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Lords Chamber

Volume 696: debated on Thursday 15 November 2007

House of Lords

Thursday, 15 November 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Truro.

Higher Education

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What plans they have to address the particular educational needs of children born in August who are at present substantially less likely to enter higher education than those born in September.

My Lords, the recent research by the Institute for Fiscal Studies which we have commissioned on this issue shows that August-born children perform less well in schools than those born later in the school year. We are examining its recommendations and will report back shortly.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s assurance on that. In considering the further research proposed by the institute, would he consider the desirability of adding whether social class has any bearing? While further research is taking place, would he see advantage in informing primary schools of the extent of the difference, particularly at key stage 1, where there is only as much as a 50 per cent chance of achieving the required level.

My Lords, the noble Lord makes an excellent point, which is that we need this research to be well understood by professionals in schools. The publication of this report and the significant media debate to which it has given rise are ensuring that teachers become increasingly well aware of the issues raised. It is the Government’s intention to put out to schools materials which make these issues clear so that those people who are best placed to make the difference—head teachers and teachers—school by school are in a position to do so.

My Lords, giving local authorities more flexibility over when to admit children could be one solution to addressing these inequalities, yet when we rang the Department for Children, Schools and Families, it seemed to have no idea of how many schools have multiple intakes. It went on to say that this is not the sort of information that it has or keeps track of and it even went so far as to say that it would not know how to procure it. Does the Minister agree that this is exactly the sort of information that the department should be aware of if it is to make meaningful comparisons and address this problem?

My Lords, I am certainly prepared to look at this issue further, and indeed we are doing so. However, as the noble Baroness said, this would involve a whole new data-collection exercise, and it is the responsibility of local authorities to engage with their schools on issues such as the start date for children. It is not that there is no public authority with a direct responsibility; there is—local education authorities have this responsibility at the moment. I shall look at whether there is any value in gathering more data at the central level but I am very mindful—not least because of the noble Baroness’s strictures—that new red-tape burdens will be resented by those on whom we place them.

My Lords, in the 1930s, the qualifying age for entry to secondary education was based on the age of a child over the 12 months from 1 September. When, 74 years ago, I entered a grammar school in Durham county, because my birthday was in September, I was effectively almost 12 months older than my classmates with birthdays in August, and I believe that that conferred a significant educational advantage. Is it not time that the Government reconsidered the standard age for entry into primary and secondary education?

My Lords, I am glad to have such a good account of the success that the noble Lord has achieved at every stage in his life hereafter. When we last debated this issue, it became apparent that the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, who is sitting next to him, had the misfortune to have been born early, which makes his achievement in life all the more remarkable. Policy prescription in this area is genuinely difficult. If, for example, we allow children to be admitted later, then we simply have another group of students who become the youngest in their class. So I entreat those engaging in the debate to recognise that, while there is an issue, there is, in this area as in so many others that we have to address, not an instant answer that cures all ills.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that this anomaly reinforces the case for universities to offer degrees on a more flexible system of modular courses with credit accumulation, which enables students to choose their own pace of study?

My Lords, we are keen to ensure that, which is why universities increasingly modularise their courses. It is also why, at the school level, we are currently conducting a pilot of testing children at the stage when their teachers believe they are ready to be tested, rather than at the fixed dates currently set for the standard assessment tests which children sit at the ages of seven, 11 and 14. That pilot is ongoing and could lead to changes that ensure that children sit tests when they are ready rather than at fixed times, and that would extend the principle set out by the noble Lord further down into the school system.

My Lords, to go back to the start of educational life and the clear problem that the Question poses, and accepting that there is a big responsibility on local authorities, will the Minister do his best to encourage local authorities perhaps to run special pre-school classes for such children, particularly bearing in mind what my noble friend Lord Dearing said about the social classes—the ones who might be more likely to fail later on?

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a very good point, which is particularly pertinent now that pre-school education is nearly universal in the country. The issue of how to ensure that children who are young for their classes prosper needs to be addressed in nursery and pre-nursery education, not just when children start formal schooling at the age of five.

Housing: Victorian Terraces

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they have issued any instructions or guidance to local councils to demolish rather than restore Victorian terraced houses.

My Lords, the Government have issued no instructions or guidance of this nature. The housing market renewal programme involves a limited amount of demolition in some areas where the housing market has collapsed, but this is part of a wider range of measures with the greater emphasis on refurbishment. Decisions on the amount of any demolition required in any of the places covered by the programmes are for the local authorities concerned.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am speaking about the pathfinder scheme. A report in the Sunday Times on 9 September said that councils were,

“forced to sign contracts with government departments”.

The article says that the documents were slipped out in the Recess in replies to Written Questions, and that councils were forced either to,

“bulldoze or compulsorily purchase a certain number of properties each year … or face having funds cut”.

It also points out that:

“The documents state that a ‘grant is payable … on condition that the Pathfinder achieves the programme targets specified for that year’”.

If there really is a specified programme, is that not some guidance from the Government?

My Lords, I am sorry to say that the newspaper report is wrong. The funding agreements, to which the noble Baroness is referring, are the normal funding arrangements that have governed the pathfinder programmes. The targets are set by each local pathfinder; the Government obviously give some guidance, but in no sense impose anything on local authorities, which know their areas very well. Each of the nine pathfinders is very different—some have low levels of demolition—but in each case it is for the local authority to decide.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a councillor actively involved in the pathfinder project in my area and as a member of the Whitefield Regeneration Partnership. These pathfinder projects are now in year four of what was promised as a 15-year programme when it was first announced. I agree with the noble Baroness to the extent that there is too much top-down micromanagement of these projects. However, is it not the case that where people who live in the intervention areas, in particular, have been given firm promises of a transformation not just of the housing market but of their neighbourhoods, what is required from the Government is a firm commitment that the programme will continue for 15 years and will not simply be turned off when there is a new political fad?

My Lords, no one will know better than the noble Lord what a challenge it has been to turn around some of those low-demand areas. He knows that from his own area. It is gratifying that so much progress has been made; not just 40,000 refurbishments against 10,000 demolitions, but a funding programme of £1 billion over the next few years. That funding will continue the regeneration which, as the noble Lord knows, is not just about housing but about environmental improvements, bringing new jobs and skills into these areas, and generally making them desirable places to live where people are proud to bring up their children.

My Lords, do the Government recognise the great virtue of Victorian terraced housing in this country? It is extremely attractive. Enlightened councils, such as the one for Battersea, where I live, have made many Victorian terraces into conservation areas. There was a tendency under the former Deputy Prime Minister to take a broom and sweep them away. The buildings which have been put in their place are often, I am afraid, of extremely indifferent quality. Victorian terraced housing can be the kernel of really good urban housing. Do the Government recognise that, and will they try to encourage its conservation?

My Lords, I agree with much of what the noble Lord says. There are absolutely beautiful Victorian terraces. Many of the demolitions—as I say, there have only been 10,000—have been nothing to do with Victorian terraced houses, but post-war flats. They have also been the sorts of terraces in which local people have said in overwhelming numbers that they do not want to live: they were unfit “two-up, two-downs”, unlettable properties. Over the years, we have become much more concerned about heritage. English Heritage is working closely with pathfinders to ensure that they make proper assessments, so that what is built has character and culture, as well as some memory of the past.

My Lords, in view of the enlightened remark by my noble friend, can she confirm that local authorities have an obligation to consider the design of the whole community when they review these plans?

My Lords, yes. We have found that the pathfinder programmes often start with neighbourhood renewal, improving public and living spaces as well as the houses. Indeed, the recent NAO report found that the pathfinder programmes were committed to good quality design of new houses, many working with the Commission for Architecture and the Built Environment.

My Lords, it is quite pleasing to listen to the noble Baroness explaining this programme, but it is equally clear there is real concern among the affected communities about the possibility of a discontinuity in the schemes because particular criteria are not being met. Is there not at least a case for reviewing the information which the Government give out about these programmes, so that the communities concerned better understand the ground they stand on? There might also be a case for reviewing the criteria to ensure that they do not impose the sort of rigidities implied by the questions put to the Minister this morning.

My Lords, how nice it is to see the noble Lord back in his place after a long absence. He raises an important point about community engagement. One of the features of these programmes as they have developed is that community engagement strategies have become so much better; a lot of innovative programmes have involved working, not just street by street, but closely with households, house by house. People in these areas are well aware of what is planned, and have the hope arising from that. The business plans are currently being reviewed for the next three years. The noble Lord is absolutely right that we will have to keep those under review.

My Lords, I had some responsibility many years ago for the urban programme. There was an imaginative scheme called “enveloping”. It recognised a problem with terraced housing: you may be willing to maintain your house, but if your neighbours cannot repair their roofs, the situation rapidly becomes uninhabitable. It was an imaginative scheme in which the whole street would be done up with government support, recognising that it was cost-effective. Do the Government continue to support that scheme and increase the funds available for it?

My Lords, I am not aware of that scheme, but there are other schemes which have the same impact. In the “Homestead” scheme, for example—I think it is in north Staffordshire, but I am not sure; I will write to the noble Lord—people are given money to do up their own homes rather than move. That is proving very successful. Refurbishment is often absolutely the best way forward, particularly when it means keeping the community together, but we need larger homes so that larger families can move into these areas and stay there.

My Lords, I hope the Minister will allow me to say that enveloping is alive and well and is now called “group repair”.

Health: Obesity

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether in their recent report on obesity the Foresight group considered the effects of exposure to endocrine-disrupting chemicals such as bisphenol A on the developing foetus and young children.

My Lords, the Foresight group examined how to develop a sustainable response to obesity over the next 40 years. It used robust evidence from the biological and social sciences to map the complex interactions between factors driving obesity. At present, evidence of the effect of endocrine-disrupting chemicals on obesity in humans is sparse, so this was not considered by the report. The Committee on Toxicity of Chemicals in Food, Consumer Products and the Environment keeps research on endocrine-disrupting chemicals under review and will consider any significant developments in the area of human health.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware that bisphenol A is ubiquitous? It is in all our plastic containers, in dental coatings and even in babies’ bottles, from which it will leach into the baby’s milk if the bottle is heated in the microwave. In view of the fact that research scientists working with animals have found that levels as much as 5,000 times below what is accepted as a safe level affect the foetus, will the Department of Health consider commissioning an epidemiological study of pregnant mothers—taking blood tests from them and then studying the babies after they are born—to see whether there is any relationship between bisphenol A and obesity in children?

My Lords, I thank the noble Countess for her interest in this chemical. While I am not in a position to make any commitments today, I will, of course, take back the suggestion made by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, to the Foresight group and to the department. I am aware of the frequency of bisphenol A in various products. This area is taken very seriously by the relevant government departments and all new research is monitored and reviewed as appropriate.

My Lords, having conceded that the public health threat posed by obesity in the United Kingdom is,

“a potential crisis on the scale of climate change”,

why have the Government halved lottery funding for community sport and decided to push back their target to halt the rise in childhood obesity from 2010 to 2020?

My Lords, I cannot agree with the position the noble Baroness puts for the Government. The new ambition is not a watering down of the 2010 target; indeed, it goes further. Whereas the 2010 target was to halt the rise in childhood obesity, the new ambition not only aims to reduce the prevalence of obesity in children but also the prevalence of overweight to 2000 levels by 2020. The Government’s response to the report has been a very proper cross-cutting response.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the report also mentioned that obesity in children was possibly caused by lack of exercise and the lack of opportunity through daylight saving not being applied? I raised this matter with her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Darzi. He has written to me to say that headmasters and headmistresses have agreed with that factor but that some other factor, which he did not specify, is the reason why daylight saving is not looked at more seriously by the Government?

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Tanlaw, on using every opportunity that he can to ensure that he presses us on the issue of daylight hours. I will take back to the department his question about the debate held on 17 October, his intervention and the response that he had from my noble friend Lord Darzi.

My Lords, the noble Baroness did not answer my noble friend’s question about why the Government have halved—halved—the National Lottery commitment to community sport.

My Lords, I will of course write to both noble Baronesses. I do not have briefing on the National Lottery in front of me, but spending on tackling obesity has been very substantial over the past 10 years. On healthy schools, £100 million a year has been spent to get food standards up in schools. On high-quality physical education, 86 per cent of children now have two hours per week of high-quality physical education, as opposed to only 50 per cent of children in 2004. A great deal of funding has been going to tackle obesity.

My Lords, what is the department's response to the Foresight recommendation that private industry—in particular, the food industry—should be involved in longitudinal research into basic biological factors in our bodies and the impact of the built environment on diet and exercise?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is right. The report shows how all those factors are interrelated in obesity. Obesity is not simply about eating less, exercising more. Although that is very much part of it, it is too simplistic. There are food production factors in the industry, which the noble Baroness mentioned, food consumption, physiology, psychology, individual physical activity, and the physical environment that we live in. Modern life is making us more overweight, more obese, because of convenience foods, high technology and new modes of transport. It is about individuals' willpower, but it is about much more than that.

My Lords, I am not sure that I should be talking about obesity, but surely the Minister agrees that obesity in children is mainly started by a lack of home cooking and the cheapness and availability of ready-made foods and drinks containing a great deal of sugar, apart from anything else?

My Lords, I have to agree, and noble Lords might agree that I am not the best person to be answering a Question on obesity. I kept wanting to have a biscuit when I was working on this brief. I absolutely agree with the noble Baroness: this is very much about nutritional food. Anything that the Government and all other stakeholders can do to increase the proportion of nutritional food and to decrease our reliance on high-fat, high-salt, high-sugar content food is a good thing.

My Lords, with regard to the concerns raised by the noble Countess, Lady Mar, can my noble friend tell us whether the Foresight group is looking at the steep rise in diabetes 2 among children and its association with obesity?

My Lords, my noble friend raises a very important point. The Foresight report, which I recommend to noble Lords because it is absolutely fascinating, predicts that by 2050, 60 per cent of men, 50 per cent of women and 26 per cent of children will be clinically obese without action—that is not predetermined, it is without action. My noble friend referred to diabetes type 2. It would rise to 70 per cent, strokes by 30 per cent and chronic heart disease by 20 per cent.

Middle East: Gaza Strip

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What representations they are making to members of the Middle East quartet as well as the Government of Israel regarding the urgent reopening of additional road access to the Gaza strip.

My Lords, there is a pressing need to overcome the obstacles to reopening Gaza’s crossings for humanitarian goods, trade and people. The quartet, consisting of the United States, the European Union, the UN and Russia, has expressed concern over the continued closure of major crossing points. The UN is actively involved in trying to find a solution. The EU has called on all parties to work towards an opening of the crossings in and out of Gaza. The UK’s representative on the Middle East, Michael Williams, most recently raised our concerns about the situation in Gaza with the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs on 7 November.

My Lords, I thank the Minister very much for his Answer. Unemployment in Gaza has now reached 50 per cent. Eighty-four per cent of the people there are living below the poverty line. According to the World Bank, 46 per cent of public servants and their families are not receiving enough food to survive, and only in the past day or two has Israel confirmed the closing of the super-crossing, which up to now has taken 70 per cent of humanitarian aid into Gaza. We are facing both a humanitarian disaster and the potential for an irreversible economic collapse. First, does the Minister agree that this is exactly the kind of situation that, frighteningly, radicalises young Muslims throughout the world? Secondly, in this desperately urgent situation and with the Annapolis conference still without a clear date, could the United Kingdom not call on the quartet for an urgent meeting to consider how to deal with this impending disaster?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is of course correct that the situation in Gaza is a humanitarian catastrophe with completely unacceptable levels of economic despair. Let me provide the up-to-date situation on the crossings into Gaza. Two are presently operating: Kerem Shalom, which is allowing access for humanitarian aid and commercial supplies; and Erez, for personnel movements, although its opening hours have been reduced. I completely support the noble Baroness’s basic premise that unfortunately the noose is growing ever tighter and the humanitarian consequences are devastating.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is not simply a question of how the Israelis behave but how the Gaza citizens behave? Does he know that almost every day rockets are fired from Gaza into surrounding Israeli towns and villages—apparently, there were seven yesterday—and that the people who live in these towns and villages are in constant fear of attack? Although of course it is important to both sides, and to all of us, that the situation in Gaza should improve and that we should do everything in our power to help in that improvement, does my noble friend agree that, before the Israeli Government can open access to these roads, there must be a viable Palestinian infrastructure that can ensure the safety, security and well-being of both parties, and indeed that we should all welcome the current efforts of Tony Blair and the Middle East quartet to achieve that result?

My Lords, my noble friend is correct to draw attention to the continuant shelling from Gaza into civilian settlements in Israel. The Government have made it clear that this is unacceptable and that we need the Hamas administration of Gaza to accept the quartet principles of the right of Israel to exist, of the suspension of violence, and of the acceptance of the road map and the other negotiating arrangements. Obviously, people of good will on both sides devoutly hope that a solution can be found so that this suffering does not continue, with the inevitable political consequences that it brings with it.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is right that this is an horrific situation, with only the Kerem Shalom crossing now open, although I think Erez is allowing some pedestrians through. Fuel supplies are being reduced, electricity is being cut off, and we could see 1.4 million people forced into starvation. We agree with all that but is there not also a serious dilemma, about which the noble Lord, Lord Janner, has just spoken? The Al Fatah guards have fled—they are no longer controlling these crossings because the Hamas people have driven them away—and the mortar attacks are continuing. Is this not a question of talking directly to the Israeli officials and ministry about how they will manage this very difficult situation?

I do not have easy solutions, but it seems that general propositions to the quartet or railing against the Israelis are not enough. People are dying and immediate, careful, planned action is required to cope with the dilemmas that I have described.

Looking for a little hope in the longer term, is it not correct that this tiny strip of land, the Gaza Strip, is sitting on a massive offshore gas reservoir which will supply fuel for the whole area and bring some prosperity to this miserable situation?

My Lords, the House is united with regard to the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord that this is a situation of utter frustration for all of us who wish to see progress. Indeed, the incidents that have been so eloquently described this morning have led us to a point where the humanitarian situation is deteriorating rapidly with potentially devastating results. Everyone seems to be caught in a position where nobody can act effectively and operationally to find solutions. I reassure the noble Baroness that we expect the Annapolis meeting to occur next week. We hope that it will be the beginning of a process that can lead to solutions on this and other issues.

Administration and Works Committee

Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

Intergovernmental Organisations Committee

My Lords, I beg to move the first three Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Administration and Works

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider administrative services, accommodation and works, including works relating to security, within financial limits approved by the House Committee;

That, as proposed by the committee of Selection, the following Members together with the Chairman of Committees be appointed to the committee:

V Allenby of Megiddo,

B Anelay of St Johns,

L Campbell-Savours,

B D’Souza,

L Grocott,

B Harris of Richmond,

B McIntosh of Hudnall,

B Masham of Ilton,

L Naseby,

L Shutt of Greetland,

Bp Southwell and Nottingham,

V Ullswater.

That the committee have leave to report from time to time.

Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to report whether the provisions of any Bill inappropriately delegate legislative power, or whether they subject the exercise of legislative power to an inappropriate degree of parliamentary scrutiny; to report on documents and draft orders laid before Parliament under Sections 14 and 18 of the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006; and to perform, in respect of such draft orders, and in respect of subordinate provisions orders made or proposed to be made under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001, the functions performed in respect of other instruments and draft instruments by the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments;

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members be appointed to the committee:

L Armstrong of Ilminster,

L Boyd of Duncansby,

L Brett,

V Eccles,

L Faulkner of Worcester,

B Fritchie,

B Gardner of Parkes,

L Goodhart (Chairman),

L Razzall,

L Shaw of Northstead.

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers.

That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place within the United Kingdom.

Intergovernmental Organisations

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to consider how contemporary issues of international policy are addressed through United Kingdom membership of intergovernmental organisations (excluding the European Union), including their impact and effectiveness and value for money, and that, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members be appointed to the Committee:

L Avebury,

L Bowness,

L Desai,

B Falkner of Margravine,

B Flather,

L Geddes,

L Hannay of Chiswick ,

L Howarth of Newport,

L Jay of Ewelme,

L Soley (Chairman),

L Steinberg,

B Whitaker.

That the committee have power to appoint specialist advisers;

That the committee have power to adjourn from place to place;

That the committee have leave to report from time to time;

That the reports of the committee shall be printed, regardless of any adjournment of the House;

That the evidence taken by the committee shall, if the committee so wish, be published;

That the committee meet on 19 November at 3.30pm.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Refreshment Committee

My Lords, I beg to move the fourth Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That a Select Committee be appointed to advise on the refreshment services provided for the House, within financial limits approved by the House Committee.

That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Members together with the Chairman of Committees be appointed to the Committee:

L Brougham and Vaux,

B Darcy de Knayth,

L Davies of Oldham,

L Geddes,

L Glenarthur,

B Gould of Potternewton,

L Lee of Trafford,

C Mar,

V Montgomery of Alamein,

B Pitkeathley,

B Rendell of Babergh,

B Thomas of Winchester.

That the committee have leave to report from time to time.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

My Lords, I am grateful to the Lord Chairman for taking this Motion separately. I apologise for the short notice that I have given to him and the Lord Speaker. I first invite the Lord Chairman to join in warmly thanking and congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, on her chairmanship of the Refreshment Committee over the past several years and on the splendid way in which she carried out those duties.

Secondly, I ask the Lord Chairman whether the terms of the Motion, which include his membership of this committee, mean that he will probably chair it? If that is to be the case, I deeply sympathise with the noble Lord. He may recall that, while I was serving your Lordships as Chairman of Committees, it was one committee that I am happy to say I was not called on to chair. Furthermore, that was the one thing on which I allowed myself to congratulate myself during my six years as Chairman of Committees.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Boston. I join him and, I am sure, the whole House, in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Fookes, for her excellent work in chairing the Refreshment Committee. The noble Lord, Lord Boston, it is quite right: the intention is that I chair the Refreshment Committee. I am already gearing myself up for the onslaught of advice that I will receive from noble Lords in that capacity and I am ready to listen.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Armed Forces (Service Complaints Commissioner) Regulations 2007

Armed Forces (Redress of Individual Grievances) Regulations 2007

Legislative and Regulatory Reform (Regulatory Functions) Order 2007

Regulators’ Compliance Code

Company and Business Names (Amendment) (No. 2) Regulations 2007

Criminal Proceedings etc. (Reform) (Scotland) Act 2007 (Powers of District and JP Courts) Order 2007

Environmental Permitting (England and Wales) Regulations 2007

My Lords, I beg to move the seven Motions standing in the name of my noble friend the Leader of the House on the Order Paper.

Moved, that the draft regulations and orders be referred to a Grand Committee.—(Lord Grocott.)

On Question, Motions agreed to.

Conventional Weapons

rose to call attention to the recent proceedings of the United Nations Conference on Certain Conventional Weapons at Geneva; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, as the tide goes out, perhaps I may recommend to anyone who feels that their circulation is not stimulated enough when opening a debate to discover that they have left a vital document on the first or second floor and have to search for it during the gap between the substantive reply to the first Question on the Order Paper and the Motions which your Lordships have just heard. Your Lordships will be glad to learn that it was here all the time.

I thank your Lordships in advance for taking part in this debate because I shall have no chance to do so at the end. I do not apologise for bringing the subject of cluster munitions to the fore for a second time this year, or possibly a fourth, because the matter is so urgent and pressing. I do apologise, however, for the terms of the Motion, which does not mention that it is about cluster munitions. Had it done so, and had this not been a Thursday morning, there would be a considerably longer speakers list.

I declare an interest: I am just returned from the latest convention on conventional weapons at the United Nations. My attendance, and the cost of going to and from, was funded by the charity, Landmine Action. Its work is beyond praise, but, as a recipient of this support, I should leave it to others to sing those praises.

The background to the convention is probably familiar to your Lordships. The United Nations convention had met to discuss the possibility of doing something about cluster munitions for five years when Norway decided that enough was enough, set up a separate organisation and invited all countries prepared to sign up to a complete ban internationally by 2008 to go to Oslo at the beginning of this year. It is important to say that the principal paragraph of the Oslo declaration was a commitment to conclude by 2008 a binding international instrument that will,

“prohibit the use … production, stockpiling and transfer of cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians”,

and, crucially, establish a framework for co-operation and assistance that ensures adequate provision of care and rehabilitation to survivors and affected communities. These are the terms on which many of us wish to see a conclusion to the proceedings in Geneva.

However, what happened was rather different. I should explain the importance of that to readers of this debate. I know that your Lordships are familiar with this, so I shall be brief. Broadly, in layman’s terms—the definition will be crucial to the treaty—cluster munitions are containers, delivered by artillery, rocket fire or aircraft. They contain large numbers—sometimes more than 400—of sub-munitions which are designed to explode on impact with the ground and cause damage to personnel or vehicles. They are area weapons. The commander who releases them does so in the expectation that within an area—in the case of the M85, an area the size of at least two football pitches—there will be tanks, people or soft skin vehicles that they want to get rid of and which are a threat to them.

If cluster munitions do not explode, they become small landmines. They are the size of my fist roughly. Because of the very high failure rate, latterly a secondary system has been introduced into many of them, which is designed to self-destruct within five seconds after impact if the bomb has not already gone off. I shall go into failure rates later. However, it is important to remember that they also have a failure rate. All ammunition has a failure rate, from a 303 round to a howitzer round. If the secondary mechanism fails, and experience proves that it does so on a considerable scale, the bomb left on the ground is just as dangerous and far more difficult to defuse. That is one of the reasons why so many landmine clearing experts are losing their lives around the world at present. Munitions designed to self-destruct and those which have other mechanisms to make them more accurate are excluded from a general definition known as “dumb/smart munitions”. Her Majesty’s Government refuse to accept the term and I rather congratulate them on that. Referring to cluster munitions as “smart” would be an oxymoron, but we do not have a general term for them yet; we need one.

It would be possible to quote many sources on failure rates and come to different conclusions, but fortunately the Quadripartite Committee of another place states the following at paragraph 367 of its report:

“‘Dumb’ cluster munitions have a failure rate which is estimated to be between 25% and 30%, and even ‘smart’ cluster bombs may have a failure rate which may be between 5% and 10%. In other words, even in cluster bombs which have a relatively sophisticated self-destruct mechanism, up to one in 10 bomblets (or ejected sub-munitions) that do not explode will lie live on the battlefield. The potential to inflict death and injury on innocent non-combatants entering the field after the engagement is therefore substantial”.

Going to the scale on which this happens, Handicap International, another charity of very great value, has said that in Lebanon it is estimated that at least 1,159,000 sub-munitions have been delivered by rocket and 2,800,000 by artillery, and those figures exclude all air-delivered weapons completely. I leave it to noble Lords to work out even 5 per cent of those numbers in relation to the size of that country. At the time of writing, the number of casualties reported as definitely due to these things was 587, but that is going to mount. Eleven of those casualties are de-miners. The de-miners are incredibly brave people. I had the privilege of meeting in Lima, at an earlier stage of the Oslo process, a de-miner of possibly Albanian origin who had simply stirred the grass at the end of a runway which had been under attack, having been told that some of these munitions were there. He never saw the thing that blew up, but it removed all his limbs. He now has no hands and no feet, indeed nothing below the knee. I can almost hear some of your Lordships say, “Spare us the bleeding stumps”, but it is bleeding stumps that we are actually talking about, thousands if not millions of them.

The scale to dwarf all is that of Vietnam. By 1975, 294 cluster munitions—the containers, not the bomblets—had been delivered to the equivalent of every square kilometre of Vietnam, which works out at roughly two sub-munitions per head of the population of that country. It is also tragic to note that the ratio of those killed shows that more than twice as many civilians died as did military personnel. Is it not surprising that the Americans lost the war, and is there not a lesson for us there? Therefore almost in parenthesis, I ask the Minister whether our use of these weapons on the fringes of Basra affected our reception by the local civilian population.

All this is certainly horrific, but is it militarily useful? I have already referred to Landmine Action, which states on page 9 of its report that:

“Data on mobile target hits in Kosovo is disputed. However, an analysis of damage assessments in the bombing data released by NATO relating to cluster strikes on mobile targets in Kosovo finds only 75 out of 269 missions positively claiming some degree of damage to the target”.

Incidentally, in that campaign there was a total of 234,123 sub-munitions confirmed minimum, of which a considerable number were dropped by us and the rest by our allies.

This makes the blood run a little cold. On the military issues there are others—notably the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who is to address your Lordships later—who know more about this than I do, but already after the first Gulf War certain American senior soldiers, particularly those connected with 3 Infantry Division, were calling these campaign losers, not because of their effect on the civilian population, which would be disastrous for their eventual aim, but on their own troops because they could not go on foot through ground on which they had deployed their weapons. Every time they came to where they had deployed any weapons they had to get into their helicopters. Consequently they arrived late on objective.

I ask your Lordships to consider their impact, not only on people in the battlefield at the time of the battle but on a large number of civilians afterwards. We cannot hear the groans of the wounded, for whom the loss of a limb is the loss of a livelihood; we cannot hear the tears of the widows and orphans who have lost the means of subsistence; we cannot hear the frustration of those who want to carry on their commercial activities but cannot because the roads are not safe; we cannot hear the farmers who dread to till their fields because they do not know what has been sown in them. People in Vietnam fear them still; they are losing up to 100 civilians a year as a result of these things.

I do not need to say much more to convince your Lordships about the horror of these weapons. That is no doubt why the UN Secretary-General received an invitation and a welcome to the convention meeting last week in Geneva. He urged states to,

“address the horrendous humanitarian, human rights and developmental effects of cluster munitions”.

I pause on the word “developmental” to reflect how extraordinarily well qualified the Minister is to respond to this debate. From the moment he founded the Economist development report, through his work at the World Bank on the United Nations millennium development goals, to his work as administrator of the United Nations Development Programme, as the chef de cabinet to the Secretary-General and eventually as a deputy secretary, he has been committed to development for the whole of his career. I hope he will be able to answer with that in mind, untrammelled by words of caution from the officials’ box or from his Secretary of State.

The Minister will be familiar with the extraordinary circumstances in which I found myself last week in the United Nations building, the Palais de Nations, a vast amphitheatre full of people who, for hour upon hour, were straining to change two words in an unimportant preliminary document. Anything important was happening in the cafeteria or in small rooms, and I had the privilege of seeing the French and Russians grouped like a rugby scrum around a small round table. It was impossible to hear anything they were saying, which was most frustrating.

That brings me to the Russians and the fact that, until they became active, there seemed to be a general agreement available on a fairly positive result to all this. However, the chill wind from Siberia flowed into the corridors and it wilted. I shall tell your Lordships in a moment what we got as a result. I would like to know from the Minister whether I am right that our own diplomatic efforts are constrained within the terms of the European leadership. Apparently, we have to toe its line in certain respects. If the presidency adopts a line, we have to follow it. Does that extend to our role in the Security Council? I hope that it does not.

The United Nations proceeds by consensus. Members of this House proceed often enough by consensus to hold it up as a virtue, but I see it as a terrible threat, because it enables anybody to stop something in its tracks, which is just about what happened. The text, as agreed by consensus on 13 November, stated:

“The meeting of the High Contracting Parties to the CCW decides that the GGE will negotiate a proposal”—

the fight to include the word “negotiate”, showing that something positive was being done, is immediately neutralised by “a proposal”—

“to address urgently the humanitarian impact of cluster munitions, while striking a balance between military and humanitarian considerations”.

My noble friend on the Front Bench will undoubtedly do that, although I think that he will get the balance marginally wrong. The text continues:

“The GGE—

that is, the group of government experts—

“should make every effort to negotiate this proposal as rapidly as possible and report… in November 2008”.

I skip to the programme for the experts. They will meet from 14 to 18 January. It is urgent business, this: their next meeting is on 7 July. That is where I would like them to see the bleeding stumps and to hear the cries of the wounded and the bereaved.

Even that, several states—Brazil, Pakistan, India, South Korea and the United States—indicated that they would not support, nor would they negotiate a mandate if it was explicitly aimed at establishing a prohibition or if it had a deadline. The Russians asked to be read into the record a long declamation of what they would not stand, including anything that had any commercial or economic effect. At that point, I thought that we were in Alice in Wonderland territory. It was therefore encouraging to hear the Prime Minister say at the Lord Mayor’s Banquet:

“Small arms kill every 90 seconds so as we call for an Arms Trade Treaty, Britain is willing to extend export laws to control extra-territorial broking and trafficking of small arms, and potentially other weapons. And having led the way by taking two types of cluster munitions out of service—

on which I and my colleagues offer warm congratulations—

“we want to work internationally for a ban on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions which cause unacceptable harm to civilians”.

If noble Lords read that alongside the Oslo declaration, they will see that the Oslo process includes exactly what the Prime Minister stated, with added to it humanitarian treatment for those affected and destruction of the stockpiles. What better commendation could there be to the next meeting of the Oslo process in Vienna, to which I am delighted to say that the noble Lord—I am tempted to call him a noble friend, but that is dangerous ground in this Chamber—will go from our country?

I have possibly said enough to persuade your Lordships that these are obscene weapons, whose effects are unacceptable and unavoidable, as one sees from the deaths among mine clearers as well as others, and that we should in all humanity stop using them at once. Our country is leading the way—I am proud of that—but what I would like to hear from the Minister today is an unequivocal undertaking that the Government will pursue this to the end in the Oslo process, and will find as few weasel words as possible for the final declaration so that everything that does not work is scrubbed out. We are talking about future generations. How true was it said that the sins of the fathers shall be visited on the children and the children’s children unto the third and fourth generation. It is on their behalf that I draw your Lordships’ attention to the Motion. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on bringing this subject to your Lordships' House for a second time. It deserves a second hearing. I congratulate, too, the Government on a slightly crabwise but none the less forward movement on cluster munitions over the past year or so. I hope to show that with only a little further movement the Government could put themselves in a position in which they felt genuinely comfortable and could play a leadership role on an issue of great public and humanitarian concern.

We have alas to accept that there will continue to be conflicts in the years ahead—often unjustified, often preventable, always nasty. That is a depressing but realistic conclusion. But even recognising that, we can and must take action to mitigate the worst consequences of conflict, and that means in particular the effect of conflict on innocent civilians and especially on women and children. That is why action has been taken against landmines—I join the noble Lord, Lord Elton, in congratulating Landmine Action on the work that it has done and continues to do—and that is why action is needed now to ban cluster munitions, weapons which, as the noble Lord explained, are lethal, horrible and do untold damage to innocent people in the months and years after conflicts have gone and sometimes after the original purpose of that conflict has been forgotten.

As I say, I welcome the Government’s move recently towards a ban on cluster munitions. I welcome the decision to work for a ban on so-called dumb munitions and to withdraw the United Kingdom's stocks with immediate effect. I welcome the Government's commitment to the Oslo process and I understand their desire to work in parallel through the convention on conventional weapons to engage those countries whose position is less forward than our own. But despite the stance taken by the Government, and despite, as I understand it—perhaps the Minister can confirm this—the strong position taken by the European Union at the meeting in Geneva, the outcome was weak and disappointing. It is clear that working through the CCW is going to be, at the very best, a long process.

The Oslo process therefore remains the key. What the whole issue now requires is firm and moral leadership, and the prospect of such leadership from the United Kingdom seems tantalisingly close. The Prime Minister said in his Mansion House speech, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, that he would work towards,

“a ban on the use, production, transfer and stockpiling of those cluster munitions which cause unacceptable harm to civilians”,

echoing the words of the UN Secretary-General. But the inescapable truth is that all cluster bombs cause unacceptable harm to civilians regardless of whether they are dumb, not dumb, smart or not very smart. Surely these are semantic and ignoble distinctions to make.

All cluster bombs or bomblets that do not explode may kill or maim innocent people, and very many of them do. I found the figures which the noble Lord mentioned horrific. Even if only 2 per cent—and that is way below the estimates—of the bomblets used in Lebanon in 2006 did not explode, that means that there are tens of thousands of bomblets waiting to trap innocent people. The only possible justification for accepting that those should continue is if we believe that the military use of these weapons is so overwhelmingly important that it outweighs the unquestioned humanitarian cost. I very much look forward to hearing the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, speak on that point. I find that case very hard to believe and I hope that the Minister will not seek to advance that argument when he responds to the debate.

As I said, there is a need for moral leadership here. The Foreign Secretary, when Secretary of State at Defra, showed such leadership in putting forward the draft Climate Change Bill, which I strongly support and which I look forward to debating in the House later this month. Will the Minister use his undoubted expertise and influence to persuade the Foreign Secretary that a decision now to work for a legally binding instrument to ban all cluster munitions and to withdraw our stockpiles of all cluster munitions with immediate effect would be a similar act of statesmanship, which would be strongly welcomed by very many people in this country and abroad and would have a real chance of saving many innocent lives in the years ahead?

My Lords, I join my noble friend Lord Jay in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on obtaining this debate. It is marvellous that the debate is taking place so soon after the Geneva conference in which he played a distinguished part. I also express my pleasure that once again the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, is taking part in this debate because, between them, the two noble Lords have done so much to keep this issue alive.

When I last spoke on this in the debate in May, I mentioned my experience both as a military commander and as somebody involved in demining, which had conditioned my view about these weapons. At the risk of boring the House, I would like to return to that because I was very interested to hear the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mention the after-action comments of the United States Third Infantry Division in Iraq, who pointed out that it was not just a case of the damage caused to civilians by unexploded weapons but of the difficulties imposed on the movement of its own troops which made these inappropriate weapons for that type of conflict.

When I commanded the British Third Armoured Division for two years, which was the first division to be given a counterattack responsibility within the NATO forces in Germany, my task was to go quickly to places where I could deliver a counterattack, following an advance by the Russians. We were then concerned particularly about problems of movement. We were able to take action around our own marked minefields because we knew where they were. But when you looked at the state of the battlefield, you realised that they were not the principal inhibitors; the principal inhibitors were the unmarked, random minefields, many of which had been delivered by cluster munitions. They had been put down for what was then a military purpose.

The development of these weapons began in Korea when people were concerned with taking on massed Chinese infantry. They required a weapon to take action against mass—fine. The next development took place again in the context of mass, but against mass armour. The idea developed of cluster munitions which could deliver top attack—as it was called—many of which could take on the more vulnerable top parts of a tank and could help break up massed Russian armour. At the time, as military people, we welcomed those because of what they did when we had a purely defensive posture. But once movement began and the inhibitors, particularly of the failed weapons, began to cause problems for our own movement, we realised that these were not appropriate weapons where movement was concerned.

That was during the Cold War when we were talking about war between what are called industrial nations by armed bodies of uniformed troops on ground which was dedicated to the battle between them. That, of course, is not the nature of warfare, particularly since the end of the Cold War. We are not talking about war between the armed forces of industrial nations; we are talking about, in the words of General Sir Rupert Smith, “wars amongst the people”. It is the people who we have to consider.

I was also involved in demining in places such as Mozambique, Angola, Somalia, Afghanistan and the former Yugoslavia. I am sure that the Minister will remember the welcome that the demining fraternity gave to the pronouncement by the new president of the World Bank, of which he was then a member, in July 1995, when for the first time he said that the World Bank recognised that demining was not a purely military activity and it therefore qualified for World Bank funding for post-conflict reconstruction. That was one of the most important statements made in this area, because until then demining activities were severely frustrated by the lack of funding.

When we went to carry out the demining, it was easy to clear mines that were marked, but it was not easy to clear those that were unmarked. One was particularly concerned about the random delivery by cluster munitions all over the place, which were not marked; nor did anyone know the failure rate. I am very glad that the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned the figures that have been produced following the completely unjustified use of those weapons, particularly the M85 in Lebanon, because they drive a coach and horses through the previous figures given to justify their use.

There has been one other development since our last debate in May; the publication in America of the US Army/Marine Corps Counterinsurgency Field Manual. It is the result of work done by General David Petraeus, who is the senior commander of the American forces in Iraq. The manual is one of the most remarkable documents that I have ever come across, because it completely reverses the previous United States approach to warfare of this kind. It used to be based on what was called the “doctrine of overwhelming force”. Overwhelming force was just that; the application of everything that you had every time that you took part in any form of conflict, because they felt that that guaranteed quick success and would save lives. They have analysed the results of using these sorts of weapons, particularly in Iraq, and the report of the third division, which the noble Lord, Lord Elton, mentioned, played a large part in that.

At the beginning of the manual, there are two very interesting essays. One is by Colonel Nagl, who is one of the American army authors, who was in Iraq, in which he says that the American army was completely unprepared for this type of conflict. The other essay is by Sarah Sewall, the director of the Carr Center for Human Rights Policy at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard. Inter alia, she says:

“This counterinsurgency field manual challenges much of what is holy about the American way of war. It demands significant change and sacrifice to fight today’s enemies honourably”.

She also postulates that the manual may also reveal America’s moral anxiety:

“The nation is trying to heal wounds caused—once again—by failings and abuses in the field”.

In particular, commenting on the new doctrine, she says:

“The new US doctrine embraces a traditional—some would argue atavistic—British method of fighting insurgency, learned during its early period of imperial policing and relearned during responses to twentieth century independence struggles. Accordingly it adopts a population-centred approach instead of one focused primarily if not exclusively on the insurgents. The latter approach concentrates on physically destroying the unseen opponent, embedded in the general population … The field manual directs US forces to make securing the civilian, rather than destroying the enemy, their top priority”.

When I mentioned this in the previous debate, the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, said to me that although he completely accepted what I was saying, he suspected that I would be,

“among the first to tell us that we should also listen to the advice of those who command our forces”.—[Official Report, 17/5/07; col. 322.]

I am the first to listen to such advice, and when I was commanding forces I hoped that people might listen to mine. But bearing in mind the type of warfare and the sort of appreciation that the Americans have now carried out as a result of their experiences of what using these weapons has done to their ability to fight war among the people, I suggest that there cannot be a British military commander who could justify the use of these weapons in the sort of warfare now taking place in Iraq and Afghanistan.

People say, “Oh yes, but you need them as direct-fire weapons”. You do not. For direct fire you need all the weapons that people in Afghanistan have been calling for and, fortunately, they have been appearing—the multi-barrelled grenade launcher, the heavy machine gun and other weapons which you can deploy and have line of sight against the people who come at you. You do not need these indiscriminate weapons because, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said, they not only take innocent lives, have a residual effect for years to come and undermine all your efforts to win the hearts and minds of the people to your cause—which is why you are there in the first place—but because they leave behind material which inhibits the use of the ground over which they have been fired for the practical purposes of post-conflict reconstruction, which may be farming, roads, building or whatever.

I am very sorry that the result of the meeting last week in Geneva was really festina lente—make haste slowly and negotiate whether to have a proposal, rather than getting on with it. There is evidence from everyone, not least the military commanders on the ground, that these weapons are wholly inappropriate for the sort of conflict in which we are currently engaged. Surely now is the time to follow the Prime Minister’s welcome remarks and ban them.

My Lords, it is indeed a privilege to follow the three speeches made so far. Most of the arguments have been well put. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on having secured this debate, but above all on his long-term commitment to getting rid of these dreadful weapons. I shall be brief. I made a contribution on the same subject during the debate on the Queen’s Speech. Most, if not all, of the arguments have been put better than I could put them.

I will say this, however: I believe that in a few years’ time these dreadful weapons will be banned in their entirety. When something is inevitable, why not get on and do it now? We shall be asking not, “Why have we banned them?”, but, “Why has it taken us so long to do what is right?”. When something is so obviously right, it is only proper that we should do it quickly and not delay.

Having said that, I welcome the progress made by the Government to date. The Secretary of State for Defence has got rid of dumb cluster munitions, the Government contributed fairly positively to the Oslo process earlier this year and the words of my right honourable friend have already been quoted. They represent a clear commitment to support the Oslo process in its entirety. I am pleased, not only that the Government are doing something at the CCM discussions but, above all, that the Government will take part in the continuation of the Oslo process.

I am fairly convinced that we do not need unanimity to start getting rid of these weapons. If we want international unanimity, we will wait for a long time. We made progress in dealing with anti-personnel land mines without the agreement of some of the leading countries in the world—indeed, they have not yet signed up. But the fact is that the climate of opinion as regards anti-personnel landmines changed significantly with the step that this country and others took in getting rid of them. Similarly, I believe that if one or two leading countries in the world do not go along with the proposal on cluster munitions, the rest of us should. We are, after all, a significant military power and, together with the other countries that are opposed to these weapons, we would play an important part in saying, “Enough. No more. We don’t want them”.

The noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, made it very clear that there were no real military uses for these weapons. I suppose it is understandable that in the Ministry of Defence some people say, “We don’t want to get rid of all these weapons systems. There may be an occasion when we want to use them”. I understand such reluctance. I am not a military person; nevertheless, the case for their military use seems to be increasingly thin as one listens to people with experience discuss when they could possibly be used. The answer is: hardly at all in the past and not at all in the future. Reference has already been made to the US Army. Surely no army would want to advance into terrain into which cluster munitions had been sent. It would be dangerous; it would be like advancing into a minefield and would make no sense at all.

One key issue is the hearts and minds of the civilian populations in areas where conflicts take place. Many eminent military people have already been quoted—I could produce quotations from others—saying that you negate the purpose of military action if you alienate the civil population on whose behalf ostensibly you are intervening. That is how war has changed a great deal since the beginning of the last century. We are not really concerned about the attitude of the civilian population, and I can think of no conflict on this earth where the outcome is bound to be, and should be, influenced by how civilians react. However, if we use weapons that alienate or kill innocent civilians, we can hardly say that we have done very much for hearts and minds.

I started by saying that the Government had moved. I ask them to move a bit further and to move quickly on this issue.

My Lords, the more I thought about this debate and the more work I did for it, the more I felt that in summing up I would discover that everything that should have been said probably had been said. Often when people say that, there is a degree of sadness in their voice, but that is not the case this time because everything has been said better than I could possibly have said it.

The description given by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, of the rather Byzantine and realpolitik nature of the negotiations that are currently going on seems to anyone who has done any negotiating, at however junior a level, so accurate that it cannot be describing anything other than what is happening.

I have seldom heard such a successful hatchet job on an argument than that executed by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, on the issue of utility. We are talking about a weapon which is directly counter-productive for those who might use it: you cannot move forward because you have laid your own minefield that will blow bits off your own soldiers. Why on earth would we even consider using a weapon such as that? The noble Lord referred to a weapon designed for static defensive posture, whereby you would be concerned only with stopping someone coming towards you or making them do it so slowly that you could counter-strike with weapons, possibly at a distance. There is logic there.

I hope that the noble Lord will not tell us that there is some plan to reinvent the Cold War with the threat of mass attack by an army or any other troop movement. However, if the type of warfare that we are involved in now is one in which we must move forward, chase down and counter-attack our opponents, such as in Afghanistan, the Taliban would probably want us to use this weapon. If we inflicted some casualties but mainly missed, the Taliban would have a safe haven to which they could withdraw. If we fired in a direct line, they would have a slight advantage in that they would be able to get away from us. Surely there can be no grounds for the use of this weapon in military terms.

The Americans have said no to the doctrine of overwhelming strike or overwhelming incapacity, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said. Surely there can be no military argument. If the military argument does not exist, why are we waiting for the rest of the argument? It makes agricultural ground unusable until it is properly cleared using either intensive manpower or technical means—I am not an expert—but the fact that it is difficult, takes time and costs money puts an economic damper on the areas we go into, which is not our aim in most of the places we are operating in.

Having been a disability spokesman for many years, I did not realise how well that brief would prepare me to understand the effects of these weapons. It has been difficult enough in this country, which probably has the most advanced disability legislation, to ensure an infrastructure that helps those who are movement or sight impaired. In a developing country or one that is recovering from warfare, we should consider the economic damper we are imposing on high numbers of people who are wheelchair-bound, or who have lost an upper limb, sight or hearing. I am talking not just about the human effect; their economic capacity will be dramatically reduced, far more so than in a technologically advanced society where there are metalled roads. What level of technical support is required to enable people in those terrains to move around if they have lost a limb, let alone two? Think of the extra cost that we are piling on to huge sections of these societies. It is almost unimaginable that we should carry on doing this.

As noble Lords have said, the Government have moved a long way. I hope that they will move further, and the Minister can tell us about their plans and the guidance they will give. We have lots of these weapons in the stockpile but presumably the military will not be required to use them if they are militarily inappropriate. I take that as a given, although a confirmation would not hurt. To make sure that we have no such weapons, and, I hope, will not be producing them for people, where do we go from here? Will the Government give another undertaking to place a ban on these weapons because we cannot find a use for them and because they are against our objectives?

I did a small calculation. If 4 million weapons have been dropped on Lebanon and there is a 5 per cent failure rate, according to my maths, 200,000 weapons are lying across that comparatively small area of land. If we drop them in an area that has softer ground and more trees, there will be more. It is impossible for smart weapons to function fully for the simple reason of the stress such devices go through in delivery. They are fired from a large piece of artillery or dropped from a plane, so there will be damage. We are still digging up the occasional live bomb from World War II. Weapons have always failed. Seventeenth century mortar shells landed on battlefields and did not go off, which we read from accounts of military history. I believe that a bomb went through this Chamber in World War II and did not go off.

My Lords, I hear it was at the other end.

There is no way that we can deal with these things safely. Devices will always be traumatised in their delivery systems. Can we please have a government undertaking today that we will do everything we can to achieve an international ban, everything we can as a nation to ensure that our Armed Forces do not use these devices, which are almost certainly counter-productive for our current types of military conflict, and that we will not supply them to anybody else? I look forward to the answer as this may be an occasion when agreement will break out.

My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Elton for bringing cluster munitions and the latest United Nations conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons to the House’s attention today. The conference focused on two specific areas of the convention: amended Protocol II—“Landmines, Booby-Traps, and other Devices”—and Protocol V—“Explosive Remnants of War”. The concluding message of the conference made by the UN Secretary-General was to:

“those countries that have not yet expressed consent”—

to these two protocols—

“to do so as soon as possible”.

Protocol V is the only protocol of the convention that this country is yet to ratify. Its subject is cluster munitions. Fired by an air-carried or ground launch dispenser, these weapons contain numerous submunitions, which are designed to eject those submunitions over a pre-defined target area. Cluster munitions are bound by no regulatory strictures, not even the Ottawa convention. They are currently a legal military weapon that the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, representing Her Majesty’s Government in 2006, claimed:

“fulfil a legitimate military role that cannot be performed by other means”.—[Official Report, 6/11/07; col. 587.]

But the controversy that surrounds cluster munitions is that, while they can effect military advantage, their humanitarian cost is grave. My noble friend Lord Elton made the point that more and more military observers now consider them campaign losers, a point reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who also drew the House’s attention to new military thinking, following on from General Rupert Smith’s excellent work on war among the people”. Although we must always respect the judgment of commanders of our Armed Forces, I am sure that they will be thinking and considering at a high level the issues that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has mentioned today. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, pointed out that military commanders will want to do everything possible not to alienate and kill civilians

The UN mine action co-ordination centre estimated that, during its one-month conflict, Israel dropped nearly 4 million cluster bombs on Lebanon from artillery projectiles which, as of 15 January 2007, resulted in 555 recorded casualties with children making up 25 per cent. Too often their consequence is the tragic death of innocent civilians. They can indeed be the “horrendous and silent hazards” that Timothy Caughley, deputy secretary of this November's conference, described. The noble Lord, Lord Jay, said that action must be taken to mitigate the worst aspects of military conflicts.

On Tuesday this week, the final day of the conference, the decision was reached that a group of governmental experts should be established to negotiate an international treaty stipulating exactly how, and if at all, cluster munitions should be used. The group will report its findings to the next meeting of the high contracting parties in November 2008, an outcome that we on these Benches welcome. We have been calling for an internationally recognised definition of these two different types of missiles. Unlike smart missiles, dumb missiles are understood to be those that do not discriminate between targets, or do not have mechanisms to self-destruct if they fail to explode on impact.

The Foreign Affairs Committee report—to which my noble friend alluded—estimates that smart cluster missiles’ failure rate is between 5 and 10 per cent, and the staggering failure rate of dumb cluster missiles is between 25 and 30 per cent. Dumb cluster missiles that fail to explode effectively become landmines when they reach the ground, as my noble friend explained. He pointed out the excellent work of de-miners and, like him, I pay tribute to them.

After its 2007 conflict, Lebanon has been scarred, with an estimated area of 37 million square metres contaminated with almost a million unexploded submunitions. To prevent such situations arising again, the noble Lord, Lord Drayson, had advocated a ban on the use, production, stockpiling and distribution of all dumb cluster missiles, but not smart missiles. After the Prime Minister’s speech at the Lord Mayor of London’s banquet on Monday, Her Majesty’s Government’s position is now less clear. The Prime Minister declared he wanted to,

“work internationally for a ban on ... those cluster munitions which cause unacceptable harm to civilians”.

Can the Minister please clarify which cluster munitions, exactly, are “those munitions”, and if government policy has changed in any way? Will the Government be supporting the Prime Minister’s rhetoric with financial support? We on these Benches welcome Her Majesty’s Government’s £15 million donation in 2000-01 for de-mining teams around the world.

Is Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to the banning of cluster munitions such that, if the certain conventional weapons resolution does not bring about change due to the resistance we have seen from some states—my noble friend mentioned Russia—they will follow Austria, Belgium, Hungary and Norway in banning these weapons anyway? The noble Lord, Lord Jay, asked for firm and moral leadership, and for Her Majesty’s Government to ban all cluster munitions. This was reinforced by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs.

We have reason to be hopeful that the outcome of this discussion on Protocol V will be successful, after the impressive results of the conference’s focus on the amended Protocol II. This protocol regulates, but does not ban, the use of landmines and booby-traps. Anti-personnel landmines must be kept in clearly marked and protected minefields or be equipped with self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms that disarm and render the mine unusable after a certain period of time. Cluster munitions dropped from aircraft or delivered by artillery or missiles must be fitted with self-destruct and self-deactivation mechanisms. Another fortuitous consequence of the conference’s inquiry into landmines was individual Governments’ and charities’ heightened consideration of this important issue.

The conference on the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons is a step towards repairing the terrible consequences of warfare and expanding the freedom of movement for those who live in lethally infected areas.

My Lords, I join all who have congratulated the noble Lord, Lord Elton, on obtaining time for this important debate. I thank him for his tireless humanitarian work on cluster munitions. I immediately acknowledge his seductive, even seditious, suggestion that I ignore the cautious advice of officials and go further than my brief allows. I reassure him that my brief will allow me—in that crabwise motion described by the noble Lord, Lord Jay—to move this issue forward at least some way. While this is the second debate on this subject this year, I would welcome many more. Pressure in a Chamber such as this moves the issue forward.

Across the Government, and in the Prime Minister’s reference to cluster munitions earlier this week, there is a clear recognition that the use of large numbers of explosive submunitions over large areas presents a serious risk of civilian casualties. Cluster munitions have long and potentially deadly consequences for civilians when their submunitions fail to explode as intended, and become dangerous explosive remnants of war, visiting a terrible toll upon subsequent generations. We agree that the use of cluster munitions was brought into sharp focus by the conflict in Lebanon last summer.

In describing what we have done in government, I shall look at this in two groups: first, what is happening on the international side and progress towards the banning of these weapons, and secondly, what is happening internally in our own use of weapons.

It has already been noted that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said in his speech earlier this week:

“We want to work internationally for a ban on … those cluster munitions which cause unacceptable harm to civilians.”

I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Astor, whether that amounts to a change of policy. At this stage, it does not because the Government believe that they have already banned the so-called dumb weapons, but I recognise that there is a debate about whether that goes far enough.

My Lords, we keep on referring to “dumb”. My noble friend advanced a possible definition of what is not dumb: something that has either self-destruct or deactivation. The third category is weapons that are steered to individual targets. The general thinking is that either of those qualifications makes a munition not dumb. Does the Minister accept that if both of them were incorporated, a very large number would be put out of service and that would be an enormous step forward?

My Lords, the noble Lord knows that the United Kingdom now has two weapons types that are in dispute. One has a self-destruct mechanism built in and we believe that the other type does not meet the definition of a cluster bomb because of the limited number of munitions within it. However, that is a matter of debate, and, as has been observed throughout this debate, as yet there is no acceptable international definition of a cluster bomb. We believe that we have reduced our arsenal in ways that mean that we are not using weapons that do the kind of damage that occurred, for example, in Lebanon, but we recognise that this is not the last word on that.

I shall turn first to what has happened on the international side. As a number of noble Lords have mentioned, the CCW third review meeting made some progress last year on several related categories of weapons, but the priority for the UK and our EU partners at this year’s meeting of states parties to the Convention on Certain Conventional Weapons, which has just concluded, was, as the noble Lord, Lord Elton, observed, to secure a negotiating mandate on cluster munitions as a necessary step towards agreeing additional protocols on cluster munitions.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Jay, I do not believe that the difficulty is divisions within the European Union on this; it is more a case of divisions with others who have not raised the quality of their weapons to the UK standard. Let me immediately say that we do not believe that the negotiating mandate that was eventually agreed is anything like as strong as we would have liked. However, as the Prime Minister said, we seek practical action for change. We will work hard with other states parties over the next year to ensure substantial action emerges from the work of the group of governmental experts whose rather leisurely meetings schedule was referred to. We believe that the CCW is still the right place to secure a new instrument because it includes the major users and producers of cluster munitions and an agreement forged there is most likely to bring down the use of these weapons. That is why the United Kingdom has worked very hard over the past 12 months to be a leader in the process in that conference.

Let me be clear that—and this is a little bit analogous to the Ottawa process, which reinforced a slow-moving intergovernmental process on landmines—we look at the Oslo process as the vital ginger group that will bring pressure to bear on the CCW. That is why we are participating in it with, at the last count, 83 other states. As many noble Lords are aware, the Oslo negotiations are evolving. At the next Oslo process meeting in Vienna from 5 to 7 December textual elements for a new convention are likely to be discussed. A further conference in Wellington in February 2008 is due to agree definitions and thereby set the conditions for entry into the convention. Whereas progress within the CCW framework may appear glacial in comparison, we still hope that these two processes can ultimately be to each other’s benefit because the final prize is an agreement where the hard-core producers and users accept a convention and a ban and not just a conversation among the like-minded who have already recognised this. Remembering Ottawa and the role it allowed for NGOs and other activist groups such as Landmine Action to bring huge pressure to bear on the intergovernmental process, I hope something similar will be created. The UN Secretary-General said that the Oslo process should be ‘mutually reinforcing and complementary’ to the CCW, and provide inspiration to the states of the CCW to fulfil the aim of a new instrument.

I now turn to what has happened here in the UK. I acknowledge the praise this morning for the progress that has been made and for the action of the Secretary of State for Defence. I hardly dare use the word “dumb” again; it is a very unfortunate term because of what it suggests about the weapons still commissioned. Nevertheless, we are in the happy situation of being able sharply to reduce these weapons systems. It is largely a response to the important point made by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, about the new asymmetric character of warfare where warfare takes place in population centres and indiscriminate weapons of this kind not only cause an unacceptable loss of innocent civilian life but are such a counterproductive weapon in winning hearts and minds, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, observed.

I draw the noble Lord’s attention to the remarkable and visionary document produced by General Petraeus, and particularly to the essay in it by Sarah Sewall, the director of the Carr Centre for Human Rights—I am not sure whether Ministers have to declare conflicts of interest, but I was on its board until becoming a Minister. The essay represents a revolution in military thinking and an understanding that these weapons are utterly at odds with the objectives of military action in these new asymmetric conflicts.

I caution the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, to remember, as I am sure that he does, that although at the moment fighting counterinsurgency operations seem to be the dominant likely conflicts of the future, it is nevertheless the case that there is still a possibility that our Armed Forces will find themselves committed to an operation against an enemy equipped with mass armour, for which certain categories of weapons that we would not want to use in close civilian situations may still be justified in those more old-fashioned battle circumstances.

I remind noble Lords that we expected the 2003 action in Iraq to be more of that old character than of the new.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, but I think that he would agree that the weapons that we actually deployed in Iraq, such as the M85, were not anti-armour but anti-personnel.

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord is correct. Although they were deployed in 2003, they were felt to have been supported by very detailed targeting procedures, which minimised civilian casualties. I believe that they were felt by the commanders there at the time to have been very effective against Iraqi armour and artillery. Nevertheless, I take the noble Lord’s point: the conflict was not what we had expected, which is why they were quickly withdrawn from use.

Let me reassure the noble Lord—he is aware of this—that despite the very bad press that the M85 had in Lebanon, where it was used by the Israeli armed forces and where it was suggested there has been a failure rate of 25 per cent to 30 per cent, in the case of the British arsenal, the M85 has been tested rigorously. Tests conducted in Norway in 2005 suggested a failure rate of 2.3 per cent. Although any failure rate is not acceptable, that at least puts those weapons in a very different category.

My Lords, does the noble Lord accept that experts—I think that it was the Norwegians themselves—went to the field in Lebanon and found evidence that the failure rate was much higher than that?

My Lords, I was acknowledging a failure rate of 25 per cent to 30 per cent for the weapons used in Lebanon as a figure that has been used. Frankly, given the fraught nature of the aftermath of that conflict, it is very hard to get solid figures for the failure rate, but it was clearly unacceptably high and had a terrible consequence for civilian lives. I fully acknowledge that point but, again, I contrast those weapons with the UK M85, which has a self-destruct mechanism. We are committed to improving the reliability of these weapons.

The essential point is that, given what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has observed about the current nature of the conflicts in which we are involved in Afghanistan and Iraq, there is no current use of those weapons. They remain in the arsenal, but are not used. The weapon of dispute is the Apache-fired CRV7, which the Ministry of Defence does not categorise as a cluster weapon—but I suspect that there may be a debate on definition there.

I assure your Lordships that Her Majesty's Government have moved this year in response to concern expressed in this Chamber and outside by civil society and all those involved in the Oslo process. We have moved sharply to contract our use of those weapons, to decommission whole categories of those weapons and to take the lead internationally in pressing for a conventional treaty to ensure that the use of cluster weapons, as an indiscriminate tool of warfare against people and one that no longer comports with the overwhelming nature of modern conflict, is reined right back to military purposes that have a military rationale.

My Lords, before the noble Lord sits down, could he address my question about the constraints put on our diplomatic efforts in such meetings by any line set by the presidency of the European Union? If there are such constraints, can he assure us that the greatest efforts will be made before the next meeting in 2008 to ensure that there is an accord as to what those constraints should be?

My Lords, the noble Lord will have heard me say that I hoped that the observation of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, that the European Union had a common and proactive position on the matter in the negotiations, was indeed the case. It is other producers who are not members of the European Union who were the force of conservatism and resistance here. I can assure the noble Lord that building a common position is usually worth the effort, because it increases our firepower—to use what is perhaps a slightly unfortunate metaphor in this context.

I will look into the negotiations surrounding the emergence of that common position, because it is a useful diplomatic tool. It gives more power to our arm, if you like, but the noble Lord is quite correct: if it is at the expense of a forward position, we should try to ensure that next time Europe is more forward.

My Lords, I am most grateful to your Lordships. I earlier thanked your Lordships for taking part, because it had escaped me that I would have the opportunity to do so formally at the end. I add my thanks to those who have not taken part but who have done us the favour of listening to the arguments, which I hope were persuasive. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Liberal Intervention

rose to call attention to the case for liberal intervention; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, perhaps I ought to start this debate with a vote of thanks to my noble friend Lord Malloch-Brown on the Front Bench, because he seems to be working overtime these days. I am not quite sure how he fits in the many other things that he has to do.

This is an important debate. Some people said to me, “What do you mean by liberal intervention?”. One or two optimists on the Liberal Benches thought that I might be suggesting that they should intervene within the Government in some way. I was not suggesting that.

As my noble friend will know, this debate is of growing importance within the international community, and has been there for some considerable time. Liberal intervention in the affairs of other states has been with us for a long time, but in recent years, it has become profoundly important because, with the end of the Cold War and then with the September 11 attack on the United States, there is a recognition that, unpredicted by most of us, the collapse of so many states around the world after the ending of the two great power blocs has produced a degree of instability—political, military, economic and other—that is now profoundly dangerous to the peace of the world.

It is also true—this is particularly important—that, increasingly, the nation state is seen to be no longer at the centre of events in quite the same way as it was. The old European ideology—it was essentially European in the first instance—was that you should never interfere or intervene in the affairs of another nation state and it has been the idea behind European thinking since at least the 16th century. That progressively fell apart as a viable proposition, and falls apart even more so now, particularly as people, organisations and others cross national boundaries as they never crossed them before. We all congratulated ourselves, particularly—and quite rightly, in my view—in Britain and the United States, on setting up the United Nations and many of the world organisations that have actually served us rather well for many years. However, the reality is that they now have very serious shortcomings when it comes to dealing with failing states, failed states, dictatorships and many of the other problems that pursue us around the world.

Intervention in the affairs of other states, particularly using hard power—I will come back to hard power and soft power in due course—is very often popular if it is seen to be successful, and unpopular when it is seen to be unsuccessful. It was popular and people thought that it was a very good idea when we intervened in Sierra Leone. There were at least two cheers from most people about the intervention in Kosovo. There were virtually no cheers in the case of Iraq. Those cheers died down when the post-conflict phase was done so appallingly badly that it put people like me, who believed very strongly in liberal intervention, into a defensive position, because although you cannot say that it will have failed in the long run, you can certainly say that the cost in human life and suffering was far higher than it should have been, or indeed need have been. However, that is another debate, and one that I have already addressed in this House on a number of occasions, so I do not wish to revisit it at this stage.

Let me say a little more about why this is not an entirely new debate. It helps to inform our discussions if we look at the history of this. For me, the purpose of the debate is to open—or, for some people, to re-open—the issue of when and how we intervene in the affairs of nation states. That will be the ongoing debate. This problem ran through the Prime Minister’s speech in a number of ways in Mansion House. It certainly featured in Tony Blair’s speech in Chicago, when he talked about how and when we intervene and acknowledged that the old idea that the nation state was totally supreme and could do what it liked with its own citizens no longer applied. It will be mentioned again today in Bruges in Belgium when the Foreign Secretary speaks on the role of the European Union in using both soft power and hard power, and on the question of intervention.

This issue will not go away. It will be complex, and will become more and more difficult. If I can have some influence on this, it will be to suggest that we start talking about the problem of how and when we intervene; whether we use soft power or hard power; how we combine those; and how in the longer run we reform some of the international institutions, most notably the United Nations, in a way that enables us to intervene rather more effectively, to be clearer about when and how we intervene, and to be much better at reconstruction after intervention or the collapse of a failed state, which is really what intervention is very largely about.

I mentioned the history of intervention. The reality is that probably the greatest, and first, intervention in the affairs of other nation states in modern times was by the British in the 19th century. The example that I often give—I will not dwell on it for too long, because again I have spoken on it before—is the abolition of the slave trade. Throughout the 18th century—certainly towards the end of it—Britain transported more slaves across the Atlantic than any other European power. Then came a remarkable period when, thanks to what was probably the first ever mass movement by people in a country, supported not least by slaves and slave revolts, we changed in about seven or eight years from being the country that transported more slaves across the Atlantic to the country that, 200 years ago this year, abolished the transatlantic slave trade. We then used all our diplomatic, military and economic power to force an end to the slave trade. It took 60 years; Brazil was the last country to give it up.

My point is that the Royal Navy was used consistently throughout that period to stop the slave trade. Virtually everything that it did was unlawful. Indeed, the Royal Navy and the British Government were taken to court, both in this country and elsewhere, and found guilty of breaches of international law. It was an illegal war. This House found against the Royal Navy when it towed a French ship back to port in Africa and forced it to release the slaves. It challenged the Royal Navy, and the court here decided that, however noble the purpose, one did not have the right to override the law. That is the dilemma that one faces when one deals with something that is clearly immoral and wrong but the law does not fit that.

After that, incidentally, the Royal Navy came up with an interesting concept that has interesting parallels with the concept of terrorism. It said, “Right, we are going to call slavery piracy, because everyone knows that that is wrong and that will enable us to intervene and deal with ships of other nations on the high seas”. Of course, it did not do so. The Royal Navy not only turned ships back but entered the harbours of other countries and burnt empty slave ships. That, again, was pretty strongly against the law, but it was a profoundly good thing. The Royal Navy tried to get other nations to support the Atlantic squadrons that we deployed to turn back the slave ships. Again, there are echoes here with the terrorism of today and the so-called war on terrorism, a phrase that I have never liked. Although many of the nations were prepared to support the squadrons in principle, quite a few of them would not do so because they worried about the ulterior motives of Britain as the dominant power of the day, rather as people doubt the motives of the United States today.

We must, of course, look at intervention from the other end of the telescope; an example is the intervention argument in relation to Islam from a Middle East point of view. Gladstone, who was one of the great statesmen of this country and of whom I am a great admirer, intervened in what he saw as the wicked Ottoman Empire. Indeed, it was pretty wicked by that time because it was corrupt, despotic and collapsing. His intervention is seen by many people in that area as an attempt by Britain to spread its influence and colonialism. The other end of the telescope tells us that it can be a way of taking over areas of land, which is why a number of the countries in that region and elsewhere regard the American and British practice of talking about intervention as colonialism in drag. I do not think that it is, incidentally. One argument is that one must remember that the Ottoman Empire, and indeed the Mughal Empire in India, were both empires themselves and were not always welcomed in the areas that they had taken over. The argument is more complex.

There is another point to make about the morality of the issue. I have taken the view for many years that it is morally impossible to argue that one should not remove despotic or psychopathic killers from the control of nation states. One can argue, however, that it is difficult to do so without making the situation worse. In some cases, it simply cannot be done, and one even has to co-operate with them, which brings up some of our dilemmas about the whole question of intervention. I recall very clearly—this is when my views became much more formed on this, and again is a message to people that intervention is not just a western concept—when Vietnam intervened, absolutely rightly in my view, to remove Pol Pot from power in Cambodia. I cheered that, but there were people, in this country, in the United States and elsewhere, who said that it was wrong and should not be allowed because it invaded the rights of the nation state. It was of course done without the approval of the United Nations. I cheered again when Tanzania intervened in Uganda to remove Idi Amin, again without the consent of the United Nations. I cheered again when India removed the Government of what was then East Pakistan. That was not just a regime change; it created the new state of Bangladesh. It was right to do so, and it is one reason why the Indians have a rather different perspective of this from the Chinese, who are much more worried about the concept of liberal intervention.

We must also beware of the argument used by many of my colleagues, which I never liked although I understood why it was used, that it was all right because you could keep people in their boxes. That was the argument that we used about Saddam Hussein, particularly after the first Gulf War. We said, “Well, it's all right. He's no longer quite the danger that he was because we've got him in his box”. But we forget that in that box with him were 25 million people. It is a curious concept and where, again, we get into all sorts of double standards. If we had, towards the end of the Second World War, expelled the Nazis from all the countries that they had invaded and then stopped at the borders of Germany and said, “It's all right, we’ve got him in his box now. We’ll leave him in power”, people would have been appalled and quite rightly so.

In fact, although keeping them in their box is one of the most dubious arguments, you have to do that when you have no alternative. There are contradictions. One of the most obvious ones is that we supported Joe Stalin, who was little better than Adolf Hitler, because we saw Hitler as the greater danger. There are plenty of examples, too, of the way in which we now support states that we have severe doubts about, but we do so because of other reasons. This debate should be about how and when you intervene.

That brings me to the discussion we need to have about the nature of the intervention—about soft and hard power—and the nature of the state you intervene on. Places such as Indonesia or Pakistan are countries that are struggling to find a democratic rule-of-law structure, but staggering between collapsing into dictatorship or achieving greater stability. I saw an interesting image the other day in a number of photographs. Police were bundling women into a police van in Pakistan. Standing on top of the police van and filming everything were two television cameramen. You could not show a clearer case of a country that is torn. Cameramen would not be standing on top of a police van filming in Burma, North Korea or Zimbabwe. In a way, that is the difference between a chaotic, unstable state and one that is truly ruthless and brutal, where no display of opposition is allowed at all. That is an important distinction.

That clearly shows the problem that the United Nations has to struggle with in relation to nations such as Somalia or the Democratic Republic of Congo. There was a massive loss of life in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, bigger than almost any other in the post-war period, but it is such a vast country and is so chaotic. You are looking not at a dictatorship, but a series of chaotic scenes where your ability to control the situation is very limited. The issues of how and when you intervene are important.

This is an area where we should be discussing rather more the issues of hard and soft power. Both are forms of intervention: noble Lords should not have any illusions about that. If you talk about using soft power, you are intervening in the affairs of other states. We should be very clear about that. I believe that it is right to do so—because I believe in liberal intervention—by using both soft power and hard power, but the difficulty is when we decide to use one and not the other. The European Union is very proud of its intervention with soft power and is generally quite good on that, but it has an awful blind spot—some of this will be said by the Foreign Secretary in Belgium in his speech today—about the question of when, how and if you use the hard power that would be available to you if you set up the right organisations.

I watched in despair the attitude of the European Union when Yugoslavia collapsed. Noble Lords will remember the great arguments at the time, such as, “We’ll persuade them to stop and in any event we can use the United Nations”. The United Nations was brought in, particularly in Bosnia, in the early stages. People may have forgotten that an awful lot of United Nations troops from countries around the world had their blue hats left on them but their weapons taken away, and then were tied to stakes in open, exposed positions to make sure that the world got the message that further intervention was not acceptable. In fact, intervention did happen, due in no small part to Tony Blair's efforts to get Bill Clinton and the United States involved. But that sort of thing is a classic example of how soft power cannot deliver at the end of the day: you need some degree of hard power to end a particularly horrific regime.

There are many areas that I have not touched on, such as whether intervention can take place in a humanitarian situation of starvation. Some people think that that is the easy and obvious case, but is it? North Korea, only two years ago, managed to starve a million of its population to death, not to mention all the other things that were happening in that tragic country. We did not intervene. Why not? We could not, because we knew that China would not let anyone intervene: it is as bald as that. Morally, the case for intervention is overwhelming. With countries such as China and South Africa with Zimbabwe, I am not sure whether, if the situation continues long enough, they will not find it necessary to intervene in much the same way that India found it necessary to intervene in what is now Bangladesh.

These are complex areas, but they are increasingly becoming the subject of the debate taking place in our various intergovernmental organisations. It is a profoundly important one for the United Nations. Although I was sad that some of the reforms being proposed recently did not get through, one of the good ones that did get through was the Peacebuilding Commission, which is a significant step forward and one that should be able to deal with this problem in a rather more developed way.

If I were looking for hopeful signs, one is that a debate is happening—and I hope that debate will happen more now after this small contribution. Also, the emerging superpowers, particularly India and Brazil, are aware of the importance of these arguments. They are certainly heavily involved in peacekeeping operations around the world, and they are struggling with the question of intervention in the same way that we are. China and Russia are much more against it, not least because of their recent history as dictatorships. Nevertheless, I am not entirely convinced, particularly if China continues as it is, that it will not find it necessary to use at least soft power to intervene, as there is evidence that it thought of doing so with Burma. Whether China will really do that, I am not sure.

However, we must be aware. We all criticise what is happening in Burma, then Burma goes quiet and we go quiet. That is inevitable, but it does not go quiet in Burma. It does not go quiet in North Korea. There is another thing we must also be careful of: I heard some people talking recently about how soft power had worked in North Korea because it had managed to prevent the development of nuclear weapons. I am sure that it did work in terms of giving us a degree of extra safety from the spread of nuclear weapons, but it certainly has not worked for the people of North Korea.

That is the moral case, but the moral case must then be set against what is politically realistic. In many ways, the United Nations has more legal structures to allow intervention, including criminal courts and so forth, than it gets credit for at times. The problem is that the political will to deliver the systems that are necessary to underpin it are not there. That is what my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was saying in his Mansion House speech the other day when he talked about the need for the United Nations to develop a police force for intervention after the collapse of the state. I am sure he knows this, but that is far easier said than done.

One of the arguments that troubles me most, particularly in Europe and increasingly in this country since Iraq, is the issue of moral relativism. There is a temptation, particularly on feelings about George Bush, to see the United States in the same light as an authoritarian power. We need to be clear about this. When people engage in moral relativism, they forget that in countries with an ability to change a Government from time to time—we loosely call it democracy—with a rule of law and with human rights, there is the ability to put right the wrongs. You do not have that in North Korea, Burma, Zimbabwe or wherever. That is an important fundamental and moral difference, of which we should not lose sight.

The Americans criticised us—rightly in my view—because we had interned around 1,500 people in Northern Ireland without trial, including on ships off the coast of Northern Ireland. They were right to criticise us then and we are right to criticise them now on Guantanamo Bay. We should not make the mistake of thinking that that makes them or us in the 1970s the same as the unstable dictatorships and collapsed states we are trying to deal with. It is an important issue and I hope that this discussion continues. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has argued elsewhere that when Britain took the lead in abolishing the international slave trade using naval power to attack, as he has explained, those who continued to engage in the trade after 1807 were engaged in a case of morality trumping the law. There were other cases in the 19th century, to some of which he has alluded also in his articles and speeches outside the House, where Britain used or threatened the use of force in support of human rights; for example, Palmerston and Don Pacifico in 1852. There was Admiral Mundy’s support for Garibaldi in the liberation of the two Sicilies. But far more often we simply denounce foreign autocrats, particularly the Ottomans, as he mentioned, for the atrocities that they committed against their Bulgarian or Armenian subjects. This was a case of soft power rather than hard power. Let us take, for example, the Bulgarian atrocities pamphlet published by Mr Gladstone in 1878. These exercises of soft power were not in any way a prelude to a general attack on the Westphalian principles of international law on non-intervention. The special case of independence for Greece in Bulgaria was not seen as leading towards any general rule of self-determination, under which there would have been justification for coming to the aid of peoples throwing off the imperialist rule concept that was totally unknown in the 19th century.

Perhaps the noble Lord would agree that the unilateral abolition of the slave trade by the United Kingdom could also be viewed as an early case of extraterritorial jurisdiction. As he explained, cases were brought in the courts. In one case, the owners of American ships that had been confiscated by the British Navy brought proceedings, but the courts, and finally the Privy Council, declared that the slave trade was prima facie illegal, and not only when it was perpetrated in territory under the control of the British empire. In our own time, there are violations of human rights which are rightly treated as matters of universal jurisdiction even if they have not been accepted as such by every member state of the United Nations. Thus, for example, indictments under the Rome Statute for offences to be dealt with by the International Criminal Court require every signatory to arrest the perpetrators and deliver them up to the jurisdiction of the court. Similarly, states are obliged to arrest and try offenders who commit acts dealt with under the Convention Against Torture or to render them up to international jurisdiction by the ICC. The fact that some acts of torture are considered lawful in the countries of origin, such as female genital mutilation or the Sharia penalty of 100 lashes for a woman who commits adultery with a married person, would not release us from the duty of trying a person who came within our jurisdiction having committed such an offence if we have got the evidence to take him or her to court.

But the existence of loathsome cultural practices, or even of endemic persecution of minorities, is not seen as crossing the threshold that would allow intervention without the use of a resolution by the Security Council. We can take it as read, I think, that it would be impossible to get agreement on an amendment of Article 2(7) of the charter, which prohibits intervention on matters that are,

“essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of states”.

But the use of the word “essentially” limits the extent of the prohibition to those matters that are not regulated by international law. The development under the UN Human Rights Commission and now the council of special procedures for monitoring and reporting on thematic human rights issues, and in a few cases the appointment of country rapporteurs, and the appointment of a High Commissioner for Human Rights, are assertions of the international community’s right to criticise and to make recommendations to states, although none of these mechanisms by itself triggers the right of an intervention.

The Security Council has to identify the situation in question as a threat to peace under Chapter VII of the charter and only when measures not involving the use of armed force are judged or have proved to be inadequate can the Security Council authorise the use of armed force. The term “threat to the peace” is not defined, and a massive internal disturbance may have international repercussions. Inevitably, there will be situations where it is clear that an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe is unfolding—to use the terminology that applied to Kosovo—but for political reasons it proves impossible to get a resolution through the United Nations Security Council, which was the dilemma that we faced in Kosovo, or that there may be conclusive evidence that the Security Council is unable or unwilling to act decisively against an ongoing genocide or systematic displacement of peoples. These are the difficult cases that the noble Lord invites us to consider.

Where the UN is already present in a territory, as it was in Srebrenica and Rwanda, all would agree that the power exists to reinforce the units that are there, as commanders on the spot were demanding in both those cases, and that the international community was highly culpable for the failure to avert the catastrophes that were clearly predicted; in the case of Rwanda, not only by General Dallaire, the UN commander on the spot, but a year before by the UN rapporteur on torture, Bacre Waly Ndiaye, who put it in his annual report, that this was a lead-up to a genocide. The Secretary-General, Kofi Annan, said in his report on Rwanda that what happened was,

“genocide in its purest and most evil form”.

He expressed bitter regret that more had not been done to prevent it. There was no aim to which he felt more deeply committed than enabling the UN never again to fail in protecting a civilian population from genocide or mass slaughter. The independent inquiry into the failure of the UN in Rwanda said that,

“The United Nations must be prepared .... to prevent acts of genocide or gross violations of human rights wherever they may take place. The political will to act must not be subject to different standards”.

This “duty to protect” may well have become a customary norm of international law, as the UN Secretary-General said in his address to the heads of states of the Non-Aligned Movement in September 2006. He said that the duty to protect had worked in Timor Leste, Liberia, Sierra Leone, and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and that it had to be made to work again if we are to avert a major crisis in Darfur. Yet this list shows that the difficult cases are the ones where the crisis occurs in a state that does not feel bound to accept the emerging consensus on the criteria that justify liberal intervention: that there is either an actual or imminent huge loss of life; that the existence of that situation has been determined objectively, particularly but not necessarily exclusively by the Security Council; and that the Security Council has not explicitly ruled out that intervention. The UN has not protected civilians in Darfur because the Security Council fell over backwards to proceed by agreement with Khartoum and has been continually blocked in its attempts first to employ a UN force, and now the hybrid force which is to deliver humanitarian aid to the victims of mass slaughter and forcible displacement. The loss of life and the destruction of economic potential has been far worse in that situation than if military force had been deployed in defence of the civilian population when the attacks first began more than four years ago.

However, there were other considerations which made the case for immediate intervention problematic. It would almost certainly have meant that there would have been no comprehensive peace agreement between north and south Sudan, and there would have been colossal difficulties, both military and logistical, in mounting an operation in Darfur without the consent of the Government in Khartoum. It would probably have fractured the United Nations since it would have been implacably opposed by China, Russia and most of the developing countries, whereas now I see that the Chinese are involved in Darfur to the extent of at least supplying engineers to prepare the infrastructure for a larger deployment of peacekeepers early next year. The international community might have leant on Sudan more heavily than it did, but it is by no means certain that the human cost would have been lower in the long run if the coalition of the willing had intervened with force without the authority of the United Nations five years ago when the genocide first began. As it is, in spite of Beshir’s procrastination, the hybrid force is at last getting under way, and the main problems in 2008 are, I believe, going to be political rather than military in getting peace talks going involving the eight factions that boycotted the Libya talks, and finding ways of resettling the former Janjaweed militias into other parts of Sudan.

The same arguments would have applied to interventions between the north and the south of Sudan where the long-running civil war led to perhaps 10 times as many deaths as in the Darfur massacres, and appalling as it is to think of the deaths and suffering which were caused by those 25 years of civil war, it is not easy to be certain what would have happened if there had been a military expedition to separate the combatants and try to define the boundary between them without their agreement. The crisis on the border between Eritrea and Ethiopia shows that even when the dispute is between sovereign states, and they have ostensibly agreed on a solution and on the means of its implementation, trust can still break down and the peacekeepers will be kicked out. The comprehensive peace agreement was really a misnomer because it left the question of Abyei and other regions along the boundary unsettled, but it is infinitely better than sending a latter-day General Gordon to sort the combatants out.

That brings me to my last point. Mr David Cameron thinks that liberal intervention is the idea that we should just get out there into the world and sort it all out, showing the depth of intellectual poverty that infects the Tory party today through its leader. There are not many conflicts which demand a UK military contribution, and Mr Cameron seems to have forgotten that his party fully supported the folly of being dragged into the attack on Saddam Hussein. President Mubarak said that that operation would create 100 bin Ladens. He was out by a couple of orders of magnitude, for which the Tories have got to share the responsibility. That was the opposite of liberal intervention, opposed as it was by most of the people in this country and indeed in the rest of Europe.

But if the Tory party is now opposed to collective interventions to prevent genocide, mass slaughter, war crimes and crimes against humanity, as approved by the General Assembly in 2005, it is as out of tune with the developing norms of international law as it was with public opinion on Iraq itself. The responsibility to protect civilian populations on principles which have developed out of our experience in Rwanda, Kosovo, Bosnia and Somalia on the lines of the weighty report prepared by the International Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty has been implicitly reaffirmed by the United Nations in establishing the hybrid force in Darfur and the multi-dimensional presence in Chad and the Central African Republic. Coupled with the equally important “responsibility to prevent”, these principles are the way towards a more civilised world in the 21st century.

My Lords, it is with some trepidation that I rise to support the themes of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and I should like first to thank him for giving us the opportunity to have this debate. I listened with great attention to what he had to say and I find myself largely in agreement, although I should add that I have listened with great respect to the subtle and nuanced case just advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury.

Anybody wishing to address the issue of liberal intervention in this House today knows that they are doing so in circumstances which are very difficult. The debate on this subject has gone round in a circle. In the early 1990s it was not a popular theme, and as the 1990s developed, especially in the aftermath of Bosnia and certainly in the aftermath of 9/11, the context changed. The popularity of the concept of liberal intervention probably peaked in around 2002, but at this moment it is distinctly less popular, and that is putting it mildly. These are realities that we have to accept. The most important and significant development that led to this fundamental change was undoubtedly 9/11 in terms of American attitudes. American diplomats such as Ambassador Richard Haass, who spoke of the “reluctant sheriff”, summarised a certain view of America’s role in the world in the 1990s, but inevitably found themselves uncomfortable with the direction of the Bush Administration after 2002. Those of us who wish to support the broad case and themes outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, as I do, have to accept that it is much harder to do so today because of what has happened in Iraq. We also have to accept that no one on the side of those who favoured the invasion appears to have anticipated the full and appalling human cost that has been incurred.

That said, it is important to retain the argument for the disposition—in a way that is all it can be in British foreign policy—in favour of liberal interventionism rather than a selfish diplomatic nimbyism, which simply will not work because we live in a globalised context, and in any case the distinctions cannot be made between the foreign and the domestic. They simply will not work even in a narrow, selfish and isolationist way. As the noble Lord, Lord Soley, demonstrated, his theme of liberal intervention draws on the best and most distinguished themes of British foreign policy both in the 19th and the 20th centuries. But this is a difficult issue to address in this House. Since I have been here, I think that I have heard Washington neo-cons denounced more than I have heard terrorists denounced. In a way we are missing the point: the neo-con moment has passed in Washington, and even at its peak never had quite the influence that was attributed to it. The real point is the problems that we are faced with. There is a natural tendency when faced with difficult and unpleasant problems in the world to hope that they will go away, and in the same way that it was attractive in the late 1930s, there is a natural tendency not to face up to the full dynamics of murderous regimes and to hope that in some way they can be contained in their box, as the noble Lord, Lord Soley, put it. In some cases that can even be so, but in others it may not. This defines the difficult circumstances we are facing today in international policy in this country.

I want to say something further about the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, because it allows me to make a certain point. It is sometimes assumed that those of us who wish to argue in favour of liberal intervention as a disposition—I can only describe it as such because it cannot be more than that; it is a value, because the circumstances of a situation are always extremely important—are in the same camp as those who do not realise the importance of negotiation or the importance of dialogue with opponents and enemies who may be nasty and violent. The case made by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is illustrative of the fact that this is not true of those of us who hold this view. In 1994, at a time when the IRA was still involved in a campaign of violence, the noble Lord became involved on behalf of the Conservative Government, although then a Labour MP, in a very difficult and in some ways I think he will admit, in a treacherous dialogue with the leadership of the republican movement. Undoubtedly in the long-term he can say that it was one of those endeavours which played a role in making Northern Ireland the better place that it now is, but it was a difficult and highly ambiguous matter in which to be engaged. The role of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, in this is recorded in Julia Langdon’s biography of the late lamented Marjorie Mowlam, the former Secretary of State for Northern Ireland, where much more is said about these events than I can say today.

This allows me to make the further point that it is not only those of us who favour liberal intervention who understand that in certain circumstances it may be necessary to engage in difficult, controversial and risky dialogue. But the circumstances of such a dialogue are very important. It is sometimes said—I have heard it in this House a number of times since I arrived—that the case of Northern Ireland demonstrates the need for unconditional dialogue with Hamas. There may indeed be a case for unconditional dialogue with Hamas, but that cannot be deduced from the case of Northern Ireland.

The discussions in which the noble Lord, Lord Soley, engaged at such risk were governed by the political conditions outlined in the Downing Street declaration of 1993, to which both the British and Irish Governments and all the parties in this House were signed up. In other words, it was a ruled and governed discussion, not a free-flowing one. It is very important to understand that there was this political context. It was not a dialogue without preconditions in that sense; political conditions and a political context existed which were very firmly in place. One might think there are certain analogies with what the quartet has outlined for the Middle East as the political conditions and contexts which might determine any possible settlement, which is devoutly wished for, in the Middle East.

So this is not only to make the point that we cannot deduce from the Northern Ireland case that free-flowing dialogue is an easy answer to our problems, as opposed to the more difficult courses associated with current foreign policy and its legacies; it is also to make the point that this particular dialogue was with a movement we now know was heavily penetrated by British intelligence, which is more than we knew then. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, now knows that one of his interlocutors in this dialogue, the chairman of Sinn Fein, Mr Donaldson—who was murdered last year by assassins unknown—was a British agent. This tells us about how murky these matters are and the scale of penetration that existed at that time. Therefore, when the British Government engaged in that dialogue, they knew a lot more about the war weariness, the scale of political ambition and so on of the republican movement than any of us who were writing about these issues at the time actually realised.

So, again, it is very difficult to extrapolate from this particular case, in the way that is so frequently done, a wider analogy as a model for world peace: that one simply puts aside one’s scruples about difficult people who are still applying violence, reaches out to them, engages them in discussion and somehow difficulties will disappear. Northern Ireland is a case on its own—I am glad to see the noble Lord, Lord Soley, agreeing with me—in which the noble Lord undoubtedly played a distinguished role.

I grew up and spent most of my adult life in Belfast when the norm for many years was car bombs and apparently incessant sectarian slaughter—not on the scale of Baghdad but on a significant scale. For many years there was a sense of normality; that this was the limit of life; that this is how things proceeded.

As to the debate on Iraq, in the United States there are the beginnings of some degree of cross-party acceptance within Congress. It is accepted, partly as a result of the work of General Patrias, already discussed in this House today, that there is the possibility that matters are easing and that outcomes may be better than they looked some months ago. We are all aware that it is only a possibility and, in some ways, only a fragile possibility. It is possible to live in a city and for one to believe that it will never end. But it does somehow end and the acknowledgement for sectarian compromise breaks out within the population at large. I do not say that this point has been reached in Iraq, although there are one or two encouraging signs, but it could happen.

During the conflict in Northern Ireland, British public opinion was so soured by the death of soldiers and civilians that, on many occasions, public opinion polls showed that the great majority of communities in Britain wanted to withdraw. We can now say, given the happier state that Northern Ireland is now in, that it is a very good thing that the political class and Governments of both parties resisted what would often have been a very popular move. Britain played a role in Northern Ireland, ushering it towards an essentially liberal and democratic settlement. The defence of liberal values is often difficult and often hard, but it is preferable to running away.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for introducing this important debate. However, had the title’s “reference to case for liberal intervention” been posed as a question, my response would have been, “No, such a case cannot be sustained”, particularly in the light of recent experience.

I opposed the invasion of Iraq, which was sometimes presented as an example of humanitarian intervention. I also opposed our intervention over Kosovo, sometimes referred to as a success story. In my view, liberal interventionism is often used to justify military intervention when it is known that otherwise the public are likely to oppose such action. It has been a means whereby large and powerful countries have been able to bully smaller countries which lack the means to retaliate. After all, no one expected to see Serbian or Iraqi bombing planes over London; we could watch the wars on television. Our then Prime Minister could talk about the courage needed to take difficult decisions, but the people having to make the ultimate sacrifice were the citizens of the countries concerned. No one asked the people living in those countries whether they were willing to be sacrificed for the sake of regime change or our view of democracy.

The UN charter, as we know, does not sanction intervention by individual member countries in the affairs of others in order to bring about regime change—hence the necessity in the case of Iraq for the story about weapons of mass destruction and the dodgy dossier. On Kosovo, the United Nations was bypassed. NATO, led by ourselves and the United States, abandoned diplomacy at Rambouillet in favour of a package of non-negotiable demands which it was known in advance that the Serbian Parliament was likely to reject, although it made a counter offer. Bombing started the following day. There were 78 days of aerial bombardment of a civilian population, and that included cluster bombing of urban areas. There was widespread damage to the civilian infrastructure—to hospitals, schools, bridges, television stations, factories, including pharmaceutical factories and, of course, to the Chinese embassy. Graphite bombs were used to destroy and interfere with the electricity supply, with dire results on hospitals, and there were many casualties among the civilian population.

What was the result? The alleged cleansing of Albanians was replaced by the ethnic cleansing of Serbs, the Roma people and anyone unwilling to accept the domination of the KLA, and the situation is still unsettled. There has also been the emergence of an unpleasant Albanian mafia involved in drugs and the trafficking of women.

Iraq, as we know, is a mess. Thousands of people have been killed, lives have been wrecked, homes and jobs lost. Several million people, many with professional training, are refugees in neighbouring countries. It has resulted in a strengthening of fundamentalism, with all that means for the repression of women. Iran has been strengthened as a result of this war. It is a country with a cruel and misogynist Government, where public executions are common, including the stoning of women. I know several Iranians who are refugees in this country and who are opposed to the regime, but even so they are totally opposed to military intervention because they know how much it would hurt their people.

When a disliked regime is replaced, nice western democrats are not always waiting in the wings to take over. Leadership may pass to an equally intolerant and authoritarian group with no concern for human rights. Voting alone does not always produce democracy, as we know, for also needed are an infrastructure, the rule of law and appropriate rules to safeguard individual and ethnic rights.

Many of the leaders who have advocated liberal interventionism by military means have not had direct experience of modern warfare—I emphasise “modern warfare” and say to my noble friend Lord Soley, in response to his interesting historical analysis, that modern warfare is very different from what was applicable in years gone by, because it inevitably affects the civilian population. It is my experience that people who have had direct experience of modern warfare—they are usually older people—are extremely reluctant to support military intervention except in the most extreme circumstances, perhaps as a last resort and with international support via the UN. That was certainly true of my late husband, who had been an RAF pilot and had finished the Second World War with a string of medals and the rank of wing commander. We watched the first Gulf War on television; there had been much talk of targeting and special bombs limiting civilian casualties. He was very angry. I remember him saying, “Smart bombs? Smart bombs? Don’t you believe it. We are watching people being killed down there”. And so we were.

Fortunately, we now have a Prime Minister who says he believes in international organisation and working with the UN. I therefore hope that he will be less inclined towards unilateral military interventionism than was his predecessor. I say no to the case for so-called liberal interventionism. It is all too often a cloak for something entirely different—perhaps the securing of resources or the pursuit of influence or military bases. Innocent people should not be sacrificed; nor should the lives of our young men and women who act as our troops in some of these conflicts.

Should it be said, as it may well be, that these views are anti-American, I would point out that they are also widely held in America. At least one of the Democratic candidates for the US presidency holds very similar views.

My Lords, I must apologise for my late arrival in this debate. I had anticipated that the previous debate would finish early, but not quite as early as it did, and the distance from the other side of Portcullis House to this Chamber is rather longer than one would wish. I sometimes feel that I get my daily exercise by going to two meetings per day in Portcullis House.

Both in preparing for the debate and listening to the previous speeches, I felt that I was back as a professor at the London School of Economics, where we used to debate order versus justice in international relations. Indeed, there is a seminar in my old department next week, at which Professor Anatol Lieven will talk about the cases for and against liberal intervention.

I approach this debate, however, with some hesitation and find myself much more in sympathy with the noble Baroness, Lady Camden, than with the noble Lord, Lord Bew, because I have spent too much time during the past 10 years or more with the followers of Henry Jackson and the neo-conservatives than I would have wished. I have had to argue the case against liberal imperialism with them, and one needs to be very cautious about going down that route. I read the speech that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, made to the Henry Jackson Society. It worries me that we are being presented with an argument for the United States being the force for good against the evils of the world. It is a very black and white presentation, and just as Liberals at the time of the Boer War were cautious about British liberal imperialism and got a lot of stick for opposing that war, and just as we got a lot of stick for opposing the Iraq war in the run-up to it, one needs now to be very careful about moral absolutes. I recognise the dangers of moral relativism, but talking about the world in black and white terms—the forces for good versus the forces for evil—leads one down a dangerous road.

We need to recognise the enormous difference between what one does about failed states and what one does about authoritarian states. The noble Lord, Lord Soley, in his speech today and in his speech to the Henry Jackson Society, seemed to fudge the difference between the two. The difference between Bosnia and Serbia, for example, is between a failed state, in which I entirely agree we should have agreed to intervene properly in 1991—the French Government were prepared to put troops in; John Major’s Government, unlike what Mrs Thatcher as Prime Minister might have done, were extremely sceptical—and an authoritarian state. To have gone further and forced regime change in Serbia, as some might like to have done, would have been to unleash the worst kind of Serbian nationalism—we have enough problems as it is.

One has to be hesitant about pushing for regime change in nasty states or even, sometimes, in criminal states. Therefore, there was a case for the Vietnamese intervention against Pol Pot and for Tanzanian intervention against Idi Amin—although the case in Uganda was less extreme and did not involve quite the same kind of genocide as committed by the Pol Pot regime—but if one is talking about regime change in Iran, because it is an authoritarian regime that we do not like, as the rhetoric in Washington goes, I say no. The authoritarian regime in Iran is not in any sense a nice regime, but it is not totalitarian, and we have to be cautious about how we approach it. If one is going to talk about pushing democracy on the world, I ask whether we intend to invade Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan. How far do we wish to push? We need to be careful in our use of terms.

The right to protect is about humanitarian intervention. One has to distinguish between humanitarian and liberal intervention. As the noble Baroness, Lady Turner, said, liberal intervention slides very easily into liberal imperialism of a Disraeli type. There are those who would like the United States to be the neo-Disraeli of the 21st century. I am in the middle of reading William Dalrymple’s book on the Indian mutiny. One of its causes was the shift in British policy from recognising that we were playing with the local culture to wishing to convert India to modernity, democracy and Christianity. That was one of the underlying causes of the revolt of the sepoys.

Forcing democracy and a transformation of values through the barrel of a gun simply does not work. If you were to ask me to compare the EU approach to democracy in the Middle East with that of the Bush Administration, I would have no difficulty in defending the soft-power approach against the hard-power approach. I have been involved in debates on that during the past few years. In Washington, post-9/11, a surge of people has said, “We are going to democratise the Middle East in the next 10 years”. We all had to explain that it might take a little longer than 10 years because culture change is generational. Promoting the rule of law, education and independent media may look less glamorous and much more a matter of dirty compromises, but it does not provoke the nationalism and the resistance to occupation which we have seen as a result of our invasion and occupation of Iraq, and which we are already seeing within Iran as a result of the sanctions that the western community is imposing on Iran, and the hostility that it is showing towards it. Persian nationalism is a legitimate force, and the complete inability of people in the US Administration to recognise that US policy towards Iran provokes Persian nationalism is part of what I think is mistaken about the policy of the current American Administration. One always has, in international relations, to recognise that the other side sees the world in a different way and that resistance to western imperialism is a very powerful force in the developing world.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, says that he has heard neo-conservatism criticised more in this House than terrorism, but one of my concerns is that there is a relationship between the two. A depiction of international politics in terms of good versus evil and western values versus Muslim values is the sort of thing that provokes greater sympathy for terrorism. I speak as a liberal, and liberals are always open to the charge of moral relativism, in religion—and I am an Anglican—as well as in politics; but I would defend a degree of moral relativism as a necessary beginning for politics to take place. Once one slips down the road to moral absolutes, we fight and kill each other, and that is not the world order in which we wish to live.

I add some other cautions about western intervention. What one hears from the supporters of the Henry Jackson Society and others in Washington and London is of a world in which the white man’s burden still has to be taken up. It is the community of democracies and an expanded NATO that will impose our values on the world, for which the rest of the world will of course be deeply grateful. I think that that moment is past; we should be trying to co-opt the Indians and Chinese into promoting world order and preventing genocide in picking up failed states, because white men can no longer run the world.

I quote in my support the speech given in Chicago some years ago by our previous Prime Minister, in which he talked about the case for liberal intervention and set out a number of conditions to be met before we committed ourselves to any form of intervention. He asked:

“First, are we sure of our case?”.

On the question of Iran, I am quite clear that we ought not to be sure of the case for any form of military intervention. He then asked:

“Second, have we exhausted all diplomatic options?... Third… are there military operations we can sensibly and prudently undertake? Fourth, are we prepared for the long term?”.

He added that,

“having made a commitment we cannot simply walk away once the fight is over”,

which the United States has now done twice in effect in Afghanistan—and we are now trying to pick up the pieces having lost time. Finally, he asked,

“do we have national interests involved?”.

That is a good hard, realist set of questions, but I suggest that the United States does not quite have national interests involved at present in forcing regime change in Saudi Arabia or Uzbekistan. Our former Prime Minister went on to say:

“If we want a world ruled by law and by international co-operation then we have to support the UN as its central pillar”.

He said that knowing that on Kosovo—and this was very much a speech in the context of Kosovo—the UN is not a perfect instrument. We are dealing, after all, with a majority of authoritarian regimes inside the UN, but that is the situation that we are in.

We have to address the question of what our capabilities are. Are the Government confident of public support? Can they hope to generate enough public support? On Iraq and Afghanistan, those questions remain open. As we shall debate on the Conservative debate day next week, what we are doing to our Armed Forces by attempting to push through a long-term commitment on liberal intervention that we cannot entirely support within our own capabilities is a matter for a very serious judgment, which of course weakens the case for further liberal intervention unless we can co-opt on humanitarian intervention grounds our Asian partners—the Indians, Chinese and others.

I say yes to humanitarian intervention. On liberal intervention I say it should be done only very exceptionally and very cautiously, as I understand Tony Blair was saying in the Chicago speech. On liberal imperialism, I say that that time has passed and that 19th century liberals were right to oppose it then.

My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. This has been a most interesting and wide-ranging debate, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for initiating it so comprehensively this afternoon. I take this opportunity to say how pleased I am that the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, is answering these two debates today as he has such a deep knowledge and experience of these subjects. We are pleased, too, that he respects and shows that he understands the importance of your Lordships' House by his presence here rather than attending the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Uganda.

I quote, as did the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, the former Prime Minister speaking before the Chicago Economic Club on 22 April 1999. He said:

“The most pressing foreign policy problem we face is to identify the circumstances in which we should get actively involved in other people's conflicts”.

What he said was significant for two reasons. First, he used the word “we” both to describe the joint responsibility of the United Kingdom and the United States in responding to issues of international concern and, more broadly, to emphasise the ever-increasing shift from a national to a truly global consciousness. Secondly, he framed the question of international foreign policy in terms of when and not whether it would be appropriate for civilised nations to intervene in those countries where humanitarian atrocities are widespread and oppression is the norm.

The former Prime Minister said:

“We cannot turn our backs on conflicts and the violation of human rights within other countries if we want still to be secure”,

and that,

“acts of genocide can never be a purely internal matter”.

The key message to be drawn from that and our debate today is that an increasingly globalised and inter-dependent world, the community of civilised nations, has a real commitment to the rest of the world to make certain that basic human rights are protected.

David Cameron, in his speech to the British American Project on 11 September 2006—and I am afraid that I cannot agree with the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, in his remarks on David Cameron—said that,

“we should be prepared to intervene for humanitarian purposes to rescue people from genocide”.

He advocated the importance of a responsible approach to the question of humanitarian intervention, with humility and patience as guiding principles. He added,

“democracy cannot quickly be imposed from outside”,

and that force should be the last resort. Furthermore, he said that,

“we must strive to act with moral authority”.

The noble Lord, Lord Bew, who concentrated mainly on Northern Ireland, rightly said that, in dire circumstances, in the end liberal intervention is “preferable to running away”.

While the concept of liberal intervention is relatively clear by making sure that human rights violations do not occur, or continue to occur, its application is more problematic. What are the parameters of liberal intervention? The noble Lord, Lord Soley, rightly asked the question: when and how? He mentioned the closed regime in Burma, yet we saw pictures of the monks protesting. However, nowadays, with mobile phones it is increasingly difficult to stop any photography. The days of old-fashioned wireless jamming of the BBC World Service are happily nearly eradicated. We live in a different world.

Is the threshold of intervention to be determined by the military resources of the UN or by the scale of any given humanitarian crisis? And, perhaps most importantly, which institution is best equipped to take the decision to intervene? Tony Blair referred to,

“the deadlock that undermined the effectiveness of the Security Council during the Cold War”.

But that deadlock is not just an historical one. Since the end of the Cold War, the United Nations Security Council has on a number of occasions been either reluctant to sanction interventions or incapable of responding quickly enough to pressing humanitarian crises. As the Minister will know only too well, in the Rwandan genocide, for example, the Security Council failed to stop the violence, argued about whether genocide was happening and ordered a reduction in the UN peacekeeping force in the country. And in 1999, NATO intervened in Kosovo—as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, and the noble Baroness, Lady Turner of Camden—without a UN mandate.

I add that earlier this year a UN envoy presented a plan to grant Kosovo limited independence under continued international supervision. The Security Council called for yet more talks with a deadline of 10 December after fierce protests from Russia and Serbia. I shall not go into more details in this short debate, but the Balkans are yet again in an extremely fragile state.

If the UN is to be the ultimate decision-maker on questions of intervention, the recurring question is whether the UN itself is in need of radical reform. As long as liberal intervention remains a necessary tool of foreign policy, does the Minister agree that it should be used only with responsibility and, above all, legitimacy? I am sure we are all very much looking forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, I join others who thanked my noble friend Lord Soley for bringing this subject before us today. I thank him for his reference to the hard-working Minister who has to deal with all of this and matters outside the House too. If that was a gentle reference to certain media stories in recent days, I should say that I wish that I could spend more time in the House. It is a very much more congenial place to be than the jungle beyond.

When the noble Lord, Lord Bew, spoke of neo-cons in his fascinating intervention, I was reminded how much the use of language in the United States has shifted and departed from the use of language here. Having lived in the United States for the past 21 years, I realised that this was the first time I was able to use the word “liberal” as a term of approbation in more than two decades. Therefore, I am a little disappointed that my noble friend Lady Turner made it clear that I should still use it with greater caution than I had originally intended.

It is clear to all of us that within the broad-based concept of liberal intervention is a subset called humanitarian intervention, where, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, indicated, there is a tighter, clearer definition of rules, terms and rationales for intervention. It is around that subset that I express the Government’s support for the approach taken today by my noble friend Lord Soley. It was that subset which the Prime Minister had in mind when he talked about hard-headed internationalism, and which the former Prime Minister, Mr Blair, had in mind when, in that important Chicago speech, which has been mentioned today, he set out criteria.

There are, of course, long historical antecedents on intervention from Gladstone to Palmerston and Don Pacifico, as was suggested. However, this concept of humanitarian intervention is at its core moving towards a doctrine which is not just an optional one of conscience at the one end or national interest at the other motivating us to intervene, but instead involves a set of criteria in a globalised world where these are not interventions of choice but interventions of necessity, either because of the internal threat posed by mass crimes against humanity to the citizens of the state in which we are considering intervening, or because of an external threat that that state poses to its neighbours and to the world, as Afghanistan did when it harboured Al-Qaeda in 2001.

As regards the internal threat, a lot of work has been done to develop the doctrine of the responsibility to protect, and to intervene where a Government themselves have become the source of mass human rights abuses of their people, or at least are failing to protect their people against that. But that intervention, which is humanitarian in character, is very specifically motivated by the protection of people rather than by the claim of regime change. This is an enormously important distinction that has been brought out today. We are moving towards a world where we understand that there are circumstances involving external or internal threat to people which merit intervention. Mr Blair’s conditions have been reviewed very well today. Therefore, I offer a slightly separate but overlapping set of criteria against which one might want to assess such interventions: first, that they are rule-based; secondly, that we are willing to sustain them over many decades; thirdly, that they are adequately burden-shared with others to allow us to sustain them; and, fourthly—this is what I think Mr Blair had in mind—that they are doable and achievable and that we will not end doing more harm than good and causing more loss of life.

I should say a word on each of those. First, obviously the most straightforward rule-based approach is where there is an unequivocal resolution of the UN Security Council to endorse an intervention, but we are all aware that sometimes life is not so simple. The case of Kosovo was raised. I believe that in a Written Answer of 1998, the noble Baroness, Lady Symons, said that a limited use of force was justifiable in support of purposes laid down by the Security Council, but without the council’s express authorisation, when that was the only means to avert an immediate and overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe. Such cases would in the nature of things be exceptional and would depend on an objective assessment of the factual circumstances at the time and on the terms of relevant decisions of the Security Council bearing on the situation in question. The argument can be made that Kosovo met those conditions. The intervention, which averted a dramatic loss of life, was followed by a Security Council resolution that endorsed the subsequent military and political arrangements that were put in place.

The second criterion is that any intervention must be sustained. A number of senior British officials have, over recent months, talked of periods of up to 30 years to establish a successful, democratic, freestanding, prosperous and effective state in Afghanistan. Sometimes those statements are a little misunderstood as meaning an open-ended military commitment by the UK for that period—which is not what is meant by that and I devoutly hope is not what occurs. Nevertheless, a role in training and a deep role in development and reconstruction support, at a significant cost to the United Kingdom and others, is likely to be the consequence of our intervention in 2001. While I argue that it is utterly justified by the circumstances that led us to make that intervention, perhaps politicians need to be clearer with each other and with electorates about the fact that these commitments and interventions are rarely short, clean and quickly over in the way that is sometimes implied at the start.

Thirdly, any intervention must be burden-shared. That brings us back to the United Nations and to the importance of trying to do it within a broad and, if possible, universal international coalition. It means that the human and financial costs are shared, and that it is easier to sustain the political will because we are all in it together. Fourthly, any intervention must be doable. Sierra Leone was doable. Kosovo was doable. We are going to make sure that Afghanistan is doable. But we are always tempted by that bridge too far to take on operations of such complexity and scale that they do not enjoy the confidence of the military that we ask to take on the task, let alone of public opinion.

In that, I argue that, as has been said today, Darfur posed a situation where the prospect of direct intervention to end the terrible killings that were going on in that region was properly resisted by British and other western politicians. It ultimately was not doable. The prospect of putting a British expeditionary force, with perhaps American and other European allies, into a landlocked region of Sudan the size of France with no obvious logistics and support systems available, against the overt hostility and military opposition of the Government in Khartoum, was not a plausible route to pursue, despite the dreadful things that were happening in Darfur. Instead, we were required to go through the painstakingly difficult, preposterously extended and still not ultimately successful effort to build an international coalition and to secure the support of China for more effective sanctions and pressure on the Government. We continue with that. The killing, fortunately, has gone down to a much lower level. We cannot pretend that we are not tempted. How much more difficult this is than the easier pulling the trigger on an intervention might have seemed; but ultimately we will conclude that, for all its difficulties, this is the correct way to proceed.

That brings us to the great gap between soft and hard power. At the hard power end, when it is doable and meets that test, it has all the clarity and cleanness of going in, sorting out the situation and changing the situation on the ground in a dramatic way. Soft power is just that; often just too pliable, too soft, too putty-like in its ability to change the behaviours of Governments in their international relations and in how they behave towards their own people. We will hear increasingly from both sides of the House the discussion about how we develop something between soft and hard power. What range of instruments is available to us which, through international coalitions and having the will of the international community behind us, allows us to pressure Governments more effectively to moderate and change how they behave?

When we make an intervention because we believe that we have answered correctly the questions that we have posed ourselves—even there we move first from the pre-emptive phase where we want to apply soft power or harder forms of it to make an intervention unnecessary—we move to the next phase, which is peacekeeping. The need to strengthen UN and AU peacekeeping capabilities to give them the means to act effectively is an enormous challenge for all of us. Sierra Leone has been mentioned as a success. We should remember the circumstances under which that British intervention took place. The UN force there had not been sufficiently strongly armed to do the job. It had essentially been routed at the time the UK deployed. The UK was brilliantly able to restore order and allow a strengthened UN force to take over again. In East Timor, an Australian expeditionary force under a UN mandate initially established order before UN peacekeepers could take over. UN peacekeepers are lightly armed and are usually unable to undertake much offensive action.

Even when they do take over in the next phase, we are seeing the difficulties of mobilising a force for Darfur and the difficulties of even beginning to plan a force for Somalia. We have huge challenges of training, equipment, cost, mobility, and shaping the kinds of forces that these operations need. At one end, they need highly mobile forces that are able to undertake offensive activity if necessary and, at the other end, given that these wars are in countries’ population centres, there is the need for police capabilities, normally of an armed Carabinieri kind, which can keep peace in refugee camps and can keep ethnic groups from each other’s throats. Those are skills that often soldiers do not have but police forces do. As we work our way through the mechanics of intervention, we can see that there are a lot of capabilities and issues that we have not adequately addressed if we are to do this on an international basis.

Thinking about moving beyond the intervention, I will quote from the Prime Minister’s speech earlier this week, in which he argued that it is not just a matter of military intervention and peacekeeping but whether afterwards we have sufficient commitment to and vision of a recovery and reconstruction effort, and whether we have sorted out how the UN can be the fulcrum of an international effort to engage in that. He said:

“But where breakdowns occur, the UN—and regional bodies such as the EU and African Union—must now also agree to systematically combine traditional emergency aid and peacekeeping with stabilisation, reconstruction and development.

There are many steps the international community can assist with on the ladder from insecurity and conflict to stability and prosperity. So I propose that, in future, Security Council peacekeeping resolutions and UN envoys should make stabilisation, reconstruction and development an equal priority; that the international community should be ready to act with a standby civilian force including police and judiciary who can be deployed to rebuild civic societies; and that to repair damaged economies we sponsor local economic development agencies—in each area the international community able to offer a practical route map from failure to stability”.

So we have our work cut out for us if we are to go beyond the doctrinal conditions for intervention to creating the means, institutions and processes to deliver on stabilisation and nation-building, where we need to do it.

Finally, I look forward to the debate next week on our Armed Forces. I suspect that we will discuss a situation where there is a great fear that too much is being asked of our Armed Forces and that our investment in them and the support we are giving them are insufficient to the growing challenges we are putting their way. I suspect we will hear some voices say that we should, therefore, retrench and pull back from the activities we ask our Armed Forces to undertake. I suspect that from some of those same voices we will hear a caution about nation-building, the long commitment that that takes and the implicit romanticism of the idea that you can stand up other people’s nations for them.

Against that, as we grapple with a global society where other people’s problems are our own problems, where terrorists can find sanctuary in Afghanistan, where illegal migration from failing and failed societies can cause huge difficulties, where failed societies harbour not just poverty but breakdowns of public health and other issues that impact on all of us, from these Benches you will hear the argument that humanitarian intervention with clear rules built around an internationalised effort to achieve the goals that we mutually set ourselves will become more, not less, important as we seek to build a world of justice and opportunity for all and, equally, a world where those of us living in rich societies believe that our Governments, our Armed Forces and the institutions we have created, such as the UN, work not just to help the world’s poor and those living in weak countries, but to offer protection for a 21st-century global society where no problems can be kept out any more by old-fashioned borders alone.

My Lords, I am grateful to everyone who has taken part in this debate and particularly to my noble friend the Minister for his thoughtful comments. If, as a by-product of this, I have enabled him to withdraw temporarily from the brutal interface between politics and the media, I am glad that I have provided that service to him. Maybe I should organise a debate involving the noble Lord, Admiral Lord West of Spithead, and I might be able to offer help to all those who have not had training in the brutal area of politics that people such as me have had for many years. In particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for his kind remarks. Not everyone refers to my—I am not sure of the right word—activities in Northern Ireland. However, he did that in a generous way, although it has not always drawn that much attention.

This debate has to continue; it is very important. I deliberately did not come up with conclusions, because at this stage it is far too early for them. We know the road on which we are setting out. That point was made by a number of noble Lords today and by the Prime Minister, by Tony Blair and by the Foreign Secretary in his speech in Bruges. The debate will continue, it must continue and it is so important. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Prisoners: Work

asked Her Majesty’s Government what is their policy on work opportunities for prisoners.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to open this debate on work opportunities in our prisons. We have a prison population that is too large and I do not believe that the British people are more criminally inclined or less moral in their standards than people in other European countries; but that is not what this debate is about. Every prisoner will eventually come out. How we treat them in prison must affect how they will behave on release. I want to focus on the 30,000 or so long-term prisoners serving sentences of four years or more—some of them life sentences and some on indeterminate sentences.

In some prisons I have seen prisoners doing nothing for almost 24 hours a day, lying on their bunks, frustrated and resentful in a way that is not conducive to avoiding their reoffending when they come out. Training and education in prisons are good. I was talking recently to someone involved in a training and employment programme led by the National Grid. It is excellent work, but it is for prisoners who are shortly to be released. I am concerned about those who are not—those who have a long period in prison, who will come out in the end—and how we can better handle them. There is a better way forward than what we are doing.

There is a difference between badly paid work that is only an obvious way of keeping people doing something and proper work that gives those doing it a sense of self-respect and worth. Nothing I say is intended to be a criticism of prison officers who do a good job in difficult conditions, but there are serious problems in the present system. The pay of £10 to £15 a week is low; there is little incentive to work and, after all, prisoners may say when they get out that crime pays better. Low pay means no experience of paying tax, national insurance, budgeting or supporting their families. Most prisoners have had little or no experience of real work and there tends to be a “cash in hand” culture in some of their backgrounds, and although they are not actually given cash in hand in prison, it happens in effect—and that can hardly discourage the illegal economy in the country.

Some prisons have public-private partnerships with private companies supplying equipment and effectively using prisons as cheap labour for menial tasks. That, again, does not add to prisoners’ self-respect. What are prison workshops for? Are they to enhance future employability or just to keep prisoners occupied when they are out of their cells?

The Prison Service sometimes subcontracts with outside employers, but the prisoners are employed by the service and have no real relationship with the business and do not feel responsibility or commitment. There is not a normal employer-employee relationship. The prisoners do not have any experience of competitive work. After all, people outside work in competitive situations. It would be better if work in prisons reflected the real workplace experience outside. Real work is surely about an involvement with the job and the employer, social status at work, career progression and workplace development.

In contrast, work in prisons is often desultory, with curtailed hours and interruptions regarding security or the regime. Unlike outside, work in prisons often involves poor-quality machinery. The productivity can be affected by interruptions and prisoners are uninvolved in the development of the products that they produce or in creative inputs to their work.

As I have said, the subject of this debate is the work opportunities for the 30,000 or so long-term prisoners. They cost the taxpayer £120,000 each for a four-year sentence. All too often such persons remain unemployed for the rest of their lives after they are released. They are supported by taxpayers, they probably have no pension—and what about support for their families?

We want a leap of imagination as regards work in prison. We need to change the culture. I am not for one moment arguing that prisons should be privatised. That is nothing to do with what I am saying. What I am saying is that prisoners should be directly employed by social enterprises and business, not by the Prison Service. If that were to happen, the taxpayer would benefit, there would be increased revenue, national insurance would be paid, prisoners would have a decent income, victims would benefit from charitable donations out of prisoners’ earnings, the prisons would benefit from productive prisoners who were purposefully employed and easier to manage, and the prisons would have additional income. Importantly, the families of prisoners would benefit—a source of income would come from the prison to the families and that would help in better relationships, financial support and self-respect. Proper work with income would provide an opportunity for savings and contributing to pensions. Prisoners employed in this way would work under trade union conditions, so there would be no argument about whether work in prisons denied work to people outside.

In the recent past I have visited Coldingley Prison, where there is a social enterprise project of the sort that I have described called Barbed. It is a graphic design studio run by the Howard League for Penal Reform and it is a model for what could be done. The people involved in it are all long-term prisoners. One said to me that coming to this enterprise unit was, “The best thing that’s happened to me in prison”. That is quite a big statement. I sat watching a group of about six prisoners, and noble Lords should bear in mind that these are long-term prisoners. They had computers and were preparing a pitch for a job in the competitive world. They discussed how, as a team, they would pitch for the job and allocate the tasks among the different prisoners in the group. For all the world, one might have been in a design studio somewhere in London: the atmosphere was the same, yet these people were in prison for a long time.

The Howard League treats those prisoners as employees. They pay tax and national insurance and they have a pension plan in the same way as other Howard League staff. The studio is absolutely a proper business. I have had my business cards designed there and, indeed, if any of your Lordships have any printing requirements, I should like to channel them in that direction so that the group can put in a competitive bid. It is a proper business and there is no do-good element. The prisoners each make a voluntary contribution to Victim Support. I believe that this should be seen as a pilot or model to be followed by other employers. The way forward is clear and I cannot see any argument against it, although there are one or two difficulties that I should like to mention in closing.

I understand that the Prison Service will not allow real businesses to employ prisoners because, it says, employment law might interfere with the right of governors to govern. Perhaps I may repeat that so that there is no misunderstanding: it is alleged that employment law might interfere with the right of governors to govern. If that is the case, surely we are caught in a dilemma which should not exist. If we are trying to run our prisons in the best way possible to protect and benefit society, surely prisoners should have real jobs and the argument about employment law should be overcome.

I give another example. Apparently, Her Majesty’s Revenue & Customs will not take income tax from prisoners because, it says, they are not employees. We can all dance on the head of a pin but I wish that some officials would stop doing so. It seems to me a very clear proposition: let us see how we can get into our prisons social enterprises that will employ long-term prisoners directly, give them the sort of income that they would get outside, minus certain allowances, and make their pay pensionable, with national insurance contributions, and enable the prisoners to support their families. Surely, as regards long-term prisoners, that is the best way to run our prison system. To get there, we need only an act of political will and a leap of imagination. My noble friend who will be responding to the debate is not short of political will or leaps of imagination. I wait to hear what he has to say.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on obtaining this debate and particularly on highlighting one of the many problems faced by prisons, which I believe would benefit from the leap in the dark that he indicated—a more visionary and forward-looking approach. I support the case that he has made and I welcome his description of the work at Coldingley.

I also welcome the involvement of the Howard League for Penal Reform, which, for several years, has taken a strong line on this issue, particularly marked by a document that it published in 2000 called Rehabilitating Work: What are prison workshops for?. It contains a number of recommendations which are as valid now as they were then. In line with what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, it is interesting that the introduction to this document starts with a 1990 quotation from the Scottish Prison Service:

“We should regard the offender as a person who is responsible, despite the fact that he or she may have acted irresponsibly many times in the past, and … we should try to relate to the prisoner in ways which would encourage him or her to accept responsibility for their actions, by providing him or her with opportunities for responsible choice, personal development and self improvement”.

For the five and a half years that I was privileged to inspect prisons, the one thing that I did not find was prisoners being treated responsibly in that way. Indeed, just before I left that post, a document called The Responsible Prisoner was published by an ex-prison governor who was working on my staff. It pointed out that institutionalisation is the very worst preparation for release and that you need to give people as much responsibility as possible for their lives in ways that will help to prepare them to live, when they come out, what the Prison Service describes in its statement of purpose as a useful and law-abiding life in prison and on release.

I listened to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, talk about things which I have heard before and which have always made me cringe. Every time a proposal is made for innovation, reasons are given as to why it cannot be done. People say, “Oh, it will interfere with the governor’s right to govern”; “Oh, it will interfere with the Inland Revenue”; or, “Oh, it will never be allowed”. I do not believe that those reasons have been tested with the people who are allegedly responsible for making those decisions. If we approach the whole idea of the Government’s policy of protecting the public by preventing people reoffending as being the aim of imprisonment and, through that, help prisoners to live useful and law-abiding lives in prison and on release, as is the aim of the Prison Service, then I believe that a completely different approach from the way that imprisonment is conducted should be encouraged.

I was always horrified by the vast number of prisoners whom I found sitting in their cells doing absolutely nothing. It seemed to me that that demonstrated a complete failure to understand the purpose of imprisonment. I believe that, in order to establish what will help someone to live a useful and law-abiding life, you have to find out what has prevented them from doing so in the first place. There could be a behavioural, educational or medical reason or it could be down to a lack of skill. Having assessed it, during the time available, be it short or long, you have to provide a programme to challenge the reason. If someone leaves prison and then comes back, you can continue where you left off, but you should always aim to help them to live useful and law-abiding lives, based on the assessment.

That should lead to the provision of what I used to call “full, purposeful and active days” for every prisoner, based around the programme that is needed to achieve that end. There will be different programmes because individual prisoners are different people with different needs. The time available will decide which you do first or which you devote most attention to, but that does not matter. The full, purposeful and active day is a completely different way of approaching imprisonment compared with what happens now, and I seriously believe that, if prisoners had full, purposeful and active days, we would see a dramatic reduction in the number of suicides and assaults and a reduction in the sheer frustration which leads them to take drugs. I strongly believe that full, purposeful and active days for people are the best antidote to those three problems.

If that is so, and bearing in mind that prisons are now suffering from two problems which are beyond their control—one is overcrowding and the other is a shortage of resources—I should have imagined that the people responsible for the Prison Service would be looking hard at ways round that, including the provision of the activities which are currently prevented by a lack of resources. I should also want to look at whether the organisation of prisons was right and whether they were likely to receive all the benefits of what might be on offer outside.

Those of you who read the wonderful report on the riots in Strangeways in 1990 by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, will remember that he highlighted the fact that the three things most likely to prevent reoffending were a home, a job and a stable relationship, all of which were put at risk by imprisonment. He advocated that one way of getting round this was to form what he called, “community clusters of prisons”, so that in each part of the country there was a sufficiency of prison places to house all prisoners from that part of the country, with the exception of high security prisoners because there was not enough of them to justify a high security prison. That meant that they would not be moved too far away from their home, so did not put home, job and stable relationship at risk.

That applies to those three factors. We are focusing on jobs, but it is relevant because there are countless examples of firms around the country that have taken work into prisons in their area, which might affect the protection of local people by helping them not to reoffend in their own area. At Lindholme prison the Yorkshire construction agency trains people in construction trades. It took the work into the prison and people come out to jobs. The National Grid programme, which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned, started with somebody identifying a shortage of forklift truck drivers in the Thames Valley, and then looking for potential trainees in Reading prison with jobs to follow. The British Leyland factory in Preston has identified a forthcoming skill shortage and recognised that there might be potential among Preston-living prisoners in Preston prison. They identified some people who had the aptitude to fill that skill, started training them and when they came out they went into something with a longer-term future.

Examples exist and I believe very strongly that if the Prison Service were to restructure itself around regional clusters of prisons, industry would be encouraged to pay more attention to the potential in prisons to help with skills shortages for the longer term. If that were so, industry could also be encouraged to take another look at the people who are in the local prison.

About three years ago, I published a book called Prison-Gate in which I advocated this sort of approach. I also included a chapter called, “It can be done”, describing what happened in Poland where, through the Government’s wisdom, they hired as the director-general someone who was the biggest critic of the prison system. They said, “If you are so critical, go in and sort it out”, and he did. One of the things he encouraged was local industries to put out-stations in those prisons where work for the firm was done in the prison by the prisoners for which they were paid. That is precisely what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, recommended.

That had an enormous impact because the firms gained something positive; prisoners gained some skill; and, of course, money was saved because the schemes were paying for themselves and the Government did not have to pay for the provision of that work in the prison. It is possible. Heavens above, if Poland could do this in the early 1990s, surely we can do it now. With regard to the reactionary attitude of the Prison Service, I remind that service that Wormwood Scrubs prison in the 1860s was built with bricks made by prisoners who then used those bricks to build the prison. It is all there. For people who say, “Oh, what about security and the frightful problems with bringing industry in?”, I say that welding, carpentry, and so on are carried out in prisons with the appropriate tools, so what is the problem? I think that the problem is precisely as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, says: it is a lack of will to take this leap in the dark and recognise that there are ways of doing more, particularly for longer-term prisoners, by allowing people who have not been to the prison previously to bring opportunities to prisoners.

I would add that instead of having a civil servant in charge of this process, I would bring in people from industry in every region of the country and Prison Service headquarters to be made responsible for giving an industrial business-like look at this activity, and not be put off by all the alleged excuses that have stopped this happening until now.

My Lords, through the medium of this debate I extend a word of comfort and reassurance to the staff of Her Majesty’s Prison Service and tell them not to be alarmed by what the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has just been saying. If you are in a great, time-honoured institution, which is growing and under stress, the way in which to survive from day to day is to learn its norms, behaviour and procedures, and learn how to conform so that acting together you can control the system and keep it going. That takes up most of your energy and does not leave much time for standing back and looking to see whether it is really worth while. If they do stand back and look at their current efforts, they will see that they are not achieving what they were put there to do. The figures are well known—the rate of reoffending is 67 per cent in two years. The staff are there to protect society and to help people become members of it.

What has been happening for many years is that if somebody is sentenced to four years, as chosen by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs—the Barbed project refers to four years—they have failed to make a success of life; they have not made society work for them. They have not managed to learn how to live in society. They are then taken out of it and put in an environment in which there is no possible prospect of learning anything about society because they are no longer in contact with it. They are returned to that society in a worse condition than when they left it.

I remember my frustration many years ago as a Minister responsible for prisons in tackling the question—at a much less advanced stage—of how to keep people purposefully occupied, not how to prepare them for the world. That came later. Whenever I think of this I see a grey room with rather insufficient light and six or seven people sitting round a table with parts of electric light plugs or multiple adaptors, and rather lethargically dropping each bit where it belongs—a mind-bogglingly boring occupation. The reason it was sought after was that it enabled prisoners to talk to somebody other than those they were banged up with in their cells all day. That is not the object of prison industries in my view.

The experiment to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, draws our attention, and on which the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has elaborated, is important and exciting. The difficulty with having realistic conditions in employment in prisons is largely the shrieks of “unfair competition” from commercial concerns outside the prison which happen to make light fittings, or whatever. I remember that we had terrific trouble over the ladders we were making. The competitors proved to be in Canada, which made it easier to persuade the Prime Minister to continue with the effort, but it was a real pressure.

If the prisoners had been paid and if their pay had been in part docked to take account of the ordinary expenses of living provided by the prison—their bed and board—and if they had been subject to taxation, national insurance and pension deductions, there would have been no competition and no reason for other firms to complain. In fact, they would have become the sort of local resource that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has suggested they should have been. If you add that to the element of local involvement suggested by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, in his project, you start getting an interaction between society and the prisoners within it. Those who have failed to make a success of life in uncontrolled conditions are now going to be given an opportunity to make a success of it, in economic terms, in controlled conditions with the help of the prison staff. That is exactly what prison ought to be for.

I add two riders to that. First, we must not lose sight of the fact that a large proportion, if not the majority, of prisoners are semi-illiterate or completely illiterate, and the programme of work must allow for a programme of education. There must therefore be something reminiscent of day release, so that these people can still work in a programme that they would be working at in economic society outside while, under the same terms, able to get education inside.

My second rider is much smaller, but it occurred to me many years ago and was not followed up. If you want to get local people of good will involved in the prison, every prison has a chaplain; I think that they are still part of the prison staff. There would be admirable economic as well as ecclesiastical reasons for making the chaplaincy in a prison a curacy in the local parish, thus taking it off the prison books, allowing a number of extra prison staff and firmly involving the local PCC and the parish in what is going on—I look to the right reverend Prelate for a reflection on that. The prison will then become not a menacing hulk on the horizon full of threatening people who have been put there for terrible crimes which might prove dangerous to me, but a place where often broken members of society are mended, inadequate members of society are made adequate and all are given the means, experience, self confidence and self respect to take a proper role in the real world outside. That seems entirely beneficial, and I warmly congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, on bringing this subject to your Lordships’ notice.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for raising this important issue and for giving us the opportunity to press for greater work opportunities in the complex environment of our prisons.

I hope to extend the debate a little so that it takes account of more than simply those who have been in prison for four years. Although there is a rather different set of issues for those who are there for short terms, they are equally important and crucial to this debate. I think, for example, of young offender institutions and my own experience, largely at Deerbolt in County Durham and Wetherby in Yorkshire, and how there is excellent training and skills development in our YOIs. There is a considerable commitment to educational courses, which benefit prisoners and improve their opportunities for employment on release. Yet both those YOIs are committed to a full employment regime, but find that far more difficult to encourage and implement.

It is difficult partly because of the unwillingness of the young men there to take part in employment, partly because of financial constraints. The unwillingness comes about, as other noble Lords have said, because the young men there have very little experience of a work environment; they find it difficult to adapt to the environment being sought within the prison. They need that opportunity if they are to take advantage of their future lives outside the prison. The financial issues are well known to all involved in the Prison Service, who know the need for greater funding of our prisons if they are to provide work environments for people.

I have listened with interest and approval to what has been said by the noble Lords, Lord Dubs, Lord Ramsbotham and Lord Elton, on the particular needs of those serving terms of four years or more. There, too, there is little incentive for such prisoners to develop patterns of work which will benefit them or society. While I too applaud the Barbed experiment at Coldingley, sadly the major point about it is that it is so small, and has not been duplicated—at all, I think; certainly not consistently—within the our country’s prisons. There must be much more willingness to look outside the box and provide a greater variety of opportunity for our prisoners in ways which will encourage them where they are, and into the future. It is an exception which demonstrates that it can be done, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said. Far more common, however, is menial and boring work, which comes over as part of the punishment rather than an opportunity for the future. We are not far from the era of stitching mailbags.

I want to encourage more thought about how public/private partnership can be used profitably for those in prison. The danger is, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has already said, that it effectively uses prisoners as cheap labour. That need not be so, and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, has given some examples of real partnerships between a prison and the local community, in places such as Lindholme. I wish, however, that I was as optimistic as the noble Lord appeared to be in thinking of the number of examples of this sort of partnership. I fear that I think more of the number of places where those partnerships do not exist and need to be encouraged.

All that fits in with what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, was saying about the relationship between a prison and its community. That applies particularly to local prisons such as Leeds where many are serving comparatively short sentences. Although 18 months may sound short, it is a long time for those serving it and can be destructive of their community, their family and life. The more we can persuade firms to be involved with their local prisons, the more opportunity there will be for genuine partnership between the prison and the community in which it stands.

I go along with the noble Lord, Lord Elton, when he says that one way to do this is through chaplaincy not being confined as it now often is to the prison itself but linking up with the local parishes, so that those from the parishes have the opportunity to go into the prison and feel that they are a part of that. In a number of areas of the country, not least west Yorkshire, there are multifaith community chaplaincies that integrate work in prisons with that which occurs following release.

One of the major issues at the moment is the reluctance of local industry to employ ex-prisoners. The CRB check can in practice simply become a bar to employment. If there were a more coherent policy to work with local industry to provide proper work for prisoners then all would benefit: the prison community, industry, the local society and society as a whole.

I referred earlier to the benefits of skills training, particularly in YOIs. The immense pressure that prison management and prison officers are under too often means that the education and work elements of a prison regime are inadequately integrated. Again, collaboration with local industry could lead to still more effective training together with the establishment of work opportunities.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving us this opportunity to support the enhancement of work in prisons. I look forward to positive responses from the Government which will be for the benefit of prisoners, the prison regimes and our whole community in that people will be drawn back into a proper place within our society and our communities.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, very warmly for securing this important debate to look at proper work for prisoners and at how that can reduce the harm caused to the public through offending, which is the Government’s primary target.

My noble friend Lord Ramsbotham spoke about the importance of regional clusters of prisons. To be a child who has a father or mother in prison is hard enough, but for them to be many miles away is a cruel injustice. It is well established that prisoners who keep family contacts are far less likely to reoffend. I hope the Minister will look careful at his proposal and will examine what appears to be being done so successfully in Poland on local prisons and on getting real businesses into prisons.

I hope I may speak from a script in order to keep to time on this occasion. My noble friend Lady Howe of Idlicote drew attention to the National Grid Transco offender programme in her contribution to the debate on the Queen's Speech. Noble Lords have also mentioned it this afternoon. The Education and Skills and the Home Affairs Select Committees of the other place have enthused about the programme, and the Prime Minister gave the scheme his strongest support when Chancellor. The noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, kindly introduced me to the architect of the programme, Dr Mary Harris, five years ago. I was particularly interested because at that time it was focused on young people, and we know that a small proportion of young people in care go into custody, but they are more highly represented in prison than those who have not had that experience. They have predominantly been let down by their families before they enter care, and care has often let them down further, so I was very keen to see approaches that could rectify the way that we as a society have let them down.

The programme reduces reoffending from above 70 per cent to 7 per cent. It has now passed its target for this year of having trained 1,000 since its inception. It now works out of 25 prisons: adult and young offender; closed and open; male and female. Sir John Parker, the chairman of National Grid Transco, has persuaded 80 companies from five industry sectors to sign up to the project. Dr Mary Harris employed her discipline as a scientist rigorously to develop and perfect this universally respected programme.

In a nutshell, the programme selects likely candidates vouched for by the governor of the prison. They receive a mentor from National Grid and three months’ national vocational qualification training with a promise of a guaranteed job if they achieve their qualification. I was pleased to see the success of four of those graduates celebrated at Anglian Water. Their mothers, partners and children were present. With their consent, they were quizzed for 10 minutes before the audience by a senior Anglian executive on what they had learnt. The questions were technical, and the answers were full, correct and confidently given.

It is hard to express how uplifting it was to see those young men perform so outstandingly before their families—young men unlikely to have previously achieved at school or elsewhere. Seeing the young children of two of the trainees, one could think that they were now unlikely to grow up with a father out of work, in crime or in custody and therefore far less likely to follow that trajectory themselves. Hardly surprisingly, the 45 year-old service engineer who drove me to the station after the awards ceremony said that his work as a mentor was the most rewarding piece of work he could remember doing for his company.

So who benefits from the National Grid Transco programme? First, it is the victims of crime; secondly, it is business: businesses with an ageing workforce recruit and retain loyal, motivated young people. Businesses find the morale of their people is boosted as their staff relish making such a difference to the life of young people. It has often been commented that the public enjoy the fruits of a liberal economy, which tends not to interfere with business, but often fail to make the connection between their own prosperity and such business freedom when it comes to elections. So, the National Grid Transco programme is likely to assist in sustaining continuing market liberalism as it shows business manifestly putting back into society. Thirdly, National Grid and its partners benefit the young people whom they move out of criminality. Often these young people will have had no experience of a responsible father, of positive achievement or of a supportive family. The programme provides them with all these things. They receive a mentor and then work in a small unit often led by a responsible man in his late 40s or 50s.

I recognise the importance of what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said about not forgetting those 30,000 prisoners in jail for the long term. They need proper work for their own dignity, to avoid institutionalisation, for the support of their families and for their rehabilitation.

Finally, with Home Office statistics indicating a cost to the taxpayer of more than £230,000 to reconvict an offender and more than £37,000 to keep an offender in prison for a year, what plans does the Minister have to extend that programme? In particular, will he look at the ROTLs—the paperwork that enables governors to release those imprisoned for work purposes? Will he see whether their availability can be increased, so that more adults and young people can benefit from the scheme? I look forward to the Minister's response.

My Lords, speaking as a newcomer to this area in a debate where so many luminaries have spoken is daunting. On the other hand, to have heard of the many fine examples of good work in our prisons—in particular, the example that the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, just gave us—is very uplifting. I pay credit to my noble friend Lady Linklater of Butterstone, who would surely have brought more erudition to this subject from these Benches than I can. I, too, take the opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving us an opportunity to discuss these matters.

In researching this subject, I realised that the numbers were depressingly familiar. The state of our prisons, with overcrowding, stretched resources and staff and increasing hours of in-cell time, were all known even to me. What came as a puzzle was the information related to employment. The fact that more than two-thirds of all prisoners are unemployed at the beginning of their sentence, and that two-thirds of those who do have a job lose it when they enter prison, is sad but intuitively unsurprising.

What was surprising was the figure behind those employment statistics: that 50 per cent of prisoners are at or below the level expected of an 11 year-old in reading; 66 per cent in numeracy; and 80 per cent in writing. In effect, we are saying that the period of incarceration is effectively dead time, in that it does nothing to improve those people's life skills—nor their emotional intelligence, which is closely related to life skills. It does not even prepare them to stand on their own feet after release. So we spend vast amounts of money to lock people up for a period, yet seem unable to use that period to equip those individuals with the tools that might have prevented them going in in the first place.

Many noble Lords have told us about the research that shows what a positive effect employment has on the lives of ex-prisoners. Those with jobs are between one-third and one-half less likely to reoffend than those without jobs. We also know of the non-financial benefits of employment on individuals’ lives: the rise in self-esteem and the development of soft skills, as well as the more practical competencies needed. Jobs also open up avenues to reintegrate into the community at several levels and to care for one's family. Given the resources that we expend on education and training at other levels of society, it seems extraordinary that we have not seen this as a priority for the kind of focus that it would evidently require. It seems that the mantra of “education, education, education” has been left behind for that rather needy group in society.

I found compelling the King’s College study on the Restorative Prison Project. It was produced for the Centre for Prison Studies by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern. She recounts the findings of a small study by the Inside Out Trust to discover what both staff and prisoners thought about work and its effectiveness for prisoners. More than half of those surveyed welcomed work, not least because it gave them an opportunity to help others—I am talking about the prisoners. One in five said that doing such work made their families think well of them. In other words, there was an altruistic impulse. Staff thought that the prisoners were highly motivated to work for others; and more than half thought that the activities should be used as a basis to improve the image of prisons and prisoners. Staff are extremely conscious that it is not just the work done inside prisons that matters, but the work that prisoners do outside prison.

If we are to take up a new approach to the management of offenders and ex-offenders, not least because we want to break the cycle of reoffending, surely we need to think through our strategies of how we might see prisoners as individuals. Central to that change of mind-set would be to have them emerge better able to take their place in society after their interaction with the state in this unfortunate manner. This strategy would need to go beyond the concentration on offenders to encapsulate those increasing numbers who serve non-custodial sentences. The emphasis should therefore be on a higher standard of training and skills than they currently receive.

An important end product of the training and skills agenda is employment. NOMS has defined working with employers as a priority in its strategic plan in recognition of the sad reality that there is still considerable prejudice among employers towards those who have been imprisoned, but its work seems to be targeted at employment post-prison. It states that it will work with employers to design and deliver programmes to help prisoners with the skills that they need to gain work on release. So far so good, but what about those who have acquired skills and are still incarcerated? This is really the subject of the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. I know of his work with the Howard League, and I saw the excellent letter in the Guardian yesterday from Frances Crook, who also called for real work in prisons. She referred, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, to the 30,000 men and women who are serving long-term sentences and who would benefit from working directly for external employers. As she points out, society would benefit from the taxes paid and the pensions saved while prisoners support their families on the outside, and from the increase in their employability on release.

The examples given by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, of what I would define as institutional lethargy make for grim listening. What does this say about our approach, which seems to militate against seeing the individual as capable, in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, of a useful and law-abiding life? Will the Minister consider the recommendations of the Howard League’s Commission on English Prisons when it reports?

Finally, I turn to another matter which, although not directly related to work for prisoners, sends a powerful message about their rights. This is the democracy deficit at the heart of our approach to prisoners, which denies them a right to vote while incarcerated. This is a tricky political issue, but it deserves rethinking. If our philosophical approach towards those who have offended to the extent that we need to lock them up is that we consider their debt to be repayable to society, which I believe we do, surely it is strange to deny them a say about the society in which they will return to live. If we expect rehabilitation and seek to employ restorative strategies so that these individuals are better members of society on release, they should have a right to vote. If our emphasis is on returning them to the community, and indeed on building community prisons, with greater engagement with the public, surely the basic interaction by the citizen with the state is the tool of the good citizen—the ballot box. What is more, for a Government who have been so keen on responsibilities a propos of rights, it might even result in citizens who have a keener sense and awareness of responsibility if they are involved in the question of who governs them.

My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner of Margravine, I, too, come new to this subject. I hope that, despite our relative inexperience, she and I may congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, not only on introducing the debate but on the veritable wealth of experience that he has brought to it in attracting the various speakers who have spoken before us: the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, who is a former Chief Inspector of Prisons; my noble friend Lord Elton, who was a Home Office Minister when the Home Office still looked after prisons, before they were transferred to the Ministry of Justice—we hope that that will lead to great improvements, but we will have to see—the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds; and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel.

As I said, I am new to this subject, but I query one point at the very beginning of the noble Lord’s speech when he said that this debate was not about numbers and then proceeded to concentrate on the 30,000 or 40,000 longer-term prisoners. I put it to the Government that this is largely about numbers; or rather that the problems, whatever they are, are made worse by the fact that at the moment we have record numbers in prison, record overcrowding and some 8,500 criminals being offered early release in a rather vain attempt to ease the pressure on prison spaces.

My first question therefore has to be about the numbers in the prison estate at the moment. My figures are that the prison estate currently has a useable operational capacity of 81,189, with some 400 places available in police cells under Operation Safeguard. I am advised that the current prison population is 81,474, which is somewhat larger than the operational capacity, including 339 people in police cells. I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm those figures. I hope that we will live to trust figures that emerge from the Ministry of Justice more than we sometimes trusted figures from the old Home Office.

Turning to the issues raised directly by the Question, I am sure that the Minister would be the first to agree that worthwhile work or training is very effective in rehabilitating offenders. As my noble friend Lord Elton put it, we do not want them to return to society worse than when they went in. So my question for the Minister is: how much work is available in the prison estate? According to the first report from the Home Affairs Committee in 2004-05 into the rehabilitation of offenders, some 24,000 work places were available in prisons throughout the estate. Even if all those were fully used, that allows for coverage of only a third of the prison population. Again, I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm that those figures are correct and go on to add what the Government are doing to increase that 24,000 to something that provides slightly better coverage of the prison population.

Next, I would like to ask the Government about access to the relevant programmes. Her Majesty's Chief Inspector of Prisons has said that:

“Access to relevant and timely interventions and programmes … has been adversely affected by prisoner numbers”.

That is why I stress numbers. Even following the Government’s early release scheme, which has seen some 8,500 criminals out on the streets early, the numbers continue to soar and capacity cannot keep up. What are the Government doing to increase the number of places available in prisons, bearing in mind that the current prison population is in excess of the usable operational capacity?

My next question relates to the purposeful activity, as it is called, that prisons make available. Many prisons make up that purposeful activity by engaging prisoners in what could be referred to as repetitive and meaningless work, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, which gives them no transferable skills for the outside world when they are eventually released. Given that the ability to find employment when they are released decreases the likelihood of reoffending by between a third and a half, depending on how one calculates it, what more will be done to provide prisoners with adequate vocational-based programmes?

I understand that the Prison Service has set a target of some four hours a day of purposeful activity for each prisoner. Every year, that target is being missed. Figures given earlier this year indicate that they are getting up to 3.6 hours of so-called purposeful activity, but one may argue that quite a lot of that activity is not terribly purposeful. What is being done to ensure that prisoners will get at least four hours of so-called purposeful activity and, if possible, something more?

Much has been made by all those who have spoken about the need for the Home Office and the Prison Service to engage with employers from outside to attract them to come in and offer more training to prisoners. The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, in particular, referred to the need to attract outside employers to provide genuine work. What are the department and the Prison Service offering to do on that?

Lastly, a number of speakers, including the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned the Howard League for Penal Reform and its Barbed graphic design studio at Coldingley Prison. When being briefed for this debate, I, too, was told about the studio by the Howard League. What can the department do to ensure that charities are not bound by unnecessary red tape? The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned problems with employment law. The Government are very good at passing laws. Presumably they could make some changes to employment law and, no doubt, there is room in the legislative programme for adjustments to be made. We would be interested to hear what the Government have to say about making changes in that way and about easing the unnecessary red tape to allow not only charities like the Howard League, but also businesses from outside to provide the work, training and experience that would do so much to assist prisoners and prevent reoffending in the future. I hope that that provides the noble Lord with enough to be going on with and I look forward over the coming years to further debates on similar subjects with what we hope will be increasingly favourable news from the Government.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Dubs on securing this debate. It certainly reflects his considerable and welcome interest in the work of the Prison Service. I should also like to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, to their respective roles on their Front Benches and I look forward, as the noble Lord, Lord Henley, suggested, to continuing debate about the Prison Service and the many challenges it faces.

I very much accept the thrust of what my noble friend Lord Dubs has said in arguing about the importance of work, particularly for long-term prisoners, but also, as the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds suggested, for those who are not classified as long-term prisoners. Work is important for all people who come into the prison estate. I also accept the importance of purposeful days. We do not want prisoners simply to be locked in their cells with nothing purposeful or constructive to do.

The Prison Service has arranged a vast number of activities to ensure that the days of prisoners are purposeful. On the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, my understanding is that there is a key performance target of 24 hours of purposeful activity per week, which, despite the population pressures—I shall respond to the noble Lord in a moment—is met. The latest figures are 25.3 purposeful hours per week. I shall double-check that and I will write to the noble Lord. I accept entirely the point raised by noble Lords about its importance.

I was very interested in the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, on restorative justice, in which I have a particular interest. She made some very important points on that. The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Elton, were right to focus on the skills, or lack of them, of many of the prisoners about whom we are concerned. The latest figure that I have is that 52 per cent of male prisoners have no qualifications whatever compared with 15 per cent of the general population. The figure is even worse for women prisoners: I think that it is in the 70 per cent range. Many of these people have little, if any, experience of holding down a steady job, so the very considerable challenge for the Prison Service is to turn that around and put prisoners in a position where they leave prison and do not reoffend, but instead move into work. Work is an important part of the strategy to reduce reoffending.

In my short tenure at the Ministry of Justice I have had the opportunity to visit a number of prisons, and I am not at all complacent about the major challenge here. However, we should pay tribute to the education and skills programmes that have been put into place. I also welcome the contribution made by external education providers to the prison establishment. We should pay tribute to them. I will not trade figures, but the fact is that there has been a considerable increase in the amount spent on education for offenders. It has gone up from £57 million in 2001-02 to £156 million in 2006-07, and I acknowledge the further £30 million from the European Social Fund that has been secured to fund additional provision. Further, one should not ignore the health of prisoners in this debate. The transfer of health responsibilities to the National Health Service has led to much greater investment in prisoner health. I believe that the two go together. We know that for people in society generally, being in work is mostly good for their health, while being out of work leads to poor health. That must apply equally to the prisoner community and to those leaving prison and moving back into society.

I did not recognise the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Elton, for reoffending, but I am happy to write to him with my details. Perhaps we might exchange correspondence on this. However, my understanding is that the latest performance figures show that adult reoffending has reduced by 6.9 per cent compared with the predicted rate. But I am happy to engage in correspondence with the noble Lord on that.

Like other noble Lords, I acknowledge the work at HMP Coldingley which has been jointly developed between the Prison Service and the Howard League for Penal Reform. It is an excellent example of work that will undoubtedly help to facilitate a positive resettlement outcome for offenders. The right reverend Prelate talked about the attitude of local industry. It is interesting to note a recent report by the Institute of Personnel and Development. It noted the positive experiences of employers who have employed ex-offenders. This is an important point. A survey has shown that UK organisations are four times more likely to report a positive experience when employing an ex-offender than a negative one, and around four-fifths say that former offenders settle into work well with their colleagues, perform well and are reliable. That is a very good indication indeed. The latest figures I have for progress after discharge, which were produced in August, show that 27.1 per cent of prisoners moved into work, while a further 10.4 per cent moved into education or training. Of course we want to see those figures grow, but they represent progress and it is important that we build on them.

I want to take this opportunity to praise those companies and employers who have really gone the extra mile to work with ex-offenders. Many of them have done a tremendous job. Further, it must be said that in this case it is the private sector that is showing the way for the public sector. Central government, local government and the health service should all say with hand on heart that a lot more could be done. We are delighted with the work of the Corporate Alliance for Reducing Re-offending which has the aim of increasing the number of offenders going into work and self-employment; it is doing excellent work. There are now many fine examples. Wessex Water is working with several prisoners in the south-west to train offenders for employment in the water industry. We have heard about the National Grid; the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, did an excellent job of indicating the work that is being done there.

There are other models where prisons set up workshops to employ prisoners, making money for the prison and promoting the gaining of transferable skills. Her Majesty’s Prison Wandsworth, in partnership with Bovis Lend Lease, Dixons, Cisco Systems and Panduit, is introducing a workshop to train prisoners in voice and data cabling. This is not the kind of mailbag job which, rightly, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and other noble Lords were concerned that we should not have, but real training which will help offenders when they leave prison to find work in the community.

At Her Majesty’s Prison Lindholme an in-house bakery employed a total of 84 prisoners in 2006. Of these prisoners, 49 were registered for an NVQ and 64 NVQs were awarded. In Winson Green Prison in Birmingham I have seen the hairdressing training salon where prisoners are enabled to gain NVQs. That is the pathway to employment. I can assure noble Lords that we support a variety of employer programmes and schemes and encourage them to scale-up their activities. Working with national companies can be very useful in piloting programmes in certain prisons and then extending them to other prisons.

I return to the point raised by my noble friend about ensuring that prisoners are already involved in real work. I agree about its importance and progress is being made in this area. But there are obviously some challenges in responding to some of the requests made by noble Lords and I should like to deal with two of them. The first is the issue of the direct employment of prisoners by external organisations. If this was perceived to be only red tape, it would be frustrating. But there are clear accountability and management issues involved about which governors and the Prison Service are concerned. It is important that governors retain the ability to fully manage their prisons.

Although it may be frustrating, I repeat that having prisoners directly employed by a third party within a prison would set up conflicts between employment legislation and the Prison Act. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, invites me to bring forward amendments to employment legislation to deal with the situation. Certainly these are matters we keep under review—I do not want noble Lords to think that we are not concerned with these issues—but we should not underestimate the real, practical difficulties. My noble friend believes that I can simply wave away the HMRC ruling about liability for PAYE and national insurance—

My Lords, if only I could stand here and do that. I can assure my noble friend that my department will continue to have the relevant discussions with HMRC on those matters.

Returning again to mailbags and widgets, I accept the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Elton. The Prison Service has taken significant steps to modernise some industries and will continue to do so. Of course, if we can have partnerships with the private sector to help us to do that, it will be enormously welcomed.

I have an extensive breakdown of the number of workplaces concerned and am happy to write to the noble Lord, Lord Henley, on it. It ranges from the number of places in prisons, which is 10,000, to those in charity workshops, of which there are 800. Kitchens provide another 4,000 places and numerous domestic jobs. If the noble Lord would like it, I would be happy to set that out in some detail.

I say to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that release on temporary licences is done only after robust risk assessment by prison governors. We welcome the opportunity and the advantage that it brings. It has to be balanced against the need to protect the public. I understand that we have 1,600 prisoners on ROTL across the prison estate on any given day.

The noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, will know that we are considering voting in the light of the European Court judgment. I cannot yet tell her when we will produce the results. I understood what she said, but I am not sure that I wholly agree with her. There is a clear issue between rights and responsibilities, but we are under an obligation to report the results of the latest consultation.

My latest figure for the prison population is 81,417, of which 273 prisoners were held in police cells under operational safeguard.

We expect shortly the report of the Carter review, which is looking generally at the demand for and supply of places in prisons. We will report to Parliament when we receive it.

I know that noble Lords wish me to take not a leap into the dark, but a leap of imagination. I assure them that there is no lack of will on the part of the Government or Her Majesty’s Prison Service to ensure that as much opportunity as possible is given to prisoners to develop skills and to use work in terms of the value it brings both to their experience in prison and to their preparation for leaving it. We are committed to working with outside organisations, which we welcome. I understand the frustration about some issues relating to employment and the HMRC. We will continue to discuss those matters.

I end by paying tribute to the Prison Service for the progress that it has been able to make amid all the challenges that it faces, and to all those employers and organisations that work hard with it.

House adjourned at 3.53 pm.