House of Lords

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Tuesday 26 March 2024
14:30
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Oxford.

Credit Card Invoices

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:37
Asked by
Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have, if any, to require credit card issuers to provide a full description of goods or services provided on their customer invoices.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, while issuers are not obliged to provide full a description of goods or services, there is existing legislation governing customer transactions. This requires customers to be given a statement of their transactions at least monthly. Under the rules, providers must include a reference to help the customer to identify the transaction, and, where appropriate, information relating to the payee.

Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Portrait Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts (Con)
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My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for that Answer, and also for allowing me to brief her on what I felt was the problem, but I am afraid her Answer does not satisfy me at all. How many Members of your Lordships’ House when they receive their credit card slip find transactions which they simply cannot recognise at all, for £5, £10 or maybe £15? How many times do noble Lords go on the fraud line and find, after quarter of an hour sitting there, that they have to put the phone down because they can go no further? Would the Government not agree this must be an incitement of low-level but quite extensive fraud, which is likely to get worse as we do more tap-and-go transactions and less in cash? Would it not be a good idea if it was a requirement to put on the credit card entry the name of the customer, the postcode that they operate from and a two or three-word description of the product or service provided?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My Lords, payments are governed by the Payment Services Regulations. The Government published a call for evidence in January 2023 to test whether the regulations are meeting their aims. The Government did not receive any evidence that would imply that more specificity would be helpful, either for customers or in terms of tackling fraud. However, I say to my noble friend—and I appreciate him raising this issue—that, as part of the smarter regulatory framework, firm-facing requirements will be repealed and replaced by rules from the FCA. Of course, this may be something that we can take forward in the future.

Lord Livermore Portrait Lord Livermore (Lab)
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My Lords, we discussed last week concerns that the new generation of touch-screen card readers lack essential accessibility features needed by blind and partially sighted people. Looking into this further, it seems that these readers can also come with other issues, whereby if they are not correctly configured, the only description of transactions that appears on statements is the name of the machine manufacturer rather than the retailer you shopped with. Can the Minister see a case for steps to ensure payment devices are correctly configured, so that transactions can be more easily traced?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I agree with the noble Lord that those payment machines should be correctly configured. When customers realise that there is a problem, they must raise it with the bank, which will then be able to take further action. It is the case that if there is any suspicion of fraud—whether using a credit card or a debit card—the customer can get their funds back.

Lord Fox Portrait Lord Fox (LD)
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My Lords, we are rightly discussing regulations for credit cards and consumer credit, but an increasing amount of consumer credit is coming from the buy now, pay later app sector, which is unregulated. Does the Minister understand how lopsided that is? It is time that the Government looked into regulating buy now, pay later, so that people have equal safety on both sides of the consumer credit barrier.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The Government are considering responses to a recent consultation on draft legislation for buy now, pay later. The Government believe that any regulation of this area must be proportionate, because buy now, pay later can be very useful to a large number of people. There are existing protections in the Consumer Rights Act, and the FCA has powers over the terms and conditions of the buy now, pay later contracts.

Lord Holmes of Richmond Portrait Lord Holmes of Richmond (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my financial services interests as set out in the register. Does my noble friend agree that, whether paying with a credit card or a debit card, one should be able to do so in an accessible manner? That will happen only if all financial services products and card payment machines are designed with inclusion in mind right from the outset.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am grateful to my noble friend for raising this issue again. As I mentioned last time, there is now a consumer duty, which is a very important underpinning for financial services providers, which have a duty of care for their customers. That came into effect on 31 July 2023, and the Government and the FCA will monitor the effectiveness of the consumer duty as it beds in.

Lord Dobbs Portrait Lord Dobbs (Con)
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Does my noble friend agree that the Government have a lot more to do, in the spirt of full disclosure, in explaining the cost of Covid and the lockdown? The latest estimate is that it has already cost over £400 billion. With all the excess deaths and, in particular, mental health issues we are now experiencing, that cost will grow. Would it not be sensible to explain far more fully to everybody in this country the costs to them? That means that there would be no more magic money tree and that the Treasury’s pre-Budget leaks would be much more realistic. Furthermore, we would be much better placed to decide, if there were to be another epidemic, what we should be doing.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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My noble friend is quite right. He may have heard some of the explanation I gave in the debate on the Spring Budget on why we had to take the decisions that we did. Noble Lords will all recall that the Government stepped in to provide furlough for nearly 11 million people to save their jobs and protected nearly 500,000 businesses. It was essential that we did that at the time, but it came at a cost to our economy and society, which must be repaid at some stage.

Lord Blunkett Portrait Lord Blunkett (Lab)
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My Lords, last week I invited the noble Baroness to dinner, if we could find a restaurant with an accessible payment device. That evening, I went to a restaurant that had purchased a cover that made the device accessible. I have been in correspondence with the Minister since and am very grateful for her interest. Could we not simply make all providers offer that service, rather than restaurants having to buy it in?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am interested to know if that is the restaurant that the noble Lord intends to take me to. I have been in correspondence with him since last week. We will work very closely with UK Finance as its finishes off its accessibility forums to understand what more can be done to ensure that payment devices are accessible.

Food Security

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:45
Asked by
Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they will take to improve food security.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and refer to my entry in the register of interests.

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Douglas-Miller) (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register. UK food security remains consistently high, and the Government continue to strengthen it by supporting our farmers and food producers. Underlining this commitment, at the NFU conference we announced the introduction of an annual food security index, underpinning the three-yearly UK food security report. The next report will be out before the end of the year, with the first draft of the index set for the second UK Farm to Fork summit this spring.

Baroness McIntosh of Pickering Portrait Baroness McIntosh of Pickering (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend join with me in paying tribute to and celebrating the work of our farmers in putting food on our plates, in particular the livestock producers on the hills, and tenant farmers especially? Will my noble friend take this opportunity, against the backdrop of increasing challenges to self-sufficiency, to give farmers and consumers alike an undertaking that any imported food and agricultural products will meet the same high animal welfare and environmental standards as those produced in this country?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I thank my noble friend and entirely agree with her on the issue of supporting our farmers and congratulating them on the work they do. I quite accept the premise that a significant change is going on in the agricultural sector. It was clearly signalled when we transitioned away from the common agricultural policy and focused farming on delivering both food production and environmental goals through ELMS. It is entirely understandable that farmers have concerns about this transition, as it requires them to reappraise how they use the entirety of their land. We are guiding and supporting farmers with new technology, new science and improved productivity to not only produce and maintain high quality food but to enrich our soil, reduce pollution and help reverse biodiversity loss.

Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville Portrait Baroness Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville (LD)
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My noble Lords, the food security report identifies climate change and biodiversity loss as the greatest threat to UK food security. Therefore, will the Government’s upcoming Farm to Fork summit include representatives from environmental organisations working on climate change and biodiversity?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. As she will know, the upcoming Farm to Fork summit is the second one we have held, and the National Farmers’ Union requested that we implement this as an annual event. I forget the exact statistics but at the last one, over 70 representatives from the wider industry, across the entire supply chain, were in attendance, along with food producers from across the whole UK. The intention is to grow that at our next summit, which is in the spring.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, with respect, the Minister and the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, are living in a parallel universe. Did the Minister not see 120 farmers driving their tractors up Whitehall, honking and protesting? Were we not told that when we left the European Union everything would be okay for farmers? What has gone wrong?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a good point, and I was a little surprised that I did not see him out there when I went to visit the protesters last night. He is entirely correct; they did make a lot of noise. The Government are supporting farmers across a whole range of areas, be it technology, science, financial, or productivity gain. But it needs to be understood that we are going through a transition at the moment, in order to recalibrate and rebalance our food production and environmental benefits in the countryside. The Government are being crystal clear that food production comes first and foremost in that battle.

Lord Trees Portrait Lord Trees (CB)
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My Lords, further to the Question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady McIntosh, may I press the Minister a bit further? In negotiating free trade agreements, will His Majesty’s Government set minimum environmental and animal welfare standards which imported animal products must meet, equivalent to those we demand of our own farmers, so that we do not put our farmers at a comparative disadvantage and undermine our food security?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The noble Lord is absolutely right about this issue. Both Defra and the Government have been crystal clear that agriculture is at the forefront of any trade deals we negotiate. We reserve the right to pause negotiations with any country if progress is not being made. We recently did this with Canada, which the president of the NFU welcomed as a relief for farmers. All imports need to meet our food safety requirements, and free trade agreements do not change our protections for food safety, animal welfare and the environment.

Lord Bellingham Portrait Lord Bellingham (Con)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that if we are serious about food security, we should do all we can to stop large solar arrays being put on high-quality agricultural land? Does he also agree that the way forward is to ensure that solar panels are put on warehouses across the country and located alongside motorways and railways?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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My noble friend is correct. There is a presumption against planning on grade 1, grade 2 and grade 3 land. He is entirely right that solar energy and any other developments need to be appropriately sited to achieve the right result.

Baroness Hayman of Ullock Portrait Baroness Hayman of Ullock (Lab)
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My Lords, the NFU has asked the Government to identify opportunities to increase our market share of foods we can produce sustainably, including a commitment to source 50% of food into the public sector from British farms. Public procurement can support our food producers, so what are the Government doing to support farmers through procurement?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I thank the noble Baroness for her question. This month the Environment Secretary appointed Will Quince MP as an independent adviser to support our ongoing work to improve food procurement in the public sector. His review will look at how we can increase the impact and reach of the existing government buying standards for food and catering services and promote our high standards in places such as residential care, hospitals and schools.

None Portrait Noble Lords
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The Bishop.

Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich Portrait The Lord Bishop of St Edmundsbury and Ipswich
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My Lords, I indicate my interests as listed in the register and pay tribute to farmers. As the Minister has said, the priorities are food production and environmental quality, including rebuilding biodiversity, restoring clean air and water and prioritising the rebuilding of healthy soils. What ongoing assessment is being made of the current ELMS and SFI programmes to meet these aims?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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I thank the right reverend Prelate for his question. Defra has a large outreach programme with its constituent members, particularly its farming community. We monitor a lot of this work most of the time. Through ELMS we can assess the impact we are having on improving the environment.

Lord Winston Portrait Lord Winston (Lab)
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My Lords, what assessment have the Government made, since the introduction of the precision breeding Bill, of the risk to the environment of releasing into it genetically modified plants?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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The noble Lord raises a serious question on a serious subject. The Government are in the process of assessing this impact, and I hope to write to him shortly with the answer to his question.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords—for the third time—can the Minister answer the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell: at the Farm to Fork event, will there be people from the environmental lobby who are well-informed about how to preserve nature?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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Perhaps we could invite the noble Baroness to attend; that might solve the problem completely.

Baroness Walmsley Portrait Baroness Walmsley (LD)
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My Lords, I would be most grateful if the Minister wrote to my noble friend Lady Bakewell and answered her question. My question is about food waste. There is far too much of it, and there is strong support in the food industry for making reporting on food waste mandatory. Yet, in response to a recommendation of the House of Commons Environmental Audit Committee, the Government have decided, against all the evidence, to delay doing anything for another four to six months. Why is that, and are the Government content to leave it to the next Government?

Lord Douglas-Miller Portrait Lord Douglas-Miller (Con)
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No, I am not content to leave it to the next Government. I cannot furnish the noble Baroness with a date, but I will write to her and, indeed, to the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, shortly.

Ukraine: Arms and Ammunition Costs

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
14:55
Asked by
Lord Trefgarne Portrait Lord Trefgarne
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what has been the cost to public funds of the arms and ammunition supplied to Ukraine so far.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My Lords, I declare my interest as a serving Army reservist. The £7.1 billion that we have committed since February 2022 covers a broad range of military support to Ukraine. This includes rapid procurement and gifting of equipment, development of international capability coalitions and training support through Operation Interflex. We have not provided a breakdown of this military support to Ukraine to ensure that we do not jeopardise a live operation by putting into the public domain information that could be used to assist our adversaries.

Lord Trefgarne Portrait Lord Trefgarne (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that answer, which I understand. However, is he clear that the extent of the training being carried out for Ukrainian personnel is, to some extent, causing some problems, not least with the Hawk aircraft? I gather that nine of these aircraft went unserviceable.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My Lords, Operation Interflex and all training for Ukrainian armed service personnel are key components of our support for their fight. The UK continues to deliver a major training operation for Ukrainian forces, with over 36,000 Ukrainian personnel trained in the UK since June 2022 and more than 60,000 Ukrainians trained since Russia launched its invasion of Ukraine in 2014.

Lord McFall of Alcluith Portrait The Lord Speaker (Lord McFall of Alcluith)
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My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, is participating remotely.

Lord Campbell-Savours Portrait Lord Campbell-Savours (Lab) [V]
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My Lords, as we approach US elections, Trump, a possible victor— who knows?—is threatening cuts, especially on arms expenditure for Ukraine. Are the Government and Parliament thinking through the consequences of today’s trajectory, which, without an open and honest debate here in Europe, may draw us into a wider conflict, with Putin now openly referring to war? Such a war could destabilise Europe, challenge public expenditure priorities and potentially unleash forces of European instability. Why is there no polling on the war? There is polling in America.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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There was a broad range of topics in the noble Lord’s questions. First, it is not for us to comment on US domestic affairs. The United States is our closest ally, and we will work closely with whomever wins this year’s election, just as we have with current and previous Administrations. On NATO, the United Kingdom urges all allies to meet their NATO commitments and increase their contributions to the alliance.

Baroness Uddin Portrait Baroness Uddin (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, first, I thank the Minister for his service. Are the arms and ammunition supplied to Ukraine predicated on legal advice received by the Government? If so, has such advice been received before supplying arms to Israel and the IDF, in the light of the ICJ ruling?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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In relation to the Israel/Gaza conflict, we continue to call for international humanitarian law to be respected and for civilians to be protected. Israel has said that it plans to act within international humanitarian law, and has the ability to do so. At the same time, we are deeply concerned about the impact on the civilian population.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire Portrait Lord Wallace of Saltaire (LD)
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My Lords, can the Minister tell us how closely we are co-ordinating our efforts in the provision of arms and assistance to Ukraine? What steps are the Government taking to expand domestic production, as the consumption of arms, in particular shells, in the Ukraine conflict is clearly very high?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My Lords, as part of the most recent financial contribution, there is a dedicated artillery package. On 24 February 2024, it was announced that the UK would spend £245 million throughout the next year to procure and invigorate supply chains to produce such urgently needed artillery ammunition for Ukraine.

Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton Portrait Lord Lancaster of Kimbolton (Con)
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My Lords, I remind your Lordships’ House of my interest as a serving member of the Armed Forces. The UK Government should be commended for their gifting in kind to Ukraine through the KINDRED programme. However, it has exposed the fragility of the land industrial base. Further to the previous question, is it now not key to look carefully at perhaps moving away from doing orders bit by bit, towards ensuring a continuous flow, perhaps working with our NATO allies? Rather like a maritime industrial base, this would ensure that our industrial base can be expanded when required.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My noble friend makes a very important point. The Ministry of Defence remains fully engaged with industry, allies and partners to ensure both the continuation of supplies to Ukraine and the replacement of all equipment and munitions granted in kind from UK stocks as rapidly as possible. I am pleased to tell the House that a number of substantial contracts have been placed directly to replenish UK stockpiles. These include securing contracts for next generation light anti-tank weapons, Starstreak high-velocity missiles, lightweight multirole missiles, Javelin and Brimstone missiles, 155 millimetre artillery rounds and 5.56 millimetre rifle rounds.

Lord Coaker Portrait Lord Coaker (Lab)
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My Lords, the key figure that the noble Lord gave this Chamber was the £7.1 billion that this country has already provided to Ukraine. I hope that, in due course, we will provide more if more is needed. Is this not the price of defending democracy and freedom? We should stand with Ukraine and support it in every way we can. This is the official position of His Majesty’s Opposition. I hope the noble Lord can agree with it.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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I pay tribute to the noble Lord and to His Majesty’s loyal Opposition for their continued support, from the first day of this conflict. We hope that the conflict will come to an end as soon as possible, but we will do whatever it takes to support Ukraine in her fight.

Lord Stirrup Portrait Lord Stirrup (CB)
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My Lords, could the Minister go a bit further in response to the point from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace? The contribution that the UK has made to Ukraine is welcome and to be applauded, but by itself it is wholly insufficient. President Macron has said that Europe must do whatever is necessary to ensure Ukraine’s success, irrespective of political decisions in the United States. However, as yet, there has been no sign of any substance following up that assertion. What detailed discussions are the UK Government having with the EU to give that statement reality, because the urgency is real and now.

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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I agree with the noble and gallant Lord that the urgency is real and now. The UK and France stand side by side with Ukraine, including through co-ordinating training Ukrainian fighter pilots and marines, and advocating for the Ukrainian cause at NATO, the G7 and the UN Security Council. The UK was the first country to sign a security guarantee with Ukraine. France has now also signed security guarantees, and of course we want others to do the same.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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Does the Minister acknowledge that, as the war has developed, it has many more characteristics similar to what I might describe as a 20th-century war, rather than the 21st-century war we thought it might be? It has a lot of traditional methods—if that is the right way to describe it—of fighting, with trenches and all the rest of it. Given that, were the Government prepared for the resulting demand for munitions on a scale which, as far as I can see, was never anticipated?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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My Lords, this goes back to my point about how defence is engaging with industry to replenish stockpiles as soon as possible. The noble Lord is absolutely right in one respect: this is a form of brutal, attritional trench warfare—we call it FIWAF, meaning fighting in woods and forest. However, it has the very new and dangerous 21st-century complexity of unmanned aerial craft, otherwise known as drones. So this is a new and incredibly dangerous battlespace.

Lord Lexden Portrait Lord Lexden (Con)
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My Lords, following the question from the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Stirrup, should not the Government be actively seeking assistance and increased activity from our European NATO allies? Should we not have a clear plan to put pressure on them?

Lord Harlech Portrait Lord Harlech (Con)
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I take my noble friend’s point, as I do the noble and gallant Lord’s. I assure the House that dialogue is ongoing, all the time.

Child Poverty

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Question
15:05
Asked by
Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what action they are taking in response to the fact that 4.3 million children lived in relative poverty in 2023, according to data published by the Department for Work and Pensions on 21 March.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Viscount Younger of Leckie) (Con)
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My Lords, these statistics cover 2022-23—a year when war in Ukraine and global supply chain challenges led to unexpected and high inflation rates, averaging 10% over the year. These factors are reflected in the statistics. The Government have since taken firm action to support those on the lowest incomes, including through uprating benefits by 10.1% from April 2023, increasing the national living wage from April 2023 and providing cost of living support worth £96 billion over 2022-23 and 2023-24.

Baroness Lister of Burtersett Portrait Baroness Lister of Burtersett (Lab)
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My Lords, we have a record number of children in poverty, of whom two-thirds are considered to be in deep poverty, and an annual increase even on the Government’s preferred measure. Plus more food insecurity means more hungry children and reliance on food banks. So what was the Secretary of State’s response? “The plan is working”—working for whom? When seven in 10 children in poverty have at least one employed parent, parental employment can be only a partial answer. Welcome as it is, benefits uprating is really the minimum we should be expecting. Will the Government therefore now accept that it is high time for a new plan, which scraps the social security policies that drive worsening child poverty and sets out a comprehensive, cross-government child poverty strategy?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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Setting such a strategy and targets can drive action that focuses primarily on moving the incomes for those just in poverty—just above a somewhat arbitrary poverty line—while doing nothing to help those on the very lowest incomes or to improve children’s future prospects. Therefore, we have no plans to reintroduce an approach to tackling child poverty focused primarily on income-based targets. Having said that, perhaps I can reassure the noble Baroness that my Department for Work and Pensions consistently works across government to support the most vulnerable households.

Lord Laming Portrait Lord Laming (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister agree that this figure from the department graphically indicates the importance of the school meal service? Would it be better to go back to a position in which the head teacher, rather than some large external body that is unknown to the school, is responsible for the quality and delivery of the service?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I note that the noble Lord has raised this point in the House in the past, and the Government certainly support the provision of nutritious food in schools. It ensures that pupils develop healthy eating habits and can contribute to concentrating and learning in the classroom. As he will know, we have extended free school meal eligibility several times and to more groups of children than any other Government over the past half a century. We provide free meals for 2 million disadvantaged pupils through the benefits-related criteria.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford Portrait Baroness Hughes of Stretford (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister was quite selective in the figures he gave in his Answer because, in fact, by every official measure, child poverty has been rising faster in the UK than in most OECD and EU countries, many of which have actually reduced child poverty during this period. It is the fastest rise we have seen for almost 30 years, and this is not an accident; it is the direct consequence of the Government’s political decisions, taking money away from the poorest families to benefit the better off. Does the Minister not agree that it is now imperative that the Government bring forward the sort of comprehensive plan to which my noble friend referred, to start to restore the incomes of these families and children and take them out of poverty?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I beg to differ with the noble Baroness, because analysis shows that the Government’s cost of living support prevented 1.3 million people falling into absolute poverty after housing costs in 2022-23. That includes 300,000 children, 600,000 working-age adults and 400,000 pensioners. The £96 billion I alluded to earlier included £20 billion for two rounds of cost of living payments for more than 8 million households on eligible means-tested benefits. I gently say to the noble Baroness that she should bear these very important initiatives in mind.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
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My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to the 200,000 children who represent 14% of the children who are eligible for free school meals, even on the very small amount of money their parents are allowed to use, who are not registered. They are not registered because there is no automatic registration, which can happen extremely easily once people are handed out universal credit. I have asked the Government this many times: why does automatic registration not happen? This is 200,000 kids today, right now, who did not get a meal that we pay for.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I have certainly taken note of the point raised by the noble Baroness, but I say again that we have extended eligibility several times and to more groups of children than any other Government over the past half a century. Free meal support is also available to around 90,000 disadvantaged students in further education, so an awful lot has been happening in that space.

Baroness Burt of Solihull Portrait Baroness Burt of Solihull (LD)
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My Lords, the fact that nearly one in three children in the UK are living in relative poverty is the logical outcome of years of starving social services and funding for the most vulnerable in our country. At worst, that translates into empty tummies, cold homes and even no bed to yourself. I am sure the House would be interested to hear the Minister’s excuse—surely not Ukraine again. In an election year, I have to tell him that the British people will neither forget nor forgive what this Government have done to our children.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I think that is a little unfair from the noble Baroness. She will recognise, as I think the House does, that Ukraine has played a part. In the previous Question we heard about our role as a country, which is continuing, and we have had support from the Opposition on that. We have set a clear and sustainable approach, based on evidence of the important role that parental employment plays in reducing the risk of child poverty. We have a huge number of initiatives in my department to encourage more people to get into work. That is why, with more than 900,000 vacancies across the UK, our focus is firmly on supporting parents into and to progress in work, which helps directly with poverty.

Baroness Sherlock Portrait Baroness Sherlock (Lab)
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My Lords, the Minister challenged my noble friend and cited statistics on absolute poverty, which, as we know, is the Government’s favourite measure. The last time we discussed this, on 28 February, the Minister told me that the Government prefer absolute poverty rather than relative poverty as a measure. He said:

“The absolute poverty line is fixed in real terms, so it will only ever worsen if people are getting poorer and will only ever improve if people are getting richer”.—[Official Report, 28/2/24; col. 1028.]


Since the latest official statistics show that 600,000 more people, half of them kids, are living in absolute poverty, does the Minister accept that the Government’s policies are now pushing children into poverty? If so, what are they going to do about it?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I have already spelled out what we are doing about it. Do not forget that these figures are one year out; they are retrospective figures. In my opening Answer, I spelled out what we had taken action on. The noble Baroness is right; we do prefer absolute poverty, because relative poverty can also provide counterintuitive results, as it is likely to fall during recessions due to falling median incomes. Under this measure, poverty can decrease even if people are getting poorer.

Baroness Meacher Portrait Baroness Meacher (CB)
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My Lords, I wonder whether the percentage of children in absolute poverty in this country is higher or lower than in France or Germany. I wonder whether this Government have some lessons to learn from our neighbours.

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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Indeed. I do not have any figures to answer the noble Baroness’s question, but she makes an important point, which other Peers have raised, about the importance of bringing as many children out of poverty as possible. I happen to cover the Child Maintenance Service in government, and I feel very proud that every year we take 160,000 children out of poverty by ensuring that the money flows from the paying parent to the receiving parent—it is very important.

Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway Portrait Baroness O'Grady of Upper Holloway (Lab)
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My Lords, is the Minister aware of TUC-commissioned research from November 2022 that showed that more than a quarter of children whose parents had paid jobs in social care are growing up in poverty? That is a scandal—220,000 children of parents who do work that I am sure noble Lords will agree is vital, skilled and valuable work for this country. Can the Minister tell me whether the picture in respect of the children of workers in social care has got better or worse since 2022? If it is worse, what are the Government going to do about it?

Viscount Younger of Leckie Portrait Viscount Younger of Leckie (Con)
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I have already mentioned many of the things that we are doing. I have also been quite open by saying that the war in Ukraine and the pandemic have had an effect. Those are not the only factors, but it is important to recognise that. To support people in work, the voluntary in-work progression offer is now available in all jobcentres across Great Britain, providing an estimated 1.6 million low-paid workers on universal credit access to personalised work coach support to help them increase their earnings. The department is working at pace with a number of important initiatives to encourage more people into work, which takes more children out of poverty.

HMRC Self-assessment Helpline

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Wednesday 20 March.
“I thank the honourable Member for Ealing North, James Murray, and others, for raising the important issue of HMRC’s customer services and its plans to provide better services for taxpayers.
As Members probably know, His Majesty’s Revenue and Customs has announced that it is halting planned changes to its helplines, but aims to encourage more taxpayers to self-serve online. It has listened to the feedback and recognises that more needs to be done to ensure that all taxpayer needs are met, while encouraging those who can to make the transition to online services. Making the best use of online services allows HMRC to help more taxpayers, and to get the most out of every pound of taxpayers’ money by boosting productivity. HMRC helpline and web-chat advisers will always be there for taxpayers who need support because they are vulnerable or digitally excluded, or have complex affairs. I recognise that such reassurances were not communicated clearly enough yesterday.
Of course, the pace of this change needs to match the public’s appetite for managing their tax affairs online. The changes in the self-assessment VAT and PAYE helplines announced by HMRC will therefore be halted while it engages with stakeholders, which means that the phone lines will remain open as usual. HMRC will now work with stakeholders—including me—while continuing to encourage customers to self-serve and gain access to the information that they need more quickly and easily by going online or to the HMRC app, which is available 24/7”.
15:17
Lord Livermore Portrait Lord Livermore (Lab)
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My Lords, on Tuesday 19 March, HMRC announced that it would close its self-assessment helpline for half the year. The very next day, following a U-turn by the Chancellor, HMRC announced that this closure would not go ahead. When was any Treasury Minister first informed by HMRC of its decision to close the helpline? Reports of the Chancellor’s U-turn referred to a “pause”—what criteria will be used to decide whether, and when, HMRC will proceed with its planned closure of the helpline?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait The Parliamentary Secretary, HM Treasury (Baroness Vere of Norbiton) (Con)
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My Lords, I do not have the details of who was told at what stage, but even though HMRC is a non-ministerial department and has a close relationship with the Ministers with oversight of HMRC, operational decisions are taken by HMRC’s management. The decision on the helpline followed two trials last year, the evaluations for which were published, showing that closing access to those helplines for certain people had no adverse effects at all. A commitment has been made that the helplines will remain open over the year ahead, but we are focused on listening to feedback and ensuring that as many people as possible can make the transition to online services, which have a far higher customer satisfaction rate than the phone lines.

Baroness Kramer Portrait Baroness Kramer (LD)
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My Lords, it is not just this particular shambles: HMRC’s own surveys, which you can read in its annual reports, show that customer service has pretty much collapsed within that departmental agency. Its leadership has failed to recognise that the huge shift to self-employment, contract work and gig work has pushed swathes of ordinary people into a tax minefield. I ask that the Government provide HMRC with more resources to deal with this issue, but will they also tackle the culture at HMRC, which, at the top, remains focused on compliance through aggressive enforcement rather than through proper customer service and support? Most people want to pay the right tax; they just do not know what it is or how to do it.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I do not fully recognise the picture that the noble Baroness paints. Over the course of this Parliament, the amount of funding provided to HMRC has increased from £4.3 billion in 2019-20 to £5.2 billion in 2024-25, and the overall customer satisfaction across phone, web chat and online is 79.2% versus a target of 80%. However, I recognise that there are certain elements within the HMRC offer where taxpayers need to get a better service. That includes answering correspondence for some of the more complex and hard-to-reach people: the vulnerable and the digitally excluded. That is exactly why, quite frankly, we need to move resources from taxpayers who can and should use online and ensure that those resources can be targeted at those areas where customer service is not as good as it should be. That is what we intend to do.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the large reduction in the number of people in this country who are self-employed is a direct consequence of the Government’s introduction of IR35 legislation, which has led to huge confusion among the self-employed? Many people are giving up—just ask any taxi driver in London. Does she really think that the Inland Revenue, or HMRC as it is now, can provide a proper service with so many of its people working from home?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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Obviously, it is up to the individual to ensure that they pay the right tax at the right time. HMRC intends to make that as easy as possible, but for some more complex situations it is right that individuals get tax advice. People working for HMRC can work from home two days a week. They use the same systems as they do in the office, and they are held to the same standard that they would experience when they are in the office.

Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick Portrait Baroness Ritchie of Downpatrick (Lab)
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My Lords, the media reports yesterday said that people who are unable to get online will still get assistance from staff during office hours, although it is not immediately clear how that will work. Given that more than 12 million people are required to complete self-assessment forms every year, maybe the Minister could advise your Lordships’ House about the discussions that have taken place with HMRC to facilitate all the people requiring self-assessment, particularly those who do not have online access and who need, by law, to complete such forms.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I am incredibly happy to do that. Of the self-assessment tax returns that were submitted on time, 97% were done online, so just 3% were not. HMRC has an entire focus on the 120,000 people who are vulnerable or digitally excluded. It is those people whom HMRC wishes to target its resources on. Some 3 million calls were received last year, which took 500 full-time equivalents an entire year to answer. Those calls were people phoning up to ask how to change their password, how to get their tax code, or what their national insurance number was. That can be done online. Those who can access the online services really must do.

Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row Portrait Lord Brownlow of Shurlock Row (Con)
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My Lords, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Cormack. What a privilege it was, along with others from your Lordships’ House and the other place, to be at his funeral yesterday in Lincoln Cathedral.

Is my noble friend the Minister satisfied and content with the advice given by the current board of HMRC? I declare my interest of having worked on a private sector board with a current member of the HMRC board.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The HMRC board as currently constituted is advisory. I know that my colleague the Financial Secretary to the Treasury is taking a keen interest in the strategy and its operationalisation within the HMRC. I expect that we will see some improvement shortly.

Earl of Clancarty Portrait The Earl of Clancarty (CB)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for helping to facilitate the meeting on A1 forms that parliamentarians had with the Financial Secretary to the Treasury, but a specific concern of users was very much the lack of a helpline, so what I am hearing at the moment is concerning.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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The helplines that would have closed relate to VAT and PAYE and self-assessment. HMRC is putting in various digital solutions to ensure that people can access A1 forms as quickly as possible and, as with all other forms of tax, accessing online is quicker, can be more convenient and certainly offers the best value for money for the taxpayer.

Lord Watts Portrait Lord Watts (Lab)
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My Lords, is it not the case that the people who carried out this assessment are the same people who have been failing the public for many years? Who carried that assessment out? Does the Minister understand that many people who try to contact the tax office do so after they have failed to get through or get any answers from the online service?

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I accept that that can be the case. There is a digital assistant in the first instance, which is like a chatbot which can help with very simple inquiries; then it goes on to web chat; and then if the person on the other end of the web chat says that they cannot help, of course one is then able to phone HMRC. HMRC monitors all its channels for levels of confidence, levels of access, emotional state, mental health capability, comprehension and disability, and those people are referred to the extra support service team.

Baroness Altmann Portrait Baroness Altmann (Con)
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My Lords, will my noble friend consider the increasing number of pensioners being dragged into the tax net as the tax threshold is frozen and the state pension has increased significantly? Many more will go into the tax zone and many will have never filled out a tax return in their life and have no idea that they are in line to pay tax. Yet, when they get a demand and a potential penalty, they will have nobody to phone; many of them will be unable to get online, and increasingly all it takes is a state pension plus a small extra income for them to come over the limit. Will the department consider some special measures to help those pensioners who are never going to get online? I would be grateful if the Minister would take that back to the department.

Baroness Vere of Norbiton Portrait Baroness Vere of Norbiton (Con)
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I accept that some pensioners will not be online but the vast majority are and will be able to access HMRC’s services. As I said previously, HMRC is trying to focus its resources on precisely the people that the noble Baroness is concerned about—those who are digitally excluded, whether they be pensioners or not, and those who are more vulnerable, again whether they be pensioners or not.

Third Reading
15:28
Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lords, I have it in command from His Majesty the King to acquaint the House that His Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill, has consented to place his interest, so far as it is affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Business and Trade (Lord Offord of Garvel) (Con)
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My Lords, I will make a brief statement on the devolution status of the Bill. Parts 3, 4 and 5 of the Bill include provisions within the legislative competence of the Northern Ireland Assembly relating to consumer matters. The legislative consent process is not engaged in Scotland or Wales.

As noble Lords will be aware, the Executive and Assembly have only recently been restored in Northern Ireland. After the return of the Northern Ireland Assembly and Executive on 3 February, my ministerial colleague the Minister for Enterprise, Markets and Small Business wrote to his counterpart in Northern Ireland, seeking their agreement to initiate the legislative consent process and to support a legislative consent Motion in the Northern Ireland Assembly. Since then, my officials have been in regular contact with the Northern Ireland Civil Service and we are hopeful that the legislative consent process will progress swiftly over the coming weeks.

Although it has not been possible to secure consent by this time, we take great comfort from the engagement that has taken place with the Northern Ireland Civil Service throughout the passage of the Bill, including via correspondence between Permanent Secretaries. I take this opportunity to thank the officials in the Executive and express my gratitude for the close working to date. There has historically been a policy and enforcement imperative in Northern Ireland to maintain parity with Great Britain in relation to consumer protection matters. With the support of the Northern Ireland Office, my officials have liaised with the relevant Northern Ireland departments to ensure that the Bill considers and reflects the relevant aspects of devolved legislation. We remain committed to ensuring sustained engagement on the Bill with all three devolved Administrations as it progresses through Parliament.

Amendment 1

Moved by
1: After Clause 129, insert the following new Clause—
“Mergers involving newspaper enterprises and foreign powers(1) Schedule (Mergers involving newspaper enterprises and foreign powers) makes provision for the purposes of preventing foreign powers from gaining control or influence over newspaper enterprises.(2) The amendments made by that Schedule—(a) apply in relation to enterprises ceasing to be distinct on or after the effective date, but not in relation to enterprises ceasing to be distinct before the effective date;(b) apply in relation to arrangements in progress or in contemplation on or after the effective date which, if carried into effect, would result in the creation of a foreign state newspaper merger situation by virtue of enterprises ceasing to be distinct on or after the effective date.(3) In subsection (2), “the effective date” means 13 March 2024.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment, together with my amendment inserting a new Schedule after Schedule 6, makes provision for the purposes of preventing foreign powers from taking control of newspaper enterprises.
Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Culture, Media and Sport (Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay) (Con)
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My Lords, I am here to speak to the amendments in this group which stand in the name of my noble friend Lord Offord of Garvel, and I am happy to update your Lordships’ House on the work that has taken place since our debates on Report to implement a regime to ban foreign state ownership of newspapers and news magazines. As I noted on Report, we have heard the strength of concerns expressed in Parliament, and from my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston in particular, about foreign state ownership of UK newspapers and news magazines.

His Majesty’s Government agree that the importance of these publications to our democracy cannot be overstated: newspapers have always been, and must continue to be, free to develop relationships with their readers and develop editorial lines supporting different positions. The plurality of views across different newspapers ensures that there is a wide range of views supporting a culture of argument, debate and challenge, which in turn contributes to a healthy democratic society.

His Majesty’s Government are therefore taking steps to preserve the freedom of the press, recognising the risks that foreign state ownership of, or control or influence over, the UK’s newspapers and news magazines could pose to democracy and to free speech. Foreign state ownership, if used to develop or control narratives which align with another state’s interests, may over time corrode trust in our media as a whole. That is why many countries already have laws limiting foreign state ownership, and why we are creating a new regime which will prevent foreign states having any stake in a UK newspaper or news magazine.

These amendments will amend the Enterprise Act 2002 to create a new foreign state intervention regime for newspapers and news magazines, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Forsyth of Drumlean has put his name to Amendment 1, which leads the amendments in this group. Getting from a regret amendment on the Media Bill to joint signatures on this Bill in a matter of weeks is testament to the collaboration we have had across your Lordships’ House in our discussions, and I thank him for that.

Under the new regime, the Secretary of State will be obliged to give the Competition and Markets Authority a foreign state intervention notice where she has reasonable grounds to believe that a merger involving a UK newspaper or news magazine has given, or would give, a foreign state or a person associated with a foreign state ownership, influence or control. The CMA will be obliged to investigate and provide a report to the Secretary of State on the merger or potential merger. If it concludes that the merger has resulted or would result in a foreign state newspaper merger situation, the Secretary of State will be required by the statutory provisions to make an order to block or unwind the merger.

Our amendments expand the definition of “foreign power” to capture a wide variety of actors, including senior members of a foreign Government and officers of a governing political party acting in a private capacity. The legislation will also apply to mergers involving persons associated with a foreign power to ensure that we are capturing all possible ways in which a foreign state could seek control or influence over a UK newspaper or news magazine. Direct investment in newspapers of any size will be banned in future under this new regime.

It is, however, essential that these new measures do not have undesired effects in relation to wider business investment in UK media. We will therefore introduce an exemption for investments where the stake is below 5% of the total investment being made. This would apply to passive investments by established and pre-existing sovereign wealth funds, pension funds or similar.

We will introduce this threshold by regulations made under the affirmative procedure, giving noble Lords and Members in another place the opportunity to scrutinise the detailed proposals. We will bring these regulations forward after Royal Assent to this Bill. My colleagues and I would be very happy to engage with noble Lords as we do so.

I make it clear that the regime brought about by these amendments, and the exemption which will be provided for in secondary legislation, applies only to newspapers and news magazines in order to safeguard our free press from government involvement, whether domestic or foreign.

As I have set out before, we already have a robust media mergers regime, which enables the Secretary of State to intervene if she believes that public interest considerations are, or may be, relevant to a merger. This new foreign state ownership regime works in parallel and complements the existing regime. Our focus is not on foreign investment in the UK media sector in general but is targeted specifically —noble Lords have rightly made the distinction—at foreign state investment in newspapers and news magazines.

Of course, the Government remain committed to encouraging and supporting investment into the United Kingdom. We recognise that investors deploying capital into this country rely on the predictability and consistency of our regulatory regime. The UK remains one of the most open economies in the world, and investment is crucial to our plans for growth and jobs, and for our prosperity. The UK has the highest stock of foreign direct investment in Europe. The recent Global Investment Summit signalled investors’ confidence, with nearly £30 billion in investment commitments being made. These amendments will not change the UK’s investment potential. As I said, we are targeting foreign state investment in a narrow but important part of the UK market to safeguard the health of our democracy.

As I noted on Report,

“the Secretary of State is currently considering a live merger case under the Enterprise Act regime on which I cannot comment further today. With regard to any live case, if it is still ongoing when the changes come into effect, the Secretary of State will continue to follow the process set out in the existing regime and will also apply the new measures”.—[Official Report, 13/3/24; cols. 2042-43.]

In tandem, I can confirm to your Lordships’ House that we will be consulting on expanding the media mergers and the new media foreign state ownership regime to apply to online news websites. This will bring the regimes up to date in order to reflect modern news consumption habits and better protect the freedom of our media.

I am grateful to my noble friends Lady Stowell and Lord Forsyth, to the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and to others opposite and from across the House for their constructive engagement and collaboration on these amendments. I hope that they will enjoy your Lordships’ support.

Finally, I will briefly mention Amendment 4, tabled by my noble friend Lord Offord, which is not related specifically to foreign state ownership of media enterprises, but which is part of this group. Amendment 4 is a minor and technical amendment relating to other amendments made by Schedule 4 to the Bill. It clarifies how certain sections of the Enterprise Act 2002 are applied for the purposes of deciding if a special merger situation has been created under the special public interest merger regime. I beg to move.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend and his officials for the time and attention they have given this matter since Report. I know that officials have worked very hard, including over weekends, so I am truly grateful to them. I also pay tribute to the Media Minister, Julia Lopez. When I first met her to discuss my amendment three weeks ago, she gripped the issue immediately. I believe it is because of her energy and support for the clear objective of protecting press freedom that the Government have got behind her in bringing forward amendments in such a short space of time. Julia Lopez deserves much credit.

On the Government’s amendments, for me, the best way to understand their proposed way forward is to see it in two stages. Stage 1 deals with the block to foreign powers owning, controlling or influencing UK news. Stage 2 is the exemption for investment in UK news from legitimate foreign state investment funds. Both those stages, or parts, are important to the sustainability of the UK news industry.

I support the Government’s amendments as they relate to stage 1, and noble Lords will see that I have not retabled my own amendment. I am satisfied that they are in line with the promises my noble friend made from the Dispatch Box two weeks ago. In my view, they deal with the legal uncertainty that the RedBird IMI-proposed deal to buy the Telegraph titles and the Spectator has exposed when it comes to the involvement of foreign powers in our news media. It is worth restating that, as concerning as the UAE financial backing via IMI in that case is, the issue is bigger than that one deal and is a matter of principle.

As I understand the government amendments and what my noble friend has just said, the Government have broadened the definition of “foreign power”, and any individual or entity now captured by that definition will be blocked completely from owning, controlling or influencing our newspapers or news magazines. These provisions will take effect immediately once the Bill receives Royal Assent. Once completed, stage 1, as I might describe it, protects press freedom from the control or influence of foreign powers. Stage 2, which provides the exemption for legitimate, indirect foreign state investment funds to make passive investments in our news industry, will be covered by secondary legislation to follow once the Bill is enacted.

This exemption is important for obvious reasons, as my noble friend has already said. The news industry needs investment just like any other, and we must not exclude perfectly legitimate foreign state investors such as sovereign wealth funds or state pension funds that are not directly government controlled. As I said on Report, foreign state investment funds such as the Norwegian sovereign fund already invest in some of our news organisations.

I think I heard my noble friend set out the Government’s commitment to the threshold for this category of foreign state investors in the news industry being set at 5%. It is worth reflecting on that, because, at 5%, it is still above the approach of such funds which typically invest around 1 to 2% in corporations within any sector, yet it is a lower threshold than what is permitted by the CMA to prevent material influence, reflecting the fact that we are seeking to prevent any foreign state influence in UK news. I welcome the 5% threshold.

Obviously, we have yet to see the details of the secondary legislation, and Parliament will have to scrutinise that carefully before it can be approved. I welcome my noble friend’s commitment to engage Parliament before those regulations are laid. I think I heard my noble friend correctly, but can he reassure me that my understanding is correct that any individual or entity blocked at stage 1 will not qualify for exemption at stage 2? In other words, the exemption at stage 2 is for an entirely different kind of entity from that which will be blocked at stage 1.

I am pleased that my noble friend has reminded the House that any live regulatory case will be captured by the new legislation once it is enacted, and I am also pleased that he has confirmed that foreign state ownership of online UK news websites will be dealt with swiftly, also via secondary legislation and the affirmative procedure, once the Government have completed their consultation. There remains the question of foreign state ownership of our commercial public sector broadcasters and other commercial UK news channels. That said, of course, there are some regulatory protections already in broadcasting because of the Ofcom licensing regime. It would none the less be helpful if my noble friend could say whether the department is reviewing policy in this area also.

In conclusion, I will make three simple points. First, none of these legislative changes affect general foreign investment in or ownership of UK newspapers or news magazines, which is and will remain very welcome. Secondly, the exemption for legitimate investment by foreign state investment funds is important to the financial sustainability of our news industry. Finally, just to be clear, the UK remains open for business in the same way it has always been. All that Parliament is doing by making these changes is ensuring that our fundamental principle of press freedom is not up for sale.

I look forward to my noble friend’s replies to my questions, and we will, of course, review the secondary legislation carefully once it is ready. But, overall, I commend my noble friend on the Government’s work in recent weeks and I thank him for it.

15:45
Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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My Lords, we are at Third Reading and this is not a time for long speeches, but I want to congratulate my noble friend and his colleagues on having listened to what was said. He remarked that I had gone from moving a regret amendment to signing an amendment. I gently point out that it is not me who has moved position.

I am struck by how the attempts to get this dealt with under both the Media Bill and this Bill came across the problems of the Long Title of the Bill and getting it in order. Going from an amendment that was 16 lines long to one that is 16 pages long tells us how much hard work has gone into this with the civil servants in both departments that are affected. It is fashionable to be rude about this place and the work it does, which I believe is outstanding, but it is even more fashionable these days, even among some Ministers, to criticise the Civil Service. To turn this around in this period, and to do it with such diligence and careful consideration, is a great tribute to the officials in those departments. It just goes to show that, contrary to what is believed, if Ministers give a clear view of what needs to be done, the Civil Service is more than capable of delivering that.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, has done a fantastic job on this. I agree with everything that she said, and I see no need to repeat it. My understanding—I am very conscious of Pepper v Hart here—is that what the Minister has said from the Dispatch Box is absolutely clear. I have to say that, when I read the amendment, I thought, “Is this secondary legislation a Maginot line that will enable a future Government to get around the clear principle that no foreign Government should be able to own or influence in any way a newspaper or a news magazine?” The words that have been stated from the Dispatch Box make me confident that that is not the position. That has to be right. After yesterday’s events, it is inconceivable that the Chinese Government could own 1% or even one share of a British newspaper.

The carve-out is sensible, if sensibly applied, and there will be an opportunity for this House and the other place to consider it. I very much look forward to this legislation receiving Royal Assent, which will mean that there is a complete ban on any foreign Government having either ownership or influence over our press. That must be right in a free and democratic society.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I also pay tribute to the Government, Ministers, officials and lawyers for their speedy response to the amendment put down on Report by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and others. I declare an interest as the chair of the Independent Press Standards Organisation, which regulates 95% of the printed press and its online manifestations.

I shared with many other noble Lords concern about the prospective acquisition of the Daily Telegraph and the Spectator by the United Arab Emirates—or at least the acquisition of a substantial part of those important titles. It seems to me that this amendment will make this sort of acquisition much more difficult, if not impossible, as soon as the Bill becomes law.

I agree with other noble Lords that it is most important in framing the necessary secondary legislation that the driving principle behind the amendment, which is to prevent foreign state ownership of newspapers, is reflected appropriately. There is a risk that too tightly drawn definitions might catch wholly benign investors who might have a very modest and non-active interest in newspaper organisations. Sovereign wealth funds have already been mentioned, and the noble Lord has given assurances in this area. I do not entirely agree with the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, in his citation of Pepper v Hart and its importance, but none the less we will be much reassured by anything the Minister might say. I also ask him to consider the position of banks which may provide a newspaper organisation’s finance. Banks are often part of a consortium, and one part of a consortium may well be a bank with a connection to a foreign state. It is important that that is not captured.

There has been a deliberate choice by those drafting these amendments to change the language of the Enterprise Act 2002, which speaks of “material influence” to provide in the amendment that a relevant merger situation arises where one party acquires “influence” over another. That is plainly a much lower bar. I imagine that the change is designed to protect against somewhat unconvincing assertions by prospective acquirers of an interest in newspapers that editorial independence is protected by some form of editorial board or other Chinese wall. I welcome the Minister’s clarification on this.

The definition of a newspaper in the amendment is,

“a news publication circulating wholly or mainly in the United Kingdom or in a part of the United Kingdom on any periodic basis”.

That seems to exclude news websites or broadcasters. News websites are increasingly a source of news for consumers, many whom have deserted conventional newspaper models. It may be that more power and influence can in fact be obtained there than in the traditional format. I hope that the Minister can continue to reassure the House that these websites are in the Government’s sights, simply on the basis of consistency. I venture to suggest that the Media Bill might provide an appropriate parent for relevant provisions to bring websites into the same category as newspapers. I welcome clarification on that.

The provisions make it clear that the Secretary of State must—I emphasise the word “must”—

“make an order … reversing or preventing … the foreign state newspaper merger situation”.

There is no discretion here. That makes it all the more important that any exemptions should provide that remote or benign interest in newspapers by various emanations of foreign states will not necessarily fall foul of these provisions.

I would like to make it clear that I am entirely in favour of the thinking which animates this amendment, but it is inevitable that when an amendment is drafted, at considerable pace, at a late stage in the progress of a Bill, there may be gaps or ambiguities. Freedom from state interference is of fundamental importance. Our newspaper industry is not in anything like the healthy state it once was, and its vulnerability is what makes newspapers potentially prey to outside investment from foreign states which seek influence. However, important though it is to keep our newspapers free of such influence, we want them to survive and, indeed, to prosper. I hope that the amendment entirely comprehends that aim.

Finally, I simply ask for clarity—the drafting is impressive, but sometimes the meaning is a little hard to tease out—on how the Minister envisages parliamentary involvement in the case of a contentious merger situation.

Lord Lansley Portrait Lord Lansley (Con)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I intervene just briefly. I am very pleased to take the opportunity to follow what the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, was just saying because it touches directly on the points I was going to make.

First, I am very grateful for the conversations I have had with the noble Lord and Minister Lopez in his department. I look forward to further debate about the extension to online news services. It will certainly be my intention to table amendments to the Media Bill to enable us to consider how the media public interest test is to be applied in relation to this wider definition of news providers, since the definitions are clearly now out of date—I can say that, having been part of the Puttnam committee on the 2003 legislation.

My noble friend has done an amazing piece of legislative work. I just have to ask, as I did on Report, why it would not have sufficed to have added a new specified consideration to Section 58 of the Enterprise Act 2002, in effect on the need to prevent the acquisition, control of, or influence over newspapers or newspaper periodicals by any defined foreign power. As my noble friend says, we have 16 pages; frankly, we could have done it in about three lines, but clearly there are differences in terms of the bar that has to be crossed and the requirement on the Secretary of State. As the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, said, the Secretary of State must do these things, as opposed to the discretion under the current merger regime, but it seems to me that, with a new specified consideration, the current merger regime would provide the necessary powers. For example, it was sufficient for the purpose of meeting the capability to deal with a public health emergency in Section 58 as a specified consideration, or to maintain the stability of our financial system, as specified after the financial crisis, in Section 58. I am not at all clear why we have departed from the same approach in this case. There is a risk that we end up with overlapping and very complex provisions relating to one type of merger situation as opposed to other merger situations, but we will come on to discuss that.

On Report, I raised with my noble friend the question of broadcasting. We can return to that in the Media Bill, but, of course, where broadcasters are concerned, we have the benefit of the relationship to the Ofcom standards code, which does not apply in relation to newspapers. I hope we can revisit that when we come to the Media Bill.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I want to revert very briefly, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Offord, for his statement about the status of the Bill in Northern Ireland, before commenting on Amendment 1. I very much hope that those discussions go as quickly as possible in the circumstances. I also welcome the noble Lord, Lord Leong, back to the Opposition Front Benches, and hope that he is in much better form.

I start by congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth, Lord Robertson, and Lord Anderson, on what is really a triumph. I thank the Minister, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, for producing something so comprehensive, and perhaps complicated. As someone who is rather used to replies such as “in due course” or “we’re going to produce guidance”, it just shows what government can do swiftly and decisively when it really gets the bit between its teeth. It means that we are not going to take many more excuses in future.

I very much hope that, as the noble Lords, Lord Faulks and Lord Lansley, said, we will not lose sight of the digital news media agenda as well, because it just demonstrates what is possible through this change to the Enterprise Act. There is a broader agenda, and that needs addressing. I very much hope that, as other noble Lords have said, the secondary legislation really is consistent with the intent demonstrated today, both in what the Minister had to say and in the intent of the proposers of the original amendment. It is very good that the Minister has, in a sense, confirmed that it will impact on the RedBird proposal, if that proposal is still current on the effective date, given the circumstances. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, that this is a matter of principle; it is not about the particular country. However, I do feel strongly about the particular country, so in these circumstances, we are entitled to be pleased that this is going to be the case in terms of this particular transaction.

The noble Baroness raised questions about the threshold, and I very much hope that the Minister can answer them. I thank him, and I think there is general satisfaction across the House. This demonstrates what the Government can do when they get the bit between their teeth.

16:00
Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been a fascinating and illuminating series of speeches on the potential foreign ownership of UK news titles, particularly the Telegraph and the Spectator, by RedBird IMI. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell: this is a much larger issue than that newspaper group. There is a fundamental principle involved here, which is why all sides of the House wanted to rally round the issue.

We have witnessed not only the magical transformation of the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, from agent provocateur, but the Government moving at a speed we would welcome elsewhere in public policy; it is something to behold for the future. We have come to understand better just how complicated the terms of international trade are and how careful we need to be when legislating to prevent the law of unintended circumstances kicking in.

Protecting the freedom of the press—and our politics—from foreign state interference is an important issue. That is why we supported the calls for government action, an issue I raised in January, and for decisive intervention. As I carefully explained to your Lordships’ House last week, we supported the spirit of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, but not its detail. We on these Benches were genuinely concerned about security and the need to have a more comprehensive solution to the difficulties the Government face in tackling this issue. We can fairly say that those concerns have been more than adequately met with 16 pages of complex legislation, drafted magically by lawyers working at great pace; I congratulate them on that, and the officials in the Box. In particular, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, and the noble Lord, Lord Forsyth, on his advocacy for this issue and his intelligence; both have applied pressure to secure a desirable outcome.

Most of the questions I wanted to ask have already been put, but I do have a few concerns, some of which have already been rehearsed in part. First, does the exemption referenced in the amendment cover just passive investments, and what would that mean in this context? Secondly, does it fully cover sovereign wealth funds and pension funds held by them, and what is their relationship with banks? Will there be a capping regime, and what will its thresholds be? Thirdly, will there be a 100% block on foreign state ownership, notwithstanding the 5% threshold the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, mentioned? What action can the Minister spell out for us on online publications such as the Independent and online-only magazine titles? I liked the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, that this might be picked up in the Media Bill. Whether the Media Bill will enable that, given its long title et cetera, is obviously a question for the clerks, but one that we should certainly ask.

We on these Benches have been more than happy to lend our support to this issue because of the importance in our political landscape of protecting a free and independent press that is not handcuffed by our state. On such issues, it is vital that there is cross-party unanimity. I am sure that noble Lords opposite will, in the future, want to do all they can to protect the integrity of that position, should a paper perceived to be of a different political colour come under a similar threat, whenever that might be. With that said, we await the Minister’s reply to the questions asked, which need a response. I congratulate all those concerned on bringing this difficult situation to a happy conclusion.

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to noble Lords for their support for these amendments and the work undertaken. I thank my noble friend Lady Stowell for commending the work of Julia Lopez, the media Minister, and indeed the department and the officials more broadly. My noble friend also acknowledged the specific quasi-judicial role of the Secretary of State in her ongoing determination of the case before her, but acknowledged that she obviously has a role in all this. On the broader question of media mergers, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State of course remains very much involved as well, but I thank my noble friend for her appreciation for both. I agree with my noble friend Lord Forsyth in his praise for the civil servants who worked thoroughly and quickly on this matter, including over Mother’s Day weekend. I am grateful for that recognition.

My noble friend Lord Forsyth rightly pointed out that he has not moved since tabling his regret amendment to the Media Bill. The Government have made explicit and put beyond doubt what was implicit and possible in the existing regime, as I set out on Report. We are very happy to take the opportunity to do that clearly, in the way that we do through these amendments, and, indeed, to set out now the new lower threshold. My noble friend Lady Stowell is right: we will set it at 5%, which is considerably lower than the existing threshold. I am glad that my noble friend welcomes that. She is right in the characterisation of what I said: anyone blocked at what she calls stage 1—the new automatic block on foreign state investment—will not be able to be exempted at what she calls stage 2. She is right, as well, to make the distinction between foreign investment and foreign state investment, and to make it clear, as I was very happy to, that the UK remains open for business. This is a discrete area and an important one in our national life, which is why we are acting in the way we have.

My noble friend Lord Faulks and the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, asked about the role of banks. We do not think that, in the ordinary course of events, debt and debt refinancing from foreign banks which have a state interest should be captured, unless the structure of the transaction gives rise to concerns about influence. We are considering precisely how debt and debt refinancing should be treated in cases where the structure of debt may give rise to concerns about foreign state investment organisations. But as I say, as we bring these provisions forward in secondary legislation, I am very happy to continue conversations with noble Lords and, indeed, to have conversations with those who will be directly affected.

My noble friend Lord Faulks invited me to set out what we are doing in consulting shortly on expanding the existing media mergers regime and the foreign state ownership provisions, to include online news websites. That will enable us to make changes that ensure that online news, whether from an established newspaper group or an online publisher, is covered by the media regime and the new measures we are introducing for foreign state media ownership.

The Secretary of State will maintain a quasi-judicial role in media mergers. The public interest regime will remain as it is, but we are adding a new parallel foreign state intervention regime. The Secretary of State will not have discretion under that; she will have to follow the report of the Competition and Markets Authority, both on whether there is a foreign state merger and an exemption. She would need to lay an order before Parliament to block a transaction, which would be under the negative procedure. We will debate what I have announced in the provisions that we will bring forward after Royal Assent, setting out an exemption for investments where the stake is below 5%, and noble Lords will have the opportunity to scrutinise that under the affirmative procedure.

I am grateful to noble Lords who have engaged with us and our officials in recent days as we work on these amendments. I am glad that they have your Lordships’ support. I beg to move.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean Portrait Lord Forsyth of Drumlean (Con)
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Before my noble friend sits down, when can we expect the secondary legislation to appear?

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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Can I ask a question as well, to save the Minister from getting up several times? I do not think that he said anything about broadcasting. Where is the department on reviewing policy in that area?

Lord Bassam of Brighton Portrait Lord Bassam of Brighton (Lab)
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Can the Minister also clarify the point about online publications? Will these be included within the statutory instrument?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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We will shortly consult on expanding the existing media mergers to look at online. The new regime will not cover TV and radio broadcasts at this time, but we will continue to consider that in our broader work on the media mergers regime. As my noble friend Lord Lansley pointed out, there are specific additional protections through the regime to which they are subject under Ofcom.

My noble friend Lord Forsyth rightly asks when we will bring in the secondary legislation. We want to do it after Royal Assent of this Bill, which is in the control of Parliament, not just the Government. Officials are working on it already. I cannot commit to a date for its introduction, but I am happy to commit to continuing our conversations as we work on it and before we introduce it after Royal Assent.

Lord Faulks Portrait Lord Faulks (Non-Afl)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

I have one more question, if I may? I asked about the change in wording in the Enterprise Act from “material influence” to “influence”. I suggested that there might be a reason behind that. Can the Minister clarify the thinking behind the change?

Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay Portrait Lord Parkinson of Whitley Bay (Con)
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I will reply in writing, if my noble friend is happy with that, so that I can give him the legalese which he would want.

Amendment 1 agreed.
Clause 257: Content and timing etc of reminder notices
Amendment 2
Moved by
2: Clause 257, page 172, line 23, leave out paragraph (b) and insert—
“(b) in such a way that the information referred to in subsection (1) is more prominent than any other information given to the consumer at the same time, and”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment removes the prohibition against a trader giving a consumer any other information at the time they give a reminder notice but requires that the information that must be contained in a reminder notice must be more prominent than any other information that is given.
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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My Lords, I am delighted to move Amendment 2, which mirrors the intention of the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Lucas on Report on reminder notices, an amendment which was also supported by my noble friend Lord Black, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.

Amendment 2 would remove the requirement for businesses to send reminder notices separately from all other information. Instead, other information can be given at the same time as a reminder notice, so long as the required information is the most prominent information. This amendment will ensure that the Bill strikes a better balance between ensuring that consumers are reminded about their ongoing subscription while enabling businesses to streamline their communications and provide other information which they consider to be useful to consumers in these notices.

I hope that your Lordships agree that this amendment delivers upon the undertaking I made on Report to address this issue, and therefore that noble Lords will support it. I beg to move.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, I am delighted that the Minister has come back at Third Reading as he undertook to and that he has produced this amendment. I am only sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, is not present to be able to take the credit for it.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
- Hansard - - - Excerpts

My Lords, we welcome the Government’s amendment on subscription reminder notices. As has been said, the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, made a very sensible intervention when we debated this in Committee and on Report, and it provides a helpful clarification to service providers. I hope that this amendment and the other changes that we made on Report have now struck a much better balance between businesses’ needs and consumer interests.

We look forward to hearing details of the department’s further work on implementing the gift aid protections and other work on cancellation methods, but, for now, we are pleased with the progress that has been made on the Bill and we wish it a speedy onward passage.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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I thank my noble friends Lord Black and Lord Lucas, and today the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, for their continuing engagement on this topic and on the Bill more broadly. I am pleased they agree that the Government have achieved the right balance between business and consumers on reminder notices and that we have ensured that businesses’ communications with customers can be more streamlined.

Amendment 2 agreed.
Clause 338: Commencement
Amendment 3
Moved by
3: Clause 338, page 239, line 22, at end insert—
“(za) section (Mergers involving newspaper enterprises and foreign powers) (and Schedule (Mergers involving newspaper enterprises and foreign powers));”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment provides for the provision inserted by my amendments relating to foreign control of newspaper enterprises to come into force on the day on which this Bill is passed.
Amendment 3 agreed.
Schedule 4: Relevant and special merger situations
Amendment 4
Moved by
4: Schedule 4, page 250, line 9, at end insert—
“(3A) In subsection (5), after “deciding” insert “whether two or more enterprises have ceased to be distinct at a time or in circumstances falling within section 24,””Member's explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that, following other amendments made by Schedule 4 to the Bill, section 59(5) to the Enterprise Act 2002, which refers to the creation of a relevant merger situation, also includes a reference to two or more enterprises ceasing to be distinct (which is a requirement for there to be a relevant merger situation).
Amendment 4 agreed.
Amendment 5
Moved by
5: After Schedule 6, insert the following new Schedule—
“ScheduleMergers involving newspaper enterprises and foreign powersIntroduction
1 In EA 2002, Part 3 (mergers) is amended as follows.Prohibition on newspaper enterprise mergers involving foreign powers
2 After Chapter 3 insert—“Chapter 3AMergers involving newspaper enterprises and foreign powers70A Intervention by the Secretary of State(1) The Secretary of State must give the CMA a notice (a “foreign state intervention notice”) if the Secretary of State has reasonable grounds for suspecting that it is or may be the case that—(a) a foreign state newspaper merger situation has been created, or(b) arrangements are in progress or in contemplation which, if carried into effect, will result in the creation of a foreign state newspaper merger situation.(2) A foreign state intervention notice must describe the foreign state newspaper merger situation to which it relates.(3) For the purposes of this Chapter a foreign state newspaper merger situation has been created where—(a) as a result of two or more enterprises ceasing to be distinct, a relevant merger situation would have been created by virtue of section 23(1) if the modifications in Schedule 6A had effect,(b) one of the enterprises concerned is a newspaper enterprise, and(c) as a result of the enterprises ceasing to be distinct, a foreign power is able to control or influence the policy of the person carrying on the newspaper enterprise, or is able to control or influence that policy to a greater extent.(4) Schedule 6B makes provision about the circumstances in which a foreign power is able to control or influence the policy of a person for the purposes of this section (and references to a foreign power being able to control or influence the policy of a person to a greater extent are to be interpreted accordingly).(5) A foreign state intervention notice—(a) comes into force when it is given, and(b) ceases to be in force when the matter to which it relates is finally determined under this Chapter (see section 70F).70B Investigation and report by the CMA(1) Where the Secretary of State gives the CMA a foreign state intervention notice, the CMA must, within such period as the Secretary of State may require, give the Secretary of State a report in relation to the case.(2) The report must include—(a) a summary of representations relevant to the case that have been received by the CMA, and(b) a decision as to whether the CMA believes that—(i) a foreign state newspaper merger situation has been created, or(ii) arrangements are in progress or in contemplation which, if carried into effect, will result in the creation of a foreign state newspaper merger situation. (3) The CMA must carry out such investigations as it considers appropriate for the purposes of producing a report under this section.(4) For the purposes of its investigation the CMA must invite representations from the enterprises concerned in the case.70C Intervention to prevent foreign control of a newspaper enterprise(1) Subsection (2) applies where the Secretary of State has received a report under section 70B stating that the CMA believes that—(a) a foreign state newspaper merger situation has been created, or(b) arrangements are in progress or in contemplation which, if carried into effect, will result in the creation of a foreign state newspaper merger situation.(2) The Secretary of State must make an order containing such provision as the Secretary of State considers reasonable and practicable for the purposes of reversing or preventing the creation of the foreign state newspaper merger situation identified in the report.(3) An order under subsection (2) may contain—(a) anything permitted by Schedule 8 (provision that may be contained in certain enforcement orders), and(b) such supplementary, consequential or incidental provision as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.(4) An order under subsection (2)—(a) comes into force at such time as is determined by or under the order, and(b) may be varied or revoked by another order.(5) Paragraph 2 of Schedule 7 (enforcement regime for public interest and special public interest cases: order for the purposes of preventing pre-emptive action)—(a) applies in relation to a foreign state intervention notice as it applies in relation to an intervention notice, and(b) for this purpose, is to be read as if—(i) sub-paragraph (10) were omitted;(ii) for sub-paragraph (12), there were substituted—“(12) In this paragraph “pre-emptive action” means action which might prejudice a foreign state intervention notice or a report under section 70B, or might impede the taking of any action under this Part in relation to such a notice or report”70D Other powers under this Part(1) Nothing in this Chapter limits the exercise of powers in relation to a foreign state newspaper merger situation under other provisions of this Part.(2) The powers in this Chapter may be exercised in relation to a foreign state newspaper merger situation regardless of whether any other power under this Part has been exercised in relation to the case.(3) The CMA must, in considering whether to make a reference under section 22 or 33, bring to the attention of the Secretary of State any case which it believes may be relevant to the duty in section 70A(1).70E Meaning of “foreign power”(1) In this Chapter, “foreign power” means—(a) the sovereign or other head of a foreign state in their public or private capacity,(b) a foreign government or part of a foreign government,(c) the head or senior members of a foreign government in their private capacity,(d) an agency or authority of a foreign government, or of part of a foreign government, (e) the head or senior members of an agency or authority of a foreign government, or of part of a foreign government, in their private capacity,(f) an authority responsible for administering the affairs of an area within a foreign country or territory, or persons exercising the functions of such an authority,(g) a political party which is a governing political party of a foreign government, or(h) the officers of a political party, which is a governing political party of a foreign government, in their private capacity.(2) A political party is a governing political party of a foreign government if persons holding political or official posts in the foreign government or part of the foreign government—(a) hold those posts as a result of, or in the course of, their membership of the party, or(b) in exercising the functions of those posts, are subject to the direction or control of, or significantly influenced by, the party.(3) In this section—“foreign country or territory” means a country or territory outside the United Kingdom, the Channel Islands, the Isle of Man or the British Overseas Territories;“foreign government” means the government of a foreign country or territory;a“government” includes persons exercising the functions of a government;“territory” includes the constituent territories of a federal state.70F Other interpretation(1) For the purposes of this Chapter, section 44(10) is to be read as if the definition of “newspaper” included a news publication circulating wholly or mainly in the United Kingdom or in a part of the United Kingdom on any periodic basis.(2) For the purposes of this Chapter, a matter is finally determined when the Secretary of State—(a) makes an order under section 70C(2), or(b) publishes under section 107 a report of the CMA under section 70B which the Secretary of State has received and which states that the CMA has decided that the CMA believes that—(i) no foreign state newspaper merger situation has been created, or(ii) no arrangements are in progress or in contemplation which, if carried into effect would result in the creation of a foreign state newspaper merger situation.70G Regulations(1) The Secretary of State may by regulations change the meaning of—(a) “foreign power”, or(b) “newspaper”,for the purposes of this Chapter.(2) Regulations under subsection (1)(a) may, among other things—(a) provide for a description of person to be treated as if they were not a foreign power, and(b) frame any such description by reference to—(i) the independence of persons from other descriptions of foreign power, or(ii) the interest which persons have in a newspaper enterprise.(3) The Secretary of State may by regulations apply any provision made by or under Chapter 1, with or without modifications, for the purposes of this Chapter (including by way of amendments to the modifications in Schedule 6A).(4) Regulations under this section may, among other things, make provision having effect on or after 13 March 2024.”3 After Schedule 6 insert—“Schedule 6ADetermination of when a foreign state newspaper merger situation has been createdApplication of sections 23 to 29
(1) Sections 23 to 29 apply for the purposes of Chapter 3A of Part 1, subject to the following modifications.(2) Section 23 is to be read as if—(a) in subsection (1), for the amount in paragraph (b), there were substituted “£2 million”;(b) in subsection (9), for paragraphs (a) and (b), there were substituted—“(a) in relation to the giving of a foreign state intervention notice, the time when the notice is given;(b) in relation to the giving of a report by the CMA under section 70B, the time of the giving of the report.”(3) Section 24 is to be read as if—(a) for subsection (1)(a) there were substituted—“(a) the two or more enterprises ceased to be distinct enterprises before the day on which—(i) in a case to which section 23(9)(a) applies, the foreign state intervention notice relating to them is given, or(ii) in a case to which section 23(9)(b) applies, the CMA gives its report relating to them under section 70B,and did so not more than four months before that day; or”;(b) in subsection (1)(b), after “distinct enterprises” there were inserted “, including facts about whether or the extent to which a foreign power is able to control or influence the policy of a person carrying on a newspaper enterprise as a result of the enterprises ceasing to be distinct enterprises,”;(c) the reference to the CMA in subsection (2)(a) included a reference to the Secretary of State;(d) for subsection (2)(b) there were substituted—“(b) it is given to the Secretary of State or the CMA more than four months before the day on which—(i) in a case to which section 23(9)(a) applies, the foreign state intervention notice relating to them is given, or(ii) in a case to which section 23(9)(b) applies, the CMA gives its report relating to them under section 70B; or(c) the facts are made public more than four months before the day on which—(i) in a case to which section 23(9)(a) applies, the foreign state intervention notice relating to them is given, or(ii) in a case to which section 23(9)(b) applies, the CMA gives its report relating to them under section 70B.”(4) Section 25 is to be read as if—(a) subsections (4) and (5) were omitted;(b) the powers to extend time-limits under section 25 were not exercisable by the CMA before the giving of a foreign state intervention notice by the Secretary of State.(5) Section 26 is to be read as if—(a) in subsection (3)—(i) “materially” were omitted; (ii) for “may, for the purposes of subsections (1) and (2), be treated” there were substituted “is to be treated, for the purposes of subsections (1) and (2),”;(b) for subsection (4) there were substituted—“(4) For the purposes of subsection (1), in so far as it relates to bringing two or more enterprises under common control, where a foreign power is already able to control or influence the policy of a person carrying on a newspaper enterprise to some extent, the foreign power is to be treated as bringing the newspaper enterprise under its control if anything is done which results in the foreign power being able to control or influence the policy of that person to a greater extent (whether by virtue of acquiring more shares or voting rights in the person, directly or indirectly, or otherwise).”(6) Section 27 is to be read as if—(a) references to the “decision-making authority” were to “the CMA or the Secretary of State”;(b) in subsection (5), for “a reference” there were substituted “deciding whether or when a foreign state newspaper merger situation has been created”.(7) Section 28 is to be read as if, in subsection (4), the reference to the “decision-making authority” were to “the CMA or the Secretary of State”.(8) Section 29 is to be read as if—(a) in subsection (1)—(i) the reference to the “decision-making authority” were to “the CMA or the Secretary of State”;(ii) for “a reference” there were substituted “deciding whether or when a foreign state newspaper merger situation has been created”;(b) in subsection (2)(a)(i) “materially” were omitted;(c) in subsection (2)(a)(ii), for “degree” there were substituted “extent”;(d) subsection (2)(b) and (3) were omitted.Application of the Enterprise Act 2002 (Anticipated Mergers) Order 2003 (S.I. 2003/1595)
(1) The Enterprise Act 2002 (Anticipated Mergers) Order 2003 applies for the purposes of Chapter 3A of Part 1, subject to the following modifications.(2) In Article 3, the words before paragraph (a) are to be read as if, for “in relation to references and notices”, there were substituted “for the purposes of Chapter 3A of Part 1 of the Act”.(3) Article 3(a) is to be read as if—(a) in the substituted version of section 27(5), for “a reference” there were substituted “deciding whether or when a foreign state news paper merger situation will be created”;(b) the substituted version of section 27(6)(a)(i), for “the reference” there were substituted “the foreign state intervention notice relating to the situation”.(4) Article 3(b) is to be read as if—(a) in the substituted section 29(2)(a)(i), “materially” were omitted;(b) in the substituted section 29(2)(a)(ii), for “degree” there were substituted “extent”;(c) in the substituted section 29(4), for “the reference” there were substituted “the foreign state intervention notice”.Schedule 6BControl or influence of a person by a foreign powerPart 1Conditions for control or influence(1) A foreign power is able to control or influence the policy of a person for the purposes of section 70A if one or more of the following conditions is met. (2) Condition 1 is that the foreign power holds, directly or indirectly, any of the shares in the person.(3) Condition 2 is that the foreign power holds, directly or indirectly, any of the voting rights in the person.(4) Condition 3 is that the foreign power holds the right, directly or indirectly, to appoint or remove an officer of the person.(5) Condition 4 is that the foreign power has the right or ability to direct, control or influence to any extent, the person's policy or activities (in whole or in part, and whether directly or indirectly), despite not meeting condition 1, 2 or 3.(6) Condition 5 is that—(a) the trustees of a trust, or the members of a partnership, unincorporated association or other entity, that is not a legal person under the law by which it is governed, would, if they were a foreign power, meet one or more of conditions 1 to 4 (in their capacity as such) in relation to the person, and(b) the foreign power has the right or ability to direct, control or influence to any extent the activities of that trust or entity (in whole or in part, and whether directly or indirectly), or has any other interest in, or right over or in relation to, the trust or entity, or any of the trustees of the trust or the members of the entity, whether directly or indirectly.2 In this Schedule, “officer”—(a) in relation to a body corporate, means a director, member of the committee of management, chief executive, manager, secretary or other similar officer of the body, or a person purporting to act in any such capacity;(b) in relation to a partnership, means a partner, a person purporting to act as a partner or a person concerned in the management or control of the partnership or who purports to act in the capacity of a person so concerned;(c) in relation to an unincorporated association other than a partnership, means a person who is concerned in the management or control of the association or purports to act in the capacity of a person so concerned.Part 2InterpretationInterpretation
3 This Part makes provision about the interpretation of this Schedule.Joint interests
4 If a foreign power holds a share or right jointly with another person (whether or not a foreign power), each of those persons is to be taken to hold that share or right.Joint arrangements
5 (1) If shares or rights held by a foreign power and shares or rights held by another person (whether or not a foreign power) are the subject of a joint arrangement between those persons, each of those persons is to be taken to hold the combined shares or rights of both persons.(2) A “joint arrangement” is an arrangement between the holders of shares (or rights) that they will exercise all or substantially all the rights conferred by their respective shares (or rights) jointly in a way that is pre-determined by the arrangement.(3) For the meaning of “arrangement”, see paragraph 12.Calculating shareholdings
6 (1) In relation to a person that has a share capital, a reference to holding any of the shares in that person is to holding any shares comprised in the issued share capital of that person. (2) In relation to a person that does not have a share capital, a reference to holding any of the shares in that person is to holding a right to share to any extent in the capital or, as the case may be, profits of that person.Voting rights
7 (1) A reference to the voting rights in a person is to the rights conferred on shareholders in respect of their shares (or, in the case of a person not having a share capital, on members) to vote at general meetings of the person on all or substantially all matters.(2) In relation to a person that does not have general meetings at which matters are decided by the exercise of voting rights, a reference to exercising voting rights in the person is to be read as a reference to exercising rights in relation to the person that are equivalent to those of a person entitled to exercise voting rights in a company.8 In applying this Schedule, voting rights in a person held by the person itself are to be disregarded.Shares or rights held “indirectly”
9 (1) A foreign power holds a share “indirectly” if the foreign power has any stake in a person and that person—(a) holds the share in question, or(b) is part of a chain of persons—(i) each of which (other than the last) has any stake in the person immediately below it in the chain, and(ii) the last of which holds the share.(2) A foreign power holds a right “indirectly” if the foreign power has any stake in a person and that person—(a) holds that right, or(b) is part of a chain of persons—(i) each of which (other than the last) has any stake in the person immediately below it in the chain, and(ii) the last of which holds that right.(3) For the purposes of sub-paragraphs (1) and (2), a person (“A”) has “any stake” in another person (“B”) if—(a) A holds any shares or voting rights in B,(b) A is a member of B and has the right to appoint or remove an officer of B,(c) A is a member of B and controls alone, or pursuant to an agreement with other shareholders or members, any of the voting rights in B, or(d) A has the right or ability to control or influence B to any extent, despite not being within paragraph (a), (b) or (c).Shares held by nominees
10 A share held by a person as a nominee for another is to be treated as held by the other (and not by the nominee).Rights treated as held by person who is able to control their exercise
11 (1) Where a person controls a right, the right is to be treated as held by that person (and not by the person who in fact holds the right, unless that person also controls it).(2) A person “controls” a right if, by virtue of any arrangement between that person and others, the right is exercisable only—(a) by that person,(b) in accordance with that person’s directions or instructions, or(c) with that person’s consent or concurrence. Arrangements
12 (1) For the purposes of this Schedule, “arrangement” includes—(a) any scheme, agreement or understanding, whether or not it is legally enforceable, and(b) any convention, custom or practice of any kind.(2) But something does not count as an arrangement unless there is at least some degree of stability about it (whether by its nature or terms, the time it has been in existence or otherwise).Rights exercisable only in certain circumstances etc
13 (1) Rights that are exercisable only in certain circumstances are to be taken into account only—(a) where the circumstances have arisen, and for so long as they continue to obtain, or(b) when the circumstances are within the control of the person having the rights.(2) But rights that are exercisable by an administrator or by creditors while a person is in relevant insolvency proceedings are not to be taken into account even while the person is in those proceedings.(3) “Relevant insolvency proceedings” means—(a) administration within the meaning of the Insolvency Act 1986,(b) administration within the meaning of the Insolvency (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989/2405 (N.I. 19)), or(c) proceedings under the insolvency law of another country or territory during which a person’s assets and affairs are subject to the control or supervision of a third party or creditor.(4) Rights that are normally exercisable but are temporarily incapable of exercise are to continue to be taken into account.Rights attached to shares held by way of security
14 Rights attached to shares held by way of security provided by a person are to be treated for the purposes of this Schedule as held by that person—(a) where apart from the right to exercise them for the purpose of preserving the value of the security, or of realising it, the rights are exercisable only in accordance with that person’s instructions, and(b) where the shares are held in connection with the granting of loans as part of normal business activities and apart from the right to exercise them for the purpose of preserving the value of the security, or of realising it, the rights are exercisable only in that person’s interests.Part 3Power to amend circumstances in which there is control or influence15 (1) The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision—(a) to change (by increasing or decreasing) the proportion of shares or rights which a foreign power must hold in a person carrying on a newspaper enterprise, whether directly or indirectly, in order for the foreign power to be able to control or influence the policy of a person for the purposes of section 70A;(b) to change (by increasing or decreasing) the proportion of shares or rights which is to be held by persons in a chain of persons for the purposes of determining whether shares or rights are held indirectly;(c) about assumptions which are to be made when determining whether a foreign power is able to control or influence the policy of a person, including assumptions framed by reference to the ownership of shares or voting rights by any person; (d) about the extent to which a foreign power needs to be able to control or influence the policy of a person in order to control or influence that policy for the purposes of section 70A, including provision about a foreign power that is already able to control or influence the policy of a person to some extent being able to control or influence that policy to a greater extent;(e) to change or supplement Part 1 of this Schedule so as to include circumstances (for example, circumstances involving more complex structures) that give a foreign power a level of control or influence in relation to the policy of a person broadly similar to the level of control or influence given by the conditions in paragraph 1;(f) in consequence of any provision made by virtue of paragraph (e), to change or supplement Part 2 of this Schedule so that circumstances specified in that Part in which a person is to be regarded as holding an interest in another person correspond to any of the conditions in paragraph 1, or would do so but for the extent of the interest.(2) The provision that may be made under this paragraph, read with section 124(2)(a), includes—(a) different provision for different descriptions of foreign power, and(b) different provision for different persons or descriptions of person in a chain of persons.(3) Regulations under this paragraph may, among other things—(a) confer a discretion on the CMA;(b) make provision having effect on or after 13 March 2024.”Further amendments
(1) In section 86 (enforcement orders: general provisions), in subsection (6), after “section” insert “70C,”.(2) In section 88 (contents of certain enforcement orders), in subsection (1), after “section” insert “70C, ”.(3) In section 94(8) (rights to enforce certain orders)—(a) after “made by the Secretary of State under” insert “section 70C(2),”;(b) for “paragraph 2 of that Schedule” substitute “paragraph 2 of Schedule 7”.(4) In section 107 (further publicity requirements)—(a) in subsection (3), after paragraph (g) insert—“(ga) any foreign state intervention notice given by the Secretary of State;(gb) any report of the CMA under section 70B which the Secretary of State has received;”(b) after subsection (11) insert—“(12) The Secretary of State must publish any report of the CMA under section 70B which the Secretary of State has received within the period of 7 days beginning with the day on which the Secretary of State receives the report.”(5) In section 109 (attendance of witnesses and production of documents etc), in subsection (A1)(b), at the end insert “or a foreign state intervention notice under section 70A”.(6) In section 110A (restriction on powers to impose penalties under section 110), after subsection (8) insert—“(8A) Where the section 109 power is exercised for the purpose mentioned in section 109(A1)(b) in connection with a matter that is the subject of a foreign state intervention notice under section 70A, the relevant day is the day when the matter to which the notice relates is finally determined under Chapter 3A (see section 70F).” (7) In section 118 (excisions from reports), in subsection (1)—(a) omit the “or” at the end of paragraph (aa), and(b) at the end of paragraph (b) insert “, or(c) a report of the CMA under section 70B.”(8) In section 120 (review of decisions under Part 3), in subsection (1A), after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) a decision of the CMA or the Secretary of State in connection with a foreign state newspaper merger situation;”.(9) In section 124 (orders and regulations under Part 3)—(a) in subsection (3)—(i) after “59(6A)” insert “, 70G”;(ii) after “above)” insert “, or paragraph 15 of Schedule 6B,”;(b) in subsection (5), after “65(3)),” insert “70C”;(c) after subsection (6) insert—“(6A) A statutory instrument containing regulations under section 70G or paragraph 15 of Schedule 6B may not be made unless a draft of the instrument has been laid before, and approved by a resolution of, each House of Parliament.”(d) in subsection (10), after “58(3)” insert “or 70G, or paragraph 15 of Schedule 6B”.(10) In section 127 (associated persons), in subsection (1)—(a) omit the “and” at the end of paragraph (aa), and(b) after that paragraph insert—“(ab) for the purposes of section 70A(3);”(11) In section 129 (other interpretation provisions), in subsection (1), at the appropriate place insert—““foreign state intervention notice” means a notice under section 70A(1);“foreign state newspaper merger situation” is to be interpreted in accordance with section 70A(3);”(12) In the table in section 130 (index of defined expressions), at the appropriate place insert—

“Foreign state intervention notice

Section 70A(1)

Foreign state newspaper merger situation

Section 70A(3)”

(13) In Schedule 8 (provision that may be contained in certain enforcement orders), in paragraph 20A (newspaper mergers), after sub-paragraph (1) insert—“(1A) This paragraph also applies in relation to an order under section 70C(2) (order to prevent foreign control of a newspaper enterprise).”(14) In Schedule 10 (procedural requirements for certain enforcement undertakings and orders)—(a) in paragraph 1(b), for “section 75” substitute “section 70C, 75”;(b) in paragraph 6(b), for “section 75” substitute “section 70C, 75”.”Member's explanatory statement
See my amendment inserting a new clause after clause 129.
Amendment 5 agreed.
Schedule 12: Service and extra-territoriality of notices under CA 1998 and EA 2002
Amendment 6
Moved by
6: Schedule 12, page 306, line 24, after “68C” insert “, or a foreign state intervention notice has been given under section 70A(1),”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment inserting a new Schedule after Schedule 6.
Amendment 6 agreed.
Schedule 13: Orders and regulations under CA 1998 and EA 2002
Amendments 7 to 9
Moved by
7: Schedule 13, page 308, leave out line 35 and insert—
“(6) For subsection (6A) substitute—”Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment inserting a new Schedule after Schedule 6.
8: Schedule 13, page 308, line 36, after “section” insert “70G,”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment inserting a new Schedule after Schedule 6.
9: Schedule 13, page 308, line 36, after “111(7A)” insert “, or paragraph 15 of Schedule 6B,”
Member's explanatory statement
This amendment is consequential on my amendment inserting a new Schedule after Schedule 6.
Amendments 7 to 9 agreed.
16:15
Motion
Moved by
Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel
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That the Bill do now pass.

Lord Offord of Garvel Portrait Lord Offord of Garvel (Con)
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My Lords, I add my thanks to all noble Lords who have been involved in the diligent scrutiny we have given the Bill in recent months. The Digital Markets, Competition and Consumers Bill will drive innovation and deliver better outcomes for consumers by addressing barriers to competition in digital markets and tackling consumer rip-offs. I am very grateful to noble Lords for the dedication, attention and time that they have given to the Bill before your Lordships’ House.

I want to express my particular appreciation to Members on the Front Benches, including the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, and the noble Lords, Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, Lord Bassam of Brighton, Lord Clement-Jones and Lord Fox, for the courteous and constructive manner in which they have engaged with me on the Bill. I wish to extend my sincere thanks to my noble friends Lady Stowell and Lady Harding of Winscombe, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Kidron, for their invaluable contributions and clarity of views both during the debate and outside it. I emphasise my gratitude to the noble Lords, Lord Faulks, Lord Tyrie, Lord Kamall, Lord Holmes of Richmond, Lord Lansley, Lord Vaizey of Didcot, and the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, for their detailed consideration of Part 1 of the Bill. I am very grateful to them all; they have asked important questions and given much time and energy to the Bill, and it is a better Bill for that.

My noble friend Lord Lindsay and the noble Baronesses, Lady Crawley, Lady Bakewell and Lady Hayman, have championed consumer issues, for which I am most grateful. I also pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, for raising the important issue of net zero.

On Report, the Government made a number of amendments to the Bill with regards to subscription contracts. I thank my noble friends Lord Black of Brentwood and Lord Lucas for their engagement and collaboration on these issues. I am also most grateful to my noble friend Lord Mendoza for his work in highlighting the Bill’s impact on the ability of charities to claim gift aid.

On the issue of foreign states acquiring UK news organisations, to which my noble friend Lord Parkinson has spoken, I again thank my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston and the noble Lords, Lord Forsyth of Drumlean and Lord Robertson of Port Ellen, who so passionately highlighted the principle of freedom of the press.

I conclude by recording my gratitude for the invaluable support and assistance of my noble friend Lord Camrose. I put on the record my thanks to the Bill team, my private office, and all the officials and lawyers in the Department for Business and Trade, the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology, and the Competition and Markets Authority, who have provided such thorough support and expertise. I beg to move that the Bill do now pass.

Baroness Stowell of Beeston Portrait Baroness Stowell of Beeston (Con)
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I hesitate to rise, because I realise I am probably testing the patience of the House, having already spoken in Third Reading. I just wanted to say a couple of things.

I thank my noble friends Lord Camrose and Lord Offord on the Front Bench for their work on this Bill. As they will know, this is legislation for which the Communications and Digital Committee has been calling for several years—it started under the chairmanship of my predecessor, my noble friend Lord Gilbert. It is something that I have been pleased to take a very active involvement in, and I am very pleased to support it passing.

As we think about what this Bill is trying to achieve and why, it is worth also remembering why we in the UK are forging a different path from the ones that Europe and the US are on. In the last few days, we have seen the US DoJ launch a major anti-trust lawsuit against Apple. In the EU, the Commission is taking serious measures against some of the big tech firms to make them comply with the spirit and letter of its new Digital Markets Act. Both situations have an ominous sense of being exactly the kind of lengthy legal battles that favour big tech, which we are trying to avoid.

The House has rightly voted on a number of measures to try to ensure that our regulation can work as it is meant to, in a timely, proportionate and less confrontational manner. That is what the Government are seeking to do with this legislation.

As the Bill leaves here and enters its final stage, I emphasise two measures from among the amendments passed by this House. First, the deadline for the Secretary of State to approve CMA guidance is key in keeping things on track and avoiding concerning delays. Secondly, if the Government and the Commons cannot accept the amendments to revert the appeals process on fines back to JR standard, I hope that my noble friends within government will consider putting a clarification in the Bill that the appeals process on fines cannot be changed in ways that undermine the JR standard or open up avenues for more expansive and protracted legal challenge.

That aside, I am grateful to the Government for bringing forward this important legislation. It will mark out our regulatory regime as different from those in other parts of the world that are having such a big impact—and not necessarily in good ways.

Lord Clement-Jones Portrait Lord Clement-Jones (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell. I agree with a huge amount of what she said.

I reiterate the welcome that we on these Benches gave to the Bill at Second Reading. We believe it is vital to tackle the dominance of big tech and to enhance the powers of our competition regulators to tackle it, in particular through the new flexible pro-competition powers and the ability to act ex ante and on an interim basis.

We were of the view, and still are, that the Bill needs strengthening in a number of respects. We have been particularly concerned about the countervailing benefits exemption under Clause 29. This must not be used by big tech as a major loophole to avoid regulatory action. A number of other aspects were inserted into the Bill on Report in the Commons about appeals standards and proportionality. During the passage of the Bill, we added a fourth amendment to ensure that the Secretary of State’s power to approve CMA guidance will not unduly delay the regime coming into effect.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said, we are already seeing big tech take an aggressive approach to the EU Digital Markets Act. We therefore believe the Bill needs to be more robust in this respect. In this light, it is essential to retain the four key amendments passed on Report and that they are not reversed through ping-pong when the Bill returns to the Commons.

I thank both Ministers and the Bill team. They have shown great flexibility in a number of other areas, such as online trading standards powers, fake reviews, drip pricing, litigation, funding, cooling-off periods, subscriptions and, above all, press ownership, as we have seen today. They have been assiduous in their correspondence throughout the passage of the Bill, and I thank them very much for that, but in the crucial area of digital markets we have seen no signs of movement. This is regrettable and gives the impression that the Government are unwilling to move because of pressure from big tech. If the Government want to dispel that impression, they should agree with these amendments, which passed with such strong cross-party support on Report.

In closing, I thank a number of outside organisations that have been so helpful during the passage of the Bill—in particular, the Coalition for App Fairness, the Public Interest News Foundation, Which?, Preiskel & Co, Foxglove, the Open Markets Institute and the News Media Association. I also thank Sarah Pughe and Mohamed-Ali Souidi in our own Whips’ Office. Last, but certainly not least, I thank my noble friend Lord Fox for his support and—how shall I put it?—his interoperability.

Given the coalition of interest that has been steadily building across the House during the debates on the Online Safety Bill and now this Bill, I thank all noble Lords on other Benches who have made common cause and, consequently, had such a positive impact on the passage of this Bill. As with the Online Safety Act, this has been a real collaborative effort in a very complex area.

Baroness Jones of Whitchurch Portrait Baroness Jones of Whitchurch (Lab)
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My Lords, before the Bill passes, I put on record my thanks to the Ministers—the noble Viscount, Lord Camrose, and the noble Lord, Lord Offord—as well as the noble Lord, Lord Parkinson, who made a guest appearance. I also put on record my huge appreciation for the Bill team for their timely letters and briefings, and their immense good humour when we asked for even more information.

The whole experience has been a good illustration that, when we fully engage in discussion on a Bill, we can deliver genuine improvements that have broad support. I hope that our colleagues in the Commons appreciate the careful thought and hard work that is behind these changes. I hope that we do not have to be here again on this Bill, but I reiterate that our door is always open if further discussions would help. For now, I hope that the Bill will soon be on the statute book and I look forward to its progress.

Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Israel and Gaza

Tuesday 26th March 2024

(2 months, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
Read Full debate Read Hansard Text Read Debate Ministerial Extracts
Statement
16:26
Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait The Minister of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement given in another place by my right honourable friend the Minister for Development and Africa. It reads as follows:

“As the House knows, the United Kingdom has long been calling for an immediate humanitarian pause leading to a sustainable ceasefire without a return to destruction, fighting and loss of life. This would allow for the safe release of hostages and for more aid to reach Gaza.

Yesterday, the international community took a significant step towards achieving that. We welcome yesterday’s UN Security Council resolution, which reflected widespread international support for the UK’s position and considerable efforts by our diplomats to secure consensus. Mr Speaker, this is an issue that can polarise and divide, but yesterday in New York there was a shared sense of purpose. I am sure the whole House would agree that we must capitalise on this moment.

We want to see an immediate, sustained humanitarian pause, which would allow for the safe release of hostages and more aid to reach Gaza. That is what yesterday’s resolution called for, why the United Kingdom voted ‘yes’ on this text and why the Government are now focused on seeing the resolution implemented as quickly as possible. This resolution sets out the urgent demand for the

‘unconditional release of all hostages’.

Hamas must act on this now. It was wrong to kidnap them on 7 October, it has been wrong to hold them in captivity for so long and it is wrong to hold them any longer. We strongly support the intensive diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States to secure their release.

My right honourable friend the Prime Minister and my noble friend the Foreign Secretary have both met, as I have, with families of hostages and reiterated to them personally our desire to see their loved ones freed and their agony brought to an end. We urge all sides to seize the opportunity and engage with negotiations to reach an agreement as soon as possible. Now is not the time to turn away from talks; now is the time to bring these talks to a conclusion. The resolution also sends a clear message on the need for all parties to the conflict to uphold international humanitarian law and for the delivery of aid to be scaled up urgently. This requires lifting all barriers impeding its delivery.

Palestinian civilians face a devastating and growing humanitarian crisis in Gaza. The Prime Minister and Foreign Secretary continue to reiterate these messages in their contacts with the Israeli Government, and the Government are exploring every avenue to deliver aid by land, sea and air. Last week, enough aid to feed over a quarter of a million people was delivered by land from Jordan. Britain is fully involved in the international effort to set up a maritime corridor for aid into Gaza. Yesterday, the first air drop of UK aid by the Royal Air Force, with the support of Jordan, took place.

We regret that this resolution did not condemn the abhorrent and brutal terrorist attacks perpetrated by Hamas on 7 October. The UK condemns these attacks unequivocally. We have been forthright in speaking up for Israel’s right to defend itself and ensure that such an attack can never happen again. We want Israelis and Palestinians alike to live in peace and security. An immediate humanitarian pause, leading to a sustainable ceasefire, is the best way to achieve a lasting peace.

We continue to work on the other core elements required for such a process to succeed. We have supported the formation of a new Palestinian Government for the West Bank and Gaza under the leadership of Prime Minister Mustafa. An international support package is vital for building on Prime Minister Mustafa’s appointment. We also want to see the removal of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel. Hamas can no longer remain in charge of Gaza. Finally, we need to offer a political horizon to the Palestinians that provides a credible and irreversible pathway towards a two-state solution of Israel and Palestine living side by side in peace and security.

The resolution passed by the Security Council yesterday does not guarantee this outcome, but it is a significant step forward. The Government will spare no effort in building on this opportunity. We want to create irreversible momentum towards a lasting peace. I commend this Statement to the House”.

16:31
Baroness Smith of Basildon Portrait Baroness Smith of Basildon (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon, for repeating today’s Statement. I reiterate that we recognise and appreciate his work, and the work of his ministerial and diplomatic colleagues.

I am sure the Minister will agree that it has been hard to be optimistic in recent weeks, as hostages remain under the control of Hamas and vast swathes of Gaza edge towards man-made preventable famine. The images we see on our TV screens and in the newspapers every day are no less harrowing today than they have been for many months. We must not allow the familiarity of that to lessen our sense of urgency in dealing with the ongoing conflict. Given the unimaginable suffering on both sides, it has been deeply disappointing that successive rounds of negotiations have broken up without agreement, and that the UN Security Council had previously been unable to achieve a consensus on a way forward. We therefore strongly welcome the passing of UN Security Council Resolution 2728 yesterday. The Minister’s comment about that shared sense of purpose is a significant one.

We welcome the Government’s change from abstention on other resolutions to support for this one, and recognise the significance of an abstention from the United States. We also acknowledge the Government’s statement of support for Prime Minister Mohammad Mustafa, who we hope the international community will do everything possible to support, and their commitment to doing what they can to ensure that this resolution is implemented in full. For this to be realised, and for the resolution to become a genuine and meaningful turning point, it means Hamas laying down its arms and releasing all the hostages, and Israel abiding by international calls to drastically scale up humanitarian aid.

I will follow up on questions that were raised in the other place this afternoon. MPs across the House of Commons, from all sides, asked the Minister whether the Government consider that the UN Security Council resolution is binding, and what implications this may have if its terms are not implemented. Is the Minister able to say some more on that, and outline his views on that today?

We accept that the Government want to see the resolution, including the ceasefire, succeed, but we are also trying to understand how the world responds if that is not the case. Regarding UNRWA, Minister Mitchell noted that the interim report is currently with the UN Secretary-General, and suggested that an update may be available later today. As the Shadow Foreign Secretary noted, one of the biggest issues faced by the civilians of Gaza is the distribution of the already limited aid that does get in.

We were all appalled, rightly, by the allegations against some UNRWA staff. Nevertheless, that body is best placed to ensure that finite supplies of water, food and fuel get to where they are needed most, and as quickly as possible. Can the Minister provide any updates on the UN’s work in this area and the Government’s response to it?

A further issue, raised earlier, is the advice on arms exports given to the Business Secretary by the Foreign Office. Did either department receive legal advice on the potential use of UK arms that would contravene international law? The Government have so far maintained the usual position that legal advice is not shared, and we understand that. But the Minister will be aware that summaries of advice have been published on many occasions. Most recently, he will be aware, each round of UK air strikes against Houthi rebels in Yemen has been preceded by a statement providing a summary of the legal advice. I wonder whether he has given thought to whether that could potentially be a model for the type of material that could be placed in the public domain on this occasion.

The Statement also referred to yesterday’s RAF aid drop over Gaza. The Minister said that the UK is contributing to aid initiatives, including participating in air drops co-ordinated by Jordan, but I think that this is the first time an RAF plane has been used for this purpose. Can the Minister confirm whether the Government are expecting to authorise further missions as part of an ongoing international effort to prevent catastrophic famine?

Finally, as the Minister concluded, we all recognise that the UN Security Council resolution does not guarantee peace, but its significance cannot be underestimated. It is a sign of the international community coming together, and we hope that it will be an important step towards ending the conflict and towards a lasting peace.

Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, I too thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. As the House is aware, we on these Benches have been calling for an immediate bilateral ceasefire for a number of months. We welcome the resolution passed by the UN Security Council. Does the Minister agree that we need something more than a temporary ceasefire? We need to work to achieve a more permanent ceasefire, so that we can begin to move towards the reconstruction and political processes that are now so desperately needed.

We, like everybody else, are extremely concerned about the immense, and growing, humanitarian catastrophe in Gaza. Latest figures from the IPC, for example, show that more than half of all Palestinians in Gaza—some 1.1 million people—have completely exhausted their food supplies—just think of that. We of course welcome the fact that yesterday, for the first time, the RAF started dropping food supplies directly to civilians in Gaza, but that is, at best, a partial solution. What pressure have the UK Government put on Israel, and specifically the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories—which is run by Israel—to facilitate aid into Gaza to allow an increased flow of vehicles and supplies across the Israel-Gaza border?

We welcome the recent sanction of four Israeli settlers who have committed human rights abuses against Palestinian communities in the West Bank, making peace harder to achieve. Will the Government go beyond this and now sanction all violent settlers, along with National Security Minister Ben-Gvir, Finance Minister Smotrich and all the violent settler movement’s connected entities?

Israel has agreed to a US proposal on a prisoner-hostage exchange that would release about 700 Palestinian prisoners—among them 100 serving life sentences for killing Israelis—in exchange for the release of 40 Israeli hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Once again, Hamas has rejected it, saying that “issues remain unresolved”. An essential step to ending this conflict is the unconditional release of all hostages held by Hamas in Gaza. Will the Minister commit to using all his best efforts to urge the Qataris to require Hamas to release all the hostages, starting with these 40, about whom there appears to be a nascent agreement?

Earlier this month, my right honourable friend the Member for Kingston and Surbiton wrote to the Foreign Secretary, asking him to write to the International Criminal Court to ask it to issue international arrest warrants for Hamas terrorists involved in planning the 7 October attacks. Can the Minister commit to doing this?

The UN resolution is a welcome development, but in itself it will achieve little on the ground immediately. What we need now, as we have done for many weeks, is for all the parties to put in place the ceasefire that is so long overdue and so urgently needed.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, and the noble Lord, Lord Newby, for their support. Indeed, I thank many noble Lords who have kept the focus on this issue—the need for hostages to be released unconditionally—since the horrific events of 7 October. We see the continuing situation in Gaza unravel and the humanitarian catastrophe. It is very much on the brink. We debated the IPC report, with its real, clear warning signals about May. As I said from the Dispatch Box then, we agree totally with the recommendations about increasing humanitarian aid. I know that view is shared across the House.

In this respect, the noble Lord, Lord Newby, asked about COGAT specifically. We are working very closely with COGAT. Earlier today, I had my regular briefing with our humanitarian co-ordinator about specific numbers. We are watching this on a daily basis. While there has been an improvement from the representations we have made directly to Israel—we are talking about 200-plus trucks now—there is a need to scale this up massively. Indeed, Israel itself has stated the need to flood aid into Gaza. We were the first to call out the need for the Kerem Shalom crossing to be fully operational, and other crossings, particularly into the northern part of Gaza. We have repeatedly called for the opening of Ashdod port. We are working with close partners on this and engaging quite directly, not just with near neighbours but with other countries that are supporting the humanitarian effort directly on the ground, and, indeed, the UN.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord asked about Hamas and hostages. I say again very clearly: Hamas could end this now by releasing the hostages unconditionally, and we could move forward on ensuring that aid reaches the people suffering in Gaza. I have met repeatedly with several of the hostages’ families. Their pain is incredible but their courage is equally so. Their advocacy for their loved ones and to bring closure to their suffering is something the Government are fully seized of.

We are also very much focused on the suffering of the Palestinians, when we see the number of people, including women and children, killed in this war. It is important that we bring this to a conclusion. That is why we welcome and thank both the noble Lord and the noble Baroness for their support of the Government’s vote at the UN Security Council. A lot of people do not see the heavy lifting involved in the diplomatic effort. I pay tribute to our ambassador, Dame Barbara Woodward, and her team. I assure noble Lords that it went down to the wire, with changes on words and language, but we recognise the shift in the United States’s position, which was important in allowing this resolution to pass. We now ask for full compliance—the noble Baroness and the noble Lord referred to this—to ensure that we can, vitally, get the hostages out and aid to enter.

The noble Baroness and the noble Lord both asked about our engagement on the agreement, which still has not been finalised. We pay tribute to Qatar and Egypt, and to the United States. I am travelling to Egypt tomorrow. We are engaged with all sides on this. We are engaging directly with the Qataris as well as with the United States, because these are important first steps: to get the hostages out and the aid in.

The noble Baroness asked about UNRWA and the update on the interim report. This is a verbal report and briefing. There has been some media reporting on it but the final report will be presented to the Secretary-General on 20 April. We have been very clear about UNRWA and I believe the noble Baroness agrees with the Government’s position—which is shared by the Official Opposition—about the important role that UNRWA has played historically, not just in Gaza but in other near-neighbouring countries in providing support. Equally, the shocking reports we received which led to pausing future funding for UNRWA said that there were people involved with Hamas directly. We recognise the importance of mitigations being in place and look forward to the interim report.

We have not stopped our support, and over £100 million has now gone into Gaza. We are working with key agencies such as the World Food Programme and UNICEF to ensure that aid continues to reach Gaza. However, there is a challenge regarding the number of trucks going in. We have talked about maritime and air aid but anyone who has been to those border points —like my noble friend the Foreign Secretary and I—knows that the only way is through the land borders, which is why we continue to press that.

The noble Baroness asked about UN Security Council Resolution 2728—it is binding. The United Kingdom’s place is clear. Clarifications were provided on this. She asked about the RAF drop and I can confirm it was the first time. It was not the first time that UK aid was delivered, but working with the Jordanians we provide an RAF plane which has helped in this aid drop and is part of an ongoing programme. I add again that air drops cannot replace what is required through the land borders. The noble Baroness asked about arms exports and related legal advice. She is, of course, correct that it is for the Government to review that but I assure her that, as she is aware, our arms export licences are robust. On adherence to IHL, we keep this constantly under review.

The noble Lord asked about sanctions against settlers. We did act and while I cannot comment about future policy, the Government know this and have it available as a tool. I condemn—as I have done, and do so unequivocally—the comments from Mr Smotrich and Mr Ben-Gvir in relation to the Palestinians. I assure the noble Lord that they are no way reflected by many friends and people across Israel and the citizens of Israel. We need to ensure that the only way possible of reaching a lasting sustainable peace is through that two- state solution. That is why it is one of the Government’s focuses and priorities. He also asked about the ICC and writing, et cetera. I will take that back but I know the prosecutor at the ICC has visited both Israel and the West Bank and is very much focused on the situation as it is currently unravelling.

I thank both Front Benches for their support of the Government’s position. I know the leader of the Liberal Democrats recently visited the region as well. I assure noble Lords, as I have done before, particularly on the Front Benches, that we will continue to engage quite directly to ensure that the context of the situation on the ground is well understood. Equally, I respect the fact that many of us are very much on the same page and, irrespective of where we are coming to on this issue, we are all agreed that the hostages must be released now unconditionally, and at the same time we must see humanitarian, life-saving aid going into Gaza to relieve the suffering so we can take that vital step as assured by the UN Security Council resolution.

16:49
Lord Austin of Dudley Portrait Lord Austin of Dudley (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, will the Minister confirm that aid is being admitted into Gaza by the Israelis more quickly than the UN and the other agencies can distribute it? One day last week, for example, 222 trucks were admitted but only 158 were distributed and only 86 of those by the UN, so the barrier is not Israel admitting aid into Gaza. Furthermore, can he explain to the House how it is possible for him to say that the Government support Israel’s right to defend itself but then for them to threaten to withhold arms exports on which that defence may depend?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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On the noble Lord’s second point, about threatening to withhold arms exports, I do not believe I have said that. On his earlier point, I am sorry, but I do not agree with him. As we have seen directly through the exchanges we have had with COGAT, there has been a real challenge. British trucks with British aid have been waiting on the borders of Gaza. He quoted the numbers; I quoted greater numbers than he did. We have seen a change—an uptick, but it is a small uptick—in the number of trucks entering; perhaps he has not visited to see the backlog of trucks. Let us be clear what has happened in Gaza. There is no infrastructure. The UN itself is not getting the visas it needs. The noble Lord shakes his head, but this is fact. We have been lobbying on this and this is our advocacy.

We have a very strong relationship with Israel. When Mr Gantz visited London, the Foreign Secretary and I made clear the importance of this issue, and Israel recognises its responsibilities. It is a democracy and it has international obligations, including adherence to international humanitarian law. Because of the advocacy of countries such as the United Kingdom, we see that there has been some movement. We have seen an increase in aid going in, but this is not enough. We have looked in detail at the 500 or 600 trucks. Let us also be clear: certain produce was produced in Gaza and that is no longer happening. What is needed right now, as the report we discussed only a few days ago made clear, is to avert a humanitarian famine, and Israel has an important role to play in this.

Baroness Deech Portrait Baroness Deech (CB)
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My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that the Security Council has turned into a completely dysfunctional organisation? It rejected a resolution a couple of days ago that would have linked the release of the hostages to a ceasefire. It turned that down. This time, the two conditions are not linked, and they are not enforceable. It is no more possible to enforce the release of hostages than it is to enforce a ceasefire against Hamas, which was not mentioned in that resolution. Will the Minister push for the Red Cross to be allowed to visit the hostages and for the hostages to be released first? Will he also note that the news we are getting from Gaza is almost totally unreliable, because so much of it comes from journalists who are controlled by or in the pocket of Hamas? Will he focus on the hostages? I am sad to say how empty is that phrase: never again.

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I am sad to say that I disagree with the noble Baroness. First, of course I am focused on the hostages. I have met with the relatives of hostages not once, twice or three times, but several times over. In my Statement, I spoke about the importance of recognising their suffering. I met with a hostage’s mother only last week, as did the Foreign Secretary. The premise of saying that we are not focused on the hostages, frankly, does not add up.

Secondly, I do not agree with the noble Baroness’s assessment of the UN Security Council. Yes, it has been challenging but what we saw yesterday was the Security Council coming together. On her earlier point, let me read from the Security Council resolution, which I have in front of me. It refers to:

“Acknowledging the ongoing diplomatic efforts by Egypt, Qatar and the United States, aimed at reaching a cessation of hostilities, releasing the hostages and increasing the provision and distribution of humanitarian aid”.


It contains three provisions. The first:

“Demands an immediate ceasefire for the month of Ramadan respected by all parties leading to a … sustainable ceasefire, and also demands the immediate and unconditional release of … hostages, as well as ensuring humanitarian access”.


I invite the noble Baroness and noble Lords to read the resolution, which is very clear.

Lord Swire Portrait Lord Swire (Con)
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I wonder if my noble friend the Minister has seen the reports that some settler groups, I think mainly in the United States, are now parcelling up bits of Gaza and selling them off. If there is any truth to these reports, what would his comments be? Secretary of State Blinken has been rather ahead of the British Government in condemning the activities of illegal settlers, describing them as illegal under international law, whereas we have sanctioned named settlers. Can we expect to move closer to the American position on this? If these settlers are being encouraged illegally by the Netanyahu Government, why do we continue to sell them arms?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we work very closely with the United States. As I have said before, and as my noble friend has repeated, it has been a consistent position of every Government I can remember that settlements in the West Bank and Gaza are illegal and against international law. I have alluded to the issue of our own arms exports and the importance of Israel’s adherence to international humanitarian law.

Baroness Blower Portrait Baroness Blower (Lab)
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My Lords, aid agencies have reported that the list of goods allowed by the Israeli Government into Gaza is hard to access and subject to change without warning. Can the Minister say whether any diplomatic initiatives have been taken to put pressure on the Israeli Government to publish an official list of what is allowed in, and to make sure that it covers all the clear nutrition, food and medical requirements in this situation?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I assure the noble Baroness that in all our direct interactions with Israel, we make the case for ensuring clarity on what is allowed. In the warehouses near Al Arish that I visited with the Foreign Secretary, I saw for myself goods rejected under the banner of dual purpose. We asked for clarity, and we will continue to do so. That is why it was important to appoint a co-ordinator, who is doing an excellent job in establishing real clarity on what is allowed in. We are working with key agencies on the ground and ensuring that the acute needs are directly met. There is an immediate need for basic foods and medicines to enter Gaza, and we are making that case very clearly to Israel.

Let me say again that the United Kingdom, rightly, is a friend to many countries, including Israel. Being a friend means standing with Israel, as we did—this House stood together—when those horrific events unfolded on 7 October. I have said that on that day—it is perhaps reflective of the period we are in, from an Abrahamic perspective—I made three calls to Israel. One call was to a friend of mine who is Muslim, in Israel. The second was to a friend who is Jewish, in Israel. The third was to the Christian Archbishop Hosam, in Jerusalem. Why? Because this is a common cause of our common humanity. Israel is a country which is a democracy, and we recognise it as a friend. But it is also important, on the other side of the coin, that we challenge and present constructive advocacy and bring a lasting solution to this conflict. We would all agree, irrespective of the angle we come at it from, that this conflict has gone on for too long and has cost far too many lives.

Baroness Gohir Portrait Baroness Gohir (CB)
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My Lords, a report stated that famine was imminent. That was 10 days ago, so Gaza is experiencing famine right now. The Minister gave examples of aid that is getting through, which is only a fraction of what is needed, because the Israeli Government are constantly putting barriers in the way. The Minister stated that now, the Israeli Government want to flood Gaza with aid. Are those just words? Will the Minister acknowledge that the Israeli Government are responsible for the mass starvation of Palestinians?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, I alluded earlier to the report from the IPC. That is why we are working around the clock to ensure that we make the point to Israel about humanitarian access, which, as I said before, we made in our last meeting with Minister Gantz. The need to deliver humanitarian aid was clear and accepted; that is why we persist on this. I have also acknowledged that there has been an uptick in the number of trucks going in—a greater number compared to last month. Still, this is not enough. It is important that we see the kind of aid going in. A ceasefire is coming into place for the period of Ramadan, but we need it to be sustainable and, ultimately, for the reconstruction that is so desperately needed to begin, so that people can start rebuilding their lives.

Lord Grocott Portrait Lord Grocott (Lab)
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My Lords, given that we all described—quite rightly in my view—the dreadful attack in southern Israel resulting in the deaths of 1,200 people as “slaughter”, what language is left to describe the deaths in Gaza of 33,000 Palestinians, including 13,500 children and babies? How do we describe that? Is killing on that scale consistent with Israel’s right, which we all respect, to self-defence? Is it necessary? In view of international humanitarian law, is killing on that scale in Gaza, and the horror that is Gaza today, a proportionate response by Israel?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, of course, any person who has been killed in this conflict or any other is tragedy beyond belief. The number of people that have been killed in Gaza is shocking. What happened on 7 October was shocking. We see innocent civilians who have been impacted, whether the hostage families or the thousands of people who have been killed in Gaza. This is a human tragedy; I have described it as a catastrophe in every sense.

That is why it needs all nobly intentioned countries to come together and act as one. We need to make sure the resolutions that have been passed by the Security Council are fully implemented. This is not the first one; Resolution 2720 was passed on humanitarian access specifically. Hamas is different from Israel: we expect Israel to adhere to IHL; Hamas is a terrorist organisation. We are talking about two very different entities. That is why we will never give up hope and will continue our strong advocacy and work with key partners to ensure we can bring this tragic conflict to an end. I am sure the noble Lord, like us all, acknowledges that the loss of any innocent life is a tragedy beyond belief, and we have seen far too many people killed in this conflict.

Lord Grade of Yarmouth Portrait Lord Grade of Yarmouth (Non-Afl)
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Can the Minister share with the House any information he has about the level remaining in Gaza of active, armed Hamas rocket launchers and armed terrorists, if I can use that word? It appears that Israel has not yet achieved its objective—leaving aside the rights and wrongs of how it is doing it. Is there still a considerable Hamas resistance remaining in Gaza?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My noble friend raises an important question. We have seen a continuation, from different parts, of Hamas’s capacity to launch attacks against Israel. That is why, as in the key deliverables that my noble friend the Foreign Secretary has highlighted, we need this fighting to stop. First, this resolution can achieve that. Secondly, it means we get the hostages out and aid in. Thirdly, it ensures Hamas is no longer in control or has the capacity to launch attacks against Israel. Fourthly, we can work with a reformed PA that is in control over the West Bank and Gaza towards what should ultimately be our noble goal—an attainable two-state solution. Hamas is a terrorist organisation in the UK’s view. Hamas could end this now. It could put down its weapons, give up the hostages and agree a pathway to peace. Are we at that juncture with Hamas right now? No.

Lord Craig of Radley Portrait Lord Craig of Radley (CB)
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My Lords, in the hope that we get a cessation of hostilities, what assessment have His Majesty’s Government made of the attitude of the Houthis and whether they will also observe a ceasefire?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, on the situation with the Houthis, the UK has taken the principled stand that they have sought indiscriminately to attack and disrupt international commercial shipping. Close to 20% of international commercial shipping went through those channels in the Red Sea, which is why the UK’s response has been robust. We have heard the public declarations by the Houthis. Prior to 7 October, they had started negotiating with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia a ceasefire and a solution to Yemen. We have not lost sight of that—we continue to be engaged on that brief—but the Houthis’ actions do not reflect their words. If they are true to their words, they will cease—if indeed the ceasefire happens. I am not currently holding out hope for that—let us wait.

Lord Turnberg Portrait Lord Turnberg (Lab)
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My Lords, I am sure the noble Lord will remember that Golda Meir said that, if the Arabs put down their arms, there would be no war, but, if Israel put down its arms, there would be no Israel. Is it not perverse to suggest that we stop providing arms to Israel, the victim of that horrendous attack, which is trying to defend itself against further similar attacks?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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My Lords, going back to what I said earlier, I do not believe that I or the Foreign Secretary have suggested that. We have stood with Israel, in terms of its security concerns, over many years—well before 7 October. Israel is a partner to the United Kingdom, but, as many recognise in Israel itself and as we are saying directly to Israel, being a friend and partner also means that we need this fighting to stop for the sake of the hostages. To get the hostages out, the fighting must stop, which will also allow the aid in. On Golda Meir, I recently saw the film made about her. One thing is prevalent in all this, and in how she made peace with Anwar Sadat: the only prevailing sustainable solution is a pathway to peace.

Lord Bishop of Leeds Portrait The Lord Bishop of Leeds
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My Lords, given that UN resolutions are not always seen through, as it were, or observed, is the Minister optimistic that this resolution will have the impact we want it to have? What impact will it have on countries like Russia, China and Iran continuing to supply weapons?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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This is an important first step in the diplomacy. There has been an incredible challenge at the United Nations Security Council in getting an agreed form of words. There was a resolution about a week ago which was rejected and vetoed by Russia and China. In front of us now is an important first step in recognising that the release of hostages is necessary for a peaceful resolution. It is an important first step to ensure a ceasefire for the period of Ramadan, leading to a sustainable ceasefire and to getting aid in. If we start building on those first steps, I am hopeful. I have immense hope—one thing I have learned in life is that one should never give up hope.

Baroness Helic Portrait Baroness Helic (Con)
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My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the Statement and all the diplomats for their heavy lifting. Yesterday’s passing of the UN Security Council resolution was a chink of light for the hostages and their families, and for the starved and hungry in Gaza. Yet it has already been interpreted in a different way here and in the United States. The White House spokesperson, John Kirby, said that the UN Security Council resolution is

“a nonbinding resolution. So, there’s no impact at all on Israel”.

I understand that His Majesty’s Government’s position is different, so can my noble friend indicate how we will overcome this difference of interpretation?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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I thank my noble friend for her remarks. She is right: there has been speculation on this and whether the words are binding or non-binding. We are very clear that there are two elements here: Chapter VII and Chapter VI. This was made under Chapter VI, but there is a convention that goes back to 1971 which confirms that decisions passed by the UN Security Council are binding.

Lord Walney Portrait Lord Walney (CB)
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The Government will obviously not take Hamas’s casualty figures at face value, so what is their own best assessment of the current number of casualties in the conflict, the ratio of combatants to civilians, and how that compares to other conflicts recently?

Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon Portrait Lord Ahmad of Wimbledon (Con)
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The noble Lord raises an important point. Of course, he will recognise that some of the numbers of Hamas combatants who have been killed by Israel are Israel’s figures. When Israel talks of the numbers killed in Gaza, it also talks of a proportion, and that is why it feels it is important that it continues with its operations. We have said very clearly, particularly with the operation in Rafah on the horizon, that it is important that Israel thinks very carefully. As we have seen previously, there are ways and means of having targeted operations. One hopes that with the loss of life that we have seen and the killings we have seen in Israel and Gaza, we will see no more. When the United Kingdom Government talk of numbers and casualties, we make an independent assessment of the situation in Gaza, which is difficult because there is no access, and we also rely on information provided by agencies on the ground, including the UN.

Second Reading
17:10
Moved by
Lord Callanan Portrait Lord Callanan
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That the Bill be now read a second time.

Lord Callanan Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Energy Security and Net Zero (Lord Callanan) (Con)
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My Lords, the UK recently achieved an important milestone in the global fight against climate change. We were the first major economy to set a net-zero target in law, and we are now the first major economy to have halved our emissions since 1990. Of course, we are not resting on our laurels as we pursue our goal to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by at least 68% by 2030. Between 2010 and 2023, the UK has seen £300 billion of investment into low-carbon sectors, demonstrating that our approach to net zero is working. That is because it is an approach that is proportionate, fair and grounded in reality.

We recognise, of course, that the UK still depends on fossil fuels for meeting around 75% of the energy demand and that that is something that cannot be changed overnight. The independent Climate Change Committee’s data shows that even in 2050, when we reach net zero, oil and gas are expected to continue to play an important, albeit smaller, part in meeting demand and maintaining our national energy security, so managing our remaining reserves effectively will be critical to the transition, and that is why the Government are bringing forward this Bill.

I believe that many of us across the House agree that as a country we must reduce our reliance on oil and gas, but as we do so the question we must answer is: from where do we want to source that oil and gas to meet that residual demand? Oil and gas production in the North Sea has been hugely successful. It has created and supported hundreds of thousands of British jobs and contributed billions in tax revenue over many decades. It continues to provide us with secure, reliable energy and to support jobs and the economy.

North Sea gas currently provides around half the UK demand. OEUK figures show that the sector supports around 200,000 jobs, adds around £16 billion annually to the economy and brings in billions in tax revenue. I think particularly of how important tax revenue like that was in supporting thousands of households with their energy bills following Russia’s illegal invasion of Ukraine. This unprecedented support, among the most generous in Europe, was equal to around half the average family’s energy bill or about £1,500. Without tax revenue from industry, that burden would have fallen to taxpayers alone.

Domestic production is also an important part of our national energy security and the energy security of many of our European neighbours. The simple fact is that if we did not have access to this secure and reliable source of energy, we would be even more reliant on imports. The Government’s position is clear: where oil and gas are needed in the decades to come, as much as possible should come from our own waters.

Having said all that, the North Sea is a mature basin and production is in decline. Even with continued exploration and development, production from the basin is expected to decline by around 7% a year, which is, incidentally, faster than the average that is globally required to align with the IPCC’s 1.5 degrees Celsius pathway. By 2050, the UK’s North Sea oil and gas production is projected to fall by over 90% from today’s levels. The choice before us is whether we seek to reduce our reliance on imports through continuing to issue UK production licences or stop investment in British oil and gas and import even more from abroad.

Without investment in new UK oil and gas fields, we would lose out on more than 1 billion barrels of oil and gas, worth billions in revenue. More than this, our production would decline faster than we could build low-carbon replacements and before the workers in the sector could smoothly transition to jobs in renewable industries. We estimate that such a decline would increase UK import dependence from around 60% now to 70% by 2035. That is more liquefied natural gas with higher production emissions and none of the economic or energy security benefits.

If there was no investment, tens of thousands of skilled British jobs would be placed in jeopardy. Industry leaders have already warned that North Sea workers are at risk of becoming

“the coal miners of our generation”

if we fail to manage the declining North Sea basin in a sustainable way. We cannot allow this to happen.

A recent report from Robert Gordon University found that over 90% of the UK’s oil and gas workforce have medium to high skills transferability to the offshore renewables sector. A key commitment of the North Sea transition deal is to ensure that people and skills from the existing oil and gas workforce are transferrable across the wider energy sector. Make no mistake: these skills are in demand the world over. If they are not wanted here to deliver our own production and our own energy transition, they will surely go overseas and deliver someone else’s.

The general secretary of the GMB—not somebody I quote very often—recently wrote:

“In an increasingly volatile world the UK needs plans and not bans for the future of our energy sector and the transition to net zero”.


In this particular case, the Government could not agree more. We need oil and gas and our domestic oil and gas sector. Industry knows it, the unions know it, everybody knows it—except, perhaps, the noble Lord opposite—and I urge those opposed to continued licensing to think again.

We all want a successful energy transition. This means accepting that oil and gas will continue to play a role in meeting our energy demands for decades to come, and supporting investment and jobs in the North Sea through new licensing so that we can continue to produce that oil and gas from our own resources. However, it also means that during this transition, while we are decarbonising all other sectors of the economy, we should also produce these fuels in the cleanest way possible.

Since 2019, the carbon intensity of global oil and gas production has fallen by around 3%. From the North Sea, it has fallen by 14%. We will go further. The North Sea transition deal commits the offshore oil and gas sector to reducing emissions from operations to 50% of 2018 levels by 2030, with emissions already falling by 23% by 2022. To support this, we have committed to zero routine flaring and venting for both oil and gas by 2030, going further than the World Bank’s zero routine flaring initiative. Industry has made significant progress in meeting this target, with already a near 50% reduction in flaring since 2018. The NSTA already expects all new developments to have zero routine flaring and venting.

This Bill is part of the effective management of the energy transition. This new legislation will require the North Sea Transition Authority to run an annual process for new exploration and production licences in the UK continental shelf, subject to several key tests being met: first, that the UK is projected to remain a net importer of both oil and gas, and, secondly, that carbon emissions associated with UK gas are lower than imported liquefied natural gas. The tests ensure that annual licensing can take place only where it remains the right thing to do.

A more predictable licensing regime will not take us back to the era of peak production in the North Sea; as I said, the reality is that this is a fast-declining basin. Instead, new licensing will simply seek to manage that decline rather than to increase oil and gas production above current levels. However, it will give industry the certainty and confidence it needs to support the continued investment necessary both for our energy security and to help deliver the energy transition. That is an investment worth billions of pounds from companies such as Shell—which is also planning major investment in low-carbon and zero-carbon infrastructure, including offshore wind, hydrogen and carbon capture, utilisation and storage—and BP, which plans to invest up to £18 billion in the UK’s energy system by the end of 2030, in addition to its operating spend in the United Kingdom. The Bill demonstrates the Government’s ongoing commitment to the industry and helps to provide the certainty to ensure that the UK continental shelf remains an attractive investment as we transition to renewables.

The UK is a world leader on climate. We are one of the most decarbonised economies in the world and have met every one of our legally binding carbon budgets, but the fact remains that we will still need oil and gas in 2050, and it is simply common sense to use what we have. If we produce oil and gas here, it is the British public and our European allies—not foreign, and potentially hostile, regimes—that will benefit. If we produce here, we can be safe in the knowledge that our stringent regulations have kept the environment safe. If we produce here, we can reduce our reliance on imports, such as LNG, that have up to four times the production emissions of domestic production. If we produce here, we support a vibrant industrial sector, British jobs and communities that will be key to delivering the energy transition, rather than see them disappear overseas to help to deliver someone else’s. I believe that the choice is clear.

I will leave the House with the words of the chief executive of the NSTA, who said that

“we won’t get to net zero without oil and gas”

and that

“producing as much of the oil and gas we need as possible domestically is the right thing to do, for security and the economy”.

The North Sea has powered us through the last half century and, if we manage the transition correctly, it will power us through the next. I beg to move.

17:22
Lord Lennie Portrait Lord Lennie (Lab)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the Minister, who set out the Government’s reasoning for the Bill. It is very straightforward in what it does: it would require the North Sea Transition Authority to run an annual oil and gas licensing round, inviting applications for new production licences in our offshore waters.

What is less clear is what the Bill will actually achieve. While families and businesses across the country are feeling the impact of the Government’s energy policy, which has left us the worst hit in western Europe, the Government have brought forward this Bill. It is a Bill that the Government have already admitted will not take a penny off the outrageously high energy bills that people are struggling to pay. It was our high dependency on fossil fuels that put British households in the recent situation that they have been in, so the Bill doubles down.

It is a Bill that will not do anything to address our energy security, as oil and gas are sold, as the Minister knows, on the international market—a case made expertly by the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Madingley, who, I suggest, knows his stuff. The more we depend on fossil fuels, the more we will depend on those who control, and set the prices on, that market.

It is a Bill that is not necessary to bring down energy imports; the only way to do that for good is to produce more clean power at home that we can control. It will not send the right signal to investors on the UK’s commitment to green industry. It is not good for jobs as the number of North Sea workers decreases, or for the public purse, which has spent far more on subsidies recently than any possible tax revenue. It is certainly not good for the environment; in the words of the Government’s former net zero tsar:

“There is no such thing as a new net zero oilfield”.


So what exactly is it intended to achieve? All we can see is areas where it takes us in the wrong direction, not least on protecting the environment. We are certainly not alone in this view. The way to enhance energy security, according to the National Infrastructure Commission, is to move away from fossil fuels. In its words:


“Reliance on fossil fuels means exposure to geopolitical shocks that impact the price of these internationally traded commodities”.


This Bill does the opposite.

As for investment, the CEO of Aviva made it very clear that new oil and gas drilling


“puts at clear risk the jobs, growth and the additional investment the UK requires to become more climate ready”.

Then there are the thoughts of the former net zero tsar who quit Parliament over this Bill, the right honourable Chris Skidmore, and the widely respected former COP president, the right honourable Alok Sharma. Chris Skidmore called the Bill

“another historic mistake and a grave error”

that is

“totally against the sentiment and direction of the global stocktake”.

Furthermore, he reported from Dubai that the UK’s international leadership will be undermined until a moratorium on new licences is resumed. Alok Sharma said that it would

“reinforce the … perception of the UK’s rowing back from climate action … and that does make our international partners question the seriousness with which we take our international commitments”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/1/24; col. 52.]

With how little of substance the Bill will achieve, the only obvious answer is that the Government see it as a symbol. As we have made clear, the symbol that is being sent is very much the wrong one.

We will try to improve the Bill during the remaining stages, but let me be clear. First, what is needed is not an improvement to the Bill but a whole different approach. We need the UK to be made a clean energy superpower with cheap and secure energy so that families and businesses are protected from spiralling bills, and jobs and investment are boosted across the country. That is the Labour Party’s mission: to cut bills, create jobs, deliver energy security and provide climate leadership. This Bill does pretty much the opposite. But given that the Government are determined to press on with a Bill that will achieve nothing, it would be irresponsible not to seek to improve it. So we will look to see what we can do.

The Bill contains two tests that should be passed before the North Sea Transition Authority can proceed to issue a licence—but these tests, as drafted, cannot be failed. Liquefied natural gas will always be more greenhouse gas intensive in production than UK natural gas. There is no situation in which the North Sea field will meet our total demand for gas and oil. Tests that cannot be failed are simply pointless. We seek to replace these tests with ones that produce a proper judgment about whether a licence should be issued. These tests will be based first and foremost on whether issuing a licence would be in line with our climate change goals. I also look forward to the House considering other areas in Committee—methane, leak detection, protection of green areas—and seeing where we can find cross-party agreement to maybe even give this purposeless Bill some purpose.

The Bill does, however, have one merit. It has given rise to one of the most remarkable speeches made in the other place, by Dr Alan Whitehead MP. I will finish by quoting part of his speech:

“The whole Bill appears to have come about as a result of a wheeze, cooked up by a couple of strategy advisers over a heavy lunch, to put the Opposition on the wrong foot … Quite honestly, that wheeze should have been put down as soon as the effects of the heavy lunch wore off, but instead it has … finally made it to the Floor of the House in the shape of this risible Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/1/24; col. 105.]


Exactly so.

17:29
Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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My Lords, I declare my interests as chair of Peers for the Planet and director of the associated company. Perhaps I will take up from where the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, left off.

With just one substantive clause, this could be called a modest Bill, but I am afraid that, to coin a phrase, it has much to be modest about. Its central provision, providing for an annual round of licensing, was deemed unnecessary by the North Sea Transition Authority. We learn from the Financial Times that the authority was concerned not only that it was an unnecessary “wheeze”, to use the words of the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, but that potentially it undermines the independence of that authority. The two so-called tests to be fulfilled before licences are granted are, as has been pointed out, essentially unfailable—so what about the Government’s justification that the Bill would strengthen the UK’s energy security and reduce reliance on volatile energy markets?

A coruscating commentary from academics at the UK Energy Research Centre described it as a distraction, saying:

“Annual licensing rounds will not ensure the UK’s energy security … Any oil and gas developed as a consequence of new licences is unlikely to come to market quickly and will be sold at international market prices”.


These themes were taken up by the former COP 26 president, Sir Alok Sharma, during debates in the other place, who emphasised that

“the oil and gas extracted from the North sea is owned by private enterprises and the Government do not get to control to whom it is sold”.—[Official Report, Commons, 22/1/24; col. 52.]

Not even the Secretary of State for the Environment still claims that this legislation will help customers with their energy bills because, as Sir Alok pointed out, the products will be sold on the international market. The flaws in our domestic pricing systems mean that the unnecessarily high costs of sustainably produced energy will continue to be high until we solve the problem of the pegging of energy prices. No wonder the Bill was what finally broke the camel’s back for Chris Skidmore, the man who signed the net-zero target into law for the Conservative Government, who was chosen by the Government to undertake the net-zero review and who, as has been said, resigned over it.

We all recognise that we are in transition and—as the Minister often reminds us and did again today—we will need supplies, albeit reducing supplies, of oil and gas for some time. However, we need to move that transition along with more investment in cheaper, cleaner, homegrown power and in the alternative sources that are necessary to cater for the issues of intermittency.

Rather than offering encouragement to oil and gas companies, which, despite their claims, do very little in the renewable sector—it receives only a tiny percentage of their UK investment—we should focus attention and incentives on investing in onshore and offshore wind, tidal power, nuclear power, battery storage and the back to basics energy efficiency with which the Minister knows many in this House are deeply concerned. Moreover, the Institute for Energy Economics and Financial Analysis is concerned that the Bill could make our existing challenge of decarbonising, to which the Minister referred, harder. The institute says:

“Stimulating both offshore wind and oil and gas sectors will spur competition over limited supply chain resources. This will increase costs which will disproportionately affect the offshore wind sector”.


The Explanatory Notes to the Bill state that annual licensing will

“provide greater certainty to the industry and potential investors”,

but we need that certainty and encouragement for the industries and technologies of the future, not of the past. We need to look at the interests of workers in the energy sector in terms of their future and how we can transfer their invaluable skills—not abroad, as the Minister said, but into the sustainable, clean energies in this country where the opportunities are and where the growth is higher than it is in oil and gas.

New licensing rounds are unlikely to restore offshore oil and gas jobs that have been lost steadily over the years as the basin declines, as the Minister said. Despite increasingly favourable tax regimes having been implemented since 2015 and high levels of investment, North Sea oil is a declining basin and roles in oil and gas in Scotland decreased by 36%. Over the same period, renewable roles increased by 70%. In hard numbers, recent ONS figures stated that there were nearly 48,000 roles in renewable energy—considerably more than the roughly 30,000 direct roles remaining in oil and gas. This is the growth economy of the future and we should invest in its workers. We should recognise that the net-zero economy is outstripping the rest of the economy, with 9% year-on-year growth, as recently reported by the ECIU.

In many ways, the Bill is a paradox. It achieves very little in energy security and in fulfilling the Government’s stated aims. It does not do what it claims or what is necessary. But because it does not do very much that does not mean that it is harmless. It has a very clear impact in the negative messages that it conveys about the Government’s real commitment to the action that we need to transition successfully to the economy powered by clean energy that we need. Sadly, it reinforces the messaging that has been dripping out from the Government in the last 18 months and the perception of “slowing UK climate ambition”, as the CCC puts it. That perception—indeed, that reality—is deeply damaging to the international reputation on climate change that the UK has built, certainly since the passing of the Climate Change Act and arguably since Margaret Thatcher recognised the centrality of the issue of climate change in her speech 35 years ago. We cannot continue to lead, as the Government say that they have been proud to, if we continually water down our national commitments and priorities.

It is a modest Bill but, sadly, a damaging one, which looks backwards to the technologies and industries of the past rather than to the sustainable growth of the future. However, this House concentrates on improving legislation so, however wrong-headed in principle we consider this to be, I look forward with others to our discussions in Committee and on Report and to exploring amendments on the marine environment, on supporting workers transitioning to new roles in clean energy and on ending the unnecessary practice of venting and flaring, which continues to add such potent pollution to our atmosphere.

I do not hold out much hope that the Minister will move much on the objections in principle to the Bill, but I hope that he will at least be willing to look seriously at changes that could contribute to the thriving low-carbon and nature-positive economy which the Government recognise that the UK needs.

17:38
Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, and the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, both of whom seem to be against the Bill because the positives are small. One is normally against things because they are negative. The only negative the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, came up with was that it sends out the wrong messages. I have observed a general rule in politics, that when the only argument anyone has against something is that it sends out the wrong messages, they do not really have an argument against it at all.

The question that faces us is whether this Bill is compatible with our commitment to reach net zero by 2050. It is a huge challenge: a huge engineering challenge that, according to the former chief scientific adviser to the Department for Environment and professor of engineering at Cambridge, Professor Kelly, is impossible to achieve; let us hope he is wrong. It is a huge economic challenge that, according to a former economist at the World Bank and now professor of energy economics at Edinburgh University, is economically impossible to achieve; let us hope that he too is wrong. Let us assume for the purposes of this debate that these objectives are achievable. What we cannot do is add problems, even small ones, to those mammoth engineering and economics problems by doing things that add to emissions, rather than reduce them; that add to costs, rather than reduce them; and that reduce, albeit by a small amount, our own GDP and tax revenues, which we will need to pay for the transition to net zero.

The sensible path to net zero that we, like other like- minded countries, have adopted is to phase out demand for fossil fuels, not their supply. If energy companies choose to invest in more fossil fuel capacity than is needed, they will lose money; that should not be our primary concern, except for those who happen to have a financial interest in the oil industry. If the UK unilaterally stops producing fossil fuels, which would be a bizarre thing to do if we do not ban their import, others will step in and supply the fossil fuels that we failed to produce but could have. They will also replace any fossil fuels that we provided to the rest of the world. If the whole world were to try to reduce the supply of fossil fuels, as well as phasing out demand, that would have no effect if we did not phase out the supply as rapidly as we reduced the demand. Or, if we phased out the supply more rapidly than we reduced the demand, it would create shortages, massive price rises and huge profits for the oil industry. It would do to ourselves and the world exactly what Putin did to us when he invaded Ukraine and reduced supplies. Is that what the opponents of this Bill want to achieve? Or are they solely interested in the UK stopping the production of oil and gas, rather than the rest of the world stopping it?

Even if our fossil fuels did not involve fewer emissions in extraction and transport, or, in the case of gas, additional emissions over and above that in liquefaction and regasification, there would still be a very sensible case for us to keep producing such oil and gas as is available in the North Sea. Remember, the UK plans to reduce emissions not just by reducing demand for and use of fossil fuels, but by employing carbon capture and storage. That is a sensible thing to do because, according to the Climate Change Committee, our estimates and those of others suggest that without resort to carbon capture and storage, the cost of meeting the 2050 targets would be twice as high. We will use carbon capture and storage, which means we will continue to use oil and gas up to and after 2050—unless, of course, people on the other side want to double the cost of meeting the net-zero commitment.

I got the impression from the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, that the Labour Party’s approach to this is based on the assumption that there is a choice between continuing to produce new oil and gas fields in the North Sea and developing renewables in the North Sea and elsewhere. There is no such alternative. We can do both, we are doing both and we should continue to do so. He also argued, as did the noble Baroness, that all the benefits of producing oil and gas in the North Sea are small ones: there will be only a small benefit in emissions reductions; there will be only a small benefit to the economy; there will be only a small benefit in extra tax revenues; and there will be only a small benefit in saving jobs and energy security. Well, small benefits are better than none, and we should pocket them if we can. The noble Baroness quoted Global Witness evidence that the claim that the oil and gas industry employs 200,000 jobs is wrong. She said— and I have no reason to doubt her or Global Witness—that the real figure is 27,600. Global Witness says that this does not matter, but it still seems a lot of jobs. It is pretty heartless to say to those 27,600 people, who are largely in Scotland, that their jobs do not matter and they can probably find a job in the renewables industry, if they are lucky, because they have transferable skills, notwithstanding the disruption and the need to move.

The other argument—

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. He quoted me; otherwise, I would not interrupt him on Second Reading. I did not quote the Global Witness figures—which I do have—because they are complicated and quite difficult to discern. I quoted the ONS figures, which state that, over the period to which they refer, renewable roles increased by 70%, whereas in hard numbers, there were nearly 48,000 roles in renewable energy, which is considerably more than the 30,000 direct roles remaining in oil and gas. I did not talk about the 200,000 figure; I gave simply the ONS figures showing that there are more jobs in renewables than in oil and gas, and they are growing faster.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that clarification. Somebody used the 200,000 figure—it must have been the noble Lord, Lord Lennie. Anyway, it does not matter.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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The Minister did. The noble Baroness has acknowledged that the figure is about 30,000, rather than 27,600; I do not really see the difference, frankly. The point is not which figure is bigger. Why should we sacrifice 30,000 jobs?

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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We are not sacrificing them.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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The proposal is to sacrifice them if we phase out that industry more rapidly than would otherwise occur. I give way to the noble Baroness if she has some alternative.

Baroness Hayman Portrait Baroness Hayman (CB)
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I think I quoted the Minister correctly. He talked about the invaluable skills of people in the oil and gas industry, and how those could be transferred into our own industries and not lost to foreign competitors. When I went to a wind farm, the guy who was helping us to go right to the top of the wind turbine told me that he used to work on the oil rigs in the North Sea. He had seen the way the wind was blowing—if that is the correct term—and he took a job in renewable energy, so I am not in the business of sacrificing anybody’s jobs.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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I mentioned the possibility that people were claiming they could move across, and some of them will, but it will mean disruption. We should not unnecessarily require people to give up a job and —hopefully—take on another one. As the noble Baroness said, these jobs already exist and will go on increasing in number if we increase investment in renewables. I have not argued against that at all. The two types of job are perfectly compatible. Both can exist side by side, instead of there being only one lot of jobs.

The other argument is that 80% of our oil is sent overseas to be refined, and so production of our own crude oil does not result in any security. I used to be an oil analyst in the City, examining how these things work. If, in a crisis, a country has supplies of crude, it can trade it for other types of crude that work in its own refineries. This is how the market works. It does give you security because you can say, “We will send you that and, in return, we want products or the equivalent amount of crude that we can refine ourselves”. It gives greater security—not a huge amount because we do not have a huge amount of oil and gas, but a bit of security is better than none.

The arguments used by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, and in most of the briefing notes that I have seen, are all about how small the advantages from the Bill will be. The Climate Change Committee—the Government’s official independent adviser—has come out against this Bill and the Government’s decision to continue licensing new fields in the North Sea. I put the arguments I have made so far to its outgoing chairman, the noble Lord, Lord Deben, who is a colleague and my old friend, when he appeared before the Environment and Climate Change Committee. I asked him whether he wanted the whole world to phase out oil and gas, or just the UK. He said, in effect, “Just the UK”. He said:

“The world is producing oil sufficient to meet our needs … There are many countries in the world that will still be producing oil and have no intention of reducing that. There are other countries that could produce oil and gas and have to make a choice between going down that route and going down the route of renewables. We have a duty to try to get them to make the right decision because otherwise we will destroy our world and ourselves … We have to get other countries to do the right thing … If you say to a country that does not have oil, ‘You have a chance to produce oil and your future will be with oil’, I am afraid it will not go for renewables, even though this is the real answer … We have to set an example”.


I find that argument absolutely pathetic and incredible. The idea that phasing out production in the North Sea more rapidly than need be is going to persuade some African country which finds oil not to produce its oil but to go down the route of producing renewables is just ludicrous. It could, of course, do both. We should recognise that this is the only argument that the Government’s own independent advisers have against the Bill.

We should recognise that, in law, the Climate Change Committee has no role in advising about the supply of oil and gas. Its role is about phasing out emissions, so it is acting ultra vires even in coming out with its recommendations against this Bill. That is as maybe.

Other arguments suggest that it would be bad for the environment—that dolphins and other wildlife would be disturbed by offshore oilfields. Of course, they would be equally disturbed by offshore wind farms. This does not seem a wholly credible argument.

Most people argue as if allowing petroleum licences and producing renewables are alternatives. The Bill will not stop renewables at all. In so far as it boosts the economy and tax revenues, it will help fund the transition. There is no time limit on speeches. In my view, by the same logic that applies to the Bill, we should also allow the production of oil and gas on shore. We should license onshore exploration and drilling for shale gas, subject to a local referendum in the area where it occurs, and to allowing the companies that wish to drill to offer incentives to those in that area. I have been told that they are prepared to pay £1,000 per head and subsequently to offer cheap gas if they find it.

Why do we not do this? I know enough about the oil industry to know that everything is uncertain, but there is a lot down there. I do not know whether or not we can get it out of the shale. If we can, all the arguments that there is only a small amount disappear because the potential quantities are very large.

I hope that we will not be carried away by those who object to producing oil and gas. It is a luxury belief. They can oppose production because it has no direct effect on them, but it will marginally impoverish the rest of us. This is not something to which we should give in.

17:55
Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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My Lords, I shall do my best to not be long-winded and boring.

This Bill is yet another example of this Government’s colossal stupidity. They are a deliquescent Government that really should stop putting Bills through both Houses. It is also quite dangerous. It is a climate change deniers’ charter. I guess it came from Tufton Street and all the Conservative Party donors attached to the Global Warming Policy Foundation, probably helped by people in the oil and gas industry kindly donating millions of pounds to the Conservative Party.

These people make profit from pollution. They want to carry on doing so for as long as they can. They do not like net zero and renewables because they mean less money for them. They do not like the idea of less plastic in the world because plastic means oil and that is a money-spinner for them as well. They do not like new solar and heat pumps being standard on new homes because this affects their profits too. These people are killing the planet while helping to keep the Conservative Party solvent.

What is their solution to the climate crisis facing us all? It is carbon capture and storage, on which the Government are spending billions. At the same time—the irony—they are bringing in this Bill, which will severely damage nature’s own carbon capture and storage system: the ocean. It has proof of concept over probably a couple of billion years. This is far more efficient than anything we can dream up.

As an aside, I was delighted to hear the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, talk about Labour’s commitments after the next election. I shall look forward to helping it and holding it to account on that.

The Government’s big idea is to use taxpayers’ money to pump all the carbon down oil and gas wells so that they can make a lot of money from it. Perhaps the Minister can confirm this.

It is almost five years since Theresa May signed the 2050 net-zero target into law. We have now wasted one-sixth of the time available to meet the 2050 target. This Government have failed to set out any realistic plans to reach net zero. The solutions are obvious. As I have said before, I can give the Government the Green Party’s manifesto to make sure that they have enough policies to do what they ought to be doing. The solutions include rapid delivery of insulation, energy efficiency and energy reduction on a street-by-street model, and a wholesale transition to renewables, including onshore wind, with a full-scale retraining programme of the existing workforce. We should send a clear message to investors and businesses that fossil fuel extraction is a dying industry, carrying stranded assets, with no prospect of making a return on any investment.

Instead of reducing fossil fuel production and ending new licences in line with COP agreements, the Conservatives bring us this Bill. In justification, the Chancellor of the Exchequer has claimed that domestic oil and gas is four times cleaner than imported oil and gas. This is such incoherent nonsense. I can hardly believe that anyone could say this, let alone someone in that position. We do not keep our oil. It also means that we would be using international markets just as they are at the moment.

The Bill establishes a totally meaningless test that new licences can be granted so long as imports of fossil fuels exceed exports. This would allow the UK to extract every last drop of oil and gas from the North Sea, as long as we continue to import more and more oil and gas to balance it out.

Finally, the continued expansion of fossil fuel production is incompatible with a liveable planet for humans and for millions of species. It does not matter from where on earth those fossil fuels are extracted or what the balance of trade is; we need to cut our carbon emissions massively.

I was absolutely astounded to see the environmental statement in the Bill, which says that

“the Bill will not have the effect of reducing the level of environmental protection provided for by any existing environmental law”.

That is nonsense.

I wish all noble Lords a happy Easter and that they come back refreshed.

18:00
Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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My Lords, it is difficult to follow the noble Baroness—I seem to have drawn the short straw on that one—but it is also difficult to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, because it is quite distressing to witness the death throes of a dinosaur.

This is a wholly unnecessary Bill. Its only virtue is that it is brief. The noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said that the North Sea Transition Authority, for which the Bill is allegedly meant, has been quoted as saying that it does not need or want it.

The Minister kindly wrote to us in February and held a briefing meeting early in March. He tried, and I should say failed, to outline the benefits of the Bill, so let us look at some of the anticipated and promoted benefits. One is jobs. Whether or not it is 200,000 for oil and gas and associated industries, the argument pursued by the Government is that we have to keep these jobs up and that it would be really bad for us to see all these people becoming unemployed or having to change their profession. In fact, they have skills that would admirably fit the transition to low-carbon technologies. Rather than giving the go-ahead for continued licensing in the North Sea and slowing the decline path of North Sea gas and oil, we should get a greater move on with the development of new low-carbon technologies, including by attracting the billions of pounds of potential investments that the Government tell us are out there.

New green jobs using these people’s skills is the humane way to transition from old to new technology, rather than perpetuating oil and gas to support old jobs. This is the sort of illogical thinking that we have come to expect from this Government, in this area. It is like the logic that we heard them use when talking about commissioning new gas-fired power stations to provide resilience to fluctuations in sun and wind power renewables, rather than going straight towards low-carbon, hydrogen, medium-term storage solutions, as advocated by the Science and Technology Select Committee. The only result of commissioning new gas-fired power stations is likely to be a whole load of stranded assets.

The Minister also talked about energy security, and new oil and gas licences helping to safeguard that energy security to ensure that we do not rely on hostile states. That argument does not stack up either. Only 20% of the oil produced in the UK is refined here; 70% is refined in Europe. I do not accept the belief of the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, that we can force trade from having the wrong sort of oil here, with the remainder bartered with Europe. If we end up in a situation where there is a lack of security, international tension or even an international war, having 70% refinable in only Europe will leave us vulnerable.

Some 75% of our oil is exported, since it is the wrong grade for domestic consumption, and 50% of our natural gas comes from outside the UK. None of us wants to see that rise, as liquefied natural gas has a higher carbon footprint than domestic gas, but the answer is not to slow down the transition from a fossil fuel that is on its way out, but to speed it up through increased investment in renewables. They are the future, after all, and that is the most secure way forward.

I too believe that we should increase the burden on carbon capture, storage and use to meet the net-zero target. Carbon capture needs a whole load more technological development before we can really dream of relying on it for carbon removal in any major way. The proof of concept, developed into real schemes on the ground, simply is not happening fast enough or with enough security and science.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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After the noble Baroness’s gratuitous insult at the beginning, I am grateful to her for giving way at this point.

Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb Portrait Baroness Jones of Moulsecoomb (GP)
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It is the industry that is the dinosaur, not you.

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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That was very kind of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. She is an apologist for the noble Baroness, Lady Young. Now I have almost forgotten what I was going to ask. Is the noble Baroness, Lady Young, happy that we should do without carbon capture and storage at a risk, according to the estimates of the Climate Change Committee, of doubling the total cost—trillions of pounds—of meeting the net-zero target?

Baroness Young of Old Scone Portrait Baroness Young of Old Scone (Lab)
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I would be delighted to be confident that carbon capture and storage would fill a substantial gap, but so far we do not have the practical evidence that it can be done. Until that is so, we should not increase the burden on a technology that is not yet established or proven. I personally think that, when the Climate Change Committee put the carbon capture and storage element into the net-zero budget, it was being a bit optimistic, as it was about some other issues. When one looks at the amount of public subsidy going towards Drax—the ultimate dream for carbon capture, storage and reuse—one wonders whether this is another example of the overdue influence of industry.

The noble Lord talked about tax revenues and I was a bit speechless in response: “We are getting tax revenues from something that is quite harmful, but the tax revenues are important; therefore, we have to keep doing the harmful thing”. That is like saying that people smuggling is pretty profitable, even if it is harmful, so we should have a national people smuggling enterprise that brings in some reserves and revenue for the Government. I do not accept the tax revenue issue.

The benefits of the Bill are far from what they are cracked up to be and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, will be glad that I will talk about some downsides. The first is marine protected areas. We know that more than a quarter of the oil and gas blocks approved in the October 2023 round were within marine protected areas. Our marine protected areas are in poor condition; only 8% offer effective protection for nature, which is the reason they were created. The clue is in the title. MPAs are an important component of the Government’s Environment Act targets and their international commitment, under the global biodiversity framework, to protect nature effectively in 30% of the sea by 2030. We helped lead that framework at COP and now we are authorising additional licensing of blocks in marine protected areas, as part of the commitment in the Bill.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature, which is the United Nations official body, has guidance that recommends that no industrialised activities take place within MPAs. The Bill clearly rejects that guidance. Just in case noble Lords do not know what the impacts on MPAs are, I should say that they are not the same as for wind power. Some of them are about oil itself. That does not include gross oil spills; generally speaking, we must praise the oil industry around this country—not necessarily elsewhere—for having been fairly successful in reducing the risk of major oil pollution incidents. However, persistent micro-spills do quite a lot of damage to the water quality, from the top to the bottom of the sea. There are also other pollutants from other chemicals used in the operation of oil and gas extraction.

The second issue sounds a bit weird, but is quite important. There is a lot of evidence that seismic survey noise really impacts marine mammals in particular, as well as commercially important fish species and the invertebrates on which they all live. We do not yet know enough about how strong the harm is, but we know that it is substantial.

The third issue is direct destruction of seabed habitats—for example, cold-water corals and deep-sea sponge communities. It is not just that I am carrying a flag for deep-sea sponges, though as a biodiversity fan I am sure they are very lovely; they are actually important carbon storage mechanisms, as mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, my partner in crime, and important for nutrient cycles that help keep our oceans clean. We ignore at our peril the biodiversity and conservation downsides.

I personally think this Bill is unnecessary, unwanted and damaging to climate, biodiversity and, as we have said before, our own international reputation, which should not be discounted. It is very easy to say that the only argument we can put is that it will not look good, but that is not what we are talking about. We have taken a leadership role in the world on this issue, and persuaded other countries—of the sort that the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, felt would not be persuaded—to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing. We would be junking that international reputation, as we have done successively with several announcements over the last year and a half.

If the Government really want to waste their political capital driving this Bill through, it needs substantial amendment. First, we need to exempt completely marine protected areas from the oil and gas exploration and production blocks. Secondly—and you would expect this from somebody who has spent their life in government on a land use framework—we need a sea use framework. I understand that the Government are already working on a marine spatial prioritisation programme, designed to allocate and prioritise sea space for currently competing activities. Exactly the same problem that we have on land, we have at sea. I urge the Government to complete that work programme quickly, and to add a further test—a spatial prioritisation test—to the carbon intensity and net importer tests already in the Bill, inadequate as they are. This would make blocks available for licensing only if such activities could be shown to be compatible with the achievement of the objectives of the Environment Act and climate change targets. That would be set out in a marine spatial prioritisation programme.

To be honest, the Minister knows in his heart that the North Sea Transition Authority and the nation do not need this Bill. The Climate Change Committee says that there will be a need for some oil and gas after net zero, but that does not justify the development of new North Sea fields. Although we could amend this Bill, it is bit like the pig in lipstick: we could put lipstick on the pig but it will still be a pig. Why does the Minister not just withdraw this silly Bill and we can all go home for Easter?

18:12
Lord Bruce of Bennachie Portrait Lord Bruce of Bennachie (LD)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Young, with her very long credibility and experience in environmental protection. I am interested in some of the points she made; if they do come to amendments, I think we could work together.

I feel that, in some ways, I might be holding the ring in this debate. The whole transition to net zero is incredibly complicated and the energy mix is incredibly complicated. Many people seem to me to reduce it to a binary choice, in a very difficult way.

I declare a political and economic interest, if not a personal one. I have no financial stake in the oil and gas industry, but I have lived for over 50 years in the north-east of Scotland and represented it for many years, and have monitored the industry closely for more than 50 years. I have seen what it has achieved. As the Minister said, it has made a huge contribution to this country economically—jobs, balance of payments and technical innovation—of which we should be proud, while facing very great challenges. There have been mistakes, yes, and disasters on occasion, but also fantastic achievements, and it still has a lot to give. I agree with much of the analysis of the Minister’s introduction, but I do not see the value of the Bill at all—I will develop that point a little later.

Living as I do in the north-east of Scotland, the people I meet absolutely accept that this is a declining industry and that we have to move towards net zero. However, they are hurt and resentful that they are demonised as part of the problem, when they actually delivered what people wanted for the last 50 years, and believe they can help deliver what people want for the next 50 years, if they have the time and space to make that transition in an orderly and reasonable fashion. Quite a lot of the things that are green, and which we wish to have and which are happening fast, are still not happening fast enough to move us away from fossil fuel as quickly as some people think we can or would wish—all the projections make that absolutely clear.

It is still quite a significant industry, worth over £20 billion to the economy—it is not entirely clear because it spreads wide. Directly and indirectly, the figure is around 200,000 jobs, thousands of which are in the north-east of Scotland but the majority of which, believe it or not, are in England. We deliver a third of the subsea technology in the world, and it is an £8 billion to £10 billion industry.

New exploration and development, even if it is allowed to go forward, will not reverse the decline—that decline is inevitable and historic—but it will slow it. However, halting licences will unnecessarily accelerate the decline. It is not about new oil fields; very often it is about tying back existing reserves to the existing infra- structure, which can then be upgraded and decarbonised in the process, so that you are actually cleaning it up as well as getting the benefit of the revenue. As has been said, all the forecasts to and through achieving net zero include oil and gas in the mix. Obviously, the UK has been a net importer for 20 years, and we will import more and more, whatever happens in the future. The faster we build up renewables the better. In the process of doing that, we will naturally suppress oil demand, because people can switch to the alternatives, but it will not eliminate it.

The Minister made a reasonably rational statement, but it did not justify the case for the Bill. The Government are putting out very confused messages, claiming that we are doing really well on climate change but then saying that we need to issue more licences, which, as I said, the industry does not really feel the need for. The industry wants to know that, as and when needed, on a case-by-case basis and where it is appropriate, it will be considered and allowed for. We have never had to have an annual licence; it has just been done on a case-by-case basis, as and when needed. My position is that the Bill is unnecessary, and I do not think it is wise to have a policy of saying that there will be no more licences. The circumstances may well dictate that, rationally, some licences will be required. It is sensible to leave some space for that.

In addition, the Government have—this is not a slight confusion—in a separate decision, pushed back the date for electric cars by five years. Whether you think it is a good or bad idea, the message it sends is that we are in favour of addressing climate change but in an Augustinian way—not just yet. We need to be a little clearer about what we are doing.

We also need to recognise that baseload electricity is a challenge. Some green campaigners say that nuclear is the answer, and it may be the only alternative. I have never had a visceral objection to nuclear, but my experience of monitoring the nuclear industry is that it takes a hell of a long time, costs a hell of a lot, and creates a waste problem that is costly and intractable. On the other hand, I am not sure what the alternative is. It is difficult to see—I do not see it—any projections for 10 or 15 years from now where we are not still generating electricity with gas. It makes sense not to get rid of it faster than we have to, when we are still importing it anyway.

We have another issue, with offshore wind. I happened to fly in from Finland on Saturday, over massive offshore installations as you come to the shore of the UK. It is impressive, but I hear that there are problems with getting connections and landfall. It is no good generating the wind if you cannot get it into the system. We need to address those problems, and fast.

We need to make the investment, and we need to do it as fast as we can, and we need to recognise that climate change is real and probably accelerating. The people who say that we should have no licences, but that we are not shutting down production and are happy to allow any licences that have been granted to continue, seem a little inconsistent. If you are happy to accept them, why would you stop them? I think I have made the point that we need a sensible, balanced approach.

It is interesting to ask which of the oil and gas-producing countries in the world are operating a planned reduction of commercially viable production? The answer is only those that have not got very much. Norway certainly is not; Norway has made it clear that it will produce all the oil and gas that it can. That is not surprising, as it has one big customer just desperate for it, and that is where most of our gas is coming from. I do not see why we should swap Norwegian gas for UK gas when we need both, but that is the reality.

The sector will continue to decline, but, from meeting people in the industry and attending their various events, I know that every company in the supply chain that I meet is increasingly focusing their attention on developing renewable technology. They see it as the future, and they want to be part of the future. They tell me that they are transferring their expertise into that sector and using the revenue they get from oil and gas in the short run to fund it, and that if that revenue chokes off faster, their ability to fund the transition will be lower.

I would be perfectly happy—maybe this could be an amendment—to make it a condition of licensing that operators must ensure that a proportion of their profits is invested in UK renewable technology. They might also be required to demonstrate that they can contribute to lowering energy costs or the cost of living. I am in favour of making the industry contribute more, but I am not in favour of artificially depressing it and leaving us, potentially, risking supply gaps and cost overruns.

We export most of our oil to the Netherlands for refining, and there exists an argument that, because we export it, we should not bother to produce it. I can remember the 1970 election, when one bad month of balance of payments led to a change of Government. Nobody seems to care about the balance of payments any more, but what of the idea that £15 billion-worth of exports should just be discarded? As the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, to be fair, acknowledged, we pay for the imported product, to some extent, by the exports that we make. It is disingenuous to suggest that, because we export it, it has no value to our economy. That goes against normal economics.

We need to focus on how we can get the industry and the public to adopt renewable technologies as fast as possible, and to harness the energies across the energy sector—including oil and gas—towards that, while recognising that managing the transition requires neither a ridiculous stoking up of oil and gas exploration nor an unnecessarily rapid depression of oil and gas. It is naturally declining, and the industry, left to its own devices, will diminish, because it is not there to be invested.

The Bill creates the wrong signal and is completely unnecessary. The industry does not want it, but rather wants recognition that it is part of the solution and should not simply be demonised as being the cause of the problem. That is not a good way to treat an industry that has been the backbone of our economy for 50 years.

18:23
Baroness Willis of Summertown Portrait Baroness Willis of Summertown (CB)
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My Lords, many have already commented on the apparent disconnect between the OPL Bill and the UK’s net-zero ambitions. Although I support and share these concerns, I would like to focus on a different aspect of the Bill, alluded to by the noble Baroness, Lady Young: the impact of increased offshore licensing on our marine protected areas.

I start with the good news. In the past few years, the UK Government have made good strides to protect critically important areas in the ocean by designating them as marine protected areas. There are now 377 of these, covering 38% of the UK’s seas. These are designated to protect and enhance specific species, habitats and ecosystems. We are rightly proud of them, and they have now been included in our target of protecting 30% of our seas for nature by 2030—the international commitment that the Government signed up to at COP 15 in December 2022.

However, to be included in this target, the Government’s own suggested criteria are to

“have long-term protection and/or management in place that works against adverse pressures on the area’s biodiversity objectives, or actively results in improved outcomes for biodiversity”.

This is all good, until we come to the Bill, which makes no mention of not allowing production licences in MPAs. In many ways, this is a classic case of a Bill from one department not aligning with the aims, aspirations and even policies of another—in this case, Defra. The Bill could in fact dramatically reverse progress towards meeting the 30% target, since there is nothing to prevent the North Sea Transition Authority offering up and licensing multiple oil and gas exploration licences in MPAs. It is depressing to look at the licences granted since October 2023: of the 27 granted, six were in marine protected areas. These are some of our most critically endangered sea habitats in the UK.

Does this matter? Is the footprint of new drilling wells on MPAs and nature just too small to worry about? Is it just dolphins, as the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, commented? I hope, in the next couple of minutes, to convince your Lordships otherwise, and to demonstrate that, in many ways, deep-sea oil and gas production is possibly more damaging to the environment than bottom trawling, because it affects all parts of the ecosystem that species use to navigate, reproduce, feed and even breathe.

We can be under no illusion that these impacts are major, and that each stage of oil and gas production causes damage. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, mentioned that, in the exploration stage—before a single drop of oil or molecule of gas has been extracted—surveys must be done to see the geological structure of the seabed, and this uses seismic airgun surveys. These surveys emit an ear-splitting noise that is 100,000 times more intense than a jet engine—imagine that. These blasts deafen the highly sensitive hearing systems of marine mammals that rely on echolocation to navigate the sea, including sperm, minke and long-finned pilot whales, as well as orca and Atlantic white-sided dolphins —animals that we celebrate whenever we see Attenborough on television, thinking what a fantastic environment we have in our seas and on our shores. If the Bill passes without these MPA safeguards in place, we will see changes in migration patterns, fatal deformities in these marine animals, and even death and further loss of these iconic species.

The next stage is the exploratory and appraisal stage, where extensive physical damage is caused to habitats and the seabed. To go back to the point of the noble Baroness, Lady Young, this will smother and damage critical habitats—for example, for deep-sea sponges and our very rare cold-water corals. It is not just these organisms that are being lost but the critical ecosystem services that they provide, particularly in carbon sequestration. These are also important nesting habitats for commercial fish stocks, so this starts to damage our economic viability for commercial fishing.

Finally—another point picked up by the noble Baroness, Lady Young—there is the damage from oil spills. It is not the large oil spills that we sometimes see, which thankfully are rare; the vast majority come from a process called produced water, which is extracted from the deposits in the production process and contains soluble and non-soluble oil and various chemicals. All these small processes join together to create big slicks of oil—last year, a couple were noted that were up to 12 to 14 kilometres long. A study by an international body overseeing the protection of offshore activities in the north-east Atlantic showed that this produced water accounts for between 95% and 99% of oil discharges. This is killing our seabirds and significantly impacting life changes. This will happen when we have drilling going on, but my argument is this: please can we not have it happening in our marine protected areas.

If that is not enough, there are two further impacts: toxic chemicals and microplastic waste. We have seen many examples of them and we know the impacts.

In summary, if the Bill is allowed to proceed in its current form, without stopping new oil and gas licences in MPAs, it will be a serious obstacle to achieving the Government’s agreed environmental targets. I do not see how we can protect 30% of our marine environments by 2030 and achieve the Environment Act target that 70% of designated features in MPAs should in a favourable condition by 2042 while we continue to drill in these marine protected areas and cause huge amounts of damage to these critically important environments.

I urge the Government to remove the North Sea Transition Authority’s ability to grant new oil and gas licences within MPAs. This could be achieved by a simple amendment to Clause 1, prohibiting the NSTA inviting any applications for oil and gas exploration and extraction activities in any of the 377 marine protected areas in UK seas. I intend to explore this proposal further in Committee.

18:31
Lord Bishop of Norwich Portrait The Lord Bishop of Norwich
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My Lords, for many years the UK could rightly claim to be a world leader in responding to the dangers of climate change by taking action to reduce our carbon emissions. We rightly showcased that when we hosted COP 26 in Glasgow. However, I am increasingly concerned that our global leadership is slipping away. At COP 28, we joined the rest of the world in committing to:

“Transitioning away from fossil fuels in energy systems, in a just, orderly and equitable manner”.


This Bill commits us to fossil fuel production at the same time as we are asking other nations to transition away. Our messages are, at best, confused. Various noble Lords have contributed their concerns during this debate, including on methane venting and flaring, which I share.

It is a privilege to follow the excellent speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, because I can jettison much of what I wanted to say. I also want to speak about marine protected areas. Her expertise in this area has been important to hear. With the analysis that she has given us and our knowledge that the International Union for Conservation of Nature, which the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referenced, recommends that no industrialised activities should take place within marine protected areas, my question to the Minister is: what steps are His Majesty’s Government taking to safeguard these marine protected areas, and why are they not taking the IUCN’s recommendation seriously by excluding MPAs from extraction in this Bill? I would certainly support the amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, proposes.

My second point is about our 30 by 30 commitment. Our biodiversity commitments do not stop at the deckchairs on the beach. The Government have committed to preserving 30% of land and sea for biodiversity by 2030. The 30 by 30 pledge is backed by targets set out in the Environment Act to halt the decline in species abundance, both on land and at sea. My second question to the Minister is: how do His Majesty’s Government intend to meet the 30 by 30 target while expanding offshore drilling?

My third point is about spatial planning. The UK Government are signatories of the Kunming-Montreal global biodiversity framework, target 1 of which states that Governments will:

“Ensure that all areas are under participatory, integrated, and biodiversity inclusive spatial planning and/or effective management processes addressing land and sea use change, to bring the loss of areas of high biodiversity importance … close to zero by 2030”.


This marine spatial planning is essential for managing the inevitable conflicts that arise from different activities at sea, yet a 2023 Defra report assessing the east marine plans found they were outdated and that the

“intended outcomes are no longer aligned to the UK’s national priorities”.

These marine plans should set nature and climate as the major priorities for the use of the sea and, at the very least, protect MPAs from drilling. That brings me to my third question to the Minister: will His Majesty’s Government commit to create a spatial plan outlining where and when activities could take place, with a hierarchy of priority that makes space for 30 by 30 and decarbonisation first, and not allow more drilling in MPAs while this is being finalised?

The King’s Speech at the opening of this Session of Parliament spoke about holding

“other countries to their environmental commitments”.—[Official Report, 7/11/23; col. 4.]

At the time, I noted in my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House that

“the UK Government can do that with credibility only if we are an exemplar ourselves”.—[Official Report, 13/11/23; col. 310.]

Ensuring the protection of our marine life would put us back in the leadership chair, not slumbering in that deckchair on the beach.

In the gospels, we meet the first disciples, including St Peter, on the beach, mending their nets. They were fishermen and knew well the beauty and diversity present in the sea. In one famous story, Jesus encourages the disciples to do something totally different from what they were used to: to cast out into the deep. We too are now in an era when we need to do things differently and not follow the same old ways. We need to put away the old way of damaging nature and instead do all we can to preserve and protect it. Psalm 104 speaks of the sea,

“vast and spacious, teeming with creatures beyond number—living things both large and small”.

My concern is that this Bill risks further damaging that vision of the psalmist: of the sea “teeming with creatures”.

18:37
Lord Moynihan Portrait Lord Moynihan (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure and an honour to follow the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich, although I humbly reflect that I see nothing in the Bill that detracts from the energy transition. I will try to set out the arguments why.

I am in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Bruce. It reminds me of the time many years ago when I had the privilege of being Minister for Energy, back in 1990. He set out a very reasoned case about how difficult this Bill is in many respects in trying to balance the importance of energy transition with recognising the truism that this is not a zero-sum game with oil and gas production in the North Sea.

I declare my interests as set out in the register. I welcome the Bill, although I share the views of noble Lords on both sides of the House in that I am uncertain that it is needed. We call on the Minister a great deal to do admirable work in this House; I think this might have been an opportunity when we did not require his presence. The reason why I think it may not be needed is that it just confirms the policy framework to which existing legislation, licensing rounds, customs and practices in the North Sea already apply.

Why this Bill may prove to be important is that it can underpin a prioritisation of the security of supply as we move towards the sustainable energy policy structured on the net-zero ambitions we all share. I mentioned 1990, when I was Minister for Energy when Margaret Thatcher’s Government first introduced a renewable energy programme into the UK, as has been mentioned, following the seminal speech she gave in 1989, and we launched the non-fossil fuel obligation to provide a market framework to help accelerate the move to renewables and nuclear power. We now measure our trajectory towards net zero by using 1990 as our baseline and my noble friend the Minister is right that we lead the world in the journey to net zero and should retain energy transition as our major priority.

Some 34 years on, we are now half way to net zero. However, we should be under no illusion that this has been, to a large degree, a function of the imposition of measures, with only marginal consumer sensitivity, knowledge or reaction. Changes from oil- and coal-fired power generation to renewables and gas are key policy developments in power generation and have been significant in the build of the combined-cycle gas turbine market and the declining use of coal for power generation in the UK. But to achieve the next 50% of the reductions to get to net zero, we will be asking consumers for something far greater, to go far further in changing their lifestyle—what cars they drive, how they travel, how they heat and insulate their houses and, ultimately, what they eat. We have only 26 years left to achieve that important social and behavioural revolution. I share my noble friend Lord Lilley’s view that there is considerable doubt as to whether we will be carbon-neutral by 2050, but, if we are, it will a private-sector driven change which helps us reach that goal. There is nothing in the Bill that would negatively impact on the vital energy transition measures.

Additionally, a holistic approach to the environmental impact of everything we do offshore must be a priority—being as clean as possible, improving efficiency, significantly reducing all forms of pollution and substantially mitigating carbon emissions. By employing these measures, it will not be difficult to demonstrate as central to the Bill that improved environmental practice will ensure that gas production in the UK will meet one of the Government’s key criteria; namely, that the carbon intensity of natural gas is lower than that of liquefied natural gas imported into the UK. The baseload demand—to which add the demand for firm power, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, as opposed to the intermittent power generated by renewables when the wind blows—will ensure that the UK is projected to remain an importer of both oil and gas for many decades to come.

This is a function—it is so important—of both the need for firm power and the actions of a responsible Government to recognise that security of supply is achieved by diversity of supply, and nothing is more secure than the production of energy at home rather than an increasing dependence on imported oil and gas, whether in the form of LNG or interconnectors. I prefer to think that the Bill was not the product of a good lunch but what my noble friend the Minister referred to as the “energy shock” created at the time of Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, which supports the critical importance of maximising domestic production.

Philip Lambert, one of the foremost energy specialists in the UK, has noted:

“The starting point is that the offshore oil and gas sector in the UK is an existentially important foundation stone of the UK industrial base and UK energy security future—the maturing but still prolifically producing UK North Sea oil and gas province, still incredibly producing just over 1.3 million barrels of oil a day, or, to put it another way, 50% of our needs, 50 years on from first production”.


The key point of this and the hoped-for outcome of the Bill is to emphasise that what the UK industrial sector now needs is greater help from the Government, both to build up renewables and to maximise oil and gas production from the 1.3 million barrels of oil today, resulting in a postponement of decommissioning across the UKCS and genuine maximisation of tax proceeds, while preserving hundreds of thousands of oil and gas-related jobs as they migrate across through energy transition to renewables.

We should not pander to those who welcome the fact that we would, unforgivably, be leaving stranded under the seabed over 10 billion barrels and upwards of $700 billion-worth of UK national wealth by revenue, notably in the prolific and still highly prospective west of Shetlands region but also in the central and southern North Sea, where new seismic and technical breakthroughs are facilitating renewed hydrocarbon promise, with enhanced and improved carbon reduction techniques, services and systems.

Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, and the right reverend Prelate are right that it is vital that the industry focuses on its impact on special marine environments. I am pleased that that will be debated in Committee as it is an exceptionally important point. It should be a major factor in determining where licences are issued and under what conditions. But the ideologically enforced stranding of the North Sea’s responsible hydrocarbon reserves, which I think is a misplaced tenet of net-zero ideology, will, paradoxically, be highly damaging to the UK’s decarbonisation efforts, which, as I have mentioned, I fully support.

The ironic and perverse outlook is based on the estimate of UK oil and gas demand. Increased demand is a reality, despite the very welcome transition measures which will support the development of renewables and the early green shoots of a functioning and growing nuclear programme, which, I might add, nobody believes is going to have a significant impact on the UK economy until 2035 and later—sadly; I wish it was much sooner. That is the reality and we have to look at the energy balance now and recognise that there is a balance between growing renewables and the need for firm power which comes principally through our own gas reserves but also imported gas.

The moves to diminish oil and gas production will inevitably cause a rapid increase in imports of higher carbon per barrel oil and gas from countries with much less responsible adherence to best practices, as well as causing an unnecessary reduction in home-grown production. If you combine that with the possible shutdown of the aged Rough storage field due to well integrity problems, we risk either energy and power shortages in the UK or an emergency fall back to coal. Genuine decarbonisation efforts by facilitating the seminally important UK/European coal to gas switch continue to be essential and I am sorry that that is not more clearly stated as an objective in the legislation we are considering.

This policy, based on the tenet that we proactively maximise our gas reserves to demonstrate irrefutably and boldly to Putin and his henchmen that not only will he never win the military war but he is comprehensively losing his westward-facing, gas-driven energy war on Europe, is welcome. Upholding national and global energy security has therefore now become an even more integral and vital part of the wider struggle against regimes determined to destabilise western Europe.

Failure to combine the Bill with a supportive tax regime merely disincentivises new investment, accelerates oil and gas production declines, accelerates the economic need to abandon maturing fields and thereby, paradoxically, reduces the net tax receipts for the Government. It costs potentially hundreds of thousands of skilled jobs and denies the UK tens of billions of dollars of badly needed inward investment into the economy. My noble friend Lord Lilley mentioned the key point: it stunts the supply but does not address the demand.

The still prolific and prosperous UK North Sea sector, with 3.5 billion barrels of already discovered but still to be developed reserves, could have a similar bright future to underpin the necessary transition to renewables by supplying us with firm power in the interim period. Rapidly increasing renewables without gas means intermittency in the energy system, which, in effect, leads to more energy insecurity, not less. Just look at California’s woes if you want to underpin this point.

In very few countries is oil and gas so important and coal so unimportant to the energy security and economic well-being of a nation than in the UK today. Oil and gas represents 75% of the energy lifeblood of the UK, a percentage which will remain robust over the new two decades, with gas gaining and oil failing. As I said at the outset, energy transition remains the most important point—focused on mitigating carbon emissions in the exploration, appraisal and production of oil and gas remaining paramount and new technologies and new renewables coming on stream.

18:49
Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, but I feel reluctant to stand up because the Bill seems to have little genuine purpose. It is distracting us from what we need to concentrate on, which is tackling the twin threats of climate change and biodiversity loss. The context of the Bill and our international reputation are really important, as several noble Lords have said. This is one of the biggest election years in history and one of the most important too, as the fight against climate change becomes so pivotal. We cannot have it both ways: wanting to be a leader in the world and then doing something that contradicts that.

People do read the headlines and they will see the one that says, “UK set to open more oil and gas fields”. What does it tell the world? That we think this is okay and in some weird way compatible with the Paris Agreement? We know that is not the case. The International Energy Agency has been clear about that and, last year, global temperatures were 1.46 degrees above their global pre-industrial average. As we all know, in Paris we agreed to try to shoot for 1.5 degrees. I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, correctly when he said that trying to have a non-carbon economy was a luxury belief, but it does not feel much like luxury—

Lord Lilley Portrait Lord Lilley (Con)
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I was saying that stopping supply, rather than phasing out demand, is a luxury belief.

Baroness Boycott Portrait Baroness Boycott (CB)
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I would contradict that too, because we do not have the time to figure out the difference between them. At the end of the day, they are the same thing. Many people who live in California, which was just mentioned, have lost their homes. If you live in Bangladesh, you have lost your homes; if you are a farmer in this country, you have been unable to plant your crops this year because of the level of rain. This is not a fantasy. It is something that is with us.

Personally, if we lived in an ideal world the Bill should be scrapped, and in doing so the Government would find themselves extraordinarily popular with a lot of people. But specifically, I congratulate whoever creatively came up with two tests that are impossible to fail, while ignoring the emissions associated with the predominant commodity in the North Sea—oil. They might as well read, “If autumn has arrived, run a licensing round”. However, we are not in an ideal world so, if the Bill passes, we have to improve it. Thankfully, there are things we can do.

One, of course, is protecting the marine environments or, as the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, just said, having no exploration in MPAs. I hope she will put in an amendment on that at the next stage. We could also look at the weak emissions reduction targets of 50% by 2030 and go instead for what the CCC recommended, which is a feasible 68%. We could do this.

The Bill could also make progress on banning venting and flaring, which has been illegal in Norway since the 1970s. Even though Norway produces a lot of oil, at least it has managed to cut down the methane which, as we know, is 80 times more potent over a 20-year period, so that is something we could do. I urge Ministers to implement the recommendation by the Commons EAC to implement that ban by the end of next year.

Jobs have been in decline, as we have heard, for many years yet there is still no skills passport available for workers who want to transition. We could try to do that.

Taking a step back, let us think about what is going on in the world. This month, the CEO of Saudi Aramco said in Houston at the annual hydrocarbon festival known as CERAWeek:

“We should abandon the fantasy of phasing out oil and gas, and instead invest in them adequately, reflecting realistic demand assumptions”.


However, we can meet the demand we need with renewables if they are sufficiently scaled up. It is more about where the power, or the fuel, comes from: thousands of miles into the earth or from our own natural elements.

Recent policy changes mean that we will need more carbon fuels. For example, the analysis by New AutoMotive shows that the potential supply from future licensing would be completely offset by reduced demand if we returned to the original 2030 target for ICE—internal combustion engine—phaseout. We claim that we are helping people but, in reality, we are not. Money, it seems, always triumphs. This month, Exxon CEO Darren Woods explained it simply as an all-out fight to derail anything green because it would not return “above average profits”. This shows that we can never rely on the industry to take the lead in reducing emissions. The Government have to act.

Let us be clear: the Bill will not help the average citizen of this country or indeed any other. We are kidding ourselves if we think that the oil and gas companies, and increasingly private equity firms, really care about reducing emissions. The Government make great emphasis in their carbon budgets on our having CCS technology, as the noble Baroness, Lady Young, referred to, but despite the fine words this is unproven.

In my role as vice-chair of Peers for the Planet, I recently invited Sir Tim Smit, the founder of the Eden Project, to speak to colleagues. During his speech, he said that we should remember the person—the adult—we wanted to be at 19, stand there and make them proud. It is obviously a challenge to remember what it felt like at 19 but I can remember that I thought it was my role to try to make the world a better place. I suspect that everybody who has found their way on to these Benches had similar thoughts: make the world better and use what energy you have—what God has given you.

At that point when I was 19, fossil fuel companies were just discovering exactly the kind of damage they were doing, but now we know. We have just had the hottest year on record. I would be aghast, as a 19 year- old, that I had to sit here and fight against something that seems so palpably obvious. At 19, I was fighting for women’s rights—quite honestly, there were no women in this place then—and we proved that was right, so now we are having another extraordinary fight about scientific facts.

It is clear that the Bill is the wrong thing to legislate for. I urge noble Lords that if they cannot justify the Bill to themselves, they should at least try to justify it to their children and their grandchildren.

18:56
Lord Ashcombe Portrait Lord Ashcombe (Con)
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My Lords, it is a pleasure to be able to follow the noble Baroness. I declare my interest as an insurance broker for the energy sector, but I work with companies from America rather than the UK.

I believe that the Bill brings only benefits to the United Kingdom in energy security, assisting the climate goals to which we are committed and, importantly, supporting the economy in many parts of the country. As a country, we are fortunate to have several oil and gas basins within our territorial waters. Since their discovery and development in the late 1960s and early 1970s, they have enabled us to reduce our dependence on imports. At their peak in 1999, they produced some 4.5 million barrels of oil equivalent a day. It is projected that this year, that will reduce to 1.1 million barrels of oil a day. Since demand is currently somewhere around 2.7 million barrels of oil equivalent a day, the country is a net importer of both oil and gas.

The UK’s dependence on hydrocarbon fuels for our energy needs is about 75%, as we have heard. It is predicted to be still 25% when we reach net zero. Sadly, the reserves are becoming depleted; the decline is predicted to be 7% per annum going forward and we will be ever more reliant on imports. The UK’s oil and gas industry is regarded as a leader on the world stage, employing, as we have heard, a highly valued, skilled and diverse workforce of a debated 200,000 directly for and associated with the offshore industry. Many of these jobs will, over time, move into the energy industry of the future: more offshore wind, hydrogen production and carbon sequestration. It is essential that we keep these skills alive, as they will be required in the transition of the UK to net zero by 2050.

Earlier this afternoon, we were using about 15% from wind, 8% from solar, 17% from the interconnectors and a further 12% from our ageing nuclear fleet to generate electricity. Even with the significant and welcome increased projection in these areas, there will be a shortfall. The sun goes down every night and the wind does not always blow; it is gas that makes up the difference—37% this afternoon. We produce only about 47% of the total current gas demand in the country, remembering particularly home heat in addition to its use in generating electricity. The shortfall must come from somewhere until renewable resources provide sufficient energy, which I wholeheartedly support.

The position with oil is slightly different as, again, there is a significant shortfall, as described by the noble Lord, Lord Lilley. The options we can take to ensure the energy security of the country are limited, particularly when considering our net-zero commitments. We can either start to rely more heavily on imports of oil and gas, which is more carbon intensive, or be able to exploit our domestic reserves, which is less so.

The Bill has two logical climate targets to meet: the carbon intensity test and the net importer test. In respect of gas, the average carbon intensity of domestic gas produced during the assessment period was lower than the average carbon intensity of liquefied natural gas imported into the United Kingdom during that period.

Gas is imported in two ways. The first is natural gas via the pipeline system from Norway, which is the majority. Norway certainly produces the cleanest gas—it is cleaner than our production—but its reserves are not infinite. While the Ukraine conflict sadly continues, with sanctions preventing Russian gas entering the European system, gas from the Norwegian fields is highly desirable and in demand across northern Europe. However, there is to be a significant decline in Norway’s gas production before the end of the decade.

The second alternative is importing LNG, which we also do. Wherever it comes from, it imposes a significant increase to our carbon footprint, of three to four times that of our domestic production, notwithstanding the challenges of getting it here. Let us not forget that in the United States, from where we import most of our LNG, the Biden Administration has imposed a ban on the development of more LNG liquefaction plants designed for export. We bring LNG also from the Middle East via the Red Sea, which has its own issues. We bring it too from Peru via the Panama Canal, which has water restrictions. On this basis, the country needs to limit LNG imports as much as possible.

The net importer test is important for gas, and it is the key test for the continued production of domestic oil. As I said, we are a net importer of oil. At this time, the North Sea Transition Authority—the licensing authority—has no requirement to offer blocks or parts thereof with any frequency, other than when it deems licences are required. There was a four-year gap between the two most recent licensing rounds. This Bill ensures that licences will be offered annually, allowing industry participants to plan with more predictability. It is they who have the expertise and capacity to fund a significant number of wind, solar, hydrogen, and carbon sequestration projects driven by their oil and gas revenues. That will continue to ensure that the energy industry benefits the economy and provides significant tax revenues. Most importantly, it will help secure the jobs currently in the industry and transfer them to the renewable industry as demand requires. This is against a backdrop of added energy security for the country while keeping to our climate commitments and goals by using the two embedded tests in the Bill. I am pleased to support this Bill.

19:03
Baroness Sheehan Portrait Baroness Sheehan (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the House for allowing me to speak in the gap. Before I move on to what I had planned to say, I will ask the Minister three questions. First, will the successful licensees be eligible for grants? If so, how much will they be? Secondly, who will be responsible for decommissioning costs throughout the lifetime of the new fields? Thirdly, if in the fullness of time any of the new fields become stranded assets, what safeguards will he put in place to make sure that the British taxpayer is not liable for the bill?

I will keep my remarks very short. I want to make just a few points on the Bill’s conflict with the legally, morally and ethically binding net-zero commitments that the UK has made both domestically and in international fora.

I will start with the Bill’s conflict with the IEA, the International Energy Agency, which knows a thing or two about global energy security. In its 2021 report, Net Zero by 2050 A Roadmap for the Global Energy Sector, the IEA stated that there could be no new oil and gas fields after 2021 if we are to limit warming to 1.5 degrees centigrade. It reiterated this in 2023. Our own Climate Change Committee, in its COP28: Key Outcomes report of January this year, stated very politely that

“the UK should reassess whether further exploration for new sources of fossil fuels is aligned with the UNFCCC principle of Common but Differentiated Responsibility and the Global Stocktake”.

It refers, of course, to our NDC.

A red alert warning from the World Meteorological Organization just last week confirmed that 2023 was the hottest year on record by a clear margin. According to the FT’s editorial team in an opinion article just two days ago, on 24 March:

“More than 90 per cent of the world’s oceans suffered heatwave conditions, glaciers lost the most ice on record and the extent of Antarctic sea ice fell to by far the lowest levels ever measured”.

Given all that, surely discretion is the greater part of valour, and we must proceed with extreme caution and seek to reduce the greenhouse gas inventory as quickly as possible. I know that the Minister will say that he agrees with me and will assert that this Bill does not derail the UK’s direction of travel. But that is exactly what it does. The Bill does not sit comfortably with the Government’s commitments made at COP 28 just a few short months ago, along with 200 other countries, to transition away from fossil fuels and accelerate action in this critical decade. We cannot maintain credibility on the global stage while we say one thing and do exactly the opposite.

19:06
Earl Russell Portrait Earl Russell (LD)
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My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, I will try not to be too boring and go on too long. I will also try not to damage any animals, either living or extinct, during my speech. On these Benches, we will oppose this Bill. I notice that, as in the other place, the opposition parties here are united in opposing it.

If the Bill passes, it will be remembered for two things: being mostly pointless and being needlessly politically divisive. The noble Lord, Lord Lennie, said that it is a straightforward Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, said that its only virtue is that it is brief. The length of the Bill reflects any usefulness that flows from its consequences. The Bill does what it claims—somebody said this, but I am not sure who—but sadly what it does is damaging.

I venture to suggest that the Bill is not about energy security at all; instead, it is much more about performance politics and the need for political security on the Benches opposite. The clue to the whole Bill is contained in the first four words: “Duty to invite applications”. I want the House to note that this is not a duty to grant any applications—at all at any point. It is entirely possible that the Bill will be passed and enacted for not one more single North Sea licence ever to be granted again. The Bill is barely longer than a Private Member’s Bill. Who knew that the answer to all our energy security needs lay in a little over 250 words?

The Government have made grand claims that the Bill will provide energy security and protect jobs, and that it is more environmentally friendly than importing LPG. As the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, said, the Energy Secretary in the other place also claimed that it would lower energy bills, but that was quickly retracted. In truth, the Bill achieves none of these things.

I was interested in the story the noble Lord, Lord Lennie, told about the lunch where the Bill was supposedly cooked up over a few glasses of wine as a skewer to pin the opposition down on a political wedge and divisive issue. To my mind, the Government have created a heffalump trap for themselves.

The Government also argue that the Bill provides energy security. Fundamentally, it will make no difference at all, in my mind, as NSTA already has the power to grant licences and has done so almost every year since it was set up. NSTA itself, at its own board meeting, said that it did not want or require the powers contained in the Bill. Therefore, the Bill undermines the independence of the organisation that the Government set up to deal with granting new licences. As Alok Sharma said in the other place, the Bill, as drafted, is “something of a distraction”, and NSTA’s ability to grant new licences will not change materially because of it.

The oil and gas is all owned by private companies and is sold, as people have said, on the global markets. The Government have no say or control over where it is sold or to whom. As has been discussed, Global Witness has argued that up to 80% of that goes on to the international market and does not come in any way to the UK. It has been estimated that the gas supply created will be the equivalent of just four days on average per year. This is hardly going to provide us with energy security in the future. I do not believe that the Bill will do anything for energy security or to reduce bills.

The Government have made a series of arguments about securing jobs in the North Sea. It is undoubtedly true that North Sea oil is in decline, as everyone across this House has agreed and the Minister himself has noted. To my mind, the only way to protect jobs is through a real and meaningful plan, investment and a shift to a green economy, but this Bill does not do any of those things. I want to be clear that we on these Benches believe in a just transition. We recognise, fundamentally, the importance of protecting the jobs involved in this industry—between 30,000 and 200,000. We have heard different numbers, but I do not think we should argue about numbers. We should be respectful to all those who work in this industry, and I think the last thing they want is us having petty political arguments about the future of their jobs.

I welcome the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, with his knowledge and experience of this industry. I welcome his basic message that these people want to be part of the future and do not want us arguing about their jobs. They want us to work together to create a transition for the North Sea towards a green economy, which is the only future they have. All of us need to find ways that we can do that. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, said, new licences will not protect industry or workers to secure that just transition. For that to happen, there need to be allocated funds and plans, but, again, the Bill does not do that. As the noble Lord, Lord Bruce, said, they know what they want, and they want to be part of the future, so it is a shame that this Bill does nothing to secure or provide that future for these people. I honestly wish that it did, as not a single extra penny of taxpayer revenue will be allocated to the transition as a direct result of this Bill.

Three-quarters of all the oil and gas companies that operate in the North Sea do not invest a penny in UK renewables. Why do we allow them to have licences but not require them to invest in the transition? The tests to attain those licences are, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, “impossible to fail”, or, in the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, “unfailable”. The importing of LPG is not a fair equivalence, when, as the Minister knows, a lot of our oil comes through the pipelines from Norway. The consequences of these tests are all negative, and they are damaging for our reputation abroad and our standing on the world stage.

I welcome the £30 billion investment in the low-carbon economy, mentioned by the Minister. I thank the Conservatives for halving our CO2 emissions; they are now at the lowest levels since 1837. What a tremendous achievement this Government have made, and I am grateful for it. However, at a time when they should be basking in the warm glow of their achievements, the Government come forward with a politically divisive Bill. It is a shame; we should be leading the world, not having arguments at home.

We freely recognise that, under net zero, we will need some oil and gas, not just for our energy but for industrial and other processes. As the noble Lord, Lord Lilley, says, it is a huge challenge, and we need to phase out demand for fossil fuels—I completely agree with him there. The war in Ukraine has had damaging impacts on energy prices, and the Government have spent some £70 billion supporting bill payers. I welcome that, but it is money we could have put into the green economy. We cannot continue going round the mulberry bush and investing in old energies; this money should be going into the energy of the future.

I welcome the contributions about the need for spatial plans and the need to protect marine protection areas. These are important issues raised in this Bill that need to be discussed. We will have an opportunity to discuss, through amendments, how we balance these protections with our need to do different things with our seabed.

As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Norwich said, the Bill is damaging to our international reputation. It will make it harder for us to secure the investment that we need in our green industries going forward. I call on the Government to accept Alok Sharma’s amendment which was tabled in the other place and which will, I think, be tabled here. It is the one that the Minister in the other place said the Government might be prepared to consider. If the Government are going to be doing this anyway, why not put it in the Bill and give the signal to industry that this is their intention? We are here to provide certainty to industry, so let us put it in the Bill.

We really have to leave fossil fuels in the ground. We have to wean ourselves off these things that are killing our planet. Alternatives do exist; the transition will be difficult and painful, but we must make that journey and seize the nettle. We have no choice. We need to work together as politicians to make sure that the transition happens and that it is a just one. Drilling for more oil is like offering an extra duvet to someone in the middle of a burning building. Rishi Sunak has said that he wants to max out North Sea oil.

The Bill will achieve nothing and will weaken our climate commitments. It sows division and weakens our international reputation. It makes the UK look like a riskier place to invest, just when we need that investment so that we can transition. That is why the Bill is so damaging. It does nothing but send out a signal that the Government’s policy on the environment is not clear, consistent or dependable, and, as a result of that, that the UK is not as safe a place as it should be to invest in the energy needs of the future. That is a bad message.

My party is committed to boosting renewable energy and increasing funding for wind, solar, marine power and tidal schemes. We will also enact an emergency programme to insulate all British homes by 2030, cutting emissions and fuel bills and ending fuel poverty.

19:18
Baroness Blake of Leeds Portrait Baroness Blake of Leeds (Lab)
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I thank noble Lords for their constructive comments this afternoon, despite repeated concerns from around the House that the Bill is far from benign and could have damaging consequences, as was eloquently outlined by the noble Baronesses, Lady Young, Lady Willis and Lady Hayman, and others. The noble Lord, Lord Bruce, reflected the conclusions from the other place that the Bill is a distraction from the serious challenges facing us on our path to net zero. It is clear, I have to be honest, that the Bill will not be scrapped, despite the opposition to it, so all of us have a responsibility to limit any potential damage that it might cause, especially as the noble Baroness, Lady Boycott, outlined.

As we heard—although this has not been emphasised enough—the Bill will bring in a duty for the North Sea Transition Authority to run annual licensing rounds for oil and gas extraction in the UK by amending the Petroleum Act 1998. It outlines the two tests that have to be met and, as we have heard repeatedly, it is clear that, as they stand, it is virtually impossible for these tests to fail. The question we need to ask is: why are we being asked to legislate for something that happens anyway?

The stated aim of the Bill is to boost the UK economy, strengthen the UK’s energy security and assist the transition to net zero, while enhancing investor and industry confidence. We have heard excellent contributions explaining why these laudable objectives will not be achieved. The Bill will make no difference to the staggering household bills individuals have to pay, which, frankly, is undermining the economy. As we heard, the Secretary of State has made this absolutely apparent. As my noble friend Lord Lennie said, our dependency on gas has been fuelling these staggering price rises. Households are currently in a record amount of debt, estimated to be £3.1 billion, to energy suppliers. Debt levels have doubled since 2020. Surely this should focus all our minds on the challenges facing us.

This will also not make a difference to our energy security, according to the former chair of BP, the noble Lord, Lord Browne. It will undermine the independence of the NSTA, according to its own board minutes. Also, unforgivably—we have to keep mentioning this point—it will continue the reputational damage to the UK on the global stage in moving towards net zero. I need do no more than ask everyone to look at the speech by the former MP Chris Skidmore and his reasons for resigning. That was an extraordinary action to take, and it was taken because of his serious disappointment with and anxiety about the proposed legislation and the message this is sending across the world. Many noble Lords expressed this concern, and we have repeatedly tried to impress upon the Government that this damage is serious and is affecting our reputation and, therefore, investment in the important work on renewables outlined today.

It is a false premise to present tests that cannot be failed. It feels like manipulation: it is disingenuous, and it needs calling out. Surely the best test would be to demonstrate that a particular action is compatible with our climate change goals. Where is the reference to this legitimate demand in the Bill? The current climate compatibility checkpoint does not have a legislative basis. I make it absolutely clear that Labour recognises that oil and gas will be produced at existing sites in the North Sea over the coming years; to suggest otherwise is wrong and is designed to cause mischief. What needs to be recognised is that such production will taper, as the Minister outlined, to make way for the switch to low-carbon energy sources, coupled with demand reduction through investing in retrofitting our buildings and, in particular, our housing stock. Suggesting that the few new licences that the Bill might deliver are essential to our long-term objective of a transition to clean energy is misleading and provocative. We need a strategy to deliver for those North Sea workers new opportunities that will be enhanced by transitioning to floating offshore wind, carbon capture usage and storage, and hydrogen. We need a clear plan to deliver these opportunities.

Another serious flaw in the Bill is that there is no reference to methane emissions. I am grateful to noble Lords who highlighted this, and, for the sake of time, I will not go into the details. The Bill talks about measuring carbon dioxide emissions, but it therefore focuses on production emissions and does not take on board that methane emissions at different stages of production and transportation of LNG are, in aggregate terms, worse than the emissions of UK-produced and piped natural gas.

I listened with interest to the debate in the other place. It was clear that the right honourable Alok Sharma was concerned about the whole issue of methane. He looked to the debates in the House of Lords to come up with some answers to the amendment that he put forward. Can the Minister enlighten us on where the Government have got to in these discussions? Will there be movement? If not, I am sure this subject will come up in Committee. There have already been demands for a ban on flaring from the CCC and the Environmental Audit Committee.

Does the Minister have an answer to the concern that more licensing could have a chilling effect on the Government’s offshore wind target of 50 gigawatts by 2030, caused by their failure to publish their spatial plan for the UK seabed? The lack of any consideration of a marine spatial prioritisation test is further increasing alarm over the risk to marine health, especially given the lack of regard for protected marine areas. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Young and the noble Baroness, Lady Willis, for their contributions in this important area. I understand that there will be further debate on this in Committee, and I look forward to those discussions and the amendments they will generate.

All of us know that cross-party consensus on the important long-term consequences of climate change has been invaluable over recent years. I believe the Bill undermines that consensus for the expectation of short-term political advantage. This was clearly articulated by my noble friend Lord Lennie, and we will not be silent on this point. We need a collective, serious and responsible approach, not a distraction that will contribute nothing to achieving our climate and energy production goals. We need a serious plan, reflecting energy security concerns, the need to provide new jobs and the transition from the current high-skilled jobs to the new jobs that are being created. We need a functioning industrial strategy, as clearly laid out by Labour in its proposals for the future. I assure everyone that we do not want to see a disastrous repeat of the deindustrialisation policies of the 1980s that laid waste to whole communities, especially in the north, where I come from.

The limitations of the Bill offer us little opportunity to secure improvements. However, I am confident that further discussions will take place in Committee and improvements will be sought through amendments concerning, as we have heard, methane, including leak detection, as well as the protection of marine areas and enhancing new job opportunities, to name but a few. The hope is that we can achieve cross-party agreement to secure at least some benefit from this distracting and frustrating legislation.

19:29