Antimicrobial Resistance

Lord Collins of Highbury Excerpts
Tuesday 23rd July 2024

(2 days, 16 hours ago)

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Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle
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To ask His Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to secure multilateral consensus in advance of a political declaration at the United Nations General Assembly high-level meeting on antimicrobial resistance in September.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office (Lord Collins of Highbury) (Lab)
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My Lords, the United Kingdom is actively engaged in the political declaration on antimicrobial resistance. We recognise that we must tackle the human and animal environment aspects of AMR to be successful, embodying a One Health approach, and recognising the needs of developing countries, including supporting them to have access to the essential drugs they need to treat infections. Of course, finally, we want to see the establishment of a new independent science panel to provide evidence-based guidance to national Governments.

Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle Portrait Baroness Bennett of Manor Castle (GP)
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My Lords, I thank the Minister for his Answer, I welcome him to the Dispatch Box and I look forward to working with him on these issues. As research that I shared with him indicates, elevated levels of AMR genes have been identified as a new stand-alone factor in global change. Can he tell me what resources the Government plan to devote to this meeting but also whether they have a long-term plan? The meeting is only one moment of what needs to be a long-term process to engage with this through both aid and diplomacy.

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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The noble Baroness is absolutely right. Our first step is to ensure that we give maximum publicity to this high-level meeting and engage all Governments in the declaration. We want a strong acknowledgement of the need to reduce the discharge of AMR, which drives chemicals into the environment. We also want proper surveillance and proper research. We are totally committed to a strong political declaration, and our hope is that we will be able to achieve that. We will follow through with much more effective support for research.

Baroness Sugg Portrait Baroness Sugg (Con)
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My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his role. He has been a great champion for development and nutrition in particular, and I look forward to that continuing. In response to the needs of low-income countries, the previous Foreign Secretary announced £85 million of funding to tackle AMR back in May. The UK’s work on AMR has strong cross-party support. I hope the current Foreign Secretary will continue to show political leadership and prioritise attendance at the high-level meeting. We must raise our ambition here, and more resource is needed. Can the Minister say what the Government will do to encourage international financial institutions and multilateral development banks to help low-income countries access more funding for tackling AMR?

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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The noble Baroness is absolutely right: we want to ensure that the political declaration is followed through in our work. Obviously, as we come through to the round of multilateral negotiations, we can ensure that that political declaration is taken into account when those multilateral funds start thinking about disbursement. The high-level panel meeting of the United Nations General Assembly is a very important event, but it is not the only one, so we will ensure the fullest attendance, to maximise the political implications and effect of our participation.

Lord Purvis of Tweed Portrait Lord Purvis of Tweed (LD)
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My Lords, I also welcome the Minister to his brief; he brings a huge amount of experience to this, and I wish him well in his role going forward. He will be aware that the previous Government were rightly commended for their 20-year ambition on AMR, and also the five-year action plans, but there was concern that, given the fact that a lot of the UK research has been carried out through official development assistance, the considerable cuts to that—moving away from 0.7%—have had an impact on UK research. What reassurance can the Minister give that the new Government will set us back on the trend to having 0.7% of GNI for ODA, so we can return to being a global leader on AMR research?

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I do not think the things are necessarily linked; the noble Lord knows our commitment to 0.7%, and we want to return to it as soon as the fiscal situation allows. In the meantime, we want to focus on the impact of our ODA, and that is why this political declaration is so important, because we can achieve a lot. One of the things we will be doing is looking at the plans and commitments that the previous Government made, and ensure that we work in partnership with African countries to deliver the biggest impact.

Lord Patel Portrait Lord Patel (CB)
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My Lords, while accepting that we need to do everything possible to control the increasing incidence of antibiotic resistance, would the Minister agree that we should also pursue research that would find other forms of treatment to control bacterial infections? For instance, there are new antibiotics such as the one developed in Harvard University that changes the way it works on bacterial infections or, secondly, the one developed in Imperial College London, which has been developed to disrupt the microbiology of bacteria. Thirdly and importantly is developing viruses that act as bacteriophages to destroy the bacterial infections, but that requires a manufacturing facility; in January, the Science, Innovation and Technology Select Committee recommended that we should develop one in the old Rosalind Franklin Laboratory in the north. Would the Minister comment?

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I was extremely grateful for the noble Lord catching me in the corridor just before, warning me about this. The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, emphasised the importance of research, and it is constantly developing. We must look at it not only in terms of the problems we face in this country but also the issues faced in low to middle-income countries. The noble Lord is absolutely right, and our first commitment out of the high-level panel meeting is to focus on the need for greater research. But I accept what the noble Lord says: we are a centre of excellent research in this country, and we need to make sure that the benefits of that research are reflected in our ability to turn research into those manufacturing capabilities. I am very pleased that my honourable friend in DSIT will be absolutely focused on ensuring that is the case.

Lord Kamall Portrait Lord Kamall (Con)
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My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his appointment as a Minister and, indeed, the whole Labour Front Bench on their election victory and their appointments as Ministers. Following up on the last question, will the Minister tell the House which other government departments the FCDO is working with across government to ensure that there is a real joined-up government approach in tackling this issue?

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I welcome the noble Lord to his position on the Front Bench, and I am pleased to see him back—well, back in the Opposition. We made clear when we entered the election that we will be a mission-based Government, and that involves cross-departmental working. Let us not ignore the fact that this is a fundamental part of economic development, not only for this country but to ensure that we spread the mission to our partnerships in Africa. On the Fleming funding and the other issues that I have already addressed, we are working on a cross-departmental basis with Defra and are ensuring that the good practice we have in this country is replicated and followed through in other countries, so the noble Lord is right that we will be committing to that.

Baroness Northover Portrait Baroness Northover (LD)
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My Lords, I welcome the Minister to his position. It was wonderful to work with him when we were in opposition; it is his turn now, and we expect a lot from him. What percentage of ODA goes into research? It was vital in terms of support for, say, the Jenner Institute and the preparations that we made for the pandemic. Could he tell us what support for UK research is ODA money?

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I may have to follow through in writing. By the way, when we first worked together the noble Baroness was in government and I was in opposition, but despite that we worked collaboratively then. ODA is spent on AMR. I mentioned the Fleming Fund, and I think the previous Government spent £400 million on that support. But broadening it out to other aspects of research—they are not exclusive, as other research can benefit the fight against AMR— I will write to the noble Baroness with more detailed information.

Lord Turnberg Portrait Lord Turnberg (Lab)
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My Lords, one area where we should focus our research efforts is on veterinary practice, where much of the resistance arises. Can my noble friend give some indication of what efforts are being made in that regard?

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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That is why I said at the beginning that we want to take a holistic approach to this issue, because it is not just medical overprescription; these chemicals are also able to get into the environment through animals, and we have been focused on ensuring that our strategy and the high-level panel meetings address that issue. It is not just veterinary and the issue is not just about our practices in this country; it is about spreading the word across the world, because it is amazing how these things can get into the food system far more widely spread than you could ever imagine, so it is a high priority.

Infected Blood Inquiry: Compensation Scheme

Lord Collins of Highbury Excerpts
Wednesday 22nd May 2024

(2 months ago)

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Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I do not think it is for me as a Minister to opine on potential criminal liability. All I can say at this early stage is that the Government will make all relevant information available to those conducting any future criminal investigation.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I echo my noble friend’s comments about the awful circumstances and the apology. Yesterday, after the repeat of the Statement, I reassured the Minister that what was required to implement all the recommendations of the report was cross-party working, and that we will continue to do that whatever the circumstances. He gave a commitment about the other 11 recommendations of the report; the Commons were due to debate it on returning from the Recess. I hope that we can keep that firmly on the agenda so that we properly address all the issues that the report raises.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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I am very grateful to the noble Lord. I am personally keen that we should have that opportunity. I am aware that discussions are ongoing with the usual channels to enable us to have a debate not too far from when we come back from the Recess. Clearly, it is important that these findings be given the most thorough consideration by government. They are very grave indeed. As I said yesterday, the wrongs that have been done are devastating and, in many cases, life altering. A comprehensive response will be given in due course, but that should not prevent us debating the report in the meanwhile.

Infected Blood

Lord Collins of Highbury Excerpts
Tuesday 21st May 2024

(2 months ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for repeating both Statements. The infected blood scandal is, of course, one of the gravest injustices in our history and a profound moment of shame for the British state. Yesterday, Keir Starmer, leader of the Opposition, apologised on behalf of the Labour Governments of the past. The Prime Minister did the same on behalf of all Governments and the country.

The scale of the horror uncovered by Sir Brian Langstaff’s report almost defies belief. As well as the apology, I repeat Keir Starmer’s commitment

“to shine a harsh light upon the lessons that must be learned to make sure that nothing like this ever happens again”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/5/24; col. 668.]

The institutional defensiveness identified by Sir Brian is a pattern of behaviour that we must address. We must restore the sense that this country is a country that can rectify injustice, particularly when carried out by institutions of the state.

I am sure that all noble Lords join me in paying tribute to the victims and campaigners who have fought so hard on this issue, including Dame Diana Johnson and Peter Bottomley, and to Sir Brian Langstaff and his team for all the work that they have done on the independent inquiry into this scandal. The publication of Sir Brian’s final report is an incredibly important moment for the victims of this injustice. Keir Starmer said yesterday that his

“experience of running a public service has made”

him

“less interested in political partisanship and more focused on getting things done”.

My right honourable friend Nick Thomas-Symonds said earlier in the other place:

“One of the most powerful conclusions in this report is that an apology is meaningful only if it is accompanied by action”,


as the noble Earl said. I repeat my right honourable friend’s commitment for us

“to work on a cross-party basis”

to

“help deliver the compensation scheme and get the … money to victims as soon as possible”.

We welcome the further details in Minister John Glen’s Statement, and the appointment of an interim chair, Sir Robert Francis. The Minister’s response, that Sir Robert and the expert panel will also focus on hearing the voice of victims going forward, is crucial. We welcome the payment under the five heads of loss to infected and affected persons, and the Minister’s confirmation that there is no budget restriction. Time is of the essence, with one victim dying every four days. I therefore welcome the Minister’s comments that there will be work throughout June on tracing additional claimants.

The Minister confirmed that the Commons will have the opportunity to debate and consider progress on Sir Brian Langstaff’s other 11 recommendations beyond compensation, including, as the noble Earl said, consideration of appropriate and fitting memorials, which—I add—we strongly support.

On potential criminal charges, I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that all relevant evidence will be available for consideration by the prosecuting authorities and that any other necessary support will be provided.

As I said in my opening remarks, the institutional defensiveness identified by Sir Brian is a pattern of behaviour we must address. We must deliver a duty of candour and the political leadership to replace that culture of defensiveness with openness and transparency. I hope the Minister will be able to confirm that this House will be given the same opportunity to debate these issues as was given to the other place.

Baroness Brinton Portrait Baroness Brinton (LD)
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My Lords, from these Benches, we echo the apologies made by both the Government and the Labour Benches. We are truly sorry for what has happened. We pay tribute to everyone in the infected blood community. I particularly want to thank those watching us, whether in the Public Gallery here or online. Talking to people at Central Hall yesterday, I discovered that a number of people have watched every single time this House has debated infected blood. We may not see them, but they see us.

From these Benches, we also pay tribute to Sir Brian and his team for a truly remarkable seven-volume report which speaks truth to power for the infected blood community, and we pay tribute to the parliamentarians in both Houses who have fought for justice over the decades, including Dame Diana Johnson, who currently leads them. We also pay tribute to the many charities and organisations who have worked with the IB community, be they infected or affected.

From these Benches, we will continue to hold government to account until everything is resolved. Having said that, we certainly welcome both Statements. We echo the points made from the Labour Front Bench: we believe that there are issues relating to criminal charges for corporate manslaughter and other possible crimes, so can the Minister say whether Sir Brian’s report is being forwarded to the police and the DPP for consideration?

There is one person who is not in her place today, the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell of Surbiton. She was exhausted by yesterday. She is one of the affected people in this House—but not the only one. She told me that she welcomes the government apology; her sorrow is that it took decades of personal hardship and relentless campaigning to arrive. She is delighted by the appointment of Sir Robert Francis KC, as are we; he is someone in whom the IB community has considerable trust. Finally, she said that she wants to listen hard to the community responses over the coming weeks to the events of yesterday and today in respect of the compensation intentions. Everyone will need time to process the inquiry’s findings. She and many others are completely exhausted, and that is why she is unable to be with us tonight.

Today’s compensation Statement sets out much welcome detail. As the Minister knows, from these Benches we welcome the establishment of the arm’s-length IB compensation authority, the announcement that Sir Robert Francis is the interim chair and the clarity about who is eligible, especially the inclusion of those affected, not just infected. We also welcome the different categories of tariff. Ministers have heard repeatedly in both Houses that it is vital to recognise how people’s lives have been affected in so many ways.

However, the Statement also raises some questions that are not quite so clear. First, have the Government understood that people with lived experience of infected blood must be represented at all levels on the IBCA, including the board? Both Statements were silent on that, so I wonder what guidance Ministers will give Sir Robert on involving people with lived experience.

Secondly, the Statement confirms that anyone already registered with one of the existing support schemes will automatically be considered for compensation under the new scheme. But what about those we have discussed repeatedly in debates on the Victims and Prisoners Bill: those who are known about but whose claims have not yet been recognised and therefore are not registered? The Statement yesterday talked about documents going missing and even being destroyed. I have heard today from a victim who says that her claims, made over five years ago, are stuck because the NHS has lost two or three key pages from her records, so she cannot move forward. Can the Minister say what will happen to cases such as hers? She asked, “How can we fight a machine that is still protecting itself?”

There is a second group of people who are harder to reach, as they have not yet been identified; they may have only just become aware that they are infected with hepatitis. What arrangements will there be for them? Not only are they outside the timetable for the main compensation scheme, given what the Minister said, but they appear not to be referred to under the interim scheme arrangements as announced. What is the timescale for each of those two groups? The Minister knows about them, because we have talked about them before, so it is no surprise to him that they remain concerned about their position.

It is also good to see that those receiving compensation will be disregarded from means-tested benefits assessments, but I return to my old question: can the Minister confirm that there will be no clawing back of past benefits as new compensation payments are made? That was not at all clear in the Statement.

The Statement outlines support schemes especially for widows and how they will fit into the new scheme. I thank the Minister for making sure that they will not lose out. We look forward to seeing the details of the scheme.

Finally, the increase in the interim scheme payments of a further £200,000 is welcome. As with the main scheme, what are the proposals and timescales for ensuring that those not yet registered will get speedy support, registration and payments? That is not mentioned, either, in the timetable.

Sir Brian’s report is a wake-up call to government, including the Civil Service, the NHS and the Department of Health and Social Care, and to Parliament. We must give thanks to all who have relentlessly spoken up from the community, the press and the media and in Parliament; but for them, we would not be here today. Only through fulfilling Sir Brian’s recommendations —all of them—will there be vindication for the victims and corporate and state changes in culture in the future. We must all ensure that we never have to face a scandal like this again.

Long-Term Strategic Challenges Posed by China

Lord Collins of Highbury Excerpts
Thursday 19th October 2023

(9 months, 1 week ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his introduction. There is a recognition that we are in very dangerous and difficult times, but I understand that it is important to focus on this relationship in particular. In his introduction, he outlined the policy towards China through three interrelated strands—or pillars, as he called them: protect, align and engage. That means to protect by strengthening national security protections, to align by deepening co-operation and alignment with key allies, and to engage through bilateral channels with China and international forums.

But has that policy been translated into action? I think we will hear in this debate some of the challenges to the assertions made by the noble Earl. For example, Bronwen Maddox of Chatham House has suggested that positions taken by the United Kingdom on China have sometimes differed from those of the Biden Administration. How are we working and aligning ourselves with our key allies in the Atlantic treaty and the European Union?

The belt and road initiative has seen China actively financing infrastructure in developing countries, with investment in more than 150 countries since 2013. In 2021, reports stated that the Prime Minister was working with democratic allies to design an alternative. Is that progressing? Where is the evidence? What have we seen in recent times?

The noble Earl mentioned artificial intelligence. We have seen interference in our democratic processes and the use of AI in fake news, particularly in the attacks on the leader of the Opposition. These are real threats to our democracy. All telecom operators have been told to strip Huawei from 5G by the end of 2027. What progress has been made on that? What measures do the Government have in place to combat potential threats through telecoms until our systems are free of that equipment?

The recent ISC report on China warned that:

“The UK’s academic institutions provide a rich feeding ground for China”


to gain political and economic influence in the United Kingdom. The noble Earl mentioned the review on protecting the academic sector that was outlined in the integrated review. When will we see the results of that? MI5 has estimated this week that 10,000 UK businesses, particularly those involved in key technologies and sciences, are at risk of Chinese espionage. Where is the evidence that we are acting on that? The ISC has warned that:

“China’s size, ambition and capability have enabled it to successfully penetrate every sector of the UK’s economy”.


Will the Government therefore back Labour’s plan for a joint Treasury-Home Office task force to drive forward work on keeping the UK safe from these economic threats to our security?

In government, Labour will take a strong, clear-eyed and consistent approach to China, standing firm in defence of our national security, international law and human rights while seeking to engage where it is in our interests to do so, particularly on the global challenges the noble Earl mentioned, such as climate change and global health. Our strategy is to compete where we need to, co-operate where we can and challenge China where we must.

China is the world’s most populous country and its second-largest economy. As the noble Earl said, our relationship is complex. China is one of the UK’s largest trading partners, with bilateral trade worth more than £100 billion and 140,000 Chinese students studying here. However, its rising economic and political power has seen a growing pattern of repression domestically and more assertive action abroad, as well as unfair trade practices. We are also very concerned about hostile Chinese action on UK soil—for example, in its efforts to silence and intimidate critics. It is essential that we work with our allies and partners to address these challenges, strengthening the international rule of law and the multilateral institutions that support it.

China remains crucial to addressing many global issues and is deeply integrated into the world economy. We will engage with it on the basis of our national interest, based on clear principles, but not be afraid to speak out on human rights. We have consistently condemned the dismantling of democracy in Hong Kong and the plight of the Uighur people, which the United Nations has said may constitute crimes against humanity.

We too welcome and support the BNOs who have arrived in this country and are a very important part of our community. We show support also for those BNOs and nationals who are still in Hong Kong, particularly those who, like Jimmy Lai, have been imprisoned for standing up for democracy. I hope the Minister will respond in terms of what we are doing to support him and other British nationals who have been imprisoned for standing up for democracy.

The problem is that we have had an approach to China that has been inadequate and does not focus sufficiently on managing future security risks. In government, Labour will carry out a complete audit of UK-China relations to ensure that the relationship reflects our interest and values so we can set a consistent strategy for the long term—something that this Government have refused to do or adopt. A Labour Government will increase our independence in critical national infrastructure and not repeat some of the mistakes this Government made over Huawei and nuclear power. We will work with our allies to provide real alternatives to China’s finance and investment in the developing world, focused on addressing poverty, strengthening global health and accelerating climate action and adaptation. We want to see a dialogue and peaceful moves to address the issues across the Taiwan Strait. We have been clear in our serious concern about China’s increasingly aggressive actions towards Taiwan and the attempts to intimidate its democratic leaders.

It is important to avoid accidents and miscalculations that raise tension or risk escalation. As the noble Earl mentioned, these actions are part of a wider pattern by China, which is becoming more assertive, as we have seen in the South China Sea. We have been very clear in challenging repression in Hong Kong, Xinjiang and Tibet. It is also absolutely wrong that China has brought sanctions against UK parliamentarians for raising these concerns, particularly Members of this House—I mention the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

The Government are divided on how to approach China and have no clear strategy, leading to U-turns and inconsistent rhetoric. Despite the noble Earl’s assertion, there is a lack of guidance for business on trade with China, and the Government’s so-called “tilt” to the Indo-Pacific has been underresourced. The Labour Government would take a strong, clear-eyed and consistent approach, and we will maintain the consistent position of successive British Governments around the recognition of Taiwan. However, we support Taiwan being an observer at organisations such as the WHO. If we are to really challenge global health pandemics and address global health issues, we need to ensure that Taiwan’s expertise is heard in forums such as the WHO.

The noble Earl mentioned AUKUS, which has Labour’s full backing. We welcome increased defence co-operation with key allies. The US and Australia are two of our closest partners. We need to ensure that that continues and my noble friend will address this in more detail in his contribution. We are confident that AUKUS adheres to all nuclear non-proliferation treaties and International Atomic Energy Agency safeguards.

In conclusion, this debate is not about tilting one way or the other. Maintaining serious, long-term strategic approaches to the Indo-Pacific, through arrangements such as AUKUS, is an essential response to the shifting centre of gravity in world affairs. This will not come at the cost of our security commitments in Europe, nor mean that we can safely ignore our own neighbourhood.

NATO Summit

Lord Collins of Highbury Excerpts
Tuesday 18th July 2023

(1 year ago)

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Lord True Portrait The Lord Privy Seal (Lord True) (Con)
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My Lord, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the other place.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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Does the Minister need to read it?

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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Well, I was asked to read it, but I am in the hands of the House.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I do not think it is necessary.

Lord True Portrait Lord True (Con)
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If the House does not wish me to repeat it, I will not.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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I thank the noble Lord very much. It was taken a few days ago, and we have all had the opportunity to read it. I do not wish to show any disrespect, but I hope we can focus on the questions on the Statement.

The summit in Vilnius was a display of NATO’s unity, and an extension of the principles which Ernest Bevin, of course, signed up to in 1949. He was one of the finest Foreign Secretaries the UK has had and, of course, one of the greatest trade union officials, which I know the Leader will be impressed by. Noble Lords on these Benches, and indeed across the House, will always remain committed to those unshakeable values of the North Atlantic Treaty.

I welcome the progress made in strengthening the alliance. The country which President Biden referred to as the “light of Lithuania” provided a symbolic backdrop for the meeting, and a reminder that Europe’s freedom can never be taken as a given. As the Prime Minister said, the world has been made a more dangerous place by authoritarian aggression. It is only right that we respond by building NATO’s readiness. I therefore very much welcome the agreements made last week.

In particular, I draw attention to Finland’s accession, and the hope that others will soon follow. These are historic decisions, which will bring strong and valuable additions to the group. NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg described President Erdoğan’s agreement to Sweden’s accession as a “historic step”, but stressed that a clear date could not be given for when it would join the military alliance, as this relied on the Turkish Parliament. I hope the Lord Privy Seal will be able to give us an update on Turkey’s position, and what timeframes the Government anticipate for accession to take place.

By welcoming allies into the NATO fold, we are strengthening the collective defence of our European neighbourhood and sending a signal that Russian aggression will be confronted. But the House will know that membership of the alliance brings responsibilities, and that includes a commitment to spending 2% of GDP on defence. Seeing our NATO allies all commit to this was heartening, but it shines a light on how our own contribution to defence spending has fallen in the past years. The Prime Minister’s Statement referred to the renewal of this commitment in Vilnius, but the Lord Privy Seal will know that there is unease on these Benches at the cuts to our Army, and our troops lacking the equipment they need to fight and fulfil our NATO obligations. Given that there are now 25,000 fewer full-time troops since 2010—leaving our Army at the smallest size since the time of Napoleon—I use this opportunity to ask the Lord Privy Seal to encourage his Cabinet colleagues to halt these cuts and keep Britain safe.

Today’s refreshed Defence Command Paper was an opportunity, but as my right honourable friend John Healey said:

“Labour wanted this to be the nation’s defence plan, not the plan of current Conservative Defence Ministers”.


He offered

“to work with the Government on a plan to make Britain secure at home and strong abroad”.

This is no such plan.

Similarly, the Lord Privy Seal will know that our military is only as strong as the stockpiles behind it. On the plans announced to scale up defence production, I ask him to commit to updating Parliament on progress towards stockpile targets, so that the House can support the monitoring of this new agreement.

As part of the world’s most powerful military alliance, we must also ask questions about our collective readiness. The Statement referred to regional war-fighting plans. Can he assure the House that the plans will adapt to changing security threats in eastern Europe?

I also welcome the commitment to pursue Putin for his crimes. In addition to our membership of NATO, the Lord Privy Seal will be aware that the United Kingdom is currently serving as president of the UN Security Council. Given the Foreign Secretary’s commitment to using this role to hold the Russian Government to account, can the Lord Privy Seal provide an update on yesterday’s high-level briefing?

For over 500 days, Ukraine has fought for its freedom, and for ours. I want to finish by welcoming the declaration which backs its accession to NATO. In the short period between this Statement being made in the other place and its repeat today, the people of Ukraine have suffered Russian drone attacks in many cities, missile strikes in Kharkiv and shelling in Kherson and many other places. Between the time that this House rises next week and when it returns in September, we can all hope that the Ukrainian counteroffensive will have progressed, but we all know that there will be further civilian deaths at the hands of Putin’s regime. Despite the lack of timetable for Ukraine’s accession, I hope the Lord Privy Seal will agree that it should be a matter of when, not if, and that we will welcome Ukraine as a full member to NATO.

Lord Newby Portrait Lord Newby (LD)
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My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader for responding to the Statement—and, indeed, for not repeating it.

The Vilnius summit took place at a potentially pivotal point in the Ukrainian struggle against its Russian occupiers and clearly demonstrated why NATO plays such a pivotal role in the security of Europe. The Prime Minister in his Statement set out three ways in which the alliance was being strengthened to deal with the challenges of Ukraine and more broadly.

The first was an increased defence readiness. The Prime Minister cited the fact that the UK was scaling up defence production to boost our stockpiles. There have been newspaper reports in recent days about how this is happening in respect of shells and other ordnance, but could the noble Lord reassure the House that stockpiles of other equipment are being replenished with equal urgency? Strengthening of the alliance also includes its expansion to admit Finland as a member, with Sweden closely to follow. These are extremely welcome developments.

The second development which the Prime Minister highlighted was the increase of support for Ukraine. We can understand why Ukraine is so keen to join NATO at the earliest opportunity but equally understand why that is not possible with the war still under way. The establishment of the NATO-Ukraine Council in these circumstances is a sensible interim structure under which dialogue can be conducted, but as far as the UK is concerned, could the noble Lord the Leader say whether the increase in support which the Prime Minister mentions involves any specific increase in military hardware support from the UK? Does he accept that it is hardly surprising, and certainly not a reason for censure, that the President of Ukraine is persistent in asking for more military hardware, without which success—in what we all accept is a must-win struggle —cannot be achieved?

The third issue stressed by the Prime Minister is that, in his words,

“The UK remains a driving force behind this alliance”.


To support this argument, he points again to the proportion of GDP which the UK devotes to defence. While this is clearly greater than some of our allies, there is widespread and growing concern about the effectiveness of this expenditure. For example, the recent House of Commons Select Committee report on military procurement, It is Broke—and it’s Time to Fix It, sets out a catalogue of specific and generic failings within MoD procurement. It says that the system suffers from “misplaced optimism”, a shortage of legal and commercial expertise, a lack of key skills, a habit of overspecifying, not

“sufficient emphasis on the value of time”

and

“a lack of a fixed long-term budget”.

Given that half of the defence budget is spent on the purchase of equipment, these are fundamental problems. What are the Government doing to reduce the waste and inefficiency in the MoD procurement process, which could ensure that the very many calls on the defence budget—not least the sensible calls to reverse the manpower cuts to the Army—can be more effectively met?

The Prime Minister also boasts of our role in keeping NATO at the cutting edge of technological developments. One way in which we could do so is by working with European partners via the Horizon programme. It was reported that the Prime Minister was to sign a deal at the summit for the UK to rejoin Horizon. This did not happen. Can the Leader say when it will happen, so that vital scientific collaboration can resume? If, in the Government’s view, there are arguments for not doing so, can he set out what they are, given the unanimity of scientific support for the UK to rejoin without further delay?

Finally, the summit communiqué discusses the partnership between the EU and NATO. It says that this partnership also needs the participation of non-EU allies—that is, the UK. It looks forward

“to mutual steps, representing tangible progress”.

Do the Government agree that working with the EU on military issues is of fundamental importance? If so, what kind of tangible steps do they have in mind to bring this about?

Business of the House

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Tuesday 9th May 2023

(1 year, 2 months ago)

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Lord Foulkes of Cumnock Portrait Lord Foulkes of Cumnock (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, it always the case that when there is a difficulty for the Government, the noble Earl, Lord Howe, is put forward to deal with it, because we all love him so much. The Government think they can get away with anything when they put the noble Earl up. However, I associate myself with the remarks that he made in relation to all the staff; I am sure everyone in the House would do that. It is one of the reasons I am concerned that we are going to meet at an early hour tomorrow, with this whole helter-skelter of activity during Wednesday.

Ideally, if the Government had not got their legislative programme into a total mess—we all know it is a total mess, with Bills being brought in, taken out again and amended, so we do not know where we are—and if we were dealing with this properly, as we ought to be, the obvious thing would be to have two days for Second Reading. Many Members want to speak in the debate—87, I think the noble Earl said—but then we could deal with it properly. After all, the Illegal Migration Bill is a very important Bill. As one of my colleagues said, they are not sure whether “illegal” refers to migration or to the Bill. I think it is the Bill.

The noble Earl, Lord Howe, has been put forward. The noble Lord, Lord True, would make a good case but he is not as persuasive—not as gentle and kind—as the noble Earl. This is going to happen again and again unless we take a firm stand now. I hope we get an assurance from the noble Earl that it is not going to happen again and again, disrupting our Wednesdays, and maybe even having us meeting early on days when those of us who do not live in or near London have difficulties. I hope we will have a guarantee that we will not have this again and again. The only reason we are having is it that the Government’s legislative programme is in absolute disarray, and we should not be made to suffer for it.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I want briefly to add my comments to those of the noble Earl regarding the staff on Saturday. Not only did they carry out their duties well and properly but they were friendly and courteous and took extra steps to make the whole day enjoyable. I join with the noble Earl in his remarks.

Turning to my noble friend’s contribution, unfortunately my noble friend Lord Kennedy, our Chief Whip, cannot be here, so I am the friendly face. I accept the comments of my noble friend Lord Foulkes but we have agreed on tomorrow. In terms of a precedent, I hope the noble Earl will take my noble friend’s comments on board for future occasions.

Earl Howe Portrait Earl Howe (Con)
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My Lords, I certainly take the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Foulkes, on board. There is always a judgment to be made, when the list of speakers is as long as it is tomorrow, as to whether one should seek to divide a Second Reading up into more than one day and thereby have a breakage by way of an adjournment, which in itself is never very satisfactory, or to do as we have done, which is to attempt to make a single debate fit into a single day. It was the general feeling in the usual channels that this is the right outcome in this instance, particularly as it will allow a reasonable speaking time for noble Lords and a reasonable rising time as well.

Higher Education (Freedom of Speech) Bill

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Lord Moore of Etchingham Portrait Lord Moore of Etchingham (Non-Afl)
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My Lords, I listened with great interest to what the noble Lord, Lord Moylan, had to say and I sympathised with the anguish he felt as a loyal Conservative supporter trying to deal with the problem the Government have presented him with. As a non-affiliated Peer I do not have that problem, but I share his anxiety about what the Government have done as it seems very vacillating and unhelpful.

I draw noble Lords’ attention to the famous words of Adam Smith that no people of the same trade are ever gathered together, even for diversion or merriment, without at some point conspiring against the public. It is lovely to have so many noble Peers in this House who hold or have held high positions in universities and university administrations—chancellors, vice-chancellors, professors and all the rest of them—but overall they constitute an interest. Their interest, naturally enough, is to believe that they are right, universities are well run and the critics are wrong. I ask them perhaps to consider that none of this would have come about if universities were being well run. These freedom of speech issues are very important and need some bolstering. When so many noble Peers who are associated with universities challenge and reject that, they must be conscious not to behave like trade union leaders in the 1980s who were defending powers that, it became clear, were unacceptable.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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As a former trade union leader I am a bit hesitant to contribute, but let me just say to the noble Lord, Lord Moore, that what has been excellent about our consideration of this Bill from Second Reading through to Committee is how, through excellent scrutiny, we have tried to reach a consensus, not a compromise. That is the important thing. On Report I confessed that I had changed my mind about the need for this Bill. I accept that better, more effective regulation will help to change culture in a more sustainable way. All this emphasis on tort does not really help the real problem that we have heard described.

I will be brief. I appreciate the comments of the noble Lord on non-disclosure agreements—a key element in terms of openness and transparency. The duties and responsibilities of the regulator, and how they are applied, will be important; I accept that universities need time to properly do that. But they have been developing good practice and best practice. They have responsibilities to freedom of speech, and I absolutely support that. I stress that the Opposition’s approach to this Bill has been totally non-partisan. I have supported the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. I have certainly encouraged him because I have listened across the board as we have moved through each stage, and I think we will end up with a better Bill. In fact, with the consensus that has been reached, we now have a better Bill.

Despite some of the Minister’s concerns about what might happen down the other end, across this House and across all political parties we have reached a consensus; let us put the matter to bed. With our non-partisan approach, I assure him that the Government will have the Opposition’s support on their support for the amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Willetts. We can safely say that this Bill shall pass, and it will pass to defend the freedom of speech values that we all share. That is an important step that we can make.

I hope that the Minister will feel reassured about our approach to this Bill and how we have listened, changed our minds and supported very important consensus changes, which I think will ensure that all academics and university institutions will support this legislation.

The Importance of the Relationship Between the United Kingdom and India

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Thursday 19th January 2023

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I start by thanking the Leader of the House and the Chief Whip for facilitating Lord Soley’s valedictory contribution this evening. He has made a remarkable contribution to Parliament over his 44 years here and his speech, though it may have been a little long, certainly did that justice.

I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Verma. We have talked on many occasions about the importance of the UK-India relationship, particularly the business and economic aspects. She made an excellent introductory contribution to the debate. I also thank the noble Baroness, Lady Foster, and the noble Earl, Lord Minto, for their contributions. I think we will hear a lot from them in future. I particularly welcome that they have such a wide range of experience to contribute. I say to the noble Earl that I regularly shop in Paperchase, so I hope it is a continued success.

As we have heard, India is one of the world’s largest and fastest-growing economies, with deep historical and cultural links to the United Kingdom. The Government’s integrated review describes India as

“an international actor of growing importance”,

which perhaps undersells it a bit. Since the publication of that review, we have reached agreement with India on a joint framework for future relationships between the two countries. The 2030 Roadmap for India-UK Future Relations will, as it puts it,

“guide cooperation for the next ten years”

and cover “all aspects” of the relationship between the two countries. Importantly, it will be subject to an annual strategic review meeting to monitor its implementation and, if necessary, could be updated. I hope in his response the Minister will assure us that preparations for such reviews, together with their outcome, will be fully reported to Parliament.

As we have heard, the road map set out to cover the following five areas: connecting our countries and people, trade and prosperity, defence and security, climate, and health. On connecting our countries, the road map focused on education, research and innovation, capacity building, employment and culture, and we have heard from many noble Lords how important those areas are.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said in her introduction, the Indian diaspora community continues to make an enormous and important contribution to everyday life in the United Kingdom and is vital to building those links. So I ask the Minister: what cross-departmental effort will be made to reflect this contribution from the diaspora in future talks, particularly on the road map and a future trade agreement?

The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, referred to our soft power. The BBC World Service is an important element of that. In 2006, the BBC World Service bureau in India conducted a study to discover the impact of its services reporting across rural areas in India. It found that:

“In each town people said that the BBC can influence change. Expressing high regard for BBC Hindi programmes, they also praised BBC Hindi journalists’ ability to access and interview those in authority.”


I hope the Minister not only accepts how important that service is but understands that cuts will impair this positive impact on our relationships.

On trade, the road map commits the two countries to

“create shared prosperity and deliver leadership in global economic governance.”

As we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, the Government promised to deliver the completion of a trade agreement with India by Diwali 2022. Can the Minister tell the House if a future target date for completion of the Indian trade deal has been determined? I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, says; we certainly want the trade deal to be properly conducted, but it is necessary to make progress as quickly as possible.

It has been widely reported that the failure to deliver the trade agreement was the result of the Home Secretary’s claim that there is a particular problem with Indian visitors to the United Kingdom overstaying their visas. Does the Minister accept that such comments have a negative impact on our relationships? It is so important that we value people’s contributions, particularly those of people from India who visit here. We should certainly be extremely careful about that.

In future negotiations, as we have heard, it is vital that issues such as workers’ rights and environmental and climate standards be fully addressed. The Minister assured the House in discussions on strengthening the road map—whether on trade, investment, technological co-operation or improving lives and livelihoods in India and the United Kingdom—that the issue of lives and livelihoods is intrinsically tied to the whole concept of human rights. I hope in his response he can describe how this will be explicitly addressed in any formal agreement.

On defence and security, the road map emphasised the two countries’ shared interests, which will underpin co-operation in multilateral fora to

“build understanding among diverse partners on international security”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Swire, reminded us, India has ambitions to play a greater role at the United Nations, including on the Security Council, to which, as he also reminded us, it has been elected eight times. The Minister said earlier this week that he supports a new permanent seat for India, as well as others. Can he tell us what concrete steps the UK mission is taking to achieve this, particularly in collaboration with other permanent members of the Security Council?

On climate change, the road map says that the UK and India are committed to safeguarding the planet, building a more environmentally sustainable future and achieving the goals of the Paris Agreement. This includes mobilising investment and climate finance. Can the Minister indicate what role the Government envisage for BII—the former CDC—in this? How does this aspiration in the road map fit in with the BII’s five-year strategy?

On health, the road map describes the UK and India as global forces for good and says that they will use their

“combined research and innovation strength to address the biggest global health challenges, save lives and improve health and well-being”.

We have clear evidence of that with the Covid pandemic. However, as my noble friend Lord Browne and others said, India supplies 25% of medicines used by the NHS. The UK must acknowledge the importance of the Indian pharmaceutical industry to both the NHS and global health. Does the Minister therefore agree that we should seek to protect, not weaken, access to generic medicines from India within the FTA? What analysis has been done in the process of negotiating the FTA to assess the potential impact the agreement may have on the supply of medicines from India to the NHS? As noble Lords have said, India has often been called the “pharmacy of the developing world”, and its generics industry has played an essential role in the provision of generic medicines, particularly in the fight against HIV and AIDS. What analysis has been done in the process of negotiating the FTA to assess the potential impact that that agreement may have on global access to those generic medicines and, therefore, health outcomes?

In conclusion, the negotiating process for the UK-India free trade agreement has not included opportunities for either public or parliamentary scrutiny. I know that many have criticised this, and I hope the Minister can reassure us and tell us what the next steps in the negotiations process are and whether they will ensure civil society and parliamentary engagement, so that we can give feedback.

Democracy Denied (DPRRC Report)

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Thursday 12th January 2023

(1 year, 6 months ago)

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. I start by thanking the chairs of the committees, the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Hodgson, for their excellent introductions. I also want to thank all members of the committees for their hard work in producing these reports. We have heard that both committees collaborated closely, producing parallel reports and holding joint evidence sessions.

Crucially, as we have heard this afternoon, the overwhelming message is that the abuse of delegated powers is, in effect, an abuse of Parliament and of democracy. Despite the response from the Government, these reports, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, reminded us, will be a prompt to strengthen Parliament in the coming years.

It is worth repeating the words of the noble Lord, Lord Hodgson. This is not a debate about Lords versus Commons; it is a discussion about how we strengthen Parliament. I will not be tempted to comment on what we might be able to do in Opposition and then as a Government. The fact is that our democracy is a parliamentary democracy, and it is how we strengthen Parliament that is now most important.

The conclusions of the DPRRC report are that it is now a matter of urgency that Parliament should take stock and consider how the balance of power can be reset. As it says, far too often primary legislation is being stripped out by skeleton provisions and, with the inappropriate use of wide delegated powers, it is increasingly difficult for Parliament to understand what legislation will mean in practice and challenge its potential consequences. We have heard numerous examples from across the House of such legislation being put before us, including Bills that are currently before the House.

Importantly, the committee’s report refutes the argument that parliamentary legislative procedures cannot respond swiftly to address urgent, unforeseen situations. As part of my responsibilities as shadow FCDO spokesperson, I have been involved in work on the war in Ukraine. We worked with the Government to ensure a speedy response to a very difficult situation. It did not avoid parliamentary scrutiny, but meant working collaboratively to address the urgent issues. Of course, both Brexit and the pandemic are other good examples of that.

The committee’s analysis of the historical account of delegated legislation shows there have been times when the Government of the day have been impatient of parliamentary legislative constraints. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Norton, says, Parliament rightly demands patience in fulfilling its most important role: making our laws—and making them good laws.

One of the things that I have done is work with the noble Lord, Lord True. We have had debates on Bills before this House in which we have pointed out that clauses had unforeseen consequences. To be fair to the noble Lord, Lord True, he has supported the Opposition in taking clauses out of Bills where that has happened, and I thank him for that. It is important that, in this debate, when we are critical of our procedures and of some of the things that the Executive do, we stress the importance of the work of this House and how well we do it. I do not accept that we do not force the Government to change—because we do. More often than not, 90% of the changes that we make are not via votes and defeating the Government; they are by winning the argument and making the case, which sadly does not happen too much down the other end. But we do it here, and that is really important.

The recommendation in the SLSC report that Parliament and the procedure committee should follow a special procedure for skeleton Bills with substantial delegated powers was rejected in the Government’s response. They argue that Parliament is able to consider each Bill on its own merits, and agree or disagree to delegating powers. In reality, of course, the ability to do this limited. As the DPRRC noted:

“The limits on Parliament’s ability to intervene in delegated legislation places an even greater significance on ensuring the appropriateness of the delegation in the first place.”


The tax credits situation is a really good example of that. It is also a good example of where we did not use our powers to push down something; we used them in an innovative way to say to the other place that it should think again. The problem that the Government of the day had in that situation was that they were not confident that they would have a majority in the elected House. Our role was not to abrogate the responsibilities of the democratic House; it was to say to the democratic House, “Here you are; think again”. That House was prepared to think again and changed its mind. That is the important thing in this debate.

The Opposition supports these committees’ recommendations. Substantive components of policy should be decided and presented via provisions on the face of a Bill, not devised and introduced by secondary legislation after a Bill becomes an Act. We have had many examples of that recently. I hope that the Minister could, at the very least, consider consulting on the merits of creating a new procedure for skeleton Bills. I hope that there will not be a closed-door situation here. The Government’s response to date on the recommendation that there should be fewer cases of poor practice and the improper use of secondary legislation and guidance is not convincing. Departments need to improve their efforts to ensure that a clear and appropriate distinction between legislation and guidance is maintained. The pandemic highlighted the inadequacies of this process.

The SLSC was not convinced by the answers it received in evidence about why sunset clause provisions are not used more often as a matter of good practice. I have moved amendments myself in recent times on why a sunset clause would be appropriate. The Government could now, of course, also consider a greater use of various forms of sunset clauses, such as a sunset and renewal clause.

In the Government’s report The Benefits of Brexit: How the UK is Taking Advantage of Leaving the EU, the Government said that they would

“provide guidance to departments on the use of sunset clauses in regulations and Legislative Reform Orders, including when they should be used”.

I would welcome the Minister sharing this guidance with the House, so that it could be formally reviewed. I realise that it may already be available, so I would welcome the Minister writing to me about it, particularly on the circumstances in which the Government consider sunset clauses should be used.

I am running out of time. I wanted to address a number of issues, particularly with regard to Henry VIII powers. Perhaps the Minister could tell us what progress has been made towards the DPRRC contributing to the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel delegated powers training sessions. As noble Lords said, this is a debate where we do not have to wait for legislative change. There is policy and practice that we can influence, which is why it is so important that these committee reports are reviewed properly on a regular basis.

My noble friend Lady Armstrong mentioned the importance of civil society. In fact, a lot of our work in reviewing legislation involves engagement with civil society and how we hear other voices. Here I take the opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lord Prentis on his excellent maiden speech. That speech highlighted that our work is not limited to listening to ourselves; it is about how we reach out to communities, and support and confidence in our democracy is about how we engage with our communities. One of the things I have heard is about how we take back control. Certainly, taking back control is about how we empower our communities; how do we ensure that power is devolved to our communities and our towns and cities?

I conclude by saying that I have read the Hansard Society’s initial recommendations, which are due to be published, and I certainly think, like my noble friend Lord Hendy, that a new concordat between Parliament and government that sets out principles of legislative delegation would be a really good starting point. I hope the Minister can support the principle of that being adopted.

Cabinet Manual: Revision (Constitution Committee Report)

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Friday 16th December 2022

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Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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My Lords, I too thank the committee for what I was going to call its timely report, but of course it has been published for some time now. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Drake for her excellent introduction to what is a relatively short and concise report. Its recommendations are pretty concise too. The fundamental question to which I hope the Minister will be able to reply is the one on timetable and consultation; he has already conceded that there will be a revision.

As the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, correctly said, one of the problems is this “from time to time revision”. But we now have the relevant technology, and in the previous debate we talked about how technology can be used for efficient government. One way to do that, as it is a manual and not a code, would be to revise it on a weekly basis, which could be done. There is no need for a delay, especially as it does not need the sort of approval that a code might need.

As the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, said, the manual is a survey map of existing codes and laws. I too welcome back the noble Lord; I am pleased to see him here. One of his excellent skills was being able to sit down with me and make sure I gave him all the secret information I could from my conversations in the party and within politics; he is very good at that.

We have talked about the connections of codes, the Nolan principles and why they were developed, and where boundaries are drawn. I was struck by the reference made by the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, to “good chaps” government. As a historian, where do you learn most about what happened? I do not think you learn from codes, laws and manuals. As the noble Lord knows, we learn the most from the published diaries of politicians. I have mentioned on previous occasions that I am currently ploughing my way through three volumes of Chips Channon’s diaries. If anyone wants to know about hypocrisy in Parliament and among politicians, they should certainly read that. Having failed to do so on previous occasions, I pay tribute to Simon Heffer, who has done an amazing job of editing those diaries, making sure that for all the nasty references there are good footnotes. One amazing thing is that I have been able to speak to many noble Lords in this House about what was said about their families.

It comes back to the fact that our system of government has become far more transparent, and the transparency that we now have places a bigger obligation on us to abide by codes of practice. In the past, the things that Chips Channon talked about would never have been published, especially as most of the media that people read at that time was controlled by six of the politicians who were in this House. It is an amazing thing that we now have to face up to; that transparency places an obligation on us all.

I like the idea the noble Lord, Lord Hennessy, had for an oath. We would expect every Prime Minister to abide by certain standards—it is a given—especially the Nolan principles. An oath places greater transparency on the person; the public would know that certain behaviour is not acceptable and that that person is breaking it. One of the issues of a written manual is the point that the noble Lord, Lord O’Donnell, mentioned: when does a precedent become a convention? That is a difficult one. I was listening to a Radio 4 programme “Archive on 4” about when an original phrase becomes a cliché. The issue is when it is repeated, and that is what we have to expect. Some of the best speeches are now clichés if they are repeated often enough.

The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, talked about stable government and coalitions. In Chips Channon’s diaries you learn a lot about the coalitions in our political process, which are not coalitions formed from different parties. The biggest coalitions we have in our political system are political parties themselves—which is why we have many of the problems. One of the tensions in our parliamentary democracy—I suppose I am entitled to say this—is that the political parties have to learn the lesson about the temptation to engage with their party memberships on how they elect their leaders. It imposes all kinds of problems on our parliamentary democracy in terms of collective responsibility. I said in an earlier debate that I was old-fashioned new Labour. Some things we have to learn from. I do not suppose that the Conservative Party will be too tempted to turn to its party membership again to elect a Prime Minister. Of course, that is what we are doing when we elect leaders of our political parties.

To return to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on coalitions, one of the problems with coalitions is that with a single-party coalition at least we know who takes responsibility when things go wrong but with multi-party coalitions parties never want to take responsibility when things go wrong. I certainly found that with the Liberal Democrats, but I am sure the Minister will remind us of that.

Lord Collins of Highbury Portrait Lord Collins of Highbury (Lab)
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In conclusion, this is a good, straightforward report, which requires a straightforward response. One thing about the standards of Prime Ministers is the question of the independent ethics adviser, which I know the Minister has responded to. In a previous debate, we had a long debate with his ministerial colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Rolfe, about the problems of recruitment in the public sector. This is certainly one post which seems to have a big problem with recruitment. Why has it taken so long? It is a very important part of the range of codes and responsibilities. Issues are now not being addressed by an ethics adviser—who should have been appointed—but we are getting to the stage of employing casual labour, as it were, to do the job. If there is a specific complaint, they bring in someone to deal with it. Surely that cannot be right. We need somebody who can be properly held accountable. I hope that the Minister will respond not only on the timetable on the Cabinet Manual but on the timetable for appointing an ethics adviser to the Prime Minister. We have waited too long for that.