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Lords Chamber

Volume 703: debated on Tuesday 22 July 2008

House of Lords

Tuesday, 22 July 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.

Leave of Absence: The Lord Speaker

My Lords, this year, Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, falls on a sitting day, Thursday 9 October. Accordingly, I seek leave of absence from your Lordships’ House on that day.

Health: Dementia

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In so doing, I must declare an interest as a patron of the Alzheimer’s Research Trust and as the wife of an Alzheimer's sufferer.

The Question was as follows:

To ask Her Majesty's Government whether they plan to increase government spending on research into dementia.

My Lords, in recent years, the Government have invested significant sums in dementia research and will continue to do so. We believe that more could and should be done. That is why consultation on a national dementia strategy that we published last month includes a recommendation and plans for building on the existing UK research base.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that positive reply, but is there not a serious mismatch between the size of the problem and the Government's response? Do not 700,000 people already suffer from this terrible disease? That number is forecast to double in the next 20 years, at a cost to the Exchequer of about £34 billion. Many leading scientists have warned that that could destroy the National Health Service. Does not that make the Government’s investment of a mere £25 million, only 3 per cent of the Department of Health’s research budget, look totally inadequate?

My Lords, we face a very serious problem; the Government are well aware of that. We are committed to supporting and enabling more research on dementia. A significant amount of money, £29 million, is being invested today. In addition, the department is investing £20 million over five years for the national research network on dementia and neurodegenerative diseases, DeNDRoN, plus several new initiatives involving amounts of £6 million to £8 million. Since 1997, the increase is from £5.9 million to £29 million in the past year. That shows that we are committed to that research. In the next years, we are attempting to use the model of the way that cancer research was built so successfully in the UK. That means investing in relevant research networks and centres but, as the noble Baroness will be only too well aware, it is extremely important that only science that achieves the highest quality assessment should receive funding.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness accept that research into Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia has made remarkable progress in the past two years? A number of drugs have been introduced that are simply symptomatic treatments, such as Donepezil, but work that is now being done in many centres, not least on the superb new campus for ageing and health on the Newcastle General Hospital site where major research is being undertaken, shows great promise of developing drugs that strike at the cause of the disease. Does not this development justify significantly greater investment in this important field?

My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely correct. Part of the Government’s drive to ensure that NICE processes the findings and implications of new treatments as rapidly as possible includes NICE issuing guidance on drugs to treat Alzheimer’s and other dementia diseases as quickly as it can.

My Lords, I am astounded that my noble friend should say that the amount of funds devoted to research into this terrible disease is significant. It is insignificant by any standards, and I am astonished that she should make that claim in this House. No Government have a good record on dementia. I welcome their recent announcement that they are developing a national dementia strategy. Nevertheless, the real requirement now is for a massive injection of funds, because with them, anything is possible. Without them, dementia will remain for ever the pathetic orphan of medicine. That simply will not do in this House.

My Lords, the point that I was making to my noble friend was that the increase from £5.9 million to £29 million in 10 years is significant. There is absolutely no doubt that more funding needs to be found and will be found. The other point that I was making is that there is no point putting in extra money if the research base does not provide the highest quality science that we need to deal with this dreadful condition.

My Lords, is that not the problem? Although the money that we are putting in seems a lot, the Americans are putting in £64 million for the equivalent of our population. We are putting in £29 million. Is it not essential to see that young scientists are encouraged to enter this field? Unless we can get young scientists interested in this, we will not have a succession of people who can do the necessary research.

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right, as she often is. That is part of why the national strategy is so important. One of its key aims is to raise awareness in the medical professions of the importance of this disease and the importance of combating it.

My Lords, I declare an interest similar to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Perry, in that I am also a patron of the national advisory group on Alzheimer’s—the Alzheimer’s Research Trust. Is my noble friend aware that that trust, which does not receive public money, is forced to turn away about two out of three of the research applications that are put to it because of lack of resources? Drawing on her point about making the case for doing something on the basis of cancer research, is it not unfortunate that an organisation of that kind is so economically disadvantaged?

My Lords, that is very unfortunate. As part of the strategy that was announced by my honourable friend the Minister last month, a dementia research summit will be held in the autumn to bring together the key stakeholders, particularly the relevant charities and voluntary organisations, so that they can take an active part in developing the future research agenda. I am absolutely certain that they will make that point very clearly indeed.

My Lords, I do not have a detailed figure for that. I will find out and write to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, roughly what is spent on research per patient in this country compared, for example, with the United States or Australia?

Again, my Lords, I do not have that detail. The London School of Economics and the National Audit Office recently produced a report on international comparisons in dementia, but I received it only this morning. The amount of money that is being put into the care of people with long-term illnesses such as dementia means that we are about average. I will find out how our research base fares, let the noble Baroness have that and put it in the Library.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness concur with the statistic that the number of people over the age of 65 is likely to increase by 60 per cent before 2025, in which I suppose I declare a rather miserable interest?

My Lords, all I can say is that the noble Earl becomes more distinguished the older he gets. He is right that, because of the increase in the number of elderly people, the number of people with dementia will double to 1.4 million in the next 30 years. That is why this is an important issue and why we must have a strategy for dealing with it.

Russia: Human Rights

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

What initiatives they will take to encourage dialogue between the European Union and the Government of Russia on the place of human rights, freedom of the media and civil society in the context of stable democracy and containing extremism.

My Lords, human rights are a central part of the EU’s relations with Russia. Consultations take place between the EU and Russia on human rights every six months. This April, the EU raised a number of concerns related to human rights and fundamental freedoms in Russia. The EU-Russia human rights dialogue should form an important part of the successor to the EU-Russia Partnership and Co-operation Agreement, negotiations on which began earlier this month.

My Lords, while I am sure that I share with others a sense of encouragement from what my noble friend has said, does he not agree that, faced with the grave threats that confront us all, human rights and justice are not optional extras but fundamental to holding secure our own societies? In this context, are the Government able to concentrate with the Russians on the dumbing down of the media, the harassment and, indeed, murder of journalists, the curbing of NGO activity, manipulation of the law and, whatever the propaganda by the Russians in this respect, the continued sinister oppression in Chechnya? Do these not play into the hands of extremism and militancy?

My Lords, I certainly concur with my noble friend’s concern about the direction of human rights in Russia and his observation that human rights are central to stability between nations and to our global society as a whole. I should like to assure him that the Government last year spent some £700,000 on human rights projects in Russia. This year we will support projects such as human rights training for prison officers in southern Russia and give support to state and civil society to tackle xenophobia and extremism and to combat religious and ethnic discrimination, while at the same time maintaining our dialogue with the Government.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that, while the EU is striving for and issues papers about the need for strategic partnership and dialogue on human rights, as he mentioned, the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, reminds us that things are not going very well between the EU and Russia? In fact, between this country and Russia, they have been going very badly. Is he aware that we are getting reports now of bogus court procedures, false evidence being organised against innocent citizens and corruption in the police and tax authorities, quite aside from the matters that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has mentioned? What steps are we taking to get a more successful message to the Russian people, with whom, basically, we want good relations, that if they do not correct some of those things urgently they will not only cut themselves off from global development but damage their own people and their own interests considerably in the future?

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct that things are not going well in Russia in terms of human rights and that we, as the EU, have considerable leverage, which we must apply. On the one hand, we have an energy dependence; Russia is our biggest source of energy supply. On the other hand, we are Russia’s main trading partner as a region, so we share a neighbourhood and commercial links, which we must use to ensure that respect for human rights is strengthened in Russia. I think that we all agree with the noble Lord that the trend at the moment is not a happy one.

My Lords, will the Minister confirm that Britain is pushing hard for a common EU approach to Russia, which is clearly what we need? Will he also confirm that we are making strong representations to some other Governments, for example the current Government of Italy, that bilateral relations with Russia of the sort that Mr Berlusconi wants to pursue are not helpful to an effective dialogue? Lastly, can he confirm once again that, in the Partnership and Co-operation Agreement that we are negotiating, we must insist on the rule of law to underpin not only human rights but also economic relations and foreign investment? This has to be something that the Russians can demonstrate runs properly inside their economy, society and courts.

My Lords, the noble Lord is correct. If the EU stands together in its relationship with Russia, we are much more powerful than if we develop singular and different approaches to dealing with these issues. On human rights inside Russia, there is no doubt that the EU benefits not just at the human level but at the commercial level from the maintenance of the rule of law and an end to its erosion in both commercial and human rights areas. We will press strongly on this agenda, as the noble Lord suggests.

My Lords, have not the Russians made it clear that their restrictions on the British Council, which has made a signal contribution in the fields mentioned by my noble friend, have been entirely for political reasons? Is it not therefore all the more important that the European Union should continue to show solidarity with us in this respect?

My Lords, that is certainly the case. Russia, if I may say, is the great loser from the non-presence of the British Council and the extraordinary programmes that it runs, including English language training. However, we must make sure that this is a dispute not just with Britain but with the EU.

My Lords, might it not be simpler and more productive if we started a discussion with Russia to see whether it has a long-term wish to join the European Union?

My Lords, Russia has joined the G8 and other international groupings with somewhat mixed results. I think that I will leave it to others to comment on what would happen to the EU if we were to welcome Russia into its midst. Some might welcome it strongly, if not for the best of motives.

My Lords, while I welcome the arrest last night of the former Bosnian Serb leader, does my noble friend agree that there might be a case for the ICC to indict some Russian generals for crimes committed against humanity in Chechnya?

My Lords, the great glory of the ICC is that it is an independent prosecutorial system. It does not behove me as a politician standing at the Dispatch Box to suggest whom the court should or should not prosecute.

Nuclear Weapons

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will propose a new treaty, under which, pending full nuclear disarmament, states possessing nuclear weapons would undertake not to use them to attack states without nuclear weapons.

My Lords, the most appropriate way to provide treaty-based security assurances is through the relevant protocols to nuclear weapons-free zones. These provide credible, regional, internationally binding legal instruments. The UK remains fully committed to the negative security assurance we gave to the non-nuclear weapons states parties to the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in our 1995 letter to the UN Secretary-General, subsequently noted in Security Council Resolution 984.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Can I persuade him and your Lordships, first, that a treaty of the kind suggested would draw attention to the need to eliminate completely all nuclear weapons? Secondly, would it not dissuade those powers which do not have such weapons from acquiring them? Finally, would it not make it easier for the smaller states that possess nuclear weapons to destroy them? Would that not improve the situation quite a lot?

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord’s sentiment, and we want to do everything that we can to push forward the case that nuclear weapons are not a safe and sensible form of armament in today’s world. But we believe that through both the assurances given to NPT signatory states that they would not face nuclear attack unless they attacked in alliance with other nuclear weapon states, and through the regional agreements which have allowed us to give 100 countries further such assurances, we will achieve the purpose he wants. The actions of others, such as a number of noble Lords and Baronesses in this House who have signed up to different initiatives leading towards a nuclear-free zone like their counterparts in the US, provide the goal that the noble Lord wants to see of attention being given to the objective of a nuclear-free world.

My Lords, has any progress been made on the idea of the International Atomic Energy Agency being a resource for enriched uranium on which countries can draw for the civil aspects of nuclear development while, at the same time, guarding against diversification into nuclear weapons?

My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that there are a number of initiatives in this area, including the one to which she refers at the IAEA. The UK Government have been supporting the development of these options because we believe that both within the forthcoming review of the NPT and more generally in our disposition of arrangements for a nuclear-free world it is vital to provide safe sources of nuclear power to those who wish to pursue that option.

My Lords, as we are about to break for 10 weeks and as there are disturbing reports about those within the Government of Israel who are considering at some stage in the next three months a conventional attack on Iranian nuclear facilities as a means of delaying—although not entirely abolishing—the Iranian nuclear programme, can the Government assure the House that they have made it quite clear to the Government of Israel and to their supporters in Washington that we would not under any circumstances support or condone that kind of unilateral attack?

My Lords, I certainly want to ensure that the noble Lord enjoys his summer holiday in peace. The Government have repeatedly made it clear that they view the negotiations of the E3+3 as the vehicle at this time for achieving a solution to the Iranian nuclear programme. We do not believe that a military option is appropriate.

My Lords, on the immediate dangers ahead, to which the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, has referred, does the Minister accept that while the idea of the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, has good sentiments behind it, it would be quite tricky when it came to implementation? Does he further accept that we on this side support the long-term vision of a world free of nuclear weapons if that can be achieved? We realise that there are considerable difficulties—it would take time and would require the fully verifiable destruction of every nuclear weapon—but we believe that this is the right guiding light for policy makers in the years ahead and will support all endeavours in that direction.

My Lords, I take the noble Lord’s assurances and I congratulate him on them. I refer again to the article by that extraordinary group of American leaders, including Secretary Shultz and Secretary Kissinger, and more recently the article in the Times by Sir Malcolm Rifkind and the noble Lords, Lord Hurd, Lord Robertson and Lord Owen, which laid out a similar vision of the objective of a nuclear-free world while recognising the complex, extended negotiations that it will take to get us there. That objective should drive all of us in our nuclear policy even though it must be larded with a high degree of caution that we do not at any point leave ourselves unprotected.

My Lords, as nuclear weapons are no longer an adequate deterrent against others acquiring them, what ways do the Government have in mind to reduce the worldwide stock of nuclear weapons?

My Lords, proposals have been made in recent months by the United States, the United States presidential candidates and President Sarkozy of France, all of which are driving towards the prospect of major reductions in existing nuclear arsenals. We are supporting that process having ourselves already taken significant steps in that regard. We will certainly continue to reduce wherever possible.

My Lords, the Minister spoke of the benefit of nuclear-free zones, and he will know that there are proposals for a nuclear-free Arctic. What is the UK Government’s attitude to those proposals?

My Lords, at the moment there are three existing treaties that create these nuclear-free zones, covering Latin America, the south Pacific and Africa. There are two more treaties, covering south-east Asia and central Asia, that need further work for us to be able to support them fully. The same principles apply to the Arctic. We are in favour of as many of these regional agreements as possible, so long as they are sensibly drafted to ensure that all countries are bound by them and that they apply in an equal way the principle of non-nuclear use.

Iran: People’s Mujaheddin Organisation

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

How they voted on the proposal to keep the People’s Mujaheddin Organisation of Iran on the European Union’s list of banned terrorist organisations at the Council of Ministers meeting on 16 July.

My Lords, the continued listing of PMOI on the new EU list of persons and entities subject to the EUCT assets freeze was supported in the Council of Ministers by the overwhelming majority of member states. The renewed listing was based on new information brought to the Council’s attention by another EU member state. However, respecting the UK court judgment, we abstained in the vote.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that dismal story. Will he first confirm that until a few weeks ago the listing of the PMOI in Europe rested entirely on its listing domestically in the United Kingdom? Secondly, will he confirm that two superior courts in the United Kingdom, including the Court of Appeal, after scrutinising all the evidence, declared that its listing here was unjustified and perverse, and that Parliament has endorsed an order to remove it from the list? Thirdly, will he confirm that the European Court of First Instance has declared that its initial listing was unlawful? Given all that, would my noble friend agree that the continued listing of the PMOI demonstrates a shameful indifference to human rights or an abject capitulation to the Iranian Government—and, in either case, a repudiation of the rule of law?

My Lords, I felt it enormously important that the UK Government respected the undertakings we had given your Lordships in this House, and that we ourselves were therefore not party to a vote at the European level on continuing this listing. I urge the supporters of the PMOI, who were successful here in overturning the view of the Government through court action, to similarly take advantage of the Court of First Instance action in Europe to which my noble friend referred to pursue a similar legal strategy there to secure redress.

My Lords, how could it have been proper for the British Government to accept and not oppose a new listing when the Court of Appeal, having examined the evidence, had concluded that there was no evidence to justify any listing? How could any evidence presented by France to justify a new listing have escaped the notice of those who represented Her Majesty’s Government before the Court of Appeal, and not therefore have been known to that court when it gave its judgment? It follows, therefore, that by not opposing this matter the British Government were spitting in the face of a court in this country, the Court of Appeal.

My Lords, the noble Lord will have to allow that that is not the case. We were determined to respect that court decision, which is why we were not able to support the Government who brought to the table new information that had not been available earlier, on the basis of which they were able to persuade many Governments of Europe to support them. As to why we abstained rather than opposing the listing, the difficulty is that it is a total list with all terrorist organisations on it, and you have to vote up or down on that list. We were therefore faced with the unpalatable situation that either the old list would be retained, which would have done no good because the PMOI would have remained on it, or we would have been left with no listed terrorist organisations in Europe. We felt that was an unacceptable threat to the people of Britain as well as the rest of the Continent.

I cannot, my Lords, for reasons of confidentiality. However, the PMOI has been written to and the case against it, on which the decision was made, has been shared with it. It now has the option of pursuing this in a European appeal court action.

My Lords, if, as the Minister’s letter of July states, the Council has given no reasons for putting the PMOI back on the list; if, as appears to be the case, the Council did not identify in detail the basis of the French Government’s reasons for doing so; and if, as also appears to be the case, the Council contends that, by abstaining, the British Government and others have not prevented the decision being unanimous, how can the Government possibly say that they upheld the rule of law as declared by the Court of Appeal when, by their very abstention, they were implicitly giving support to this proposal by the French Government and the Council?

Again, my Lords, it will be a matter for the PMOI and the Council; the PMOI can institute proceedings in the Court of First Instance challenging the Council’s decision. The Council is required to defend its decision and make clear its actions. It may be of some small comfort to noble Lords to know that although the Council decision has led to an asset freeze, because of the situation we faced before the court decision, it is no longer illegal in this country to be a member of the PMOI; it is only an issue of the assets of the PMOI, which are under threat from the European ruling.


My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend the Lord President will repeat the Statement on Iraq after the debate in the name of my noble friend Lord Dubs. After the Statement, the House will adjourn during pleasure while the Commons complete their consideration of the Crossrail Bill. The House will resume for notification of Royal Assent, which we expect at around 7 pm. The precise time will be advertised via the annunciator as soon as we have the relevant information.

Pensions Bill

My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in the name of my noble friend Lord McKenzie of Luton on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:

Clauses 1 to 73

Schedule 1

Clauses 74 to 98

Schedule 2

Clause 99

Schedule 3

Clauses 100 and 101

Schedule 4

Clauses 102 to 113

Schedule 5

Clauses 114 to 117

Schedules 6 and 7

Clauses 118 and 119

Schedule 8

Clauses 120 to 125

Schedule 9

Clauses 126 to 142

Schedule 10

Clauses 143 to 145.—(Lord Tunnicliffe.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Crossrail Bill

My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Crossrail Bill, has consented to place her Prerogative and Interest, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.

Bill read a third time.

My Lords, I beg to move that this Bill do now pass.

Perhaps before we move to approve the Crossrail Bill, it would be worth me saying a few words about it and offering some very well deserved words of thanks.

Hybrid Bills are rarely used procedures; indeed, the last one considered by Parliament was the Channel Tunnel Rail Link Act 1996, 12 years ago. Following the introduction of the Crossrail Bill in the other place in February 2005, some three and a half years ago, the Bill received a Second Reading by a majority of 370. After a period of gentle persuasion, the Select Committee in the other place was appointed in December 2005 and first met in January 2006. There were four batches of additional provisions to improve the project, which is one reason why the committee took nearly two years to conclude its hearings. It heard in excess of 200 of the 400 or so petitions lodged; its special report was published on 23 October 2007.

The Public Bill Committee, Report and Third Reading in the other place followed expeditiously and the Bill was introduced into this House on 14 December 2007. The Second Reading was secured without a Division and, by the time the petitioning period for this House’s Select Committee had closed, 113 petitions had been deposited. The Select Committee of this House did a sterling job; it sat for 29 days and listened to many of the same petitioners. I am sure that the House will join me in paying tribute to the skill and rigour with which the committee was chaired by the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross. The Select Committee published its excellent special report in May, so we could consider it alongside the Committee proceedings.

This is the last time that the House debates the Bill, so I take the opportunity of once again paying tribute to the work of both the Select Committees and all noble Lords who have played an important part in shaping the future of what is probably one of the most exciting engineering and rail projects that this country has on the stocks and in the immediate and near future—a project that will very much influence how London continues to generate and regenerate itself in the next two decades.

There are one or two noble Lords who deserve special mention: the noble Lord, Lord Hanningfield, who sadly is not with us today, and the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, for his sterling work and constructive views and comments, as well as my noble friend Lord Berkeley for the role that he has played, not only in your Lordships' House but also for his appearances representing the Rail Freight Group during the Select Committee proceedings. Finally, I mention the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, for her unwavering support for the project.

Outside the House, I thank my colleagues at the Department for Transport, the CLRL team led by Keith Berryman, our parliamentary agent Winckworth Sherwood and our counsel team, led by David Elvin QC. I thank the House greatly for its interest and support in this project.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord Bassam of Brighton.)

My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lord Hanningfield, it falls to me to complete the last stage of this important Bill on behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition. I begin by thanking the Minister for the manner in which he accepted our scrutiny and listened to our concerns and amendments. He has covered the points about the hybrid Bill very well already. Although he rarely agreed with our position, the debate has provided your Lordships and the public with valuable information about some of the finer details of this complex legislation.

A legal framework to facilitate the funding and construction of Crossrail has been long in coming. I remember when this project was first conceived, nearly 20 years ago; since then, its progress has been stalled by a plethora of reviews and seen many false dawns. I think that a dairy farmer would be impressed by the number of times that this Government have announced that Crossrail was to go ahead. Since finally obtaining a finance package last year, there has been a high level of scrutiny which benefits this Bill, but that has not been too protracted in this House.

I pay my own tribute to the work of the noble Viscount, Lord Colville of Culross, and his committee, the noble Lords, Lord Snape, Lord James of Blackheath, Lord Young of Norwood Green and Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe.

It has been clear from the start that we on these Benches have always supported the Crossrail project in principle, but throughout the progress of the Bill in this House and in another place we have raised concerns relating to transparency and disruption. We would have liked to have seen the Government go further on some issues such as ensuring that disruption is kept to a minimum through earlier notification and being more open in taking a transparent and consistent approach to reporting.

As expected, funding has always been a major worry. We are concerned about the cost of the Government’s delay in getting Crossrail to this stage, which has been estimated at £1.5 billion per annum. We are also concerned about whether the current £16 billion funding package is sufficient and that taxpayers have already spent £400 million without a single track being laid. The main reason for that apprehension is that mega-projects such as this often span the life of more than one Government. Who knows; by the time of completion we may have a Liberal Democrat Government. Therefore, it is imperative that we get the legislation right now in order to avoid problems in the future.

In closing, the benefits that Crossrail will bring are undoubted; it could add £20 billion to the UK economy and support an expected 30,000 new high-value jobs. Crossrail will also provide greater capacity and speed to the city's transport network, enabling a further 1.5 million people to be within 60 minutes of our capital and key business areas. I look forward to visiting the construction sites of this great project and I am glad we have been able to progress this Bill so quickly through this House on its way to Royal Assent.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for his gracious words of thanks to people in this House, the department and elsewhere. I assure him of our continued support. Although it may sometimes sound like criticism, we support the Bill and I wish it well.

My Lords, I just wanted to say one word to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. One of the objectives of the Select Committee in producing what appears to be rather a fat report was to include in the appendices a lot of information that ought to make things a great deal more transparent for those who might be affected by the Bill. Therefore, I hope that we have added to the general knowledge about what will happen, the remedies that people have and the sort of conditions that they might expect. I hope that that will be of help and assistance to everyone who lives along the route of the track.

My Lords, I believe that Crossrail will be successful—it would be operating successfully today if we had legislated for it earlier. One of the lessons of the success of the Alloa railway, where the loadings proved to be three times greater than forecast, was that we should have got on with it earlier. I would like to carry that forward and say, please introduce a high-speed line railway Bill, because we are about to need it now, not after we have legislated for it, which will probably be in about 20 years’ time. I wish the Crossrail Bill well.

On Question, Bill passed and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Freedom of Information (Parliament and National Assembly for Wales) Order 2008

rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 15 July be approved.

The noble Baroness said: My Lords, I have worked closely with my right honourable friend the Leader of another place to ensure that proposals for another place also cover your Lordships' House. I have consulted usual channels colleagues and the House Committee about the introduction of this order and I am grateful for their support.

It is my strong contention that to carry out our duties in your Lordships' House properly, we have to be able to speak freely without fear or favour. We must be able to say what we believe to be true about difficult or controversial issues and we must be able to do so without feeling that we could be putting ourselves or our families at risk. Section 7 of the Freedom of Information Act allows for the Act to be amended in the light of developing circumstances such as these. The section permits the Secretary of State to make an order limiting the scope of the Act’s application to specific information held by a particular body. The order amends Schedule 1, which covers which bodies are subject to the Act. The order will exclude four categories of information, if held by either House or the National Assembly for Wales, from the scope of the Act. This will mean that the response to any request for information falling into these categories will be that the House does not hold such information for the purposes of the Act.

The four categories of information are, first, residential addresses of any Member. This means that information relating to any residential address held by either House, regardless of whether a claim has been made in respect of it or not, will no longer be covered by the Act. “Residential address” includes a Member’s main or alternative place of residence, including any temporary accommodation such as a hotel, a holiday home or any grace-and-favour residences—that is, those that come from a job. Members will know that, unlike another place, the House of Lords authorities do not hold addresses in relation to claims for expenses except in relation to travel. However, any information the House holds on addresses will now be outside the scope of the Act.

The second category is information as to regular or forthcoming travel arrangements for any Member. “Forthcoming travel arrangements” means any travel that, at the date of a relevant freedom of information request, has not yet taken place. Disclosure of this information might endanger the Member or Members undertaking that journey. “Regular travel” covers any journey between two points using any mode of transport that happens at broadly the same time—for example, each day, week or month—knowledge of which could put a Member’s personal safety at risk. Information on the amount spent by Members on regular travel during any calendar month will remain subject to the Act. However, any further breakdown of expenditure—for example by week or day—will not be, as it could enable the identification of a regular travel pattern.

The third category is information that would enable the identification of any person who has delivered goods or provided services to a Member at any residence of the Member. This provision is of more relevance to Members of another place, who are entitled to make claims for goods and services received in relation to homes they maintain in order to fulfil their parliamentary or constituency responsibility. This House’s Members’ reimbursement allowance scheme contains no analogous provision.

The fourth category is information relating to expenditure by a Member on security arrangements. Again, this issue is relevant to Members of another place, who are entitled to make claims for expenditure in relation to security arrangements at their addresses. All the provisions I have outlined also apply to the National Assembly for Wales. I beg to move.

Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 15 July be approved. 26th report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.—(Baroness Ashton of Upholland.)

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for bringing this matter to the attention of the House and proposing that the order be agreed. It brings to an end, I hope, the most unsatisfactory and unedifying spectacle of a deep disagreement between the authorities of another place and the Information Commissioner on the publication of private addresses of Members of another place and, I suppose by extension, those of your Lordships. From that point of view, the order is very much to be welcomed for the reasons that the noble Baroness has outlined, particularly in view of many of the security aspects affecting Members of both Houses.

Will the noble Baroness confirm that the order extends equally to all Members of this House as well as to those of another place? The noble Baroness has said that it extends to Parliament and the National Assembly for Wales. For information, will the noble Baroness tell us the position for the Northern Ireland Assembly and the Scottish Parliament? They are clearly excluded from these provisions. Do they have their own arrangements or are they planning on doing something else? There is no need for the noble Baroness to give me an answer today, but perhaps she could write to me and let me know.

Finally, this order has raised the fact that issues in the Freedom of Information Act need clarifying. It is not that anybody is trying to hide information from greater public scrutiny, but this has raised all sorts of questions about the nature of the information requested, by whom it is requested and the use to which it is put. Have the Government plans to review the working of the Freedom of Information Act to see whether any changes should be made in the foreseeable future?

My Lords, we on these Benches have absolutely no objection to making these changes to the Freedom of Information Act. I am not sure that I can entirely agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, but certainly there should be reasonable limits on the information that can safely be given out so that it does not endanger those engaged in certain activities. This measure is a bold first step in attempting to set those reasonable limits. One could argue about what are appropriate requests for information and what are vexatious, and whether the Act gives some journalists a licence to become voyeuristic about other people’s lives, but I shall not go too far down that route today. The order constitutes a reasonable compromise that safeguards national and personal security. As I say, we have no objection to it.

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for introducing the order. I would have difficulty continuing to cover defence and security issues without it.

My Lords, from the security point of view this is an extremely sensible measure. Therefore, I hope that the Government will provide the Information Commissioner with sufficient powers to ensure that these data are protected, wherever they are located. As we well know from past reports of the Information Commissioner, there is, unfortunately, a propensity to try to purchase this information. Therefore, I hope that these data are held in a suitably secure, probably encrypted form, to ensure that there is no inadvertent access to them and they do not accidentally end up on a stick or a laptop somewhere.

My Lords, I do not wish to detain the House for more than a few minutes. It will not surprise noble Lords to hear that I keep a paternal eye on orders that affect the Freedom of Information Act, and that I try to assess the effect of any orders on the original Act. I remind the House that the whole purpose of the Act is to empower the citizen to challenge the apparatus of the state, particularly that of the Executive, and to extend their own freedom.

As regards an observation made by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, I should point out that when we drew up the first semblances of the Act in the original Bill, we excluded Parliament. We felt that if Parliament were included it would be so easy for the press to have a go at MPs and Members of this House and neglect where the real power lies in Great Britain; namely, in the Executive. That is exactly what has happened. I am not saying that it was wrong to include it, but that was the judgment that we made at the time.

The security of Members of this House and the other place is paramount. We should not forget that only 25 years ago, or even less, we all went through a heavy security curtain. I clearly remember the days when the police gave briefings on security for our constituency homes. We also had to search underneath our cars every time we went out in them. We forget those things now but they were very real at the time. We all hope that those days never come again, but it would be foolish to forget them.

My last point is very important. The families of Members in both Houses of Parliament usually make a great sacrifice so that we can be here to try to serve the nation. Particularly in the other House, where Members may traditionally have had younger families, there is real pressure, real fear and real tension. Members from provincial seats come down to London on a Sunday night or Monday morning and return on a Thursday or Friday, but their families are left up there, often on their own. I can well recall my wife being frightened—I would almost say to death—during a period in the 1980s when, literally at 4 am, there was a braying at the door. She went to the upstairs window, and a policeman was outside saying, “Under no account must you open any parcel that might be delivered to your house”. Of course that was a helpful intervention—the police were delivering a warning—but you can imagine the fear of a woman living on her own with a young family in that situation.

It is therefore right and proper to insist that a certain amount of privacy should be given to Members of Parliament of both Houses. This order is a correct procedure and I welcome it as a step in the right direction.

My Lords, I am grateful for the welcome that has been given to the order. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, that we have not had discussions with Northern Ireland, but we are very happy to do so. Such discussions may well take place. As Scotland has a separate Act, it is for them to deal with these issues themselves.

My noble friend Lord Clark eloquently reminded us of the history, and noble Lords who were in another place will remember only too well the difficulties and the dangers. However, we have also had recent examples: noble Lords will recall that my right honourable friend has twice had visitors on her roof from the organisation that calls itself Fathers for Justice. So there are real issues of concern in any event. We are confident that we have protected every Member of your Lordships’ House through this move. I am informed by the Clerk who looks after this information that it is kept secure, so the noble Earl, Lord Errol, need not worry about that. We will ensure that any requests are dealt with appropriately.

We do not have plans to review the Act more formally. As noble Lords may recall, I was the Minister responsible for freedom of information. The Act was brought in not to support journalistic enquiries into issues about your Lordships’ House or another place, important though those are, but to enable ordinary citizens to find out information from public bodies in their locality, whether that is their health service, their local schools or another body. I think that we all recognise the importance and value of that. However, as with any piece of information, context is everything. We must continually strive to ensure that when information is released, people understand the context of what that information actually explains to the person who requested it, rather than, as we have occasionally seen, simply seeing the stark fact without realising its relevance.

There are continuous discussions to ensure that the Information Commissioner has the necessary relevant powers. For now, however, we are confident that this is an important move. It has already passed through another place, and I hope it will pass through your Lordships’ House today.

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Secure Training Centres: Use of Restraint (JCHR Report)

rose to move, That this House takes note of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on The Use of Restraint in Secure Training Centres (11th Report, HL Paper 65).

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I welcome this opportunity to initiate a debate on this subject. I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, on which I am privileged to serve. In March this year the committee produced its report The Use of Restraint in Secure Training Centres, and the Government published their response on 17 July, just in time for this debate.

The House will know that secure training centres house young offenders aged between 12 and 17 who are too vulnerable or young to be in young offender institutes run by the Prison Service. These centres are privately run, and there are four in the UK, at Medway, Oakhill, Hassockfield and Rainsbrook. The young people held there often have a violent background, and the use of violence against them needs to be avoided. This is not just a matter of training staff, but of developing strategies in secure training centres to reduce the need for restraint. By any standards, these are the very people most in need of human rights protection. The Ministry of Justice is responsible for legislation and for the Youth Justice Board, which oversees contracts for STCs and places children and young people into institutions.

In July 2007, the new Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules came into force. They were not subject to parliamentary debate at the time. The rules allow staff in STCs to use force to,

“ensure good order and discipline”.

Legitimate techniques, called “physical control in care”, include restraint holds and something called distraction techniques; that is,

“inflicting pain to thumb, ribs or nose”.

In fairness, I should point out that the nose distraction technique has since been suspended.

I understand that, about two years ago, the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, on behalf of the Howard League for Penal Reform, investigated the use of restraints. As a result, the Government decided to hold their own inquiry but, so far, that has not been published. Could the Minister enlighten the House about when the report and the Government’s comments on it might be available?

The key conclusion of the JCHR report is that the effect of current UK law is that the Government have sanctioned violence against children and young people. We say that force used against young people and children in detention is “rarely acceptable” and requires significant justification. The practice runs the risk of breaching international human rights standards under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. According to that convention, the state needs to ensure that restraint does,

“not involve deliberate infliction of pain as a form of control”.

In its report in 2002-03, the JCHR said that,

“the level of physical assault and the degree of physical restraint experienced by children in detention … represent unacceptable contraventions of [the] UNCRC”.

Detention techniques, according to the Youth Justice Board,

“rely on techniques which create pain”.

We heard evidence in which a young person, who subsequently died in a secure training centre, wrote a note saying that he had been punched in the nose and was told that that was an example of restraint.

Even more sadly, two young people have died in STCs following restraint. Their inquests took place in the past year. The Government claimed that their reason for introducing the new amendment rules was to respond to the coroner’s recommendation regarding the death of one of the young people. In their response, the Government seem to dismiss the committee’s concern and the Government’s obligations under the UN convention by explaining that the UN committee’s comments are,

“not binding on signatory states”.

The committee and I believe that the Government should seek to meet their obligations under the UN convention, as it seems clear that there is a lawful sanction of the use of pain against young people in STCs. I welcome the Government's response that they are seeking to,

“reduce the use of physical restraint in STCs”.

We on the committee say that the amendment rules are ambiguous because “good order and discipline” is imprecise, broad and inherently subjective. Any confusion caused by the rules and the use of force can have tragic consequences, as we have seen.

The Government insist that “ensuring good order and discipline” is not a catch-all phrase and that force must not be,

“used as a punishment or merely to secure compliance with staff instructions”.

However, the committee heard evidence about force being used against boys who, for example, refused to go to bed. They were not causing any harm; they simply said that they were not going to go to bed. To use force against them seems to me and the committee to be excessive in the circumstances.

The Government's response was to argue that the committee or others could not judge whether force was legitimate in such an example,

“without an understanding of all the circumstances in which it was made and of the establishment itself”,

and that a continual refusal to go to bed might legitimise the decision to use force. My Lords, I beg to differ.

A judicial review case was brought that challenged the new amendment rules. The Government will use the result of that to say that they are right and that the committee has gone too far in its criticisms; I am sure that that will be in the Minister’s brief. The court held that the rules are not legally uncertain, nor do they legitimise treatment which is in breach of Articles 3 or 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. However, it also stated:

“Whether conduct and/or treatment complained of in a future case is contrary to Articles 3 and/or 8 will depend on all the circumstances”.

In other words, it may be legitimate to have these rules but the way in which they are given effect to may breach human rights. I could, although I shall not, go into greater detail about the court decision and its consequences.

It is a matter of concern that the Government seem to be suggesting that it can be appropriate to use force in compliance with staff instructions. That goes against the code of practice of the Youth Justice Board for England and Wales, and I think that the board is right.

The rules were brought forward without any human rights impact assessment, which I suppose is legitimate. The committee called in its report and other reports for the Government to address human rights considerations in Explanatory Notes and Memoranda. The Government provide formal compatibility statements with affirmatives and super affirmatives but they say that to provide analysis for every statutory instrument would be onerous. I accept that analysing every SI might be onerous, but the committee recommends:

“Where secondary legislation raises significant human rights implications, we would expect to see sufficient analysis to facilitate effective parliamentary scrutiny”.

I should like the Minister to ensure that officials communicate with committee staff with the aim of providing more human rights information on at least some SIs. I repeat that I am talking about SIs which have significant human rights implications, not the whole generality of subordinate legislation. Given that the Minister will himself or herself have to check that these things are human-rights compliant, it is not very much to ask that these matters should be reported publicly.

I welcome the fact that the Government are meeting our recommendation to place in the Libraries of both Houses every six months detailed statistics about the number of restraint incidents. It was difficult for the committee to access this information during the inquiry; this will enable it to continue scrutinising the issue.

Can the Minister suggest how Parliament can assess whether force is always being used legitimately? Can the detailed statistics promised to Parliament include a short commentary on the circumstances in which restraint was used, without going into too much detail about individual cases?

It is regrettable that the Government will not place in the public domain the manual of constraint techniques. They say that that could be dangerous, but I am not sure that I follow their reasons. Surely having this information in the public domain would allow proper scrutiny and assessment of the physical controls to help to ensure that force did not turn into illegitimate violence.

I believe that the Joint Committee on Human Rights has done a public service in producing the report and highlighting the needs of a small number of extremely vulnerable people. We believe that using violence against people who were subjected to violence before being put into detention can only breed violence. It can hardly lead to them coming out in a more peaceful and less violent frame of mind. The evidence shows that when young people come out of these centres, the likelihood of their reoffending is very high. I look forward to the Minister’s response. I beg to move.

Moved, That this House takes note of the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on The Use of Restraint in Secure Training Centres (11th Report, HL Paper 65).—(Lord Dubs.)

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for that powerful defence of human rights and for expressing how we need to ensure that the regime in secure training centres leads to people coming out of those institutions better equipped to fulfil their life within society. I am also grateful to him for giving this House the opportunity to discuss in detail the Joint Committee’s report and the Government’s response.

I shall concentrate on two fine lines, which are revealed in the debate between the Joint Committee and the Government. The first fine line revealed is that between restraint and violence. The semantic debate between the committee and the Government on the distinction between force and violence demonstrates how difficult it is to make these distinctions. I hope that the Minister will confirm that any action that can be construed as violence has no place in a secure training centre.

One problem is that restraint can so easily slide into violence. I have considerable admiration for those who undertake the care of challenging children and young people, and I know something of the pressures on them from my visits as a parish priest to such institutions. That makes it all the more crucial that there is clarity that violence is not a part of the sanctions available to them in their work. The quality of care needs to be constantly reinforced by training and by support for front-line staff. I very much welcome the emphasis of both the committee and the Government on the need for training and the improved training now available.

I hope that the Minister will say more about the personal support that is, and must be, provided to staff. They need encouragement to develop a caring relationship with those for whom they are responsible, many of whom have experienced very little care or love in their own lives. They need to do all that they can to ensure that STCs are not themselves bleak and unloving institutions.

In that context, I was particularly pleased to see in the Government’s response a reference to restorative justice, whereby in one of the institutions, at least, staff review the incident of restraint along with the young person concerned. This taking of responsibility by the young person is very much to be welcomed, and I hope that the Government will agree to encourage such developments in the other secure training centres so that restorative justice becomes one of the principles by which relationships are developed and love is shown in STCs.

That taking of responsibility by the child or young person is necessary if we are to maintain another fine line, between restraint and punishment. Again the Government are clear that techniques of restraint are not used as punishment, yet I wonder whether it feels like that to the young person concerned. The difficult examples given by the committee, and to which the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, has referred, sound to me as though the children involved received that treatment as punishment—and undeserved punishment at that. We need to be clear that violence by a child upon child or staff will not be tolerated, but we need to be still more aware that what is perceived as violence by staff upon a child is more dangerous still. This quickly becomes the violence of authority escalating within the secure system and then beyond.

I am currently attending the Lambeth conference of Anglican bishops from all over the world. Indeed, when I asked for consent to be here yesterday and today, the conference asked me to bring its best wishes to all in your Lordships’ House. I would not want noble Lords to think that my presence here means that either I or the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Lincoln were not invited to Lambeth or that either of us declined to go. Among the events in Canterbury is one organised by the Churches’ Network for Non-violence, which campaigns for an end to violence against children throughout the world and to whose work I am delighted to pay tribute.

The conference gives us the chance to reflect on the violence of our world, as we pray alongside bishops from Zimbabwe and the Sudan, for example—as we speak with them, eat with them and share with them. People at the conference speak time and again of how easily violence becomes part of a culture in our contemporary world, becomes endemic in a society.

We are not immune to that danger. We need to affirm that violence needs to be outlawed in all circumstances in our society, not least within the narrow world of the STCs, which we are talking about today. There needs to be a greater determination to do away with those restraint techniques which are or could become violent and to stress the importance—which has hardly been mentioned here, but which I hope the Minister will talk about—of relationships of personal care between staff and children. If the quotations in the committee’s report from the training manual about techniques of “hair grab”, “strangle against the wall” or “kicks on the floor” are accurate, they are alarming. I hope that the Minister will be able to speak of positive moves towards better relationships in STCs and to an ending of such practices.

My Lords, I, too, am enormously grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for giving us, even on this last day of term, the opportunity to turn our attention to this most important report concerning the use of restraint in secure training centres.

I am somewhat puzzled that the Ministry of Justice is not dealing with this issue. The Minister was in the Chamber earlier. I recognise the locus of the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, in this matter, given that the Department for Children, Schools and Families is involved in the treatment of young people—I am sure that the noble Lord will give us a most excellent exposé of what the Government are doing—but one would have expected the relevant ministry, the ministry to which we address our scrutiny in our Questions on a regular basis, to deal with the issue. It is the ministry that dealt with the Joint Committee on Human Rights; it is the lead ministry; and it is the one that issues the guidance. It is extraordinary that it has chosen not to be involved. At this stage, we are carrying out parliamentary scrutiny of one sort or another.

We are also aware that the Ministry of Justice and the Department for Children, Schools and Families have agreed a joint review of the situation—the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, mentioned that. I re-emphasise his question. The review was due to report on 4 April this year. As far as we are aware, we have not been shown the findings of the review, nor have we seen the Government's response. Can the Minister tell us when we can expect to see that?

I turn to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. I should say that I was a member of the committee when the previous report on deaths in custody was produced—I believe that it was during the 2004-05 Session. We brought up some of the issues that arise in this report. Some years have now passed, but I fear that we do not see much movement.

The noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said that the Government’s response came out on Thursday 17 July. The noble Lord may naturally seek to be kinder in his comments to the Minister than I might be from the other side of the Chamber. If it came out on Thursday 17 July, I should say that some of us have been abroad. I came back last night, and the only opportunity that I have had to read the Government’s response has been this morning. The way in which the debate is treated is indicative of the importance given to this issue.

The report is eminently sensible. It recognises the difficulties involved on all sides. We accept that the trainees—the young people who are detained—and the staff have to maintain a level of order whereby these young people can be detained for the prescribed period in the best possible way. I think people on all sides accept that there must be an element of pragmatism. The committee, however, seeks to influence the Government’s report in several significant ways. That is what it is there for. We on these Benches agree wholeheartedly with its conclusions and its criticisms, and we were disappointed—briefly, as I scanned it—with the Government’s response to it.

First, the order to extend the scope of the use of restraint was passed without parliamentary debate. We are told that it is a statutory instrument and so cannot be subject to parliamentary debate, and that that is how the system works. That is all very well, but an order that broadens so widely the application of restraint—the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, commented on what it does in practical terms and I will not take up any more time discussing it—passes without debate, and the Government’s response is that they do not believe they should answer the question about the provision’s compatibility with the Human Rights Act or provide any scope for consultation. I would have expected the Explanatory Notes, as did the committee in its report, to cover whether this new expansion of powers was compatible with the Human Rights Act.

Let me go further. We know that, historically, black and ethnic minority young people are subjected to restraint in larger numbers than their white counterparts. According to the Howard League for Penal Reform, prison monitoring shows that restraint is used disproportionately on young black men. Will the Minister say whether the Ministry of Justice will give us a broader view of whether the expansion of powers is compatible with human rights? The Ministry of Justice also needs to carry out a race impact assessment when members of a particular population within the secure training estate are affected in higher numbers than their white counterparts. We need to know why this is happening.

Still on the theme of scrutiny, will the Minister say whether he will take up the committee’s recommendation that every six months the Ministry of Justice should provide Parliament with figures on the use of restraint? If the answer is yes, will he say when we can expect the latest set of figures to be released? The report was published in April, so I would expect that by the time we return after the Summer Recess we might have sight of some figures to know whether the expansion of powers has resulted in a decrease, increase or whatever in the use of restraint for maintaining order.

The general tone of the Government’s response to the JCHR’s scrutiny is incomprehension that expanding the use of restraint should trouble anyone. Perhaps the absence of a Minister is proof of the priority given to this debate; this is not a high-order issue. The incredulity extends to all sorts of legal contortions that we are presented with, such as why UK ratification of the convention matters, but not the inspector’s comments. In other words, the findings of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child are dismissed because its conclusions are not narrowly, legally binding. Another legal contortion is the definition of violence. I pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds who spoke so passionately about these distinctions and how one perceives violence in legal terms, the exact legal definition of the use of force, and so on.

In the Government’s eyes, violence is the “unlawful or unjustifiable” use of force, which is the narrowest possible definition that one might imagine. People who speak plain English might not think of that definition when they encounter the word “violence”. I looked up “violence” in my college dictionary, which is excessively detailed and academic. The most commonly understood meaning is “swift and intense force”. The next most common definition is,

“rough or injurious physical force, action or treatment”.

It is only at a third tier of usage where violence is an,

“unjust or unwarranted exertion of force or power”.

I labour that point because, if you are a young person at the receiving end of violence or force—call it what you will—that causes you intense physical pain and discomfort, not to mention the psychological humiliation that no doubt will follow and be alongside that, it matters little that the state, in its wisdom, defines violence in a different way from how you see it. That is evidenced in the suicide note and the testimony given by Adam Rickwood, who, as we know, tragically took his own life.

Finally, I come to the comments made by the Minister in his testimony to the committee. He referred to:

“The important balance to be struck between competing rights”.

We hear that all the time. In the terrorism legislation, we are hearing about the importance of the balance that needs to be struck between security and liberty. I would argue that to imply a balance is to suggest that there is a trade-off in terms of a scale, a measurement, and that there might be a little more or a little less here or there.

On the use of violence by the state against its own young people, to imply a balance is to approach the problem from the wrong philosophical mindset. It is not a balance. The state has a duty to be extremely careful in its dealings with these people. There should be overt, explicit, transparent commitments that the agents of the state will not use violence against children except in highly and extraordinarily well defined circumstances.

There is little left to be said other than that the extension of these powers in this manner, without adequate consultation and scrutiny, is wrong. It was wrong when it was dealt with then. But, furthermore, the way in which it was dealt in response to the Joint Committee on Human Rights report and findings, and the Government’s response, was wrong. I shall conclude by quoting the opening paragraph of the conclusions of the committee’s report, which says it all. We would wish to see that reflected in the way the Government deals with it. The report states:

“The state has a duty to ensure that detained young people and STC staff are protected from abuse or violence. It is therefore incumbent on the state to take positive steps to ensure that detainees and staff are not injured by other detainees, and conversely that detainees are not injured by staff … We are dissatisfied by the Minister’s explanation of how current policy and practice comply with human rights standards”.

I hope that the Minister responding today will not leave us in that state of frustration.

My Lords, I, too, join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, for initiating this important debate. If my reply is on the short side, it is only because I share so much of the sentiments articulated by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner. This is a very sensitive and sometimes distressing area of the criminal justice system, but that is all the more reason why we should deal with it in a careful and thoughtful way.

The Joint Committee has produced its report, which can be added to the growing list of reports that have dealt with youth justice. Of course, we have the anchor document of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his inquiry on behalf of the Howard League and I share the concern of several noble Lords that we await the very long delayed government response to that. That inquiry, and the subsequent rule changes, followed the death of a young man, Gareth Wyatt, in circumstances involving the use of restraint. This important area deserves the full attention of all of us in Parliament, because failure can have such tragic consequences.

We have been reminded that secure training centres were set up to accommodate young offenders between the ages of 12 and 17 who were too young or too vulnerable to be in young offender institutions run by the Prison Service. As ever, a fine balance must be struck. It is a sad reality that staff in secure training centres are sometimes confronted with a risk or threat of violence from those whom they are charged to oversee, which always must be borne in mind when criticising the service. They are compelled to maintain a certain standard of behaviour and discipline among a group of offenders, who in many cases are very disturbed characters

On the secure training centres, it is a salutary thought that England and Wales—Scotland is excluded because it does not have secure training centres—is just about the only jurisdiction in Europe which employs restraint by force in this way. The staff in these centres are, by and large, underpaid and, even more seriously, under-trained. It is the view of bodies such as the Howard League that restraint should be used only in exceptional circumstances where all else has failed and that there should be an on-the-spot inquiry after each incident.

One of the more radical suggestions in the report from the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, was that the child—I emphasise the word “child”, although the Government persist in calling them trainees—should be involved in the inquiry. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds referred to that when he talked about restitution. I also share the concern that the guidelines for the use of restraint are not published. I shall be very interested to hear the Minister’s response to that. Obviously, with the volume of occasions on which restraint is customarily used, it is not possible to implement suggestions that there should be an inquiry every time.

The committee was extremely critical of the Government’s attitude to the report. It contended that the Minister appeared to distinguish between the use of force or restraint and the application of violence, which has been the subject around the House today. It pointed out that no such distinction features in human rights law and, while the Government do not sanction violence against children, that is exactly what current legislation permits. The committee found that the Government suggested in their response that they are not obliged to comply with the general comments of the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, but simply with the convention. That is not satisfactory. It is messy. Strictly speaking that is true, but it ill behoves this country to be seen to be complying with our obligations so grudgingly. We should be concerned about applying the most rigorous standards, not about getting away with the barest minimum. I hope that the Minister will feel able to expand on that point.

The committee also raised concerns about the use of the term,

“to ensure good order and discipline”,

in the rules. This term appeared in the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, it was absent from the 1998 rules, but has made a reappearance in the 2007 rules. The Joint Committee criticised this phrase as,

“imprecise, over-broad and inherently subjective”,

and its view will increase confusion rather than clarify what is allowed. Can the Minister explain why that term was not considered appropriate to be included in the 1998 rules? If the Government are so sure that it is now necessary, I hope that they will take careful note of the committee’s comments. I shall be interested to hear from the Minister exactly what he proposes to do about that. I want also to ask him whether the circumstances in any of the four training centres since the rules came into force have required the restraint to be used to maintain “good order and discipline”. If so, how many times? Is he in a position to tell the House whether these situations could have been properly resolved under the pre-2007 rules?

I end by quoting the further observations of the committee in referring to the phrase “good order and discipline”:

“Far from achieving clarity about the circumstances in which physical restraint can be used on a child, as recommended by the coroner in the Rickwood case, instead it brings confusion”.

I shall be very interested to hear the Minister’s comments.

My Lords, my noble friend Lord Dubs made a powerful speech in which he drew the House’s attention to the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights on the use of restraint in secure training centres. We have also had compelling contributions about non-violence, relationship building and human rights from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds, the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman. We appreciate the good wishes of the Anglican Bishops deliberating in Canterbury at the present time. We reciprocate those good wishes, as the participants appear to have challenges at least as great as those that this House faces in reaching decisions on delicate matters.

As the noble Viscount rightly said, this is a sensitive and often distressing area of policy. I recognise unreservedly the duty of care that the state owes to those in its custody. A number of key issues are raised in the Joint Committee’s report: the principles of human rights; the amendment rules made last year; the mechanisms in place for ensuring that restraint is used lawfully, and their review; and effective staff training. In addressing these issues I also want to emphasise the critical priority, which my department recognises, of promoting good education in all the institutions of the secure estate for children and young people so that they can make the best of their lives after they leave.

I state categorically at the outset that the techniques of restraint should be used strictly as a last resort and never as a punishment. That is a fundamental principle enshrined in the Youth Justice Board’s code of practice, Managing Children and Young People’s Behaviour in the Secure Estate. However, the behaviour of some young people in custody is frequently challenging and can be dangerous. It is important that staff who work with and care for these young people are able to intervene appropriately in situations where there is a threat to personal safety or where the safety of the establishment is put at risk.

To establish and maintain a safe environment, it is essential that custody officers are able to defuse potentially dangerous situations. This can be done without recourse to physical intervention in most situations, but, alas, not always, and sometimes other means will be simply impossible. In these situations it is imperative that officers have the right to intervene and establish order. Ensuring the physical safety of everyone involved in the custodial system for young people is the overriding responsibility of Parliament, the Government and all the public officers involved.

The issue at the centre of this debate is what actions and what circumstances constitute acceptable intervention and what oversteps the line. The use of force becomes violence if it is used in an inappropriate way, either through being excessive or through being applied in a situation that is not appropriate. It is therefore critical that custody officers have a clear understanding of when and how they should intervene to maintain safety and security. That is why we asked Peter Smallridge and Andrew Wilkinson to conduct an independent review.

Secure training centres must take account of the human rights of the trainees in their care. The requirement to comply with the Human Rights Act 1998 is explicitly mentioned in their contracts and all operators are aware of their obligations under the Act. The Youth Justice Board keeps in close touch with directors about matters relating to human rights and the welfare of young people at the centres. The United Kingdom is committed to meeting its obligations under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child and pays due attention to the opinions and guidance of the UN committee. However, the committee is not a judicial body and we need to have regard to the wording of the convention as it is ratified. We are confident that our understanding of the convention is correct.

When discussing the use of physical restraint there needs to be a balance between the rights of a young person whose behaviour is dangerous to others, or to the security of the institution, and the rights of those affected by that behaviour. In deciding what is acceptable, we have to have a proper recognition of the rights of all those involved. The Joint Committee’s report placed emphasis on the Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules 2007, which added the need to maintain “good order and discipline” as one of the purposes for which the use of restraint is permitted. Good order and discipline are central to the running of secure training centres and of any other establishment where young people are accommodated. The primary legislation that created secure training centres, the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994, makes ensuring good order and discipline one of the four duties of custody officers. It goes on to specify that to fulfil their duties correctly, custody officers shall have the power to use force “where necessary”.

“Good order and discipline” is not an ambiguous term to give custody officers carte blanche to use force. The Government recognise the importance of ensuring that physical restraint is used as sparingly as possible. The code of practice, Managing Children and Young People’s Behaviour in the Secure Estate, states that restrictive physical interventions must not be used as a punishment or merely to secure compliance with staff instructions. They must only be used to counter behaviour that puts the safe running of the establishment at risk and then only as a last resort when no alternative is available or other options have been exhausted.

My noble friend cited the reference in the Joint Committee’s report to the example of a collective refusal by young people to go to bed at the appointed time when asked to do so, a situation where there appeared to be no immediate threat of violence. I would not wish to make an armchair judgment about the correctness of a particular decision to use physical restraint without an understanding of all the circumstances in which it was made. However, it is important that we are clear about what in principle is appropriate or inappropriate. I say without qualification that a decision to use restraint simply to ensure immediate compliance with an instruction to go to bed would be in breach of the code of practice. Section 10.4 of the code is clear on this point:

“Restrictive physical interventions must not be used as a punishment or merely to secure compliance with staff instructions”.

However, if the situation was such that a continuing refusal to go to bed puts the facility at risk because of, for example, the loss of control by staff, then minimum necessary physical intervention might be appropriate under Section 10.5 of the code, which states:

“Any intervention must be in compliance with the relevant rules and regulations for the establishment, and carried out in accordance with methods in which the member of staff has received training”.

I turn now to the amendment rules themselves. There was no formal consultation, but before introducing the amendment rules the Government took into consideration the views of all the various interest groups. We consulted key stakeholders, the Youth Justice Board and the operators of secure training centres, and were well informed of the views of other commentators. Furthermore, contrary to what I thought my noble friend said, the amendment rules were fully debated by your Lordships when they were made. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, prayed against the Secure Training Centre (Amendment) Rules 2007 on 18 July last year, and a long debate ensued during which many of these points were thoroughly debated and addressed by my noble friend Lord Hunt.

The effect of the rule amendment has been made clear to all those concerned. When the rule change was introduced, instructors at the Prison Service’s Control and Restraint Centre—now the National Tactical Response Group—informed local instructors of the new legal position, new manuals were issued to all instructors and the change was covered in the training of new staff and refresher training for existing staff. We said at the time of the rule change that we did not expect it to lead to greater use of restraint, and it has not done so. The rules came into effect in July 2007 and since then the trend has been downwards.

The noble Baroness and my noble friend asked about further information on the use of restraint. Statistics collected by the Youth Justice Board on the use of restraint in secure training centres and other secure establishments for young people in custody are regularly provided in response to Questions in this House and in another place. However, the Youth Justice Board intends in future to publish annual statistics on the use of restraint, the first of which will be published later this year.

We are looking at the whole issue in the light of the recommendations of the joint review of restraint, which we are currently considering. My noble friend asked when we will publish that review. We plan to publish it and the Government’s response together by the end of October; so it will be freely available to the House to consider in due course.

I turn next to the framework of supervision. We need to ensure that the system of restraint is not abused. There are many mechanisms in place to ensure that the use of restraint is lawful and ethical. On a national level, we have established the Physical Control in Care Management Board to drive forward improvements and safety measures. The board oversees all the processes for ensuring the safety of physical control in care and will address any new issues that arise. On a local level, every secure training centre has a monitor whose duty is to review the running of the centre and to report to the Secretary of State any allegations against custody officers.

All centres have mechanisms to ensure that staff understand when physical control in care may and may not be used. All custody staff must complete a four-day PCC course before qualification. The course covers the legal requirements relating to the use of restraint as well as health and safety considerations. The Youth Justice Board’s contract with STC providers requires them to give refresher training to each staff member every 12 months. In addition, all staff are provided with written guidance when they join the centre which sets out the policies and procedures in relation to the use and recording of restraint.

Following any incident of restraint, a report must be prepared within 24 hours and considered by senior managers. Monthly management meetings review all physical control in care incidents and there is a complaints procedure if a young person feels that force has been misapplied or used inappropriately. The Independent Advocacy Service assists young people who wish to make a complaint.

The Youth Justice Board is continually seeking to develop and reinforce these mechanisms to maximise the safety of young people and staff at secure training centres. It is a central tenet of government policy on secure training centres that every trainee who has had to be restrained is able to discuss the incident afterwards. The code of practice to which I referred earlier states:

“After the intervention, the child or young person must have the opportunity to debrief with a suitable member of staff, with the support of an advocate if requested”.

However, a written statement by the trainee is not always the best option. The Youth Justice Board is exploring further with the secure training centres how young people’s views can be best taken into account.

Physical control in care training includes sessions on determining whether the use of force is necessary and proportionate. If a centre’s operating procedures are not clear or appropriate, the Youth Justice Board can amend or reject them before they come into effect. Monitoring arrangements provide for the Youth Justice Board to determine whether a centre has robust mechanisms in place to review its operating procedures and to check that they are being adhered to. Physical control in care is discussed with the young person on arrival at the centre and covered in the induction process. If a young person has to be physically restrained, staff explain why it was necessary and examine strategies to avoid a repetition. The STC’s statement of purpose and function—which describes when PCC is used, how it fits in with the STC’s wider behaviour management strategy, how incidents are documented and how they are reviewed—is available to parents and carers. Copies can be sent on request or it can be viewed at the centre itself.

The Government are seeking constantly to ensure that the system is as good as it can be by reviewing practice. The Youth Justice Board has convened expert medical panels in 2004-05 and 2007-08 to examine the safety of the restraint techniques approved for use in secure training centres. The use of three techniques, including the nose distraction technique mentioned by my noble friend, has been suspended following recommendations by the panel. Last year we set up an independent joint review of restraint in juvenile secure settings to look at all aspects of restraint in the under-18 secure estate. Its terms of reference included looking at the restraint techniques used, staff training related to restraint, cross-departmental knowledge sharing and the systems for monitoring and recording incidents of restraint, including injuries and warning signs exhibited after restraint. As I said a moment ago, we will respond in full to the report by the end of October.

The Government and the Youth Justice Board have prepared and published an action plan setting out what we have done and are doing in response to the detailed recommendations of the coroners who presided at the inquests into Gareth Myatt’s and Adam Rickwood’s deaths.

As the noble Viscount rightly said, training is crucial to effective practice in this area. A system is in place for the ongoing training of staff. The contracts for secure training centres stipulate:

“Staff required to use Physical Restraint on a Trainee in custody at the Secure Training Centre or to instruct others in its use must be appropriately trained by accredited instructors approved by the Authority”.

They also state:

“Refresher training on the use of Physical Restraint at the Secure Training Centre will be given at regular intervals”.

All training issues are now overseen by the Physical Control in Care Management Board. The system of staff training is to be enhanced by regular audits by national instructors to give assurance that training is being delivered correctly. The board will further consider training issues, including the content of the physical control in care manual, in the light of the findings of the joint review of restraint. The manual is revised and updated following review by the expert medical review panel and otherwise as circumstances require. We intend to conduct a full review of the manual having considered the findings of the joint review of restraint, and in doing so we will take account of the Joint Committee’s comments. The manual has already been updated to remove references to the two techniques—the double basket hold and the nose distraction technique—that were suspended in response to the concerns of the most recent medical panel.

The noble Viscount and my noble friend asked about publication of the manual. Although part of the manual is already published, the actual techniques are not published as they might be attempted by untrained people and that would put others at risk. We believe that that is a sound judgment on the balance between what should be published in the manual and what should be withheld.

The Joint Committee’s report calls for stopping the use of distraction techniques completely. We have suspended, as I say, the nose distraction technique on the advice of the independent medical panel. Distraction techniques are for use in situations where, if they were not available, there would be no means of applying the normal restraint holds and bringing an incident under control. They involve a momentary pain which will distract a person long enough for an officer to intervene safely. The use of distraction techniques is one of the issues considered by the joint review of restraint and, as I say, we will have more to say about it by the end of October.

In conclusion, the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights has highlighted a number of concerns.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for giving way. I wanted to come back in before he concluded. He has not covered some of the issues that I raised, particularly in relation to why his department rather than the Ministry of Justice is dealing with the debate. Leaving that aside, can he tell us—

My Lords, with the greatest respect—if the noble Baroness would resume her seat—I ask her, if she has a direct question, to ask it. Otherwise, we are running out of time.

My Lords, I was just coming to my question. In future, when the Government’s response to a committee report comes out just one sitting day before the debate itself, would the department be kind enough to draw our attention to it by e-mail or send us an electronic copy?

My Lords, I greatly regret that the noble Baroness did not have a chance to consider the government response fully while preparing her remarks. Had I been aware, I would myself have sent it to her earlier. Unfortunately, I cannot undertake that government responses will be sent in every individual case, but it is my own normal practice as a Minister to see that noble Lords are fully aware of relevant government documents. If she feels that there was a lack of courtesy in our provision of information to her in this case, I apologise for that.

In conclusion, the report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights has highlighted a number of concerns and made a number of recommendations. Many of those have been taken on board by the Government, and we will have more to say in due course. We must not forget, however, that not only do we have to protect the physical safety of all those who live and work at custodial institutions, but we must protect the safety of the environment at such institutions to ensure that we give all young people in custody the best chance to live normal lives once they come out of the system.

The Government take this responsibility very seriously. We have introduced a number of measures to ensure that inappropriate techniques are not used to restrain young people, that staff have sufficient training to use restraint appropriately and that the system is under constant review. Like noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, I wish to see the custodial system serve those who pass through it as best it can. We believe that all the measures that have been put in place and our ongoing review will help to improve the system of youth justice to the benefit of all those concerned.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who contributed to this serious debate. I hope, taking what the Minister said, that it will have influenced practice and behaviour in these centres, difficult as they are.

I welcome the fact that the Minister said that the YJB will publish annual statistics. I particularly welcome the fact that the Government will publish the report on the matters they have been inquiring into at the end of October. I am pleased that the young people concerned in such incidents can give their views.

I am not entirely happy that only part of the manual is to be published. When one looks at what is on the internet, I think we are being a little overcautious there. Public transparency would be better.

I welcome the fact that the Minister said that violence will be used only as a last resort and only if there is a threat to safety. Above all, I believe this short debate may well have contributed to improving standards in secure training centres. For that, I am grateful to the House and to the Minister.

On Question, Motion agreed to.


My Lords, with the permission of the House, I would now like to repeat a Statement made in another place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.

“Mr Speaker, with permission, and following my visit last weekend to Baghdad and Basra, I would like to update the House on the latest developments in Iraq.

“Let me start by paying tribute to the British service men and women who have served there with distinction since March 2003 and in particular to those who have given their lives in service of their country. I know the whole House will join with me in honouring the memory of the fallen and saluting the courage of all our military and our civilian personnel.

“As I set out in my October Statement, our objective is the creation of an independent, prosperous, democratic Iraq that is free of terrorist violence, secure within its borders and a stable presence in the region—something that is firmly in Britain’s interests, and in the interests of the world as a whole.

“To achieve this, we have sought with America and our other allies to support the Iraqi Government as they take on greater responsibility for their security and for safeguarding their new democracy, challenging those, whether terrorists, insurgents or militia, who threaten their citizens and undermine the rule of law. We have also sought to foster democratic and accountable government and support national reconciliation, giving all of Iraq’s communities a genuine say in the future of their country. And we have worked to help the Iraqis build their economy and give their people an economic stake in the future.

“In the last year, this has led us to pursue the strategy of ‘overwatch’, moving from combat to the training and mentoring of the Iraqi forces and the Iraqi police, encouraging the development of local government and working with the Iraqis on a Basra economic development strategy.

“And in recent months, conditions in Basra have shown a marked improvement. Incidents of indirect fire against British troops in the Basra air station have fallen from 200 a month at their peak last summer to an average of fewer than five a month since April this year. As the All-Party House of Commons Defence Committee says in its report today, the security situation in Basra has been ‘transformed’. And, as General Petraeus and Ambassador Crocker confirmed to me at the weekend, thanks to operations by Iraqi and coalition security forces that are strongly welcomed by ordinary Iraqis, violent incidents right across Iraq are at their lowest level since 2004. Sunni groups have now joined the Iraqi and American forces in driving al-Qaeda from areas where it had been able to terrorise the population, and Iraqi troops, with British and American support, have had success against the illegal Shia militias, giving the Government of Iraq more control of the country.

“Of course this progress, often fragile, cannot be taken for granted. Millions of Iraqis are still refugees, either inside Iraq or in other countries. And the two car bombs detonated at the gates of an Iraqi army recruitment centre on 15 July remind us that there are groups still determined to inflict violence.

“But the most important development is that the improvements we have seen have been increasingly Iraqi-led. Security responsibility for 10 of 18 provinces has now transferred to Iraqi control, including all four provinces in Britain’s area of operations. The Iraqi security forces are now taking the lead in maintaining security and confronting all those who perpetrate violence, including acting decisively against Shia militia in Basra, Sadr City and Al Amara. And they have been supported by local people from across Iraq’s communities, Sunni, Shia and Kurd.

“Britain has already helped train more than 20,000 Iraqi army troops. But I want to pay credit to Prime Minister Maliki, his Government and the Iraqi security forces who have shown bravery and leadership in tackling the terrorists and militias threatening the stability of their country.

“The improved security situation has provided a platform for further essential progress on reconciliation. And we have seen not only increased co-operation between Sunni communities and the Iraqi Government in areas like Anbar and Mosul and the return of the Tawafuq such as Sunni party to the Government, but the passage of key legislation that is helping to embed democracy, including the accountability and justice law, the provincial powers law and the 2008 budget.

“The next stage will be provincial elections, reinforcing the political progress being made at the national level. And our message to the leaders of all Iraq’s communities and parties right across the country is that they must continue to make the right long-term decisions to achieve a sustainable peace.

“It is also important that, as we move forward, we see Iraq’s neighbours playing a constructive and responsible role in Iraq’s future. In particular, Syria should clamp down on the movement of foreign fighters and Iran must stop the provision of arms and training to those who attack the democratically elected Government of Iraq, the coalition forces in Iraq at that Government’s request, and the Iraqi people.

“We will also continue to focus on helping the Iraqi Government rebuild their economy and ensuring the Iraqi people have a stake in their future. British-led projects in southern Iraq have already helped to deliver enough electricity to supply 800,000 people and water supply for more than 1 million people, with this year another 120,000 people due to get power and 250,000 gain access to direct supplies of water. Our funding has helped the UN and World Bank repair and re-equip 1,000 healthcare centres and more than 5,000 schools, and train nearly 150,000 teachers. With British training and equipment, including upgrades to air traffic control systems, lighting and firefighting capability, Iraqi personnel are now regularly handling more than 20 civil flights a week at Basra international airport. And British mentoring and support has helped the Basra provincial council gain access to $400 million in central government funds for 2008—money that, in line with the council’s increasing ability to take the lead itself, it is now spending to further improve infrastructure and provide public services such as power, water, health and education.

“Last week, the Basra Development Commission agreed an outline economic strategy for Basra that sets out plans to encourage private sector and foreign investment. Britain is supporting the new Basra Investment Promotion Agency, which I met at the weekend, and the Basra Development Fund, which will provide loans to small and start-up businesses—key drivers of economic growth and job creation. I am grateful for the work of Michael Wareing, a leading British businessman, who co-chairs the Basra Development Commission.

“Nine months ago, I set out the key elements of our strategy for handing over security in Basra to the Iraqis and set out the stages for completing the tasks we have set ourselves. We completed the initial phase on target, handing over Basra to provincial Iraqi control in December. This allowed us to reduce troop numbers in southern Iraq from 5,500 in September to 4,500.

“After the Iraqi Government launched Operation Charge of the Knights to enforce the rule of law in Basra, as my right honourable friend the Defence Secretary explained to the House in April, the military advice was that we should pause the further planned reduction so that British troops, together with US forces, could support the Iraqis in this crucial operation. Since then, we have responded to changing needs and embedded more than 800 UK personnel within the Iraqi command structure, at divisional, brigade and battalion level. The focus of the 4,100 UK forces still in southern Iraq is now on completing the task of training and mentoring the 14th Division of the Iraqi army in Basra. It is right that as we do so, we continue for the next few months to provide support at these levels.

“Other remaining military tasks, agreed with the Government of Iraq, and in close consultation with our US allies, include finalising the preparation of Basra airport for transfer to Iraqi control and continuing to develop the capacity of the Iraqi navy and marines so they can protect Iraq's oil platforms, territorial waters and Umm Qasr port—all critical to Iraq's economic future. It is now right to complete the tasks we have set ourselves.

“We expect the Basra Development Commission to publish its detailed economic development plan in the autumn. We hope that local government elections will take place by the end of 2008. Subject to security conditions on the ground, our military commanders believe that the Iraqis will be able to take over development of Basra airport by the end of this year. They also expect the first stage of the general training and mentoring of the combat troops of the 14th Division in Basra to be complete around the turn of the year.

“As the focus shifts from training combat troops, we will then move forward to the specific task of mentoring headquarter and specialist staffs. Our military commanders expect the 14th Division in Basra to be fully trained during the first months of next year.

“As we complete these tasks, and as progress continues across these different areas, we will continue to reduce the number of British troops in Iraq. Of course, future decisions will be based, as I have always said, on the advice of our military commanders on the ground. But I can tell the House today that just as last year we moved from combat to overwatch, we would expect a further fundamental change of mission in the first months of 2009 as we make the transition to a long-term bilateral partnership with Iraq, similar to the normal relationships which our military forces have with other important countries in the region.

“The Defence Secretary and our military commanders will now work with the Iraqi Government to formulate agreement on the details of such a partnership, including the necessary legal basis, and he will report to the House in the autumn.

“I believe it is right that having successfully trained and mentored large numbers of the Iraqi forces, and having successfully worked with the Iraqis on a new economic development strategy, we complete the key tasks we have agreed with the Iraqi Government: training the 14th Division of the Iraqi army in Basra; preparing Basra airport for transfer to Iraqi control; pushing forward economic development; providing the necessary support for provincial elections; honouring our obligations to the Iraqi people; and, at all times, ensuring the safety of our Armed Forces, whose professionalism and dedication have brought us to this stage and whose service to our country I once again commend to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating this important Statement. A military commitment to containing—indeed, sustaining—Iraq has scored national affairs for nearly a generation. Week after week, Parliament hears the litany of brave young men and women who have laid down their lives in Iraq and Afghanistan. We cannot fully express our gratitude to them or our admiration for the skill and fortitude of our troops in their varied and often changing missions in this troubled region. So many of the aspirations and enmities causing the multi-layered and overlapping tensions in this region are centuries old. I wonder whether we are any nearer a solution now. In fact, are we any nearer to knowing what the solution is?

It is clear that Iraq must be restored to being a great nation, a pivot of regional affairs—a nation that with security and stability could and should be one of the richest in the world. But while we welcome the Prime Minister’s assessment that President Bush’s troop surge has been a success, there is still far to go.

As the Prime Minister says, Iraqi army and security forces are now performing better and the Statement promises further progress in Basra, but what prospect have we that in Basra a woman may walk without a veil and go without fear? What hope is there of accelerating economic reconstruction, including even faster progress than reported to the provision of basic amenities such as reliable electricity and clean water?

While there are improvements in security in Basra city, can the noble Baroness confirm that the provisional reconstruction team is still based at the airbase? What prospect is there of a move to Basra proper, and have the circumstances for a move been clearly defined?

I welcome the fact that this time the Prime Minister has not made the error of grandstanding in Iraq on reducing troop numbers—a soundbite never properly fulfilled, to the detriment of his own political reputation and force morale. What is the policy on troop reductions? Everyone wants to see our forces out of Iraq as soon as it is practicable to do so; but is not the right approach, which we have advocated and the Government now seem to be adopting, to lay out conditions which have to be met, to achieve the objectives we set ourselves and, only then, withdraw the troops? Does the noble Baroness accept that there should be no more artificial timetables, as the Prime Minister said only on 19 July? Will she assure the House that no private undertakings have been given to either US presidential candidate? We have been there before, my Lords. Good personal relations with a US president are one thing, British national interests sometimes another.

What is our reaction to the call from the Iraqi Government that all US combat forces, and so, presumably, all UK troops, should be withdrawn from Iraq by the end of 2010?

What is to be done about the 2 million refugees who have fled Iraq in recent years? What discussions have taken place about their future? Does the noble Baroness agree that the long-term stability and prosperity of Iraq depend upon their eventual resettlement? Will she assure the House that there will be fair, honourable and dignified treatment for those brave Iraqis who helped our forces as interpreters and in so many other ways? Some noble Lords may have seen reports of the squalid and demeaning conditions in which some of these families are living. Can the noble Baroness tell us how many families have been transferred here? Will she assure the House that they will not be placed in accommodation in the UK that no one else will accept? Such action would shame our country.

A second certainty of the resolution of the crisis is that Iran is a proud and ancient nation, one of the anvils of world civilisation, whose particular religious identity has normally been a core of its sense of what it is. It is, and will be, a regional superpower. It must be treated with subtlety and respect. If it feels threatened, it will claim the right to defend itself and, of course, security runs two ways. That said, Iran has a duty to behave with responsibility. Its outrageous threats to the very existence of Israel were rightly condemned by the Prime Minister as abhorrent. Its sponsorship of Hezbollah and Hamas in encircling Israel is equally threatening to Israel. That is no route to justice for the Palestinian people. What engagement, if any, is there with the revolutionary Hamas regime in Gaza, and can the noble Baroness confirm that Hezbollah now has an effective military, political and constitutional block on the Government of the Lebanon and any action by them? What is being done there? After all, France has the EU presidency; it has a historic link with Lebanon. What is President Sarkozy doing to help the matter?

What did the Prime Minister mean when he said that Iran would not be allowed to acquire nuclear weapons? It is, of course, a nightmare prospect, and something that we must all strive to avoid, but what are the Government’s plans? Will there be sanctions? If so, what, where, when, and enforced by whom? What are the implications for the security of British forces in Iraq and Afghanistan, within range of Iranian reprisal? How can Russia and China be brought, as they must, into the resolution of these issues? Does it need a fresh start? When will we know whether Mr Blair’s mission served whatever credible or useful purpose it may once have had?

It would be tempting to ask about Afghanistan, for the issues are linked and the impact on the desperate overstretch of our troops enormous, but I shall ask only this. We are hearing new voices from Washington talking of potentially pursuing al-Qaeda into Pakistan, whether the Pakistan Government agree or not. What is the UK Government’s view on that?

As we leave Westminster for pleasant places, families up and down the land keep a watch on photographs of loved ones far away, doing dangerous duty for our country. Across the Middle East, millions yearn for a peace that is so elusive and for leadership ready to take the risks that will break the mould of poverty, hatred and the gun. In the weeks ahead, we should not forget any of them. The prize for success would be immense, but the costs of lack of care and clarity in our objectives are incalculable. As our nation, with its long experience, already knows, none would be spared the pain. Whatever options are charted out in the months ahead, populist disengagement, politically, diplomatically, or even militarily, is not now among them.

My Lords, we, too, are grateful to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made in the other place. We join in the tributes paid to members of our Armed Forces and civilian personnel serving with them in Iraq and send our condolences to all the relatives of those whose lives were lost in that theatre.

We welcome the good news on the reconstruction of Iraq’s infrastructure—the education and health facilities, water, electricity and so on—although we cannot help reminding the noble Baroness that we would not have had to do that if we had not embarked on the misguided and foolish invasion of Iraq some years ago. It is as a result of allied activities, which have destroyed so much of Iraq’s infrastructure, that these operations are necessary now.

We also think it disappointing that no further timetable is given in the Statement for withdrawal or even an estimate of when our training role will end. What is the number of troops at Basra airport? Will they be brought back to the United Kingdom or serve elsewhere in Iraq when we hand over at the end of the year? The remaining handovers, which are scheduled to happen by the end of the year, will surely result in a predictable number of reductions of troops in Iraq. The noble Baroness could have given us some indication of what those numbers would be. It is very unsettling for the troops serving in the theatre not to have any idea of how long they will remain there and when their tour of duty end.

The Statement contains references to the foreign militants crossing the border from Syria. Do we have any knowledge of who is organising and funding them? In our discussions with the Syrian Government, have we made any progress towards halting the operations and getting at the sources of their training and funding? Similarly, with Iran, what representations have we made to Tehran and what response have we had on the army and the training of terrorists? The reduction in the number of attacks on British personnel in Basra is an indication of some success in persuading both Syria and Iran not to engage in these operations, but is it not also a product of better political relations between the Sunni and Shia factions in Iraq? We do not hear anything these days about the Mahdi Army. Does that mean that it has been incorporated in the political process? I certainly hope so.

The Statement refers to al-Qaeda and gradually overcoming its forces. Is that meant to be a generic label or does it imply that there is some unification of the command structures among the militants still operating in southern Iraq?

The Statement says nothing about Afghanistan, which was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. As we progressively reduce the number of our troops in Iraq, is it the intention to support the operations in Afghanistan or will we repatriate the troops liberated from those operations to the United Kingdom?

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to both noble Lords for their remarks. I thought that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, began in a rather philosophical frame of mind, which is important as we consider what is changing, particularly in Basra and with the role of the British forces there.

There is no doubt that the improvements are real. Noble Lords will have the benefit of reading the Select Committee report from the other place, with the information that it has put in the public domain. We are very pleased with the progress—although, as noble Lords would expect, we are cautious about making sure that it is not as fragile as it has been in the past and that it will enable Baswari people to be able to live normal lives in exactly the way that noble Lords have described.

The Provincial Reconstruction Team will remain where it currently is until the time is right for it to move. I shall say nothing more about that, for the obvious operational reasons that noble Lords would expect. Both noble Lords asked about troop reductions; we have been clear that any proposals to reduce troops would have to be on the basis of intelligence at the time and what was being told to us by the military command at what was thought to be the most appropriate moment. It is important, with my right honourable friend bringing the Statement to another place and me bringing it to your Lordships’ House, that we keep this House up to date with the current thinking and that noble Lords are able to see the progress that is made. But we will not put artificial timetables on it; any timetables that are put will always have the conditionality that circumstances must allow for them.

We look forward to the bilateral relationship that I mentioned in the Statement between the Iraqi Government and ourselves. We, of course, agree that the long-term future of Iraq will be appropriately secured when people are able to return home and continue the lives that they had before. I, too, saw the reports about interpreters; as noble Lords know from a number of questions after previous Statements, not least from the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, we believe that we should treat these important people appropriately. I absolutely accept the relevance and importance of their role. It is my understanding that that is being done. I do not have numbers for how many are here; if I am able to get them I shall ensure that the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, and others are aware of them.

For obvious reasons, I shall not discuss the role of the French President or the voices in the USA on any of these issues, particularly on Afghanistan, and noble Lords would not expect me to after this particular Statement. None the less, the Government are mindful of what is being said and we will make sure that we keep in touch with what voices are raised in any country on these important issues. This is not about populism; it is about making sure that we achieve the objectives that we have set ourselves in Basra. I hope that noble Lords will accept from the Statement that we have made important movement in the right direction.

The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, focused in his opening remarks on reconstruction and I agree with him that it is important. It is an emphasis that my right honourable friends the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for International Development have rightly placed on the work that we are doing. It is important to ensure that there is economic investment, that we support the role of small businesses and the growth of enterprise and, as we indicated, that we provide support and training for teachers, support for the health service and so forth.

I do not agree with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, about our being there. It is certainly true that we no longer have Saddam Hussein in Iraq. It is also true that many of the opportunities in health and education and even the supply of basic necessities for people were available to only part of the population. We are involved in making sure that the whole population in Iraq is able to enjoy the basic amenities of life and continuing and developing economic opportunities. As I said, we will consider troop reductions as appropriate. Those troops who are based in Basra know how long they are there in terms of their tour of duty. We continue to keep the situation under review and work closely with the commanders in the ways that I mentioned.

Both noble Lords referred to the situation with Iran. We know about the relationship between Iran and Iraq. Iran has a legitimate interest in the future of Iraq. There have been strong cultural, religious and economic ties. We welcome and encourage what we would regard as a healthy and constructive relationship. But Iranian actions run counter to the professed desire for a stable, prosperous Iraq. There are serious concerns about continued Iranian support for illegal Shia militia groups in Iraq. We know that elements of the Iranian state are providing material, training and funding against the Iraqi security forces. Of course, that undermines the elected Government of Iraq and causes further violence. We and the Iraqi Government have made it clear to Iran that it needs to cut ties and links with those groups and improve security on the border with Iraq to prevent the transfer of weaponry. Coalition forces continue to work to counter threats caused by illegal armed groups and to prevent the malign external support for them.

We will no doubt debate and discuss what is happening in Afghanistan at future times, but noble Lords should not make connections between troop reductions in one country and troop increases in another country. They are very different situations, with which we will endeavour to keep your Lordships’ House up to speed.

My Lords, I, too, thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement made by the Prime Minister in another place, in which he gratifyingly and deservedly praised our forces. However, although he anticipated that there would be some reductions in future, he was careful to give no definite dates for their withdrawal, implying as he said in a recent press interview that they must stay until the job is done. How that is exactly quantified, even with the detailed list of tasks contained in the Statement, is not at all clear. After all, it was only a short time ago—about six months—that he was completely confident that our forces had indeed achieved over the four years all that it was possible for them to achieve in that part of the country and that they had achieved a great deal both in peace enforcement and latterly in what he described as the overwatch of training.

My Lords, please forgive me for reminding noble Lords that, in response to Statements, they are supposed to put questions.

My Lords, I hope that the noble and gallant Lord will forgive me; I was just taking the opportunity to remind noble Lords.

My Lords, my remarks were just an introduction, if I may say so.

As a result, British forces were withdrawn from Basra city and it was stated at the time that a larger and quicker withdrawal of forces would be possible than now appears to be the case. Therefore, my first question for the noble Baroness is: what has really caused the change of heart, other than perhaps an apparent desire to tie in with the US surge philosophy and the temporary political advantages that may accrue for the present Administration? It must be remembered that we have very good coalition reasons to want to be out of Iraq. As the Chief of the Defence Staff said recently, we are not geared to or capable of engaging in conflict on two fronts, particularly in the present funding climate. To come out would enable us to do better and more securely the things that we need to do and which can be so helpful to all our allies in Afghanistan, which is now the most important focal point.

Finally, does the noble Baroness not think that we may be sacrificing military effectiveness and military needs for short-term political considerations, which may change anyway next November?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and gallant Lord. Within the Statement, I set out—I thought quite clearly—the issues that we believe we need to continue to deal with, including consideration of the troop level that we need to maintain. To recap quickly, those issues are training the 14th Division, preparing Basra airport for transfer to Iraqi control, pushing forward on economic development and providing the necessary support for provincial elections. My right honourable friend was very clear in another place and in my discussions with him that those are important aspects of securing the future of Iraq. Until we have secured them, we need to make sure that we have the appropriate levels of personnel. There is no short-term expediency in this. It is about honouring the obligations that we have to the Iraqi people.

My Lords, I was in Basra two or three months ago and I entirely confirm what the Prime Minister and the noble Baroness said about the improved security position there. However, I also confirm the dire position of hundreds of thousands of refugees. That must never be forgotten. In particular, we must not forget our duty to the interpreters who have worked so loyally for the British forces.

Several of us have been pressing for some time for an inquiry into the invasion of Iraq and the circumstances surrounding it so that we can learn the lessons from that. There has never been any legitimate reason, frankly, for refusing that inquiry. Do the Government now agree that such an inquiry can be set up? It is overdue and the whole nation would benefit from it.

My Lords, I commented earlier on the fact that the noble Lord continues to press on the issue of interpreters. As I said, if I can get specific details of how many are currently in the UK, I will do so and make sure that he is informed of that.

We have already said that any further inquiry should be done at the appropriate time. We have already had four separate, independent inquiries, including the House of Commons Defence Committee and Foreign Affairs Committee reports and the Ministry of Defence report on lessons learnt. There is plenty of information, which noble Lords will have had the benefit of looking at, about the issues that brought us into Iraq and those that continue. Our belief is that any further inquiry should be at an appropriate point, which is certainly not now.

My Lords, the noble Baroness made the very interesting comment that more healthcare and education services are available now than was the case before the war. How many new healthcare centres and schools are we building? I am not talking about the healthcare centres and schools that we are repairing or the ones that we destroyed. Could she also tell us how many academics and doctors have been killed or have become refugees over the past five years and what effect that has had on civil society?

My Lords, the noble Baroness knows that I cannot give her specific details about any casualties, unfortunate and terrible though they would be. My point was about the breadth of the Iraqi people’s ability to access high-quality services, which were certainly unavailable under Saddam Hussein, as is well recognised, and about the importance of ensuring that, in a democratic Iraq, every Iraqi is able to access high-quality services in health, education, housing and all the areas that the noble Baroness and I would agree are very important.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the Statement indicates how far we are from cracking the problem of Iraq’s neighbours? Critical comments about Syria and Iran are undoubtedly well deserved, and problems continue on the northern frontier with Turkey. Does this not demonstrate that we will never have a stable situation in that region until there is some multilateral framework in which Iraq and all its neighbours participate and in which they commit themselves to respect one another’s borders and sovereignty, not to interfere and to work together for economic development? That idea crops up from time to time and then invariably disappears like a mirage. I have no doubt that some of the regional participants are responsible for the absence of progress, but is it not important to reinstate that idea, now that things are going a bit better, as an important medium-term objective that we should all pursue?

My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the Secretary-General’s announcement in September 2007, which led to the Iraqi neighbours conference in Istanbul on 2 and 3 November, was part of the process of trying to bring greater stability to the region. It is also important that within the region in which we operate—the European Union—and with our role in the United Nations we work supportively together to tackle some of the issues that the noble Lord rightly refers to. That will be incredibly important in next few months.

My Lords, would it not be best to undertake an inquiry now, while the relevant people are still in power and the facts are fresh in our minds?

My Lords, I welcome the positive points in the Statement. Does the noble Baroness, like me, welcome yesterday’s write-off of loans to Iraq made by a prominent Gulf state? Can she give us any good news on the progress of the hydrocarbons Bill before the Iraqi Parliament, which is important for the development of Iraq’s own resources and state revenue? Finally, the importance of the refugees’ return has already been emphasised, but I suggest that it is insufficient to say that it is simply a matter for the UN high commissioner. Is there not a role both for local and international non-governmental organisations in assisting the process of return and resettlement? Can the noble Baroness confirm that freedom of religion and the protection of minorities will be an important factor in solving the displacement and refugee issues?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I think that we all welcome the United Arab Emirates’ important write-off, which I read about yesterday. Hydrocarbons are very important indeed. The Bill has not yet gone through, but I completely agree with the noble Lord that it is important for the future of oil in the region. Local non-governmental organisations and other international organisations are important in looking at issues facing refugees returning to their homes in Iraq. Freedom of religion is very much part of the work of the Ministry of Human Rights in Iraq.

My Lords, can the Leader of the House confirm that current coalition military operations in Iraq are being carried out with the authority of a Security Council resolution? Can she remind us what proportion of Britain’s £40 billion defence expenditure is being spent on operations in Iraq? As we are carrying out a disproportionately large amount of the military operation in Iraq, does she regard it as reasonable that Britain should also be paying the whole cost of that contribution? Are the Government doing anything to secure some sort of burden sharing with those on whose behalf we are carrying out our military operations? I say that in the context of the financial cash-flow crisis that the Government face, which, as the Minister will probably recognise, could well result in government borrowing going up by £70 billion—that is, another 5 per cent of GDP.

My Lords, I am not going to speculate about where government borrowing might go. As the noble Lord will know, the defence budget is about £34 billion for 2008-09; I do not have the breakdown of exactly what is being spent in any current theatre of operation. We are certainly operating within the UN Security Council resolution. However, as I indicated in the Statement, our ambition is to move to a bilateral agreement with the Iraqi Government—what I might describe as a more normal arrangement between Britain and a state with which we are collaborating to deal with the issues that it faces.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness give the House information on the current value and volume of oil exports from Iraq? What is the forecast for the following year? Iraq is an oil-rich state and the volume of resources available from oil determines the Government’s capacity to achieve an improvement in infrastructure and the standard of living. If she cannot answer today, perhaps she could do so later in writing. This is a vital element. We talk about the military, but not much about the huge potential resources in Iraq.

My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord. Yesterday—I cannot find them now—I was reading the precise details of Iraqi oil production and projections for the future. The noble Lord is completely right that this is an oil-rich state with huge reserves of oil and great potential—hence the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, about hydrocarbons legislation, which is an important element of that. We must work closely to ensure that we provide the technical support necessary to enable Iraq to exploit its oil reserves appropriately.

My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until further notice.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

[The Sitting was suspended from 1.48 to 6.50 pm.]

Housing and Regeneration Bill

The Bill was returned from the Commons with the amendments agreed to.

Crossrail Bill

The Bill was returned from the Commons with the amendments agreed to.

Royal Assent

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

Housing and Regeneration Act,

Crossrail Act.


My Lords, before I adjourn the House, I place on record on behalf of the whole House our heartfelt thanks to the staff of the House for their sterling work over the past few months, which have been challenging for us all. Without them we certainly could not have achieved what we have achieved. I wish all noble Lords and all the staff a happy Recess.

House adjourned at 6.51 pm.