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Lords Chamber

Volume 687: debated on Friday 15 December 2006

House of Lords

Friday, 15 December 2006.

The House met at eleven o’clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.

Cluster Munitions (Prohibition) Bill [HL]

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

I start by thanking Landmine Action and other organisations which have been very helpful in briefing me and other colleagues. I am also grateful to the many colleagues from both Houses who have indicated their support. Some from this House are not able to be here today, but support for the Bill is probably wider than the number of speeches that I hope will come in support of it. I also thank my noble friends Lord Drayson and Lady Crawley for the conversations that I have had with them and for the helpful way in which I have engaged in discussion with them—not that we left in agreement, but I am grateful for having had the chance to do it.

I want to talk about the Bill under four headings: first, the humanitarian aspects of cluster munitions; secondly, my belief that there is no real military justification for their use; thirdly, the international aspects; and, fourthly, the arguments as between smart and dumb weapons which have featured so strongly in some of the discussions both in this House and in the other place in recent weeks.

There was a very active campaign against anti-personnel landmines some years ago, which culminated in the successful abolition of those terrible weapons. Indeed, my right honourable friend Hilary Benn, the Secretary of State for International Development, is reported recently to have told Cabinet colleagues that cluster munitions are,

“essentially equivalent to landmines which are the subject of an international ban”.

Like anti-personnel landmines, cluster munitions remain dangerous long after the military conflict has moved on or is over. They then pose a threat to civilians: children playing or going to school, people gathering crops, collecting firewood or going for water—all normal, innocent and essential activities for people in some of these zones where there has been conflict. Those are innocent activities that may result in the loss of a limb or death.

Perhaps I may quote my right honourable friend Hilary Benn again. In his Answer to a Parliamentary Question on 11 December, he said:

“If they are used in large numbers, unexploded bomblets can be left scattered densely and indiscriminately over a wide area. When these are set off, the explosion can kill anyone within 50m. They represent a threat to aid workers, peace-keepers, medical services, internally displaced persons and anyone else entering an area immediately after the cessation of hostilities. The design of cluster munitions means that often children are attracted to them”.

He goes on to explain:

“The threat to returning civilians is exacerbated when cluster munitions are used over soft terrain such as recently ploughed farmland. Unexploded bomblets can lie buried just beneath the surface making it dangerous for farmers to cultivate their land”.

That is important in the discussion about dumb and smart bombs, to which I shall refer later. The Answer continues:

“Casualty figures are hard to verify but reports indicate that unexploded cluster munitions killed thousands of civilians in Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam. The UN reports around 1 million unexploded cluster bomblets in Southern Lebanon. So far, 23 civilian deaths and 145 injuries have resulted from unexploded ordnance, mainly cluster munitions. It will take an estimated 12-15 months to clear this area of unexploded ordnance”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/12/06; cols. 743-44W.]

We know that sometimes that can take very much longer if the ordnance is buried, and indeed we know that there are many areas of the world where anti-personnel landmines are still there, causing enormous threat to ordinary people. We know that, for example, large areas of the Falklands are still fenced off because they are still too dangerous for people to walk on. I understand that even now in the Lebanon an estimated three persons are killed or injured by cluster munitions every day.

According to Handicap International, although 10,000 known civilian casualties from cluster bombs have been indicated, the real figure is probably nearer to 100,000. The United Nations’ most senior official for humanitarian affairs, Jan Egeland, has described cluster munitions in the Lebanon as,

“shocking and to me completely immoral”.

The ICRC has described the impact of CMs as “horrific” and called for urgent international action. And of course not only did Israel use these weapons in the Lebanon but Hezbollah did as well, the first known case of these weapons being used by non-state armed groups—an ominous sign that the use of these weapons is proliferating. Hence the urgent need to take action is clearly highlighted.

I turn to the question of military effectiveness. I say at the outset that it is not my intention to do anything that would weaken our Armed Forces. They are responding bravely to what we are asking them to do and I am certain that the Bill would not hamper their effectiveness in any way. General Sir Rupert Smith said:

“It is the way military success is achieved that directly affects whether or not it can be translated into political advantage. If the military success is achieved by bombing civilian targets and causing the loss of many civilians lives, which result in strong national and international public reaction, chances are it will not be easily converted into political capital”.

He is a person who knows what he is talking about from his own experience.

Cluster munitions have been used in about 24 different countries. I will not go through the list, but most of the areas where there have been conflicts in recent years have seen cluster munitions used. The justification for them, as I understand it, is that they are particularly effective against tanks and other vehicles, against large dispositions of troops and against runways on airports. Other speakers have far more military knowledge and experience than I could ever have, but my understanding is that cluster munitions are no longer regarded as particularly effective against tanks because they cannot penetrate the latest tank armour. As regards large dispositions of troops, I accept that in the war following the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait there were concentrations of Iraqi troops, but I put it to your Lordships that it is most unlikely that we shall see large concentrations of troops in the conflicts that the world will witness in the future. I am assured by those who know far more than I do that cluster munitions are not necessarily the best weapons to use on aircraft runways and that there are other ways of effectively disabling runways.

This country is one of the largest users of cluster munitions. Indeed, 100,000 submunitions were used during the invasion of Iraq. My noble friend Lord Drayson wrote, in a letter dated 5 December 2006, that,

“our policy must find the right balance between humanitarian concerns and military necessity the latter being particularly important when our Armed Forces are deployed in conflict areas”.

Of course, nobody would dispute that. However, I suggest to the House and, indeed, the Government that military necessity is not a good argument in favour of cluster munitions. I have not heard a single compelling argument that only these weapons will do the job. Many other weapons will, which do not have the other consequences of cluster munitions.

General Sir Hugh Beach said in February 2001 regarding Kosovo:

“In the British case, the delivery of some 530 cluster bombs”—

containing 78,000 submunitions—

“in the course of the campaign may have resulted in the destruction of as few as 30 major items of military equipment. This achievement can in no sense have influenced the outcome of the campaign”.

It has also been alleged that in Kosovo 20 to 25 per cent of NATO cluster munitions failed to go off.

I refer to the international aspects and the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, normally referred to as CCW. Recently there were discussions in Geneva on this matter. The Government opposed a negotiating mandate but supported a discussion mandate. This seemed pretty esoteric to everybody, certainly to me. However, I am strongly advised that a negotiating mandate, had we supported it, would have been a clear sign of our intentions to proceed towards a ban, but that a discussion mandate is probably just a lot of old waffle. That is what I am told. I am not an expert on the discussions in Geneva, but I am assured that the Government’s decision was very disappointing.

Belgium has banned these munitions. Norway has declared a permanent moratorium. People say that, militarily, these countries are not as important as we are. I accept that, but nevertheless there are international moves towards banning these weapons. We are not in the forefront of those international moves; in fact, we are lagging a long way behind. Having said that, it is only fair to point out that, as I understand it, the history of arms control is usually that progress has been best achieved by a small number of countries reaching agreement and then extending that agreement more widely rather than having an agreement to which everybody signs up immediately. However, that is something for the experts to comment on. I would rather we had taken a more positive stance in Geneva than we did.

On the argument about smart versus dumb bombs, the Government have said on countless occasions that they abide by humanitarian law and that their stance on smart bombs will be incorporated in that process of abiding by humanitarian law. The clearly stated British policy is to phase out dumb bombs by 2015. If dumb bombs are not acceptable—the Government have admitted that they are not, as they want to phase them out—why have the date of 2015? Why not phase them out now, this minute? I do not understand why we have to wait so long. It is a sign that we are not that serious about the matter. Many other countries take note of that and say, “If the British are going to use them until 2015, why should we not do so? Why should we bother?”. The signal that we send out is as important as what we do; they both matter.

In recent weeks, I have studied hard to learn the relevant terminology. Dumb cluster munitions are ones that either do not have a target discrimination capability or do not have a self-destruct, self-neutralisation or self-deactivation capability. That is MoD terminology. I think that we understand what it means. Much evidence gathered over many years indicates that, when weapons have a target discrimination capability, they sometimes do not work and that, when they have a deactivation or self-destruct capability, they also do not work. A great deal of faith is put in technology, which in testing conditions does not always live up to its promises and in battlefield conditions is even less likely to. I quoted Hilary Benn. If a bomb lands on soft ground, it is much less likely to go off than if it lands on hard ground. If a bomb’s fall is broken by trees, it is less likely to hit the ground with as much force as it would if it landed on concrete. That is common sense even to someone as inexperienced in these matters as I am. All the evidence shows that smart bombs are simply not smart enough.

The Government have gone some way to meet this concern. I understand that air-delivered weapons are no longer used. The main weight has been put on the M85, a cluster munition with 49 submunitions that scatter. My right honourable friend Adam Ingram said on 16 June 2003 that the failure rate of these smart bombs was 2 per cent. An MoD paper of March 2005 put the failure rate at 1 per cent. However, on 8 November this year, Adam Ingram said that these weapons had a 95 per cent success rate. I notice that the figure has been tipped the other way to reflect not the failure but the success rate. It does not take much arithmetic to work out that if there is a 95 per cent success rate, there is a 5 per cent failure rate. But even 1 per cent is a high figure if one thinks of cluster munitions used on a large scale and scattered over a wide area. It seems to me that the smart bomb, as I said earlier, is simply not smart enough.

The M85 bombs were widely used in the recent Lebanon conflict and, according to David Shearer, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator in Lebanon, it has been estimated that there may be as many as 350,000 unexploded bomblets littering the country. I have seen other suggestions that the figure may be nearer to 1 million. I have seen photographs of several lying together in south Lebanon, which clearly did not go off when they were supposed to have gone off. The M85 munitions that we use are made in Israel, so they ought to be the same ones that were used in south Lebanon.

A UN report says:

“We can state categorically that we are finding large numbers of unexploded sub munitions that have failed to detonate as designed and failed to self destruct afterwards. In effect these sub munitions have failed twice. These M85 sub munitions are even more dangerous than other types because their self-destruct mechanism makes them more problematic to deal with and where ever possible they are destroyed in situ”.

In other words, the task of clearing them is made harder when they do not go off than it was when the old-fashioned ones did not go off.

Another issue to do with the smart and dumb bomb argument is that, if the world is to ban dumb bombs and move to smart bombs, monitoring that will be very difficult. We had the same argument with anti-personnel landmines—that self-destruct anti-personnel landmines would be okay and the others would not be. That argument was scotched. The danger is that one cannot monitor international action if we allow some and not others. That is another case against them.

To conclude, on the way forward, obviously I really want the Government to take over this Bill, but I suppose that that is too optimistic a hope. The Bill makes it an offence to use, develop, store or transfer cluster munitions. It bans their import and export. Under the Bill, they are to be safely destroyed. That is what I would like the Government to take on board as legislation. I understand that the UK stockpile of cluster munitions contains four different types at the moment, so we have a lot of these.

Failing that—and I hate saying that if the Government do not accept plan A let us go to plan B, because it implies that I am conceding something, but let us be realistic—why should there not be an immediate moratorium on all cluster munitions? That would be sensible. It means that they would still be there if there was some military reason for them—which I have said there probably is not—but at least let us have a moratorium as the Norwegians have done. In any case, there is absolutely no argument for not having a moratorium on all dumb cluster munitions. Having said that they are going to be phased out, let us put a moratorium on their use now. I do not see why the Government should not do that.

It is a privilege to have been able to introduce this Bill. This is a desperately important issue, because it is a sign of our humanity if we do ban these weapons. I hope that the House will support that, and I hope that that is what the Government will do. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Dubs.)

My Lords, I welcome this Bill and congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on introducing it so effectively and comprehensively.

The campaign to ban cluster bombs has all the hallmarks of that to ban landmines, for much the same reasons; they are not militarily effective and they produce disproportionately civilian casualties. Worldwide, civilians constitute 98 per cent of all recorded casualties from cluster munitions. But whereas landmines were in widespread use by all sorts of groups as well as states, this campaign has come in slightly earlier, before cluster bombs are in widespread use by non-states. If we act now, therefore, we can do a great deal to stop such proliferation.

Like others in this debate, I have read the material about the effectiveness, or otherwise, of these bombs. I have read what the Government say in their defence, and I am not persuaded by their case. It is very clear from the account of their use in the Balkans, where large quantities were used with extremely low success against armoured vehicles, that their military use seems extremely limited. We have heard that in Kosovo 78,000 cluster bombs were used, taking out only 30 major items of military equipment. Most of the UK cluster bombs are, I understand, unable to penetrate the armour of the main battle tanks that have been in operation since 1970. I will leave much of the assessment of their effectiveness to others, such as my noble friend Lord Garden, whose authority on these areas, I am sure the Minster will agree, is without question.

During the Iraq war, there was enormous concern about the use of cluster bombs, and the UK Government, I remember, were evasive about whether they were using them. They were very keen to stress afterwards that everything had been cleared up when they admitted that they had used them. It is rather difficult for any of us to go in and check that, given the state of Iraq at the moment. What has happened in Lebanon over the summer has given further, and I hope definitive, impetus to the campaign against these bombs.

What happened in Lebanon was controversial enough without the use of cluster bombs. There we have a fragile society, which as we speak is verging once more on collapse, and every day in the south several people, among them women and children, are killed or wounded by a previously unexploded cluster bomblet. What reminder does that serve to those who resented the incursion into their territory? When the Israeli Embassy here in Britain sends me a message about how important it is that the Government of Lebanon do not fall—with which I wholeheartedly agree—I wonder whether they regret leaving their fatal footprints in the south of the country, the daily reminders of a failed military intervention.

The Israeli Ambassador to the Russian Federation stated on 26 July:

“Reports of the Israeli army using cluster munitions are an obvious propaganda of Hezbollah and other organizations who do not know what is actually going on”.

He knew full well how difficult, dangerous and damaging, both to civilians and to Israel’s reputation, it would be if they were used in such a populated area. On the same day, the commander of Israel’s ground forces said:

“We try to minimise their use”.

He knows both that they are being used and how controversial that is.

“In the last 72 hours we fired all the munitions we had, all at the same spot ... ordinary shells, clusters, whatever [we] had”,

said a reservist, quoted in Ha’aretz on 8 September; the desperate but incredibly destructive reaction of an Army in retreat.

“What we did was insane and monstrous, we covered entire towns in cluster bombs”,

says the head of an IDF rocket unit, quoted in Ha’aretz on 12 September. They all recognised the significance of what was happening; for it is civilians, above all, who are harmed by cluster bombs.

Cluster bombs kill civilians during attacks because they spread across a wide area. Anyone who has been to southern Lebanon will know how populated that area is. They also kill after the conflict, when civilians stumble across them. Of course, there is the wide, longer impact in that either farmers cannot use their land, or they endanger their lives and limbs by carrying on doing what they need to do to keep their farms going. For many, there is simply no choice. In Lebanon, Israeli-fired cluster munitions have damaged access to agriculture, housing, schools and water sources. Even now, bombs sit on people’s roofs. In just one month after the ceasefire, bomb disposal teams had destroyed more than 25,000 submunitions.

Each time a cluster bomb goes off and hurts someone in southern Lebanon—even though Israel is now quite desperate to shore up the Lebanese Government, and even though it is making welcome moves to talk to the Palestinians and the states around about the way forward—it is Hezbollah that benefits. If ever there was a reason to ban these bombs, you can see it in the tinder box of the Middle East.

What is the scale of the problem? Some 73 countries hold cluster bombs. Hezbollah used them; that is said to be the first known use of such weapons by a non-state armed group, although I gather warlords in the Balkans also did so. Of course, the use of such bombs goes far wider than the Middle East. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, the UK has been a significant user of them. It dropped some 78,000 bomblets during the air campaign in Kosovo and used more than 100,000 submunitions during the invasion of Iraq. It is therefore very appropriate that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is bringing forward a Bill which, as it were, targets what the UK can legally do. After all, the Government say that it is legal to use these weapons, but we can help them to a situation where it is no longer legal for them to do so.

Hilary Benn seemed to show some sympathy with that point of view—seemingly out of line with the MoD position—in calling for a campaign to ban cluster bombs other than those he considered “smart”. In a leaked letter on 5 November he said:

“The high failure rate of many cluster munitions, and the failure of many militaries around the world to use these munitions in a targeted way means that cluster munitions have a very serious humanitarian impact, pushing at the boundaries of international humanitarian law.

It is difficult then to see how we can hold so prominent a position against landmines, yet somehow continue to advocate that use of cluster munitions is acceptable”.

Too right.

For the Convention on Conventional Weapons in early November, he argued to his colleagues:

“I believe we should go in ... advocating for a process that will lead to an effective ban of ‘dumb’ cluster munitions”.

In fact, at that conference, Kofi Annan called for the freezing of the use of cluster bombs,

“against military assets located in or near populated areas”.

In a Written Answer in the Commons later in November, Hilary Benn said that there was agreement from Ministers at DfID, the FCO and the Ministry of Defence that the UK should play a leading role in pushing for an international commitment to end the use of dumb cluster munitions—that is, as we have heard, those without a target-discrimination capability or self-destruct mechanism—and phasing out the use of the UK's own dumb bombs. Welcome though that position is, it does not go far enough.

As we have heard and will no doubt hear again during the debate, so-called smart bombs are hardly smart at all. The bomblets are not programmed to focus in on a particular area. What is supposedly smart about them is that they have detonators which are supposed to destroy them, should they not detonate on impact. As we have heard, not only do the bomblets clearly have a higher failure rate when used in warfare than has been indicated under test conditions but the detonators have a 25 per cent failure rate. Given the number already found unexploded in Lebanon, clearly the failsafe mechanism is not working adequately. The UN has reported:

“We ... are finding large numbers of unexploded ... [smart] submunitions that have failed to detonate as designed and failed to self-destruct afterwards”.

We have heard that Jan Egeland has described the effect of these weapons in Lebanon as “shocking” and “to me, completely immoral”.

I feel for the Minister, a lady with the strongest of credentials in international development and a track record of support for civilians, especially women and children. I am struck that neither the MoD nor the FCO—nor, for that matter, DfID—wished to come near this subject, no doubt in the expectation that it might explode in their faces. I do not in the slightest associate the noble Baroness with someone who would argue for such weapons, and I feel that she has drawn a very short straw. I also think that the Government will change their view, but perhaps not in time to save her answering this debate. However, I suppose that that is the downside of being in government and it is what she has to put up with.

I have some questions to put to the Minister. Has the UK undertaken practical assessments of the human impact of cluster munitions? I do not think that it has. Has the UK gathered field data on cluster bombs? I think not. Has the UK provided evidence on how its forces evaluate and control the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions? Again, I do not think that it has. I take it that she will clarify that the UK Government will abide by a moratorium on so-called dumb cluster bombs. Will she be able to go further than that? The UK claims that these weapons are legal; that is why the Bill is important: it would make them illegal. After all, people decide collectively what is legal, and whether these bombs should be legal is what we are considering here.

As I said, I believe that ultimately this campaign will, as it must, prevail. As the Minister knows, the UK Government’s reputation around the world has been somewhat battered in recent times, so let us at least take the lead in this area, call for the banning of all cluster bombs and put our own stockpile out of use. Let us once more show our humanitarian rather than our militaristic credentials. I hope that the Government will shortly come to support this Bill.

My Lords, it is not entirely unheard of for judges to complain, usually in private, that they are sometimes forced to do what the law requires of them rather than what they judge to be right. In other words, law and morality are not always synonymous.

In a recent supplementary question, I invited the Minister to comment on the morality, as distinct from the legality, of using cluster munitions. I was very disappointed in the answer that I received. I therefore find myself raising the very same issue in this fuller debate today. Like others, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for bringing this matter before us.

He and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, both referred to Jan Egeland, who commented that the use of cluster munitions was utterly immoral. The terms “immoral” and “moral” are not necessarily easy to define. We can find ourselves in all kinds of trouble if we give the impression that we are seeking the moral high ground. I assure noble Lords that that is not my intention today.

The criteria by which we make moral judgments are truly varied. They will include those that we term “religious”, invoking an external authority; those that are properly termed “humanist”, implying a consensus among right-thinking people; and, indeed, those that we acknowledge to be “intuitive” or “instinctual”. When it comes to war, and the questions of whether it is to be waged at all and, if so, how, there is in the West a quite remarkable convergence of these criteria—religious, humanist and personal.

The coalition of ideas that gathers under the umbrella term “just war” has its roots firmly in Christian thought, notably St. Augustine. But these ideas have been refined and developed by many other influences, secular as well as religious, to the point where there is now broad agreement around the reasons why war might be justified—the so-called ius ad bellum—and the manner in which war is to be conducted, ius in bello. For Augustine, participating in war was a last resort but one that could be justified by the moral duty imposed by Christian love: the duty to protect an innocent neighbour from unjust attack. At the same time, Christian love sets definite limits on the violence that can be done to the attacker. It is largely those limits that are the subject of our debate today.

The Geneva Convention clearly enshrines the two main principles contained in ius in bello; namely, that, so far as is possible, all non-combatants should be excluded from a theatre of war which could lead to their death or maiming—the so-called “principle of discrimination”.

Secondly, a just war is one that is undertaken without gratuitous destruction; that is, in accordance with the principle of proportionality. For many of us, these principles raise huge moral questions about, for example, the carpet-bombing of Dresden, to say nothing of the holocaust that was Hiroshima. By comparison with such enormous devastation, why are we so bothered by a few unexploded cluster bombs? One answer, which has already been given, is that we are not simply talking about a few. Statistics have already been produced—and other noble Lords will, no doubt, produce others—to show that cluster munitions are a massive problem in areas of recent conflict, and that they not only destroy or maim countless civilian lives, but, just like landmines, render whole swathes of countryside uninhabitable. However, whatever the numbers, the issue of morality is not to be determined solely, or even primarily, by the scale of the problem or the number of unexploded cluster munitions, but by the nature of the weapons themselves, which simply cannot be used in a manner that ensures discrimination.

One of the regular obscenities of any war is the death of innocent bystanders, who are written off as “collateral damage”. Incidentally, it is, perhaps, significant that we always use the term, “collateral damage” of the other side, the enemy, and not of our own side. I would find it hard to write off the life of one of my children or my wife in such a cavalier fashion. However, with targeted weaponry such deaths perhaps have to be accepted. The same simply cannot be argued when it comes to weapons that spread like grapeshot and that have very recently been used in areas with a civilian population. The use of napalm in Vietnam was eventually condemned as utterly inhumane, if not illegal, for the very same reason. The effects were indiscriminate, and therefore the principles of discrimination and proportionality were subverted. In medicine, if an apparently effective drug has too many bad side-effects it is withdrawn from circulation. Cluster bombs produce too many bad side-effects. I believe that any society that claims to be civilised should outlaw practices that may at present be legal but that future generations will undoubtedly see as immoral. I am wholeheartedly in favour of the Bill.

My Lords, I appreciate the broader context set by the right reverend Prelate. In supporting the Bill, so eloquently moved by my noble friend Lord Dubs, I recognise that, as a civilian who has never borne arms, I am questioning a decision made on the advice of military professionals. On the whole, civilians should be careful about that. But it is precisely because civilians—people who have nothing to do with battles and only want to harvest their crops and go about their day-to-day business—are so overwhelmingly affected by cluster bombs that I do speak.

Cluster bombs have been used in most major conflicts since the Vietnam War. In Laos, where I saw children on crutches and legless adults propelling themselves on small wagons to beg, there were nearly 5,000 casualties from them. In Iraq, there have been more than 2,000. Handicap International estimates that there may be 100,000 casualties worldwide and that 98 per cent of them are probably civilian. In Kosovo and Cambodia, where I saw many victims, boys under 18 are the biggest single casualty group.

The UK is one of the larger users of cluster bombs. Unexploded ones are still being found in Kosovo from the 78,000 submunitions inside cluster bombs. There were dropped, in our name, more than 100,000 submunitions inside cluster bombs during the invasion of Iraq, but I am not aware of our Government having made any analysis of their own of the harm to civilians caused by the use of these weapons. Yet the concept of banning weapons that cause unnecessary suffering to civilians is firmly embedded in the law that we adhere to, the Convention on Conventional Weapons. According to a YouGov poll, 81 per cent of British adults agree that the UK should support an international ban on cluster bombs. It seems to me that the Government have a case to answer.

I regret that the department for which my noble friend speaks has not seen fit to accept this case. In a Written Statement published in Hansard on 4 December, my noble friend Lord Triesman repeated what my honourable friend Kim Howells said: that the UK would begin a process of withdrawing just one kind of cluster bomb, so-called dumb cluster bombs—a term which the noble Lord, Lord Garden, questioned in his supplementary question of 23 November. We all agree that this small advance is, of course, welcome, but the Statement says of cluster bombs that,

“compelling and legitimate conditions may occur when our Armed Forces need to use these weapons”.—[Official Report, 4/12/06; WS 111.]

That is a bad precondition under which to start the reviews and the discussions which the Statement expands on. Apparently, on 14 November, UK representatives had already objected—we were the only member state to do so—to a proposal for EU government experts to prepare a common EU position on negotiating a new legal instrument on these weapons.

If the Government pay little attention to the thousands upon thousands of dead and disabled civilians, many of them children, can we at least not join our allies and friends among other sovereign states? We have heard that Belgium has banned cluster bombs. New Zealand has called for a legally binding instrument, and the Lebanon, whose suffering we heard about from my noble friend and from the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, has joined the call for a ban. Then there are all those who have called for negotiations to begin without further postponements.

Such decisions should indeed be joint ones. I think all sides of this House have supported multilateral action on a ban. My noble friend’s Bill would lead the implementation of such an international ban. There is, in fact, no need to work up all those long-term discussions and reviews held out by the Government through the framework of the Convention on Conventional Weapons. In the 1990s, states departed from the framework of the CCW to negotiate the Ottawa treaty to ban landmines, in which the UK, in those days, took an active part. The Ottawa convention now has 152 states parties, as against the CCW’s 100, and the only country left now using anti-personnel landmines is Burma. The Ottawa action would be a good model to follow. It is political will that we are short of here, not lengthy processes. I do not say this with any satisfaction, but should we not be ashamed to stand apart from a gathering momentum of public and international opinion on this of all subjects, when we could be helping to lead it?

My Lords, I join all those who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on bringing this important Bill before the House. He must be delighted that so many noble Lords have put down their names to speak on the subject.

I shall approach the subject from a personal point of view. I was involved in the Cold War when cluster munitions, which are the subject of this Bill, were viewed rather differently, certainly by the military, because of what they were supposed to be able to do. There were two main tasks. The first was airfield denial, which of course had an enormous impact on how the Cold War might have been fought. The second task, which was more immediately appropriate to the Army, related to the fact that we faced a potential mass of men and equipment which we lacked the men and equipment to deal with. One of the ways of channelling that mass to where we could do more was to deny it ground and to hope that it would therefore come to where we were more able to take action.

One way to do that was to lay minefields. By and large you laid deliberate minefields, which were marked so that you knew where they were to aid your own movement. You also left a map to show where they were, so that when the combat was over it was easier to clear up the battlefields where these things had been laid. Then came the opportunity to lay minefields more quickly, particularly anti-personnel minefields, by use of a cluster munition, which could deploy quickly over a piece of ground a large number of these weapons that you otherwise could not have used. So they did have an operational purpose against mass.

Interestingly, towards the end of the Cold War, our tactics changed. Instead of trying to put a thin line, as it were, right across the front to stop absolutely everyone who was coming, we decided to defend vital ground and to deploy our own forces, some of whom had the task of counter-attacking penetrations. I was lucky enough to command the first division in the British Army that was given this role. We started to do this and realised that movement was crucial to our task. One of the problems on the battlefield was that these indiscriminate unmarked minefields, laid by weapons that were capable of deploying large clusters of munitions, were a menace to our movement, as we did not know where they were. One therefore had to take an operational risk when deploying through these areas, which could well involve the loss of one’s life. That debate was still going on when the Cold War ended.

The next time cluster munitions were thought to be ineffectively deployed was in our attacks on airfields during the first Gulf War, when the cluster munitions deployed as airfield denial weapons simply did not work. Therefore, they were a wasted weapon in our locker. The Iraqi ground forces never massed in such strength to justify the use of cluster munitions deploying anti-personnel mines, so these munitions were again shown up to be something of a question mark in the arsenal of military weapons.

Soon after that, I left the Army and became involved with the United Nations and the World Bank, particularly on the subject of post-conflict reconstruction. One of the main tasks in post-conflict reconstruction is clearing up the battlefield—clearing up the mess. That is frequently referred to as de-mining. At that time, the World Bank was unwilling to fund de-mining activities because it said that all mines were military and that it did not fund military activities. It took a great deal of time and persuasion to prove to it that “de-mining” is an unfortunate word when talking about clearing up the detritus on a battlefield, as that includes large numbers of unexploded weapons of various kinds, not all of which have been militarily laid. The phrase that we tried to put across was, “There is no development without de-mining”. That resulted in the Word Bank agreeing to fund de-mining operations.

The firm that I was with was involved in a lot of these operations—in Mozambique, Angola, Zaire, Somalia, Afghanistan, Laos and other places. What was disturbing with the task in hand was that, although some mines had been militarily laid and marked, a large number of mines had been laid indiscriminately. Whereas one felt confident to say that the battlefield detritus was not all military, one of the biggest problems was the unexploded cluster munitions that could only have been militarily deployed.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, cited the words of General Sir Rupert Smith. I commend to Members of this House a book that General Smith has written, The Utility of Force, in which he analyses the change from what was industrial war between industrial nations, which was the characteristic of the Cold War, even though it never happened. To have armed forces on clearly defined battlefields is a very different affair from what is going on now, which General Smith has defined in the phrase “war among the people”. It seems to me that what we are talking about—if we are talking about the scale of military operations as currently conducted in Iraq and in Afghanistan and formerly in Yugoslavia—is very much war among the people. If you are conducting war among the people, the weapons you will use must be proportional; they must be used only against military forces and not against the people.

One of the main reasons why I so strongly support the Bill of noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is that I do not believe that there is any military justification for the deployment of these mass weapons in a war where the most likely victims are nothing to do with the military conduct. If these wars are political, which I believe they are—and the military must be the servants of the political in all these ventures—the political direction must be sufficiently surgical that military commanders are enabled to decide which weapons they wish to use for which purposes. For all that I have tried to analyse this as best I can, I can find no justification for the deployment of these weapons in any activity that the British Army has been involved with since the end of the Cold War. Therefore, I hope that the Government will listen to the accumulated comments that will no doubt be made during the rest of the debate.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on introducing this extremely important Bill. I apologise to the House that I may have to leave before the end of the debate for family reasons—it is my wife’s birthday today. In support of my noble friend’s important Bill, I will concentrate on the destructive anti-humanitarian effects of these weapons. Most other speakers are much better qualified than me to look at the technical details of these weapons and their military usefulness or otherwise. I am therefore very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who has just spoken, for his informed discourse on the use of these weapons.

My noble friend discussed the status of these weapons under the conventions and protocols of international humanitarian law and said that they are very probably not permitted. He also explained how the Bill can edge forward the growing international movement, initiated by Belgium, to make the use of these weapons illegal, in the same way as the Ottawa convention has effectively ended the use of anti-personnel mines. The effect of cluster weapons is similar to those of anti-personnel mines, in the sense that they continue to cause injury and death long after a military conflict is technically over. The intention may be to use them as battlefield weapons and for all the submunitions to explode on impact, or soon after, but even if no dumb submunitions are intentionally used, 1 to 5 per cent or more—much higher figures have been quoted—do not explode on impact. As each container holds hundreds of submunitions and many containers may be used, there will be a significant number of unexploded submunitions, as my noble friend has explained, even if the percentage of dumb submunitions is low. These will continue to present a hazard to local populations, especially to children and particularly to boys, who are curious about such intriguing objects. They pick them up or, through bravado, poke them and accidentally detonate them.

The injuries from cluster bomblets or submunitions are considerably more severe than those from anti-personnel mines and more akin to those caused by anti-tank mines, which is unsurprising because cluster bomblets are intended to penetrate armour or destroy vehicles. I understand, however, that they often fail to destroy or damage heavily armoured modern vehicles, as my noble friend has said. Although anti-personnel mines cause injuries mainly to lower limbs, which may necessitate amputation, cluster bombs are more likely to cause severe internal injuries that may prove fatal even if expert surgical help and a blood transfusion are rapidly available. Usually, they are not.

In Kosovo, where some of the most detailed data have been collected under UN auspices by the UN Mine Action co-ordinating centre, the fatality rate of post-conflict anti-personnel mines was 8 per cent in the 210 episodes recorded, but 30 per cent in 142 cluster-bomb episodes reported. Cluster bombs are therefore three or four times as lethal. In that period, a third more children and adolescents were injured or killed by cluster bombs than they were by anti-personnel mines. The reverse was true among adults, among whom there were three times as many casualties due to anti-personnel mines as there were due to cluster submunitions. Cluster bomb explosions were more likely to kill young people, especially boys, as I have said, because they handled the devices or were close onlookers. Older men were more likely to tread on anti-personnel mines while working, especially in agricultural areas.

Data from other war zones are not so detailed or accurate because of the problems involved in obtaining accurate information when there is a breakdown in communications and infrastructure and the enforced movement of the population. Some 11,000 episodes have been analysed, and all studies of the problem agree that cluster bomb injuries result in much higher death rates than anti-personnel mines. In Laos, over 25 years, 55 per cent of the 4,800 incidents reported were fatal. I thank Landmine Action and Handicap International for providing the figures that I have quoted.

The case for banning these weapons is therefore even stronger than that for anti-personnel mines unless there is an overwhelming military case to be made in their favour. Although the Minister will probably have to argue that there is such a case, the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, may cause her to wonder whether the words that she will have to utter are correct.

My Lords, the noble Lord will forgive me for interrupting him. I find it difficult to do so because I agree with everything he has said and would probably agree with everything he was going to say; but we do have to do something to defend the Companion to the Standing Orders of this House, which are clearly quoted at the top of the speakers list. If the noble Lord cannot be with us at the end, I suggest it would be a courtesy to the House if he concluded his remarks fairly swiftly and then took all our congratulations to his wife on her birthday.

I am extremely sorry for the way in which the tenor of my thoughts moved. It was well beyond my script, and I apologise to the Minister.

I have spoken mainly about the effect of post-conflict residual weapons.

My noble friend misunderstands the situation. The Companion to the Standing Orders is clear that if he cannot stay until the end of the debate, he should not speak in it. He has begun his remarks, but the noble Lord, Lord Elton, has made a plea, which I think is shared by all Members of this House, that he really ought to bring those remarks to a close. The Government are not replying to the debate. The Bill is in the hands of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, but he is under no obligation whatever to take any notice of what my noble friend says when he will not be present at the conclusion of the debate.

I will, in that case, conclude my remarks. I strongly support my noble friend’s Bill. I hope that the Government will give it very careful and sympathetic consideration as it passes through its stages in this House and, more crucially, in another place.

I join others in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on bringing forward this Bill. It is impossible not to be impressed by the particular horror of cluster bombs and their appalling effect on civilians, particularly women and children, not only when they are dropped but long afterwards, as we are still seeing in Vietnam and as I fear we will see for some time in the Lebanon. The issue in question is the consequences of the munitions that are used, not the intent behind their use, so the parallel that others have drawn with landmines is indeed valid.

It is impossible not to be struck by the sheer scale of the stockpile of cluster munitions and by their use and proliferation. Their use by Hezbollah, as others have mentioned, is a chilling reminder of this. I do not doubt for a moment that our Armed Forces will use these weapons professionally, responsibly and legally, as they use others; nor do I doubt that the weapons themselves are legal. But others, alas, will not be so scrupulous, with devastating humanitarian consequences for many.

Public attitudes to weapons evolve over time, as does the international law that governs their use, as we have seen over the last 150 years or so with dum-dum bullets in the 19th century through to landmines in the 20th century. We live in a century in which there is more concern than ever, and rightly so, for the humanitarian consequences of disasters, whether natural or, as with conflicts, manmade. We are nearing the point at which the continued use of cluster munitions will simply be widely regarded as no longer tolerable. In that context, I welcome the decisions to phase out certain of Britain’s cluster munitions in the years ahead.

I also welcome the focus of the recent CCW review conference, at British instigation, on the humanitarian consequences of cluster munitions. Those must be moves in the right direction, but we must ask whether they go far enough and whether there is not now, as other noble Lords have argued, a compelling humanitarian case for stronger action, particularly given the clear and continuing evolution of national and international opinion. There are now very strong arguments for getting ahead of the curve and working for a complete ban on cluster munitions, as proposed in the Bill.

I realise that this presents difficulties. We cannot ignore the Minister of State’s recent statement in another place that,

“a total ban on the use of all types of sub-munition would have an adverse impact on the UK’s operational effectiveness”.—[Official Report, Commons, 23/11/06; col. 802.]

The question is whether that adverse impact, and in particular the potential impact on the security of our Armed Forces, which must always be our top concern, is so great and so certain as to outweigh the inevitable humanitarian consequences of the continued use of cluster munitions. I look forward to the remarks to be made by the noble Lord, Lord Garden, and I was deeply impressed on that point by the arguments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. For my part, like the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I am not yet convinced that the operational need for these weapons outweighs their inevitable humanitarian cost.

If we adjust our approach further, as I hope, and work for a complete ban as advocated in this Bill, whether through the CCW or separately, we should not underestimate the influence that we would have in the ensuing negotiations. Despite what we sometimes read, Britain has real influence in the world, including in the UN and other international bodies. That influence is derived from our economic strength, our global foreign policy, the high reputation of our Armed Forces, our large and poverty-focused aid programme, our long tradition of tolerance and our humane concern for others.

These issues are never straightforward, but I believe that the balance of the arguments now is in favour of this country putting its considerable political, moral and diplomatic weight behind those working for a complete ban on cluster munitions and making a real difference on an issue of huge and growing humanitarian concern, which is why I support this Bill.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for bringing this debate to your Lordships’ Chamber. I wish to associate myself strongly with the clear and persuasive speeches made by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and my colleague the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry. I suspect that there is a good deal of unanimity in your Lordships’ House on what these weapons do and the effects that they have. I wish to focus on the declaration made by the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, in his letter to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, of 5 December. He said:

“We consider that cluster munitions are lawful weapons when used in accordance with international humanitarian law”.

He went on to define how they might be properly used and be of military force and might.

This poses at once the question of whether we are going to base our use of any weapons on what is lawful or on what is right. As in other areas of debate—for example, bioethics—does a “can” automatically imply an “ought”? I believe that military action is justified and that our Armed Forces do an amazing job. We have a common duty to keep the peace, to protect the innocent and to minimise oppression, which is a duty that we all seek to support. But in pursuing those goals, we must surely be governed not by just what is legal, but by what is right.

In considering what arms we should use, I believe that we need to differentiate fairly clearly between those that are focused or targeted weapons—guns, bombs and missiles—that can be used against a defined military target and those indiscriminate weapons, such as chemical weapons, gas, nuclear weapons and cluster bombs, that affect civilian populations and areas as a whole. It is an increasingly easy distinction to make. Although there will be arguments about the boundaries, there cannot surely in your Lordships’ House be any doubt on which side of that divide cluster munitions fall. Why do we need to be so clear about the kind of weapons? Because the use of force in any “just war” theory means proportional response. Can cluster bombs ever be a proportional response?

When war spills out from the battlefield with conventional armed forces opposing each other, such as was envisaged by theorists like von Clausewitz, into the soft sweep of violence which affects whole civilian populations as well as military forces, we need much more sharply targeted weapons, not more indiscriminate ones. I have no hesitation in supporting the noble Lord in this debate. I hope very much that a definition of weapons and how they can be used proportionally will form part of the way we think through these questions, as this issue, which seems to me so self-evident and clear, is taken on to its next stage.

My Lords, I commend the action of my noble friend in introducing this Bill to outlaw the use of cluster munitions. He has already explained what those weapons do. They are clearly anti-personnel weapons, designed to kill and injure individuals. They constitute a threat even after the conflict in which they were used has terminated. They are particularly dangerous to children, who are often attracted to them because of their colour. Children can be badly injured or even killed when they pick them up.

Before the Iraq war, when it was clear that the invasion was about to begin, a number of us—notably the noble Lord, Lord Elton—urged the Government not to use cluster bombs. The danger to children was stressed. The Government refused to give such an assurance: indeed, whenever the subject has been raised, they have always said that cluster bombs are needed as a protection for our troops. I have always found this a rather surprising claim, which I hope will not be advanced again today.

I well recall the Kosovo conflict, which was claimed to be a conflict entered into for humanitarian reasons—to prevent ethnic cleansing. Some of us queried that at the time, since the casualties resulting from the intensive bombing were mainly civilians, and cluster bombs were used. Why were they used, if their use is required to protect troops? In that conflict, we did not have any troops on the ground. The war was conducted entirely by the bombing fleets. There were no troops to protect. Clinton refused to commit ground troops and we followed suit. There were no NATO troops on the ground until the hostilities were over, but we used cluster bombs notably on the city of Nis and other urban areas. The killed and injured were civilians and there were no military reasons for the use of those cluster weapons.

I cannot help believing that the function of these weapons is to terrorise civilian populations and to continue to make their lives difficult when the conflict is over. As we have heard today, fields cannot be farmed and villages often cannot be used because of the dangers that the weapons left behind represent. I hope we all agree that this is unacceptable and that the Bill receives the support it deserves. I also hope that we will be told by the Government about action being taken to assist civilians in the areas where there has been conflict and where they are still facing the problems left by these weapons. I support this Bill.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as a serving TA officer. Indeed, my commanding officer commanded an MLRS battery that was designed to fire these weapons. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for introducing this important subject by means of a Private Member’s Bill. I have been coming under considerable pressure from a personal contact in the UNHCR, resulting from the indiscriminate use of these weapons in southern Lebanon, as described by many noble Lords.

While cluster weapons are nasty weapons, there is no such thing as a nice lethal weapon. They can all kill, they can all maim, and they can all destroy the hopes and dreams of their victims, but I am not convinced that our Prime Minister understands that. Even the humble AK47 creates misery and fear all over the world. I have only one question, but it is a little technical. Does our current inventory of cluster munitions comply with the requirements of “insensitive munitions”?

Until recently, I slightly misunderstood the problem. For instance, it is thought that submunitions in Lebanon failed to explode because they were out of date or defective. I would be dismayed if any our weapons were either out of date—I have had a suitable response to a Parliamentary Question on that point—or unreliable. I think the Minister will struggle to convince your Lordships that our cluster munitions are reliable in that regard.

The M26 MLRS rockets contain 644 M77 submunitions. After a short flight, the submunition is armed by a simple mechanism and when it hits a hard target it explodes. The hard target may be an armoured vehicle but if it hits any other hard surface—a rock or a vehicle—it will still explode. The problem, as identified by many noble Lords, is that if it gets stuck in a tree, lands in sand or lands in snow it will probably not explode. As there is no self-destruct facility—or, if there is one, it is unreliable—the submunition remains dangerous for a long time and, because the fuse mechanism is simple, it is very easy to set off. This causes all the problems so accurately described by noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, of course, is infinitely more knowledgeable about military matters than I am and he has described his difficulties with and reservations about cluster munitions.

As noble Lords have pointed out, the UK did not deploy MLRS on Operation TELIC in Iraq in 2003. I was there. Of course, the reason we did not do so was because we had absolute air superiority. We could attrit the enemy by air and we did not want to litter the battlefield with any more unexploded ordnance than necessary for the reasons outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.

Many noble Lords have remarked on our use of other cluster munitions in Iraq in 2003. I was one of the 25,000 British servicemen on the ground. If we had lost more than 1,000 British servicemen on that operation, I suggest your Lordships would be taking a rather different view. We believed that we faced weapons of mass destruction. We fought to win, not to lose. Do not send our Armed Forces on operations like this with one hand tied behind their back. If noble Lords do not like the consequences of an illegal and unnecessary war, I suggest they have a chat with the Prime Minister.

Why the Israel Defense Forces acted in Lebanon in the way they did is a mystery to me. What desired end-state could it have been seeking to achieve? I think part of their problem must have been poor command and control arrangements.

Many noble Lords have questioned the utility of cluster munitions. It has been suggested that the bomblets are ineffective against the main battle tanks’ armour, especially if the tank has explosive-reactive armour. But, first, there are thousands of main battle tanks without ERA; and secondly, an armoured force has many more armoured vehicles than main battle tanks. In addition, it will have vast numbers of soft-skinned vehicles. Armoured personnel carriers are designed to resist small-arms fire and shrapnel from bombardment but, unless they are something like our in-service Warrior armoured personnel carrier, they are not designed to resist shaped charges. For instance, our most numerous armoured fighting vehicles are in the FV 430 range, which are easily taken out by a top attack bomblet. Many former Warsaw Pact AFVs are just as vulnerable.

Noble Lords have observed that some countries have, to some extent, withdrawn cluster munitions or are debating doing so. But, to be quite blunt, many of these countries do not plan to prosecute and win a large-scale, high-intensity conflict. It is our Government’s policy to be able to do so. I suggest that those countries rely upon the US, UK and, possibly, France to do that task for them. Most of these states do not have a comprehensive and layered defence capability; their forces are unbalanced. I believe that there are 10,000 main battle tanks in Europe but states with far more main battle tanks than ourselves spend only a fraction of the UK’s defence expenditure. They have horrible gaps in their capability, particularly in logistics, their ability to deploy at distance, intelligence, surveillance, target acquisition and reconnaissance. In short, they are not serious and their conventional deterrent is weak. I believe that we need this capability to engage an advancing enemy armoured formation.

Noble Lords have mentioned Kosovo, but in that campaign we saw the limitations of air power. Yes, a few platforms were taken out, but the Serb forces were much better than expected in camouflage, concealment and deception. Why we were deceived is another matter. We make a mistake by always assuming that we will have air superiority in a future conflict. Certainly that might be right in respect of a conflict of choice, but we might not have air superiority where an enemy has unexpectedly good air defences.

However, if we are to have a system of cluster munitions, we must exercise great care in its use in order to follow the doctrine of General Rupert Smith in his excellent book Utility of Force.

I am sorry to be unhelpful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, but I share all noble Lords’ concerns about unexploded submunitions—the ones that do not go off for the reasons I have explained. I believe that it is imperative that submunitions self-destruct quickly and reliably. This is for two reasons: first, on the humanitarian grounds already expertly laid out by noble Lords; and, secondly, for military effectiveness. The system would be much more effective if all submunitions exploded on contact with a hard surface or self-destructed within a few seconds. I cannot see any advantage in not having all submunitions exploding quickly after deployment. I think the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, would agree on that point.

Incidentally, I do not think that self-neutralisation is good enough because it would leave in place many of the problems I have outlined. There would be less military utility and it would provide a source of explosives for irregular forces or terrorists.

Cluster munitions present a unique problem. Ordinary high-explosive shells and propellant natures can be used up on live-firing exercises—no doubt there is a cycle in the use of defence munitions to achieve that end—but, because of their nature, cluster munitions cannot be fired for training. It would be interesting to know whether cluster munitions have been fired recently on an MRS.

So what is to be done? I believe that the Bill as drafted is undesirable, but easily amendable to permit cluster munitions with reliable self-destruct mechanisms. In the short term, the Minister should consider controls on cluster munitions, particularly a requirement for a written authority from the Secretary of State to remove cluster munitions from the ammunition depots. In the longer term, the Minister should ensure that all submunitions should self-destruct reliably.

My fear—or, perhaps, forecast—as there are other uses for the MLRS launcher system, is that the Government will keep current stocks of cluster munitions for as long as possible until the political pressure becomes too much, and will then take the munitions out of service but will not replace them with munitions with a reliable self-destruct device because of the cost.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs on introducing the Bill. This is an appropriate day on which to debate it—buried among a lot of other news is news that the Government have instructed the Serious Fraud Office to stop inquiring into sleaze in the arms industry. Cluster bombs are part of that. One reads of the huge sighs of relief from these people and that the decision has apparently been made in the national interest.

I frequently hear that we need arms to defend ourselves, and I do not disagree, but that if we can sell as many of them as possible to other people as well, the unit cost comes down and that is more efficient, so we should export them. We seem to do this, often with allegedly massive bribes, which might have come out in the SFO inquiry if it had continued, on the basis that everybody else does it and we have to keep up with them or lose jobs. The key is not to get found out, hence the panic in much of the world over the SFO inquiry. This has been going on for years. The Conservative Party did it when it was in government. We should give our Government credit for starting the SFO inquiry—I am rather sad that they have not been able to keep it going.

In today’s world, few of these arms are for defending the UK, and I include cluster bombs in that remark. They seem to be more frequently used for attacking others such as expeditionary forces around the world and, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, suggested, for other things as well. So it is good that landmines are already banned, as my noble friend Lord Dubs said; that has been confirmed by Hilary Benn. Cluster bombs are not any different in their effect from landmines; they are just a different means of delivery, which I am sure some of our colleagues will say is more efficient. As many noble Lords have said, these things stay around for years and kill many innocent people.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry talked about collateral damage. Probably more than 100,000 people have died in Iraq but we do not seem to be able to count them. If al-Qaeda or anybody else managed to set off some of these bombs in our suburban gardens, covering large parts of the UK with mines that hung around for years, killing our children, of course we would want to stop it and I hope that we would. But, as the right reverend Prelate said, would we really call it collateral damage? Would we not think it much better if not only was there a worldwide ban on cluster munitions but we had taken a full and proactive lead in achieving it, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said? The real difference is that cluster bombs survive for many years after the military have left; all the evidence I have read suggests that that is true.

I suggest that we return to the ethical foreign policy that the Government started nearly 10 years ago. My party had one—the Tories never did, to my knowledge. If the Government supported the Bill, it would be an excellent way of restarting that policy.

My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Berkeley in congratulating my noble friend Lord Dubs on finding an opportunity to promote this Bill and an occasion for discussing a topic which troubles many of your Lordships and very many people outside this House.

My noble friend made it clear that under the Bill, the United Kingdom would renounce the use of cluster bombs, because to use or possess them would be a criminal offence, as it would be to trade in them. And it would be a unilateral act by this country, because there is not yet a convention or treaty prohibiting their use. In that respect, there is a distinction between this Bill and the Landmines Act 1998 which implemented the United Kingdom’s undertakings under the existing Ottawa convention.

Of course, most noble Lords participating in the debate hope to see a convention concluded in the near future, but, sadly, that can be initiated only by Governments; for the moment, Parliament has no role to play other than to express approval or disapproval of the actions of Governments. Some of us would like to see Parliament play a more proactive role in negotiating conventions, but that is for the future.

Sometimes a unilateral renunciation of a detestable weapon, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, pointed out, is important not only in augmenting the respect which this country currently enjoys but in encouraging others to follow suit. We sometimes debate the merits of unilateral renunciation of nuclear weapons, but that is very different. It is argued by the Government that to renounce our nuclear deterrent would leave us vulnerable to attack. However that may be—and some of us take a different view—no one can seriously argue that only cluster bombs can deter someone who might wish to attack us.

Many of the issues which might otherwise have confused this debate are already foreclosed. It is established in international law and, I am sure, in an international moral consensus, that a state prosecuting a war is not entitled to an unrestrained choice of method. The end does not necessarily justify the means, pace the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who for the moment is not in his place. Military necessity does not confer a blanket licence.

At least since the St Petersburg declaration of 1868, it has been accepted that there are categories of weapon, the use of which is unacceptable. That consensus was reinforced by the Hague convention of 1899 and the conventions relating to specific weapons since the Second World War. Similarly—and perhaps more importantly for the present purpose—there are conventions to protect non-combatants. That protection is not confined to the specific conventions. There has grown up over the past 150 years a body of customary international law generally referred to as international humanitarian law. The argument that cluster bombs are unlawful is not necessarily refuted by pointing out that there is not yet a convention forbidding them. Even were that not so, to say “There is not a law against it” is not usually an acceptable excuse. We are here to examine the existing law and, where necessary, to change it.

It is now clear, as was pointed out by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that the character of war itself has changed, at least since the end of the Cold War. Military operations no longer normally take place on open battlefields with set-piece manoeuvres; more frequently, they are carried out in towns and villages among civilian populations. Tanks proceed up residential streets and are resisted from buildings in the side streets.

It is difficult to target a military objective with any weapon without endangering civilians, so cluster bombs stand condemned on two grounds. First, they are liable to injure those who are not and should not be targeted. It is sometimes argued that it is necessary to balance the suffering inflicted against the advantages to be gained—in traditional international law, the doctrine of proportionality. I am not qualified to assess the advantages and I am not sure that the Government are in a position to assess the advantages and disadvantages, since we are told that they have not conducted any study of the subject. But I accept that it could not be right to inflict such harm for a negligible advantage. However, I have always been a little troubled by the doctrine of proportionality. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry warned us, that might appear to imply that any suffering is justified if the advantage to be gained is sufficient, pace the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. I do not go along with that. It is as though a burglar were to argue, “It's all right for me to burgle that house because the damage and distress which I cause will be outweighed by the value of the loot which I take away with me”.

The second ground on which cluster bombs stand condemned is that their power to injure is not exhausted at the time of impact, as many noble Lords have pointed out. They can kill, maim and ruin lives long after the battle has subsided. We have heard more than once—and before this debate, too—the distinction between smart bombs and dumb bombs. We know, too, as some of your Lordships have said, that smart bombs, like smart human beings, are not infallible. There are times when smart bombs can act dumb and fail to self-destruct. There are, of course, disputes about what proportion of them fail to self-destruct. In the case of the M85, estimates have varied from between 1 per cent to at least 5 per cent and some, I believe, higher.

The problem with statistics is that they conceal as much as they enlighten. Quoting statistics can be a way of saying, “It's all right because not many people have been injured”. If, as I am told, 78,000 bomblets were used in Kosovo, 1 per cent of 78,000 is the 780. That was 780 deaths and maimings waiting to happen. To the person whose legs are amputated the damage is 100 per cent.

But the damage is not confined to individual human tragedies. The death traps left behind, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, pointed out, inhibit the rebuilding of homes and the rehabilitation of civilian populations. And they continue to alienate populations when humanitarian organisations are seeking to bring about peace and reconciliation.

We saw in the case of landmines how public opinion can build up until it is irresistible. I believe, like my noble friend Lady Whittaker, that it is building up across the globe and that there will be a convention. That is why my heart goes out to my noble friend on the Front Bench—the most compassionate of individuals. When it comes, I am sure that she would like to say with pride, as I would, that my country gave a moral lead.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords not only in congratulating the noble Lord who introduced the Bill but in my sympathy for the Minister. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, suggested that she had drawn the short straw. I recall, just after I had been appointed to my first ministerial post, meeting the late Lord Eccles in the Prince’s Chamber and telling him my news with great excitement. Instead of the warm congratulations I expected, he shook his head sadly and said, “You’ll have to eat an awful lot of worms”. I fear that the noble Baroness may not enjoy her dinner today.

The case against cluster munitions has been conclusively made. I wish to fortify it in only one respect: the question of the reliability of the so-called smart weapon to self-destruct. We have heard the figures of 1 per cent and 5 per cent as the likely failure rate. Those figures came from observing the campaign in Lebanon. I have seen photographs of the ground over which that campaign passed. A photograph of an area slightly smaller than this Chamber showed five unexploded bomblets in one place. Either a large number of missiles were targeted on the same garden or the failure rate was a great deal more than 1 or 5 per cent.

That being so, I am tempted to think of reports by United Nations observers, who suggested that a more credible assessment of the failure rate may be 25 per cent. My noble friend Lord Attlee gave a most interesting dissection of the situation, and I hope that your Lordships are not tempted to expect a safe smart bomb to be available before long, because the current failure rate is the result of the best efforts of munitions manufacturers around the world, and it does not work. We have to write it off as a usable weapon in the terms described by the manufacturers.

Will the Government confirm that they have now definitively and finally abandoned all use of airdrop cluster weapons, as alleged twice in this debate? Can we have that on the record from the Minister? If not, why not? We need to know the situation.

My second question is whether the Bill, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is necessary. Perhaps these weapons are already de facto illegal. Paragraph 4 of Article 51 of the supplementary protocol to the international Convention on Conventional Weapons, relating to the protection of the civilian population. states:

“Indiscriminate attacks are prohibited. Indiscriminate attacks are:”—

I shall move straight to the second paragraph—

“(b) those which employ a method or means of combat which cannot be directed at a specific military objective; or

(c) those which employ a method or means of combat the effects of which cannot be limited as required by this Protocol;

and consequently, in each such case, are of a nature to strike military objectives and civilians or civilian objects without distinction”.

Paragraph 5 continues:

“Among others, the following types of attacks are to be considered as indiscriminate:”—

I shall pass again to paragraph (b)—

“(b) an attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians, damage to civilian objects, or a combination thereof, which would be excessive in relation to the concrete and direct military advantage anticipated”.

In Article 57, the responsibilities are given to local commanders. It states:

“1. In the conduct of military operations, constant care shall be taken to spare the civilian population, civilians and civilian objects

2. With respect to attacks, the following precautions shall be taken:

(a) those who plan or decide upon an attack shall”—

I shall pass to the second and third requirements—

“(ii) take all feasible precautions in the choice of means and methods of attack with a view to avoiding, and in any event to minimising, incidental loss of civilian life, injury to civilians and damage to civilian objects

(iii) refrain from deciding to launch any attack which may be expected to cause incidental loss of civilian life”.

There is no question that these weapons inevitably cause considerable loss of civilian life. If we are subscribers to the protocol, we seem to be in breach of it. If we are not, will the Minister tell us that we have not subscribed to that additional protocol?

There is not much more to say. As my noble friend sits next to me, I have to hear what he says about how it looks on the ground. I sympathise deeply with him and greatly respect what he has done in the cause of this country, at a stage when it seemed so honourable and hopeful. I understand the need for every soldier to have the greatest possible weaponry to hand; but, as we have been told that the principal object of these weapons is to deal with armour, how many armoured tanks on which we rained these lethal weapons were there in Afghanistan? I did not know that the Taliban had any. The Government’s statements in defence of the policy seem a little moth-holed.

I thank my noble friend for bringing this matter forward. The reality, I recognise, is that the Bill will not get on to the statute book in its present form. I hope that it has a Committee stage, because there are ways in which it can be improved, and the discussion could improve our own approach to this problem internationally.

On the international question, I conclude by reflecting sadly on what we did in Switzerland the other day. I know it has been dressed up as us pressing forward on the need for discussion of this important matter for another 12 months before we meet again, but unfortunately we did not press forward on the need, expressed by so many other countries, for negotiation: actually getting down to discussing what we could agree. If that is going to be the Government’s attitude, there is no way forward but that suggested by the Norwegians at the conference. They have now declared that they will call an unofficial conference for those who want to go ahead. More strength to their elbows—I wish I knew what the Norwegian was for “elbow”, but more strength to them anyway. They are embarking on a course that proved successful when it came to getting rid of landmines, which in my view were less objectionable creatures than these are.

Your Lordships have heard that children are most likely to be maimed by one of these things, because it looks like something to play with. If your Lordships can do something today that will persuade the Government to take forward honestly in the international forum a campaign to ban these weapons, I will be satisfied if we do not do it on our own before everyone else does. I wish, however, to be satisfied that the Government are putting 100 per cent into their effort to get that result as quickly as is humanly possible.

My Lords, I am glad to speak in support of my noble friend Lord Dubs. This Bill is certainly an immediate priority. He presented it today intellectually convincingly and with impressive moral conviction.

Listening to the penetrating observations of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, I could not help reflecting on my own experiences some years ago as a director of Oxfam. During that time I was greatly disturbed by the fact that more than 50 per cent of our work worldwide was caught up in the consequences of warfare. We wanted to get on with serious development work, but the reality was that we had to take the consequences of war seriously, over and over again. I also reflected during that period on the sad reality that war was affecting civilians more and more—in a sense, even more than military personnel. I could not help occasionally wondering whether, in the strategy and planning for warfare, this had not become a real and nasty consideration: we win wars by intimidating civilians.

Lebanon has been mentioned in this debate. I find it very sad, when we are so committed to our membership of the Security Council, that we were so dilatory in pressing for an immediate end to the war. In that context, it is significant to note that perhaps as many as 90 per cent of the cluster bombs used in Lebanon were used in the last 72 hours of the war. Warnings may have been given, but too often the frail, the elderly and very young simply could not flee. The lasting consequences, together with the consequences of previous Israeli incursions in 1973 and 1983, remain grave. As we have heard, livelihoods have been destroyed and large areas of agricultural land are contaminated by failed, but still potentially lethal, submunitions. In the recent autumn, three to four civilians have been killed per day, and 35 per cent of those victims have, it seems, been children. The UN Mine Action Co-ordination Centre in south Lebanon has calculated that the number of unexploded munitions, as we have heard, may be as high as 1 million.

The United Kingdom has championed the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. What does the spirit and logic of that position demand of us on the issues raised by the Bill? I found the reflections of my noble friend Lord Berkeley particularly significant. We speak a great deal about, and are preoccupied by, terrorism, but what is terror? Where is the dividing line between terrorism and action that generates terror? We need to think carefully about that if we are to have credibility in our stand against terrorism. We must consider the contradictions between what we argue we are defending and the daily experiences and the reality of life in highly sensitive and volatile parts of the world. As the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, argued so well, the dangers of counterproductivity cannot be overemphasised.

It is claimed by some that cluster bombs are safe, and that the failure rate is less than 1 per cent. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, referred to this. It is clear, however, that the failure rate of the modern M85 submunitions used in south Lebanon may in fact have been between 25 per cent and 40 per cent.

This dreadful saga is not just about Lebanon, of course. Unexploded submunitions, when accidentally activated, still kill, maim and bereave hundreds of people, many of them children, in Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam decades after their deployment. More recently, the people of Kosovo, Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as Lebanon, have joined the people of south-east Asia in enduring this cruel legacy, with its agonising human costs, as lives are often painfully eliminated, children are hideously wounded, and access to land, to orchards with their olives, citrus fruit and banana crops, to homes and to forests for hunting and gathering firewood, is lost.

The stark truth about cluster bombs is that while their multiplied and scattered effect, with its inevitable inaccuracy, brings disproportionate suffering to civilians in times of conflict—and that is bad enough—in the aftermath of that conflict they continue for years to punish the most vulnerable and innocent people in the community.

So-called “collateral damage” is the distortingly anodyne language with which we endeavour to mask ghastly and nightmarish realities for ordinary, non-combatant people. That terminology is even more cynically inappropriate when applied to situations where a ceasefire has been established or peace restored. For the people where the explosions happen it is nothing less than indiscriminate terror.

Earlier this month Kim Howells, a Minister of State, told us of the Government’s concern. He assured us that an international consensus had been achieved to hold expert-level discussions on the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions as what he described as an essential preliminary to legally binding instruments. He evidently expects those experts to report back in 12 months’ time. Our Government, he has told us, will then, after these further 12 months, consider the outcome of those discussions in deciding whether—and, if so, how—to develop their future policy on these sinister weapons.

Another 12 months? Should, God forbid, circumstances arise in which these weapons are used before, it is to be hoped, some sane conclusions are reached, how many children must die or be maimed? How many more relatively innocent civilians must suffer? Is that not extraordinary complacency by a nation determined to retain its seat as a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council? Do we not already know all too well the human impact of cluster bombs?

My noble friend Lord Dubs is absolutely right about smart bombs. The Government’s leisurely timetable for phasing them out is totally unconvincing and ludicrous. In the name of the humanity that we constantly assert as the basis of our way of life, urgency is desperately required. Do or do we not regard children in the Middle East as being as important as any children here in England, Wales, Scotland or Northern Ireland? That is why Norway’s determination to get on right now with banning cluster weapons is so welcome.

Will my noble friend please clarify the position of our Government on three specific issues? First, how do they intend to engage with the Norwegian initiative? Secondly, why have they not ratified Protocol V of the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, with the obligation which that places on states that have used cluster weapons to clean up in the aftermath? When will they ratify that protocol? Thirdly, what effective steps are the Government taking to constrain international transfers of cluster weapons? The need for that is pressing. As many as 70 countries, including Israel, may have stockpiles, mostly of less sophisticated weapons. There is reason to believe that Israeli attacks on Lebanon may well have violated a secret agreement restricting Israel’s use of certain US cluster munitions. It may not be the first time that this has happened. Yet, as recently as 2005, the United States is reported to have agreed a licence worth $615,496 for the sale of 1,300 M26 cluster weapons to Israel.

Surely, that brings home the indispensable imperative of the proposed arms trade treaty dealing with international arms transfers, on which the United Kingdom has been giving much commendable leadership in this past year, despite the obstructive intransigence of John Bolton and his colleagues. I am perplexed by the contrast between the exemplary position of our Government on the arms trade treaty and, sadly, their laid-back approach on cluster weapons, given the cruel characteristics of those weapons.

My noble friend Lord Dubs is to be congratulated on introducing the Bill. I wish it well and fervently hope that our Government will rapidly move to meet it.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on giving us the opportunity to debate this Bill. I trust that, given the almost unanimous support for the Bill in this debate, it will go into Committee and be taken seriously. We have heard speeches from noble Lords with a wide range of experience. I single out the military experience of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, and the diplomatic experience of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, as providing an important dimension to the debate.

I have taken a close interest for a number of years in the question of the appropriateness of weapons that depend on cluster munitions for their effect. As noble Lords have shown as they have thrown the various statistics around, we have, sadly, been gaining much more data about their effect, particularly in many of the conflicts over the past 15 years. As the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said, Kosovo in 1999 was effectively an air campaign with the widespread use of cluster bombs. In Afghanistan in 2001, in Iraq in 1991 and 2003 and in Lebanon in 2006, a large number of unexploded submunitions have caused injury and death to civilians long after the battle has finished.

I take very seriously the words of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. He is, after all, among your Lordships today the person with the most recent experience of the battlefield. He said, rightly, that there is no such thing as a nice weapon. By their nature, weapons are not nice. However, I assume that, just like other members of the British military, of which I was once a member, he accepts that there are certain classes of weapons that are appropriately prohibited from warfare, whatever their military utility. The right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Salisbury and of Coventry reminded us of that moral dimension and the need to align what is legal with what is right. We have accepted that in the international community. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Archer of Sandwell, said, we have done that for 140 years, since the St Petersburg international military convention of 1868 laid down that,

“the necessities of war ought to yield to the requirements of humanity”.

Since then, we have banned many types of weapons, despite the fact that they are probably very useful to have. We do not use them because their effects are both inhumane and disproportionate. Thus, there are bans on biological and chemical weapons, which we all accept. Perhaps we forget the much older ban on exploding bullets in 1868, the ban on expanding dum-dum bullets just before the turn of the century, the prohibition on weapons that contain shrapnel that is undetectable by X-rays, the prohibition of laser blinding weapons and, in 1997, the prohibition of anti-personnel landmines. The question for me, therefore, is whether cluster munitions, or a subset of them, fall into a similar category of weapon that merits banning. If they do, then the military utility argument no longer holds, although I will address that issue.

We also need to keep in mind that we are making the argument to ban cluster bombs for two different reasons, which we need to put together. There is the question of the direct effect of the weapon: is it disproportionate in the way that it acts and does it cause too much collateral damage? There are also the longer-term consequences of the weapon, which is a separate problem. One can combine those issues in considering whether these are inappropriate weapons.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, reminded us that many of the weapons that we are talking about were conceived in the days of the Cold War, when he and I used to look at weapons in a different way from perhaps how they are looked at in the post-Cold War era. Then, we were thinking of an anti-armour weapon, such as the BL755 against mile after mile of Red Army tanks that may have progressed forward. That weapon was, effectively, a 1,000 pound bomb with 147 fragmentation armour-piercing bomblets. Once deployed, the bomblets would disperse and, because the bomb would be going forward, the bomblets would go forwards and land in an elliptical pattern. The size and the shape of that pattern were difficult to predict, because they depended on the speed and the angle of the aircraft dropping the canister, the height at which the canister opened and the effects of wind. There were lots of uncertainties. The higher you were when you launched the weapon, the bigger the pattern. It is normally at least several hundred metres long, however—a big area in which 147 fragmentation armour-piercing bomblets are randomly dispersed. Whatever else they may be, cluster bombs are area weapons.

We have heard from many noble Lords that not all the bomblets will detonate on landing. That is understandable: sometimes they are too low to arm before they hit the ground; some of the parachutes get caught in trees; some strike the soft ground, as we have heard; and some just fail because, on occasion, military equipment does just fail.

From a military perspective, there is also the problem that, because you have lots of little bombs in a big canister like an ordinary bomb, none of them can be that powerful. They are smaller than if you were dropping a 1,000 pound bomb. You have a random spread, which means that you must have your targets close together to have much hope of achieving a good military effect. Most of the bomblets tend to miss the target, which is another reason why they are scattered around. There is also the problem of the unexploded ones. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, cited the Kosovo assessment of the 530 UK cluster bombs dropped producing 78,000 little bomblets. These assessments are generally made with the most optimistic of assumptions. The weapons might have disabled up to 30 pieces of military equipment—not tanks or armour, but what are called “pieces of military equipment”. That is a pretty low rate of return for a military weapon.

These weapons are much more use against soft-skinned vehicles or troop concentrations—that is one argument that is made. We have also heard from many noble Lords that they should not be used in urban areas, yet most of the operations in which we now find ourselves have an urban dimension. As the world becomes more urbanised, that problem gets worse. Because this is an area weapon, if it is used in urban areas, where there are lots of civilians, it is bound to cause disproportionate direct civilian casualties. If you were to make a case merely on the direct effect, you would have to be absolutely confident that you were able to control targeting policies so that the weapons were used only against military targets and not places with possible concentrations of civilians. As we have seen, this is impossible to police.

On direct effects, the military utility is not terribly high and there is the difficulty of controlling these weapons so as to not cause disproportionate damage to civilians. I have no problem with saying that one could make a case just on the basis of direct military effect that it is time for these weapons to go. As most noble Lords have said, however, the real problem is the consequential long-term effects of unexploded munitions, which potentially lie around for years. That case for a ban is much stronger.

In the past, the Government have made the case—I think that they have now stopped—that although they are sowing what amount to anti-personnel mines, that was not the intention when the bomb was dropped and is therefore different from setting deliberate anti-personnel mines. That case cannot be sustained. We know that there will be a percentage of unexploded munitions and we must accept responsibility for them. We know that the victims are likely to be civilians and we know that children are particularly vulnerable, as many noble Lords have said. As the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, reminded us, however, one of the big problems is not just for the civilians, but for our own troops. As they go through what are effectively unplotted minefields or are de-mining—it is difficult to clear these sorts of submunitions—they get damaged. We lose our own troops as well as civilians and children.

Unexploded ordnance is not a new problem. We must remember that there are failure rates, whatever weapon we are talking about. We still find live bombs left over from World War II, but we are now talking about a different scale of problem. The odd bomb that did not explode was one bomb for every bomb dropped; in this case, we are talking about hundreds of bomblets for every bomb dropped.

The question is whether we should treat weapons with submunitions differently. It is a question of scale and risk. Noble Lords have been throwing around a lot of statistics on the percentage rate of failure and unexploded ordnance. For what we now call “dumb” cluster munitions, Governments and manufacturers tend to claim a failure rate of 5 per cent. The sales brochure figure appears over-optimistic compared to the data in reality. That is understandable; the sales brochure figures are compiled under carefully controlled test circumstances. When you are dropping a bomb or firing artillery in real operational circumstances, you tend to get a higher failure rate.

My Lords, could the noble Lord help us on a technical point? I understood that the 5 per cent figure related to the Lebanon, where the munitions used were M85s. I understood that that was intended to be a smart weapon. Am I wrong about that?

My Lords, I shall come to the smart weapon in a moment. The general rate quoted by manufacturers for the dumb weapons is 5 per cent; for smart weapons, some manufacturers claim a rate of 1 per cent. Data from the first Gulf War, where the 5 per cent figure was claimed by manufacturers, have given us an actual figure of about 23 per cent. That is not an unusual difference between the two. As the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, reminded us, large numbers of bombs—in Laos, for example—have an extraordinary long-term effect, like minefields. Between 1964 and 1973, the United States dropped 6 million to 7 million cluster bombs. By the end of 1996, 10,000 people had become casualties to the bomblets left behind, of which nearly 2,500 were amputees. One-third of those casualties were children.

After the Iraq intervention of 2003, the UN reported that 1,000 children were injured by unexploded ordnance—predominantly bomblets—in the three months after the original intervention. The Government position, which your Lordships have spoken about a lot, on whether we should phase out the so-called dumb munitions—those without target discrimination capability and without self-destruct, self-neutralisation or self-deactivation capability—is now at least that these weapons do not need to be kept for ever. The dates—2010 for BL755 and 2015 for the M26 MLRS—are, probably coincidentally, the dates at which these weapons were expected to go out of service anyway. That is not a respectable or responsible position to take.

We have not talked at all today about the JP233, of which the Air Force was very proud back in the Cold War days. It was an anti-airfield weapon that not only put holes in runways, but sowed a minefield to prevent the holes from being repaired. It was taken out of service seven years before its due date, once the landmine treaty came in. We have an example of how the Government can withdraw a weapons system from service early because it realises that it is no longer appropriate. That is what we must do in this case.

Whether non-dumb weapons—those with some self-destruct system, which obviously appeal greatly to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee—get us over that problem is easy to answer. The manufacturers’ aspirations—to bring the failure rate down to 1 per cent from 5 per cent—are to make it five times better. That sounds good. The 1,000 children injured in Iraq in three months in 2003 would only be 200 children maimed or killed by these new smart weapons. That does not seem to be an appealing prospect.

I am not convinced by the arguments in favour of some division. We all know that that would create a fuzzy definition, which would allow cluster munitions to continue and proliferate. That feeling is much reinforced by the recent experience in Lebanon, which my noble friend Lady Northover and other noble Lords talked about.

In July 2003, after the report on the children injured in Iraq, the then General Sir David Ramsbotham and I, who were not yet Members of your Lordships' House, wrote a joint letter to the Times. We wrote:

“The use of weapons, which by their nature kill and maim civilians long after a conflict is over, have no place in a civilised country's arsenal. We should now prohibit cluster munitions, whether dropped from the air or fired from the ground. The UK could set an example to the world by removing them from our inventory, just as we have done for landmines”.

Subsequent events, particularly in Lebanon, have reinforced me in that view. I strongly endorse the attempts of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to get this Bill through. He will have the support of these Benches.

My Lords, we welcome the opportunity to debate cluster munitions. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving the House the opportunity to do so, and I congratulate him on setting out his case so effectively. But we cannot support the overall effect of this Bill. I am sorry to disappoint my noble friend Lord Elton and all those other speakers who have supported the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, so eloquently today.

We understand and fully appreciate that problems are caused by the use of cluster bombs. We are sympathetic towards charities such as the Red Cross and Handicap International that campaign against these munitions. It is alarming that, according to their research, 98 per cent of casualties resulting from the use of cluster bombs are civilian and the numbers of those who have been killed or injured by them are striking. We have heard some eloquent speeches today on that point. Sadly, in many of the areas that these figures relate to, notably Iraq, Israel and Lebanon, the figures for civilian casualties and the percentage of civilian deaths caused by all types of munitions are often unpalatably high. However, an outright ban on all cluster munitions is not the right approach to take to address these problems. I do not believe that it would have the desired effect of greatly reducing international use. The United States, Russia and China have all recently reasserted that they would continue to oppose a ban on cluster munitions. That was done even in the context of other nations such as Australia, Belgium and Norway, which were mentioned this afternoon, imposing their own moratoria.

Many of the humanitarian problems that the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, identified, are consequences of the use of so-called dumb cluster munitions. In this debate, the important distinction has been made by many speakers between smart and dumb munitions, the latter not having the technology to self-destruct or deactivate themselves. Dumb munitions which fail to explode on impact become a humanitarian threat and we share the noble Lord's concerns about these and support the Government’s commitments to withdraw them by, as the noble Lord, Lord Garden, said, 2010 or 2015. It will be important for us to monitor closely the progress in that respect. The policy must remain in place. The target schedule must not slip and the appropriate funds must be made available to achieve it.

Cluster munitions are weapons of war that are currently legitimised by international law. They fulfil an operational role that cannot be performed by other means or munitions. That is true against large military targets or over an extensive area. The use of cluster bombs is necessary in those many cases where such targets become a serious threat to our own troops. I have said many times before in this House that we must always ensure that our service personnel have access to all the equipment and strategic options they need to do their job effectively. Minimising the risk to our own Armed Forces should always be a fundamental priority. By prohibiting the use of all cluster munitions in all circumstances, we would be exposing our military to the inadequacy of other options.

My Lords, the noble Lord said that 98 per cent of the people killed by cluster bombs were civilians. Does that mean that killing about 50 civilians is worth it to save one member of the British armed services? That seems an interesting consequence of his statement.

My Lords, I am not saying that. Perhaps if the noble Lord listens I can develop the theme a little more as I go on.

We cannot anticipate what threats our troops will face in the future. They may be forced to use these weapons but, as the noble Lord, Lord Jay, said, they would do so professionally and legally. It is important to restate the legality of these weapons. We would be doing our Armed Forces a huge disservice to deny them legal munitions that could perfectly legally be used against them.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry mentioned morality. Having spoken last Thursday at a seminar laid on by the Army on the ethical, moral and legal justification for using force, I can assure him that the Armed Forces take the issue of morality very seriously. The problem is that their enemies often do not. We have a thinking military. I have no doubt that the Armed Forces will be debating very carefully the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, so eloquently set out. Any change of use will doubtless be passed on to Ministers. The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Jay—that the military effectiveness of cluster bombs is beginning to be outweighed by the humanitarian cost—will be high on their agenda.

We must pay close attention to the circumstances in which these munitions are deployed. The scenarios where cluster bombs may be used should be kept as limited as possible. It is important to maintain that these weapons must be fired only within the remit of international law. When deciding to use cluster bombs, as with all operations, an appropriate compromise must be found between the military objective and the humanitarian imperative to prevent unnecessary civilian suffering and casualties.

It is absolutely right to assert that we should not use cluster bombs in civilian areas, but it would also be quite wrong to impose a universal ban on our Armed Forces using cluster munitions for the wrong reasons. We must not use the right argument to reach the wrong conclusions. The reported use of cluster bombs by Israel in civilian areas in Lebanon was alarming. Even the Israeli army has itself launched an inquiry. However, any alleged irresponsible act by Israel or any other nation should not be used as an argument against our Armed Forces. Equally, the undoubted wrongness of applying the bombs in civilian areas should not be used as an argument to deny our troops their most effective means of destroying a hostile airfield.

Our Armed Forces currently face major campaigns in different parts of the world. The noble Lord, Lord Drayson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, will have grown tired of my repeatedly urging them to give our Armed Forces the best possible equipment and all military options necessary for ensuring their safety. We must continue to provide our troops with the most suitable weaponry for achieving their objectives and for doing so with as little personal risk as possible. If we do not do this, we will be failing in our duty. In some operations, that will inevitably require the use of cluster bombs. My noble friend Lord Attlee rightly said that we cannot send our troops to war with one hand tied behind their backs. He made an important point about unexploded submunitions and I look forward to the Minister’s response to his suggestions.

Although we would do well to heed some of the lessons that we heard in the House today, it would be quite wrong to deny our Armed Forces an essential part of their armoury. This Bill would prohibit ownership of any cluster bombs when what is surely required is regulation of use. We might have some sympathy with unilateral international arrangements regarding cluster munitions but this Bill would prevent our Armed Forces legitimately employing bombs in combat areas, notwithstanding the fact that other nations would continue to use them.

My Lords, could my noble friend take the opportunity to give a little gleam of hope to supporters of this Bill? If the Bill were to permit the use of what he would describe as smart cluster bombs—I think that they are all dumb, myself—which distinguish targets and destroy themselves if they do not go off, would he not be able to support that? He did twice say that the use of all cluster bombs of all sorts could not be denied. If I am right in detecting from that that he would approve a specific ban only on dumb munitions, that is already in the Bill—in “Definitions” under Clause 4(4)(b).

My Lords, I assure my noble friend that we will look very carefully into the point that he has raised. My starting point is that until the Armed Forces tell me anything different we will continue to support them by giving them the equipment that they need to do their job properly.

My Lords, this has been a sombre, moving and highly informed debate, and I shall of course relay to the ministry the level of concern expressed in your Lordships' House today. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs on obtaining time for this important debate and for his tenacity and commitment to this issue—and, indeed, the tenacity and commitment of many noble Lords who have spoken today, who have not used today’s debate to raise this matter for the first time but have pressured myself and my noble friends for many months and years on this.

While our Armed Forces operate as a force for good wherever they are in the world, they also have to be capable of succeeding in the mission we ask of them. They need the means, in terms of personnel—as the noble Lord, Lord Astor, said—as well as equipment, training and support, to undertake the mission. This includes having the necessary weapons with which to deliver the intended effect against the enemy whom they face. The noble Lord, Lord Astor, recognised that in stating his party’s problems with the Bill. We have to recognise, too, that war is brutal, as the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said, and that the use of any weapon will have consequences.

Our over-riding objective when we deploy our Armed Forces is to ensure that the military means used to achieve the mission are consistent with international humanitarian law. This applies whatever the weapons we are using. Clearly, in using any weapon we must take all feasible precautions with a view to avoiding and in any event minimising civilian casualties and damage, and recognising the importance of protecting our servicepeople, whom we ask to act in our name. As a nation, we adhere to the highest standard of compliance with our international and humanitarian obligations. It is in that context I address four key issues regarding this Bill. I shall then make a valiant attempt to answer as many questions as possible in the time available.

First, I turn to the United Kingdom’s policy on cluster munitions. I should state from the outset that we fully share the concern over the humanitarian impact of unexploded ordnance. We believe that this concern is best addressed in the conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, because it brings together the main producers and users of cluster munitions. The importance of conventions was raised by my noble and learned friend Lord Archer of Sandwell. The United Kingdom will phase out of service dumb cluster munitions by the middle of the next decade, a point that was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Jay of Ewelme.

The Government placed details of our policy in a Written Ministerial Statement on 4 December 2006, which gives a full explanation of our understanding of a dumb cluster munition, and of our plan to withdraw from service those dumb variants by the middle of the next decade. Officials have been asked to examine the possibility of an earlier withdrawal date.

My Lords, the news of an earlier date is very welcome, but what is wrong with a date some time this year? Is it purely a financial problem?

No, my Lords, it is not a financial problem but an issue of a capability gap with regard to our Armed Forces.

First, we should recognise that cluster munitions are lawful weapons when used in compliance with international humanitarian law, and that there are certain circumstances when our Armed Forces may need to use them and where they can do so lawfully. I emphasise that when our Armed Forces use any weapon, including cluster munitions, they do so only in strict compliance with international humanitarian law.

On the second issue, it may be useful if I give a brief overview of those occasions when it is necessary to use cluster munitions. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and other noble Lords have questioned that necessity but the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, sees the necessity in some circumstances, from his experience. There are certain compelling circumstances when the British Armed Forces may need to use cluster munitions in conflict, including for force protection. In that sense, I know that what I am saying will disappoint my noble friend Lady Turner of Camden and other noble Lords.

In certain conflict situations, our Armed Forces need to be able to destroy, suppress or neutralise dispersed enemy armour, other combat forces or military facilities in a defined area of terrain. Cluster munitions can deliver the required effect at a distance and allow the field commander to conduct that battle in an area of his choosing. That gives him a tactical advantage to select target areas to minimise collateral damage and enables him to reduce the number of enemy that must be dealt with in a contact battle. Depriving field commanders of this option risks producing a more intense level of combat when our troops make contact with the enemy, with the inevitable consequence of higher military casualties on both sides, as well as potentially higher civilian casualties.

As noble Lords will know, the use of all weapons, including cluster munitions, is governed by the law of armed conflict. The law of armed conflict or international humanitarian law contains the key principles and rules that govern the United Kingdom's military targeting process. That process is undertaken in strict compliance with that law. Military planners evaluate each target on a case-by-case basis for its legality, proceeding with the attack only when consequences for civilians would not be random or excessive in relation to the military advantage. They determine the most appropriate weapon to deploy in order to achieve the military goal. Military lawyers provide the necessary legal advice during targeting deliberations. The use of any weapon must be: discriminate; proportionate—an issue raised by the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Salisbury and of Coventry—necessary; and only military objectives may be attacked. Only military objectives are targeted and all feasible precautions are taken, with a view to avoiding and in any event minimising civilian casualties and damage to civilian objects.

In the UK there is a clear thread running through international humanitarian law, through doctrine and training, into targeting procedures and rules of engagement. Commanders judge the degree of force to employ to achieve the mission, subject always to compliance with international humanitarian law. Of course we recognise that there remains the vital issue of munitions that fail to detonate on impact—an issue which I think nearly all noble Lords raised in their contributions—and leave unexploded ordnance in the battle area, an issue raised specifically by the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, with all his military experience, my noble friend Lord Berkeley and others. The UK played an active role in the United Nations in bringing about the new Protocol V on Explosive Remnants of War, which is legally binding on states that have ratified it. The United Kingdom hopes to ratify it as soon as possible. My noble friend Lord Judd asked why we have not ratified it. There is no policy reason; we will ratify it as soon as we can. But we have already put in practice its obligations.

The convention requires states in control of territory on which explosive remnants of war are found to clear, mark, remove or destroy them. States using munitions that may become explosive remnants of war must record information on their use and then transmit it to humanitarian clearance organisations to facilitate clearance. The UK already provides the information, as well as funding £10 million per annum for clearance projects in conflict areas. In Iraq, for example, where the UK has cleared more than 1 million items of abandoned or unexploded ordnance, we have made a significant effort to assist and educate the local population in the danger of unexploded ordnance including working with teachers in the Basra region to make children in particular aware of the dangers.

The third issue I wish to address is the United Kingdom's efforts to tackle cluster munitions in the international community. The recent review conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons addressed cluster munitions as a core element of its work. At the conference the United Kingdom played a leading role, seeking and achieving a mandate through consensus that will urgently address the legitimate concerns about cluster munitions. If we are to address such munitions effectively, by which I mean delivering real humanitarian benefit to people in conflict zones, we must not only include in discussions the main producers and users of cluster munitions but persuade them of the argument that humanitarian concerns about the use of cluster munitions outweigh their legitimate security concerns.

My Lords, I apologise for interrupting my noble friend, but does she accept that it is not quite the case that the CCW is the only group to have users and producers? The Ottawa convention was negotiated outside the framework. There are 10 producers, 17 stockpilers and three exporters in the Oslo group. Does she accept that there is no need to restrict ourselves to the CCW framework and its long timescale?

My Lords, we take Kofi Annan’s view on this, which is to use the CCW framework as a starting point to bring together the main actors in a UN process and to try to work with that with all urgency before looking outside the process.

A discussion mandate, mentioned by my noble friend Lord Judd, is an essential step to defining cluster munitions, including specific definitions, and framing the context of a negotiating mandate. We see the discussion mandate, so much criticised by noble Lords today, as a starting point—a vital first step towards that negotiating mandate, bringing as many people as possible into the tent of that negotiation. The mandate addresses the adequacy of existing humanitarian law, whether it is being implemented diligently and factors affecting the reliability of cluster munitions. Those three issues were raised again and again by noble Lords. The discussion mandate involves all three. With that in mind, the group of government experts, including experts from the UK, will, as noble Lords know, report back to the conference by November 2007.

My Lords, will the noble Baroness kindly remind us when the CCW was first convened and whether 2006 is an appropriate year for a first step?

My Lords, I refer to a first step on this aspect of looking at cluster munitions. The aspect has been raised this year. We will have a first report back, which we hope will lead to a negotiating mandate, within a year. While that is not satisfactory for many noble Lords, the Government believe that it is a satisfactory timescale. I am aware that some states want to move directly to a negotiating mandate, but I have to report that, following extensive consultations by our team at the conference, at this stage such a mandate has not gained consensus among the main users of cluster munitions.

I shall outline the consequences for our Armed Forces were the Bill to become law. While this Bill prohibits the use, production, acquisition, possession and transfer of cluster munitions, I want to cover here only the prohibition on the use of them, because it seems to me that that is the core element of the Bill. The Bill would prevent our Armed Forces using those munitions that fall within the scope of the draft definition of the Bill, a definition that is more restrictive than that we have used in international discussions and than our understanding of a dumb cluster munition.

The prohibition in the Bill would deny our Armed Forces an anti-armour capability and a capability to suppress and neutralise enemy forces. It would create serious capability gaps for the Royal Air Force until planned replacement weapon systems attain full operational readiness in 2010 and capability gaps for the Army out to 2015. But, as I said, we are looking at that timescale. I am sure that this House would not wish to impose serious capability gaps on our Armed Forces that would have detrimental impacts on their overall operational effectiveness, undermine their ability to conduct combat missions in conflict zones and deny them a degree of force protection in combat situations.

Noble Lords asked a number of questions, which I shall try to go through as quickly as possible. My noble friend Lord Dubs asked why we do not phase out these munitions before 2015 and why we do not ban them now. I say to him that all our munitions, including cluster munitions, are procured and held to meet a specific capability. We constantly keep that process under review, as technology evolves and as new systems enter service to replace obsolete weapons. In that context, when we replace munitions they are destroyed and put beyond use. However, to attain the necessary operational effectiveness of our Armed Forces and to ensure that they have the systems that they need to conduct the operations that we ask of them, we cannot withdraw extant systems until the replacement ones are declared operational and fit for purpose. However, as I have said three times now, MoD officials are examining the possibility of withdrawing them earlier.

My noble friend Lord Dubs and the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about a moratorium. We would consider that to have the same effect as a ban. We shall withdraw dumb cluster munitions from service by the middle of the next decade. My noble friend Lord Dubs, the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, and the noble Lords, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Garden, asked about the military effectiveness of cluster munitions and used the example, as they saw it, that they cannot defeat main battle tank armour. All weapons systems, including cluster munitions, are designed to have certain effects against differing types of target. The cluster munitions that the UK uses remain effective against the target sets that they were designed to deal with. Certain types of target, notably main battle tanks, are particularly difficult to destroy. That may not be necessary, as mobility kills are an effective way to reduce enemy fighting power. Again, the other types of target that we require cluster munitions to attack, including light armoured vehicles, troops and military facilities, remain vulnerable to our current range of cluster munitions.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, asked about an assessment of the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions and about field data evaluating the humanitarian impact. Our Armed Forces recognise the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, and that is a key element of the ultimate decisions about whether to use them. Post-conflict, our clearance operations collect data about numbers of unexploded ordnance, and in Iraq we have cleared over 1 million items of unexploded ordnance. The UK keeps records of firing data and targets, but we cannot gather data of unexploded ordnance during conflict.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Coventry talked about the morality of using cluster munitions. Morality is implicit in the law of armed conflict, which is based on both humanitarian and moral foundations, and this country uses cluster munitions in compliance with that law. The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and other noble Lords asked why we should have only a discussion mandate. We have been through that. We believe that it is an important first step towards a negotiating mandate.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, talked about clearing up the battlefield. That is now an international norm, as he will know, which is enshrined in Protocol V of the CCW. The UK intends, as I said to my noble friend Lord Judd, to ratify Protocol V at the earliest opportunity, and in practice follows its obligations already. The noble Lord, whose intervention was welcomed by everyone, talked about the use of weapons in types of current conflict. Retaining a weapon in the infantry does not imply that it would be used in every deployment; but a range of operations, including war fighting, remain possible, and we need current technology to deal with the battlefield threats that our forces may face in the future.

The noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said that, in her view, smart bombs were not smart. Of course, it is to our advantage militarily to reduce failure rates to the absolute minimum: it means that we use fewer munitions to achieve the desired effect and we do not have the military and humanitarian problems of unexploded ordnance. However, movements are towards more developed cluster munitions, with greater accuracy and reliability. We hope that that will leave fewer unexploded ordnances and reduce the humanitarian risks.

A number of other noble Lords have asked questions and I shall of course write to them. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, asked about failure rates and asked me to confirm that we have abandoned all use of airdrop cluster munitions. The Government seek to reduce failure rates, as failures have both military and humanitarian impacts. New weapon systems have more stringent design criteria to reduce those rates. With regard to explosive remnants of war, Protocol V of the CCW will set a legal obligation to reduce failure rates.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, asked me a specific question about cluster-munition stocks, and I will end with that. MoD policy is to replace munitions with ones containing self-destruct mechanisms. As the noble Earl knows, when munitions are phased out, they are put beyond use and are normally destroyed. We do not intend to keep them in store for longer than required, but in some cases we intend to replace them with guided unitary systems where that provides us with the same capability as a cluster munition—that is, with increased reliability and accuracy.

In conclusion, the Bill has a humanitarian element at its core, which we applaud, but it does not recognise the arguments of military necessity or the need to equip our Armed Forces to undertake the missions that we ask of them. For those reasons, we believe that the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is inconsistent with our current military requirements, and that is why the Government have reservations about it.

My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in the debate; it is one of the most interesting that I have had the privilege to hear in my time in this House. I am grateful for the thoughtful way in which everyone has addressed this very difficult issue.

I do not believe that a single Member of this House would want to do anything to weaken the capability and capacity of our Armed Forces. If that were the case, I do not think that those of us who have supported the Bill would have done so. I certainly would not. But I do not believe that this measure would weaken our Armed Forces any more than they were weakened by the ban on anti-personnel landmines. No one has argued that our forces are weaker in the field or anywhere else because they cannot now use anti-personnel landmines. No one has argued that from any Front Bench or from anywhere else, yet I believe that in military terms the two propositions are similar—cluster munitions and anti-personnel landmines have the same effect. Why are we against them? We are against them because, in the main, they damage innocent civilians, not just during conflict but long afterwards.

I listened very carefully to my noble friend. We have been personal friends for a long time and I am sure that we shall go on being so. I am sorry that I have put her in a virtually impossible position, but that is what she is paid for. However, we have to look at what the Government said, and I shall read the Minister’s words with a great deal of interest. In a sense, she circumscribed the future use of these weapons in such a way that I doubt whether our military would find it easy to use them. If they had the Hansard reference in front of them, they would say, “We can’t do this. It’s just not possible”. The weapons have now been so circumscribed that I do not think their use is militarily realistic, even if the military wanted to use them. We heard that the military might need cluster munitions, but the arguments persuaded me that there is no sensible military justification for their use. There might have been in the days when the Soviet Union could deploy hundreds of tanks and millions of troops, but that is not the situation.

Using weapons that turn people against us does enormous political damage to us and our allies, and that must be taken into account. We are not just doing this because the fighting is all; we are doing it because there are at stake issues of democracy and human rights throughout the world. If we turn people against us because they do not believe that we are sincere in what we are doing, we are not benefiting our cause. That is why I am concerned about the Government’s arguments, which have not convinced me.

Noble Lords will appreciate that so many comments were made that if I went through them all, I would outstay my welcome, and I do not want to do that. However, one point was not raised; I would like to pay tribute to the very brave people around the world who go on operations to clear up cluster weapons. They risk their lives every day, whether in Lebanon or elsewhere in the world, as a consequence of these weapons. They are brave and have a sense of self-sacrifice, but, alas, from time to time they are injured or killed. We should thank them for what they do on our behalf.

I appreciate what the noble Baroness, Lady Northover, said about Lebanon and Israel. There were important contributions from the Bishops’ Bench about morality and proportionality. My noble friend Lady Whitaker talked about having seen people, including children, injured by these weapons in various countries, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made clear that, even if in the past there was a military use for these weapons, the world has changed and they are no longer necessary. I was persuaded by his arguments, as I was by those of—I cannot say the Foreign Office, because that would be quite wrong—the noble Lord, Lord Jay, who was speaking in a personal capacity but whose arguments bore the imprint of years of senior work in the Foreign Office. I shall put it that way to avoid embarrassing the noble Lord, whom I have known and respected for a long time.

The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, said that we should use these weapons only if—I hope I have his words right—there were reliable self-destruction mechanisms within the bombs. Given the doubts about that, I almost suggest that he is virtually on our side. I do not wish to provoke the noble Earl too much, but almost the effect of what he said is that he is with us, even if, in theory, he is not quite so. However, I appreciate that he speaks from particularly recent experience, which is very important.

I was interested in the question raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, about whether these weapons are not already illegal. It is an interesting argument, but we have to persuade others. My noble friend Lord Judd spoke about his time with Oxfam, and the years of military experience of the noble Lord, Lord Garden, showed in all that he said.

I was disappointed that the most negative contribution came from the Conservative Front Bench. It was as negative as that from the Government, if not more so. I do not wish to make this debate less serious, but when I was first elected to the Commons, I voted against the Government in my first Division, and a friend of mine told me that when both Front Benches agree, the rest of us had better be careful. However, the issue is more serious than that.

I welcome the Minister’s small concession when she said that the Government would look at whether some of these weapons could be banned earlier than 2015, but I hope they will be able to go further. There is an important humanitarian cause in this. What we do and how we constrain our Armed Forces are not enough, because other countries watch what we do and take their cue from us, and they will not respect humanitarian law as our Armed Forces have to. The international dimension is important, and we must set an example.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

European Union (Information, etc.) Bill [HL]

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time. We have just had a most important and lengthy debate on a crucial subject, to be followed by an important but comparatively very modest Bill. If I timidly suggest to noble Lords that the debate need not take too long, it is not because the subject is unimportant but because it is relatively uncontroversial. I say that as I gaze at the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, who has recently arrived in the Chamber, maybe to take part in the debate. He nods in affirmation. He is very welcome.

I hope that the Bill is uncontroversial. I remind the House that we have been members of the European Union for three decades and three years. There will be a major series of celebrations next year for the anniversary of the Treaty of Rome, to which we adhered in 1973. In those days it was a much less elaborate Community than it is now as a European Union.

Disturbingly and partly because of the often very negative newspapers in this country, which sometimes seem to have a disease of chauvinism that is very distressing to the thinking reader, the public—that includes all members of the public, not just those who follow European subjects per se—are often unaware of the many complicated details of our membership of the European Union. Under the Bill the information would be freely available in public libraries, town halls and similar public buildings, as well as in central and regional government buildings. If this legislation were enacted, access both to the paper media and to the electronic media would be enormously increased, and the learning curve would be accelerated and enhanced. I say that not as a criticism of the public, who often lead busy lives with their busy families, and who do not have the opportunity for access that should have been created and which is, I believe, available in some member states.

The Bill is modest and brief, as befits the subject. Clause 1 allows for information to be provided in lobbies, foyers or similar areas of public buildings—it would be for managers to choose. This information should be entirely objective and factual, including not only statistics but aspects, for example, where there are differences of opinion among the political processes of EU member states, where member Governments take exception to EU decisions, and where there are lobbies in different countries or collective European-wide lobbies for campaigns and issues. All that information should be freely available. As we know, the internet makes available the vast scope of all that information at the press of a button.

I am especially keen that the explanation of subsidiarity, for example, should be properly handled, as well as the emphasis that many policy areas remain the principal or sole preserve of the sovereign member states, which is as it should be. All too often, those who may be a little more hesitant about our membership of the European Union tend to suggest that everything eventually redounds to Europe. That is far from the case.

Clause 2 is not light-hearted—it would be impossible to make such a provision in a properly drafted Bill in this House. It deals with the demonstration of the European Union flag wherever appropriate, an issue that may be highlighted if the Bill is further discussed, as I hope. We see the European flag flown far more often in continental member states. The original six founder members, in particular, often display the European flag, sometimes alongside the national flag, sometimes on its own, sometimes on private buildings, as in this country. Understandably among the new 10 member states, including the two islands, there is a very strong proclivity to display the European flag. I have recently made quite a few visits to Paris, where the flag flies proudly over the French Senate and the Assemblée Nationale alongside the national French tricolour, as the Minister will acknowledge. It is regarded as perfectly normal there.

I was sent quite a few messages about the Bill both from outside this House and from noble Lords, most of them overwhelmingly, I am glad to say, in strong support. I was particularly grateful to receive such a message from one of our colleagues here—I need not mention his name, but if I say that he used to be the head of the Met Office, everyone will immediately know to whom I refer—who said that he was sad that he could not speak in the debate but that he had always been very keen on this notion of a prominent, frequent and fairly pervasive display of the European flag alongside our union jack. In his letter, he says:

“When I was head of the Met Office, we had 2 flagpoles … But I was told that we could not fly the EU flag even on Europe day. I noted that the UK High Commission in Ghana flew the EU flag as well as the Union Jack while the UK had the EU presidency. But I was told this would cease when our presidency ended! Good luck … Lord Hunt of Chesterton”.

I was grateful to receive that. Although it may seem a matter of relatively small importance compared with many other pressing European issues, it is quite important in psychological national public terms that we acknowledge our membership of the European Union with some enthusiasm and do not simply leave it to the many hotels that fly the European flag, often self-evidently for commercial convenience as well.

Clause 3 explains the all-important matter of town twinning. Although the Bill does not provide for the financing of any of the matters it recommends, public money might be available for town twinning through the European Union’s own town-twinning support scheme. Town twinning is a growing part of the European Union in general, although perhaps not so much in this country, where town twinning is mostly bilateral. Bilateral town twinning is also very precious, of course; I have been involved in it myself. This would be one of the best ways in which ordinary members of the public could learn practically about the town twinning in which they or their communities might be involved, the country it is in and the European Union, not only from visits but from information about it.

In recent years, two-, three- or even four-way twinning has become a growing reality, aided and abetted by the European Commission town-twinning support schemes. Tempted though I am to go into enormous detail about how applicants, be they municipalities, individual entities or collective private efforts, can secure these schemes, I will resist because of time and the need to make some progress in the debate, save to read two quotations from the official documents of the European Commission on town twinning, which sum up the important priorities:

“Town-twinning is characterised by large citizen involvement and can therefore make an important contribution towards the development of European citizenship”.

That would be alongside national citizenship, as we are citizens of the United Kingdom but also signatories to the Maastricht Treaty. To continue:

“To this end the European Commission awards grants to Twinning events which include educational programmes on topical European issues. Priority is given to events involving towns and municipalities in the candidate countries, to new twinning arrangements, to projects involving small municipalities or municipalities in geographically disadvantaged areas, to multilateral events and to projects involving young people or disadvantaged groups”.

That would therefore be a very important priority.

Another illustration of how this can be developed is made in the following model example of the European Commission, which does not refer to any particular localities:

“Town X in country Y is reflecting on the development of tourist facilities to attract sustainable and environmentally friendly tourism based on recently issued EU guidelines. Town X representatives are interested in the experience of their twinned counterparts from countries Z and W with similar projects. To this end they organise a thematic conference attended by the town representatives as well as interest groups from all three towns. Optionally town X can also involve in the project its neighbouring town with its twinned towns”.

Those are parts of the configuration of possibilities, which I hope will be developed and will involve many people in this country.

Bilateral twinning, even if it has already started, can be supplemented and augmented by a new participation in the European Union context. It is a remarkable way for not just council representatives or elected representatives on local councils, but also members of the public who follow these things in detail—football teams, musical groups, and school and educational groups—to get to know our European neighbours.

I shall recount an extraordinary story from my constituency about the twinning of Harrow with Douai, the judicial capital of north-west France. It was one of only a couple of significant, fairly large towns left in north-west France that were not twinned with other English or Spanish, but mainly German, towns—a very interesting development. A coach of representatives was sent for the inaugural meeting in Douai. By contrast with England, where French visitors are offered a cup of tea and a sausage roll in the town hall, in France on those occasions there is usually a glass of champagne and a proper meal—be that as it may, it was not the most important aspect.

The inaugural coach party included people who were not very keen on the twinning. The 86 year-old mother of an enthusiastic pro-European lady in Harrow went with her daughter rather grudgingly and reluctantly, partly because she had never been abroad before, coming from a poor family in north Yorkshire. It was also partly because she was interested in the history of the area and had lost three brothers and a cousin in the First World War. The woman grumbled all the way and even more as the coach approached Douai, and was very fed up at giving in to her daughter’s pressing plea. However, mysteriously, just after the mayor finished making his speech at the inaugural ceremony, officials approached her and asked her whether she would like to accompany them for about two hours. As a result of journalistic contact between Harrow and Douai, the officials had located the graves where her brothers were buried, but had not found the grave of her cousin, and wanted to take her to see them. In a very short time, at 86 years old, this woman incurred a damascene conversion from being a British nationalist and an anti-European chauvinist. As an official limousine took her to the graves and back to the town hall—at the graveside, a military band played on her behalf—she became a fanatical pro-French, pro-European, determined worker for international understanding. This is an amazing story of a lady who is now deceased, but we all remember it as a way in which these things can help people to get to know and work with each other in the united European Union.

To sum up, the provisions that I have emphasised are designed to be permissive, not mandatory, and to fill a gap in our citizens’ knowledge about the EU, through information found in town halls, libraries and other appropriate public buildings. I can reassure the Government that no extra funding of any kind is required or desirable. The modest expenditure involved will be met from the existing, discretionary spending of local authorities, official public budgets and central government. The only aspect where new money might be needed is town twinning, but that, too, would be very modest, carefully controlled and very adequately and fully explained.

The Bill would address the reality that the EU flag, sadly, is not on display here so much—if you look around London you will see that to be so—except sometimes on Europe Day, which is a pity.

This is a classic case where a short Bill can be improved in Committee if the House is generous enough to give it a Second Reading. It goes without saying, of course, that I would be happy and delighted to accept government help on any parts of it. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Dykes.)

My Lords, I am pleased to have the opportunity to support the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, in the promotion of his Bill. It is an admirable project but I am afraid that it faces an uphill struggle.

The European institutions are not famous for their public relations skills. Indeed, it is almost axiomatic that the European institutions, and the European Commission in particular, are opaque and unfriendly organisations that serve only to issue tiresome regulations, such as forbidding the sale of vegetables by ounces or pounds. Therefore, any initiative that tries to counter this reputation and make the European institutions more user-friendly is to be welcomed.

The Bill proposes that information should be made available at public libraries and local government buildings and, more significantly, on the internet. This is all very well in principle, but somehow the information has got to be made interesting and worth chasing. To make this project successful would, it seems to me, require a major public relations campaign on the part of the European institutions, with cost implications related to the intensity of the project. It would involve outside professional consultants and the active support of member Governments. But is this too much to hope for?

One area not mentioned in the Bill is the provision of educational materials to schools. A campaign to interest secondary school pupils in the role and potential of the European institutions might be productive.

This brings me to the Bill’s other main heading—namely, twinning arrangements between towns in the United Kingdom and elsewhere in the European Union. Here, I declare an interest as chairman of my local twinning association. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, that twinning is an excellent feature, as it creates friendships and opportunities for all ages from different parts of the Union. We have regular exchanges with our French twin town. These have included tennis, golf, football and theatrical exchanges. In April next, we are expecting a group of 35 people to come to England. They have expressed a special wish for a tour of your Lordships’ House.

Among the most important features of twinning are the links that are made between schools, which give the young the possibility of pen friends, exchange visits and genuine long-term friendships. I strongly endorse the Bill’s support for twinning arrangements, including financial support from the European Union for such schemes.

As for the Bill as a whole, I wish it well, but, as I have said, I feel that it faces a steep road ahead.

My Lords, I confess to a moment’s hesitation before putting my name forward to participate in this debate, despite my strong support for the Bill and for the cause that my noble friend Lord Dykes has long advocated. The reason for this is that there has been a strong agreement—maybe even a consensus—in British politics over the past couple of years that Europe is best not talked about. Whether this is because of the English trait of reticence—just as we are reluctant to talk too much about religion because people feel strongly about religion, perhaps we think that we should not talk too much about Europe because people feel strongly about Europe—I do not know. However, I strongly support the Bill having thought it through.

I question why there is this reluctance. There are several reasons and they are worth looking at as a necessary background to the Bill. Let us take one or two inconsistencies. I travel abroad a great deal, in continental Europe, Asia, Africa and elsewhere, largely in support of the English-Speaking Union. Sometimes I have had the opportunity to work with our embassy or stay at the residence and have got to know the ambassadors and the high commissioners quite well. I am struck by the number of British embassies that display the European Union flag as well as our union flag in front of the embassy or the residence. It is not at all uncommon. So why is this perfectly acceptable abroad but somehow rather difficult with public buildings in this country?

I have the same sort of question about the Prime Minister’s speeches on Europe. There have been one or two exceptions in recent years but, by and large, all the Prime Minister’s most pro-European speeches—he makes them, and he can even make them in French—are nearly always made abroad. Why are they made abroad rather than here?

If we start to look at the reasons for this reticence, it starts to become obvious. It is rooted in the predicament of the parties. Let us look at that, because it will colour their reaction to the Bill. The Conservatives view Europe as a minefield. If they stray from a most conservative and prudent path, the rather fragile new leadership of liberal conservatism might explode on one of those mines. For that reason, David Cameron has been extremely careful not to address any issues of substance on the European Union because of the damage that it might do to his party or the leverage it is calculated it might give to the UK ostrich party, UKIP.

The Government also find Europe difficult. I asked a Question only last week about the five economic tests for the euro. It seemed to me that if Mr Brown was to move from No. 11 to No. 10, and as he owns the five tests, we might gain greater clarity. There might even be a new sense of urgency about the matter. But the Answer I received was somewhat ambiguous and certainly not infused with any sense of urgency. I was told that all this would be looked at in several years’ time.

There are even Liberal Democrats who feel that maybe it is better not to talk too much about Europe because it is not always understood by voters. Of course, that simply will not do, for two reasons. First, there is a woeful level of ignorance about Europe and the European Union and the sort of information that my noble friend is advocating should be easily available by computer and in public buildings, libraries and schools. All the polls—MORI, Ipsos, endless Euro-barometers—show the same thing. Unfortunately, we are among the most ignorant about the European Union within the European Union. We are ignorant about how it is governed, how it works, what the institutions do, what its benefits are, and what its problems and challenges are. People really do not know and that makes them extraordinarily vulnerable to malignant journalism. I am afraid that Euro-phobic journalism has become an aspect of British public life.

I had an extraordinary experience last month when I was in Bulgaria for the English-Speaking Union. When I got there, the ambassador said, “We have two or three lectures laid on for you, but there is something much more urgent”. The much more urgent matter was a report in the Sun newspaper that morning that, from 1 January the United Kingdom had to brace itself for an invasion of HIV/AIDS. The evidence for that alarmist story in the Sun was a report from a UK health authority, which said that the United Kingdom faced a higher incidence of HIV/AIDS from immigration, especially illegal immigration—a comma was inserted here, which I know because I looked at the original document— from sub-Saharan Africa. The words “from sub-Saharan Africa” had been removed and instead we were to brace ourselves for the invasion of Romanian HIV/AIDS and Bulgarian HIV/AIDS from 1 January.

I tell that story because it is symptomatic of something that is now so common in our journalism that we no longer notice it and nobody complains about it. We have all become passive victims of this sort of prejudice. It is deeply shocking and very upsetting, as it has been to public opinion in Romania and Bulgaria. That is what has happened and it is the reason why there is this very strange reticence.

The other reason why it will not do is that too much is happening. There is the strange idea that a lot of us seem to have that if we stop thinking about Europe, it will stop moving. Somehow it will vanish, disappear or recede. The Channel will miraculously widen until it is thousands of miles wide, and we can all forget about it. The French shot the fox over the constitution; the Dutch do not want it; and as for the euro thing, the sky did not fall in when we did not join.

But there will be a new president in France. There are important signs of economic recovery in Germany. The euro is in a strong competitive position with the dollar. Europe is attracting enormous quantities of investment. Make no mistake that, with a new French president, whoever that is, there will be a renewed attempt to try to establish Franco-German leadership of the European Union. Europe will not stand still simply because we do not want to talk about it. For reasons of our own ignorance, and because of its urgency, we should take this matter very seriously.

I shall end on a different, connected thought. People who object to flying the European flag or acknowledging our membership of the European Union, for example, do so because deep down they fear it. They see it as some sort of external menace representing a fundamental threat to our way of life. I see the issue fundamentally differently. I see our membership of the European Union as an aspect of our diversity. The flag is an illustration of that diversity. Coming to the House this afternoon, I was thinking of the identities that I feel that I have. I was born in South Africa. I have worked all my life in London. My home is in Richmond. I am international by instinct and experience. My patriotism, which I feel strongly, is British. I feel European by geography and interest, and English by language.

I see none of these identities as contradictory. Churchill had three circles. I would be happy with six or seven. We are perfectly capable of dealing with these identities, but if we deliberately try to mask or hide one—the European one—we distort our own identity. We distort it not only for ourselves; we distort it for our children, which is perhaps more serious. I am concerned about children in our schools. A modern foreign language is no longer a compulsory subject at GCSE. I very much regret that, and I think that the Government regret that decision as well. They will probably reverse it. Also, in the teaching of citizenship in our schools, the European dimension is inadequate.

I ask the House to support this, and to start thinking sincerely and seriously about that aspect of our identity in which we are citizens of the European Union. It is by no means the only aspect, but it is one that, were we not to have it, we would be much the poorer, and our lives, and those of our children, would be at much greater risk.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, I would like to put one question to him. He says that he feels European, among other things. There is nothing wrong with that. But does he feel closer to a Swede than to a Norwegian, or to a Belgian rather than a Swiss, merely because the first in each case is a member of the EU and the second is not?

My Lords, that is a very interesting question. I will have to think about it. My first reaction is that I do not think that we prioritise by nationality the cultural influences that we feel, and I guess that that is true of most Members of the House. To do so would be odd. I certainly find, because I can speak, for example, German, that I have access to that culture that I would not have if I did not speak the language, and I am sure that that is true for the noble Lord with the languages that he speaks. You do not prioritise like that; this is all part of the mix that is you. I am arguing that we should rejoice in that; we should not fear it.

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, intimated, I am happy to support most of this Bill, although I imagine that the noble Lord and his supporters may not agree with me on what information and statistics should be published. Indeed, I must ask the noble Lord, and, perhaps, the Minister, how and by whom that information would be compiled.

I do not agree that the European flag should be compulsorily flown on public buildings and elsewhere. Will the Minister remind the House of the current status of the European flag? Is it still regarded merely as advertising, requiring a local authority licence, or has some order gone through that now makes the circle of stars official, to be flown on our buildings?

The information that the Euro-sceptic movement would like to see result from this Bill would start with the claim that the fundamental principle of our democracy—that is, the hard-won right of the British people to elect and dismiss those who make their laws—has already been betrayed by our membership of the European Union. We want to put it in front of the people that the majority of our law is now imposed by Brussels under an innately undemocratic system. We think it important to explain that system: how the unelected and corrupt bureaucracy, the Commission, has the monopoly to propose new laws, with the process taking place in secret. Then the Commission’s legislative proposals are negotiated, also in secret, by the shadowy Committee of Permanent Representatives—COREPER—bureaucrats from the nation states. Decisions are then taken in the Council of Ministers from the member states, again by secret vote, where the UK now has about 8 per cent of those votes. The treaties ordain that the resultant laws must be enacted by Parliament here, often on pain of unlimited fines in the Luxembourg court. Finally, the Commission then executes all EU legislation.

We would put at least three other features of this unfortunate system in front of the people: there is no appeal against the judgments of the Luxembourg court; once an area of national life has been ceded to control from Brussels, it cannot be returned to national parliaments; and no changes can be made to the treaties unless they are unanimously agreed by all the member states in the Council of Ministers, so renegotiation of the treaties to reclaim our democracy is not realistic—the only way out is the door.

We would also want the public to know that membership of the EU is a heavy and increasing drain on our economy. Independent analyses put that cost at anything between 4 per cent and 10 per cent of GDP. I am aware that the Government refuse to conduct a cost benefit analysis of our membership, but that situation can happily be set straight soon by a Bill that I have tabled, which I trust the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, and his friends will support in the same way that I have supported his Bill.

Finally, I want the people to be told that only 9 per cent of our economy trades with the European Union, that another 11 per cent is involved with trade with the rest of the world and that 80 per cent stays right here in the domestic economy. Yet the diktats from Brussels have to be obeyed by 100 per cent of our economy. Those are the sort of things that we would wish to be put in front of the people. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Watson, that we would also want an honest appraisal of how the constitution is moving forward illegally.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dykes on the Bill and on enabling us to debate it in a robust and informed environment. He ably set out the way that the Bill would provide information and statistics relating to the European Union in public buildings and on the internet, and would permit the European Union flag to be flown on public buildings alongside the British union flag—or the union jack, as some would have it, even when it is not on the jack post of a Royal Navy vessel. However, as my noble friend stressed, it is important that we should publicise the European Union’s town-twinning support facilities, their scope and their benefits. I shall return to that later.

Before speaking to the Bill, I wish to mention some of the contributions made by noble Lords in what has in the main been an informed and informative debate. In introducing the Second Reading debate, the noble Lord referred to the Bill as modest and relatively uncontroversial. He pointed out, as did other noble Lords, the disease of chauvinism in the public unawareness of the complexities of the European Union brought about by the media. Whether one is pro or con, the question of information remains and that is sadly lacking in any depth. He pointed out the differences of opinions and the different lobby groups in various member states, of which we should be better informed in our public libraries and on the internet. He talked of the need to have an explanation of the realities of subsidiarity within the European Union and the need to display the EU flag on public buildings, where appropriate.

I am pleased that my noble friend emphasised the all-important matter of town twinning, which has been mostly bilateral in the United Kingdom, and informed us of the movement toward trilateral, even multiple, twinning. The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, supported the Bill as flagging up—or putting a sign up for, if you like—an admirable project, but he recognised the difficulties of the bureaucratic process in enabling progress. Any such measures aimed at making the EU administration more user-friendly have my support. I noted also his comments on the benefits of providing more materials in our schools and learning establishments to demonstrate better the depths and complexities of our membership of the European Union. I also congratulate the noble Lord on his avid and robust support for the twinning process.

The noble Lord, Lord Watson of Richmond, got to the nub of this debate by stating that we do not talk about Europe enough. How could one disagree? Mind you, we are now discussing it at some length. As the noble Lord said, there seems to be a consensus that Europe is best not talked about and that it might go away if we do not do so. That admirably felt the pulse of the debate in this country in terms of our position in and relations with the counterpart states of the continent to which we belong. The fact that our embassies overseas invariably fly the EU flag beside our national flag, while it is hardly ever seen on public buildings in the United Kingdom, needs to be addressed. That is somewhat odd and bizarre. We have also heard a great deal in this country, and in this Chamber, about the political positioning over Europe by other political parties, including my own, and how it is difficult to get a sensible and reasoned debate on Europe among the public at large, because of the way that the media, in the main, treats the subject.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that, although the majority of the written media is Euro-sceptic, the BBC is strongly Euro-phile, as was found by its own recent independent inquiry?

My Lords, the admirable issue the noble Lord raises could be better and more fully covered by the information that could be provided in our public buildings and libraries. I see the noble Lord agrees with me.

Continuing with my own contribution, the provisions are designed to be permissive and not mandatory. The more regular flying of the EU flag alongside our own on public buildings could help raise public awareness and interest in the European Union and our key role within it. The provisions in the Bill fill a gap in knowledge about the EU for the average citizen through information and statistics in town halls, libraries and other public buildings.

Apparently, no extra funding is called for, or even desired, as only marginal costs within existing local authority budgets are incurred. As my noble friend Lord Dykes has explained, the only new money source envisaged is EU funding under the Town Twinning Support Scheme, on which I shall concentrate my remarks. I, too, must declare an interest—in fact, two. First, I am a freeman of the Borough of Eastleigh, twinned with Villeneuve-Saint-George and Kornwestheim. Secondly, I am a founder member of the Alresford Twinning Association, from a small town in mid-Hampshire twinned with Bricquebec in Normandy since 1981. In their separate ways, both interests illustrate the best in twinning and in the benefits of the EU town-twinning support.

It is interesting that the small Georgian town of Alresford—where I happen to live, tucked away in the middle of Hampshire—has a churchyard with some rather quaint graves of French prisoners of war from the Napoleonic wars, who were held, lived and in due course died in the town. Bricquebec, the French twinned town, is just a few miles from the Utah Beach of the Normandy D-Day landings. The American cemetery at Bricquebec is a sombre memorial to the thousands of young men who died in the cause of freedom. What a contrast to the little churchyard in the town where I live.

My other declared twinning interest, in Eastleigh, whose parliamentary constituency I represented for some years, was first approached by Villeneuve-Saint-George—about 10 miles south of Paris—as long ago as 1961 with a view to forming what was then called a “twinnage”. With similar social and economic features, forming like interests between the towns was straightforward and a twinning charter was signed in 1963. This is where the point of my noble friend Lord Dykes is so strong. It just so happened that a few years earlier, Villeneuve-Saint-George had twinned with the German town of Kornwestheim, fairly close to Stuttgart. Like Eastleigh, Kornwestheim has good road and rail connections and a strong manufacturing heritage, but with ready access to extensive open spaces.

The initiative was taken to forge links with Eastleigh and, in due course, a formal treaty of friendship was entered into in 1987. I mention these dates to illustrate how strong and long-lived these connections and developments have become. The point is that Kornwestheim’s twinning arrangements with Villeneuve-Saint-George enabled those two towns to set up what was then an unusual tripartite link, where each town was twinned with the other two—a sort of mutually incluse arrangement.

To coincide with the 20th anniversary of the twinning with Villeneuve-Saint-George, the Borough of Eastleigh’s efforts in promoting European relationships were recognised by the Council of Europe. The European flag of honour was presented by the Commission’s representative in Eastleigh Town Hall Centre, and has hung proudly in the council chamber next to the British flag and the borough’s coat of arms ever since.

As is often the case, the success of a twinning owes a great deal to a small group or even to just one person, as the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, indicated in his opening remarks. Eastleigh is no different. It owes a great deal to Mr Gordon Cox, who taught languages at a local school. Gordon was a major influence in setting up Eastleigh's twinning, first with our French and then our German twin. He started the first school exchanges and offered his services as translator and interpreter to successive mayors on their annual visits to and from the twin towns.

Gordon Cox has continued to be a leading light in the twinning association since it started and, at 94 years old, is unchallenged as the borough and twinning historian. Over the past decade, Gordon has been made an honorary citizen of Villeneuve-Saint-George and received two memorial medals for special merit from Kornwestheim for his work in promoting and consolidating friendship between the twinned towns. Eastleigh is recognised as a beacon council and in Gordon Cox we have a beacon twinning representative.

On a more serious point, and one that will be at the very heart of the Bill in its progress through later stages, on Remembrance Sunday in November each year, the mayors and civic parties from the three towns gather at the Eastleigh war memorials. They remember together those who have lost their lives in war, and pledge together their determination to prevent future conflict. Eastleigh provides overwhelming proof, if ever proof were needed, of the importance of remembering the benefits that EU membership brings—of the importance of friendships between communities forged through twinning in particular.

Like many towns, Eastleigh has several war memorials, located in different villages around the community. But the one where Eastleigh's afternoon Remembrance Sunday ceremony is held is different and more poignant by some degree. The ceremony is held in the military cemetery, close to the site of Netley Military Hospital—once the longest brick building in the country. The hospital was built under Florence Nightingale's direction, initially to care for the injured and all-too-often dying servicemen shipped home from the Crimean War.

The hospital and the cemetery remained in use up to and beyond World War Two, as row upon row of neat, plain, uniform, military headstones bear witness. But in this Commonwealth War Graves Commission cemetery are not just the last remains of British troops. They lie side by side with the bones of soldiers from countries throughout Europe; soldiers who were caught up in conflicts through the centuries and brought to England, but who do not recover from their wounds. Here, on the outskirts of a Hampshire town, close by the English Channel, lies proof positive of the importance of holding true to the European Union's objective of replacing aggression with friendship among the peoples of Europe. The Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, may help to guide us towards that aim.

My Lords, this has been a select debate. Perhaps that is no surprise on the last Friday before the Christmas Recess. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for enabling the House to have this short debate on Europe with regard to the proposals in his Private Member’s Bill, although the debate has at times wandered beyond the Bill's confines.

I commend the noble Lord, Lord Watson, for the work that he does with the English-Speaking Union, but I take exception to his description of my party’s leadership as fragile. My leader has excellent relations with our MEPs and is riding high in the polls, unlike his, whose leadership could much more readily be described as fragile.

We on these Benches believe that the Bill is not necessary. Clause 1, as the noble Lord explained, would require information and statistics relating to the European Union to be provided free of charge in public buildings and on the internet. On what basis does the noble Lord feel that there is great public desire for that provision? What survey has he carried out that conclusively shows that this requirement is not already being satisfactorily met? Most public libraries and other public as well as private schemes already allow free access to the internet.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord for giving way. On the specific question that he raises, the opinion polls to which I referred also show that there is a widespread desire to know more and that, sadly, there is a high level of ignorance.

My Lords, that may be so, but I was specifically taking up his point about my party’s leadership, which he described as fragile.

There is always a fine line between information and propaganda. Is the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, asking for greater transparency and accountability in the European Union? If so, I fear that these are changes that need to be made to the workings of the European Union, not simply to ensuring access to the current information and statistics. Moreover, there are many different views within the EU about its role and future shape. Is the idea that all these should be communicated?

Subsection (4) requires that the information and statistics shall be provided in “written” and “electronic” form. Am I to take the use of the word “written” literally? Is the noble Lord expecting employees to write out the reams of information that the very wide definition of information and statistics in subsection (3) would require, or does he mean “printed”? Would he expect hard copies to be kept at all times or printed only on request? We must think environmentally of the potential waste of paper proposed here as reports or statistics become outdated.

In subsection (3), does the noble Lord intend the definition to encompass only material produced by the European Union? My reading of it suggests that it could include all material ever written about the European Union, as per the issues in paragraphs (a) to (c), regardless of the source. I am sure that that is not what the noble Lord has in mind, but it would in fact be the consequence.

Clause 2 would legislate that the flag of the EU shall be,

“flown on Government and public buildings alongside the union flag”.

What about the Commonwealth flag? Once this precedent is set, where will it stop? It is absurd to suggest that we give the same status to the European flag as we do to our own national one.

Clause 3 is on town twinning. I have already highlighted my concerns about the term “information”, about how the noble Lord envisages it being “made available” in public buildings, and about the fact that there is already provision for free access to this information on the internet, in some public buildings and via other schemes. As your Lordships are well aware, town twinning is a concept whereby towns or cities in geographically and politically distinct areas are paired with the goal of fostering human contact and cultural links. Town twinning is by no means a modern or exclusively a European Union concept. There are other projects, such as Sister Cities International, the Brother Cities Programme and Partnership 2000, just to mention a few. There are historical suggestions that twinning took place long before the current processes started in the 1960s. By comparison, the EU scheme was set up only in 1989.

The EU's own website states that its scheme has been well received by towns and municipalities in Europe. The EU received more than 2,450 grant applications this year. It appears that people are already well aware of the EU twinning scheme and do not need prompting. We are a party of choice. I believe that twinning should be a local decision, taken at a local level. It is clear that people already have access to the information that they need. I would not wish a system to favour one scheme over another through an attempt to legislate just for information on the European twinning scheme.

I hope that the Minister will agree with me that this Bill is unnecessary and would have implications that we do not wish to be set as precedents. We oppose the Bill.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for giving the House a chance to discuss the important issues raised today. The Government welcome the contribution that he continues to make in the debate on EU affairs. I personally am delighted to have an opportunity to talk about the European Union. Although we often have the opportunity to discuss European issues and policies in your Lordships' House, it is usually when we are discussing specific issues such as the environment, climate change and food standards, to name but a few.

I should also declare an interest. For nearly 10 years I worked for the European Commission, for the past three and a half years on issues in information and communication and lastly as the head of the Commission office in Wales. Throughout that time, I worked to ensure improved provision of factual information about the European Union, to combat what the noble Lord, Lord Watson, called “woeful ignorance”. However, I recognise the point rightly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Astor—that there is a fine line between information and propaganda which must be respected.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, is correct about the historical lack of communication skills in the European institutions. However, I pay tribute to the increasing improvement in the institution’s skills, particularly in the websites. The Government are committed to making information on the EU freely and widely available to members of the public in order to increase their understanding of how the EU functions and to give them information on how they can influence decisions on issues that affect them. We feel that that is the only way in which sensible and reasoned debate on the EU can take place. As the noble Lord, Lord Watson, pointed out, people certainly cannot have an informed debate on these issues if they receive their information only from the press, many parts of which seem to delight in twisting the facts, emphasising the negatives and forgetting the positives. The Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with its colleagues across government, therefore continues to support and initiate various activities to generate public awareness of EU issues and a more mature debate about them.

I am glad to say that much information is already freely and widely available to the public. Many websites already provide information free of charge, including http://europa.eu, which provides access to information about the European Union including press releases, legislation and fact sheets published by the EU and its institutions. The website www.europe.org.uk is an accessible UK-specific site provided by the European Commission in London, and of course the Foreign Office's own Europe website—www.europe.gov.uk—also provides easy-to-use information about the EU, including a one-minute animated guide that is designed to explain simply the essential facts about the European Union; it also encourages active discussion about topical EU issues.

In addition, the European Commission has supported the opening of 25 Europe Direct centres across the UK. These are a new phase of public information centres which are designed to provide easily accessible information about the EU in places that are close to where people live. The centres are hosted by a wide range of organisations in the UK, including libraries, chambers of commerce and local government offices. HMG fully support the new Europe Direct centres and are working closely with the European Union representation in the UK to ensure the success of the service.

The centres can provide any information about the EU required by the public, but some of them focus on specific parts of the community that they serve. For example, the excellent centre in Gloucester, run by Penny Krucker and Mary Wormington, does a huge amount of work with schools and young people where the schools desire it, whereas the equally excellent centre in Carmarthen run by Neville Davies works with the rural community. As the noble Lord, Lord Astor, reminded us, we should not forget libraries. In some libraries there is a well resourced section with information about the European Union and a member of staff responsible for the provision of information, but, thanks to the People's Network, which the Government introduced in 1998, all libraries have access to the internet, from which people can download information and statistics about the European Union.

My Lords, before the noble Baroness leaves the websites, and so on, supported by the Foreign Office and Brussels, could she tell us whether those reveal some of the disadvantages of the European Union—a few of which I alluded to in my remarks?

My Lords, these websites provide factual information. Whether people looking at them perceive that information to be positive or negative is up to them, but they provide purely factual information.

I go back to the People’s Network. All libraries have access to the internet, from which people can download information. There are more than 30,000 computers in our libraries and in the vast majority of cases access is free. There are also sources of information such as European documentation centres in some universities and European information centres, usually located in chambers of commerce.

As the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, pointed out, next year is the 50th anniversary of the signing of the Treaty of Rome. We see this as an opportunity to look forward and to promote wider awareness and discussion of the role of the European Union. We are supporting a number of activities related to this. In particular, we are planning to support an interactive schools event, which will encourage British schools to link up with other schools across Europe to discuss issues that matter to young people.

More broadly, the Government believe that the European Union has a role in helping to tackle many key issues of public concern, such as security, development and environmental protection. Citizenship classes, which noble Lords mentioned, can help to raise awareness of how individuals can influence decisions at the EU level on issues that matter to them, including through participation in European Union elections.

The European Parliament also launched in November a new resource for citizenship teachers about the European Parliament and other EU institutions and EU countries, which comprises a teaching pack containing an interactive CD-ROM with video clips, teachers’ note and student activities. I am also pleased to say that next year, under its lifelong learning programme, the DfES will relaunch the Leonardo, Erasmus, Comenius and other Socrates programmes. These are first-rate EU-wide programmes, which will be well known to noble Lords. However, while children, students and young people in other member states readily take up the opportunities afforded by these initiatives, we in the UK are rather slow on the uptake. We are not benefiting as much as we should. The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, informed us of the benefits of the Comenius programme, which links primary schools throughout the European Union.

Her Majesty’s Government are actively engaging with young people on EU-related issues. Indeed, next Monday the FCO is hosting an outreach event to try to encourage more schools to take part in the European Youth Parliament, an educational foundation that organises events at which people can debate contemporary European issues. They may be in favour or against the European Union, but it is very good that they have an opportunity to debate these issues. Geoff Hoon will take part in an online discussion in the new year, along with a range of opinion formers, to discuss EU issues with young people. I hope that noble Lords will therefore agree that the Government and EU institutions are already taking action to promote the wide availability of information, free of charge, about the European Union and its institutions.

I must take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, about the “undemocratic” system. European legislation has to be agreed by both the European Council, made up of the Ministers of member states, and the European Parliament, whose members are elected. Contrary to what the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, believes, I think that, if people do not have information about the European system of governance in which they live, they are not empowered to use that democratic system to the best advantage.

As I stated, the Government wholeheartedly support many activities to ensure that information about the European Union is freely and widely available to people in the UK. This is an ongoing task and we will continue to improve awareness and to try to encourage a well informed and mature discussion about the European Union and its role, and the part that we play as a member. We work closely on this task with the European Union institutions and their representatives in the UK. We very much welcome the contribution that this House makes through its work on scrutiny of EU legislation and through debates such as these to raise the profile of the European Union and to underline its relevance and importance.

We also support the idea of town twinning. We particularly welcome the fact that the legal framework is such that it enables local government to co-operate and form partnerships with local authorities overseas. Such partnerships nurture mutual understanding, enable work on issues of mutual interest and can be of economic benefit. Many interesting examples have been cited by noble Lords today, and I note the beacon of Eastleigh, which was cited by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey. However, we do not support the idea that public buildings should be forced to provide such information or that government and public buildings should be compelled to fly the European Union flag. With regard to flag flying on other buildings, individuals, local authorities and other organisations may fly the flag whenever they wish, subject to compliance with any local planning requirement.

My Lords, I emphasised most strongly that the provisions in the Bill are in no way mandatory, only permissive.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, the flag of the European Union is not classed as a national flag under current town and country planning regulations. It therefore requires advertisement consent from the relevant local planning authority before it can be flown. That includes government buildings.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Could she tell us now, or write to me on, how far the order has got that would alter that situation and in effect give the European Union flag the same status as the national flag?

My Lords, the Department for Communities and Local Government is proposing to revise the regulations to extend the list of flags exempt from advertisement consent to include those of the European Union, the Commonwealth and the United Nations, as those are international organisations of which the United Kingdom is a member. I realise that that does not answer absolutely the question raised by the noble Lord, and I will write to him on that issue.

While the Government support the broad thrusts of initiatives to encourage information about the European Union, familiarity with its work, and partnerships such as twinning, we have strong reservations about the elements of compulsion contained in the Bill—although I recognise that the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, has said that there is no element of compulsion. We still have some strong reservations about the Bill, because what the Government are doing already makes the Bill not absolutely necessary. The Government are fulfilling our obligations in relation to the provision of information about the European Union to the public. The Bill is full of interesting ideas, which will be looked at in detail. I again pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Dykes, for initiating this debate. I look forward to the continuing, valuable contribution of this House to the discussion about the vital task of communicating with the British public about the European Union.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the Minister, not only for coming today, with her very busy schedule but for spending time on this important but, for obvious reasons, fairly brief debate. She has added a great deal of important argument to the background to this proposal for legislation. It is precisely because people in this country, who are not in any way fanatical about Europe one way or the other, feel strongly—I have had quite a lot of mail on this subject—that the Government hesitate all too often in the face of a difficult press, and that further institutional and legislative arrangements to provide more information on a regular basis, more prevalent and in more places but entirely permissive and definitely not mandatory, would serve this country well.

My Lords, on the issue of compulsion, one of my colleagues has quite rightly pointed out to me that while the noble Lord may say that the Bill does not imply compulsion, the fact is that it is couched in terms such as “shall be” and not “may be”, hence the element of compulsion.

My Lords, as the Minister is well aware, there are always those equivocations that come inevitably from the way in which a Bill is drafted. I cast no aspersions on the expert advice that I received from the Public Bill Office and so on. That is why it is so much more helpful—if there is a reasonable response at least and perhaps more than that on Second Reading—for us to get a Bill into Committee and discuss those issues in more detail.

I return to the point I was making before. There is a definite, unequivocal emphasis here that this is what people would decide to do if they wished to, as managers of town halls, central government public buildings, and so on. That definitely applies to the demonstration of the flag and to all the other matters in the Bill. It would be absolutely ludicrous for anyone to seek to bring compulsion to an area such as this. There is no financial provision in the Bill, and there is no need to have a financial outlet or penalties if people do not subscribe to its provisions. This is just a matter of increasing—at the margin to start with and then on a broader basis—the corpus of legitimate, neutral and public objective information on the European Union and our membership of it in public places where people access information.

We understand that, undoubtedly on most occasions, this information will be provided free to the managers of the buildings—the people organising the displays in the foyers of town halls, public libraries and other public buildings. We know from Google and the way that the internet and websites have developed—for example, Bloomberg with its stock exchange and quotations—that all the information is provided free if people wish to look at it by pressing a series of buttons. No complexity is involved. I also emphasise that providing masses of irrelevant and unnecessary information as a service would be crazy. The idea is to provide basic information on the background of our membership of the European Union.

I do not wish to take up too much time because a very important debate on assistance for the disabled follows this one. Therefore, I shall try to be brief in my remarks without being discourteous to colleagues, who made important and worthwhile points.

I was very impressed by, and grateful to, the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, for emphasising what town-twinning achieves in terms of personal, individual and group relationships. It has been extraordinary to witness that in the development of the twinning between Harrow and Douai. It happens to such an extent that official entities can recede from the scene and leave it to private initiative. My noble friend Lord Chidgey mentioned how well it works in his area.

I thank my noble friend Lord Watson for making some very important points. He mentioned how extraordinary it is that the European flag is seen on UK government and public buildings abroad but rarely here, although on some occasions the display increases somewhat. In many cases, it is almost as though people are ashamed to mention that they are members, and people are mystified about that in this country.

Of course, there are bound to be lots of party battles about the EU in the UK. They may be more pronounced than in some other member states, which is distressing for those who want to move on to the next stage of the agenda. We have been a member for 33 years but some people still couch the debate in terms of existential commencement rather than moving on to other subjects. We should bear in mind that the British public overwhelmingly seem to accept our membership of the EU.

The noble Lord, Lord Pearson, rightly asked what kind of information would be involved. I repeat that I believe that you would find brief and succinct information on the website cited by the Minister. It is simply a case of increasing the information’s physical availability, spread and presence in more obvious public buildings, centres and libraries.

My Lords, what provision would there be for the Euro-sceptic case to be presented alongside the kind of information to which the Minister referred? In other words, how and by whom are the information and statistics envisaged by the Bill to be compiled?

My Lords, without making it too complicated, the obvious point is that, if the owners and administrators of the public buildings decided to have some kind of European display—it might be very small, middling in size or more extensive, depending on their inclinations—they themselves would decide on the information that they wanted from the available official public websites, including the respectable leading news agencies and other sources. That is the only answer that one can give. I should be distressed and disappointed if it did not include neutral, objective information on people’s severe doubts about policies in the EU. That is also an essential part of the process.

None the less, I suppose that it would mainly involve giving background, statistical and other information for students and so on. The details of the administration would be worked out once the scheme had started. People would make changes, having seen how the scheme was received. If, in a public library, no one paid any attention to the EU display, it might be decided to discontinue it, to have it on a much smaller scale or to change the content.

I was extremely grateful to my noble friend Lord Chidgey. This is a dry-as-dust Bill but he made a very moving speech about the human aspects of town-twinning, what it means for Europe and what it means for the UK as a leading European as well as an international country. We have moved away from the terrible history of what good Europeans like myself would describe as European civil wars, as well as national wars, and peace has now come with human contact. His references to town-twinning were telling on a bigger scale than our modest arrangements in Harrow.

I was not disappointed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Pearson, and agreed with a lot of what he said, which does not necessarily mean that I will support his Bill if it makes progress in this House or elsewhere, but we shall see. I doubt it, but perhaps he might change the Bill or its title.

Without wishing to be unkind, I was disappointed by the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Astor. They were reactionary and lugubrious in the traditional flavour of the Conservative Party as it faces the European issue. The public constantly see that, and it is one reason why the Conservative Party is under test and examination for its anti-European chauvinism, and it is a pity that the noble Lord is not prepared to give such a modest, almost technical, measure more support. If he wishes to display other flags, that would be very good idea. I would love to see the flag of the Commonwealth—if there is a single flag, but I am not sure that there is—or the United Nations flag, which is displayed on UN day, but ought to be displayed regularly as well. We are an international country set in an international universe, so that would be all to the good, but it is nothing directly to do with the Bill.

I repeat my thanks to the Minister, whose credentials in this field are impeccable. She knows more about this subject than anybody else, so if the House gives the Bill a Second Reading and it goes into Committee, if she were there—in spite of her work schedule, which I know to be very heavy—she could elaborate some of the Government’s ideas about extending the information matrix to the public in these matters, particularly next year with the celebrations for the treaty of Rome, but also on all the other aspects, because people continually say that it is not possible to read anything objective in the newspapers about Europe and ask where they can get such information from.

I thank the House for listening patiently to those who took part in this debate, and I hope that it will give the Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Disabled Persons (Independent Living) Bill [HL]

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill be now read a second time.

As noble Lords know, the Bill received its Second Reading on 14 July this year, but there was no time for it to complete its remaining stages. So, here we are again, full of hope that noble Lords will support the Bill and pass it through all its stages. I said at that time that the purpose of the Bill was to transform the lives of Britain’s 11 million disabled people from frustration to fulfilment by providing a legislative framework for rights to independent living. It is an idealistic and a practical proposition, and it is a blueprint for the future of disabled people.

The Bill aims to change the whole ethos of the debate on disability from a discussion on how we take care of helpless people to a discussion of equal citizens who happen to have a disability. So how can we best help them cope and exercise the same choice, freedom, control and dignity that we all expect? I want to pay tribute to the Disability Rights Commission, its chairman, Bert Massie and its staff for their extremely constructive assistance. The extraordinary Caroline Ellis has worked extremely hard to make the Bill a success, and I put my warm appreciation on record. She has been of more help than any noble Lord has the right to expect, and I am deeply grateful to her for her efforts.

The springboard for the Bill is the appalling discrimination that disabled people still suffer. In realistic terms, they are second-class citizens and are treated as such. The Prime Minister has said that one in five British adults is disabled and that they can find themselves cut off from the opportunities that other people enjoy. They are more likely to live in poverty, to have fewer educational opportunities and to experience prejudice and even abuse. Most have low expectations. Only 50 per cent of disabled people of working age are in employment, compared to 80 per cent of non-disabled people.

The question before the House today is this: how can we rescue this one-fifth of our adult population from being an underclass? The answer must be nothing less than comprehensive legislation that will provide real opportunities of equality and independence and place specific duties on public authorities. There will be a duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and implement a national strategy for independent living.

Before I explain the provisions in the Bill, I shall say one further word on one urgent need for it. Seventy per cent of our councils offer services only to people whose needs are judged as “critical” or “substantial”. The rest can go to pot. The rights that they have are disgracefully minimal. For example, their right to services means help with being washed and fed, rather than comprehensive assistance and rights that would help towards independence. There are no positive rights in existing legislation to enable disabled people to choose where they live and no legal protection against their being forced to live in institutions against their wishes. That really is scandalous. There is no legal entitlement to advocacy, except in limited circumstances, or to communication support. It is simply impossible for disabled people to have independence when they have no communication support and no advocacy. There are no rights of support to cover a disabled person who moves to a different part of the country. They have to start all over again and negotiate a new care package from scratch and from many different sources. It is an awfully confusing business. The Bill provides that right.

People with mental health needs have no right to assessment or support for their needs. The notorious postcode lotteries prevent the provision of services all over the country. It is luck rather than judgment as to who actually gets what—fancy that in 2006. I hope that, like me, other noble Lords feel ashamed and angry at this neglect. It is basic neglect.

A basic element of the Bill is the provision of rights for disabled people and the imposition of duties on local authorities and the NHS. It is a twin-track attack. As a starting point for assessing needs, I want to emphasise the need for contributions from disabled people themselves. In the simple but profound words of Plato:

“Only the wearer knows where the shoe pinches”.

Disabled people are the best qualified to define their own requirements. This is one hundred times better than a local authority assuming what they are and simply handing out what it thinks is best.

At present, many disabled people are forced to live, first, in an institution against their will, and, secondly, with someone they do not want to live with. They are forced into it just because of their disability. It is absolutely unbelievable. The Bill empowers disabled people to determine where they live and with whom they live. If and when the Bill becomes an Act, it will be unlawful to force anyone into an institution against their will—and about time too.

Local authorities will have to identify all disabled people in the area and maintain a register of them. They will need to provide a wide range of assistance, such as communication aids and other forms of equipment, technology, independent advocacy and practical assistance in the home and elsewhere. Those are crucial elements of the Bill. Some people will say that they are all-embracing; in a sense, they are, but we must aim high. The neglect at present is so gross and so frustrating that we need to do something. This kind of element in the Bill will ensure that people are not left fighting alone with their disability. There will be a new system of individual budgets. The present range of different funding streams to help with personal care support, equipment and adaptations will be brought together, and disabled people will be able to use their individual budgets in the form of cash or services, or a mixture of both, to spend as they wish, on housing, equipment, personal assistance, transport or whatever they desire.

I assume that some local authorities will try to evade their responsibilities, although of course I cannot calculate how many. To outmanoeuvre them, the Bill provides that regulations will be made specifying minimum outcomes. That will effectively prevent local authorities wriggling out of their responsibilities.

I am anxious and hopeful that Gordon Brown will support the Bill. David Cameron says that, although he shares my aims and aspirations, such as extending direct payments, individual budgets and others, he is not convinced at this stage that legislation is the way in which to make all these changes. As we all know, however, history has taught us that the voluntary approach has failed and that there will be no new rights for disabled people and that no new duties will be imposed on public authorities without legislation. I firmly and deeply believe that simply requesting change is like the cooing of a dove in a cage—it sounds good, but it is perilous. This is what will happen when people are begging, pleading, asking and urging. We need strong legislation to ensure that these things happen.

I hope that Gordon Brown and other Members of both Houses will recognise the important economic benefits of investing in independent living. As people become more independent and return to work, earning from their employment and paying taxes, savings will be made in the social security budget. There will also be a big reduction in the use of health and social services as people become active and return to work. Vitally, the net costs incurred under the Bill will be far less than people first assumed when they saw these demands.

I was impressed by the comments on housing made my noble friend Lady Wilkins in an earlier debate. The provision of disability housing services is, of course, supremely important in the Bill. Each local authority will have to compile a list of accessible properties and disabled people requiring such properties and then—this is an important part of the answer—provide a matching service. The terrible shortfall of accessible housing will no longer be a bugbear, because people will be able to fit properties via the matching service. All new dwellings of whatever type will have to meet minimum standards of access—and about time, too. As a result, there will be a vast saving for local authorities by avoiding the very heavy cost of later adaptations.

It is not possible to do justice to the many provisions in the Bill in such a short debate. I hope that the House will accept that the thrust of the Bill is to transform the lives of millions of disabled people and to provide them with the necessities for real independence which we all take for granted but which are so cruelly denied them. Among the other provisions is the duty on the Secretary of State to prepare and implement a national strategy for independent living.

I offer these proposals to the House in the hope that we can initiate a movement to enrich the lives of disabled people with new rights for them and new duties on public authorities. None of it will be easy, and we can expect a great deal of opposition and indifference from various quarters. But the rewards for disabled people are enormous, and we can literally transform their lives with this far-reaching legislation.

Independence, dignity and freedom can transform the lives of disabled people, and we can do this job working together. We often use the words “freedom” and “independence” without realising what a lack of them means, and many severely disabled people lack those vital things. The Bill aims to put that into practice and ensure that something is done. Without those things, their lives are sadly diminished. It will be a far happier story if and when the Bill is passed and implemented. I commend the Bill to the House.

Moved, That the Bill be now read a second time.—(Lord Ashley of Stoke.)

My Lords, I strongly support this Bill, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley; I have great admiration for everything that he has done over a lifetime helping those with disability. I must declare an interest in that I have a daughter with multiple sclerosis who benefits from the Access to Work scheme. It is marvellous and enables her to continue working in a very responsible job in the Department of Health. I was somewhat surprised at the figures from the Department for Work and Pensions, which showed that only four people in the whole Department of Health get assistance to go to work. There must be more people with a degree of disability who merit help, but this information came out simply when Access to Work payments were transferred from the DWP to the local department. All departments, except the Department for Work and Pensions, were listed, so we wonder how many are employed in that department.

I am aware of the extreme difficulties of succeeding with Private Members’ Bills. My history of these Bills is on hedges—I seemed to be at it for ever. In the end, the Government added the issue to the Anti-social Behaviour Bill, a very happy solution. But, knowing how important it is to deal with the technicalities of these Bills, and as a strong supporter of this Bill, I thought I should raise this point today. I serve on the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. In the previous Session, we considered this Bill and noted many technical flaws. I understand that the Clerk of the committee has written to the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, to explain the position, and the flaws were published in a report on 30 June 2006, in the previous Session.

When the Bill came to our committee again on Wednesday, we were rather surprised to discover that none of our points had been taken up and the Bill had not been improved or amended to meet these requirements in any way, which is why I thought that I should raise this issue. Supporters, such as the Disability Rights Commission, do a great deal and have sent wonderful briefing on this, which I will not go into because it would take too long and I know that others will bring out its points. The case is so well known that it almost speaks for itself. But, if we place this on the record in Hansard, the supporters will know to look at these technical flaws. I refer them directly to that report.

Most of the powers in the Bill are conferred on the Secretary of State or the National Assembly for Wales, but the Bill does not specify who is to make the regulations—the report lists the relevant clauses. The Delegated Powers Committee recommends that,

“it should not be left to implication that these powers too should be exercisable by the Secretary of State or the NAW”.

Another point relates to the powers to make further provision. Again, the report sets out in detail the clauses concerned. It states:

“As this is a private member’s bill, there is no memorandum to the Committee”—

the “memorandum” is usually a detailed statement sent by the government department involved explaining the logic behind its points, but we do not receive one with Private Members’ Bills—

“to explain the delegations and so it is not apparent to us why these powers are needed or appropriate. Accordingly we draw them to the attention of the House so that a further explanation may be given”.

On the parliamentary procedure, the report states:

“All of the powers conferred on the Secretary of State by the bill (except that in clause 24(2)) are made subject to affirmative order by clause 36(2), including commencement orders and orders applying to the bill with modifications for the Isles of Scilly. We draw this to the attention of the House because we do not think this can have been intended, as the only power in the bill which seems to warrant affirmative procedure is that in clause 3 to extend the definition of ‘disabled person’”.

These are highly technical points. By putting them on record in Hansard the people working on the Bill will have the opportunity to study the defects and to consider how to overcome them.

I have found from personal experience that the Public Bill Office is marvellous at helping to draft amendments. The amendments to this Bill would need to come forward in Committee. It would be rather onerous on the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, to be asked to table all the amendments himself. I am sure that, if the Public Bill Office were to issue a list of the required amendments, many Members of the House would be willing to table amendments and to speak to them. This would not be opposed by anyone in the House because we all want to see the Bill go through. That deals with the technical points.

I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, that this might cost far less than expected. The noble Lord referred to housing. I have always been upset that in this country a house or residence of any type designed specifically for a disabled person is not necessarily passed on to another disabled person. I have seen expensive adaptations being ripped out and I find it tragic that there is not a central place to which they can be taken. A neighbour of mine put in a chair lift and used it for only about a year before she died at a great age in her 90s. But afterwards, when the executors asked me to try to find someone to take the chair lift or to use it, there was no system into which it could go to be re-used or to benefit anyone. I considered it very wasteful that something like that, which had cost a lot of money, was just discarded.

In Australia—and, given the cricket, I hardly dare mention Australia, although this test match seems to be a bit more even—certain properties are designated for disabled people. Very often a charity or a similar organisation owns the building. That organisation will give a person a lifetime lease or tenancy of the property, and when that person dies—if the spouse survives, he or she can remain there for the remainder of his or her life—the house is not converted into a “des res” for anyone to live in; it continues to be a useful property for another disabled person.

Under “disabled” I include those people who have not a lifetime disability but a disability due to their lifetime and wearing out in old age. Many people come into that category, and there will be many more as life goes on—although yesterday, at the Royal College of Physicians, we were all cheered to be told that we would live longer but not live badly any longer; that the difficult period of our lives will still be fairly short at the end. That was good news.

There is a vast and growing need for help of all kinds for disabled people. The provisions referred to in the Bill—the rights of choice, short breaks, mental health support—are very important. I could go on and on, but I will not do so because the argument is well made. I want only to express my support for the Bill and to draw these technical matters to the noble Lord’s attention.

My Lords, I wholeheartedly welcome this Bill, so comprehensively explained and compellingly argued for by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke. I applaud his unfailing spirit and tenacity and regret the absence of that other tireless campaigner, the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester, who sends his apologies. This House and many other people, not only those with disabilities, owe them both a great deal.

At the previous Second Reading, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, said:

“I hope that today I have planted a seed in Parliament that will be transformed into a mighty piece of legislation, giving to Britain’s disabled people the freedom and independence they cherish and which they have been denied for too long. The Bill is a blueprint for the future, but the time to embrace it is now”.—[Official Report, 14/7/06; col. 957.]

We need a design plan to help resolve the problems highlighted in the excellent debate last Thursday of the noble Lord, Lord Bruce-Lockhart. I hope that the technical, detailed points of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, may firm up the blueprint.

I should like to add my thanks to the Disability Rights Commission as a whole and, to quote the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, to the extraordinary Caroline Ellis. The DRC has described the Bill as a timely response to the crisis in social care. Our social care system is certainly in need of wholesale reform. That is not just the view of the Bill’s main supporters; it is what several senior local authority managers are saying. The current system is unable to meet the needs of those who use the services and will be unable to meet the challenges of growing expectations and demographic change. The symptoms are clearly visible: the majority of councils can now provide nothing to those with more moderate needs; families and carers are at breaking point; and shocking case studies are gathered by the DRC in its recent Independence Day report on disabled people prevented from working, kept apart from their families and deprived of basic, essential support.

At that Second Reading, I concentrated on personal care. I will spare your Lordships a repeat, except to explain and declare my interest. I will then touch on a couple of wider implications on which I hope the Minister might give her views, follow up with a question I raised last time and ask a new question. I said in that debate:

“I must declare a close interest, in that I have for the past four years needed increasing amounts of help with personal care: washing, dressing and getting out of, and now getting into, bed. I am in receipt of a higher rate of disability allowance, which in no way covers all the costs. I do not qualify for any further financial help. I add this only to make it clear that this is not a personal moan, but one on behalf of all those who cannot manage and are not in control of their lives”.—[Official Report, 14/7/06; col. 968.]

Recent reports from In Control, a body which comprises Mencap and Valuing People and is developing new systems of self-directed support with local authorities, similar to those proposed in the Bill, supports the case for change. Its initial pilot—I think there were six—demonstrate major improvements over a range of outcomes, increased numbers of disabled people in paid work, and strengthened family cohesion. Everyone who was in residential care at the start of the pilot, including those with learning difficulties, was able to move into the community, in many cases at a greatly reduced cost.

In Control says that the efficiencies released by reform could be absorbed by more people claiming rights to support, but that is precisely what needs to happen. We need a system that can deliver real choice and participation for the many rather than inadequate care for the few.

I turn now to the wider-scale effects on women and carers. As the Minister will know, the DRC has worked closely on issues of reform and investment in social care with Carers UK and the Equal Opportunities Commission, both of which have expressed strong support for the Bill introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Ashley. This is not just a Bill for disabled people; it is now seen as a Bill for carers; it is a Bill for women struggling to build up adequate pension provision for the future; and it is for the one in four families affected by disability. It will contribute to greater gender equality and it is strongly supported by the EOC, which concludes in its briefing:

“The reality of an ageing population means that social care can no longer be regarded as a ‘private’ matter. This Bill will help ensure that there is support for disabled people, people with health problems, older people and carers in 21st Century Britain”.

I hope that the Minister might comment on the benefit for women and agree that the Bill could have a major beneficial impact on the life chances of the 175,000 young carers who, according to research by Barnardo’s, Carers UK and the Joseph Rowntree Foundation, provide day-to-day support for disabled parents, primarily because their parents are not receiving adequate statutory support, or because they fear involving social services.

The Bill provides explicit rights to disabled people to be supported with parenting and other key aspects of daily life, and new safeguards to ensure that families can stay together. Over time, this will surely eradicate the serious educational disadvantages and the health problems that so many young carers face. I know that my noble friend Lady Finlay will talk a bit more about young carers.

I raised some specific points for clarification at Second Reading. I asked why earned income was not excluded from charging assessments for disabled people in residential homes, and cited the case of Doug Paulley, the talented web designer who has been headhunted but cannot take up the job because of the huge financial disincentives. He could keep only £20 of anything he earned, and the rest would be absorbed by care home fees. I argued, first, that the life chances report said that that should be looked at. Secondly, I said that, as it would not affect a huge number of people, it would hardly make much impact on public spending while having the huge benefit of enabling people like Doug to work. The Minister said that she would look at the matter, and I hope that she can give me an encouraging reply or say that the Government will treat it as a matter of urgency.

My final question concerns the impact of the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 on disabled people’s choice of carers, and on specialist care agencies. Peter Henry, who is tetraplegic and needs 24-hour help, also runs a care agency, which specialises in the recruitment, employment, placement and management of live-in carers for spinal-injury disabled adults. I have used the agency on several occasions, and can vouch for the quality of the specialist training and the appropriateness of the placement of carers.

His concerns are both as a service user and provider. As a service user, he prefers an age range of 21 to 45 because of companionship and shared interests. You are inviting someone to share your life and to go everywhere with you. Motor insurance is prohibitively expensive if the carer is under 21. It is a physically demanding job, so an older person cannot really do it. It requires intimate personal care. Spinal-injury trained carers are trained to do things such as manual evacuations, which the average carer is not trained to do. There is also the issue that an adult can choose who enters his home to share his life. He has a choice.

As a service provider, Peter Henry matches the carer to the client. Again, that is based on choice and lifestyle. He has done some research, and can statistically prove that clients strongly prefer the 21 to 40 age range. Until now he has advertised for carers in that age range. He has been trying since the summer, so far without success, to ascertain whether his company can use Schedule 8 to the regulations, by which they could deem the advertisement age band a genuine occupational requirement, or indeed any other clause to exempt his advertising and recruitment. The Minister has a copy of his letter, so I will not go into further detail; suffice it to say that he cites bits in the Sex Discrimination Act and the Race Relations Act that would deal with the problem from that point of view. Indeed, the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, contains clauses that may be able to deal with it.

I hope the Minister will be able to give an answer—and, I hope, a positive one. If it is negative, I hope we can take the issue further and try to resolve it. I look forward to her reply, and wish the Bill a speedy journey much nearer to the statute book this time than it got previously.

My Lords, I am delighted to be able to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ashley of Stoke on reintroducing his Disabled Persons (Independent Living) Bill, especially so early in the Session. I also add my thanks to the Disability Rights Commission, especially Caroline Ellis and Dr Graham Nixon for their help and advice. Organisations of and for disabled people have given the Bill their warmest welcome, and endorse the words of the National Centre for Independent Living:

“It is now becoming an essential piece of new legislation”.

I also congratulate the Minister on her announcement, in her closing speech when the Bill was introduced, previously of the review by the Office for Disability Issues of independent living. I hope that the Government’s appointment of the two disability experts, Dame Jane Campbell in the chair and Dr Jenny Morris to lead the team, demonstrated their commitment to tackling the wide range of issues that need action if the Government are to attain their objective of opportunities for all disabled people by 2025. That task is no easy one, and it desperately needs this Bill for it to succeed.

There is one great sadness today, however. I know I speak for all noble Lords in missing the enormous contribution the noble Lord, Lord Carter, would have made to this debate. He has fought for the independence of disabled people, for our dignity, choice and control, all his personal and political life. He would want to be here, and he is very much in our thoughts. We send him and his wife Teresa our warmest love and best wishes.

As I said when the Bill was introduced, I believe the Government need this Bill. In the words of NCIL, it will,

“provide the practical steps necessary to turn the Government’s visions into concrete reality”.

NCIL goes on to say that,

“we have seen the presentation of the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit report, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, the piloting of individual budgets, the White Paper, Our Health, Our Care, Our Say, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 with the new disability equality duty, all demonstrating this Government’s commitment to the principles behind independent living. And yet, in spite of this commitment in policy and principle, in practice social care appears to be in crisis”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has already pointed out, 70 per cent of local authority social services departments are now offering community care support only to disabled people whose situation is critical. NCIL goes on to say that,

“reports we are getting from our member groups indicate that direct payments are now being offered in smaller and smaller support packages. Many disabled people now have considerable difficulty getting support for anything other than basic life and limb support, with little or nothing available to support family life, or community-based activity”.

I spoke at length when my noble friend first introduced his Bill and I hope not to repeat myself. But I want to concentrate again on the crucial issue of housing. I particularly welcome Part 4 which deals with housing, as I believe that accessible and affordable housing is the very bedrock of independent living. Our housing stock lasts decades, much of it for over a century, so it is essential that we act now to provide for the independence of generations to come.

Yet, accessible housing it is not regarded with the urgency which it deserves, but I welcome the mention that it has received today. In its 2003 survey of physically disabled people the charity John Grooms found that 40 per cent of the respondents lived in houses that made them unnecessarily dependent on other people. Evidence from the 2003-04 Survey of English Housing published in April 2005 indicates that an estimated 1.4 million disabled people in England are in need of specially adapted accommodation. Of that total, nearly one quarter currently live in unsuitable accommodation.

The current housing situation of disabled people is dire and the demands of our ageing society, the growth of single households and increasing expectations among disabled people will only make the situation worse. Yet, sadly, the Government’s action, or inaction, since the summer has failed to acknowledge the urgent need for action. As a result, the housing clauses set out in Part 4 of the Bill are even more necessary. First, on the inaction, we continue to await the Government’s response to the research that they commissioned from Bristol University, Reviewing the Disabled Facilities Grant Programme, which the ODPM promised for,

“the early part of 2006”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/10/05; col. 13WS.]

That research clearly set out the need for a strategy across government departments that considered the costs and benefits of disabled facilities grants, linking them with other housing, health and social care policies in order to achieve the best use of resources. I hope that we will not have to wait much longer for the Government’s response.

In the past few weeks the Government have published the revised PPS3—the planning policy guidance on housing and the revised code for sustainable communities. Neither of those has addressed the urgency for strong government action on accessible housing and both documents have ignored the DRC’s recommendations. The DRC had argued that, as a minimum, all new housing should be designed to the lifetime homes standard to meet the needs of occupants as they change over time. While PPS3 places welcome emphasis on insisting that local authorities should plan strategically for the long term and states that developers and planning bodies must take account of the need to cut carbon emissions, the requirement that homes are built to the lifetime homes standard remains just a voluntary matter.

While I welcome the Government’s commitment to environmental issues, the Department for Communities and Local Government has failed to seize this opportunity to incorporate lifetime home standards into building regulations, despite being urged to do so by successive government reports. These include the Prime Minister’s Strategy Unit report, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, the Social Exclusion Unit report, A Sure Start to Later Life, as well as that of the Lords Science and Technology Committee. The DRC is firmly of the opinion that this would not represent an additional burden on business. In evidence, it cites the fact that Habinteg Housing Association states,

“that building to LTH standard adds less than 1 per cent to a housing scheme's development costs. This is then repaid in reduced expenditure on adaptations”.

The DRC also points to the situation in Northern Ireland, and states that there,

“the cost to building to Part R (the equivalent to the English Part M) or increasing the standard to LHS ranged from £165 to £545 dependent on house size, layout and specification”—

that is hardly a large sum—

“This additional cost would be recouped between 3 to 10 years due to reduced expenditure on adaptations”.

That is but one example of spending wisely in the present in order not to waste money in the future. Housing is but one aspect of this extremely important Bill, which also makes provision for not wasting government resources and spending wisely for disabled people. It is a broad and wide-ranging Bill, offering solutions to the current wasteful, over-bureaucratic and utterly frustrating situation which disabled people face today. It offers the Government a new legislative framework which could ensure that their vision of equality of opportunity for disabled people by 2025 would indeed become a reality. I hope that they will grasp the opportunity with both hands.

My Lords, I am pleased to take part in this debate and wholeheartedly support the noble Lord, Lord Ashley of Stoke, on an incredibly vital Bill. I declare an interest as an independent provider of care, supporting independent living.

Jenny Watson, chair of the Equal Opportunities Commission, said of the Bill:

“Lord Ashley’s Bill should be welcomed by us all—because one day, we all may need the support that it provides”.

It should be unacceptable to us in 21st-century Great Britain, often cited as the fourth or fifth-largest economy in the world, that we still have too many people living in circumstances quite unsuitable for even a basic existence. Some 1.4 million disabled people live in homes that need some form of adaptation, and nearly 330,000 live in homes totally unsuitable for their needs.

Recent years have seen a decline in what is available in care packages for the disabled and elderly. They are often reduced without warning and usually with no back-up support to family members. Earlier this week, we discussed the deficits in the NHS and the profound effect that was having on other government departments, having to pick up care provision without adequate support, funding or training. Time and again, the very people who need help and support in ensuring that they do not burden the state and that they enjoy access to as much independence as possible are being driven to lives of isolation and entrapment in their own homes, with little or no access to the outside world.

The work of our unsung voluntary and paid carers saves the country huge amounts of money, but we cannot keep removing the pillars of support enabling them to do so. The current level of bureaucratic tape and the many different departments which must be dealt with are a particular worry. There often seems to be no partnership thinking at all. Every department follows duplication, triplication and more information required before a sensible package can be discussed. The user has little control in any planning of care or provision.

From my own personal experience in care provision, I know that people have often been encouraged to live independently but without proper aids or support packages in place. I could give numerous examples, but shall give only one or two. A service user’s only requirement for access to the outside world was a ramp, so that the wheelchair he sat in all day could go out of the house. One and a half years later, there was no ramp, but the service user had passed on. My other service users want to go out shopping, but there are few facilities for adapted taxis to come and pick them up, or for trained care support to assist them with their shopping. If there are no facilities for day centre placements, most service users spend hours home alone. How much companionship can a television offer?

While we all maintain that our human rights are breached if we cannot access services which we believe are ours by right, how can it be right that, in planning and developing packages to enable people to live as independently as possible, those people have so little say in the matter? We all demand and expect that we are given proper opportunities for education, employment and training. We all expect and demand that, if the system fails, we will receive compensation and support. Local authorities need to work much harder in partnership with employers and educationalists to ensure that opportunity is not denied. They must offer greater access, not only to enhance individuals’ lives, but to reduce the costs to local authorities.

The funding of social care has to be seriously revisited. As our ageing population is set to outgrow our working population, it seems only sensible that time, money and thought spent now will alleviate many of the problems being stacked up for the future. Will the Minister assure the House that no further cuts will take place to care packages being carried out now, and that she will revisit how care packages are assessed and see how these can reflect a more interactive participation in the wider community?

My Lords, I am grateful to be able to speak in the gap. Like others, I wish the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, well with this important Bill, which is dear to his heart and to so many disabled people.

Dame Jane Campbell has already been mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins. It is important to remember that, when she campaigned for direct payments, she had experience both of being someone with severe disability and of having been a carer, having cared for her first husband during his terminal illness. I will focus on carers in this brief time.

The Bill sets out two very important principles. The first relates to the requirement to consult carers on strategy and on defining the duties of local authorities. The other is in recognising the fluctuating requirements of people with disability. Things are not fixed. They get worse and sometimes they get better.

Carers are not all adults. Many are children. It is estimated that 175,000 children and young people in the UK help to care for a sick or disabled member of the family and there may be many more than that. Some of these youngsters provide a great deal of care. It has been estimated that 18,000 children aged between five and 15 provide 20 hours of care a week. Nearly 9,000 provide at least 50 hours—more than seven hours a day. Most of these young carers are looking after a relative with a health problem or disability. Very often, the relative is a single parent because, sadly, the partner has not been able to stay the course and has left. But the child, who loves the parent however disabled that parent is, of course will carry on and want to provide care. Nearly a quarter of these young carers have no support other than that offered by the young carers’ project run by Barnardo's. Young carers are aged between three and 18 with an average age of 12. It seems astounding that so many children in primary school are taking on the role of carer.

Almost half these young carers report mental health problems and that they are emotionally affected by caring. I have seen some of these carers when they come to apply to university. They are quite inspirational in what they have had to do and how they have managed to achieve against all odds because they have been motivated enough to want a career in the health service. These carers take on a huge amount of work. Those providing emotional support often do not know what they will be coming home to. Sadly, sometimes children come home and find that their parent has died while they have been at school. The trauma of that cannot be underestimated. They shop, they help pay the bills and they have to open doors to strangers. Other children are told not to open doors to strangers, but these children have to because otherwise nothing would happen in their homes.

The Bill sets minimum standards which will be crucially important. I hope that, in the consultation with carers, it will be remembered that these children and young people are also carers and deserve to be consulted just as much as adult carers. I also hope that the fluctuating requirements outlined in the Bill will be respected as I hope this Bill will be implemented into practice.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is nothing if not tenacious. To bring this Bill back so quickly and to bring it back when it gets a chance to be properly aired and discussed in Parliament is a very important act. I extend my congratulations to those who have been helping the noble Lord and assisting him behind the scenes, including the Disability Rights Commission—and Caroline Ellis will probably be almost as red as the Benches, she has been thanked so much.

The Bill is a coherent and sensible approach to getting these issues together. However, what struck me when I looked through it was that there was nothing new here. Virtually every single clause has been debated in the past five or 10 years in Parliament. I appreciate the timely reminder of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, that we must get the Bill right technically; she does an important service to this House by saying that. But every part of the Bill has been discussed at least once, if not dozens of times, and if best practice and encouragement worked, we would not be here. That is probably the historical lesson to draw from this.

If a voluntary approach is to work, it must be given considerably more push from government. That refers to government as a whole, not to a particular party. The amount of pushing required to get previous Conservative Governments to do work on this matter was also quite monumental at times. I know that every step of the process will get slightly easier as the weight of time and precedent comes behind it, but we still have to push pretty hard. I hope that the people at the top of government—the politicians in charge at the moment—realise that they must take the whole machine, bang heads together and get people to co-operate. If it requires a Bill to do that, a Bill should be introduced. To bring in a little bit of politics, although it is unusual in these events, perhaps we could do without another couple of Home Office Bills, which all seem to do exactly the same thing as the Bills from seven or eight years ago. Possibly then we might get a bit more room for these types of measures. I leave that one sitting as the elephant in the room—but we must ensure that we give enough time and effort to this Bill.

The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, is gaining a worrying reputation as a rising star in this Chamber. She put her finger on a very important matter when she pointed out that blatant self-interest was involved in this for all of us. We must get this right, because it will affect all of us, directly or indirectly, given the ageing profile of the population and the fact that more people with disabilities live longer.

Noble Lords have alluded briefly to the issue of costs. At the moment, what happens is that by not doing X or Y we pay double for Z later. I am sorry for pausing—a dyslexic should never use the alphabet in his examples! By not meeting immediate costs and maintenance, you end up with a damned great repair bill later. That is effectively what is happening. Provisions for disabled people are being squeezed because they can be. Because there is not the legislative priority behind them, of course they are pushed aside. They may be brought back under other initiatives, but then they are pushed aside again. They will always be under that pressure until we get something that ensures that we tackle immediate needs head-on.

In education debates, we have looked at the situation for those with disabilities or special educational needs and it has been established that we must have something that guarantees that the problem will be dealt with up front, in legal terms. We are rapidly approaching that situation here, because we are not addressing the problems. We would not be here again today if we had addressed those problems on previous occasions.

I have a technical question for the Minister. Is there one aspect of the Bill that is not covered by some form of voluntary guidance? The question might be a little unfair, but we should discuss it in Committee. If we do, we can start to look at how far the Government’s thinking has developed at least on what should happen. Could we also have a little guidance on how fully the cost implications of the Bill have been considered? What potential savings have been identified in the government think tank? Expense will probably be the last defence offered against implementing the provisions. I do not agree, as I said, but it would be helpful to know the Government’s thinking.

I have made one or two notes and thought about raising other issues, but I shall instead finish by saying a few words about what will happen if we do not get this or similar legislation very soon. We will have to return to the issue again and again. The noble Lords, Lord Morris and Lord Carter, who are not in their places and are missed, have between them been thumping away on this for decades. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, said, even if they are not here, others will pick up the bat and press on.

Can the Minister please give us some idea how the Government intend to introduce a process, or a line of thought, to ensure that all these bits of best practice are referred to in guidance—the sop offered in so many discussions in Parliament—and introduced? If we do not get such assurance or a plan to work to, we will have to return with further Bills. Should we have to do that? We are not going to go away. We know that the Government will have to give in and give us something. Why not do it quickly so that we can all go on and do something else?

My Lords, the temptation on an occasion like this is to recycle the speech one made last time. I shall resist that temptation. I do, though, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, on bringing his Bill forward again. However I must warn him that what he seeks is one of those issues that seem to take a long time to bear fruit. However, as my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes said, perseverance pays. I know, of course, that my right honourable friend David Cameron has written to the noble Lord on the subject of independent living for disabled people, saying that my party desires it for as many people as possible, both for those who are disabled and in the social care field more widely. I hope and trust that I have never given the impression that I believe anything different. If I have, it is certainly a subject that would cause my days on this Bench to be numbered.

What I do, and always have done, is base my consideration of any issue regarding disabled people on a very simple concept upon which no one anywhere has ever contradicted me: that disabled people are people first, disabled second. It follows from that that I believe that disabled people should have the same rights as able-bodied people. I believe that, on the whole, they have those rights but are unable to access them because of discrimination.

So, as the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, has highlighted this afternoon, disabled people still have quite a long way to go to catch up with able-bodied people. There have, however, been great strides in this direction. My right honourable friend Mr Hague introduced his disability Act in 1994, and this Government tightened it up in their amendment Act which we discussed in the 2004-05 Session. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, will not have to wait yet another 10 years to get a Bill like this one on to the statute book.

Returning to my concept, I find that Clause 1, especially subsection (1), fleshes that out wonderfully. The problem is, though, that there are many areas of our national life where disabled people have become, or indeed always were, second-class citizens. I single out in particular transport, housing and healthcare. On transport, of course, we as a nation are getting there. More and more buses and trains are being equipped with sight and sound machines, for want of a better description, so that if you are blind or deaf you can be told that a train, for example, is now arriving at such and such a destination—something that an able-bodied person would be able to tell almost automatically. Why, oh why, though, does my London bus tell me only that it is stopping at the next stop and not what, or rather where, that stop is? Trains and modern black cabs—if you can afford to use them—now almost invariably have ramps for wheelchair users, and modern buses have low-level access. I am the first to acknowledge, though, that none of this is universal and that, as a nation, we still have quite a way to go.

I wish that I could say the same of the housing and health and social services of this country. First, I shall deal with housing. In our debates on the 2005 Bill, we pressed the Government hard on the need for local authorities to have a list of properties in their area that were suitable for disabled people. The noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, waxed lyrical on this issue. Even though the best local authorities already have such lists, the Government refuse point blank to make it a general requirement, for what I regard as a most spurious reason; namely, the need for constant revision and the fact that all dwellings would have to be surveyed originally. What nonsense. A reporting requirement is all that is necessary. There can be no downside in landlords and owners having an obligation to inform the local authority of adaptations making their properties suitable for disabled people. Nine times out of 10 they would need planning permission anyway. The Government pride themselves on joined-up government, not always realistically, as I pointed out on Wednesday, so why not joined-up local authorities? Anyway, if Liverpool can do it, why not Hounslow or wherever?

I think that the real grouse of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is about access to health and social services, on which I am afraid an unhappy picture emerges, as we have heard. It has been the law for some time now that health services in residential homes are free. However, it just is not happening, mainly I suspect because there is no definition of health services and because, unlike in Northern Ireland and Scotland, health and social services are not run by a single authority in England and Wales. The result is that each guards its budget very carefully, to the huge detriment of those it should be spent on. If they are conjoined into the same health and social services authority, this simply does not happen, as I know from my time in Northern Ireland. Where the money comes from the pot, people benefit.

This joined-up thinking extends to the right of an individual, disabled or not, to refuse residential care. Why should people be shovelled into inappropriate “boxes” against their will? The answer surely is that it is more convenient, though by no means cheaper, for social services. The figures speak for themselves. As the noble Baroness, Lady Wilkins, said, the government-commissioned report Reviewing the Disabled Facilities Grant Programme tells us that the average cost of independently provided homecare in 2005 was £4,800 and that the cost of residential care is now £36,000 to £40,000 a year. The Government’s response was due early this year. It is now almost next year. Why the delay?

Then in care homes, we know all about the problem of social service workers and the health service making the necessary investment in things like chiropody, physiotherapy, rehabilitation—perhaps after a stroke, in which I declare my usual interest—and general confidence-building. There simply is not enough joined-up thinking here, when some of the requirements must come out of the NHS budget and others from the local authority. The answer of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, to this is to have a joint pot of money, distributed to individuals to promote their capacity for independent living and to spend as they want. This proposal causes great sucking of teeth. “How”, the authorities ask, “will we know that the money is being spent appropriately by the recipient?”. What no authority is prepared to answer is the question: does it matter? Does it matter, that is, as long as it keeps people out of hospital and care homes? Speaking personally, I do not think that it matters one jot.

The same applies to dying in dignity. We in this Chamber are lucky enough to be able to exercise that right. Millions outside, however, are not. It is rare indeed for people to spend their last days in a hospital ward with dignity, especially in mixed wards, which have been so much in the news lately.

There are occasions—far too many, I am afraid—when disabled people are expected to conduct their own affairs with officialdom. I agree that it should be automatic for someone with motor neurone disease, deafness or mental health problems and so on to be able to take an advocate with them to, say, the jobcentre, hospital or local housing authority. I am not, however, saying that the advocate should necessarily be paid for by the state, or indeed at all. I am saying that there should be no bar to access, and I shall be exploring that in connection with the Welfare Reform Bill.

In the same way, why cannot one part of officialdom trust another? I ask your Lordships to envisage a situation where a person becomes disabled. He is assessed for his needs in one part of the country, lives there for a bit and then wants to go and live with, or closer to, another member of the family many miles away. Why should he then have to be reassessed, with all the trauma and extra costs to the authorities that that entails? Those costs are huge. I am told that assessment and commissioning amount to 32 per cent of the total cost for people with learning difficulties, 19 per cent for physically disabled people and 26 per cent for families with disabled children. To have to incur these costs again and again, and sometimes even again, is, to quote the late Lord Hailsham, stark staring bonkers.

To sum up, the heart of the noble Lord, Lord Ashley, is, as usual, in the right place, as is shown by the ringing endorsements that he has received from both the Director-General for Social Care and the Local Government Association. I warn the Minister that the noble Lord always gets his own way in the end.

My Lords, I also pay tribute to my extraordinary noble friend Lord Ashley. In laying this Bill, my noble friend has provided another excellent opportunity for this House to debate crucial issues around what independent living means for disabled people. I celebrate my noble friend’s tireless efforts over many years to further the interests of disabled people and his many achievements in this field. I also note the very apt observation from the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale, that he always gets his way.

Many noble Lords have spoken of the need to transform the lives of disabled people. I hope that the journey from frustration to fulfilment has already begun, although I recognise that there are still huge challenges, not only in terms of access to services but also in terms of equality and the need to raise expectations. I emphasise that we support the principles which underpin the Bill and that we are wholehearted in our determination to identify and remove the barriers to independent living which disabled people encounter day to day.

This Government clearly set out their position on what we wish to achieve to improve the lives of disabled people in our White Paper, Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People. I believe that we have a fine record on extending the rights and opportunities for disabled people. My noble friend Lord Ashley is right that we need to change the ethos of the debate from taking care of helpless people to a discussion about equal citizens who happen to have a disability.

That is why this Government introduced the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, although I realise that it is just one part of the jigsaw—albeit an important one. The disability equality duty section of the Act, which came into force at the beginning of this month, places a new statutory duty on public bodies to eliminate discrimination and harassment of disabled people. It will no longer be lawful for public bodies to design services or carry out functions without first thinking about how disabled people are affected. It is therefore particularly timely to be discussing today the principles of independent living.

Just last week, my honourable friend the Minister for disability, Anne McGuire, opened the conference “Making Equality a Reality” to mark the first anniversary of the launch of the Office for Disability Issues. The Minister renewed the Government’s commitment to transforming the lives of disabled people and delivering true equality.

We know that it will not be possible for us to deliver equality that is real for disabled people without engaging them fully in the process. This is why, at the conference, my honourable friend officially launched Equality 2025, the new national forum of disabled people, and announced the names of the 21 members appointed. All members of Equality 2025 are disabled people and will bring a wide variety of skills and experience to the table to work at the heart of government on policy development and delivery. A key role of the group, which does not represent any particular impairment or organisation, will be to make sure that it reaches out and accesses the voices of disabled people across the country, particularly those whose voices are often not heard.

The launch of the Office for Disability Issues a year ago was a real demonstration of our commitment to ensure that work across government would be driven forward to deliver the Government’s vision set out in Improving the Life Chances of Disabled People, which is that by 2025, disabled people should have the same opportunities and choices as everyone else.

Over the next two years, the ODI aims to: influence and challenge government departments to work together effectively to design and deliver support to give disabled people choice and control; ensure that disabled people see real benefits from our civil rights legislation; drive improved outcomes for disabled people through innovative projects; and bring the voice of disabled people into the heart of strategy. In one short year, it has already set up and supported an advisory group of 13 disabled experts to make recommendations for the remit and role of Equality 2025, has taken forward a project to improve the information available to disabled people, their families and carers and has been closely involved with the Department of Health-led project piloting individual budgets for people with disabilities.

The ODI has also launched the cross-government review of independent living, the ambitious programme mentioned by noble Lords, which is led by Jenny Morris, a highly respected independent-living expert. The review takes a life course approach from young people in transition to adulthood and includes older people. It is being shaped and steered by an independent expert panel, which has already met three times and is chaired by the redoubtable Dame Jane Campbell. She is a woman who I greatly revere.

One of the review’s aims is to consider and develop the business case for investment in independent living for disabled people. The review team recently commissioned work to build the economic case for independent living, and it has held discussions with other government departments and the expert panel overseeing the review. Many noble Lords demonstrated that there are economic benefits in investing in independent living; however, the economic case must be soundly established.

In the short term, the review has identified particular scenarios where removing barriers to independent living through cross-cutting approaches or by investment in self-determination could provide opportunities to reconfigure existing resources with better outcomes for disabled people. The review project team will continue to work with other government departments to develop potential options for affordable models. In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, the review will look across all services, mainstream and specialist, to identify the barriers to independent living. The review will recommend to the Government the action needed to address those barriers, including considering the need for legislative change.

In bringing together the views and experience of central and local government, disabled people and representatives from relevant third-sector organisations, the review will develop imaginative new solutions across the whole range of public sector service and support and will make practical proposals for actions to support independent living. Detailed proposals for future action will be published next summer.

The ODI is not alone in driving forward action to support disabled people to live independent lives. As a Government, we have taken forward a comprehensive civil rights framework to lay the foundation for equality for disabled people. In addition to the new disability equality duty, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005 extended protection to a further 250,000 people by including within its remit people with HIV, multiple sclerosis—like the daughter of the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes—and cancer. People with mental health conditions will also now find it easier to use the protection of the Act.

The Department for Work and Pensions is leading work on welfare reform aimed at supporting disabled people to exercise their right to work. The noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, raised the issue of disregarding earned income for people in residential care. The department is currently undertaking a review of the charging for residential accommodation guidance, involving a range of stakeholders, including those from the voluntary sector such as Age Concern, Help the Aged and the Relatives and Residents Association. The issue raised is one of those being addressed by this group. Once they have completed their work, which is expected to be in the early spring of next year, recommendations will be put to Ministers in the Department of Health on possible changes to the CRAG and associated regulations. I will ensure that noble Lords receive a full reply at that stage with the conclusions reached, taking account of the arguments put forward in the earlier debate in July.

I note the issue relating to the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations, and I will write to the noble Baroness and copy that correspondence to all noble Lords. The noble Baroness mentioned the in-control pilots. It should be noted that the people in the pilots were by and large in receipt of very high-cost packages of care. Similar savings cannot be assumed for everyone.

We are aware that although this Government have done much to promote equality for disabled people, there are still challenges, as we discussed earlier this week at a meeting on independent living organised by the excellent organisation RADAR. We heard about the barriers which people still face and the concerns people have around issues like having multiple assessments—a matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale—variations in provision between local authorities and levels of funding. I understand these concerns, which are all too real. The Government are not complacent. In the Department of Health’s White Paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say we set out a programme to deliver the strategic objective of focusing services around the needs of individuals.

In relation to disparate provision from different local authorities, one of the problems is that we all agree that decentralisation of provision is a very noble and good aim, and we are all aiming for it but it usually means a difference in the care available.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that some system for passing around best practice would overcome some of the problems that have been identified this afternoon?

My Lords, I am always in favour of systems of best practice. That is an excellent idea. I will look into it. If it is not in being, it clearly should be.

People tell us that they want to take control of their lives and choose the way that they are supported. They want to shape their own future and make their own decisions. They know where the shoe pinches. The Government are clear that for social care, putting power in people’s own hands is the way forward. A modern system should put people in control by offering personalised services and giving them the freedom to choose the type of support they want. We are committed to driving this forward through the individual budgets initiative, the in-control programme and work on promoting and increasing the take-up of direct payments. These are not separate initiatives or fleeting experiments, but the future for social care in the next decade and beyond. We are determined to make this approach work and will bring together learning from the three programmes to tackle any barriers, share best practice and build momentum for that vision.

The individual budgets pilot programme being led by the Department of Health across government is a key driver in this strategy. We have commissioned a comprehensive evaluation of the pilots to make sure that we are gathering the evidence that comes out of them. This will identify whether they can be delivered within our existing resources, whether they are delivering benefits to the people who use them, and whether there are blocks to delivery which will need to be overcome. The evaluation will also look at whether there is a particular model or models of the individual budget programme that work best for people with different needs. We do not expect to have final evidence from the pilots until spring 2008. Therefore, it would not be sensible to have a statutory requirement for the introduction of the individual budgets approach until we have seen the results from the pilot projects, and have had time to consider all the evidence.

With the individual budgets initiative and services focused around the person, joint commissioning is needed to bring the services together. The evidence shows that partnership arrangements and joint commissioning are increasing significantly. Perhaps the greatest change in bringing health and local authorities together to meet individual needs will come through the White Paper on local government, with its emphasis on more robust local area agreements, which will enable services to determine jointly what people need in terms of health, housing and social care, and to plan, provide and fund in partnership joined-up thinking, as advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Skelmersdale. Each local authority will be required to have a lead member on health and well-being partnerships—the very person to knock those heads together, as advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Addington. The health service will have a duty to co-operate with local authorities through the statutory local-area agreements. I have heard noble Lords concerns that local authorities are raising the thresholds for access to care. It is, of course, for local authorities to ensure that they provide or commission services to meet peoples eligible needs, subject to their resources and with regard to guidance on fair access to care services. We know that local authorities have to make difficult choices. The Commission for Social Care Inspection has recently reported that most local authorities are making the threshold substantial, but that does not mean that the system is excluding those who need lower level services, although I hear the very clear statement made by my noble friend Lady Wilkins.

Key to ensuring that people receive the support that they need and want is assessing their needs in the right way. I have heard and understood the frustrations that too many people have encountered when facing multiple assessments. By requiring health and local authorities to implement a single assessment process, the Department of Health intends to ensure a person-centred approach to assessment and care planning for people regardless of organisational boundaries. This will ensure that people receive appropriate and effective support.

We are developing a common assessment framework for adults by building on, and extending the scope of, the single assessment process. As with the existing single assessment process, it is proposed that the common assessment framework will cover several domains in order to take a holistic view of an individual’s circumstances and to identify any risks to his or her independence, and the need for support.

There is so much I could, and would like to, say about carers and the measures that the Government have implemented to support carers of disabled people. By 2008, we will have invested over £1 billion in support for carers. But we must, and will, do more. I am pleased that the work on the new deal for carers, announced in the White Paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say is well under way. We are very anxious to take a fully inclusive approach on this project, and the project director is working closely with carers’ organisations to ensure that we do so.

We are anxious to ensure proper support for young carers and the provision of short breaks for carers. I fully agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, that we owe a huge debt to young carers especially, and we must ensure that we consult them when we make policies. The Government are increasing the carer’s grant this year, which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Darcy de Knayth, pointed out, will assist women.

The Bill includes several proposals on housing and accommodation for disabled people. The Government fully recognise that it is extremely important that disabled people with access needs are housed appropriately and are given the correct priority for housing. That is precisely why we have amended the legislation governing the way in which housing authorities allocate social housing.

The changes that we introduced under the Housing Act 2004 were intended to meet precisely the sort of concerns the noble Lord’s Bill has identified. The term “medical grounds” was being interpreted too narrowly by some local authorities, and disabled people were being disadvantaged as a result. The Government also want to see social landlords making the best use of housing stock, including accommodation that is accessible to, or has been adapted for use by, disabled people. We recognise that accessible housing registers can be useful, and the current statutory guidance to local authorities on the allocation of accommodation encourages their use.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, mentioned stair-lifts. These are usually provided under disability facilities grants, which have been doubled to £120 million since 1997, and the Government are looking for new ways to simplify and improve the delivery of the service to make it more flexible and accessible. The Department for Communities and Local Government will issue consultation options early in the new year for revising those grants.

In answer to my noble friend Lady Wilkins, the Government will take forward lifetime homes in the first instance through the code of sustainable homes, which will get the standard out to builders more quickly than through regulation. We will keep it under review.

A huge issue for many disabled people is to secure the support of their peers to help them to take the choice and control of their lives that we are aiming to deliver. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, who has great experience in this area, mentioned user-led organisations, which are a key element in providing this peer support. A strong support network is essential. This is often best provided by bodies led by people who have themselves experienced the barriers that so many disabled people face in achieving equality and independent living.

Working closely with the ODI, the Department of Health is taking forward an ambitious programme to deliver the life chances report recommendation that by 2010 there should be a user-led organisation, modelled on centres for independent living, in every local authority area. Working in partnership with disabled people and key organisations, including the National Centre for Independent Living, the aim is to map the current position, identify barriers to the establishment and continuation of user-led organisations, and develop proposals to increase capacity. Early in the new year, the Department of Health will lead a series of regional and national conversations with disabled people, their families and representative organisations on how to deliver this key recommendation. Only this week my honourable friend the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Health, Ivan Lewis, discussed with Dame Jane Campbell further options to make this goal a reality.

In answer to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, the Government have not costed the Bill, although work is in hand to establish the cost-benefit case for independent living. On whether anything in the Bill is not covered by evidence at the moment, some issues are not covered—for example, a register of disabled people, the duty to enhance the capacity of service providers and discounted disability benefits.

The Government are committed to working to deliver equality for disabled people, but that will take time, as will the improvement in public services which are necessary for disabled people. That is precisely why we have set out a 20-year strategy. I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Ashley for enabling us to have such a high-profile debate on these very important issues. However, the Government are not convinced of the need for all aspects of this legislation at this time. There are parts of the Bill with which we might disagree or that we believe are already achieved through existing provisions. There would also be major cost implications if all that is proposed were implemented at the pace implied in the Bill.

We should not forget that the substantial programme of work which the Government have set in train in publishing and responding to the challenges of the life chances White Paper, in delivering the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, in programmes to implement the White Paper Our Health, Our Care, Our Say and the local government White Paper will mean delivery of our shared goals without imposing new legislation. But debate on the detailed clauses of the Bill is for a later stage.

At this point, I am very happy to welcome the principles underpinning the Bill, and to congratulate the noble Lord again on enabling the House to address this issue, which is of importance to all of society, but is central to the lives of people with disabilities. I hope I have demonstrated that this issue is close to the Government’s heart and one on which we have already achieved much, but on which there are still many more challenges to be overcome. I am confident that this Bill will act as a catalyst for government and wider society to ensure that the transformation in the lives of disabled people from frustration to fulfilment is as swift as possible.

My Lords, this has been a splendid debate, which I have enjoyed enormously. I thank all noble Lords who took part, whatever their viewpoint—although with one or two speakers I would have liked a bit more give and less circumlocution. It is all very puzzling. My noble friend was right to point out what the Government have done. They have a good record, yet it is by no means good enough to satisfy the speakers in this debate. We have worked on this Bill for a long time. It is a marvellous Bill which is very necessary. Yet people say things such as “later on” and “we have not got the cash”. Both parties, I think, would say that. That is fine, but if the Government want to save cash, why not save it from other budgets? Why always choose disabled people?

To talk about 2025 is preposterous. Life chances is an outstanding report, but to refer to 2025 is ridiculous. We want specific commitments to working quickly. As I am not a Minister I can ask for this commitment. I know that Ministers have problems to face but I emphasise that the provisions in the Bill are fairly reasonable given the suffering of millions of people. Without these provisions, disabled people will have to go on for many more years in their present situation. The whole edifice of social care is rocky; there is so much wrong with it now. The Bill will connect all those things. We do not want instant implementation but, equally, we do not want it to drag out, because, if it does, we will get nowhere.

The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, rightly spoke about earned income being disregarded. As to the technical points, I have had no letter from the Clerk. This afternoon I received a message from an official in the Public Bill Office asking me to go and see her. I found my way to the Public Bill Office, which is hidden away in the bowels of the Earth somewhere, and she pointed out all the technical points and asked whether I could deal with them. This was about 10 minutes before I was due to speak. I am not blaming her—she was very kind and helpful—but I told her that I could not master all of those points. It is like mathematics; I glaze over when I see figures like that. She said that we could deal with it at a later stage, and I agreed with that. So, if there is a Committee stage, we can deal with the points mentioned by the noble Baroness. The lady in the Public Bill Office agreed that that is the best approach, and I am sure we can handle it. I am very glad that the noble Baroness has raised these very important points. If we do not get them right, the whole Bill will crumble.

My noble friend Lady Darcy de Knayth is right: if we are not careful we will just be helping the worst-off, as we do now, and not those with moderate disabilities, who suffer almost as much as the severely disabled. We should strongly press the point that all disabled people, regardless of the degree of disability, should be compensated through this legislation. I agree with my noble friend that we are discovering many more disabled people of all kinds, of all races and colour, old and young. The Bill will specifically help young people but I do not have time to go into detail. I am sure my noble friend is right.

My noble friend Lady Wilkins referred to the noble Lord, Lord Carter. I am deeply moved by his illness. His wife accompanies him at home and here; they are a wonderful couple. I do not know how ill he is but I hope he makes a full recovery. He is a very tough guy. As Chief Whip he did not wield a stick, but he was persuasive. I send him my warmest regards through my noble friend Lady Wilkins.

The Government have not done a cost-benefit analysis. We should have sorted that out much earlier but, one way or another, we must find out what the situation is. I am convinced that the Government do not recognise how much money could be saved through the Bill. They will save an enormous amount, and the costs are minimal. The Minister may be right in saying that it could be a heavy commitment, but heavy commitments do not necessarily mean heavy outgoings, especially if the other side of the equation—the savings—is taken into account. There are savings to be made through many thousands of people getting jobs, paying taxes, not going into hospital and so on. I fully agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, said.

I do not think the hour is too late, but there it is. I ask the House to give my Bill a Second Reading.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

House adjourned at 5 pm