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Lords Chamber

Volume 697: debated on Thursday 13 December 2007

House of Lords

Thursday, 13 December 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Salisbury.

Introduction: Baroness Afshar

—Haleh Afshar, OBE, having been created Baroness Afshar, of Heslington in the County of North Yorkshire, for life, was introduced between Baroness Kennedy of The Shaws and Lord Harries of Pentregarth.

Royal Assent

My Lords, I have to notify the House, in accordance with the Royal Assent Act 1967, that the Queen has signified her Royal Assent to the following Act:

Consolidated Fund Act 2007.

Immigration: X-rays

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What representations they have received against the use of X-rays as an aid to age determination in immigration control.

My Lords, we have been consulting about various proposed changes to the unaccompanied asylum-seeking children system, including whether there is scope to use dental X-ray analysis to assess age. We plan to publish the results of the consultation early in the new year.

My Lords, in the changes to the rules that have now been published there is no mention of medical examinations. Does that mean that, apart from the weighty arguments that have been received by the Government from many expert bodies, such as the BMA, the BDA, the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health and so on, the Government also agree with the opinion expressed by Mr Nicholas Blake QC that it would be unlawful to subject persons claiming to be minors to ionising radiation as, it appears, would have been permitted by the original draft of the rules? I thank the Government for apparently coming to the right decision about X-rays, but would it not have been better to have consulted those professional bodies of experts before publishing the draft?

My Lords, we have been following a consultation process. We issued the paper Planning Better Outcomes and Support for Unaccompanied Asylum Seeking Children in March this year. The consultation period finished at the end of May, and we hoped to publish a response and a summary of what individuals thought, including medical opinions, in October. However, the timetable has slipped because it has taken rather longer than we expected, particularly with regard to funding and local authority funding. We are aware of the opinion of a number of learned doctors. My honourable friend Liam Byrne was invited to speak with a team of them before Christmas, and that will be part of the consultation leading to where we go from here.

My Lords, how accurate is dental age profiling perceived to be? Does the Minister agree with the Children’s Commissioner that such X-rays have a margin of error of about two years, which might produce fairly inaccurate results on children seeking asylum?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is correct. In about 95 per cent of cases it is within plus or minus two years, but this technique, combined with a social worker’s assessment and other techniques, can narrow down the possible range of ages. It is therefore a useful tool. People sometimes use dental X-rays to try to prove their own age. They are also used by many EU countries. However, it is because of the concern that has been expressed that we are having further consultation. The technique is part of a package of measures that will enable us to identify the age of immigrants.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that there is a general opinion that X-rays that are not advisable for medical reasons should be discontinued?

My Lords, we are aware of the point raised by my noble friend, although all the experts we have talked with agree that the risks to health from this radiation are negligible. It is a common procedure in dentistry.

My Lords, the Minister said that it was plus or minus two years. When you are trying to establish the age of an unaccompanied child for immigration purposes, that is very unsatisfactory. Have not two local authorities piloted other procedures which are satisfactory? Is the Minister aware of them?

My Lords, as I stated, we use the X-ray technique in conjunction with other measures such as social workers talking to these people and assessing their age by other means. When these are put together as a package it is very useful. We are talking about significant numbers of people coming in and claiming to be of this age. About 3,000 unaccompanied children come into the country every year and in the region of 1,000 to 2,000 people claim to be of this age. There are very serious issues here. If we put an adult into the children’s arena it raises serious child protection issues when he gains access to their support, accommodation and so on. It is extremely important to try to narrow down the age.

My Lords, if the margin of error can be as much as two years, can we be assured that no decisions will be taken on these matters exclusively on the basis of such data?

My Lords, that is correct. Indeed, we bend over backwards to ensure that the error tends to be the other way. That is why I am concerned about these child protection issues. The number of children who have been returned to any country is very small. We are careful not to use X-rays as the sole data, but they are useful. We are still consulting and this might not be the final outcome. We must wait until the paper comes out in the spring.

My Lords, I have been trying to read dental X-rays for about 40 years. Once the wisdom teeth have been removed it would be impossible to tell how old a patient is from looking at dental X-rays.

My Lords, I admit I am not an expert in reading dental plates but I am assured it is plus or minus two years. As I say, in conjunction with the other methods we use, it is a useful tool. This is why we are continuing the consultation. It would be wonderful if there was a magic bullet which allowed us to identify age exactly. The cost of dealing with these people who are not children is about £140 million a year—which is quite a lot of money—and there are also these risks to youngsters. We must push on to try to do the best we can on this.

My Lords, is it a fact that all our immigration controls now go to Brussels as a result of the Lisbon treaty?

My Lords, that is not correct. We are not fully part of the Schengen agreement. Although the EU has issued a procedures directive there is further work to be done. We have not yet decided fully that dental X-rays are the right procedure and therefore we do not think it is wise to include those EU changes in our rules at the moment. We shall have to wait until we have further consultation.

My Lords, the statement on the changes in the immigration rules has just been published and is now law. The original draft of Rule 352 included the possibility of medical examinations with a view to establishing age. In the final version of Rule 352, that does not appear. The conclusion that was drawn by all the agencies was that the Government had dropped the proposal. If they go ahead with dental X-rays, do they intend to publish yet another statement of changes in the rules?

Afghanistan: Hearts and Minds Campaign

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What progress they are making with their hearts and minds campaign among the people of Afghanistan.

My Lords, if Afghanistan is to see the peace, security and prosperity that its people desire, it is vital that they understand and support the aims of their democratically elected Government. It is equally key that there is broad support for international efforts. Recent polls show the majority of Afghans continue to feel that their country is headed in the right direction. Support remains high for the presence of international forces, with national approval ratings of between 60 per cent and 67 per cent in recent polls.

My Lords, that is an encouraging Answer. We heard in the Statement yesterday that the international community is redoubling its efforts towards national security and front-line services. But what about individual security and the rule of law? What about access to justice and conditions in the courts and in prisons? Has the Minister seen Amnesty’s report on the ISAF detainees who are being handed over to the Afghan authorities and need protection from ill treatment, torture and the general conditions in those prisons?

My Lords, the noble Earl draws attention to an extraordinarily important point. There will never be confidence in the new democratic Government of Afghanistan if they are not able to bring justice to their people. The Afghan Government, with the support of the international community, are developing a national justice sector strategy, which sets out their priorities for the period 2008-13. There is a significant amount of international support for this strategy. Pledges were made of some $360 million, of which the UK committed $4 million, at a rule of law conference. This is well understood as a key priority in the hearts and minds campaign to which the noble Earl’s Question refers.

My Lords, do the Government accept that paying people money to change sides from the Taliban in the conflict, or to stop growing opium, may win minds briefly but will not win hearts, and if it works at all, will work only very temporarily?

My Lords, the Government are interested in the issue of whether they can provide economic support for growing those alternative crops to people currently growing opium. They are also interested in more aggressively disrupting the infrastructure of the drug trade. But there is no suggestion that the Government are paying money as some direct compensation to make people switch sides.

My Lords, Ministers regularly refer to alternative crops when the subject of opium growing in Afghanistan is raised, but I have never yet heard which crops.

My Lords, there is a variety. Let me just say that work is currently being done by DfID, with the World Bank, to identify specific crops that are not only viable in terms of the agricultural conditions, but for which a market exists internationally at a level which will make growing them profitable. Beyond crops, a number of Afghans point out that Helmand is also rich in marble and that marble mining is a major economic possibility.

My Lords, we are dealing with hearts and minds in Afghanistan. We have to face the problem that the stretch of the Afghan state has not extended over the whole of Afghanistan for a very long time, if ever, and that a number of regional lords are deeply engaged in the drugs trade and corruption. How can the international community help the Afghan Government to extend more effective and less corrupt administration across the country?

My Lords, first, the Afghan Government must help themselves by much more aggressively singling out and attacking with all the legal means at their disposal those prominently associated with the drugs trade, who are also thought by the people of Afghanistan to have links to the Government themselves, a matter raised in the House yesterday. Secondly, through ISAF’s activities in targeting and attacking laboratories as well as through financial means, we can seek to identify and sanction the leaders of this trade and bring them to justice.

My Lords, the noble Lord prayed in aid poll figures of Afghan support for their Government’s present activities. Has he seen the recent map published by the NGOs showing how much less of Afghanistan is now safe for them to travel? Can he explain how this polling is done and say which parts of Afghanistan it is done in?

My Lords, there were two major recent polls, one by the BBC and the other by the Environics Research Group. Both have polled over several years in Afghanistan and show very high findings that 67 per cent of Afghans support the presence of international forces and that 75 per cent thought that it was a very good thing that the Taliban had been brought down by foreign forces in 2001, and so on. However, I very much agree with the noble Lord that polling should be treated with some caution in the case of Afghanistan; Afghans have also indicated in answering polls that they are reluctant to criticise the Government. But it is a nationwide poll. In that sense a lot more of the country is accessible than was the case in the NGO poll of the Senlis Council, to which I think the noble Lord refers and which we do not accept.

My Lords, the Minister talked about crops, crops and more crops but what my noble friend Lord Skelmersdale asked for was the name of the crops.

My Lords, a number of crops have been looked at, from basic foodstuffs to more complicated and higher value added crops. As the World Bank will report on this to us next week, I do not want to pre-empt it.

No, my Lords; we have not seen it. I shall be happy to put in the Library the World Bank’s recommendations on which crops it tells us next week are most viable.

My Lords, is the Minister aware of any specific initiatives to win the hearts and minds of Afghani women? What specific initiatives are there to tackle the ever-increasing problem of self-immolation—women setting themselves alight because of the severely frustrating circumstances in which they find themselves despite our invasion?

My Lords, the condition of women in Afghanistan, as the noble Baroness knows, has markedly improved under this Government. There is much more opportunity to participate; Afghanistan has one of the highest numbers of women MPs in the world; and a lot of girls are in school. However, there are the remaining and difficult social issues to which she refers, and we continue to press the Afghan Government to address them.

Health: End-of-life Care

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether patients at end of life are receiving the care to which they are entitled under the National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare which came into operation on 1 October.

My Lords, as part of the new National Framework for NHS Continuing Healthcare and NHS-funded Nursing Care, we have published a fast-track pathway tool to help clinicians make a decision on the need for urgent continuing healthcare for end-of-life patients. The framework was published in June and became mandatory in England on 1 October. We will review the framework in September 2008.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. That fast-track tool is really the basis of my Question. Can he confirm that the primary care trusts are using that tool or an equivalent, speedy and effective process, as they have a choice? We were told that a document would be published in December—an end-of-life strategy—and we are now told that it has been delayed. Can he confirm whether it has been delayed and when it will be published?

My Lords, at the moment anyone at the end of life who needs it should receive continuing care under the new framework, as I said earlier. The noble Baroness refers to the end-of-life strategy document. Within the spirit of the NHS Next Stage Review, nine different strategic health authorities across the country have end-of-life clinical pathway groups, currently designing the best models of care based on international exemplars. Those different clinical groups have representation from health and social care and the voluntary sector which makes a tremendous contribution to the pathway. Those will be published in about March or April next year with the belief that a locally driven pathway will be easier to implement than a nationally enforced end-of-life pathway.

My Lords, given the known inequity in access to specialist palliative care services, and despite the much welcomed initiative that the Minister has just outlined in relation to strategic health authorities, can the Minister confirm that the delay in publication of a palliative care strategy will mean that palliative care services will be embedded in the long-term provision of health and social care and that it does not mean that the strategy is being shelved?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for mentioning the end-of-life strategy. This Government are committed to the pathway. In the history of the NHS this is the first time that such a pathway has been put together. We are committed to the pathway; we are committed to the commissioning of the pathway once it is launched; and we are working very closely with the voluntary sector. There are good exemplars of this across the country, such as Marie Curie Cancer Care in Lincolnshire which has implemented the pathway very successfully. We can learn from that exemplar as we implement it on a national basis.

My Lords, can the Minister inform the House whether there has been any advance in the problem of feeding frail and elderly people in hospitals? Has there been any advance in the idea, for instance, of involving families or volunteers more? Can he inform the House of anything that has been done in this regard?

My Lords, in my interim report, I published the principles on which the NHS Next Stage Review should be based, one of which was personalised care—in other words, tailoring care around the needs of patients. In-hospital nutrition is very much part of that. We are identifying pathways and models in which we involve not only nutritionists but also carers and the voluntary sector, which has a tremendous interest in this, in ensuring that the nutritional status of patients, either at the time of their admission, prior to their operation or when they are discharged, meets the needs of patients.

My Lords, are the needs of carers, as set out in the Carers (Equal Opportunities) Act 2004, being fully taken into account when assessments are made under the national framework, and how that will be monitored over time?

My Lords, on Monday we published the concordat with social services, including the involvement of carers, but on the specific point that the noble Baroness has raised I shall be more than happy to respond in writing.

My Lords, the Minister will be aware of a survey produced earlier this year which demonstrated that within one strategic health authority individual PCTs were 15 times more likely than other PCTs to recommend the provision of NHS continuing care. Given the fast-track tool for end-of-life care, what will be done to train staff to ensure that there is greater uniformity of assessment across the country?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, as I agree that variations exist across the country. Recently—in a previous life—I led a review in London on the end-of-life pathway. I came across one shocking piece of information: 58 per cent of those who approach the end of life are dying within a hospital setting, in contrast to their preferences since about 60 per cent wish to die at home with their family and loved ones.

Interestingly, finances have never been the main enabler in this; mostly, the enabling has been in how we integrate the different providers of that pathway. Those include social care, health services and the voluntary sector. It is in how we provide the training, which was highlighted, to make sure that that pathway is not only integrated but also delivered competently so as to ensure that the patient achieves their preferred place of death.

My Lords, following on from that reply, I am sure that the Minister will be aware of recent research by the King’s Fund showing that the discharge community liaison nurses provide a really invaluable role in end-of-life choice, when people want to die at home. Are those nurses to be deployed across the country and, if so, on what timescale?

My Lords, I could not agree more. We need the integrator between health and social care, and those roles to which the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, referred will be essential in that integration—and in getting rid of some of the virtual boundaries that we clinicians are good at creating.

Sudan: Military Helicopters

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How many helicopters have been made available by the United Kingdom and by the NATO member states to the African Union–United Nations force in Darfur.

My Lords, we have not offered any helicopters to the UN for Darfur. I am afraid that is because our helicopters are fully committed elsewhere. I am not aware that any other NATO country has yet offered helicopters for UNAMID. The UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations wants 18 transport and six tactical helicopters for UNAMID. We are supporting its lobbying efforts with a range of countries, and working on options to meet that shortfall with others on the Security Council.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that only one week ago the United Nations Secretary-General, Ban Ki-Moon, said that:

“We need … helicopters. We’re not getting them”,

and that that was,

“putting the entire mission … at risk”?

On 1 January, that entire mission takes responsibility for Darfur. It consists of 26,000 African Union and United Nations peacekeepers—the largest number that Africa has ever volunteered. It is absolutely vital that that mission does not fail, and that we do not stand by while another genocide occurs in Africa. Given that the Prime Minister announced yesterday that more Sea King, Merlin and Chinook helicopters were being made available for Afghanistan, could the Government not spare one helicopter to make peace instead of war?

My Lords, the noble Baroness speaks eloquently on a point that frustrates me as much as it does her, because we have not found those helicopters for Sudan. I am assured that all British helicopters are fully committed to operations in Iraq and Afghanistan, and that no others are available supplementary to our own homeland security needs.

There are other NATO helicopters. However, they suffer from needing upgrades and logistics support. We are looking at both those helicopters and others from elsewhere in the world to see if we can facilitate their availability. That matter has been raised in recent days by both the Prime Minister, in conversations with other leaders, and the Foreign Secretary with Mr Ban Ki-Moon since his letter of 6 December. I have also had a number of intense conversations with the peacekeeping department about it.

My Lords, we have just begun a Question, but we have heard little from the Labour Benches. I suggest that we do it that way round, as we have time.

My Lords, I am grateful. Are we looking at contractual arrangements to both convert and deploy helicopters brought in, if necessary, from some civilian sectors? I think that has been done elsewhere in the world. I understand the problems about both servicing and converting them, but looking at that would be a better option than trying to take some of our helicopters away from other vital needs. This is urgent.

My Lords, my noble friend will be reassured that we have suggested to the DPKO a number of commercial options. There are real limitations to it—some real obstacles are to be overcome—as the AU lost some troops recently at Haskanita and the commercial helicopters were unable to fly in to bring out the wounded for insurance reasons. While there may be commercial solutions to the 18 transport helicopters, it is hard to envisage that the six tactical helicopters—attack helicopters—will be available on commercial terms. We need to find a troop contributor willing to provide them and to help it to be able to provide them.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, is absolutely right. UNAMID is desperate for these 24 helicopters—18 transport and six light helicopters, as the Minister said. Was this matter raised at the rather unfortunate EU-Africa meeting the other day down in Lisbon? Certainly there was an intention by UNAMID and the Secretary-General of the UN to raise it, and I wonder whether we made any contribution.

Secondly, is the Minister really so sure about this lack of helicopters? Would he ask his officials to look again at the Army helicopter centre at Middle Wallop or at RAF Upavon or RAF Odiham? I can only say, living in those parts, that there seem to be an awful lot of helicopters buzzing around all the time and a lot more parked on the tarmac. Could not some of them help in this desperate situation?

My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord and I should go on a weekend scavenging hunt and see if we could rustle up some helicopters. On the other part of his question, the matter was raised at the Lisbon summit. The DPKO sent a team to meet the Government of Sudan to clear the other major obstacle, which is the composition of the force and willingness to allow non-African units to participate. We are working with other European partners to see how we can bring this back in front of the European Heads of Government or Foreign Ministers very early to see whether collectively we can find a solution to this problem.

My Lords, does the Minister recall the meeting with the parliamentary group on Sudan two weeks ago in which he said that,

“once force has been deployed, it is vital that its credibility is not undermined”?

He also criticised the Government of Sudan for trying to determine the composition of that force. How is it possible for the force’s credibility not to be undermined if we do not provide the helicopters?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct—it will be undermined if we do not have the helicopters. I share the view of this whole House: we have to find these helicopters. Having been part of the UN team that originally designed this force, I know that it was the smallest numerical option of those that we offered and its effectiveness was utterly contingent on having the mobility that helicopters would provide. There is no alternative—we have to solve this problem.


My Lords, I have another minor apology to make in announcing today’s business. There will be one Statement not two, as it says on the Annunciator. The Statement today will be on the Security Industry Authority and will be delivered by my noble friend Lord West. It will be taken after the debate in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Alton.

House Committee: Second Report

rose to move, That the second report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 20).

The report can be found at the following address:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. Under the Parliament (Joint Departments) Act 2007, a joint department may be established only if the House Committee has made a recommendation to that effect which has been approved by the House of Lords itself. The report before the House contains the House Committee’s recommendation that the Parliamentary Information and Communications Technology department—PICT—be established as a joint department. The House is invited to approve that recommendation.

Moved, That the second report from the Select Committee be agreed to (HL Paper 20).—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Africa: Conflict

rose to call attention to the causes and consequences of conflict in Africa; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, for the past 12 months I have been seeking a debate on conflict in Africa, and I am delighted that the House is to address the issue today. I express my gratitude at the outset to all those noble Lords who will participate. I declare a non-pecuniary interest as an officer of the All-Party Group on Sudan, as treasurer of the Parliamentary Friends of Cafod and as a founder of the charity, Jubilee Action.

If you take the estimated loss of life in sub-Saharan Africa, nowhere else in the world has seen such a haemorrhaging of life: 4 million lives have been lost in the Democratic Republic of Congo, 2 million in southern Sudan, 1 million in Uganda, 800,000 in Rwanda, and anything between 200,000 and 400,000 in Darfur. More than 8 million lives lost in less than two decades is surely a human catastrophe, one that registers too infrequently with us. The sheer scale of the loss of life makes this Africa’s Great War. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, intimated at Questions, Darfur is the first genocide of the 21st century. The causes of conflict are many: sometimes it is naked greed and the plunder of minerals and assets, as in Congo or Sierra Leone; sometimes, in addition to minerals, oil has become a factor; and as in Sudan and increasingly in Nigeria, when this is accompanied by attempts to impose a different culture or religion, it has had calamitous results; sometimes it has been the genocide of war lords or their agents, as with the Janjaweed in Darfur; sometimes the ethnic hatred of one group against another, as with the genocide of the Tutsis by the Hutu Interahamwe militia in Rwanda or the depredations of the Lord’s Resistance Army in Uganda; and sometimes local war lords and violence have been triggered by cattle raids for livestock, the stealing of territory or disputes over water, as on the Kenyan borders with Ethiopia and Somalia. Elsewhere in Africa, in countries such as Zimbabwe, corruption and the denial of political liberties conspire to set African against African, with disastrous consequences.

Others will speak with greater knowledge and authority on the crisis in Zimbabwe. The Government of Zimbabwe have in effect declared war on their own people. It will be years before we are able to quantify the full costs of Robert Mugabe’s destruction of Zimbabwe’s infrastructure. Not only agriculture, industry and commerce, but the entire health and education systems will need to be rebuilt. Compared with much of sub-Saharan Africa, Zimbabwe was well developed and exported food; now half the population of Zimbabwe depends on donor food aid. While unable to provide adequate water in the major cities, Robert Mugabe’s regime allocates almost half the national budget to security and the secret police. How will Africa ever attract the inward investment necessary for sustainable development while her leaders fail to condemn such wanton destruction and such squandering of natural and human resources? Many of us are full of admiration for the forceful leadership given by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York on the need for change in Zimbabwe.

In many parts of the continent, the consequences of conflict may be seen in the charred remains of development projects, in the harrowed faces of refugees, and in the haunting images of the victims. Throughout Africa the proliferation of weapons has made conflict more deadly and crime easier, feeding cultures of retribution and downward spirals of violence. In addition to taking a heavy toll on human life, small arms undermine nations’ development. The widespread abuse of weapons deprives developing countries of the skills and talents of the victims of small arms. Small arms are the preferred tools of violence in most internal wars, coups, militia and gang rampages, government oppression and human rights abuses. They are the weapons of mass destruction. The arms are also commonly used in domestic and transnational crime. In cultures of violence and gun ownership, these weapons become symbols of power and pride, even objects of affection.

A recent report documenting the consequences of conflict was published by Oxfam International, IANSA— the International Action Network on Small Arms— and Saferworld, an independent non-governmental organisation that works to prevent armed violence and to create safer communities in which people can lead peaceful and rewarding lives. The report estimates that during the 15 years up until 2005 the cost of conflict in Africa has been around $300 billion. The study, Africa’s Missing Billions, represents the first time that analysts have estimated the overall effects of conflict on GDP across the continent.

Along with better controls of the manufacture and sale of small arms, conflict resolution and the disarming of bands of lawless militia who prosecute these wars of attrition must surely be the single most important priority for progress and prosperity in Africa. One simply cannot sustain agriculture, industry, health and education programmes in the middle of a battlefield. On the other side of that coin, fratricide and blood letting drive people out of their homes and off their land into the often fatal status of refugees. I have seen first hand the situation in Darfur and the DRC, where the conflict in the east is reaching crisis point.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, when she comes to reply, will tell us the latest situation in Sake, where the United Nations forces are today in a state of virtual siege, the Government’s forces having been driven back by Laurent Nkunda’s troops. Four hundred thousand people are thought to have been displaced, many of them children, and violence against women is widespread.

Situations such as that in the DRC, southern Sudan, which I visited with the SPLA during the civil war, and the genocide sites which I have visited in Rwanda leave one with a sense of our impotence in failing to avert conflict. That sense was well expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, in the Question that preceded this debate. Our failure to prevent genocide in Rwanda continues to be matched by our lamentable failure to prevent genocide in Darfur.

Two weeks ago, the Secretary of State for International Development, Douglas Alexander, addressed the All-Party Group on Sudan. He described the Russian-made Antonov bombers that he had seen at El Fasha in Darfur and said that they represented,

“a brazenness which has been visited on the people of Darfur by Khartoum”.

He said that 2.2 million people had lost their homes, and that twice as many as that were reliant on food aid. He said that,

“the threat of violence remains high”,

and that it had become,

“more difficult for humanitarian agencies”.

Ninety per cent of Darfur’s villages have been razed to the ground while the international community has failed to save the lives of hundreds of thousands of people. It has impotently watched as people have been corralled and concentrated into camps in Darfur, Chad and the Central African Republic.

At the same meeting, as I intimated during Questions a few moments ago, the Minister of State at the Foreign Office, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, said that,

“once force has been deployed, it is vital that its credibility is not undermined”.

Yet the Government of Sudan continue to undermine the deployment of the UNAMID peacekeeping force by trying to dictate who will and who will not be part of it. This is matched by the failure of the international community to guarantee the provision of helicopters to enable the deployment of the force. It is due to take over in January, not six months from now. As we heard at Question Time, the logistics have still not been resolved, although the conflict has been under way for four years.

Sudan is a textbook example of what happens when you appease a dictator or dictatorial system. Two million people died in southern Sudan, and there is a real danger that, after the 18-year civil war in the south, we will slump back into further conflict. The withdrawal of the south’s leaders from the national Government, the failure equitably to distribute the oil revenues, the questions left unresolved by the comprehensive peace agreement and the festering situation in the east of the country all underline the importance of credible peacemaking and enforcement.

The Government of Sudan, as the case of Gillian Gibbons illustrates, are past masters at manipulation. They have every good reason to assume that the world will be indifferent to their actions in Darfur; after all, they got away with butchery in southern Sudan. Why should it be any different in Darfur?

I will never forget travelling in the Torit diocese of southern Sudan with its bishop, Akio Johnson. In three raids on Ikotos, where he lived, 72 bombs obliterated his residence. The compound also housed a primary and secondary school, which were destroyed. Early years education for south Sudan’s children involves learning the difference between the engines of UN relief planes and the Antonov bombers, such as those which the Secretary of State saw in Darfur, and then running for your life. Where do the funds for these atrocities come from? As Sudan Divestment makes clear, our investments and purchase of oil provide the revenue for the purchase of arms and ammunition.

However, Sudan is by no means the only centre or victim of conflict. Between 1990 and 2005, 23 African nations were involved in conflict. According to research by these agencies, this is equal to the amount of money received in international aid during the same period. The study, Africa’s Missing Billions, shows that, on average, a war, civil war or insurgency shrinks an African economy by 15 per cent. For example, during Guinea-Bissau’s conflict, the projected growth rate from 1998 to 1999, without conflict, would have been 5.24 per cent, whereas the actual growth rate was a negative of 10.15 per cent.

In countries affected by war, the direct costs of violence, such as military expenditure or the destruction of the infrastructure, pale in comparison with the indirect costs of lost opportunities. These include inflation, debt and high unemployment. In Kinshasa I visited what was once one of the finest hospitals in Africa. Congo’s extraordinary wealth has been leached away by decades of fighting and corruption. As a result, there are no funds to repair crumbling facilities or to pay doctors and nurses. I saw incubators with premature babies in them; virtually none of the incubators worked. In the absence of beds, I saw patients lying on the floor and once pristine facilities in a catastrophic condition. I also saw many patients who were the victims of the conflict that has endlessly plagued the DRC. Rape is often used as a weapon of war and has been a major contributory factor in the spread of AIDS.

Conflicts are costing African economies an average of $18 billion each year— desperately needed money, which could solve the HIV/AIDS crisis, prevent TB and malaria or provide clean water, sanitation and education. Save the Children tells me that more than half the 72 million children still out of primary schools live in countries affected by conflict: that is 36 million children. Save the Children says that international donors are reluctant to commit funds for education in conflict-affected countries and it describes this as a blind spot that it would like DfID to address. Hit by conflict and then denied education, children in situations of conflict deserve far greater commitment.

The shortage of education, healthcare, food and medicines is matched by an abundance of small arms. Kalashnikovs are the most common weapon in Africa’s conflicts, the most readily available of which is the AK47. These are weapons of mass destruction and you do not need international weapons inspectors to find them. You can see them everywhere you go, often brandished by young children. In too many parts of Africa there are too many children under arms. Ninety-five per cent of the Kalashnikov rifles used in these conflicts come from outside Africa. Until a global arms trade treaty is ratified, they will continue to do so. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us which countries continue to be the major suppliers of the arms used in Africa’s conflicts. Joseph Dube, IANSA’s Africa co-ordinator, said of its findings about the cost of conflict to Africa:

“As an African, I implore all African governments and weapons-producing governments to support a strong and effective Arms Trade Treaty. Without this regulation, the cost and suffering borne by Africans will continue to be immense”.

More people, especially women and children, die from the consequences of conflict than in the fighting itself. Paul Collier, professor of economics at Oxford, says that conflict is one of the “four traps” that lock the “bottom billion” into lives of grinding poverty and stagnant or shrinking economies. One study suggests that, in a seven-year period, the net losses to agriculture alone from armed violence in Africa was more than $25 billion. Compared to countries living in peace, African countries suffering from conflict, on average, have 50 per cent more infant mortality, 15 per cent more undernourished people, life expectancy reduced by five years, 20 per cent more adult illiteracy, 2.5 times fewer doctors per patient and 12.4 per cent less food per person. The proliferation of arms in countries in conflict, from Somalia to Sudan, from Eritrea to Congo, means that arms flow across borders into more peaceful countries such as Kenya and destabilise them. The Kenyan foreign minister recently said that,

“when guns get into the calculus then it becomes a recipe for disaster”.

I end on a more hopeful note. From Ghana to Kenya, from Rwanda to South Africa, many African leaders are working to create stable, peaceful and democratic societies. We should applaud them. We should also underscore the crucial role played by customary institutions in conflict resolution. In managing inter-ethnic conflict, we need further to strengthen the role of customary institutions and traditional mechanisms and ensure that the African Union and the United Nations can deal effectively and rapidly with conflict when it does arise. I hope that the Government will take seriously our obligation to ratify an arms trade treaty in 2008 when it comes before the United Nations.

In the century before the birth of Christ, Cicero wrote:

“Laws are silent in times of war”.

Nothing much has changed. Conflict is inimical to the creation of a civil society and the ability to uphold the law. In many parts of Africa enlightened leaders have recognised the truth of that. I hope that this debate will serve to reinforce the message that, without resolution of conflict, without curbing the proliferation of arms and without sustained approaches to peacemaking and peacekeeping, Africa will continue to bleed and the prospects for building a civil society where law is respected will be endangered. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I was misinformed, which is my own fault. I thought I had 11 minutes to speak. I have just had to convert an 11-minute speech into a seven-minute speech, so it may not be very coherent. The whole House must be grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for bringing this issue to the Floor at a critical time, allowing us to consider the present dangerous situation and what might be done to alleviate it.

When a committee of this House was examining the strategic partnership between the EU and Africa in 2004, some terrible statistics were given on the cost to African countries of armed conflict: health costs, economic cost and the human cost of over 4 million refugees and over 13 million internally displaced people. In 2005, the same committee was very optimistic about the capacity and the will of the African Union to put things right, thanks to its new Constitutive Act, which gave it the right to intervene in member states’ affairs in the case of grave circumstances. The EU was encouraged by that to finance and support the African peace facility. That has not worked for Sudan; if there was intervention, it was ineffective.

The mantra set out by NePAD, the African peer review mechanism, decrees on the contrary that no change may be required of a country if it does not itself initiate a peer review of good governance. The AU has succeeded in using its bloc in the UN to prevent any discussion of Zimbabwe, even in the Human Rights Commission, and in preventing any discussion of Zimbabwe in Commonwealth forums, despite the precedent set in the case of South Africa, which the Commonwealth continued to put on its agenda after the apartheid Government took the country out of the Commonwealth on the grounds that the people of South Africa had not voted to leave. That precedent was recognised in the Harare Commonwealth declaration and the Millbrook programme. The African members have also frustrated any action by the Commonwealth even to place Zimbabwe on the agenda, just as they have done in the UN.

We are never going to solve conflict in Africa by the use of troops—with small exceptions, such as Sierra Leone—or even by attempts to control the inflow of arms. The Russians have always made a lot of money selling small arms; they will continue to do so. They and the Chinese will continue to sell military aircraft and arms because of their interest in African oil and minerals.

The UN is to provide troops to back the African force in Sudan, but I have not the slightest doubt that their mandate will be to observe and not to intervene. If they had a mandate for intervention, that might be something, but it will not be. The Sudanese Government will continue to murder, rape and destroy, and we to wring our hands. Was anything said, I wonder, to the Sudanese head of state in Lisbon?

In a notable debate led by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, in this House in 2005, we discussed the eminently sensible Brahimi report. That made clear the serious limitations of the UN’s actual capacity to be militarily effective, its lack of trained troops or institutions fit for effective action, and the need for stronger policies in the case of state failure. I do not believe the UN has moved far to create that necessary effective force. Indeed, I cannot really see how it can.

The UN may do its best, although apart from the admirable Anna Tibaijuka, who reported with devastating honesty on the Murambatsvina, it has not distinguished itself in Zimbabwe. Much of the money that DfID has channelled to the Zimbabwean people through UN agencies—we and the Americans are very generous givers—has gone straight to the Mugabe Government. In the last analysis, ways must be found to make the African Union, and SADC in particular, use its strength constructively rather than being an obstructive dog in the manger.

We have meekly accepted NePAD’s insistence that aid must be accompanied by absolute acceptance of AU policy, on the grounds that conditionality is colonialist imperialism. Why? Desmond Tutu said that there are no African rights; there are human rights. At least some of our problems in this area arise from our readiness to accept the thesis that conditionality equals political intervention.

However, I was greatly encouraged by the sturdy decision of the last Secretary of State to cut off immediately the £50 million of direct budget support a year that we were giving to the Ethiopian Prime Minister when his security forces killed 88 people in demonstrations during the elections. We continued to subsidise work through the aid agencies, but he received no more direct funding. If we could do it then, without, so far as I know, suffering any consequences in our relations with Ethiopia, we can surely do it again.

After the woeful failure of the EU-AU summit in Lisbon to send any message of hope to the despairing and beleaguered people of Zimbabwe, I hope that we shall challenge the SADC countries to stand by the AU’s own Constitutive Act and their own human rights commission, which reported honestly but has never been allowed to publish its report and act to save the people of Zimbabwe—and their own economic skins—by intervening before it is too late. They can no longer fail to act because of a wholly dishonest policy of not listening to us—and it is generally the West whose help will be needed—on the ludicrous grounds that they are striking a blow for liberation.

We have been given a lead by the admirable most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York. Let us tell the African Union that committees and quiet diplomacy and, sadly, even an African force, are not enough if they are used to obstruct any action to save a suffering people. We should recognise the limitations of such bodies as the EU and the UN which often by their acts or failures to act obscure awkward facts and take away the individual responsibility of nations to do something. The presence of a number of UN agencies in Zimbabwe, for instance, encourages the illusion that through them the world is acting to care for people suffering under tyranny. DfID, which is one of the two major world givers of aid, does it through the UN agencies, yet those agencies, with those funds at their disposal, actually feared to act to support the victims of Murambatsvina as one of them admitted to Anna Tibaijuka and was so recorded in her report.

We have been complicit for too long in allowing food aid to be handed out only to ZANU-PF supporters, with the knowledge of the UN. The UNHCR, when urged to set up refugee camps for Zimbabweans fleeing to South Africa, or at least to intervene on their behalf, claimed as recently as this year that they were not refugees in the accepted UN sense; they were economic migrants.

The UN is being exploited by the AU to prevent any discussion in that forum and to flout even the UN's own mechanism to protect human rights. The AU has replicated its success in these bullying tactics in its only-too-effective moves to keep Zimbabwe off the CHOGM agenda. I hope that a number of decent nations, including especially the Scandinavians, who of course ruthlessly colonised us in their day, will work together with the many right-minded Africans such as Moeletsi Mbeki, Pius Ncube and Anna Tibaijuka to broker and secure press freedom in Zimbabwe and promote a series of life-saving missions to help the sick and the starving at once while a truly free political climate is created by Zimbabwe's own civil society— still a potentially effective instrument to restore the rule of law. What we must not do is require the people of Zimbabwe to accept as valid the elections that have already been comprehensively rigged and in which, in any event, the millions now in the diaspora driven from their country would not be able to vote.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former director of Oxfam and before that of VSO. I am currently a serving trustee of Saferworld.

We all want to thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his powerful contribution today and for having given us the opportunity to review this subject. The distressing agony of this reality of conflict is that the overwhelming majority of deaths and casualties are civilian and not military. What is the true cost of conflict and of armed violence? Quite apart from the almost £18 billion a year estimated by a wide cross-section of experienced NGOs, there is the grim human consequence, the psychological trauma and lasting mental damage, the widespread rape, acceleration of AIDS and the bereavement. But how is the £18 billion itself calculated?

There is the military expenditure; medical and rehabilitation costs; the burden on policing, private security and justice systems; care and protection of refugees and displaced people, often in neighbouring countries; damage and destruction of infrastructure and livelihood assets; reduced economic activity and adverse economic effects on adjacent countries; capital flight; damage to the tourist industry; inflation; reduced savings and investment and exports; increased debt; loss of development aid; rampant corruption and wealth transfers to the illicit economy; and damage to the education system and to public services in general.

As the noble Lord said, it is essential to address prevention of conflict; in that, as he emphasised, conflict resolution and potential conflict resolution have to be given attention, as does the generation of economic and social hope and the engagement of the population as a whole in security sector reform. It will not be easy, as the pressures of population and land issues are compounded by water shortages and climate change. What is striking about the collective experience of a wide cross-section of frontline NGOs is their concern about the opportunist arms trade that fuels conflict and armed violence. Those responsible for that irresponsible trade should be seen and identified for what they are: greedy and cruelly cynical merchants of death.

The UK Government and the European Union are to be commended for their stand on the issue. The European code of practice is a good start; but it is only a start. The Prime Minister’s recent support for the extension of arms export laws to control extra-territorial brokering and trafficking in small arms is encouraging; but it, too, needs to go further and support the extension of controls to cover such brokering of all conventional weapons.

There is a pressing need to ensure that in the context of the Government’s review of the Export Control Act, remaining loopholes in our export controls are closed, not only to deal with the extraterritorial brokering, but also to introduce effective monitoring of the end use of UK exports and to regulate the increasingly globalised nature of the UK arms industry. More resources are therefore required for proper investigation and enforcement of all possible breaches of existing and future controls. Of course, African Governments themselves have to shoulder their share of responsibility and the 2004 Nairobi Protocol for the Prevention, Control and Reduction of Small Arms and Light Weapons, covering the Great Lakes region and the Horn of Africa, is an example of good intent. I hope that the Government will do all they can to support, strengthen and actively encourage such initiatives.

China’s engagement in Africa can bring many benefits, but it has not been without disturbingly negative dimensions, not least the support of oppressive regimes and the blocking of UN resolutions on Darfur, as well as its arms transfers to conflict centres. Our Government favour positive relations with China. They must use any influence this provides to win China’s support for long-term stability and the reduction of conflict in the African continent.

A global arms trade treaty, effectively implemented, is an imperative for the promotion of stability and the containment of violence in Africa and beyond. The Government have done well in their work and consistent commitment to that at the United Nations and elsewhere. The unwillingness so far of our US allies to come on board must be bitterly disappointing and frustrating. The emotional belief in the right to own, buy and sell guns runs deep in the psyche of too many of our American cousins. When that is extended into the international community, it can have literally devastating consequences. I fervently hope that our Government will not lose heart—they must not. Everything possible should be done to win the US to the cause and to build and strengthen the resolve of the rest of the international community.

An arms trade treaty would provide a code reflecting existing obligations of UN member states under international law, including the UN charter, UN embargos, human rights principles and international humanitarian law. Within the UK, we need an interdepartmental commitment by trade, industry, the Treasury, FCO, DfID and, of course, No. 10 itself. The arms trade is lethal. In Africa, it fuels a brutal nightmare. In the dangerously volatile world in which we now live, it is absolute madness not to give priority to the control of this dreadful business.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Alton has performed a service in raising this issue of conflict in Africa and set out clearly the scale of the devastation that conflict causes. I would pick only two facts: first, 50 per cent of the states that have emerged from conflict lapse into conflict within five years and, secondly, at least 32 per cent, a third, of the population of Africa are affected in their countries by conflict or emergence from conflict. However, I wish to concentrate on another angle.

If the House would bear with me, I would like to start with my recollection of an experience as the last British administrator—later, when I was a Minister, President Mubarak described me as the last British imperialist—when I was a district officer in Kenya. There was a crisis and a policeman reported to me that there was fighting over a water hole some 70 miles away. I went straight there with an escort and, probably rather patronisingly, summoned the two tribes who were fighting to sit under a baobab tree while I lectured in very bad Swahili that they should not fight wars. If they were to share the water hole they would find that they could all get some water. Whereupon, a man put up his hand at the back. “Bwana,” he said in Swahili, “could I ask you a question?”. I said, “Yes, of course”. He said, “You tell us not to fight, but how is it that you in Europe have fought two world wars this century?”. “Of course”, I said, “you win”. They went away rocking with laughter and shared the water.

I came to the conclusion, probably subjectively, that the time had come for Britain to leave Africa and her empire. I am in full support of Mbeki’s approach to the problems of Africa: that there must be African solutions to African problems. It is no good anyone in Europe or Africa blaming the past. The cobwebs of the empire have now gone; colonialism is now dead and independence means taking responsibility for your own country. It is worth reminding ourselves that Mugabe obtained independence as the first leader of Zimbabwe 27 years ago. He takes full responsibility for the condition of Zimbabwe today. Ian Smith may have been the other major contributor, but Mr Mugabe carries the responsibility for the condition of his people today.

Africans themselves say that what they need most is leadership from Africans. All of us who know Africa can see that it is capable of producing great leaders, from Kenyatta to Mandela to Kofi Annan to Bishop Tutu. The people of that continent no longer need outdated leaders who are leaders of anti-colonial liberation wars. They need leaders who can develop their countries and can develop democracy in their countries. African leaders do great harm to our perception of them from outside the continent when they fail to condemn brutal dictators like Mugabe or Omar al-Bashir of the Sudan. It is always the people of Africa who suffer from it, not the former colonial masters.

The key is how Africans solve their own problems. What do they most need and want to do? Here I must commend a very remarkable book published by the British Council called Under the Tree of Talking: Leadership for Change in Africa. It gives African views rather than European views on how they can and want to best solve their problems.

The Commission for Africa’s executive summary report of 2005 highlighted two weaknesses in Africa over the past 50 years. The first was the capacity of African states to prevent and manage conflict and their ability to design and deliver policies. The second was accountability—how well a state answers to its people. In my view, there is much that we can do—either multilaterally or bilaterally—to help these countries, and to help them help themselves; our experience through the Commonwealth is one illustration. However, the growing competition between China, the United States and the European Union to trade in Africa is producing dangers for its people because, if the issue of governance, accountability and human rights is forgotten in this competition, it will do the biggest possible disservice to the people of Africa—it is they who will suffer.

Our approach must be to help the African nations build on success. In Ghana, Nigeria, Tanzania, Liberia and South Africa, strong Administrations are emerging with success stories. We should encourage that and through the African Union and other nations we should demonstrate to the people of, say, Zimbabwe, Somalia, Sudan, the Congo and the Ivory Coast that it is possible to have African leaders who can lead their countries back to a better and happier condition.

I end on one particular area. We need, both in the European Union and the African Union, a positive approach to reconstruction and peace building. This requires a strategic plan which can be adapted to different countries. One specific issue of interest is that there is now a diaspora of Africans living outside the continent—20 million have left since the Second World War. They are people with great experience and skill; their remittances back to their continent amount to exactly the same as the amount of overseas development that is given to Africa. These skills are badly needed back in Africa. I would like to see the European Union, our country and the African Union develop a plan to mobilise these people—or at least some of them—into a kind of peace corps of African expatriates who could help to rebuild these countries that have been devastated by conflict. After all, we have to remember that the first priority must be the people of Africa.

My Lords, I am glad to speak in this debate instigated by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, and the noble Lords, Lord Judd and Lord Luce, in what they have to say, with almost all of which I entirely agree.

It is about the Sudan that I am competent to speak in your Lordships’ House at first-hand. I too know what the sound of an Antonov bomber is like and when you need to dive for the hole. In January 2005 the comprehensive peace agreement was signed between the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement and the ruling National Congress Party in Khartoum to try to end 21 years of war in southern Sudan. It granted southern Sudan a degree of autonomy for six years, followed by a referendum about independence. In January we shall reach the half-way mark of that timetable.

However, this agreement did not mark the end of conflict in southern Sudan. It was only the beginning of a process to settle the most contentious outstanding issues; issues of wealth distribution in Sudan, territorial boundaries between the north and the south, and, perhaps critically, the issue of the identity of the state and its national character, divided as it is between a lower and upper Nile area and an African people. If there is to be a sustainable peace, these issues have to be addressed in a way that can at least promise a continuing dialogue, supported by international pressure for resolution.

At the moment, as noble Lords know, there are fears that the Government of Sudan are seeking to divert attention from those issues by continuing to allow, if not actively to encourage, the situation in the Darfur region to escalate and the Lord’s Resistance Army to continue to maraud across boundaries in southern Sudan. This draws international attention away from the crucial work of the boundary commission and the question of the proper distribution of wealth derived from the mineral resources which lie along the north-south boundary.

My colleague the Bishop of Sherborne has recently returned from a visit to Sudan in his capacity as the chair of our link organisation. He was able to meet and talk to representatives of the Government and the church, as well as our ambassador in Khartoum. He has reported to me on the conversations that he had with members of the border commission, who are taking great care to establish just where the border between north and south lies and to use local knowledge to obtain precise definitions that the rather straight lines on the old and somewhat notional maps cannot give. This consensus, worked out on the ground by talking to people and asking on which side of the boundary that tree or this river fell, can now be mapped using modern satellite techniques to establish a much more secure boundary so that, in the event of a division in the wake of the promised referendum, the question of the distribution of wealth arising from the oil can be determined equitably and held to fairly.

More alarmingly, Bishop Thornton was informed about the reality of the non-implementation by both parties of the comprehensive peace agreement. In the words of Anthony Poggo, the Anglican Bishop of Kajo Keji in southern Sudan, who I am happy to say is my guest in the House today,

“the hopes of the Sudanese people are being dashed”.

The comprehensive peace agreement is the best hope for continued peace and stability in Sudan, and I believe that Her Majesty’s Government must intensify their efforts to support its implementation. Pressure and support may be brought to bear in the most measured and efficient way through neutral intermediaries, such as the mediation team from a regional organisation, the Inter-Governmental Authority on Development, which played an essential role in maintaining distance between the conflict parties and the supporting states during the Naivasha peace process that issued the comprehensive peace agreement.

However it is achieved, I believe that pressure for the implementation of the CPA should be directed to achieving three ends. First, the two parties must be held accountable for non-implementation and the international signatories to the agreement must strengthen its Assessment and Evaluation Commission. Secondly, the international community must send a strong, co-ordinated message to the National Congress Party that it is legally bound by the report of the Abyei Boundary Commission and that it is expected to implement it in good faith so that the south receives its fair share of the oil revenues from this disputed region. I hope that my noble friend Lord Sandwich will be able to say more about Abyei later.

Thirdly, the forthcoming census, elections and referendum on independence from the north could easily be triggers for conflict and must be supported and prepared for thoroughly in advance. Very little preparation has been made for free, fair and representative elections to take place in 2009. However, these elections must take place according to the timeframe of the CPA. The UK, EU and other Governments have a key role to play in supporting elections with logistical support and electoral observers. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will be able to signal in this debate their willingness to intensify their efforts to support the implementation of the CPA so that we can concentrate on the provision of education and healthcare, which are almost entirely absent in southern Sudan.

The noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred to enabling skilled people to get back into these countries and use their skills to help rebuild new worlds. With virtually no secondary schools in southern Sudan, that is an enormous challenge. Who will go back there if they cannot get education for their children? The support we give to education— not just putting bricks and mortar into place but providing teachers and supporting their skills—has an enormously high priority in the diocese of Salisbury.

There are some rays of hope. For example, there is a lower than average incidence of AIDS in southern Sudan because the roads have been impassable and the bridges are down so the truckers have not been able to get through. What are we learning about how to do educational programmes to support the medical and health education needed in southern Sudan? Appropriate support at this stage by the wider community would go a long way towards ensuring the planned and sustainable development of the region, which has such enormous potential. It is a part of Africa where some of this is within our grasp. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will do everything they can to support these processes lest the hopes of the people of Sudan are dashed yet again.

My Lords, I remind noble Lords that in these debates the clock is not always very helpful because once it reaches seven it means that we are in the eighth minute. Time is very tight in this debate, so I remind noble Lords that when they reach number seven, they are in the eighth minute.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on introducing this topical debate. He spoke a bit about Zimbabwe. My noble friend Lady Park also made some useful points about that country, and I congratulate her too. I also want to congratulate our colleague the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, who must have brought home for the first time to millions of people the fact that there is a Mugabe problem when he cut up his white collar on television and said that he will not wear it again until Mugabe has gone.

Mugabe claims that he is fighting against Britain, but he is not; he is fighting against his own people. Our role was to end the war of independence and to arrange the elections that put Mugabe into power. He makes two allegations against us: neo-colonialism and that our sanctions have caused the appalling economic condition of Zimbabwe. Both charges are ridiculous. The “sanctions” are not sanctions but targeted measures, and it is not likely that they have caused the inflation in Zimbabwe which, according to the latest report that I saw today, has now reached a rate of 14,840 per cent. So good is Mugabe’s spin that it seems he has convinced a majority of the leaders of the SADC countries of what he is saying. The three principal African treaties have been breached by Mugabe, but the SADC leaders appear to be unaware of that—at least they do not refer to it. The effects of the economic situation in Zimbabwe are horrifying. One-third of the population has fled, especially the best qualified people and young people who were born after 1980, when Mugabe came to power.

On 11 March, a prayer meeting in Harare was violently broken up by the police and the military. That shocked even the leaders of SADC and led them to give a mandate to President Mbeki of South Africa to facilitate negotiations between the opposition and Mugabe. That was accompanied by a police warning to the MDC opposition, who are entirely peaceful, not to cause any trouble. No such warning was given to Mugabe, who has been causing turmoil among the opposition by the beatings and the intimidation of all sorts that he was conducting before that event and which have continued until now. Mugabe is preparing for elections with the usual measures that he has used in the past. The latest one—which is new, so far as I know—is that 4 trillion Zimbabwe dollars have been set aside as a fund available to Mugabe in preparation for the elections. We can imagine that it will be used to persuade voters—so far as they need persuading, given the violence that has been going on—to vote for Mugabe.

Is there any ray of light on the horizon? Four representatives of the European Union recently made speeches in Lisbon that criticised Mugabe. I do not remember other members of the European Union often criticising him, so that is a step forward. In a few days there will be an election for the next president of the ANC in South Africa. It could be quite important if it leads to the election of Zuma, who is a robust character compared to President Mbeki. His history is not entirely without blemish, but it is possible that he will be much more active in pursuing peace in Zimbabwe than President Mbeki has been. Kofi Annan recently made an important speech—the Nelson Mandela lecture—in which he cited Zimbabwe as one of the crises in the world that the United Nations should pay attention to. He said that Africa is particularly crying out for resolute action by fellow Africans. That was with particular reference to Zimbabwe, so one or two straws are beginning to blow in a light wind. However, we cannot regard the end of Mugabe as being likely soon. We have to bear in mind also that his mother lived to 100, and he is only 84. An end could be put to the problem if the SADC leaders got together with a powerful president of SADC in the form of Zuma, if he wins.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on this timely debate—I am tempted to call him “my noble friend” because we go back a long way. This debate is timely because of the recent meeting between Europe and Africa which highlighted the continuing conflicts on that continent, most notably the grinding oppression of the people of Zimbabwe. I shall not say much about Zimbabwe, but a snapshot that may be of interest to noble Lords is that its latest issue of postage stamps has a denomination of half a million dollars; if you are a dollar millionaire in Zimbabwe, you can buy two stamps.

Several years ago, the eminent broadcaster and writer Alan Whicker was interviewed on a chat show. He was asked about Africa and replied that in his view there was no hope for Africa and, consequently, he rarely went there. I disagree with that analysis.

Since entering Parliament in 1992, I have taken every opportunity to visit Africa to learn more about that fascinating continent. There is no doubt that there are some good countries and that there are others which are not succeeding. There are many still suffering the after effects of conflicts which have ended; there are others where conflicts are taking place today—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, told us about those; and there are others where future potential conflicts are bubbling under the surface.

The recent report to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred, Africa’s missing billions, was published in October. It is a sobering document and I recommend it to all noble Lords. Armed conflict costs Africa $18 billion a year and $300 billion has been lost by 23 countries since 1990. Those 23 countries are: Algeria, Angola, Burundi, Central African Republic, Chad, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Djibouti, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea-Bissau, Liberia, Niger, Nigeria, Rwanda, Senegal, Sierra Leone, South Africa, Sudan and Uganda. It is a catalogue of shame, but some countries are not on that list.

I am patron of the Kambia Hospital Appeal in my former constituency of Cheltenham. This is a link between Cheltenham General Hospital and the Kambia area of north-east Sierra Leone. The population served by the hospital there is more than 100,000 and it is a little more than a large shed—or, rather, it was little more than a large shed because during the civil war in Sierra Leone rebels looted anything worth taking and set fire to the buildings. Now, some years later, thanks to the European Commission and our Cheltenham appeal, there is a new hospital. So the consequences of the civil war in Sierra Leone resulted in European taxpayers picking up the cost of reconstruction.

I also went to Sierra Leone in 2002 to monitor the first elections shortly after the civil war ended. It was the most difficult visit I have ever experienced in Africa. Perhaps because it was an EU observer mission they sent me, a British MP, to a former rebel-held area in Kabala—“We’ll teach these Brits”—and it was really difficult. Most of the buildings had no roof; there was no electricity supply because the electricity pylons had no cables; and there was no water supply. Each day, a UN wagon turned up which contained a liquid that they called “water”. It was either green with brown bits floating in it or brown with green bits floating in it and we used it to flush the toilet. Residents of Kabala asked us if they could have some of our water to take home to cook with and drink. It was a terrible experience. So the consequences of civil war are bad. As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, described, the consequences in Sudan and Darfur are truly terrible.

The countries neighbouring conflict areas suffer economically because of reduced trade, political insecurity and an influx of refugees. I visited Burundi in September with an Inter-Parliamentary Union delegation. Burundi lost 37 per cent of GDP during its 13-year, savage civil war. This was more than Rwanda, although the conflict there received more widespread international coverage.

In the report to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, introduced us, there is a snapshot entitled, “The cost of a bullet”. It states that:

“a surgeon from Kenya tells the story of a 17 year-old Congolese boy whose jaw was shattered by a bullet. The son of a diamond prospector, he was shot by rebel soldiers who thought he had diamonds. It took him one year to raise the money from friends and family to have it treated. During this time, he kept his disfigured mouth covered. He travelled 3,000km to Nairobi for the operation to insert a steel plate into his jaw, which took nine hours and cost $6,000.

The cost of the operation is equivalent to a year of primary education for 100 children, or full immunisations for 250 children, or 1.5 years of education for a medical student”.

That is the cost of one bullet.

Tourism is important to Africa. The report contains a snapshot on tourism which states that:

“the continent’s share of global tourism revenues is twice its share of global GDP. It is an essential source of foreign exchange to many countries, and for Kenya the largest source. However, armed violence deters millions of potential visitors. The chief director at South African Tourism admitted that the reality and reputation of South Africa as a country beset by gun crime had lost it 22 million visitors in five years”.

There is no doubt that Africa will continue to have conflicts in the foreseeable future. Many countries have had bad rulers, and corruption, the misuse of resources and conflict have cost Africa dear. In the 21st century the continent must put that legacy into the past and build good countries for the future. It will need our help.

My Lords, I also thank my noble friend Lord Alton for securing this timely debate and for introducing it, characteristically, in a comprehensive and informative way. Like the right reverend Prelate, I shall focus on Sudan, the site of Africa’s longest-running conflict.

The comprehensive peace agreement—the CPA—of 2005 has brought some welcome relief from the war waged by the National Islamic Front regime against the peoples of southern Sudan and marginalised areas such as the Nuba mountains, Abyei and Southern Blue Nile—but not before 2 million people perished and 4 million were displaced. As my noble friend Lord Alton reminded us, this toll of human suffering was inflicted before the horrors of Darfur began to unfold, culminating in a continuing genocide in which at least 200,000 have been killed and a further 2 million displaced.

The current situation is acutely disturbing in at least three ways: the possibility of eruption of further war in the south; the recent disintegration of the Government of National Unity; and the continuing lack of co-operation by Khartoum, preventing effective intervention by the international community in Darfur. Therefore we must welcome the initiative this week to bring the CPA back on track, with the two sides reaching agreement on all issues except Abyei. This may, indeed, be a ray of hope on the dark horizon, although everyone must be well aware that Sudan’s President al-Bashir and his National Congress Party—the NCP—have reneged on every agreement to date.

Therefore, while we welcome this development, we must do so on the basis of the principle, “Trust but verify”. It is essential that there is effective supervision and monitoring of every aspect of the agreement. Therefore I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will use their influence to ensure that such monitoring is implemented and to indicate that failure to honour this agreement by either side will trigger powerful sanctions. This is particularly important given the continued deployment of large numbers of troops in strategic locations, where the scene is set for a potential imminent resumption of war. Indeed, the last time I was in southern Sudan, the talk was, very reluctantly, not about if war would start again, but when. This is entirely understandable.

Khartoum has also reneged on its obligations to supply resources to the south so that urgent, essential reconstruction and rehabilitation have been impeded and the condition of the people is, in many places, little better under the new Administration than it was previously. It is widely believed that this restriction of resources is a ploy by Khartoum to create such disaffection in the south that, when the referendum for self-determination comes, the people will have no incentive to vote for independence.

Like other noble Lords, I have seen the plight of the people. There is obvious relief that the peace agreement has brought a cessation of fighting, including the incessant aerial bombardment by Khartoum, with Antonovs dropping their bombs, often targeted at health centres, feeding centres and schools, and terrifying attacks by low-flying helicopter gunships. These were diverted to Darfur and have since been inflicting their terror and carnage there.

But we have also seen in the south how people are still suffering and dying from diseases for which treatment should now be available. In Equatoria, in rural areas, we have seen preventable, treatable diseases such as meningitis, measles and malaria killing people on a huge scale. In eastern Upper Nile earlier this year, we found leprosy, possibly of pandemic proportions.

These problems help to explain why the leadership and the people in the south are feeling so desperate. There are also indications of the lack of good faith on the part of the northern leadership, with regard to not only the CPA but Darfur. President Omar al-Bashir, whose Government are widely believed to be instigating atrocities in Darfur, has consistently refused to allow a sufficient number of peacekeepers or military assets to protect civilians. But without an effectively equipped peacekeeping force, the assaults on human dignity—the executions, rapes and ethnic cleansing—will continue, as the noble Baroness, Lady Park, has emphasised.

What efforts are being made by Her Majesty’s Government to support the United Nations in the provision of all resources essential for an effective peacekeeping force for Darfur, and what representations are they making to Khartoum to ensure effective compliance with the requirements of the UN for deployment of the peacekeeping forces?

The debacle over the teacher and the teddy bear is a further indication of the bankruptcy of British policy vis-à-vis the Islamist regime in Khartoum. A leader in the Daily Telegraph on 4 December summarised the situation:

“For Sudan to be able defiantly to humiliate a major democratic nation from which it receives large amounts of aid by holding one of its citizens to ransom speaks of the impunity with which it believes it can operate in the world ... Mr Bashir, who has been responsible for some of the worst atrocities in post-war history, has successfully blocked the deployment of peacekeeping forces that would protect Darfur citizens. It is that failure of international resolve which encourages him to believe that he can flout moral and diplomatic conventions. As we argued last week, we should recall our ambassador and consider sanctions against the regime”.

Indeed, many of us have long been urging Her Majesty’s Government to do just this. I therefore ask precisely what representations were made to Khartoum over the totally inappropriate treatment of the British schoolteacher.

The issues of Darfur—particularly Khartoum’s intransigence and continued aggression—and the growing tension in the south are connected. There is a fear among experts that al-Bashir will exploit the weakness and indecision of the international community regarding Darfur to deliver a decisive defeat to the south as soon as possible. Strong voices in the uppermost circles of Khartoum now recommend this line of action to solve all the other outstanding problems by “resolving” the unfinished campaign in the south. The enduring instability in the vital Abyei area can provide Khartoum with many excuses for violating the recent agreement to revive the CPA. It is therefore very important to signal to Khartoum that the outside world is most interested in the sustenance and completion of the CPA. I hope that the Minister will give reassurances that Her Majesty’s Government will adopt appropriately robust responses to any deviation by Khartoum from the CPA, or to any failure to provide full co-operation for peacekeeping initiatives in Darfur. I also hope that the Minister will give some assurance of adequate succour for the victims of Sudan’s longest-running conflict. They will be deeply interested in the Minister’s reply, and I hope that it will bring them some comfort.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on securing this debate, and thank him for introducing it with considerable passion and understanding.

Since other Peers have spoken about the consequences of conflict, which are well known anyway, I want to concentrate on, first, why conflicts occur and, secondly, what we should do about them. In discussing conflicts in Africa, we must avoid two mistakes. There is a tendency to think that it is a conflict-ridden continent, that conflicts have been there ever since the independence of various countries and that nothing can be done about them. That is not entirely accurate. Conflicts have ebbed and flowed. They peaked in 1991 and then fell. They rose again to 1991 levels in 1998, and they have been falling ever since. Between 2002 and 2005, conflicts in Africa declined by 15 per cent. It is also striking that more and more wars have ended in negotiated settlements, instead of being fought to the end.

The second point is that conflicts in Africa are of three kinds. There are conflicts between countries, conflicts within countries and conflicts that are a mixture of both. They either develop indigenously and then spill over, or they begin outside the borders of these countries and have their consequences within them. It is important to bear in mind that these conflicts have different causes. To homogenise them and assume that they all arise in the same way and can be solved by the same magic wand would be a grave mistake. Therefore, I want to highlight some general factors that seem to characterise all these conflicts, albeit in different forms.

The first factor is the ethnic and religious discrimination in most of these countries. It is striking—all the statistics show it—that those countries that practise ethnic and religious discrimination are 10 times more likely to have wars than those that do not. It is also striking that states that practise ethnic and religious discrimination are five times more likely to fail than those that do not. Therefore, the first problem to address is the question of ethnic and religious discrimination.

The second factor is the easy availability of arms. There are as many as 500 million small and large arms freely available.

The third problem is bad governance. One must bear in mind that in Africa, once you are out of power, you are nothing. You can be harassed, persecuted and deprived of all your rights. Therefore, the only alternatives for those who are discriminated against are to keep fighting or to surrender, in which case they will suffer all the consequences at the hands of those in power. They are simply left with no rational choice to enter into any peaceful negotiations.

The other source of conflict is the ease with which people—rulers in particular—are able to plunder national resources and siphon off money abroad. It is also striking that wars, both civil and international, are more likely in those countries where Governments are able to borrow vast sums from international institutions and bankers in the name of the country. A ruler has a constant temptation to plunder resources, and political power gives him access to them. It is striking that Nigeria’s military leaders left a debt of $30 billion, which is 80 per cent of the GNP, and absolutely nothing could be done about it.

The final factor that causes, or at least aggravates, wars is external interference. This was the case during the Cold War, when one country was played off against another. There is a danger of something similar happening, if we are not careful, with China being actively involved in Africa and we ourselves thinking that we must do everything in our power to stop this, as we did with the Soviet Union. Even if countries do not get involved, multinationals always want to play off one group against another and create conflicts.

This is, briefly, why I think conflicts occur. The question is what we do about them. The first and most important step is to make sure that Africa develops economically. Unless there is a large middle class, and ordinary people have a stake in the country, wars will continue. It is sad and self-contradictory that we talk a great deal about preventing conflicts and do little to provide Africa with sensible terms of trade, or help with economic development. The second important step is to encourage civil society in Africa. Civil society has a greater chance of success if there are sensible international mediators, if conflicts are anticipated in advance, before they appear on the horizon, and if women are involved. It is striking that where women have been involved in negotiating conflict settlements, wars tend to end about six years earlier than they otherwise do; we might have some lessons to learn here, too. Also, when religious leaders are involved, situations are easier to control.

The third important thing to bear in mind is that many of these conflicts have exogenous sources—they arise outside the country and spill over into it. It is extremely important to ensure regional co-operation, as the Great Lakes regional summits have done from time to time. Finally, we must tackle the situation in certain countries where one can get into a position of power, plunder national resources, get kick-backs and siphon off money abroad, or borrow money legitimately from international institutions. It is very important that there should be internationally agreed restrictions on the borrowing privileges of unelected military leaders in those countries. It is also important that their right to dispose of national resources must be severely restricted. It is equally important, in this context, to track the movement of money from African countries to others and the ultimately disgraceful practice of secret Swiss bank accounts. The time has come to put an end to that. It has more to account for in terms of human bloodshed than almost anything else I can think of.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on this timely debate. Africa is rich in natural resources yet remains among the poorest continents in the world. Much of my speech is based on the extensive work carried out by Oxfam, IANSA, Safeworld and Save the Children.

As the noble Lord said, the report estimates that the economic cost of armed conflict in Africa’s development has been about $300 billion since 1990, money which could have helped solve problems such as the spread of HIV/AIDS, addressed Africa’s needs in education, clean water and sanitation and helped towards preventing diseases such as malaria and tuberculosis. The report also estimates that some 95 per cent of Africa's most commonly used weapons come from outside the continent, the most common being the Kalashnikov assault rifle, in particular the AK47, a light rifle readily used by child soldiers, a point that I will return to. Of course some African nations have made significant efforts towards arms control, but there is an urgent need to reduce the international supply of arms and ammunition into Africa, otherwise the cost of African development will be measured not only monetarily but in lives shattered and opportunities squandered. About 40 per cent of the world's conflicts are fought in Africa, conflicts that prevent development and that keep the world's poorest continent poor, confining people to a life of poverty and shrinking economies.

There are huge intangible costs—and here I return to my earlier remarks on child soldiers. Save the Children reports that most child soldiers are abducted or coerced into volunteering to become soldiers. Resistance often means torture or death to them or their families. It reports that, in 2005, more than 8,000 children were still fighting in west Africa, with up to 20,000 more child soldiers waiting to be released. Approximately 300,000 child soldiers are used around the world, with numbers on the increase, not decrease. That is despite the Cape Town principles set down in 1997 by the international community—strict guidelines to eradicate the use of child soldiers and to protect children released from service, children who were subjected to brutal intimidation. Children who have no access to school or healthcare are exposed to abuse and exploitation beyond our imagination. Ex-child soldiers, once released, often find themselves rejected by society. They are refused access to education and find it near impossible to re-enter normal life.

On 5 February 2007, the international community established new guidelines. Johanna MacVeigh, an adviser to Save the Children, said:

“Being recruited by armed forces has a devastating effect on children's lives. They are immersed in violence, are subject to terrible abuse and are forced to forfeit love, play, education and hope. Governments and the United Nations must show their support and commit to stamping out the use of child soldiers”.

The plight of young girls is even more horrific. They face sexual abuse, physical abuse, and then the prospect of rejection by their families. They have to live with the scars left of both physical and emotional abuse inflicted on them by grown men. I recently watched a film called “Blood Diamond”. It was based on true events in Africa, graphically portraying the ugly, violent and tortuous way in which innocence is sucked out of the lives of young children and how easily that is replaced with behaviour devoid of any emotional responsibility towards another human being.

The United Kingdom announced that it would double its support to the African Development Fund over the next three years. I hope that the Minister can tell us whether projects will be funded to look at the rehabilitation of child soldiers and young girls who have suffered abuse. Can she also say what progress African nations are making in achieving the millennium development goals and whether the progress to date looks promising? Unless progress is made in achieving gender balance in both civil and public life in the African continent then changes affecting the plight of women and the implications for the lives of children, particularly girls, will remain a serious issue. When increasing funding levels to Africa, will special attention be paid to empowering women’s organisations so that they can participate more fully in the decision-making process of their nations? Is there any tangible evidence to show that real progress is being made to address gender issues, and are all African nations signed up to implementing real changes?

I look forward to the Minister's response. I am pretty certain that we will revisit this enormously important subject again and again. As we all recognise, the stability and economic success of this region has huge compounding consequences for the rest of the world. In last week's debate on Kenya I argued that the key to success for Africa was to make the continent economically strong and that, to achieve that, our emphasis should be as much on trade as on providing aid. Although I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Luce, that the solution for African peace lies in the hands of African leaders, we in the West cannot expect that its progress will be made and sustained without the West engaging in developing the second-level technologies that are so much needed in providing skills to the people of Africa.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend very warmly. He speaks with passion, especially about Darfur, a word which is almost synonymous with conflict in Africa. However, Abyei, in neighbouring Kordofan, threatens to become another household word if the right action is not taken in time to prevent another conflagration.

The history is important, and the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, have already set the scene. Abyei straddles the border of north and south, the home of the Ngok Dinka people, and is bordered to the north by two sections of the Misseriya cattle herdsmen who have claimed a customary right to graze their animals down to the Bahr el-Arab and other shifting tributaries of the White Nile. It was only in 1905 that Britain brought nine Dinka chiefdoms in Abyei within the borders of Kordofan, setting a fuse for the conflict which broke out after Sudan's independence half a century later.

This dispute should have been settled by the Addis Ababa agreement of 1975, but instead Ngok Dinka became the spearhead of the powerful Anya-Nya II movement, which led to the formation of the SPLA. The Misseriya, meanwhile, raided Dinka villages and enslaved their women in their well known government-backed offensives against the SPLA. The Machakos Protocol of 2002 again postponed the problem, leaving Abyei in the north and excluding it from the prospect of a referendum and self-determination in the south. Abyei from then on became one of the “three areas” separately negotiated and was one of the main causes of delay in the painstaking negotiations that led to the CPA.

The Abyei deadlock seemed to be broken at Naivasha in 2004, with the help of US Senator Danforth, when the Abyei Protocol was conceived as a means of creating a special administrative status for Abyei, and yet again the CPA itself was signed without agreement in those important areas.

The presence of some of Sudan’s most important oilfields has naturally aggravated the dispute, because the revenue, instead of benefiting the people, has been withheld entirely until the boundary is settled. The Abyei boundary commission in a sense revived the pre-1905 boundary by bringing the nine chiefdoms back into the south within a territory still to be defined. This logical solution has been bitterly opposed by the National Congress Party. It seems an intractable issue and will require a much greater international effort to resolve it.

I think that the UN can be seen at its best in this part of Sudan, where demilitarisation and disarmament under the CPA is edging forward on many fronts despite the dissatisfaction on both sides. The SPLA, meanwhile, complains quite reasonably that guarding oilfields cannot explain the vast numbers of government troops still in Upper Nile. The special representative of the Secretary-General has given the UN a new impetus and UNMIS is working overtime towards an agreement, and it has achieved success with confidence-building initiatives and workshops involving civil society.

As my noble friend Lady Cox said, there has been sabre-rattling partly because the Government had not accepted UNMIS's jurisdiction north of Abyei. However, the Ceasefire Joint Military Committee has had some success in defusing conflict and the local monitoring committee has now agreed to lift restrictions on the movement of UNMIS north and south of Abyei.

If we are looking for comprehensive causes of conflict we should include climate change and especially water shortage, whose effect is to drive both pastoral and nomadic tribes, who have traditionally shared resources, into competition at certain times of the year which can be desperate. Abyei and many areas of southern Sudan which were models of racial harmony in the past have become areas of tension, aggravated by recent memories of slaughter during the civil war.

As in Nigeria, the presence of foreign oil companies, however carefully they tread, is bound to make these situations even more explosive if they are not seen to bring direct benefits to the population. I had personal experience of Chevron's activities during a visit to Upper Nile in the early 1980s, and I recall their managers' genuine interest in the welfare of local people. They also drilled successfully in Abyei at that time but they had to work with President Nimeiri, who created his own oil boundary in forming the unity state at Bentu, in 1980. They left soon afterwards and since then the general lack of security throughout the oilfields has further separated the companies from the communities.

Only four years ago about one-quarter of national oil supplies were coming from Abyei but production has since steeply declined. The National Petroleum Commission dominates control of oil resources and the SPLM are hardly involved in the discussions. The south theoretically receives 45 per cent of the revenue, and the Dinka, the Misseriya and the provincial Governments are supposed to receive 2 per cent each. The International Crisis Group has estimated that each 2 per cent would work out at $36 million in 2005-07. Such a contribution paid out now would build up good will and make a huge difference to negotiations on the ground.

How can we help? What is Her Majesty’s Government’s response to the ICG's suggestion that the UN should create a demilitarised zone at Abyei until this conflict is settled? What about the constitutional court? Does the Minister favour that route? Finally, is the Minister aware of the concern among some NGOs about the effectiveness of the pooled funding mechanisms and the speed at which funds can be disbursed through the non-governmental organisations? I have great admiration for those who have to work with the details of conflict resolution in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. I know that the Government have such experts, whom we must use, and I know that the Minister will reflect their opinions today.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on initiating the debate and on his excellent presentation.

The subject is very broad and we do not have time to talk about the details of any particular country. I wish, therefore, to make general comments. During recent history, Africa has experienced significant turmoil, upheaval and war. That ranges from large conflicts including the problems in Darfur and the statelessness of Somalia, to the smaller, more localised problems including the turbulence in the north-east of Kenya involving disputes between different tribal groups.

Africa is a vast continent comprising hundreds of distinct ethnic groups with complex histories. Therefore, the continent has witnessed conflicts of tremendous diversity in nature, size and scope, including struggles for independence, civil war, tribal conflict, genocide and terrorist attacks. All this means that it can be difficult to draw broad conclusions about the causes and consequences of these conflicts. Having said that, it appears possible to draw a clear link between conflict in Africa and poverty. Poor economic development can be seen as both a cause and a consequence of conflict. Conflict can quickly cause inflation, debt, reduced investment and unemployment.

Poverty, in its many facets, can create social discontentment which in turn can create an environment more prone to conflict. Poverty, and specifically financial inequality within a society, can be exploited by leaders to mobilise followers and legitimate violent actions. Thus the nature of the problem goes in a cycle. Poverty results in conflict and conflict results in further poverty. There are also reasons to relate conflict to the absence of good governance. Weak government institutions, a lack of transparency and poor adherence to democratic principles all predispose a state to conflict. The ideas developed by Immanuel Kant in his essay, Perpetual Peace, in 1795 have since evolved into the theory that democracies rarely fight or go to war. It could be suggested that the absence or weakness of democracy in certain African states has led to conflict and war.

Furthermore, conflicts have arisen from the failure of leaders to relinquish power, resulting in military coups and other attempts to seize power. The example set in 1991 by Kenneth Kaunda in Zambia, who gave up power, needs to be repeated in states where unpopular leaders, such as Mugabe, cling to power. In the spirit of working with Africa as a partner, I would like to see Africa solving African problems, through an empowered African Union, albeit working with strong support from the international community. I feel this is probably the best way to deal with problems in Darfur.

The implementation of an international arms trade treaty would represent an important step forward in preventing tomorrow’s crises in Africa becoming violent conflicts. Ninety-five per cent of the small arms in use in Africa were made outside the continent and ensuring tighter global controls on the sale and movement of such weapons would help to stem their flow into Africa, where they fuel conflicts and cause untold damage.

If Africa is to become a peaceful, stable and secure continent, we need to show support to countries recently emerging from conflicts, otherwise those countries may slip back into a cycle of violence and conflict. Conflict resolutions are therefore very important. I would like to take this opportunity to remind us all of China's heavy involvement in Africa. The concern is that the numerous projects and financial aid packages funded by China seem to be unrelated to any requirements for good governance.

However, we are pleased to note that the EU remains the largest donor to Africa and that there seems to be a shift away from projects for Africa towards a more mature partnership involving projects with Africa. This method is to be commended as it represents a stronger and more responsible solution for obtaining peace and development in Africa. I am pleased that, despite problems connected with Mr Mugabe, the EU-Africa summit was held last week in Lisbon.

A major challenge facing Africa as a continent is climate change, the effects of which could stoke new conflicts in the continent in the years to come. There are predictions from some scientists that the continent will have 25 per cent less water by the end of the century. This points towards an increasingly bleak scenario for certain areas of Africa, in which the availability of water will decrease and there will be a reduction in viable agricultural land and an increase in food shortages, possibly leading to conflict. We all appreciate that the problem of climate change needs to be tackled globally, but I am very pleased that we have taken the initiative and are discussing the Climate Change Bill.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this debate and on generating such a wide-ranging and interesting one that covers so many topics. Others have talked about governmental and strategic issues; I want to talk more on the local level about a single topic, health, which I hope will complement what others have said. Health is an area where, I believe, more action is possible. I will make my remarks about, first, the impact of conflict on health; then on the support that health can give in dealing with the aftermath; and, finally, on preventing conflict in the first place.

On the impact, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, began our debate by telling us that awful story about Kinshasa hospital. Others have commented on the impact of conflict on health. I want to pull out two aspects that I think have not yet been mentioned. One is the long-term nature of the damage done; for instance, if a child does not get appropriate nutrition early in life, there will be impacts on the development of the brain and the rest of the body. Therefore, in the longer term, if a community contains many such people, there is less ability to develop that society economically. That is a real, long-term impact on individuals.

Secondly, there is another long-term economic impact. Before conflict, Liberia had something like 500 doctors—not very many. After conflict, it had about 75. It was also observed that, as more doctors were brought into Liberia, inflation on salaries was not 1,000 per cent but 1,000 times their salaries. We have therefore seen inflation and changes in costs in Liberia having knock-on effects elsewhere. So, my first point is that impacts can be very long-term, and they therefore need action that is sustained over the long term.

On dealing with the aftermath of conflict, the UK can do—and already does—an enormous amount. It can do that practically to support local people. I certainly take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, that it will be Africans who solve Africa’s problems, but that does not mean that we cannot be there in support, providing help through respectful partnerships based on trust. As a simple example, the King’s College NHS trust here in London has, since 2000, been partnered with Somaliland. Over that period, something like 90 people from that trust have gone for various periods to work with partners in Somaliland. They are starting to have a real impact: this year, for the first time in 20 years, medical students graduated in Somaliland. I could give other examples of partnerships; there is the Cheltenham link with Sierra Leone that was mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jones. It is interesting to note that these volunteers are going to work in countries with such difficult circumstances.

Earlier this year, I published a report for the then Prime Minister on what more the UK could do to support such person-to-person or institution-to-institution partnerships. I am yet awaiting a government response, so I will take this opportunity to ask two specific questions. First, do the Government support and value that sort of capacity-building partnership in the aftermath of conflict, or in developing countries in any case? Secondly, the Government give no significant financial support there, so will they do so in future? There is much more that we can do to mobilise the terrific good will in this country to support such people. This is about people-to-people partnerships; we should pause to salute the many people who take on those difficult and daunting responsibilities. Health, with other actions, is thus a key part of development.

I will move briefly to prevention, with two examples. The first is of eight countries from west Africa, a sub-region that has been devastated by ongoing civil conflict. As a result, populations have been dispersed and infrastructure has collapsed. As a means to break the cycle and provide a stabilising influence on security in that sub-region, as well as addressing the crisis in healthcare provision, the ministries of health in those eight countries met in August 2001 and developed the “Health for Peace” initiative. That was designed so that they would work together—they are, generally, small countries—with different countries taking the lead on different aspects of health, which provides a common ground. I should declare an interest as chairman of Sightsavers International, one of the British organisations that have been playing the lead role in eye health in that region.

West Africa is not the only example. I am indebted to Ingrid Stellmacher of the International Commission of Peace for drawing my attention to many others around the world, not just in Africa, where health has, in many places,

“provided a platform to build cultural bridges and social cohesion … Health care professionals and the accompanying systems can promote greater community and race understanding and promote tolerance and non-violence”.

She has also observed to me that, in many places, hospitals or health facilities are relatively neutral grounds where communities can come together.

Finally, health is a basic human need. We need to see it as a much greater part of the whole development process, and in terms of the practical things that can be done to bring people together at both individual and community levels. I believe that paying more attention to health can play a big role in conflict prevention, during conflict and, of course, in rehabilitation.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate. I should at the outset declare an interest, as for the past 12 years my wife and I have worked on a hospital ship in most of the countries of west Africa under the auspices of the charity Mercy Ships. We have seen at close quarters the appalling results of conflict—especially in Sierra Leone and Liberia, which have been torn apart by civil war.

There, rebel soldiers would invade a village, round up the children and ask each one, “Are you left- or right-handed?”. If a child said “Right-handed”, the rebels would amputate the right hand. The children became wise to this, so if they were right-handed they would say that they were left-handed. That hand would then be amputated, but at least they were left with their more useful hand. The fate of the adults was even worse. The women were repeatedly raped and often killed, and the men killed in their hundreds.

Then there was Salamatu, a 19 year-old married lady in Sierra Leone with a young baby. The rebels surrounded her village, murdered her father and took her into the bush. They forced her to choose her fate by making her pick up one of three pieces of paper. On one was written, “Hands and feet”; on another “Feet and waist”, and on the third “Hands and waist”. Not knowing the significance, she picked up the paper with “Feet and waist” on it. The rebels promptly amputated both feet and her buttocks with a machete, cheering as pieces of her body fell to the ground.

In spite of all those disasters, and the death of her husband a few years later, she eventually made her painful way to the hospital ship, where she was hospitalised for four months while having extensive and successful plastic surgery. She was fitted with lightweight, artificial legs. As her story became known, donations came in that enabled a house to be constructed for her and for her dependants, and to provide her with the materials to start a tie-dying business that would make her self-sufficient. What amazing courage and faith; it was a great inspiration to all 400 people on that hospital ship.

Then there was a girl of 12, kidnapped by the rebel soldiers in Sierra Leone and taken away as a hostage. They raped and tortured her for a whole year and left her doubly incontinent. Somehow or other, she managed to escape and hide in the jungle for a week; no one knows how she managed to survive, but she made her way to the ship and her appalling injuries were corrected surgically, which made her completely continent again. However, psychologically she was very damaged indeed, and it was the tender, loving care of the nurses on board that helped her to come to terms with her appalling trauma.

Many of the countries in Africa are potentially rich, as many noble Lords have already said, in diamonds and other resources. Sierra Leone should bring prosperity to its citizens, but the corruption and intertribal warfare have prevented this.

One of the most interesting countries in west Africa is Ghana. We often wondered what makes that country different from the neighbouring countries; it may be that its educational structure is the solution, as children of different tribes and religion are educated peacefully together, which creates lifelong friendships and tends to preclude later internecine warfare.

There have been some encouraging signs elsewhere in west Africa. The 2,000 British troops who restored and maintained the peace in Sierra Leone did so much more besides in helping the local population to rebuild their homes, schools and hospitals. They went the second, third and fourth mile—so much so that many of the Sierra Leoneans asked the British troops to stay for ever and run their country. In Liberia, there is also good news, as they have elected a president, Mrs Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who is the first lady president in Africa. She is strong, honest and charming.

Has the Minister thought of using the really radical solution to the African problems which Costa Rica found when it abolished its army in 1948? As the New Internationalist stated in August 2005, as a result of abolishing the army,

“the nation’s limited resources were channelled into infrastructure, especially education and health, which rewarded the country with the highest living standard in Central and South America”.

There are now 28 nations without armies. Former Costa Rican president, Dr Arias Sanchez, has stressed that abolishing the army reduces the threat of military coups but he emphasises that it is essential to have a comprehensive programme to disarm and reintegrate soldiers into society. Otherwise, armed groups can reform under a different banner. Radical and imaginative solutions are essential for this terribly troubled continent.

My Lords, I join in the congratulations expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on returning to a subject that has been discussed several times during the current Parliament; in the debate on the Address, in his own Question on the Oxfam report and in the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Soley, on liberal intervention.

The Government have agreed with the estimate that conflict in Africa is costing $18 billion a year, which is roughly the same as the amount of aid by the whole of the world. In the year to June 2008, the UN budget for peacekeeping in six of the seven major conflicts where it is involved comes to $4.9 billion, which does not include the amount for Chad and the CAR, for which the budget has still to be agreed. In addition, there is the 3,700-strong EU force to be deployed in Chad starting early next year, the UN Peacebuilding Support Office in CAR, and the UNHCR’s operations in Africa, for which it is requesting $380 million in 2008. That is to consider only the direct costs of the seven larger conflicts, leaving out the numerous indirect costs to the UN and its agencies such as those incurred in the conflict in Somalia, and of the smaller conflicts in Ethiopia, Nigeria, Kenya, and so on.

The Oxfam estimate is a conservative one, as Oxfam acknowledges. It includes nothing for Somalia, for the simple reason that there are no data, and nothing for the cost of armed crime, on which the only data, in relation to Ghana and Nigeria alone, are seven years out of date. There are also no data for piracy along the coasts of Africa, including 27 hijacks or attempts near the Somali coast alone this year. The downstream costs, extending for a generation or more, are also neglected in these estimates, as has been highlighted by the noble Lords, Lord McColl and Lord Crisp, simply because they are utterly incalculable. However, as the Commission for Africa said:

“War does not only harm people. It destroys roads, bridges, farming equipment, telecommunications, water and sanitation systems. It shuts down hospitals and schools. It slows trade and economic life, sometimes to a halt”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Crisp, said, those effects carry on for many years after a conflict has ended.

One contributory factor identified by Oxfam and highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is the steady flow of weaponry into the hands of private militias and organised criminal gangs. Most of the arms and ammunition come from outside Africa, and in spite of the EU code of conduct, which prohibits arms exports that provoke or prolong conflicts or aggravate existing tensions or conflicts, one EU state is the largest supplier of ammunition to sub-Saharan Africa. The international arms trade treaty, which all noble Lords have agreed is absolutely necessary, will have to include better provisions for reporting and enforcement than the EU code. It will be useful to hear from the Minister whether in the light of experience that code is to be strengthened, and what the EU is intending to propose to the UN group of experts when they start work on drafting the treaty next month. Will they seek to include an international monitoring mechanism such as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has indicated would be of great importance?

One answer to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, is that it is impossible to generalise about the causes of conflict in Africa, although I agree to some extent with the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, that many of them are due to ethnic and religious differences. For instance, there is only one that I can think of that is based on traditional antipathy between two neighbouring states, ostensibly but not mainly about the boundary between them. That is the confrontation between Eritrea and Ethiopia, and their proxy war in Somalia, which stems from the grievous mistake of the UN in 1950, when Eritrea was compulsorily federated with Ethiopia in the absence of any proper democratic consultation. When the people of Eritrea rose against the colonialist occupation, and there was a war of independence lasting 29 years, the international community did not lift a finger to help, and the Foreign Office throughout continued to parrot the mantra that some form of federal solution was best for the people of Eritrea.

When the Eritreans finally gained their independence, but war broke out again over the boundary, the international community failed to act firmly against Meles Zenawi’s refusal to accept the findings of the boundary commission. Now, after that commission has been disbanded, Meles remains in illegal occupation of some Eritrean territory, and refuses to accept the commission’s final recommendation for the boundary to be demarcated by co-ordinates. One-quarter of a million troops are confronting each other along this border, and Eritrea, a desperately poor country of 4 million inhabitants, has become a militarised police state, dubbed the worst country in the world for press freedom. Those are the reasons that the UN has to spend $120 million on the peacekeeping forces of UNMEE this year, and they help to explain why the two states are involved in a war in Somalia. Even now, if the UN took a robust line on the border decision and on withdrawal of Ethiopian forces, it could solve this problem, which would allow both countries to reduce military spending, to benefit from trade through Assab and Massawa, and to release the agricultural potential along the border. What is the UK doing, as a friend of both countries and as a permanent member of the Security Council, to avert this potential war?

I do not underestimate the risk of a resumption of the conflict between north and south Sudan, which has been referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, who urged us to take action to shore up the CPA and to make Abyea into a demilitarised zone. I look forward to hearing what the Minister has to say on that. The situation in Darfur, which is turning into the most expensive of all UN peacekeeping operations, illustrates the problem of mobilising international action even when you have in front of you “an overwhelming humanitarian catastrophe”—to use the language that justified the intervention in Kosovo without the approval of the Security Council, as we discussed the other day in the debate of the noble Lord, Lord Soley. Although objectively the Darfur statistics on the loss of life and the dispossession and involuntary displacement of inhabitants far exceed the worst that could have happened in Kosovo, the deployment of the hybrid force to protect the people and to allow refugees and IDPs to return home has been thrown into doubt by Khartoum’s refusal to accept non-African forces, and by the persistent obstruction by President al-Bashir, which is still continuing. Yet there was no mention of Darfur or any of the other conflicts in the EU-AU summit declaration. The communiqué said that a high-level EU delegation discussed the refugee situation with President al-Bashir, and President Sarkozy said:

“We told him it is in Sudan’s best interests ... that there is a halt to the massacres on its territory and that in order for the massacres to stop, the hybrid force needs to be deployed as soon as possible”.

Is that really all that the EU has achieved? It must be clear to Khartoum that there are no penalties attached to its intransigence over the UN deployment, and that with the EU unable to come up with the hardware necessary to make it a success, there is no real political will in Brussels either. If I am wrong, I sincerely hope that the Minister will correct me.

To return to where I started, the debate has amply demonstrated that conflict and insecurity have been identified as the greatest barriers to development for poor people across the continent of Africa. As Saferworld emphasises, all the evidence—the World Bank’s Voices of the Poor, the report of the UN High-level Panel on Threats, Challenges and Change and the Commission for Africa’s report, among others—points to the conclusion that secure environments are fundamental prerequisites to the achievement of human development. Collectively, we are still not doing enough either to restore peace in several of the most severe conflicts or to prevent new conflicts breaking out where there are clear signs of imminent danger.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate so forcefully and also for his admirable consistency in highlighting these serious subjects. I thank noble Lords for all their interesting contributions. This was your Lordships’ House at its best. I will not go into detail on individual countries, as each one mentioned has been covered comprehensively by your Lordships in a better way than I could do.

Let me start with the proposition that the causes and consequences of conflict in Africa are often indistinguishable. Poverty, for example, can provoke violence, and violence can perpetuate poverty. Desperate and impoverished groups of people are more likely to turn to violent conflict. Violent conflict can lead to the reallocation, misappropriation and diminution of vital resources, and the fiscal cost of conflict invariably has an adverse effect on the living standards of the poorest people. A report on armed conflict in Africa has shown that the cost to the continent’s development over a 15-year period was, as we have heard from the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and my noble friend Lady Verma, nearly $300 billion or £146 billion. Between 1990 and 2005, 23 African nations were involved in conflict, and, on average, that cost African economies $18 billion a year. The report argues that this sum of money is,

“equivalent to international aid from major donors in the same period. If this money was not lost due to armed conflict, it could solve the problems of HIV and AIDS in Africa, or it could address Africa’s needs in education, clean water and sanitation, and prevent tuberculosis and malaria”.

However, poverty in itself is not the only cause of conflict and it is not my intention to oversimplify the matter. If poverty were the only cause, there would doubtless be many more outbreaks of violence across the developed and the developing world. Clearly, there are many complicated, diverse and interrelated factors which lead to conflict; so many that it is almost impossible to list them all. However, I believe that there are certain underlying factors, which I am sure your Lordships will agree have contributed to the outbreak of conflict in Africa. So what are those factors?

Corruption and bad governance, ethnic divisions and religious intolerance, illegitimate government, scarcity of resources, despicable human rights abuses, and, according to Professor Paul Collier in The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It,

“low incomes, slow growth, and dependence upon primary commodity exports”,

have all contributed, and will continue to contribute, to the many instances of violent conflict in Africa.

Furthermore, societies that have one group large enough to form a majority of the population, but where other groups are still significant, are indeed more at risk. The list of causes goes on and the effects are paramount. As we have heard from many noble Lords, since 2003 Darfur in western Sudan has been in the grip of a bitter civil conflict between African rebels and government troops. In the past four years, more than 200,000 people have lost their lives, 2 million been made homeless, and a further 2 million forced to rely on foreign aid. We all know that when civilian populations are provided with at least a basic standard of living, when Governments have a proper mandate to govern, when individuals are allowed to go about their daily business without fear of persecution, and when a country’s economy is able to achieve a certain level of sustainable growth, then the probability of conflict is radically reduced, and reduced it must be. As Professor Paul Collier points out:

“Civil war is development in reverse. It damages both the country itself and its neighbours”.

That is a very good way of putting it. So, what can we do to minimise the risk of future conflicts in Africa or to solve the problems? In his eloquent speech the noble Lord, Lord Luce, stressed a positive approach towards reconstruction, suggesting that the talented African diaspora be encouraged to return or to help in some way. My noble friend Lord McColl, in his moving speech, spoke about Costa Rica’s radical solution.

I suggest four ideas. First, as Andrew Mitchell, the Shadow Secretary of State has said, we should show a lead in promoting UN reforms to strengthen UN peacekeeping and peacemaking efforts around the world and to protect vulnerable populations from great harm. Secondly, we should make certain that aid is monitored and spent effectively, and that it reaches those people who really need it. Relieving hardship may be the best form of conflict prevention. Thirdly, we should work with the international community to reduce formal and informal trade barriers that hinder growth; because without growth peace is considerably more difficult. Fourthly, we should address the problem of conflict from a practical, rather than from solely an academic, perspective.

As the Department for International Development noted in its 2001 consultation document, The causes of conflict in Africa, by 2000, more than half the countries in Africa and 20 per cent of the population were affected by conflict. Not much has changed today, as we heard in the debate, despite aid of billions. The facts of civil war are clear; thousands of people are exposed to risk of death or displacement, and the process of development is severely hindered.

Conservatives support the principle of an international arms trade treaty to make certain that other countries live up to Britain’s high standards of arms export control. What progress has been made on such a treaty?

Until there is peace in Africa, opportunities for development by us are limited. I have not mentioned today China, India, Malaysia and others, but support all that my noble friend Lady Park and the noble Lord, Lord Luce, said about those countries.

I end, as did my noble friend Lady Verma and the noble Lord, Lord Luce, by reiterating that Africa should help itself. However, after so many years of fighting, it is clear that external help, too, is needed to end its many conflicts.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate and for drawing our attention to this vital issue. I am grateful also for the characteristically well informed contributions from all noble Lords who have participated in this powerful debate.

Conflict has sadly been a regular feature in Africa in recent decades, although we should be careful not to fall into generalisations—a large majority of Africans continue to live in peace. The end of the Cold War had a dramatic impact in Africa. Governments often lost the economic and military props they had previously enjoyed and political change was suddenly on the agenda. Conflict in Africa since the early 1990s has been largely internal, with government forces pitted against rebel groups often representing regional or ethnic interests. Cross-border groups acting as proxies for neighbouring regimes have been common. The number of conflicts rose dramatically, reaching a peak in 1999, which saw 17 significant conflicts.

Every conflict in Africa has its own complex story, its own specific triggers and drivers, but there are some clear trends, of which climate change, cited by the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is clearly one. The noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, was right to mention poverty as an underlying cause of conflict. The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, spoke of governance: economically developed democratic countries rarely fall into conflict, which is often a product of poor governance and lack of development, and which then reinforces them. Many post-colonial African states have been vulnerable to conflict because they lacked the ability to act like a state, to provide a secure environment for their citizens and improve their quality of life. In many cases, the state is next to non-existent in remote rural parts of Africa. It is no surprise that many armed conflicts arise in such areas. Too many African Governments in the past have been non-inclusive, favouring one or more regional, ethnic or social groups at the expense of others. That has left other groups excluded, with no channels to express their grievances and often no access to scarce resources.

If those basic problems of governance and exclusion have lit the flames of conflict, they have been fanned by many other drivers, including impunity and arms. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, rightly drew attention to the pernicious impact of irresponsible arms trading in Africa, in particular in small arms. In some African countries, a few hundred men with small arms can have a huge and terrible impact. There may be major barriers to trade within Africa, but the Kalashnikov is an exception. The noble Lord powerfully pointed out that weapons represent power and pride; they fuel the conflicts that sap human life and economics.

Many noble Lords mentioned the arms trade treaty. The UK was the first major arms exporter to throw its weight behind the campaign for an arms trade treaty. We want a treaty with teeth, which will make a real difference to those who are suffering as a result of armed conflict in Africa. UK engagement has been instrumental in galvanising international support, and we will not lose our resolve on this matter. To my noble friend Lord Judd, I say that we will continue to engage with the US on this issue and to encourage it to participate as work progresses, with the aim of securing its support for an eventual treaty.

Violence begets violence. Too many African Governments have used their security forces not to defend their people, but to oppress them. This often creates a bad neighbourhood, encouraging others to use proxies. We saw the impact of Charles Taylor’s appalling regime throughout the Mano river sub-region, and events in Darfur have exacerbated instability in Chad and the Central African Republic. Perhaps we should pay more heed to the example of Costa Rica, as cited by the noble Lord, Lord McColl.

We know only too well the devastating consequences of conflict in Africa. First, as always, should come the human impact. Figures are unreliable, especially so given the nature and location of many African conflicts. Battle deaths probably reached some 100,000 per year in the late 1990s, but have now declined significantly. The number of total deaths was much higher, from disease—including HIV—displacement, malnutrition and the like. The numbers of those suffering physical and mental injuries, from the trauma of experiencing extreme violence, the appalling phenomenon of child soldiers and the terrible incidence of sexual violence in eastern DRC, are enormous and sometimes forgotten. We must not forget the terrible hardship and impact of internal and external displacement, with the brightest and best often fleeing their homelands for ever. It is only the amazing fortitude of many people in Africa, and their willingness to forgive, that prevents the human impact being larger. I shall return to child soldiers.

The recent report by three NGOs that was cited by many noble Lords gives us a dramatic sense of the economic costs of conflict. It is a powerful and sobering report, and we have no reason to take a radically different view from that expressed in it. Similar conclusions were drawn last year by the International Development Select Committee. What is undeniable is that conflict undermines development. In 2005, it was estimated that of the 34 countries furthest from achieving the MDGs, 22 were in conflict or emerging from it. In Sierra Leone’s conflict, for example, rice production fell to 20 per cent of its pre-war levels. I am delighted that the noble Lord, Lord Jones, and Cheltenham hospital are having such a tangible impact in a country that is still suffering from conflict. The noble Baroness, Lady Verma, asked about progress on the MDGs. Despite the fact that UN Millennium Development Goals report 2007 noted that efforts to meet them are being undermined by insecurity and instability, progress is being made. According to the UN, poverty in sub-Saharan Africa has fallen by nearly six percentage points since 2000. We are contributing £417 million to the African Development Fund over the next three years, which is double the amount of previous support.

On child soldiers, the UK has been active in supporting activity that addresses the terrible effects on the children involved, including innovative work in Sierra Leone and northern Uganda. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness that putting resources in the hands of women and involving civil society in conflict issues is terribly important. That is integral to DfID’s work. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, spoke about conflict resolution and the important part that women can play in that.

Conflict is not just a tragedy for Africa, but a very serious issue for the wider world and this country. It brings direct costs to the international community: lost trade and investment, spending on emergency and post-conflict aid, and international intervention. Perhaps more significantly, conflict can fuel uncontrolled migration and create ungoverned spaces, which criminal networks and extremists can exploit.

This sounds like a very bleak picture, but there is real cause for optimism; things are improving. The number of conflicts in Africa has reduced dramatically in recent years, from 17 significant conflicts in 1999 to five in 2005, but of course those conflicts are dreadful. This is not by chance. African countries and the international community are taking a more active approach and greater responsibility for preventing conflicts before they begin, ending them when they start and providing the means to recover from them.

The formation of the African Union in 2002 enshrined a new commitment to democracy and sound economic management. The picture remains uneven, of course, but two-thirds of African countries now have multi-party elections and the successful military coup has almost ended as a way of changing governments. The AU no longer recognises regimes that have come to power by force. It has distanced itself from the former Organisation of African Unity’s mantra of non-interference in internal affairs and has committed itself to a policy of non-indifference. The AU has acted on this, sending peacekeeping missions to Burundi, Darfur and Somalia, leading peace negotiations and preventing conflict through mediation. We should continue to encourage and support this trend. The AU has also developed a long-term vision of an African peace and security architecture, covering early warning, mediation, peacekeeping and post-conflict work. This Government is one of the AU’s major supporters in this. We have trained more than 11,000 African peacekeepers since 2004 and provided capacity-building support to the AU and African regional organisations such as ECOWAS.

At the UN, 60 per cent of the Security Council’s time is spent on African issues. Many of the largest UN peacekeeping missions in the world are in Africa—in DRC, Liberia, southern Sudan and, soon, in Darfur in partnership with the African Union. Peacekeeping is a vital and effective tool. UN, AU and EU missions contribute to a more secure environment in Africa. The UN world summit in 2005 saw a clear recognition of the links between conflict and development. One of the outcomes was the peacebuilding commission, which aims to highlight the critical gaps between peacekeeping and post-conflict development, and better to co-ordinate international donors to ensure that funds are used more strategically. The first two countries to be addressed are Sierra Leone and Burundi. The UK has contributed some £30 million to the peacebuilding fund.

On conflict resources, the Kimberley process, involving governments, industry and civil society, has made remarkable progress. In the 1990s some 15 per cent of all diamonds traded internationally were conflict diamonds. Now, some 99.8 per cent are traded legitimately through a system of inspections, certificates and warranties. We do not have to be impotent; sometimes we can make things work.

The UK has been instrumental in ensuring that those who perpetrate genocide and crimes against humanity are held to account. We are strong supporters of the International Criminal Court and the international tribunals in Rwanda and Sierra Leone. We stand by to imprison Charles Taylor if he is convicted by the special court in Sierra Leone. The British Government take a comprehensive approach to conflict in Africa, bringing together diplomatic development and defence expertise from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, the Department for International Development and the Ministry of Defence to work on African conflict-prevention programmes, totalling more than £350 million since 2001. We also aim to ensure that all our development work is sensitive to conflict. This is essential. Rwanda, just before the genocide, seemed to be making social and economic progress, but foreign assistance was not addressing the fundamental divisions within that society.

Of course, there is absolutely no room for complacency. The crisis in Darfur continues; the Government of Sudan continue to put obstacles in the way of the UN/AU mission. The prompt deployment of effective force is essential. We are doing all we can to ensure that the UN can generate the necessary force and that the Government of Sudan and the rebel movements deliver on their commitments. We are working hard to encourage a solution to the differences between north and south Sudan in implementing the comprehensive peace agreement. This is indivisible from the solution to the Darfur crisis. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke powerfully about the needs of the people of southern Sudan. We welcome the SPLM’s announcement that it will rejoin the Government of National Unity.

Two parties have made detailed plans for redeployment of forces in three phases, with 100 per cent deployment by 9 January. Abyei will be protected by joint integrated units and will be monitored by UNMIS. We welcome this. We have supported the capacity building for the JIUs. The UK is supporting the work of the Darfur Assessment and Evaluation Commission, an independent body, whose remit is to monitor and report on the implementation of the CPA. The UK also supports a high-level international meeting to push for more rapid CPA implementation. Of course, free and fair national elections in 2009 are crucial for the whole of Sudan. On peacekeeping in Darfur, we call on the Government to co-operate fully with the DPKO/AU force on composition and deployment. The question of helicopters was very well dealt with at Question Time. Clearly, the Government hope to bring this to the EU heads of government at the earliest opportunity. We are very frustrated by the lack of helicopters.

The situations in Somalia and eastern DRC remain real causes for concern. In eastern DRC the situation is fast-moving and we are aware of Nkunda’s counteroffensive. The real concern is that the current situation is creating more humanitarian misery. It is essential that we focus on the underlying problems, action against both Nkunda and the FDLR in parallel, and that we continue to focus on the political end-game.

The noble Baroness, Lady Park of Monmouth, and the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, quite rightly and properly drew our attention to the appalling situation in Zimbabwe. The tragedy is unfolding daily before our eyes and continues to endanger stability in the whole area. Like them, I pay tribute to the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York for his persistence where Zimbabwe is concerned. Like the noble Lord, Lord Luce, the Government believe that the solution to Zimbabwe’s current crisis has, ultimately, to be an African one, supported by the international community. We support President Mbeke in leading efforts to resolve Zimbabwe’s problems and President Wade of Senegal’s recent comments on the need for the whole of Africa to solve the problem. We want to see positive outcomes on the ground. That is the only real test of any initiative.

Zimbabwe’s crisis is not only a regional or African problem, although it requires strong African leadership that is willing to condemn atrocities and recognise injustice. I cannot quite remember the very excellent quotation of the noble Lord, Lord Blaker, but I entirely agree with him about resolute actions. At the last meeting in August, SADC’s leaders did not blame the EU or the West for Zimbabwe’s problems. It was a very small step forward, but perhaps we should take some small comfort from that.

I listened carefully to the experiences and wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Luce. I very much like his idea of an EU/AU plan to mobilise members of the diaspora who have skills that can be used in peacebuilding. Having had discussions with various diasporas in the past, I am sure that they would warm to such a suggestion. The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, and others drew our attention to the impact of conflict on health, that basic human need. Yes, the Government strongly support partnerships such as the one he cited between King’s College Hospital and Somaliland. I will come back to him on the issue of funding. I greatly respect the noble Lord, Lord McColl, for his extraordinary work on mercy ships and, of course, the organisation itself. His words were chilling, but the work that he does brings warmth to our hearts and we are very proud of him.

In respect of the border dispute between Eritrea and Ethiopia, the Government’s policy is based on three principles: avoiding a return to war, which would be unacceptable; demarcating the border; and finding a way for the parties to normalise relations. In November we set out this policy very forcefully when the Foreign Secretary met the Ethiopian Foreign Minister, when the noble Baroness, Lady Vadera, and the British ambassador to Ethiopia met the Ethiopian Prime Minister. The noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown also conveyed these points to the Eritrean foreign minister. We recognise the seriousness of that issue.

The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, asked about pooled funding. The UK in southern Sudan uses the pooled mechanism with six other donors and works to assist the Government of southern Sudan to use the World Bank-managed multi-donor trust fund.

There are important future challenges for the UK and the wider international community. First, there is the question of progress on agreeing an arms trade treaty at the UN. We need a treaty that will stop the irresponsible trade in weapons that are used to fuel conflict, repression and human rights abuses. Secondly, we should ensure that the concept of responsibility to protect, endorsed by 191 world leaders at the UN world summit in 2005, is operationalised so we can help states to improve their capacity to prevent the most egregious crimes. Where they are not upholding their responsibilities we pressurise them to do so, and as a last resort we step in when they fail. That is part and parcel of the Government’s approach to hard-headed internationalism. Thirdly, new approaches should be developed to new challenges such as the potential impact on Africa’s security of climate change as water, land and other resources become scarcer in some areas. Finally, we should put into action the key linkages highlighted recently by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister to ensure that all future peacekeeping missions have plans for post-conflict recovery at their heart.

The Government are fully committed to addressing both the fundamental causes of conflict in Africa and its consequences. We will continue to put that at the heart of our broader agenda for Africa’s development and to use our influence within the wider international community.

My Lords, every contribution to this debate has demonstrated a breadth of knowledge and, from all parts of your Lordships’ House, a profound love of Africa and African people. The debate has been enriched by the experience of three former Ministers, by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, speaking from the government Front Bench and by the other Front-Bench speakers, and by many other notable contributions based on personal experience and real knowledge.

Many speeches have concentrated on the situation in specific countries such as Sudan, Zimbabwe, Congo and Somalia. Others have looked at the human costs, especially to women and children, at the opportunity costs and economic costs of conflict and the correlation between conflict and poverty. Others again have talked about conflicts that have arisen, how we might end them and the role of international agencies and countries such as China and Russia.

A large number of speeches have called for an end to the flow of arms into Africa. As some developed nations continue to sell arms into Africa, we have to ask: where are our consciences? As some African leaders continue corruptly to squander lives and resources, where are theirs? That is why so many have called for an arms trade treaty.

Before all other targets for Africa, both within and outside the continent, we need to mobilise our ingenuity and our resources to end the conflicts that take so many lives and endanger development. In once again thanking all noble Lords who have participated, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Security Industry Authority

My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will now repeat a Statement made in another place earlier this afternoon by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.

“Following my Statement of 13 November, I would like to update the House on the actions that we are taking to address Security Industry Authority licensing checks and the issue of entitlement to work in the United Kingdom.

“An SIA licence demonstrates that the holder has undergone training and that identity and criminality checks have been completed. An SIA licence has never constituted evidence of entitlement to work in this country and it is the responsibility of employers to ensure that the people whom they employ are entitled to work.

“Before my previous Statement, steps were already being taken to prevent illegal working in the security industry. From 2 July 2007, the SIA introduced immigration status checks with the Border and Immigration Agency on all non-EEA applicants as part of the security industry licensing process. This is not a substitute for employers meeting their clear obligations, but the SIA checks provide a double lock on illegal working in this area.

“Alongside these immigration status checks, my department took steps to determine how many people who were granted licences prior to 2 July did not have the right to work. Plans were put in place for the BIA to check all the 39,885 non-EEA nationals licensed by the SIA before 2 July. Manual checks had started at the rate of 1,000 cases per week.

“I wanted the process to be speeded up without compromising accuracy. I therefore ordered automatic matching between the SIA list of non-EEA nationals and databases operated by the BIA and UKvisas. The BIA and the SIA have now completed these checks on the 39,885 non-EEA nationals licensed by the SIA before 2 July. On the basis of these checks, I am advised that the BIA is fully satisfied that 28,737 have the right to work in this country. It believes that 6,653 do not have the right to work in this country. In 4,447 other cases, the BIA is not satisfied that the individual has proved the right to work. The balance of 48 represents duplicate records.

“The following steps are being taken to revoke the licences of those found not to be entitled to work in this country. The SIA has written to all companies on its database to remind them of the need to check regularly on the SIA’s website the registers of licence holders and of revoked licences, to ensure that all their staff have the right to work. The registers are currently receiving over 1,000 hits a day.

“Apart from a small number of cases where the SIA licence is close to expiry, the SIA has written to all those individuals—more than 10,500—where checks indicate no right to work or where the BIA is not satisfied that the individual has the right to work. These letters advise the licence holder that the SIA is minded to revoke their licence. The SIA gives the recipients 21 days in which to respond with further information and it expects that many will do so. If evidence is not forthcoming, the SIA will move for revocation. The law then allows the individual a further 21 days in which to appeal to the magistrates’ or sheriff courts.

“Once the SIA has completed this process, it will be in a position to determine the number of individuals not entitled to work but who obtained SIA licences prior to the new double-lock checking regime now in place. The SIA expects that a significant proportion may yet establish that they have a right to work in this country. I am advised that, of the new applications for licences initially considered for refusal by the SIA on the basis of checks with the BIA following 2 July, over 30 per cent have since shown that they have the right to work. The SIA will publish the final numbers of the pre-2 July group on its website when they are complete.

“I repeat that it is important that all employers fulfil their obligations by carrying out all the proper checks before taking anyone on. We are also taking further steps to protect the public from those individuals who we suspect have breached our immigration laws by working here illegally. First, all the cases where minded-to-revoke action is now being taken against individuals have been passed to BIA enforcement intelligence units to be assessed for further action. The BIA is screening these individuals against the police national computer and other databases so that we can target any individuals who may pose a risk to the public.

“Secondly, these cases are being analysed for evidence of employers who appear to have a track record of employing people who do not have a right to work. BIA tells me that a third of its illegal-working operation is currently being deployed on this employment sector. Visits to specific individuals and employers have already begun and swift action has been taken in those cases that merit it. A series of targeted enforcement operations will take place in the coming months, with a view to prosecuting employers and removing or prosecuting individuals in the worst cases.

“Thirdly, in line with our enforcement strategy, we will continue to target illegal working on the basis of the risk of harm to the public. New powers that come into force in February mean that we can more easily fine employers who break the rules. Now that we have identified a significant problem in the security industry, we will maintain a focus on its employers and staff.

“We are taking other steps to further guard against illegal working in the security industry. First, the BIA has passed to the SIA the right-to-work expiry dates of all existing licence holders and recent new applicants. The SIA has agreed that in future it will send minded-to-revoke letters to all these licence holders shortly before their right to work status expires. Secondly, I have asked the BIA to work with the SIA to provide specialist advice to enhance its ability to spot fraudulent documentation. Thirdly, at present, the SIA’s licence application form does not specifically ask applicants to state that they have the right to work in the United Kingdom. I have therefore asked the SIA to review the application form to ensure that it contains all the information that both the SIA and the BIA may need with a view to making changes as soon as possible. Fourthly, in January, the SIA will run a joint seminar with the British Security Industry Association to underline the importance of employers meeting their responsibilities in this area. Fifthly, the task force that I set up to resolve this issue in September, chaired by my honourable friend the Member for Gedling, will continue to oversee action.

“I believe that the update that I have provided today demonstrates my and the Government’s determination to put in place effective systems and procedures to further protect the public”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Statement. I remind your Lordships that, although the Government knew of the problem of illegal working in the security industry as early as last April, we learnt of it only in November, through a Sunday newspaper. That is over six months later, even though we are talking about the security industry. At that time, it seemed that about 5,000 people might be involved. Now we learn that more than 11,000 may be working in this country illegally in the security industry alone. The Government say that they are applying a double lock, but it seems that a large horse has already bolted. Would it not have been much better to have had competent staff in the stable preventing this breakout from the system?

It would help the House greatly if the Minister could respond to the following questions. How many people are protecting sensitive individuals such as Ministers and police and how many are protecting sensitive sites belonging, for instance, to the critical national infrastructure? The Minister said that the individuals involved had the right of appeal and that the whole process of establishing entitlement to work could take up to 42 days in individual cases. During that time, the individual has the continuing right to work. But where the safety of sensitive people, including government Ministers and installations may be involved, is this provision the right way round? Should there not be at least an ability to suspend pending confirmation?

In another place, the Home Secretary said that investigation of a significant number of cases was now in train. How many are likely to result in deportation? Why does the system function so badly? In the Statement, the Minister says that the granting of an SIA licence,

“has never constituted evidence of entitlement to work in this country”.

That is not what the SIA says, nor is it what any employer would reasonably understand from its website. In a document published in 2006 and reflected on the website, the SIA states:

“To obtain an SIA licence it is necessary to pass checks relating to competency and being a fit and proper person for the role”.

It continues:

“The fit and proper person check is made up of the following checks: a right to work in the UK”,

with a lot of other requirements thereafter. To establish the right, the SIA required applicants to submit originals of a wide variety of documents, including passport, driving licence, firearms certificates, photo ID and so forth.

What is the SIA for if it is not going to establish immigration status? Why is it only now that the SIA is going to benefit from close co-operation with the Immigration Service? Would it not have been natural for the SIA to seek this collaboration with the BIA from the outset? Does the Minister not accept that that would have been a competent way of proceeding, especially when the SIA was giving the industry the impression that it was checking immigration status? Presumably a number of the documents presented in applications were also forgeries. How many have been uncovered by the SIA? Is the Minister in a position to say whether there will be any prosecutions?

Finally, will the Minister now tell the House how the SIA proposes to strengthen its procedures? The board members are all appointees of the Home Secretary. Had she been in the House, it would have been helpful to have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, who is chairman of the board. It is a matter of public record that she is paid £64,800 a year for a three-day week. Her duties are therefore not insubstantial in this matter. Will the Minister say when the department is likely to have finished its current investigations, so that it can advise the House of the outcome and reassure us about the confidence and integrity of the system that has been put in place?

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement and updating the House on what has happened since the Statement on 13 November.

Two issues on the table continue to cloud the clear thinking in this area. The SIA is licensing individuals but the industry groups employers. Individuals are being licensed, but employers have the legal responsibility for checking. That issue has contributed to the present position. Since the original Act was drawn up in 2001, it has become apparent that the security industry has expanded considerably. The Government’s intention to farm more work out to it in all sorts of areas means that, in the long run, besides the questions raised by the Statement today, we should be looking for the Act to be updated.

I have talked with people from the industry, who describe the Act as a starting point. Perhaps if they were generous they would describe it as the 11-plus compared with university entrance. It may have served a purpose before there was anything else in place, but it needs an overhaul now.

I have some questions for the Minister. He mentioned that cases were being analysed for evidence of employers who appeared to have a track record of employing people who do not have the right to work here. The BIA said that a third of its illegal-working operation is concentrating on that. I wonder how many people constitute a third of that operation. Are we talking about five people, 15 people or 50 people? That will be relevant to how fast the case load can be got through.

Secondly, according to the Security Industry Authority, of the 114 contractors currently licensed there have been four withdrawals of licences, from the employers’ side, I imagine, although it is not clear to me. Perhaps the Minister would explain exactly what happens where an employer is found still to be operating even though it has a large number of individuals whose individual licences have been withdrawn. Lastly, will the Minister tell me the current position of all this in Scotland?

My Lords, thank you for those points. The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, raised the chronology of how various decisions were made and referred to the timings of when things were known and my right honourable friend the Home Secretary’s response. Effectively the SIA, although it was under no obligation to do so, started checks in 2006 to identify whether any of the people who were being cleared on the basis of their CRB and competence were not entitled to work in the United Kingdom. They did some checks with a small sample and found that there were a number. That made them think that they should check in a little more detail and a larger sample was chosen. In April this year that highlighted that this was a problem.

That shows how important the matter is and what a good thing it was that we established the SIA back in 2003, because there was nothing in existence before that to look at these things. My right honourable friend Liam Byrne became aware of the issue in April this year. The full scale of the problem became apparent in about August, but before that on 2 July, as I said in the Statement, every applicant identified as a non-EEA national by the SIA had their right to work in the UK checked by the BIA. That was done off its own bat before Ministers had looked at this. In August we had a couple of meetings on the issue. The Home Secretary was made aware of the problem and she understandably said that she wanted to know the full scale, the full implications and the actions to be carried out. That she wanted to check the figures was shown clearly by the fact that the numbers have changed regularly, as was pointed out by the noble Baroness. Initially we thought that it might be about 5,000, but now we have bottomed that out and come to the latest figure. That shows that it was essential that she looked at those issues.

A point was raised about the number of people protecting sensitive ministries and so on. All the people who work at the Home Office in this context have SIA checks anyway. There is not an issue. In August the Cabinet Office wrote to all HR directors of various departments to establish the fact that they had to use the directive that points out the baseline personal security standard for all their people. That has been done. We have looked across the board and there are no areas where we are concerned about that risk to government departments, agencies, the military, the police and so on.

Since the 2 July cases we have passed 338 cases to enforcement teams. We have produced 328 intelligence packages, where they try to identify the full detail. We have made 101 enforcement visits, 44 encounters and so far arrested 15 people, but these are early days and there is a 42-day period for people to respond.

I was asked about what happened with the immediate suspension of a licence. The SIA can suspend a licence immediately if it is reasonably satisfied that there will be a clear threat to public safety. Having looked through the relatively high proportion that we have and the number of successful challenges, we believe that this is not an appropriate course of action at the moment for the ones that we are dealing with.

It was said that the SIA website says that it will conduct right-to-work checks. That is not correct. It says that it may conduct right-to-work checks. As I said before, it was set up on the basis of checking competency and CRB, not that right-to-work check. However, the double lock system now means that that is done and will be covered.

The noble Baroness thought that the SIA had functioned badly. I go back to what I said before, which shows me that we are lucky that we established an SIA, that it was doing its job thinking of other aspects and that it did the right things. It has been brought to our attention and now a raft of measures are being implemented to find out the exact position and to take action to make sure that we get this right. Therefore I do not think that it functioned badly at all. It functioned well and spotted something that was going wrong, bearing in mind that it was established in 2003.

The noble Baroness, Lady Miller, mentioned the licence of individuals and employees and rightly raised the fact that Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 does not fulfil what is required of it. That has been recognised. Later today in this House, for example, we will be discussing the Immigration (Employment of Adults Subject to Immigration Control) (Maximum Penalty) Order 2007. That is part of a series of measures to replace Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act with something a little more practical that we will be able to use properly to prosecute the firms that the noble Baroness was talking about who are clearly breaking those rules. It has been difficult and clumsy to do it in the past.

The BIA has over 30 enforcement officers across the UK, so one-third of that must be 10. Perhaps I may come back to your Lordships with this in writing, because I am not sure myself, to give a precise figure.

I do not know the position for Scotland and I will come back in writing on that. If I have not answered any questions from the noble Baroness I will be happy to talk afterwards or to come back in writing.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the Opposition in this case and so many others are being wise after the event? Has not the situation that we are now considering moved with extreme swiftness? Have the Government received any earlier representations from the Conservative Opposition in particular, expressing concern about the matter?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his valid point. As I mentioned, the establishment of the SIA was a good thing. As I understand it, although it was long before I came into any political arena, it was opposed strongly by the Conservative Party on the grounds that it was not required. Thank goodness it is there and has bowled these things out. We now have to sort it out, but because the SIA was there we discovered that there was this problem.

My Lords, I declare an interest; my company provides insurance for the security industry and we feel that the screening of staff is very important. I have two questions for the noble Lord. First, what action is recommended to employers to ensure that the documents submitted by the prospective employee are genuine, because I am told that the documents are sometimes forged? Secondly, what action is taken to ensure that employers carry out the checks, and if they do not, are there any penalties?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for those points. We are introducing a new list of documents in the context of the work being carried out in relation to this change to Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act. These have been picked particularly because the way that they lock together gives a clear indication and makes it much easier to ascertain whether prospective employees have a right to work in this country and to spot forgeries. Because we also have the double-lock system, an added security is the fact that the SIA goes to the BIA, which has very expert people who check these documents. We are also giving guidance to the industry to show it what to look for. So there is a double check which will make it much more certain that we get this right.

My Lords, while I have no particular difficulty with the explanation from the government Front Bench, can I explore a wider connection? Is there any possibility of a link between these unfortunate events that are being corrected and the disasters in the sub-prime loans business, in which there seems to have been a parallel failure in the regulatory process? There might conceivably be a link between the two.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his interjection. I have to say that I am not aware of any link, but if I become aware of one, I will make sure that I write to let him know.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply. The Government make much of the fact that they put this system in place and that it is working well. However, that does not make it a good system. The difficulty is that the system is faulty, as it stands. It would help the House to hear in due course from the Minister on how the system will be strengthened to function better.

My Lords, the Statement made it quite clear what steps have been taken and what happens now. The double lock makes the system far, far better and it will be very sound indeed. It is unfortunate that all this has happened in the way that it has; it is great that the SIA actually discovered it. Now we will have a good answer with the double-lock system, which will be secure and robust. There are a number of areas which we have to focus on, and we have been made to look at them because they are important in the context of our overall security and managing our borders. They fit together and interlock with a number of other things that are taking place.

Severn Barrage

rose to call attention to the case for the construction of a Severn barrage, its environmental impact, and other options for electricity generation in the Severn estuary; and to move for Papers.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this debate is to attempt to move forward with greater urgency the need to capture electricity from the Severn estuary. The fact that this site has the second-highest tides in the world is a huge incentive. I have no luddite tendencies in securing this debate. I do not say no to electricity generation in the Severn estuary and the Bristol Channel, but I seek answers to questions of how best this is to be achieved. The reduction of fossil fuel use and carbon emissions remains paramount in driving this issue forward.

At the start, it is best to summarise how tidal energy can be classified and captured from the Severn estuary as follows: first, tidal range, which is the normal ebb and flow of the tide and, secondly, tidal streams—flows of water at different depths and geographical locations. On tidal range, there are two methods of tidal energy capture from turbines in the Severn estuary: first, the Severn barrage—an obvious one—and the construction of tidal lagoons is the second option. The capture of energy by tidal stream turbines occurs at varying depths. The big question is: what is the best method to generate electricity?

This question gives rise to a range of additional questions for which it is highly desirable to have accurate answers. What are the relative capital costs of construction of different tidal electricity plants? What is the return on capital invested on different electricity generation systems? What additional rates of return will be achieved on more rapidly built systems? What will be the comparative lead-in time before electricity is generated from different systems? What impact will this have on increasing production of renewable energy sooner to reduce carbon emissions? What will be the relative cost per unit of electricity produced from different methods of generating electricity from tidal power? What are the relative environmental impact differences between systems of producing tidal electricity? Regrettably, we do not yet have the answers to all these questions.

Because work has been done on the concept of a Severn barrage for many years, we know that at current prices it will cost some £15 billion and produce up to 5 per cent of UK energy, and that the build-time is variously estimated to take from eight to 12 years. We know also that there are two possible sites for the barrage. The most canvassed site is the Cardiff Lavernock Point to Weston-Super-Mare barrage, or there is the Shoots barrage, just downstream of the second Severn crossing. A vast amount has been published on the barrage, but the main Sustainable Development Commission report, Turning the TideTidal Power in the UK, published on 1 October 2007, contains what purports to be a more independent assessment of a proposed Severn barrage than some other assessments. In particular, this study looks at alternatives to the barrage, with tidal stream and tidal lagoon technology.

In summary, the SDC report details and reviews the options: Severn barrage, tidal stream and tidal lagoon. The report does not attempt to calculate the extent of the carbon footprint of the construction of the barrage, nor does it solve the economic problems of the closure of Bristol, Newport and Cardiff docks, or those of Gloucester. Nor does it address the considerable cost of establishing large new wildlife sites. The European directives concerning habitats on the Severn estuary state that it has an important number of international conservation sites. It is designated as a special protection area for avian features under the EU bird directive and as a possible special area of conservation. SAC status also applies to the River Usk, the River Wye and the Mendip limestone grasslands. There are local conservation sites too, including 26 SSSIs, one national nature reserve, eight local nature reserves, one historic landscape and four wildlife trusts. There are many local biodiversity action plans for habitats and species. This is especially important for Severn fish species and many water birds. According to the SDC report, allis and twaite shad, river and sea lampreys and Atlantic salmon face the prospect of extinction. That applies particularly to the winter and spring run of Atlantic salmon.

The SDC concludes:

“A Severn barrage must be publicly led as a project and publicly owned as an asset to avoid short-termist decisions and ensure the long-term public interest

Full compliance with European Directives on habitats and birds is vital, as is a long-term commitment to creating compensatory habitats on an unprecedented scale

Further investigation of the ‘environmental opportunity’ that might exist for combining climate change mitigation with adaptation through a habitat creation package that actively responds to the impacts of climate change over the long term

Development of a Severn barrage must not divert Government attention away from much wider action on climate change.

By taking this approach it would be possible to combine a climate change mitigation project (the barrage) with climate change adaptation, by developing compensatory habitats that reflect our changing climate, and combining this with coastal protection and other climate change strategies, thus creating an ‘environmental opportunity’”.

The report also states that there is tidal stream and tidal range. It defines that and says that it,

“could supply at least 10% of the UK’s electricity if fully exploited, around 5% from each resource”,

and that—I speak as a Welsh Member—

“50 per cent of this resource is in Wales.

There is minimal conflict between the exploitation of tidal stream and tidal range resources, or between the technologies that might be deployed. The best tidal stream sites are in the north of Scotland, with significant potential also around north Wales”,

and of course there are some in the Severn estuary as well. The report states that:

“The UK has an excellent tidal stream resource, and is leading the world in the development of a wide range of tidal stream devices, several of which are at the testing stage. The UK must ‘stay the course’ in developing these technologies, as the export and climate change benefits are potentially very large”.

The noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, who is unable to be here today, made these points in his speech on the Queen’s Speech. The report goes on:

“Despite the encouraging progress made so far, Government could do more to assist these emerging technologies, particularly through flexible financial support, and by providing additional resources to the European Marine Energy Centre in Orkney.

On tidal lagoons, the SDC found that there is a lack of available evidence on the costs and environmental impacts, mainly due to the absence of any practical experience”.

These are the main relevant conclusions of the SDC in relation to this topic. However, some criticisms can be made of the SDC report. It used five desk-based research reports rather than carrying out any new work. More new work would be needed, as much of the evidence used dates from the 1980s. Further, the report devotes more than half its pages to the Severn barrage; the report may be about tidal power but the focus is certainly on the Severn barrage. In addition, financing the project needs further explanation—that is very true indeed.

Several other points need to be made in relation to the SDC report. First, the estuary is at risk from fluvial flooding and a barrage would have a significant impact on the rivers and watercourses that discharge into the estuary. The levels on both sides of the estuary rely on drainage systems storing fluvial water during high tide periods, which is quite a good point. Also, it is not exactly clear who would own the plan for the Severn barrage and thus be responsible for the appropriate assessment under the habitats regulations. The £15 billion cost, which I previously mentioned, relates to construction. There would clearly be considerable additional costs relating to feasibility studies, environmental impact, strategic environmental assessment and habitats compensations. Those are all points which could have been made clearer in the SDC report.

However, others have made some points which concern them. The Severn Tidal Power Group represents the main contractors who would be involved in the construction of the Severn barrage. It understandably welcomes the SDC report—a large project like the barrage would of course benefit it, and one suspects that the report’s indication that either tidal lagoons or tidal stream turbines are a little way off in development terms will encourage it in its view. However, it indicates that the coming study should examine all options and views.

Another body that is contributing to the debate and has an interest in the outcome is Tidal Electric Ltd, which has drawn up a number of points that are worth repeating—in its favour, I hasten to add. It has drawn up a table with the Severn barrage on the left hand side and tidal lagoons on the right. It says that the Severn barrage will be publicly funded, which it estimates at £15 billion to £25 billion capital costs, versus private funding. Its estimate for the production of electricity is 3.5p per kilowatt hour. It further suggests zero costs to HMG, plus taxed revenue, because tidal lagoons would be privately financed and carried out. It says that one would be environmentally damaging and the other environmentally benign; that one would destroy wildlife habitats while the other would create wildlife habitats; that one is opposed by environmental groups while the other is supported by them; that one would give flood protection upstream while the other would mean flood damage downstream; that there is a 10 to 15-year rollout for the barrage versus a two-year rollout, although I suspect it might be more than that; that further HMG-funded studies are proposed versus being ready to build on receipt of consent; and so on. Those are the benefits that it says that its system of lagoons would have over the barrage.

Tidal stream technology is going ahead and being assessed at present. That has large potential. Both tidal lagoons and tidal streams are estimated to be able to produce the same amount of electricity—some claim more—than would the Severn barrage itself. Capital costs of the Cardiff-Weston barrage would be £15 billion; to produce the same amount of electricity with tidal lagoons would be £5 billion. Tidal stream would be £6 billion plus a necessary grid connection costing £4 billion, taking the total to £10 billion. There are very varying estimates as to how much the electricity would cost from the output of these different systems. Cardiff-Weston is 3.6p per kilowatt hour, depending on which discount rates were used—it goes up to as high as 22p per kilowatt hour, with a mean of about 12p. Tidal lagoons would be 3.3p per kilowatt hour according to Tidal Electric, but 17.2p per kilowatt hour according to DBERR, so there is a big difference there. Tidal stream has been estimated to be at 2.5p per unit.

In conclusion, varying information is coming from divergent sources as to the final electricity costs with different modes of electricity generation. The basis of the proposed Severn barrage is the La Rance barrage in Brittany, looking at design, construction, costs and calculations and the electricity output at sale. At 40 years of age, it is old technology but that is the basis, because it is a tested system. But we must ask ourselves why the French have not put in another La Rance barrage and why the Canadians rejected a barrage for their new tidal electricity initiative. Undoubtedly, tidal stream technology could produce as much, if not more, electricity than the Severn barrage and the results of running this plant are emerging from work taking place in the Orkneys at present.

Tidal lagoons have considerable potential and could at least equal the Severn barrage in their electricity output. However, it is vital that the Government grant a licence to commence the construction of a working lagoon model in Swansea Bay which would produce accurate data for comparison. Generating electricity from tidal power in the Severn estuary is a massive opportunity. Will the Government meet the challenge and have the wisdom to see that there is an alternative vision to a barrage, one which has the potential to produce just as much electricity and eventually more? The rewards for this are the creation of an entirely new and innovative tidal power industry in tune with carbon reduction objectives, a green industry with worldwide multi-billion pound export opportunities for British-built technology, and the creation of real, high-value, long-term jobs here in Britain. All that is required is for the Government to kick-start it. In doing so, they would also be saving for future generations one of the most important environmental sites in these islands. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I am delighted that the noble Lord has had the will and the luck to secure this debate. When I was in another place, our constituency boundary to the west was the middle of the Severn, from Sharpness to Avonmouth. During my time as an MP, great studies were done on the possibility of a barrage, and I followed them closely and met many of the people involved. Since then, of course, global warming has added considerably to the case for trying to exploit the tides.

The exceptional tidal range on the Severn should not surprise anyone. If you look at the map of south-west Britain, you can see the huge funnel into the estuary between South Wales and Devon and Cornwall. That funnel faces directly out into the Atlantic Ocean, and the huge volume of water in the ocean is pulled backwards and forwards, primarily by the Moon’s gravity, to produce the tides. That huge volume swirls up the estuary and is then sucked out again twice daily. The ebb tide is reinforced by the fresh water coming down from the Severn and its tributaries—it is after all the longest river system in the country.

The highest tide this year was in March, when the difference in height between the high and low tides at Avonmouth was 14.3 metres, which is about a foot higher than the ceiling of your Lordships’ Chamber. If noble Lords imagine a wall of water as high as your Lordships’ Chamber and several miles across coming and going twice a day, they will have an idea of the power which a barrage or the other facilities would be designed to tame. Of course, the height of the tide varies during the month and during the year, but the mean range between high and low tide at Avonmouth is 8.2 metres. Even on that basis, the Magna Carta Lords depicted above us would get their feet wet twice a day.

It is clear that we must, as I am sure we will, harness that awesome natural power. There are various ways of doing so, as the noble Lord made clear, some of which could be pursued simultaneously, as they are not all mutually exclusive by any means. The barrage is only one way, albeit the biggest and most powerful, but it would involve some very large problems. I believe that we need to assess those problems once again and then decide—and the sooner we do so, the better. The problems that would be entailed are well documented in studies over many decades. They need updating but it would by no means be wholly new work.

First, there is the enormous scale of what we are considering. The front-runner among the various barrage configurations—the Cardiff to Weston barrage—would be 16 kilometres long and would cost nearly £1 billion a kilometre, according to one estimate, which is half of the whole defence budget. The actual technology is not that complicated or advanced but the problems of construction in such a harsh environment are considerable: imagine holding back that amount of water when the barrage is half-built and you are trying to close the gap. I watched the building of the second Severn bridge. It is one of the greatest engineering marvels of recent years and should, incidentally, be much more widely appreciated than it is, but it gives an idea of the challenge. The noble Lord, Lord Livsey, mentioned the French barrage at La Rance. It is true that it is currently the largest tidal barrage in the world, but the Severn barrage, by capacity, would be 36 times its size. It is on a quite different scale.

The habitat problem is well known and will clearly loom large in any decision. However, I want to draw attention to two of the other important factors. One is the problem of the timing mismatch between the generation of electricity by a barrage and the peak demand for electricity. On some days, generation and demand will coincide but on many they will not. The barrage would be expected to generate during most of the time that the tide was ebbing, but the output would vary even during the times of generation. The times when the barrage would be generating are calculable with precision well in advance but they cannot be chosen. The barrage will produce electricity when it wants to, when the tide allows.

The SDC says that that is not a technical problem for the grid—it is less of a problem, for example, than fluctuations in wind power—but it is an economic problem. It means that electricity produced by the barrage must comparatively be so cheap that the other sources can be rested with advantage when the barrage is working. For a project of this scale, that is a high hurdle to overcome.

The other problem is the silt. The river always looks extremely muddy and that is because thousands of tonnes of sediment constantly swirl up and down the river. The sand banks move about and much of the sediment is always in suspension. If we build a barrage, thousands of tonnes of sediment will settle—somewhere; the difficulty is knowing where. If they settle in front of the generating turbines, the problems will obviously be acute; if they settle in the sea lanes near the locks, then huge dredging costs will have to be paid, and, in my view, they should fall squarely on the barrage company.

The Port of Bristol is the port in this area that I know best and it has done exceptionally well over the past few years. Of course, other ports are affected on both sides of the estuary and they are at risk, too. They are all most concerned that the locks should be large enough and sufficiently well managed. In my view, the costs of building and operating the locks should be a charge on the barrage and not an additional overhead for the ports. Anything else would be unfair and damaging in terms of both commerce and unemployment.

When the Oldbury power station was built a few miles upstream from the older bridge, a tidal reservoir over a mile long and half a mile wide was constructed to hold the cooling water when the tide goes out. I was told that, after elaborate tests, it was carefully designed to be self-scouring. In fact, it is no such thing, and it has been necessary for a dredger to be there permanently since the power station opened many years ago. That shows the difficulty of forecasting what will happen to the sediment if a barrage is built.

So far as the barrage is concerned, I am a cautious enthusiast. It is potentially one of the biggest and most exciting engineering challenges of the next few decades, and it would change the environment, including that of those who live in the great cities of Bristol and Cardiff and the other towns nearby. We must investigate the problems and, above all, we must decide as soon as we respectably can whether to go ahead with it or whether to proceed with one of the alternatives. Whether by barrage or in other ways, we must harness the massive power of these tides and currents. Industry needs a lead. The Government must get on with the studies and then decide—and the sooner the better. The new ministerial committee has been sitting for nearly three months and I hope that by the end of this debate we shall know what it has achieved so far.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, for giving us the opportunity to debate this very important issue. There is no doubt that climate change is the biggest economic, social and environmental challenge that we face, and we must do everything that we possibly can to address it, including creating more low-carbon renewable energy generation. However, the Severn barrage, attractive as it may seem in principle with a claim that it will reduce carbon output by 3 per cent, has some pretty big snags attached to it. The first is economic: it is a very expensive way to reduce carbon and to generate electricity. The sustainable development report’s verdict was that it would not be viable as a commercial investment proposition and could go ahead only if it was provided, run and financed by the Government on cheap government money. There are many cheaper ways of reducing carbon, including some energy efficiency measures and, indeed, nuclear power. If the Government decide to go ahead with a new nuclear programme and we are going to build 10 or 12 reactors, why not build 14? I refer noble Lords to some very interesting work done by McKinsey on the costs of generating low-carbon energy and mitigating greenhouse gases. It looks at the costs and benefits of more than 120 greenhouse gas abatement options. We have a policy conflict looming in this area. Heads of state recently signed up to the European renewables target which may increase renewable energy generation but perhaps on a very expensive basis. My view is that the touchstone ought to be how we get least-cost carbon reduction rather than an artificial renewables target that may not be least cost.

Perhaps everyone expects that the issue on which I will focus more than others is biodiversity and why the Severn is important. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for going through some of the features of the Severn. Its irreplaceability is on the basis of the extent of its tidal range. This proposal would considerably reduce the tidal range of a large part of the estuary. The estuary is designated under the habitats and the birds directives, and I am proud that I was chairing English Nature at the time that that designation was put forward to government. That was 10 years ago, and the Government have only recently put it forward to Europe for final endorsement. The designation is a sign that the Severn is one of the more important estuarine systems in Europe and, indeed, globally for its salmon rivers, its intertidal habitats and the mobile sandbanks mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, which are some of its most distinctive biodiversity features. It is a globally unique river.

If for reasons of overriding public interest, which is the technical term under the habitats directive, the barrage were to go ahead, I can assure the House from my background of 20 years as a conservationist that it is not possible to create a replacement habitat elsewhere in the country to replace what was lost in the Severn. There have been proposals and suggestions that a replacement habitat could be created in the east of the country, perhaps in East Anglia in or the Humber. I should here declare an interest as chief executive of the Environment Agency, which struggles each year to create about 100 hectares of replacement habitat in response to its flood-risk management programme. I am not sure how the Environment Agency would see 14,000 hectares of habitat being created in East Anglia. Indeed, it would be interesting to hear the reaction of East Anglian landowners and farmers if it were suggested to them that 14,000 hectares of their land should go underwater in the interests of a Severn barrage. Nor should we kid ourselves that it would truly be replacement habitat. Nobody in the world has yet recreated a salmon river or a tidal estuarine system. We should also regard with a little caution the siren words of the Sustainable Development Commission report that habitat creation in the east would be an exciting opportunity in the face of climate change.

The big question is whether we are prepared to allow, as some would put it, a few fish and few birds to get in the way of important measures that are necessary to meet climate change. I shall highlight why the Severn is important in itself and for government. It is one of the few sites in Britain that is designated to the highest level. It is important not only for the wildlife it protects but because of its signal value in terms of government commitment to protecting the few very high-value wildlife sites when, generally speaking, our biodiversity is diminishing across the board. It is not just a signal within the UK, but also in Europe. We hear very strong mutterings from, for example, Poland as a new entrant to the European Union and we see signs of backsliding in Spain, Italy and Greece against directives such as the habitats directive. If we were to override the protection of one of our few most highly protected sites, it would become open season and any proposition that had to respond to climate change would be capable of overriding these important designations. It would happen a bit here, but it would happen a lot across Europe.

All of this is to be tested in the feasibility study, but I am nervous about the way it was announced. When John Hutton announced it at the Labour Party conference, he did not refer to it in a neutral tone of voice, but said in his statement that he was quite excited about the prospect. That seems to imply that there is already a degree of government commitment to this proposition before the feasibility study had even begun. Indeed, the tenor of the work in the feasibility study seems not to be whether this barrage should go ahead but how it can be allowed and enabled to go ahead. The big problem with high-profile, charismatic and politically led announcements is that they are difficult to back away from. I vividly remember in 1997 appealing to the newly appointed Secretary of State for Scotland to regard the funicular up Cairngorm as the white elephant that it has undoubtedly become since there is now no snow up there, and to use the opportunity of his arrival in post to cancel that high-profile, politically statemented development, but by then it was too late. We must watch that there is not an inexorable momentum behind this proposition so that Governments of any complexion will find it difficult to go back on it.

I urge the Government to consider the barrage and the feasibility study in the context of what could be achieved by investing this scale of finance in cheaper carbon reductions; for example, perhaps in less damaging tidal technologies such as lagoons, in major programmes of energy efficiency, other renewable technologies or cheap nuclear that does not destroy the distinctiveness of this globally important biodiversity resource. I hope that we are not in a position where for the future we are of the belief that we cannot solve the challenge of climate change without junking other environmental resources. For me, that would be very much throwing the baby out with the bathwater.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, for introducing this debate. I declare a passing acquaintance with the Severn Barrage Association and a passing knowledge of the Severn Tidal Power Group.

We are debating today a significantly important issue in an environment in which time is truly of the essence. On Tuesday of this week, the Secretary-General of the United Nations reportedly said in Bali that,

“the time to talk is over, the time for action is now”.

In my opinion, that statement accurately describes the position of the Severn barrage project.

I was introduced to the project in 1993 when I was appointed to the Welsh Development Agency and shown papers at that time of the study that was created in 1988. Believe it or not—I am sure many noble Lords may know this—the 1988 project was probably Mark V or Mark VI in the historical sequence. The first reference to the Severn barrage was made by a Frenchman in 1911. We are indeed but four years away from its centenary, so to speak. The first government-sponsored investigation was in 1926, which reported in 1933—a speed, one hopes, not indicative of importance. But the economic crash in that decade put an end to the English Stones scheme. This is now the location of the second river crossing.

Between 1942 and 1945, the second government study was undertaken, driven by the energy shortage during the Second World War. In 1965, the focus moved from the English Stones to the Cardiff-Weston location. In 1974, the House of Commons Select Committee on Science and Technology studied the project. In 1978 the third government commission concluded in favour of the Cardiff-Weston location. In 1983 the Severn Tidal Power Group was formed, consisting, as we have heard, of major private sector companies. Then the Department of Energy, which carried out two preliminary studies, published the largest and most detailed study to date in 1988. This still remains the definitive work published through the tripartite players; namely, the then Department of Energy, the Central Electricity Generating Board and the Severn Tidal Power Group. With the dissolution of the CEGB following the Electricity Act 1989, a key driver of the project at that stage has still not been replaced.

I could go on and on with historical analysis but I believe that I have demonstrated that a great deal of talk has taken place over many years and that a considerable number of trees have been consumed.

We now know that the report published by the Sustainable Development Commission in October of this year was largely constructive in its approach to the Severn barrage providing compliance with European directives—which is easier said than done, as the noble Baroness has just illustrated—with habitat and species protection being a central condition for a sustainable Severn barrage.

On the other side of the coin, the European Union has severely criticised the UK Government for failing to meet their renewable energy targets. The aim of 20 per cent of electricity being generated by renewables in 2020 is now basically accepted as unachievable unless there is an immediate change in policy. We are often informed that the UK has the best potential energy resources in Europe. We are also more than aware, as has been so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Cope, that the Severn estuary has the second largest tidal range in the world, and we are aware that it has a unique and dynamic environment. The Severn barrage alone would contribute more than 25 per cent of the UK 2020 renewable energy target. That is more than from all renewable energy projects now in operation.

It is important that this project is seen and promoted within the national context of a co-ordinated plan to harness estuarial power around the United Kingdom, rather than something that may be good for Wales and the south-west. Of course it will be good for Wales and it will be good for the south-west, as the envisaged scheme will bring substantial job creation and economic benefit. With the planned new road and rail links over the estuary, the barrage will create a regional economic powerhouse, integrating the economies of the south-west and Wales. These facts are evidenced by support given to the project by the Secretary of State for Wales, the right honourable Peter Hain, and cross-party support in the other place. It is also supported by the First Minister for Wales, the Welsh Assembly, my noble friend Lord Cameron of Dillington, who unfortunately is unable to be here today, together with many business interests and academe.

In 1988, the project promised the provision of 7 per cent of UK electricity, at an indicated capital cost of £8 billion. Today, these figures appear to be somewhere near 5 per cent and £15 billion—illustrative, of course, of the significant increase in grid demand. The project would reduce UK carbon output by some 3 per cent and would, above all—this is very important—meet the United Kingdom Government’s security of supply objectives, for it is a predictable, renewable energy source. It would have an indefinite life expectancy, as exampled by the successful barrage at La Rance, which has been running reliably for some 40 years. The Severn barrage does not preclude other schemes. There is ample opportunity for tidal lagoons further down the channel and, indeed, for underwater tidal operations, as supported recently by the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, in this House in reference to the activity off St David’s.

Finally, the devastation caused in the summer of this year by tides backing up the river would be prevented in future by the protection of some 140 miles of coastline from high tides and storm surges. Let us therefore now break this mould of inaction by successive Governments over many decades and address positively and quickly the extraordinary opportunities that present themselves, not only in the Severn estuary, but around all the coasts of this sceptred isle.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Livsey of Talgarth on bringing forward this debate. It is particularly timely when we are thinking about climate change. I am very glad that he has kept the issue of the power of the Severn on the agenda.

I should mention my interests in this subject. I live by the Severn and in fair weather I sail on it most days in the summer when I am not here. My husband chairs the Environment Agency’s flood defence committee for the Wessex area. I was given a dinner by the Severn Tidal Power Group, as were several noble Lords, earlier this week.

As the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, so eloquently said, this debate has been going on for a very long time. I think there is complete consensus here that we should harness the power of the Severn. The big debate is over exactly how we should harness it. We should harness it because it is very predictable power and a constant power in its flow in and out. For those reasons, we have to get on with harnessing it. Perhaps the most depressing fact of the past few years is that the Government have really prevaricated over pursuing some studies that could have been going on; for example, into tidal lagoons. When we had the debate in your Lordships’ House with the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury, we were pleading the case that this could be piloted, as the promoters wanted, in Swansea Bay. It is taking a pathetically long time to pilot such a scheme. That project, in the intervening time, could have been constructed and could be feeding in to the information that we will need when we come to deciding between the options—because that is what we are going to need to do.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, laid out extremely well why we should be very nervous of even looking at a barrage scheme. I completely concur with her conclusions about habitat loss. If we consider the small amount of habitat that would have been lost with the Dibden Bay proposal, it is quite clear that to replace the habitat that would be lost if the barrage were constructed would actually be impossible.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, spoke of the port of Bristol. If a barrage is to be constructed for very good climate-change reasons, we should also have regard to what will happen if we make shipping more difficult. Will more goods be air-freighted or will they have to take a much longer route to other ports? Some useful tables show what those longer routes would mean.

As I live on the Severn, I see exactly how much that route is used. It is astonishing to see how much freight comes and goes. We must also bear in mind that the size of the ships will alter considerably. When the Panama Canal is reconstructed, with all the shipping that will come from China carrying the goods that we happily import from there, a completely different scale of ship will be required. I do not believe that that has been sufficiently factored into the barrage equation.

I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, about the amount of spin that has already gone into this. It is possibly the ultimate spin. When I watched the BBC programme showing days in the life of Her Majesty the Queen, I noticed that she mentioned the barrage and the 5 per cent that could be obtained from it. I wondered where that figure had come from. Was it from the Prime Minister’s briefing?

There is obviously a considerable amount of interest in the barrage, but it would be extremely dangerous if the Government had already come to a conclusion about where the feasibility study is going; it needs to be done on an absolutely level playing field. In an earlier debate about a tidal lagoon it was said that those interested in tidal lagoon promotion had secured private funding and needed only the backing of the DTI but they had considerable problems in getting the then DTI to agree to meetings to discuss it. It took Defra and the efforts of the noble Lord, Lord Whitty, to get everyone in one room. There is a history of not providing a level playing field.

Possibly my only disagreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Young, is when she speaks of “cheap nuclear”. I do not think there is such a thing.

Another issue that may seem a small detail to your Lordships’ House, although it is not, is the historical elver run up the Severn. Some noble Lords have mentioned the migration of salmon. We do not know whether disruption due to the barrage will cause a complete and catastrophic failure of the elvers.

What do I want? I want a completely fair and level playing field. Although we know we can get 5 per cent electricity from a barrage, that barrage will cost in the region of £15 billion to £20 billion and the Government should be looking at what they can harness from the Severn for that amount of money. I have done only a back-of-the-envelope calculation but perhaps the Minister can do a better one. I think that might provide for up to 150 tidal lagoons. The Minister needs to ask his officials to estimate how much power that would provide. There could be an enormous benefit as there would be less transmission loss. A barrage will send its electricity far greater distances, whereas tidal lagoons could feed through the grid into the local communities, in Wales or on the north and south-west coast.

What will the national grid competition be? The Government say that they will commit to new nuclear build, so we are probably looking at a new Hinkley Point C, if they go ahead with that. We already have a commitment to an onshore wind farm at Fullabrook Down. I support the proposal—I should declare an interest as I chair the economic advisory group for it—for the Atlantic Array offshore wind farm north of Lundy Island. There are a lot of national grid pressures on that area. I wonder whether something centralised like the barrage is even feasible in terms of grid connection. Even if it were, the grid loss needs to be put into the equation.

I hope that the Government will therefore put an extraordinary amount of energy into the feasibility study and make up the time that they have lost to date by dragging their feet on marine energy. I hope that there is a completely level playing field and that the extraordinary habitat represented by the Severn is not lost. However, our drive to solve climate change must not mean that we sacrifice everything else on that altar.

My Lords, I am glad to have heard the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, whose objectivity and independence of mind I have admired greatly over the years, as much as I have disagreed with him greatly on his political views.

These islands used to be blessed with the best power source of the Industrial Revolution—King Coal. Now, the slowly exploited potential of onshore and, increasingly, offshore wind can be joined by what might be thought of as King Tide, at least in the Severn if the barrage is realised. Despite the obvious problems outlined by a number of speakers, the barrage is needed. I line myself up with the remarks made by my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley and the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, in thinking that it is needed. I have picked “need” as my text.

The Government need the barrage to attain their target of obtaining 20 per cent of energy from renewables by 2020—full stop. With no barrage, I doubt whether the target will be achieved. Secondly, the country needs a balanced and secure energy supply derived from a broad spectrum of sources, everything from second-generation nuclear, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, just referred, to first-generation barrages, of which this would be the first.

Thirdly, the public, who are now alert to and well informed on environmental issues, need a process of information and consultation on the Severn barrage that is open and transparent. There, for the second and last time, I will agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Miller. I do not want to harm her reputation by agreeing with her too often, but she is absolutely right to say that we need a level playing field in any ongoing process of consultation. It needs to be open and transparent; if it is not, not only regional but national consent would, probably, be withheld and life would be difficult for this or any future Government who sought to have the barrage.

Fourthly, the green movement, writ large, needs to move on and embrace a new realism about where future energy is coming from, while being vigilant over potential environmental degradation and determined to seek environmental enhancement at every turn. The Sustainable Development Commission is showing a broad-minded lead here, which pleasantly surprised me. Some members seem to have joined what might be thought of as the new realist environmental movement, changing their minds from where they were about 20 years ago. No one should pour contempt on them for doing that. After all, John Maynard Keynes was once teased or derided for changing his mind on some great economic issue. He said, “My Lords”—well, he did not say that; coming from King’s College, Cambridge, he probably said, “My Dears”—“I think that when the facts change, I need to change”. The facts have changed in the last 20 years.

Fifthly, we should remember that the landscape around the Severn, to which the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, referred, is largely manmade. That includes some of the estuary margins. Equally, some severe tidal environments would be damaged, destroyed or altered in various ways. If that is the case, there must be offsetting contributions to habitats and environments elsewhere, even though it is certain that that exact environment can never be replicated. There would also be much gain through the establishment of new protection zones in the area. We shall have to get acclimatised during this debate to the terms “habitat offsets” and “environmental gains”, in exactly the same way as anyone who serves on local councils is used to “planning gains under Section 106 provisions”. There should be a clear grasp of what those phrases mean.

Sixthly in this little litany of needs, the Government need the construction industry, if this is to go ahead, to be confidently engaged as genuine long-term partners. Behind the industry are shareholders and investors who will need to have confidence in the business case behind the construction of the barrage. I have great confidence in the abilities of our equally great British construction companies, such as Sir Robert McAlpine, Taylor Woodrow or Balfour Beatty, all of which have shown great interest in at least the potential of becoming involved in the barrage construction. If the process gets going, those companies will have to take on massive financial and construction risks over a sustained period, during which I suspect that the £15 billion headline figure may multiply more than a little in the uncertainties of such a great construction project. No one should underestimate this. If we want the barrage to be funded and constructed by the private sector, the Government and everyone else must be realistic about the risk that companies and shareholders take on. There needs to be a high degree of certainty about the appraisal process and the subsequent planning process. In this, the management of risk will be paramount, as the Minister understands all too well, with his distinguished past.

Seventhly, on the other side of the construction coin, the construction industry writ large needs continually to recognise the need on its part for openness, transparency and genuine engagement with regional and environmental concerns. Over the past few years, the construction industry has been going through quite a public period of self-examination, commissioning various reports, and much angst over what has been seen sometimes as tough and adversarial attitudes to customers and between companies. That has been apparent from the housebuilding end of the industry through to the large-scale and tough concrete-pouring end of the industry, wherein certainly lies the barrage. If the construction industry wishes to help to promote the barrage, it must be thoroughly modern and listen to all the concerns that arise, whether from the environmental world or the ports, which feel that their activities may be adversely affected. It is sometimes like treading on eggshells and, if we are to proceed, the industry has to recognise the need for openness and transparency in all that it does.

Eighthly—I have never said that word before—although we are allowed to recognise the secondary benefits of the barrage, from coastline protection at high tide, upstream river flood protection, the creation of jobs and so on, we need to recognise that they are secondary and no reason at all for proceeding with the barrage.

Ninthly—another word that I have never said before—and lastly, a word that I have often said, I favour, as is manifest, the general concept of the construction of the barrage. However, if it is to go ahead I should like to press the Government to give undertakings about when the appraisal process is going to get under way and what sort of appraisal process it is going to be. Will an appraisal organisation be set up to satisfy public and private investors’ concerns—some sort of independent steering group appointed by and reporting to the Government and through the Government to this House? If the Minister has a moment to spare in his 20 minutes and if he answers no other questions or points that I have raised, I hope that he will find the time to answer that specific point.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for giving us an opportunity to discuss this important issue. I declare an interest as president of the Welsh Salmon and Trout Angling Association and the Radnorshire Wildlife Trust and as the owner of a small fishery on the upper Wye. My main interest is in fisheries and wildlife generally, especially in Wales, where I live.

I have been concerned for a long time about the likely impact on migrating fish of a conventional Severn barrage. In 1986, 21 years ago, I asked in the House whether the Government would satisfy themselves that, if a Severn barrage were to be built, migrating fish would be able to pass through it without excessive loss. A year later, I asked whether the Government were aware of research in the United States suggesting that fish passing through Kaplan turbines, a type then planned for the barrage, had an instantaneous mortality rate of between 11.5 per cent and 80 per cent, and that 43 per cent of salmon smolts passing through such turbines lost 20 to 28 per cent of their scales, while 75 per cent of the survivors had gross or microscopic lesions.

In 1992, when moving a Motion on barrages, I said that to the best of my belief scientists had so far found no way in which a yard-long fish, swimming strongly against the flow, but being sucked slowly back through the turbine, could avoid being cut up by rotating turbine blades. Therefore, there could be 100 per cent mortality and the runs of salmon in three famous rivers—the Severn, the Wye and the Usk—could be wiped out. All this is still true not only for salmon but for other species of migratory fish, notably the delicate and vulnerable allis and twaite shad, the endangered species for which the special habitat conditions found only in the Usk, Wye and Severn sustain three of just four viable breeding populations. There are also two species of lampreys.

The report from the Sustainable Development Commission and its accompanying research report 3—all 250 pages of it—give us valuable and up-to-date background. Reading these reports, one is left with a conviction that any measures taken to mitigate or to minimise the losses to migrating fish would not be effective. Research report 3 makes it clear that mesh screens across turbine intakes would be unlikely to work. So irreversible damage would lead to the local extinction of all the migratory fish. For wading birds, some have suggested that we merely have to provide an area of mudflats the size of Dorset. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, gave short shrift to that proposal. Still less is creating an alternative habitat for fish a practicable option. We cannot seriously contemplate creating replicas of the Severn, Wye and Usk, nor can we replace the unique genetic make-up of these rivers, which is what brings fish back to the rivers where they were born.

The Severn estuary is beautiful and rich in wildlife. It has also unique features such as the Severn bore. It is protected by a whole range of statutory designations, which were described by the noble Lord, Lord Livsey; the marine Bill may provide more. Apart from that, the Wye and the Usk are SACs in their own right. It is the habitats directive that creates problems for the barrage project. The SDC deals carefully, on page 131 of its report, with the argument that EU directives do not take adequate account of the challenge of climate change and the suggestion that there might be a one-off derogation from EU environmental legislation. On page 144, the report concludes,

“that it would be untenable for the Government to take a decision in favour of a Severn barrage unless it is prepared … to demonstrate its commitment to upholding the integrity of the environmental legislation and the processes it has signed up to. Failure to do so would undermine the Directives, set a dangerous precedent to other EU Member States and countries elsewhere in the world, and would not deliver a Severn barrage consistent with the UK’s agreed framework for sustainable development”.

It says on page 147 that,

“if compliance with the Directives is found to be scientifically or legally unfeasible, then proposals for a Severn barrage should not be pursued”.

So far as migrating fish are concerned, this means that unless a way can be found for them to avoid passing through the turbines, to travel up to the rivers with which they have a genetic link and then to return, a conventional barrage within the Severn estuary should not be built.

The environmental downside of the barrage project and its enormous costs were evidently decisive in persuading the Government four years ago that it would not be fruitful to pursue plans for it, as announced in this House by the noble Lord, Lord Sainsbury of Turville, on 13 January 2004.

We are required to do all that we can to deal with climate change and reduce carbon emissions, but there are many alternatives, not least nuclear power and especially tidal stream technology, as discussed in the SDC report. Those need to be carefully considered.

As a nation, we have had a series of disasters, for which the Government have, I am afraid, been responsible: the debacle of our intervention in Iraq, the loss of two disks containing the personal details of 25 million people that were sent out by HM Revenue and Customs, the outbreaks of foot and mouth disease caused by infected drainage at government-controlled institutions at Pirbright, and so on. The Prime Minister promised the Liaison Committee this morning that failure in public service delivery would no longer be tolerated. He added:

“The culture of the second-best is not acceptable to me. It is a culture of excellence that we want to achieve”.

That is encouraging, but it seems all too likely that a Severn barrage would fail, most probably on environmental grounds. We do not want another big failure. Let us for once get something right. We should concentrate on some of the other promising technologies now being explored and leave the waters of the Severn, the Wye and the Usk to the birds and the fish.

My Lords, I add my own words of appreciation to those already expressed to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for giving us the opportunity to discuss an increasingly urgent problem. Throughout the world, there is a shortage of electricity. It is not a matter for the UK alone. We know that China plans 544 new coal-fired power stations, plus the immense output of the Three Gorges dam. They are all indicative of the situation in the world. As nations develop, so the demand grows and the environment is under increasing threat.

In the Severn area in Wales, two of our nuclear power stations have already stopped production—Trawsfynydd and Hinkley Point A. The other three, Hinkley Point B, Oldbury and Wylfa, are nearing the end of their useful lives. We have a problem: as they go out of service, what is to replace them? Some people support new nuclear power stations, but others see the problems that go with them. I shall not go into them at length, other than to say that I pass Trawsfynydd possibly more often than anybody else in this Chamber. I think that my great-great-grandchildren also will pass it before it is able to be demolished. Nuclear power stations are expensive to maintain. For many years to come, we will have to face that problem.

A number of alternatives have been mentioned today: land-based wind farms— which are not always popular in every area—offshore turbines, hydropower and solar power. Even in the very sunny resort of Llandudno from which I come, I assure noble Lords that there is not enough sunshine to merit a great solar project.

Such projects are already proposed. The Gwynt y Mor project in Llandudno Bay would consist of 236 wind turbines, each of which would be the size of Blackpool Tower. That area has been recommended also for tidal stream technology. However, the local community is saying, “236 wind turbines? It will be the biggest one in Europe”. Do we not need somehow to maintain close contact with local communities, whose environment will be undermined or changed by such developments? Perhaps we should incorporate a referendum in such projects. It might be able to say whether 236 turbines are too many, whether 100 or 80 are enough, or perhaps that there should be none at all. The local people must be kept on our side as we move with these developments.

We must accept that if we oppose nuclear power stations because we see the big problems there, we have to prepare to accept an alternative. One alternative, which we have not really discussed this afternoon, is energy saving. Perhaps this is not the debate in which it should be done. We think of domestic energy saving, but industrial and commercial concerns use far more electricity than a household. We have seen some progress with home insulation and energy saving in the home. I have suggested here, perhaps once or twice, to some derision, that as bulbs fail in the great illuminated seaside resorts, we need to replace them with energy-saving bulbs. I would not mention Blackpool, but I would mention Llandudno; there are tens of thousands of bulbs in these places. That should save a tremendous amount of electricity in those areas.

There are, of course, other ways of doing it. Back to the Severn Estuary: the use of tidal power is, of course, the most appealing option of them all. We have mentioned three possibilities here this afternoon: the barrage; the lagoons; and tidal streams. As has been stressed time and again, this is an urgent matter. If China, India and the developing countries in Africa all need electricity, we must provide our own alternative, and do so very soon. Looking at the reports produced, the more I read, the more I tend to think that our best option lies in tidal streams. It is a matter for urgent, immediate, thorough and possibly final investigation. The decision must not be delayed because it is not a crisis for the future, but a crisis that is already here.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, for giving us the opportunity to discuss this fascinating subject today. I found myself agreeing with much of what he had to say, particularly on the subject of tidal lagoons, of which I have been an enthusiastic supporter for some years now. Not surprisingly, I also strongly agree with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, on that.

As many noble Lords have already said, we have the second highest tidal range in the world around the shores of the UK, particularly in the Severn Estuary and the Bristol Channel. This is a highly prized asset, which we have been too slow to take advantage of. We have just had the Minister’s announcement of plans to increase offshore wind power substantially. New wave power devices are receiving support and subsidy from the Government. However, wind and waves cannot be guaranteed, whereas the tides can; you can set your clock by them with absolute certainty, into the next millennium and beyond. It is a 100 per cent green and free source of energy, so I sometimes ask myself why we are being so pedantic about using it and, instead, concentrating our energies on the wind sector. I find that incomprehensible.

Of the three ways in which our tides can be harnessed to supply electricity, I am on record in this House as favouring lagoons. This is because, far from being environmentally damaging, they can promote new ecosystems, they do not impede the passage of shipping and can be positively beneficial as the landward side of any lagoon can be used as a safe haven for ships, and even used as a marina. They would help to reduce coastal erosion and produce electricity for about 20 hours of every day. As far as I am aware, Tidal Electric Ltd is the only company actively seeking to build such a lagoon at the moment. As the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, said in his opening speech, they want to locate it in Swansea Bay and have been working on the project for at least the past seven years. They are not seeking any funding from Her Majesty’s Government, although if tidal streams are being supported with funding—which they are—lagoons are equally deserving.

However, I was pleased to read some encouraging words on that possibility in the SDC report entitled Turning the Tide, which says of tidal lagoons:

“To help fill this information gap, the SDC believes there is a strong public interest in developing one or more tidal lagoon demonstration projects in the UK”.

It recommends that the Government take this forward by providing financial support to encourage private sector or joint initiatives.

The company, Tidal Electric, says that it should be possible to construct the lagoon for about £100 million, which is relative peanuts when set against £15 billion to build a barrage, and that it would have a capacity of 60 megawatts with an output of nearly 200,000 kilowatt hours per annum.

This is an opportunity the Government should have been grasping with enthusiasm. Instead, the DTI, now BERR, has been consistently negative about Tidal Electric’s proposals, even going to the expense of commissioning a report in April 2006 that—surprise, surprise—concluded that the company had seriously underestimated the costs. One of the main bones of contention in the report is that it does not accept what Tidal Electric is saying, which is that lagoons can be built using a rubble mound construction for the retaining walls. That is a completely different and less costly building method than that necessary for tidal barrages, which are built almost entirely of reinforced concrete. When the company conducted its feasibility study it appointed two engineering consultants, WS Atkins and Montgomery Watson Harza, both Goliaths in the field of civil engineering, to advise on the project. Both agreed that the rubble mound method was the most suitable and cost-effective option.

The upshot of all this is that the company has now reached something of an impasse. It needs seed corn funding of about £2.5 million from private enterprise to complete the environmental impact assessment and deal with planning issues, but the negativity at the ministry guarantees that that is most unlikely to be forthcoming.

We know what delay means in terms of lost chances to make early reductions in our emissions, and we know lagoons can produce electricity for about 83 per cent of the time whereas, using only the ebb flow of the tide, the barrage will produce power for only about 25 per cent of the time. We know that we need a working model of a tidal lagoon so that we can properly evaluate them, and that none exists at present. After all, there are a number of other sites around our shores for lagoons which, if built, could collectively produce 8 per cent to 10 per cent of our entire electricity needs. That is what tidal electric is offering with the Swansea Bay lagoon and, as I understand it, it has the support of the Welsh Assembly. We are being offered a gift. I say to the Minister, with all the seriousness I can muster, please do not look this gift horse in the mouth. The Swansea Bay lagoon is outside the area that requires scoping and a comprehensive study for the barrage. We should be giving Tidal Electric the encouragement it deserves and let it show us what it can do. So far as I can see, we have nothing to lose and everything to gain.

I shall now talk briefly about the Severn barrage project. Like my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley, I give it cautious support. I have concerns about bird and marine life habitats and about the silting and sewage buildup. Shipping seems unlikely to welcome the project as it will delay ships’ arrival in port, be that Bristol, Newport, Cardiff or Gloucester. The jury is out on what impact it will have on fish and fishing, although the noble Lord, Lord Moran, spoke in very worrying terms on some aspects of that. Overriding all these concerns, however, is the fact that the barrage offers real green energy that is not nuclear and would be much cheaper to build than a nuclear power station.

The clock is ticking. We need to proceed with all possible haste with the scoping studies, environmental impact assessments and the SDC report if we are to get anywhere near reaching our renewable targets by 2020.

My Lords, I do not remember whether it was a law of physics or of mathematics that was drummed into me at school—for every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction. After some years’ experience in this House, I sometimes think that that is also a law of politics, but that is life.

We all need to remind ourselves that if we and mankind in general fail to curb our appetite for using fossil fuels and producing carbon dioxide and the other sophisticated carbon compounds that we pour out, the whole environment will be ruined anyway. There will be no Severn estuary as we know it anymore because, if sea temperatures and sea levels rise, the fauna and flora will change inextricably. We are in a situation where action must be taken.

I was going to refer to the noble Lord, Lord Stern, but as he is not here yet—he will join us next week—I will say Sir Nicholas Stern. Sir Nicholas said that not taking action was not an option. We have to do things. Of course, the first thing we have to do is get our energy without producing carbon dioxide. One or two of us in this Chamber spent a full day earlier in the week discussing the Climate Change Bill, so we are already thoroughly immersed in this subject. But it is necessary to remind ourselves of the scale of the problem that we are looking at.

The Government have pledged so far to reduce our carbon dioxide emissions by 60 per cent from the 1990 position by 2050. That is probably 65 per cent or 70 per cent from where we stand today. One of the real pressures during the debate on the Climate Change Bill was whether in fact we did not already have sufficient information to suggest that there ought to be an 80 per cent reduction. If you start to envisage that economy, just over 40 years hence, there are one or two industries where carbon dioxide emissions will have to continue. I am thinking specifically of the smelting industries. There is no alternative there, because smelting is a chemical reaction and you cannot use electricity for heating in order to reduce ores to base metal. Some industries will have to emit carbon dioxide.

What we are really talking about is a world in which all the energy that we use for everything other than those basic industries comes from renewable green sources or nuclear power. It is a much greater change than the 2020 figure that we float easily. Of course, it is much closer, but the 2020 figure needs to more than double by 2050. It needs to quadruple, so we have a really huge problem. That is the first thing, and I mention that in this debate to get into our minds the context in which we are standing.

We do not yet know what will be the best options. Many people are saying that we must be open and have full time to study to come to sensible conclusions. I agree with that, but we also need to recognise the immense pressure that we are under. Inevitably, mistakes will be made and we should not worry about that too much. If we are going to make progress, we have to take the chance that some of the things we do may be wrong.

So then we come back to the specific issue that we are debating: the Severn barrage. I am slightly interested in the comparison that has been made between building a barrage in the Severn estuary and the possibility of building 150 lagoons up and down the estuary, as if 150 lagoons up and down the estuary would not irremediably alter the estuary. They might not alter it in the same way as a single barrage would, but they unquestionably would alter the estuary.

We have not heard whether they would produce as much electricity or more; nor have we heard what the cost might be. My noble friend Lord Liverpool suggested that one lagoon might cost £100 million. If that is so, I merely point out that the 150 lagoons in the estuary will then cost the same as the barrage. Whether we get the same amount of electricity out of it or not we do not yet know. I am into the business of producing equal and opposite arguments, which is not a piece of ground that I particularly want to stand on. However, I should enter yet another thought about estuarial barrages into the debate: I remind the House that the Environment Agency is discussing the possibility of a barrage across the Thames to protect London, if both the east coast continues to sink, which it undoubtedly will, and the sea level continues to rise, which it seems to be doing.

My Lords, will the noble Lord give way for a microsecond? Can I correct him that the Environment Agency is not considering a barrage across the Thames?

My Lords, I am open to correction, but I have to say that I went down on a boat and I am fairly sure that it was with the Environment Agency, which was taking me to discuss that possibility. It may be that the tentacles of the organisation are not necessarily discussing everything that is going on with the head, but that is not at all unusual in a vast and widely spread operation. These discussions are going on and if we consider the east coast-west coast and the problem of tidal generation and time, and we then put a barrage across the Thames, we do a lot if we use the barrage for a power generation to smooth out the peaks and troughs in generating capacity.

If we then put a barrage across the second big estuary up the east coast, which is the Humber estuary, we would have virtually continuous flow tidal generation capacity across the country. We would then be in the realms of 10 per cent of United Kingdom electricity use. Of course there are all these other systems: there is tidal stream, wave and so on and all of them will undoubtedly have a part to play, as will wind and solar power. I particularly wanted to speak this afternoon because it is easy to look at a particular project and discuss it in a particular way, but the context in which we stand today is remarkable and unique and we cannot stand still. Somewhere along the way we are going to have to take decisions. If we are lucky most of those decisions will be right, but we need to recognise that we will be exceedingly fortunate if the word “always” applies.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, on achieving the debate. I come to the issue as a civil engineer. I briefly worked on the project in the 1970s and 1980s. I have nothing like the eminence in civil engineering of my noble friend Lord Howie of Troon. I am sorry that he is not contributing to the debate. I agree with noble Lords that there is a need for diversification of supply in the use of renewables. I do not think that that is under debate. Last week the debate seemed to be covering the North Sea and other places with windmills and today it is the turn of the Severn. We have to be careful that our concerns for the fish or the birds do not cause the lights to go out. The Government have some challenges ahead. They would not let the lights go out and maybe the third way is energy saving, as the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said. We should be harnessing what people perceive as free electricity from the tides.

I agree with many noble Lords on tidal stream technology. Siting generators on the seabed and letting the tide go backwards and forwards would seem simple. Unless you are a submarine, they do not get in the way. I hope that the Government will take tidal stream a bit more seriously and I expect that my noble friend will tell us about that when he winds up.

I am bemused by the different claims we have heard today and elsewhere about the benefits of lagoons and barrages, because they are variations of the same technology—they allow the water in and out, and power is generated by the difference in head between one side of the generator and the other. Whether that is done on both the flood and the ebb, or just on the ebb, is debatable; I do not know, but it seems simply that the benefits relate to the volume of water times the head as the maximum generating capacity, and the costs are the capital costs and some maintenance. The costs are to do with the volume of materials, rocks and any other works needed. I shall return to that. Large volumes of water are involved, but I do not believe that the technology is impossible—it is used in major dam constructions around the world. That technology applies equally to something as big as the Severn barrage and smaller lagoons. It is good that engineering companies are debating whether the best method is concrete, rock or whatever.

However, I take issue with the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, on the question of a new Thames barrier—whether it is being promoted by the Environment Agency or someone else. I am sure that that is not the case, because the noble Baroness, Lady Young, would have told us. The Thames Barrier is closed only when a high tide is forecast, because ships have to go through it and there is not much constraint to the tide. I assume that the same would apply to any new Thames barrier, especially as the Government have given planning permission for something called the London Gateway, which is an enormous port development of what used to be called Canvey Island. A Thames barrier is a very different issue to a Severn barrier, which relies on a big head difference to generate electricity.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope, and the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, talked about the timing of tides. I remember when I was working on that, someone discovered that because there was three hours’ difference between the tides of Morecambe Bay and the Severn, if both had barrages working to the same capacity there would be an almost continuous supply of electricity. If the timing is not right—well, it is down to King Canute, is it not? There is not much else we can do about it.

More serious is the effect on ports, which one or two noble Lords mentioned. Bristol, Cardiff, Newport and Sharpness are clearly worried by the construction of a barrage that would prevent access to the deep sea. It is worth reflecting on the port industry in the UK. I suspect that some noble Lords will know that congestion in the ports in the south-east of England is so great that the shipping lines have put a fairly hefty premium on any container that is delivered there. So the ports on the west coast of England and further north up the east coast are experiencing some revival. They expect that to continue. The forecasts for traffic in ports are quite frightening. I was in Amsterdam last week where I listened to the head of the port of Rotterdam saying that traffic through Rotterdam was expected to grow by 10 per cent every year for the foreseeable future. Provision is being made to build more ports and extend the capacity to cope with that. Okay, Rotterdam has a big hinterland, but I do not think that the economics will change very much. Whether the big ships come to the UK or we have feeders will not make a lot of difference.

So I suspect that the ports in the west of England have quite a future, especially considering that, when you look at the geography, the south Wales ports and Bristol are actually very close to the Midlands—almost closer than the ports of south-east England. I know that there is a longer steaming time around the coast, but any barrage would have to take seriously into account the needs of those ports and provide for locks. The port of Amsterdam is the fourth biggest in that part of the continent between Hamburg and France. It is fed by a canal with locks. They are just building a few more locks and I believe there will be four to take the biggest ships that they believe they can handle. It might be possible if we planned it in advance, but I would worry whether adding an extra lock or two when the demand increased through a barrage would lead to arguments about who would pay, when it would be done and the effect it would have on the port, which would be pretty stifling. Compare this to what they are doing in Amsterdam, where it is a case of, “We have got to do this, we have got to find the money, it will be done and the Government will pay”. That does not happen here. We have got to be very careful about the effect on ports and ensure that they are provided with locks that allow them to remain competitive.

I am slightly attracted by the idea of lagoons. If they can be constructed in a place that does not cut off ports and does not affect the environment so much, that seems to be quite an advantage.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young, talked about John Hutton’s statement that he wanted a Severn barrage. I have this feeling that Ministers love big projects. We have Trident, aircraft carriers, all these windmills in the North Sea, nuclear power stations—some of which are going ahead and some of which are not—and the Channel Tunnel. I was involved in the Channel Tunnel and yes, it got built, but the estimates of cost overruns and the risks and so on between the public and private sector lead me to conclude that Governments are not very good at big projects. I am not sure that the private sector is any better. It rather depends on who is taking the risks when things go wrong.

The construction industry will, of course, welcome a barrage or lagoons but, if they run out of money, or if it goes wrong, who is going to pick up the tab? I rather favour the Friends of the Earth view in Wales, which is that a big lagoon is much more cost-effective in capital costs and the price of electricity and it would have the added advantage of keeping the ports open. That is a really important matter; I worry about what would happen and whether the ports would be able to survive and prosper with a big barrage across the Severn.

My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Livsey, for calling this very timely debate. It has provoked much discussion and teased out many points that needed to be teased out, among which was the need for prompt action. His initiative has enabled a good discussion.

We have had a good debate, which has thrown up many issues. For environmental reasons, an alternative renewable source of energy needs much consideration, but we must also ensure that we have real security of supply for these islands. There is certainly still a need for consideration of many issues. As the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, rightly said, there are many challenges to come. Some of these can be examined only by precise, detailed modelling which, importantly, needs to be done by independent people with no particular axe to grind. There is support for this from many others, including the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, who called for a level playing field and for investigations to start as soon as soon as possible. So, indeed, did the noble Lords, Lord Cope and Lord Rowe-Beddoe. Time must not be lost.

We cannot ignore the potential financial costs of building a barrage. Special measures will have to be taken for environmental reasons and to meet any concerns there may be over flooding. Further, the cost per unit of energy will have to be a factor. The Government’s duty is to secure our energy, so they therefore have a responsibility to ensure that any future project is adequately supported and funded. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, rightly emphasised the need for security of supply.

From this debate, it is clear that there needs to be a full investigation of the technical aspects, including in relation to lagoons—a point referred to by a number of noble Lords. In addition, any investigation must have a clear timescale and there must be a clear programme for assessing the project.

On the economic aspects, although the work would create jobs, there are concerns about whether the Port of Bristol, for example, would be able to operate properly with delays through locks and some ships being diverted elsewhere, with a consequent loss of business. However, were a roadway to be constructed from the industrial part of south Wales, there could be economic benefits, and that would bring pressure for development. The noble Lord, Lord Patten, talked about costs and I would hope that, as time went on, the project would not turn into another Olympic Games in terms of their escalation.

The subject of flood defences also has two sides to it. This is one area that many supporters of the barrage instance as being a plus, but others say that, due to erosion and other reasons, it is far from certain that flood defences would be improved. It would be interesting to consider that in more detail.

Many points were raised about the environmental considerations. The local impact on birds, fish and wildlife is, rightly, important. The noble Baroness, Lady Young, who has expertise in this area, rightly pointed out that it is almost impossible to find habitats elsewhere—a matter that perhaps I had not considered sufficiently. My noble friend Lady Miller supported that point.

Equally, we have to find a way of dealing with climate change. As my noble friend Lord Roberts said in relation to a different point, we have to look urgently at the international view on this and not just at our own local or national needs. The local impact may be a problem but, in the round, we need to provide long-term habitats and something has to be done somewhere. Therefore, although there is a concern about wildlife, there is also a big question of how we address climate change, which affects wildlife everywhere.

The noble Lord, Lord Moran, made a specific and welcome contribution on the subject of fish and fisheries—an issue on which he clearly has great knowledge. Answers are obviously needed on that and I hope that they will be provided.

Climate change is a big problem. As the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, said, there is a tremendous need for possibly even stronger action to be taken, as the present proposals may not be adequate. If we are to meet the concerns about the environment, it is clear that very serious thought needs to be given to a number of ideas, and chief among them could well be lagoons.

Lagoons have been mentioned by many contributors this afternoon. Lagoons would perhaps help in terms of not destroying habitats, many of which have existed for 15,000 years, and it should be remembered that 65,000 birds flock to the estuary. The tenor that I picked up from the debate is that a lot of time has been lost in addressing this issue and that there has been a loss of government focus on the matter. The noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, spoke in great detail about lagoons. His contribution certainly made me think that it is a very serious subject, and clearly people have done serious work on it. Perhaps there has not been sufficient support from the Government but, after today, the Minister might consider that.

The real thing that has come out of this debate is that where there is a positive there is also a negative, and that is the great difficulty. If it was just a question of erecting a barrage that would contribute 5 per cent to electricity, it would be wonderful, but there are issues around that because building a barrage would involve environmental considerations about the construction and the disruption. I hope that this debate has put urgency into this issue, and I thank my noble friend Lord Livsey for obtaining it. We need to ensure that the project is investigated and that if there is to be a project, whether lagoons or barrages, it will be securely financed and supported. I think that all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate have found it extremely interesting. The expertise has been excellent, and we all look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, for securing this important debate. He set the scene very well and listed many of the questions to which we need answers.

He said that we know that the cost of the barrage will be about £15 billion, but that estimate came from the figure in the studies undertaken in the 1980s uprated by the appropriate indices. It does not include the cost of compensation measures, which may be considerable, if they are possible. The good news is that Ministers have stopped being so negative about a Severn barrage. I was asking questions about it back in January 2004. The noble Baroness, Lady Miller of Chilthorne Domer, spoke about the Government’s prevarication on tidal power, and she is right.

Today’s debate is about the barrage, but it is vital that we look at tidal stream technology as well as tidal range, including the barrage and lagoons. The SDC report looked at tidal stream technology, which clearly has potential, but is nowhere near ready for a pilot, let alone a full-scale device in the Pentland Firth. It is fortunate that none of these technologies is mutually exclusive, but the only one ready to roll from a technological viewpoint is the barrage. There has been much talk about tidal lagoons—I received a briefing on them some time ago—but since the technology is relatively simple, I find it hard to understand why there has been no progress and none has been built, not even small-scale ones. There may be a pump-priming problem; perhaps the renewables obligation needs to be tweaked to give further incentives. Can the Minister say why progress has been so slow? Is he convinced that the costing of lagoons is hopelessly optimistic?

The principal benefit of the barrage is the production of nearly 5 per cent of the UK electricity requirement with zero carbon output—its carbon output is lower than nuclear power. The SDC report indicates that the carbon pay-back period for the Severn barrage is less than 12 months. There are additional benefits of the barrage, but I do not think that they should be the major driver. It is easy to measure the benefits of a barrage and possibly to identify the disbenefits, but it is rather more difficult accurately to measure and cost the disbenefits. When it comes to wildlife and biodiversity, it becomes extremely difficult and subjective.

I have no doubt that the barrage will change habitats, but global warming is doing so right now, as my noble friend Lord Dixon-Smith explained. The SDC report covers ecology issues in some detail. It indicates that the birds and habitats directives need not be a showstopper, and the report is strongly against any derogation from the relevant directives.

It is vital that the government study should look at this issue comprehensively and in great detail before a project consent is sought. We need to know what species will be affected, how they will be affected and whether the changes will be positive or negative, bearing in mind the observation in the STC report that an increase in the quantity of a few species is no substitute for variety or biodiversity.

Once the adverse effects are understood, we need to ask whether they can be mitigated and, if not, compensated for. The noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Miller, suggested that compensation was impossible—it cannot be done—and my noble friend Lord Patten said that habitat can never be replicated. They may well be right; there will be some adverse effects on species that cannot be mitigated or compensated for. At that point, we should consider the uniqueness of the species and balance that with the overriding public interest. It would be quite unwise to discard this opportunity for a Severn barrage without having studied it very carefully.

My noble friend Lord Cope explained the awesome natural power of the Severn estuary. He said that we need to update the existing studies. He is right, but we also need to look at issues that we would not have looked at 20 years ago.

The noble Baroness, Lady Young of Old Scone, has done us a great service by pointing out some of the difficulties, which are considerable. She suggested nuclear power—quite rightly, in my view—but it is a pity that the Government have made such slow progress in dealing with the problem of nuclear waste post the 1999 report of your Lordships’ Select Committee. Nuclear power is only part of the solution. What will happen if a technical fault arises in the whole fleet of nuclear power stations and they are all off the road? We know we need a mix of power sources and should not rely on one.

The speech of my noble friend Lord Patten was very helpful. He touched on the difficulty of industry accepting risk, particularly risk that it is not well able to take. He mentioned the need for certainty in the appraisal and planning process. It is to be hoped that the Government will consult industry about the financial structure of the project, rather than trying to invent it themselves.

I apologise for not responding to every noble Lord. Many noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Cope of Berkeley, the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, and the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, raised the issue of the ports that would be affected, in particular Bristol. No doubt there will be many effects, most of which will be negative, and these will have to be taken into account when assessing the economic case for a barrage. The noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, reminded us about the capacity of our port system, which is a major concern of the Freight Transport Association. Will the Minister ensure that any study will consider port enhancement and not only measure the cost of the adverse effects?

On stakeholder involvement in the study, it is vital that the green NGOs, if I may describe them in that way, are closely involved in scoping the study. I am concerned that officials have been given until August to scope the study or parts thereof. Why is the scoping taking so long? This is not a case of “Rumsfeldism”, if I may put it that way; before any decisions are made we must have all the questions answered. Certainly we cannot have any known unknowns. Some questions can easily be answered, and some will require detailed research and will take time, but taking eight months to scope the study will be very dear as it will cost about 4 million tonnes of CO2 if the project goes ahead.

It is important that the project is studied from every conceivable angle. It would be disappointing in the extreme to complete the project and then discover some adverse effect that should have been anticipated but was not. I hope that the Minister will not fall into the trap of reinventing the wheel by failing to build upon the excellent work, over many years, of the Severn Tidal Power Group. This does not mean that its assumptions should not be tested—of course they should be tested. Some of its work is quite old and we now have much better analytical tools available. The STC report reminds us that the project runs the danger of diverting our attention from energy conservation—a point made by many noble Lords. Quite so, but the barrage would only be 5 per cent of the problem, and the same could be said of any renewable energy project.

Finally, we can study the economics of the barrage project. We can agonise over selecting an appropriate discount rate. But we, the current generation—the current custodians—will have to pay for the project if it proceeds. However, we will definitely be leaving all sorts of problems for future generations, and they will not thank us for them. We have global warming, rising sea levels, deforestation, depletion of natural resources, loss of biodiversity on a grand scale and nuclear waste. It would be nice to leave future generations 17 terawatts of electricity every year, absolutely free.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Livsey of Talgarth, on securing the debate. On behalf of the Government, I thank him very much for initiating a debate on this important subject. The expertise and local knowledge demonstrated this afternoon mean that this debate will be widely read and, one hopes, widely considered. There is a huge degree of expertise in this House on this subject, not least because two speakers were distinguished Members of Parliament— for Northavon in one case and Weston-super-Mare in the other. They had a direct constituency interest in the problems that this proposal raises. We have had expertise from others, too. The noble Baronesses, Lady Young of Old Scone and Lady Miller, and many others, are acknowledged experts on the environment and the issues of this case.

This is an important subject and the debate shows, if anyone ever thought that the big decisions on climate change would somehow make themselves, or would be easy decisions, how wrong they would be. There are conflicting interests all over the place. The difficulty for Government and Parliament is to work their way through these conflicting interests to try to find what is best for our generation and above all, as the noble Earl has just said, for future generations.

I think it is appropriate to begin by setting today’s debate in the context of this country’s wider energy policy. The energy White Paper, published earlier this year, set out our strategy to address the two major long-term energy challenges we face. The first is tackling climate change by reducing carbon emissions, both within the UK and abroad. The second is ensuring secure, clean and affordable energy as we become increasingly dependent on imported fuel. To meet these challenges, the Government have set four long-term goals: first, to put ourselves on a path to cut our CO2 emissions by some 60 per cent by about 2050, with real and substantial progress by 2020; secondly, to maintain the reliability of energy supplies; thirdly, to promote competitive markets here and abroad, helping to raise the rate of sustainable economic growth and to improve our productivity; and, lastly, to ensure, of course, that every home is adequately and affordably heated. Achieving those goals, which are easy to set out, will require a series of changes, developments and decisions over decades to come.

So we need a framework that delivers the necessary changes, and we think that that framework for action is set out in the White Paper. It is based on the principles of competitive energy markets, energy efficiency and a diverse energy mix, with more low-carbon sources of energy. In the gracious Speech on 6 November last, Her Majesty gave notice of the Government’s intention to take forward policies that will help us meet our energy challenges. Bills covering energy, planning and climate change will provide a package of measures to implement the measures in the energy White Paper, strengthening the framework for investment in low-carbon sources of energy and energy infrastructure; ensure that planning supports sustainable development and measures to tackle climate change through an efficient and fair planning process; and set legally binding emission-reduction targets, requiring government to set five-year targets.

As the urgency of tackling climate change and achieving energy security increase, the case for more renewable energy has become more and more compelling. That is why the UK supports the agreement of EU leaders that, by 2020, one-fifth of all Europe's energy should come from renewables, a near threefold increase. We are completely committed to meeting our share. We do not know yet what that share will be but it is clear that, over the next decade and beyond, we will need to increase very significantly the proportion of our energy from renewable sources. The Prime Minister announced last month the launch of a consultation next year inviting a national debate about how we achieve our renewable energy targets. I venture to think that our debate today may have been the start of that national debate.

I hope that our commitment to renewable energy such as wind, wave, biomass and tidal power, is clear. On Monday, as was referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, the Secretary of State for Business, Enterprise and Regulatory Reform set out new proposals that could see up to 25 gigawatts of offshore wind operating in UK waters by 2020, with the potential to generate enough power for up to 25 million homes, the equivalent of all UK homes. That followed the announcement last month of consent for a 350-megawatt wood-fuelled electricity generation plant in south Wales in Port Talbot. We understand that, when completed, that will be the largest biomass plant in the world. As well as having some of the best wind resources in the world, we are blessed with some of the best tidal resources. Estimates suggest that tidal energy could provide more than 10 per cent of the UK's electricity demand. So it must make sense for us to explore the potential for harnessing that resource.

That brings me to what we are discussing in detail today. Over the past year the Sustainable Development Commission has conducted a study of the potential for tidal power in the UK. It published its report on 1 October, setting out its position and advice to the Government on tidal power. I should like to make clear how grateful we are to the commission for the work it has done. The noble Lords, Lord Livsey and Lord Moran, the noble Baroness, Lady Young, and the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, were among those who referred to the commission and what it said. Its comments are subject to praise and to criticism too, but it is an important contribution to this debate. I shall come in a moment or two to some of the remarks in its conclusion. The report is wide-ranging and considers the potential for different tidal technologies, including tidal barrages, tidal lagoons and the emerging tidal stream technologies. It has stimulated much discussion and perhaps even this debate, but its position on the Severn barrage has attracted the most interest.

Two of the report’s key conclusions were that, first, the commission believes that there is a strong case to be made for a sustainable Severn barrage; and, secondly, that such a development may provide an environmental opportunity by linking a compensatory habitats package to climate change adaptation. Of course, the commission set a number of conditions that would need to be met for a barrage to be considered sustainable. Those require any consideration of a barrage to be within a framework that places,

“high value on the long-term public interest and on maintaining the overall integrity of internationally recognised habitats and species”.

We welcome the commission’s key message that tidal power can be generated in the Severn estuary within sustainable development principles. We are looking at the report and its conclusions with great care.

The scheme with which most will be familiar and the one on which most of the discussion today has centred is known as the Cardiff-Weston barrage. It was studied in some depth during the 1980s—we are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, for that information—but discussed earlier than that. The possibilities of it using what the noble Lord, Lord Cope, described as awesome natural power are clear. It is important that this scheme does not preclude other schemes, as the noble Lord, Lord Rowe-Beddoe, reminded us. As proposed, it would have a capacity of 8,600 megawatts and an output of 17 terawatt hours a year, providing around 5 per cent of current UK electricity demand from a renewable source and saving some 6 million tonnes of CO2 a year over its 120-year lifetime. On that basis we have to consider it seriously, just as the House has this afternoon. It has been estimated to cost around £15 million—I take on board the point made by the noble Earl in his speech from the opposition Front Bench; it will be one of the largest civil engineering projects in the world and by far the largest single renewable energy generation scheme in the UK.

My Lords, did I hear my noble friend say “million” or “billion”? I suspect he meant “billion”.

My Lords, I am used to talking in defence terms. I am very grateful to my noble friend for putting me right. Of course, I mean £15 billion.

It would involve building a 10-mile-long barrage across the estuary, just downstream of a line between Cardiff and Weston-super-Mare, enclosing some 140 miles of coastline and it would take up to 12 years to build and commission from any decision to take it forward. The issues that will need to be addressed to harness the huge resource that exists in the Severn estuary are complex and challenging, but the benefits in terms of low-carbon energy and emission reduction are, to say the least, significant. Therefore, this is an option that we want to explore further. We have announced our intention to carry out a feasibility study, to which every noble Lord has referred.

The feasibility study will include consideration of the environmental impacts that would occur and cannot be denied and the compliance that would be needed with the wide range of environmental legislation that applies to the estuary. The estuary itself is designated a Ramsar site—an international treaty which, as noble Lords will know, provides the framework for the conservation of wetlands and their resources—and a special protection area under the EU birds directive. It also comprises a series of sites of special scientific interest. In August this year, the UK submitted the Severn estuary to the European Commission as a candidate special area of conservation under the EU habitats directive.

Clearly, a barrage would have a major effect on the ecosystems of the Severn estuary. Much of the current intertidal area would disappear and, as noble Lords have heard, sediment flows would change and existing habitats would be modified. It is clear that the full range of environmental impacts must be fully assessed and understood. We have to consider how we might compensate for adverse impacts on protected environment habitats and species. Some believe that they cannot be compensated for; others that that is possible.

The noble Baronesses, Lady Young and Lady Miller, expressed the clear concern about whether there would be a fair and level playing field for this feasibility study. I want to make it crystal clear that we have come to no conclusion about the end result; that study will be carried out openly and transparently. It is very much a question of whether this scheme should go ahead, but the “how” is an important part of deciding “whether” it should. The feasibility study will consider different technical options for tidal power in the Severn estuary, including both the barrage and the lagoons. If any message gets across, it is, I hope, that our aim is to have a proper feasibility study that will lead to the right conclusion.

More generally, the study will look at various options for developing the tidal energy in the estuary, including their impacts, costs and benefits. It will consider in detail the various aspects of tidal development, including economics, which we have discussed, environmental impacts, on which I have touched, and compensatory measures. Your Lordships have also heard about the regional impact; that includes flood avoidance, any effects on the ports and potential socio-economic benefits such as job creation, which should not be left out of the equation. That study is expected to take at least 18 months to two years to complete. Throughout, the Government intend to do the work transparently and to engage the people and organisations that would be affected by any such developments.

The noble Lord, Lord Patten, wanted a little more detail. I will lift the veil slightly, but I ask him to be a little patient as there will be important announcements next month, after the Christmas Recess. However, the study will be led by my department, DBERR, working together with a number of others, as noble Lords would expect. Defra will obviously be an important player and, equally, the Department for Transport will be one. The Department for Communities and Local Government and the Treasury will, of course, be there, as will the Welsh Assembly Government and the south-west regional development agency.

The noble Lord, Lord Cope of Berkeley, referred to a cross-departmental working group that has been set up to take things forward; I think he was referring to the ad hoc ministerial committee to which the working group will report. We are currently examining the scope of that feasibility study, as it is important to get right its organisational framework and governance to carry out the study. As I say, we expect to provide more detailed information on the scope of the study next year.

This has been a very important contribution to the debate and to our understanding on this issue. Much of the concern has been from those who are attracted by the idea of tidal lagoons. There is not really time to go into details about those, but changes are to be made to renewable obligation rules that will, as I understand it, potentially make it easier for those who want to see, for example, the Swansea Bay process going ahead. As the Commission said:

“We do not consider that large-scale tidal lagoon development in the Severn Estuary would offer any economic or environmental advantage over a barrage”.

That is to be found in the summary at page seven. The noble Earl reminded us—and this, too, is important—that there is a strong justification for the development of at least one tidal lagoon demonstration project.

I hope that the noble Lords who support lagoons as such will not hold to the view that the Government are definitely opposed to them. We are not. The feasibility study will look at lagoons as it looks at the barrage and, I hope, come up with the appropriate judgment.

We fully recognise, as do all noble Lords who have spoken, the potential contribution that tidal energy in all its forms can make towards our goals. That includes the tidal resource potential that exists within the Severn estuary. We are also very conscious, as noble Lords have been this afternoon, that we have to move ahead and come to a decision. That is what government is about and what the House would expect. However, we need to get it right both for our generation and for future generations.

My Lords, I thank very much every noble Lord and noble Baroness who has taken part in the debate. I thank the Minister, but I cannot possibly refer to everyone who contributed because that has already been done in the summations.

I have a couple of points that I need to make before closing the debate. There is the whole question of the impact of sewage in the Severn estuary as the result of the development of a barrage. There is, too, the whole question of the ports of south Wales and Bristol. The Chinese are starting to use 150,000-tonne container carriers, and that will be the shipping of the future. Contributions were made on the environment and, in particular, on the point that it is probably impossible to replace what might be destroyed. Then there is the whole question of improved communications; a railway bridge could be built, even possibly on the second Severn crossing.

There are huge legal constraints, which have been mentioned. I am pleased that the Swansea Bay lagoon project may be supported, but we want to see a working project that can provide us with statistics and information on that system. Furthermore, we must not forget about the Planning Bill now going through the other place, which will speed up the planning process and take away powers from democratically elected authorities, whether that is the Welsh Assembly, county councils in the south-west or whatever.

Perhaps I would be wise to quote my fellow countryman, Aneurin Bevan, who said that Britain was built on coal and surrounded by sea and fish. I hope that the outcome of the feasibility study will be that Britain will be built on alternative energy—the electricity produced—and that we will still have some fish. Some of the threats are to fish and bird populations. The moon keeps going on, so tidal power is guaranteed and can be converted into electricity; it is how we do that, as the Minister has just said, that is absolutely critical. I trust that we shall have a truly independent assessment of all this. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.

Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.

Immigration (Employment of Adults Subject to Immigration Control) (Maximum Penalty) Order 2007

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 22 November be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the purpose of this order is to set the maximum level of civil penalty for employers of illegal migrants at £10,000 per illegal worker. It is imperative to take steps, as part of the implementation of our immigration enforcement strategy, to bear down on the illegal jobs that encourage illegal journeys. We have made much progress in fostering a more constructive and realistic view of the substantial benefits that the country enjoys from our participation in the globalised world economy and the consequent flow of human capital across our borders. However, it is crucial that irregular migration is prevented and that we contain positive migration within a firm, enforced framework that removes the economic incentive to act unlawfully and provides a cost-effective means of sanctioning those who break the rules.

We need a system that reflects a fair and balanced partnership between the Government and employers in regulating the participation of migrants in the labour market, in which the rights and responsibilities are cleared. We must also ensure that we take appropriate steps to protect vulnerable workers from dangerous and exploitative working conditions. We need to take action overseas, at our borders and within our country to ensure that the system as a whole has integrity. There are many strands to our comprehensive strategy for tackling illegal jobs and illegal journeys. These include tougher checks overseas, strengthening our border controls, mandatory biometric identity cards, a licensing system for employers under the new points-based scheme, an increase in enforcement action, an enhanced checking service for employers, closer joint working with other workplace enforcement agencies and a new system of civil penalties for employers.

The provisions in the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006 replace the existing offence of employing illegal migrant workers in Section 8 of the Asylum and Immigration Act 1996 with a new system of civil penalties where there are less than diligent personnel practices and a tough new criminal offence for employers who knowingly give work to illegal migrants. It is important to note that the repeal of Section 8 and the introduction of these new measures on 29 February 2008 will not provide an amnesty in respect of offences committed by employers before this date. Employers found to have employed illegal migrant workers between 27 January 1997 and 28 February 2008 will continue to be liable for prosecution under the 1996 Act. Therefore, if we encounter an employer with illegal workers after 29 February who started work before that date, the employer will face the prospect of prosecution under the Section 8 offence.

The new arrangements are not dissimilar to the current legislation in some respects. We will, as now, be encouraging employers to carry out some relatively straightforward document checks on all their workers before employment commences to avoid unlawful discrimination. Clearly, it is vital to ensure that employers are aware of the changes to the legislation and how they will impact on their personnel practices. The Border and Immigration Agency’s website contains detailed information on the changes that will be introduced next year. Comprehensive guidance on the new civil penalties scheme will also be available to employers. In addition, an extensive public communications campaign, which commenced last month and will continue into the new year, alerts employers to their obligations. That will be backed up with direct mail communication with employers in the relevant sectors.

We expect employers not to be forgery experts but simply to spot documents that have obviously been tampered with or do not relate to the person using them. Employers will face a new duty to carry out light-touch annual follow-up checks on workers who have temporary immigration status. Employers who carry out these checks properly will establish an excuse against a penalty, unless they know that the worker does not have permission to work.

In line with the Hampton and Macrory reports on regulatory enforcement, in the majority of cases employers who break the law will face an administrative penalty, as opposed to the current situation where they face costly criminal proceedings and the possibility of receiving a criminal record. Penalties will be on a sliding scale, which will escalate for repeat offending. The penalty system will be subject to stringent safeguards. An aggrieved employer will be able to make an objection to the Border and Immigration Agency and/or appeal to the courts against the service or level of a penalty. Employers who are found knowingly or deliberately to be employing illegal migrant workers will face prosecution. The £10,000 maximum level of penalty that we propose is the right maximum for those employers who conduct no document checks at recruitment and have been found repeatedly to employ illegal migrant workers.

It is important to remember that these penalties will be issued case by case, with reference to a sliding scale that allows for the level of penalty to be set according to a range of factors, including the severity of the offence and the ability of the employer to pay. For instance, at the opposite end of the scale, first-time offenders who carry out partial document checks, report their suspicions and co-operate with the Border and Immigration Agency may receive a written warning instead of a financial penalty. Only in the most severe cases of repeatedly slipshod recruitment and employment practice will the £10,000 maximum be considered.

When viewed in the context of financial sanctions for employers of illegal workers in other European countries, a £10,000-per-worker maximum sits in the mid-range. The figure of £10,000 also reflects the estimated unit cost of enforcing the return of an immigration offender to their country of origin. The new sliding-scale penalty system, with a £10,000 maximum penalty, reflects a proportionate approach to non-compliance but provides a sufficient deterrent effect so that employers will not want to risk their profits and reputation by using slipshod personnel practices and employing illegal migrant workers.

I trust that noble Lords will join me in supporting these measures, which will help to combat illegal migration and the exploitation of vulnerable workers and demonstrate to the public and our international partners that we are serious about tackling one of the root causes of illegal immigration to this country. I therefore invite your Lordships to approve this order. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 22 November be approved. 4th Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee.—(Lord West of Spithead.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the order, which was a great deal longer and more coherent than the Explanatory Notes. The order follows seamlessly on from the Statement that we heard earlier today, because it demonstrates the importance of employers being certain that the people whom they employ, particularly migrant workers, are legally employed and not in breach of employment conditions.

The Minister may have referred to some of the points that I shall raise, but perhaps I may worry myself at them again. Will he make it clear how the decision on where the penalty lies will be made? The upper limit is £10,000. I understand that it will be £10,000 in each case. Some cases will be more serious than others and some employers may have a number of cases against them. So that one can get an idea of the measure of the offences, will the Minister say where a written warning will be appropriate, at the very lowest level, and where the £10,000 fine might kick in? Who will make the decision about how much is charged? Will it be the Border and Immigration Agency? It can hardly be the Minister, who will have enough to do without worrying about that. If it is to be the Border and Immigration Agency, it will be helpful to have that on record.

If a number of breaches are found at any one time, will there be a different level of penalty? If there was one illegal employee, I presume that it would be one offence and one charge. If there were 16, would that then be deemed to be a £10,000 fine or thereabouts multiplied by 16, or would there be some way of ameliorating that for employers? If they have made one mistake, will they be deemed to have made 16 or so at the same time?

Section 15(3) of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act, states that,

“an employer is excused from paying a penalty if he shows that he complied with any prescribed requirements”.

The requirements are more or less listed in subsection (7), but they are not completely identified. Have these requirements already been issued by order, or are they still to come? If the latter, will they be issued in time for consideration by employers before the order comes into force next February? This may be what the Minister was referring to when he said that it is on the website, but it would be helpful to know that.

Finally, the Explanatory Notes to this order say in paragraph 7.1:

“The system of civil penalties is designed to encourage employers to comply with their legal obligations, without criminalising those who slip up in operating their recruitment and employment practices”.

Will the Minister say where you slip from the civil to the criminal on this basis, or whether, as I believe, these are all civil proceedings and, therefore, you could not be criminalised under them? Apart from those points, we very much support these provisions, pending the few explanations for which I have asked.

My Lords, we agree that steps have to be taken to bear down on the employment of illegal migrants and we have no objection to this order, including the maximum penalty for an employer who repeatedly and deliberately ignores the obligation to carry out specified document checks to ensure that he only takes on, or continues to employ, persons with leave to work in the United Kingdom. The noble Baroness may wish to refer to the draft code of practice on prevention of illegal working, which contains an explanation of how the penalties will be calculated in certain illustrative cases. Whether this document is sufficiently widely known I beg leave to doubt, because if she has not seen it, it can reasonably be assumed that many employers will not have seen it either.

I was pleased to hear what the Minister said about it being vital that employers were fully aware of the changes, because I think that has yet to be confirmed. I also agree with him that this order is without prejudice to the need to apply criminal sanctions against employers who use trafficked migrants, or who deliberately exploit persons whom they know are not permitted to work by, for example, paying below the minimum wage or exposing them to unsafe or unhealthy conditions in the workplace.

It seems a very long time since we discussed these matters under what was then Clause 15 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. When we talked about the civil penalty clause in Grand Committee, our main concern, as I remember, was that employers should know what they had to do to check that a person they employed was allowed to work in the UK, and that undertaking the particular checks required would not impose undue administrative burdens on them. The explanatory memorandum says that they have to carry out specified document checks at the point of recruitment, and repeat the checks once every 12 months for anyone who has limited leave to enter or remain in the UK. It is fair to assume that most employers who routinely hire foreign workers are unlikely to have any difficulty with the prescribed checks, because they are not significantly different from those already laid down in previous legislation.

It is also claimed by the Government that, once the biometric immigration document is rolled out, the process will be simpler because it will mean that fewer documents have to be verified and copied. For the mean time, as I understand it—the Minister will doubtless confirm this—the list of documents that need to be checked is unchanged and was given in the April 2004 guidance, which is not particularly easy to find on the BIA website. I looked for it and was unable to locate it, so I rang the employers’ helpline and waited six minutes for an answer. They were getting a very large number of calls about this order.

In response to the consultation, the BIA said it was committed to improving web-based support, taking employers through the procedures they have to adopt in order to ensure compliance with their obligations and therefore their immunity from the civil penalty. Analysis of the calls that are received on the employers’ helpline might help the designers of the site to identify, from the questions that are most frequently asked, which bits of the employers’ section of the BIA site should be given greater prominence.

I had an e-mail yesterday from Ms Christine Lee of the Chinese Community Association, whose name will no doubt be familiar to the noble Lord because we had a lot to do with her and with the Chinese community during proceedings on the legislation. I am sorry to say that she thinks there are some difficulties for that community because they would not necessarily be able to identify false papers from genuine ones. I would like the Minister to say something about cases where an employer who is not a skilled immigration lawyer looks at a document, thinks it is genuine and takes someone on, only to discover—perhaps too late, when the premises are raided by the police, as Chinese restaurants frequently have been in the recent past—that they have mistakenly taken on someone who is not qualified.

What plans does the BIA have to produce new guidance covering the simplified document checks when the bids are rolled out, and for ensuring that employers are fully aware of those procedures in advance of the rollout?

My Lords, although there are a small number of speakers here today, they have made some useful points and I thank them. I thank the noble Baroness for her kind words about my initial Statement. It is clear that your Lordships agree that this is a sensible way forward. The Statement about the SIA by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary, which I repeated earlier today, links in to the order. Part of the problem is that it has not been as easy to prosecute people under the old Act as it should be from now on. The new order is much more practical and useful.

The framework for assessing the level of the civil penalty relates to the number of times the employer has been checked, the number of times that there has been an incident with them, whether they have done any partial checks or no checks at all, or whether they believe they have done full checks. I have a useful guidance sheet, and it might help if I sent a copy to both noble Lords who raised the issue. It shows exactly how we will go about that.

We are still coming to a conclusion about the composition of the board that will make these assessments and exactly where it will sit. It will be a Home Office/BIA body. That work is ongoing and will be completed before the order comes into force.

The noble Baroness mentioned Section 15(3) with regard to the list of documents, requirements and checks that had to be done. We have produced a negative order, which was laid at exactly the same time. That lays out clearly the statutory excuse, the objections and everything that needs to be done.

Under the 1996 Act there was no distinction between less than diligent employers and deliberately criminal employers who employed illegal migrant workers. That is why there were so few prosecutions. Replacing the existing provisions with these new measures will give us a lot more force and enable us to do something where it really needs to be done.

The list of documents has been revised, but I have to check whether they are different from April 2004. I will write to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on that point to see whether they are different. I know that there has been a revision, but I am not sure whether they changed. I will have to get back to him. On the point of the helpline and the six-minute wait, I think that that relates to the other events that have been going on in the security industry area. The points that he made on guidance about the BIA site are of value and we will see whether it can be made slicker and any better. I thank him very much for those.

As regards the concerns from the Chinese community, as I said in my opening remarks we do not expect employers to be forgery experts, but just to see whether something has been tampered with or does not relate to the person involved; that should be clear. If they have tried to do that, if they have a concern and then something happens, the worst that would ever happen would be a written note saying that they have to be a little more careful. They are not the sort of people we are looking for. The people at whom we are looking for the big fines are people who clearly know exactly what they are doing employing these people and they need to be penalised for it.

I turn to traffickers. It remains that there is a new criminal offence for employers who knowingly employ illegal migrant workers. That carries a two-year prison sentence or an unlimited fine. That is correct, because we have seen some awful cases. It was important that that provision was made. Overall, the proportionate sliding scale of the civil penalty system—I will be writing about that—with the £10,000 maximum penalty is a key part of our immigration enforcement strategy to bear down on the illegal jobs that encourage illegal journeys. I commend the order to the House.

My Lords, can I say a bit about civil proceedings and criminalising people, because it is important? There are two separate issues but not within the order. The order relates to civil proceedings against employers. That would not criminalise them; it would penalise them. The Minister is referring to another process whereby there could be criminal proceedings for a criminal offence. In the Explanatory Notes those two become muddled together. The Explanatory Notes are probably only for us, but we need to be clear that the order relates only to civil proceedings that will penalise people.

My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a fair point. I have not read the explanation, which I should have done. If that is not clear it needs to be made clear and explicit. This is an administrative matter, which the sliding scale will make more practical. The other matter is still a criminal offence, so it is two separate issues.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Immigration and Nationality (Fees) (Amendment) Order 2007

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 21 November be approved.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order we are debating here today will pave the way for the Government’s new points based-system for managing the migration of those coming to the United Kingdom to work, train and study. The order sets out the new applications, processes and services for which we will charge a fee under the points-based system, such as licences for sponsors, and certificates of sponsorship issued by sponsors to those migrants whose applications they wish to support.

We will return to the House early next year to make further regulations specifying the actual fee levels for these services, relying on the powers in Section 51 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, along with the power in Section 42 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants etc) Act 2004, as amended by Section 20 of the UK Borders Act 2007.

In addition, this order will refine and consolidate the Government’s powers to set fees for immigration and nationality applications in the future. Currently, the fee levels for applications made overseas are set through an Order in Council using the powers in the Consular Fees Act 1980, while fees for applications made in the UK are set in regulations before Parliament. Going forward, following the Prime Minister’s announcement of the merger of UKvisas with the Border and Immigration Agency next year, all fees will be set through the same process, offering Parliament the opportunity to consider our proposals in the round. This will provide noble Lords with an opportunity to debate the actual fee levels that the Government are proposing for the services, applications and processes set out in this order. I beg to move

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 21 November be approved. 3rd Report from the Statutory Instruments Committee, 4th Report from the Merits Committee—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that short and snappy explanation of this order. Since I was not involved in the discussions on the Act, I hope that noble Lords will forgive me if I miss out something that was discussed then.

This amending order appears to add to the list of matters for which a fee can be demanded, making it a requirement for a fee to be charged to a sponsor seeking a sponsorship licence for a migrant worker licence. As I understand it, such sponsors are not in the list of those who are already required to pay a fee. Perhaps the Minister would give a little background on where in the original legislation the points system for a sponsor was introduced. I have been through both the 2006 Act and the previous statutory instrument and can find no mention of sponsors or points systems. I am sure that this is my error, but I wish to be clear where this addition comes from. No doubt, if the Minister cannot answer that, the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, will leap to my aid.

The order clearly adds the application for a sponsorship licence to the list for which fees can be demanded. It would be helpful to know to where this amendment is directed. Will the Minister also confirm that there will be a fee for each individual licence applied for by a sponsor who will be unable to do a sort of conglomerate application for a number of people under one heading? Can the Minister also tell us when the order in relation to the amount of fees to be charged in this and the areas listed in the previous order is to be laid? The previous order came into force in March this year and this order will presumably do so tomorrow—it states that this will happen the day after the order has been passed. Thus the department appears to have had its ducks in a row to start charging for some six months, but has been unable to progress without the order giving details of the level of fees.

I noted that the Minister said that that would be laid before Parliament. I assume that it will come as an affirmative order on the level of fees. Perhaps the Minister will confirm that. I note, too, that a regulatory impact assessment will accompany that order and that it will be obvious to us that it has been laid, and does not slide past us. Other than that, I do not think that I have anything useful to contribute on this order.

My Lords, I think that the answer to the noble Baroness’s question is that the power to impose these charges is in Section 51 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006. No doubt the Minister will correct me it that is not right.

The Merits Committee has drawn this order to the special attention of the House on the grounds that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest, and I was rather hoping that the chairman of that committee, the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, would have been present to spell out exactly what those issues are. The only one that is implicit in the committee’s report is that the Government have not provided enough information about the points-based system and the sponsorship proposals to which the fees are to relate. But the order covers the power to charge fees not only for services provided to sponsors for the issue of a licence to a sponsor, who is either an employer or an educational establishment, but to further classes of individuals who are applicants for entry clearance, transit visas, BIDs, and certificates of entitlement for the right of abode. The Explanatory Memorandum states that no regulatory impact assessment has been produced for this order, because that will be done before the further order, mentioned by the noble Baroness, setting the level of fees to be charged for the applications and processes specified here is made.

It would be useful to know whether the Merits Committee looked at the debates we had on the previous orders made under the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act—the Immigration and Nationality (Fees) Order and the regulations that followed, and whether some of the committee’s concerns were similar to those expressed on the previous occasions, which I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, will recall. As now, your Lordships were asked to give the Government carte blanche to set the fees at any level they pleased in the first order, and by the time we came to the regulations, it was too late for us to have any influence on the amounts that were being charged. The process of determining fees that are in excess of the cost of providing the service had already been decided by Section 51 of the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act, but I am pretty sure that at that time, Parliament did not fully appreciate that we were relinquishing all control over the amounts that were to be charged. There might not be any objection, if there were some guarantee that,

“those who benefit most from the immigration system should pay proportionately more towards the end to end costs of the system”,

but the unfettered discretion given to the Secretary of State means that departures from the principle are not subject to any democratic control. When they imposed huge increases in the fees charged to spouses, who do not necessarily get any economic benefit from coming to the UK to join their partners, our complaints to the Government fell on deaf ears.

In the debate on that fees order, we did at least have details of the amounts that were to be charged under the regulations, but this time round we have no information about the amounts proposed to be charged. It may be considered that the employers’ organisations and Universities UK are capable of looking after their own interests, and perhaps they are. But it would be rash to assume that because UK institutions of higher education have been attractive to overseas students in the past, they will continue to receive the same numbers of applicants if the amounts they have to charge to cover these new arrangements need to be increased sharply. The cost of the licences will have to be recovered, and so will the cost of the certificates of sponsorship issued to each individual prospective student; and since the certificate itself is not a guarantee that the applicant will be granted an entry certificate, the amount the university will need to add to the standard overseas student fee will be more than the cost of the certificate plus an allocated proportion of the licence fee.

I have spoken to Universities UK, which has been pressing for information about the new points-based system and its costs, and would welcome fuller disclosure. The first point Universities UK made was that the BIA should obtain a list of subscribers directly from the Quality Assurance Agency rather than requiring every individual higher education institution provide evidence of their subscription.

Secondly, it draws attention to the level of fees that are likely to be paid by a typical higher education institution, which has to cover three tiers of the new system: tier two for skilled workers with a job offer, replacing the present work permits; tier four for students; and tier five, which it says would apply to academic visitors and sponsored researchers. The sponsor registration fee is £1,000; the tier-two employee certificate fee is £200, and if there are 90 staff subject to immigration control, then by the calculations of Universities UK—which are not definitive because the actual amounts have not yet been divulged—the total amount payable would be £18,000. That is based on having 90 staff subject to immigration control. The tier-five visiting staff certificate fee is estimated at £50, so for an enrolment of £400, that would come to another £20,000, making a grand total in the first year of the scheme for that particular institution of £39,000.

In the second year, with tier four in operation, and if there are 2,500 international students at £20 each, that would come to £50,000. To save time I will not go through the rest of the calculations. If the Minister would like to have a look at the memorandum that I had from Universities UK, I should be glad to pass it over to him, but perhaps his department will already have heard from it and will know that its anxieties on this score remain to be satisfied.

As I said, these are not insignificant costs but of course they also involve an extra administrative burden. The universities are already undertaking much of the work that the BIA would otherwise have to undertake itself in the Student Batch Scheme, under which they check the credentials of students who apply for extensions of leave to remain. At the same time, they are being encouraged to take on more international work—for example, through the Prime Minister’s Initiative on International Education and the UK-India Education and Research Initiative—and indeed they have to do so to earn the fees to make up for cuts in government funding.

We are anxious that all these activities, and the substantial contribution that higher education institutions make to our overseas earnings, should not be jeopardised by a hard-nosed approach to recovering all the costs of the points-based system from users, and the universities in particular. That would be to ignore the intangible benefits that we get from overseas students coming to the UK. They pay indirect taxes, which surely must amount to far more than the fees, and they bring cultural and human value to the higher education institutions to which they belong and to the British students who interact with them. There does not seem to be proper recognition and acknowledgement of these benefits in the arithmetic; nor do the Government take account of the enormous problems that will be imposed on HEIs, which have to set their budgets for several years ahead but still face wide uncertainties around the introduction of the new system and the costs that they will incur.

I am not certain whether Universities UK was sent the letter which described itself as a “short, targeted stakeholder consultation”. It was notified to the recipients by e-mail on 24 October and had a response date less than three weeks later. I should be grateful if the Minister would enlighten us on that matter. If it did, the BIA should have explained that this was the only exercise of its kind that it was conducting, because the term “consultation” is a term of art which technically means a process that lasts for 16 weeks and is open to responses from the general public and not simply from the targeted addressees. In fact, it would be useful if the Minister could inform your Lordships who received this communication and how they were selected.

I mentioned the Chinese community in the previous debate and I should interpolate a note on them here. I had a telephone message from them this afternoon saying that they were not in receipt of this consultation from the BIA, in spite of the fact that they were assured all the way through the proceedings on the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act that they would be fully consulted before any of these changes were introduced. I ask the Minister how on earth the department came to leave out Christine Lee of the Chinese Community Association, or how the BIA managed to do it on his behalf.

The BIA says that licence fees for sponsors of tiers four and five will be set at or below cost-recovery level. That is welcome as far as it goes, but it threatens to make the charges for certificates higher to achieve a balance so that overall, presumably, the total cost is recovered. One way or another, institutions of higher education and others will have to raise their charges to overseas students. I should be grateful if the Minister could say whether it is the policy intention that universities should be allowed to increase their charges to cover the amounts that they have to pay under this order.

Turning for a moment to the individuals covered by the order, they have no powerful advocates to represent their interests and, as we have seen, it is the people who are not going to make a loud noise who are likely to be picked on for overcharging under the 2006 Act regime. In the previous round, the total charges imposed on a spouse were more than doubled to more than £2,000 by the time that he or she obtained citizenship. The fear is that similarly excessive amounts will be charged under this order, particularly for BIDs, that every migrant staying in the UK for six months or more will have to pay whether that person is a student, a worker or a relative coming for settlement. That will be on top of whatever the migrant has already paid to get into the country, and there are no exemptions, or even discounts, for a person coming from a poor family in a third-world country.

In its November report on the results of the consultation on the prevention of illegal migrant working in the UK, the BIA said that it will be consulting shortly on the rollout of BIDs. Does that refer to the letter that I have already mentioned? As far as I am aware, no such consultation has been launched, and I would like to know what the target date would be. Is the consultation going to cover the charges, bearing in mind that in the previous consultation on the charging regime for immigration and nationality fees, no mention was made of BIDs? These documents are not being issued in order to endow the holder with any rights or privileges he did not already possess but in order to enable the authorities more readily to apprehend and remove those who are not entitled to be here. It is also avowedly being used as a trial run for national identity cards, as the Home Office’s regulatory impact assessment on the UK Borders Act openly stated. It is surely unreasonable to load the start-up costs on to migrants who are less able to afford them than the settled population. In fairness, the initial capital expenditure should be apportioned over the total adult population.

It is unfortunate that these orders are being slipped past us by the Home Office when we have only part of the picture, as it did with the previous set of charges in March. We understand why it is doing that; it is to minimise the criticism and to ensure that when the charges are specified in a subsequent order it will be too late for Parliament to have any influence on the charging regime. We say, as we did then, that the manner in which this is being done—minimising the area of debate once we do get firm proposals on the timing and amounts—is not transparent and is not consensual governance.

My Lords, I had no intention of contributing, however briefly, to this debate, but having listened to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, I would be grateful if the Minister could say anything to clarify the quantum of money at stake. Attracting overseas students is a highly competitive business between nations. For example, the Australian Government are very active in supporting their universities to attract overseas students at little cost to the universities. Germany is immensely active in this, and other countries are too. It would be helpful to know the extent to which this is a major source of overseas earnings and contributions to the Exchequer through indirect taxation, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, said. Because of the value of this form of overseas earnings to the United Kingdom, I regard as a material issue the extra costs that will fall on the university community as a whole and on students from overseas.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, for her contribution; to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his rather longer contribution; and to the noble Lord, Lord Dearing, for his comments and questions. I thought that this was a modest and perhaps slightly boring order, but it has elicited more interest than I anticipated. That does not mean that these issues are not serious—they are—and the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, always raises them in a courteous and proper way and asks many useful and valuable questions. I now have a wodge of answers, but if I cannot successfully thread them together this afternoon, I shall answer them in more detail in correspondence.

I shall first deal with the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, about the legislative authority for this and the date at which we might bring forward a fee regime. The legislative provision for sponsorship appears in the immigration rules which we introduced under powers obtained by virtue of the Immigration Act 1971. No additional legislation is required to introduce a sponsorship scheme but we made clear at an earlier stage that that is what we were embarked upon. We believe that a sponsorship scheme will encourage responsibility among employers and those who seek to benefit from migrant workers coming here. It will also encourage greater responsibility in the education sector, where there have been examples of abuse. We need do much more to ensure that people who genuinely come here benefit from our education system.

I recognise the noble Lord’s point about the value to our education institutions of overseas students. The Government have been very proactive in this field because we recognise that we operate in an aggressive market. I have a friend who does marketing for one of the Melbourne universities. He travels internationally to secure new students and does a good job in that regard. We know from the past experience of our inter-governmental work that we operate in an international marketplace. That means that our fee structure needs to be competitive and we need to ensure that we have the right offer.

The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked about the date on which fees will be set next year. I cannot give a precise date. We are following parliamentary procedures and we must work within the legislative framework. We must have the power to set the fees early next year and we will make the regulations using any additional legislative powers necessary to set those fees. At that point there will be an appropriate opportunity for a full parliamentary scrutiny of the fee proposals. They will be subject, of course, to the affirmative procedure in both Houses.

My Lords, one of the main points I made was that because of the procedures involved in these orders, as with the previous ones that we debated in March—I think the noble Lord replied to that debate as well—the House has to agree, first, that the charging should be made and, secondly, that the order is produced which sets the level of the charges. By that time it is too late, is it not, for Parliament to do anything about it because it can only accept or reject an order which is presented to it under an affirmative resolution?

My Lords, I accept the point that Parliament is guided by the procedure. Before we get to that point, of course, we endeavour to consult. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, made a strong pitch on the consultation issue. The consultation with stakeholders ran from 23 October until 9 November. A consultation document was sent to more than 493 people and stakeholder groups, including Universities UK, and I am more than happy to set out the details of that in correspondence. We received 132 written responses; 92 educational establishments, 17 employers and 23 arts and entertainments responses were received. We received a further 31 responses after the official closing date for the consultation. We took the pragmatic view and accepted those responses even though they were late.

We also held a number of consultation events which were attended by representatives of the education, employment and arts and entertainments sectors. We are particularly mindful of the arts and entertainments sector because we have been advised in the past of the difficulties which festivals in particular can experience when putting together their programme with foreign performers coming to this country.

I cannot accept the allegation made by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, that our visa regime and the cost-of-entry clearance put off genuine students, or that that regime damages our international competitiveness. The Home Office and UKvisas have done a great deal to support educational exports. Our visa provides working entitlements far more generous than those of competing study destinations such as Canada, Australia and the United States. The points-based system will continue to support the Prime Minister’s initiative by making the system simpler for applicants, with its online assessment process and clear entry criteria putting sponsors at the heart of the system.

I am grateful to the noble Lord for drawing to my attention the Universities UK calculations on impact. We are working with key stakeholders, including Universities UK, to develop fees that are fair and proportionate. We shall continue that work, obviously to the point at which we bring forward our order.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked whether there would be any changes to the visitor category requirements or other consequences for sponsorship for visitors. We will shortly publish a public consultation on visitors. That consultation will examine visitor routes in general, because that is something that the points-based system does not cover. It will include provisions relating to family visitors. Visitors will always need to satisfy the entry clearance officer of their intentions and their compliance with immigration laws at point of entry. We aim to keep migrant fees at broadly the same level as their comparative existing fees—that is our policy. The aim is that people moving from the current system to the new points-based system should not ultimately see too big a change.

The noble Lord also said that we had carte blanche to charge whatever we wished: I do not agree. Those fees are set out in regulations. Where they are above cost recovery, they must be debated fully in both Houses, so there is ample opportunity to challenge our approach. He also asked for some response to the Merits Committee and its desire to see more information on sponsorship. We have published a statement of intent on sponsorship with more detail, and copies are available in the Library and on the BIA website. The noble Lord made further points about consultation. I think that I should provide the noble Lord with more details, in particular on the consultation on bids and its implementation. I will set those out in correspondence to the noble Lord and provide them also to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham.

The noble Lord also asked whether it was intended that universities should be able to increase their fees to cover sponsorship. Ultimately, it is a decision for the universities, particularly those that are mindful of their competitive position. They will decide how to set fees and whether to pass on costs. As I see it, the fees for students will be kept at a modest and moderate level—that is certainly our intention.

Some of the other, more complex issues that the noble Lord raised I will deal with through correspondence, because I am not confident that I have all the answers with me.

My Lords, before the noble Lord concludes, can he say whether the 493 organisations that were consulted about the order included the Chinese and Bangladeshi restaurants that I mentioned?

My Lords, I do not know whether that was the case, but I shall certainly find out and let the noble Lord know.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House adjourned at 5.57 pm.