House of Lords
Thursday, 20 March 2008.
The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.
Prayers—Read by Lord Harries of Pentregarth.
Iraq: UK Forces
My Lords, UK forces still have an important role to play in Iraq, mentoring and training the Iraqi security forces and frequently supporting them in active operations. In line with our strategy, which was set out by the Prime Minister in October in another place, we will take decisions on the next phase of our military presence this spring. As always, this will be based on military advice and conditions on the ground.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. As the time approaches for the total withdrawal of British troops from Iraq, will Her Majesty’s Government arrange a suitable way of honouring those who have died and those who will return to this country from the field of conflict? Secondly, as the presidency of George W Bush draws mercifully—dare I say that?—to an end and he is replaced by another President of the United States, is it possible for Her Majesty’s Government to facilitate meetings on Iraq between the three main contenders for the presidency so that they might talk about the future and bring about substantial changes?
My Lords, on the first point, we will certainly consider the appropriate time for commemorating those who have served and, in particular, those who have lost their lives. It is important that we should do that at the appropriate time, as I am sure every Member of this House would agree.
On the point about the three main contenders in the United States elections, that is somewhat outside my domain, tempting though it would be to try to arrange that kind of debate. I note, however, that one of them is in London at the moment and is offering his support for the work that British troops have done in Iraq. That support should be welcome.
My Lords, we have made it clear on many occasions that security is vital in Iraq, but in getting self-sustaining progress we must also concentrate on good governance and economic development. A great deal of work is being done in Basra, and we have people there who are putting a great deal of effort into ensuring that economic development is as quick as possible. There was a conference in Kuwait recently, which was attended by many potential investors and senior Iraqi figures in order to deal with how we can help to regenerate the Basra province in all its aspects.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is a good time after these questions to remind ourselves that one of the most important roles for the British Armed Forces in Iraq is to train the Iraqi armed forces, particularly the army? If any criticism is to be had, it is because we disbanded that army far too quickly after the conflict, instead of training it then. No one should be talking of withdrawing the forces until we have a fully trained Iraqi army which is able to control the state in the way that should have happened much earlier.
My Lords, my noble friend is quite right. The UK has made a significant contribution. Other countries have also been effective in training members of the Iraqi armed forces and the Iraqi police. The UK has trained more than 20,000 members of the Iraqi army and 22,000 members of the Iraqi police forces. It is important that the Iraqis are able to take over their own security. There have been significant developments in Basra and the recent very successful operation in Shatt al-Arab was led by the Iraqi armed forces, supported by the British. Progress is being made, but there is still some way to go.
My Lords, did the Minister see today Hans Blix’s assessment of the Iraq tragedy five years on? He said:
“Responsibility for this spectacular tragedy must lie with those who ignored the facts five years ago”.
It is all very well praising the bravery and courage of our armed services, but if politicians make the wrong decisions and send them into wrong areas, the Armed Forces pay the penalty. Therefore, should we not have an inquiry into how those wrong decisions were made and how that advice was ignored five years ago?
My Lords, I am in a difficult position in one way because I served on two of the inquiries that took place and I heard Hans Blix speak on more than one occasion about these issues. There will come a time when we have another inquiry. I do not think it is when we have our Armed Forces serving on the ground as they are at the moment. But I would remind the noble Lord that the inquiries we have had put into context many of the statements made at that time. Looking again recently at the Intelligence and Security Committee’s report on Iraq and WMD, it occurred to me that it might be a good idea if Members refreshed their memories about some of the things that were said at the time, rather than misremembering some other things.
My Lords, if there is to be an inquiry, will it include the conduct of those who seem to be saying that, as the noble Lord, Lord McNally, almost said, it was wrong to depose Saddam Hussein? Had the Government of the day decided to leave Saddam’s security forces in situ, howls of protest would have been heard the world over. Hindsight is a great tool, but sometimes it is used wrongly.
My Lords, I could not agree more with my noble friend. Life under Saddam was very difficult for the vast majority of people in Iraq. There are still some difficulties, but they are of a totally different nature. We are working hard to create stability and good governance. There have already been national elections. People are developing plans for provincial elections and the outlook for ordinary people in the long term in Iraq is a lot better than it could ever have been under Saddam Hussein.
My Lords, just for the record, does the Minister accept that we on this side share the view of the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that there should be an inquiry, but we believe that it should be now? We owe it to our troops to go ahead with that inquiry at the earliest opportunity and it should not be delayed.
My Lords, we owe it to our troops to concentrate on supporting them in the actions that they are taking at the moment. If we have an inquiry, as the Government have made clear there will be, it should be at the appropriate stage, and that is not now.
My Lords, I do not accept that somewhat, perhaps I may say, simplistic analysis. As my noble friend pointed out, life under Saddam was very difficult for many people. In some respects, he kept a lid by the force of fear on many problems that were there for a very long time.
My Lords, the Government take these findings very seriously. There is already strong guidance to schools on combating bullying, and the Disability Discrimination Act 1995 requires all schools to prepare disability equality schemes. We are developing specific guidance to help schools tackle bullying related to special educational needs and disabilities, and that guidance will be issued later this spring.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, but is not the bullying of and physical hurt to such vulnerable disabled children on this scale deeply shaming, not only for its perpetrators but for the educational environments in which it thrives? Moreover, is he aware that, in four out of 10 cases, it does not stop when reported? Why has Ofsted not been commissioned to carry out, as in Northern Ireland, a thematic review of the responses of schools and children's services to the bullying of and physical hurt to disabled children? Again crucially important, why are most schools still not complying even with the legal requirement to have a disability equality scheme?
My Lords, I first pay tribute to my noble friend for his outstanding work in the field of disability and special educational needs over the years and with Mencap, with which he is closely associated. In respect of the Disability Discrimination Act and the requirement to publish disability equality schemes, which he rightly highlighted, those provisions assumed the force of law for primary schools only last December and for secondary schools the previous December, so they are very recent requirements. However, they have the force of law and it is essential that schools comply with them. Ensuring that reasonable adjustments are made so that children with disabilities are not bullied is one key element of those schemes. I will draw the comments that my noble friend made about Ofsted to the attention of the chief inspector and ask him to contact my noble friend directly about them.
My Lords, will the Minister accept my congratulations on the publicity campaign that the Government carried out to publicise their guidance on homophobic and cyber bullying? Will the Government carry out the same level of publicity campaign to ensure that everyone understands the guidance to which he just referred about the bullying of children with SEN and disabilities?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments about the guidance on homophobic bullying, which has been a big problem in our schools over the years. We will see that a similar level of publicity and promotion is given to the new guidance on the bullying of children with special educational needs.
My Lords, I echo the thanks to my noble friend Lord Morris of Manchester and salute him for his dedication to this issue. I agree that this type of bullying is totally unacceptable. Will my noble friend the Minister say how he intends to monitor what will be implemented in terms of how much children with disabilities are believed when they complain about being bullied? That continues to pose a problem for many schools.
My Lords, my noble friend makes a good point. It is essential that incidents of bullying are monitored. However, the prime requirement is that those incidents should be monitored, properly recorded and dealt with at school level. That is precisely what we recommend and lay out in Safe to Learn, the guidance published to schools last September in respect of bullying.
The guidance on the implementation of the Disability Discrimination Act is substantial. A lot of materials including DVDs are sent to schools to help them address the issue of the reasonable adjustments that should be made. They set out how schools can effectively record incidents and see that they are dealt with. However, it is not practical for us to accumulate at national level the sort of statistics to which my noble friend referred. The key requirement is to put in place a structure that ensures that these issues are dealt with to the satisfaction of parents and pupils, school by school.
My Lords, I am not absolutely sure, but I think that they apply to the whole of the United Kingdom. But of course as the Minister responsible for England I take them extremely seriously in respect of England. As a Government, we have clear responsibilities in this regard.
My Lords, the noble Earl is absolutely right to highlight the importance of classroom assistants. A large proportion of children with special educational needs with statements will have dedicated assistants who work with them. The training and materials we provide in respect of the Disability Discrimination Act are available to assistants as well as to teachers. The guidance also applies to them, along with any training that schools provide. Moreover, schools should use some of their training days to deal with issues such as bullying and behaviour management. That training would apply to both assistants and full-time teachers.
My Lords, if children know that they cannot get away with bullying, they usually do not do it. Much of this is down to the quality of the staff. Can the Minister tell us what the Government are doing to improve initial teacher training in the latest effective anti-bullying strategies? Concerns have been expressed that not enough is being done in this area, which places newly qualified teachers at a disadvantage.
My Lords, behaviour management is a key issue in teacher training, so these issues should be covered. But of course it is experience in schools which is vital for preparing teachers. The greater focus in teacher training now being put on experience in schools rather than sitting in the lecture halls of teacher training institutions is better equipping teachers to deal with these issues. However, it is an ongoing matter and we are seeking over time to improve at the national level the quality of materials and training available.
Food: Government Departments
My Lords, the Government are taking a number of steps under the Public Sector Food Procurement Initiative to increase tenders from small and local food producers. The steps include funding workshops and projects to improve their capacity to supply the public sector and encouraging buyers to increase opportunities for them by, for example, specifying seasonal produce and breaking contracts down into smaller lots.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I am sure that he is as concerned as I am that only half of the purchases made in the expenditure of £2 billion between July 2006 and July 2007 were of British produce. Surely that is to be bitterly regretted. Indeed, only 25 per cent of the bacon purchased was British. Is it not time for the Government to think across departments and adopt a standardised, integrated approach in order to find a better way of introducing British food into departments?
My Lords, one size does not fit all; it tends to be the case that the pig industry specialises in pork. The fact is that there have been considerable improvements over the past few years. Although the MoD has been severely criticised in the past, this year 100 per cent of its gammon will be sourced from the UK. The way the MoD’s figure are measured suggests that only around 40 per cent was from the UK, but it is closer to 60 per cent. Massive progress is being made in schools, for example. In some areas of the country, such as Derbyshire, Norfolk and Lancashire, 100 per cent of the produce—the meat; chicken and pork—used for school meals is British. A lot of work is going on. It is also incumbent on producers actually being able to supply what the market wants, and not the other way round. Producers are simply suppliers and they have to be in a position to supply what chefs and the market want. Part of our process is to ensure that they are geared up to be able to do that.
My Lords, going for the lowest possible price tender is not necessarily the best value. While this is not an implied criticism, I have to say that the NAO report on this subject—it is available in the Library—which is confirmed by a recent NFU centenary report on procurement performance, shows that the worst of the government departments, at 40.3 per cent, is Her Majesty’s Treasury.
My Lords, I do not know how to follow that one.
Does the Minister have any information about the procurement of British food by, say, French or German public departments? Assuming that it is not good, what are the Government doing to ensure that such departments purchase more and that our rights under the single market are enforced?
My Lords, herein lies the problem. When I heard about the supply to Italian schools of Welsh lamb, it became far more difficult to make the case because it cannot be a “buy British” issue. We have record exports of food and drink from this country and we want them to continue to grow. We cannot do that if we seem to imply that we should “buy British”. We can say, “Buy welfare friendly”, so the animals are reared properly. We can encourage contracts for freedom foods, for example, and we can encourage seasonal foods, which are more likely to be local, but it cannot be implied to be “buy British”. I do not think the noble Lord is implying that. We want to sell British food to schools and hospitals in France, Germany and Italy. It cannot all be local food in every country.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a small food producer, but not one who is likely to be large enough to supply any government department. I am pleased to hear what the Minister says about encouraging British food but I wonder whether he can help me. I had three reports in one day about Defra not seeming to care about food production any more. It thinks that we can get all our food from abroad and it does not matter whether farmers know how to farm or to produce food in this country. It would be enormously helpful if there be a little more knowledge within Defra.
My Lords, the noble Countess is entitled to make her allegation but, bearing in mind what I have said about what Defra is doing, it borders on the preposterous. We are going around the country holding national conferences; we are publishing guides for farmers to help them supply the public sector; we are funding projects in the English regions to develop the capacity of small producers; we are funding English farming and food partnerships to develop a share-and-supply programme to encourage and help farmers and food producers to co-operate; we are about to put more electronic adverts on to the system for universities and hospitals for the procurers to challenge tradition and the way in which they procure food. It is not perfect, but it is a lot better than it used to be.
My Lords, many in the House will know that the Minister is fully committed to this policy. I would like to ask him about the attitude of his colleagues in the Government. What obstacles has the Minister found across government? Has the policy been discussed in Cabinet? At the NFU centenary dinner the Prime Minister revealed himself as a country boy at heart. What has he done to back the Minister in this policy?
Eaten more British meat, my Lords; he is one of the members of the Cabinet who can do that. He has convinced me that he is pushing for the meat industry. As I said, there are some gaps and there are some progress moves—I have mentioned the MoD. One area where we have some concern—it is incredibly difficult—is where, for example, if one looks at the centre of the health department and then one looks at all the health trusts, which are independent procurers, one finds that there is less of an interest. I am about to have discussions with health Ministers about that, but it comes down to the local trust level. We have discovered figures which show that only about 5 per cent of NHS trusts take this issue seriously. That is quite unacceptable. We want good quality, seasonal, locally produced food in our hospitals. It is not necessarily the fewest pennies at the end of the price that give you good value. That is why all of what we are doing is fully compatible with EU rules and auditing rules for value for money.
My Lords, what is the role of the European regulation? If he does not have that information, perhaps he could write to us. Is there an inhibition by law or by direction from the European Union against labelling things as British, or from Britain or the UK?
My Lords, labelling rules for food are an EU competency; that is not the issue. Defra has been able to work with those who make the contracts to get model, legally watertight contracts so that the suppliers can request, for example, food produced in animal-welfare-friendly conditions. We can say, without fear or favour, that our records are better than anywhere else in Europe. If people then want to make it a contractual obligation to have the RSPCA’s Freedom Food designation, they are legally entitled to do so.
My Lords, the Prime Minister discussed Tibet at length with Chinese Premier Wen on 19 March. He expressed his ongoing concern at the situation and urged restraint and a return to substantive dialogue to resolve underlying issues. We also continue to raise our concerns on a daily basis with the Chinese Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Beijing and the Chinese embassy here in London.
My Lords, will the Foreign Secretary call in the Chinese ambassador and ask him to relay to his Government the extreme concern that the British people feel about the level of violence being inflicted on Tibetan civilians, including at least 100 dead, and the denial of access to journalists, diplomats and human rights observers? Further, what is the Government’s response to the request that has been made by the Dalai Lama for an international investigation of the situation in Tibet? Will they press that with the Chinese authorities when they speak to them?
My Lords, the noble Lord knows that in a way we have done better than calling in the ambassador in that the Prime Minister has spoken to his counterpart and made exactly those points on the need for dialogue and restraint and the need to pull back from violence. Equally, we have made it clear that we believe that the Dalai Lama’s commitment to seeking autonomy but not independence and his appeal to Tibetans not to resort to violence create a situation that we hope the Chinese will respond to positively.
My Lords, while it is not totally clear what is going on in Tibet—there is more than one side to the story—will the Minister accept that we on this side of the House are very glad that the Prime Minister has spoken to the Chinese Premier and that he is meeting the Dalai Lama, as are my colleagues Mr Cameron and Mr Hague, as well as His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales? Will he attempt, with his considerable international skill, to convey to the Chinese officials, whose achievements in many ways we respect enormously, that the Dalai Lama has always sought a moderate, compromising approach in dealing with Beijing and that treating him as the enemy and setting him up as a sort of demon may not be the wisest course for the people of Beijing, who obviously want a peaceful and non-violent solution to what is clearly a difficult situation?
My Lords, the noble Lord makes an important point. I think that everyone in the House would affirm that the Dalai Lama is a remarkable spiritual leader of his people and a remarkable voice for moderation and conscience in the world. Nevertheless, in China he has been broadly vilified. Across the internet you see ordinary Chinese people speaking against both the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan people. Some of the language used by the Chinese leadership is equally disappointing. One hopes that the Chinese can pull back from this and recognise that in the Dalai Lama they have a partner for peace.
My Lords, the Minister stressed today, as he did yesterday, the concept of autonomy within China, but when I met the Dalai Lama and the Tibetan Government in exile in Dharamsala last year, they impressed on me how painfully slow and spasmodic the discussions in Beijing had been. Will Her Majesty’s Government impress on China that, if it were to accelerate those talks and secure the return of the Dalai Lama to Tibet as a spiritual leader, far from threatening China, that would greatly enhance that country in the eyes of the rest of the world?
My Lords, the noble Lord speaks of exactly the kind of messages that the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and others of us will wish to impress on the Chinese. Talks have not produced results. Tremendous economic support has been given to Tibet by Beijing, but it has not led to the political dialogue that one would want to see. I say again that the Chinese are looking a gift horse in the mouth; they are remarkably lucky to have a partner such as the Dalai Lama.
My Lords, I not sure that conflating the issue of Taiwan with that of Tibet would be helpful or constructive. The key point is that the Dalai Lama has indicated that he is seeking autonomy, which should give the Chinese authorities comfort that there is a solution consistent with their view that Tibet is part of China.
My Lords, the Chinese greatly emphasise the rule of law, and we are pleased that they do so, but can the Government remind them that the rule of law implies that security forces can be held to account if they exceed their powers? Will they also remind them that allowing the media into the area would help them enormously in the long run and that facilitating channels of communication with the Dalai Lama, which we, too, could help with, might be much more beneficial to them than our thinking that China is still the tyranny that it was 30 or 40 years ago?
My Lords, my noble friend is correct that we have to impress on the Chinese that they must allow the international media to return to Tibet. There seems to be no British journalist remaining in Lhasa; the last one’s visa or permission to travel there expired just yesterday. We have still not been able to send a British diplomat there. The noble Lord, Lord Howell, referred to the different reports about the situation. That remains true. We are uncertain about the level of human rights violations or violence that may have occurred. We need to establish the facts.
More broadly, I certainly endorse what my noble friend said. As I said in this House yesterday, China has gone through an extraordinary transformation, which we should all praise and be aware of. It has entered the world community as a responsible and powerful member. It is in China’s interest not to allow the issue of Tibet to damage the new stature that it properly enjoys.
Iraq War Inquiry Bill [HL]
Business of the House: Debates Today
My Lords, I beg to move the first Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the debate on the Motion in the name of Baroness Trumpington set down for today be limited to three and a half hours and that in the name of Lord Fowler to one and a half hours.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
Legislative Reform (Health and Safety Executive) Order 2008
Official Statistics Order 2008
Town and Country Planning (Fees for Applications and Deemed Applications) (Amendment) (England) Regulations 2008
Bedfordshire (Structural Changes) Order 2008
My Lords, I beg to move the four Motions standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That the draft orders and regulations be referred to a Grand Committee. 6th report from the Regulatory Reform Committee, 12th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 14th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments, 15th report from the Merits Committee.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
My Lords, since the noble Baroness the Lord President has moved all four Motions en bloc, perhaps I could talk to the first one. This was agreed through the usual channels to be set down for next Tuesday for discussion in Grand Committee in the Moses Room, but it seems to have taken a phenomenally long time for the Motion to get on to the Order Paper. It is not really for the convenience of the House that such short notice should be given for such an important order, given that we are away for a long weekend. I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could tell me why that is.
My Lords, my understanding is that we try to table Motions as speedily as possible. There are peaks and troughs in terms of the numbers of statutory instruments that are laid before the House, but I shall look at the specifics of what the noble Lord has said and get back to him.
My Lords, before the noble Baroness the Lord President replies to that remark, which of course I heartily endorse, will the fourth Motion be the constitutional renewal order? If that is the case, could she tell the House a bit more about what is intended in the Constitutional Renewal Bill and whether there is a relationship between this order and the joint cross-party group on the future of this House? Could she give us some idea of the timing—
My Lords, I am about to move the Motion to which I think the noble Lord would like to speak. I am sorry, but there seems to be deep confusion on the opposition Benches as to what I am moving, for which I apologise if I am at all responsible—although I fear that I am not. We are debating the four Motions for referral of statutory instruments to the Grand Committee. Once we have agreed that, we shall come on to the next Motion.
On Question, Motions agreed to.
Constitutional Renewal Bill: Joint Committee
My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That it is expedient that a Joint Committee of Lords and Commons be appointed to consider and report on any draft Constitutional Renewal Bill presented to both Houses by a Minister of the Crown.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
My Lords, as far as I can remember, I asked her whether she could elaborate a bit on her Motion to explain the nature of the Constitutional Renewal Bill and the relationship between this proposal and the programme of work with the joint cross-party committee examining the future of this House.
My Lords, there is no relationship between what is in the Constitutional Renewal Bill and the work of the Joint Committee looking at the future of the House. The Bill is not about reform of the House—that much I can say. What we propose, which I believe is right and proper, is that there should be a Joint Committee between the two Houses to consider the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill. We shall make that proposal to the Commons, as would be the usual case; the Commons will come back to us, proposing membership, then we will propose membership—and off the committee will go.
My Lords, the Bill will be published very shortly and the noble Lord will have the opportunity to look through the provisions. I refer the noble Lord back to the statements made by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister in the early part of his premiership, when he talked about the governance of Britain issues. The noble Lord will find in the discussions that we had then some of the issues that may well come forward in such a Bill.
On Question, Motion agreed to; and a message was sent to the Commons.
My Lords, I beg to move the final Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.
Moved, That, in the opinion of this House, the resolution of the House of 30 July 2002 (Financial Assistance to Opposition Parties) shall have effect as if paragraph (2)(a) provided for £61,003 to be the maximum amount of financial assistance which may be given to the Convenor of the Cross-Bench Peers for the year beginning with 1 April 2008; and paragraph (2)(b) shall apply in relation to each subsequent year accordingly.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)
My Lords, this is a very welcome addition to the independent Cross-Bench Peers’ modest income, and I thank my noble friend Lord Williamson of Horton, my predecessor, who began negotiations for this heady increase. It is not a princely sum, but it will enable us to engage a part-time assistant, and I have no doubt that it will help us to provide us a better service in our office for the Cross-Bench Peers.
My Lords, although these Benches support this addition for the Cross Benches, it really is very unsatisfactory that help to the opposition parties in this House is completely in the gift of the Government of the day. The sooner we have a proper structure and mechanism for providing help to the opposition parties, as is the case in the Commons, the healthier it will be for the working of this House, rather than having these ad hoc arrangements as in the proposal before us today.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Strathclyde, for their generous support for the proposition I put to them to enhance the extremely modest amounts of money. However, I absolutely take the point which has been made—and which the noble Lord and the noble Lord, Lord Shutt, have made to me on a regular basis—and I am more than happy to start discussions, without any suggestion of where I might take them, to see how this might be taken forward.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
rose to call attention to the contributions of the police and the Home Office in the identification, prevention, solving and reduction of crime; and to move for Papers.
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I am most grateful to those noble Lords who will be speaking in this debate. Their quality and experience almost, but not quite, make me feel sorry for the noble Lord who is to wind up on behalf of the Government.
For myself, I have no intention of dwelling on any particular case involving the police. Newspapers, television and the radio all inundate us with ever-growing horror stories. The trouble is that they are not plucked out of the air. The media report government figures which estimate that one in four people has been a victim of crime, and as a result the impact upon these people's lives can be immense and lasting. It is a worrying picture.
Last year the Government produced a new Home Office strategy on how to reduce crime. In it they talked about,
“a new relationship between the citizen, local agencies and central government”,
and emphasised the importance of working with local communities in addressing their concerns about local crime. I quite agree and hope that the steps they lay out, such as increasing the flexibility of local units, are implemented rapidly and effectively.
Listening to local communities can result in scarce resources being targeted more narrowly on the issues that matter most to people. Engaging those most affected by the crime can give people new confidence and trust, not only in themselves and in what they can do to make their world safer, but in the police. Without this relationship between the community and the police, no amount of top-down, centrally imposed reforms will ever have a significant impact on crime.
The Government have spoken much over the past few years about engaging with various existing organisations within a community as a way of engaging this trust and acceptance. Organisations such as a local church or school can all be routes through which the police can meet and get to know sections of the community they would otherwise not have access to. And, of course, charities and other independent organisations have the most enormous potential for adding to police capabilities. The Government have acknowledged the role these organisations can play within their initiative. In their strategy paper they state:
“The third sector makes a vital contribution to keeping communities safe. There are many excellent programmes and services being run by voluntary and community organisations”.
This is where I declare an interest. I am a board member of Crimestoppers, an independent charity which runs a free telephone line and encourages people to ring in anonymously with information about crimes or criminals in their communities. It then passes the information on to the local police force for the appropriate action to be taken. One of the most interesting aspects of the operation is that, although a reward is sometimes offered, only 1 per cent of eligible callers claim it. This simple idea has led to some truly remarkable successes. Since it started in 1988, it has contributed to 83,523 arrests or charges, the recovery of stolen goods worth £100 million and the seizure of drugs worth more than £145 million. On average, 17 people are arrested every day because of information received. Once every five days, one of those people is charged with murder.
Passing on this information is not the only way in which Crimestoppers helps the police. It also runs the Most Wanted website, where police services can publicise appeals for the most serious criminals who have so far escaped justice. To date, the website has been responsible for the arrest of 400 serious criminals. It also engages in specific projects in partnership with the police, such as Operation Pentameter 2, which is a campaign started in October 2007 in partnership with the United Kingdom Human Trafficking Centre and the police to encourage people to give information about human trafficking. An earlier incarnation of that campaign in 2006 shows what we can expect from this example of genuine partnership between the police and charities; 88 victims of trafficking were rescued and 366 people were arrested or charged.
I could continue the list of successes, but I shall resist. I shall not resist saying that the help that Crimestoppers has given the police has led to a recent surge in requests for its involvement, not only from local police forces but also from new national law enforcement agencies, such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, as well as regulatory bodies such as the Security Industry Authority and the Gangmasters Licensing Authority. It appears to be universally agreed that Crimestoppers is a roaring success. And yet, this success is founded largely on private donations and the work of volunteers. The generosity of those who contribute their time and money to this organisation should not be underappreciated, but your Lordships who have worked in the charitable sector know how hard it is to rely on what must, by its nature, be an uncertain and fluctuating resource.
Not all the budget of Crimestoppers is funded by private donations. The Home Office has contributed up to £900,000 a year towards the head office costs since it applied for a grant in 2002. Unfortunately, that does not meet those costs fully, and the difference must be met from reserves of donated money. Nor is this income reliable. Despite hopes following discussions with Home Office officials, a three-year funding agreement, which expired this year, has not been extended, Crimestoppers is once again in the situation of having to return annually in the hope that another grant will be made. Noble Lords can imagine the effect that this uncertainty has on forward planning. Most organisations plan for the long term. Members of staff at Crimestoppers are specially trained to deal with the thousands of calls received each day, yet job security is not extended beyond a year for these highly trained individuals.
The limitations to Home Office support extend beyond administration costs. On occasion, the Home Office commissions Crimestoppers for specific projects. For example, the Home Office has recently granted funding for a communities campaign in Southwark and Lambeth to address gun and knife crime. This project, with the help of Crime Concern, local youth groups and the New Destiny Trust, has already doubled the amount of information coming in and the number of arrests made. But it is entirely dependent on the six-month government grant and, in a few weeks, this will come to an end and everyone will have to close shop and go home, thereby threatening an intelligence stream that has become vital in fighting knife and gun crime.
The Home Office should be well aware of the potential of Crimestoppers. As far back as 2001, a Home Office evaluation concluded that even Crimestoppers underestimated its own value. Another evaluation in 2003 concluded:
“A way of maintaining a reliable and constant stream of funding should be identified”.
The Government’s recent strategy paper claims:
“The Government is keen to support”—
“in ensuring that their role can grow: both in shaping and, where appropriate, delivering the way in which communities are protected and crime is reduced”.
I suggest to the Minister that this organisation has incontrovertible evidence of its enormous untapped potential to help the police in the reduction of crime. What more, I ask your Lordships, can a charity do to show its eligibility for government support?
I cannot think of a more appropriate way to end a parliamentary week than by examining the current situation concerning the police and the Home Office. As we speed our way home, we should remember that we are dependent on the presence, efficiency, and courage of the former, while we depend on the latter making the best use of its multiple responsibilities, which of course includes finance. The future of these bodies is our future; it concerns our loved ones, our homes, our travel and, most certainly, the future of this country. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for, and congratulate her on, securing this debate, which, because of its wording, covers a wide spectrum of subjects and will, I suspect, prove to be very interesting. I ought to declare at the beginning of my contribution that I will speak on roads policing. It is an area in which I have up-to-date experience, as I still go out on patrol, despite my grey hairs, and in which I continue to seek a better understanding from others who say that traffic officers are there only to issue speeding tickets. They are not.
It has been said on numerous occasions that “Most drivers aren’t criminals but most criminals drive”. That is still the case. The specialist traffic officer will observe a little something in someone’s driving or vehicle that leads to an arrest, which could be for something not connected in any way with the driving or the vehicle’s condition.
The drive for efficiency through local neighbourhood policing has tended to skew policing activity in favour of fixed targets and measurable performance which, in some ways, is not a bad thing; but the consequences of this has resulted in forces becoming detached from providing a visible and operational presence to deal with roads policing issues. But there is no target encompassing roads policing that the performance of chief constables is measured against. Is this another example of what gets measured gets done and what is not measured is ignored? I shall return to the subject of targets later.
Because of that, the number of traffic officers has been reducing year on year, with the result that they rarely have the time to patrol inquisitively but can react only to calls from the control room, be it an emergency or not. I ask your Lordships how many times they have driven on a motorway, perhaps for hundreds of miles, and not seen a uniformed police presence. There are, of course, HATOs but they are not police and have very limited powers. In many constabularies, the police only go out on to the motorways in marked cars if and when they are called to deal with an incident, and the criminals are aware of this.
Motorways carry the biggest travelling community in the land. Open European borders and increased continental traffic make our borders and roads network more vulnerable to breach by criminals and terrorists. Observant police patrols, which have the latest technology in their cars, are able to use their powers spontaneously to stop and apprehend offenders. If they are not there—as they most certainly are not—what message does that send out?
A few years ago, I did a course called Tactical Pursuit and Containment—TPAC—which, in effect, gave instruction on how to stop a vehicle, usually on a motorway, by boxing it in with a few police cars. Before the course started, I went out on patrol with an officer who was driving very carefully, as he did not know me. After we had been chatting for a couple of hours, he said something to the effect that I had attended more police driving courses than he would ever manage to do in his whole career. After that statement, he went into proper traffic officer driving.
Now, noble Lords may well smile at his comment but it brings into focus the loss of skills among roads policing officers, which has been creeping up over the years. I am assured by operational police officers that this seriously concerns them. Gaining the required range of abilities to tackle the full extent of enforcement requirements necessitates experience and knowledge, which are not being maintained. So, if the police are not able to enforce the law—especially some of the specialist legislation that requires detailed understanding and practical awareness of the law—who can?
At the moment, there are 43 forces that have different force requirements for their vehicles. I add my voice in support of the efforts of the Police Federation and the national police fleet managers, who are actively trying to get some national consistency with the procurement of standardised police vehicles that are factory-built to police specifications. It must make economic sense and bring about cost benefits if all forces collaborate more effectively in obtaining a vehicle built to police standards rather than do their own thing.
Local communities are important and need strong, robust policing but they stretch the length and breadth of the country and across all road networks. The transient population use all sorts of vehicles and, in one way or another, they contribute to the many examples of anti-social behaviour that we often hear about and the myriad offences that are becoming routine and unenforced other than through fixed cameras.
As the criminal fraternity use vehicles to get from A to B, it makes sense to assume that they know that the chances of their being caught on a major road are very small, provided that their vehicles do not come up on the ANPR for any reason. So why do chief constables ignore roads policing? The answer is simple. There are no targets and the vehicles detract from their financial budgets. Oh, and they fail to acknowledge the fact that a roads policing officer usually has a higher arrest rate for non-motoring offences than most other types of officer.
Sir Ronnie Flanagan, in his recently published review on policing, mentions the needs of modern policing to deal with threat, harm and risk. Applying these three key elements from Sir Ronnie’s assessment to the problems on the roads, we still have an unacceptably high death toll. Approximately 3,200 people are killed on our roads every year, which equates roughly to the loss of people on eight jumbo jets. The serious injury figures are worrying and the drink-drive figures are no less acceptable, with around 550 people killed each year while under the influence of alcohol—that is, 10 people killed each week due to drinking and driving. The problem of drugs and driving is difficult to quantify but police sources tell me that the figures are equally damning. Correctly, concern is raised from many areas about the high level of male drivers under 25 being involved in this terrible carnage each year. These are crimes and most certainly not victimless crimes, yet the police are not generally asked to account in their neighbourhood policing plans for their activity and intervention in tackling this local and national problem.
I used to go out on traffic patrol on a regular basis with a constable whom I have known for many years. I said that I would return to targets and I would like to read part of an e-mail I received recently from him which, to me at least, is very disturbing. He said:
“The garage has changed quite a bit, mostly because of management ... ‘decisions’ and of course the introduction of ‘targets’ for individual officers viz 14 arrests per year minimum, 150 endorsable tickets for No Insurance and at least 150 either seatbelt or speed tickets—you will note the absence of any tickets for defective tyres, steering, brakes or other vehicle condition or con”—
that is, construction—
“and use offences as these will be effectively torn up as they are not regarded by management as counting towards the totals!! So now we have the bizarre situation of traffic officers not being trained in vehicle examination or accident reconstruction techniques and often not wanting to be so trained! All this change of course depresses the older ‘trafpols’ such as myself and others like Pete, Paul, Alistair and Dave (who all send their regards by the way) as it seems we no longer perform such a wide safety and enforcement role, merely a ticket generating role but if we don’t meet the targets well—‘look for another post’ was the chief’s response!!”.
I conclude by providing additional food for thought. On 13 March this year, North Wales Police undertook an operation to target heavy goods vehicles using a certain road—just one road. The operation finished earlier than anticipated due to the high level of offending, with the check site becoming full despite vehicles being escorted to a secondary parking area: 59 vehicles were stopped and the offending rate, which covered a wide range of offences, was two out of every three goods vehicles stopped. Does this happen elsewhere in the country? Are there other road policing officers available to carry out similar operations in other constabularies? I wonder.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, on securing this debate. It is indeed very timely. I want to talk about the leadership of policing and workforce modernisation. We all admire the role which the police service undertakes on our behalf. We owe a great debt of gratitude to the work and dedication of those officers who serve the communities of this country with bravery and honour. So my remarks may disappoint some of those whom I have always supported, but after a great deal of thought and a huge amount of reading, I have come to the conclusion that things have to change—and fast.
In his report, The Review of Policing, Sir Ronnie Flanagan states:
“Policing is far too important to be left to the police alone. It is a public service and one that can only be effectively carried out with the support and consent of the public. Using and developing this engagement with the public is one of the most important challenges in modern policing and it is a challenge that must be met at all levels.
At the local level, the police service needs to engage with communities to understand their needs and respond to them. At the national level, it will require all of those who contribute to the public debate about policing—in political parties, in the media and within the ‘policing family’—to engage in an honest discussion about the future of policing.
To deal with the range of challenges that policing faces, difficult questions, such as where should the police service do less and where might public expectations be unrealistic, must be discussed in an informed way that reflects the importance of making the right, rather than the easy, decisions for the future”.
A number of years ago now, I was deeply involved in just these issues. As a member of my police authority for over 20 years and chairing it for eight years, I struggled with some of the issues we are facing today. Indeed, as a deputy chair of the Association of Police Authorities—to whose staff I pay an enormous tribute for their leadership in the issues facing all police authorities and in their determination to solve the difficult problems—we tried very hard to bring some of the modernising issues to the fore, especially in the area of human resources. Sir Ronnie has neatly addressed many of the outstanding issues that we still need to address, and we must get on with implementing the reforms—and quickly.
A long time ago, I had the temerity to address a conference of police authority members and chief constables, and I was talking about leadership in the service. I gently criticised the chief constables for being “much of a muchness”. Of course, the clear exceptions to that suggestion are to be found in your Lordships' House, but the argument was as valid then as it is today. Where are the leaders of a highly complex and expensive organisation—one that is getting ever more difficult to manage without major new skills being imparted to them—to be found? Times have changed, and the type of person now needed to run a huge public service such as the police has perhaps changed as well. Now, chief constables have to contend with even more, especially under the performance regimes of recent years. Barry Loveday, reader in criminal justice at the University of Portsmouth, writes that,
“emphasis placed on performance regimes by government only results in the demise of leadership within these services. Performance measurement in effect allows no opportunity for leadership while helping to create what has become an apotheosis of managerialism ... under a performance regime there is no requirement for leadership skills”.
Reforms are on the way and the National Policing Improvement Agency, the APA and others have great interest in the area, but how can we be assured that the leaders of the service in the future will be able to meet the harsh challenges coming their way in the next few years? There is no more money in the coffers, a huge pensions bill to fund, a shrinking workforce, greater public expectation and so on. What will be offered by way of training for the people who will head up the organisations? Many years ago, I was told by a number of chief constables that they had no need for further training once they had made it to the top. In fact, I was vilified for even suggesting that they might need anything at all. I only hope that today’s chief officers see that differently. Crime may have fallen by a third since 1997 and confidence in the police may have risen since a low in 2003-04, as Sir Ronnie states, but much more needs to be done to sweep away some of the practices that have been endemic in policing since before 1981, when I first became interested and engaged in these matters.
That leads me to talk about the area that may well be most contentious, but that we have a duty to address—workforce modernisation. Twenty per cent of officers’ time is still spent on paperwork. I am delighted that the Home Secretary has made money available for the handheld computers for police to be able to input information, and that they will need to do that only once. However, that is only a small part of what is needed if we are to see real changes in policing structure and make-up. In his paper “Policing a Liberal Society” published by the Institute of Economic Affairs, John Blundell writes:
“‘The average PC now spends 75 per cent of each shift engaged in nonsense which has little to do with catching criminals or helping victims,’ says an anonymous police officer who writes a blog critical of the amount of time police waste on red tape.
Only one in 58 police officers is out”,
I apologise, my Lords—a slip of the tongue. The paper reads:
“Only one in 58 police officers is out on patrol at any one time in some police force areas—that’s about four per town of 90,000 people—yet England and Wales has a record 143,000 officers.
Only one in 40 in some forces is available to respond to 999 calls.
In 2004/05, the Metropolitan Police spent £104.4 million on investigating robberies and house burglaries and almost as much—£101.9 million—on non-incident-related paperwork.
A man cautioned for being ‘in possession of an egg with intent to throw’ and two children arrested for being in possession of a toy pistol are among trivial offences police officers have pursued in a bid to meet government targets for crime detection”.
So what might the answers to these thorny questions be? We are, I hope, going in the right direction with neighbourhood policing and the support now being given to PCSOs. Perhaps now another area needs serious consideration: that of mixed-economy teams. To explain these teams, Barry Loveday, again dealing with workforce modernisation in the police service, gives just two examples of excellence in the pursuit of this goal:
“In Surrey 26 police constables have been replaced by five mixed-economy teams and one constable … Each team is made up of one constable, three investigative assistants and one administrative assistant. Experience suggests that these are providing ‘powerful evidence’ that the chief officer ought to reduce police officer numbers and increase the ‘overall head count’. This can be expected to increase the number of service delivery hours provided to the public substantially”.
He goes on,
“an analysis of 700 reported crimes was to demonstrate the current problem of the mismatch of skills. It found that only 10-20% of crime incidents required the skill of a detective, while 60% involved taking statements or handling property. Nearly a third of the cases analysed appeared to require only ‘personnel assistant type skills’”.
In the Bexley pilot, we find—I am sorry about all these quotes—that,
“the use of police staff in the role of Investigative Support-Officers … has proved to be highly effective. The first significant change followed an internal evaluation of the investigation and management of crime. A decision was made to end the system where individual CID officers were made fully responsible for investigating individual cases ‘from cradle to grave’ and were also responsible for setting up ID parades and collecting witness statements etc”.
It is my understanding that this pilot was so successful that it was shut down. Can the Minister throw any light on that? If he is not able to do so today, I would happily receive a response in writing.
At the beginning of my speech, I quoted Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s report, and now quote another of Her Majesty's Inspectors of Police, Mr. Robin Field-Smith, who says that, properly, workforce management,
“is the whole spectrum of business process engineering from workforce modelling, based on demand management and dynamic intelligence, through costed resourcing, career planning, effective leadership and management, appropriate reward and recognition, and a proper support system, geared to improved service delivery and with a clear customer focus … We are not starting with a clean sheet of paper, so there is the issue of handling obsolescent or obsolete practices, aligned to unhelpful cultures. There is also an issue of language, either where different terms mean different things, or where the impact of particular terminology is not thought through”.
We must look at basic command units—BCUs—to deliver the local and particular service demanded by our communities. In order for them to do that, power must be devolved from the centre, including the resources to enable a BCU commander to perform effectively. Will chief constables give up that power? The question needs addressing at the very least, so I ask the Minister whether he is aware of any changes within the service that will change the structure of policing. Will the long-awaited Green Paper do so? When will that be published?
In any reform it is necessary to get the balance right, ensuring that protection against serious crime is balanced with the reassurance role now expected by communities. We also need a more skilled and specialised workforce for our fight against international criminal activity and terrorism. We need leadership at all levels, complex problem solving, using coercive powers and negotiating with partners, which will take up more and more time. Flexible team structures will be needed to ensure effective and efficient action. What do police officers actually do and what do police staff do? There need to be changes to training and development. There appears to be a consensus now that training and development programmes are not quite right and need rebalancing.
There needs to be proper reward for skills. Effort and performance need to change. It should be about not just the length of service but competence and delivery. If someone is a good neighbourhood officer, why not keep him there and reward him properly to reflect his experience and skill? Finally, perhaps it is time we looked at the whole issue of warranted officers, but that must be for another day and another debate.
We support our police in the work they do on our behalf. The job is demanding, can be dangerous and is often extremely unpalatable, but society has changed completely since the days of “Heartbeat”, and we must now help the police change for the future. Enlightened police officers know that this must happen and are anxious for change. We have been shown a way forward by many eminent academics and policing professionals. All we need now is the will to take that change forward.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, and congratulate her on securing this debate. Our association goes all the way back to the 1970s, when I was a very young and, no doubt, rather callow divisional commander in Cambridge and she was already flying high a large flag on the local authority scene in Cambridge. It is a great pleasure to take part in this debate. I endorse what she said about Crimestoppers. I have long admired what it does and the way it achieves results. I declare an interest because, as many of your Lordships know, I served in all ranks in the police up to 1997.
We face an acute problem. Despite government reassurances that volume crime is falling—as indeed it is, for which the police and the Home Office can take credit—public confidence remains stubbornly and understandably low. Only 42 per cent of people believe that the system is effective in bringing criminals to justice; only 40 per cent believe that it deals with cases promptly and efficiently; and, even worse, only 34 per cent believe that it meets the needs of victims.
More than half of criminals apprehended by the police do not go to court; most of them are dealt with by caution, on-the-spot fine or cannabis warning. This growth in non-court dispositions has led a number of senior police officers to criticise the Home Office’s preoccupation with targets to increase what are termed “offences brought to justice”. They say that this preoccupation with targets has led to a police culture of neglect of the serious. On 13 November 2007, in a front-page article in the Times, Richard Ford reported at length about this. He quoted a senior officer who said that the target-driven culture was diverting the police from investigating more serious crime and was causing a concentration on minor, easy-to-detect offences. The officer called for an improvement in the way in which the police deal with violent and sexual attacks, as well he might, because the number of under-18s committing violent crime has risen by 37 per cent in only three years and the number of those in that age group committing robbery has increased yet further, by 43 per cent.
In last Wednesday’s Question Time in your Lordships’ House, I asked the Minister whether he anticipated that the police’s task would diminish in the future. He did not answer that question, but he might have been aware of the Cabinet Office briefings to which I referred on 7 June last year in the last major debate on policing in your Lordships’ House. Those briefings forecast significant future trends that would affect the police, including a growth in low-aspiration cultures, as they put it, which I take to mean an extension of the underclass; continuing high reoffending rates; crime becoming more global and therefore more difficult to combat; and no real-terms rise in police budgets.
That debate was seminal and raised fundamental questions about the shape and nature of policing in the 21st century. Nine months later, however, we still await answers. In your Lordships’ House last week, the Minister was thin on detail when replying to questions on policing, but he was no doubt working to an impossibly tight Home Office brief to avoid detailed comment while further discussions took place and further responses were considered. We have been in the dark for months. First we waited for the Flanagan interim report and then we waited for the Flanagan final report. Now we are asked to wait for the Green Paper on policing that was due this January. We are still waiting.
Sir Ronnie’s final report is tightly focused. The Home Office terms of reference to which he had to work were concerned with only three major issues: reducing bureaucracy to free up officer time; embedding neighbourhood policing; and better resource management. All those are important, but there was no focus at all on altogether more fundamental issues that should necessarily have been addressed before any detail was considered. There was nothing at all about level 2 crime, which is the category that most affects the general public; nothing about the growing influence of central government; little about the place of local authorities and police authorities in accountability; nothing about the essential issue of structure, which has already been referred to in this debate; and nothing about dealing with major issues and events.
That list is not exhaustive—I could go on—but so far as we have been allowed to judge progress to date, I see only a continuation of Home Office micromanagement. One has only to turn to the glossary in Sir Ronnie’s final report and count the organisations, bodies, partnerships, assessment units, programmes and initiatives—I counted 29—that bear down collectively on the service. That is not so much a minefield as an area that should be signposted, “Danger: Unexploded Bureaucracy”.
However, Sir Ronnie did very well with a limited brief, and peeping out from under the skirts of the final report are occasional glimpses of some of the matters that I have identified. These critical issues are vital to the future efficiency and development of a service that for far too long has been subject to far too much interference and far too much constant, small-scale adjustment. Those adjustments have done little to advance the professionalism of the service, while major questions that go to the root of the problem have been ignored.
The growth of central government influence and control sits uncomfortably and paradoxically with the stated intention of central government that local involvement should be championed—an intention that seems simultaneously to diminish and sideline the local issue. How can local police divisions, which are now clumsily labelled BCUs, demonstrate real local authority while contributing at the same time to national initiatives and demands? What about the funding model, now that central government contributes so much more than it did even 10 years ago? What real role is envisaged for police authorities, as the police’s task becomes ever more stretched between the requirements for national and international responses on the one hand and local demands on the other? Is there not a case to revisit the question of regional crime squads after the creation of the Serious Organised Crime Agency or, at a lower level, the question of greater involvement of community and business partnerships, which have already been referred to in this debate, in the work of the police?
As the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, said, where are the future leaders of the service to come from? Despite the Minister’s sanguine reassurance last week in this House, many experienced observers of the police scene remain very concerned about recruiting the best and encouraging the development of not only managers but leaders in a service that is urgently seeking a redefined role and direction. Only when those and other questions have been answered should we finally turn to the vexed question of the structure and the shape of the service—in other words, mergers and amalgamations. Form should follow function, not the other way around.
I hope that I have said enough to encourage the Minister to recognise that the police task is too complex, too multilayered and three dimensional and too fundamental and integral within society to benefit from further tinkering with peripherals. Those of us with a detailed knowledge of the service and with a concern for its future all hope that the Green Paper—shortly, one hopes, to be published—will demonstrate a new high degree of courage and vision that will set the service confidently on a new path.
I close on a point that is important to me, to the general public and to the Minister, given his special responsibilities in the field; namely, the London Olympics 2012. In the light of what I have said today, I ask the Minister to tell us now whether he is confident that the present structure and state of readiness of the police service in England and Wales are resilient enough, robust enough and flexible enough to provide a first-class response to the undoubted additional pressures and challenges that will arise in 2012. Those pressures will fall not only on London but generally throughout the country. I harbour serious doubts about whether we could cope as we stand at present. We have four years to do something not only about the lower-level, volume-crime issues that this debate is primarily concerned with, but about the much more important and obvious challenges that 2012 could bring. Within the bounds of sensible discretion, I hope that the Minister will feel able to help us on this fundamental point, for much will turn on his assessment of that situation.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Trumpington for initiating this debate. I certainly echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on her apposite and deserved remarks about Crimestoppers. In following the noble Lord, I am once again aware of how fortunate this House is in having the benefit of the advice and experience of senior police officers such as him and the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, who is also to speak in this debate.
I shall speak about cybercrime. This is against the background of the phenomenal rise in the use of the internet. I am sure that your Lordships will be aware of the statistics. In 2007, 15.2 million households had internet access. Additionally, people are purchasing goods over the internet in greater numbers than ever before. In 2007, 53 per cent of adults purchased goods or services on the internet. The Office for National Statistics shows in its latest e-commerce survey that in 2006 internet sales increased by 29 per cent to £130 billion. The rise in internet banking has been even more dramatic. The numbers using these services rose from 6.2 million in 2001 to 17 million in 2006.
At the same time there is evidence that internet users are feeling increasingly unsafe. In a recent survey, more than one in five people interviewed felt that they were more at risk from crime on the internet than from any other crime. For them, internet crime ranked higher in their minds than the risk of having their homes burgled, having their cars broken into or being mugged on the street.
An estimate produced by online identity experts Garlick suggests that 3 million offences took place last year—one every 10 seconds. Yet nine out of 10 offences go unreported because victims believe that the police will be unable or unwilling to investigate. Sadly, that view is reflected within the police. In 2007, a report to the Metropolitan Police Authority from the commissioner suggested:
“There was an unspoken public perception that e-crime is so pervasive that the police service does not have the capacity to investigate each individual allegation”.
In fairness to the police, I should add that the same report noted that many organisations were unaware that their computers were being compromised,
“making it difficult to establish definitive financial harm”.
In 2001, the National Hi-Tech Crime Unit was set up in response to the threat of online crime. This provided a useful link between police forces and business. The NHTCU worked well in combating national and international serious and organised high-tech crime, including serious offences such as fraud, blackmail and extortion, online paedophilia and identity theft. However, at the start of 2006, the NHTCU was absorbed into the Serious Organised Crime Agency as SOCA e-crime, despite criticism that that would leave a yawning gap between local forces and national policing—misgivings that were not misplaced. The widespread opposition to this move was predictable.
In April 2007, the ring-fenced funding for computer crime units in each police force was cut off. Since that date, online financial fraud can no longer be reported to the police directly. It first must be reported to the financial institution concerned and it is up to the bank or credit card company to decide whether the matter should be reported to the police. It is a cumbersome procedure, which distances the victim from the prosecuting authority. I would welcome the Minister’s comments on how the Government now regard these changes. All this adds up to the inescapable conclusion that the Government do not consider cybercrime to be a serious offence. I understand that 33 offences under the Computer Misuse Act 1990 are not listed as serious crimes under the new Act, although, for example, salmon poaching is.
Between 2001 and 2006, there were only 88 convictions under the Computer Misuse Act 1990, which is a derisory figure. As a further indication of the low priority accorded to cybercrime, police databases do not now distinguish between crimes committed electronically and those committed otherwise; Home Office prosecution figures do not make that distinction, either. The Government have little knowledge of the number of criminals brought to justice for cyberspace crimes.
I welcome the Prime Minister’s security Statement yesterday and the fact that attention is being given to cybercrime in the international context. We must all be aware of the huge damage reaped on the Republic of Estonia—almost certainly at Russia’s instigation—when the whole operation of the state came to a halt for quite a period.
Lest my charge of government inaction on this matter appears to be substantially negative, I advise your Lordships that my party has, on the initiative of my right honourable friend David Davis and my honourable friend James Brokenshire, put forward proposals in some detail in a paper. I shall highlight one or two of the most important proposals. First, there would be a real show of leadership by the appointment of a single Minister for cybercrime reporting to the Home Secretary and by the establishment of a police national cybercrime unit to work closely with the SOCA e-crime unit. As part of the law enforcement process, there needs to be a cybercrime unit within the Crown Prosecution Service and, significantly, the restoration of the important role of the police in the reporting loop, so that once again financial fraud can be reported online to the police. All that is to be instituted after consultation with industry and users. The paper concludes:
“Cybercrime is a growing and serious threat to individuals, business and government. It is a problem that will continue to escalate as technology changes. The Labour Government has failed in its duty and remains with its head stuck very firmly in the sand. Conservatives will take action and treat the online threat with the priority that the future security economic and personal interests of this country demand”.
I hope that the Minister can reassure the House that the Government are treating this growing and menacing threat with urgency. If they feel able to adopt some of the policies that we have put forward—with considerable publicity and, I hope, constructively—we would be delighted to have some of our foxes shot.
I now turn to the DNA database. The role of DNA in crime detection has, as your Lordships will be aware, been highlighted by the conviction of Steven Wright for the murder of five women in Suffolk and of Mark Dixie for the murder of a woman in September 2005. In both cases, DNA samples were crucial to the convictions. In the latter case, Dixie was convicted five months after the murder only after samples had been taken following a minor scuffle in a pub.
These two incidents have highlighted the need to strike a delicate balance between the continued development of the National DNA Database and the rights of individuals. Two examples of the sensitive matters currently under debate in various forms—one case involves an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights—are the routine sampling of children and the retention of samples from those arrested but subsequently released. This country is a, if not the, world leader in the development of its National DNA Database, which is currently led by the inspired initiative of Mr Tony Lake, Chief Constable of Lincolnshire Police Authority and the chief police officer within ACPO responsible for DNA. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for arranging a useful and constructive meeting with Mr Lake. It is all the more important, therefore, that this sensitive subject should be fully debated—a view that I know is shared by ACPO—and I hope that there will be an opportunity for your Lordships’ House to play a significant part in that debate.
My Lords, without reservation I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for giving us the opportunity for this debate. Her helpful and constructive remarks set the tone for what is proving to be a reflective occasion.
It would be quite wrong to speak in a debate of this kind without placing on record a tribute to the police and security services for all that they do on our behalf. Their courage, commitment and professionalism which usually prevail are special assets for the nation. The quality of their service is often outstanding, not least that of senior police officers. To maintain high standards, the importance of accountability and monitoring and of independent scrutiny and investigation when things go wrong is great. But that scrutiny and investigation must be seen to be independent and it must itself be of the highest quality.
There has been emphasis in the debate on the importance of training. I would underline that and say that I believe that higher education has a vital role to play. There are many examples now of how that contributes to the development of the police services. I declare an interest because I professionally advise De Montfort University, which is involved in this kind of work, and I serve voluntarily in the governance of the London School of Economics, the University of Newcastle and Lancaster University. If this work is to succeed, it is important to have continuity—to be able to plan ahead so that proper resources are there. One cannot switch it on and off just like that.
A lot of emotion and sensational journalism surrounds crime. I hope that the House will forgive me if I take the opportunity of this debate to look at the facts for a moment or two, albeit that some calculations are obviously less statistically significant than others. The British Crime Survey arguably provides the most reliable measure of trends over time since it has a consistent methodology and is pretty unaffected by changes in the reporting and recording of crime. The BCS for the year ending March 2007 showed that over the previous 10 years all crime as measured by the BCS was down 32 per cent. Burglary was down 55 per cent, all vehicle thefts were down by 52 per cent, all household offences were down by 33 per cent, all BCS-recorded violence was down by 31 per cent and all personal offences were down by 32 per cent.
Figures for the year ending September 2007, compared with those for the year ending September 2006, are interesting. Overall level of crime remains unchanged at around 10.7 million crimes. The risk of crime, according to the BCS, came down by 1 per cent. Violence largely remained unchanged, but with a 2 per cent decrease. All personal crime saw a 6 per cent decrease, all household crime saw a 2 per cent decrease and vandalism was down by some 4 per cent. Domestic burglary did see an increase of 5 per cent, but theft from the person saw an 11 per cent decrease.
In applauding all that, as I do, we must recognise that the challenges remain great. Ethnic realities and perceptions and the implications of those for stop-and-account, let alone stop-and-search, people trafficking, prostitution, rape, gun crime, drugs and, some would argue, even more exactingly, alcohol, and of course youth-on-youth violence are all examples of those challenges. They are complex social issues necessitating effective law enforcement and highly imaginative, wider, sensitive and co-ordinated social policies. Education is often highly relevant and we must beware of criminalising significant numbers of the young.
It is impressive that the police themselves can be ahead of existing public opinion in understanding all that and working towards it. In recent conversations that I have been able to have with a few key police personnel—some still serving and some recently retired—the point repeatedly emphasised by them has been that successful policing depends critically on working with the community. In effect, Sir Ronnie Flanagan, in his important report, had that as a central theme. Public confidence and trust are vital. That is why in my home county so many of us welcomed the decision to keep the Cumbrian force as a Cumbrian force rather than seeing its dynamic drawn towards urban areas in Lancashire, which would have been inevitable had the forces been combined. Neighbourhood and local policing really do matter.
This priority of working with the community is nowhere better illustrated than in counterterrorism policy. Without trust and confidence where it matters, the task is made immensely more difficult. That is why—I hope my noble friend will forgive my taking the opportunity to make this point—some of us are totally unconvinced by the proposal to hold people for 42 days without charge, and totally convinced of the need to move forward on introducing at least some element of intercept evidence in court proceedings. Justice has to be seen to be done and procedures have to be as transparent as possible.
Quite apart from the human rights and natural justice concerns to which I hope we all subscribe, there is the issue of counterproductivity. I believe that counterproductivity is unforgivable, and whether it happens inadvertently is irrelevant. Counterproductivity undermines the efforts to contain terrorism. Some significant players in the police with frontline experience and operational responsibilities, with whom I have been fortunate enough to be able to speak recently, share this anxiety. To pretend that all those involved in the struggle against terrorism want detention for 42 days is just not what I have encountered. It behoves us to take the views of those in the police service seriously.
I referred earlier to certain crime statistics, and perhaps I may talk a little about what is happening to the police service in terms of personnel. Over the past, decade the police workforce has increased by 27 per cent. On 30 September 2007, the personnel of the police service totalled 231,822, of whom 139,170 were police officers, an 11 per cent increase on March 1997. Police numbers fell by 800 between March and September 2007. However, a decline of 0.6 per cent in officer numbers must be looked at in the context of the 0.8 per cent increase in police personnel overall during the same period, an increase of some 1,796. In any case, it was the first time there was a reduction in police officer numbers since March 2000 in the 43 forces in England and Wales. As forces more critically examine the roles of officers and look for ways to improve efficiency and effectiveness, their police staff are taking on more roles from police officers. In the past 10 years, police staff numbers, excluding police community support officers, have risen by 19,529 to 76,721, an increase of 34 per cent.
Of course the focus should not be on officer numbers, but on making the best use of officer time. Equally important is how policing is delivered. The workforce mix must reflect the best way to deliver policing. In this context, it is encouraging that many forces are already employing police staff in operational support roles that do not need the powers or training of a police constable, and surely that is exactly what should be happening. On a like-for-like basis, government grant and central spending on services for the police will have risen by nearly £4.8 billion, from £6.2 billion in 1997-98 to £11 billion, a 77 per cent increase which in real terms is more than 39 per cent. For 2007-08, the Government provided £350 million in funding for neighbourhood policing, representing a 41 per cent increase towards the cost of achieving the target of 16,000 police community support officers by April 2007, and towards having a dedicated neighbourhood policing team embedded in every area of England and Wales by 31 March. The three-year settlement for 2008-09 to 2010-11 for policing at least provides a background of stability and continuity, and I believe that it is altogether welcome that the Government achieved the target of 14,000 special constables by 2007.
I conclude by returning to the issue of counterterrorism, which preoccupies us all. The Home Office has provided record funding for counterterrorism policing. In 2006-07, it allocated £106 million of the counterterrorism specific grant to the ACPO Terrorism and Allied Matters scheme and £142 million for the Metropolitan Police Service. I understand that in 2007-08 the Home Office plans to increase still further this extra funding by £95 million to the ACPO TAM scheme and by £45 million for the MPS. I welcome that, but I implore my noble friend and his colleagues to recognise that it would be tragic in this context to undermine it all by an ill-advised insistence on a totally as-yet-unargued extension to 42 days of the ability to hold people without charge.
My Lords, as the long years of this Labour Government draw to a close—I say at once that they are a Labour Government who have been a huge improvement on previous Labour Administrations for the simple reason that they have transformed themselves philosophically from old Labour to new Labour—I fear that the reputation of the Government for competence as the legacy for which they will be remembered is rapidly fading. There is an increasing apparent lack of political control over the bureaucracy, and nowhere is that more evident than in the Home Office. It has always been a difficult department to direct and control because it is very inward-looking and does not respond kindly to anyone else’s ideas. The great acronym, NIH—“not invented here”— motivates it very strongly.
I remembered that acronym when I introduced and secured an amendment to the Firearms (Amendment) Act 1997 to set up a national register of firearms which could be accessed by any police force, as has happened for many years with driving licences. There was endless resistance from Home Office officials who were able to fight a successful battle against it until November 2007, when finally the scheme came into force. I am grateful not so much to the Home Office, but to a succession of Home Office Ministers who fought with me and my party, and with the Liberal Democrats who were very helpful on this issue.
The real problem is that Home Office Ministers tend to survive in inverse proportion to their effectiveness. We have had an awful lot of Home Secretaries. We had Mr Straw for four years; I think that he was rather good and I am glad that he is now in charge of the other half of the Home Office. On balance, the split of the Home Office has been a good idea. We then had Mr Blunkett for two and a half years. He had many of the right instincts and there was much affection and admiration for him. We had Mr Clarke for a year and a half, and it was rather sad that his career came to an end. The best Home Secretary by one measure was Dr John Reid, who was the first to come out with the profound truth that the Home Office is not fit for purpose. Others had realised and recognised this but there had not previously been a Secretary of State who had said it.
I am a great fan of the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord West, because I am a great fan of Britain’s Armed Forces and you do not become the First Sea Lord unless you are pretty good. The odds against most Members of the House of Commons reaching that level are rather high, especially nowadays.
I always remember Ernest Marples, for whom I worked when I was very young—he was a most effective Minister and a true visionary in that he recognised the scope for applying technology in government long before others—saying that any Prime Minister faced a real problem in having to fill nearly 100 ministerial posts from a short list of about 350 who had been primarily selected for their pastoral inclinations rather than their executive talents.
Yesterday we had a White Paper on national security. I have not yet had time carefully to study it, but I have looked at it. Frankly, I am not very impressed. I think it is a somewhat bogus document. When you are trying to focus effort and get results, you cannot usefully put in one document all these different headings—terrorism, nuclear weapons and other weapons of mass destruction, trans organised crime, global instability, failed and fragile states, civil emergencies, drivers of insecurity—I am not sure what that means—challenges to the rule-based international system, which is a little obscure, competition for energy, climate change—which of course had to be in it; it has to be in everything—poverty, inequality, poor governance and so on.
I wondered why it had been produced and I thought that perhaps it was meant to balance our Prime Minister’s obsession with plastic bags. Think of a Prime Minister under pressure who is lucky enough to be given the chance of writing an article in the Daily Mail, which has a huge readership of those who are not his natural supporters. What does he write about? He writes about plastic bags.
I want to refer to two specific matters which are the responsibility of the Home Office and the particular responsibility of the noble Lord, Lord West. The first matter is identity cards and the second is border control. I have received many helpful Answers to Written Questions over several months which have raised certain specific questions.
Dealing first with what I see to be the primary problem with identity cards, the Government have made a major conceptual error and focused on the card. I support the concept of identity cards but they have focused on the card, which is a rather inflammatory thing anyway. What matters is that there should be a register so that the Government know who people are. A card which has on it biometrics is not sensible for a simple reason: if you are a serious criminal or terrorist you will ensure that the biometric details on the card match your own. You may say that a chip is not easy to forge—and many people would find it hard to forge one—but seriously bad people would be able to do so. Of course you want biometrics, but you want them in a central record which can be accessed online. There is no advantage in accessing the data on a card. It would be a great deal cheaper if people were to carry a card with a photo; I would have no objection to that. But the crucial thing is the number and that that number is linkable to a central record which authorised people can check and quickly find information. With modern data links, it would be every bit as rapid as it is for the Driver and Vehicle Licensing Agency, which works extremely well and has done for many years. It would be a great deal cheaper to have cards that did not have on them these biometric chips.
Biometrics are going to be a proper answer to identification, and growingly so. I have no objection to my fingerprints or DNA being held anywhere. The technology exists to ensure that central records can be firewalled—I am assuming a level of competence for the purpose of this argument—and the different data bases can be separated from each other. So instead of us all having a multiplicity of numbers—passport numbers, driving licence numbers, tax numbers, national insurance numbers, which are about the most insecure of all of them, national health numbers and so on—one number would be quite sufficient and you should get a net cost saving.
I have said much of this before but I have been unable to persuade the Home Office. However, that failure does not necessarily convince me that I am wrong. I think it would be a great deal cheaper and more efficient to have a central register of people with merely a card as the first thing to prove identity.
Moving on to the crucial issue of border control, the United Kingdom is not a member of Schengen and I think we are right not to be. But the premise on which we are not a member of Schengen is that, because of our geographical design, it is easier for us to defend and protect our own borders without being in Schengen. The Schengen borders, by definition, are not points at which people can be checked. But this argument, which I support, is undermined by the fact that our borders are not properly controlled.
Before the British left Hong Kong in 1997, there was there full electronic border control which worked extremely well. That was 11 years ago now. But we still do not have it in Britain. When you have your passport swiped as you come into Britain, the officials are checking to see whether you are on the watch list, on which there are about a million people. It is quite useful. But there is no record kept that you have arrived—if you are not on the watch list you walk straight through—and, therefore, if you allow a certain number of people to come into the country for a limited length of time, there is no way of knowing that they have left. Amazingly, no record is made of people’s departures. If you do not have a record of someone departing, the chances are you do not know whether or not they have. And if they are meant to depart by a certain date, that does not seem to be a very sensible system.
The e-borders system of control is not expected to come into full force until 2013. We had a wake-up call on this with 9/11 in 2001. There has been plenty of time to get it right and it is not acceptable that our e-borders control will not be introduced until 2013-14, when it will be complete. I ask the Government to make a new attempt to bring this forward much more rapidly.
I come now to the question of passports. Around 250,000 passports are reported lost or stolen every year in the UK. The cost of checking to make sure that they have been lost or stolen is considerable, and I have no reason to think that the agency concerned does not do that quite carefully. However, the charge made for a lost or stolen passport is exactly the same as the cost for getting a new one. It ought to be a lot higher, if only as a great deterrent against losing a passport. When I put that to the Home Office, the answer was, “Oh, it wouldn’t be fair if you had looked after your passport and you lost it and then you had to pay more for a new one”. That is in one of the Written Answers. I could say the same if I am silly enough to leave my suitcase in a train—but you insure your suitcase. A passport is just as insurable as anything else. If the Government had proper fees for replacing lost or stolen passports, not only would that be a deterrent but it would give the Home Office some extra money that it very much needs at the moment.
I thank my noble friend Lady Trumpington for giving me the chance to make these points.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in expressing gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for securing this debate, in which she has already highlighted the role of Crimestoppers, together with the part played by that charity in the prevention, solution and reduction of crime and, in turn, the support given to and received from the Crimestoppers Trust by the police and the Home Office.
In the introduction to the most useful note produced by a member of the House of Lords Library staff to assist noble Lords in today’s debate, there is an acknowledgment that,
“there are a variety of initiatives … within the criminal justice system, which supplement the Government’s crime strategy”.
One of these, which is of particular relevance to today’s debate, was Working in Partnership to Reduce Re-Offending and Make Communities Safer—I emphasise “make communities safer”—which was published in March 2007.
The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, has highlighted one such important partnership, the Crimestoppers Trust, which makes communities safer. So important is the work done by that community-based trust that I shall endeavour to put a little more flesh on the bones for the information of noble Lords. I fully support what the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has said about community involvement, and this is a prime example of it.
The partnership works in this way. The Crimestoppers number, 0800 555 111, is available on a 24-hour basis. That enables any member of the public who knows the identity of a person who has committed a serious crime, or knows details of a crime being hatched, to call. I am not talking about minor crime or offences such as shoplifting but crimes of magnitude, particularly violence such as murder, attempted murder, rape, child molestation, human trafficking, grievous bodily harm and drug dealing. It involves the police fully briefing the media on major crimes, giving, if available, descriptions of the alleged offenders. The media then publicise this together with the Crimestoppers number, and members of the public who have information on that or any other serious crime can then pass it on to police via the anonymous line. Some people may raise their eyebrows because the caller is anonymous, but Crimestoppers is a charity and that allows it to give anonymity.
The caller does not have to identify himself or herself as they would if they went straight to the police, so their identity is protected by giving them a code number or name that is used in all further communications. Police do not carry out arrests solely on the information provided, because they are fully aware that some mischief-makers might try to use the system to make malicious and unfounded allegations. Police must seek corroborative evidence through further inquiries; but the Crimestoppers information often points them in the right direction. People passing information that proves to be accurate and helps to prevent or clear up major crimes are entitled to a reward, as the noble Baroness has mentioned, but it is significant that few of those passing information are interested in such a reward. The majority do it because the system protects their identities and they are able to help clear up or prevent a major crime without going straight to the police and, in criminal parlance, being branded as a “grass”.
I declare an interest in Crimestoppers. First, I am a trustee of Crimestoppers and am a member of its national board. Secondly, I have recently been invited by Kent Crimestoppers to become a patron and I have accepted. That will entail attending its meetings and encouraging and helping those members of the community, the volunteers, who operate the Crimestoppers system.
I return to my point about people not going to the police and coming to Crimestoppers instead. They do that because in some extreme cases, if they go to the police and it becomes known that they have done so, it will be regarded as betrayal and might result in serious bodily harm against them. It is not unknown for a member of an offender’s family to make a call to Crimestoppers because they were fearful that the offender was on the brink of being drawn into an even greater criminal network. They take the Crimestoppers path as the most effective way to help put a stop to the situation before it can escalate into offences that potentially carry lengthy or even life sentences.
The Crimestoppers scheme, as we have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, began in this country in 1998. Although I had by then taken on the job of Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, I can claim no credit for the scheme having been adopted throughout the Metropolitan Police area and the extraordinary successes it has subsequently achieved. My predecessor, Sir Kenneth Newman, had set the ball rolling, together with a youngish businessman who had seen the system working in New Mexico and had brought the idea to the UK. That businessman is now a Member of your Lordships’ House. Although some might not like his political benefactions or his business successes, it is not putting it too highly when I say that I firmly believe that if it had not been for him and his support for Crimestoppers, some young people may well have died from brutal and inhuman criminal attacks.
I have one example. In November 2001 a 10 year-old girl was abducted from outside a community centre in Ashford in Kent. The child was taken to nearby woodland where she was viciously assaulted and raped. Yes, a 10 year-old girl. A full DNA profile was obtained from the residue on the girl’s body, but that did not match with anything on the national DNA database. Kent Police then carried out intelligence-led screening of 2,000 men from a local estate who volunteered their DNA samples, but again no match was found.
Some eight months later, a 30 year-old woman in Earlswood, Surrey, was out walking. She was beaten to the ground and raped. DNA low copy number technology was used to obtain a partial profile, which was found to match the profile discovered after the 10 year-old had been assaulted and raped in Ashford in November the previous year.
Two further attacks, one on Putney Heath and Wimbledon Common, and the other on Epsom Common, led to the setting up of an inquiry and surveillance operation involving six police forces: Kent, Surrey, the Metropolitan, Hertfordshire, Thames Valley and the West Midlands. Due to the locations of the offences, the inquiry came to be known as the search for the M25 rapist. Around 350 officers from the six police forces were involved. A second screening of a further 1,000 men, based on police intelligence of likely suspects, was undertaken but, again, no DNA match was found.
In October 2002, a 14 year-old girl was raped in Stevenage. Fortunately, although seriously traumatised, she was able to help police compile a picture of her attacker which was distributed to the media, together with the Crimestoppers number. An anonymous caller contacted Crimestoppers with information, which led police to the house of Antoni Imiela, a 38 year-old railway worker living in the village of Appledore in Kent. Although the information was initially given to Crimestoppers anonymously, the person who informed it then told the press that she had done so. A DNA sample from Imiela was taken by detectives and forwarded to the forensic science laboratory, but before the result was known, Imiela kidnapped and indecently assaulted another 10 year-old in Birmingham. He was arrested as soon as the sample that he had given detectives was found to match the DNA profile from the first assault and rape of the 10 year-old child in Ashford one year previously.
After Imiela’s arrest, the widespread investigation team was reduced from 350 officers to 30. More than 100 scientists in five forensic science laboratories had worked on the case and the lengthy investigation was estimated to have cost well in excess of £2 million. Imiela was subsequently convicted of seven rapes, and the kidnap, indecent assault and attempted rape of yet another 10 year-old girl. He was given seven life sentences.
Bringing that case to a conclusion through a partnership between police, the media and the public via Crimestoppers may well have saved other small girls from having their lives ruined by this vicious rapist. That one case alone, not to mention the calls to Crimestoppers in its short life that have resulted in more than 700 people being charged with murder or attempted murder, must justify the money that has been invested in it. But it cannot continue with only the sustenance of charitable donations.
In a recent case, police discovered the body of a young man in his 20s purely as a result of information from Crimestoppers giving a precise location. The body had practically decomposed and had been partly eaten by animals, with parts removed. The subsequent investigation has resulted in five people being charged with murder.
Within Crimestoppers, we are grateful for the support shown by the Home Office. I am aware that the director of the scheme is of the clear view that the Home Secretary is, as one would imagine, wholly supportive. However, that charity, while having helped to bring to book some of the country’s most violent criminals and many hard-drug dealers, has yet to reach its full potential in helping clear up and prevent the most vicious crimes such as murder, attempted murders and brutal rapes of our young children. I ask for the continued and active support of the police, the media, the Home Office and the general public for Crimestoppers in its endeavours to make society safer for all.
The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, mentioned the police’s most-wanted list, which is put on a website by Crimestoppers. Kent Police maintains its own most-wanted list in conjunction with Crimestoppers. Just a few weeks ago, a predatory paedophile saw the list and his own description on it. He knew that the game was up, went straight to the police and gave himself up. That shows the worth of what that community-based charity is doing.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Trumpington on securing this debate and those who have spoken in it. I knew about Crimestoppers because of its work in Lambeth. The cases just illustrated by the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, underline its value to society. I add my voice to those saying that it should be properly funded, because it is becoming an essential part of the police intelligence effort to catch criminals. There can be nothing more sensible than a well organised charity doing work that benefits society as a whole.
It is many years since I was involved in UK policing, first on Merseyside and then nationally during my years at the Department of Transport, but I endorse strongly the words of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, about preparations for 2012. I do so with a little background knowledge of the trials and tribulations of the South African police force in preparing for the World Cup in 2010. A great many aspects of policing will be thrown up in 2012 by the sheer numbers of people not only entering this country but travelling across the boundaries in Europe. My private information is that neither here nor in South Africa have all the boundary problems started to be thought through.
I shall concentrate the rest of my remarks on the contribution of the police and, indirectly, the Home Office to the identification, prevention, solving and reduction of counterfeiting. It may not be immediately obvious to all your Lordships, but counterfeiting is a growing crime of enormous importance. Regrettably, it is closely linked to other national and international crime, especially drug trafficking and money-laundering. Lest your Lordships should think that this aspect of crime is far less important than others, perhaps I may explain that counterfeit goods in this country and across the world are posing increasingly serious threats to personal health, hygiene and well-being, be it in pharmaceuticals, food or skincare products, and to businesses micro, small, medium and large.
Counterfeiting is causing severe loss of revenue to Customs and tax authorities in the developed as well as the developing world. While this issue is generally regarded as one for Trade Ministers and business, because global trade is now a massive loser of as much as $2,000 billion a year from counterfeiting, it is high time that we paid more attention to it. The OECD estimates of the cost to business are for more than $630 billion a year, but the cost to Governments in lost revenues, the cost to police and the cost from the health consequences of counterfeit pharmaceuticals cause the sum to more than double that cost to business.
We all know that these issues are not popular ones, but my interest in fighting counterfeiters has developed over recent years because I see the effects of the failure to fight these criminals. That is why I ask the Government to give expert backing to the efforts of those police working with Interpol to set up exchange of information that can lead to the detection not only of the counterfeiters themselves but of those involved with them. Interpol is working closely with the World Customs Organisation, the World Intellectual Property Organisation, the International Trademark Association and Business Action to stop counterfeiting and piracy. Having spent some time at the fourth global congress on anti-counterfeiting and piracy last month, I am now more aware than ever of the growing dangers of counterfeit products and their interconnection with the drug traffickers and money-launderers and with every sort of crime.
Another group of persons is usually not heard of, but I shall term them the “counterfeit goods brokers”. They are people who are not involved in the production and never go near the products themselves. Those brokers, and the shippers who assist them, are a new link between the counterfeiters, wherever they may be, and the merchants who buy the goods cheap. This links with what my noble friend said about cybercrime; much of the counterfeit brokers’ activity is now on the internet. However, there are brochures and two annual conferences purely for these brokers to put on show their counterfeit wares. There is much more that we could do that is out in the open but is not happening at present for the lack of resources and lack of interconnection of those resources.
In this regard, I mention the success that Interpol has had since 9/11 in the exchange of passport information between more than 100 countries. We now have an information network on passports, which, although it does not solve the problem of stolen passports being reused, is certainly very helpful to police forces across the world. We need to set up something similar for counterfeit goods, for the counterfeiters and for those who are bringing real sadness and trouble to others. Interpol is well engaged in this. It uses techniques from developed nations to train police forces in how best to fight the counterfeit battle, but without a database on the information we shall not make progress. Interpol plays a critical role with industry to deal with fakes of every kind.
This is no cottage industry run by lovable rogues. I know all the stories about fake Louis Vuitton handbags not doing anybody any harm, but that is a tiny proportion of what does the harm. This is serious crime that is run worldwide, with organisational structures that mirror those of conventional business companies. I speak not only of fake CDs, DVDs, computer programmes, mobile phones or even cars, as we saw recently in the media. I speak also of electrical goods that cause fire, such as circuit breakers without a piece of metal to break the circuit; I speak of building materials that weaken structures and, in a recent earthquake zone, caused far more damage than would have been anticipated because the concrete was not properly made. I speak of fake gypsum boards and glass that is not shatterproof but is sold as cheap windscreens, of fake foods that cause illness and of household goods and fertilisers. I speak, above all, of fake pharmaceuticals, which do not cure but kill. The head of the Nigerian bureau fighting this crime lost her sister through fake insulin.
We have a planned anti-counterfeiting trade agreement, which will help Governments in the task, but it is only by equipping our police force to work with Interpol as well as other agencies to apprehend the counterfeiters and the fraudsters that we shall decrease the worldwide trade in counterfeits and the pain and death caused by them to many people. Interpol’s help to the World Customs Organisation and the World Intellectual Property Organisation, as well as to business organisations, needs renewed recognition by the G8 to create global collective action. The G8 summits in 2005, 2006 and 2007 recognised that this huge global issue requires strong and sustained action by Governments. To beat counterfeit crime and to assist in the quicker and better detection of drug runners and other fraudsters, I ask the Government to give greater active support to Interpol in the important work that it does, much assisted by the police forces of the United Kingdom.
My Lords, I warmly thank the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for bringing forward this debate, which is particularly timely. Yesterday we had the Statement on the national security strategy, which mentioned the police only once. I appreciate that the Statement concentrated on other things, but when there is a national emergency of any sort it is to the police that people turn first, because they are in the front line of dealing with such emergencies.
The noble Lord, Lord Judd, commented that this was going to be a very reflective debate—and he was absolutely right. It has been reflective of lessons learnt and has looked into the future, which is why it has been particularly interesting. Some speakers have touched on the future, such as the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, who spoke about counterfeiting. That is often an overlooked crime, given the effects that she graphically described. It links in, as she said, with other crimes and is often not a stand-alone crime. I think, for example, of the recent problems of people selling counterfeit DVDs. They are themselves often the victims of crime in that they have been duped into coming into the UK—having paid sums to do so as an illegal immigrant—and are then further exploited in selling counterfeit DVDs. Counterfeiting is much understressed.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, emphasised cyber crime. Most of us have probably had personal experience of that through so-called “phishing” e-mails. There are campaigns on many ways in which the public can protect themselves against various crimes, but I have not seen a government campaign warning of the dangers of replying to e-mails which encourage people to reveal their bank details, although individual banks make an effort to pursue this. It is astoundingly common for people to respond to those e-mails, which suggests that a campaign against them should be initiated.
An area that has not been mentioned, and on which I should like to dwell very briefly, is that of domestic violence. It is depressing that this is still one of the commonest crimes in this country. It accounts for 16 per cent of all violent crime, it has more repeat victims than any other crime and on average, shockingly, 35 assaults will occur before a victim even phones the police. It still claims the lives of two women a week and 30 men a year. It affects a very large number of people in this country, not only direct victims but children who live in violent households. Is the Minister satisfied that there is enough standardisation of response across all police forces? While there have rightly been calls for a local ability to respond to local demands, that needs to be balanced with standard reporting so that we can see exactly how each force is performing.
Gaps remain in the area of domestic violence that need to be filled. There is also a gap for which the Government are responsible because of their decision not to allow any recourse to public funds for women who do not have legal immigrant status but who are still subject to extreme domestic violence and have no option but to stay with the perpetrator of that violence or else to live on the street. While I appreciate that these women are illegal immigrants, this matter needs to be looked at—this has been commented on by Amnesty and other organisations—but the police’s hands are tied with regard to this very difficult issue.
There are two ways of preventing crime. First, one can try to remove opportunity and temptation. The police campaign encouraging people to lock their cars and use identification marks on their possessions has been very effective. Police forces run very good campaigns to encourage people to use the newer technologies such as SmartWater to identify goods. Secondly, one can try to prevent people offending and reoffending although I am sure that the police must feel deeply frustrated about that. I do not want to take up time quoting prison statistics because I am sure your Lordships are well aware how high reoffending rates are, but I must point out that however well the police do their job it is being fundamentally undermined by a system of failing rehabilitation.
Last week the Minister, Beverley Hughes, talked of targeting 1,000 children worst offenders with substantial intervention support. But as her Written Answer of 11 March shows, there are still about 96,000 other young people offending. It is shocking that each year there are 97,000 first-time entrants into the criminal justice system. This is a really big problem.
I want to highlight a scheme that seeks to prevent crime. Community Action Through Sport, which runs over the county border in Cornwall, recently came to my attention. It is the brainchild of Chief Inspector Julie Williams, who had had a lot of complaints about the anti-social behaviour of young people in the town centre. A dispersal order was about to be introduced under the Anti-social Behaviour Act. However, she chose to take a very different course and set up a scheme that rewards young people for their good behaviour. Depending on the level of their good behaviour, they are awarded a sporting activity. If they help an old lady who falls over while getting off a bus, they might get a free swim in the local swimming pool. The chief inspector has forged a partnership between the local authorities and sports providers to reward young people who behave well, and publicise that in the community.
The scheme has had another big benefit in that the perception of crime has plummeted in that area. Noble Lords mentioned that the perception of crime is a problem and a preventive scheme of that sort is extremely valuable and important. The chief inspector has to run the scheme in addition to doing her day job. It received some funding from the lottery which has enabled a full-time project officer to be employed to spread it further. This illustrates the difficulty of getting money for measures to prevent crime as opposed to it all being spent on locking people up.
Important contributions were made to the debate. I was pleased that the noble Viscount, Lord Simon, devoted his speech to talking about traffic crime; he highlighted how many deaths occur a year due to traffic crime and speeding. Coming from a rural area, I know that that is one of the crimes that people most fear. I live at the end of the north Devon link road, on which a shocking number of deaths occur each year. People rely on the police to be in the front line in trying to persuade people to cut their speed on that road. When I talked to school pupils in the area as part of the Lord Speaker’s outreach programme I discovered that they were not worried about terrorism—one would not expect that in north Devon—but they were worried about dying in a car accident. This is a very real problem and I am glad that the noble Viscount highlighted it. The police have wide support on this issue, even from people who know that they are speeding and should not.
A theme that ran through this debate was that political will is needed to shape the future of the police. We have had the Flanagan report and noble Lords have highlighted comments made by, among others, the Police Federation, that cutting central targets will allow police officers to deliver the type of policing that local communities want and will eliminate the ridiculous arrests that officers are often compelled to make to satisfy Home Office diktats. Those comments were echoed around the House by noble Lords who have great experience in these matters.
The policing community and local communities are now holding their breath to see whether the Government bring forward a Green Paper that responds to the wide consensus about what is holding back the police and local communities from forming the sort of bond and partnership that they want in order to address the issues that they face. I hope that the noble Lord will be able to give the House some confidence in terms of a timetable to address that.
There were some other very insightful and detailed speeches, from which I learnt a great deal, for example about Crimestoppers from the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, and from the noble Lord, Lord Imbert. The noble Baroness touched on the role of the media, and it is critical. Apart from “Crimewatch”, which is a factual programme, there is “The Bill”, which everyone watches. That counteracts somewhat the effect of the red tops, which is often to make people unduly concerned about crimes, because they perpetuate the fear or perception of crime that the police are working so hard to overcome.
We have had a very valuable debate this afternoon, and I thank the noble Baroness for introducing it.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Trumpington for having introduced what has been a fascinating and wide-ranging debate; and for opening it with such stirring support for Crimestoppers.
She is correct in saying that it has made an immense contribution to the reporting, investigation and prosecution of crime, and that was completely underlined in the excellent speech by the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, who gave an absolute demonstration of the value of having an independent organisation to which people can turn. The fact that it is funded largely by charitable donations ensures that it has that independent element in the fight against crime. It is probably fortunate to have the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, as a trustee, and my noble friend Lady Trumpington as a board member. She is a particularly doughty fighter for any cause that she supports, and she is certain to do so for the interests of Crimestoppers. It is clear that it must continue, because people are very hesitant about reporting directly to the police, so something that has anonymity is clearly useful and must be maintained. I hope that the Government will find a way to make sure that the grant that it needs and the small grant that it gets carries on so that there is no danger or threat to it.
It is ironic in the face of the success of Crimestoppers that another arm to the reporting of crime has just been broken off; that is the non-emergency phone number 101. The pilots of this scheme had been very successful and had demonstrated that the police, local authorities and others could work together to tackle problems. I understand that the cost was about £45 million, which is probably a drop in the bucket of the money spent on the police service, so there must have been other reasons why it was stopped. Perhaps the Minister, in response, could tell us what they were. It was another way of people being able to report crime without getting too personally involved.
It is very difficult to wind up after such excellent speeches on such a variety of subjects. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Marlesford for tackling some of the interesting aspects of Home Secretaries and the Home Office, and particularly for making sure that his fingerprints were planted all over the ideas about plastic bags, which the Prime Minister seems to have got involved in. His point about e-border control is very important, and I hope that we will have an opportunity to return to it. The question of e-border control and the Olympics was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and we will need to look at it again.
I am also grateful to my noble friend Lord Bridgeman for raising the very difficult question of cybercrime, which is something which we are all very aware of and probably pretty terrified about, particularly when more and more of us are using the internet for personal transactions and are putting quite a lot of personal information on to it. I am also grateful to him for questioning the retention of DNA by the police, which is another difficult subject with huge implications. The more that the retention of DNA can be seen to solve crime, the more pressure there will be to log everyone’s DNA. We already know that there are moves to share DNA information across Europe. We are going to begin to build up the arguments about the value of the collection and retention of DNA versus the civil liberties issues that are bound to be raised.
We will all have been interested in the speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, with her practical experience about the leadership of the police. It is always worth hearing the noble Lord, Lord Dear, on policing. His knowledge of the police force is encyclopaedic. I hope that the Minister listened carefully to what he said, because it was germane to the report by Sir Ronnie Flanagan, which we hope that the forthcoming Green Paper will address.
The report has been with us now for several months, and there was an interim report before that, so what was being proposed has not been silent and the Home Office has not been unaware of it. It is taking a little too long for the Green Paper to arrive. I hope that when it does arrive it will pick up the issues and recommendations made in Sir Ronnie’s report, particularly to limit the bureaucratic impositions and targets, which are mostly government inspired, which are preventing the police from fulfilling their prime roles of keeping the public safe and apprehending crooks.
It is certainly true that the general perception of the public that the police are not visible in the places where they are wanted in and around the local patch remains. I hope that the Home Secretary’s undertaking to pursue Sir Ronnie’s recommendations about reducing paperwork is already being implemented. I recall that Sir Ronnie was going to oversee the reduction in bureaucracy and report back at six months and then give a one-year review on the progress. How that is effected depends on when the six months starts. Has it started? Or is it to start once everyone has had a chance to trawl through the Green Paper and wait for legislation? I hope it is the former, and I hope very much that the effort to reduce the great burden of bureaucracy has been started and that Sir Ronnie will be able to report within the timescale—which will really be by the end of this year—that something significant has been done.
My local authority—I declare an interest as a councillor—and the local police have embraced the benefits of police community support officers, and I want to say something about that. The council has provided funding to ensure that there is now a PCSO presence in all the wards in the borough, and the police co-ordinate PCSO activities with their own officers. Neighbourhood policing, which was very much the thrust of Sir Ronnie’s proposals, is proving to be very successful. The PCSOs are a very obvious presence in the borough. On many occasions, they are accompanied by their police colleagues, but on others they work on their own. Less serious crime is being contained as a result, and the police community support officers are becoming a welcome part of the local communities where they are based. The main thing is that the turnover is not great, so the support officers get an opportunity to get to know the local people and are welcomed to their streets. As a result, residents feel more confident. If we can now ensure that the red tape for the police is reduced, we could see a real improvement in the numbers of police on our streets.
My area of London is relatively small. It is governed by a very enlightened local authority, which is able to co-ordinate with the police to make this system work. However, in general, the Government’s manifesto commitment to provide 24,000 police community support officers has not been met, and it is now unclear whether even the new commitment to 16,000 such officers will be met. It would be interesting to be told by the noble Lord the Government’s current view of PCSOs and their future within the Government’s thinking.
As I have made clear, I am in favour of the concept of police community support officers not as a substitute for the police, but as an adjunct to them and as a real opportunity to provide the neighbourhood security that everyone wants. I do not say that the idea cannot be improved upon. For example, PCSOs have only a citizen’s right to hold someone they have stopped; they do not have powers of arrest, but their presence is proving to be very beneficial.
Finally, I want to touch on the vexed question of drugs. My noble friend Lady Chalker spoke on the international counterfeiting of drugs; but internationally the counterfeiting and the trafficking of drugs have a horrendous effect on people who take them in this country. If there is an area of crime that brings with it degradation, this is it. Our courts are full of petty criminals who are lured into taking drugs for a number of reasons, thereby filling the pockets of the drug pushers, but destroying their own lives. On a rough rule of thumb, I would say that some 30 to 35 per cent of cases in magistrates’ courts involve shoplifting or petty theft, and all of those are based on drugs. It would also be fair to say that a considerable percentage of cases where local authorities have to intervene to protect children, because of an inability of a parent or parents to provide even moderately reasonable care for their children, are the result of drug use. I should mention that I am a magistrate involved in the adult and family courts.
Whatever courts do, the prognosis for those caught up in this terrible addiction is dire, and the future, without professional care, is bleak. Each person needs a full-time treatment programme to bring control of their addiction and to provide support while total abstinence is achieved. If it is not achieved at the end of the day, their addiction starts all over again. Addicts need help to push them towards a more useful life. These days, the courts try not to send people to prison. Prison has one of two effects on them—either they get more drugs and the sentence has no effect at all, or they come out of prison having been treated, but there is no proper handover to community services to maintain and support the treatment. It is incontrovertible that the best form of treatment for drug users is residential care. There are residential units, but not enough of them—and often the units that are there are not being used. A government-led initiative on that could help enormously. There is nothing to be gained by any of us if a large number of minor felons are high on drugs and never get off them. That is bad for our country and it is a problem that we need to resolve.
All speakers have rightly paid warm tributes to the police. There may have been slightly fewer warm tributes to the Home Office, but I associate myself with the tributes to the police in recognition of the service that they provide and the complexity and difficulty of their work. People in this country are conscious of their police force and we should be grateful for the support that people get from them in tackling all levels of crime.
My Lords, I join in the general thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, for raising this useful debate. Indeed, it was daunting for an admiral to look at the expertise among the speakers on this subject. I have learnt a great deal today and I am sure that all of us have found the debate very useful. I hope that I will be able to answer the bulk of the questions but, if not, I will come back to try to answer them.
It is worth saying that during the past 11 years the Government have revolutionised the crime-fighting and policing landscape. As a Government, we have provided record levels of funding—as my noble friend Lord Judd articulated—delivered record numbers of police officers and introduced police community support officers. The noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, said how useful they are. We have created new powers and new partnerships, delivered against challenging targets—to which I shall return—and invested in new technology; all of which have seen crime fall by a third since 1997.
We have transformed policing by introducing neighbourhood policing teams as a means whereby people become engaged in setting local priorities and making their communities safer. A number of speakers touched on that. It is an important area and an important route to go down. In April 2008 we will mark the real start of this new approach, whereby every person in England and Wales is able to contact a dedicated team for their area. Again, my noble friend Lord Judd raised that point, but neighbourhood policing was raised by almost everyone.
However, we must not delude ourselves. We look ahead to some real challenges. Not only must we continue to cut crime and make communities safer, but we need to secure the confidence of communities in doing so. A number of speakers alluded to the fact that that confidence is not necessarily there. We are serving a public that, quite rightly, expect and deserve better information, improved accountability and timely and effective solutions across all of our public services. In tackling crime, one of our greatest challenges is meeting the needs and expectations of the public, winning their confidence and bringing them in as part of the solution. A number of speakers touched on that issue.
Although crime has fallen by a third during the past 11 years, there is no doubt that the general perception is that it is rising, as a number of speakers have said. It is remarkable, but that is the perception. This matters because when crime falls, but people do not believe it, it means that they do not recognise the action that has been taken or the progress that has been made. This means that they are less likely to work with us by reporting and preventing crime. I shall consider the importance of Crimestoppers in a moment. There is no doubt that this frightfully important perception matters. It does not matter whether it is real or not; somehow we have to change that perception. We have to change the perception that the police are not visible enough.
That is why we have put public confidence at the heart of the Home Secretary’s strategic priorities for policing and the new Make Communities Safer PSA. This new PSA places a stronger focus on more serious violence and provides greater flexibility for local partners to deliver local priorities, with an emphasis on increasing public confidence through improved quality of service from the police.
That was an important initial burst on where we have come from and I shall now deal with some of the specifics. The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, touched particularly on neighbourhood policing and I hope that my comments have shown that we are focusing on that. We will roll out neighbourhood policing teams in every area by the end of this year. This marks three years of hard work by forces and the rollout is only the start of this story. The next phase is to ensure that such teams are embedded into core policing activities and that effective partnerships are developed with other community safety agencies to tackle local priorities. It may be worth mentioning that I am going to Cambridge, and a number of Ministers are going to various other areas, as part of a nationwide rollout of neighbourhood policing to meet those involved, together with PCSOs, and to talk about the safer neighbourhood strategy. I hope to learn a lot more about it because I think that it is absolutely the right way to go.
The noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, spoke about the third sector and Crimestoppers, and the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, gave a compelling speech about the things that have been achieved. The noble Baronesses, Lady Chalker and Lady Hanham, also talked about that. I know Mick Laurie, the director, very well. He is an ex-Army general, who worked for me for a number of years and he is a very good man. Indeed, shortly after coming to this post, I talked to him about this specific issue because I was interested in knowing whether there was some roll-on in terms of counterterrorism that might be of use, and whether people were phoning up about other people whom they suspected of being involved with extremists, and so on. I know that Mr Laurie recently spoke to the Home Secretary, who strongly supports, and recognises the quality of, the work done by the third sector in general and Crimestoppers in particular.
We are committed to creating conditions to make the third sector thrive. It is crucial and people are getting involved in it. We are trying to develop funding arrangements that will give security—a point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington. In the current year, as noble Lords know, the funding for Crimestoppers is over £1 million, £900,000 of which is core funding, and £50,000 has recently been given to the Metropolitan Police to pilot a new service aimed at allowing young people to contact Crimestoppers anonymously. Therefore, we are trying to develop some of these issues.
We are implementing a new third sector skills strategy and investing more than £85 million of new resources in developing third sector infrastructure. As I said, I hope that we will be able to develop a funding line that will give Crimestoppers some security in the future. However, I can say that there is no danger of that stopping at the moment because we accept that Crimestoppers is extremely valuable and very important. As I said, the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, mentioned some cases that showed exactly the sort of thing that can be achieved. People’s involvement in this is very important. It is not just a matter for the police, the security services and the public sector; it is important to get people involved. The link to SOCA is also very important. As I said, it would be nice if there were some spin-off in the area of counterterrorism, but that is not the driver for this; the driver has to be within the crime sector.
My noble friend Lord Simon rightly raised the issue of traffic police and said how vital policing on the roads is. I agree entirely. Of course, decisions on the allocation of resources, including for roads policing, are matters for chief constables and police authorities. If we articulated too strongly exactly how things should be done, that would run counter to what we want in terms of what, in the military sense, I call “mission command”—that is, allowing people to get on with what they see as the issues within their own areas. However, my noble friend is absolutely right that these things are crucial.
My noble friend mentioned automatic number plate reading technology, which has been a huge step forward. It was originally developed in Northern Ireland and its use is now spreading here. It allows police officers to focus more effectively on criminals using the roads. The fixed site and mobile units are reporting significant successes in this area, which I think we all welcome.
My noble friend Lord Simon also mentioned police fleet management. This is not an area in which I am deeply involved but I share his concerns. With 43 police forces, we are talking about not just cars but a whole raft of issues—for example, communications and the very few helicopters that we can afford. It is not very clever if there is not always cohesion in moving forward on procurement so that we achieve the best value for money across all 43 forces, taking into account issues of compatibility and so on. However, it is good to see cohesion where we have been pushing for best-value reviews with police authorities. Thames Valley and Bedfordshire police are a classic example of where the forces successfully converged their fleet management. I think that this needs to be expanded, and my noble friend is absolutely right that this is something that we need to move forward on more.
We must never be complacent about deaths on the roads, which are an appalling and dreadful waste. The fact that the statistics for this country are better than those in a lot of places in Europe does not mean that we can sit back and say that that is fine. Such deaths are appalling. Over the past years, we have put a lot of effort into the problem of drink-driving, but it is dreadful to see that its incidence creeps up slightly. I think all of us in this House would say that we have to keep the pressure on that because of the devastation that it causes.
The issue of targets was raised, as were the problems that they cause. The new government targets announced on 9 October give much more prominence to tackling more serious crime, particularly the most serious violent crime and acquisitive crime. However, as was set out in our new crime strategy, launched last year, overall we are reducing the number of central targets and trying to give much greater flexibility to those at the front line to respond to local priorities. While government targets set the strategic direction for police services, it is for forces to exercise discretion in balancing those targets against local priorities. The Flanagan report stated that targets had achieved considerable successes and had moved things forward. From my experience in the Navy, I can say that, although it is sometimes very uncomfortable to have targets set for you—and they have to be cleverly worded—good leaders use them to ensure better delivery and do not use them as an excuse to say, “This is why we are doing something else”. I think that we have to be very careful in forming a view on targets because before we had them there was no way of measuring certain things. They can be irksome at times when you think that someone is monitoring you and that that person does not necessarily trust you and feels that you have to deliver something, but I am afraid that that is what a Government and a service have to demand to ensure that we get the right sort of delivery.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Dear, asked why Flanagan had not addressed things more widely in his review. We were very grateful to Sir Ronnie Flanagan for both his reports and, as I said, we will respond to the recommendations shortly. There has been an interim response but there will be a much more detailed one in due course. A number of speakers asked exactly when that would be available. I hope that the detailed response will be out very soon. Easter and other things will delay it but it will be issued very shortly.
A number of noble Lords talked about the Green Paper on policing. I will come back to that later but I very much hope that we will issue it before the Summer Recess. No doubt, my team in the Box are now shrieking with horror and are about to sprint out of the Chamber, but that is certainly what I hope will happen because it is a crucial piece of work. As a number of speakers said, it will have to address an awful lot of issues and we need to get it right.
The noble Baroness and a number of other speakers referred to bureaucracy and red tape. None of us wants to see excessive bureaucracy, but I fear that there has been too much of that within the police. Sir Ronnie’s report contains a package of measures to reduce unnecessary police bureaucracy that could save time equivalent to 3,000 police officers. In response to the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, we are implementing some of the things that she mentioned now. We are cracking on straight away because we certainly need to stop that sort of bureaucracy. It clearly upsets a number of officers, and I do not blame them. Again, I go back to my own experience within the Navy. It is amazing how people further up the chain start throwing out extra report forms to see what is going on, and that often stops people getting on with what they are meant to be doing. We need to look into that carefully. There is a place for certain reports, but we need to monitor the matter—we have to ensure that it does not get in the way of the job being done.
I admit to being caught out on the question of the Bexley pilot, and the Box has been caught out as well. Perhaps I may get back to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, on that point.
The noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Dear, raised the issue of selection of senior police officers and touched on the requirement for training for senior police officers, which is extremely important. I am looking at my response, but I am not 100 per cent happy with it. I know from being part of a very large structured organisation that you have to go through that sort of mechanism very carefully. In military terms one has the Royal College of Defence Studies, the Higher Command and Staff Course and so on and I know that there are certain colleges in the police service. This is so important that we need to look at it quite closely so I should like to take it away for consideration. It is an important area and if it is not right, we need to get it right. Only by doing that will we have the right people to drive forward all the changes that we need to make.
On bureaucracy, I know that the Home Secretary wrote to the right honourable David Davis, showing how 9,000 forms had been abolished. That rather worries me because if 9,000 forms have been got rid of and everything moves on normally, then maybe things were not right. Thank goodness we are actually tackling that.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, raised the issue of perceptions, which I have touched on, and their importance. He also mentioned targets and the police in the future. I understand where the noble Lord is coming from because there have been such huge changes in the world, and that is partly the reason why we have produced the national security strategy, on which I shall respond to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, later. Those changes have impacted on all areas of public life, not just on the police. It would be wrong to say that we have just tinkered with the police and that the previous Government, the Conservative Government, just tinkered with the police.
Over the years, a number of changes have been made. Although, in the Green Paper, we shall have to consider clearly where the police force is going, we cannot expect a root-and-branch statement of total change because every public sector area has had to change over the past 100 years. The changes that have taken place are not just tinkering. After the previous debate on this subject, I looked very closely at the possibility of a royal commission and it did not make sense—that was not the way to go—but I hope that the Green Paper will address some of those matters. I hope that we shall have an answer that satisfies this House and the police service that things are moving in the right direction.
I believe that our police force will be able to handle the London Olympics. That does not mean that we do not have a huge amount of work to do. I have just changed the structure of how security will be looked at for the Olympics. We have produced a proper risk assessment because there was not one before and stemming from that will be a fully costed and detailed security plan, which we shall have to amend as time goes on. Does that mean that there will be changes in certain areas? Yes, it does.
Various noble Lords asked what the impact will be on the whole of the United Kingdom when this event takes place. This is a gigantic event when one considers the sheer numbers of people involved. During the Games all sorts of other things will be going on. I believe it will be the Queen’s jubilee, or some such event, and there are the normal events such as the Notting Hill Carnival, Cowes week and Henley; they all have to be looked after in the same timeframe. Yes, I believe our police can do it and we are putting in place the right measures. It is highly complicated. The linkages and the interdependences are great but we shall get there. I have a number of people putting a great deal of effort into this. So far we are probably ahead of any other nation that has put on the Olympics. I have to admit that we have more problems than, say, the Games in Sydney where the geographic position made matters easier than it is for us in this country.
The noble Lord raised the issue of empowering local people. We will make local crime data available on a monthly and a consistent basis to people by July this year, which I hope will help them to understand community safety issues. I hope that covers that point.
I shall turn to the very good points raised by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. Cybercrime is an issue about which I have been particularly worried. Perhaps in the past we have not taken it as seriously as we should have. The Government and I take this seriously. I have been in touch with the Cabinet Office to try to ensure that we start doing the right things. We have a range of public and private-sector initiatives which have been mentioned by a number of speakers: for example, there is Get Safe Online, which lets people know and understand this issue. The noble Viscount is absolutely right—I was not aware of this until I started to look into it—that this issue worries more people in the UK than many other crimes such as burglaries, muggings, car thefts and so on. It is a real worry and people are right to be worried.
We are taking the matter seriously—I must not call it unimportant as it is bloody important for people who lose things. The subject covers wider matters, such as security of the state as well. There are some real issues here; it is highly complicated and very difficult. One has to put against it the fact that we are probably the leading e-commerce economy in Europe and one of the leading such economies in the world. That is why we are so successful in a globalised way, but we have to get this right because if we do not we shall be in real trouble. I thank the noble Viscount for raising the issue. We have much to do.
The noble Viscount also raised the issue of DNA. That should be a debate in itself and I hope it will be. I will not go on about that but there is no doubt at all, as the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, mentioned, that DNA is a wonderful tool for getting people who have done dreadful things. However, there are so many other aspects to the subject that we need to debate them. I am sure everyone would agree with that.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for all the data and statistics that he raised.
I realise that I have gone on far too long but I would like to turn to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I thank him for his welcome and his unexpected accolade for this Government. I have never had a problem with bureaucrats; I can normally handle them quite well. I think his view of the Home Office is rather an old view of the Home Office; it is a very different place now. A national security strategy is very impressive. I have not been able to answer all the questions that have been put and I am sorry that I have not got on to the issue of counterfeiting because I wanted to touch on that. Perhaps I can reply in writing. I am aware that I have gone well over my time.
My Lords, I am greatly encouraged by the part of the Minister's speech which dealt with the future finances of Crimestoppers. I shall read and reread that part over and over again. Those taking part in this debate have more than justified my hopes. I thank them all very much indeed. I wish all noble Lords a happy Easter. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
rose to call attention to the position of refugees from the conflict in Iraq; and to move for Papers.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Trumpington for allowing me a short time from her debate, which would have otherwise gone the full five hours. Actually, with the noble Lord, Lord West, replying, that was probably about what was needed.
The issues surrounding the conflict in Iraq are of the utmost importance. They have been thrown into sharp relief by the fact that this week is the fifth anniversary of the invasion. In our debates, nothing should be more important than the plight of the 4 million refugees that the conflict has caused. They often live in appalling conditions, having been driven from their homes—men, women and, most tragic of all, children.
I last raised Iraq in a debate in the House on 24 January. I argued then for a full-scale inquiry to be set up and I repeat that call today. I do not intend to repeat all the arguments that I used then; suffice it to say that the impact of the conflict on the people of Iraq has been catastrophic. Probably 100,000 or 150,000 people have been killed in the violence that has followed the invasion; some would put the figure higher. Torture has become commonplace. Over 2 million people have had to flee the country altogether to surrounding states such as Syria, Jordan and Lebanon, while another 2 million have been internally displaced in Iraq itself, forced to flee their homes and manage as best they can. In January, the Minister said that the Government accepted the case in principle for an inquiry. The noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, frankly said that there were “enormously important” questions to be answered and that the issue was not whether there should be an inquiry but when it should be held.
Since then the Prime Minister has repeated his acceptance of the case for an inquiry, as reported by the Independent earlier this week, but has again refused to commit himself to when. Although we are now at the fifth anniversary and our troop commitment is down to 4,500 and reducing, Mr Brown argues that an inquiry would “divert attention” away from the need to rebuild Iraq. That argument should not be accepted. If there are lessons to be learnt from this tragedy, that is best done when memories are fresh and when the need for an inquiry is agreed as urgent both by the original opponents of the invasion and by those who supported it. History is also against delay. If the Asquith Government in 1916, in the midst of the First World War, could have an inquiry into the Dardanelles when Britain itself was directly threatened, we should be able to manage an inquiry five years after the start of the Iraq conflict. Above all, the Prime Minister’s argument should not be accepted, because some lessons need to be learnt now if action is to be taken to help to deal with the problems identified. Top of that list is the welfare of 4 million refugees.
The Middle East faces the worst refugee crisis since 1948. Ironically, it is the neighbouring countries to Iraq—Syria, Jordan and Lebanon—that took no part in the invasion that now have to cope with some of the most serious consequences. There is an obvious strain on resources and capacity, and the result is that children are being brought up without education or stability and often in fear. We should not forget either that young people are being radicalised by those experiences. An excellent Channel 4 report on Sunday night contained an interview with a young teenage boy. In spite of the continuing violence, he wanted to return to Iraq. Why? So that he could join the struggle against the Americans. Refugees can easily be turned into extremists, as I remember from the 1970s when I reported on the position of two Palestinian camps in Lebanon. The sub-editors put on my report the headline “Camps of Hate”, which I thought at the time was too loud. In fact, that was exactly what they were. We allowed that position to fester and had no adequate response, and we have seen some of the consequences.
I shall give the basic position so far as the Iraqi refugees are concerned. I take the figures from the UNHCR and Amnesty International, and pay tribute to both organisations. Syria has taken the greatest number of Iraqis forced to flee their country, 1.4 million. According to Amnesty, most of them experience acute economic difficulties, mainly because they are not allowed to work and are at risk of detention and deportation for overstaying their visas. Some have been forced to return to Iraq, but Amnesty says that,
“many of those who returned found that their homes were occupied and they became internally displaced ... UNHCR warned that Iraqis were once again leaving Iraq for Syria in greater numbers than they were returning”.
In Jordan, there are a further 500,000 Iraqis. Of course, Jordan already has a formidable problem of Palestinian refugees. I saw something of their conditions a few months ago when I was there. There is inadequate housing and overcrowded classes for the children—although at least they have schooling from some dedicated teachers. Jordan is not a rich country and understandably is concerned not only about the influx but about the violence spreading. When I met one of the senior Ministers in Jordan, he was quick to correct me when I used the word “refugees”. The Government regard them not as refugees but as temporary “guests”, who they hope will be able to return to Iraq as early as possible. In the mean time, however, it is Jordan that has to cope.
In Lebanon, there are estimated to be a further 50,000 Iraqis. As Human Rights Watch reports, Lebanon is a country of only 4 million people including, again, over 250,000 Palestinian refugees. It is a reluctant host and treats many Iraqis as illegal immigrants.
Then, of course, there are the internally dispersed people inside Iraq itself. Once again, I point the House to Marie Colvin in the Sunday Times, whose reports from Iraq have been in the highest traditions of British journalism. Last Sunday she reported that children in one camp are,
“grubby, bundled up in as many clothes as their parents can find to ward off wintry temperatures in the tents on a rubbish dump in northern Iraq that they now call home. They wrap their feet in plastic bags to walk through the mud to school”.
That is part of the position there.
On any analysis, the position is desperately serious. The question for the House is how well we in Britain are responding to it. Has the response from the Government matched the gravity of the suffering? Have we who were partners with the Americans in the invasion recognised and met our responsibilities? Those are questions for us all—those who opposed the invasion from the start and those who, like me, supported it and want an inquiry to see among other things whether the information that we were given at the time was inadequate and whether the process of government itself was deficient.
Let us look at the present. I fear that the answer to the question whether we are doing enough is, frankly, no, we are not. My attention first came to this issue because of the plight of the interpreters who worked for the British forces and the British administration in Iraq. I raised the issue on the Floor of the House in April and again in June because I felt that, if ever this country had a direct responsibility, it was in relation to them. Ministers came to the Dispatch Box and frankly stonewalled, but then there was a media campaign in July and August by the Times and the BBC. Suddenly the Government became engaged and a carefully confined scheme was announced.
Any inquiry set up should urgently examine whether that scheme meets our responsibilities to the men and women who have worked for the British in Iraq, who often face danger to their own lives and whose families share that danger. Is it a generous response to people who have helped us or is it the least that the Government can get away with? An inquiry should examine whether the limit of 600 on staff and dependants to be helped is an adequate response and whether the condition of 12 months’ continuous employment after January 2005 is unduly restrictive. I believe that an Iraqi interpreter who has worked for the British for, say, seven months is in just as much danger as the official group. I doubt very much whether the would-be assassin makes too many discriminations so far as length of service is concerned. If you work for another British organisation, such as a newspaper, you also place yourself in peril of attack. Perhaps—I put it no higher—we owe some debt to those Iraqis who have directly helped our understanding of what is happening in Iraq.
I am pleased to read that seven interpreters are being resettled here but, in all conscience, that is a small number. The reports that I am receiving indicate that even those whose applications have been accepted face months of delay before resettlement takes place—delay when they remain named targets as spies. I am told of other cases where the applicant has certainly worked for the British but where the application has been turned down. One such case was that of the tailor on one of our Army bases, which has now been closed down. “A tailor?”, I can hear people say. Yes, a tailor who put himself in danger by working for us but whom we do not intend to help in any way. He now lives in exile in Syria. At the beginning of March, he wrote a letter to Dan Hardie, who has done much to help in this area, saying that, day by day, his money is running out. He is caught in a position where he can neither go home nor live in Syria. The final irony is that, as he said, one day he found by chance an Iraqi translator working with British forces. He told the translator that there was a United Kingdom programme for former Iraqi translators—the translator had had no idea. The translator asked how to send an application and the tailor gave him the details. The net result was that he helped the Iraqi translator to resettlement in this country, but not himself.
I wonder just how generous and welcoming we are being to people who have directly helped us and put themselves in danger. I was in no way encouraged by the story in the Guardian this week that 1,400 rejected Iraqi asylum seekers are to be told that they must return to Iraq or face destitution in Britain, as the Government now consider travel back to Iraq to be both “possible and reasonable”. The story said:
“The Secretary of State considered that travel to Iraq from the United Kingdom is both possible and reasonable. Therefore these Iraqi nationals no longer qualify for support under”,
the criterion under which they were originally staying with us.
Let us remember that the cases of the interpreters—and even the 1,400 asylum seekers—are only the tip of the refugee iceberg. They are important in themselves and they are important for the attitude that is revealed of the British Government, but we also need to know just how much we are helping refugees in other countries and those living elsewhere in Iraq. Again, the evidence is not remotely encouraging. According to the ministerial reply on 21 January, in 2007 the money specifically targeted to help displaced Iraqis was £15 million to help 4 million refugees. The United Nations Refugee Agency tells me that, in 2007, it sought £62 million to help in the Iraq region; the British contribution was £3 million. The agency also had a health and education programme with the WHO and UNICEF; the British contribution was zero.
For these reasons, this very day, Amnesty, Human Rights Watch, the International Rescue Committee and the Refugee Council have sent a joint letter to President Bush and Mr Brown, expressing their deep concern that so little has been done by their Governments to address the desperate plight of Iraqis who have been forced to flee their homes as a result of the ongoing conflict. Their letter summarises the case. Obviously, I pay tribute to the efforts being made in Iraq to restore some kind of stability. I pay tribute to the bravery of our troops, who are in a difficult situation. However, we cannot ignore the fact that most of those currently returning to Iraq are doing so not because of the improved security position but because their money has run out or their visas have expired. We cannot rely on an overnight transformation of the position that will set us all free.
The refugee crisis will continue. We need to recognise our duty to deal with this in as humane and as generous a manner as we can. If we do, perhaps some good can still come of this situation. It seems to me that we have a responsibility for what has happened and that we should not in any way seek to run away from it. My concern today is that we are not fulfilling our duty. I beg to move for Papers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord on his impeccable timing, five years after the war, and on his persistence in a good cause. He has been assiduous in his campaign on behalf of the interpreters and others, a good example of what an individual Peer can do with positive effects. My only quibble was with his point about including the plight of the refugees in any inquiry relating to the course of events leading up to the war. If one adds to “refugees” “and their plight in different countries”, one could almost go on indefinitely. It would perhaps be as long as the speech of the noble Lord, Lord West, which he mentioned.
It is also true that we in the UK must shoulder our responsibility in terms of hosting refugees in this country, financial assistance for refugees and the financial bill for internally displaced persons and others. I only suggest that if we look at the total contribution made by the United Kingdom under various headings, and compare that with some of the regional powers, such as Saudi Arabia and others, we in the UK would not be doing too badly.
The context in Iraq was clearly set out in the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees global appeal 2008-09, published last November and headed “Iraq Situation”. The document stresses the sheer complexity of the operational, logistical and political environment in Iraq, which makes it difficult for the UNHCR to implement its programme both within and outside the country. It describes the insecurity and immense economic and social challenges facing neighbouring countries, most of which have not acceded either to the 1951 refugee convention or to the 1967 protocol.
The UNHCR report states that Jordan and Syria have been most affected by the exodus. Syria has between 1.2 million and 1.4 million refugees, Jordan between 500,000 and 750,000. In addition, there are more than 2.2 million internally displaced persons. This massive movement to neighbouring countries has led to great strains on the infrastructure and social services, particularly education—as the noble Lord said about Jordan—and has led to both Jordan and Syria introducing visa restrictions on Iraqi refugees.
Understandably, our media concentrates on other matters, such as the surge in US troop deployment, the stalemate in Iraqi national politics and the date for the withdrawal of UK forces. However, the refugee exodus continues and the numbers mask individual tragedies such as the cases contained in Marie Colvin’s report of 16 March in the Sunday Times, mentioned by the noble Lord.
For the UK and other host countries, there are the usual problems in ascertaining the strength of individual claims, hence the number of refugees given exceptional or discretionary leave to remain. It is particularly difficult to find the right dividing line between those who understandably escape turbulence in their own country for a better life for themselves, and political refugees under the convention criteria—and, of course, to ascertain when it is safe for the refugees to return. The noble Lord is to be commended for his campaign of behalf of Iraqi employees of our Government and Armed Forces, including interpreters. Clearly, each case has to be judged on its merits, and I agree with the noble Lord that some of the criteria appear to be particularly restrictive. From the point of view of the assassin, any service counts: one week can be as relevant as one year. This should be re-examined by the Government. If a tailor worked for British troops, was that sufficiently proximate? Where does one stop? There has to be sufficiently proximate responsibility to give a person a reasonable case to be considered as a refugee.
I shall briefly raise the problem of another group whose claim is clear, but is often overlooked; namely, the Christian community in Iraq. I do so not in a spirit of asking for special privileges for that community, but rather to highlight its plight, which should be recognised. The Christian community is not mentioned in the UNHCR appeal. Christian communities are under pressure in many other countries in the Middle East, including the Maronite Christians in the Lebanon and even in the Palestine Authority, where many have been forced to leave because of increasing Islamic fundamentalism, measured in part by the wearing of the headdress and the way in which the secular Palestine Authority, rather like Gaza, is becoming Islamised to a greater extent than heretofore. These Christians share many of the same concerns as other Iraqis who also live outside the Iraq, below the poverty line, but there are special features of the Christian community that have helpfully been highlighted for me by Christian Solidarity Worldwide.
Christians are subject to physical attacks and social pressures from Sunni, Shi’ite and jihadist militias as well as from Kurdish nationalists in the Kurdish areas. They are left largely unprotected as they are the only group without its own militia. Hence, they form the largest proportion of refugees. In a NewsMax article on 24 October last year, Kenneth Timmerman alleged that Muslim caseworkers for the UNHCR often discriminate against the Christians they meet, and he cites various cases. I have also been given information by the World Council of Churches. It says:
“Although Christians represent only 4 per cent of Iraq’s population, they make up 40 per cent of its refugees. Their fate speaks twice, informing overseas churches about both the general humanitarian needs in Iraq and the urgency of saving Iraq’s Christian communities”.
On 13 March 2008, under the headline “Christians besieged in Iraq” BBC News said:
“The charity Barnabas says one of its partners in Iraq conducted research into 250 Iraqi Christians displaced to the north of the country a year ago and found nearly half had witnessed attacks on churches or Christians, or been personally targeted by violence.
Nobody knows how many of Iraq's Christians have now fled. Before the war there were estimated to be about 800,000 and Chaldeans were the largest Christian community in Iraq.
It is thought about half the Christian population of Iraq has moved - the majority to Syria, fewer to Jordan and some to northern Iraq.
Of the 1.5m Iraqi refugees in Syria it is assumed around 20% are Christian, but firm figures are hard to come by.
That means, as a proportion, Christians are massively over-represented in the Iraqi refugee population”.
The Jubilee Campaign also has alarming reports of ethnic and religious cleansing of Christian families in Iraq following threats. Whereas other groups with their own militias—the Sunnis, the Shia and the Arabs—have places to go in Iraq, that is not the case for the Christians who receive threats from Islamic militants demanding that they convert to Islam, pay Islamic tax levies on non-Muslims or leave the area. There appears to be a strategy by Muslim fundamentalists systematically to convert Christians to Islam or to drive them out of Baghdad. The ChaldoAssyrians make up more than 95 per cent of Iraq’s Christians, and they are the indigenous people of Iraq. We know that earlier this month the body of the Chaldean Catholic Archbishop was found. He had been kidnapped at the end of February and was only the most dramatic recent example of these pressures.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, posed the question of how we in the UK are responding. Are we doing enough in this refugee crisis? Turning to the situation of Iraqi refugees in the United Kingdom, on 13 March, the Guardian quoted a leaked letter from the Border and Immigration Agency of 6 March, signed by Claire Bennett. As the noble Lord said, it suggested that more than 1,400 rejected asylum seekers are to be given a deadline by which to go home or face destitution in the UK as the Government now apparently consider that Iraq is safe enough to return these failed refugees. Is that report accurate? Is it fair that these 1,400 people now face the threat of deportation? What is the policy of the Government? What is their assessment of the security situation in Iraq generally and in its different regions?
I notice that the BBC quotes the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Mr Guterres, who told it that it was time to start thinking about the possibility of returns, but it had to be established that conditions were right before going any further. It is the latter part—whether conditions are right—that is particularly relevant. How confident are the Government that their sources within Iraq relating to the reception of returning refugees are accurate? What is the Government’s assessment of the security situation? I mentioned the BBC and the UNHCR. The Red Crescent has apparently confirmed that up to 28,000 Iraqi refugees have returned home since mid-September but, as the noble Lord said, many of them have effectively been forced home by destitution or other pressures from the neighbouring countries. How many special charter flights to Erbil from the UK have there been since 2005 to return failed asylum seekers? How many failed asylum seekers have returned? In short, how do the Government see their policy evolving in the immediate future and are they confident in terms of meeting the claims of those who served us in Iraq in various capacities and those who have sought sanctuary in our country that we are responding adequately to our responsibilities?
My Lords, I echo the congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, that were expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, for raising the plight of Iraqi refugees five years to the day after the launching of the disastrous war that caused nearly 5 million people to flee their homes. We have heard the figures: there are 2.5 million internally displaced people—1 million to 1.5 million refugees in Syria, 450,000 in Jordan and some 500,000 in other countries in the region. Those are the ones who survived. The estimates of civilian deaths range from the 82,000 enumerated by Iraq Body Count up to the 1 million given in the Lancet, plus the 800,000 people who were severely wounded, as given in yesterday’s Guardian. The Americans learnt from Vietnam not to count civilian deaths, so there will be never be exact numbers, but we do know that 4,230 coalition soldiers and 1,020 contractors’ staff have died so far, including 174 Britons.
The situation is not that much better today, as a number of recent reports demonstrate. Amnesty International says in its report, Carnage and Despair, that the security situation is not improving and that there is no incentive for people to go back. Indeed, they are still leaving Iraq in droves. A UNHCR survey showed that the flow of refugees to 43 industrialised countries, having slackened for a while, began to accelerate in 2006 and doubled between 2006 and 2007. As the countries in the region close their borders to Iraqis—particularly Syria which, although paradoxically not a signatory to the convention, has always allowed free entry from all other Arab countries in the past—there will be even greater pressure on European countries, including Britain. Egypt, with 130,000 Iraqi refugees, has closed its borders, and Jordan discourages refugees by making them pay for basic services. Only Lebanon recognises Iraqis as refugees and grants them full rights, including the right to work.
Here in the UK, Iraq was top of the list of asylum source countries in the last quarter of 2007, and that is likely to be the pattern of the future. Yet in these circumstances, as we have heard from both the noble Lords, Lord Fowler and Lord Anderson, the Border and Immigration Agency has written to lawyers and other agencies acting on behalf of refugees saying that because there is now a viable route for return, failed asylum seekers are to have their Section 4 support cut off, even though, if they return, they may risk serious harm as defined in Article 15(c) of European Council Directive 2004/83/EC,
“by reason of indiscriminate violence in situations of ... armed conflict”.
There are court cases in the national courts of Germany and the UK and in the European Court of Justice on the construction of this provision, and it may well turn out to be unlawful to have made these persons destitute. Equally, it may be unlawful to hold them in detention, as in one case in which the destination was Baghdad, even though the Foreign and Commonwealth Office says that it is not safe for any British citizen to travel there. The effect is that no escort can be provided for this person to return, which may be the reason for the delay.
There is an incompatibility between the policies of the FCO and the Home Office that needs to be resolved, and we suggest in the mean time that the BIA letter of 6 March should be withdrawn pending discussions between the two departments. We also ask that the detention of all Iraqis other than Kurds, who may be returned safely to the northern governorates, be reviewed.
The Refugee Legal Centre has dealt with a number of cases in which Iraqi clients have been detained pending deportation but who have then been found to have valid legal claims to remain. These cases, which the centre must generally undertake within very short deadlines, take up a great deal of time and show that the initial examination of claims does not work properly and that the procedures need to be reviewed in consultation with agencies such as ILPA and the RLC.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, mentioned that 24 international NGOs are calling on the US and UK to face up to their responsibilities and to deal with the humanitarian needs that we engendered by the reckless folly of the invasion. They are asking for a substantial increase in aid to the internally displaced and to the refugees in the region. It makes obvious sense to give far greater priority to creating the conditions that would enable the internally displaced and returnees to get back to a normal life, and the OCHA appeal for 2008 calls for a budget of $265 million for that purpose. The International Organisation for Migration says that its two-year appeal for IDPs is only 28 per cent funded, and presumably other agencies are in the same boat. Will the Minister say what contributions we are making to the OCHA appeal, to the IOM appeal and to the UNHCR appeal, and whether we are helping to mobilise proportional contributions from other states, particularly from members of the coalition? What is the Government’s response to the International Rescue Committee’s calculation that the response to the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world has been wholly inadequate and that the amount needed is some $3 billion to $4 billion, of which the US should pay half? No doubt the Minister can work out what our proportion of that money should be.
Of course, the effective delivery of aid not only requires the progressive improvement in security, which will rely increasingly on Iraqi forces over the coming year as the coalition withdraws, but, as the Brookings-Bern meeting in January recorded, relies on a number of factors such as the willingness of the Iraqi Government to acknowledge the rights of IDPs; the capacity of their Ministries to deliver on the ground; the permanence of the separation between ethnic and religious communities, or of accommodation between the communities in some mixed enclaves; the stability of the Governments in Syria, Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt; and the willingness of those states to continue accommodating large numbers of Iraqis. Brookings has also just published an important study on the future of Kirkuk, which is home to 20 per cent of Iraq’s oil wealth and a region with a mixed population of Arab, Turcoman, Kurdish and Christian communities, to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, referred.
Last week, I met Abbas al-Bayati MP, general secretary of the Islamic Union of Iraqi Turcomans, who told me that his party was opposed to the referendum that is proposed for the region and that was intended to be conducted before the end of last year under Article 140 of the constitution. Unfortunately, Article 140 is unclear on a number of points, including the precise area to which it applies and whether it should give voters the option to designate Kirkuk as a separate region as opposed to becoming part of the Kurdish region or remaining under the control of Baghdad. Mr al-Bayati wants the former, but he says that the referendum is not really the answer because unanimity is needed on the detailed legislation to put it into effect.
As of March last year, 132,000 property claims had been made by IDPs to the claims commission, including 50,000 from Kirkuk alone, and only a fraction of them had been decided. The IOM estimates that, at the present rate of progress, it will take 30 years to deal with the existing case load, and that probably thousands more claims would be lodged if there were any confidence in the process. Do the Government have any ideas on how to remove the constitutional impasse of Article 140 and how to accelerate the settlement of property claims?
On the neighbours, we understand that Iraq has voted a mere $25 million for assistance to their refugees in Jordan, Syria and Lebanon, which is only a tiny fraction of the help that they, particularly the women, need to survive. There have been several reports of desperate women and girls—as many as 50,000, according to one Iraqi women’s group—being forced into prostitution in Syria. The UNHCR says that because the Syrians do not allow the refugees to work, the refugees starve if they have exhausted their savings and have no family to send them money from abroad. Some tens of thousands did return home, but many women fled with their children after their husbands were killed, so if they go back, they have no support or protection.
The EU voted €50 million to pay for the health and education of Iraqi children in Syria and Jordan, and UNICEF has just allocated $5 million for Iraqi refugee children and women in Syria. But first they need to eat, even if that means working illegally for $1 a day, as many children do. I was glad to see that the World Food Programme was distributing essential items to 145,000 targeted refugees who had been identified by the UNHCR. But the World Food Programme said, which the UNHCR confirmed, that it was $113 million short of its targeted appeal for the year.
Jordan also needs a lot of help. On Tuesday, their Government officials asked for $416 million for education, $248 million for health and $423 million for the expansion of Jordan’s oil refinery, all to enable them to cope with the estimated 450,000 refugees that they are hosting. Those sums dwarf the amounts which have been allocated by the international community, let alone actually paid over. But why should the Jordanian people have to foot the bill for a crisis that was not of their own making? Does the Minister accept that huge burdens are being placed on neighbouring countries as a direct result of our invasion of Iraq? Does he accept that if there had been no invasion, the 4.5 million people who are now destitute and rootless would be living peacefully in their own home and benefiting from the infrastructure that we destroyed, which is now having to be replaced at a cost of billions of dollars?
Is the Minister satisfied that the many demands for humanitarian assistance within Iraq and in the region are being met effectively by the many agencies involved now that the UN has appointed Mr David Shearer as humanitarian co-ordinator? What extra staff will the UN provide him with in Baghdad to back him up? Finally, do the Government accept that we need to do more by way of widening the scope of our resettlement programmes, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, beyond those who were employed by our Government? Will the UK comply in the first place with the request made by the UNHCR for 131 resettlement places under the Gateway programme, carefully confined, as the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, said, to former employees of the Ministry of Defence? Is that really the best that we can do? I know that we have not lifted a finger to help the couple of hundred Iranians in the so-called Temporary International Presence Facility, which indicates that there may be a lack of sympathy for many other vulnerable people. The International Rescue Committee calls for an increase in the number of Iraqis accepted for settlement in the US from 12,000 to 30,000 and a proportionate number for European countries. Will we discuss that with our friends in Washington and Brussels?
The invasion of Iraq was a crime against humanity that resulted in the deaths and disablement of a very large number of human beings—men, women and children. We cannot do anything to bring back those who have died or to restore the mutilated victims of our military operations and of the terrorism that it evoked to their former health and strength. But we can and should make amends to the survivors for their suffering over the past five years. We and the Americans should do far more to help Iraq create the conditions for everyone to return to their home and resume a normal life.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, not just for securing this debate but for the determination with which, as I was reminded while going through the press cuttings in preparing for this debate, he has pursued this issue over considerable time. I am sorry that in a Conservative debate of this sort he is so thinly supported on the Conservative Benches. This is an important issue, which I hope that he and others will continue to push on all sides.
Post-invasion Iraq is one of the major failings of British and American planning. Since the Minister may say this, let me say for him that we all recognise that the previous regime was dreadful and that it created refugees and internally displaced people. Saddam Hussein’s behaviour towards the Marsh Arabs, the Shia and other minorities was appalling. But Prime Minister Blair told us that we were going into Iraq to make things better. As we can see from the opinion polls, many people in Iraq think that we have made things worse. That is a huge failure of a misplanned invasion, whose implications were not thought through and whose consequences have not been dealt with. Previous speakers have talked about where the refugees are. As we all know, they are primarily in Syria and in Jordan, with a significant number, particularly Christians, in the Lebanon.
Part of the continuing failure of American and British policy for the region is the extent to which different policies are being pursued towards different countries. The United States, above all, is pursuing an Israel/Palestine-led policy towards Syria, Jordan and the Lebanon. Even in the past few days, I have read in the American press that the Americans are thinking again of moving in against Hezbollah in the Lebanon and that the rest of the Lebanese population would turn against Hezbollah if the Americans started to bomb civilian infrastructure. That is a disastrous approach to the region.
The United States is refusing to talk to Syria. One needs to talk to Syria about a number of things, including the refugees. Similarly, the United States has just sacked a very senior admiral for suggesting that it needs to deal on a rather more intelligent and open basis with Iran. Anyone who knew the smallest bit about Iraq knew that removing Saddam Hussein would directly increase the influence of Iran on Iraq. The refusal to recognise the very evident link between those two is part of what has been wrong with American policy, which all too often, sadly, our Government have followed.
I read the Washington press and get cuttings from Haaretz and other media in Israel. I read about the Israeli-American determination that we need to support the Sunnis against the Shias across the region because Hezbollah and Hamas are supported by Iran: therefore, there is a Shia conspiracy and, therefore, we need to arm the Sunnis. The most disastrous development for the Middle East as a whole would be to encourage what my noble friend Lord Ashdown described the other day as a Middle East civil war between Sunni and Shia that would stretch from Afghanistan to Egypt. However, that is what some people in Washington are encouraging at the moment. In approaching policy towards Iraq—the territory where the Sunni-Shia conflict has been most acute—we should recognise our responsibilities for the whole region and the need, as Liberal Democrats have been strongly arguing, for a policy towards the whole region, into which policy towards Iraq, Iran, Syria and Israel/Palestine needs to fit.
As part of the refugee problem, we now have no-go areas in the cities in Iraq—above all in Baghdad but also in Kirkuk and Basra—which means that people cannot go back to their old homes. That is part of the problem of internal displacement and of refugees. Unleashing sectarian fundamentalism has been one of the most unfortunate results of the invasion. It distresses me that there are still those within the Washington international community who think that harnessing the forces of sectarian fundamentalism for western aims is what one should be doing.
Then there is the Kurdish issue. Some internally displaced people are being created—noble Lords have particularly spoken about Kirkuk—about whom, again, we have no coherent policy. There is one policy towards Turkey and another towards Iraqi Kurdistan. The two have just got very badly across each other with the recent Turkish incursion into northern Iraq. There are other minorities such as the Chaldean Christians, about whom the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, spoke powerfully. Evidence suggests that a disproportionate number of these refugees—Christians, Sunnis, Turkomans and Shias—are professional; they are the middle classes on whom we would wish the Iraqi economy and society to be rebuilt. We all understand that safe return requires law and order to be re-established, the economy to be revised and—if, sadly, people cannot go back to their own homes—new areas to be developed.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has usefully and doggedly pursued the issue of interpreters who worked for the British forces. The noble Lord, Lord West, said last October in Answer to a Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler:
“I agree entirely that we have a moral obligation to look after people who have worked with our forces abroad”.—[Official Report, 8/10/07; col. 2.]
We are failing to fulfil that moral obligation. I hope that the Minister, in answering the debate, will give us some useful figures on what is happening under the gateway scheme. Reading through some of the earlier Answers to Questions on the gateway scheme, I was extremely confused. If I understand correctly, there has been only one formal application so far—that was according to one Written Answer. Another Written Answer said that no applicants have yet been resettled. Yet another Written Answer said that the UNHCR has submitted 131 applications. We are being very slow and reluctant in our approach to a scheme for these people. The Foreign Secretary said last October that Her Majesty’s Government have directly employed many thousands of Iraqis over the past five years. Well, bully for her Majesty’s Government if they have accepted their responsibilities towards one of those people, but that seems to me rather slow.
We read that the Danes, who have had a smaller effort in Iraq, have directly airlifted out of Iraq to Denmark some 400 people with their families. Incidentally, I know that many on the Conservative Benches have criticised other European Governments for not pulling their weight on a number of things, but the Danes and others have pulled their weight pretty well. The Danes were in Bosnia and are now in Afghanistan and Iraq. There are areas in which some of our European partners put us to shame.
On the overall responsibility towards refugees, Sweden also puts us to shame. The last time that I saw the Swedish figures, Sweden had accepted some 50,000 refugees from Iraq. If one multiplies that relative to our population, we would be talking about a quarter of a million Iraqi refugees in Britain. Again, our record compares badly with those of our European partners who did not participate in the decision to overthrow the Saddam Hussein regime.
I have a specific question for the Minister. How many applications both from people who worked for British forces and from Iraqi refugees has the United Kingdom so far accepted and how does that compare with other European and North American states? This is, after all, part of the legacy of the invasion. We broke it, so we have to pay for it and repair it. This is a Labour Government; it is the Government of a party that used to stand for international co-operation and for the acceptance of responsibility. However, it seems to us that we have here a denial of responsibility and a backsliding on obligations to refugees.
My Lords, I offer my warmest thanks to my noble friend Lord Fowler for securing the debate and to all other noble Lords who have spoken. My noble friend, in his tireless fashion, raised the issue of Iraqi refugees. In this short debate we have heard what have been to my mind extremely impressive speeches from the Benches of all three political parties, and one just has to hope that what we say this afternoon will do some good and move the thinking forward in a positive way.
This is a story which is certainly five years old today, as has been said. The timing is excellent, and it is a story which is both shameful and tragic. It is called the “hidden crisis” because, as the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, the public do not seem to be fully aware of the sheer scale of the misery and horror, as well as the numbers involved. That is in part because the refugees and their problems are scattered throughout the Middle East and not concentrated in one visible, media-viewable site. I shall deal with the shameful side of this issue first. It concerns the way in which Iraqi citizens who were formerly employed by the Ministry of Defence, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Department for International Development are being treated. The matter has been raised by my noble friend Lord Fowler and the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in considerable detail. I shall come to it myself in a moment.
In turn, it is part of a bigger and deeply tragic picture of millions of Iraqis. Some say that the figure is 4 million or so, of whom around half have been displaced while the remainder have fled the country. They are now living in absolutely desperate circumstances in Syria, Jordan, Egypt and Lebanon. That in turn is part of an even bigger tableau of disaster into which the Iraq scene has been allowed to develop, with the latest twist in the pattern of indecision being the announcement here in London of a change in plan for our brave troops. They have acted so valiantly, but apparently they are now to stay on in Basra airport in larger numbers after earlier announcements that they would be run right down in accordance with Operation Overwatch, which many of us thought from the start was a foolish and unreliable plan.
Let us start with the shameful part, which covers the most direct and prominent issue for this country, the Government and this Administration: the position of the interpreters. The situation is both unclear and, echoing what the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, rightly reminded us of, morally reprehensible. These are people who served our forces dutifully and are now in fear of their lives. Some have fled to Damascus and Aleppo, while others have gone to Amman. Policies were announced last August to give them asylum, and the question is what has been the result of those announcements. Parliamentary Answers given recently in the other place confirm that of the supposed 400, which may be an unreliable figure, employed by the British authorities, 74 former MoD employees have been screened by the Border and Immigration Agency, as have eight former FCO and three DfID employees. The question, naturally, is how many of these people, having been screened, have been granted indefinite leave to come here for protection under the Locally Engaged Iraqi Staff Assistance Scheme? The answer to that is that up to yesterday, apparently none has been granted such leave. I am told that not one local employee has been evacuated for resettlement in the United Kingdom.
How many have come here under the so-called Gateway Protection Programme, which in some complicated way involves applying through the tireless staff of the UNHCR? We learn that 131—I think I heard the figure of 121 mentioned, but the numbers are always uncertain—Iraqi citizens, including dependants, have applied. How many of those have reached safety? I have here the correspondence of desperate family men who have served us well, but who are now lost in the bureaucratic labyrinth of eligibility questions and conditions. These papers have been supplied by the excellent Dan Hardie who has done a great deal of work in this area and was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Fowler. One of them says that there is no chance of him getting a sensible answer out of the British authorities. He sent off all the papers, but has been told to wait. Another has been told that he was not employed directly by the British authorities, but he insists that he was. Another is still waiting hopelessly for a reply. A fourth says his friend and his uncle have already been killed and he waits in fear, but he is told that he is not qualified because he does not satisfy the 12-month criteria.
All this is shocking, frankly; it makes me ashamed of what our Government have done or have failed to do. Even so, this pales into insignificance when set beside the larger question that has been described by your Lordships of the plight of the 4 million or so Iraqis scattered across the Middle East or displaced within Iraq itself. No one who saw the recent Channel 4 programme “Iraq’s Lost Generation” could fail to be moved by the sight of disfigured and hungry children and of people trapped without hope, without money and without work in Syria and Jordan—the dreadful harvest of the Iraq situation. Regrettably, as my noble friend Lord Fowler reminded us, some of them blamed not Saddam Hussein but the Americans and the British for having taken away their homes and their security.
The UNHCR has said that the ability of these countries to handle these large numbers is just about exhausted, so what are we going to do now to help? There are reports that some refugees have returned, but these reports are very hard to verify. Of course, for those who have returned, there are many more still trapped.
We are told also that nearly all Christians have had to leave Iraq, a point rightly raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. It would be interesting to know whether that is correct. But this is just one dreadful aspect of the still wider scene of misery into which, after all the high hopes for Iraq with the removal of Saddam, the country has subsided. I do not know whether the surge strategy is going to be sustained. It is said to be working under General Petraeus, but it may or may not continue to work and it may or may not be sustainable. In Basra, which was our area, we have come upon bad days, to use the phrase of Sir Hilary Synnott, our man, for a time, in south Iraq, who has written a very telling book upon the subject.
His book is not the only one. Accounts and memoirs are now pouring out, on both sides of the Atlantic, about what has gone wrong and how, again in the words of Sir Hilary Synnott,
“hardly any Whitehall Departments got involved in Iraq”.
That is a very serious indictment. Account after account confirms how we failed to influence the Americans, failed to learn from our own past experiences and failed to plan properly after the military invasion.
I agree with other noble Lords who say that the time has come—and, indeed, is overdue—for a full inquiry into what went wrong, why we were misled, how intelligence failed and how policy failed after the invasion. We have heard this view more than once today, both in Questions and this debate, from my own party and the Liberal Democrats. The cost has been titanic in lives and injuries to our soldiers and in resources. The latest estimate for the UK is said to be about £6 billion on the military side. Large though that may seem to us, it seems almost minuscule compared with the cost to our American allies, which is said to be in trillions of dollars. More than 3,000 American troops have been killed, as well as 174 British troops.
We need this inquiry now and not later. We owe it to our fighting men and women, to the frightened personnel who loyally served us and feel betrayed, and to the lost millions of refugees about whom we have heard today in this short debate. For them there will be no Easter break, no happy family reunions; only sickening fears, hunger, insecurity and misery. Having done what we were led into doing as a nation by the previous Prime Minister, by his Government and by his convictions, however much they were in good faith, we must now take our full and proper share of responsibility for repairing the consequences of this almighty tragedy.
My Lords, I join in the general congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, for initiating this debate today, when we acknowledge the fifth anniversary of the beginning of the conflict in Iraq. It has been a timely and well informed debate and we have had some powerful speeches. I do not discriminate between the contributions, because they have all contained powerful points.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has repeated many of his powerful pleas on behalf of Iraqi refugees. He now has a parliamentary reputation for taking up their cause, to his great credit, and I am sure his continued interest in the subject will not cease with the close of today’s debate. That is a good thing.
My noble friend Lord Anderson called, as have others, for our country to shoulder its part of the burden. He drew attention in particular to the plight of Christians in Iraq, who have become, if you like, internal refugees. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, echoed the call made by other speakers for the stepping up of humanitarian aid and the need to support neighbouring countries. The noble Lord, Lord Wallace, with his extensive experience of Middle Eastern policy matters, focused on what he described as our post-war policy deficiencies—I am summarising the noble Lord’s position.
The noble Lord, Lord Howell, with all his tremendous experience in the field, again echoed those earlier calls for a full inquiry, as he put it, into the war itself, its causes, intelligence failings that noble Lords believe to have occurred in the preparation for war and the post-war settlement, and the response to the issues that have been focused on during the debate, particularly humanitarian concerns.
In my response I am not going to concentrate on the origin of the foreign policy aspects of the situation. That would not be appropriate because our attention has been drawn to humanitarian concerns in particular, and I will spend my time at the Dispatch Box most valuably if I focus on them; most questions were asked on that topic.
Of course, the United Kingdom Government remain concerned about the humanitarian situation in Iraq and conditions for the estimated 4 million internally and externally displaced Iraqis. We are committed to supporting those vulnerable populations. That is why we have spent over £130 million on humanitarian assistance for Iraq since 2003 and why we have just announced a further £15 million contribution this week. Twelve million pounds of that new money will support the United Nations-led consolidated appeal and Red Cross operations inside Iraq. Three million pounds will go to the UNHCR, with all its expertise, for its work with Iraqi refugees in Syria, Jordan and other countries in the Middle Eastern region to whom noble Lords have drawn attention and who are under pressure. The UNHCR is our key partner in responding to the needs of Iraqi refugees. It provides assistance such as financial grants, legal and food aid and subsidised healthcare. It also supports public education and health structures in countries that have taken in large numbers of Iraqi refugees; for example, by procuring medicine from local health authorities and undertaking the rehabilitation of school and educational buildings.
As a major contributor to the European Commission, the United Kingdom has also supported the EC’s programmes to strengthen the Jordanian and Syrian education and health sectors. The EC allocated some €35 million for this work in 2007 alone.
DfID continues to work closely with the UN and other humanitarian organisations to ensure that they have the resources they need to respond to the humanitarian situation in Iraq and among refugees in the region.
The consolidated appeal represents a significant improvement in the co-ordination of the humanitarian response in Iraq. It is also the first appeal to cover the relief efforts of both UN agencies and non-governmental organisations. The United Kingdom has been one of the first donors to respond to this and other major appeals for humanitarian assistance in 2008. We will lobby other donors to follow with their contributions so that agencies can continue and expand their programmes to meet urgent needs.
The Government are committed to providing a safe haven for those genuinely in need of protection by enabling refugees from some of the most troubled parts of the world to rebuild their lives in the United Kingdom. Our response to the UN’s call for assistance to increase refugee resettlement places for Iraqi refugees has been twofold. We have committed to increasing our resettlement quota by 50 per cent from April this year; that is, from 500 to 750 spaces. We have also committed to focusing our work for the next two years on refugees from Iraq. Two-thirds of our resettlement places—500 refugees a year—will be allocated to Iraqi refugees during the next two years. In total, this will provide permanent protection to 1,000 Iraqis whom the UN considers to be particularly at risk in their current country of refuge.
In addition to increasing our own resettlement programme, we co-signed in January a statement with five other EU Ministers that urged other member states to set up their own resettlement programmes. This will ultimately enable a larger number of refugees to benefit from a durable solution and reach safety.
For Iraqi nationals claiming asylum in the United Kingdom, we will continue carefully to consider all asylum and human rights claims on their individual merits in accordance with our obligations under the 1951 UN Refugee Convention and the European Convention on Human Rights. If an applicant demonstrates a need for international protection and meets the definition of a refugee under the terms of the 1951 convention, they will be granted asylum.
For those staff, former and current, who have worked closely with us in Iraq, we announced last October an assistance scheme in recognition of their invaluable contribution. Staff meeting the eligibility criteria set out in the Foreign Secretary’s Statement to the House of Commons are able to apply for a financial package of assistance or, in agreed circumstances, for admission to the UK outside the Immigration Rules on a discretionary basis. We have received hundreds of applications from former staff who are interested in this assistance—understandably so. Much of the focus of work over the past months has been to sift through the applications and assess whether each is eligible. More than 400 former staff have now been assessed as eligible for assistance. A significant number of them have opted for the financial package, clearly believing that the security situation in Iraq is improving and seeing themselves as having a positive future there. For those opting for resettlement, the process is well under way for both former and current staff. The first former staff will be interviewed next month in a third country. The first current staff will be welcomed to the United Kingdom in April. Our policy offers the prospect of genuine assistance—
My Lords, I am reluctant to give detailed statistics. We are going through the numbers with some care. I have some more statistical data, which I was going to pick up when I had worked though some of the questions. There were many questions and I apologise in advance that when I do that I shall have to be somewhat selective. However, I intend to ensure that we have a compendium letter following this debate that covers any issue that I fail to cover today, as I am very conscious that the clock is against us.
We believe that our policy offers the prospect of genuine assistance to those Iraqi staff who have had particularly close and sustained associations with us, in what we all accept have been difficult circumstances, as has been extensively argued this afternoon. We accept our moral responsibility and continue to work to ensure that it is implemented fairly and efficiently.
Before I close in the next few minutes, I intend to deal with some of the more specific points that came up in questions during the debate. I have indicated when staff will be resettled in the United Kingdom and given an outline as to how that would work. We are focusing on staff who have given us dedicated service over a period of time. Staff who have not yet worked for 12 months but reach that mark in future will become eligible at that time; a 12-month requirement is not unique to the UK but it is a feature of the United States’ special immigrant visa programme for their Iraqi staff.
Noble Lords made reference to delays in bringing Iraqis to the UK—and the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, has just repeated that. It is worth saying in that context that many applicants have opted not for resettlement here but instead for the financial package. There is no question but that there has been considerable success with that.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, raised the precise question of a tailor, and I thought that he was right to do so because it was illustrative. In that particular case, the individual applied to the scheme but, as far as we understand it, he had never been employed by Her Majesty's Government and for that reason was not eligible.
The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, asked why the UK did not contribute more than £15 million in 2007 to support displaced Iraqis. In addition to the £15 million, we are one of the key donors to the European Commission, which has made substantial contributions of €35 million towards support of the education and health sectors. The UNHCR’s appeal for displaced Iraqis last year was almost fully funded and DfID has pledged a further £3 million this week as part of its overall package.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, called for a review of the criteria on the local staff scheme. The Foreign Secretary in announcing the assistance scheme last October made it clear that we may well review the criteria for former staff in the light of experience, and most would accept that that is entirely wise.
The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, rightly drew attention to the persecution of Christians. The UK continues to support the Iraqi Government’s efforts to promote national reconciliation and protect all Iraqi communities regardless of faith or political persuasion. We also support protection efforts through the Red Cross and the UNHCR. We condemn kidnap and murder and particularly that of Archbishop Rahho. It was a cowardly act perpetrated by individuals who have rejected dialogue and peaceful politics, which is something that we wish to ensure is defeated in Iraq because it benefits no one and holds up the pace of improvement that is much needed in that troubled country.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, drew attention to what he saw as the inadequacies of our funding. We are offering support—and I have given some examples of that. The noble Lord asked about support from the UK from David Shearer, the UN humanitarian co-ordinator for Iraq. We have actively supported his efforts for a better co-ordinated humanitarian assistance scheme. We are one of the first donors to pledge support to the newly launched UN consolidated fund which brings together UN and NGO programmes in Iraq.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, referred to the enforced return of failed asylum seekers. We enforce return only to those areas assessed as sufficiently stable and when we are satisfied that the individual concerned will not be at risk of persecution or in need of humanitarian protection. We recognise that action by insurgents has created difficult problems in some areas but we do not accept that this applies to all areas. We made it clear in 2004 that we would have a programme of enforced returns and we reached agreement with Iraq about enforced returns in January 2005, and began removing Iraqi nationals at the end of that year by charter flight. I think that the noble Lord asked specific questions about charter flights and I am happy to give some details. That was followed by two further charter flights, the first was on 5 September 2006 in which 32 Iraqi nationals were returned to the Kurdish regional government area and the second on 12 February 2007 in which a further 38 Iraqi nationals were returned to the Kurdish region.
Enforced returns will be reviewed on a case-by-case basis, as is quite properly the case. Enforced returns on charter and scheduled flights operate to Erbil for those who are from the Kurdistan Regional Government area. Voluntary returns are possible to all parts of Iraq. There have been three charter flights, all going to Erbil in the KRG area of Iraq. I can give further details on some of that in correspondence and I am more than happy to do so.
We have given other forms of assistance through DfID. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, asked about this. DfID work with the Basra Provincial Reconstruction Team has helped leverage investment of over $205 million of central funds from the national Government in 2007. By the end of 2007, DfID infrastructure projects in the south improved access to water and power for over 1 million people. DfID funded advisers going to the centre of government there and helped established procedures for effective functioning of their Prime Minister’s office and Cabinet and reformed human resource and procurement systems in the Iraqi Ministry of Labour. Some £132 million worth of funding for humanitarian agencies has been provided since 2003 and I gave details of more recent allocations. We have funded independent radio and TV outlets which began broadcasting in 2005. We gave particular support to Basra radio station as a credible radio station in the region. We have also helped to entrench international human rights law by training more than 200 judges and prosecutors, which has potential for long-term benefit in sustaining a system reliant on the rule of law.
Questions were asked about the operation of the Gateway scheme. It is only right that I spend a little time covering that. It is a discretionary programme which operates outside the Immigration Rules. Since its implementation, 1,208 refugees have been permanently settled here from African and Asian countries generally. As I said earlier, we are pleased to announce an increase in the Gateway quota. As I said, we have allocated 500 of the places within the programme to Iraqi refugees. Cases will be selected by UNHCR in accordance with its priority categories. That includes female heads of household, survivors of violence and torture, those with medical needs and others. Other nationalities will also continue to be considered.
On progress to date, the UNHCR has submitted 62 applications covering 184 individuals to the BIA. The first Iraqi refugees, up to 300 individuals, will be interviewed in the Middle East by border and immigration staff in May 2008 and resettled permanently from July of this year.
We also operate the mandate resettlement programme which resettles refugees with close ties to the UK. Since January 2007 we have received 78 applications covering 196 individuals from Iraqi refugees in neighbouring countries for resettlement. Twenty-five cases have been accepted and resettled, 14 have been refused and the remainder are outstanding for consideration. There is no quota for this programme but refugees must have a close tie to the UK.
Noble Lords also asked how our endeavours compared with those of other countries. Finland has a quota of 750 for 2008 and an allocation for Iraqis of 300; Norway has a quota of 935 with an Iraqi allocation of 150; Sweden has a quota of 1,800 over two years with an allocation of 600 for Iraqi refugees; Denmark has a quota of 1,500 over three years with no allocation planned for Iraq, although 200 LE staff have been assisted. Our allocation is as I have described. Ireland has a quota of 200, with no allocation yet made for Iraqis; the Netherlands has a quota of 500 with an allocation for Iraq of 140. I am happy to provide more and further international detail.
I have exceeded my time. Our policies show that we are providing significant support to those organisations that give assistance; we could all argue that there could never be enough assistance so far as Iraqi refugees are concerned. We appreciate in particular the work and support for our military effort in Iraq that has been provided by many Iraqis, who have placed themselves in a vulnerable position. We continue to seek ways to give them further assistance; our programme will at all times be reviewed to ensure that we do that. We have increased our resettlement programme to accommodate larger numbers of Iraqi refugees. We will continue to assess and grant asylum to those genuine asylum seekers. In addition, we have set up an important programme to recognise the valuable contribution that Iraqi staff have made and those who have had a particularly close and sustained relationship with our Government and their endeavours in Iraq. We will reward those staff with either a financial package or relocation to the UK, and we look forward to welcoming the first Iraqi staff to the United Kingdom in the next month and the months to follow.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I will endeavour to cover through correspondence those points that I have failed properly to cover this afternoon. I look forward to continued discussion and dialogue on this important issue.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this short debate. I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Howell, the deputy leader on the Conservative side, for his very powerful speech. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, who raised the position of the Christian community in Iraq, and he was absolutely right to do so. He also raised the question of the 1,400 Iraqis who are being asked to leave. I am not sure that we had an answer to that, but I have the letter here which is the authentic policy of Her Majesty’s Government. I assure him that what the Guardian said is absolutely accurate.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, who raised among other things the position of women in Syria, which is critical. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, who raised the question of refugees in general and of the interpreters in particular. I also thank the Minister. It is no criticism of him personally, but it would be better if in a debate of this kind we could have one of the relevant Ministers who are directly responsible answering the debate, particularly as we have no fewer than three relevant Ministers in the Lords—a Home Office Minister, a Foreign Office Minister and a DfID Minister—who could do so. I am grateful to the Minister, and it is no criticism of him, as I say, but the House might prefer it if it had a Minister who is directly responsible replying to the debate.
I realise the time; I will go on for two minutes, as it is so serious. The Minister in his reply made a number of points about direct finance going to the European fund and the amount being done for staff. All those contributions seem to me extremely modest. He talked about my example of the tailor who, although he was helping the British forces was unfortunately not directly employed, so we would not help him; that more or less encapsulates what we have been talking about.
Again, I thank everyone for taking part in the debate. I do not think that the Government’s reply matches up to the challenge. I warn Ministers that this issue will be raised again. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion for Papers.
Motion for Papers, by leave, withdrawn.
Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 (Audit of Public Bodies) Order 2008
rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 26 February be approved.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the order is being made under the Government Resources and Accounts Act 2000 and is intended to make the Comptroller and Auditor-General the statutory auditor for four non-departmental public bodies and for the NHS Direct NHS trust. I am grateful for the assistance that we received from the National Audit Office in preparing these provisions.
This is the fourth time that we have taken such an order through Parliament since 2003, although it is the first time that we have used the order-making powers in the Government Resources and Accounts Act to give the Comptroller and Auditor-General statutory audit responsibility for an NHS trust. It might be helpful if I set the draft order in context.
In 2003, the Government implemented key recommendations made by the noble Lord, Lord Sharman, on audit and accountability in central government. In particular, the Government responded to concerns expressed in Parliament by strengthening the statutory powers of the Comptroller and Auditor- General in two ways: first, by making the Comptroller and Auditor-General the statutory auditor of certain non-departmental public bodies, where he is not already the statutory auditor; and, secondly, by giving the Comptroller and Auditor-General greater powers of access to documents held by bodies in receipt of grants or in relation to contracts with organisations where the Comptroller and Auditor-General is the statutory auditor.
The House may recall that in 2004 and 2005, the Government continued this policy by extending the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s statutory powers in respect of a further six non-departmental public bodies. Since the policy was established, new primary legislation to set up a non-departmental public body usually includes provision for the body to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General. The four non-departmental public bodies affected by the order have either recently been reclassified as non-departmental public bodies or were established under arrangements or legislation in which no provision for audit by the Comptroller and Auditor-General was included. The Treasury has worked with the affected non-departmental public bodies to prepare them for the Comptroller and Auditor-General’s audit. In line with policy, current audit contracts need to run their course before the Comptroller and Auditor-General begins auditing the non-departmental public bodies.
This order is intended to continue the process that Parliament approved in 2003, 2004 and 2005. It provides for the Comptroller and Auditor-General to be made the statutory auditor for the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation, the Independent Living Fund (2006), the Ombudsman for the Board of the Pensions Protection Fund and the Pensions Ombudsman. In doing so, the draft order applies a long-standing policy, endorsed by all sides of the House, that non-departmental public bodies are to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General.
The order also provides for the Comptroller and Auditor General to retain statutory audit responsibility for NHS Direct, even though it has become an NHS trust. I thought that it would be helpful to explain the Government’s reasoning behind this, given that this body is not specifically a non-departmental public body. NHS Direct was formerly a special health authority. Indeed, it was made subject to Comptroller and Auditor- General audit in an earlier order under the Government Resources and Accounts Act. NHS Direct became an NHS trust on 1 April 2007 as part of the implementation of the review into the Department of Health’s arm’s-length bodies. But the National Health Service Act 2006 provides that all NHS Trusts are to be audited by the Audit Commission.
In the Government’s view, however, NHS Direct remains a national body, as opposed to all other NHS trusts that provide services locally. It is right that NHS bodies that provide services locally should be subject to audit by auditors appointed by the Audit Commission. But NHS Direct NHS trust provides services at a national level. Like other similar bodies, it should continue to be audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General, and this order provides for that.
The proposals in the draft order continue the Government’s commitment to improve parliamentary accountability. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 26 February be approved. 12th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Lord Davies of Oldham.)
My Lords, I thank the Minister for introducing the order. I also thank the Minister and the Government Whips Office for their efforts this morning to ensure that we debate the right order. There was some confusion as to whether it included the Churches Conservation Trust, but a revised order, which we understand was laid before your Lordships’ House, was located. The Churches Conservation Trust was within the first order laid but is not within the order that we are debating this afternoon, and we are content with that. I am sure, however, that the Minister will share my concern that those responsible for managing the paperwork processed in your Lordships’ House—admittedly a large task—should identify and learn the lessons from what went wrong in relation to this order.
The House will know that these Benches have always supported the report by the noble Lord, Lord Sharman. It is logical and right that public sector bodies are audited by the Comptroller and Auditor-General and so we support the order. However, I have a couple of points to raise with the Minister—he would not expect to escape for Easter without a little work.
My first point concerns how it is possible today for a government department to create a public body without, at the same time, creating the appropriate audit arrangements. The Independent Living Fund, for example, seems to have been created by a process that avoided parliamentary scrutiny in 2006. What audit arrangements were made at that time? This order applies the audit arrangements with effect from 2007-08 but what about the earlier period? Who audited that? What was the involvement of the DWP’s accounting officer at the time that the fund was set up?
I do not understand how the Pensions Act 2004, which created the PPF Ombudsman, did not at the same time set up the correct audit arrangements. Do parliamentary draftsmen not have audit arrangements in their checklist for new legislation when creating new public bodies? If not, I suggest to the Minister that, in this post-Sharman age, they should.
Can the Minister explain what audit arrangements were applied to the PPF Ombudsman before this financial year, and, perhaps of more concern, what have been the audit arrangements for the pensions ombudsman in the 15 years since the Pension Schemes Act 1993 was passed?
The second area that I wish to deal with is the NHS. I shall not object to the appointment of the C&AG to NHS Direct instead of the Audit Commission. The Government have put forward a local versus national justification for this but the arrangements for NHS audit, as I have argued in the House before, are odd. The C&AG has always audited the summarised accounts of the NHS, but some clever footwork by the Audit Commission allowed it to grab the bulk of NHS audit work when my party’s NHS reforms in 1990 put an end to the nonsense of the Department of Health itself being responsible for auditing the various authorities within the health service. Since then, both the Audit Commission and the NAO have been involved in both financial and value-for-money work. This is now justified as being at a local and national level, but it involves duplication at the level of the NHS overall. A bolder and more logical approach would be to rationalise the NHS audit by using only one public auditor.
That brings me to my third point: whether it is sensible to continue with two public-sector audit systems. The two have already been combined in Scotland and Wales and I understand that the combined organisations work well. Mr John Tiner, who carried out a review of the NAO last year, recommended that, once the governance arrangements of the NAO have been strengthened, a merger of the NAO and the Audit Commission should be pursued. The report gives a number of powerful reasons in favour of merger. Mr Tiner puts six years as the appropriate timescale for reviewing the arrangements. I hope that the Minister will agree that this area should be looked at on a much timelier basis.
My fourth area is the audit of publicly owned companies. When this order was debated in another place, the Exchequer Secretary said in response to a question from my honourable friend Mr David Gauke that 40 to 50 companies were expected to be brought within a similar order to the one that we are debating today. The ability for the C&AG to audit companies was included within the Companies Act 2006—again with our support, although it was done in a rather complicated way. Will the Minister give a timetable for the new order? I believe that the appropriate supervisory arrangements have now been put in place and that the practical obstacle of the former C&AG's chairmanship of the Professional Oversight Board has been dealt with by Sir John Bourn's retirement. We hope that the Government will now move quickly on this and I ask the Minister to say when we will see the relevant order.
My last point concerns Northern Rock. I am sure the Minister does not expect to escape from Northern Rock in any debate these days. Northern Rock remains a company and the C&AG is now able to audit companies. I am sure that the Minister will say that the Government's ownership of Northern Rock is temporary and that it is, therefore, appropriate to stick with commercial auditors. I will not argue that point with him today. But in the mean time, will the Government ensure that the C&AG has access to Northern Rock so that it can follow the eye-watering amounts of public money that have been poured into Northern Rock and so that C&AG can ensure that taxpayers are getting value for money.
The Government Resource and Accounts Act together with the Companies Act give the Government all the powers that they need. They just have to keep true to their own public audit policies and use those powers.
My Lords, I have very little to add to the discussion. If there is a sensible, more coherent way of doing this that avoids two forms of auditing, why are we not using it, as the noble Baroness asked? I wonder whether the Royal Ulster Constabulary George Cross Foundation is the smallest body in the order. Other than that comment, we have no fundamental objection.
My Lords, as always I am grateful to noble Lords for contributing to the debate. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Noakes, on two grounds. First, she has asked sufficient questions to make for a lively exchange in the last business before the House before Easter and, therefore, has guaranteed that neither she nor I are doing anything else except being entirely constructive about public policy. Secondly, I thank her for her understanding approach to the problems with this order. For a short time, we had the wrong order in the office. I hasten to add that my department, the Treasury, was not at fault, for which I express the greatest relief. The noble Baroness is right that that mistake should not have happened and I have taken steps to ensure that it does not happen again. I apologise for that.
On the general issues that she raises, I begin by saying that the new audit arrangements for several of the bodies to which she refers reflect that they have rather diverse histories. She asked why they were not previously subject to that form of audit. The independent living fund has had a fairly modest and fixed budget over the period and it has been adequate to make awards to all the qualifying applicants. She will appreciate that in that framework there has not been enormous strain on ensuring that the resources are adequate and spent effectively. Nevertheless, we have taken this opportunity to ensure that the fund will now have increasing resources—we have taken steps to account properly for expenditures and its work.
The noble Baroness mentioned the pensions’ body. This is the first time that the Pensions Ombudsman and the Pension Protection Fund Ombudsman have been required to provide annual accounts under the arrangements established on 1 April 2007. Therefore, this is the first time that this issue has arisen in this way. Prior to that, they were within the framework of a department and subject to the departmental budget, which did not give rise to this independent form of accounting. We have taken the opportunity of the order to make sure that, now that they have that independence, they should have it so far as the accounts are concerned as well.
I hear what the noble Baroness says about the NHS trusts. There is a judgment call on the other trusts and how they are audited. She said—with a slight note of regret, I think—that the Audit Commission had been involved early on with regard to the establishment of the trusts under a previous Administration. All along NHS trusts have been identified as providers of local services, as they properly are. Therefore, it is entirely right that they should stay within the framework of the Audit Commission and not be brought under the Comptroller and Auditor-General. NHS Direct provides a national service, which is why we think it is separate and different from all other NHS trusts and have taken the opportunity to put it in the order.
The noble Baroness mentions the merger. Mr Tiner certainly supported the need for closer co-operation between the National Audit Office and the Audit Commission and recommended an exchange of board membership between the two bodies. We want strengthening of their relationships. Further work is to be done on the concept of the merger. She pressed me for some indication of when we would reach conclusions on that matter. I do not have a date for that, but on the other area she talked about—companies—I can be a little more forthcoming. We certainly intend to bring that order through this year, although not in the next few months, and to respond to the point that was well made by her and others.
On that basis—
My Lords, I thought that the day would never arrive when Northern Rock passed me by, but it did momentarily. Now it is sharply back in focus. The noble Baroness conceded that Northern Rock was a company operating at arm’s length from the Government in temporary public ownership, so it will not be subject to government audit in the way a government body would be. However, she knows only too well that the Government need to safeguard big or small amounts of taxpayers’ money. Northern Rock comes into the first category—it is a fairly big amount. She will have to wait until the arrangements for the relationship between the Treasury and Northern Rock are put before the House. That will follow the work done in relation to the Commission and the submission under state aid to Brussels. We have indicated all along that one will follow the other. We will present that position in the fairly near future, and the business plan of Northern Rock will also become clear. If she can exercise her usual patience, I have no doubt that we will have plenty to discuss in the fairly near future on Northern Rock.
On Question, Motion agreed to.
Statute Law (Repeals) Bill [HL]
A message was received from the Commons that they concur with the Lords resolution regarding the referral of the Statute Law (Repeals) Bill to the Joint Committee on Consolidation Bills.
House adjourned at 4.20 pm.