked tirelessly to protect homes and lives, often in the most challenging of circumstances. The Environment Agency estimates that the number of homes at risk from flooding could double by 2050 due to the impact of climate change. The UK needs to be better prepared. Will the Minister accept that a COBRA-style flood resilience task force, as proposed on these Benches, is needed to tackle the problem?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, I very much echo what the noble Baroness said about the emergency services and all who are involved in this. Indeed, without the changes we have made and the effort they put in, these recent storms would have caused much more damage and perhaps more loss of life, so that is very good news.

The COBRA system, which the noble Baroness mentions, is of course already baked into standing cross-government flooding response mechanisms, as the last tier of escalation for the most severe flood events. These mechanisms are stood up to support the operational response at local level, which is obviously necessitated by the increasingly sophisticated weather warnings that we see coming through from the Met Office. We managed well across the country on this occasion and the COBRA unit in the Cabinet Office—the ministerial unit—was not needed. That does not mean to say that officials did not get together. They worked well across the country with local people and the devolved Administrations. In some sense, it is a success that it was unnecessary to have the full COBRA ministerial meeting on this occasion. I have referenced the future resilience work that we are doing. We have brought these much better co-ordination systems into the Cabinet Office and work very closely with Defra, which is responsible for building up long-term flood protection. We have also invested a lot of capital in recent years. There is £5.2 billion available for flood defence projects, which I think is a doubling on the previous period.

Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her Statement. I join her and the Labour Benches in offering our condolences for all those who lost their lives, and in thanking the emergency services for everything that they do. UK winters are getting warmer and wetter; there is a lot of variation year to year, but winter rainfall has increased by 27% overall since records began in 1837. The impacts of climate change are here now. The NAO report Resilience to Flooding found that the Government do not have clearly defined targets or an effective strategy in place for making the UK resilient to extreme weather. They do not even track or evaluate spending on resilience to extreme weather. When do the Government plan to publish an extreme weather strategy, to include defined targets, risk assessments, and measures of outcomes?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I thank the noble Earl. I am glad he mentioned the NAO report, because it did welcome the work that had been done—I know this has been welcomed across the House—on setting up the Resilience Directorate and, indeed, publishing the resilience framework in 2022. Setting appropriate targets and ambitions for the level of flood resilience—in particular, for critical infrastructure because that is a key part—is part of the Government’s broader thinking on resilience standards.

There are more than 100 risk priorities in our risk register; we are working on all of these and have committed to create by 2030 common but flexible resilience standards right across critical national infrastructure, as well as across the private sector more broadly. One of the lessons of the storms we are seeing is that it is important to work with the private sector as well. One reason that people have been less affected has been the improvements that have been made in power, transport, trains and the rest—partly having early warning, partly working together, and partly having this sense of mission that we must try to respond to the warmer, wetter winters and the arrival of a certain element of Mediterranean weather in our beautiful island, as the noble Earl said.

Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston Portrait Baroness Stuart of Edgbaston (CB)
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My Lords, I am glad that the Minister mentioned the private sector, because I would like to take it to an even more granular level—the individual household sector. Has she had conversations with the insurance industry, to make it absolutely clear to home policy owners what damage is covered and how to deal with neighbourhood disputes resulting from falling trees, falling fences and similar damage, where it may not be immediately obvious whose responsibility it is?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes a very good point about insurance. We do have discussions with the insurance industry on resilience. Of course, in recent years we have developed Flood Re, which is a very important reinsurance scheme that makes flood cover more widely available to households that are particularly vulnerable to flooding so that people can get insurance. Another part of the picture is the compensation schemes that are part of the flood recovery framework. In England, for appropriate events, there was £500 per affected household and £2,500 for affected businesses provided through the local authority, and some temporary council tax and business rate relief. The arrangements in the devolved nations are a bit different and, in some cases, more generous.

I think we must look at it in the round. How can the Government help? How can they prevent this? Can they communicate much better to make sure that people are not harmed and are kept safe? Where, sadly, there is damage to property, can we make sure that the insurance system helps to minimise government expenditure, which is occasionally necessary?

Lord Watson of Invergowrie Portrait Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister said in her opening remarks that the problems in the last few days were such that we had not seen before, but is that the case? This is the ninth season that the so-called European windstorms have been sufficiently serious for them to have names attached. On each occasion, we see apparently more serious effects in the UK than in other countries—electricity supply off for days on end, trains and other forms of transport severely disrupted. It is fair to ask why that should be. Do the Minister and her Government not believe that more resources need to be given to local authorities, and indeed to rail companies and other forms of transport, to enable them to prepare more effectively? These windstorms will not go away; they will increase in severity.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My own view on resilience is that it has to be a whole-of-society effort; I was trying to explain that point in relation to the previous question. Therefore, local authorities play an important part. Clearly, this is part of local authority funding in the broadest sense, and there has been some further assistance for local authorities, although I know that difficulties remain. We have tried very hard to focus attention on the local resilience forums; DLUHC agreed an extra £22 million three-year funding settlement for them in England. That followed a pilot, and the good news—I think it has probably been announced before—is that there will be stronger local resilience forum pilots in eight areas, going live in June. They will be in London, West Mercia, Suffolk, Gloucester, Cumbria, Greater Manchester, Thames Valley and Northumbria—so this is investment in the local effort in different sorts of areas. I am a great believer in piloting because you can then share that elsewhere and make things better.

On funding, obviously we need to spend enough on flood protection and resilience, but we also need to try to do it in a better way and with the help of all parts of society. I mentioned earlier the efforts that have been made—by power companies, for example—to improve things and get electricity out much more quickly. We have had a lot of storms; the weather is perhaps getting worse, but we are trying to learn from that and to perform better in these sometimes very tragic situations.

18:28
Sitting suspended.

Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Bill

Committee stage & Report stage & 3rd reading
Wednesday 24th January 2024

(5 months, 3 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2024 View all Northern Ireland (Executive Formation) Act 2024 Debates Read Hansard Text
Committee (and remaining stages)
18:56
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Finlay of Llandaff) (CB)
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My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to the Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. With the agreement of the Committee, I will now report the Bill to the House without amendment.

House resumed. Bill reported without amendment. Report and Third Reading agreed without debate. Bill passed.
Committee (1st Day)
Welsh Legislative Consent sought. Relevant documents: 7th Report from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, 1st Report from the Constitution Committee.
18:58
Clause 1: Meaning of “victim”
Amendment 1
Moved by
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 7, at end insert—
“(aa) witnessing criminal conduct,(ab) having subsequent responsibility for care because of criminal conduct,(ac) experiencing vicarious harm due to criminal conduct”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment aims to extend the definition of a victim under Part 1 to include people who support and provide care for victims of serious sexual and violent crimes.
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, as we start this Bill, from these Benches we are pleased to see that the first part of it relates to victims. Even though we want to improve the Bill, I thank the Minister for the meetings and dialogue we have had so far and look forward to more as the Bill progresses.

Amendment 1, in my name, starts this group on the definition of a victim. I thank Restitute, the lived-experience CIC, which supports third-party victims of crime—whether they are the parents, carers, partners, siblings or loved ones of people who have survived sexual abuse, sexual violence or other serious crimes including domestic violence and stalking. It specialises in building the service that its members wish they had received, and which professional service providers often do not spot, nor have the resources to be able to provide: namely, crisis support in the short term and, above all, someone to help them and their loved one, who is the direct victim, to navigate the new world of professionals they encounter during their case.

Why is this important? Unless you have been the victim of such a crime, you cannot understand how it affects those who care for you. Most professionals would not recognise that your loved ones may also be victims of vicarious harm due to the crime. More than that, parents may have to give up work, partners need time off and children have poor educational outcomes. Families that have previously had two incomes often see that cut in half at a stroke. Carers are not entitled to any therapeutic or emotional support. The impact on their health and well-being is devastating. That is before we even face the problems related to family breakdown.

Most of Part 1 of the Bill focuses on the rights of the direct victim of the crime, and the services that they will encounter afterwards. One of the worst examples is the impact of child sexual abuse on victims/survivors, including on non-perpetrator family members. The impacts on mothers, for example, can mirror the experience of their child. Social services can also force them to make rapid and difficult decisions at the exact moment they are coming to terms with the abuse that their child has suffered. Healthcare and the criminal justice system often do not recognise that the impact goes beyond the direct victim.

This can include siblings who are children themselves but who, under the Bill, would not be able to access any support under the victims’ code. The siblings of abused children may have feelings that they have let down their sibling because they could not prevent the incident, or may be fearful that in the future it may happen to them. These children also see distressed adult carers struggling to navigate the system, which currently does not recognise them as victims either. Without support these families struggle, and it becomes harder for all of them to recover from the incident.

Amendment 1 extends the definition of a victim of crime to include someone who is

“witnessing criminal conduct … having subsequent responsibility for care because of criminal conduct … experiencing vicarious harm due to criminal conduct”.

I have also added my name to Amendment 2, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, which would ensure that bereaved victims of homicide abroad are given the same support as victims of homicide within the UK. These victims not only face the extreme distress of losing their loved one in a horrible way but have to deal with the criminal justice systems of foreign jurisdictions.

Many years ago, my sister worked for Thomson Holidays. Her role was to deal with the immediate aftermath of death—including homicide—of her holiday- makers. Once the families had returned home, for many, having to deal with an overseas criminal justice system was even more bemusing, and they felt very isolated. We know that just being the family survivor of a homicide is hard enough.

I also support the other amendments in this group, all of which raise key questions about the definition of a victim of crime or try to establish how victims can get parity of treatment at their review—as in Amendment 8—whether they are victims of a perpetrator serving a custodial sentence or a perpetrator being detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. Amendment 3 adds in a person being killed by a family member such as a dangerous driver. Amendment 4 adds serious anti-social behaviour. Amendment 12 takes us into the debate on the content and context of the victims’ code, and states which services must be involved in decisions regarding leave or discharge for the perpetrator. Currently, the victim is far too often the last person to hear that the perpetrator has been released. That is unforgivable. Amendment 19 would ensure that victims have information to understand the justice system and relevant state agencies.

The Government will have gathered that noble Lords across your Lordships’ House believe that the definitions in Clauses 1 and 2 are too narrow and will exclude certain people who are seriously affected but not defined as a victim. I look forward to the Minister’s response. In the meantime, I beg to move Amendment 1.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, Amendment 3 acknowledges that the definition of victim in the Bill is quite broad, and that will mean, I hope, that as many victims as possible are supported by the victims’ code and related services. However, I want to probe the Government as to whether they intended the definition of victim to be so broad as to include the close family of a person who died as a direct result of their own criminal conduct; for example, by dangerous driving or possessing and consuming illegal drugs.

Clause 1(2) defines a victim as including

“where the death of a close family member of the person was the direct result of criminal conduct”.

This appears to include where the deceased caused their own death by their own criminal conduct. This broadness is underlined by Clause 1(5), which makes it “immaterial” whether anyone has reported the criminal conduct, or if anyone has been charged with, or convicted of, an offence.

The family of someone who dies as a result of consuming illegal drugs are victims of the Government’s ideological war on drugs. The Government refuse to treat drug use as a health issue and to implement a safe, regulated market of drugs that would take the multi-billion pound drugs trade out of the hands of criminal gangs.

Can the Minister please clarify whether it is the Government’s intention that family members of people who die as a result of their own criminal conduct will be supported by the victims’ code and the associated support services provided to victims?

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my relevant interests as outlined in the register. I support Amendments 8, 12 and 19, which seek to ensure that people who have suffered as a result of a crime committed by a patient with a mental health disorder who is detained in hospital under a restriction order are afforded the same rights under the victims’ code as victims of offenders who are held in the prison estate. This is not the case presently.

The amendments seek to extend the principle that all victims have a right to be heard in the justice process and to include the NHS and His Majesty’s Courts & Tribunals Service in the list of responsible agencies. This would bring mental health tribunal processes in line with the rest of the criminal justice system and remove a long-standing and unfair disparity in treatment for people who have experienced these crimes. The principle that everyone who experiences a crime should have the opportunity to make their voice heard in the criminal justice process is at the heart of why these amendments are necessary. Those who have experienced crimes committed by patients with a diagnosed mental health illness deserve parity of treatment with all other people who have experienced crimes.

Under the victims’ code, people have the right to make a victim personal statement before the Parole Board when the person who has offended is being considered for release. Anyone who is directly affected by violent crime should have the right to be heard, but, as the victims’ code does not extend to mental health tribunals, victims of an offence caused by somebody held under a mental health restriction order cannot make any personal statement in writing, or in person, to the mental health tribunal panel.

The VPS is the single key entitlement which allows people to explain the impact of the crime committed against them, and there is a widespread consensus that the opportunity to submit a VPS is beneficial for all victims. It can offer some catharsis, which is essential in assisting the recovery from the trauma of a crime. In addition to this being beneficial to people who have experienced crime, this process may offer the opportunity for patients with a mental health disorder to gain further understanding of the impact of their actions on other people. This is particularly important when these people return to the community and sometimes feel that it would be better not to take their medication. Understanding the risk of not doing so might be beneficial for the proportion who are able to leave hospital.

The anticipated number of victims wishing to speak directly to the mental health tribunal is likely to be small. I understand that in cases of people wishing to address the Parole Board in person, it is currently fewer than one in 10. The majority are likely to submit a written statement to the panel that explains the impact that the actions of the patient has made on their lives.

The practice of allowing statements to be made to the tribunal is established in other jurisdictions, such as Scotland and Australia. In research undertaken by the Victims’ Commissioner in 2019, a family in Scotland discussed their experience addressing a mental health panel. They attended a separate hearing where the patient was not present but a legal representative attended on their behalf instead. The family did not get the outcome from the hearing they had hoped for but, crucially, they felt acknowledged and a party to the process despite that. They said:

“We … did feel given a voice, and one of the few occasions in the whole process we felt we had a voice and able to articulate our position”.


Clearly, it should be possible to balance the rights of patients.

Of course, as a nurse, I cannot overemphasise the need to maintain the confidentiality of medical records in tribunals. None of this needs to be shared with the victim making the representation and those impacted by crimes, so why is there such a different process in England and Wales, even just north of the border? As victims of crime are not currently able to address mental health panels in writing, by video link or in person, we are left with a two-tier system in which a distinction is made based on whether somebody is detained in a prison or in a mental health hospital. It is those who have suffered from the crime who lose out in terms of being heard.

I have worked closely with the Victims’ Commissioner, who has long called for this change. I hope that the Government will look favourably on these amendments and identify any changes to mental health tribunals that may be necessary.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister kindly came to today’s Cross-Bench meeting and talked us through the Bill from his point of view. He started by saying that we will have quite a problem defining a victim because, as evidenced by this group of amendments, there are an awful lot of groups of people who clearly identify as victims and for whom there is evidence that they are victims. Although I understand the Government’s wish to try to contain this to some extent, it is important that we have a proper discussion about all these different groups and work out whether there is an intelligent, sensible and pragmatic way for us to be cleverer about the definition than we are at the moment.

The noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who put his name to my Amendment 4, apologises for being unable to be here to speak because of another appointment. Amendment 4 seeks to ensure that victims of persistent anti-social behaviour—we all love acronyms, and I will mostly refer to it as “ASB” from now on—are recognised as victims and provided with their own code rights. Persistent anti-social behaviour can be defined as behaviour that meets the level required to trigger an anti- social behaviour case review; this means three reported incidents of ASB over a six-month period.

Currently, many victims of ASB are not recognised under the code because the criminal threshold has not been met. The police may treat and regard some of these incidents simply as misdemeanours or disputes between neighbours. The police’s failure to recognise the reality of what these victims undergo can make it worse, so it is important that we and the police are able to look at the whole picture.

The cumulative impact of ASB can be, and is, devastating. It affects victims’ sleep, work, relationships, health and feeling of safety, even in their own home. Left unpoliced, the consequences can be absolutely devastating. In this instance, an example would be the deaths of Suzanne Dow, Fiona Pilkington, Bijan Ebrahimi, Matthew Boorman, Stephen and Jennifer Chapple, David Askew, Louise Lotz and—last but by no means least—Garry Newlove, the ex-husband of the former Victims’ Commissioner, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. In the case of David Askew, he collapsed and died on his own doorstep after years of torment.

Every day, victims of ASB in England and Wales are failed by the system and are unable to access the support they need and deserve. Every year, the charity ASB Help receives tens of thousands of pleas from victims trying to work out how they can find help. This is made worse because no single agency holds responsibility for tackling ASB, resulting in a not untypical diffusion of responsibility across the police, local authorities, housing associations and private landlords.

19:15
Many victims of ASB are simply not recognised as victims of crime and, because police and crime commissioners’ funding for victim services is ring-fenced for victims of crime, such victims are often not eligible for locally commissioned victim services. Some PCCs provide limited support to ASB victims by using their discretionary funding, but others typically do not, so, I am afraid that it is a postcode lottery. By giving victims of persistent ASB the same rights as other victims of crime, we could ensure that they at least get an adequate and consistent level of support. This amendment would ensure that victims who meet the ASB case review threshold are referred to victim support services and receive the help they need.
At the moment, these victims feel like second-class citizens. The longer the anti-social behaviour inflicted on them continues, the worse their mental state and that of those around them gets, and the harder they will be to help. I therefore strongly commend this amendment, which has the complete and utter backing of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. I appeal to the Minister and the Bill team to look into this carefully. I am sure that the noble Baroness, the former Victims’ Commissioner, will speak to this amendment in a minute. She of all people knows directly the devastating consequences of anti-social behaviour, not just to her but to her immediate and extended family.
I hope that the Government will look favourably on this amendment. In particular, I ask the Minister to meet some of us between now and Report in order to look at this issue in more detail and see whether we can find a way through.
Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for the way in which she introduced this important group of amendments. I am also grateful to her and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for their support for my Amendment 2, which seeks to ensure that victims of homicide outside of the United Kingdom receive adequate support and are provided for in the victims’ code. The distress they experience can be exacerbated by having to deal with the criminal justice systems of foreign jurisdictions and other difficulties that re-traumatise.

There are approximately 80 homicides of British nationals overseas each year. In addition, there are suspicious deaths, accidents and unexplained deaths. Families bereaved by a homicide in the UK are recognised as victims in their own right and are able to access rights under the victims’ code. Yet these same rights are not extended to those bereaved by homicide abroad, for no reason other than that the homicide occurred overseas. To lose a person you love to murder is a devastating and traumatic event wherever the crime occurs, but there are many additional problems and hurdles for British families bereaved by a murder overseas. As has already been explained clearly, these difficulties include repatriation, travel, accommodation, language barriers, lawyers, foreign judicial processes and many more.

These issues are exacerbated by the fact that these families have no right to access support to help them deal with these problems, putting them distinctly at odds with their compatriots. Bereaved families frequently have great difficulty accessing financial support for advocates and witnesses to travel abroad to attend trials. They cannot claim criminal injuries compensation because the crime occurred in another jurisdiction. Yet we know that it does not have to be this way. If the victim is killed by a terrorist, the family have a legal right to claim compensation. This clear distinction between these two cohorts of victims has no apparent rationale. It appears discriminatory because, for the victim’s family, murder is murder.

When it comes to supporting bereaved victims of homicide abroad, the responsibilities of the UK seem unclear. Of course each case is different, but it is unclear which UK agency has an overarching view of the end-to-end experience of the victims. Families frequently feel unsupported, describing falling through gaps between the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office—FCDO, the Ministry of Justice, the jurisdiction of the crime and our own police. The FCDO is the key body that the victims will interface with when homicide occurs abroad, but this department is not included within the remit of the victims’ code. The only document that exists to help provide a minimum standard of assistance to victims is a memorandum of understanding between the FCDO, the association for chief police officers and the Coroners’ Society of England and Wales. This memorandum is not legally enforceable, and the Homicide Service, which is contracted by the FCDO to support victims of homicide abroad, is not a signatory to it.

There is therefore a complete lack of accountability and oversight when it comes to support for victims of homicide abroad. The damage that this absence of support causes is immeasurable and often has a long-term and wide-reaching impact. There are numerous case studies of victims who have been let down by UK agencies. In one shocking example, the FCDO gave a family a list of local lawyers based in the location where the murder occurred. The family was not told whether any of the 12 names supplied had been vetted or whether they spoke English, and the FCDO refused to give advice or a steer about which lawyer to use. As a result, the family ended up with an unreputable lawyer, costing £3,000, further compounding their enormous family pain.

A harrowing example of a family having to deal with the criminal justice system of a foreign jurisdiction is illustrated by the case of Halford and Florence Anderson, a British married couple. The 74 and 71 year- olds were both murdered in 2018 near their home in Jamaica, after reporting being victims of fraud. A senior coroner in Manchester, where the couple was from, concluded that they were both unlawfully killed. However, no one has been charged with their killings. Their son, Mark, has expressed the devastation that the family is going through, with still no sign of justice and no official updates on the case. This contrasts starkly with the positive experiences of victims who receive support from the charity, Murdered Abroad, which provides valuable support, both practical and emotional, as well as putting victims in touch with reliable lawyers and providing peer support for victims through group meetings.

But the burden of support should not be solely on charities. UK agencies have a duty to British citizens and should provide support to families impacted by homicide, regardless of the geographical location of the crime. That is what this amendment seeks to achieve. I have worked with, and have the support of, the Victims’ Commissioner, which is reassuring. I know that she has been calling for this change since her last time in that office. I hope the Government will look favourably on this amendment and be prepared to discuss it further before Report.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, my name is on the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, although it was not meant to be—there was some confusion between “Sally” and “Sal”—but I am glad that it has remained there. I also commend the noble Baroness for that neat handover of the chair.

The noble Baroness introduced the amendment thoroughly, but, reading the briefing from the Victims’ Commissioner, I remembered one experience of a friend. It was nothing as extreme as a homicide, but her husband died unexpectedly on a business visit to the United States. It was hugely emotionally difficult for her, as well as practically difficult: different language is experienced even in the United States, and certainly there are different procedures and cultures. One needs signposting to the right people, who can deal with the procedures as well as support. I remember her talking about the difficulty in bringing him home.

Baroness Fox of Buckley Portrait Baroness Fox of Buckley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I welcome this discussion and having a sense of clarification about who a “victim” is in a Bill at least half of which is about victims. I especially support Amendments 2 and 8, but I have some questions for those who tabled the other amendments. Although having too narrow a definition can be a problem, it strikes me that we could cause real problems for victims if we had too broad a definition. I am obviously thinking about resources and overstretching support. So many people can be victims of crime if you start broadening it so much.

As hinted at by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, in her interesting Amendment 3, it is a tragedy for the families of perpetrators too. They can also be victims, and whole ranges of people—friends, acquaintances and other people who have genuinely suffered—could say that they are victims, but are we seriously trying to put them all in scope? I want to know how we can ensure that, even if we are acting in generosity to try to broaden the definition, we do not water down a focus on the actual victims of crime that the Bill is designed to help. In other words: where do we draw the line?

In that context, I am slightly concerned about a broadening of what now constitute victims of crime. In Amendment 4, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, explained, it then becomes anti-social behaviour. He gave a moving account of what it feels like to be a victim of anti-social behaviour, but we could probably all stand up and give moving accounts of being victims of something—bullying and all sorts of other behaviour that makes people suffer. I am slightly concerned that we might end up relativising the experience of victims of crime in an attempt at broadening this too much. Whether we like it or not, culturally, we live in a society in which victimhood is valorised. I do not want the Bill to contribute to that relativising experience, because there is a danger that, if we make it too broad, we could trivialise the real victims of crime. But then you could rightly ask me: who do I mean by “real victims”? I do not want it to go so far so that we lose all sense of its meaning.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to take part in this Committee, both as Helen Newlove and as Victims’ Commissioner. I thank all the victims I have spoken to over the years. We are bringing their voices to this Committee, right through to the end, because we cannot be grateful enough for their bravery and their having come forward.

I have a list, but I will try to get through it. Amendment 2 is welcome and rightly looks to put bereaved victims of homicide abroad into the code. As has been said, to lose a loved one to murder is horrific and devastating—I can personally say that—no matter where the crime takes place. However, the families I have met whose loved ones have been murdered abroad have to get through significant additional financial, legal and logistical burdens in a different language and a different system—it is not as simple as we put on this script for Hansard today, believe you me.

To have to repatriate the body of a loved one is not simple, because families have to look to the coroner so that they do not harm evidence. That has to be co-ordinated with a foreign criminal justice system, where some families have sat in police stations with photographs of their loved ones, waiting for someone to pick up on that in their language. That image has never left me to this day. To feel alien in a country, knowing how you have lost a loved one, must be horrendous. It is bad enough in the system in this country, but to have that in a foreign country is very demeaning to a hurt family.

As has been said, there are only 60 to 80 such families a year, but that is enough. It is important that this small group of families has the same entitlements as those of bereaved families in this country. There really needs to be change. They are not entitled to criminal injuries compensation unless the death occurred as a result of a terror attack, as we have heard. This is particularly unjust when you bear in mind that they will have the same additional financial burdens as a victim of terrorism abroad. We all live on mobile phones; to have to pay a mobile phone bill just to get family help, when you do not have the finances, must be horrendous. We need to look at how we can balance this.

19:30
Over the years, I have met many victims and families; I have seen their frustration and hurt but, more importantly, their dignity, which is amazing. To have to translate documents, find the correct interpreters and, as we have heard, the correct legal people is unbelievable. I want these families to have the same access to interpreters and translation services as is on offer to victims and defendants in the UK for whom English is not their first language. I also want to be sure that agencies, including the Foreign Office, with which I have had many meetings, the national homicide service and the police are working together holistically to provide timely information and help more sensitively. We must support these families. The entitlements for these victims need to be in the Code of Practice for Victims of Crime so that they can have the same legal force as entitlements for bereaved victims of murders in the UK, and so that agencies can be held to account. The time has come to put these families into the victims’ code, which is where they deserve to be.
I also support Amendment 4. As many noble Lords will be aware, anti-social behaviour is my subject, most personally because my girls and I witnessed the most horrific case of anti-social behaviour when we lost my late husband, Garry, to 14 kicks to the head and 40 internal injuries. Having had to turn his life support machine off after these horrendous acts, it beggars belief that we are still discussing anti-social behaviour as we do today.
Persistent anti-social behaviour targeted at an individual or group of individuals has a devastating impact on the victims’ lives, health and relationships and on their ability to hold down paid employment and to feel valued and that their life has worth. I have met hundreds of such people over the years, and I still have an inbox full of anti-social behaviour incidents. The acts that are happening are horrendous. It is not just young people, but an older generation who have the utmost disrespect for other people and their homes. I have met young victims who were sofa surfing while paying rent on a flat they were too afraid to live in, and elderly victims too frightened to leave their homes. All too often, victims have been compelled to move home because it is the only way they feel safe. That is not the way to stop anti-social behaviour.
Depressingly, the stories are all the same. Their plight was not recognised by the authorities, particularly the police, with each incident being treated in isolation and no one attempting to understand the wider pattern of behaviour and the extremely high level of harm being caused. All too often, the police declined to treat the behaviour as criminal but instead as a neighbour dispute or a misdemeanour. Yet in many cases it was very apparent that the criminal threshold had been met.
Why do the police not record it as a crime? I believe that it is because there is a prevailing culture that all anti-social behaviour is, as the police put it, “low level”. I have said to every police force for 14 years that they must stop calling it that—it is their phrase, nobody else’s. In terms of its seriousness and harm, it is certainly not low level. As a result, victims are not referred to local victim support services, where they might be able to get the support they so often need, and, sadly, are simply left to struggle alone.
Police and crime commissioners provide funding to local victim services, but it applies only to those victims who fall within the victims’ code. The group of people I am talking about are all too often victims of crime, albeit not officially recognised as such. Some PCCs use discretionary funding to support these victims. I thank them for recognising that there is a strong need—sadly, many others do not. This amendment would make it explicit that victims who meet the statutory threshold for anti-social behaviour case review come within the ambit of the code and, as such, qualify for much-needed help and support.
I also support Amendments 8, 12 and 19, and thank everyone who has come forward. I feel passionately about this issue. We have to recognise these families, because the criminal justice system does not. Six years ago, I launched the report Entitlements and Experiences of Victims of Mentally Disordered Offenders, in which I highlighted the poor treatment of victims of perpetrators detained under the Mental Health Act.
I met a family whose children had been burned in a car, but they could still not get recognition for the harm and trauma. The child was hiding under her bed because her parent, who was in a mental health institution, had every right to see the daughter whom she had tried to burn alive, along with her son, who could not be recognised and, sadly, lost his life. Their being put to one side by professionals who said, “We’re not telling you anything”, has never left me to this day. They are a small group, and when I decided to speak up for them, they could not thank me enough. I am just like them. That shows you how badly this system needs to change in order to include them. Many have been subjected to the most horrific violent crimes and lost so many loved ones.
The law rightly distinguishes between offenders who were of sound mind when committing their crimes and those whose judgment was impaired by mental illness. That is not disputed, but the trauma and distress inflicted on the victim by these crimes nevertheless remains the same, regardless of whether the perpetrator is in prison or a hospital facility. Despite this, victims of those detained under the Mental Health Act do not have the same entitlements under the victims’ code. In 2018, several such victims told me that they feel isolated in a system that pays little regard to their needs or support.
Six years later, there have been improvements and progress. In particular, victims of unrestricted patients have the same entitlement to a victim liaison officer as any other victim. Yet, while there has been real progress in recent years in involving victims in the parole process, this has not been extended to the victims of mentally disordered offenders. They have been overlooked and left behind again. It pains me that these victims are still not entitled to submit a victim personal statement when the offender’s ongoing detention is reviewed by the tribunal, nor do they have an entitlement to attend the tribunal hearing and present their statement in person. A victim can submit a victim personal statement to a magistrates’ court, the Crown Court, the Court of Appeal or the Parole Board. The tribunals in England and Wales are the only bodies not to invite or accept a statement.
As we have heard, in Scotland the mental health tribunals allow representations from victims. The Mental Health (Care and Treatment) (Scotland) Act 2003 provides a statutory right for any party that has any interest to make representations to the tribunal either orally or in writing. The victim makes representations to that panel considering the case. It takes place at a separate oral hearing where the patient is not present, although it is attended by their legal representative. The Scottish tribunal says that
“this has not proved to be in any way problematic. Having heard the victim’s representations, the Tribunal has been able to have regard to them in deciding, for example, whether to attach any condition to a patient’s conditional discharge”.
If listening to a victim is lawful in Scotland, there is no reason why it cannot be lawful in England and Wales. These victims and families have suffered the most appalling crimes. The father I met, whose child had been burned and who had lost a son the same way, felt so guilty that he could not protect his daughter. They have waited far too long to be heard. I ask the Minister to look again; the time has come to act.
Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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My Lords, it is an honour to be participating in the discussions on this important Bill. We have got off to a great start today—albeit a little later than we were expecting. I say from the outset that my noble friend Lord Ponsonby and I are very keen to work with colleagues from all parts of the House, and the Minister and the Bill team, to ensure that we end up with the best possible Bill and the best possible future of support and attention for victims in our criminal justice system, as eloquently expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove.

The amendments already show that commitment. I am thankful for the briefing that we have received from many directions, including from the victims’ commissioners of both the UK and London, the Children’s Commissioner and many other organisations, whose help and support will be important for our deliberations over the days and possibly weeks to come.

I will speak to all the amendments in this group, with particular reference to Amendment 4, to which I have added my name, and Amendments 12 and 19, to which my noble friend has added his name. These amendments address what should be included in the definition of “victim” in the Bill in Clause 1. In this debate, we are testing whether that definition is inclusive enough to cover the range of people who find themselves victims.

In Amendment 1, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, seeks to include people who support witnesses or victims of the most serious crimes. She explained—with great clarity—what that would mean and how that would work. Amendment 2 recognises that being a victim abroad means you are a victim and recognises the distress that that experience brings. It was movingly described by the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Finlay.

Amendment 3 very interestingly probes the width of the definition, as exposed by the discussion and the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Amendment 4 addresses the issue of anti-social behaviour victims, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Russell. I thank both him and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, for the way that they have talked about this. I added my name to this amendment because, although the Bill seeks to introduce measures to help victims, we have to have confidence that the right support is available and that, if they report a crime, the criminal justice system will treat them in the way they should rightly expect.

However, this Bill misses the opportunity to extend the right to access support to victims of persistent and anti-social behaviour in cases where the police choose not to take action. We can have a discussion about why the police may or may not choose to take action, but it seems to me that our duty to put into the Bill a way in which to recognise that these people are victims and that they need support in the victims’ code. This Bill presents us with the opportunity to recognise the victims of persistent anti-social behaviour and to set out their entitlement in the victims’ code.

This is an important matter. While it is possible that this amendment may not be the right way to do it, we need to do what the noble Lord, Lord Russell, has suggested, and work out with the Bill team and the Minister how we can do that in a way that recognises the very serious issues. I was very struck by both the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and by the comprehensive brief that her office provided for us about this matter. For example, in one case study, 280 incidents of anti-social behaviour were reported over 10 months, including noise, nuisance, anonymous harassment, threats and intimidation—incidents that culminated in a firebomb attack on victims’ property. The continued impact of anti-social behaviour resulted in one victim attempting suicide on two occasions, and victims eventually having to move house due to the trauma that they were experiencing. These are victims and we need to work out how we can best recognise and support them in that.

19:45
Amendments 8, 12 and 19, to which my noble friend has added his name, seek to address the issues of mental health, being heard and access to information. I do not think that I can better the very full description and explanation that the noble Baroness, Lady Watkins, gave of these amendments, which I found compelling and convincing.
When I read the other two amendments, about having a voice and being heard, I wondered why after all this time we were still having to discuss victims having to have a voice. It is obvious that that should be happening, and it is a shame that we are having to put this on to the statute book to ensure that it happens—but that is indeed what we have to do.
This presents the Minister with challenges; I do not doubt that. He will not be surprised that we are challenging him. But we are also offering to help to work out how to do this. I look forward to his remarks and I hope that he will recognise that this is the beginning of a process.
Lord Hampton Portrait Lord Hampton (CB)
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My Lords, I apologise for my lateness—I got slightly confused about the Northern Ireland Bill and when it was coming.

I will speak to Amendment 4 in the name of my noble friend Lord Russell. I follow my noble friend and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, so there is very little more to be said. The only thing I can say is that ASB is so important. ASB is far more common than we know and far more common than the police will say. It must be taken seriously. I have a friend whose father was the victim of ASB over many years and actually snapped. He attacked the person who was causing it and ended up with a custodial sentence himself. So you can turn victims into perpetrators with this and it needs to be defined in this Bill.

Lord Bellamy Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bellamy) (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords very sincerely for their most moving and constructive speeches. I will first respond to the invitation of the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, to conduct these proceedings in as open and consensual way as possible. In the other place, my right honourable friend Minister Argar did precisely that, and I propose to follow exactly the same approach, and to discuss as widely as we can the various difficult issues that are in front of us. That is an essential function of this Chamber.

To a great extent—I think my noble friend Lady Newlove accepted this, up to a point—we have made very considerable progress in support of victims generally over the last few years. But the problems that remain are, in particular, that victims are still often unaware of their rights, that the required services are not provided, or that the relevant authorities are not accountable. So the questions in front of us are not so much points of principle as questions as to how we change the culture of a system to make sure that victims are properly supported, as they should be.

I suggest, in shorthand, that essentially we should seek four things. First, victims should be aware of their rights and entitlements under the code. Secondly, those services should be accessible. Thirdly, those responsible for providing them should be accountable. Finally, the system should be affordable; speaking on behalf of the Government, I am bound to make that point. Essentially, we have four As: awareness, accessibility, accountability and affordability. It is within that framework that I will respond to the various points that have been made, with great conviction and sincerity, about the definition of “victim” in the current draft of the Bill.

We are dealing with five questions all together. One is about carers and those who suffer vicarious harm, which is raised in Amendment 1 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. The second is about people who have been victims of a defendant who has subsequently been made the subject of a hospital order as distinct from another criminal sanction. Thirdly, there is the question of anti-social behaviour. Fourthly, there is the question of homicide abroad. Finally, where the criminal conduct has been caused by another family member, there is the question of whether they are still a victim; that is raised in the amendment by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I will take those points, and probably in that order.

As regards Amendment 1, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, as I read it, the definition of “victim” is not confined in its present form to victims of serious sexual or violent behaviour; it is very broad, extending to all crimes. It refers first to persons who have been subject to witnessing a crime. The Government’s position is that those who have witnessed a crime are already covered fairly explicitly in the definition in Clause 1.

That takes us on to the difficult question of how far you go on the carers of victims and others who have suffered indirectly rather than directly. On that point, the Government’s present thinking is that we should have a system that serves the direct victims primarily, and that we cannot, at this stage at least, extend the definition of a victim too far. If I may say so, there is force in the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox: if one makes the concept of a victim too wide, one may well finish up with a system that is not as workable as it otherwise would be. There are all kinds of people who are, in one sense, victims but who are not necessarily the direct victims to whom we must give priority. The job of a Government is to make decisions as to how to prioritise services. We are very pressed on resources on all fronts, so I urge your Lordships to take that point into account and to consider that the definition of victim in Clause 1 is already very wide. I will come to certain points made in that connection in a moment. It would not be the right approach, by statute, to extend that already broad definition any further than it is. Broadly speaking, that is the Government’s position on Amendment 1.

On the point about hospital orders in relation to Amendments 8, 12 and 19, the question is whether the victim is a person who has been subject to criminal conduct. A person may well be the perpetrator of criminal conduct but still finish up being ordered by the court to be detained in a secure hospital, rather than serve a criminal sentence. The Government’s position is that many of the victims whose perpetrator has finished up in front of a mental health tribunal are already victims under the Bill. They are covered so long as the conduct is criminal. Your Lordships may have seen the tragic case in Nottingham this week, where the defendant, who was clearly schizophrenic and should never have been on the streets, was convicted of manslaughter on the grounds of dismissed responsibility. It was criminal conduct, so those unfortunate families are victims. The point that is rightly made—

Baroness Watkins of Tavistock Portrait Baroness Watkins of Tavistock (CB)
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If the Minister would not mind giving way, I will clarify—I am sure that this is what he meant—that there are many people who are successfully treated for schizophrenia who live in the community. I think that he is referring to an individual who was very ill and who sought the charge of manslaughter yesterday because of diminished responsibility. I would not want the impression to be given in Hansard that people cannot live their lives—quite challenging lives—with schizophrenia in the community.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I entirely accept that point. I have in my own family direct experience of a similar situation. That particular individual had already committed a number of crimes and there was a warrant out for his arrest. That is a very specific case and that is the context in which I made my comment.

On the assumption that, in many of these cases, we have someone who is already a victim under the meaning in the Bill, the problem rightly identified is that the procedures of the mental health tribunal do not, at the moment, quite correspond to the procedures in the main courts, particularly on the right to give a victim statement. The Government’s position is that that is not a satisfactory state of affairs; they are working with the authorities in the mental health tribunal and others to operationalise how we have the same system for mental health tribunals as for the main courts system. I hope to be able to give your Lordships further information that will enable your Lordships to say that this point—which is rightly being made—is being addressed by the Government. As soon as I am in a position to give further information about that, I will. The point of principle that a number of noble Lords have made is accepted; there is no dispute about that.

We then come to the equally difficult question of anti-social behaviour. Again, the first question is whether the victim has been subject to criminal conduct. Strictly speaking, whether or not the police have taken any action is not decisive of the question of whether the conduct is criminal. It may well have crossed the criminal threshold and, if it has, the victim should be entitled to relevant circumstances.

If the conduct has not crossed the criminal threshold, that is a more difficult situation because the scope of the Bill is victims of criminal conduct, and it is quite difficult for the Government, at least at this stage, to contemplate bringing within the scope of this Bill conduct that is not criminal. But a lot of anti-social behaviour is criminal, so how are we going to tackle this? Again, I am not in a position to give your Lordships as much detail as I would wish, but there will shortly be before your Lordships the Criminal Justice Bill currently making its passage through the other place, which will tackle and address a number of legitimate concerns about anti-social behaviour by enhancing the powers available to the police and other local agencies under the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

20:00
Together with the action plan on anti-social behaviour introduced last March to address the more general problem of anti-social behaviour, I hope we shall have, as it were, a twin-track approach. Again, I am very open to suggestions about how the code is drafted in terms of anti-social behaviour so it is clear that it falls within the code when the criminal threshold is passed. That is certainly one way, then there is upcoming legislation that I hope will deal with other matters.
Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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I am grateful for any further meetings about anti-social behaviour. I get that we have three Bills coming—it is like buses; we do not have anything, then we have them all at once—so I am keeping track of those as well. On the Criminal Justice Bill, I think we are looking at Clause 71 on the ASB case review, which used to be called the community trigger. I have my eye on that, and I gave evidence about that. Again, it is about the victim being involved, but that is for another day.

I am conscious that when we talk about anti-social behaviour and the threshold, if you have it constantly it is harassment, so there are already laws for the police. We do not have to have a criminal threshold. I would welcome further conversations because you can shift the boxes around for the police to look at, but there are laws in place that will protect the victim that would automatically go under the victims’ code. When you focus on just anti-social behaviour and the police look at that as low level, they are never going to protect the victim. They have never learned from Fiona Pilkington. The victim is having to log this. I think we need to run this in parallel so that the police follow this from day one and do not leave the victim feeling that their life is worthless. Anti-social behaviour is not litter. We have heard about the level of violence—firebombs and everything else. It is quite serious.

I heard what the Minister said, and I would like to take this forward when we have a meeting with other Peers. We really need to look at the police knowing what laws they already have to help these victims instead of just focusing on the words “anti-social behaviour” because they see it as low level. We need to get that first and foremost to protect victims.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, I entirely accept the points that my noble friend is making, and I am very happy to have a further meeting to discuss this, the interrelationship between the bits of legislation that we are dealing with, the interrelationship between the various authorities and who exactly is responsible for what.

Lord Russell of Liverpool Portrait Lord Russell of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, to further emphasise that, I think it would be helpful to the Committee to recognise the sheer scale of anti-social behaviour. Some freedom of information requests looking at the period between 2019 and 2021 identified that, believe it or not, there were 3.5 million reports of anti-social behaviour, so it is on a similar scale to stalking on an annualised basis. Those are probably the largest two areas of cases involving victims across England and Wales.

Those statistics were done across 34 out of the 43 police forces. They demonstrate the huge variability across the country, police and crime commissioner by PCC, and police force by police force. That is the problem. Some areas are doing really well with existing resources, without needing extra money. With proper leadership, organisation and training, they are doing a really good job. Kudos to the Government and the Minister for achieving good results in some areas. The challenge for the Government is: what is the problem with taking action to ensure that is replicated efficiently and systematically right across England and Wales? The evidence is clearly that it is not. If the authorities can do it within existing resources, we are not talking about huge amounts of extra money. That is not the issue; the issue is the way they go about what they do.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for that intervention and entirely accept the point he makes about the variability across the country. Although this evening we are not on Clause 6 and supplementary Clause 11, for example, or Clause 10, about code awareness and reviewing compliance by criminal justice bodies, one of the main drivers of the Bill is to raise the standard of victim support equally across the country; to publish league tables; to have the data; to put pressure, if you like, by almost shame and stigma on those that are not performing as well as they should so that it is publicly known; and, in extreme cases, to give directions that they need to improve and so forth.

The steps we need to think about are how we make the various parts of the legislation consistent and operational, what role the code plays in anti-social behaviour when it is criminal conduct, as it often will be, and how we operationalise the way in which particular police forces and other agencies offer consistent services across the country. That is my thought on this point.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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On this particular point about anti-social behaviour, Louise Lotz was a friend of mine. The problem was that her local police force did nothing about the earlier stages of anti-social behaviour. One of the things that this amendment is trying to achieve is that police forces just watch the pattern of anti-social behaviour; if they see it going up, their response should also start to change. I wonder whether the Minister will take that into account. I look forward to joining any meeting about that as well.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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I certainly take that into account. I again think that we collectively need to understand a little more about what the Criminal Justice Bill progressing through the other place is doing about this, because the problem of anti-social behaviour is that it exists and is not being controlled. That Bill is trying to address that problem. Here we are dealing with the victims, which in some ways is the end result, rather than the fact that it is happening in the first place, so tackling it and what is happening in the first place is probably a very important aspect that we need to understand further. I take all these points, and I think we should take it further collectively as soon as we can.

Then we come to the difficult issue of homicide abroad. I hope that nobody infers that the Government do not have enormous sympathy for those who suffer these very difficult situations, but I respectfully suggest that a crime of homicide committed abroad is in a slightly different category, as far as the victims’ code is concerned, from a crime of homicide committed in this country. Clearly, the various rights under the code —for example, the right to make a victim statement—as well as the nature of the offence, what the criminal processes are and so forth are rather different if we are talking about a crime that has been committed in South America or somewhere outside this country. The responsibility for looking after victims of homicide abroad falls primarily on the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, which offers support through the homicide service. Noble Lords may well say that it is not adequate support or enough support.

Baroness Newlove Portrait Baroness Newlove (Con)
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I have worked with the Foreign Office on this as well, and every time I have gone there, its first point of call is “We don’t have many resources; there’s not much money; we make the money from passports; it is only a small number of families that come through”. If we keep putting it to the Foreign Office, it will keep batting it the other way. Not only are we talking about families dealing with countries with different languages which are trying to get financial gain and who also have jobs to hold down but we have a Foreign Office that really does not do much for them and they feel lost. I appreciate what the is Minister saying, but I think it is about resource. I am not asking for lots of resources, but I want them to work collaboratively to help those families resolve the issues.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I of course understand the point that the Minister is making—procedures in other countries and what is available in other countries by way of support are different—but should that stop us requiring part of the Government, the organisation in this country which has immediate, close responsibility, to take on a role of proper signposting, which may be to equivalent services? Partly, it is interpreting, but it is obvious that there is a lacuna here.

Baroness Finlay of Llandaff Portrait Baroness Finlay of Llandaff (CB)
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If there has been a homicide abroad and those families are living here, there is a real danger that the message will be that the Government think that that homicide does not matter as much as a homicide that happened here. The Government might say that they do not have the resources. I pointed out that it is about 80 homicides per year—the numbers are not huge—but those people who are so severely traumatised, retraumatised and carry on being further damaged by the experience often become enormous consumers of resources because of mental health services, because they are unable to work and so on, and eventually they may need benefits. There are all kinds of things that they may need. It is a false economy to look at it in terms of resources to the FCDO. I hope that the Minister will meet me and others to discuss ways that the victims’ code could be asterisked where there are things that may not be as appropriate if the homicide occurred here, but it would say that the lives of British citizens are of equal value wherever they are in the world and that whether it was a terrorist attack, a homicide here or a homicide overseas, those lives are of equal value.

Lord Bellamy Portrait Lord Bellamy (Con)
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My Lords, of course I am prepared to meet the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and any other noble Lords on this point to discuss it further. There is certainly a point about the signposting in the code, what the code should say about all this, whether we should give further additional priority to homicides abroad, and exactly what the role of the Homicide Service is and other related resource issues, as well as where the earlier point I raised about priorities comes in: we cannot do everything. This is an important topic for further discussion, and I do not rule out examining further how far we can go in response to the very legitimate concerns raised.

I hope the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, will forgive me for coming to her last, but I think her point was about the definition of a victim where the person is a victim as a result of the criminal conduct of a close family member. The obvious example would be a road incident where somebody who had been driving over the limit or driving dangerously had killed themselves, leaving behind bereaved children. On the wording of the code, those children would be victims. The Government do not think that even in those circumstances should we reduce or limit the concept of a victim. It is conceivable that somebody could be a perpetrator and a victim at the same time, because if you have driven dangerously, had a crash and killed your child, you may both be guilty of criminal conduct and a victim of your own conduct, as it were. That may be a highly theoretical and hypothetical example, but the Government are not proposing any change to Clause 1 in relation to those very tragic kinds of case.

I hope I have dealt with the main amendments proposed in this first group, and I respectfully invite your Lordships not to pursue them at this point.

20:15
Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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I am very grateful to the Minister for his detailed responses to all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate on a range of different issues, even though they are all part of the concern about some of the holes in the system. I thank him for offering some meetings, which I think is extremely useful, because as I think he will have heard from the debate, we all have a reasonable amount of knowledge and not necessarily the same knowledge.

On his comments on my Amendment 1, I absolutely accept that my proposed new paragraph (aa), inserting “witnessing criminal conduct”, might already be covered earlier in Clause 1. Proposed new paragraphs (ab) and (ac) are not covered at all. They are the direct consequences for a family member or person close to somebody who has had a very traumatic experience. They would have their life changed in all the ways that I described. I would also welcome a meeting on that to discuss how the Minister believes that it is already covered, because as far as I can see, it is not.

I want to make a more general point about the Bill. The Minister, uniquely, has his four As for what we should seek to achieve—the victims being aware, access, accountability by those providing services, and it being affordable. One of the points that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, made is that costs may not actually be so great, providing that the first, second and third categories are completely fulfilled. That is an area where—as we have said to him in private meetings already—there will be cost savings. Not all of them will be to the Home Office or the justice system, but there will be substantial savings in healthcare and in social services, particularly where children are involved, if the victims’ code is on a statutory footing and applied across the board. He is right that changing the culture is vital. The problem is that if you do not give public organisations targets, they do not work to them, and the real problem we have here is that there is no onus on the services to make sure that those are provided for. With that, I beg to leave withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 to 4 not moved.
Amendment 5
Moved by
5: Clause 1, page 1, line 16, at end insert—
“(e) where the person is a child who is a victim of abuse and exploitation which constitutes criminal conduct.”
Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede Portrait Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede (Lab)
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My Lords, I open by reiterating my noble friend’s point about acknowledging the way in which the noble and learned Lord wound up the previous group of amendments and about working consensually across the Committee as we progress through the Bill. My second point is simple, but I think it worth making. As noble Lords will know, I sit as a magistrate in London in family, youth and adult jurisdictions, and I rarely see victims. I see victims only in trials—they sometimes turn up to trials to give evidence—and I hear from victims only when I sentence and the victim’s impact statement is read out. Through all the rest of the processes which I routinely go through sitting in a magistrates’ court, I do not hear from victims, and I do not see them. It is a simple point, but I thought it was worth making.

The Minister also had his four As, which the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, has just referred to—awareness, accessibility, accountability and affordability. We agree with those as far as they go, of course, but of course many of the elements in Committee will concern whether accountability should be enforceability. That will be the crux of a number of our debates in Committee.

This group deals with child victims. Amendment 5 in my name clarifies that the definition of “victim” should include a child who is a victim of abuse and exploitation that constitutes criminal conduct. I will go through the amendments in the group and then comment more widely. Amendment 6, and Amendment 10 in my name, extend the definition of “victim” to a child who is

“a victim of child criminal exploitation”.

Other noble Lords will speak to that as well. Amendments 7 and 11 seek to ensure that the explicit definition of a victim includes those who are subject to modern slavery—another aspect that we will debate within this group. Amendment 9, tabled by my noble friend Lord Hunt, is specifically about verbal abuse of children.

While the Bill makes important reference to the Domestic Abuse Act 2021 and to children as victims of domestic abuse, the same organisations that fought for that Act are now asking for the same ambition to be applied to children who have experienced abuse and exploitation. Last week, I and other noble Lords now present in the Chamber went to a survivors’ presentation organised by a coalition of charities led by the NSPCC, where we heard first-hand about survivors’ experiences and how the support organisations and criminal justice system responded to their trauma.

What was particularly telling about those survivor experiences was that, although the abuse itself was, of course, wholly negative, we did hear from one or two survivors who had had a relatively good experience of the criminal justice system—although there were other experiences that were much more negative. That contrast made those testimonies even more powerful. This morning, I, the noble Lord, Lord Hampton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Sanderson, visited the Lighthouse project in Camden. This provides a one-stop shop for child victims of sexual abuse. It is a model of how these services should be provided.

It is in that context that this group is being debated. I want to set out the scale of abuse and exploitation of children. Children—that means people under 18—make up about 20% of the population. The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse has found that children are the victims of about 40% of all sexual offences. One in 10 children in England and Wales is sexually abused before the age of 16 and that number means that there are an estimated half a million child victims every year.

Children abused by parents or carers are almost three times more likely to experience other forms of domestic abuse as well, and it was found that 42% of childhood abuse survivors suffered more than one type of abuse. The Bill explicitly recognises children as victims only of domestic abuse and as a result fails to acknowledge the multiple forms of abuse and exploitation that children can experience. They can be subjected to multiple forms of abuse and exploitation during their lifetime. To avoid failing these children, the definition of a victim must cover all forms of abuse and exploitation, in addition to domestic abuse.

The victims’ code of practice recognises that those under 18 are vulnerable and affords them enhanced rights. The children’s coalition, a coalition of charities that are informing what I am saying now—and has no doubt briefed all noble Lords here in Committee as well—has argued that there should be consistency across all legislation, recognising as distinct victims all children, not just those who are affected by domestic abuse. The coalition urges government to ensure that the Bill reflects the code by ensuring that children who experience abuse and exploitation, in addition to those who experience domestic abuse, are in the Bill so that the entirety of the harm they experience is explicit within primary legislation.

If the definition is not amended, the children’s coalition foresees that this will have unintended consequences for the relevant authorities and those in charge of delivering victim support services. Resources will be directed to focus on the needs of children who are victims of domestic abuse above other forms of harm. The coalition is concerned that there is the potential for a hierarchy of abuse that would leave thousands of children affected by other forms of abuse and exploitation without recognition and, ultimately, without support. By not explicitly recognising children as victims in their own right, the Bill could have significant implications for the level and quality of support available.

I am told that evidence already shows that a lack of support for children following abuse and exploitation exists and that ensuring that children and the full scale of the harm they experience are explicitly in scope will act as a cornerstone for responsible agencies commissioning services to make sure that they reflect the needs of children in full. So this is a specific example where legislation will make a difference.

It is impossible to design an effective justice system response to childhood victims without understanding the scale of what we are talking about, which I set out earlier. This cannot be done without recognising all forms of abuse, but this is a specific example where the black letter of the law will have an impact on the services that are delivered to childhood victims of abuse that falls outside the scope of domestic abuse. It is in that spirit that I beg to move Amendment 5.

Baroness Hamwee Portrait Baroness Hamwee (LD)
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My Lords, I have Amendments 7 and 11 in this group and I want to be clear that I agree very much with the views that are behind all these amendments.

I hope that my first question—a technical question—will not be regarded as negative. Is a child a person within Clause 1(1)? That will affect amendments and how they are framed. My second question is probably a bit indelicate. It has only occurred to me this evening, while listening to the examples that your Lordships have given. It is a direct question to the Minister. Is the MoJ aware of examples of possible candidates—that is probably not a very happy term—who have been exploited or subjected to criminal or marginally criminal behaviour, which have not made their way to us? It may be possible. I possibly should not put the Minister on the spot now, but maybe we can talk about what the MoJ has considered and discarded. Amendments 7 and 11 have been brought to us by Hestia, which supports victims of modern slavery. It is concerned with ensuring that those who are born to victims of modern slavery are covered.

I know that we have Clause 1(2)(b), which refers to circumstances

“where the person’s birth was the direct result of criminal conduct”,

but it would be very unfortunate if we were to run into the weeds of whether someone is a victim of rape—in other words, what is the relationship between the mother and the offender?—or if there is a doubt as to who is the father because the woman has been subjected to forced prostitution and the object of multiple rapes, because that kind of issue detracts from the support that is needed by the children of victims of modern slavery or human trafficking, whose experience in itself requires support.

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A significant number of children are born as a result of slavery and trafficking situations, and sometimes that is a result of rape. Hestia has highlighted the need to identify this group of children, with specific vulnerabilities and support needs differentiated from those of other vulnerable children. Its research shows that such children experience particular challenges, such as the transmission of trauma, developmental delays and unmet support needs, and that, like the children of victims of domestic abuse, they have support needs that we should be recognising.
I hope that the Minister can help us on this. I have found some of the drafting quite difficult to follow through, so I am not pretending that this is in any way a happy amendment in that respect, but there is a subject here that I think is very important for us to pursue.
Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, on Amendment 5. The Bill offers a landmark opportunity to make a difference to victims’ and survivors’ lives and has the potential to restore confidence in our criminal justice system.

As noble Lords know, alongside organisations focused on supporting women and children, and together with many other noble Lords from across the House, we fought hard for children experiencing domestic abuse to be recognised as victims in their own right, and I am proud that that is included in the Domestic Abuse Act 2021. However, I am saddened—I think that is the word I am looking for—that we are having to make this very same case again.

Sadly, children experience multiple forms of abuse and exploitation, sometimes including domestic abuse. The Centre of Expertise on Child Sexual Abuse has found that it is common that victims and survivors experience multiple forms of victimisation in childhood. Over half of adults in England and Wales who reported being sexually abused before the age of 16 also experienced another type of abuse, whether physical, emotional, or witnessing domestic abuse. As has been said, the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse found that 52% of victims and survivors who gave evidence spoke about experiencing at least one other form.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, suggested, we were reminded of these facts just last week at a meeting here in Parliament. We were given the privilege, I would say, of hearing directly from the survivors of child abuse about what this opportunity means to them. At this event hosted by the Children’s Charities Coalition, they all shared the same vision: that the Bill offers an opportunity to transform our response to children affected by abuse and exploitation. Often, it is not until you speak directly to victims and survivors of crime that you truly understand the magnitude and impact of what we are discussing today. Yet their ask is very simple: recognition and support for all children who experience abuse and exploitation.

At the event, we heard harrowing experiences from survivors of child sexual abuse and exploitation. In sharing their experiences, they also shared their bravery and resolve to improve support for children today and for generations to come—which, in some cases, was so lacking when they truly needed it. We heard from David Tait, who shared his experience about the horrific abuse he faced as a child. He challenged the room and asked whether any of us felt it was appropriate that children were not specifically recognised within the Bill. The room was silent, in realisation that it is almost unthinkable that children are not specifically recognised. I offer my deepest gratitude to all those who bravely spoke out. It sharpened my own focus on how the Bill can truly make a difference for them.

The final report of the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse gives a glimpse into what it is like for these children and why it is so important for all children who have experienced, and, sadly, will experience, abuse and exploitation to be recognised. Many victims and survivors said they were traumatised by child sexual abuse. Olivar, a survivor, described the “traumatic long-term effect” of sexual abuse:

“I’ve thought about it for over 50 years”.


Another survivor, Laurie, said that

“hardly a day goes by where I do not think about the events from 58 years ago”.

Another survivor described feeling “misery” and “bewilderment” after being sexually abused as a child. Finally, a survivor shared:

“I was never able to be nurtured … I have to grieve for the childhood I never had”.


I support this key amendment in ensuring that these children and all children are recognised. This Bill must recognise all children as victims in their own right and we must get that definition and recognition put at the heart of the Bill. Children have distinct needs and require a child-centred approach and specialist support. Let us not go through the pain that we had last time with domestic abuse, let us get children into the Bill now.

Lord Bishop of Manchester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Manchester
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My Lords, as I said at Second Reading, this is a good Bill for victims. It contains many provisions that I strongly support. I hope and believe that we can make it an even better Bill by working across the House, which is the mood tonight, as it was then.

I put my name to Amendment 10 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. I also support other amendments in this group, including those that my right reverend friend the Bishop of Bristol, who is unable to be in her place today, has signed. Amendments in this group seek to clarify how the Bill properly addresses the needs of children.

Amendment 10 places on the face of the Bill a short but clear definition of “child criminal exploitation”. This would include any child under 18 who is

“encouraged, expected or required to take part in any activity that constitutes a criminal offence”.

This is not widening the definition of a victim, merely giving it clarity. I learned in my teens that if I was on the receiving end of some wrongdoing, I was a child. By contrast, if I was deemed the perpetrator, I suddenly became a youth.

We have also heard too often in your Lordships’ House of the adultification of children. It is an ugly word for an ugly phenomenon, where a child is treated as a grown-up when they are caught up in wrongdoing. Moreover, we know that in the absence of a strong countervailing pressure, this is disproportionately applied to black children. This has been a long-standing concern of many civil society organisations focused on countering the exploitation of children. I hope we can begin to respond to it today.

In my own diocese of Manchester, we are still reeling from the discovery of the extent of grooming gangs exploiting children for sexual crimes, most notably—but I doubt exclusively—in Rochdale. If the children caught up in these crimes had been seen by the authorities primarily as victims, and treated as such, I believe that the gangs would have been brought to justice far sooner.

Getting a clear definition of child criminal exploitation into the Bill will, I hope and pray, not only improve this legislation but set a precedent for how we treat child victims better, both in future legislation and in practice at every stage of the criminal justice system. I hope that the Minister will either accept our words as on the Marshalled List or come back to us on Report with a suitable government amendment to that effect.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, I have Amendment 9 in this group. It concerns verbal abuse to children and, in terms of the challenges the Minister set us with the four As, it is concerned with raising awareness.

I share the view of other noble Lords that it is important to get children into the Bill, particularly in relation to this clause. My amendment seeks to make it clear that when it comes to the definition of “harm” in Clause 1(4)(a), it should include a definition that embraces children and includes verbal harm.

My amendment has been inspired by the work of an inspirational, newish charity called Words Matter, which I believe to be the first charity in the world focused solely on verbal harm to children. It aims to eradicate this damaging and underestimated form of abuse, and I pay tribute to its inspirational founder, Jessica Bondy.

We all understand verbal abuse. It can mean negative words, and language that causes harm to children. It can take the form of blaming, insulting, belittling, intimidating, demeaning, disrespecting, scolding, frightening, ridiculing, criticising, name-calling or threatening a child. It does not constitute only shouting. In fact, abuse can be quiet, insidious and subtle in tone, where volume and facial expression play a part. We have probably all personally experienced verbal abuse, certainly in the profession we are in. It can be extraordinarily damaging, particularly to young people.

We know that children’s brains are responsive to relationships as they grow up with words, tone