7 July 2014 : Column GC1

Grand Committee

Monday, 7 July 2014.

3.30 pm

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1: injunctions to prevent gang-related violence) Order 2014

Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1: injunctions to prevent gang-related violence) Order 2014 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion to Consider

Moved by Lord Faulks

That the Grand Committee do consider the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 (Amendment of Schedule 1: injunctions to prevent gang-related violence) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 2nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Faulks) (Con): My Lords, the order before us today amends Schedule 1 to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act to allow for advocacy in a youth court to be funded by civil legal aid for under-18s in respect of injunctions to prevent gang-related violence. The purpose of this draft order is to maintain the existing availability of civil legal aid for under-18s in respect of advocacy related to injunctions to prevent gang-related violence. An amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Act 2012 is necessary to reflect the change of venue for such injunctions made by the Crime and Courts Act 2013 from the county court to the youth court, which is a specialist type of magistrates’ court.

Before setting out further details about the order and why the Government are taking this action, I will briefly explain some background. Civil legal aid is currently available for injunctions to prevent gang-related violence under Part 4 of the Policing and Crime Act 2009 by virtue of paragraph 38 of Part 1 of Schedule 1 to LASPO. These proceedings are currently heard in a High Court or county court, and Part 3 of Schedule 1 to LASPO, which sets out when advocacy may or may not be funded by civil legal aid, allows for this, subject to a means and merits test. Section 18 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 amends Part 4 of the Police and Crime Act 2009 to provide that, where a respondent is aged under 18, a youth court will have jurisdiction to grant gang-related injunctions. This reflects the Government’s view that a youth court is a more suitable venue for such proceedings involving a child. The youth court is a type of magistrates’ court, designed in a child and youth-sensitive way. However, legal aid for advocacy for proceedings before a magistrates’ court is generally excluded from the scope of the civil legal aid scheme by virtue of Part 3 of Schedule 1 to LASPO.

With that background in mind, I will turn to the reason for the order before us today. The Government recognise that restrictions may be placed upon a person’s liberty as the result of an injunction to prevent gang-related violence. Breach of an injunction can lead to contempt

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of court proceedings which, for 14 to 17 year-olds, can result in a supervision order or a detention order being made under the Crime and Security Act 2010. The Government therefore consider that legal aid should remain available for advocacy in proceedings in respect of injunctions to prevent gang-related violence for under-18s, notwithstanding the change of venue for these proceedings as a result of the Crime and Courts Act 2013. To maintain the existing availability of civil legal aid, it is necessary to make an order specifying that advocacy for such proceedings is in scope of the civil legal aid scheme set out in LASPO. That is achieved by the order before this Committee today.

I hope that noble Lords will welcome the order. It makes a relatively minor but important change to the civil legal aid scheme which complements the wider changes made by the Crime and Courts Act 2013. I therefore commend the draft order to the Committee and I beg to move.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Faulks, has outlined, Schedule 1 to the LASPO Act sets out the scope of the civil legal aid scheme. It is well documented that the Labour Party, along with many other organisations, opposed what the Government did in respect of civil legal aid when they brought this Act into law. Having said that, from the autumn of this year, proceedings related to gang-related injunctions concerning people under the age of 18 will move to the youth court from the county court. We in the Opposition think that is a sensible move and support the transfer, along with the provision for civil legal aid to be available when the proceedings move, which is what this order seeks to do.

I note from the papers that, as this is regarded as a relatively minor change, no specific consultation was undertaken and no guidance is provided. This is not a policy change and the impact is regarded as minimal, with no major impact on regulating small businesses. However, it is said that the operation and expenditure on legal aid is continually monitored by the department, so perhaps the noble Lord could shed some light on what has happened to date, for the benefit of the Grand Committee. Would he also agree that the effect of these injunctions was extremely important and serious for individuals, both those who are the subject of them and those whom they seek to protect? Does he have information on how effective the injunctions have been to date? If he is not able to provide that information today, will he write to me with further details including any case studies that can highlight the effect to date?

With that, I should say that I am very happy with the order.

Lord Faulks: I am grateful to the noble Lord for his comments. Although it is perfectly true that the party opposite has been opposed to legal aid changes, it does not oppose this order because it does not change the eligibility of legal aid but is concerned only with the venue of these hearings.

The description of the change as “minor” simply refers to the effect in terms of substance, rather than suggesting that the injunctions related to minor matters. They do not. They are a relatively new weapon in the

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hands of local authorities and the police to try to control gang activity, and particularly to discourage youths from joining gangs. That is sometimes to those particular youths’ benefit. Say older brothers or other members of the community put pressure on them to join a gang; an injunction preventing your doing so is a very good answer, so in a sense it protects individuals from themselves.

There has not as yet been an enormous take-up of the orders. However, they have been operational, particularly in London, the West Midlands, Birmingham, Merseyside and Manchester. As I said, it is very much those on the periphery of gangs whom we are talking about; those at the centre of the gangs tend to attract the attention of the police and may end up being prosecuted for specific offences. The injunctions are important, and although they are not yet widely used we hope that their use will increase, particularly in London, where gangs are so much of a problem, as your Lordships’ House will be well aware.

Although the noble Lord did not specifically ask, I should say that if an injunction is breached it can result in an order for contempt of court, which can conceivably result in a sentence of imprisonment of an individual. I reassure the House that there will then be legal aid in those circumstances, although that will be criminal legal aid rather than civil legal aid, which covers these circumstances.

The change of venue reflects the Government’s view that the youth court is a more suitable place for proceedings that involve a child to be conducted. We therefore believe that this is a reasonable and sensible amendment, which aims to ensure that civil legal aid remains available for advocacy for under-18s in respect of the injunctions to prevent gang-related violence. I hope that noble Lords agree that this is a proportionate and sensible measure.

Motion agreed.

Adoption and Children Act Register (Search and Inspection) (Pilot) Regulations 2014

Adoption and Children Act Register (Search and Inspection) (Pilot) Regulations 20143rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion to Consider

3.39 pm

Moved by Lord Nash

That the Grand Committee do consider the Adoption and Children Act Register (Search and Inspection) (Pilot) Regulations 2014.

Relevant document: 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Schools (Lord Nash) (Con): My Lords, the regulations that we are considering today would allow approved prospective adopters in the named pilot areas to look at information about children on the register. The regulations are some of the first to be laid under Part 1 of the Children and Families Act 2014.

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The Adoption and Children Act register is successful in finding adoptive families for children. In the past three years, more than 1,040 children in England have been matched by the register with families who can meet their needs and give them stability and security. However, despite this success, there are still large numbers of children waiting on the register for a new family. At the start of June this year, the register contained 1,345 children waiting for adoption and 747 adoptive families. Once they have been approved to adopt, adopters have to wait to be matched to a child, with possible matches first scrutinised by the adopter’s and child’s social worker. The adopters currently have a limited, passive role to play in that process. This leads to delays for children that might otherwise be avoided, which is detrimental for those children. It can also be enormously frustrating for adopters when they are unable to play a more active role in identifying children for whom they might be suitable adopters. We believe that opening up the register so that adopters can access it will significantly speed up the matching process. This will be particularly beneficial for those children who are currently seen as harder to place yet so desperately need a loving home. These include children from minority-ethnic backgrounds, sibling groups and disabled children. We discussed this point at length during the passage of the Bill. Too many of these children wait too long for adoptive parents.

Evidence for this approach is already demonstrated by the current exchange days, where social workers are able to meet adopters to share more details about the children who are waiting for homes. The register held six national exchange days between March 2013 and January 2014 and 109 children were matched by local authorities at these events—that is, 80 groups of children. A total of 412 prospective adopters attended these events with around one in five matched with a child as a direct result of attending. An adoption worker from the London Borough of Barnet recently emphasised the benefits of this adopter-led approach:

“Exchange days really are unique … they help to bring the children to life for the adopters, and allow them to explore potential matches that they may not necessarily have considered”.

Exchange days are important and we are working with the sector to increase their use. They are not the answer alone, however. Exchange days work because adopters have better information about children waiting for adoption. This helps them to identify with children they would not otherwise have considered. Many of these matches might not be ones that would necessarily have occurred to social workers. The best way to capitalise on this approach and achieve more matches more quickly is to allow adopters to have direct access to the register. Allowing adopters to search the register for themselves, to see videos and pictures and to hear and see children speak and laugh will allow the child’s real personality to shine through. In short, it will allow some opportunity for all-important chemistry to play a part in adopters identifying a child who they might wish to adopt.

Of course, noble Lords will already be aware that allowing approved adopters to search the data of children is not new. Many already choose to subscribe to magazines such as Be My Parent and Children Who Wait. Opening up the register will take this one step

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further as local authorities are under a statutory duty to refer children to the register if they are not exploring a specific local match for children. We want to pilot this approach for nine months to ensure that we can understand in detail how to make the process work most effectively in practice before undertaking a national rollout. Of course, the safety of children and the privacy of their information are paramount. That is why we are putting in place all the necessary safeguards to ensure that sensitive personal information about children and adopters is fully protected in line with the Data Protection Act 1998.

I reassure the Committee that the information that approved adopters will be able to access will be non-identifying, so there will be no risk that individual children’s full names or precise locations will be identified. Only approved adopters will be able to search details of children on the register. They must give written confirmation that they will keep their password and information about children safe. Noble Lords will also be reassured by the fact that the pilot will be subject to stringent data security measures. In addition, it will be run by the experienced team from the British Association for Adoption and Fostering, which has run the register service for 10 years without a data security lapse.

Noble Lords will remember that we published the indicative version of the regulations shortly before the House began scrutinising the then Children and Families Bill. We later undertook a formal public consultation. Respondents were very supportive of the pilot proposals. Noble Lords will see from the schedule to the regulations that, subject to approval of the regulations, adopters from 29 local authorities and voluntary adoption agencies across England will be involved in the pilot. I was delighted that all 29 agencies agreed to participate within a week of our invitation. No agency declined. This demonstrates the real appetite across the sector for these improvements. Caroline Ibbotson, director of the Yorkshire Adoption Agency, said:

“We are really looking forward to being involved in the Register pilot. We believe it gives our approved adopters a great opportunity to get fully involved in the family finding process and that it will increase the number of potential families being considered for each child”.

Piloting these improvements to the register will give us the best chance of evaluating the impact before making decisions about how to proceed. Our evaluation will include suggestions made during the consultation earlier this year. We will publish an evaluation report within three months of the end of the pilot.

In summary, I know that this Committee will agree that we must do everything we can to find loving homes for some of our most disadvantaged children. The work of the register is a crucial part of this effort. These regulations would enable the register to match children more effectively. Jeanne Kaniuk, managing director of adoption services for Coram, has said that this kind of approach,

“has given adopters a good opportunity to get a real sense of the children and what their individual personalities and needs are. This helps adopters to understand the reality of the children waiting, and has proved an effective way to find good matches—for example, brothers aged 12 months and 4 years were successfully placed with adopters following an Exchange Day in the East Midlands, and have since been successfully adopted”.

I commend the regulations to the House.

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Baroness Tyler of Enfield (LD): My Lords, I rise briefly just to make a couple of comments on the regulations, and register my interest as chair of CAFCASS. In principle I am very supportive of this pilot. There are a number of good reasons for adopting this sort of approach, and I am aware from my work that a number of innovative programmes such as adoption activity days, which have been instigated to increase the number of adoptions and get a better matching process, have proved successful.

My first point is that it is of course of great importance to us all in this House to ensure that vulnerable children are properly protected and safeguarded. I listened with a lot of attention to what my noble friend said about the stringent safeguards that have been put in place to ensure that those data are protected. It is good to hear that but we are all aware of some things that have happened in recent times, however stringent the safeguards around data protection and IT systems have been. Can my noble friend reassure me just once more that he feels that every possible safeguard has been put in place?

As to my second point, I know that the evidence from the adopter-led matchings that we have seen so far has led more adopters to take a greater sense of ownership for what they are doing and to consider a wider range of children. I know that there are early signs that adopter-led matching enables adopters to think perhaps in terms of a broader group of children, rather than the just the nought to two year-olds who adopters so often feel they still want. Has the Minister any more information about the number of adopters involved in this and similar processes who have shown that they are happy to adopt slightly older children, or perhaps sibling groups? This, again, was one of the issues that came up when we were considering the then Children and Families Bill.

Baroness Hughes of Stretford (Lab): My Lords, I too welcome in principle the regulations, which will enable access to the register by prospective adopters. As the Minister has said, we debated the principle of this extensively in the course of the Bill, when it was a Bill, and I do not intend to spend time on that. It is worth experimenting further to see if this will improve the timescales within which children can be successfully matched, provided that there are sufficient safeguards, as the noble Baroness has just said.

The safeguards as regards access by prospective adopters, and the identities of the children outlined in the arrangements, are satisfactory and robust. The issue is the one identified by the noble Baroness opposite: data security. I agree with her that we want to be as clear as possible about this.

I know the register will be separated into Part 1 and Part 2, the latter for those children who could be placed in a fostering-for-adoption placement, which is sensible and important. I simply want to make two points. One is about the consultation. Although the Minister said it was a full public consultation, there were only 41 responses to this. Given the importance of this measure, that is a very low level of response. I wonder if that is because, as the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee has pointed out, there were only

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six weeks for this consultation over a very busy bank and public holiday period from the end of February through to April, taking in Easter and so on. That is important, and I would be grateful if the Minister could comment as to why it was only six weeks, when the normal period of 12 weeks might have got more responses and more helpful pointers from respondents.

My second set of points concerns the pilots. This is extremely important, as the Minister said, not only to ensure that the systems work, but to see if we can garner any further information about the outcomes for children from this approach. Nine months is not a terribly long period to see what happens to children as a result of adopter-led access to the register. I do not know, but there may be unintended consequences of adopter-led adoption. Surely we would want to know, for instance, if—relatively—more of these matches instigated by adopters either failed or were more successful. I have looked carefully at the explanatory notes that set out the scope of the pilot, which I think should be made a little wider, looking not just at the actual matches but at what happens to the inquiries by adopters in relation to particular children. How many of them actually lead to a match, and how many are stopped in process by social workers for whatever reason? Can we extend the remit of the pilot, so we get under the skin of what is happening before the whole facility for access goes live nationwide?

Thirdly, I have a thought. I have great respect for both the Department for Education and for the BAAF, but I wonder if there was merit in this pilot being evaluated independently, and not by either the department or the BAAF, which are obviously responsible for its administration. But I broadly very much welcome the measure, and look forward to seeing the results of the pilot.

Lord Nash: I am grateful to noble Lords for their comments. Turning to the points raised by my noble friend Lady Tyler, I reiterate a few points and add a few more on the safety front. Of course the safety of children—and of adopters—and the privacy of their information is paramount. The pilot will be subject to stringent independent accreditation to ensure that any risks are managed appropriately. It will be run by the BAAF, which has a very good record of this, as I said. Section 129 of the Adoption and Children Act 2002 sets out that wrongful disclosure of information on the register is punishable by a fine of up to £5,000 and up to three months in prison. Information that approved adopters will be able to access about children will not enable them to make any direct approaches. All approved adopters must give written confirmation that they will keep their password safe and will be reminded of their data protection duties. If they do not use the register within a fairly short period, they will not be able to continue to access it. We will have a pretty close idea who has access to the register at any time.

The noble Baronesses asked about the number of adoptions made. It is early days. There is good evidence from the States. We know that one-fifth of matches are made through exchange days. In answer to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hughes, I can say that we will analyse in detail the experience of these

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matches to make sure we improve matching and for what we can learn. I pay tribute to her party for introducing exchange days in the first place.

The real driver here is to try to speed up the process. The evidence is clear that every year that children fail to be adopted reduces their chance of being adopted by 20%. We must be very mindful of the damage to those children during that time.

On the length of the consultation, I should say that we published indicative regulations five months before the consultation began, so we thought it was long enough.

I hope I have answered all the points that noble Lords made. I can think of no better way of concluding our discussions today than by quoting an adopter who visited an exchange day. The adopter said:

“For the first time, these children featured in magazines were suddenly real and we could potentially be their new forever parents… I don’t think I would have approached some of the children just by reading their profiles or seeing a picture… It was a very effective way of dispelling some preconceived ideas or anxieties about children waiting for placement”.

Motion agreed.

3.57 pm

Sitting suspended.

Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Examining Officers and Review Officers) Order 2014

Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Examining Officers and Review Officers) Order 2014 4th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

Motion to Consider

4.05 pm

Moved by Lord Taylor of Holbeach

That the Grand Committee do consider the Terrorism Act 2000 (Code of Practice for Examining Officers and Review Officers) Order 2014.

Relevant document: 4th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Taylor of Holbeach) (Con): My Lords, as noble Lords will know, Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 allows an examining officer to stop and question—and, when necessary, detain and search—individuals travelling through ports, airports, international rail stations or the border area to determine whether that person appears to be someone who is or has been concerned in the commission, preparation or instigation of acts of terrorism. Examining people at ports and the border area contributes on a daily basis to keeping the British public safe. Those engaged in terrorist-related activity travel to plan, finance, train for and commit their attacks. Most major international terrorist plots have involved individuals travelling through international borders to plan and prepare their attacks. Schedule 7 is an important part of the UK’s counterterrorism strategy and integral to the UK’s border security arrangements.

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The Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act, which received Royal Assent on 13 March 2014, made changes to Schedule 7—and to Schedule 8, which provides for the treatment of persons detained under Schedule 7 powers. These changes were made following extensive public consultation in 2012 and are intended to reduce the potential scope for Schedule 7 to be operated in ways that may interfere with individuals’ rights unnecessarily or disproportionately, while retaining operational effectiveness.

The changes made to Schedule 7 include: reducing the maximum period of examination from nine to six hours; extending to individuals detained at a port the statutory rights, already available to individuals detained under Schedule 7 at a police station, to have a person informed of their detention and to consult a solicitor privately; clarifying that the right to consult a solicitor includes consultation in person; ensuring that all individuals examined for more than one hour are formally detained and given their statutory rights; introducing statutory review of the need for continued detention; introducing a statutory requirement for training of examining and reviewing officers; establishing a statutory provision that undertaking strip-searches of persons detained under Schedule 7 powers requires reasonable grounds to suspect that the person is concealing something which may be evidence that they are involved in terrorism, and requires a supervising officer’s authority; repealing the unused power to seek intimate samples— for example, blood or semen; and making express provision that an examining officer may make and retain a copy of information obtained or found in the course of an examination.

Noble Lords will appreciate that our discussions are consequential on the full debates that we had when the Bill was before us. The existing code of practice must be revised to reflect the changes made to the powers by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act and to make specific provision on training and reviews. I am grateful to noble Lords for attending this debate and beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee (LD): My Lords, this is consequential on previous debates. It is amazing how much and how quickly all that agonising goes out of one’s head, and one has to remind oneself of the subject of it. I am glad that we have had the chance to consider the draft code of practice and the covering SI. What concerns me is the delay in the introduction of the review arrangements, which I assume is because it has simply not been possible to get the training in place quickly enough. I am not suggesting that the better provisions of the legislation, as they are after the work done on the then Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill, should be delayed. However, could my noble friend confirm that training is on track for the more senior officers, who will be detailed to undertake the reviews, and how supervision will be carried out in the mean time? I notice that the code says that it will be delayed until the relevant provisions come into force. However, in distinction, the paragraphs about audio recording say that there is no requirement to follow the code until next April. That is the time when the review provisions are to come into force, or so we are told. I do not know whether I am seeing a

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problem where there is none. Perhaps my noble friend has information, although he may not, about the proportion of officers who will be trained to undertake the more senior role.

I shall raise a point again that I raised during the passage of the Bill. Will training cover how officers should deal with the family or other accompanying passengers of the individual who is being held or detained? I think that I mentioned during the Bill’s passage that I had come across an example, which I hope was a rare one, of an individual being told that, if he insisted on waiting for a legal representative, it would be a problem for his elderly mother, with whom he was travelling. In other words, inappropriate pressure was put on him to forgo a right. I am also not clear what happens if, because of detention, passengers miss their flights. I hope that my noble friend can also confirm that the facilities for this work are satisfactory and appropriate. We have talked about short-term holding facilities a good deal, of course.

The code refers to legal privilege, where the restriction seems to be on copying, not on looking at it. You cannot erase something from your head although, obviously, there would be a restriction on using it—but what happens if a privileged document is copied when it should not be?

Paragraph 41 suggests that consultation with a solicitor is invariably not allowed. This is in the examination part of the code, not the detention part. I had thought that it was always allowed, but not necessarily with a solicitor of the individual’s choice. Is that only when the individual is actually detained?

Paragraph 42 states that an examining officer may grant a request that a named person is informed of the examination at his discretion and that:

“Where reasonably practicable, the request should be granted”.

Is it discretion or reasonable practicality?

Paragraph 45, which is where we get on to detention, states that the power may be exercised,

“where the examining officer considers it is appropriate to do so”.

The last bullet point of paragraph 46 states that:

“Detention is an option (during the first hour of examination)”.

Is that bullet point just about the first hour of detention? If I am asking too many questions, I have no doubt that my noble friend will ask to write to me.

However, I will raise a couple of matters which I hope he can confirm now. First, paragraph 7.2 of the Explanatory Memorandum reads:

“Examining people at ports and the border area contributes daily to plan, finance, train for, and commit their attacks”.

I shall not reread that, but when the Minister looks at it, he will realise that some words must be missing. I do not think you detain people in order to help them plan their attacks. I have had a word with the Minister’s officials, and I think they think it is a typo, but quite an important one.

My second question is on similar lines, but I think I am on dodgier ground. It is on annexe A to the code, which explains to the detainee that he is detained to determine essentially either whether he is involved in terrorism or whether he is entering or leaving Northern Ireland. I thought, or perhaps I had assumed without

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applying much thinking, that it should be “and” rather than “or”. Looking at Schedule 7, Northern Ireland is dealt with in a separate paragraph. Will my noble friend confirm that detention can be solely to establish whether somebody is going into Northern Ireland without any terrorism-related aspect? I am sorry to have slung that at my noble friend. I looked at this rather too close to the time of the debate to give him notice of the rather detailed points which I have just raised.

Lord Rosser (Lab):I will be giving the Minister a somewhat easier time than he has just been given by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

I thank the Minister for the explanation of the purpose of this order, which brings into operation a code of practice for examining officers and review officers in respect of the exercise of the powers under Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000 and under Schedule 8 to that Act where the powers are exercised in connection with Schedule 7, as amended by Schedule 9 to the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014. The code of practice revises the preceding code of practice to take account of amendments made to Schedules 7, 8 and 14 to the Terrorism Act 2000 by the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014.

The Explanatory Memorandum refers to commencing the remaining provisions of Schedule 9 to the 2014 Act this month to coincide with the issue of the code of practice brought into operation by this instrument, with the exception of the provision to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred requiring review of the detention of persons detained under Schedule 7, which are being delayed until next April to allow sufficient time to develop, accredit and train all examining and review officers. I shall pursue some of the points she raised. Will the Minister say how many examining and review officers still require to be trained, how long the training of each officer takes and why the required training has not been completed by this month and has had to be delayed? The need for such training must have been known for some time. Could the Minister also spell out the impact of this delay, in practical terms, including any impact on the provisions of this instrument, which comes into force at the end of this month?

The Explanatory Memorandum also refers in paragraph 4.5 to consultation on this issue having taken place with “National Business Leads”. Perhaps the Minister could remind me who or what this organisation is or these people are.

As the Minister said, the Explanatory Memorandum states in paragraph 7.2 that:

“Schedule 7 is an important part of the UK’s counter-terrorism strategy and key to the UK’s border security”.

The memorandum goes on:

“The changes to Schedule 7 in the Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act are intended to reduce the potential scope for Schedule 7 powers to be operated in an unnecessary or disproportionate way, whilst still retaining their operational effectiveness”.

It then lists the changes made under the 2014 Act. They include ensuring access to legal advice for all individuals examined for more than one hour. In that

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regard, could the Minister clarify what legal entitlements people have when detained under Schedule 7? Will they have access to free legal advice?

The changes also include reducing the maximum period of examination from nine hours to six hours. The Government and others recently expressed concerns about the numbers going from this country to Syria apparently to be trained and engage in violence in the current conflict, and the possible consequences of that. In the light of concerns about what might happen if and when these people return to this country, with or without others, and what their intentions might then be, is it the Government’s view that all the changes made by the 2014 Act, including reducing the maximum period of examination from nine hours to six hours, actually enhance our ability to minimise the risk of those potential threats? Do the Government believe that the new code of practice provided for in this order—reflecting the amendments made to Schedule 7 to the 2000 Act by the 2014 Act—contribute to rather than potentially diminish our security in the present climate?

I simply conclude by commenting that the Explanatory Memorandum states that,

“the majority of consultation respondents agreed that the revised code clearly reflected the changes made to Schedule 7 powers in the”,

2014 Act. What it is not able to say is that the majority of respondents agreed that in today’s climate all those changes are still appropriate. We will not oppose this order, but I hope that the Minister will respond directly to the points and questions I raised, as well as those of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, I thank both my noble friend Lady Hamwee and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for their contributions to our discussions on these issues. It is important that I try as best I can to answer the questions now. If there are things left unsaid at the end, I am obviously very happy to write. It was fortunate that there was a brief adjournment before we started because it gave my noble friend a chance to have a word with officials and give advance notice of the things that she was particularly concerned about. Perhaps I can deal with the details.

On paragraph 7.2, we can give an undertaking that we will correct the wording so that it reads as it should. It is perhaps not capable of being interpreted at the moment. As my noble friend admitted, she was on slightly weaker grounds when it came to annexe A because the wording is designed to ensure that the code of practice works equally well whether the person is stopped at a GB port or the person is stopped at the Irish border. That is why the wording is as it is. Perhaps my noble friend will tell me if she feels that that is not correct.

She asked whether training was on track. It is on track and is a nationwide programme. We are working out a training package and rolling it out nationally because we want to make sure that we operate to consistently higher standards. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked for quite a few details about the training programme, the time taken and what was

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involved. If he is happy for me to do so, I should be pleased to write to him with further details of what the training involves.

Lord Rosser: I am happy to await a letter from the Minister but can he cover in his reply why the training has been delayed? The word “delay” is used in the Explanatory Memorandum. I mentioned that the need for such training must surely have been known for some time. He could address that point in his letter, as well as the impact on the instrument of the delay referred to in the Explanatory Memorandum.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I am quite prepared to do so. I know off the top of my head that the problem is that standards are not equal across the country, but we are obviously now trying to make sure that officers’ roles under these powers are considerably enhanced and need to operate properly at every point. We are cutting down the hours, which is fine; there is no security risk by doing that as long as the process is properly managed and dealt with. That is part of the reason for the change.

My noble friend said that she thought there was perhaps already an opportunity for consultations. As I say, the interview depended on whether it involved those detained at a port or those detained in a police station. Those detained within a port were not necessarily supported with the same rigour as those detained within a police station. That will change under this new regime.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked which organisations we consulted. I do not have those names but I would again be happy to write to him. If I may, I will write both to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and to my noble friend Lady Hamwee together, so that they will also have the answers to each other’s questions. I know that they share an interest in those answers.

That more or less concludes my response, although I wish to mention a couple of other things. Review provisions will commence on 1 April 2015. Audio recording is delayed to allow facilities at ports to be provided; noble Lords will understand that facilities at ports are not as good as they may be elsewhere, but it is already a requirement to report interviews at police stations.

I hope that I have been able to deal with at least some of the questions. I remind everyone that only 1% of examinations result in detention, and 96% of those examined under Schedule 7 are held for less than an hour. We are dealing with those in detention, who are a relatively small number of individuals, but we must make sure that they are properly safeguarded and that we have processes in place to ensure that the security of the country is maintained.

Lord Rosser: My Lords, I do not know whether the noble Lord wishes to respond to me now or in a letter, but I referred to the reduction in the period for examination from nine hours to six hours, and to the concerns expressed very recently about what is happening with people going to Syria, then perhaps returning to this country, and what their intentions may be. I asked the Minister whether the Government feel that the

7 July 2014 : Column GC14

provisions covered in the code of practice, and which arise as a result of the 2014 Act, are all still appropriate in the light of the security concerns being expressed by the Government and others in relation to Syria.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: I can assure the noble Lord that they are appropriate. Indeed, the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation recorded in his report in 2012 that these particular interviews have been instrumental in securing evidence which has assisted in terrorist prosecutions, and that they are very important. The truth of the matter is that the number of people detained for over six hours is very small and usually confined to circumstances where the examination was more protracted than it needed to have been. We are now satisfied that we can do this within six hours, otherwise we would not be bringing this legislation forward.

Motion agreed.

Ministry of Defence: Use of Biofuels

Question for Short Debate

4.32 pm

Asked by Lord Soley

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the Ministry of Defence policy on the use of biofuels for the Armed Forces.

Lord Soley (Lab): My Lords, I am grateful for the opportunity to bring this matter before the Committee and the Minister. He knows my views on this subject, which go back to a Question for Written Answer on 16 January this year. On that day I got what I regarded as probably one of the most disappointing and depressing Answers I have had to a Parliamentary Question for a very long time. Basically, I asked about the use of biofuels by the Army, Navy and Air Force, and the answer came back that they are used in “road transport”. The only hopeful part of the Answer was the last line, which stated that:

“The MOD is encouraging these manufacturers to work towards adopting biofuels in the future”.—[Official Report, 16/1/14; col. WA37.]

It is a depressing Answer by any standard because there are three very good reasons why we should be using, in particular, the new generation of biofuels. The first of those reasons is climate change. However, even if you are not worried about climate change, the second reason is security of fuel supply and the safety of our troops in the field. I will say more about that in a moment. The third reason concerns research and development. We in this country are in danger of falling seriously behind what is being done in many countries in Europe and elsewhere. From my point of view this is an important issue, so the Answer on 16 January was deeply depressing.

Perhaps I may put this in context by talking first about what other countries are doing. I shall give a few examples to show the Committee how far behind we have slipped compared with other nations. As one

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would predict, the United States is well ahead, but I shall give a few examples. It has what it calls, curiously, the “Great Green Fleet”. It might sound an unusual name, and it is, but basically the United States intends the whole of that fleet to be biofuel-enabled by next year: aircraft, ships, everything else and the marines who are in it. I will come back to that point.

One of the reasons I think this is so important is that there is a tendency to think of biofuel as just something you drop in aircraft tanks or in ships’ fuel supplies. It is not. It goes much further than that. The United States Marine Corps makes the point that marines are equipped with biofuel resources for their safety. In Afghanistan, for every 50 convoys bringing in gasoline, one marine was killed or wounded. That is why quite a few years back they started producing biofuels in Afghanistan. They were flying aircraft on algae produced on site because that could not be blown up en route from Afghanistan. More importantly, to convey how far ahead they were, I point out that they realised that to supply the energy needs of marines sent into the field, those marines had to carry 700-gram batteries—no, not grams; I will have to give the figure in a moment. They had to carry heavyweight batteries, and that weighed them down. Now they are provided with resources that enable them to provide their energy needs in the field entirely from the sun and other renewable resources on site. In other words, they are safer and their equipment is lighter. It is a very important step forward, and it produced great advantages for them.

I wonder what we were doing in Afghanistan with this. I suspect we were not doing any of it. I suspect we were not even using the fuels being supplied by the United States for its own aircraft. We must remember that these were for high-performance aircraft. The F18 Hornet flies at close to mach 2. This is not used just for small aircraft—it is not of limited use.

By 2020, half the energy needs of the United States Navy and the United States Marine Corps will be from non-fossil fuels. F18s are flying on biofuels right now. The Library Note, which is very useful on this, gives a lot of background. One of the best extracts is from the New Scientist. It indicates the way that the United States Marine Corps was operating. The figure I was missing a few moments ago is that it saved marines carrying 700 pounds of batteries when they went out on patrol. If you have any knowledge of what troops have to carry on their backs when they go on patrol, you will know that it is a major saving.

It is not just the United States. On the Floor of the House the other month, I drew attention to the Italian navy warship which is operating in the Baltic at the moment and is entirely biofuel-enabled. The other year, the Royal Netherlands Air Force was flying high-performance Apache helicopters on biofuels. The pilots’ only comment was that it smelt different—not so sulphurous—when they returned to base. There was no performance difference. I am not saying that there are no problems about conversion or in making ships, aircraft or whatever biofuel-operable, but they are far less than is often thought. Above all, they are part of the research and development that is going on.

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The United States Marine Corps said that when you do not need as much resupply for fuel, water and batteries, you can stay out longer, do the mission at greater distances and not put marines at risk. The other thing I mention here is that the United States Air Force certified biofuels for use in F15s, F16s and C17 cargo planes, so we are talking about very large cargo aircraft, including high-performance jets. They were all certified for the alternative fuels. The United States Army was anticipating, or has already achieved, that most of its ground vehicles, including Humvees, Abrams battle tanks and Apache helicopters, would be dual-fuel use by the end of last year. When you put that against the Answer I received on 16 January, you will see why I am concerned.

This is not just about climate change, which is important, and I hope that I do not need to spell it out in any more detail. What I want to talk about is security. Unless you think that gasoline supplies from the Middle East are entirely safe, we had better start thinking about where we get our fuels from. Again, it is no guarantee to rely on North Sea oil, or whatever. By making your aircraft, your fleets and your army units reliant on biofuels, as well as being able to use gasoline, you are in a much stronger position and able to cope with many of the changes taking place in the world. I emphasise the importance of that. Again, it is not as if it is not being done elsewhere. Airlines such as British Airways, Virgin, Air New Zealand and Lufthansa are all flying on biofuel mixes. When you fly in any of their aircraft you are now nearly always flying on a biofuel mix. One of the best examples we have in this country is in south-east London, where research is being done, initiated by British Airways. They are using fuel from household waste and other additives.

We can go on ignoring this issue but, when I went through the literature, I found that the research in this country is relatively limited compared to what is being done elsewhere in the world. One of the things I noticed was the visit of Rear Admiral Neil Morisetti RN to the United States. He is the UK’s climate and energy adviser, which I am sure the Minister will know about. He came back with the recommendation that the US and the UK should collaborate more closely on the development of strategic high-performance biofuel. In other words we know about this, and we know what other countries are doing—at least I hope the Minister and his department know what other countries are doing—but frankly we are not doing it ourselves.

That leaves us behind on climate change and particularly on security, and very much on the R&D initiative. Rolls-Royce was one of the companies cited as doing it, and there are smaller companies involved, but there is much that we can do in this country—particularly on algae, which I have mentioned before—which will enable us to keep up to speed on this. Frankly, we have fallen seriously behind. I say to the Minister that, if I get nothing else from this debate, I want some recognition from him that we will never get an Answer like that again. It was so depressing and so lacking in content. We really have to do very much better.

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4.43 pm

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill (LD): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for putting this debate down. When I saw it listed, I felt that it was rather like Groundhog Day, or déjà vu, because three months ago, or 31 March of this year, the noble Lord asked the Government whether they intended to increase the use of biofuels for the Armed Forces. I waited with interest to see what the noble Lord was going to bring up in the debate. I have not been disappointed, because it has certainly added to the knowledge that we need to have.

There is nothing wrong with using biofuels from food waste and crops which would not otherwise go into food production. However I am going to take a slightly different angle from the noble Lord. My concern is that I have heard nothing to suggest that the Ministry of Defence, or indeed the noble Lord, Lord Soley, cares at all about the harm to food production. I assume that this is considered to be a concern of Defra rather than the MoD. It must be the concern of somebody. The problem of this Government and earlier Administrations is the compartmentalisation of policies and decisions.

I suppose that I need to ask some direct questions of my noble friend the Minister. When the MoD makes use of biofuels, is any contact made with Defra or any other interested bodies as to whether their use has affected food crops? Has the use of biofuels increased the cost of food? A lot of research has been done on this issue.

Lord Soley: Perhaps I may intervene briefly to say that I am with the noble Lord all the way, but the next or new generation of biofuels really has very little impact on food production. The fuels are based on things like algae and so on.

Lord Palmer of Childs Hill: I will come on to the interesting point about algaes in a moment. In March, the Minister stated that the MoD uses biofuels for road transport, and the question essentially being asked by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is whether biofuels have progressed beyond that end use. More specifically, will biofuels be used in the two new aircraft carriers, which will clearly consume vast amounts of fuel? Does the new F35B fighter use biofuels at all? I am trying to put some specifics on the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Soley.

On a positive note, the drive to produce biofuels that are suitable for aviation is starting to look promising. I am not sure that I agree with the totality of what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, said, but one of the state governments in Brazil has put in place a policy to stimulate the cultivation, extraction and processing of the native macaw palm, which is a potentially sustainable source. I would hope that this is something that R&D somewhere within the Government would be pursuing. Further, on the other side of the argument, can the Minister comment on the accusation made in 2013 that the EU missed an opportunity by failing to agree a cap on the use of biofuels? Can he also comment on studies which show that as land is dedicated to energy crops, land for growing food is simply taken from

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other areas, often forested places, which leads to substantial CO2 emissions because the production of biofuels generates the emission of CO2, thus drastically reducing their benefit?

Most military vehicles use diesel, as is the case in other countries, and of course biodiesel can be blended with diesel for general use in many vehicles, but sourcing is deeply problematic. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, used the example of the conflict in Afghanistan, which raises the question of how and where biofuels are created. It is all very well if they are produced in Afghanistan for use in that conflict, but bearing in mind that we are not looking to enter into another conflict like Afghanistan or another invasion of Iraq, how will we source these biofuels on location? I ask this because we are probably talking about smaller forces going into smaller conflicts so there is a question about whether these biofuels can be produced locally.

There are claims that certain wonder-biodiesel crops can be grown on a large scale on marginal land for biofuel without conflicting with existing crops. According to my research, I am afraid that these claims are unproven and they have not materialised in the marketplace.

I turn now to the interjection by the noble Lord, Lord Soley. In theory, biodiesel can be made from algae, but it need not necessarily be biodiesel. Biofuels have been used in aircraft on demonstration flights. However, in spite of decades of research, no large-scale production of such biofuels exists that I know of. Indeed, if anyone could make the production of biofuels from algae viable, they would probably be richer than Bill Gates. The noble Lord mentioned the so-called second generation biofuels made by a process of wood and straw fermentation, but so far they have failed to succeed on a large scale, despite strong European and American incentives. I could go on to discuss compressed biogas and so on, but perhaps this is not the time to do so.

My contribution to this debate is to sound a note of caution around the very interesting points that have been made by the noble Lord, Lord Soley. There is a downside, which is the impact on food production. That should be taken into account. This whole thing is aimed at the MoD and the aircraft and vessels used by the MoD, but the use of biofuels is not just military. There is a much wider session to be had, which any Government of any hue would need to look. In a small world, this is something the MoD needs to look at.

I have 10 minutes. I am sorry but I am well within my time—though I have no wish to exceed time if need be.

The noble Lord, Lord Soley, concentrates on the MoD and its use of biofuels, but this is a much wider subject. I would like any Government, this Government or any other future Administration, to look at how Defra and other government departments work with the MoD to see whether biofuels should be used. We already know that biofuels are part of the fuel we get from petrol pumps. There is a percentage of biofuels in petrol. Things are moving. I understand what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, says about the lack of R&D in the UK, but I do not believe that it is R&D

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specifically for the MoD; it is R&D for the Government. We need to have some joined-up thinking between government departments about whether it is a good thing, whether it is a good thing in certain places, whether it is reducing food production and whether it is the way forward. Just because our allies in the United States are using it does not necessarily convince me that it is the way forward, but it could be.

4.51 pm

Lord Rosser (Lab): My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Soley for enabling us to debate this issue. He referred to climate change, security of fuel supplies and falling behind in research and development considerations as reasons for moving to biofuels. As my noble friend said, this is far from being the first time he has raised this question. He pursued it in an Oral Question just over three months ago when the Minister replied that,

“the Ministry of Defence uses biofuels for road transport where EU legislation obliges manufacturers to include a percentage of biofuels in the fuel they produce. The use of biofuels for marine and aviation use is governed by the requirements and approvals of the department’s equipment manufacturers. The Ministry of Defence is encouraging these manufacturers to work towards adopting biofuels in the future”.

I hope the Minister will be able to say some more today on exactly what form that encouragement from the Government is taking.

The answers given during discussion of the Oral Question at the end of March could be interpreted as meaning that the encouragement was pretty peripheral. The Minister said,

“the MoD uses biofuels for road transport where EU regulations oblige fuel manufacturers to include them, and only for that”.—[

Official Report

, 31/3/14; col. 742.]”

He also said that that use was limited and that the Ministry of Defence was a very small user of biofuels. Those are hardly answers that suggested that the ministry’s equipment manufacturers would be being encouraged very much in this direction.

Of course, biofuels are not the only means of reducing fossil fuel consumption and greenhouse gas emissions by the Ministry of Defence. The Minister has previously referred to more energy-efficient use of fuel, alternative technology or equipment, reducing activity levels, using alternative fuels and interoperability with our allies as other approaches to be adopted.

As my noble friend Lord Soley said, the United States Navy is looking to have by 2020 ships and aircraft using some 50% biofuels from algae rather than from farm produce, with its implications for food production; and the United States Air Force is flying some high-performance jets on 50% biofuels. Other countries, including Italy and the Netherlands, are going down this road.

The Minister has previously said that the performance of biofuels by the United States and other countries in their naval vessels and aircraft is,

“being shared through equipment manufacturers and international forums such as the Air and Space Interoperability Council”.

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At the same, the Minister indicated that the,

“defence equipment and support fuel team regularly engages with manufacturers to understand the most recent research and how this might apply to the MoD’s fuel requirements in the future”.—[

Official Report

, 31/3/14; col. 742.]

I do not know, but the last point might include a reference to biofuel that does not use food and food products, but is generated from bacteria, using waste materials and is sometimes referred to as advanced biofuels. These do not take land out of agricultural use or impact on rainforests.

There is a target under the renewal energy directive, which requires EU countries to derive 10% of their transport energy from renewable sources by 2020. Can the Minister confirm whether the use of other forms of transport apart from road transport for military purposes is covered by the directive? I assume from his previous responses that the answer is no, but I should be grateful for confirmation of the position.

We appear to have a scenario of a Ministry of Defence watching the results of the experience of other countries in using biofuels in military ships and aircraft, and a defence equipment and support fuel team that is seeking to understand the most recent research and how it might apply to the Ministry of Defence fuel requirements in future. On top of that, we are told that the Ministry of Defence uses biofuels for road transport only in so far as there is a requirement arising from EU legislation and that for marine and aviation use the Ministry of Defence encourages manufacturers to work towards adopting biofuels in future. That does not present a picture of a Ministry of Defence that is exactly pushing the issue. Is that on grounds of cost or the impact on the efficiency of military operations? What is the attitude of the ministry’s equipment manufacturers towards using biofuels in future? What is their response to the encouragement from the Ministry of Defence, which the Minister told us just over three months ago they were receiving, and what form does that encouragement take? I hope that the Minister will be able to provide answers to these questions and other points raised in this short debate, not least by my noble friend Lord Soley.

4.57 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Lord Astor of Hever) (Con): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for giving us the opportunity to debate what is an important issue, as he said. I have listened carefully to his speech and I will, of course, do my very best to address the points that he has raised. I may not have jotted down all his questions, but I have got one or two and I shall certainly write to him with the answers and make sure that I include all other noble Lords who have taken part in the debate.

Before I start, it would be helpful if I placed the issue of biofuels in its wider context. In 2011, the MoD published its sustainable development strategy, which provides direction on what defence must do to become increasingly sustainable during the period 2011 to 2030. The strategy recognised that sustainable

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development offered a number of benefits to defence, including one that is particularly pertinent to this debate. To quote directly from the strategy:

“Less reliance on fossil fuels in theatre will reduce the amount of fuel that has to be transported to the front line; a costly, risky and logistically resource-intensive activity that can undermine operational continuity”.

I think that the noble Lord made that point. In seeking to attain this benefit, the MoD has set the Armed Forces a target to reduce fossil fuel consumption for equipment and operations by 18% by 2020. I am sure that the noble Lord will welcome this, but I want to be clear that we will look to use the most appropriate opportunities to meet this reduction and that the use of biofuels may be only one option to meet that target. It would be short-sighted to concentrate our resources on only one possible energy solution.

As I have frequently said in this House, the Ministry of Defence already uses biofuels. They are used for road transport where EU legislation obliges manufacturers to include a percentage of biofuels in the fuel they produce. I think that was my original Answer to the noble Lord’s Oral Question. I add that the Defence Infrastructure Organisation is also looking at the application of biofuels in heating systems. Biofuels for marine and aviation use is a more complicated issue and is governed by the requirements and approvals of the Ministry of Defence’s equipment manufacturers.

The noble Lord has today and previously given a number of examples of what other countries are reported to be doing to increase the use of biofuels in both ships and aircraft. The results of the performance of these fuels are shared through equipment manufacturers and international forums such as the Air and Space Interoperability Council. The Ministry of Defence’s Defence Equipment and Support fuel team ensures that it stays up to date with this research, and I am not sure that the position in other countries, as described by the noble Lord, is quite as positive as he suggests. The use of algae-based fuel by the United States Air Force, for instance, is proving to be more difficult than originally envisaged, particularly with regard to quality control and the consequent risk to airworthiness. For this reason the USAF is proceeding with caution with the use of biofuels. Moreover, I understand that the USAF is now focusing its attention on synthetic fuel as the alternative fuel of choice.

The noble Lord mentioned an Italian ship. I will look into that as I am very interested in what he said, and I will write to him on that. There are also other well documented problems in using biofuels, such as the impact of biofuel production on agriculture and forestry, although I acknowledge that what have been termed “advanced biofuels”, such as those based on algae, do not compete with those activities.

The introduction of a new technology is never an easy ride; there will always be problems to overcome, and I do not want to give the impression that the MoD is dismissive or complacent about the potential benefits of biofuels: far from it. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory, on behalf of the MoD, has a resilience research programme that is actively researching alternative fuels—that is, fuels derived partly or wholly

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from traditional or non-traditional sources—for use across the whole of the MoD, including ships, aircraft, generators and fuel depots.

This activity underlines our commitment to a sustainable development strategy in order to achieve a number of benefits for defence: utilising a varied energy supply base; reducing exposure to price instabilities; increasing operational freedom; and reducing defence’s impact on the natural environment. The potential use of biofuels is a part of this research programme. The noble Lord mentioned Admiral Morisetti’s visit to the United States and his recommendations. Again, I will look into that and write to the noble Lord.

Furthermore, I am pleased to report that in September this year we will create an MoD strategic fuel authority, which will be responsible for a fully co-ordinated approach to fuels assurance, governance, capability management, supply chain and requirements. It will provide a technical authority for defence fuels and engage with other government departments, industry, NATO and key allies. It will also identify research and development activities to support the extended use of alternative fuels by the MoD. I hope the noble Lord is happy to hear that. I can, of course, supply him with further information about what we are planning. I am sure that the Committee will welcome this initiative. I hope I have demonstrated the MoD’s clear commitment to researching the application of alternative fuels in the defence environment. The potential benefits are huge. It is crucial that the MoD stays at the forefront of these developments, and I am confident that it will.

I mentioned the noble Lord’s questions and undertook to answer them. My noble friend Lord Palmer asked whether the MoD had any contact with Defra or any interested body about whether the use of biofuels affects food crops. He asked if the use of biofuels increases the cost of food. I am aware of the concerns about using biofuels and the impact on food production. The MoD does not consult directly with Defra on this issue, but there are cross-government discussions on the use of biofuels and sustainability in general. The MoD engages with the Department of Energy and Climate Change on increasing renewables on the defence estate.

My noble friend asked whether the MoD uses biofuels other than for road transport. The MoD uses biofuels for road transport where EU regulations oblige fuel manufacturers to include them—and only for that. However, the Defence Equipment and Support fuel team regularly engages with manufacturers to understand the latest research and how it may apply to the MoD. The new defence strategic fuel authority will also identify research and development activities to support the extended use of alternative fuels by the Ministry of Defence.

My noble friend asked about the use of biofuels by the Joint Strike Fighter and in the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. There are no current plans to use biofuels in the Joint Strike Fighter or the Queen Elizabeth-class aircraft carriers. Further research is being undertaken for their use in aircraft, learning from the US lead in this area and obtaining gearing from international collaboration via NATO working groups. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory,

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in partnership with the DE&S defence airworthiness team and the Royal Navy’s 1710 Naval Air Squadron, is conducting materiels compatibility testing using synthetic fuel kindly supplied by the United States.

Lord Soley: The aircraft carriers will be with us for many decades. Is it not incumbent on us at this stage to do what other countries are doing and make them biofuel-capable or mixed fuel-capable? We are building two brand new aircraft carriers, so why are we not doing that?

Lord Astor of Hever:This is one of the areas that the organisation I mentioned will look into. Clearly the noble Lord raises a good point. It would be very unwise for us not to consider it down the road. The Armed Forces have a target to reduce fossil fuel consumption in equipment and operations by 18% by 2020.

My noble friend also asked if I can comment on studies showing that using land for energy crops is detrimental to food production and forestry. I am aware of the concerns about the use of biofuels on agriculture and forests but, as my noble friend said, this is really the responsibility of Defra. I shall need to consult government colleagues and will ensure that my noble friend receives a letter on this point. I will copy other noble Lords in on that.

My noble friend asked if the EU missed an opportunity in 2013 by failing to agree a cap on the use of biofuels. I shall again need to consult government colleagues and will ensure that my noble friend receives a letter on that point, too.

The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked several questions. I will have to write to him. One question was on what we are doing beyond road transport, but I cannot read the writing here. The Defence Science and Technology Laboratory has a resilience research programme that is actively researching alternative fuels for use across the whole of the MoD—in ships, aircraft, generators and fuel depots. I hope I have answered some of the questions I was asked. I look forward to writing and answering all the questions in full.

Trade Unions

Question for Short Debate

5.10 pm

Asked by Lord Balfe

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the contribution of trade unions to the British economy.

Lord Balfe (Con): My Lords, I am pleased to have secured this debate, which I hope will enable the positive contribution of trade unionists to the British economy and the British way of life to be further recognised. I declare an interest, as I have been a TUC-affiliated trade union member since I left school at the age of 16. I would probably not be here today were it not for the encouragement and help that I had as a young trade unionist in getting from secondary modern school through university and into a professional

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career. Long before I was in the Labour Party, I was an active trade unionist. One thing that I learnt in my branch, incidentally, was that the Conservative Party was not the enemy. There was only one enemy, and that was the Trots—sorry, the Trotskyites, I should say, for Members on this side who are not familiar with internecine politics on the left.

Many people are surprised, but the average trade unionist today is a woman around 45 years of age who is in white collar employment and has never been on strike in her life. Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, recently said at a press lunch in the other place that fewer than half of his members voted Labour. Much evidence collected by the Conservative Central Office shows that over 30% of trade unionists vote Conservative. I recall that after the 1983 election the general secretary of my own union, AUEW-TASS, told me that a majority of our members had voted Conservative. If you take account of all those who, like almost one-third of UK citizens, do not vote at all in general elections, it is no longer possible to typecast trade unionists as being indelibly wedded to any one particular party.

The noble Lord, Lord Monks, referred last week in a debate to the constructive way in which unions faced up to difficult decisions during the recession in order to preserve jobs and capacity. Noble Lords will also probably have heard of the scheme known as Union Learn, started by the last Labour Government and continued by this Government. This partnership between employers and unions currently has 3,636 Union Learn representatives, all active trade unionists and trained through the TUC, who supported 219,091 learners in 2013-14. Of these, 14% were learners on English and maths—basic literacy—25% on ICT courses and 29% on further professional development. What they had in common was that these were all of benefit to the employee and the employer, and were almost all undertaken in premises provided by the employer. Employers benefit from a literate and trained workforce, but often it is only the trade union that is close enough to the worker to motivate them to take part and to study.

I was interested to see a recent scheme inaugurated by the Skills Minister, Matt Hancock, launched in his Newmarket constituency by the National Association of Stable Staff. This is the first in the racing industry, not one that you normally think of as being trade union organised.

Pensions is another area where unions have played a valuable role through the commission headed by the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, and in gaining acceptance for the new pension scheme being rolled out, which needs to be improved considerably. However, we are on the way.

Health and safety at work has been shown by a government study to be enhanced in unionised workplaces. A recent study identified a minimum saving of £181 million following a reduction in time lost due to occupational injuries and work-related illnesses. There is a long catalogue of good outcomes from union activity. I welcome the recent tentative moves by the TUC towards seeking places on company boards. We often rightly note the advantage that Germany has over us in

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manufacturing and industrial relations. Perhaps it is now time to look at the role of responsible trade unionism in Germany’s industrial and economic success and where it can be replicated here. I am particularly pleased that the TUC now seems to have changed its position on worker directors, or at least to be in the process of doing so.

We cannot have a debate without asking the Minister something or other. Therefore, will the Minister request his colleagues to stop the recent niggling attacks on minor but important areas of trade union rights, particularly in the Civil Service? I am sure many of us would agree that facility time should be clearly identified in departmental budgets, but I ask that recognition should also be given to the ways in which facility time frequently—indeed, generally—helps departments and public bodies to attain their wider objectives.

The deduction of union subscriptions is a long-standing concession, which incidentally was introduced when I was at work and was then opposed by the left on the ground that it would break the link between the subscriptions collector and the person on the floor. Of course, a huge amount of time was lost because we used to wander round during the afternoon and collect subs when we should have been working, so stopping subs collection at source will not necessarily save any time, although it might delight a few people who like going for a walk in the afternoon. This is now being withdrawn in some departments. Frankly, it would be far more sensible to assess what time is being lost. If the Government are really so hard up and wish to charge for collecting the money, I invite them to make out an economic case and sit down and discuss it with the unions and have a small deduction which, presumably, they would extend to things such as gym membership, the charge for which I understand is also collected. If this practice costs money, it should be addressed across the board and should not be a matter of prejudice in just one small area of life.

I firmly believe that we have to stop viewing unions as belonging to just one political family. They comprise bodies that do good for many people who are not in any political party at all. It was many years after I joined the union that I joined a political party. As I say, unions do a lot of good. There is clearly a need for responsibility in trade unionism and we can all point to the person who lets the side down, so to speak. However, we need to remember the huge number of people who keep Britain going and are legitimately members of trade unions—people such as pilots. Who thinks of airline pilots in this connection? However, BALPA is a very highly organised union. Who thinks of dieticians in hospitals in this connection? I recently hosted in this House a reception for the British Dietetic Association, which does an enormous amount of good work advising people in an important part of the health service. There are numerous other examples. Many unions feel that the Government could be slightly more helpful towards them. They appreciate the contact and the common bodies run by the different departments, but niggling issues such as that of facility time and stopping the deduction of subs do not make sense to us or to the unions concerned. They just add to the burden that has been put on them.

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Finally, I would say to our Government that we have to get a level playing field on this. I always despair, frankly, when I hear people say, “Unions—Labour”. That is not the case; it is, “Unions—workers”. That is important. As Len McCluskey has demonstrated, trade union members, by joining, do not put themselves in a political box. That is probably not completely good news for the Opposition; but if they think about it, it should be good news because unions have a massive role to play in a successful Britain. They have a lot of useful and good things to say that people of all parties and none should be listening to. Certainly in government we should be listening to and regarding them as partners in the joint enterprise of making Britain economically strong and great. It is in that bipartisan sense that I move this Question for Short Debate.

5.20 pm

Lord Monks (Lab): My Lords, I must declare a current interest as president of the airline pilots’ union, to which the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, glowingly referred in his interesting remarks. It is nice to know that he retains his beliefs that encouraged me to vote for him on three separate occasions in his earlier political career. I wish him luck in his newish political party, in his evangelical campaign to persuade it that his views are desirable ones to follow. It will be an uphill task. I have just been speaking in proceedings on the Deregulation Bill and asking why unions are not included in a bit of deregulation. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, will remember there was a debate about assurers, in addition to scrutineers and certification officers, and the red tape in which unions are being wrapped. In the news this morning, we heard that quite a bit more could apparently be on the way as a result of a strike later this week.

Trade unions grew out of injustice. In the face of rapid employment and industrial change, individual workers without unique skills—not the stars but the ordinary—found themselves vulnerable to decisions by employers and managers, and were in danger of being treated as commodities to be acquired and disposed of as judged necessary. So the instinct to form a union was powerful. They were founded in every industrialised democracy in the world. Those two words are important—“industrialised” and “democracy”. In that way, the employer was under pressure to listen to workers and meet their concerns. The growth of unions was a feature of societies like our own, and we in this country led the way. It was an area of British leadership across the world that is much recognised among trade unions in the rest of the world. Their growth was encouraged by alliances with socialists and, in some countries, political parties founded their own unions. Socialists, and in some countries Catholics, were, in the main, instrumental in forming unions.

Today, when societies are less industrial and their economies more service-based, this has led some to question whether unions are relevant or appropriate. In fact, in some US states in the middle and the south you could say that unions were almost an endangered species. Unions are relevant in Britain; they are relevant in 38% of the FTSE top 50 companies, which have

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collective bargaining with trade unions. In UK manufacturing, to which the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, referred, unions cushioned employers through the recession of 2008-09 by helping to preserve jobs, very often at the expense of a fall in living standards. The carnage of employment, however, was nothing like as bad as we expected it to be, given the depth of that recession. It was not as bad, for example, as the less severe recession we experienced in the early 1990s.

The two relevant unions are not in manufacturing, but in services. The biggest employer of unionised labour in the country is Tesco. To this day, the big supermarkets, security companies and banks are unionised. Of course, they are relevant in public services. I should mention the strikes that are due to take place later this week to remind the Government that change should be negotiated, not imposed. It is important for public sector staff morale that unions should be recognised properly and dealt with in a respectful manner, not in the rather careless, take-it-or-leave-it, way that is being displayed at the moment.

Unions are relevant to all those in insecure, low-paid occupations and to people who are subject to zero-hour contracts. There has been an increase in self-employment, with 40% of the new jobs that have been created since 2010 being on a self-employed basis. We know that not all of them are budding entrepreneurs. Many people are taking self-employment because it is the only thing they can get, with the employer stepping neatly away from PAYE tax, national insurance contributions, pensions, employment rights and so on. Workers today are still vulnerable, just as they were in the early industrialised societies. It seems to me that although the social protections of the welfare state are much better, the instinct for unionisation remains great. I think that it should be public policy to encourage the renaissance of trade unions. Collective bargaining should be seen as a way of checking the excesses of people at the top and boosting the position of people at the bottom. It can narrow the gap between the haves and the have-nots. The companies that are aware of their obligations to their workforces—unions tend to ensure that—are the ones which are more likely to do the right thing rather than the wrong thing. If we are going to tackle inequality in our society, which even the IMF has mentioned, stronger unions are a crucial part of that process.

Any new settlement must involve progressive and responsible trade unionism that is committed to high productivity, performance and long-termism. It must ensure that the benefits of growth are more fairly distributed than is the case at present. My watchwords are “co-operation”, “respect”, “professionalism” and treating people as you yourself would like to be treated. I look to the other side of the North Sea for exemplars, as did the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, in respect of worker directors in Germany. In terms of collective bargaining and the worker voice in how companies run themselves, as well as the approach to building skills over time and giving people ladders to climb, economies from Finland all the way round to Flanders seem to be able to achieve that. The crucial role played by trade unions in our society needs to be recognised properly, and I hope very much that this debate will be the start of

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something big. I hope that our evangelist on the other side of the Committee manages to take the hordes of the Conservative Party along the same path that he is treading.

5.28 pm

Lord Morris of Handsworth (Lab): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Monks. Unlike him, I welcome the tone of the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, to the debate. While I look forward to the Government’s response, it might help if I remind the Committee of one or two landmarks in the development of contemporary trade unionism.

I was proud to be a member of and then to lead a union whose general secretary in 1940 left his office in Transport House and walked into Downing Street to join the Churchill Government as the Minister of Labour. That general secretary was Ernest Bevin. So if we are talking about trade union contribution to the economy, we should pause here and pay tribute to the Bevin boys. I am pleased to say that it was a Labour Government under Prime Minister Brown that gave due recognition to the contribution that the Bevin boys made to the war effort. Ernest Bevin’s achievement on his return to Government in 1945 was a major contribution to the development of the United Nations as we know it today. But that was his political role. His industrial role as the then Foreign Secretary was to establish the International Labour Organization, based in Geneva. Lest we forget, as Foreign Secretary he was present when the State of Israel was born. As we speak, the Israeli trade union, Histadrut, remains a significant contributor to the development of that country.

It is to the trade unions’ contribution to our economy that the noble Lord’s question is directed. In my day, along with my noble friend Lord Monks and many others, we changed both the social and economic agenda of the workplace from politics to partnership. We developed an agenda for both social and economic change. We campaigned for partnership with employers and the wider community. We built an agenda for the workplace based on better health and safety, training and skills, investment in people, export and productivity. Together, we saw ourselves, certainly within the context of the TUC, as ambassadors for social change. Our agenda for social change was led by the pursuance of anti-discrimination laws, health and safety, employment protection, skills improvement and—above all—partnership at work.

The trade union agenda today is about investment. For example, I am proud of the contribution that workers make to the success of the Jaguar Land Rover partnership. I am proud of the contribution made by Bombardier, the train-building company in Derby—another great success. Frankly, anyone who asks the question about the trade union contribution really needs to look no further than at the partnerships that have developed. The days of industrial disputes are almost extinct within the context of day-to-day debate. Day in, day out, I know that management and unions sit down to discuss the issues and challenges of the day. These are productivity, training and skills, apprenticeships, investment and export opportunities.

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That is the modern, contemporary workplace agenda. What we need is support from government for that agenda. In today’s world, the company ambassadors include the trade unions. I spent more time in Japan seeking to persuade the Toyota motor company to come to Derby than any Cabinet Minister I know.

Yes, there are challenges ahead—zero-hour contracts, for example. I must ask the Government: what steps are being taken to give justice to the thousands of construction workers blacklisted by the Consulting Association? That is a must-have for social justice to be done. I feel a great sense of gratitude to have been supported by the trade union movement. Today, the trade union movement, with co-operation, is not the problem; it is very much part of the solution.

5.34 pm

Lord Cormack (Con): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to be able to follow two such distinguished trade unionists, both of whom epitomise what my noble friend Lord Balfe was talking about in his opening speech. They epitomise responsible trade unionism. I cannot claim, like my noble friend Lord Balfe, ever to have been a member of the Labour Party, but I have always had a great respect for the history of the Labour Party and, in particular, for those Christian socialists who, in a dignified and responsible manner in the nineteenth century, gave the working man—it was mostly the working man in those days—a voice. I honour that, and I believe that our country has received an enormous contribution from those who have served in the Labour Party and in the trade union movement, although I rejoice in the fact—enunciated and underlined by my noble friend Lord Balfe—that one does not now talk of a trade unionist automatically being a member of a particular political party.

The underlying theme of this debate is partnership. We cannot have true and lasting prosperity in our country without a real and continuing partnership “from two sides of industry”. I do not like that phrase, I would rather say “from all of those who are committed to the commercial and industrial development of our great country”. I have been involved, for the last 12 or 13 years, with an award for responsible capitalism. It came out of the magazine First. Way back in the late 1990s, I had a series of discussions with the chairman of that company, Mr Rupert Goodman, and Lord Dahrendorf. We decided that we wished to challenge the captains of industry to emulate the Robert Owens and the Cadburys of the past and practise true responsible capitalism. Responsible capitalism means not only a commitment to a profitable enterprise—it clearly means that—but recognition of the needs and aspirations of those who work, and of the environment in which they work.

Way back in 2000, we were able to persuade the then Chancellor of the Exchequer, Mr Gordon Brown, to present the first annual award for responsible capitalism. Year in and year out since then we have continued to do that. Sadly, since then, Lord Dahrendorf has died. He was one of the most truly remarkable men who have ever sat in your Lordships’ House. He was replaced as chairman of the panel of judges by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, the former Chief Justice,

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who had himself presented the awards in a previous year. I believe that it is incumbent on us all to do everything possible to encourage responsibility in all of those who work for the future of our great country. Whether they are those in positions of managerial authority, or those who are working with their hands as well as their heads, responsibility and partnership are surely the key words.

I have been fortunate enough in recent weeks to initiate two debates in your Lordships’ House. One was on the subject of craft apprenticeships, and the other was on citizenship. I want to see the day when every one of our young people leaving school goes through the sort of citizenship ceremony that those who are becoming British citizens and subjects go through as recognition of their responsibilities and their rights. I believe that the trade union movement can play a significant part in encouraging that sort of responsible citizenship because those responsibilities interact and work together.

I also believe that there is no group of organisations better able to promote true and proper craft apprenticeships than our trade unions. I see an expanding role for them in that context in the years ahead. I deplore the yah-boo politics that occasionally still disfigure the other place and paint people into different corners because if we do not work together in partnership in this country whatever our background, ethnicity or religious beliefs, we will not be able to prosper as we should and truly inherit the legacy of the past created by men and women who had responsibility and partnership as their watchwords.

One of the winners of the award for responsible capitalism was Sir Charlie Mayfield of the John Lewis Partnership. There is no better example of true responsibility and involving all those who have a role in the organisation concerned than the John Lewis Partnership. May that be a role model for us all in the years ahead. I have enormous confidence in the future of this country, but that confidence could so easily be undermined if we saw a resurgence of small-minded industrial cold war rhetoric which could do no one any good at all as we move through the 21st century.

I applaud my noble friend for introducing this subject. I apologise for my slightly random remarks. I do not write speeches, but I feel very passionate about this and I very much hope that those outside who read this debate will feel, as the noble Lord, Lord Monks, said, somewhat inspired by it.

5.42 pm

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde (Lab): My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, for introducing this debate and for the tone that he used. Like him, I joined a trade union before I joined the Labour Party. I am still a member of a trade union and always will be. I have been a member for more than 50 years. In fact, the union I was fortunate enough to join is more than 200 years old. Its originating members were deported to Australia for having the audacity to break the law to try to form a trade union. That is the DNA that ran through the union that I joined. The union has had a lot of changes.

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I currently chair the employee share ownership scheme of NATS. It has been interesting to see how that has worked well within the company. At the time of the part-privatisation of the organisation in 2001, a shadow share price was established which I think was 20p. It was just before the bombing of the twin towers and the company was then trading almost illegally, with 126% gearing. Since then it has been interesting to see how we have substantially trade union-organised employees who are also shareholders in the company. It works well. The share price is now more than £4 a share; and those employees are benefiting from that. So, in the right structure and context, I support the employee share ownership schemes to which the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, referred. When we moved from free shares to part-free, part-buy shares, more than 80% of employees in the company bought shares. That is partnership working. The company has a policy of joint partnership working. That cannot be repeated enough because the company had its most successful financial year last year. Having been a totally nationalised company, it is now part government owned, part privately owned. It is held up worldwide as being an icon of professionalism and good quality. So the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, is absolutely right when he refers to the fact that trade unions are part of solving the economic issue, not part of the problem.

Every organisation and structure, I would dare say even the Conservative Party or any political party, has its own issues of one kind or another. I shall come back to those shortly. I referred to my original trade union links with the union of which I am still very proud to be a member, although it has been amalgamated almost out of existence: I am now a member of the same trade union as a number of noble Lords in this Room. When you look back at history—and the noble Lord, Lord Monks, rightly referred to the economic and social implications—you can see that trade unions are not just part of the economy but part of the overall quality of democracy within a nation. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, referred to Germany, in which trade union structures were set up by the TUC after the Second World War. It is very much part of that engine of success, on the boards of companies and elsewhere, so it is not even an issue.

The issue over trade unionism in Britain is like the issue of class and the great divide that we have—there is no need for it, and has not been a need for it. What we need in the country is the partnership work—and if there is one word on which we are all united in this debate, it is “partnership”. Look at Tata and the success that it has made—it is trade union organised. Look at BAE Systems, which is fully trade unionised. Some months ago, I attended a meeting in the House of Commons where the company and trade unions were alongside each other, talking about how important was the success of that company, the investment that had taken place and the skills. There is a very highly skilled requirement in the company, as there is in Tata and a number of other companies, Bombardier included, to which my noble friend referred. People were then arguing for the well-being of the company. Why? When I was a trade union official, I never took any satisfaction out of dealing with a company that was

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not making a profit. Profit is a good word; it is how it is used that matters, and how we concentrate what we are doing in the UK to build on our economic recovery.

The question that I pose in this private debate about how we work together in Britain—because it will not receive publicity—is how trade unions, companies and government can make sure that we have economic success, taking the leaf out of great competitors, Germany, and the Scandinavian countries. I see that even in America, which is not known for its pro-trade union line, trade unions are growing in strength. In Britain, too, a number of trade unions are growing in numbers. It is still an anachronism for an individual employee to be faced with a professional employer and to have to deal with that employer on their own behalf. Collectivism is important, whether it is a small company or a large one. It would be much more profitable for the nation—I do not mean just in money terms but in our economy and social well-being—if we concentrated on that. It is therefore with some deep concern, which I am sure is shared by the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, that I saw the clear briefing this weekend, and the reporting in the press today, in the FT and the other newspapers, that the Conservative Party intends to have in its manifesto certain requirements on trade unions with regard to strikes and pre-strike ballots. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on that in his reply. The union that I came from never had a dispute without having a ballot—and that has to be the case. It is something that I have always agreed with; it was something which I was brought up with in my union.

It is reported that there will be a requirement for 50% of the employees covered to have voted. Just imagine how requiring that kind of level for elections would transpose itself to our democracy. That would be just unacceptable. It will be an adversarial debate. It has to be. Rather than the idea of almost going on to the front foot of aggression with the Government not wishing to negotiate and consult, partnership would serve our country better than having these kinds of briefings and leaks. This would be legislating for the small areas of industrial relations problems that still exist. I do not deny there are some. They might even be tiny and geographically placed for a number of reasons. Instead, concentrate on the nation as a whole. The nation as a whole has a darn good record in both this economic recovery, which my noble friend Lord Monks referred to, and the strike record. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, for this debate. It might give one or two of us the courage to come back to this issue in the months ahead because it is a debate which needs to be aired. We are indebted to the noble Lord. I ask the Minister, who I know is a coalition Minister, to address those questions and put on record where the Conservative Party stands.

5.51 pm

Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab): My Lords, like other noble Lords who have spoken, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, for putting this Question down for debate today. Like my noble friend Lord Monks, I voted for the noble Lord on many occasions when he was a Labour Member of the European Parliament, and I wish him well in his new endeavours in his new party.

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I declare an interest as a member of the GMB and would remind the Committee that I have been a trade union member since I left school. I joined USDAW and the Co-op at around the same time—I do not know which one was first—when I started work in the retail sector. I am now the president of the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists, which is a very small specialist trade union working in the NHS.

I join my noble friend Lord Morris of Handsworth in his remarks about Ernest Bevin. I pay tribute to the Bevin boys and the role they played in the war effort.

This has been an interesting debate with a very experienced range of speakers. I was particularly pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, spoke because it is important that Members from the Government Benches should speak in these debates. He was right in his comments about partnership, and we all want to see that.

I think it is fair to say that the relationship between the Conservative Party and the trade unions has often been fraught. We can go back and look at the Governments led by William Pitt the Younger and the introduction of the Combination Acts in 1799 and 1800 and see that it is nothing new. The biggest recent change with respect to the relationship between the unions and the Government came in the 1980s and 1990s in the Governments of Margaret Thatcher and John Major. Trade unions were not viewed as allies or as organisations the Government could work with or wanted to work with. That is a matter of regret as unions have an important role to play in representing their members. They seek to improve terms and conditions through bargaining with employers, but they are also the biggest voluntary sector organisation in the country. They have 6.2 million members from all walks of life. They have an important role to play in civil society. They campaign for social justice at home and abroad. They have joined forces with a wide variety of organisations and have a proud record of achievements that have made our country a better place in which to live.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, made some points regarding which political parties trade union members support. Like any other group of people, support for particular political parties among trade union members will ebb and flow due to a range of circumstances, and trade union members will vote for all sorts of parties. Most trade unions are not affiliated to the Labour Party and never have been. Major changes to the relationship between affiliated unions and the party were agreed earlier this year. When the Minister replies, perhaps he will tell the Committee why the Government do not always see trade unions as organisations with which they can discuss things and work more closely. If it is because they see them as the arm of a political opponent, that is a most regrettable place to be and is incorrect, but it may explain some of the actions they have taken.

This Government, although it is a coalition, is a Conservative-led coalition. During the passage of the lobbying Bill in the previous Session, proposals were brought in which affected trade unions, as my noble friend Lord Monks said. They were supported by both coalition parties. Like my noble friends, I still

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struggle to see any difference they have made or any help they have given anybody. I am sorry to hear reports of further legislation in the pipeline, and I am sure the Minister will deal with that in his response.

As I have said, trade unions have a proud record of campaigning on a wide variety of issues. Let us take the area of health and safety. Where we have a unionised workforce the rate of injuries is much lower. That can be attributed to the management and safety reps sitting down together to deal with issues and find solutions. I recall going on a parliamentary visit to the Olympic Park just before the Games started. Sir John Armitt, who was then the chair of the Olympic Delivery Authority, proudly told us that health and safety was important to the authority, the companies and the unions involved, and indeed to the workforce. The worst accident on the entire site over the duration of the whole project had been one broken leg. Contrast that with the agriculture industry, which is not heavily unionised. People work in small groups on small farms. On average over the past 10 years, one person has been killed every single week as a direct result of their work. It is by far the most dangerous industry in the UK. Perhaps the noble Lord, Lord Popat, can tell the Committee what the Government intend to do to deal with health and safety in the agricultural sector.

My noble friend Lord Morris said that there are numerous examples of unions working together with employers to achieve the best for the business. I recall speaking last year to a senior manager in British Gas who told me that the company would not be as productive as it is without the support and help of GMB. The union is an integral part of the business. It has a direct interest in ensuring that the business succeeds because its members’ livelihoods depend on it. My noble friend Lady Dean made similar remarks, which I fully support. Let us look at the car manufacturing industry in the UK. It has been transformed, with thousands of jobs across many companies employing people who are building quality products. Many years ago I had the privilege of going to the Toyota plant in Burnaston with my noble friend Lord Prescott. It is an excellent example of unions and employers working together, and I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Morris for securing that inward investment into the UK.

The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, and other noble Lords mentioned the benefits of union learning and other training schemes. The trade unions have a proud record of supporting and assisting members by providing education for them. Trade unions have also been campaigning for better deals for part-time workers and were instrumental in setting up the Pension Protection Fund. The noble Lord, Lord Balfe, referred to the positive contribution trade unions have made to the provision of pensions for UK workers, and I strongly agree with that. I also agree with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, about facility time and the attacks on check-off. They are very silly and will benefit no one. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Popat, can respond to that, hopefully in a positive way. My noble friend Lord Monks talked about respect and treating other people as you would want to be treated yourself. It is really important that negotiations and discussions are always held in that way.

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In conclusion, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Balfe, for initiating this debate. I wish him well in his endeavours. Like my noble friend Lady Dean, I hope that this is the first of many debates on these issues. I think also that we would all agree that in the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, the noble Lord has a very welcome ally in the Conservative Party.

5.57 pm

Lord Popat (Con): My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Balfe for initiating this important debate. On listening to him, it is clear that he has a detailed knowledge of the operation and activities of trade unions, and of the impact they have on our economy. This is an interesting debate for me to respond to because we have reached a cross-party agreement in the Committee today on the important role played by the trade unions in terms of both the country and the economy. However, it is worth reminding ourselves that in 2013 the UK experienced its fastest growth since 2007 and it is currently the fastest growing major developed economy. While I am not implying that this can be attributed to trade unions, it is relevant to note that the union movement engaged positively during the recent economic downturn while also maintaining its traditions of fairness and equality.

My noble friend Lord Balfe opened the debate by talking about the positive contribution made by trade unions. A recent ONS business survey tells us that trade unions contributed £443 million in gross value added to the UK economy in 2012. I do not know about their working patterns or which parties members vote for, and I do not think that my office would have that information either. However, I will present some facts about trade unions that were prepared by the Department of Trade and Industry in 2007. Representation in the workplace reduces the dismissal rate by 5% to 10%, thus reducing annual redundancy costs by £107 million to £213 million. Representation reduces the voluntary exit rate in a workplace by 5% to 10%, saving employers between £72 million and £143 million a year.

The impact of workplace representatives in reducing dismissal rates also reduces the number of employment tribunal claims against workplaces, thereby providing annual savings to business and the Exchequer of between £22 million and £43 million. Health and safety representatives in the workplace reduce injury rates for employees by between 10% and 15%, providing overall annual economic benefits of between £136 million and £371 million, and reduce incidence of work-related illness by between 1% and 3%, providing an overall annual economic benefit of between £45 million and £207 million. The annual economic benefit of training and learning generated through trade union learning representatives was estimated at between £94 million and £156 million, due to increased productivity.

We can see from those figures the huge benefits that employers receive by having their members represented by trade unions. While it is unfortunate that no current data are available, and these data are now seven years old, they show the scale of the positive effect that trade unions have on our economy and how this

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debate is an excellent chance to remind us all of those facts. I am afraid that we do not have recent data on the impacts that I have mentioned. The industrial relations climate in the UK is generally positive; industrial action is at an historic low and has been relatively stable for more than 20 years.

I will now talk about the wider benefits of trade unions, which a number of noble Lords mentioned, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Morris. Noble Lords quite rightly said that the trade union movement is very relevant today. Trade unions play a role that is increasingly important to the public and to those young people who will form our future workforce. It is about making sure that business is a benefit to society and reflects the society we live in. My noble friend Lord Cormack mentioned responsibility and partnership. Unions help to maintain the debate about diversity in the workplace, about how disability should not be shunned and about how improving skills can make a real difference to the poor and vulnerable. All this makes our economy perform better for all our citizens. Quite rightly, the noble Lord, Lord Monks, mentioned the benefits of economic growth, which must be distributed while we are doing well in this country. Hence, we are looking at the minimum wage and have increased the rate above inflation in the past few years.

Trade union members also participate in the many voluntary roles that help create cohesive communities. Unions are also at the forefront of developing greener workplaces by working in co-operation with employers who want to make their enterprise environmentally and energy effective.

The Union Learning Fund, which is administered by Union Learn, the learning and skills organisation of the TUC, is an excellent example of how unions help their members and their employers. Union Learning Fund projects are primarily targeted at workers, many of whom have low skills, including literacy and numeracy needs—the very people who may be reluctant, or may not know how, to take advantage of the various development opportunities available to them. The history of unions providing learning for their members is a long one. Some colleges were established for the education of working people in the late 19th century, closely followed by the founding of the Workers’ Educational Association. The opening of the TUC training college after the Second World War gave a big boost to the training of trade union representatives.

I will now talk about trade union membership. It is interesting to note that permanent employees are more likely than those in temporary jobs to be union members in all categories of employment. Full-time employees are also more likely than those in part-time work to be union members, the only exceptions for full-time employees are among professional occupations and those employed in the wholesale and retail trades. It may also surprise noble Lords to hear that middle-income earners are more likely to be trade union members than either high or low-paid employees. About 39% of employees who earn between £500 and £999 per week are members of a trade union compared with 21% of employees earning £1,000 or more. The proportion of employees earning less than £250 who are trade union members is only about 14%. Employees in professional

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occupations are also more likely to be trade union members, and we know that the wage premium is higher for females who are trade union members at about 30%, compared with 7% for males.

I now move on to some of the tangible benefits that unions bring to the workplaces in our economy. This was again mentioned by my noble friend Lord Balfe. These benefits fall in three main areas: helping people participate in the labour market by ensuring fair standards of employment; resolution of workplace disputes, and helping deliver necessary changes in the workplace to enhance business performance. The noble Lords, Lord Morris and Lord Kennedy, and my noble friend Lord Balfe mentioned the important area of the health and safety environment. Unions health and safety representatives help reduce the number of accidents in the workplace, hence reducing the number of hours lost to accidents, and improve the working environment so that employees feel safer and happier, which in turn reduces the number of staff absences due to illness.

Unions also play a major role in establishing the business environment in the UK, especially when it comes to negotiations on EU legislation. An example of this is the TUC pursuit of the interests of UK working people through the European Trade Union Confederation, the social dialogue with European employers and the Economic and Social Committee, and through representations to the institutions of the EU—the European Parliament, the European Commission, the Council of Ministers and the British Government. Such actions give more confidence to people, especially if they are low skilled, to participate in the labour market. This is turn provides a greater pool of talent for business to choose from.

Equally, the role that unions play in resolving workplace disputes, be that at an individual or group level, is not to be underestimated. This is more than a reduction in industrial action that we have seen over the years; it is about being proactive and working in partnerships with employers to make sure that a business can change and adapt to customer needs, or respond to competition in the market in the most effective way. Recent figures show that 76% of union members resolve their issues before taking formal action via a tribunal, whereas this figure is 69% for non-union members. Trade union members’ claims are less likely to go through to tribunal than those of non-members, with 13% of members’ claims ending in a tribunal compared with 21% for non-members. The tribunal figures also show that only 28% of claims are from trade union members.

A number of issues have been raised which I shall deal with very briefly due to time constraints. My noble friend Lord Balfe referred to the deduction of union subscriptions from employees’ salaries. This is for employers and unions to agree. Some unions feel that direct debit is more favourable. The Government support unions’ right to collect the subscriptions as they see fit.

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Lord Kennedy of Southwark: I am sorry to interrupt but the Minister is not going to be able to respond to all the questions that I asked in the next couple of minutes. Therefore, will he respond to those he can and give a commitment to write to noble Lords on the points he will not be able to cover and place a copy of the letter in the Library of the House?

Lord Popat: I will certainly do that and place a copy in the Library. The noble Lord, Lord Morris, raised the very important issue of blacklisting trade unionists. The Government are clear that blacklisting is an unacceptable and illegal practice. We take any allegation of this practice very seriously. Indeed, the Secretary of State has asked anyone who has information about this practice still going on to get in touch with the relevant authorities. The Employment Relations Act 1999 (Blacklists) Regulations 2010 make it unlawful.

The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, asked whether the Government can work with the trade unions. Of course, we can work with the trade unions. The Government believe that trade unions have a key role to play in resolving workplace disputes. Representation in the workplace reduces voluntary exit by employees by about 5% to 10%, which helps business retain key skills. The noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, also asked about the health and safety performance of the agricultural sector. I have covered health and safety, but I do not have agriculture on my brief and I will have to write to the noble Lord.

The noble Baroness, Lady Dean, mentioned workers’ participation, and having share ownership schemes. I believe there are many companies that have share ownership schemes. This is up to individual companies and employees to agree upon. My brief does not say what government policy is on this, but I would be happy to write to the noble Baroness.

Baroness Dean of Thornton-le-Fylde: Will the Minister also kindly undertake to respond to my question about the plans which have been reported in the press on further trade union legislation? Would he kindly reply to me in writing if he does not have this information today?

Lord Popat: Certainly the noble Baroness is right. I read in the Times this morning about possible legislation. This is not the policy of the Government. It may the Conservative Party policy, but I do not know what its manifesto will be in 2015. I will certainly be writing to the noble Baroness.

Lord Balfe: Will the letter be sent to all of the Members who have participated in the debate, please?

Lord Popat: I will certainly do that and I will put a copy in the Library for other Peers to look at.

Committee adjourned at 6.11 pm.