All 23 Parliamentary debates in the Lords on 12th Mar 2024

Tue 12th Mar 2024
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Grand Committee

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Tuesday 12 March 2024

Arrangement of Business

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

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

Gender Recognition (Approved Countries and Territories and Saving Provision) Order 2023

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:15
Moved by
Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Gender Recognition (Approved Countries and Territories and Saving Provision) Order 2023.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, this statutory instrument updates the list of countries and territories from which citizens are eligible to use the fast-track recognition process to obtain a gender recognition certificate. We laid the statutory instrument before the House on 6 December 2023. Subject to parliamentary approval, this will be the first time that the approved overseas countries and territories list has been updated since July 2011.

The Statement given by my right honourable friend the Minister for Women and Equalities on 6 December in the House of Commons generated a wide debate. The Commons Committee debate touched on the importance of communicating these changes clearly. It is important that everyone understands why we are updating this international gender recognition process, and that includes our colleagues internationally. Importantly, this debate is focused on the details of the SI and our need to make this update.

We are making these changes because the Government believe that it should not be possible for a person who would not satisfy the criteria to obtain legal gender recognition through the standard route under UK legislation to use the overseas recognition route to obtain a UK GRC. This would damage the integrity and credibility of the process of the GRA. There have been many changes in the international approach to gender recognition since the list was last updated in 2011. We have provided details of overseas countries and territories to be removed and added to the list laid on 6 December, which is available to view on legislation.gov.uk.

We have undertaken thorough checks, in collaboration with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office, to verify our understanding of each overseas system in question and have measured them against the UK’s standard route to obtain gender recognition. My right honourable friend the Minister for Women and Equalities and the Minister for Equalities have both engaged extensively with posts, including those in the USA, Canada and Australia. I am confident that the international community understands the extent of the changes and their impacts on their citizens.

The overseas route to obtaining a gender recognition certificate sees low volumes of applicants. Of the 370 total applications in the last quarter, only 4% used the overseas route. Of the 7,043 applications received since 2009-10, 94% were standard applications and 5% were overseas applications. The impact on transgender people in this country and abroad will be minimal and this update brings the overseas route back in line with the standard route, allowing for more equality in application requirements.

Finally, it is extremely important to ensure parity with those who have taken the UK standard route to obtaining a gender recognition certificate. It would not be fair for the overseas route to be based on less rigorous requirements and consequently for the certificate to be acquired more easily. I beg to move.

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley (Con)
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Before the Front-Benchers intervene, I wondered if I could ask my noble friend a question.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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This is not the end of the debate; it is just that I have chosen to speak at the beginning.

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley (Con)
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I give way to the noble Baroness. I will come in later.

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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As the noble Lord is aware, it is perfectly all right to speak now, but I always think when doing statutory instruments that, if you have a lot of questions, as I have, it is only fair to put them in first, so the Minister and the team can think about them.

I thank the Minister for her explanation. I would like to make one little prod or poke, as it were, to the Government over this matter because it was the subject of the first Statement that the Secretary of State for Women and Equalities chose to make in her job. She did not choose to talk about why more black mothers and babies die in the maternity units in our hospitals or why we have huge misogyny in our uniformed services. She did not choose to talk about the increase in violence that our LGBT+ communities are experiencing or the problems that disabled people have with our train service and in getting jobs. She chose not to speak about those things and the fact that she chose to speak about this issue says something. Reading that debate, I think that it probably achieved the exact political purpose she wanted.

However, we can agree, I think, that it is important that this list of approved countries is kept up to date, as the Labour Government provided for when we passed the GRA in 2003. I was there and involved in the discussions around the then Bill; I helped to put it on the statute book. The list was last updated in 2011. The Government at the time said that they expected to update it within five years, but that was 13 years ago, so it is timely that we should be doing this now. My first question is: have the Government stated when they expect this order to be updated next? What is the intended timescale as we move forward? The reason why we wanted to do this in 2003 is that we knew that the world was changing constantly in this area.

With the limited information on the criteria that have been adopted by the Government in making these decisions—there is a headline list included in the Explanatory Memorandum but no further detail—can the Minister give the Committee more detail on what criteria will be applied and an assurance that they will be consistent across each case? For absolute clarity, will the changes made by this instrument have an impact on those in the UK who already hold a GRC via the overseas route? What about the applications that are currently outstanding but were initiated before this order comes into force? Can the Minister give details on how the countries affected by this instrument were both consulted ahead of the change and notified that the change was being made?

Will the changes in this instrument have any impact on the mutual recognition of UK GRCs in other countries? Further, what discussions have Ministers had about mutual recognition in other areas including equal marriage, adoption and pensions, and whether they may be impacted? Can the Minister assure the Committee that those rights are safeguarded and that discussions have been had with the relevant countries on those issues? The Explanatory Memorandum confirms that the Northern Ireland Executive and the Scottish Government were consulted; I would like to know what the outcome of that consultation was.

Finally, my colleagues in the Commons asked about Germany. There seems to be some confusion as to whether it is being removed from the list. Can the Minister give us an update for clarity? What changes are being made to the German system and when will those changes come into effect? Will there be further changes to this list in the near future to respond to those changes?

Those are my questions. If the Minister cannot give us all those details in her answer, I would be quite happy for her to write to us and put her answer in the Library.

Lord Henley Portrait Lord Henley (Con)
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My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, for trying to get in to speak before her. I want to make only a brief intervention in this debate, merely because I am intrigued to know about the list of approved countries and territories and what is included. We have in the Explanatory Note a list of the countries that were included in 2011. It includes quite a lot of Australian states and territories, some of which have, I think, been added to this list. It then goes on to include others, including—as one would expect—countries of a progressive sort, such as Sweden.

What I find particularly peculiar is that it then includes countries such as Iran. What is the Iranian legislation on this matter? Are we allowed to see it? Is it appropriate? Is Iranian legislation really fit for purpose on a matter of this sort? I appreciate that, as my noble friend put it, only 4% of applicants are using the overseas route, so we are talking about tiny numbers, but the inclusion of countries such as Iran and one or two others—I shall not mention them, but Iran is probably the most obvious—requires some proper explanation from the Government about why they are there and what is the Iranian legislation behind it.

Baroness Barker Portrait Baroness Barker (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction of this SI. As she said, last December the Minister for Women and Equalities, Kemi Badenoch MP, announced that she was planning to update the approved list of countries and territories and remove countries that do not require a medical diagnosis in order to gain legal gender recognition. Her statement was based on a belief that checks and balances and a medical diagnosis are required. There is no evidence of higher crime rates or higher risks to women in those jurisdictions which use self-declaration of gender, so Minister Badenoch’s belief is unsupported by the evidence.

According to the Government’s statistics, fewer than 50 gender recognition certifications were granted through the overseas path in 2022-23 and the average number granted each year in the period from 2009 to 2020 was approximately 17. There is no breakdown of the countries where the original legal gender recognition was granted and there is no data about whether any of the individuals who gained legal gender recognition in the UK using this route have been prosecuted or convicted of any criminal offence. The actual impact of removing various countries is minimal according to the number of GRCs issued, but it may have important repercussions for those who are currently eligible but will not be under this proposed order, and there is no evidence that these individuals should have their current right removed. There is no reason to do so.

The impact of these proposals is unknown, due to the lack of statistics around the countries of origin and crime, but we should not assume that it is negligible. The Council of Europe’s Resolution 2048, which was passed in 2015, says that states should

“develop quick, transparent and accessible procedures, based on self-determination, for changing the name and registered sex of transgender people on birth certificates, identity cards, passports, educational certificates and other similar documents; make these procedures available for all people who seek to use them, irrespective of age, medical status, financial situation or police record”.

The UK remains a member of the Council of Europe, which is not the same organisation as the European Union.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, said, Germany remains on the list of approved countries despite introducing legal gender recognition by self-declaration in August 2023. Ireland is not on the current list, and it is not on the proposed list. It is proposed to remove recognition by parts of Australia, the entirety of New Zealand, certain states in the USA and lots of European Union countries. India and China have been added. India allows hijra to be recognised as a third gender, as well as allowing transition between male and female. It places surgical requirements for recognition as male or female, but the recognition is granted by a district magistrate. However, very few people are able to access the law due to difficulties in getting appropriate healthcare and fighting discrimination. In short, there is no consistency in the application process for the proposed countries.

However, there is one thing in common: they do not follow either the UN’s or the Council of Europe’s recommendations—that is the only thing. We are getting to the real reason why this Government, and Minister Badenoch in particular, chose to do this. This is the Government who could not find time to ban conversion therapy and the harm that that does to our community, and this is the Government who are seeking to remove a lot of protections from the LGBT community. Yet they found time to do this, which is likely to affect 20 people at most—people for whom there is absolutely no evidence that they pose any threat to anybody at all.

This is part of this Government’s ongoing war on human rights and the protections that human rights afford to minorities. It is part of their ongoing campaign to destroy human rights and the organisations set up to protect the rights of people who are, and should continue to be, protected under equalities legislation. The message from this legislation to the LGBT community is clear: you are no longer safe while this Government are in office. It is high time that they should go.

16:30
Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for participating in this short debate. I accept that the views expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, come from her own perspective, but her description of this Government’s records on human rights is not something that I recognise personally. I hope that, in my opening remarks, I was able to provide the Grand Committee with some clarity on the purpose and effects of this legislation.

I will try to take some of the questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, in turn. She asked about our international engagement and how other countries would be aware of these changes. Diplomatic posts have been notified of the changes. We provided them with comprehensive question and answer documents that address potential misconceptions about what this statutory instrument does. We have worked very closely at ministerial and official levels with the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office throughout the process, and we are monitoring the international reaction to the legislation.

The noble Baroness remarked on the delay in this work. I can only agree with her that it is overdue. We have delivered on other commitments, such as the reduction in the fee. There is no firm date for the next update of the list; we have said that we will review it frequently.

The noble Baroness also asked about how we are applying the criteria. As outlined in the Explanatory Notes to Section 2(4) of the Gender Recognition Act 2004, we have determined the phrasing “at least as rigorous” to mean, in this instance, that the criteria must match the UK legal gender recognition process. This has been applied consistently across every country and territory. Where there have been equivalences that are compliant with the UK system, we have acknowledged those, too. The full list of criteria used for this update can be found in the Explanatory Memorandum to the draft order on the legislation section of GOV.UK.

My noble friend Lord Henley asked specifically about Iran. The detail that we have on the Iranian legislation is that it goes beyond our criteria. He asked whether we had reviewed that; my assumption is yes, but if there is anything different from that, I will write to him to clarify.

The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, asked about the impact on outstanding applications that are in process. This is not retrospective so, if people have started the process and were eligible formerly, they would still be granted a certificate.

The noble Baroness asked about the feedback from Northern Ireland and Scotland. Obviously, we had to consult with them ahead of laying the instrument. There was no comment from the Northern Ireland Administration, and the Scottish Administration had some criticisms of the Government’s approach, which is perhaps unsurprising given their approach to this issue.

I think I have answered most of the noble Baronesses’ questions, but we will check in Hansard and—

Baroness Thornton Portrait Baroness Thornton (Lab)
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What about Germany?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The legislation in Germany has not yet been passed. The noble Baroness alluded to this—forgive me; it was on my list.

As a team within the equalities hub, we remain very open to discussing these topics and some of the wider policies that both noble Baronesses raised.

Motion agreed.

Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 (Consequential and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2024

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
16:36
Moved by
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023 (Consequential and Miscellaneous Amendments) Regulations 2024.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Scott of Bybrook) (Con)
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My Lords, this draft instrument makes technical, consequential and miscellaneous amendments to primary and secondary legislation following the passage of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act 2023.

For far too long, too many tenants have not received the quality homes and services they need and deserve. Social housing tenants deserve decent homes and to be treated with fairness and respect by their landlords. Where they experience problems, these should be resolved quickly. Where they have complaints, these must be listened to. On too many occasions, this has not happened, and we know that getting this wrong can, sadly, lead to tragic consequences. We cannot forget the Grenfell Tower tragedy, nor the tragic death of two year-old Awaab Ishak from prolonged exposure to damp and mould that was left untreated. These events were the catalyst for change.

The passage of the Social Housing (Regulation) Act was a landmark moment for the social housing sector. The Act facilitates the biggest change to the regulation of social housing in a decade, paving the way for the introduction of a new proactive consumer regulation regime. The proactive regime will drive up standards in social housing, with regular inspections of large landlords, new tenant satisfaction measures and stronger enforcement powers for the regulator to take action when things go wrong.

During the passage of the now Act, we made a number of major amendments, and I am thankful for the constructive input from noble Lords and the other place. A key addition was the introduction of Awaab’s law. This will help to ensure that hazards in social housing are assessed and then repaired within set timescales. The Act facilitates the introduction of new competence and conduct standards that will professionalise the sector to improve the quality of service that tenants receive. The 2023 Act also made a number of changes to strengthen the existing economic regulation regime.

To ensure that existing legislation remains accurate following the passage of the 2023 Act, the regulations contained in this instrument make several consequential amendments to relevant primary and secondary legislation. Part 1 of Schedule 1 makes consequential amendments to the Housing and Regeneration Act 2008, which are necessary in response to the provisions set out in the 2023 Act. Such changes include amendments that reflect the change to when a housing moratorium starts and the addition of new entries in the index of defined terms in the 2008 Act which signpost definitions added or amended by the recent Act.

Part 2 of Schedule 1 makes consequential amendments to other relevant legislation, including the Housing and Planning Act 2016. These changes are a consequence of provisions in the 2023 Act which make changes relating to moratoriums in the event of an insolvency, the definition of whether a registered provider is “non-profit” and what constitutes an “English body” for the purposes of who can be registered.

Part 3 of Schedule 1 makes consequential amendments to the Social Housing Rents (Exceptions and Miscellaneous Provisions) Regulations 2016 in consequence of a change made by the 2023 Act. This change relates to the definition of “community land trust”, which has been inserted into the Leasehold Reform (Ground Rent) Act 2022 by the 2023 Act.

Lastly, the regulations make two miscellaneous adjustments which correct minor errors in statute. The first removes a redundant reference to a section in the 2008 Act which was later repealed by the Housing and Planning Act 2016. The second amends a provision inserted by an SI; this change is intended to ensure consistency across the two pieces of legislation.

Although the changes I have outlined are of minor significance in themselves, they are required to ensure accuracy and consistency across the statute book following the changes made by the 2023 Act. I commend these draft regulations to the Committee.

Baroness Taylor of Stevenage Portrait Baroness Taylor of Stevenage (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction to this instrument. I refer to my interests as recorded in the register.

We have been pleased to support the implementation of the regulation of social housing, including the revised consumer standards which will be required of landlords from April. The introduction of Awaab’s law is particularly important, as evidence of the harms of damp and mould continues to accumulate; as is the building safety work since Grenfell, although I think we all agree that it could be going more quickly, and we will continue to raise the issue that buildings under 11 metres are still not addressed. We look forward to further consideration of some of the key ownership issues when we debate the Leasehold and Freehold Reform Bill later this month. We totally support the principle that social tenants should receive and deserve the very highest quality in the homes they live in and the service they receive from their housing provider.

I am sure the Minister will be pleased to know that we recognise that these technical amendments are entirely uncontentious and will therefore not object to or raise lots of issues on them. However, it would be wrong in any discussion related to social housing not to highlight the ongoing funding issues facing councils, with their housing stock, and housing associations. For councils, the increasing burden of regulation—important as we all understand it to be—places an increased financial burden on them. With the capping of rent increases and the fact that in the current cost of living crisis any significant increase in rents would place an unmanageable burden on our tenants, the cost of meeting these additional regulatory burdens is a significant pressure. This is in addition to the costs of decarbonisation and retrofitting. While government contributions to this are welcome, at the current rate of funding it would take many decades to complete the work, well beyond the target for net zero.

Lastly, I take this opportunity to mention, as there has not been a chance anywhere else, the unfathomable decision that emerged from the small print of last week’s Budget—that the Secretary of State has terminated the ability of local authorities to retain 100% of right-to-buy receipts. This returns us to the awful travesty around right-to-buy sales. I take the example of my authority, which had a council stock of around 30,000 social homes, and now has only around 8,000. Some years ago, we were offered the opportunity to buy out our stock from the Government, which you could argue we already owned, but I will leave that argument for another day. We borrowed £240 million to do so, and that loan is being paid off through the housing revenue account. Not only does the removal of the 100% retention of receipts remove the resources we would have had to replace the homes sold under right to buy, but it also eats into the income stream we had to pay off the loan we had to take out to buy back our own homes.

16:45
Last week, the Housing Minister gave a figure of 172,000 social homes built since 2010, and we all know that there are more than 1 million people on housing waiting lists. The increasing demand for temporary and emergency accommodation is overwhelming council and DWP budgets. How is it credible or rational to cut off one of the very limited sources of funding for new social housing? Can the Minister tell us what assessment was carried out, before that decision was taken, of the impact on local authority housing finance and of the impact of fewer social homes being delivered, which would have helped ease the housing crisis? We all want to see better regulation of social housing, but we would like to see more of it as well.
Baroness Thornhill Portrait Baroness Thornhill (LD)
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My Lords, as the Minister knows, this Act has been well received by all sectors concerned with social housing, and it is supported on our Benches. As she said, this is due largely to the Grenfell tragedy, but also to subsequent high-profile failures of social housing, including the tragic death of young Awaab Ishak. Let us not forget the recent deaths in temporary accommodation, which are truly shocking.

We know that the devil will always be in the detail, and we all hope that the rhetoric accompanying the Act will live up to the reality. The Minister is clearly aware that there have been several consultations since last July, when the Bill was passed, and issues have emerged, which the sector is rightly bringing to the Government’s attention in this process. It appears that the full and cumulative impact of the new changes thus far has been evidentially to expose the wide variation in the quality of provision of social housing by registered providers and councils. This was recently outlined very robustly by the deputy social housing regulator. Is the Minister confident that the new approach to inspections and the C categorisation will allow for a nuanced approach to allow those lagging behind to learn from the best and hopefully catch up, or will it be an adversarial system—a weeding out of the worst? In short, what will the approach to inspections be? I know from experience of Ofsted in schools and the CPA in local government that they can vary.

It is no surprise that there are concerns about the additional costs associated with all the changes, which I am sure the Minister will be aware of. What is in place to ensure that landlords can make progress without financially falling over, as we are seeing with some local authorities? Regrettably, we are already hearing that they are cutting back on development plans to focus on the detail of the new regime, which itself is a separate concern due to the considerable shortage of social housing. I echo the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, with which I wholeheartedly agree. In fact, I add that I found that announcement bitterly disappointing because I believed that this Government had genuinely shaped the agenda towards a real understanding that social housing was one of the first bricks we needed to get in place to unblock the logjam and the housing crisis.

Does the Minister accept that there is also a recruitment and retention problem, highlighted and exacerbated by the professionalisation of housing management and maintenance? That is a good aspect of the Act and had cross-party support, but not surprisingly it is having an impact, as some people are jumping before being pushed—probably a good thing in some cases, I am not afraid to say, having had to do the pushing sometimes—or feel that perhaps now is the time to retire rather than go back to the classroom, but it is a very real and relevant issue.

The speed and breadth of the changes cause me to ask how confident the Government are that the sector can and will have the capacity to cope with these genuine changes.

Briefly, on the Awaab’s law changes, I thank the Minister for her detailed letter in response to my question in the Chamber and her generous offer of her time. On a tangential issue, the consultation that has just closed proposed an extension to hazards beyond mould, damp and condensation to include the 29 hazards in the—this is a bit of a mouthful—housing health and safety rating system. This has caused considerable disquiet for the National Housing Federation and the Chartered Institute of Housing, to name but two. They have given convincing reasons why this extension should be reconsidered. Does the Minister agree that it is probably best to see how the sector copes with mould and damp before extending the hazards further?

It seems that there is still much to do to clarify these changes, particularly around the regulator’s use of powers and the approach to inspections. Further clarity is needed on how the regulator will interact with other sector regulators, such as the building safety regulator and the Housing Ombudsman. This will take some getting used to. Such clarification is particularly important for tenants, who will also have an important role to play. In fact, the Act enshrines in law their rights to have a safe and decent home, to make their voices heard and to influence policy so that tenants can shape the homes they live in and the services they receive. I have a pertinent, but perhaps tricky, question. Does the Minister feel that the residents panel—I notice that it is currently recruiting new members, so the current one has not been in action for very long—is a strong, independent and influential voice for tenants or just a sounding board?

Lastly, I look forward to the day when private sector landlords are also subject to the same regime because it is long overdue and much needed.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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I thank the noble Baronesses opposite for their support, not only today but when we were taking the Bill through, and their challenge on what could be made better. We took some of those things on board.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Thornhill and Lady Taylor of Stevenage, brought up the pressures on the sector. We totally understand them, which is why we work closely with the sector, but my view is that it is the sector’s responsibility. It is the sector’s stock. It needs to keep that stock up and its tenants deserve the very best. So, we will support the sector, but we will not stop challenging it to ensure that social housing tenants live in safe, good accommodation. That is what has come from the Secretary of State right the way through this process.

On right to buy, all I can say is that there were many pressures on the Budget this year. The percentage did not get extended but, again, we are working with the sector to see how we can make the building of more social houses, particularly by local authorities, affordable into the future. I think that noble Lords will hear more on that.

Moving on to the noble Baroness, Lady Thornhill, am I confident in the approach to inspections and learning from the best? I think learning from the best is the important thing and, yes, I am confident. I talk regularly to the social housing regulator, and it gets it and understands its role. I do not think it will go in heavy to begin with; it will allow the sector to begin to understand this important new regime. However, I think it is important that it can go in quickly if it thinks there is a particular issue to deal with and that it will do regular inspections throughout the sector in future. We will weed out the worst providers, but it is also a matter of helping them to improve and learn from the rest of the sector.

I understand the pressures on the sector, particularly for building new houses, as it has quite rightly had to put more money into making sure that the stock it has is of good quality, so there is possibly less money left for building more houses, but we have a fund of more than £11 million to do that. Housing providers are looking to use that fund continually, and we are supporting them to do that.

Recruitment and retention is out for consultation. We will listen to the sector. This was extremely important to members of the Grenfell community, in particular. They felt that their housing officers were sometimes as important as people working in social care in the council. We listened, and we found a way through that one. We also need to listen to the sector and the regulator as we move forward about the timeliness of implementing this. It is not going to be done overnight, so we will work with the sector after the consultation and listen to what it is saying on that one.

It is the same with Awaab’s law, although I am very passionate about getting Awaab’s law in place as soon as possible. I probably agree with the noble Baroness that perhaps we should start with the timings on damp and mould; that may be something we can look into further. We have only just finished that consultation. I have not seen the responses yet, so I do not want to pre-empt what will come out of that, but we will look, listen and do what we can to get that important part of the Act in place as soon as possible.

The noble Baroness also brought up the interaction between the Housing Ombudsman, the building safety regulator and the social housing regulator. In the department, I have talked many times with officials about the communication on this because it is a new regime; we want it to work and to work well for the tenants concerned. I think noble Lords will see a lot more communications with tenants about who to go to. Of course, if they have a problem, they should first go to their housing provider. We want to make sure that they do that and, if it is an individual case, go to the ombudsman, and then to the building safety regulator which will be working very closely with the ombudsman to make sure that it is picking up any themes coming out from a particular provider or group of providers. That is the way it will work, but communication to the tenants about this regime is important.

Finally, I turn to the residents’ panel. I have been to the residents’ panel, and I do not think that it is a talking shop at all. It is quite challenging. That is why we are extending them for a further year beyond just one year. What the panel says is very important not just for us as a department but for our partners, including the social housing regulator, the ombudsman and the building safety regulator. It is important to listen to the panel; it certainly tells us what it thinks.

I think that I have covered everything; I will check and, if I have not, I will write as usual. To conclude, these changes will ensure that the statute book remains accurate following the passage of the 2023 Act. This is just a small part of our wider mission to drive up the quality of social housing and ensure that all tenants are treated with fairness and respect.

Motion agreed.
17:00
Sitting suspended.

Energy Bills Discount Scheme (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:05
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Grand Committee do consider the Energy Bills Discount Scheme (Amendment) Regulations 2024.

Relevant document: 15th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, these regulations were laid before the House on 7 February 2024. As we are all aware, Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine led to an exceptional rise in energy prices. At the time, the Government responded decisively to these unprecedented circumstances by delivering critical support to households and non-domestic energy consumers facing significant increases in their bills.

Through the energy price guarantee and energy bill support scheme, the Government have spent more than £35 billion supporting households. Non-domestic customers will receive about £8 billion through the energy bill relief scheme and the energy bills discount scheme, which I will refer to as the EBDS. The swift action to introduce this legislation protected consumers from these inflated prices, mitigating what would have been more severe effects of this economic pressure had the Government not intervened.

The EBDS provides a discount on energy bills for the 2023-24 financial year for energy customers on non-domestic tariffs. The EBDS provides a further, higher level of support where those on non-domestic tariffs have domestic end-consumers. This is to support customers on heat networks who were not supported by the energy price guarantee that was available to other domestic customers.

Heat network customers were not protected as heat networks normally purchase their energy through commercial contracts, which they then sell on to domestic customers. All eligible heat suppliers with domestic customers were required by the EBDS regulations to apply for this additional level of support and to pass this benefit on to their customers. They were required to do this within 90 days of the scheme being launched or within 90 days of becoming eligible. The support given by this scheme ensured that householders who might have otherwise been exposed to the full wholesale market price were instead protected. This support is estimated to be worth about £180 million in total or an average of £1,200 per customer supported.

I turn to the specific amendment to the EBDS regulations that we are discussing. Under current regulations, if a heat supplier has failed to apply to the scheme within the deadline set by the rules, it can still apply for support. Indeed, we have required heat suppliers still to apply for support in order to ensure that as many households as possible can benefit. However, the current regulations allow suppliers to apply for support even after the scheme ends at the end of this month. This means that a customer would not get their support in a timely manner, and it also means that the Government would be legally required to process and pay for the administration of applications potentially indefinitely, at a large administrative cost to the taxpayer.

Therefore, this amendment instead provides for an end date, after which no further applications can be made. The final date will be specified in rules that will be made and published if this instrument is approved by the House. The deadline we intend to set is 31 March 2024, which aligns with the end of the period of cover of the EBDS. We have publicised this 31 March end date widely across the relevant sector. There would be one exception to this 31 March deadline for heat suppliers that become eligible so close to the deadline that it would be unreasonable to expect them to apply. Those heat suppliers would have until 14 April to apply.

I come to the most important aspect of this scheme: the impact it has on households facing high bills. It is right to introduce this deadline for those customers too, so that they benefit from this scheme when they need it most, not at an undetermined point in the future. It is essential that as many people as possible benefit from this support, and my department has been conducting extensive engagement to encourage applications from all eligible heat suppliers.

We are also mindful of the number of vulnerable domestic customers who live on heat networks. We have taken action to try to ensure that these customers receive the support they need, for example, by working with applicants in the social housing sector to ensure that all those applications are approved.

To be clear, this deadline does not stop customers being able to seek redress where their network has failed to apply. The Energy Ombudsman in Great Britain and the Consumer Council for Northern Ireland can provide support with dispute resolution and require payments to be made to customers. If necessary, customers can also choose to pursue claims through the civil courts.

To conclude, this instrument amends the EBDS regulations so that the duty for heat suppliers to apply for support is a duty to apply in a timely way, ahead of a deadline. This is a responsible step to ensure that we support customers while limiting the administrative burden on the taxpayer as pressures from energy bills, thankfully, ease. I commend these regulations to the Committee, and I beg to move.

Lord Vaux of Harrowden Portrait Lord Vaux of Harrowden (CB)
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My Lords, I remind the Committee of my interests as a generator of small-scale hydroelectricity and as a recipient of feed-in tariff payments.

I do not have any specific comments on the SI, which simply fixes a wrinkle in the various energy support schemes, but I point out the concern raised by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee that up to 60,000 domestic customers may be missing out on the support available. The Minister has given some examples of what the Government are doing, but it seems that more could be done to ensure that domestic customers do not miss out on this money. How many heat networks are there and have we made attempts to contact all of them to push them into making applications?

I take this opportunity to ask the Minister more generally about progress in dealing with the underlying distortions that made the schemes necessary in the first place. As he said, the support schemes arose because of the substantial increases in energy prices following the Russian invasion of Ukraine. It was entirely understandable and right to support people and businesses under those circumstances, but those schemes did nothing to fix the underlying distortions in the electricity markets that are, in part, the cause of the high pricing.

The key feature is the fact that the price is driven by the marginal pricing of electricity and therefore by the price of gas. That means that the price of electricity from all sources, including renewables, where the generation cost fell during the same period, was driven by the increased gas cost. It meant that people on apparently 100% renewable tariffs saw their electricity prices more than double, even though the cost of renewables had fallen. Quite apart from raising the question of how legitimate those renewable-only tariffs are, this led to some generators earning supernormal profits at the expense of consumers. The support schemes meant that we saw the strange situation of some generators having their excess profits subsidised by the Government. The same was even more true of the gas producers.

I realise that it is more complex than that, as I am sure the Minister will say, especially with the expansion of contracts for difference, but it is generally recognised that electricity prices need to be decoupled from the marginal rate, and especially from gas prices, to remove the distortions and fluctuations that the current situation generates. I asked the Minister about this in an Oral Question on 6 September 2022. He referred then to

“the review of market arrangements, which is looking urgently at that exact situation”.—[Official Report, 6/9/22; col. 91.]

Yet I see that the Government have today launched yet another consultation covering, among other things, exactly the same issue. Launching another consultation does not feel like the urgency that he promised 18 months ago. Can he provide an update on progress and when we might finally see electricity pricing decoupled from the marginal cost of gas generation and the market distortions reduced?

17:15
Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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My Lords, this statutory instrument sets out to enable the Secretary of State to put down a date after which heat networks may no longer be able to make an application for support under the energy bills discount scheme. The EBDS was established in April 2022 to provide non-domestic energy consumers with a discount on their higher gas and electricity bills. It also gives discounts to domestic consumers on communal heat networks, who, unlike households using a normal mains electricity or gas supply, were not supported under the terms of the energy price guarantee.

Under the terms of the EBDS, qualifying heat suppliers—QHSs—are required to apply for support, which they must then pass on to the domestic customer in the form of energy bill discounts. The Minister in the other place noted:

“Without that support, domestic customers on heat networks would have been exposed to the full impact of high wholesale market prices. The support that we have provided through the EBDS regulations is estimated to be worth £180 million in total, and £1,200 for the average … customer”.—[Official Report, Commons, Fifth Delegated Legislation Committee, 5/3/24; col. 3.]


This is, if you like, the architecture that was set up at pace and at scale to deal with, as the Minister here has said, the consequences of the invasion of Ukraine, its impact on rising energy costs here and the impact of that on the cost of living.

I want to be clear that any comments I make on this statutory instrument are set against a background of welcoming all the measures that the Government put in place, at scale and at pace, to deal with those consequences in response to what was a crisis. That being said, I have some concerns about this instrument and its impacts; I am also concerned about the way in which this scheme was set up, particularly for people on communal heat networks. I also note that this instrument has been noted as being of interest by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

The Government’s position is an administrative one in wanting to bring this scheme to an end. I fully understand that. The legislation, as originally drafted, means in effect that there is no end date, so, although the scheme will end, people will be able to continue to make applications for ever. That clearly has to end, so I have no disagreement there.

The intended end date is 31 March 2024. As the Minister said, there will be a two-week extension for those people who could not reasonably be expected to make an application because they hit the deadline. From a purely administrative point of view, this all seems fine and reasonable, but, from a customer’s point of view, there are impacts here. The customers we are talking about are those who are vulnerable and living in social housing.

The way in which the system was set up was not brilliant. I do not think that the operators of communal heat networks should have been required to apply in order to get the discounts in the first place. There have also been problems with pass-through to customers living in communal heat networks.

I want to ask a couple of questions before I come to an end. The end date is the end of this month, so it is literally the blink of an eye away. Why the urgency here? The Explanatory Notes say that the Government are still getting 20 applications a month. Is there the possibility of extending this?

I am concerned about what the Government are doing to inform the end-users and beneficiaries of these schemes. My thinking is that one of the reasons why this scheme was set up the way it was is that the Government do not have proper databases on the number of communal heat networks that exist, let alone the people in them. I understand why, in response to a crisis and not having those databases, the Government went down the route they did. However, I feel that this situation is likely to repeated in future. I request that the Minister and his department think again about trying to set up databases, so that the next time we are in this position, the discount on the cost of energy for people living in communal heat networks can come directly to them. That would be one point.

The numbers may not be that great, but there are still 60,000 individuals from vulnerable groups, as both committees have noticed. The cost per individual is likely to be £1,200. These are vulnerable people, and this is a big loss to them.

I note that the Government say that people can still seek redress through the ombudsman and the court system. However, that is quite slow and blunt, and applies only where owners of communal heat networks have made an application and received the funding but not passed it on to the end-user. I could find nothing in the information provided, but does the Minister know how many of those particular cases there are and what action the Government will be taking to support residents in those cases? Clearly, that is a criminal case—I am sorry if I am wrong and happy to be corrected—as the owner of a network has a discount but has failed to pass it on.

That is pretty much it from me. My real concern is that these are vulnerable people, and I encourage the Minister to do everything he can to make sure that they are supported. My real point is about learning, so that, the next time we are in this position, we can make sure that people in these situations get a better deal.

Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, as we have heard, this instrument enables the Secretary of State to set a date after which heat networks can no longer apply for support under the energy bills discount scheme. Under the scheme, qualifying heat suppliers are required—that is the word used—to apply for support, which they then pass on to their domestic customers in the form of energy bill discounts. The Department for Energy Security and Net Zero has said that not all QHSs have applied for EBDS support. Although the scheme itself will end on 31 March, there is currently no effective date for applications to be received. The Minister has set this out—so far, so tidy.

DESNZ has estimated that 3,000 qualifying heat suppliers may not have applied for the EBDS, but we do not actually know, because there was no register of the qualifying heat suppliers. We do not know how many there are or where they are, so we cannot follow them all up. That is one of the problems with the scheme that was set up. However, we estimate that up to 60,000 domestic customers may lose out on support as a result of qualifying heat suppliers not applying for a scheme discount, as required.

As we have heard from the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the noble Lord, Lord Vaux, and the Minister the value of lost discounts is about £1,200 a customer. That loss will disproportionately affect disadvantaged groups, such as the elderly and ethnic minorities—people who have been described as “skint little people”—who are significantly more likely to be on heat networks. Could the Minister set out what specific initiatives have been undertaken to encourage take-up of EBDS bids by heat networks? Have they made inroads into identifying where the qualifying heat suppliers are, so that they can be targeted and encouraged to apply? Which initiatives have been successful, if any, and how recently? Has it been an evolving, slow process?

The proposal in this instrument makes administrative sense, rather than leaving open an estimated total liability of £6 million for not closing the scheme to new applicants. Administrative sense is one side of this equation; the other side is the customers, and it seems less considered from their perspective. The Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and His Majesty’s Opposition initially expressed concern that an obligation was being placed on intermediaries without any means of enforcing it. It is all very well requiring someone to do something when, if they fail to do it, nothing happens except that the individuals can take them to court or to the ombudsman.

How many times has that happened during the course of the scheme? I suspect it is very few times, if any. Can the Minister tell us whether any such initiatives have been taken? Essentially, this is about a vulnerable customer being required to take their landlord to court to get a subsidy for their gas bill. The chances of that happening are fairly remote, but we will no doubt hear from the Minister on that. This means that companies and organisations that have failed to apply for, or pass on, discounts have simply got away with it. Who knows the truth of that? We do not know who they are.

As I indicated, we support the closing of the scheme and the ending date for applications, but we are unhappy with the way the scheme has been allowed to drift into oblivion with no forfeit for those who should have acted on it.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank all three noble Lords for their contributions. I am proud to say that, through the scheme, the Government have provided support to hundreds of thousands of households, helping them with financial pressures when they needed it most. The Government remain fully aware of the continued challenges posed by cost of living pressures, including the impact of energy bills. We are providing extensive financial support to households, including a package of support to assist households with the rising cost of living—this will total over £104 billion, or £3,700 per household on average, between 2022 and 2025. All three noble Lords recognised the extensive package of support that was put in place.

I totally understand the points made by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, and the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, on the heat network sector. The noble Earl is right that our database is not as good as it could be in terms of what heat networks are available. It is perfectly possible at the moment for anybody to build a block of flats and, in effect, set up a heat network; they do not necessarily have to tell the Government about it. However, if noble Lords remember, we recognised that in the Energy Act, where we took powers to regulate the heat network sector. That is why we are introducing new consumer regulations for heat networks and, from next year, we will have new consumer protections in place, provided through the Energy Act. That will give Ofgem powers to investigate and intervene in networks where prices for consumers appear to be unfair, or if prices are significantly higher than comparable heating systems. They are, in effect, natural monopolies, and therefore it is right that consumer protections exist. Those regulations will also seek to introduce back-billing rules, which exist already to protect gas and electricity customers.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, raised an important point about reaching as many customers as possible. It is indeed a priority for my department to ensure that as many customers as possible access the support available to them. So far, 12,000 applications have been approved under the scheme, which means that hundreds of thousands of domestic customers have been supported. We think that that figure of 12,000 represents the vast majority of qualified heat suppliers. We know that a scheme that was very much developed in haste in response to the energy crisis—as noble Lords will remember—was never going to be perfect. On top of that, we will strive to make sure that as many people as possible are reached by the scheme— but we think that it has reached the vast majority of eligible customers. We are targeting communications at heat suppliers with vulnerable customers, including housing associations and local authorities, and we will continue to do so.

The noble Lord, Lord Vaux, raised an important question—not at all related to this statutory instrument—about the distortions of gas and electricity pricing, and the protections provided to customers as part of that. It is fair to say that this is a big issue that we are concerned about. Ultimately, the answer to the noble Lord’s question is that, as the amount of gas on the network declines and the amount of gas used to generate power declines, prices will stabilise and there will be a steady decoupling. There are no immediate solutions to that. Perhaps it would be more sensible for me to write to the noble Lord with more detail on the considerations that have gone into this, because a lot of work has gone on, including a lot of studying of the market to see how we can improve it. I recognise that many people consider that they are getting renewable electricity through their suppliers, but the price that they receive for it reflects the cost of gas in the system, because it is a centralised market. I recognise that people see that as anomalous, and we are looking closely at this.

As I said, we recognise that customers on heat networks are not currently protected by the same set of protections as other customers, so in future they will be protected by Ofgem via the regulations that I mentioned earlier. The noble Earl, Lord Russell, raised concerns about the impact on vulnerable customers on communal networks. Careful consideration has been given to equality when amending these regulations. We are fully aware that heat networks are more likely than other comparable heat sources to serve vulnerable and elderly customers, which is why we have carried out a number of activities to try to ensure that they receive the support to which they are entitled. We continue to engage with stakeholders such as the Heat Trust to learn about any issues with the customer journey, such as on the pass-through, and any other heat networks struggling with their applications so that we can continue to provide them with support.

17:30
The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, asked about the deadline. If we did not amend the regulations, as I said in my introduction, a heat supplier would be able to apply way beyond the end of the current scheme. The scheme is currently contracted out at £5.3 million per annum, which is a significant burden on the taxpayer. As the number of eligible customers who have not received the support continues to decline, that would be an unjustifiable cost burden on the taxpayer to support a very small number of customers, even after we have gone to the extent that we have to contact as many as possible.
As a further example of our engagement, we have conducted extensive stakeholder communications campaigns and reached out to all known heat networks on government databases. We have worked with government and industry partners, devolved Governments and Members of Parliament to try to reach as many potentially vulnerable domestic customers as possible. We have also streamlined the application process to make it easier for heat networks to apply and we supply them with help if necessary, for example if they are very small.
We work closely with the Office for Product Safety and Standards to initiate enforcement action against known heat networks that have failed to apply, because there is a legal duty on them to apply for this. The noble Lord asked how much enforcement action has taken place. The Office for Product Safety and Standards has informally dealt with 657 heat network cases. Outcomes include the heat supplier making an application, when they have been encouraged to do so and reminded of their legal duty, confirming existing applications or providing confirmation that they are not responsible for the heat network or networks in question.
I hope that I have answered all the questions asked of me and convinced the Committee that these EBDS regulations are necessary to ensure that the Government are not continually legally obliged to accept applications to the scheme indefinitely, as I said, at the cost of many millions of pounds a year just on administration. As always, these decisions are difficult, but this balances our responsibility to limit the fiscal burden on the taxpayer with getting support to those vulnerable customers whom we want to help. I commend these draft regulations to the Committee.
Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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In the unlikely event that a customer takes a heat network to a court or ombudsman before the scheme closes, I presume that that application could continue beyond 31 March if it is not resolved by then and that the payment could duly be made.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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That is indeed the case. The application would continue beyond 31 March. Even after the scheme has ended, the responsibility of the supplier during the application of the scheme continues to be legally valid and therefore it is possible to take retrospective action against a heat supplier that has not fulfilled its legal obligations.

Motion agreed.

National Minimum Wage (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2024

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Grand Committee
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Considered in Grand Committee
17:36
Moved by
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel
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That the Grand Committee do consider the National Minimum Wage (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2024.

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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My Lords, the purpose of these regulations, which were laid before the House on 31 January, is to raise the national living wage and the national minimum wage rates on 1 April 2024.

The Government will increase the national living wage for workers aged 21 years and over by 9.8%, to £11.44 an hour. This record cash increase of £1.02 per hour means that we will hit this Government’s long-term target for the national living wage to equal two-thirds of median earnings for those aged 21 and over in 2024. With this national living wage uplift, this Government are also delivering their long-held ambition to extend the national living wage to workers aged 21 and over, as we reduce the age threshold from 23 and over this April, meaning that those aged 21 or 22 will see a £1.26 cash increase in their hourly pay.

This is a historic moment, as we are ending low hourly pay for those on the national living wage in the UK. The UK was the first country in the world to set such an ambition, and we are now proud to achieve it. A full-time worker on the national living wage will see their gross annual earnings rise by over £1,800 per annum. In total, the average earnings of a full-time worker on the national living wage will have increased by over £8,600 since it was announced in 2015. That is double the rate of inflation.

The Government will also increase wages for young people under the age of 21. For those aged 18 to 20, the national minimum wage rate will increase to £8.60, which is an increase of 15%. For those aged under 18, the national minimum wage will increase to £6.40 an hour, which is an increase of 21%. The minimum hourly wage for an apprentice under the age of 19, or in the first year of their apprenticeship, will increase to £6.40 an hour, an increase of 21%. The accommodation off-set will also see an increase to £9.99.

The new rate increases are based on recommendations from the Low Pay Commission, following its extensive consultation with stakeholders and consideration of the current economic data and circumstances. The Low Pay Commission is an independent expert body made up of employer and worker representatives and independent commissioners. This year has seen some challenging economic circumstances for both workers and employers, including high inflation. When the Low Pay Commission recommended the new rates for the minimum wage, it took into account many of these economic circumstances, including how affordable the rate increases are for businesses and the current state of the economy. By accepting these recommendations from the Low Pay Commission, the Government are striking the right balance between the needs of workers and the affordability to business, while also ensuring that we deliver on our long-term commitments on the national living wage.

The Government would like to place on record their thanks to the Low Pay Commission, its previous chair Bryan Sanderson and the commissioners for their commitment to gathering thorough evidence and providing these recommendations. I also welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Stroud, to her role as the new chair of the Low Pay Commission.

We expect that this increase to the minimum wage will put more money in the pockets of around 3 million of the lowest-paid people in every corner of the country. The new rates are due to come into force on 1 April 2024. In the meantime, any worker who is concerned that they are not being paid the correct wage should check their payslip and speak with their employer. If the problem is not resolved, they can contact ACAS or complain to HMRC.

Since 2015, the Government have more than doubled the budget for compliance and enforcement to £27.8 million in 2022-23. HMRC enforces the national living wage and national minimum wage on behalf of my department. I thank HMRC for its ongoing work with employers and workers to ensure that all workers receive the pay they are due and help give businesses the right resources to stay national minimum wage compliant.

I remind the Grand Committee that, on 1 April, regulations will also come into force to ensure that so-called live-in domestic workers are paid at least the relevant minimum wage rate, providing protection from exploitative low pay. This will help protect these workers, giving them a new right to the entitlement to the national living and minimum wage for the first time. These regulations, alongside the regulations debated today, will aim to reward the lowest-paid workers in every sector and in every part of the country for their contribution to our economy.

This Government are aware of the cost of living pressures and will continue to closely monitor all the impacts of increases to the national living wage and national minimum wage rates on workers and businesses alike. We will continue to carefully monitor economic developments as the NLW target is implemented. The Government will shortly publish this year’s remit to the Low Pay Commission and ask it to provide recommendations for the rates, which will apply from April 2025.

Lord Leong Portrait Lord Leong (Lab)
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My Lords, we are pleased to welcome this instrument and thank the Minister for introducing these regulations. As he referred to, they implement the recommendation from the Low Pay Commission to lower the age of eligibility for the national living wage from 23 years old to 21 years old. We also welcome the inflation-related annual increases in the national minimum wage and in the apprentice hourly rates for those aged under 21.

However, even after the increases enabled by this instrument come into effect on 1 April this year, under-18s will earn just £6.40 per hour, while 18 to 20 year-olds will earn only £8.60 per hour. Unfortunately, as young people know, most shops, landlords and services do not offer lower prices for customers aged under 21. Ironically, many of these businesses actually employ people under 21 on the national minimum wage. What further sanctions will apply to businesses that do not pay the national minimum wage?

If we are privileged to be elected, the next Labour Government will use its New Deal for Working People to eradicate in-work poverty by tackling the structural causes of inequality. We are committed to raising the national living wage to ensure that it is adequate and addresses the rise in the cost of living and inflation. Having a national minimum wage that does not reflect the actual cost of living particularly impacts people who do not have family who can support them; care leavers are one severely affected group.

Some of the most disadvantaged and economically insecure young people in the country, even if they try to do the right thing and work hard, can find themselves unable to meet basic costs. As most noble Lords know, the previous Labour Government proudly introduced the national minimum wage. The next Labour Government would make sure that the national living wage actually lives up to its name. We would ensure that a genuine national living wage is applied to every adult worker and is properly enforced, because we know that giving working people more money in their pocket means that more money will be spent in their community and in the everyday economy, nourishing their neighbourhoods and creating more and better-paid jobs locally.

Without hesitation, we support these regulations. I look forward to the Minister’s response to my question about sanctions.

17:45
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his contributions to today’s debate. As I said, these updated regulations will reward low-paid workers right across the country for their contribution to our economy.

I will deal with some of the points made, especially in relation to our young people. As was discussed in the Chamber recently, it is crucial that we get young people into work immediately after they come out of school. If at that point in their early careers, they do not have the skills to make that wage, we must not lock them out. The graduated scheme to allow them to come in at the lower rate and move up as they get to 21 is similar to what any of us who have been in work experienced. When we started out and were relatively unskilled, we were on a lower wage rate, and then we graduated to the national minimum wage aged 21. That is a perfectly reasonable graduation scheme for our young people. We know the impact on their lives of not getting into work immediately—it can create a lifetime wage scar—so it is very important that we do not lock them out of the market at the most formative period of their working life.

On sanctions, HMRC administers the scheme. We very actively monitor who is not paying the right rate. Every year, we do a very public name and shame on those companies—sometimes some well-known names are named—which we know has a major impact on behaviour. There are sanctions that can be applied by HMRC directly to companies that do not comply.

It is absolutely fair to congratulate the previous Labour Government on introducing the minimum wage. The noble Lord referred to a possible change of Government, but a note of caution is that we must take businesses with us on this journey. There are 5.5 million companies in the UK, of which 99% are SMEs. That is why the Low Pay Commission is so crucial to this debate: it sets what is considered to be a fair rate. Bearing in mind that the burden will fall on businesses—this will cost £3 billion over the next five years—we need to get the right rate.

I will make one more point on that. Prior to this Government being in place, our lowest-paid cohort had a higher percentage of their annual income coming from benefits. Today, a higher percentage comes from earnings, so we have been successful in moving that cohort into work. I emphasise that a full-time worker on the national living wage is earning £8,600 more today than in 2015. That will be an increase of 70% by 1 April this year. As inflation has been 35% in that time, this cohort has had a double increase in their wages. We are now in a position to say that with the national living wage being set at two-thirds of median earnings, that cohort has been taken out of low pay, which is defined as being below two-thirds of median earnings. There are now 1.5 million people on the national living wage who are no longer in that category.

We are proud of the Government’s record of delivery. We have achieved our target of the national living wage reaching two-thirds of median earnings for all workers aged 21 and over. I again extend my thanks to the Low Pay Commission, which is very important. Its independent and expert advice means we can ensure that the right balance is struck between the needs of workers, affordability for business and the wider impact on the economy. We look forward to receiving its recommendations for the 2025 rates, which will be published later this year.

Motion agreed.
Committee adjourned at 5.49 pm.

House of Lords

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Tuesday 12 March 2024
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Introduction: Lord Booth

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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14:37
Sydney John Peter Booth, having been created Baron Booth, of Houghton-le-Spring in the City of Sunderland, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Pidding and Lord Sharpe of Epsom, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Lord Fuller

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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14:42
John Charles Fuller, OBE, having been created Baron Fuller, of Gorleston-on-Sea in the County of Norfolk, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Shephard of Northwold and Lord Porter of Spalding, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Carers: National Strategy

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:47
Asked by
Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait Baroness Pitkeathley
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To ask His Majesty’s Government whether they plan to develop a national strategy for carers to take account of the needs of unpaid carers.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, we have set out our strategic approach for supporting unpaid carers in People at the Heart of Care, published in 2021. The enormous contribution made by unpaid carers is reflected throughout Next Steps to Put People at the Heart of Care, published in 2023. Ministerial colleagues indicated last year their intention to meet annually, in the run-up to Carers Week, to share ongoing work to support unpaid carers and identify opportunities to work together to achieve more.

Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait Baroness Pitkeathley (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. I never have any difficulty getting agreement that carers are vital to our health and social care system and should be supported, but I doubt if the 5,000 carers just surveyed by Carers UK about a national strategy will be very pleased with his Answer. They emphasise how vital this kind of step change is if they are to be able to continue caring while safeguarding their own health and finances. What they, I and all those who work with carers want is a national strategy that covers all relevant departments and is led by the Prime Minister, as the last one was in 2008 by the then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. This Government promised a national strategy in 2015. Why are carers still waiting?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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I pay tribute to the noble Baroness for the work that she has done and her lifetime service to carers and to the voluntary service. We are fortunate to have her in this place. We will continue to work together across government to support unpaid carers. Ministerial colleagues and senior leaders from the Department for Work and Pensions, the Department for Business and Trade, the Department for Education and the Department of Health and Social Care, as well as NHS England, met last year to share ongoing activity and identify opportunities to achieve more. Ministers indicated their commitment to meeting on an annual basis, most likely in the lead- up to Carers Week. We recognise the importance of continuing to improve data and evidence and will note the results of the APPG/Carers UK survey, in addition to other sources once available.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister has talked about a strategic approach and meetings. What exactly are the Government doing to address the disproportionate risk of poverty among carers? Where is the strategic approach on that? Things are getting worse, not better.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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This Government are fully committed to the 10-year vision for adult social care set out in the People at the Heart of Care White Paper. The Government have made available up to £8.6 billion of additional funding over this financial year and next to support adult social care and discharge.

Baroness Jolly Portrait Baroness Jolly (LD)
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My Lords, the support received by carers varies according to where they live. Does the department have access to how many unpaid carers there are and where they live? Does it hold information about the ages of carers and those whom they are caring for? If not, why not?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness makes an important point. She is right that we need to know where carers are. People at the Heart of Care, published in 2021, addresses the identification of unpaid carers by increasing the use of markers in NHS electronic health records and by simplifying current approaches to data collection and registration. In many communities up and down the country, that works very well, but clearly there is more to be done in other communities.

Lord Laming Portrait Lord Laming (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister will recognise that anyone at any time can have a major care role thrust upon them unexpectedly which can transform their lives completely. When the committee that several of us sat on took evidence from unpaid carers, one of the things that astonished us was that carers felt so devalued. When they took the person whom they were responsible for to hospital, they were not even allowed into the consulting room with a doctor because their status was not considered sufficient to allow them in; it was only the patient who could go in. These carers said to us, “What is the country doing to support unpaid carers?”

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Lord is right, and indeed I have experienced that position myself. If you take a loved one to hospital or to the doctor’s, and the doctor’s surgery has been used to seeing the patient over many years, they look at the carer and think, “Who is this person?” Their records do not reflect things, and that is simply not good enough. Registering a power of attorney with the GP is one way of doing that, but we are a long way from having it in place. It is incumbent on GP practices to get up to speed. When they have patients on their records, there should be a clear segment in the computer system so that if a patient turns up with a carer the practice knows who the carer is and makes them welcome.

Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate Portrait Lord Kirkhope of Harrogate (Con)
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My Lords, there are some deep concerns—I have seen a number of things on television recently—about actual children acting as carers for their parents, when I think the normal assumption is that carers look after elderly people or those who are particularly disabled. Does my noble friend agree that we need to be particularly careful to identify situations where children are carrying out those functions, and assist them as much as possible?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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My noble friend is absolutely right and raises an important point. The Department for Education’s new data on young carers, collected through the school census published last year, is an important step towards improving their visibility in the school system, allowing schools to better identify and support their young carers. That will also provide an annual data collection to establish long-term trends. We will consider the findings from the census to inform the next steps.

Baroness Wheeler Portrait Baroness Wheeler (Lab)
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My Lords, on International Women’s Day last week, Carers UK stressed that older women aged 75 to 79 are providing the most unpaid care—50 hours per week—and that there has been an alarming increase since 2011 in women aged over 85 providing unpaid care. These are not the women who come under the Government’s award of one week’s unpaid carer’s leave from work, and neither will they be first in line for the small amounts of respite care funding that GPs have been allocated. How are the Government addressing this situation, and what specific actions will be taken to help to alleviate the terrible burden of care these women face?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The noble Baroness raises a very important point and, as I have already mentioned, the Government have conducted a census looking at the data to identify those carers. Various groups of carers all have different needs. My noble friend just mentioned child carers, and the noble Baroness just mentioned carers of working age; employers have to be sympathetic and understand.

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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Also, it is challenging for those aged over 85. As I alluded to in my previous answer, GP practices have to be able to identify people in that age range so that they can work with social services and the local authority to make sure that they are supported.

Lord Bishop of Leicester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leicester
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The Archbishops’ Commission on Reimagining Care, based on conversations with many unpaid carers, recommended that there should be a “New Deal” for carers including restorative breaks, financial support and support from employers, including paid leave and the right to request flexibility. Does the Minister agree that any future national care strategy should consider the need for unpaid carers to have flexibility in their paid work?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate raises an important point, and we welcomed the report he referred to. The Department for Business and Trade is bringing in a new leave entitlement of one week, available to all employees, including those working in adult social care, providing care for a dependant. This is on top of existing statutory holidays. The Carer’s Leave Act 2023 and flexible working regulations will come into force on 6 April. Under the Act, eligible employees will be entitled to one week of unpaid leave per year. This is just the start. The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right: good employers should recognise when employees need time off, because it will happen to the employers at some stage in their lives.

Baroness Tyler of Enfield Portrait Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD)
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My Lords, I will pursue the point on the healthcare needs of unpaid carers and how the NHS treats them. The Government’s White Paper on adult social care reform had a range of measures including voluntarily used markers to identify unpaid carers in NHS health records. That was about their own health needs, not about supporting the health needs of those whom they were caring for. What progress has been made in this vital area?

Lord Evans of Rainow Portrait Lord Evans of Rainow (Con)
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As People at the Heart of Care put it in 2021, we set out a strategic approach to empowering unpaid carers, and in October 2023 the Department of Health and Social Care launched an accelerating reform fund. It provides almost £43 million over 2023-24 to support innovation in adult social care and services for unpaid carers. This takes forward our commitment to invest £25 million to bolster the care services that support unpaid carers.

Forest Risk Commodity Regulations

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:58
Asked by
Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock
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To ask His Majesty’s Government when they will lay the forest risk commodity regulations under Schedule 17 to the Environment Act 2021 to prevent the importing of goods responsible for illegal deforestation, and what consideration they have given to the merits of widening the scope in include all deforestation.

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, secondary legislation will be laid in the near future that will make it illegal for larger organisations and their subsidiaries to use regulated commodities and their derivatives in the UK if produced on illegally occupied or used land. Around 70% of tropical deforestation for agriculture is illegal. Therefore, the Government believe that is the most effective approach to halt and reverse deforestation. It is the most important way of supporting producer Governments to strengthen their forest governance and domestic laws.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, we understand the importance of getting these measures right and of working with partners to ensure they have the greatest possible impact. However, waiting more than two years after the passage of the Environment Act is a choice. The Minister knows there is appetite for regulation, including in the financial services industry, where separate commitments have been made. What does “near future” mean? Can he guarantee today that these important provisions will be in force by 2025? If not, other than grabbing some headlines during COP 26, what are the Government actually doing to prevent deforestation?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The Government are doing a lot to prevent deforestation in addition to this measure, which, as she knows, came from the Glasgow leaders’ declaration we led on at COP 26 to put an end to deforestation and land degradation by 2030. We are putting this in place. The noble Baroness asked for the date on which it will be laid. We have a few tweaks to make, because we are in negotiation with the EU to make sure that we are getting this right for Northern Ireland. We are working with the EU. With products that come from other countries and are then processed and exported to the EU, we will be working under two systems, and we want to make sure we are getting that right.

In addition, we are doing a range of different activities, including our investments in forests and sustainable land use. Our Partnership for Forests has mobilised £1 billion in private investment and has brought 4.1 million hectares of land under sustainable management and benefited over 250,000 people. I could go on. We are doing a lot in addition to this measure.

Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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My Lords, while we welcome these measures, we note that Defra consulted on them in December 2021. They only cover illegal goods and apply to businesses that have a global turnover of over £50 million per year and use over 500 tonnes of beef, leather, cocoa, palm or soya oil per year. Will the Government commit to full alignment with the EU’s deforestation regulations, which cover all forest commodities sourced from both illegal and legal deforestation?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The EU’s deforestation regulation is far from settled and it is causing great concern. I have had meetings with representatives from a number of producer countries. On trips to countries such as Costa Rica, I met many others. It is not right to say that the EU system is done and dusted. There are great concerns among producer countries that it could mitigate against precisely the people who are living sustainably close to or in forest environments. We have started with these four and we will have a very fast—for these sorts of measures—review in two years’ time, which will see possible additions. That may comply with what the EU is doing, but we have no idea whether the EU is going ahead with all six or will go ahead with the same four that we are.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
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My Lords, in a recent investigation by Global Witness, it was found that both HSBC and Barclays are financing companies that are purchasing product made on illegally deforested land, particularly in the Cerrado. This is a complex ecosystem that is not covered as tropical rainforest. It has fallen between two stools, but it is producing an enormous amount of meat. Schedule 17 is meant to cover it, but it has weak definitions. The beef produced as a result of deforestation does not necessarily end up here in the UK, so we cannot just focus on the trade alone to stop it; we have to look at the money and where it is flowing. Do the Government remain committed to developing “clear due diligence standards” for the financial sector through the Treasury’s review of deforestation finance, which was commissioned in the Financial Services and Markets Act and committed to in the other place by the then Economic Secretary to the Treasury, Andrew Griffiths?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Yes, we do. The Treasury is proceeding with its review. Alongside that, we have the Taskforce on Nature-related Financial Disclosures. It is not just for financial institutions in this country but has become the international byword on making sure that financial institutions are themselves regulated and making it clear to other investors and shareholders that the supply chains they are investing in are in accordance with the Glasgow leaders’ declaration.

Lord Randall of Uxbridge Portrait Lord Randall of Uxbridge (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend. I know he shares a great and deep concern on this issue. He is probably as impatient as many of us to get this, but we know it is not always that easy. Will the Government require commodities and products that are in scope to be traced back to farm level?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I thank my noble friend. We are indeed working as quickly as we can to get this on the statute book. We want to make sure that those companies that are in scope, as the noble Earl on the Liberal Democrat Benches described, are able to say from their supply chains right back to where the project came from in the first place, that they are in accordance with these regulations. If not, we have a very clear sanctions programme that we will bring forward in the statutory instrument, which will hold them to account.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, we know that we have fewer trees in this country than most countries in Europe, yet we also know that trees capture CO2 and other noxious gases. If we are to meet our national obligations to try to reduce global warming, we will have to step up our planting of trees; there is no other way we are going to be able to do it.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right: we have to practise what we preach domestically, which is why we have put an enormous amount of money through the Nature for Climate fund to promote that and through other schemes. We are encouraging land managers to look at tree planting and are seeing an increased number being planted. The supply chain to support that is so important. I have just come back from Costa Rica, which has doubled its tree cover in recent years, and we want to increase ours significantly in the UK.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, do we have to continue with biomass subsidies after 2027? I would like some confirmation on that. Secondly, ancient forests in Canada are still being cut down to make wood pellets to supply companies such as Drax, which has had billions in subsidies. It is not clean energy, it is highly polluting and it is not economical, so why are the Government still doing that?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I will write to the noble Baroness about Drax, because it is a very complicated issue. It fits into the UK’s net zero balance sheet in terms of what Canada is doing, where the woodchip comes from. I want to be absolutely right in my answer, so I will write to her.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, further to the question from the noble Baroness, I entirely agree with her. What are the Government doing spending hundreds of millions of pounds in subsidies to Drax in order to have trees cut down in America and then brought across the Atlantic? All of this is because somebody has designated “burning wood” as ticking the box for “saving the planet”, which it clearly is not.

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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Biomass is a perfectly legitimate renewable energy source if the wood that is being used is a renewable and sustainable harvest. My noble friend and the noble Baroness are absolutely right that if the wrong sort of timber is used and being shipped to this country at huge carbon cost, taxpayers, shareholders and investors need to know the precise and genuine cost to our net zero commitments that that poses.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Order.

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

Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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My Lords, in my capacity as chair of the Environment and Climate Change Committee, I wrote to the Secretary of State for Defra, Steve Barclay, on this issue on 14 February. As yet, I have not had a reply and nor has the chair of the Environmental Audit Committee in the other place, who wrote to him earlier than I did. Will the Minister use his good offices to ask when a reply might be forthcoming?

Lord Benyon Portrait Lord Benyon (Con)
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I am not clear what the letter was about—whether it was about Drax or the forest risk commodities. Whatever it is, I will chase it and make sure that the noble Baroness gets her answer.

Land Use Framework

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:09
Asked by
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to make progress on the delayed land use framework for England, when it will be published, and whether it will be subject to consultation.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and draw attention to my interests as set out in the register.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Douglas-Miller) (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my land management interests, as set out in the register. I appreciate that it has been a long wait, and I am happy to confirm that the land use framework will be published before the Summer Recess this year. The Government have made significant progress in the areas that your Lordships’ Land Use in England Committee identified as policy priorities. The Government intend to engage widely on the framework, both pre and post publication, but are not planning to consult formally on the framework.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for his response. He said that it had been a long time waiting and, indeed, I have 40 successive Hansard assurances over the last two years that the land use framework would be finished and published by December 2023. The last one dated from November 2023—so that did not happen. I welcome the Minister’s assurance that it will be published before the Summer Recess, but I am not holding my breath.

Can the Minister assure the House on a number of issues to do with the framework? Will it integrate all the key land uses, including infrastructure, housing and transport, not just those for which Defra has a responsibility in terms of agriculture, carbon and biodiversity? Will the Government in their engagement before and after the publication of the framework, as the Minister outlined, engage widely with the 140,000 landowners who ultimately own the land and will decide on how their land will be used? He needs to reassure them that such a framework is not a top-down diktat and that they will still be able to make decisions about their own land and will be incentivised for adopting options that are broadly in line with national policies and targets.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her questions. She raises some really important points. I think that the noble Lord who has been the recipient of the previous 40 questions on the land use framework might be sitting quite close to me at the moment. As the 41st recipient to respond to this query, I am incentivised to come up with the answer before the Summer Recess, as I said.

There are many uses of our land, and we need to anticipate for the future. Naturally, several government departments have interests, and we are working closely with them to understand their land use expectations and feed them into the framework. The Government support the principle of multifunctional land use—in essence, land sharing rather than land sparing. The framework will provide land managers and farmers, and other interested parties, with guidance, so they can make effective decisions based on local knowledge and local strategies, as well as understanding national requirements. The framework is not intended to be prescriptive or to force people into certain categories. It is essentially guidance.

Lord Deben Portrait Lord Deben (Con)
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Will my noble friend confirm that this will cover not only Defra’s subjects but the wider range of things to which the noble Baroness pointed? A land use strategy that does not cover the whole range of areas, including infrastructure, is not going to be one which is very acceptable. How are we going to consult, if there is to be no consultation?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. Several government departments have targets with land use implications, and we are working with them to understand and take account of their land use expectations, as well as those within Defra. That includes the Department for Energy Security and Net Zero, the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities, the Department for Transport and the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology. We are in consultation with all those departments at the moment.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB)
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My Lords, I attended a soil health conference this morning which was excellently chaired by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayman and Lady Bennett. Soil health is synonymous with appropriate land use. The repeated refrain from the experts was the importance of localised knowledge to manage our essential soils, including at individual field levels. In developing that land use strategy, what steps will the Government take to ensure that local land managers, who know their land best, are properly and actively consulted?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The Government are not currently planning to consult formally on the framework. We are not convinced that the benefits of formal consultation outweigh the burdens it could place on the many sectors involved in land management. We have engaged with relevant groups during the development of the land use framework, including other government departments, as I said, the devolved Administrations, and academics, including the Royal Society. We intend to engage more widely ahead of the framework’s publication. Most importantly, the development of the framework has also been informed by those managing land and farming. We have worked with farmer groups and investigated the decision-making processes of those farming in different landscapes across England.

Lord Cameron of Dillington Portrait Lord Cameron of Dillington (CB)
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My Lords, the Minister has answered the questions about the involvement of other departments and about getting expertise in from the outside. The House of Lords report was adamant that this should be an ongoing process. How often do Defra and the Government envisage that this strategy should be renewed? Would it, for instance, be coincidental to the three-yearly statutory obligation on Defra to report on the self-sufficiency of UK food supplies? I would hope that we could combine the two. All the consultation that is being described is quite a big exercise. I hope that we can have a consistent body to further this process.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I pay tribute to the noble Lord and to the other members of his committee for their excellent report. He rightly points out that this is an iterative process; we are not going to do it just once to put it into a file where it will sit for ever as a rigid structure. I do not yet have the exact details as to how this process will be updated. I very much hope that this will form part of the final report when it comes from the Secretary of State shortly.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, the delay in the publication of the strategy is disappointing. Previously, the Minister has assured us that we would be seeing it “shortly”. It is interesting that “shortly” has now become “before the Summer Recess”. I thought I would look up the definition of “shortly” in the Cambridge dictionary; it is “soon”. The example given is:

“We will shortly be arriving in King’s Cross Station”.


Does the Minister agree that it is a jolly good job that he is not in charge of our railway services? Can he guarantee that we will see the strategy before the Summer Recess, or will we be seeing the use of “shortly” shortly?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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As a frequent user of the train service between here and Edinburgh, I appreciate that “shortly” can mean lots of different things. When the Secretary of State took up his position at the beginning of December, he wrote to the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Dillington, saying that that was a really important subject. It is crucial that the Secretary of State is completely happy with a report that will go out in his name. It is right that he takes the time to reflect on the report that was being formulated at the time, put his own stamp on it and make sure that he is entirely comfortable with it when it comes out, before the Summer Recess.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My Lords, how are the Government approaching the design of financial and policy levers to encourage decision-makers at all spatial scales to reach decisions which are broadly in line with delivering national targets and policies?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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Sorry, I did not actually hear the question.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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How are the Government approaching the design of financial and policy levers to encourage decision-makers at all spatial scales to reach decisions which are broadly in line with delivering national targets and policies?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. I caught most of it, but perhaps I might write to her in due course with the answer once I have caught the whole thing.

Lord Carrington Portrait Lord Carrington (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. The primary concern in any such framework needs to be its flexibility to react to circumstances. This means that, at best, it can only be guidance, as the Minister has affirmed. More specifically, can he confirm that valuation issues will be carefully studied, as confiscation of value due to arbitrary designation will be a major concern for those who work the land?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely correct that this framework is not designed to be prescriptive in any way. It will take into consideration all aspects of land ownership, land management and land use. I can assure him that making sure that there is no value destruction for those at the recipient end will be at the top of my radar.

Ministers: Legal Costs

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:19
Asked by
Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of taxpayer-funded legal costs incurred by Government Ministers, following the recent libel settlement funded by the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait The Minister of State, Cabinet Office (Baroness Neville- Rolfe) (Con)
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My Lords, in line with established practice under multiple Administrations of all political colours, Ministers are provided with legal support and representation where matters relate to their conduct and responsibilities as a Minister. As set out in Chapter 6 of the Cabinet Manual, Ministers are

“indemnified by the Crown for any actions taken against them for things done or decisions made in the course of their ministerial duties. The indemnity will cover the cost of defending the proceedings, as well as any costs or damages awarded against the minister”.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. The Prime Minister put it rather differently. He said

“it is a long-standing convention stretching back many years … that the government will fund those legal disputes when it relates to government ministers doing their work”.

How can making party-political libel posts on X on Friday at midnight constitute “Ministers doing their work”? Why should this settlement come out of the public purse? Is this not a breach of the Ministerial Code, after all?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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As I said, it is long-standing practice. Indeed, the Secretary of State concerned made a statement this morning at the Lords Science and Technology Committee and explained the circumstances in full, including how she was engaged in official work and got support from officials on the disputed letter.

Lord Harris of Haringey Portrait Lord Harris of Haringey (Lab)
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My Lords, will the Minister just explain how all of that works if this was a post on X at midnight?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I think the Secretary of State explained very fully. It took the course of two days to draft, clear and send the letter to UKRI’s CEO to ask for an investigation. She highlighted it on X, using the same medium as the original issue.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, may I ask the Minister about the Civil Service dimension of this? It is reported that a number of senior civil servants were working until midnight on a Friday evening on a non-emergency text message that the Secretary of State wished to send. This seems an entirely unreasonable use of civil servants’ time. Civil servants do work out of hours, but only for emergencies. If they are asked to work late into the night and over the weekend, that is an abuse by Ministers of civil servants.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The Secretary of State has explained her actions fully. I refer noble Lords to her statement. The important thing is that legal advice was taken, and subsequently there was a full and final settlement of the dispute. The Secretary of State made it clear that she should have sent the letter in confidence to UKRI and apologised for that. The basic principle is that it is very important that Ministers can seek advice on work that they carry out as part of their official duties, otherwise there would be a chilling effect on public life. This has been important to all Administrations.

Baroness Chapman of Darlington Portrait Baroness Chapman of Darlington (Lab)
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My Lords, if the chilling effect were to extend to preventing Ministers posting things on social media at midnight, we might all be able to live with that. The Minister said that the indemnity covered the activities of her fellow Minister while fulfilling her duties, so can she advise the House which of her ministerial responsibilities the Secretary of State’s comments attacking two academics were fulfilling? Will she also explain why the taxpayer should foot the bill for a blatant abuse of position and power by the Secretary of State that further undermines the standing of the very UK research institution that her department is supposed to be promoting?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The Secretary of State is responsible for the non-departmental public body UK Research and Innovation. She was operating in that context. Her intentions were always to do the right thing. It is very important that Ministers can do this. Of course, insurance is available to MPs, which is provided by the House at the taxpayers’ expense, in cases where professional indemnity insurance covers defamation. The House of Lords Commission is due this week to discuss the provision of professional indemnity insurance to Peers. Of course, there is indemnity insurance in the private sector because directors have to act in good faith and in the wider interest.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, might I suggest that the protection should last only while pub hours are in place, because it is quite clear what happened in this case?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The truth is—as I know well—that as a Government Minister you do work late. Government officials often work late as well. This is a serious point about how to make sure that Ministers are properly advised on issues. That is what happened on this occasion.

Baroness Chakrabarti Portrait Baroness Chakrabarti (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government seem very keen to lecture everybody else about extremism these days. Would they like to take a look closer to home at the extremism in their own ranks, in particular from very major donors?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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On extremism, as the Prime Minister said in his very important speech two weeks ago, we have seen an unacceptable rise in extremist activity that seeks to divide our society and hijack our democratic institutions. It is our duty to ensure that the Government have all the tools that they need to tackle this ever-evolving threat.

Lord Drayson Portrait Lord Drayson (Lab)
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My Lords, part of the role of the Science Minister is to champion the scientific community within government and to protect it from political interference. What action are the Government taking to repair the damage caused by the Secretary of State’s highly regrettable actions and the libel case that followed?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I do not see it that way. The Secretary of State gave evidence this morning to the Lords Science and Technology Committee. There was a brief discussion of this matter. They then moved on to discuss important points about science, which she and this Government are extremely supportive of and have done so much to make sure that the UK is one of the leaders in the world in science and technology matters.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, is this not another case of the Government marking their own homework? What is the Government’s ethics adviser saying about this? Have the Government taken a proper view from the ethics adviser?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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Advice to the Prime Minister, including from the ethics adviser, is not something that we would comment on.

Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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I am sympathetic to the Minister, who is prone to having hospital passes from her colleagues that do not help her at all. Does she really think that her explanation at the Dispatch Box will convince the British public, let alone the Daily Mail?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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The statement the Secretary of State made this morning was full and clear. I have a great deal of respect for the Secretary of State. The action she took in the aftermath of 7 October was very understandable. We have now moved forward and resolved this. We should be caring about how we improve science and technology in this country.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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The Secretary of State told the Select Committee that she is now clear that she should have sent the letter privately. Was she advised by her officials working at that time of night that it would be appropriate to send part of it on X? If she was not then she was acting with her own personal judgment on the issue, so why is the taxpayer having to pay for that error?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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I have explained the circumstances about why the taxpayer gets involved in legal expenses. I note the noble Lord’s point.

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I was there when the Secretary of State gave her statement to the Science and Technology Committee this morning and was remarkably unconvinced, particularly by the Permanent Secretary’s assertion that all the aspects of this case had been discussed with legal and technical advisers before the relevant tweet was made. I simply ask the Minister: does she think that was valid advice? Is this the way the Government think a senior Cabinet Minister should communicate with the body for which she has responsibility?

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My understanding is that the legal expenditure was approved by the department’s accounting officer. That was made clear. I believe that the Permanent Secretary was there with the Secretary of State. I refer noble Lords to her statement, to all that she has done, and to the fact that she apologised to move this matter on.

President of the European Commission

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:30
Asked by
Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham
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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs when he will next meet the President of the European Commission.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton) (Con)
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My Lords, I have no immediate plans to meet the Commission President, but I meet regularly with Josep Borrell, the high representative, and with Maroš Šefčovič, who is the commissioner responsible for the UK-EU relationship. The Prime Minister meets regularly with the Commission President, and they have a very strong relationship.

Lord Young of Cookham Portrait Lord Young of Cookham (Con)
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I am grateful for that reply. In last week’s debate on financial affairs, a number of noble Lords proposed that Russia’s frozen assets should be used to send armaments to Ukraine and to repair its damaged infrastructure. My noble friend replied sympathetically, saying:

“We are aiming for the maximum amount of G7 and EU unity on this”.—[Official Report, 5/3/24; col. 1545.]


Six months ago, at the end of an EU summit, where there was broad support for that proposition, the President of the Commission said that the next step would be an actual proposal. When my noble friend next meets the President, therefore, will he urge her to make progress with the next proposal, because Ukraine needs every help it can get?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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The noble Lord is completely right that Ukraine needs our help, and needs it urgently. We are continuing to discuss with allies the best legal basis for making progress. We believe that there are a number of options. We could take collective countermeasures, saying that all countries have been affected by Russia’s illegal invasion so there is that legal basis. The Americans believe that there is a case for using individual countermeasures, arguing that their individual country has been affected. Nevertheless, what we need to do in the G7 is to get the maximum unity. It may not be possible to get everyone to agree to the same process or the same amount, but we are hoping to make good progress.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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My Lords, whenever the Foreign Secretary next meets the EU commissioner, will he take on board the need to resolve the supply of veterinary medicines under the Windsor Framework to Northern Ireland? The recent Command Paper said that technical solutions would be pursued with the European Commission. Can the Foreign Secretary indicate what discussions have taken place, or will take place? Will he give assurances to your Lordships’ House that these issues will be resolved to ensure the expeditious supply of veterinary medicines and vaccines to farmers in Northern Ireland?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I will look closely at the case that the noble Baroness raises. The Windsor Framework was a very good piece of negotiation that has helped to get the institutions back up and running in Northern Ireland, and that is wholly welcome. Of course, there are still issues that we need to resolve, and I will look carefully at the one she raises.

Earl of Kinnoull Portrait The Earl of Kinnoull (CB)
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My Lords, a good place to have a meeting would be at the European Political Community. Originally, that meeting was going to take place in the spring of this year. In January, it was suddenly going to be in the first half of this year and no date has yet been set. Can the Minister say why there has been a delay in setting a date and when a date is likely to be set?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I am confident that a date will be set, that an excellent venue will be provided, and that the meeting will be a great success. We found that in the early part of the year there was a bit of a traffic jam of summitry. So many summits were coming at the same time that finding the right time where the leading people who needed to be there could be there was a challenge. However, we are very close to meeting that challenge, and I will update the House as soon as I can.

Lord Owen Portrait Lord Owen (Ind SD)
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My Lords, on the question of the manufacture of weapons and munitions for Ukraine, is the Foreign Secretary aware that there is great concern that there is a depletion of these weapons in this country? Can he assure us that manufacturing in this country of weapons and munitions for Ukraine will be stepped up considerably over the next few weeks and months?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I think I can give that undertaking. The Prime Minister announced the package of support for Ukraine, at over £2.7 billion, which will ensure that it has the support it deserves from the United Kingdom. The Government are fully aware that we need to step up production, not just for Ukraine but to make sure that we deal with our depleted stocks. However, at the same time, there is a real task to be done across all the countries that support Ukraine to look at any weapons systems that are close to their expiration date. We will not be able to use them, but it could use them now.

Baroness Smith of Newnham Portrait Baroness Smith of Newnham (LD)
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My Lords, during the current Foreign Secretary’s sabbatical from politics, his immediate successor as Prime Minister, Mrs May, was negotiating an EU-UK security treaty. Does he think that now is a good time to reopen such discussions, precisely in light of the situation in Ukraine? That is one area where we could have common cause.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I do not think we should rule out different ways of working with the EU, but the Ukraine situation shows how the current arrangements can be made to work well. I have always said that, after Brexit, Britain should aim to be the best friend, neighbour and partner of the EU, and I think Ukraine shows that is exactly what we are doing. We have found ways of working together through these various formats, including the Wiesbaden formats and others. I am not sure that it is necessary to form some structured way of working when we have managed to do it on an ad hoc, rapid and effective basis.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, can I come back to the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Young, about repurposing seized Russian assets for use in Ukraine? The Foreign Secretary will be aware that at the recent G20 meeting of Finance Ministers different views were expressed. I would be grateful if he could say something more about the position taken by the UK representative at that meeting, and, following on from his comments last time we had questions on this issue, could he say something about the discussions he has had with other nations which have adopted a more cautious approach? Has he been able to find a way forward or more agreement?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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We have taken quite a forward view. We think there is a moral and political case for doing this, and we do not see the supposed economic damage that would be done as a strong argument against it. It is certainly true that some other countries are more cautious. Some EU countries are looking at spending the interest on the capital sum rather than the capital sum itself, but we are still making the argument for the maximum amount that can be done. Our view is simple: one day, Russia will have to pay reparations, and it does not make sense to wait for those reparations. It makes better sense to use the frozen assets and to make that that money available now.

Lord Hamilton of Epsom Portrait Lord Hamilton of Epsom (Con)
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My Lords, one of the weapon systems that Ukraine could certainly deal with is the Taurus missile from Germany. The German Parliament has passed this to be sent to Ukraine, but for some reason Chancellor Scholz is holding it up. Can we do anything to encourage the Germans to send the Taurus missile to Ukraine?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I am grateful for the noble Lord’s question. I spent some time in Germany last week making exactly this argument. It is obviously a sovereign decision for Germany, and so, just as we do not like other people telling us how to make sovereign decisions, we should couch our arguments carefully. However, I made the argument that there is no doubt that Storm Shadow has been incredibly effective, and no doubt that it has not been escalatory, because it has been used responsibly and correctly. The other point worth making is that if we want peace, we are more likely to get a just peace through strength and through backing our words with actions. We make these points to our German allies, but ultimately it will be for them to decide.

Baroness Quin Portrait Baroness Quin (Lab)
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My Lords, when the Foreign Secretary wound up the debate a short while ago in this House, he said that ad-hockery was often quite a good approach in negotiations with European counter- parts. I can understand that in terms of taking advantage of opportunities when they arise. However, given the huge range of difficulties that businesses, particularly small businesses, are having at the moment in trying to surmount the various non-tariff barriers to trade between us and the EU, do we not also need a focused and comprehensive approach to the forthcoming negotiations with the EU?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I think the noble Baroness is right to put it like that, but that is what the trade and co-operation agreement is about. We have structured co-operation when it comes to that part of our relations, and obviously it is up to us in the time before it is re-examined to make the most of it and look at what other things we could do to help small businesses, such as VAT thresholds and—I have raised it before—electricity trading. These are some of the ideas that we are putting forward that we think could make a difference.

Viscount Waverley Portrait Viscount Waverley (CB)
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My Lords, can we look forward to an agreement with regard to Gibraltar and, if so, by when and with what conclusions? I am referring to the trilateral negotiations.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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Generally speaking, in negotiations it is not a good idea to have too many artificial deadlines. Obviously, there is something of a deadline coming up as we are heading for a new set of EU elections and so a new set of Spitzenkandidat, which I remember from before my brief—how did the noble Baroness put it: holiday?—sabbatical. I am confident we can reach a good agreement. My honourable friend the Europe Minister was in Gibraltar yesterday, having talks with the Chief Minister. I think there is a good basis for an agreement, and we are working very hard to bring that about.

Low and Middle-income Countries: Debt Restructuring

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:40
Asked by
Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates
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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what consideration he has given to introducing measures to compel private creditors to take part in debt restructuring for low- and middle-income countries facing debt crises.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
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My Lords, in begging leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, I declare my interests as set out in the register.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton) (Con)
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My Lords, I have raised this issue directly with the Chancellor of the Exchequer. I completely understand the concern to ensure that private sector debt is fully part of debt restructuring for low and middle-income countries. There is a range of arguments that we should consider on this issue and we need to be mindful of the impact that legislation could have, including on the cost of and access to finance for partner countries.

Lord Oates Portrait Lord Oates (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Foreign Secretary for that Answer. He will be aware that lobbyists for private creditors made the same arguments ahead of the Debt Relief (Developing Countries) Act 2010, but when the Liberal Democrat-Conservative coalition reviewed the working of the Act in 2011, it found it to be a successful measure with no evidence of unintended or adverse effects. Given that the majority of relevant bonds are governed by English law, will the UK take a lead to ensure that private creditors take part in sovereign debt restructuring on the same terms? Will the Foreign Secretary work with the New York state authorities, which are also considering this issue?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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Obviously, I remember fondly when we were working together in passing the Act to which the noble Lord refers. When that Act was passed there was a real problem with vulture funds acting as hold-outs in debt reconstructions. While there are still arguments for the approach he is taking, we have to ask: will it affect the cost of capital for poorer countries to borrow, will it affect the availability of capital and, crucially, now that we have the collective action clauses and the majority voting provisions, is it still necessary to have this sort of legislation? The IMF reviewed this in 2020 and concluded that things were working well, so there is a concern in my mind that the approach he is talking about is perhaps relevant to what was happening in the past rather than relevant to what is happening now. I think we should keep an open mind on it.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, with more than $1 trillion owed in debt by 150 countries to China through belt and road, making it the biggest debt collector in the world, what assessment has the Foreign Secretary made of the implications on dependency, including the extension of China’s military presence in the world? In this 75th anniversary year of the Commonwealth, is he not particularly concerned about the way in which the CCP has been marching into that void, not least as a result of the cuts we have made to our overseas aid and development programme?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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It is very important that we provide alternatives to finance so that Commonwealth and other countries have a choice. I am very proud of the work I did to set up the Caribbean infrastructure fund, for instance, and we are looking again at whether we can refresh and renew that. We are also trying to get the multilateral development banks to expand their balance sheets and lend more to poorer countries. These are ways in which we can offer countries alternatives to Chinese finance in the way that he suggests.

Lord Naseby Portrait Lord Naseby (Con)
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My Lords, should we not look at the recent example of Sri Lanka, which decided that it had to seek the help of the IMF? The IMF responded speedily, but the problem was the private creditors and the time that took. Is there not a case for perhaps the IMF to produce some dimension whereby there is a structure that all private creditors can use, or be advised to use, so that a speedy decision is made for the benefit of the poor people who are suffering?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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If bonds are the form of lending, there are collective action clauses that can prevent private sector hold-outs. With loans, you have these majority voting provisions so that a group of private investors cannot hold up the resolution of those debts. That is the right way forward. On Sri Lanka, we welcome the official creditor group deal that was reached on 29 November 2023; the bondholder committee is currently in negotiations with the Government of Sri Lanka. We do not comment on ongoing restructuring programmes, but we hope that a deal will be arranged soon.

Lord Browne of Ladyton Portrait Lord Browne of Ladyton (Lab)
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My Lords, the 2010 Act was an excellent example of cross-party co-operation because it was passed by the Labour Government and implemented by the coalition. The United Kingdom and New York have a unique power to take leadership of this issue, which is important to a substantial part of the world, because 90% of the private lender contracts that are causing the problem are written under either English or New York law. Does the Foreign Secretary acknowledge and approve the efforts of New York to bring in legislation to make sure that private creditor terms are equivalent to those of other creditors, which they are not? If so, what steps are we taking, if any, to co-ordinate with New York to ensure that similar legislation can be enacted here?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. It is true that what was teed up by Gordon Brown was nodded into the net by the coalition Government, and rightly so. We do not think that the law in Albany, New York state, is actually likely to get through; it has been sitting around for a long time. It is good in its intentions because it is trying to sort out the issue. But the IMF advice and the Treasury advice is that if we legislate in this way, particularly unilaterally, it would affect the cost and availability of finance to other countries, and it may mean that more of these financial deals are written elsewhere in a less advantageous way than is currently the case.

Lord Bishop of Leicester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leicester
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My Lords, as a country we carry a weighty moral debt to many low and middle-income countries, given our history. This moral debt is borne by business as well as government, and indeed by charities and faith institutions. Will the Government revisit the International Development Committee’s report on debt relief and the evidence supplied by the Jubilee Debt Campaign and Make Poverty History, to consider again how all sectors may work together to ensure a joined-up approach to supporting these countries?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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The right reverend Prelate is absolutely right that we need to have good arrangements for this. That is why the common framework was put in place. The old arrangements under the Paris Club were fine when most of the debt was being written by France, Germany, Britain and America. The common framework tries to reflect that a lot of the money is now coming from Middle Eastern countries and from China and to make sure that all these countries can be involved in the resolution of these situations. It has been moving too slowly, but I still think it is the right approach to include this wider group of lenders in these resolutions.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I accept what the Minister is saying about legislative routes to bring private creditors into debt negotiations—it is extremely complex—but does he accept that what was included in the international development White Paper is insufficient to deal with the problem of debt? Will he commit to look at what further measures we can undertake to find a solution, including a new definition of debt sustainability, so that we can better understand what could be achieved?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I absolutely agree with the noble Lord. We must keep this under review and keep looking at it, asking ourselves what more we can do. As we do so, we should be guided in part by the IMF, which has a definition of debt sustainability. Even on its definition, things look very bleak when you look at the number of countries in debt distress or at risk of going into debt distress. But more necessary than a new definition is making the collective action clauses and the majority voting provisions work.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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My noble friend the Minister mentioned the Commonwealth. He will be aware of its public debt management programme, which supports member countries to effectively manage their debt portfolios. What conversations have my noble friend or colleagues in government had with Commonwealth colleagues about public management of the debts of Commonwealth members and non-members?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. There is an ongoing conversation with the Commonwealth. This is one of the many good advice services that it gives. This year, the year of CHOGM, we are also spending a particular amount of time talking with Commonwealth countries about how they can access finance, not loans in this case but green finance. A lot of finance has been made available, but many of the smaller countries find it hard to access, and we should help with that.

Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, poorer countries have increasingly become dependent on growing amounts of private finance and, for some of them, time is getting critical. We need to address the issue and announce reform but have emergency considerations for countries that cannot wait until we resolve it. Does the Prime Minister—I mean the Secretary of State—agree that this needs to be done and that we cannot afford to let these countries default or allow the private sector to get away when the taxpayer is taking the risk?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I agree with the noble Lord that we do not want what we had in the past, which was vulture funds holding out for a better resolution than other holders of debt were getting. If we have new bonds with collective action clauses and new loans with majority voting provisions, that is much less likely to happen. There are also the other innovations that Britain has brought, such as the climate-resilient debt clauses, so that if there is a sudden problem caused by climate change or other shocks, you stop the repayment. I argue that Britain has a long tradition, on a cross-party basis, of helping with debt sustainability and resolution, and we need to keep that record up.

Gaza: Humanitarian Aid

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:51
Asked by
Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate
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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what steps he is taking to increase the amount of humanitarian aid to Gaza.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, because humanitarian aid to the people of Gaza and the release of the hostages are top priorities.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Order!

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton) (Con)
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My Lords, we are doing all we can to increase aid into Gaza. We have been collaborating with Jordan on humanitarian air drops and are now working with partners to operationalise a maritime aid corridor from Cyprus. However, this cannot substitute delivery by land, which remains the best way to get aid in at the scale needed. Israel must open more land routes, including in the north, for longer and with fewer screening requirements. I have been clear: we need an immediate humanitarian pause to increase aid into Gaza and get the hostages out. Israel must remove restrictions on aid and restore electricity, water and telecommunications.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, the House understands that aid from the air is problematic and aid from the sea takes time. Can the Foreign Secretary explain to the House why he has been unable to persuade the Israeli Government to allow the border crossings to be opened to provide the access for the hundreds of trucks needed daily? What are the Government intending to do so that, when the aid reaches Gaza to the people who so desperately need it, it is distributed to the people on the ground by local networks not controlled by Hamas?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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We have repeatedly made points about the need to open crossings and allow more aid in. I can give the latest figures to the House. They are slightly more encouraging. The average number of trucks getting through per day in January was 140. This fell to 97 in February but has gone up to 162 so far in March. So we are making a difference. The opening of Kerem Shalom happened, and that made a difference. With regard to what is happening on the maritime front, which is encouraging, I say that, if Israel really wanted to help, it could open the Ashdod port, which is a fully functioning port in Israel. That could really maximise the delivery of aid from Cyprus straight into Israel and therefore into Gaza.

On the noble Viscount’s question about how to make sure that aid gets around Gaza, that is one of the trickiest pieces of the jigsaw. One of the things that Israel needs to do is give out more visas to UN workers who are capable of distributing the aid when it arrives in Gaza.

Lord Polak Portrait Lord Polak (Con)
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My Lords, I am very pleased that Mark Bryson-Richardson met with COGAT today. I would ask the Foreign Secretary to confirm the following: first, there is no backlog at all at the Kerem Shalom crossing from Israel; secondly, there is a backlog at Rafah—there are columns of trucks in sovereign Egypt after they have been inspected and cleared by the Israeli authorities; thirdly, as has just been said, there is also, sadly, a backlog on the Gazan side, where the UN agencies are struggling to distribute the aid at the pace that Israel is facilitating it through.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I am delighted that Mark Bryson-Richardson, who I appointed as my aid co-ordinator, has met with COGAT; that is very useful. I can say to my noble friend that, yes, of course, getting more aid into Gaza requires the work of more than just Israel taking the relevant steps. But Israel is the country that could make the greatest difference, because some of the blockages, screening problems and all the rest of it are its responsibility. One proof point of that is that 18 trucks were dispatched from Jordan and they were held for 18 days at the Allenby/King Hussein bridge crossing. That seems to me the sort of the thing we need to act on faster to get that aid into Gaza. As I said in answer to the previous question, once it is in Gaza, it needs people to distribute it. That is about visas and capabilities, and deconfliction.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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The Foreign Secretary was very eloquent in describing the unnecessary blockages that have been put in place. He will agree with me that Article 50 of the Geneva Convention, on the requirement on occupying powers for children, is that they will not

“hinder the application of … food, medical care and protection … in favour of children under fifteen years, expectant mothers and mothers of children under seven years”.

Does the Foreign Secretary agree that these hindrances and blockages are potentially a war crime under the Geneva Convention and that, if any Ministers in the Israeli Government are actively blocking the inward supply of aid, we should consider sanctioning them?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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It is our legal position, and has been for some time, that Israel is the occupying power in Gaza; that was the case before 7 October. After the evacuation of Gaza in 2005, it was not truly freed up as an independent functioning territory, so it is true that the way that Israel behaves as the occupying power in allowing humanitarian aid into Gaza is a material consideration when it comes to looking at how it is complying with international humanitarian law. As I have said many times at this Dispatch Box already, what matters is whether it has the commitment and the capability, and whether it is complying. That is what we keep under review.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, the words that the Foreign Secretary has just used are the ones he used last Tuesday. But today in the Commons, Andrew Mitchell was asked a question by Lisa Nandy on precisely this point, particularly in relation to the BBC investigation into the treatment of medics at the hospital in Gaza. She asked Andrew Mitchell why we were not ensuring that the Israelis comply with the provisional measures of the ICJ. Andrew Mitchell was unable to support Lisa Nandy’s call. Why?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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What I would say, as I think Minister Mitchell said in the House of Commons, is that these are very disturbing pictures and reports that have come out from this hospital. We need to get to the bottom of what exactly happened; we need answers from the Israelis. When we have those, it will be easier to comment.

Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Lord Austin of Dudley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, this crisis has been caused by Hamas, which hides terrorists and weapons in densely packed civilian areas and steals food and fuel meant for humanitarian relief. It is absolutely clear that there will be no prospect of peace —let alone the two-state solution that the Government want to see—until Hamas is completely removed from power in Gaza. This is why the Government should be doing all they possibly can to ensure that Israel has all the support it needs to win this war.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I thank the noble Lord for his question. We completely agree that we will not have a two-state solution if the people responsible for 7 October are still running any part of Gaza. Obviously, what we would like to see is an immediate pause, the hostages released and a series of conditions put in place to make sure that the pause turns into a permanent ceasefire without a return to fighting. One of those conditions would be that the people responsible for 7 October—the leadership of Hamas—would have to leave Gaza and the terrorist infrastructure would have to be dismantled. If that did not happen through a process of negotiation, the noble Lord is no doubt right that there would be a return to fighting. That needs to be understood by people.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, can we hear from the Cross Benches and then the Conservative Benches?

Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)
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I think also on this side.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, can we hear from the Cross Benches and then the Conservative Benches?

Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)
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That is your call.

Lord Green of Deddington Portrait Lord Green of Deddington (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Foreign Secretary for his first response, which set out very clearly and practically what the Government are trying to achieve in the Middle East. The problem though is pretty clear; the problem is the Israeli Government, who are not prepared, it seems, to accept the suggestion by the UK and the United States. So will he now make it clear to the Israeli Government that their continuing pressure on Palestinians, especially on their women and children, is absolutely unacceptable and, furthermore, that it risks antagonising millions of Arabs and Muslims for years and years to come? I say that having served for many years myself in the Middle East.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I am very familiar with the noble Lord’s service in a number of our embassies in the Middle East and his long experience in that part of the world. I say to him that we have said repeatedly that Israel must abide by international humanitarian law. As the noble Lord, Lord Austin, said, Israel has a right to self-defence. Hamas fighters started this conflict by their appalling invasion and terrorist pogrom in Israel, which led to the murder of over 1,400 people—and it is worth remembering that they still hold hostages. We are more than 150 days in. If Hamas fighters wanted to end this conflict, they could do so tomorrow—they could do so today—by releasing those hostages, getting their leaders out of Gaza and laying down their weapons. They do not do that. But the noble Lord is absolutely right to make the point that we had this experience fighting terrorist insurgencies in our own country, in our own history. You have to obey the rules and obey the law; if you do not and you lower yourself to the standards of the people you are fighting against, that does not end well.

BBC World Service

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
16:02
Asked by
Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon
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To ask the Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs what steps he is taking to support the BBC World Service, particularly in relation to (1) its special provision in response to emergency situations, and (2) the challenges posed to it by disinformation campaigns backed by foreign state actors.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton) (Con)
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The BBC World Service provides high-quality news to global audiences, especially where free speech is limited. Its emergency services, including a pop-up service in Gaza, and before that in Sudan and Ukraine, provide critical updates to people affected by conflict. Meanwhile, BBC News Ukrainian continues to be vital in countering Russia’s narrative around the invasion. The funding from the FCDO, over £100 million a year, helps sustain high-quality broadcasting in 42 languages and the BBC’s vital work to counter harmful disinformation.

Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, it is good to be able to agree with every word the Foreign Secretary said. He is right: the BBC World Service is trusted as an independent voice without state interference. Its integrity and honesty is a lifeline for so many. He mentioned Ukraine. Extraordinary efforts were made to ensure that people in Ukraine could get accurate information despite the efforts from Russia to block it. He will know that reporting, particularly in emergencies and from areas of conflict, brings huge risk to those journalists. In 2019, the then Foreign Secretary, now the Chancellor, committed £3 million from the UK to the Global Conference for Media Freedom. The purpose of that was to encourage a free press everywhere, but also to protect journalists who are trying to deliver it. Given that it is a few years since that money was committed, and the aim was to bring other countries together, is the Foreign Secretary able to give us a progress report on work so far and what we have been able to achieve?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I do not have the information on how many other countries are involved, but I know that we continue to support the Media Freedom Coalition. I back up what the noble Baroness said: it is essential that we have journalists reporting from these areas. While I do not want to go into any specifics, we have also helped a number of different news organisations with COGAT and others when they have needed to leave. It is very important that we make sure they are supported in this way.

Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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Russian disinformation is rife in the western Balkans and having a malevolent influence there. The Foreign Secretary will recall that the chair of your Lordships’ House’s International Relations and Defence Committee wrote to him suggesting, among other things, the restoration of the BBC Albanian service, which was scrapped in 2011. Does he agree that it would be foolishly short-sighted not to use one of the most powerful soft-power tools that this country possesses and not to target it against the greatest immediate threat to the peace and security of Europe?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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The noble and gallant Lord is absolutely right that the BBC is an incredibly strong voice in terms of media freedom, our values and the things that we stand for. What has been happening over recent years is a transformation into a more digital service, because more and more people now listen to radio services on their mobile phone or through other internet devices. The 42 language services are still going; they have not been closed, but a number of them have switched to digital. However, I completely agree with him on the need to combat fake narratives in the western Balkans. It is not just about the BBC, good though it is; it is also about making sure that we help countries such as Kosovo and Bosnia in their rebuttal of the false Russian narrative. That is about training, expertise and funding as well as about the BBC.

Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury Portrait Baroness Bonham-Carter of Yarnbury (LD)
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My Lords, I will pick up what the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, just mentioned. One of the most wonderful things that the BBC World Service has provided is “Dars”, aimed at Afghan children aged between 11 and 14 and hosted by a female journalist from the BBC who was evacuated from Afghanistan. It uses BBC Bitesize to supply lessons for those whose education was stopped. The UN called “Dars” “a learning lifeline”. Does the Foreign Secretary—I am going to avoid saying, as my noble friend did, “the Prime Minister”—agree that this is reason enough for the FCDO to commit to maintaining the funding of the World Service at an appropriate level so that such life-changing contributions can continue? As he knows, the present agreement ends in March next year.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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The BBC World Service is funded in two ways: there is money from the Foreign Office and money from the licence fee, and that is settled and fixed until the end of this coming financial year. It is basically one-third from the Foreign Office and two-thirds from the licence fee, which is a pretty fair way of doing things. Obviously the funding review of the BBC is under way and the charter review of the BBC is coming up, so this is a good time to have that conversation. To be fair, the Government have put our money where our mouth is: in the integrated review refresh we gave an extra £20 million to the World Service.

Baroness Coussins Portrait Baroness Coussins (CB)
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My Lords, can the Minister update the House on what further representations HMG have made to the Iranian authorities about the harassment, prosecutions and convictions meted out to journalists working for the BBC Persian service, including the harassment of London-based staff and their families back in Iran?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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Documents published online suggest that 10 BBC Persian staff have been tried in Iran in absentia and convicted of propaganda against the Islamic Republic. That is completely unacceptable behaviour. We raise these issues with our Iranian counterparts. When I last met the Iranian Foreign Minister, I raised the fact that Iran was paying thugs to try to murder Iranian journalists providing free and independent information for Iran TV in Britain. On both counts, in my view, it is guilty.

Lord Pickles Portrait Lord Pickles (Con)
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My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register. I am heartened by what my noble friend has said in support of the BBC, but what happens when the disinformation is coming from the BBC itself? Was he as disappointed as I was with the reports on the World Service, particularly the Arabic service, which sought to justify the murder of civilians on 7 October and downplayed sexual violence? Does it not undermine the BBC unless we adhere to the very high standards that we display in other parts of the world?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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Obviously it is right that the BBC World Service is operationally and editorially independent, but that does not mean we cannot have views on what it does and says. For instance, on whether Hamas is a terrorist group, I could not be more clear: it is a terrorist group, and the BBC should say so. Editorial independence does not mean that politicians or anyone else are not allowed a view. We are, and those views should be taken into account.

Lord Watson of Invergowrie Portrait Lord Watson of Invergowrie (Lab)
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My Lords, the Foreign Secretary mentioned a few moments ago, in response to the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, the government review into future BBC funding. What input does he or his department intend to have into the review, given that its scope includes the World Service, which of course gets around a quarter of its funding in grant in aid from the FCDO?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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Obviously, it would be a bit unfair on my government colleagues to announce at the Dispatch Box exactly what view I will take in these internal discussions, but I strongly support the World Service in a world in which we have so much dispute and misinformation—poisonous channels such as Russia Today and those sponsored by China and all the rest of it. We should be proud of the fact that the BBC is the most respected news source. If you add in BBC television and bbc.co.uk, it does not reach 318 million people; it reaches 411 million people, which makes it the most watched service as well, so we should be proud of that. We have something of a jewel in our crown, and we should support and promote it. That said, I am also proud that I was the Prime Minister who put in place quite a tough settlement for the BBC; but it was a six-year settlement, and that proved that if you give people a consistent horizon of how much money they are going to get, but ask them to make some savings, they can improve the service.

Lord Vaizey of Didcot Portrait Lord Vaizey of Didcot (Con)
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My Lords, I echo my noble friend the Foreign Secretary’s comments about the BBC and declare my interest as a trustee of Tate and a radio broadcaster. One of the things that interests me is that our museums—and indeed our orchestras and theatres—tour the globe, having to raise money from philanthropists and foundations. Is it not time that he brought his considerable experience and expertise to the Foreign Office in developing a cultural policy that builds on the amazing work of the BBC World Service as well as these incredible institutions in the UK that tour the globe?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I think we have a policy of using culture as a diplomatic weapon. The Foreign Office is very comfortable with that. We should do that, and the suggestions that my noble friend makes are excellent.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick Portrait Lord Hannay of Chiswick (CB)
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My Lords, could the Minister say what considerations are being given in his department to the possibility of the funding of the World Service being taken back on to the FCDO budget in entirety? Does he not agree that this is a more effective and more equitable way to deal with a matter that is an essential part of our soft power, rather than piling it all on to the licence payer?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I always listen carefully to the noble Lord, because he has great experience in this. The fact that some of the money comes from the licence fee is not such a bad thing. It is about 7% of the total. As someone who is a licence-fee payer but spends a lot of time listening to the World Service, I think it is fair that that contribution is there. Having a link-up between the World Service and the rest of the BBC, in terms of the website, which is very important, the news channel and all the rest of it, is not such a bad thing. The key question is whether the BBC World Service is funded appropriately for our ambitions to counter false narratives around the world and spread democratic values.

Haiti

Tuesday 12th March 2024

(3 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Private Notice Question
16:13
Asked by
Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what support they are providing to CARICOM and the people of Haiti following the resignation of Prime Minister Ariel Henry and the reported collapse in law and order in that country.

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait The Secretary of State for Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Affairs (Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton) (Con)
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The UK is concerned about the worsening violence in Haiti and the impacts on the neighbouring Turks and Caicos Islands. We remain committed to supporting a Haitian-led political solution. We commend the efforts of partners across the Caribbean and beyond to support orderly political transition in Haiti. We urge all parties to move swiftly to bring much-needed security and stability for the people of Haiti and the region. We continue to support Haiti through our contributions to the United Nations agencies and the World Bank, and are committed to help secure the Turks and Caicos Islands, particularly their borders.

Lord Griffiths of Burry Port Portrait Lord Griffiths of Burry Port (Lab)
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I am most grateful for that reply, particularly the words “Haitian-led solution”. That has not been the case in just about every other initiative that has been attempted. Just how low Haiti has sunk can be illustrated by the report I just heard of the putrefying body of a patient in a hospital on a bed, alongside another bed where a patient who was very much alive was awaiting treatment. In just such a hospital, my two boys were born. I cannot bear to think of the kind of suffering that the people of Haiti are undergoing at this time.

I am very glad that there is a regional initiative coming from Caricom. I hope that His Majesty’s Government will feel able to contribute in a significant way to the discussions. The diplomatic skills necessary for a good outcome will be considerable. I believe that we have those skills in this country and that the United Kingdom, if it chooses to be involved, will find a great welcome from the Haitian leaders and people.

However, there are lessons to be learned and my question comes from those. I have in my hand an internal document from the United Nations: a cry session after 15 years of failure, in which 2,500 troops were deployed in Haiti to stabilise the country from 2004 to 2019. I will not do much more than read two sentences, if the House will oblige. I can see that I am being asked to wind up; it is the first time I have done this, and noble Lords will just have to be patient:

“The last 20 years of the international community’s presence in Haiti has amounted to one of the worst and clearest failures implemented and executed within the framework of any international cooperation … Instead, this failure has to do with 20 years of erratic political strategy by an international community that was not capable of facilitating the construction of a single institution with the capacity to address the problems facing Haitians. After 20 years, not a single institution is stronger than it was before. It was under this umbrella provided by the international community that the criminal gangs that today lay siege to the country fermented and germinated, even as the process of deinstitutionalization and political crisis that we see today grew and took shape”.


Will the noble Lord give me an assurance that His Majesty’s Government will learn from the mistakes that have been badly made? We are a country that provides money to the United Nations to do this work. Can he give me that assurance?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I can certainly give the noble Lord the assurance that we should always try to learn the lessons of history, particularly when we are trying to help with fragile states. This is something I have spent some time trying to think about. I can tell him that we will be making a contribution to the multinational security mission to Haiti. It has principally been established by the United States, which will be providing $300 million. There should be over 1,000 troops, including from Kenya, to try to bring much-needed security. One of the lessons, although it is not the final answer, is that providing basic security will be fundamental.

I will be frank with the noble Lord and the House: Haiti is not where Britain has tried to lead. There are many countries and places that we feel we have either special knowledge of or a special relationship with, or existing partnerships. Haiti has always been somewhere we contribute—I think our contribution is £30 million per year through the international bodies—but it is not somewhere where we have chosen to lead. We have left that to the Canadians, Americans and others who have more expertise. The points the noble Lord makes are very good ones.

Lord Swire Portrait Lord Swire (Con)
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My Lords, the problem is that every time something awful happens in Haiti, we put a sticking plaster over it and the situation deteriorates. It is now completely lawless; there has been a complete breakdown in law and order. My noble friend the Foreign Secretary is absolutely right that this is not within the sphere of British interests, but he should not underestimate—I am sure he does not—the influence and good will we have in the wider Caribbean. Can he commit that, rather than just providing finance through organisations such as the UN, the United Kingdom will be prepared to play a role in a long-term solution for that benighted country?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I know that my noble friend has considerable experience, having done this job in the Foreign Office for many years. We will certainly talk with colleagues and friends in Caricom about what they intend to do. Our priority should be to focus on the Turks and Caicos Islands; they are our responsibility as an overseas territory. We are looking to deploy a reconnaissance team there because of concerns about their borders and security. That should be our immediate focus while offering help, assistance and advice, as my noble friend suggests, to the people of Haiti and the Caricom nations that are coming together to try to help.

Lord Alton of Liverpool Portrait Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB)
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My Lords, 4,000 inmates have been freed from the prisons in Haiti by the gangs, with police stations being burned to the ground. Generally, there is complete anarchy. I welcome what the Foreign Secretary said about Secretary of State Blinken’s announcement of the $300 million programme to send a security mission. When is that mission likely to be sent? I also welcome what the noble Lord said about the United Nations agreement with Kenya to send 1,000 police offers. When are they likely to be sent to restore order in this urgent situation?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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I am afraid that I cannot give an update on exact timings. As the noble Lord knows, the UN has given backing through a Security Council resolution to the existence of this force, so it is not a UN force but it is UN-backed, which is important. I agree about the general point that it is so important for it to be able to do its work. People who follow these things use what I think is the rather odd phrase that the state has to have a monopoly on violence, but it is true: we cannot possibly have development, progress and success when there are quite so many different armed groups in charge of different parts of that country.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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Kenyan judges have indicated that the deployment of the Kenyan police forces would be illegal under Kenyan law unless there was a reciprocal agreement with the Haitian authorities. That is why the former Prime Minister of Haiti was in Nairobi. Now there is no vehicle by which to have this authorised by the Kenyan Government. What is the Foreign Secretary’s assessment about the capability of having those forces deployed, since there will be no functioning Government of Haiti with whom to have a reciprocal agreement? Given that there have been no elections for eight years, no functioning Parliament, no functioning judiciary and the warning signs last week of the violent gangs, Haiti is potentially slipping towards becoming a failed state. What technical support are we providing to those who may provide security assistance?

Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton Portrait Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton (Con)
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The noble Lord is certainly right that the failure to hold elections is one of the contributing factors to the chaos that we now see. After the assassination of the former President, the fact that elections were not held was clearly one of the aggravating factors. The role of the Kenyan forces is a matter for Kenya to decide. I think that, with the United States providing $300 million and the backing of the UN Security Council, it will be possible to put together a mission. As I said, it is not something that Britain will contribute to in terms of personnel, but we are happy to make a small financial contribution.