All 21 Lords Chamber debates in the Lords on 19th Mar 2024

Tue 19th Mar 2024
Tue 19th Mar 2024
Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill
Lords Chamber

2nd reading & 3rd reading & Committee negatived
Tue 19th Mar 2024

House of Lords

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Tuesday 19 March 2024
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Worcester.

Introduction: Lord Hannett of Everton

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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14:38
John Hannett, OBE, having been created Baron Hannett of Everton, of Bramley-Moore Dock in the City of Liverpool, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Kennedy of Southwark and Baroness Smith of Basildon, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Introduction: Baroness Ramsey of Wall Heath

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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14:43
Jane Ramsey, having been created Baroness Ramsey of Wall Heath, of Dulwich in the London Borough of Southwark, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Baroness Hayman and Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Advanced Modular Reactors: Criticality Tests

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

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Question
14:47
Asked by
Viscount Hanworth Portrait Viscount Hanworth
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what assistance they provide to the developers of advanced modular reactors to enable them to conduct criticality tests.

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, advanced modular reactors hold significant potential to decarbonise hard-to-abate sectors. As part of the advanced modular reactor research, development and demonstration programme, the Government are exploring what further underpinning research and development is required, such as critical assembly tests for fuel, to demonstrate the abilities of high-temperature gas reactors. The Government are committed to building on our existing support for the sector and, as part of the alternative routes to market for new nuclear projects consultation, we are seeking views on how we can go further to unlock these opportunities.

Viscount Hanworth Portrait Viscount Hanworth (Lab)
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I thank the Minister for that Answer. Several projects aimed at developing advanced fourth-generation modular reactors are under way in the UK, but they are wilting through a lack of the support that should be forthcoming from the Government. They require licences and test facilities in order to prove their designs. All the leading projects are seeking foreign affiliations and may be lost to this nation. Would the Government be happy to rely on foreign enterprises to provide the next generation of nuclear technology, to the detriment of our own nuclear industry?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Of course we would not, which is why we are offering support for many of these technologies. The noble Lord’s Question asked about criticality tests—we are aware of that requirement and are in discussions with a number of companies interested in carrying them out in the UK, but these are not simple issues.

Lord Howell of Guildford Portrait Lord Howell of Guildford (Con)
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My Lords, as I understand it, Great British Nuclear says that the final decision on smaller modular reactors will not be made until 2029 for the present competition, and that no smaller modular reactor will be in service until 2035—that is five years and 11 years ahead. Can my noble friend explain why it will take so incredibly long, when other countries are racing ahead?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I do not recognise the dates that the noble Lord cited. Great British Nuclear is obviously heavily ensconced in the design selection process at the moment, and I understand that, given a fair wind, the reactors should be online and producing electricity by the early 2030s.

Lord Ravensdale Portrait Lord Ravensdale (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests in the register. One reminder from the conflict in Ukraine is that energy security and national security are indivisible. The Government set out welcome guidance that Russian nuclear fuel imports into the UK will be banned by 2030, but it is a major national security issue to be relying on these imports for another six years. Does the Minister agree that we need to legislate to bring forward this date, as our partners and allies in the US are doing?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I understand the noble Lord’s concern, and I know the close interest he takes in this; I share his concerns. I know he had a very productive meeting with the Secretary of State and Minister Bowie to discuss these matters, and he has written following that. A letter on that is being drafted and will come to him shortly.

Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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My Lords, following the transfer of the intellectual property and personnel in the U-battery project to foreign control, are the Government confident that enough action and support are being provided to UK-based projects to develop advanced modular reactors to prevent them also falling under foreign ownership?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Of course there is always more that we can do to support these projects, but we are supporting them with massive financial resources and research and development designs. It is always concerning if foreign companies are taking control of some of these projects, but we nevertheless have a really good scheme of projects in the UK and we are supporting them.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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My Lords, it is very welcome to hear that the Government plan to invest in new nuclear research and development. However, after their failure to build a single nuclear power station in 14 years and with the rollout of small modular reactors proving to be a protracted process, can the Minister give us a date for the conclusion of the SMR competition?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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It is great to see that Labour now supports new nuclear projects, because that was not always the case for previous Governments. As I said to my noble friend Lord Howell, we want to see them in production by the early 2030s.

Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist Portrait Baroness Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the Government on the acquisition of Wylfa, which is hugely significant for both the generation of nuclear power and the people of north-west Wales. But why are they supporting only high-temperature gas reactor technologies in the AMR RD&D programme?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for her question and her positive advocacy of Wales and the Welsh nuclear programmes. I suspect that the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, was going to ask me something similar —he may well still do so. The Government selected HTGRs for research and development purposes in the AMR R&D programme following analysis by the Nuclear Innovation and Research Office of the responses to a call for evidence. This analysis suggested that HTGRs are the most promising AMR technology for decarbonisation due to their ability to generate high-temperature heat and their high technology readiness levels.

Lord Wigley Portrait Lord Wigley (PC)
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My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield, and the plea made by the noble Viscount in introducing this Question. I reiterate my support for Trawsfynydd and Wylfa and welcome the steps being taken there. Over the past four years Ministers have repeatedly stressed the role that the Government see for nuclear energy in the challenges of climate change, yet here we are again failing to put resources where they matter, particularly for enhanced safety and disposing of nuclear waste. Will the Government either come clean and admit that they are not fully committed to this next generation of nuclear technology or commit the necessary money to make this happen?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am delighted to see the support from across the House for the contribution that Wales makes to our nuclear technologies, but I am afraid I cannot agree with the noble Lord. We are putting in substantial sums of money: £385 million into the advanced nuclear fund, £210 million to support the development of Rolls-Royce SMR design and up to £170 million for an AMR research, development and demonstration programme across three phases. I could go on with the levels of support; we are supporting most of these technologies.

Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, the noble Viscount makes a very good point. Can my noble friend the Minister explain why Japan’s high-temperature gas-cooled reactor technology, endorsed by my right honourable friend Greg Hands in 2021—which is inherently safe, internationally licensed and has been operating for more than 10 years—has been consigned to the back burner as part of the AMR research, development and demonstration programme? This technology needs to be brought forward into the GDA process now, or it will be too late to make its much-needed contribution to the decarbonisation of industry.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I refer my noble friend to the answer I gave to my noble friend Lady Bloomfield. We have selected high-temperature gas reactors for research and development purposes in the AMR R&D and demonstration programme.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, do the Government give any assistance to these developers in terms of the environmental impact of the entire life cycle of their systems, or is that completely disregarded?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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Of course it is not disregarded. The safety of the UK’s nuclear programme—the disposal of waste nuclear fuels, et cetera—is one of our highest priorities. We have an excellent record when it comes to nuclear in this country.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab)
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My Lords, while we are on nuclear, what do the Government make of the reports last week of a major breakthrough in fusion technology, and what support are they giving to British technology in this field?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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There is indeed lots of exciting talk and articles about developments in fusion, and there are a number of British companies at the forefront of that—we are supporting them. The note of caution I give is that fusion has been the coming technology for about the last 30 years; every year it is 10 years away. To not be cynical about it, there are some great breakthroughs and we are now finally getting more energy out of the system than we put into it, which is very encouraging. But it is a long way away yet.

Lord Bellingham Portrait Lord Bellingham (Con)
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My Lords, can the Minister say something about winning the support of local communities? Obviously, the crucial aspect in all this is getting local buy-in for these small nuclear reactors. Can he say what the Government are doing to win this argument and to change the narrative from where it is at the moment?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My noble friend makes a very powerful point; it is really important to take communities along with us. The interesting thing about nuclear technology is that it is very well supported in the communities where it already exists, but I suspect that if you applied to put it in a different community, you might run into different levels of opposition. It is really important that we explain to people what the technology is, what it does, how safe it is and how it is crucial to the UK’s energy mix in the future.

Schools: Special Needs Pupils

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:57
Asked by
Lord Touhig Portrait Lord Touhig
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To ask His Majesty’s Government how often they review the level of support given in schools to special needs pupils.

Baroness Barran Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Education (Baroness Barran) (Con)
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My Lords, provision is reviewed regularly through school and local area inspections. Schools must demonstrate that children with SEND achieve good outcomes in order to be judged good or outstanding. We also strengthened local area inspections in January 2023. Annually, we collect and review data on education, health and care plans, including timeliness and volumes. We have also started collecting data from local authorities on capacity in special schools, SEND units and resourced provision. We also plan to introduce new local inclusion dashboards to improve local accountability.

Lord Touhig Portrait Lord Touhig (Lab)
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That is most helpful indeed; I am grateful. The Children and Families Act defines a child as having special educational needs if he or she has a

“learning difficulty or disability which calls for special educational provision to be made”.

Some 69% of teachers surveyed by the Pearson school report said that our education system is ineffective in supporting these special needs pupils. They said that we need more teaching assistants, better teacher training, more resources, and most importantly, easier access to diagnostic testing. Do the Government agree?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The Government are acting on a number of those issues. On diagnostic testing, as the noble Lord well knows, our approach is that the child should not need a diagnosis to be eligible for support. Early identification is incredibly important, and the Government are doing a great deal to train up the early years workforce and provide more specialist educational psychologists. More broadly, the shape of special educational needs has changed a bit over the last five years, with a much greater prevalence of social, emotional and mental health needs and of children with an autism spectrum disorder, and we are working closely to address that.

Baroness Hollins Portrait Baroness Hollins (CB)
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My Lords, 96% of education, health and care plan appeals are successful, but in less-affluent areas parents are less likely to appeal an EHCP decision, which must contribute to the current inequalities in provision. What are His Majesty’s Government doing to achieve greater equality in the support offered to all children with special educational needs?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Baroness is right about the success of appeals, but I point out that just over 2.3% of all decisions went to appeal. Although the success rate is very high, the level of appeals is perhaps lower than the House might believe from the media. We are currently trying to test a range of measures that will mean that the quality of decisions—and, crucially, the confidence that parents can take in those decisions—is improved. That includes testing a single national education, health and care plan template and guidance, testing multiagency panels to improve the quality of and parental confidence in decision-making, and resolving disagreements quicker by strengthening mediation.

Lord Bishop of Worcester Portrait The Lord Bishop of Worcester
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a parent who had to fight hard for an EHCP for his child. It is not only in deprived areas that it is very hard to be awarded an EHCP; it is certainly true in Worcestershire, where a large proportion of applications are turned down. As I was fighting through mediation, I was told by a health professional, “Remember, John, only pushy parents get EHCPs”, and that seemed to be the case. Does the Minister agree that this is shameful? Does she also agree with the LSE that the basic problem is that more money needs to be put into the system?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I tried to address some of the points that the right reverend Prelate raised in my answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins. We definitely do not want a world where only pushy parents get an EHCP; we want a world where the children who need an EHCP get one. On funding, this Government have massively increased the high-needs budget; it will be worth over £10.5 billion by 2024-25, a 60% increase on 2019-20. We are also committing significant capital to expand the number of special needs places.

Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie Portrait Baroness Fraser of Craigmaddie (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as chief executive of Cerebral Palsy Scotland. Does the Minister share my concern that, despite the significant increase in children with special needs, almost a third are people with an EHCP identifying autistic spectrum disorder as their primary need? A diagnosis in itself is not the be-all and end-all, particularly for umbrella terms such as autism or cerebral palsy. Can she reassure me that her department understands the importance of considering individual impairment levels to successfully sustain long-term improvements in participation?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for the work she does as chief executive of Cerebral Palsy Scotland. She raised an important point and is absolutely right. In our schools and colleges, support should be in place to address the identified need, barriers and level of impairment, as she described it, so that children and young people can not just participate but thrive in their education and preparation for adulthood. That should not be dependent on the nature of the diagnosis.

Lord Addington Portrait Lord Addington (LD)
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My Lords, will the Minister comment on a meeting I had earlier today, in which representatives of different ethnic groups were saying that it is much more difficult for them to get diagnosed with dyslexia? This is because the teachers do not know how to pick out dyslexia from things such as second-language problems, and the fact that those parent groups do not know that diagnosis and assessment is for them and not just for white boys.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a very relevant point—the wider issue of how parents can be aware of how our special educational needs system works, feel confident in it and understand how to have conversations with their children’s teachers about any concerns they might have. That is why we have altered the initial teacher training and early career framework for teachers, as well as introducing a new national professional qualification for special educational needs co-ordinators. This is to make sure that schools can be really proactive with parents and give them the confidence to address their children’s concerns.

Baroness Twycross Portrait Baroness Twycross (Lab)
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My Lords, the noble Baroness has outlined a range of measures, but the truth is that there is insufficient capacity in the system. I spoke to one parent—I do not think she would mind me referring to her as a pushy parent—who has waited for 18 months and has still not had her child assessed. Given the social and the ethnic disparities mentioned by noble Lords, is the noble Baroness 100% confident that government policy and what is on track at the moment will actually meet the growing demand?

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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The Government have made a huge amount of progress, and a very significant financial commitment working closely with those on the ground. As I said, we have announced £2.6 billion between 2022 and 2025 to fund new special educational needs and alternative provision places. Together with the new free schools we have already announced, it will add 60,000 new specialist places to the system. I know the noble Baroness will appreciate that this is a very significant increase.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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I have a grandson with ADHD who has had little or no support from his school throughout his education. He was sitting his A-level mocks recently. He has time blindness, among many other problems, and spent the whole exam doing one question. Can the Minister take any action to make sure that children with ADHD actually receive the support they need? ADHD makes a complete havoc of a child’s education, however bright they seem to be.

Baroness Barran Portrait Baroness Barran (Con)
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I am sorry to hear about the struggles of the noble Baroness’s grandson. Of course we want our schools to be well equipped to respond to a range of special educational needs and disabilities, but we also know that often those will have knock-on effects in other aspects of a child’s life. It is not just the response within the school that is crucial, but also the partnership with local health services in particular.

Electronic Payment Devices

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:08
Asked by
Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what discussions they have had with providers of electronic point-of-sale payment devices to make them accessible for those with a visual impairment, such as via tactile keypad.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, the Government are unequivocally supportive of all efforts by the financial services industry, the card machine operators and charities such as the Royal National Institute for the Blind to make card machines fully accessible for those with visual impairments. In November 2023, UK Finance published a list of vendors which produce approved devices, to assist merchants with purchasing a device that is sufficiently accessible.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, someone with low or no vision can access a smartphone because there is a Siri or voice-over function, and you can have several goes if you hit the wrong buttons the first time. If you are spending over £100 in hospitality and you are faced with a flat screen and you get it wrong, you lose access to your card. The providers are pretending that there is accessibility when there are markings down the left-hand side of a flatscreen. It is a major challenge for those without sight. It is, in my view, in complete breach of the Equality Act 2010. The providers do not provide the necessary covers that can be available to make at least a stab—I mean literally a stab—at hitting the right buttons, and it is time we acted.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I recognise the issues raised by the noble Lord, and the financial services industry also recognises these challenges. As I have already said, UK Finance publishes a list of vendors, recognising that it is not just financial services companies that use these machines; it may be the merchants themselves. This builds on work by UK Finance and the RNIB in publishing accessibility guidance, which only happened in 2022. Today, the third in a series of three forums is happening involving UK financial services groups and charities, and each of the three forums is focusing on specific interventions—whether it be technology or training to help improve the accessibility of all sorts of banking services.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my financial services interest as set out in the register, and I congratulate my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, on his timely Question. There are two issues involved here: access to, and the accessibility of, financial services and products. Both have serious impacts, if not got right, not just for the blind and visually impaired but for all people in our communities. For example, bank notes have never been more accessible, and yet have never been more difficult to access. What further conversations will the Government have with UK Finance and with all financial services organisations to ensure that there is both access to and accessibility of all financial services and products? Without this work, the Government cannot really stand up any claims to financial inclusion.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My noble friend raises a wide suite of issues. Underpinning all the work the financial services industry is doing is the Financial Conduct Authority, which is responsible for regulating the sector. Principle 6 of its principles for business says that the sector must take particular care in the treatment of vulnerable customers. The FCA is reviewing the needs of vulnerable customers and may update its guidance shortly.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, the Minister and other noble Lords have mentioned the FCA, and I would like to continue that conversation. When we left the EU, the credit card companies seized the opportunity of the loss of regulation to increase credit card interchange fees in the UK fivefold—a Brexit dividend for the card companies of some £200 million a year, the cost of which effectively falls on the consumer. Why have neither the Government nor the FCA as regulator acted to reverse what could be called the Brexit penalty?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her question. Unfortunately, it goes slightly beyond my briefing today, but I will write.

Lord Livermore Portrait Lord Livermore (Lab)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Blunkett and the noble Lord, Lord Holmes of Richmond, for their work to improve accessibility in financial services for blind and partially sighted people. As ever more transactions become cashless, every customer must have confidence in the payment systems used. Can the Minister outline what, if any, regulations assist for the manufacturers and providers of touch-screen payment devices? Why does regulation not seem to have kept pace with this move towards touch-screen technology?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Regulations that were introduced at any particular point in time have become out of date very quickly. Underpinning the work we are doing is the Equality Act 2010. The whole point about having an independent regulator in the FCA is that its rules can change quickly. The FCA issues guidance which sets out how financial services organisations need to ensure that people with disabilities, who may be more vulnerable, get the support they need. That is better than regulation: having the FCA as an independent regulator is more agile than having straight government regulation.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, the Government’s regulators fail to protect the public. Virtually every regulator is failing to do its duty, while the Government stand by and do nothing. We need a regulator for the regulators.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, I am not entirely sure that I am here to speak for all regulators. However, the consumer duty was introduced, whereby the FCA must ensure that the financial services sector is delivering good outcomes to prevent harm. That was introduced only in July 2023 and will take a little while to bed in. We will monitor the outcomes of that consumer duty to ensure that it is having the impact on disabled and other vulnerable customers that we need to see.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, I would like to invite the Minister out to dinner, and I promise to pay if there is a flat screen that I can access.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Now that is a first at the Dispatch Box—I have been invited on to buses and trains but never out to dinner. I do not know what to say to that, but I will try to find a restaurant that has an appropriate touch screen and I would be happy to continue the conversation.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, if the concept of “inclusive by design” was thoroughly understood, we would never have had these inaccessible touch-screen devices? Will she go back to the department and ensure that HM Treasury works to ensure that all financial services and products are inclusive designed at every stage?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend. That is something that the FCA should take from this, and it needs to feed back into the work that we know that EY, in conjunction with UK Finance, is doing on accessibility at the moment. If they are not talking about “inclusive by design”, then I think they are going wrong.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate Portrait Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware that, on one of her rare visits to London, my wife had her credit card stolen? I monitored the use of the card and did not report it to the police because the thief was spending less than she was.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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One should always report these matters to the police.

Home Insulation: Health and Mortality Rates

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:17
Asked by
Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what recent assessment they have made of the impact of current levels of home insulation on health and mortality rates.

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, evidence of the health benefits of government insulation schemes is gathered as part of those schemes’ evaluations. Recent evaluations show that schemes had a positive impact on general health. For example, improvements in the health of someone in the household were reported after the installations from our government energy efficiency schemes. Of course, the health impacts are higher for those with pre-existing health conditions.

Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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Recent reports, including by Sir Michael Marmot, have made a clear link between poor home insulation—coupled with the cost of living crisis and high energy costs—and devastating impacts on the health outcomes of thousands of the most vulnerable people across the country, young and old. What cross-cutting analysis are the Government undertaking to reassess fully the impact of their performance in delivering home insulation in the light of the chronic health outcomes highlighted?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I just explained in the Answer to the noble Baroness that as part of all our energy efficiency schemes, we do evaluations afterwards of the effect on people’s bills and health. We are spending over £12 billion over this Parliament and the next on insulation schemes, because we know they make a crucial difference.

Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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My Lords, it feels as if energy conservation is still the last thought and never the first. We have some of the highest domestic energy bills in Europe and some of the worst-insulated homes, yet we fail adequately to improve home insulation. Meanwhile, we continue to import gas from countries such as Russia. When will the Government do the right thing for bill payers and the environment and set more ambitious home installation targets, particularly for social rented homes?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I disagree with the noble Earl; the figures he quoted are not correct, and we are improving home insulation standards. To give one figure, in 2010, 17% of homes in the UK were EPCC or above; now the figure is almost 50%, so we are making progress. We have a lot more to do. We have the oldest housing stock in Europe, but we are making progress.

Baroness Ludford Portrait Baroness Ludford (LD)
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My Lords, have the Government given any thought to older houses, particularly ones in conservation areas or that are listed? If you want to replace sash windows with double-glazed ones, there is not only that expense but the need to obtain planning consent or listed building consent. It is a very expensive enterprise. What do the Government propose to do to help in this situation?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Baroness makes a very good point, and I suspect that she speaks from personal experience. Improvements in energy conservation for homes in listed or conservation areas is a difficult issue. We recently carried out a joint study with DLUHC and Historic Houses, and provided guidance for home owners wanting to do that. She will be delighted to know that you can get well-insulated, double-glazed sash windows to replace the originals.

Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford Portrait Baroness Blackwood of North Oxford (Con)
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My Lords, those with respiratory conditions face life-limiting risks from fuel poverty and poor insulation, and those risks are obviously triggered by weather factors. Is the Minister aware of the potential of AI-based weather models to predict and manage the risks faced by those with health conditions, including prioritising those who would benefit most from the insulation programmes? Will he engage with partners such as the Alan Turing Institute and the Met Office to explore the opportunities to harness these technologies for public benefit?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for the question. There are some great technologies coming forward now and, of course, we are always interested to explore how government investment can be better targeted on those who need it the most.

Lord Clark of Windermere Portrait Lord Clark of Windermere (Lab)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware that there are problems with cavity wall insulation in various older houses, in that the cavities are not large enough to qualify for government assistance? Will he look into that and see if anything can be done to move it forward?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I am certainly aware of some technical challenges with different technologies. We have a multiplicity of different housing types. Of course, if the cavities are too small, those properties can benefit from internal or external wall insulation. I would be happy to have a look at that for the noble Lord.

Baroness Manzoor Portrait Baroness Manzoor (Con)
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My Lords, has any thought been given to our mortgage providers—banks and others—enabling people who move home to get their home insulated by providing a slightly lower interest rate or some other benefit? That would mean that, every time anyone moves, the house would be insulated, for the betterment of all.

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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My noble friend asks a really good question. We have a number of innovative pilots with lenders, such as green mortgages and different ways of structuring finance that can help people to upgrade their homes. There are some potential tax changes —which, of course, are a matter for the Chancellor—that could help, but we will continue to make the case.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. The Minister referred to the amount of money being put into insulation schemes, but does he accept that over the last 10 years a rota of schemes has been introduced, and that they have failed and been closed down? Does he accept that the industry needs consistent, clear policy, so that it can invest in training in particular, so that the money the Government put in is actually value for money?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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No, I do not accept that. There has not been a rota of schemes. The most successful scheme, the ECO scheme, has been going since the early part of the previous decade and we have committed funding for a number of years to come. The more successful schemes, such as the social housing decarbonisation fund and others, are also multi-year programmes precisely to provide the long-term certainty to industry that so many contractors say they desire. We have already announced the funding for 2025-28—another £6 billion—and we have set out the schemes on which it will be spent. So, no, I am afraid I do not accept the noble Baroness’s analysis.

Lord Whitty Portrait Lord Whitty (Lab)
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My Lords, 20 years ago, when I had some responsibility for the insulation programme, health issues were just as important, if not more so, than fuel poverty as such, or climate change. I made some attempt to get the Department of Health to recognise the preventive nature of this programme. I failed totally, but would the Minister care to comment on his ability to persuade the current Department of Health that a preventive insulation programme is very much in its interests and the long-term interests of the health service?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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I have not had any discussions with the Department of Health on this. I am not sure of my ability to persuade it of anything, but I would have thought it relatively self-evident that spending money on insulation schemes saves people money and has long-term health benefits. I do not think we need any studies to show us that.

Earl of Devon Portrait The Earl of Devon (CB)
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My Lords, to follow up on the issue of failed government schemes, would the noble Lord care to comment on the green homes grant scheme, which failed in 2021? As I understand it, it failed on account of the lack of trained and skilled people to pick up the grant scheme. What focus do the Government have on essential training in these skills?

Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan (Con)
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The noble Earl asks a very good question, and there have been a number of studies into why that scheme was not as successful as we would have liked. The fact that it was instituted at the end of the pandemic was one reason; poor choice of delivery contractor was another. I readily concede that there is a general problem in the sector with lack of suppliers and installers, and that is due to the amount of work going on through government schemes and the private sector. We all need to work, together with the installers and the contractors, to build up capacity in the sector. One of the ways we can do that, going back to an earlier question, is to provide long-term certainty of funding.

Litigation Funding Agreements (Enforceability) Bill [HL]

First Reading
15:26
A Bill to amend section 58AA of the Courts and Legal Services Act 1990 to make provision about the enforceability of litigation funding agreements; and for connected purposes.
The Bill was introduced by Lord Evans of Rainow, read a first time and ordered to be printed.

Procedure and Privileges Committee: Third Report

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Agree
15:27
Moved by
Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Senior Deputy Speaker
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That the Report from the Select Committee Amending stages of public bills (3rd Report, HL Paper 73) be agreed to.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Senior Deputy Speaker (Lord Gardiner of Kimble)
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My Lords, the third report of the Procedure and Privileges Committee recommends various changes that are designed to make the amending stages of public Bills more effective and to enhance the quality of our debates within the context of safeguarding the self-regulating nature of the House. The contribution by noble Lords to the scrutiny of legislation by tabling amendments and speaking in debates goes to the very essence of our work here. It is one that the committee had full regard to when discussing the proposals contained in the report.

The proposals today arise from the concerns expressed quite widely by noble Lords that some contributions at amending stages have been unduly lengthy and that this interrupts the proper flow of debate. The Companion sets out that brevity is desirable, and so often the most persuasive arguments are made through succinct and clear speeches. The report’s purpose is to add guidance to that effect. The committee’s report proposes changes to existing practice and to guidance in the Companion in six areas. I will speak briefly about each in turn.

The first two proposals relate to speaking times on groups of amendments. We recommend that during amending stages of public Bills Members opening or winding up, other than the Minister, should keep within 15 minutes. In a similar vein, the committee proposes that Back-Bench speakers should keep within 10 minutes, rather than the current 15 minutes, when speaking on an amendment. These times remain, I would suggest, generous, and would allow those taking part to make detailed and useful contributions. The Minister, who the House will want to have time to respond to all points raised and who is more likely to be intervened upon, should still keep to 20 minutes.

Our third and fourth proposals recommend new guidance on the content of speeches. The third provides that Members other than a Minister who are withdrawing or pressing their amendment should normally be brief when doing so. Members will have had the opportunity to make a detailed speech when moving the amendment and the House will have heard the arguments for and against the amendment during the debate. Your committee felt it unnecessary for the mover to respond to or repeat points already made. At this stage in the debate, the House normally wants to know whether the mover intends to press or withdraw their amendment. This can be communicated to the House in a succinct manner.

15:30
The fourth proposal, flowing from the third, focuses particularly on Committee, where Members have a right to speak more than once. This freedom will remain, but the proposed guidance provides that Members, if they choose to exercise that right, should not repeat points that have been made previously or simply summarise or repeat at length points made by other Members. The committee proposes that this general guidance on repetition applies at all amending stages. We believe that both pieces of guidance could, if adhered to, enhance the quality of debate.
The fifth proposal seeks to correct a common misapprehension by the addition of guidance to the Companion. Attendance at earlier stages is not a prerequisite for participation in later stages of a public Bill. A Member who has not taken part at Second Reading, for example, can play a full part in Committee and later stages, but they should not make up for their earlier absence by making Second Reading speeches during those later stages. Each amending stage has a specific character and purpose, and Second Reading speeches made at later stages simply delay progress and impede focused debate on the amendments.
The final proposal from the committee relates to the use of Clocks during amending stages. Currently, the Chamber Clock, managed by the Clerk at the Table, records the time taken on each group of amendments, not each individual speech. We propose that the Clock should, in future, time each speech and flash when speeches exceed guidance. This will make it more obvious to the House when speeches exceed the guidance and will make it easier for Members, if necessary, to intervene to move things along. As the report acknowledges, it is also helpful for the House to know how long a debate on a group of amendments is taking. The committee therefore recommends that this should be recorded on the annunciator.
In proposing these changes, the committee seeks to balance the rights of individual Members with the importance of ensuring that the House is able to make good progress during amending stages. It aims to reflect the will of the House, which your committee believes is to enhance the quality of debate by encouraging Members to be concise, discouraging overlong or repetitive speeches.
What we propose is guidance, not hard and fast rules. The Companion already contains much guidance of this sort and the onus is surely on all of us to adhere to it. The success of self-regulation surely lies in the exercise of self-restraint by each noble Lord.
Your committee’s purpose in bringing this forward is to ensure that public Bills are scrutinised fully during amending stages and that the quality of debate is enhanced, and to emphasise that lengthy and repetitive speeches which do not address the amendment are not conducive to focused debate. I would welcome your Lordships’ endorsement of these proposals, which I believe will overwhelmingly assist the House in its important work. I beg to move.
Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, I very much agree with the committee’s report and I hope it is successful in its implementation, but—there is always a “but” at this point—I do not know quite who is responsible for ensuring that the proposed recommendations are actually enforced. I have a suggestion, which is not a novel one, although it enables me to emit one of my favourite parliamentary phrases: I told you so.

At every stage of the enhancement of the responsibilities of the Lord Speaker, powerful objections have been presented. Fortunately, the House has accepted the recommendations to enhance the role of the Lord Speaker. Today, for example, it is the Lord Speaker’s responsibility to stick to 10 minutes for Questions, to cue in people who wish to contribute remotely, and to signpost our proceedings during the day. All these proposals were strongly opposed at the time, and often came into implementation as a result of quite a narrow vote. I submit that no one is suggesting that any of them should now be rescinded. All of them have improved the way the House operates; they have made our proceedings more intelligible to people watching in the Public Gallery or on television, and no one wants to see us going back on them.

Therefore, I have a suggestion for the committee, or a request, really; I could have put down an amendment, but I would rather that the committee just considered this. The proposed 10-minute and 15-minute limits should be policed—that is probably an offensive word to use in this context—or administered under the responsibility of the Lord Speaker. By all means, we can have flashing lights when the 10 minutes are up, but at the moment it tends to fall to some poor Whip occasionally to stand up to call time on someone’s speech. It would be immediately respected if it was the Lord Speaker. The Lord Speaker stands up and, one hopes, the speaker shuts up—whoever it is. I have not consulted the Lord Speaker, but I do not think he would request any increase in his allowance to take on this extra responsibility, which would be for the benefit of the House.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I want to make a more general point. I thank my noble friend for bringing forward the proposals. He said that this was guidance, and not hard and fast. In comparison to procedures in the Commons for Committee stages of a Bill, we save time at later stages, particularly on Report, by being able to almost fly a kite, if I can put it very loosely, in Committee to see whether there is any support for a particular theme on a particular Bill. If we restricted speeches as a matter of course to 10 minutes —albeit my noble friend said that he felt that was quite generous—we could store up problems for later stages if those arguments had not been properly debated in Committee. I ask my noble friend to reflect with the committee on that point—that having more flexibility in this House in Committee has saved time at later stages of a Bill.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, this is an excellent report—and I do not often say that about reports from the committee. Like my noble friend Lord Grocott, I am worried about enforcement. The guidance says that, at Question Time, questions “should not be read”. How many times have we been here at Question Time and questions have been read word for word, as provided by the researchers? I am not just mentioning the Liberal Democrats—

None Portrait Noble Lords
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Oh!

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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Yes, there are some on our side as well—I accept that. It also says in the guidance that speeches should not be read but that you can refer to notes. But how many times have we had speeches read word for word? It does not constitute a decent debate. To their credit, the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip have pointed this out from time to time. The guidance also says that, at Questions, only one point should be made and then you go straight to the question. How many times have we had point after point made, and we have had to shout “Question!”? Who is going to enforce it if it is guidance? As I say, I have great respect for the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip, but it is not their job to keep us in order. It is our job, or it is the Lord Speaker’s job.

Earl Attlee Portrait Earl Attlee (Con)
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My Lords, I believe that the committee has got the length of speeches correct. On the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I have been a junior Government Whip, and one day in Grand Committee, I got the advice that I gave to the Committee slightly wrong and was challenged on it by the Opposition Whip. I said, “My Lords, this is a self-regulating House and a self-regulating Committee. If the Committee wants to hear more from the noble Lord, the noble Lord should carry on”, but if you have a Speaker, he has to maintain authority. He has no flexibility.

I have one worry about the proposals. In this House, groupings are voluntary. We do not have our amendments grouped and selected by the Lord Speaker. I worry that noble Lords who are unable to confine themselves to 10 minutes of speaking would have their amendments degrouped to be able to lead the amendment and then have 15 minutes to speak, but I support the noble Lord’s proposals.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, following on from the noble Earl, the only time I have found it very difficult to keep within the self-restraining ordinance is when there have been very large groups of amendments, which have come through the process of the Government Whips Office or whatever, so I suggest that making sure that we have reasonably tight groups will help us manage ourselves. Unlike the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I feel it is up to us to manage ourselves when it comes to this process.

Viscount Stansgate Portrait Viscount Stansgate (Lab)
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My Lords, I rise as a Member without notes. I want to make one point to the Senior Deputy Speaker about this report, which I understand and support. It is not so much about enforcement, mentioned by my noble friend, as about how it is going to be monitored. Will the Procedure and Privileges Committee conduct a review of how it seems to be working out in practice so that if any further amendments need to be made, they can be brought back to the House?

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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I fully support the recommendation as a member of the Procedure Committee. In my 14 years in the House, I have heard many wonderful speeches from across the House and one or two that have tested the patience of the House. We all have people on our Benches who have done that, I am afraid. I am very much of the view that if we stick to the rules and procedures, it helps the House. I note the point that colleagues have made about going further. I am sure the committee will keep those things under review because this is something that never stops. Things will change and improve. This is a good report that makes welcome changes, and I fully endorse it.

Lord Gardiner of Kimble Portrait The Senior Deputy Speaker (Lord Gardiner of Kimble)
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My Lords, I am particularly grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken because the committee spent some considerable time reflecting on this. On enforcement, the point that I would make to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott—I think the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, said it—is that it is for us. If one remembers, there have been brave Peers, not from either Front Bench, who have referred to the Companion. It is a symbol of what we can do in this place to be self-regulating and to have the maturity of self-restraint, so there are good reasons why we should try to help enforce this ourselves for the good order and reputation of the House.

On one detail, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that I am very mindful of the Lord Speaker. We would be asking the Lord Speaker to be present at all amending stages in this Chamber. That would simply not be possible, obviously. There are wonderful deputies who would therefore have to have that responsibility as well, and I am not convinced that all of us would necessarily want to be put in that position.

We have evolved as a House. We have done many things, and there have been changes. On the point made by the noble Viscount, Lord Stansgate, of course your Lordships’ committee keeps all these matters under review, because our purpose is to ensure that the House runs as effectively as possible.

15:45
On the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, my own view, in the light of my experience of taking the Agriculture Bill through Committee, is that it is quite a tour of duty for some on the Front Bench. It is also a tour of duty for everyone on the Opposition Front Benches and, indeed, many Back-Benchers. My honest view is that with a maximum of 15 minutes for someone moving and winding up an amendment and 10 minutes for a Back-Bench Member, if we really cannot deploy the essence of our arguments in those maximum times, we have not got to the heart of it and we will start to trouble the House. I emphasise that there is nothing in this report that seeks to restrict. There is no word of restriction in this because it was not intended that way: it is meant to help the House.
On the point of reading, made by the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, the Companion is very clear. It can get very stilted. There is nothing worse than hearing a read-out question when the question has already been asked in a different way. It might help if those of us who need to read listen to what has been said before. Our job, again, is to enforce. It is for all of us to seek to help the House.
On the issue raised by the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, about groupings and de-groupings, in the end, as in all these matters, the smooth conduct of business in a self-regulating House requires co-operation and, indeed, restraint. It requires the working together—if that is possible—of the usual channels and Back-Benchers with their own amendments. Clearly, the operation of these proposals is something we will want to undertake. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, mentioned tighter groupings. That is really not within my province, but, as in all these things, the point was given an airing.
This has come before us as a House because the message that I have been receiving from many of your Lordships is that this is an area that they would like your committee to attend to. I think we have done that as responsibly as we could, so, with that, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, for his support. This is very much on that committee, the usual channels and experienced Back-Benchers. I think we have come forward with proposals that, as I said, are helpful. I beg to move.
Motion agreed.

Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Authorised Officers) Order 2024

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Search, Recovery of Cryptoassets and Investigations: Codes of Practice) Regulations 2024
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 (Investigative Powers of Prosecutors: Code of Practice) Order 2024
Proceeds of Crime Act 2002 and Terrorism Act 2000 (Certain Information Orders: Code of Practice) Regulations 2024
South Yorkshire Mayoral Combined Authority (Election of Mayor and Transfer of Police and Crime Commissioner Functions) Order 2024
Motions to Approve
15:48
Moved by
Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne
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That the draft Orders and Regulations laid before the House on 22 January and 7 February be approved.

Relevant documents: 12th and 15th Reports from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the fifth instrument). Considered in Grand Committee on 18 March.

Motions agreed.

North East Mayoral Combined Authority (Establishment and Functions) Order 2024

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:48
Moved by
Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne
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That the draft Order laid before the House on 7 February be approved. Considered in Grand Committee on 18 March.

Lord Gascoigne Portrait Lord Gascoigne (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House and on behalf of my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook, I beg to move the Motion standing in her name on the Order Paper.

Motion agreed.

Energy Bills Discount Scheme (Amendment) Regulations 2024

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
15:49
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 7 February be approved.

Relevant document: 15th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Considered in Grand Committee on 12 March.

Motion agreed.

Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Bill

2nd reading & 3rd reading & Committee negatived
Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2024 View all Supply and Appropriation (Anticipation and Adjustments) Act 2024 Debates Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Second Reading (and remaining stages)
15:49
Moved by
Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 44 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.

National Insurance Contributions (Reduction in Rates) (No. 2) Bill

Committee (and remaining stages)
15:50
Baroness Pitkeathley Portrait The Deputy Chairman of Committees (Baroness Pitkeathley) (Lab)
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My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to the Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. With the agreement of the Committee, I will now report the Bill to the House without amendment, and the House will now resume.

House resumed. Bill reported without amendment. Report and Third Reading agreed without debate. Bill passed.

Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (IAC Report)

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Take Note
15:52
Moved by
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town
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That this House takes note of the Report from the International Agreements Committee Scrutiny of international agreements: UK accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Trans-Pacific Partnership (6th Report, HL Paper 70).

Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, although no longer a member, I chaired the International Agreements Committee for the start of its work on the accession to the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership, before handing back the hard work and the drafting to my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith. I am moving the Motion on his behalf as he is unable to stay for the duration of the debate, although he is here now and, I trust, will be here for much of it. He did the hard work.

I am delighted that we will hear shortly from a number of past and present members of the committee: the noble Lords, Lord Fox, Lord Howell of Guildford, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, Lord Lansley, Lord Marland and Lord Udny-Lister.

The UK’s entrance into the Indo-Pacific free trade agreement is important both for the partnership—as we are the first member to join the founding 11 and will be the second largest, after Japan—and for the UK, as the Government claim this as a flagship of their post-Brexit policy. For the 11, our accession renders it a global, rather than regional, agreement, and it will then represent 15% of global GDP. For the UK, the CPTPP might be more than simply a trade agreement as it is part of the Government’s strategy to deepen our engagement with the Indo-Pacific region. The report before your Lordships considers its importance in this light.

I will highlight two themes in the report. The first is the value of the trade bloc for British businesses, and how the Government can help the utilisation of the agreement. The second is the strategic implications of CPTPP membership for the UK’s engagement in the region.

On the first point, the economic value of CPTPP membership is likely to be modest. The impact assessment and the OBR suggest a 0.04% to 0.08% boost to GDP over 15 years, partly as we already have free trade agreements with nine of the 11 countries. While the Government claim that these low figures fail to capture the rapid growth in the region or future expansion of membership, the committee found it difficult to quantify that, while any expansion of the membership remains somewhat speculative.

The CPTPP affords market access to Brunei and Malaysia, with some limited export opportunities in agri-food and certainly greater legal certainty for services. Its rules of origin provisions could offer opportunities for manufacturers to develop and integrate supply chains into their business models and expand into new and growing markets. However, the evidence we received is that these rules of origin are very difficult to cut through and that there are insufficient measures to help businesses to take advantage of any new opportunities. Indeed, it is possible that, without additional help, only those businesses already exporting to the region will be able to take advantage of any such openings.

It is therefore vital that the Government provide effective ongoing support, particularly for SMEs. A key recommendation is for a new task force to run for two to three years, focusing on regional roadshows. I look forward to the Minister’s response to that suggestion, especially as we heard that the Government’s online guidance about CPTPP and trade agreements is inadequate and hard to find or navigate, with GOV.UK described as “woeful”, “almost impossible to use” and in need of “a complete overhaul”. We heard that businesses often turn to other countries’ websites for advice and information; that is surely unacceptable. Ministers must improve online guidance if any trade agreement is to be worth more than the paper it is written on.

The CPTPP is also about imports, particularly agriculture and food. The NFU welcomed the fact that farmers have been shielded from CPTPP imports in most vulnerable areas—an improvement on the deals with Australia and New Zealand—but has

“serious concerns about the cumulative impact of trade deals on British food production, especially … beef, poultry and pork”.

That is a reminder to consider the cumulative effects of successive deals on farmers and food production, not just the impact of each individual deal.

The Government have assured us that the UK’s right to regulate to protect human, animal and plant life is secure under the CPTPP. However, some academics remain concerned about the threat to our precautionary approach to sanitary and phytosanitary, or SPS, regulation. The precautionary principle permits regulation to protect the environment where there is a plausible risk of serious or irreversible damage, even in the absence of complete scientific proof. The CPTPP’s dispute settlement mechanism, as it affects the environment, means that future SPS measures might be challenged via the state-to-state dispute mechanism. The committee therefore asks Ministers to set out how they intend to address these challenges to our regulatory approach. I look forward to the Minister’s response to that.

I turn to the second consideration, the strategic value of joining the CPTPP. It has been something of a challenge to judge this in the continued absence of a cross-government foreign, defence and diplomatic vision into which a sustainable, long-term trade policy might fit. The committee therefore reiterates its call—we hope with a better response this time—for the Government to publish an overall trade strategy with clearly defined objectives. Such a framework would surely help to clarify and guide the Government’s priorities by spelling out their objectives for trade, but it would also facilitate parliamentary scrutiny of the Government’s aims as set against their achievements.

In assessing CPTPP membership, witnesses to the committee made three arguments in support of it. First, while wars in Ukraine and the Middle East, and the risk of reduced US commitment to NATO, create new uncertainties closer to home, CPTPP membership, given the Indo-Pacific’s geopolitical significance, sends an important political signal about the UK’s commitment to that region. The committee views engagement with the Indo-Pacific as positive. However, there is a lack of detail as to how the Government intend to utilise our membership as the trade strand of their so-called Indo-Pacific tilt. Ministers should spell out how they expect membership to contribute to their strategic aims in the region.

Your Lordships’ House does not need reminding that the international landscape for trade is rapidly changing and increasingly uncertain, which brings me to the second argument: that the CPTPP provides membership of a group of like-minded countries committed to free and open trade, high regulatory standards and adherence to the rule of law, together with the ability for member countries to align their standards and governance to promote fair and free trade. The committee agrees that the CPTPP can be seen as a rallying point for a rules-based liberal order, but this objective might be limited in an increasingly protectionist world. We should not forget that the CPTPP’s primary function is to liberalise trade among its members, rather than act as a political or strategic forum, so while we acknowledge value in using the CPTPP to engage with partners in the Indo-Pacific, we should be wary of overstating that potential.

Thirdly, the CPTPP could act as an incubator for new trading initiatives, particularly in emerging sectors such as digital and environmental trade, where the UK has a valuable opportunity to contribute. This possibility is particularly attractive as we grapple with a struggling WTO. We thus welcome this but acknowledge that plurilateral agreements cannot replace co-operation at the multilateral level. In the words of one witness, the WTO is

“really important. We need to keep trying … there is no real substitute”.

Innovation within the CPTPP should be viewed as complementary to, rather than a replacement for, multilateral efforts.

Accession is nevertheless welcome, and it will be important for the UK to take full advantage of its new seat at the CPTPP table. The committee considered potential avenues for UK input to the partnership’s future development and welcomed the invitation, prior to our full accession, for the UK to contribute to the first general review, which is taking place this year. It is aimed at consolidating the trade text and considering how to update and enhance it.

The report in front of your Lordships welcomes the stakeholder consultation and calls on the Government to publish their own priorities, both for this current review and for their longer-term future priorities for CPTPP development, hopefully prioritising areas of UK strength such as innovation in climate and trade in environmental goods and services, together with digital and other services. The House will not be surprised by my—and, in this case, the committee’s—regret at the absence of a consumer chapter, so we hope that its future inclusion could secure consumer protection within the agreement.

The partnership aspires to be a “living agreement”, although in the absence of a standing secretariat the rotating chair carries a heavy burden in marshalling the group. The UK should therefore respond favourably to any move towards a standing—although lean, I hope —secretariat.

There has been much debate on the possible future expansion of the CPTPP, with a number of countries already having applied to join, including China, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Taiwan, Ukraine and Uruguay, with other countries likely to follow suit. The process for any applicant is, first, for the country to demonstrate adherence to the required regulatory standards and a track record of adhering to the letter and spirit of existing international trade commitments. The second part of the process is for all current members to agree the new accession—a high bar, as our own application demonstrated. The IAC would welcome any country that meets these rigorous tests of entry, although, given the evidence received, it is unlikely that China will meet the necessary requirements any time soon.

The committee welcomed the Minister’s commitment that any new joiner would be subject to CRaG, but it calls on the Government to ensure that new accession processes go through the same consultation and impact evaluation as with any FTA partner—I see the Minister nodding. I note that, in the Commons at this very moment, they are trying to get such an amendment to the Bill currently going through. More seriously, it is vital that the Government start complying with the spirit, not just the wording, of CRaG.

Thanks to our Chief Whip, we are having this debate in this House, but the reality is that only the Commons has the power to delay ratification. We learned last week that the Leader of the Commons has denied that House the ability to debate or vote on the accession treaty within the CRaG period, making a mockery of the legislative power included in the 2010 Act. I note that the overwhelming vote of this House on 22 January—that the Rwanda treaty should not be ratified until all the promised safeguards are in place—has, to date, received no response from the Government, as required under the Act.

In addition to CRaG, there are other demands on the Government to ensure that successful trade deals will benefit the whole of the United Kingdom, including all its countries and regions. We acknowledge the improved consultation with the devolved Administrations, and we call on the Government to continue to share information and engage with them in a timely and transparent manner.

In summary, the committee welcomes the UK’s accession to the CPTPP and looks forward to the Government’s efforts to support businesses and consolidate their strategy to maximise the opportunities arising out of our new membership. I beg to move.

16:08
Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
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My Lords, I am glad to have the opportunity to express our thanks to the committee, its chair and its former chair for the work in preparing this report. I am glad we have the opportunity to debate it now, in good time in relation to the CRaG process. Noble Lords will recall that, in previous discussions on trade Bills, we secured what we regarded as agreement from the Government that, where any committee makes a report for debate in either Chamber, it should be facilitated before the conclusion of the CRaG process and moving to ratification.

That said, I do not want to understate the degree of scrutiny that has been given to our accession to the CPTPP. When I was a member of the committee some time ago, we looked in detail at the mandate for the negotiations, and we looked at the issues arising from the treaty, because of course we were looking at an existing treaty and could consider what the implications of the provisions of the CPTPP might be, were we to accede to them. The Government responded very positively to some of the points we made at that time, not least on behalf of the witnesses we received. In addition, we have had the opportunity to debate the Bill, in so far as legislation was required. I do not want to understate the scrutiny of this House, which has been nothing other than thorough, demonstrating the importance that should be attached to the continuing work of the International Agreements Committee and the scrutiny we give treaties in this place.

It is really important to recognise that this is an accession, not a negotiation. Occasionally, some of the witnesses’ evidence submissions to the committee and some of the wider CPTPP debate suggested that it was open to us to negotiate an agreement as we are doing with other countries on a bilateral basis to conclude an FTA. This is an accession, and I will come back to that in a moment.

Investor-state dispute settlement is a very good example of this. I remind the House of my registered interest as the UK co-chair of the UK-Japan 21st Century Group. Japan was a very early supporter of our accession to the CPTPP, and we should not underestimate the significance of that in our being able to be the first to join this regional plurilateral grouping. Some expressed the view that we could join the CPTPP but that we do not like investor-state dispute settlement. I am not quite sure why we do not like it; some do not because they think we will be challenged, although we never have been. As outward investment and our reliance on foreign direct investment is unusually important to this country, we should be in favour of giving investors confidence. I am therefore in favour of our agreeing to appropriate ISDS provisions. Had we tried to join the CPTPP while having side letters with everybody, and tried to exempt ourselves from all the effects of ISDS, including with Japan, we would not have been able to accede. Let us not get into arguments that pretend that we could have had a negotiation that we could not have had.

I want to talk about one main element from the latter part of the general themes that the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, talked about: the strategic context—not the Indo-Pacific tilt but the question of whether the Government should have a trade policy White Paper and a trade strategy document. When we as a committee asked for one over a year ago, we were right to do so, but it is now late in the Parliament to do that. However, anyone who wants to—not least from these Benches—can look at the Government’s activity in trade policy and deduce what we are trying to achieve. I think one would make a very positive deduction, not least from the fact that we wanted to join the CPTPP in the first place. It was very easy for people to say, “What has that to do with us? We’re not a Pacific country and we weren’t involved in the negotiations that led to the CPTPP, so why would we want to join it?” The short answer is because our trade policy is to support a rules-based system that obtains at high standards and is a broad-ranging and flexible, but also progressive, system of agreement for trade.

At the time that it was negotiated, the CPTPP was cutting edge in terms of digital trade and was quite forward in terms of services trade. A number of years have gone by, and there is now scope in the 2024 general review to remedy that. When they started this process, the Government were demonstrating their commitment to trade liberalisation, open trade, a rules-based trading system and not simply to bilateral agreements but to plurilateral agreements that would bring others into a broader world trading system. In the years to come, CPTPP may well demonstrate itself in that way as by no means confined to the Pacific Rim. We are leading the way, and I hope there will be others that follow. Let us not discount completely —happily, sometimes things change, and they do not always change in the wrong direction—that there might be the day when the United States once again thinks about joining a plurilateral, open trading system in ways that it has not done in the recent past. When it does so, the fact that two of its leading strategic allies, the United Kingdom and Japan, are in the CPTPP and were involved in the early stages of negotiating the agreement may give it greater confidence that this would be the proper step for the United States to take, if it really wants to rejoin a rules-based trading system, and greater confidence on how to go about it.

The only other point that I want to make is that I agree with the noble Baroness and the committee report—I think it is in paragraphs 74 to 76—that the CPTPP is not an alternative to the WTO, but in the recent WTO ministerial conference we have seen that plurilateral agreements in that context have made some progress, on things like the regulation of services, investment facilitation and so on. However, the WTO was not able to get agreement on things like food security and fisheries, or, sadly, on dispute settlement. I do not think that we can rely upon the WTO to make the progress that we need. If we are not careful, in the absence of WTO agreements, everything will be done by way of bilateral agreements, which lead one into a more mercantilist system, whereas what we want is an open, plurilateral trading system.

From my point of view, that means that things like the CPTPP and other plurilateral agreements—which are not just regional but may, as we can see, develop in relation to services, investment facilitation or, very importantly, trade in environmental goods—are all ways in which we can promote a wider, positive, open trading system. If we do not do that, protectionism will increase, and in so far as people are not simply protectionist, they will be mercantilist, expecting—as President Trump was wont to do and China is wont to do—that they can negotiate the outcome of trade, rather than create a system which enables the outcome of trade to be the result of markets and competition. That is what we are looking for, and that is why we are looking for an open trading system.

In that context, our accession to the CPTPP is a wholly positive step. I do not think that we should in the slightest diminish it by reference to some of the current statistics about what the prospective economic impact might look like. By the time we have made changes in terms of digital and services trade, and by the time one takes into account the confidence that is given to investors, the beneficial impacts resulting from our membership of the CPTPP will be considerably in excess of what has presently been predicted. I very much support it, but I am also very grateful to and support the committee in the report that it has given us.

16:18
Lord Anderson of Swansea Portrait Lord Anderson of Swansea (Lab)
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My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hayter on her helpful introduction to the debate on the report. I differ from the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, only in that he was a member of the committee, heard the evidence and is now contributing to the debate; I was not a member of the committee at the time and did not hear the evidence and therefore have to rely largely on the helpful report which the committee has produced. I will therefore be somewhat brief.

I accept that the accession is welcome and, more importantly, has potential for growth in directions that are relevant to our own interests, both in relation to the internal developments within the agreement—as insiders, we can now make contributions in a way that we could not if we were not members—and because of the possibility of new members coming to join. China and Taiwan have been mentioned, but both, for different reasons, are unlikely to join. It is uncertain how many other countries will join. Indeed, if there were a large number of members, the agreement would be approximate to the now failing WTO. Although both previous speakers said that the WTO is important, there is clearly a deadlock, not least because of the Trump policy on appeals and so on. As insiders, this is important, but we join having to accept the existing rules—rules over which we have had no part in drafting. It would therefore be unwise for us to throw our weight around at the beginning, although we are the second-most important economy in the group.

The context is clear. The accession is possible because we are now outside the European Union. Obviously, within the European Union, our weight in trade negotiations would have been substantially enhanced. Yet such bilateral or plurilateral agreements should be put in perspective: the best trade agreement that we had was inside the European Union. Any other deals, such as with Australia or this current deal, are, in essence, damage limitation: doing the best that we can outside the European Union. The European Union remains the UK’s primary trading partner and the largest single export market for our services. The European Union provides a basis for an improved service sector among member states and within the single market. I was present at a recent Brand Finance conference, where John Major, as a principal speaker, said how much he favoured joining the single market.

It is a temptation for the Government—as the Minister said yesterday at Question Time—to hype the importance of such deals, and although we welcome the accession, the report is careful to avoid such exaggeration. The report summary says:

“Despite projections that CPTPP will bring limited economic benefits to the UK in the medium to long-term, the accession of the UK could be of strategic importance, especially in shaping the future development of CPTPP and geopolitical influence in the region. However, the effective implementation of CPTPP is key to maximising any potential benefits and building capacity for the future”.


I emphasise the words “could” and “potential”. We already have free trade agreements with nine existing members, although I accept that it is important that Brunei and Malaysia are now within the fold. Therefore, it means that the opportunity for growth is somewhat constrained, and two witnesses described the benefits as “marginal”. The Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, for example, stated that the

“potential benefits … should not be overstated”,

and we should generally be alert to the fact that the agreement is only a small part of UK trade. Yesterday I mentioned the Government’s estimate of 0.08% of GDP over the relevant period and the 0.04% estimate of another relevant group.

My second point is that there needs to be a new focus on services in our trade policy, particularly as, from 2021, services have overtaken goods as a share of UK exports. In 2023 services accounted for 54.3% of the total UK exports of £859.2 billion. These figures do not include services provided through our commercial presence in third countries. Our strength is in the service sector and yet the current agreement offers little, if any, liberalisation of services and no effective enforcement mechanism. We can only hope that, as insiders, we can help over time to move the agreement to have a more robust policy on the service sector. In the Government’s judgment, what prospects are there of helping to move the agreement more to the service sector? Have there already been any soundings in that direction?

My final point, already made in part by my noble friend, relates to the devolved Administrations. The Government have acknowledged the failure of consultation in this respect. The committee calls for information to be shared in a timely and transparent manner in and outside the relevant areas of devolved competence. I note that in the Australia deal, which the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned, Welsh farmers suffered substantially over Welsh lamb. I hope that the lesson of listening more to the concerns of the devolved Administrations has been learned. We should not sacrifice their interests on the altar of greater deals. The information-sharing protocol, which was made early last year, indicates that the Government have learned some of the lessons. But we should watch this space to see whether there are any real improvements. We must understand that the devolution settlement is now only 25 years old. There needs to be a total culture change in Whitehall to consult on and listen to the interests of the devolved Administrations. The Government have acknowledged that this was not the case in respect of this agreement. Let us hope that the lessons have now been fully learned.

16:27
Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I declare that I co-chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Trade out of Poverty. I thank the Minister for the advanced information through correspondence regarding the treaty. He is unfailingly accessible, as is his office; I appreciate that. He and I are enthusiastic free traders. He has a skill of finding greater enthusiasm for certain agreements than I do, but nevertheless we are both free traders. He must have erred in some other policy areas for him to be on those Benches and not these. Nevertheless, we share an ambition for the growth of UK exports and trade.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the committee for their work. The IAC report is another excellent publication, building on its first report, as the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, indicated. It is especially important given that not only has the House of Commons not been debating the CPTPP but it no longer has a committee that specifically looks at international trade policy—so the service that this committee does for this House is even more important. The report’s opening probably gave the most succinct post-Brexit summary I have ever read. It said that

“it remains to be seen whether the Government’s intended trade and geopolitical benefits will materialise”.

We are still waiting with anticipation.

We understand from the Government that this component of that ambition will amount to a contribution to the UK’s GDP of between £1.8 billion and £2 billion a year after the 15th year—0.08% of GDP, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, said. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, believes that will be the floor, not the ceiling, of the ambition. Sophisticated modelling by the civil servants takes all the optimism into consideration, but optimism bias is not unique to policy areas other than trade. There has always been a trade agreement that we hoped would do better than the one we were replacing. We also know that the OBR has suggested a lower figure, equating the likely growth to 0.04% of GDP.

The Financial Times humorously said that if the impact of the CPTPP was described in decibel terms, it would be the equivalent of

“a cat sneezing three rooms away”.

Now, it seems as if next door’s cat has the sniffles. Nevertheless, any growth is welcome, given the state of the UK economy. As the committee says, the Government have indicated that it is not just about economic growth. Indeed, that might not even be the primary aim. It is about greater integration with those economies. This is news to many of the nine countries with which we already have an FTA with the purpose of integrating our economy with theirs. What extra integration will the agreement to which we have acceded allow us? It may well be there.

I want to put into context what the level of growth activity would be after the 15th year. The £1.8 billion for the British economy is the equivalent of five and a half days’ trade with Holland. When we put up barriers to our nearest trading neighbours, we do much greater harm than any anticipated long-term benefit we gain from agreements such as this. The noble Lord, Lord Lansley, said that we can perhaps deduce the direction of travel from the Government’s activity. In the foreign affairs debate, the noble Lord, Lord Cameron, said we should never confuse activity with action. Therefore, we have to see not what the Government’s good intentions are but what their resulting actions realise.

In February the Sussex University trade observatory highlighted that

“the UK’s trade in goods with the world has underperformed compared to other comparable countries over the last few years”.

This anticipated growth with the rest of the world, other than the EU, is eluding us so far. Nevertheless, it may come about.

This is where the narrative starts to be challenged. Later in the debate, I suspect we will hear about how we need to be part of the fastest-growing part of the world’s trading economy within the Indo-Pacific area and how this agreement will allow the UK the increased growth benefit that those countries have seen. But the growth in the economies of the countries we are joining in the CPTPP has been almost exclusively because of the growth of the Chinese economy. Strip out the growth of China’s economy and its trade with Vietnam, Malaysia and the other countries in the CPTPP, and the figures look very different. In fact, their growth looks almost static. Now, with the slower growth in the Chinese economy, we will see what that level of trajectory looks like. Are we putting a lot of tariff-free eggs in this CPTPP basket when we are being very shoogly with our European Union neighbours?

This also has to be seen in the context in which the UK, more than any other European country, is now dependent on goods imports from China. The House has heard me say time and again that we have a trade deficit in goods with China of £40 billion. Germany has a trade surplus.

What also frequently goes unnoticed is that the world’s largest trading deal is not the CPTPP but the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership of 15 Asia-Pacific countries, including China, Australia and New Zealand. That represents 30.5% of global GDP, compared with the US-Mexico-Canada agreement at 28% and the EU at 18%. The RCEP’s growth is estimated to be far beyond that of any other agreement that we are acceding to. As much as this is a strategic debate about trade with the CPTPP, it is actually about the UK’s relations with China. The Government have said that this is an Indo-Pacific tilt towards those countries as an alternative to China. But there have been many rounds of negotiation between China, Japan and South Korea for an FTA between those countries. Whatever we do with our trade in the Indo-Pacific, we will be impacting on our relationship with China. We support an industrial and trade strategy because what our trading relationship with China will look like needs to be clear.

Finally, where we have seen bureaucracy, costs and paperwork added is in our trading relationship with the European Union. Yes, we will see a marginal, minimal decrease in bureaucracy with CPTPP countries, but we are seeing it actively increase for our nearest trading bloc—£100,000 of extra costs per typical UK business. That far outweighs even the most optimistic benefits mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that we would see for UK businesses in the CPTPP.

However, as I have said to the Minister, when we tilt towards one area, we are tilting away from another. Our trading partners in the Caribbean in CARIFORUM and in Africa in the African Continental Free Trade Area are seeing and hearing mixed messages from the UK. Therefore, I have called out the Government, time and again. For example, when we have signed an FTA with a Commonwealth country, not a single one has had a Commonwealth chapter for trade facilitation for the Commonwealth, allowed for under the WTO, which I have called for.

There may be one further final aspect. I close with a question to the Minister. It is likely, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, said, that our relationship with China will come into more context if it wishes to join and accede. But we have a friendly, free, democratic nation within the region, Taiwan, with which we can see the expansion of UK trade. I have been on a number of occasions. It is a reliable and trusted trading partner which has demonstrated that it can be a stable, democratic and rule of law-based country. I hope that the Minister will agree with me that it is time for a UK Cabinet Minister—a Cabinet Trade Minister—to visit Taipei, sending very clear signals. If we are seeking to tilt to the region and sending signals that it is not towards China, then a Cabinet-level official visiting Taipei would probably be the strongest signal of all.

16:38
Lord Marland Portrait Lord Marland (Con)
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My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the International Agreements Committee, chaired magnificently by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. I like to big him up because it is good to be kind to the headmaster. You never know, you might catch the selector’s eye every now and then. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, for—

Lord Marland Portrait Lord Marland (Con)
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—giving us the opportunity to have this debate. Yes, she is absolutely marvellous. This could be a Morecambe and Wise show in a minute if my noble friend Lord Vaizey does not shut up—and I know who is wise.

I was interested that the noble Lord, Lord Gardiner, said to us earlier that brevity is to everyone’s advantage. Therefore, I shall try to be brief and let the report itself do the talking. It has been incredibly well constructed by the team and has had a lot of the committee’s time. I am delighted to see so many members and former members here.

I congratulate the Government on this treaty—it is a good step forward. I pay tribute particularly, if he is listening, to the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, who travels the world with huge energy. I often find myself following in his wake as I go round in my role as chairman of the Commonwealth Enterprise and Investment Council. I pay tribute to him because he has been the driving force behind this great treaty.

However, let us not kid ourselves—this is not the greatest agreement that has ever been signed. The noble Baroness made the remark that it is a very small amount of balance of trades to affect the United Kingdom. Therefore, we should not get too overexcited. But it is a starting place, and the real prize is, of course, services and financial services, as the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, mentioned. This is the key to the prosperity of this country and will be the real prize for businesses in this country. I want to know what steps the Minister will take to opening up those doors, because that becomes transformative.

It is also a great treaty because there is no doubt that the alignment of free trading nations is incredibly good for diplomatic relations and cordial relationships, and therefore a terrific building block.

There is always some embarrassment for the UK Government about taking the lead on things, but this is a golden opportunity to take a lead and become a key member of this trans-Pacific partnership. I am clear that that is what the other countries want—in the UK being embraced into this arrangement, their desire is to have the UK taking a forefront lead. This will be important, as was referenced earlier, with the inclusion of potential new members, and with the desire of China to become a member—which will have to be scrutinised incredibly carefully. I therefore urge the Government and my noble friend the Minister to tell us in what way the UK Government are going to take the lead. This is an opportunity, a post-Brexit opportunity bar none, if we can take it.

Finally, noble Lords would not expect me to not mention the Commonwealth. Two-thirds of the countries that have signed up to this agreement are Commonwealth countries. Why has the Foreign and Commonwealth Office not taken the initiative and used this as a spring- board for a Commonwealth trade arrangement? That is the second prize that this Government, in a post-Brexit era, should take.

I thank the Minister for everything he has done in achieving what we have done so far.

16:42
Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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It is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Marland. I shall be slightly less concise, but I bear the earlier discussion in mind.

On my tombstone will be the words: “He was an inaugural member of the International Agreements Committee”. No more need be said: it is the peak of my career. I was lucky enough to be on that sub-committee of the EU Committee which preceded and then became it, under the inventive chairmanship of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and then the skilful Socratic reasoning of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. From the word go, I thought it was a good idea that we should accede to what I am going to call the Pacific partnership treaty—because I do not believe that any sane human being can say “CPTPP”.

Our work in the IAC on the treaty was helped hugely by the constructive approach taken by successive Ministers: the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone, who is not in his place today, now a poacher, then a gamekeeper; and the noble Lord, Lord Johnson, who was extremely forthcoming to the committee. I am glad that the committee has produced such a positive report. It is much more supportive than we were able to be about some of the Government’s bilateral trade agreements earlier on.

It is easier to be supportive because the Government did not oversell the deal, and they did tend to oversell some of the previous simple rollover deals. Back then, of course, we had a Trade Secretary and a Prime Minister who were determined to declare total victories—black-and-white, total triumphs. The Trade Secretary pronounced it a “disgrace” that we sell so little cheese to countries where cheese is not eaten, and the Prime Minister proudly proclaimed that his trade treaty with the European Union contained “no non-tariff barriers”. I cannot recall any trade treaty that does contain non- tariff barriers. Most good trade treaties remove or limit them; his ignored them and so legitimised them and introduced them, as the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, has explained.

In the case of the Pacific partnership, on the other hand, I recall no photo ops, no soundbites. We were spared the obvious soundbites about the merits of selling Bovril to Borneo, and the economic benefits were not exaggerated. The OBR says they are perhaps rather less than the Government had previously suggested, but the Government were putting the figure at under 0.1% of GDP, and the various upside possibilities that the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, mentioned had been taken into account in their calculations.

The deal was not oversold; it was sold on the potential of the partnership to develop. That was quite right, and I believe the partnership will develop. The digital economy deal between Chile, New Zealand and Singapore is a harbinger and a signpost. I hope that is the way it will develop, and I commend the call on the Government, in paragraph 118 of the IAC’s report,

“to set out and publish its priorities”

for this year’s quinquennial review of the partnership.

The Canadians, who are leading on the review, want to see a deepening of the deal, particularly in the area of digital trade. I hope we will row in behind them and help them on that. I also attach importance to the various recommendations to make British business better aware of the new opportunities the partnership opens and how to access them. The task force is a good idea; the roadshow is a good idea; the website clearly needs reform. Other than for command economies, trade treaties only enable: the greater part of their job is making sure that the opportunities for actual and potential exporters are used, and our Government need to do better. Explaining the partnership’s complex rules of origin has hardly begun.

With the indulgence of the House, I would like to offer one more general point—a coda to my time on the IAC, drawing on my experience of it. It serves the House well within the confines imposed on it by the CRaG Act, but I very much hope that the next Government, of whatever political complexion, will be readier than this one have been to look again at these constraints. When CRaG was passed, no one foresaw Brexit. Trade agreements back then were negotiated for us by the European Commission’s experts, most of them British, and overseen by the Council in Brussels and the European Parliament in Strasbourg. It was all very transparent. So the EU Committee, when I served on it, looking at trade agreements, was far better informed back then, pre-Brexit, than the IAC is now.

Brexit meant that Whitehall took back control but Westminster was shut out. Although my past was in Whitehall, I believe that the reduction in Westminster’s scrutiny is actually bad for Whitehall and for the country. Let me explain.

The principal reason why the EU drives harder trade bargains than we do—the contrast between our deal with Australia and its was striking—is that it is holding the keys to a larger market so it can extract greater concessions for handing over the keys. The EU is also more practised, but we may be getting better. It sounds as if we have been more resolute with the Canadians and Mexicans, whose agricultural exporters pricked up their ears at seeing how the Australians and New Zealanders had taken us to the cleaners. Wiser counsels have prevailed on India; I was concerned by the Johnson press for an agreement—any agreement—soon.

However, I believe that the Commission’s hand on trade negotiations is greatly strengthened by the effective scrutiny of its work that the Council in Brussels and the Parliament in Strasbourg hold. American negotiators can and do point to their separation of powers, and congressional oversight and veto rights. When American negotiators reject a proposed concession or a trade-off, they can and do say, “Sorry, Congress wouldn’t wear it. It wouldn’t fly on the Hill”. EU negotiators can and frequently do play the same card. Ours cannot because the world knows that, in London, parliamentary oversight is pro forma and perfunctory. Trade policy in London is a black box and Parliament is put in the picture about treaties only once it is too late to change them.

It is different in Ottawa, Canberra and Wellington, so our weakness is not a function of a parliamentary system; in other parliamentary systems there is far closer scrutiny than we are allowed here. When the IAC tried to find out what was happening in the negotiation with New Zealand, our principal source was the New Zealand Government’s website, which gave a very full account of each negotiating round. In London, the Minister—the noble Lord, Lord Grimstone—was allowed to send us a regular letter saying that there had been a round, a chapter had been opened, a chapter had been closed and there would be another round. He was allowed to give agendas and dates, but not information on substance, issues or trade-offs. There was nothing remotely useful, although it was all available on the New Zealand government website and so available to the committee. This is all a great pity, because greater transparency elsewhere means greater public understanding elsewhere. It means that exporters elsewhere are better prepared for new opportunities when they arise as a consequence of trade deals.

Reform of the CRaG Act, allowing for a real parliamentary role in approving mandates, following negotiations and ratifying trade treaties, would produce better outcomes for the United Kingdom. It is not a zero-sum game, with Westminster’s gain meaning Whitehall’s loss. It honestly is not; it would be a win-win. The IAC does its best for House and country, but I am quite sure that it would be better for everyone if the Government could be more grown-up and trust the country to be more grown-up about trade. We still need a clear trade strategy to be agreed and published. Here I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley. Grown-up countries do this: the Americans do it, the EU does it, France and Germany do it. Most countries publish their trade strategy, promulgate it, defend it and act on it. We should do so too. Real parliamentary association with the negotiating process would be in everybody’s interest.

Since I have disagreed with him on one point, I end by saying that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, on another. I am afraid I cannot share his optimism about the possibility that a Trump Administration would look again at participation in the Pacific partnership treaty. I am afraid that that ship has definitively sailed.

16:55
Viscount Trenchard Portrait Viscount Trenchard (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, from whose speeches I always have much to learn. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter of Kentish Town, on securing this timely debate today. I declare my interests as an adviser to several Japanese companies, and to some British companies in connection with their businesses in the Indo-Pacific region, as stated in the register.

It is very good that your Lordships’ House has an opportunity to debate a report within one month of publication—very much earlier than has been the rule in recent years. I congratulate the members of the International Agreements Committee on producing what I think is, in the main, a fair and balanced report. I note that it “broadly” welcomes the UK’s accession to the CPTPP; this implies to me that there are areas in which it has reservations.

Are the members of the committee not, on balance, a little less enthusiastic about the significance and the future economic potential of the UK’s accession to the CPTPP than they should be, and is there not at least some evidence that supports that? The report’s summary suggests that accession to the CPTPP will have only

“limited economic benefits to the UK in the medium to long-term”,

and that

“it remains to be seen whether the Government’s intended trade and geopolitical benefits will materialise”.

Professor David Collins, of City, University of London, correctly recognised that, in the longer term, the economic benefits of the CPTPP are likely to be significant, as the world’s economic activity shifts towards the Asia-Pacific region. The trend growth rate for the GDP of the 11 members is around 2%, roughly double the 1% by which the EU economies are expected to grow. The CPTPP accounts for roughly 15% of global GDP, around the same as the EU today.

The noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, made the case that the RCEP is a more important agreement than the CPTPP. I am not sure he is right there, because it is much shallower. He also said that the CPTPP’s growth was much greater than the EU’s only because of trade with China, but he then said that UK trade with China was massively significant, so he rather contradicted his point.

The committee’s members acknowledged the “potential advantage” of the partnership as part of a British

“‘tilt’ to the Indo-Pacific”,

and

“think there is some, albeit limited, value in CPTPP membership providing access to a forum for members committed to a free, open trade order”.

I think they might have been a bit more enthusiastic about this enormously important and highly significant development. The geopolitical significance of the UK’s accession is already enormous, both for the UK and the CPTPP itself. For the UK, it shows our strong commitment to the Indo-Pacific region, reinforcing the AUKUS pact, the continuing importance of the Five Eyes intelligence pact and the reciprocal access agreement with Japan. For the partnership itself, the UK’s accession goes some way to replacing the intended participation of the United States, and makes the perception of the bloc a bit more global.

Since President Trump turned against US membership, Japan has been strongly encouraging the UK to join, a point which may not be sufficiently appreciated in this country. My noble friend Lord Lansley also drew your Lordships’ attention to this point in his impressive speech. Our Japanese friends recognise that six of the 11 members of the CPTPP are Commonwealth countries —now, with the UK, that is seven out of 12. There has been an active group within the Japanese Government’s Cabinet Office working on the CPTPP for more than six years. It recognises that the UK could become, with Japan, the de facto joint leaders of the partnership and that the UK’s contribution to the way the partnership operates, and to its rules and methods, would be highly valuable. It has also played an invaluable role behind the scenes, in encouraging the other members of the CPTPP to welcome UK accession and in helping us overcome the small number of reservations about our accession that appeared in a few members of the partnership.

Having lived and worked in Japan for 11 years, and with continued parliamentary and business involvement in that country ever since I returned to the UK, I am very pleased that UK accession to the CPTPP has made an important contribution to our excellent relationship with Japan. Indeed, together with our growing bilateral collaboration in defence and security, exemplified by the trilateral GCAP programme with Italy, it can be said that we have entered the age of the second Anglo-Japanese alliance.

More specifically, the report identifies some issues with the rules of origin provisions provided by the CPTPP. I understand that these are working well in some areas, such as the seafood sector, but could my noble friend the Minister comment on how they are working for the automotive sector?

Paragraph 28 of the report celebrates the fact that there is a

“good balance between new market access for food exporters and access to the UK market”.

Are the Government doing enough to encourage farmers to exploit opportunities in those sectors where they have an advantage?

It is interesting that the report suggests at paragraph 29 that the UK can retain its current precautionary approach to SPS controls, consistent with CPTPP rules. Is that the case even where our current standards, inherited from the EU, do not comply with WTO rules? Is it not the case that we may have given too much weight to the precautionary principle as an EU member? Where the evidence suggests that there are no significant risks to human health, does not accession to the CPTPP provide us with an opportunity to permit, in certain circumstances and with appropriate safeguards, the introduction of hormone-fed beef, chlorine-washed chicken and some GM crops, which could significantly lower food costs for hard-pressed consumers? I think that our membership of the CPTPP gives us a good platform on which to work with like-minded partners to restore the reputation and influence of the WTO.

The members of the committee struck me as being a bit sceptical about the significance of our role in the CPTPP and its contribution to the achievement of the Government’s strategic aims in the region. In paragraph 72, the report asks for more detail on this. From my interactions with contacts in Japan, Australia and South Korea, which I hope may soon become an accession candidate, I believe it is already very clear how significant it is, and I hope my noble friend will set out his view on this in his winding-up speech.

Finally, I welcome the proposal that, following the current general review, the Government should set out their priorities in the context of a longer-term plan for the development of the CPTPP. Does my noble friend think this should include a small standing secretariat to assist businesses in maximising the trade benefits offered by the UK’s membership? I look forward to hearing from other noble Lords and to my noble friend’s response to the debate.

17:04
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I will return in some detail to food safety and food standards, referred to by noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, but I point out now that it is the standards of production that give rise to the need for the chlorine-washing of chicken. The dreadful US food safety standards, which are the main issue, are surely not something we want to import into the UK.

Like other noble Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for her clear introduction, and the committee for a comprehensive report. It expresses many of the concerns I have about the trans-Pacific partnership—I will use that phrase, rather than the acronym—although I would express them in much stronger terms than the committee has. However, we know that our committees operate on a consensus basis.

Much of what I might have said about it making much more sense to trade with our neighbours has been said already by the noble Lord, Lord Purvis, so I will not repeat that. I will cite one economics textbook, which notes that the negative correlation between geographic distance and bilateral trade volumes is considered to be one of the most robust findings in economics. I do not often quote mainstream economics, but there is some obvious common sense there. I hope that the cat belonging to the neighbours of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, gets better soon. It is a very useful metaphor. I also agree with what the noble Lord said about a visit to Taiwan. That was a very useful comment.

With the trans-Pacific partnership, we are talking about decisions that have significant implications for climate action and inaction, environmental standards, human rights, labour rights, international development, food standards—as has already been referred to—animal welfare and public health. One of the areas that has rightly received the most attention has been the conclusion of the deal with Malaysia on palm oil. This is a major issue for environmental standards and indigenous rights in Malaysia, and—as your Lordships’ House knows, given that we are increasingly debating the issue of ultra-processed food—for public health in the UK. It could be very difficult for some of the rising, innovative UK producers of alternative oilseed crops to compete against palm oil produced from felled rain forests under very dubious labour conditions. The Minister may say, “Oh, but it is all going to be sustainable”, but I am afraid that the registration standards simply do not stack up for much of Malaysian palm oil.

I would also like to receive a direct response from the Minister, either now or in writing, about pesticides that are banned in the UK but are used across the trans-Pacific partnership. What are the Government doing to ensure that products that are treated with those pesticides are not brought into the UK? Disagreeing again with the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, on the precautionary principle, the EU is bringing in stronger and stronger rules because it did not apply the precautionary principle. More and more research is showing more and more dangers, particularly from pesticides and other chemicals in use. The EU is getting far ahead of us in terms of banning chemicals. We are trailing far behind. There is a real risk that we will become a dumping ground for products that cannot be sold in the EU under tightened regulations. What are the Government doing to ensure that that does not happen?

I very much agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Kerr of Kinlochard, about the UK’s democratic deficit—the giant democratic deficit—with regard to trade deals, as the committee’s report also makes clear. All we have today is a take-note Motion: the definition of not doing anything, which is exactly what we are doing now. All we can do is express concerns, with no substantive impact.

I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, as I have many times before and probably will again, on the issue of ISDS. There is substantial evidence that, in some cases, it forces governments to reverse measures taken for the public good; it also has a chilling effect on democratic decision-making for the public good. According to the most recent figures I have from the UN Conference on Trade and Development, 175 cases have been brought on environmental issues under the ISDS procedure, half of which were under the energy charter treaty. I praise the Government for their direction of travel on that treaty. That is indeed progress, so I can say “Well done”—but that still leaves the other half of the cases. There is no doubt about the impact of reducing government action, but also the adverse effects on the UK’s agri-food sector, which I shall come to.

I turn to some specific recent issues that mostly relate to the Australian trade deal, but which tie in, of course, with the trans-Pacific partnership as well. The Government have promised that no hormone-treated Canadian beef will come in under this partnership. I would be interested to hear the latest on what the Government are doing on that.

It is interesting to look at some recent developments with Australian beef. Farmers Weekly recently reported the first attempt under the new deal to export British beef to Australia. It was stopped by Australian trade regulations. For the avoidance of doubt, as a Green, I am not at all in any favour of us producing beef here and shipping it to Australia, or Australia producing beef there and shipping it here. None the less, there is a profound inequality between Australian farmers and British farmers in the trade arena.

There is also, of course, a profound imbalance in production costs and systems between Australian beef and British beef. I do not know if the Minister is aware of this, but a recent article published in Animal Production Science, a CSIRO Publishing journal, looks at greenhouse gas emissions. It makes a well defended case, published in a peer-reviewed journal, that is quite astonishing when you think about it: there are 10 million more head of cattle in Australia than official counts provide for. Interestingly, the head of the Australian Bureau of Statistics said that the official figures were never designed to measure the total cattle population, and that it is clear that that is a much lower estimate. That is worth noting. I have regularly tried to explain to your Lordships’ House how different Australian production standards are. Perhaps the following sentence, which is a direct quote from Rob Walter, ABS head of agricultural statistics, will help:

“Some of those properties in northern Australia are the size of small European countries. For them to know how many cattle they have … can be very difficult”.


I invite noble Lords to think about a local small farmer they know with a few head of cattle on 100 or 200 acres, to contrast those two production systems and imagine what it is like when they try to compete against each other.

I will wrap up by agreeing with the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that it is probably too late for this Government to produce a trade policy. It would not be a very meaningful piece of paper to produce at this point. But this issue very much needs to be part of the debate in the run-up to our next general election. We need to think about what kind of trade we want—what volumes of trade will benefit our food security, our environmental security and all of our futures.

I was at the meeting of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Fairtrade this morning. This year is the 30th anniversary of the fair trade movement. It has made some limited progress, but we still have profound inequality in global trade. Global trade is still not providing us with food security in this age of shocks, and we need to think about the level of trade that is useful to us—trade that is for the public good, rather than a simple maximisation of private profit that comes with a cost to us all.

17:14
Baroness Lawlor Portrait Baroness Lawlor (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the committee for holding the inquiry. I thank the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the committee for getting this report to us today, and I congratulate them on that. I am grateful for the stimulating analysis that it gives. I will restrict myself today to commenting on its rather tentative approach to the benefits of the CPTPP, particularly in paragraphs 12, 49 and 79. There is a reference to the “limited economic gains” in current projections, in paragraph 12; to the benefits of the services provisions perhaps being “more limited” than suggested, in paragraph 49; and to the CPTPP representing only

“a small part of UK trade as a whole”,

in paragraph 79.

I am also grateful for the even more cautious approach of noble Lords on the Benches opposite towards the potential benefits of the CPTPP; the reservations of the noble Lord, Lord Anderson; and the warnings from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, with whom on many matters I agree about the importance of free trade globally, and I have very much welcomed his interventions on other Bills.

We are in uncharted territory so it does not surprise me that there is no definitive map of post-CPTPP benefits for us, or indeed the other parties, as a result of our joining. Though not normally an optimist, I understand why some of the committee’s witnesses, and indeed members, are more tentative in assessing the benefits of the trade agreement, which has not yet come into force for our country. However, in my view, there are good reasons to be not just mildly optimistic but enthusiastic. I am perhaps more so than my noble friend Lord Lansley, with whose analysis on every point I found myself in agreement. I also agree, from conversations that I have had with other parties, that it is, if not likely, at least possible that, not immediately but in the future, the US will once again become a member of this trading partnership.

As my noble friend Lord Trenchard has mentioned, the CPTPP will represent a growing share of global GDP. Today it accounts for around 12% of global GDP, covering 11 countries. The UK will be the 12th, bringing the expected share of global GDP to 15%. By comparison, the US accounts for around 15%, as does the EU, but their shares are declining, whereas those of this region are growing. The projected proportions by 2050 are estimated at 25% for the CPTPP and 10% for the EU.

There are other reasons beyond the economic to be particularly welcoming to this protocol of accession and CPTPP membership. As other noble Lords have noted, it brings us into the Asia-Pacific region to trade under our own laws. In this trading partnership, we accept base arrangements on conformity assessment, rules of origin, performance rights and GIs. Indeed, I am delighted that the UK’s enabling measure, introduced in this House, is now on Report in the Commons. This is, in the best sense, a post-Brexit trade agreement that has been developed to take advantage of our freedoms. We are no longer bound by the EU legal arrangements and trading system. That is a different sort of law. I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, particularly because EU law is not suited to the way in which UK trade and entrepreneurship have developed over centuries.

Our commercial law is an enabling law—a free law. I know that many noble Lords will disagree but let us look at the successes of the City of London from the 17th and 18th centuries onwards. The City overtook Amsterdam as the main trading centre for financial services, and then Paris in the 18th century, to be rivalled only by New York. We must put much of that success down to its ability to attract entrepreneurs and businesspeople setting up in coffee shops, which is where Lloyd’s of London started. They were doing trade across the world and coming to London to have their deals recognised and executed under our law, which was reliable and non-political. It also had the advantage of the reforms initiated by Lord Mansfield, who may be better known to noble Lords as the person who led the abolition of slavery.

There are very good reasons for being delighted that we can trade under our own laws and bring those laws to the rest of the world—indeed, to countries which may want to embrace common-law arrangements for trading. That in itself would be a very good reason to welcome the CPTPP.

Apart from that, if we look at the arrangements for services, the report notes in paragraph 49 that

“the benefits may be more limited than the Government has suggested … in particular the lack of … mutual recognition of professional qualifications”.

Here I welcome paragraph 47, where the evidence of witnesses is summarised as indicating that the CPTPP will bring greater certainty for services and legal protection:

“Witnesses noted that financial, legal and professional services would … benefit from ‘an extra layer of legal protection … a degree of regulatory harmonisation’ and digital … provisions ensuring the flow of data. There were also advantages from the ‘no less favourable treatment’ rule … [which] provides additional certainty and protection”.


My noble friend Lord Trenchard referred to some work by Professor David Collins, who holds the chair of international economic law at City University. Professor Collins has drawn attention to the more comprehensive coverage for digital services and data flows in the CPTPP than in the UK’s existing FTAs that are currently in force with its members. He draws a particular example of the CPTPP’s restrictions on data localisation, which could become more important should countries begin imposing these requirements, but he also points to the most noteworthy benefits being those which relate to the movement of professionals. This arrangement offers greater legal certainty on temporary entry routes for UK businesspeople conducting “fly in, fly out” commercial activities, transfers to branches or subsidiaries, and supplying services as part of contracts or as self- employed entrepreneurs. The schedules of specific commitments in this field are broader than under GATS and cover more categories of personnel.

I conclude by welcoming the report, which has stimulated a very interesting debate in your Lordships’ House. I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I am delighted that we can keep our own laws, trade on our own terms, and promote free markets, competition and the ties that come with trading. Yes, we have bilateral arrangements with most of the existing parties, but I point out to the committee that that is not to say that these cannot be bettered under the new CPTPP. These are baseline rollover FTAs that we have inherited from the EU, but this is the next phase of trade. As noble Lords have noted, this is a dynamic, forward-looking trade treaty and for us to join it and help to shape it in the years to come is not only great for this country but will be great for other developing economies.

17:24
Lord Udny-Lister Portrait Lord Udny-Lister (Con)
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My Lords, like every other speaker, I welcome this debate and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the chair of the International Agreements Committee, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, for enabling it. I also thank them for enabling us to talk about the importance of the CPTPP and the way in which it will deliver for the entire United Kingdom, including all the devolved authorities.

I want to address specifically the geographical context of the UK’s accession and the future role of the CPTPP, as well as how to ensure that British business is fully engaged with it. Before doing so, I draw attention to my declaration in the register of interests, particularly my work for the bank, HSBC.

On the geographical situation at play, I do not think I need to remind anyone in this Chamber that we live in the most uncertain of times—times in which the security of the UK, the values we stand for, and the peace more generally are constantly threatened and eroded. We must therefore always be conscious of the fact that trade is a powerful tool at our disposal, not only for holding back rogue states but for enabling us to play an active role in the geographical landscape of the future. It is right to point out, as did the noble Lord, Lord Lansley, that we are now at a stage where world free trade is under attack like it has never been before. Therefore, organisations such as the CPTPP help to ensure that free trade continues to be at the forefront.

We have entered the CPTPP from a position of strength. As the report before your Lordships’ House explains, the UK is now the second-largest economy within the CPTPP after Japan, and the sixth-largest economy globally. This provides us with an unprecedented opportunity to shape the future of the trading alliance. Therefore, as we contemplate the expansion of the CPTPP, it is of vital importance to the UK that we play a significant role in confronting the future challenges of the trading bloc and standing up for the values that we protected and promoted in our accession last year.

As I have said in the House before, the CPTPP represents a significant milestone in the UK’s ambitious plan to promote free trade and economic co-operation in the post-Brexit world and the post-Covid landscape that we find ourselves in. It is also an important ingredient in the Indo-Pacific tilt policy of the UK—that has been talked about quite a bit today, but it is always worth reminding ourselves that this group of countries represents large populations, growing economies and growing middle classes. All the ingredients of growth in the 21st century lie within the countries in the CPTPP.

I believe that the CPTPP is a true deliverer and a meaningful benefit to UK trade. We should generally be supportive of allowing other nations to join the bloc and to do so in a way similar to that in which we recently have done. That said, expanding membership of the CPTPP poses unique and complex hurdles and, against the changing geographical landscape, the situation demands that the Government provide careful consideration that allocates greater risk analysis when considering the UK’s support for any nation wishing to join in the future.

That has become even more difficult and complex. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, drew our attention to the fact that there is no standing secretariat, as there is in the EU, for example. It is very much left to the rotating chairmanship to lead on these issues, and therefore it is important that the UK thinks carefully about the negotiating team that we already have and that has taken us this far. We should think about whether we continue to keep that negotiating team as a live operational part of DBT, or whether it is just to be disbanded so that, next year, when we start thinking about another country, we have to scrabble around trying to find the right officials to do the work. This is a serious issue to which serious thought has to be given.

A primary challenge and concern is the mechanism that the Government will use to ensure alignment among new members with our existing principles and standards, which we fought for in this agreement. The CPTPP embodies a commitment to high standards in areas such as labour rights, environmental protection, intellectual property rights and market access. Protecting and enhancing these rights is fundamental to the UK’s accession, and I would therefore be keen to understand from my noble friend the Minister how the Government plan to ensure that any potential new member state can demonstrate a genuine commitment to upholding these standards.

I note that several of the countries cited as potential new members would surely be required to undertake significant domestic reforms and adjustments to be able to meet our standards. I therefore seek assurances from the Government that we have in place the necessary resources to ensure that the future accession of any state would never leave the United Kingdom in a situation in which our standards could be inadvertently weakened. The UK could utilise and leverage our not insignificant soft power in helping some of the nations mentioned in the report to undergo the transformative domestic reforms needed to aid their accession to the CPTPP. I hope that the Government actively get engaged in this area. Apart from anything else, there are also enormous commercial opportunities for companies in that space.

As we navigate the complex landscape of international trade, especially at a time when the established world trade order is being actively ignored by some actors, it is important that we uphold the core values that define us as a nation and that our trade policy upholds and safeguards our security interests. We must therefore ensure that the accession of other nations is always considered under the magnifying lens of our values and approached with careful consideration of protecting our national security interest. History has demonstrated that trading blocs such as the CPTPP have a vital role to play in providing stability. In a world which is sadly characterised by shifting power dynamics, regional tensions and emerging security threats, we cannot afford to forget that it is through agreements such as this that we will foster stability.

I am also keen to receive assurances from my noble friend that, when considering potential accession applications of other states in future, this Government stand ready and are sufficiently resourced to ensure that no country will be allowed to join the bloc if it runs the risk of undermining our values. As other nations seek to join, we must make sure that the United Kingdom plays an active and early role in weighing up their compatibility with our stake in the agreement. It is important that any country wishing to join the bloc demonstrates how its participation is fully aligned with our values of individual liberty and respect for human rights. By staying true to these principles, we can ensure that the CPTPP remains a force for good and a testament to the values that we hold dear. These values should be non-negotiable.

Following our accession to the CPTPP, it is not good enough simply to rest on our laurels. We have already heard some of the criticism made by witnesses of the ability to get information. We must work and shape this agreement to meet the demands of the changing world. I put it to noble Lords that, in engaging in the expansion and evolution of the CPTPP, we can assert our influence on shaping the rules and norms governing international trade more widely. It is integral to the protection and safeguarding of our national interests that we not only take up this role but do so quickly.

I turn to UK business. As I and others in your Lordships’ House and the committee have mentioned before, it is imperative that UK SMEs remain fully engaged in the process of shaping our future relations because it is through their active involvement that this relationship will be able to return benefit to the UK. I therefore welcome the update in the report which highlights how the

“Department for Business and Trade has started to engage with business through a number of online initiatives to address these issues”.

However, I concur with the committee’s view that online initiatives alone are not enough and that we have to be proactive and have an in-person approach. On that point, I thank the Minister for his work, because people often underestimate just how important visiting Ministers are for British trade. Unless British Ministers go to those countries, banging the drum and creating opportunity, we will not get the benefits that we so deserve from this. I thank him, because I know that he goes out and does that a lot.

Free trade must be protected and the CPTPP helps us with that. I am sure that, by navigating the challenges ahead, making sure that future partners align with our values and getting out there and showing that we can be a major player in this, we can have an even stronger relationship.

17:35
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, with permission, I will speak in the gap. I congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the committee on an excellent and timely report and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, on presenting it. I will focus on points made by the noble Baroness and others on the parts relating to sanitary and phytosanitary agreements—or, as I would call them, food safety measures. This follows neatly on from what my noble friend Lord Udny-Lister said.

While I welcome this agreement, it is important to realise that the loss of trade since leaving the European Union will have an ongoing cost to our GDP of 4% per annum. That is the background against which we must judge every free trade agreement that we consider.

I will raise with the Minister the implications of this agreement for farming and food security. Clearly, it is in the interests of the UK to accede to this partnership agreement given the current insecurity to food supplies due to hostilities in Ukraine and the Middle East. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, referred to sanitary and phytosanitary arrangements; it is extremely important to say again, as we did when the original international trade arrangements were put in place when we left the European Union, that it is incumbent on our farmers to produce agricultural goods and food to the highest possible levels of animal welfare and food hygiene standards.

There have been recent reports of a pause in the discussions with Canada, which were pulled for reasons which all of us, particularly the farming community, can understand. What is the current position of our relationship with Canada in the context of the CPTPP? I understand that the agreement on our massive exports of cheese to Canada, which is so important to cheese producers in this country, is coming to an end. Can my noble friend outline what will happen when that occurs?

Finally, what is the position on the dispute-resolution mechanism that is available under the agreement? In the circumstances to which my noble friend Lord Udny- Lister referred, where there are differentials between food safety standards in this country, which we are imposing on our producers, and imports from partners under the CPTPP, what can our producers do if there is an eventual conflict? Otherwise, I support this agreement.

17:38
Lord Goldsmith Portrait Lord Goldsmith (Lab)
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My Lords, as this debate has moved rather faster than I anticipated, I beg leave to speak very briefly on one point in the gap. I thank noble Lords who have commented on this report and my noble friend Lady Hayter for introducing it. She raised the interest that Parliament has in treaties—not just trade treaties but all treaties—which I want to underline.

My noble friend made the point, and I entirely agree, that Parliament has limited levers to deal with treaties which the Government have entered into. The CRaG process provides some of those levers but they are limited, and if, for example, the Government do not play ball, they do not work. For example, only the House of Commons has the ability actually to delay the ratification of the treaty, but in order to do that it needs a debate, and to have a debate it needs to have the leave of business managers in the Commons to find the time for that. A debate has been refused in the Commons in relation to the Rwanda treaty, so that is not taking place.

For our own part, we were fortunate to have a debate on Rwanda—and everyone knows what result that reached—but we have not had a response to the resolution from this House during the time that is required. I got a letter from the Home Secretary, plainly written by his officials, who put it in terms that it was my expectation that he would respond to that report by 17 March. It was not my expectation; it is the rule of this House that, when committees make reports, they are responded to by the Government in a certain amount of time. It is unfortunate that that still has not happened. I have written to him again and asked for a response. I do not think there is going to be one; the Rwanda treaty will obviously now be swept up with the Bill.

I believe it is important that Parliament has an interest in treaties, expresses its view and scrutinises those treaties. To do that, it needs to be allowed to use the levers which Parliament itself has created. That is the only point I wanted to make, and I thank the House for listening to me.

17:40
Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, it is a great and unexpected pleasure to follow the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, whose points I very much reinforce from these Benches. This has been a great debate, with some excellent speeches. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, should once again be congratulated on stepping back up to the plate and giving an excellent summary of the committee’s report.

The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, entreated us to be more enthusiastic. Happily, the overall average level of enthusiasm was raised massively by the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, which leaves me to be my normal self.

I am a member of this committee, as were several of today’s speakers, so it is not sensible for me to reiterate the entire debate. I will focus on a few points. As we heard, the committee broadly welcomes the accession of the UK to the CPTPP and any additional economic benefits that might result from new market access to Malaysia and Brunei. However, the committee also acknowledges the limited economic gains suggested by current projections, and indeed by the Government’s own impact assessment.

There are opportunities for UK manufacturers, but, equally, member countries that are geographically closer to each other might find it easier to develop those integrated supply chains that the noble Lord, Lord Udny-Lister, hinted at. When I talk to businesses, I certainly find that they absolutely prefer closer customers when making and exporting things. Clearly, when a market is 60 miles away, it is a heck of a lot easier than when it is several thousand miles away.

I have a couple of specific points. I should note that I am vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Motor Group. The noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, mentioned the automotive industry. The industry has welcomed the side letter signed with Malaysia, which essentially allows for 25% reciprocal regional content for products under a particular heading. That means there is a very high chance that content from these products, particularly engines or batteries, will originate from somewhere else—probably China. This is applicable in both directions between Malaysia and the UK, but it is something that your Lordships and the Government should keep an eye on. I suggest that there are other issues, such as non-tariff issues, around those particular products coming from somewhere outside, including future carbon border regulations and existing issues such as environmental impact and forced labour. A door has been opened and we should police that door quite carefully.

The committee was concerned about Northern Ireland’s direct trade with CPTPP countries, taking the view that it is likely to face restrictions that will not affect the rest of the United Kingdom. Therefore, as a committee, we have requested further information on the Government’s view of what they expect those restrictions to be and ways in which they may be avoided.

The committee welcomes the CPTPP’s provisions on services, while acknowledging that the benefits may be even more limited than the Government have suggested. In particular, it notes the lack of provision on the mutual recognition of professional qualifications, which is a key issue on services, as the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor, mentioned.

It remains to be seen whether the Government’s intended trade benefits will materialise, and here the noble Lord, Lord Marland, hit the nail on the head. The future development of this treaty will be key to how much benefit the United Kingdom can have. Going forward, we should focus on digital services, professional services, and environmental goods and services, because these are the things from which we can benefit. I too join in asking the Government for their analysis of how committed the other partners are to making these substantive changes to the treaty, and how they will go about driving those changes which would so benefit the upside of this treaty.

The committee welcomes the provisions of the accession protocol which avoid threatening the European Patent Convention. It was very important that this was done; it was good work, and it remains an important part.

It also welcomes the report from the Trade and Agriculture Commission and the joint statement on the environment. These respectively state that UK food and drink rules, as well as environmental protections, do not have to change as a result of CPTPP accession. However, the committee notes the concerns raised by witnesses regarding the UK import of palm oil.

Building on a point made by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hayter and Lady Bennett, I draw attention to the evidence of LSE assistant professor of law, Dr Leonelli, who argued that the CPTPP chapter on sanitary and phytosanitary—SPS—measures could see UK regulators pressured into recognising other countries’ less stringent food safety standards, or other SPS standards, as equivalent to our own. This is a point that has been made. Unlike the UK’s trade arrangements with Australia and New Zealand, the CPTPP’s arrangement does not specify that the final judgment on SPS equivalence rests with the importing party. Instead, further state-to-state dispute settlement does not apply to the SPS chapters with Australia and New Zealand but does apply to the CPTPP. Again, this raises the point about how the Government intend to address the potential risk of equivalence provisions leading to regulatory chill, as we have heard. It would really help our understanding of that to know the Government’s approach to ISDS, which appears to flip and flop depending on which trade deal is being negotiated.

The committee raised the importance of workers’ terms and conditions and called on the Government to monitor closely the employment practices of our CPTPP partners and to be prepared to act should they identify issues. Can the Minister please confirm that this will indeed be done?

How will this best benefit UK plc? Our evidence suggests that the Government do not currently have an adequate plan for promoting CPTPP opportunities. We heard from a number of your Lordships concerns about the extent to which businesses in general and SMEs in particular will take advantage of what the treaty has to offer. The report sets out many recommendations as to how the Minister’s department should go about helping business, especially SMEs, to tap into the potential that there is. I believe that the Minister has taken note of this, and it will be important for him to suggest that he did.

I am very pleased that the Minister is here today. As I have suggested, he sometimes takes the hyperbolic end of the enthusiasm scale, so I entreat him to adopt—which I think he will—a realistic approach to the treaty. Even if UK business is effectively activated and increases its trading with CPTPP partners, the actual economic effect on UK GDP is vanishingly small, as we heard from many, including the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. We know that the Pacific bloc has been growing quickly and faster than other blocs; I agree with my noble friend Lord Purvis that that is most likely on the back of Chinese growth, so we will see what happens going forward. But we also know that we all expect—as do the Government—to have a very tiny share of that growth. We will have only a tiny proportion of what has already been lost by leaving the EU’s huge single market. It is close to two orders of magnitude smaller: 1% of what we have lost.

In truth, if joining the CPTPP is anything, it could be seen as a statement of intent, rather than an actual deal that creates significant trade. What is that statement? A phrase that has come up on a number of occasions and is laced throughout government comments is “a tilt to the Pacific”. What does that mean? There is little supporting material beyond that soundbite to help us to understand the consequences of that tilt and whether it is beneficial to the United Kingdom. It has been said that there is potential for the CPTPP to be a forum for engagement with partners in the Indo-Pacific—despite its primary function being a free trade agreement with no secretariat and little structure. If that is the case, how will that work? Would not something such as the RCEP be a better version of that?

The integrated review and the integrated review refresh are no help, as they lack any detail on how the Government intend to utilise the CPTPP in a geostrategic manner. Therefore, the committee asks for further detail on how the Government expect membership of the CPTPP to contribute to the delivery of their geopolitical strategic aims for the region. I add: what are those aims? Several of your Lordships, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Udny-Lister, have mentioned the accession of new countries to the group. On the issue of China, to date, Ministers have ducked and dived to avoid answering questions on the Government’s position. At some point soon, it will be time for the Government to spell out their approach to the accession of other countries, including China and Taiwan, which my noble friend mentioned, and to confirm a role for Parliament in any negotiations for new countries to accede to the treaty.

Perhaps one question that the Minister can tackle, without breaching others, is whether it is the department’s understanding that the current applicants may be tackled in any order, irrespective of the order in which they lodged their application to join, or whether there is a first-in, first-considered understanding with partners. For Parliament, the Government should at least offer the same process of consultation that they would for a new, stand-alone FTA partner—that is a CraG-related process.

Overall, as we have heard, the committee reiterates the need for the Government to publish a trade policy that sets out defined priorities in areas of benefit to the UK. The UK needs to have a coherently formulated trade and investment policy that is recognised as an integral part of a wider industrial and trade strategy focused on competitiveness and productivity. That wider policy must shape trade policy, as the two work together.

In conclusion, I return to the phrase, “a tilt to the Pacific”. Fellow members of the committee will recall that I have a problem—quite a big problem—with it. We all know that a tilt—or, indeed, “a pivot”, which is used interchangeably—is a zero-sum game. Any tilt towards something is accompanied by a tilt away from something else. In geostrategy terms, is that really the message that the Government intend to communicate? If it is, and if the CPTPP is indeed a tilt towards the Pacific, can the Minister explain which regions and countries we are tilting away from and why?

17:55
Lord McNicol of West Kilbride Portrait Lord McNicol of West Kilbride (Lab)
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My Lords, like many others who have spoken, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town and to the International Agreements Committee for its contribution to this debate and its members’ tireless work on this matter and so many others. On these Benches, we support the accession to the CPTPP. I echo the kind words of the noble Lord, Lord Purvis of Tweed, about the energy, the exuberance, the drive and the openness of the Minister, Lord Johnson of Lainston, in these discussions.

In our debates on CPTPP accession over the last year, we have made our concerns clear—at Second Reading, in Committee and on Report—about the threats of ISDS provisions and the need to safeguard our own food standards and environmental protections while also ensuring that other nations comply with international labour laws and other best practices. The committee’s report echoes our opinion on the limited financial impact of the CPTPP, noting that it was “underwhelmed” by the specific trade benefits. As my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town said, we have sought to ensure that what is, in reality, a modest change in our ability to do trade does not come at the expense of our ability to regulate and maintain our own high standards. I am glad that, throughout our debates, the Minister was able to make several assurances to this House and in Grand Committee. He said in one reply that such amendments were

“unnecessary because we are doing this anyway”

and that he

“would be surprised—that is the language I wish to use—if the evaluation and monitoring reports did not cover information on … ISDS cases”

and other relevant issues. He went on to say that

“an overview of the work of the committees under the agreement to facilitate co-operation and implementation … is particularly relevant when it comes to labour standards, environmental standards, reduction of the risk of deforestation and many other areas”.—[Official Report, 16/1/24; cols. 362-63.]

Those are the Minister’s words, and we will come back to them when we look through the evaluation and monitoring reports and the areas they cover. I sincerely hope that the effects will be positive, as the Minister has repeatedly assured us.

The report raises a number of important issues, a few of which I will reiterate and drill down on. The Federation of Small Businesses rightly makes the point that a significant barrier to the UK taking full advantage of new free trade agreements remains a lack of knowledge and capacity among small and medium-sized enterprises. I echo its and the committee’s recommendation that the department engage a CPTPP taskforce with undertaking a regional roadshow aimed at engaging businesses, demystifying aspects such as rules of origin provisions, and raising awareness of how companies and businesses might take advantage of this new trade deal when it is finally acceded to at the end of this year after the last country accepts us in.

The current system, which effectively requires businesses to seek out information from government, does not do enough in itself to stimulate trade. Although, in his oral evidence to the committee, the Minister said he was “agnostic” about how best to approach cutting through to business, I hope he becomes a believer in the recommendations from the FSB and the committee. Small businesses face far too many barriers to trade. That is why I was glad when the Labour shadow Secretary of State for Business and Trade announced in November that Labour will be working in collaboration with the Federation of Small Businesses, the FSB, as part of a small business export task force to find practical ways in which we can best support SMEs in their desire to access foreign markets.

The noble Lord, Lord Fox, touched on Dr Leonelli of the LSE and I want to echo the concerns she raised giving evidence to the committee on sanitary and phytosanitary controls. She spoke of the possibility that the threat of dispute settlement provisions may lead to our high standards not being enforced due to fears of legal action. This was raised many times both in Committee and on Report. Like the IA committee, I would like to see the Government set out how they intend to address the threat, as the noble Lord, Lord Fox, said, of regulatory chill, where our Government or companies make decisions not to push forward for fear of being challenged by other Governments.

I was glad that the report echoes the point that I and many others have made in the House about ISDS and the threats to the environment, such as deforestation in Malaysia as a result of palm oil production. In particular, it echoes the points on labour standards and the fact that arbitration does not concern itself with breaches of any workers’ rights, but only focuses very narrowly on where a breach has impacted trade and the effect that that had on workers’ rights. That is just wrong. The focus on pure trade over labour standards is something that we on these Benches find deeply unsettling.

The noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Purvis, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, touched on CRaG. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, specifically talked about the other place not having a Rwanda debate. I understand that, in the Commons, the Secretary of State previously promised a CRaG debate and the Minister of State in the other place promised one in the Bill Committee, but the leader in the Commons has just confirmed that there will be no such debate on the CPTPP. Time, through the managers down the other end, has not been made available. If we are going to properly debate and deal with these issues, time needs to be available, both in this House and in the Commons for the debates to take place.

I also wish to raise concerns made by my colleagues in the other place about the vote on the substantive Motion. At each stage of the debates in this House and in debates on other agreements, there has been a call from across the political Benches—from Cross-Benchers, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats, Labour and the Greens—for proper substantive debates on trade deals. The words the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, used about scrutiny, being able to shine a light and actually giving the department itself a greater ability to push back in negotiations, are wise words. This is something that we should look to enhance and deal with, rather than leaving—we all understand why the finer details of the negotiations need to take place behind closed doors—the setting of the parameters. Whether this is at the start of the discussions or monitoring them as we follow through the discussions, it should be before we are given a fait accompli, as we have been in so many cases. It is so important.

I will finish by again thanking the IAC and the seven members of the committee who have spoken today, for their time, consideration and hard work in dealing with the points that were raised in Committee and on Report, and for their deliberations and the report. I look forward to the Minister's response.

18:05
Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait The Minister of State, Department for Business and Trade (Lord Johnson of Lainston) (Con)
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I thank all noble Lords for the extraordinary, high-quality debate that we have enjoyed today. I hope people at home are watching this discussion, because it is great proof of the value of this House and its contributions.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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They are crowded around their television sets.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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They are hopefully crowded around their iPads; the noble Lord should know that we have updated from the old-fashioned wireless—which, of course, we have in my household.

I want to say thank you, genuinely, to the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith. I thank the International Agreements Committee for its report. I have a draft set of responses to the report, which will be formulated appropriately and given to the noble Lords as soon as possible. It really was excellent, and I think all the points that the Government have been challenged on are worthy of a response. I am extremely grateful for the mature approach the report took to the value of this trade deal and seeing the optimistic benefits of the CPTPP, within the reasonable framework that we will operate to.

It is possible that noble Lords may hear cheering if they listen carefully, because a few moments ago the Bill was passed in the House of Commons. I am sure we all feel the ripple—the Mexican wave, which is appropriate as it is a CPTPP member—coming down the Corridor to us. Before I go further and answer many noble Lords’ points, I refer Members to my register of interest. I do not believe there are specific conflicts, but I do have interests in CPTPP countries.

I have tried to group the comments made in this important debate and so, if I may, I will go through them. I will try to refer specifically to noble Lords themselves. I will highlight a few individuals, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Lawlor. I congratulate her for giving a succinct and powerful description of the benefits of free trade, which often we forget. It is right that, in a scrutiny environment such as this House, we look at the problems, issues or challenges that might present themselves with a piece of legislation or a new treaty. To have the truly positive case for free trade made so clearly and powerfully is something that I welcome, and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness for that.

I am very grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Trenchard, for his words. Again, he has been a passenger on the free trade express over the last year and a half since I have taken this position. I am extremely grateful for his advice and expert opinion on Japan, and the very positive case that Japan makes in terms of our trade relationship with the CPTPP and the associated benefits we have, both through having a trade agreement and an association with it through this process.

I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marland, for his very generous comments about our joint efforts to spread the benefits of UK trade around the world. If anyone has the most air miles on these red Benches, it must be a close competition between the noble Lords, Lord Purvis and Lord Marland. Both noble Lords are doing such important work, whether in spreading democracy and helping complex situations be resolved, or in pushing the Commonwealth. While this is not a debate about the Commonwealth, it is important to note how many countries that make up CPTPP are Commonwealth members. It is absolutely right that we should use this as further leverage to work with our Commonwealth peers. I will certainly take to my colleagues in the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Marland.

I am always grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kerr, for his comments as to how we can better manage our trade process. If I may, I will just draw his attention, as someone so distinguished and who lauded the EU’s FTA negotiation process, to the fact that I do not think the EU has done a trade deal in my political lifetime. The most recent one was after a culmination of 17 years of negotiation, and the current ones are all live after many years. We have managed to close this deal in an extremely effective time period.

I turn to the process of CRaG which has been well raised by noble Lords. We made a clear commitment under the Grimstone convention that, if there was time, we would have a debate, and this is exactly what we are doing today. My colleagues and I have made ourselves totally and freely available to engage on every issue. Officials have been extremely open in responding to questions and challenges and I am glad to see some of them here today. I am particular aware of issues, such as SPS protection which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, or agriculture, raised by the noble Lord, Lord McNicol, as well as points made by other speakers on the Front Bench from all parties. I think we have exceeded expectations in the work we have done in order to project that necessary element of debate.

I am not trying to avoid the point, but it is not for me to comment on the activities of the other place. I will leave that to them. It is right to be very comfortable in knowing that any new accession will be equally bound by the CRaG process. This is extremely important. It would be completely unreasonable if that were not the case. The Government have committed to that and I am very comfortable in making a further Front Bench commitment to it.

It is worth touching on some of the sub-issues that have come up in this debate. The noble Lord, Lord Fox, wisely raised SPS measures, and comments were made about ISDS. I believe we had a discussion earlier in this Chamber about the brevity of speeches and the importance of avoiding repetition, but I am going to have to repeat myself, if I may, and test the patience of noble Lords. There is no derogation. It says so in Hansard. It has been in Hansard before. There should be a collected, bound edition of my repeated statements in Hansard about free trade agreements that do not derogate from the security of our sanitary and phytosanitary provisions. It is very important to be comfortable about this. Hormone- injected beef, chlorinated chicken or dangerous pesticides which are banned here are not allowed into the UK on account of the FTA. This is a matter under our own control. It is important that consumers hear this.

When I talk to people about free trade deals, a lot of them worry that, somehow, this will result in a tidal wave of deadly products. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the UK becoming a dumping ground for dangerous products. Any decision to allow so-called dangerous products into the UK is a matter for the UK Border Agency, the food safety authorities and the Government. If that is the case, it has nothing to do with this FTA, which is important in the sense that it changes our position on tariffs and how we trade with each of the different countries. I just want to reassure noble Lords and the public that nothing will change.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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To respond briefly to the Minister, of course, there is “allowing”, and there is also what checking is being done to make sure that it does not happen anyway. That is the kind of checking I was referring to.

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness. The checking is a matter for the Food Standards Agency. We have made a number of assertions. It believes that this FTA will not result in additional risk for it. I do not wish to be contentious. I always listen very closely to the noble Baroness’s comment about free trade. We do not share the same views on its benefits. I listened to her very carefully and I noticed that at no point did she mention the principle of the consumer. I am particularly focused on making sure that the consumer benefits from these free trade deals—that they see prices come down and the range of products broaden.

A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Fox, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, mentioned the concept of proximity being at the core of trade. For many goods, it is right and in fact efficient to have a proximous concept of trade. I think of the idea of swapping beef herds, in terms of practicality—although I think we sell better beef than the Australians, and certainly more specialist types—so there is a market in that sense. However, if we look at investment, which is an important element of the CPTPP, our two biggest investment partners in terms of growth and current value are the United States and now India. They are clearly not the most proximous countries to the UK, so it is important to understand that, in modern trade, in services, the digital provision of services and financial investment, the world truly is our oyster.

Speaking of investment: the ISDS concern is raised continually. As Investment Minister, I believe that strong investment protections for investors into the UK are at the core of our offering. If, at any point, investors felt that their investment rights would be derogated, it would be much harder for all of us—and whoever stands in my place as Investment Minister—to get the vital money that we need for our infrastructure into this country. These ISDS provisions are enormously beneficial for us. I feel totally safe in offering them to other countries. I do not believe that there is any derogation of our ability to manage our economy, our ambitions for net zero, how we treat our workforce or any other measure. Investing in these CPTPP countries protects our businesses, particularly in countries such as Malaysia where we now have these protections.

That brings me briefly to the services point—

Lord Kerr of Kinlochard Portrait Lord Kerr of Kinlochard (CB)
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I entirely agree with the Minister about ISDS. Will he confirm that ISDS will be in any trade deal we sign with India?

Lord Johnson of Lainston Portrait Lord Johnson of Lainston (Con)
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This is not in my notes. I cannot confirm what will be in our trade deal with India. I stress the importance of protecting our investor base when we invest internationally. It is right that the services principle has been raised. One of the most effective elements of the CPTPP treaty revolves around our agricultural access, where there is a high degree of compatibility between what we produce and what these markets want, as there is with goods. Noble Lords have raised this on a number of occasions. The noble Lord, Lord McNicol, raised the point about the Society of Motor Manufacturers and Traders, which particularly welcomes the relationship with Malaysia, where there is a different tariff approach. The rules of origin will simplify a lot of activity when we come to work with these countries. We do a lot of manufacturing trade with countries such as Japan, Malaysia, Vietnam and other CPTPP countries.

Services are the future. Some 80% of our economy and its growth are structured around services. The services chapters in the CPTPP can go further. This is a living agreement. We will build on the chapters, particularly on digital, that allow us to expand our services access. There are important basic building blocks around professional qualification recognition and plans to develop this effectively, to promote collaboration between professional qualification providers. It promotes collaboration between regulators. It allows for more effective business mobility, which is important. Someone who is posted to Canada on a work contract can take their spouse. There is first-time access and security for business mobility in countries such as Malaysia and Brunei, as well as other opportunities, such as transportation in Chile, and a number of other key points relating to digital provision and preventing data localisation. These all sound quite technical but are very important in firing the starting gun on further discussions.

A number of Peers, including the noble Lords, Lord Purvis, Lord Kerr and Lord Anderson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, have mentioned that these further discussions are encapsulated around a general review. This is a useful mechanism for us to participate in before we become a full member, as we are doing. This conversation will certainly include how to build on the services offering that is in the CPTPP. We welcome it. Our teams will be fully dedicated to it.

The noble Lords, Lord Kerr and Lord Marland, looked at the secretariat which will help us in these negotiations. I ask noble Lords to forgive me if I have missed any who also made this point. We have 14 full- time personnel who are part of the negotiating team and who now make up the CPTPP unit within the Department for Business and Trade. As I understand it, they are permanent and will not be moved to negotiate another deal. They will stay, I hope, to focus on making sure that we have a close relationship with the CPTPP countries. If a permanent secretariat is developed in the coming years, they would feed into that.

We want this organisation to grow, have deep roots and be strong for the future. I do not know what the plans are relating to the secretariat, but these are always live conversations, and of course we will feed in where appropriate. Once we become a full member, we will be able to put our platform forward with more vigour.

A question which is oft raised is how the department promotes the CPTPP to small businesses. I am very pleased that there is an SME chapter in the CPTPP; it is important, because it helps all economies focus on how they can help small and medium-sized enterprises to make the most of the CPTPP. This is at the core of all the economies that are participating in the treaty.

I am aware of the difficulty in promoting quite a complex treaty principle—there are rules of origin and comparable treaties, as we have treaties with many of these countries already, so it is not necessarily clear sometimes which treaty you should use, and you have to pick which of the two. We have done a great deal of work to ensure that our online access is powerful enough to enable people to make these decisions. We have a unit which specialises in promoting our free trade agenda and the treaties that we have signed up to. It has run a number of workshops. We need to work with the Chambers of Commerce to make sure that we get the message out.

I am totally aware of the need to ensure that this is a success, and I welcome the challenge. Crucially, the department sees it as part of its conceptual and fundamental mission. This Government want to be proud of their post-Brexit vision of Britain. Therefore, it is up to us to ensure that we deliver, by making the necessary noise to get as many businesses involved, both in exporting and in taking advantage of this treaty.

I hope I have covered the majority of the points raised. I am always comfortable coming back to noble Lords and the committee. Again, I congratulate the committee, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, for the work they do and the high degree of collaboration that they have with me.

On the question of our trade policy, people hunt for a matrix or template of what tomorrow holds. Looking back on our accession to the CPTPP, I am reminded that it has been likened to the next-door neighbour’s cat with a cough—I cannot remember quite what the quote was from the noble Lord, Lord Purvis. But I think this is a lion that will roar. Think of the rather extraordinary counterintuitive decision to say that we are going to pivot—that we had a relationship with the European Union and are now going to look for bigger and better relationships around the rest of the world. That is exactly the sort of economic decision that a good businessperson would take. Unquestionably, there is no derogation in the need to have the highest-quality trading relationship with our European neighbours, but where is the future? That is the point.

If you asked any of the next generation coming through—some of them are in this Chamber today—they would say that we should look to Asia and the growing populations. My noble friend Lady Lawlor rightly pointed to the astonishing levels of growth coming from those economies. In this country, for a politician, Cabinet Minister or Prime Minister—the leadership in this great nation of ours—to decide to go for the Pacific in this way and join the Comprehensive and Progressive Agreement for Trans-Pacific Partnership is an astounding jump of the mind that I am sure previous senior mandarins of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office must be aghast at—such out-of-the-box thinking.

I am enormously proud to have been party to bringing this legislation through this House and promoting it with all noble Lords in this place. If I can repeat them, the countries are Australia, Brunei, Canada, Chile, Peru, Singapore, New Zealand, Vietnam, Japan, Malaysia and Mexico. We are proud to join that phenomenal cohort. I am excited about the future and very positive about the opportunities that this trade treaty will bring. In my view, it will far outstrip the predictions made by everyone in this House, and even the Government themselves. I am grateful for this opportunity to discuss it.

18:24
Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town Portrait Baroness Hayter of Kentish Town (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank all the speakers. It has been an excellent debate. The Minister referred to people watching it at home—I do not know whether he was referring just to my husband and his wife, but there may be others as well.

There has been in the debate a broad welcome for our membership, whether because it is a post-Brexit use of our freedoms or because of its real potential, particularly in services. Some talked about there being a very positive welcome, and some were wholly enthusiastic—but that has all now been trumped by a roar from the Minister, who calls it “astounding”. We will see. Some others have raised questions and wanted reassurances over ISDS or the need for a secretariat. What is sure is that trade deals are only enablers; they are not engines of growth. Businesses will have to be helped and assisted if they are to make those hopes into a reality. We will look to the Government for their role in that.

The partnership’s very future will be important, including its membership, scope and implementation. Noble Lords talked about the UK helping to shape that development—one of them even said lead that development. Whatever happens, I hope that Parliament can be involved in the direction of travel, including on the question of expansion of membership. As my noble and learned friend Lord Goldsmith said, if the Government do not play ball, even the current CRaG will not work. Some of us want it to go further and be improved, to give Parliament real grip over international agreements.

I cannot mention everyone who has spoken, but I would like to mention the noble Lord, Lord Marland. He urged the House to let the report do the speaking. I thank the committee chair, the members who did the work and the secretariat, led by Rhiannon Williams, and assisted on this by Bruce Sinclair and Sophie Andrews-McCarroll. I think all of us know that, when we get a good report, it is mostly their pens that have done it, rather than our brain power. I thank the House for its attention today and commend the report to the House.

Motion agreed.

Extremism Definition and Community Engagement

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Statement
The following Statement was made in the House of Commons on Thursday 14 March.
“With your permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement about the next steps that we are taking in the Government’s strategy to counter extremism and to build greater national resilience and social cohesion.
The United Kingdom is a success story: a multinational, multi-ethnic and multifaith democracy, stronger because of our diversity. However, our democracy and values of inclusivity and tolerance are under challenge from extremist groups that are radicalising our young people and driving greater polarisation within and between communities to further their own ends. In order to protect our democratic values and enhance social cohesion, it is important both to reinforce what we all have in common and to be clear and precise in identifying the dangers posed by extremism.
As our new definition makes clear, extremism can lead to the radicalisation of individuals, deny people their full rights and opportunities, suppress freedom of expression, incite hatred, weaken social cohesion and, ultimately, lead to acts of terrorism. Most extremist materials and activities are not illegal and do not meet the terrorism or the national security threshold. For example, Islamist and neo-Nazi groups in Britain are operating lawfully, but they advocate and work towards the replacement of democracy with an Islamist or Nazi society.
The Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities has been working with local authorities, civil society and faith groups, especially in those areas where social cohesion is most under strain, to de-escalate tensions and to explore the most constructive support that we can offer. From our engagement we hear widespread unease about the safety and security of community organisations, political candidates and elected officials. Councillors have been threatened with violence; council meetings have been disrupted; council officers and elected members talk of walking a tightrope, terrified of inadvertently saying the wrong thing or offending one side or the other. Many choose to remain silent and to take no action, such is the chilling element of these extremist groups on our democracy.
It is gravely concerning that the conflict in the Middle East is driving further polarisation. We have seen a terrible increase in anti-Semitic and anti-Muslim hate crime, as well as a very significant increase in radicalisation. Troublingly, there is also evidence that some Islamists and extreme right-wing groups and others who seek to tear our society apart are working together to maximise the reach of their message and cause. That is why the work of civil society organisations such as the Community Security Trust and Tell MAMA, as well as Muslims Against Anti-Semitism, the educational charity Solutions Not Sides and the Forum for Discussion of Israel and Palestine, is so important. We have provided additional funding for the CST and Tell MAMA to counter anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hatred, and we will do more. We will shortly establish a new fund to provide additional, direct and tangible support for grass-roots organisations, building bridges and fighting division. I commend those who are doing so much to counter prejudice.
Working in civil society, it is critical that we do not unwittingly, or through ignorance, fund or otherwise support organisations or individuals who are themselves extremist. In the past, it has unfortunately been the case that extremist groups and actors have sought to present themselves as moderate voices representative of majority or mainstream opinion. The Government have had a definition of extremism since 2011. It has helped inform our Prevent counterterrorism work and was designed to assist the Government in engagement. But in a considerable number of cases organisations and individuals with views that are clearly extreme have nevertheless benefited from state engagement, endorsement and support, and furthermore have exploited that association to further their extremist agendas.
Among the most significant was Shakeel Begg, who was labelled an Islamist extremist by a judge. Mr Begg, an NHS chaplain and regular speaker at state schools, ran Lewisham Islamic Centre and was on both the Metropolitan Police’s independent advisory group in Lewisham and Lewisham’s standing advisory committee on religious education. In 2016, Mr Begg sued the BBC when it described him, accurately, as an extremist. The judge in the case, Mr Justice Haddon-Cave, conducted his own scrupulous research, identifying many occasions when Mr Begg had advocated extreme positions, including promoting and encouraging religious violence, and by telling a Muslim audience that violence in support of Islam would constitute a man’s greatest deed. Mr Justice Haddon-Cave not only dismissed Mr Begg’s claim but drew specific attention to the danger of extremists exploiting sponsorship from state institutions. He outlined the need for an updated and more precise definition of extremism to guide engagement by government and others.
We have since seen how figures of potential extremism concern have been able to work with the Crown Prosecution Service and the Metropolitan Police, co-opt charities and benefit from public funding. We know from William Shawcross’s excellent independent review of Prevent that such engagement has inadvertently provided a platform, funding or legitimacy for groups or individuals who oppose our shared values. This apparent legitimising of their views can lead extremists of all ideologies to be emboldened and to exert greater influence. That is why today my department is publishing an updated, more precise and rigorous definition of extremism, alongside a set of cross-government engagement principles for use when engaging with external groups. There is also detailed guidance on what the definition does and does not capture. We are also setting up a new counterextremism centre of excellence in my department, as a world-leading authority on best practice, data and research.
Our plans, drawn up in close collaboration with the Home Office, will enable the Government to express more clearly than ever before which groups fall within the extremism definition, point to the evidence, and explain the funding and engagement consequences. They will also support national efforts to counter the work of extremists who promote their ideologies both online and offline. The new definition will strengthen vital front-line counter-radicalisation work. The new centre of excellence will also help us to understand the role played by state actors and state-linked organisations in extremist activity that is taking place in our country. The wider knowledge of what constitutes extremist behaviour and who is behind it will, I hope, help all of us to identify potential threats, and to take steps to challenge and marginalise them.
Critically, the rights that we enjoy in the United Kingdom extend to everyone. Freedom of expression, freedom of religion and belief, the rule of law, democracy and equal rights—these are the cornerstones of our civilised society that government and Parliament, on both sides of the House, strive always to uphold. To be clear, our definition will not affect gender-critical campaigners, those with conservative religious beliefs, trans activists, environmental protest groups or those exercising their proper right to free speech. In drawing up the new definition, the Government have taken every possible precaution to strike a balance between protecting fundamental rights and safeguarding citizens. Our definition draws on the work of Dame Sara Khan, the Government’s independent reviewer of social cohesion, and Sir Mark Rowley, the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, before his appointment to that post.
The proposed definition will hold that extremism is the promotion or advancement of an ideology based on violence, hatred or intolerance that aims to: negate or destroy the fundamental rights and freedoms of others; undermine, overturn or replace the UK’s system of liberal parliamentary democracy and democratic rights; or intentionally create a permissive environment for others to achieve those results. While the Government in no way intend to restrict freedom of expression, religion or belief, we cannot be in a position where, unwittingly or not, we sponsor, subsidise or support in any way organisations and individuals opposed to the freedoms that we hold dear.
Across the House, I am sure that we agree that organisations such as the British National Socialist Movement and Patriotic Alternative, which promote neo-Nazi ideology and argue for forced repatriation, a white ethno-state and the targeting of minority groups for intimidation, are precisely the type of groups about which we should be concerned and whose activities we will assess against the new definition. The activities of the extreme right wing are a growing worry. The targeting of both Muslim and Jewish communities and individuals by these groups is a profound concern requiring concerted action.
As with our definition of extremism, it is important that we be precise in our use of language when discussing Islamism. Islamism should never be confused with Islam. Islam is a great faith, a religion of peace that provides spiritual nourishment for millions, inspires countless acts of charity, and celebrates the virtues of generosity, compassion and kindness. Islamism is a totalitarian ideology that seeks to divide, calls for the establishment of an Islamic state governed by sharia law, and seeks the overthrow of liberal democratic principles. It has its roots in the thinking of the founder of the Muslim Brotherhood, Hassan al-Banna, the founder of Jamaat-e-Islami, Abul A’la al-Maududi, and the Muslim Brotherhood ideologue Sayyid Qutb. The Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood is, of course, Hamas. Organisations such as the Muslim Association of Britain, which is the British affiliate of the Muslim Brotherhood, and other groups such as CAGE and MEND, give rise to concern because of their Islamist orientation and views. We will be holding those and other organisations to account to assess whether they meet our definition of extremism, and will take action as appropriate.
There are, of course, further steps that we will take in the coming days and weeks to marginalise extremist groups, and to support and strengthen the communities where extremists are most active and spreading division. They will include responding to Dame Sara Khan’s forthcoming report on social cohesion and democratic resilience, and Lord Walney’s independent review of how to counter political violence and disruption. In this debate, we must never forget about the experiences of victims of extremism who are targeted by extremist groups and the severe and distressing impact that that has on their lives, and I am pleased that Dame Sara Khan will be addressing that in her forthcoming report.
As the Prime Minister has said, the time has come for us all to stand together to combat the forces of division and beat this poison. The liberties that we hold dear, and indeed the democratic principles that we are all sent here to uphold, require us to counter and challenge the extremists who seek to intimidate, to coerce and to divide. We must be clear-eyed about the threat that we face, precise about where that threat comes from, and rigorous in defending our democracy. That means upholding freedom of expression, religion and belief when it is threatened, facing down harassment and hate, supporting the communities facing the greatest challenge from extremist activity, and ensuring that the House and the country are safe, free and united. I commend this Statement to the House”.
18:27
Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, hateful extremism threatens the safety of our communities and the unity of our country. It is a serious problem demanding a serious response. When it comes to national security, the threat of radicalisation and the scourge of Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, neo-Nazism or any other corrosive hatred, the whole House can and should stand together. I welcome that the Statement addresses concerns about the dangers facing our elected representatives. We can all agree that nobody who has stepped up to take on a role as an act of public service should find themselves facing threats or harassment as a result, either to themselves or to their families and staff.

However, I have some questions. As far back as 7 June 2011, the then Conservative Home Secretary told the other place:

“If organisations do not support the values of democracy, human rights, equality before the law, participation in society … we will not work with them and we will not fund them”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/6/11; col. 53.]


What has been happening between 2011 and now? Have Ministers been engaging with groups that they now regard as extremist?

I welcome that the Statement says strongly and clearly that the diversity of our country makes us stronger. I agree wholeheartedly with that. We all need to show that we mean it. The way in which the Government do this work matters and the language that we all use is important. At a time when we face the risk of real division in our communities, it is crucial that all of us in politics avoid fanning the flames of division any further.

Labour will want to scrutinise the Government’s plans in this area, as in any other, but if Ministers behave responsibly then we will engage in good faith. However, given the sensitivities of these issues, it was unhelpful that, before the Statement was finally made to Parliament, we had to endure days of briefing, and inevitably speculation, about the scope of the new definition and who might be covered by it.

There was a longer debate on this Statement when Michael Gove made it in another place, and I do not propose to revisit all the arguments made there, but I think this House would like to understand more about exactly what the Government propose to do. If the means by which it is decided that an organisation meets the criteria in the new definition is to be truly evidence-led, the process must be robust and be allowed to take its course. The nature of that process is, at least to me, still rather opaque.

I have some questions about how the definition will work in practice. How will the new centre of excellence operate and how it will be resourced? Who will take the decision to declare that an organisation meets the definition of extremism, and is that decision subject to appeal? Can the Minister confirm that this will apply only to central government and not to local or regional government or devolved Administrations? Is it intended that it will apply, now or at any later stage, to other public bodies or to services such as the police or universities? What is happening with the appointment of a new Islamophobia adviser?

I have talked to people from a number of groups from different faith communities, many of whom are worried that they may find themselves caught by this new definition. The Statement says that the definition

“will not affect gender-critical campaigners, those with conservative religious beliefs, trans activists, environmental protest groups or those exercising their proper right to free speech”.

Can the Minister say any more about which groups it will affect, and on what basis the Government have chosen to draw the line?

I have a few more questions. We all know there has been a huge surge in online extremism. What action is being taken across government to assess and confront online hate? Will the Government be publishing a new cross-government counter-extremism strategy, given that the last one is now very out of date? Will it include action to rebuild the resilience and cohesion of our communities? What new funding will there be in this area and what will be done to invest in multi-faith dialogue? Given the appalling surge in anti-Semitism and Islamophobia in recent months, will we soon see an updated hate crime action plan?

To tackle extremism we need to work with people of good will at all levels. The Statement says that DLUHC has been working with faith groups, civil society and local councils. All of those have a crucial role to play in tackling extremism, but as shadow Faith Minister, I talk to a lot of faith groups and I have no idea which were consulted or what the results of that consultation were. Can the Minster tell us more about the consultation and its findings?

We all agree that we need strong action to tackle the corrosive forms of hatred that devastate lives and damage our communities. This is a moment when politicians must take firm action, but it is also a moment when we need to be statesmen and stateswomen. We should remember the words of the most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, who warned that, against the backdrop of growing divisions, it is for political leaders to provide “a conciliatory tone” and to

“pursue policies that bring us together, not risk driving us apart”.

Keir Starmer has made it clear that if Ministers behave responsibly, if they reach out to other parties to seek to build consensus, rather than using the issue for party gain in a pre-election period, we will engage in good faith. I hope the Minister can give us good assurances on this front. I look forward to her reply.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Sherlock, most of whose wise words I agree with. I am grateful to the Minister for our meeting earlier.

The majority of us agree that hateful extremism and hate crimes threaten society and the safety of our communities and undermine social cohesion. I will speak quite plainly today. The Government’s new non-statutory definition of extremism has not been universally welcomed or embraced, and it has created concerns that it will be used disproportionately to target British Muslim communities and organisations that the Government of the day may disagree with.

Singling out a number of mainstream law-abiding British Muslim organisations that have contributed to society over many years sets a dangerous precedent, undermining democracy, religious freedoms and free speech. I echo the words of the noble Baroness about the leaking and briefing that has been taking place over the last few weeks. It was briefed that, for example, the Muslim Council of Britain could be the sort of extremist organisation that the Government must have nothing to do with. The MCB is the UK’s largest Muslim umbrella group. Many of us know and respect its first female secretary-general, the dynamic Zara Mohammed. It is an umbrella group with more than 500 affiliated members, including mosques, schools and charitable organisations. Are the Government saying that they are to be labelled as possible extremists? This can serve only to smear groups and individuals. How will the Government address these concerns, in order to counter fear and division? As we have heard, online extremism is on the rise, but surely, smearing organisations and all those who work within them or benefit from them is not the way to bring about social cohesion.

Michael Gove says that his department will establish a civil service centre of excellence. Who will these people be and where will they be drawn from? Will there be transparency? Will they include people who already have displayed intolerant views, such as William Shawcross, whom the Secretary of State describes as the author of the “brilliant” review of Prevent. In 2012, he was quoted as saying:

“Europe and Islam is one of the greatest, most terrifying problems of our future”.


It is no wonder that over 400 organisations refused to engage with him on that Prevent review.

What evidence-based threshold will be applied by this new centre of excellence, especially when compiling lists of organisations and guidance? Will any of these organisations have the right to appeal any decision? It is disappointing that the Secretary of State seems to have ignored civil liberties groups. As we have heard, three former Home Secretaries are against politicising such an important issue. I would also like to know who was consulted in drawing up this definition of extremism.

In the past few years, the Government have refused to recognise or accept a definition of Islamophobia, despite it now being widely adopted across civil society and by all other political parties. They said that they would come up with their own definition. In the past week, they have had problems in condemning racism and misogyny in respect of Diane Abbott. There was even a debate on whether making such hateful remarks constituted racism. Yet they are promoting this new definition of extremism with apparently little reference to minority communities, who have seen a massive increase in racism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism and other hate crimes.

The respected race equality think tank, the Runnymede Trust, described the definition as an “attack on civil society”. It went on to say that it has

“bypassed parliamentary scrutiny and will likely shut down organisations supporting people of colour, who are critical of the government of the day … This definition governs what people are thinking, rather than doing, and will likely silence those who oppose the govt’s position, for example on pro-Palestinian marches and critical race theory. Muslim groups and orgs supporting people of colour will be targeted as a result”.

This is the perception outside, and I have been contacted by numerous faith groups and other community groups who are concerned that, instead of people being brought together, the seeds of division are being sown.

Can the Minister please respond to the concerns I have raised? Does she agree that we need a commitment to bring unity and not division to our society? We certainly need more inter-faith dialogue, not less.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Levelling Up, Housing & Communities (Baroness Swinburne) (Con)
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I thank the noble Baronesses for their questions. I understand that this is a sensitive issue, and I appreciate the co-operation being shown here today. But as the Secretary of State, Michael Gove, said in his Oral Statement in the other place last week, the UK is facing a rising threat of extremism. The 7 October terrorist attacks in Israel, the aftermath in Gaza and the domestic implications have sharpened our focus on countering radicalisation.

My department has announced that it is publishing a new definition of extremism, which we are discussing today, and a set of cross-government engagement standards to be housed in a new centre of excellence on counter-extremism. To date, the Government’s approach to countering radicalisation has focused on preventing people being drawn into terrorism. However, we have not yet taken a comprehensive and strategic approach to preventing a wider cohort of people being radicalised into extremism. Hence, these are vital interventions at this challenging time, and the Government must ensure that they have the tools they need to tackle this ever-evolving threat. I really am grateful for that cross-party support.

I can reassure the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Hussein-Ece, that the announcement is the culmination of a concerted cross-government endeavour, bolstered by the expertise of external agencies and practitioners. The ways in which extremist agendas are pursued have evolved since extremism was first defined by government in 2011. As such, government’s approach must evolve, too.

The new definition of extremism seeks to limit the advancement of extreme ideologies and ensure that open debate can take place unfettered by those who seek to exploit our freedoms—or, indeed, overturn them. The new definition is more specific, allowing us to better target extremists in this changing landscape while avoiding unnecessary overstep into public debate and the freedom of expression. This has always been a tricky balance but, with clear thresholds and thorough guidance, I hope that we can support the first duty of government to keep citizens safe and the country secure.

The definition will capture only those individuals, organisations and groups that are driven by ideologies of hatred, violence or intolerance and intend to negate or destroy our fundamental rights, overturn or undermine our democracy, or intentionally provide a platform for those that do. I appreciate that the speakers agree with that premise. Importantly, as mentioned by the noble Baronesses, the definition does not capture those who advocate for democratic change to rights and freedoms and does not seek to restrict lawful protest or debate.

Community engagement is a fundamental part of the work of UK ministerial government departments. We are proud to engage with groups and individuals from across the country, with charities and community organisations and directly with local people. Our external engagement can strengthen our democracy, our policy-making and our society, and we agree with the Benches opposite that nothing should weaken this legitimate engagement with our communities. However, through the independent review of Prevent, we know that, if best practice is not followed, the UK Government’s engagement with communities and external groups can inadvertently provide a platform, funding or legitimacy for individuals, organisations or groups that oppose our shared values. If we do not tackle this, this allows extremists of all ideologies—this is not aimed at one part of society—to exert greater influence and be legitimised and publicly emboldened.

To ensure that we maximise the many benefits of engagement and minimise the risks, the definition is being published alongside a set of community engagement principles that central government departments will be expected to consider when undertaking external engagement or providing funding. These will enable officials to make carefully considered, risk-based judgments about the individuals and groups with which they could or should engage. Their implementation across government will ultimately enhance and, I hope, broaden our external engagement practices.

I can respond to concerns raised by the noble Baronesses about scope. It is focused on central government and does not apply to local authorities or public bodies. However, all local authorities have a duty to ensure that public money is being spent effectively and not wasted or misused and, as such, are expected to undertake their own community engagement and due diligence appropriately and responsibly. The extremism definition is not a statutory definition and does not create new powers but instead helps the Government and our partners to target existing powers better. The definition and principles will apply to engagement, including funding undertaken in England, Scotland and Wales by UK Government ministerial departments. Engagement undertaken in Northern Ireland is exempt due to the unique political and historical circumstances, and the definition of principles does not apply to the engagement undertaken by the devolved Administrations themselves.

I turn to the processes that I was asked about with regard to the centre of excellence. It is important that we tackle the threat of domestic extremism, and we are setting up a counterextremism centre of excellence, which will become a world-leading authority on best practice, data and research in this field. The new centre of excellence will be housed in the Department for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities and will provide leadership for departments’ operations and implementation of the definition. The cross-government engagement principles and extremism-related due diligence process will in time be the home to new counterextremism assessment and analytical functions and capabilities, as and when the budget and the staff are employed. Since its inception, the team, many members of which have moved over from the Home Office, has been undertaking community engagement in each local authority to get to the heart of the issues our country faces today and explore how we can support these local authorities holistically. In response to the question of who ultimately decides: as joint leader for countering extremism, the DLUHC Secretary of State and the Home Secretary will make the final decision on who will be added to the list. This will be based on the recommendations made using the evidence gathered and analysed by the subject experts.

I was asked whether there would be a right to appeal. During the process of identifying these groups, they will have the opportunity, before things are made public, to provide mitigating evidence, which will then be analysed before a decision is taken. Following publication on a list, if anyone believes our judgment is wrong, as in any case where it is believed that the Government have acted unreasonably, the option of judicial review is always available. Indeed, DLUHC is finalising the process for reviewing the inclusion of names of extremist organisations and groups on the list so that they can come off it in appropriate circumstances. For example, this could be based on a change of position, such as an individual’s, an organisation’s or a group’s efforts to refute or rescind any previously extremist behaviours. We plan to appoint a new, independent anti-Muslim hatred adviser. It is important to get this appointment right, and it is currently going through due process. I hope to update your Lordships very soon. I can confirm that an investigation has been launched into the leaked information as of last week.

While the Government and their partners have worked tirelessly to combat extremism through the updated Prevent and Contest counterterrorism strategies, the Defending Democracy Taskforce and the integrated review, the pervasiveness of extremist ideologies in the aftermath of the 7 October attacks has brought the need for further action into sharper focus. We are trying to put that in place as part of, and accompanying, our broader counterextremism strategy. I hope the Secretary of State will make further announcements regarding this in the coming weeks. I look forward to coming back to this Dispatch Box to update your Lordships’ House imminently on what that strategy will be.

On the hate crime action plan, the Government do not intend to publish a hate crime strategy. We keep our approach to tackling hate crime under constant review, and we remain committed to protecting all our communities from crime. We fund the national online hate crime hub, a central capability designed to support local police forces in dealing with online hate crime. As to whether this will apply to online extremism more broadly, assessing that online activity will be in scope of the definition where the law allows.

I thank the noble Baronesses, Lady Sherlock and Lady Hussein-Ece, for their comments and questions on this sensitive issue. I look forward to continued co-operation as we implement this across government and further develop the counterextremism strategy over the coming weeks and months.

18:48
Lord Walney Portrait Lord Walney (CB)
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My Lords, I welcome this new definition, in particular its focus on protecting our parliamentary democracy. I was pleased to be consulted on it in my role as the Government’s independent adviser on political violence and disruption. It was helpful to hear the Minister set out the process for ensuring that organisations deemed to be extreme and included on the list which emerges have sufficient chance to engage and put their case.

It is worth reminding the House that it was a Labour Communities Secretary who made the decision on non-engagement with the Muslim Council of Britain in 2009, which has stayed in place for much of the previous 14 to 15 years, on the basis that the then deputy general secretary of that organisation endorsed a call by Hamas for attacks on foreign troops, including British troops, so this has not come out of the blue. Nevertheless, the process of who ends up on the list is really important. Does the Minister have an update on how long the Government anticipate that process taking before a list can be published?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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We are just finalising the criteria regarding how this will be measured, what the metrics are, and how the evidence will be compiled and then decided. As and when that happens, we would expect to complete this within weeks and certainly as quickly as we possibly can.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, the proposition that my enemy’s enemy is my friend is probably one of the most wrong-headed and dangerous in politics. I am proud that over the past few years, when the Jewish community marched first against Mr Corbyn and more recently in favour of and to support Israel, we have absolutely rejected the far-right extremists trying to hijack our demonstrations because they think we have a common opponent. That is a completely wrong-headed and dangerous thing to do, because we all know that, ultimately, all extremists want to take us to the same place: to divide communities and to undermine our democratic process. Does my noble friend the Minister therefore agree that what fundamentally underpins this definition of extremism is a distinction between those who want to work within our democratic process, albeit perhaps to change it, and those who seek to undermine the democratic process, which is the foundation of all civilised debate and safe living for all communities in this country?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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Absolutely. I totally agree with my noble friend; I am sure most people in this House do as well. We are in a period of heightened tensions. Anti-Semitism and anti-Muslim hate crime levels are at an all-time high. Flags, symbols and graffiti are all causing division and stoking fear locally, and now is the time to tackle this issue head on. The definition tries to ensure that it focuses on extremism that is founded in hatred, violence or intolerance, and which poses a threat to our rights and our freedoms. It does not matter where it comes from: we need to tackle it and try our best to stop it.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath Portrait Lord Hunt of Kings Heath (Lab)
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My Lords, I too believe that this is very important. Clearly it is right that the Government look fully at the risk of extremism. I worry about the definition and some potential unintended consequences. I note the Minister said that organisations that felt they were unfairly affected had recourse to judicial review. Given that this Government have been chuntering about use of judicial review, I am glad to see that they now think that it has a positive benefit.

I want to ask the Minister about one point in the Statement issued by her department, which talks about this work complementing the Government’s updated Prevent guidance. I am puzzled by the guidance issued last year, which lists socialism, anti-fascism and anti-abortion on the Prevent list of terrorism warning signs. A section on the left wing goes on to say:

“Two broad ideologies: socialism and communism. Each are united by a set of grievance narratives which underline their cause”.


I am not sure whether I call myself a socialist. Members of the Labour Party probably would not describe me as a socialist and my local branch definitely would not—it would find other ways to describe me. However, that seems to show some of the risks of Prevent making these quite alarming statements and, because of what Mr Gove has said, their maybe being translated into the extremism definition. I would be grateful if the Minister would at least look at how this relationship will operate.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I certainly will undertake to do that. The sole purpose of bringing this under one umbrella is to ensure that all departments treat this with the same lens. They will have the same evidence- based methodology and the same basis for making decisions, and we will then ensure that that is across all departments. This is the method by which we will bring all that together so that all departments say the same thing and treat people equally.

Lord Mann Portrait Lord Mann (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I refer to my entry in the register of interests. The New British Union describes itself as the fastest-growing far right organisation. What criteria were used to determine that it should not be included on the list? For those organisations that are included on the list, if an individual says publicly that they have left such an organisation, will the Government engage with them immediately, or after a year or in five years’ time? What timescale will the Government use after someone has been directly connected with one of the five current organisations, or however many it ends up being, for non-engagement? Is there a specific timescale in which the Government will choose not to meet, associate with and recognise individuals from those organisations?

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I can answer part of the question, but the other part is yet to be worked out in terms of the detailed processes. The Secretary of State referred in the other House to the types of groups and extremism that we are concerned about. This was not in any way an exhaustive list and it certainly was not “the” list. The process of making those assessments, following the evidence and collecting all the data is ongoing. It has not been completed and therefore there is no list. I will be able to share that with the House as and when that work is completed.

On someone who has left an organisation, rejected the ideology and now wants to be considered in a different light, I suspect that will need to be on a case-by-case basis, and the evidence and data will need to follow it. There will be experts in the group who will be able to make that judgment. I suspect they have not yet got far enough down the processes to determine the timeline.

Baroness Gohir Portrait Baroness Gohir (CB)
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My Lords, there have been examples, recently and in the past, of Conservative politicians making unfounded allegations, particularly against Muslims, that have resulted in the paying of damages. Words have consequences, such as death threats, damage to reputation, loss of livelihood and mental ill-health. This new extremism definition could be abused to make false allegations that inflict lasting damage. What safeguards will be put in place to ensure that power and position are not abused?

I am also very worried about the safety of Muslim women. Last Wednesday, a Muslim woman came to see me. On the eve of the definition being released, she was subjected to hate crime on the Tube on her way home. She has reported it to the police but most Muslim women do not do so. I am really worried about the safety of Muslim women. When will the Government start to engage with Muslim women’s groups? How many have the Government engaged with? I run the only national Muslim women’s organisation, so I declare that interest. To date, we have had no engagement.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her questions. I will commit to replying in writing on how many of those groups the department has engaged with. The Minister, my noble friend Lady Scott of Bybrook, is responsible for that engagement with those faith groups so I will ensure that we collate the information and write to the noble Baroness.

If anybody uses inappropriate language it should be condemned and called out immediately. I personally would feel comfortable doing that. However, I will confirm that anybody who is an elected representative will not be on the list.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I will make two points. First, I think there was an overlap between some of the work that the Intelligence and Security Committee has been doing about foreign interference in British politics and the dangers this is trying to address. We all know that internal politics in Pakistan spills over into British cities, with Tehreek and others. There are close links between some of our communities and political parties in Pakistan; we need to watch that. I have done all my politics in West Yorkshire, and I am certainly concerned at the extent to which the growth of Hindu nationalism within India may also spill over into British communities. We certainly need to be very concerned about that; we have seen one or two instances already.

I am even more concerned about the extent to which the rise of extremely well-funded anti-democratic right-wing groups within the United States might spill over into this country, with money from those right-wing organisations trying to influence British politics. We have just seen a former leader of the Conservative Party attending a very right-wing conference in Washington, standing with people whose loyalty to democratic principles is extremely doubtful, and not being sent into suspension by the Conservative Party. That worries me considerably, and we all need to think about it. On a cross-party basis, we need to think about how we conduct our democratic debate.

That leads to my second point, which is that if one looks at opinion surveys, one sees that we face a public in Britain who are now more disillusioned with our parliamentary democracy than we have seen in our lifetimes. That breeds extremism, particularly among those who are unskilled or unemployed, or who have done badly in school. That is not entirely new; in the first election I fought, in Huddersfield in 1970, I had a National Front candidate against me, and it made for a very nasty campaign on occasions. We are well aware that unless we as democratic politicians make sure that we mind our language as we compete with each other in the forthcoming election, and do something to improve the quality of our democracy and encourage greater participation in it—membership of all political parties has gone down over the last 20 years—we will leave the bed out of which extremism grows there for it to grow. That is a problem which, before and after the election, all of us in all parties need to address.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I acknowledge the noble Lord’s comments and recognise many of them. For me, there is no boundary as to where this goes. If somebody is practising extremism that matches the definition—that it is founded in “violence, hatred or intolerance” and poses that threat to our “rights or freedoms”, or our liberal democratic positions that uphold them—they need to be called out. It does not matter whether they are far left or far right, or another other colour or description you would give in between. DLUHC has worked with the Home Office and other government departments, including arm’s-length bodies, agencies and practitioners confronting extremism in our country, as part of this review, so anybody who has had any role in doing this has come together to try to get this definition across the line and to now support the strategy, which will be made public in the next few weeks.

Everyone has a right to freedom of expression. Freedom of speech is a fundamental right that we will always protect in this country, but obviously there are limitations to that if it does damage to others. The definition does not single out single subjects as inherently extremist, but calls for that careful assessment of evidence in relation to any individual organisation or group. In each case, the question is whether they are taking action to advance or promote that ideology with the “violence, hatred or intolerance” in mind. It is very specific, but it is likely to cover a broad swathe from all different parts of the spectrum. I reassure the noble Lord that the expert group will look at this in detail, and will apply the same metrics across the board.

Baroness Mobarik Portrait Baroness Mobarik (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend the Minister for the reassurances she has given. In our time in the European Parliament, when we served together, I admired my noble friend for her moderate and well-balanced views. But the overwhelming perception of Muslim communities at the moment is that this latest statement by the Secretary of State for Levelling Up is a way to silence them—to stop public discourse. It is extremely worrying. I cannot stress enough just how upset people are; there has to be a way to allay those fears.

Organisations have been named publicly; what evidence has there been to deem them extremist? Would that evidence stand up in a court of law? Where does it all end? If I stand here one day and say, “I believe that there should be an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, and the occupation of the West Bank, Gaza and East Jerusalem should be lifted, in a process towards peace and mutual recognition”, and if some people feel that to be extremist in some way, how does that impact any kind of public discourse? I have grave concerns about the way this has been put out and articulated, and the communities that it will impact the most.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I agree with my noble friend that those documents being leaked is really unfortunate, and has had some damaging effects. I assure the House that the list does not currently exist; the evidence and data are being compiled, and therefore an assessment will be made in due course. There is no list at this point in time. As and when it is appropriate, I will come back and present that context to your Lordships’ House.

I have heard the messaging that the Muslim community is finding this difficult. The way in which it has come out in the media has caused some issues. But it is really important for me to say at the Dispatch Box that the Muslim community makes an enormous contribution to British society, and has done so for centuries. Islam is a religion observed peacefully by over a billion people worldwide; we need to acknowledge that there is a huge difference between those who practise Islam and Islamist extremists. Therefore, we need to differentiate between them.

Rightly, the Prime Minister has made it clear that we stand for British Muslim communities; we maybe need to accelerate and emphasise that a little more. Some of that will be by working with those Muslim communities and, indeed, in the support we give to some of those Muslim groups. We certainly need to encourage most of those groups to come forward to work with us to counter extremism. I think this gives us the ability to work with a broader, more diverse group of individuals, to try to see whether we can make a bigger difference. I thank the noble Baroness for the question.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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I just think it is important that the record is straight; I was very taken with what the noble Lord, Lord Mann, said about the length of time. An organisation that in the past had somebody associated with it, who is no longer there, continues to be smeared. I mention this because the noble Lord, Lord Walney, mentioned a name—

Lord Walney Portrait Lord Walney (CB)
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I do not think I smeared them.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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The noble Lord did mention a name—

Lord Walney Portrait Lord Walney (CB)
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No, I did not, and I did not smear anyone. I ask the noble Baroness to please be careful with the language she uses.

Baroness Hussein-Ece Portrait Baroness Hussein-Ece (LD)
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I am on my feet speaking; I would like to finish, if the noble Lord does not mind. An organisation is smeared if it is continually associated with somebody who has not been involved for over a decade. It is really important we have that distinction. I urge the Minister to look into that closely. That is being said; it was said here about somebody who was involved, who supported Hamas 10 years ago, and it is not fair to continue that in the present day, to keep that on the record.

Baroness Swinburne Portrait Baroness Swinburne (Con)
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I confirm that the list has not yet been generated. As and when it is, I expect it to be on current, up-to-date data and evidence. I can therefore reassure the noble Baroness that that is what I will be looking for.

Representation of the People (Variation of Election Expenses and Exclusions) Regulations 2024

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
19:10
Moved by
Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 29 January be approved.

Relevant document: 13th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

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, if approved and made, these draft regulations will uprate the maximum campaign spending limits at the Greater London Authority and local authority mayoral elections in England to reflect changes to the value of money. This instrument also provides an exclusion for reasonable security expenses from the various election campaign spending limits. Finally, the draft regulations make some technical amendments to remove drafting that is now redundant from the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012.

Elections rely upon the ability of political parties, candidates and other campaigners to communicate their views so that voters can make an informed decision at the ballot box. If approved by Parliament, this statutory instrument completes the package of reforms the Government announced in July 2023 to uprate reserved and excepted party and candidate spending limits and donations thresholds. This is a necessary action, as many of these statutory limits, which were set in absolute terms, have not been uprated in recent times. If we do not uprate them in line with inflation, it means that they continue to be lower in real terms, which has real impacts on campaigning.

Furthermore, no one should feel afraid to participate in our democracy. As noble Lords will be aware, in the past eight years we have witnessed the horrific murders of two parliamentarians, Jo Cox and Sir David Amess. The safety of parliamentarians and candidates is important, and in recent years the Government have introduced numerous measures to tackle intimidation in public life. It is of the utmost importance that candidates feel safe to campaign. Therefore, the Government are explicitly exempting reasonable security expenses from contributing to spending limits for political parties, candidates and other campaigners at reserved and excepted UK elections. I am pleased to confirm that this fulfils a recommendation made by the Jo Cox Civility Commission in its recent report No Place in Politics: Tackling Abuse and Intimidation.

I turn to the specifics. The draft regulations will uprate the spending limits for candidates at Greater London Authority elections and local authority mayoral elections. The various spending limits for Greater London Authority elections have remained unchanged since they were set in 2000. Due to this significant gap, the regulations will uprate the spending limits by 81.05%. This means that the limit for a candidate at an election of the Mayor of London will increase from £420,000 to £760,410, the limit for a candidate at an election of a constituency member of the London Assembly will increase from £35,000 to £63,360, and for an individual or party list candidate at the London-wide assembly election the limit will change from £330,000 to £597,460.

The draft regulations will uprate the spending limits for local authority mayoral elections in England by 29.09%. The uprating is done from 2017, to align with the new spending limits for combined authority and combined county authority mayoral elections recently approved by Parliament in the Combined Authorities (Mayoral Elections) Order 2017 (Amendment) Regulations 2024. This is to ensure parity between mayoralties and means that the limits for local authority mayoral elections in England will change from £2,362 and 5.9p per elector to £3,040 and 8p per elector.

19:15
The draft regulations will provide clarity for parties, candidates and campaigners by explicitly exempting reasonable security expenses from contributing to the spending limits for candidates, political parties and third-party campaigners at UK reserved and excepted elections, other than local government elections in Northern Ireland. The Government will introduce an equivalent exemption for local elections in Northern Ireland in due course. The regulations will not apply to security expenses at devolved elections in Scotland and Wales. The Scottish Government have separately legislated to make similar provision, and the Welsh Government have recently consulted on doing so.
Many parties and candidates already take the view that security expenses are, in general, not election expenses. This exemption will put that view beyond any doubt and ensure that campaign spending limits are not a barrier to the provision of security during election campaigns. I thank the Electoral Commission for drawing the Government’s attention to this point of law and for its support in getting the drafting of this important exemption right.
The draft regulations also make minor technical and consequential changes to remove the police areas of Greater Manchester, North Yorkshire and West Yorkshire from the Police and Crime Commissioner Elections Order 2012. These functions have already been transferred to the relevant mayors by separate legislation. Therefore, these regulations do not make a substantive policy change; they simply remove the redundant drafting from the 2012 order to ensure that the law accurately reflects this position.
I must also speak to the regret amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. On the matter of the timing of the instrument, the Government acknowledge the proximity of the making of this legislation to forthcoming elections. As the honourable Minister, Simon Hoare MP, mentioned in the debate on the instrument in the other place, given the significant benefits that clarifying the position on security expenses provides for candidates, parties and campaigners in the current climate, the Government took the view that delaying these provisions would delay the provision of a significant benefit.
The Government strongly disagree with the noble Lord’s claims that there is insufficient evidence for the uprating of spending limits. Before uprating election spending limits, the Government consulted the members of the Parliamentary Parties Panel on two occasions. The parties were first consulted in 2020, ahead of uprating spending limits for candidates at local elections in England. In September 2022, the Government wrote to the members of the Parliamentary Parties Panel again regarding uprating election spending limits and exempting reasonable security expenses from those limits. The responses received indicated support for increasing various spending limits and endorsed exempting security expenses. As is statutorily required, the Electoral Commission was formally consulted on this statutory instrument.
The Government have completed the uprating using the consumer prices index—CPI—as a measure of inflation, in line with other recent uprating exercises. The CPI reflects changes to the total cost of a variety of products and services, including those used by parties and candidates during election campaigns, such as transport and postage.
The noble Lord also expresses regret in respect of the effect of increasing reporting thresholds on reducing the transparency of funding for elections. Donations-reporting thresholds are not being uprated in this instrument. These have already been adjusted in line with inflation in a separate instrument. The Government have a legal duty in any Parliament lasting more than two years to uprate donations-reporting thresholds, or outline to Parliament their reasons for not doing so. The existence of this requirement indicates that Parliament intended for such an uprating to take place should the Government consider it necessary.
In conclusion, the uprating of campaign spending limits at the Greater London Authority and the local authority mayoral elections in England to reflect inflation is necessary. The significant gap since the limits were last set, and the current level of inflation, mean that this uprating exercise is required to avoid the spending limits putting greater constraints on campaigners than originally intended.
Violence and intimidation cannot be tolerated and have absolutely no place in our public life. The security expenses exemption will bring clarity and reassurance to parties, candidates and third-party campaigners as to their ability to incur security expenses without it impacting their overall spending limits. I beg to move that the regulations be approved.
Amendment to the Motion
Moved by
Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard
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At end insert “but this House regrets the Government’s decision to lay the draft Regulations, given the large scale of the proposed increases, the proximity of elections on 2 May, the lack of evidence of parties and candidates being constrained in their ability to reach voters by current expense limits, and the effect of increasing reporting thresholds on reducing transparency of funding for elections.”

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I begin by welcoming the clarification in election law that necessary security costs for candidates must not be constrained by being included as part of their campaign spending that is set against election expense limits. On 28 January 2000, a friend of mine, Andrew Pennington, was working for an MP when he was murdered by an attacker who came to the advice centre of my late friend Lord Jones of Cheltenham when he serving as the town’s MP. In the 1980s, well before there were any funds for security at MPs’ offices, I used to run the campaign HQ for my friend the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, which was where he held many advice centres as an MP. Anyone could walk in at any time. It was not safe. We need to protect Members of Parliament and all their staff, in this place and wherever they work, and we are thankful to all those who help to protect us in these dangerous times.

I also acknowledge that there is a case for uprating the mayoral election expense limits, and those for candidates for the Greater London Authority. But no case has been made for doing so by 81%, thereby increasing the unhealthy influence of big donors that has caused such problems and been so clearly exposed in recent weeks. Inflation, as measured by CPI, in the three years since the last London mayoral election has been about 18%. If we go back to the last London mayoral election in 2021, the three leading candidates each spent around £400,000, or 95% of the available election expense limit at the time. An increase now from £420,000 to £760,000 must be considered to be excessive. This is especially so when it means that the candidates are suddenly being allowed to spend an additional £340,000 in just the last six weeks of the campaign. Many of us here have experience of election planning and will know that parties will have budgeted perhaps a year ago to spend no more than the £420,000 limit in place until now.

It is not, however, just an extra £340,000 that is suddenly being pumped in for each of the London mayoral candidates. There are 14 constituency members of the Greater London Authority and, as the Minister said, the expense limit for each of those 14 candidates is suddenly being increased by the sum of £28,360. This means that each party with 14 candidates can now legally spend an extra £397,000 supporting them.

Then there are the party list candidates. A party will now be able to spend an extra £267,000 supporting its list. What does this mean for a party with a mayoral candidate and a full slate of candidates for the Greater London Assembly? It means that the total permitted expenditure for those parties will rise, at the drop of a hat, from £1,240,000 to £2,244,080. In London alone, a party will now be able to spend more than £1million extra in just six weeks before polling day on 2 May.

The expense limits are being raised not just for the London elections but for 11 more metro mayor elections across England covering almost half the country. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us what the combined increase will be in election expense limits for a party with a candidate in each of these 11 metro mayoral elections. What is the combined total of permitted election expenditure for these candidates under the present rules, and what will it be under these new ones? Perhaps the combined increase may be more than £1million, and this comes in all of a sudden, long after campaign budgets will have been set. A party with sufficient funds will be able to spend an extra £1million in London, and, if the figure is £1 million elsewhere, it will be spending over the next six weeks at the rate of a third of a million pounds per week, over and above existing plans. To be able to spend to the maximum of these new limits, it appears that the Conservative Party needs the donations of its disgraced donor, Frank Hester. Or are these increases simply being made because it has his donations? I think we should be told.

Last December, the Times reported that the Conservative Party is well on track to raise £50 million in a year. It is hardly surprising, therefore, that in the very same month the Conservatives dramatically raised the expenditure limit for national parties in general elections from around £19.5 million to around £36 million. Is it not the truth of all these huge increases in election expense limits that the Conservative Party is feeling desperate? It lacks support, but it has money. It thinks that it needs to spend the £15 million believed to have been given by Frank Hester, the £5 million from Mohamed Mansour and all of the money from billionaire tax exiles whom it has just allowed to donate, and with as little scrutiny as possible, even if they have not lived here for several decades?

This is all about desperate spending to seek re-election, and not about the democratic principle of a level playing field in politics, which was established in law during Gladstone’s time. This principle was also agreed by all the parties in the legislation governing party expenditure in 2000. More recently, it has been supported by the words of the noble Lord, Lord True, in our debates on the Elections Act. However, action speaks louder than words, as they say, and it seems a very long time since the noble Lord, Lord Cameron of Chipping Norton, became Prime Minister, and pledged to “take the big money out of politics”.



It is most regrettable that the excellent report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life of 2011, when my noble friend Lord Alderdice served on the CSPL, was not implemented by the coalition Government. This report proposed a cap of £10,000 on all donations. These new, extremely high election expense limits mean that, more than ever, all parties must go begging to major donors.

19:30
It is also clear that those who can make great profits from doing business with the current Government feel able to afford exceptionally large donations to the party in office. The increases proposed are enormous. They are being made very suddenly in close proximity to the elections. This is despite the convention, and the advice of the Electoral Commission, that, if significant changes are to be made to electoral law, they should be made at least six months in advance of any election.
There are only six weeks to go to polling day. The commission says that this is a significant change to the UK’s political finance controls. I have accepted that there is some evidence of the need for a modest increase in expense limits, as inflation has been around 10% over the last year, but changes could have been made a year ago, or after the last mayoral elections, so why are they being made now?
The Electoral Commission confirmed that the Government have not provided evidence of the need for such huge and disproportionate increases in election expense limits. It says that, for there to be increases in election expense limits, there should be evidence that parties and candidates are being constrained in their ability to reach voters by the current expense limits. The commission says:
“We did not see any evidence of this”.
I beg to move the amendment in my name because we must regret what the Government are doing as, once again, they abuse their power and bend the election rules quite grotesquely in their favour.
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I rise to offer the strongest possible Green Party support to the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Rennard. This is indeed a great cause for regret, although I follow the noble Lord in saying that I entirely accept and agree with the security clarification that, unfortunately, is clearly necessary; I have absolutely no problems with that.

On social media, you know you are catching the zeitgeist, and that people are recognising what you are saying, when it gets repeated back to you. A couple of phrases that I use often on social media are increasingly repeated back to me. One is:

“#democracy - it would be a good idea”.


The other is:

“We get the politics that the few pay for”.


The second is simply and undoubtedly a statement of fact. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, set out such figures as £10 million, but even a donation of £1 million or—in the context of the elections we are talking about —£100,000 are potentially election changing. As the noble Lord said, this is happening at the last minute. The only way that this money will come in is through a few rich people.

We have to ask this question, and I would love the Minister to answer it: why does she think people give a donation of £10 million or £1 million or £100,000? Surely they do not give it for nothing. What do they get in return?

I should perhaps make a declaration of non-interest here since, as far as Green Party election spending is concerned, this is all entirely irrelevant. We were never going to spend up to the old limits, so this does not matter to us at all except that we will face a deluge of paper and social media posts, which will attempt to flood out our modest attempts to reach and speak to the electorate. That is the practical reality.

The noble Baroness, Lady Vere, likes to ask where people will say the money should come from. I very much accept the figure from 2011 of a maximum donation of £10,000. I could set it lower, but that will do for starters. I will say what is often considered the unsayable: we need state funding of political parties and election campaigning. Instead of the few paying for the politics we get, that would mean we get the politics that everyone has chosen.

That is effectively how the Green Party funds things, how we are funding these elections and how we will fund the coming general election: by crowdfunding—people putting in their £10 or £20 and making the choice to support a local candidate. But we have a cost of living crisis. The people who would have put in £20 can now put in only perhaps £10 or £5. Yet the millionaires and billionaires are getting richer, so their donations get bigger and bigger.

I have one final point to make. The security element of this really made me think of things that can get in the way and stop candidates running, and this deserves to be raised in this context and every electoral context. I refer to the access to elected office fund for disabled people, which was closed in March 2020 because of the Covid pandemic. We can discuss the continuation of the pandemic, but I do not think we are in an emergency situation any longer. The Government have failed to reinstate this fund despite its inclusion in the Disability Action Plan. There was an open letter written to the Government in the November by a whole coalition of disability groups calling for this small, modest measure to find a little bit of money to enable disabled people to compete on a level playing field in elections. So my question to the Minister is: will the Government reinstate the access to elected office fund? It is probably too late for these elections—not too late for billionaires, but for disabled people to start to run —but we could at least do it for the next set of elections, which will be the general election.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, I add to what my noble friend Lord Rennard said just a few brief comments. First, on the timing, I note that when the committee considered this, the Minister in the Commons said:

“I will be perfectly frank … we could have delayed this until after the elections in May”.—[Official Report, Commons, Third Delegated Legislation Committee, 5/3/24; col. 6]


The Government should at least have asked themselves: how does this looks to a cynical public? Why rush it in just after it has been announced that they have received some huge donations? It looks like last-minute changing of the rules in favour of the Government.

I declare an interest as a Liberal Democrat. I recall the Electoral Commission commenting some years ago that we had a much larger number of donors to our party than the Conservative Party but, of course, a much smaller total of what had been given, because our donations tend to come, at best, in £5,000 or £10,000 chunks, rather than in chunks of £1 million or £2 million or more. It looks bad.

Secondly, as my noble friend has said, the Committee on Standards in Public Life report has been on the table for some time now. It is clear that the political parties ought to be coming to a consensus on what to do about that and what to set as a limit. I am sorry that the Government have not moved in that direction. I very much hope that, immediately after the next election, whatever Government come in will move on that.

Thirdly, we have a severe problem with public confidence in our democratic politics and it is a shame that the Government are not addressing this. The sense that money counts in political campaigns is part of the worry. The whiff of corruption that comes with donors being seen to be close to the Prime Minister, with big donations coming from companies that have made their money out of public contracts given by the Government—all of those things add to disillusionment with our politics, which is fundamentally corrosive of our democratic system.

I add that we now have a right-wing television station that made a loss last year of £31 million but, in spite of making a loss, is paying over £1 million to Conservative and right-wing politicians. The £340,000 increase that my noble friend mentioned is almost exactly the sum that Jacob Rees-Mogg is receiving for the few hours a week that he puts in as a television presenter. That is all corrosive of public confidence in public life, and the Committee on Standards in Public Life is correct to say so.

This SI, coming now, adds to the sense that money is what counts in British politics. We look across the Atlantic and see what has happened in American politics as big money has taken over. We do not want that to happen here, and I deeply regret that this Government are moving in that direction.

Lord Khan of Burnley Portrait Lord Khan of Burnley (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for her introduction to this statutory instrument. I offer my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, for his eloquent speech and detailed analysis before the House today.

The Minister will be glad to know that these Benches support the implementation of Regulation 4 of the instrument. It would be wrong for expenses incurred to protect candidates, their families and supporters to be seen as part of the cost of campaigning, and it would set a dangerous precedent if candidates requiring extra security had to forgo elements of their campaign simply to feel safe. I say that as a Member of your Lordships’ House who has unfortunately faced death threats to me and my family in recent months. I totally understand the need for parliamentarians to exercise all security measures in order to do their job and serve.

This instrument stops an obvious injustice in our electoral expense law, but our response to candidates feeling unsafe cannot simply be to tell them to open their pockets and hire security. The Government must make sure that adequate resources are in place to ensure that candidates feel secure without needing to spend their own money.

I turn to another significant part of the instrument relating to the increase to election expenses in Greater London Authority elections and local authority mayoral elections. The noble Lord, Lord Rennard, dissected the issue using percentages and statistics to a profound effect. The point that election expenses have remained the same since the introduction of mayoral elections in the year 2000 has rightly been made loud and clear by noble Lords. Sadly, that figure has failed to be updated in line with inflation. It was used during the last mayoral election, 21 years after it was introduced. I understand that a significant increase is expected, given that the limit has been untouched for 24 years.

I hope that the Minister recognises why we need to ask questions about why we are raising the limit by over 80% less than two months out from the elections. The real reason why we are seeing this rise in the proposed figures is the compound failure by successive Tory Chancellors to get inflation under control. The reality is that we have seen a huge rise in inflation under this Government.

We do not intend to oppose this instrument outright, but I hope the Minister agrees that this rise does not reflect the reality that people are seeing in their day-to-day expenses. I hope she also agrees with me that future Governments should not wait until six weeks before an election to carry out an increase that is 24 years late.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, made an interesting point about election spending across the Atlantic. In 2018, after the midterm elections, I visited Capitol Hill and spoke to a Congressman. As I was congratulating him on winning his election, he said, “Well, I can’t take too many congratulations because I have to start fundraising for my next election”. This increase in the region of £19 million to £36 million is bringing money into our politics like never before. That means a lot of people are spending time fundraising when they should be serving their communities.

I hope the Minister reflects on those points and tells us when the periodic review will be for the next uplift in expenses. Will we have to wait another 24 years for a decision, or will we get told six weeks before the next set of mayoral elections? I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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My Lords, I thank noble Lords for their contributions. They have made a number of points and I will try to respond to all of them. First, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, that I remember Andrew Pennington; I remember the case and I am really sorry. To the noble Lord, Lord Khan, I say that nothing changes, does it? The noble Lord and his family are still getting death threats, which is totally unacceptable in a country as democratic as ours.

19:45
I turn to some of the issues that have been brought up. The same things were said by all noble Lords in different ways. First, it has been a long time since campaign spending limits were last adjusted for inflation. This means that prices have risen over time and that the limits have effectively been reduced. Parliament anticipated this when the limits were set, which is why the legislation allows them to be adjusted to account for inflation.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, for giving me all the details—I am sorry that I do not have further details from across the country for mayoral elections, but I am sure I could find them if he wanted them—but the issue is that the spending power for printing, leaflets and transport, all of which are important in making sure that candidates can get their policies across to their communities in an election, is now the same as it was in the year 2000. That is what is important.
The Government have made those adjustments through a series of four statutory instruments, and so those spending limits are now restored in real terms. This is the last of those instruments. This is not an unusual exercise; successive Administrations of all political colours have previously uprated candidate spending limits.
Although the Government aim to comply with the Gould principle where possible, in this scenario we concluded that delaying the application of the provisions beyond this point would not be beneficial to candidates and agents. It was particularly important for us that we provided clarity on security expenses as a matter of urgency. The legislation has been drafted in such a way that the changes will apply as soon as practicably possible after the instrument has been approved by Parliament and prior to—as we were talking about—the May elections, which were also brought up.
All noble Lords strayed into the issue of donations. Let me make it clear that there is no change to the threshold at which checks on the permissibility of donations and donors are carried out. The level of those checks remains the same, exactly as it was, which is important. Accepting donations from foreign powers, for example, whether made directly or indirectly, is prohibited. There are strict rules prohibiting impermissible donations from entering into our political system through things such as proxy donors. That provides a safeguard against impermissible donations by the back door. Donations are monitored and controlled just the same as they always were.
Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, the Minister used the term “strayed into” the issue of donations, as if we were going off the subject. Will she acknowledge that the question of where the money is coming from is just as central to this statutory instrument as what the limit is?

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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It is, but we already have the Elections Act, which looked at donations and the rules behind them. That part of election law is already being dealt with.

Fundraising is a legitimate part of the democratic process; we cannot get away from that. I am sorry, but the Government do not agree with the noble Baroness opposite that we should have political parties funded by government. That is not a policy of this Government, and I am not sure that it is a policy of the parties opposite.

Within our current system, while there are no caps on donations received, there are limits on what can be spent in order to maintain the level playing field—and the level playing field is the same now as it was in 2000. All reportable donations over the relevant thresholds will continue, as always, to be published online. This allows anyone to see who funds a political party and ensures that a transparent and accountable system is in place for those donations, so nothing has changed in that way.

It is important that people have the opportunity to know about their political parties’ policies. We cannot get away from the fact that that takes money. All we are doing is to ensure that the money agreed in 2000 has the same spending power this year as it had then.

The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, brought up an issue relating to disabled people. I am sorry that I do not have an answer to that, but I will make sure I get one tomorrow. It is an important issue and I thank her for bringing that up.

I think that I have answered the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. This is about necessity within democracy; there has to be money to communicate one’s policies.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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The Minister has used the phrase “level playing field” several times. Does she think that there ought to be something about a financial level playing field in political campaigns if we are to regain the trust of the public? If one party is able to raise such large sums—much larger than the others—then the playing field is tipped heavily in one direction.

Baroness Scott of Bybrook Portrait Baroness Scott of Bybrook (Con)
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At different times, different parties have raised large sums of money from different places over many years. I look at the party opposite, which has been funded by the unions over the years; I believe that I have seen quite large donations given to the Liberal Democrats too. On party donors, I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, who asked why anybody would want to give money. Some people feel very strongly and passionately about the policies of some parties—I am not talking about just ours—and that is how politics works. The level playing field is the fact that no party can spend more on one candidate in any election than the other party.

Asking why we have waited so long, as the noble Lord, Lord Rennard, did, is a reasonable question. As intended by Parliament, it is for the Government of the day to review the limits and update them when they consider that to be necessary. The fact that we had low inflation for so many years probably meant that there was no real necessity to change them as quickly as perhaps we should have done. But, as we have heard, inflation has increased in recent years and the Government decided that uprating these sums was now necessary to ensure that we get that communication out to our electorate.

I think that I have answered everything, unless anybody has something that they want to repeat. I will look at Hansard to make sure, but I think the only thing that I need to respond on is the disabled allowance question.

These regulations are essential to ensure that campaigners can continue to communicate their views to voters and, importantly, that candidates and other campaigners can feel confident in procuring the security they need at any UK elections. I hope noble Lords will join me in supporting this instrument.

Lord Rennard Portrait Lord Rennard (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for bringing this statutory instrument before us. We have shown in this short debate that it was worthy of greater consideration than the 16 minutes which it attracted in a committee in the House of Commons. There are many important issues here and I congratulate her on single-handedly defending the Government’s position in the face of all the opposition parties this evening, which suggests that the arguments are not quite so straightforward as she might suggest.

The principal argument which the Minister made, that this instrument had to be brought forward now with such huge increases in election expenses, was not about election expenses at all. The argument here and in the other place was on the urgency of clarifying election law about security arrangements for candidates and their teams. As an experienced election agent, I would never have allowed security considerations to be part of the election expense return which I was making.

If this was necessary, it could of course be done simply on its own and with all-party agreement, but there is not all-party agreement on such huge increases and on them being made at the last minute. No satisfactory explanation is given as to why they are so large or have been made so suddenly before polling day. On all these issues where the Government are clearly changing the rules in their favour, they are abandoning the principles of the level playing field. A level playing field requires not just the same maximum limit for everyone but equal resources on each side. An army with 100 tanks against an army with one tank is not an even competition, so we do not have a level playing field of the kind which the law provided for in the 1880s and the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act tried to provide for in 2000.

I do not feel the need to test the opinion of the House again, when I feel that its opinion on all these issues was well tested when the noble Lord, Lord Khan, did so a few weeks ago. I note that 90% of the Cross- Bench Peers voted in support of his Motion and against the Government, so as we know the opinion of the House on this issue, I will not test it further. I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment to the Motion withdrawn.
Motion agreed.

Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002 (Amendment of List of Safe States) Regulations 2024

Tuesday 19th March 2024

(4 months, 1 week ago)

Lords Chamber
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Motion to Approve
19:58
Moved by
Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait Lord Sharpe of Epsom
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That the draft Regulations laid before the House on 8 November 2023 be approved.

Relevant document: 4th Report from the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee (special attention drawn to the instrument)

Lord Sharpe of Epsom Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Sharpe of Epsom) (Con)
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My Lords, I beg to move that the House approves these regulations, which were laid before Parliament on 8 November 2023. The regulations seek to add Georgia and India to the list of safe countries of origin at Section 80AA(1) of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, as inserted by Section 59 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023, once commenced.

The declaration of inadmissibility of asylum claims from EU nationals has been a long-standing process in the UK, also employed by EU states. Under Section 80A of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, the Secretary of State must declare an asylum claim made by a national of an EU member inadmissible unless there are exceptional circumstances which mean that the Secretary of State ought to consider the claim. These provisions reduce pressure on our asylum system and allow us to focus on those most in need of protection, but EU states are not the only countries that are safe countries.

Once Section 59 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is commenced, these provisions will be expanded to include the inadmissibility of asylum and human rights claims from other states considered generally safe. The Section 80AA(1) list of safe countries of origin comprises the EU states as now and adds the other EEA states of Iceland, Norway and Liechtenstein, as well as Switzerland and Albania. Once Section 59 of the Illegal Migration Act 2023 is commenced, asylum and human rights claims from nationals of these countries will be declared inadmissible, unless it is accepted that there are exceptional circumstances that mean a claim ought to be considered in the UK.

20:00
The Illegal Migration Act 2023 provides powers to amend this safe countries of origin list via regulations where a state meets the criteria set out in Section 80AA(3) of the 2002 Act, as inserted by Section 59 of the Illegal Migration Act. The rationale underpinning the proposed additions of India and Georgia to the Section 80AA(1) list is to tackle unfounded and unnecessary protection and human rights claims from people in safe countries. India and Georgia are countries in which we have seen an increase in the volumes of asylum intake. Therefore, consideration has rightly been given to whether it would be appropriate to add these countries to the Section 80AA(1) list of safe countries of origin.
When the other place considered this instrument, some highlighted particular reporting from India and Georgia alleging instances where people had been mistreated or suffered an abuse of their rights. I know that noble Lords may wish to draw my attention to such reports during the course of this debate. But, having reviewed relevant information and evidence from a wide range of reliable sources relating to the safety of both Georgia and India, including consideration of their respect for the rule of law and human rights, we have assessed that both countries meet the criteria in Section 80AA(3) and are generally safe.
We should avoid being overly focused on reporting from a single source or drawing on isolated examples that may not consider the situation in context or be reflective of the general situation, which is what we are required to consider. We have considered, and do consider, evidence from a range of sources and source types. We compare and contrast information across these sources to reach a balanced and accurate view of the situation. That process has led us to conclude that it is appropriate to add these countries to the Section 80AA(1) list. I beg to move.
Amendment to the Motion
Moved by
Lord German Portrait Lord German
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At end insert “but this House regrets that His Majesty’s Government have not provided a clear explanation of why or how they have determined that India and Georgia are safe states for the purposes of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002; and that it is unclear how this policy change will work in practice.”

Lord German Portrait Lord German (LD)
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My Lords, I declare my interest in the register—I am supported by the RAMP Project. This regret amendment is not about whether Georgia and India are safe countries for trade or tourism, but safe from a serious risk of persecution of nationals of these countries, and where removal to India or Georgia of nationals of those countries would contravene the United Kingdom’s obligations under the human rights convention. It may well be that, for certain groups of people, a return to these countries would fail these tests.

There are two main issues at fault with this legislation: one of process and one of policy. I will deal with process first. Currently, as the Minister said, the list of safe countries is all those in the EEA—the European Economic Area—plus Switzerland and Albania. Being included in the list of safe states means that an asylum or human rights claim from an Indian or Georgian national must not be considered unless exceptional circumstances apply.

It is very unusual for the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee of this House to lay such an extensive report before us, but its conclusion is:

“These draft Regulations are drawn to the special attention of the House on the ground that the explanatory material laid in support provides insufficient information to gain a clear understanding about the instrument’s policy objective and intended implementation”.


My supposition is that the Government are adding some countries to the safe list because more people can be returned to their home countries without their asylum claim being even considered; and that this legislation was produced in haste, without the necessary conditions for scrutiny being fully considered.

The Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee states that consideration of

“the operation of ‘exceptional circumstances’ is critical to understanding and scrutinising the policy”.

In reply, the Government said they would issue guidance in—those famous words—“due course”. Given that this statutory instrument was laid on 8 November 2023, and that we are now discussing it more than four months later, I submit that “due course” has run out, as no such document has appeared.

In response, the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee said:

“At a minimum”—


I use that word carefully—

“the guidance describing how it will operate in practice should have been published alongside the instrument. However, we have also consistently taken the view that factors that will influence critical decisions about a person’s life or benefits should be included in the legislation considered by Parliament, not left to guidance”.

It adds that

“proper scrutiny is not possible if the guidance is not published before the debate on these Regulations takes place”.

No such document has been produced and, as a result, the Government have failed to meet the appropriate parliamentary standards required for processing this statutory instrument.

I now turn to the policy issues raised by this. As the Minister said, the criteria for deeming a country to be safe are set out in Section 80AA of the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, as amended by the Illegal Migration Act 2023. The rules by which the Secretary of State may add a state are that they must be satisfied that

“there is in general in that State no serious risk of persecution of nationals of that State, and … removal to that State of nationals of that State will not in general contravene the United Kingdom’s obligations under the Human Rights Convention”.

Those are the two reasons why it can be put forward. But, in deciding that they are substantially true, the Secretary of State

“must have regard to all the circumstances”—

not just some—

“of the State (including its laws and how they are applied), and … must have regard to information from any appropriate source (including member States and international organisations)”.

We have just heard two things from the Minister: first, “exceptional circumstances” was repeated and, secondly, we heard that the information has been taken from many sources. But, crucially, we got no detail—because, of course, we are discussing this after it has been to the committee that would look at this detail—about exactly where these sources of information are, where they have come from and how balanced they are. So, this House can draw only on conclusions that we think would be appropriate for judging whether these countries are safe.

I will draw only on the United States of America and the Home Office—the very department that makes this decision. The SLSC quoted the United States Government’s 2022 country report on human rights practices in Georgia:

“Significant human rights issues included credible reports of: torture or inhuman, cruel, or degrading treatment; arbitrary arrest or incarcerations … substantial interference with the freedom of peaceful assembly and freedom of association; refoulement … crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex persons and activists”;


crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting members of national, racial, ethnic and minority groups based on religious affiliation, social status or sexual orientation; crimes involving violence or threats of violence targeting lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and intersex persons; and the existence of forced and compulsory labour.

The Home Office’s country policy and information note on Georgia says:

“High-profile government opponents and managers of media channels opposed to the government may be subjected to politically-motivated prosecution and detention with a politically-biased judiciary”.


That is from the United States and our Home Office. There are plenty more examples. You must add to that the position of South Ossetia in Georgia, which is under Russian control, and the considerable interchange of information between the Russian secret services and Georgian officials.

The Home Office’s country note on India says:

“Human rights abuses, including rape, torture, and deaths in custody are reported to be widespread and conducted with impunity. Excessive force by security forces in areas of conflict are also reported, including extra-judicial killings, rape, torture, arbitrary detention, kidnappings and destruction of homes”.


Finally, there were the comments and responses from Members and Ministers representing the Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office here last Thursday about concerns over Muslims, Dalits and other groups in India.

These facts demonstrate that, for some groups of people, there will be a risk of persecution or a failure to provide them with human rights security under our international obligations. Since the Illegal Migration Act was passed, we do not give people the sort of interview we would need to work out whether they are subject to that persecution. In response, the Government say that these are all “isolated incidents”, not general matters of concern—“isolated” and “general” are two important words here.

Just look at the contradictions within the Home Office, let alone between government departments, on this response. Home Office view A is that human rights abuses, including rape, torture and deaths in custody, are reported to be widespread and conducted with impunity; contrast that with Home Office view B that “isolated incidents” may have been reported but the “scale and extent” of concerns were not such that the test under the Act was failed. There you have it —the Home Office looking in both directions at the same time. Widespread or isolated—both cannot be right.

I have some questions for the Minister. Are the “widespread” and “significant” human rights abuses reported by the Home Office and the US Department of State consistent with the requirements of the 2002 Act, as amended? Why has the promised guidance not been produced in the four months between the laying of this SI and this debate? Given that a significant proportion of recently processed claims from Georgia were accepted, can the Government’s description of applications from Georgian nationals as “unfounded” be justified? Given the backlog of claims from these two countries, will existing claims continue to be processed as previously or will they be deemed inadmissible retrospectively, whenever these regulations come into practical effect? Finally, why are the regulations being introduced now, when they will have no practical effect until the relevant provisions in the Illegal Migration Act 2023 are brought into force? Unless the Minister can answer these questions satisfactorily, this statutory instrument has surely stepped over the line in terms of both parliamentary process and policy. I beg to move.

Baroness D'Souza Portrait Baroness D’Souza (CB)
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My Lords, India is indeed a safe country if you are a straight male Hindu citizen. It is far less safe if you happen to be female—women from religious and cultural minorities face the most gender-based violence—Muslim, Dalit, Adivasis, Sikh, Christian or a member of the LGBT community. These sectors of the population constitute about 280 million people. More than 10,000 people have been arrested under the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act, the majority from minority groups.

20:15
Unprecedented internet shutdowns have signalled a campaign against media critical of the Government. The Canadian Prime Minister alleged the involvement of the Indian Government in the assassination of a Sikh Canadian citizen. The UN Human Rights Council documented in 2022 a catalogue of abuses by state organs in India; in 2002, following the violence in Gujarat when Narendra Modi was the Chief Minister, during which 2,500 Muslims were killed, the US, the UK and some European nations imposed de facto travel bans on all but the most junior officials from that state, including Narendra Modi.
Last week, I asked the Minister what measures the UK Government are taking to address the increasing implementation of those laws in India contributing to political, media and civil society restrictions. In response, the Government regularly repeat their extreme concern about abuses of human rights and that they take any such actions very seriously. It is difficult for noble Lords to be convinced of this concern when there is credible and growing evidence of a widespread crackdown on fundamental rights in India today.