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Lords Chamber

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 18 December 2008

House of Lords

Thursday, 18 December 2008.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Children: UNICEF report


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to Report Card 8—The Childcare Transition, published by UNICEF on 11 December.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF UK.

My Lords, the Government are passionate about helping children to reach their full potential and about eradicating child poverty. We are proud of the progress we have made through our childcare strategy. We recognise that we have more to do. Our relationship with UNICEF is important to us but we are concerned that the report does not reflect our major achievements and falls short of the high standards of accuracy that we expect from the organisation.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I hope she will accept that organisations sometimes have to take OECD data that are not as up to date for every country as they are for some, and I hope she will recognise that UNICEF has recognised the Government’s commitment to young children. However, what about parental leave? Does she accept that remuneration, as well as duration, is crucial regarding whether parents can afford to take the full amount of leave to which they are entitled and that this is important for the cognitive, social and emotional development of their babies? Do the Government have any plans to increase the level of remuneration for both parents so that they can spend that important time with their babies?

My Lords, the Government made their plans clear in the recent pre-Budget announcement. We intend to continue making significant investment in childcare and support for parents. I accept the noble Baroness’s assertion that the financial position of parents is extremely important in allowing them to support their children. That is why we have worked so hard to promote child tax credits to 450,000 lower and middle income families. I will look carefully at what plans we have on parental leave, but she must accept that we have made real progress in supporting parents to take the time off that they need to look after their children when they are young.

My Lords, given the Government’s commitment to childcare provision, why has the United Kingdom fallen behind countries such as Slovenia and Hungary in achieving the benchmarks laid out in UNICEF’s report, managing only five out of the 10 benchmarks?

My Lords, I would not say that we have fallen behind. If we were to look carefully at how the benchmarks are defined we might find that this country deserves a further three benchmarks, which would put us on a par with France and Denmark. I do not really wish to be lectured by the party opposite on the question of childcare because I can remember a time when it felt that childcare was very much a private matter and not something that the Government should invest in.

My Lords, given the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the need for both parents to be supported in their role and in view of the fact that very little flexitime is given by employers to male parents, what do the Government intend to do to encourage a better response from employers in this direction?

My Lords, it was in the Times that the role of fathers in childcare was picked up. The UNICEF report does not look very carefully at the role of fathers as parents. The noble Baroness is right because it is not until both parents have the opportunity to fulfil their potential as parents that we will see children benefit from the maximum potential of quality childcare. There is therefore a great deal more that we can do as government. We do a lot of work to promote positive parenting through more than 2,900 children’s centres around the country. We are committed to make sure that we have a children’s centre in every community.

My Lords, given the importance attached by the report to high quality care in those early childhood settings, how far is the Minister encouraging graduates to go into childcare in order to improve professional development in those settings?

My Lords, it is our ambition that a graduate should be taking a leadership role in every early-years setting. It will take us some time to get there, but we are investing significantly in developing the children’s workforce, including early-years staff. The noble Baroness is right to draw out that question. It is very important that we have high quality people working in these settings.

My Lords, if the Government’s ambition is to have childcare all around the country and they have not yet achieved it, why are they encouraging single parents with children between one and five to get into work?

My Lords, we need to make it clear that it is this Government’s expectation that lone parents should work where they have the opportunity to do so and quality childcare is available. It is in the interests of their children because of its impact on child poverty. As we know, the intergenerational effect of child poverty is marked. Ninety-five per cent of three year-olds and four year-olds in this country now take up free early learning and childcare, which was never available in the past. We are also piloting an entitlement for two year-olds to have access to the new early-years foundation stage. These are transformational changes in the availability of childcare places, which has doubled in recent years. We are not expecting anyone to go out into the workforce where we are not doing our best to provide adequate and appropriate childcare.

My Lords, are the Government satisfied that the training of social workers and other professionals involved in childcare is adequate to their task, or does that training remain bedevilled by the gender, race and class agenda?

My Lords, the Government feel strongly that we need to do an enormous amount of work to embed the improvements that we have made across the board in the children’s workforce. The noble Lord referred to social work. Last week, we established a joint task force with the Department of Health to take an end-to-end look at the profession, from recruitment and retention to training, and higher education, too. How we can improve and develop further the training of workforces such as those in social work and early years is an important question for us.

Health: Physicians


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will take steps to make the number of physicians per capita in the United Kingdom equivalent to the European Union average.

My Lords, I think that the noble Lord will not be surprised to learn that data from different countries on the number of physicians per capita cannot be easily compared, due to definitional issues and whether we are dealing with just NHS doctors or with private doctors, too. However, there has been unprecedented growth in the medical workforce since 1997, including a 40 per cent increase in the number of doctors employed and a 53 per cent increase in the number of doctors in training.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. She will be aware that out of 27 countries in the European league table, we are in the bottom four or five, as far as the ratio of doctors per patient goes. We have fewer than everybody else except, I think, Romania and Poland on the last count. Is the Minister aware of the difficulties these inequalities cause to the most vulnerable parts of our communities, such as parts of Wales and the north-east of England? If she is, what is she doing to remedy that?

My Lords, health inequalities exist for a number of reasons, and access to high-quality primary healthcare, and therefore the availability of doctors, is certainly one factor. However, it also includes other issues such as diet and lifestyle. International research by the academic Barbara Starfield has demonstrated that increasing the number of primary care clinicians in areas with the greatest health needs is one of the most effective ways of improving the population’s health—the noble Lord is indeed correct—so we are investing an additional £250 million annually in new primary healthcare services. We have asked every PCT to develop a new GP-led care plan, and are establishing 112 new GP practices in those areas of the country with the fewest GPs and the greatest health needs. I cannot comment on south Wales, because that is a devolved matter.

My Lords, it is clear from the supplementary question that the questioner used the word “physicians” to mean doctors in general, because that is the table he cited. I would like to turn to the specific point about physicians, and, in particular, consultant physicians. Is the Minister aware that, as a country, we are unfortunately reaching the point that when you go to see a consultant, you are looked at as a kidney, a toe or some individual organ? There is a great need for more general consultant physicians in the UK. Will she do whatever she can to encourage the training and education of more consultant physicians?

My Lords, the noble Baroness describes being a toe or a part of a body very well indeed. We are obviously very concerned to increase the number of doctors. At the moment we have 46,783 doctors in training, including doctors who will go on to become consultants. That is an increase from 30,313 in 1997. The noble Baroness is completely right: improved patient outcomes depend on having the right staff in the right place at the right time with the right skills.

My Lords, when I was appointed a consultant neurologist in 1958, there were 134 consultant neurologists in the UK, compared with 400 in Finland, with a population of 5 million. As the Minister has said—it is welcome—there has been in the last 10 years a major increase in all specialties of the consultant establishment. But, as reports from the royal colleges have demonstrated, would she accept that we are still far short of the ideal establishment of consultants in all medical specialties which would be required to give a full and satisfactory service to the UK community as a whole?

My Lords, the noble Lord has raised a very interesting point, because, as far as we can see, there is nowhere in the world where anybody says that there is an ideal number of doctors per head of the population. I specifically asked my officials to find that out for me. But we hope that, with the restructuring and decentralisation of NHS services, there will be an increased recruitment of professionally qualified staff, including GPs and consultants. We hope that the new system of recruitment and training will produce the outcomes we want.

My Lords, on the basis that one size does not fit all, how will the Government cope with different needs in different areas?

My Lords, my noble friend is absolutely right. As proposed by my noble friend Lord Darzi in his report, we anticipate that successfully shifting services closer to home will result in services being more convenient for patients and service users. For example, with conditions like diabetes, which is increasing in the population, we anticipate that community-based services will play a more prominent role. Providing care closer to home can improve patient recovery, which ends repeated trips to hospital and gives more personalised service.

My Lords, will my noble friend agree that not only does increasing the number of general practitioners in primary care improve the health of the population, but increasing the support of other health professions in relation to medicine, such as nurses, health visitors and counsellors, does? In my professional life, I have found that it is enormously more satisfactory to work in a team that includes such people.

My Lords, my noble friend is correct. The OECD report referred to by the noble Lord recognises that in the UK we have a higher than average number of nurses, and that we have very good team working with good health outcomes.

My Lords, will the Minister concede that the problem over the past few years has been that workforce planning has been something of a mess? As my noble friend said, there is a shortage of consultants in key specialties, yet there is an oversupply of doctors who have competed their basic training but who cannot find a consultant’s job. What specific measures are the Government taking to address that?

My Lords, the workforce planning cycle coming into force begins with primary care trusts and local councils commissioning services to meet the healthcare needs of their local populations. In other words, we are no longer setting national targets. We did that some time ago to boost the number of doctors, clinicians and professionals that we needed in the healthcare service. The restructuring and decentralisation should mean that increased recruitment of professionally qualified staff, including GPs, will have an impact on the training and the number of hospital doctors who will have a sufficient case-load volume to achieve the best outcomes.

Government Borrowing


Tabled By

My Lords, at the particular request of my noble friend Lady O’Cathain, I beg leave to ask the Question set against her name on the Order Paper.

My Lords, figures from the November 2008 public sector finance release, issued this morning, show that public sector net borrowing was £56 billion in the first eight months of 2008-09. The latest population estimates from the Office for National Statistics indicate that the UK population reached 61.4 million by the end of 2007-08.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, but perhaps we could turn the Question slightly for his benefit. The total number of taxpayers in the country—a more relevant assessment—is 31 million, each paying an average tax of £4,830 per year. The 60 million alone represents a burden on each taxpayer of £3,722. By how much has borrowing gone up in the past year as a future burden to be repaid from revenue? How do the Government intend that to be carried as a burden on taxpayers into future years?

My Lords, the House will recognise that the burden increased significantly as the Government set about introducing the fiscal stimulus to the economy. The noble Lord, having slightly changed the basis of the Question, still shifts from the basis on which this debate normally occurs among economists and in politics, which is as a percentage of GDP. In those terms, we approached the recession with the second lowest debt in the Group of Eight countries. It is clear that our debt is about to increase significantly. That is also the case for other countries.

My Lords, if government borrowing is to rise to these very high levels, can the Minister help me by explaining how that will not result in the crowding out of the private sector? The high levels of public borrowing will make it harder for businesses to get the funds that they need, which is what the Government say they want to achieve.

My Lords, that question is more relevant to the past decade than to the situation in which we find ourselves. As I am sure the noble Lord will readily appreciate, small and medium-sized businesses, and business as a whole, cannot get investment funds at present because of the credit crunch and the position that our banks are in. That is why the Government have set about the recapitalisation of the banks in order to guarantee that the very problem that the noble Lord has identified is tackled.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the borrowing will, indeed, be very high—it would very likely be even higher without a fiscal stimulus, as the recession would probably last longer—and that it will have to be repaid once the recession is over? Has he read the article in the Times this week by Anatole Kaletsky, the only decent writer on that paper, particularly on economics, who agrees with the fiscal stimulus but suggests that one method of repaying it in due course might be through the fuel escalator, which we have suspended for the moment, set at 5 per cent above inflation every year? That would, indeed, be a reasonably sensible thing to do given that oil prices are now coming down substantially.

My Lords, oil prices are, of course, an important determinant. However, my noble friend will recognise that oil producers are addressing themselves to oil production, so the drop in price may not continue. On the more general point that he makes, of course the Treasury will examine every proposition with regard to the most effective way of repaying the very significant debt that will accrue so that we keep the depth of the recession as shallow as we possibly can.

My Lords, the amount of debt is quite extraordinary; it will exceed £1 trillion, the highest level for 40 years, and borrowing will be at the highest level for more than 60 years. Does the Minister think that the Government have made any mistakes at all over the past 10 years?

My Lords, if the noble Baroness were in any other Parliament, she could say exactly the same of any other Government. Of course mistakes have been made but I think that, given the international nature of this crisis, it scarcely behoves us to point the finger of criticism at any one Government and certainly not at our own. We are faced with a global collapse of the financial system on an unprecedented scale. That is why, as she rightly says, we have introduced a fiscal stimulus, which produces debt way above the levels that we have had since the Second World War. Of course, that has to be repaid. The alternative, however—and this is what we largely hear from the party opposite—appears to be to follow the strategy adopted in the 1930s and we all know what that led to.

My Lords, we on these Benches accept the need for a fiscal stimulus but are rather bemused about why the VAT route has been chosen, given that, by the Government’s own estimate, half of that will go into savings rather than into boosting expenditure. Will the Minister explain why VAT was chosen as a way of introducing a fiscal stimulus rather than a more effective way of increasing spending on the high street?

My Lords, the stimulus from a VAT measure is immediate and benefits those with the highest propensity to consume, and we want to increase spending. The noble Lord appears to be saying that there are real doubts about whether the fiscal stimulus is working. In economic terms, these are ridiculously early days to judge how the economy will shift as a result of the Government’s measures. To make the most obvious point, the recapitalisation measures meant that the banks did not receive any resources until 1 December, so how can informed judgments be made on how well the stimulus is working at this ridiculously premature stage?

Armed Forces: F35 Aircraft


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will purchase two F-35 Lightning II aircraft in January for evaluation and training as anticipated.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House would wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Lieutenant Aaron Lewis, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan this week.

The JSF is currently in the system development and demonstration phase. A decision will be made early in the new year on the purchase of aircraft to allow the UK to participate in the joint operational test and evaluation of JSF with the US services.

My Lords, first, I enjoin these Benches in the tribute to Lieutenant Lewis.

I am grateful for the Answer. When the Secretary of State made his recent announcement to defer the carriers, he made great play of aligning the timing of their introduction with that of the joint combat aircraft. Is the intention to equip the carriers with new aircraft from the outset, all other things being equal and the evaluation being satisfactory, or is it to run the Harriers on and involve them with the new carriers?

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lee, raises an interesting question. The JSF aircraft were never going to be ready in time for the aircraft carriers on the old timescale, and it is unlikely that they will be ready on the new timescale. It has always been the intention that the Harriers would be deployed on the aircraft carriers when they first came into service.

My Lords, does the Minister recall the pinch-point data recorded in the MoD’s recent autumn performance report? It showed shortfalls approaching 49 per cent in junior Fleet Air Arm Harrier pilots and over 57 per cent in experienced RN Harrier instructors. Will this not seriously jeopardise the Fleet Air Arm’s ability to provide the fast jet command and leadership required to operate the full fleet of F35s in the coming decade? Has not the time come to be realistic, to halve the number of these aircraft to be procured for the Fleet Air Arm and to limit the carrier order to just one vessel?

No, my Lords, we intend to have two carriers. There is pressure on the Harriers at present, which is one of the reasons why they will be replaced by Tornadoes in Afghanistan, to try to relieve the burden of continuous operational activity there.

My Lords, we, too, send our condolences to the family and friends of Lieutenant Lewis, who was tragically killed in Afghanistan. Is the Minister aware of the Joint Strike Fighter joint estimate team’s conclusion that the project is underfunded by up to $15 billion? In the light of that, can she confirm that the Government are urgently dusting off their plan B?

My Lords, the forecasts of the costs of the programme to date have been pretty accurate. This country was asked to make an extra contribution to system design, but it was possible simply to reschedule our allocation and to reprofile the way in which we spent the money. Therefore, the UK contribution has not gone up, and that is a reason why it is right to have an incremental approach to this programme, and to many others, so that we are in command of all the facts when we decide to go to the next stage of investment.

My Lords, in view of the announced delays to the carrier programme and the uncertainties still surrounding the JSF programme, to which the Minister has referred, would this not provide an opportunity for a more fundamental reassessment of the air equipment to be assigned to the carriers, for example, to include the French Rafale?

My Lords, the French Rafale was looked at as a possibility in the early days and ruled out. I do not think that there are uncertainties per se about JSF. So far it is on track. As I say, we are taking an incremental approach to investment. It will be a very significant step forward, because JSF will be fifth generation aircraft, which will have low observability, and in that respect it could provide a very important role.

My Lords, can the Minister assure us regarding the concerns raised that US arms export controls will not allow sufficient transfer of technological information to allow us to use American aircraft independently? Can the Government assure us that this is not the case, and that if we take on these aircraft we will have the correct technical back-up to use them independently?

Yes, my Lords. When we were in the process of agreeing the production, sustainment and follow-on development memorandum of understanding, these issues were taken into account. So far, we have had access to all the information that we need on this programme, so that we can have operational sovereignty in respect of JSF once it comes into force. I should perhaps remind your Lordships that operational sovereignty and technological independence work both ways, and parts of British industry are actually critical to this programme. So this can be good news for British industry as well as for the Americans.

My Lords, can the noble Baroness address the question that was implicit in the substantive question of the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Craig of Radley? What will be done about the evident shortage of experienced pilots for these aeroplanes?

My Lords, we have a programme for training pilots. We have made some significant progress, and the recent contract is being discussed to extend training. I think we can be confident that we will be using the best pilots possible in all of our fleet.

Arrangement of Business


My Lords, with the leave of the House, my noble friend the Lord President will repeat a Statement made in the other place, entitled “Iraq”. She will repeat the Statement at the end of the debate in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox.

Banking Bill

Second Reading

Moved By

My Lords, this Bill is the same as the Banking (No. 2) Bill, on which the House had a full debate on Tuesday. I will shortly move the Motion to withdraw that Bill. If these Motions are agreed to, all further consideration will take place on the Banking Bill.

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

Banking (No. 2) Bill [HL]

Motion to Withdraw

Moved By

Motion agreed.

Consolidated Fund Bill

Second Reading and remaining stages

Bill read a second time. Committee negatived. Standing Order 47 having been dispensed with, the Bill was read a third time and passed.

Privileges Committee: Third Report

Motion to Agree

Moved By

My Lords, I hope that it will be for the convenience of the House that as well as speaking to this Motion on the committee’s 3rd report of the last Session, I shall also speak to my second Motion and the 4th report, which is the more substantial of the two reports on the Order Paper.

First, I shall briefly comment on the 3rd report. It arose out of two complaints made against the noble Lord, Lord Warner, relating to the declaration of relevant interests in debate. The conclusions of the Committee for Privileges are, I hope, self-explanatory. We dismissed the complaints and agreed unanimously that the noble Lord, Lord Warner, had not acted improperly in breach of the House’s Code of Conduct. However, we also felt that the complaints had highlighted two significant gaps in the guidance currently available to noble Lords: first, whether they are required to declare future interests in debate; and, secondly, whether, and if so how often, declarations of relevant interests should be repeated in the course of proceedings on Bills. Our conclusions are as follows.

First, we believe that Members should, where there is a clear prospect of a future interest, declare that interest in debate. This is essential so that both participants in and readers of the debate can gauge the interests that might be thought to affect the actions of the Member concerned. In making this recommendation, we are simply reinstating guidance previously agreed by the House in 1990 and 1995, which applied until superseded by the present Code of Conduct in 2001. I should emphasise that we are talking only about declarations of interest in debate; we do not believe that any requirement to register future interests would be workable or appropriate.

Secondly, we believe that it would assist Members and the general public if the principles governing the need to repeat declarations were clarified. We suggest that constant repetition of declarations of interests would be time-consuming and futile. A balance has to be struck. We therefore recommend that, as a minimum, a declaration of any interests relevant to a particular Bill should be made on the occasion of the first intervention at each stage of the Bill’s progress. If these recommendations are agreed, the committee suggests that future editions of the Companion be amended to incorporate the new guidance.

I now turn to the 4th report on the procedure for considering complaints against Members. This is a more substantial report and it may be helpful if I take a little time to set out the background.

Members will be aware that the Code of Conduct, agreed in 2001, is couched in very broad terms. Although paragraph 19 of the code sets out some key principles concerning the examination of complaints against Members for alleged breaches, it provides no detail on how investigations should be conducted. Consequently, neither complainants nor noble Lords against whom complaints have been made have up until now been able to refer to any guidance as to how the process works or what their rights and expectations are. Nor has the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests, on which responsibility for examining complaints falls, been able to draw on agreed procedural guidelines to assist it in its work.

Until recently, none of this really mattered—to put it bluntly, there were no complaints against noble Lords, so there was no need for a detailed description of the procedures for dealing with them. However, as we are all aware, times have changed. We live in a world of media scrutiny, transparency, freedom of information, and a “complaints culture” that affects all walks of life. The House of Lords is not immune from these influences.

Hitherto we have, in practice, relied on successive chairmen of the Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests to take a heavy personal responsibility for dealing with complaints as they saw fit. Here, I pay tribute to all those chairmen and, in particular, to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who has chaired the sub-committee since 2006 and has presided over a period in which the number and complexity of complaints have increased substantially. I have always thought that one of the great strengths of this House is that we manage without having an overly complex set of rules and procedures. That we have done so has been down in no small measure to the work of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, and his predecessors.

However, as I have already said, times change, and in the past year or two it has become increasingly obvious that the general principles in the code need to be supplemented by more detailed guidance, giving Members of the House, potential complainants and the general public a clear and accessible source of information on how we deal with complaints, on the rights of those concerned in complaints, and on the range of possible outcomes.

The Committee for Privileges therefore set up a working group in July, composed of myself, the Leaders of the three main parties and the Convenor, to bring forward proposals for new guidelines. The group, which was assisted by the Clerk of the Parliaments, reported back to the main committee in November, and the conclusions of both the working group and the committee are embodied in the 4th report now before the House.

I shall not take up the time of the House by going through the report in detail. The content is self-explanatory and I hope that all noble Lords will take the time to read it. In summary, we propose a procedure that is clear and transparent, with a number of key stages clearly set out. At the same time, we need to ensure that noble Lords who may, through inadvertence, have committed a minor breach of the code, which they are entirely willing to acknowledge, are given every opportunity to put the record straight without having to go through a long, drawn-out investigation. We therefore propose that arrangements to facilitate what we call remedial action be built into the process at each stage.

In conclusion, we need a process for considering complaints that is clear and workable, but reasonable and proportionate, and which respects the House’s tradition of self-regulation. We believe that these proposals fit the bill. They are consistent with the terms of the existing code of conduct, which sets out the fundamental principles governing conduct of Members. There is no attempt here to change any of these principles. We are concerned with how to clarify the way in which they are implemented in practice. We have to ensure that noble Lords against whom complaints are made are aware of their rights, and able to exercise them, while at the same time the legitimate expectations of the general public are respected.

I therefore commend both reports to the House, and beg to move that the 3rd report be agreed to.

My Lords, I am concerned about aspects of the 3rd report. My concerns do not centre on the report’s recommendations in the case of my noble friend Lord Warner, but on the proposal in the report to incorporate in future editions of the Companion new wording set out in paragraph 2 on page 6 of the report. It reads:

“On certain occasions, such as Oral Questions and the stages of a Bill following Second Reading, it may be for the convenience of the House that Members should not take up time by making repeated declarations of interest. In particular, during a Committee or Report stage, constant repetition of declarations of interest is unnecessary. But a full declaration of any interests relevant to a Bill should be made at least on the occasion of the first intervention at each stage of the Bill’s progress”—

in other words, at the start of Committee stage, the start of Report stage or the start of Third Reading. In essence, that wording is taken from a resolution of the House in November 1995, which states:

“On certain occasions such as Starred Questions and the various stages of a bill following Second Reading, it may be for the convenience of the House that Lords should not take up time by repeating declarations of interest but Lords should make a declaration whenever they are in doubt. The nature of the interest should be made clear notwithstanding that it may be well known to most other Lords present in the Chamber.

Similar principles apply to proceedings in committees off the floor of the House”.

In 2000, a recommendation was made by the Neill Committee on Standards in Public Life that the House should adopt seven principles on conduct in public life, along with a code of conduct for Members. In 2001, before my time, the then Leader of the House—I think the noble Baroness, Lady Jay—established a Leader’s group which, in April 2001, recommended that many of the Neill committee’s recommendations be incorporated in the Companion. The code was incorporated in the Companion in 2001 and it stated that:

“Members of the House must … declare when speaking in the House … any interest which is a relevant interest in the context of the debate or the matter under discussion”.

It is significant that the code of conduct, approved in 2001, did not include the words in the 1995 resolution, which I read out earlier, that:

“it may be for the convenience of the House that Lords should not take up time by repeating declarations of interest”.

The committee wisely resisted incorporating those words in the code of conduct. Yet seven years later, the Privileges Committee is recommending that the words be incorporated on the basis that they are tightening up and removing ambiguity.

I believe that the effect will be the reverse. The inclusion of those words is an open invitation to some Members to make use of the new wording, on occasions, to avoid making subsequent declarations when a declaration has been made earlier—to a lesser extent at Question Time—and far more importantly, it would enable some Members to avoid making declarations on specific amendments in Committee or on Report or at Third Reading where a pecuniary interest is particularly pertinent to an amendment. The idea that at the commencement of Committee, Report or Third Reading such a declaration is sufficient, when the Long Title is vague or remote, is ludicrous. The Long Title of a Bill may in the perception of the public fail to indicate any connection with the nature of the amendment. I shall give an elementary example. Let us take a local government (miscellaneous provisions) Bill and an amendment that deals with late-night café opening where a pecuniary interest might be involved. There is clearly no identifiable connection between the two. I recognise that most Members of the House are scrupulous in the declarations that they make, but some are not. I believe that a specific amendment where there is a pecuniary interest must carry with it a declaration. The House cannot tolerate a failure to make a clear declaration on amendments where there is a pecuniary interest as defined under the code.

I remind the House of the words under the heading “Purpose of the Code”. They are,

“The purpose of this Code of Conduct is …. to provide the openness and accountability necessary to reinforce public confidence in the way in which Members of the House of Lords perform their parliamentary and public duties”.

Why is it so important? It is because under the new wording, Members who are the subject of a non-declaration complaint would, in certain circumstances, be able to use in their defence the new wording as a justification for their failure to declare. In my view, the committee is unintentionally loosening the rules and softening the regime. The committee’s intention was to tighten up, but that will not be the effect of the proposed amendment to the Companion. I ask the committee to reconsider this recommendation and, if necessary, to return to the House with a further amendment. It might wish to consider the fact that we are a self-regulating House and, as such, we need to be extra diligent in the defence of our institution.

My Lords, as a former chairman of the sub-committee involved in these matters, I can confirm that there were real difficulties in deciding how to conduct an investigation into a complaint under the old provisions, which it is proposed to replace. There is great difficulty in finding a suitable way of combining the traditions of this House with the conventional and contemporary approach to dealing with complaints of this sort. In the circumstances, the working party has done a good job in trying to deal with the need to find a compromise and avoiding possible conflicts between the traditions of the House and having an open and transparent system for investigating complaints. I acknowledge the work that the Officers of the House have put in to this task and express my gratitude to them for consulting me about any suggestions I could make and trying, in so far as it was appropriate, to accommodate my views.

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, for his kind words and his endorsement of our new approach. I join him in thanking the Officers of the House for all the hard work that they put into this to help me and my colleagues on the working group.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, makes some very important points. Nothing in here is intended to, or should, soften the rules by which we conduct ourselves. Noble Lords must still declare any interest, either at Question Time or the first time they intervene at each stage of a Bill. That is not weakened. The noble Lord gave an example of a particular case. If he and others are interested in the rule regarding paid advocacy, which could apply, nothing in the report affects the prohibition of paid advocacy under Section 4(d) of the Code of Conduct. It states that Members of the House,

“must not vote on any bill or motion, or ask any question in the House or a committee, or promote any matter, in return for payment or any other material benefit”.

That remains exactly the same; it is mandatory and is entirely separate from the issue of declarations of interest.

The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked whether the committee could review the rules as they come into force and as time goes by. In paragraph 6 of the fourth report, which refers mainly to the new procedures, we recommend that the new procedures should be kept under review by the new Sub-Committee on Lords’ Interests and, in particular, that the sub-committee should conduct a formal review not more than two years after coming into force and report its conclusions and any proposals for change to the Committee for Privileges. I shall make certain that the sub-committee is aware of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and takes them into account when it undertakes its review.

My Lords, can the Minister just confirm that we are still required to declare an interest which might be thought by a reasonable member of the public to constitute a conflict?

Motion agreed.

Privileges Committee: Fourth Report

Motion to Agree

Moved By

Motion agreed.



Moved By

My Lords, I thank every noble Lord who will be speaking in this debate, as the topic is a daunting challenge, given the vastness and complexity of the great nation of India. I am therefore grateful that noble Lords with longer and wider experience of India will make their distinctive contributions to remedy the limitations and omissions of my own.

I must naturally begin by expressing the profound sorrow that we all felt at the recent terrorist attack in Mumbai and by extending our deep sympathy to all who are still suffering in the aftermath of those terrible days. I will then raise three issues of concern in a spirit of respect for India as a long-established friend of this country and as the world's largest democracy. It is characteristic of friendship that one can share concerns openly and constructively and it is in that spirit that I will raise the outbreaks of violence against religious minorities, including the Muslims in Gujarat and the Christians recently in Orissa and Karnataka; the restrictions on religious freedom posed by the imposition of anti-conversion laws in seven states; and, finally, the plight of dalits.

With regard to the terrorist attacks in Mumbai, there has been a wide range of responses to those horrific events, which have been usefully summarised in the excellent briefing paper prepared by the House of Lords Library. One result of such wide-ranging public discussion and speculation has been summarised by Dr Paul Cornish of Chatham House, who argues that the saturation coverage has played into the hands of the terrorists, providing them with a gratuitous plethora of justification and rationales.

“The terrorists might have assumed, quite correctly as it happens, that the world’s media and the terrorism analysis industry would very quickly fill in any gaps for them”.

I am therefore not going to play into their hands with further speculation about their ideological justifications and rationales. However, will the Minister say what continuing support Her Majesty’s Government are giving to India in the aftermath of this massive tragedy?

The recurring problem of violence, perpetrated by Hindu fundamentalists against religious minorities, is a product of the ideology called Hindutva, which conceives of India as one nation, one culture, one religion. It is an ideology that denigrates religious minorities and rejects the right to change one’s religion, as enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, and groups that espouse this ideology, including the VHP, are widely implicated in anti-minority violence. Such extremist political movements are rejected by Hindus committed to the idea of a secular India, but they pose very serious challenges.

In 2002, about 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were massacred in Gujarat. Christians have been repeatedly targeted in recent years. The attacks are especially widespread in Karnataka, Andhra Pradesh and Madhya Pradesh states, and although a recent outbreak of violence in Karnataka was relatively rapidly contained by the authorities, impunity for these sorts of attacks is cause for concern. In Orissa state, an outbreak of violence against Christians over Christmas in 2007 prefigured an onslaught on a much larger scale this autumn.

On 23 August this year, following the assassination of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, widespread violence against Christians erupted. The atrocities were committed despite the claim by Maoists that they had carried out the killing. After the assassination, despite pleas for caution by church and secular leaders, including representatives of political parties, the VHP arranged for his body to be taken on a 200-kilometre circuit. Violence followed in the wake of this funeral procession, fanned by media disinformation and the chanting of Hindu nationalist and anti-Christian slogans, targeting Christians and church buildings. It is widely believed that the violence erupted so quickly because it was pre-planned.

We are now approaching the first anniversary of the previous outbreak of violence and radical groups are aggressively pushing for a state-wide shutdown on 25 December, which would make life very difficult for beleaguered Christians wishing to celebrate Christmas, and could easily lead to another eruption of violence. Although it is encouraging to know that a delegation representing the EU, including a British representative, recently visited Orissa to assess the violence, it would be reassuring if the Minister could indicate that our high commission will monitor the situation very carefully this Christmas.

HART, the NGO with which I work, visited Kandhamal district, the epicentre of the violence, in October, and we saw what had been taking place. The toll of violence includes 69 people identified as having been killed and approximately 50 still unaccounted for and presumed dead. Among those killed were one man who was buried alive, several people who were burned to death and others who were cut to pieces. At least 160 churches of all Christian denominations, approximately 5,000 homes and an unspecified number of Christian businesses have been destroyed, and 54,000 people have been displaced from their homes and forced to take shelter in 14 state-sponsored relief camps in Kandhamal district, together with many hundreds who are living in non-state camps, including in two very overcrowded buildings in Cuttack town. It was also estimated that about 20,000 people were still living in the jungle or had fled to big cities.

In addition to the violence in Kandhamal district, 13 other districts had experienced similar atrocities, including killings and the looting and burning of churches and homes, and two other relief camps had to be established for approximately 2,700 more people who had had to flee from their homes.

In our report, we concluded that the Orissa state government had failed to provide protection for the Christian minority population, allowing widespread violations of human rights—including killings, rape, looting and the destruction and desecration of places of worship, homes and other property—and that the forced conversion of some Christians to Hinduism constitutes a serious violation of the right to religious freedom enshrined in the UDHR, to which the Indian Government are a signatory. It is noteworthy that Hinduism and the caste system have only relatively recently, in the past 50 years, been introduced into this region. It is characteristic of Hindutva ideology that those forced conversions to Hinduism are propagated by the same groups that denounce conversions to other religions. There was also deep concern that the Orissa state government have failed to bring many of the perpetrators of crimes and violence to account, and that failure to bring to justice those who are allegedly guilty of these atrocities was making it impossible for victims to return to their homes because they feared that impunity would encourage further attacks.

Taken together, the violence inflicted on Christian communities, the reports of forced conversion and the threats of more to come, and the failure to provide enough security to encourage the Christians to return home appeared to constitute a policy of attempted religious cleansing of the region. Moreover, the viciousness and the scale of the attacks would have been impossible without a sustained hate campaign over many years. That still continues in the Oriya and Hindu media, targeting both Muslims and Christians.

In our report, we offered a number of recommendations for consideration. As the Orissa state government have insufficient resources for policing and judicial functions, police should be brought in from other states to receive and process complaints, including women police to register and investigate gender crimes. It was also suggested to us that the Central Bureau of Investigation, the CBI, should initiate an inquiry into the official dereliction of duty by the authorities in Orissa state for failing to prevent and control the violence. The Roman Catholic nun, Sister M, who suffered gang rape and torture, has added her voice to this request. There is also a widely expressed demand for adequate compensation for and the return of looted property.

Resources are urgently needed to improve conditions in the camps for the displaced. The conditions are horrific with massive overcrowding. We estimate that in the tents of the outdoor camps every individual has 12 inches to sleep alongside the next person. Priorities for provision include better healthcare, especially for women needing obstetric and gynaecological treatment, and paediatric provision for children and infants. There is also an urgent need for baby food and for access to education for children. As the fear of renewed attacks is preventing people from returning to their homes, they are pleading for the retention of the Central Reserve Police Force on location for as long as necessary to ensure their safety. Finally, an inquiry is needed into the regional Oriya language press for complicity in fomenting hatred and misrepresentation of facts. The state government should insist on that and it is incumbent on the Press Council to do so.

Will Her Majesty’s Government raise with the Indian Government their concern over the failure of the state and central governments to ensure the safety of their citizens and their right to practise the religion of their choice? There is concern that the ad hoc annual EU-India human rights dialogue might be seen as the main mechanism for doing this. That would seem to be insufficient as it is seen as insubstantial and non-transparent. Has DfID been able to help with resources for relief for those who are currently living in the camps for the displaced? They are suffering in appalling conditions from overcrowding and an acute shortage of basic facilities, with many related illnesses. Further, will DfID consider supporting the longer-term rebuilding and rehabilitation effort?

I turn briefly to widespread concern at the anti-conversion legislation now in place in seven states. This applies to those who wish to convert from Hinduism to another faith: in practice, it does not prohibit conversion to Hinduism from other faiths. The legislation requires anyone wishing to convert from Hinduism to give advance notice to the district authorities, rendering them vulnerable to pressures of many kinds. In the case of Gujarat, the person who converts another must obtain prior permission of the authorities.

These requirements obviously hinder the freedom to choose and change religion, in violation of Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights to which India is a signatory. These laws also threaten charitable activities, since the conditions under which conversions are banned include, for example, “allurement” by the “grant of any material benefit”. The problem of restrictions on religious freedom is not unique to India: such violations of this fundamental freedom must be seen as cause for concern in any country where a majority religion denies its citizens the freedom to choose and change religion. Sadly, there are many in the world today. Her Majesty’s Government have previously given assurances in Parliament that they have raised concerns about proposed anti-conversion legislation in Sri Lanka, which is modelled on Indian state-level laws, yet often refer to these Indian laws as an internal matter. Can the Minister tell us whether Her Majesty’s Government have raised, and/or will raise, this cause for concern with the Indian Government in the same way as has been done with the Sri Lankan Government?

The final topic to which I wish to refer raises the plight of the dalits, those deemed to be outside the caste system and therefore treated as inherently untouchable. Their predicament is unenviable. Unable to take work or to come into contact with members of the caste system, many are doomed to undertake the most humiliating and unsanitary tasks, such as the 700,000 or more manual scavengers dealing with human excrement. Others are so poor that they become involved in bonded labour from which they cannot escape, so that this form of servitude is passed from one generation to the next. Dalits are susceptible to any form of exploitation and there is widespread caste-based violence against them. In an attempt to escape from their outcast status, many dalits are converting from Hinduism to another faith—Buddhism, Islam or Christianity. This disruption of the traditional caste system is causing tensions and attracting opposition, especially from proponents of the Hindutva, some of which may be reflected in violence against religious minorities.

I have witnessed the human dimension of the plight of the dalits when visiting a clinic which we in HART are supporting in Tamil Nadu for dalits with HIV/AIDS. These unfortunate people are doubly untouchable, as HIV/AIDS adds its own stigma of untouchability to their outcast status. It is a privilege to embrace such vulnerable people, but the joy they express when we touch them or eat the food they have prepared brings home the appalling suffering they endure as the ultimately marginalised and dehumanised members of Indian society. This is also a challenge to the EU-India Strategic Partnership joint action plan’s description of India as,

“a paradigm of Asia’s syncretic culture and how various religions can flourish in a plural, democratic and open society”.

It is impossible in one speech to begin to do justice to the vast nation of India with its indescribably rich tapestry of ethnic groups, cultures, traditions, achievements and problems. I greatly look forward to the speeches of other noble Lords who will bring information and insights from their own knowledge and experience to create a constructive and comprehensive debate worthy of the issues confronting this great nation which we are proud to call a friend. I beg to move.

My Lords, it is my pleasure to acknowledge the first act of our Deputy Speaker in his new role and to recognise, as the noble Baroness has reflected so well in her remarks, the sheer size, exuberance and commitment to the pluralistic democracy of India. Amartya Sen states at the beginning of his book The Argumentative Indian that:

“India is an immensely diverse country with many distinct pursuits, vastly disparate convictions, widely divergent customs and a veritable feast of viewpoints”.

That serves as a caution against generalisations.

I recall at conferences of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association gazing across at the Indian delegation, marvelling at the range of races and wondering how such a disparity coheres, but it does, even if there is always a crisis somewhere in the 28 states with 22 official languages and 2,000 different ethnic groups of India. Even if the economy looks somewhat vulnerable today; even if like all other countries India is guilty of double standards in its foreign policy, thinking of Burma and Iran; and even if there are vast disparities of wealth—all interesting points for another debate—the core of India remains sound and in good health. India also remains a good friend of this country in the Commonwealth with a vibrant, entrepreneurial community in the United Kingdom, of which my noble friend Lord Paul is a sterling representative, contributing much to our national life. We have a remarkable bilateral exchange in areas such as science and technology.

That must be the starting point; the context within which we should place recent events, for, as the noble Baroness has shown and as recent tragic events well illustrate, India is not immune from the scourges of our age such as international terrorism and religious extremism.

Before turning to the Mumbai tragedy and to the atrocities in Orissa, let me say a word about the noble Baroness. I pay tribute today to her indefatigable pursuit of justice and human rights worldwide. I sometimes muse that she was born out of her age—she should have been a Gladys Aylward or a Mary Slessor, perhaps with an admixture of Lady Hester Stanhope. She travels to crisis areas, stands alongside the victims and returns with first-hand accounts of suffering and ready to offer remedies to your Lordships’ House. I do not follow her in respect of the dalits today nor on the anti-conversion laws, save to say in respect of the latter that the opposition BJP has threatened that if it were to win next year’s general election it would legislate against mass conversions.

What lies behind the atrocity in Mumbai? I note that Misha Glenny, whom I respect, states in the Guardian that it is essentially local and regional factors, as does William Dalrymple in the Observer, who, in a typical western breast-beating mea culpa way, also blames western policy in the region. Others look to al-Qaeda and call Mumbai India’s 9/11. Although it is true that the Kashmir issue played a part, as did a desire to harm Indian-Pakistan relations, the latter view is probably nearer the truth because the targets in the area were westerners and Jews, which suggests that the jihadist message from the madrassahs played a significant part.

This was part of a series of attacks elsewhere in India—Ahmedabad, Bangalore, Delhi, Jaipur, Guwahati and Malegaon. The response of the Indian Prime Minister and the Minister of External Affairs, Mr Mukherjee, has been a model—cautious and statesmanlike—as was the journey to the subcontinent of Condoleezza Rice, seeking to cool the temperature in both relevant capitals and trying to prevent the incipient peace process being derailed. We must understand the peculiar internal problems of Pakistan and not push it in the direction of a failed state, yet it is also right for the international community to continue to press Pakistan to take responsibility for the terrorist groups which operate on its territory, to reform its army and the ISI and to examine the role of the madrassahs. President Zardari has spoken brave words and should be held to them.

For ourselves in the United Kingdom, clearly we should seek to encourage confidence-building measures between these two great countries, to recognise that the problems of terrorism in India and Pakistan are indeed our own problems, as the Prime Minister has stated, and to increase co-operation with them both.

I turn now to Orissa and then shall give one or two further thoughts. Christians are not the only victims of violence by Hindu extremists. I refer, as the noble Baroness said, to the massacres of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, and dalits are regularly the targets. I commend the work of Christian Solidarity Worldwide on this issue. August saw the worst spate of communal violence against Christians in India since independence in 1947. Such a bloodbath needs the righteous indignation of a Milton:

“Avenge, O Lord, thy slaughtered saints”,

from On the Late Massacre in Piedmont in the 17th century. The horrors have been well described by Christian Solidarity Worldwide and by the Maranatha Community, in three submissions to the FCO. I make only two points, because those horrors are well illustrated.

First, there is the role of the VHP—the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, a militant Hindu nationalist movement—in inciting violence. According to the Maranatha Community, that movement seeks to drive Christians out of India; my concern is more about its activities in the United Kingdom, about which I asked a Question in your Lordships’ House on 17 November. The VHP is a registered charity here, with branches around the country. It seems wrong, in principle, for a body widely perceived to be associated with inciting violence abroad and to have at least some links with terrorism—certainly, with the inflammatory language of the extremists—to enjoy charitable status. I hope that the Government will refer its position in this country to the relevant authorities.

Secondly, on Orissa, I stress only the urgency of the situation, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, did. Last Christmas, as she has said, there was an upsurge of violence against Christians in Orissa, with over 500 Christian homes burnt, 100 Christian shops looted and over 50 churches destroyed by militant Hindu extremists, who declared a bandh—a stay-away or closedown—on Christmas Day to prevent celebrations. Of course, the widespread atrocities in August were well documented, but the problem of a further bandh is a new and urgent situation. The closedown that the militants have declared on Christmas Day has put Christians awaiting Christmas into great fear.

This morning, I spoke to Bishop D.K. Sahu, the general-secretary of the National Council of Churches in India. He was in Delhi today but will shortly visit Orissa again. He mentioned that representatives of the British high commission, along with other EU diplomatic representatives, visited the state on 5 December and expressed their concern about the declaration of the bandh. He mentioned, however, rather more promising signs; two days ago, in the Orissa state assembly, the opposition called for the Christmas Day bandh to be declared illegal, and the state’s Chief Minister gave certain assurances about ensuring that the bandh will not take place. Yesterday, 3,000 primary school teachers in Kandhamal district apparently held a successful peace rally, and the district magistrate has called a meeting this Saturday. I hope that is to prepare for the possible outbreak of the bandh on Christmas Day. There appears, at least, to be a response to the national and international pressure that Christians should be allowed to celebrate on Christmas Day. I should mention that Bishop Sahu also expressed his concern about conditions in the relief camps, which the noble Baroness alluded to.

Finally on this situation, the Indian Prime Minister, who has acted in great, statesmanlike ways on this matter, called the August massacre “a national shame” after meeting with President Sarkozy, who was acting on behalf of the EU presidency. He is clearly well aware of the damage to India’s reputation abroad, which these actions are tarnishing. He must be equally well aware that the Christian community is law-abiding, and well known for helping the poor in the area. The Government of India must also be well aware of the threat to public order and should, with the state government, take immediate steps to protect the Christian community. I pray that the warnings of what might well happen on Christmas Day—as happened last Christmas, and again in August—will be heeded. At least there are, as I learned this morning from the bishop, some signs of hope.

My Lords, on 22 November I spoke at the Hindustan Times leadership conference in Delhi. The last session of the conference was a live video debate with President Zardari of Pakistan. He was being filmed in his presidential palace with his lancers behind him, flanked by a portrait of his late wife Benazir Bhutto and a portrait of Muhammad Ali Jinnah, the founder of Pakistan. The conference ended on a terrific high as President Zardari spoke with genuine optimism about Indo-Pakistan relations. Then, just four days later, the atrocities in Mumbai took place. We are all shocked, saddened and angered by what happened there and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for tabling this Motion after those tragic events.

This was not just an attack on Mumbai or just on India, but an attack on the United States of America, on Israel and on us in Britain. Our condolences and sympathy go out to everyone affected. In the midst of all this, my 10 year-old daughter in her innocence asked me, “Daddy, how can people kill innocent people like this?”. I said to her, “I don’t know, and I don’t think I ever will know. I will never understand how terrorists can so ruthlessly and deliberately kill innocent men, women and children”.

Almost immediately after the attack, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pointed the finger abroad, ostensibly at Pakistan, and our own high commissioner in India, Sir Richard Stagg, increased the pressure on Islamabad by saying that,

“there is clear evidence that the attacks in Mumbai have links to organisations in Pakistan”.

It is clear that much of the north of Pakistan is slipping out of government control. Prime Minister Gordon Brown has repeatedly spoken of a “chain of terror” stretching from Pakistan, through Afghanistan to European and British shores. Real international pressure has been brought to bear on Pakistan since the attacks.

It was reassuring to see the US Secretary of State, Condoleezza Rice, visit the region so soon after the attacks and hold talks with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and President Zardari. When that happened, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be wonderful if our own Secretary of State for the Foreign and Commonwealth Office also went out to India?”. I was so happy when we went one step further and our own Prime Minister visited India and Pakistan last weekend. I congratulate and thank him for doing so.

Earlier this month, when the England cricket team was debating whether to go back to India for the test series, I remarked how much cricket is at the heart of the Indian nation and how much it would mean to India if the British players defied the terrorists and returned to India. Not only did the whole team return but it provided us with a most thrilling test match. Having been born and brought up in India, I am often asked which country I support at cricket and whether I would pass the so-called Tebbit test. I assure your Lordships that I usually enjoy the game purely for the appreciation of the cricket without taking sides, but I was overjoyed when one of the greatest cricketers of all time, Sachin Tendulkar, scored a century and won the test match for India. On top of that, he dedicated the Indian victory to Mumbai. He said that,

“it was an attack on India which should hurt every Indian, not just those who live in Mumbai”.

There is no question but that lessons are being learnt from the atrocities in Mumbai. The Indian security services were found to be hugely lacking. We have learnt that the United States had provided warning of imminent attacks on Mumbai a month before they occurred. We have learnt that a week before the attacks the Indian Navy and coastguard failed to intercept the fishing trawler that transported the terrorists, despite warnings from Indian intelligence that an attack by sea was immediate. We have learnt that on the day of the attacks the police initially dismissed them as mere gang warfare. This is no way to fight terrorism.

I am pleased to hear, however, that the Indian Government are speeding through legislation to create an FBI-style national investigative agency as well as to enhance coastal security and strengthen anti-terror laws. Given the United Kingdom’s vast experience and history in this field, from Ireland to combating modern global terrorism, and given the joint exercises that the UK already undertakes with the Indian armed forces, I urge the Government to do everything that they can to help the Indian authorities, police, paramilitary forces, armed forces and intelligence services in this task, for India’s benefit and security and for our own.

As we heard from the noble Baroness, India is the most complex and diverse country in the world by far. Every day, Indians feel the pull of those invisible threads that keep them united, yet I believe that the vast majority of Indians feel themselves to be Indian first over their regional identities—I am not sure that we can say the same over here and whether people feel that they are English, Scottish, Welsh or British first.

India remains a steadfast, pluralist and secular democracy, where, every day, 99.9 per cent of all its religious groups coexist peacefully side by side—India has the second-largest population of Muslims in the world—but all this does not detract from the serious internal difficulties with which it is struggling, in Orissa, in Kashmir, as well as the growing Maoist Naxalite insurgency in hundreds of districts.

India is an ancient civilisation, but it is also a young country. Jawaharlal Nehru said in his famous “tryst of destiny” speech in 1947 on the eve of independence:

“A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance … The future beckons to us. Whither do we go and what shall be our endeavour? To bring freedom and opportunity … to fight and end poverty and ignorance and disease; to build up a prosperous, democratic and progressive nation, and to create social, economic and political institutions which will ensure justice and fullness of life to every man and woman”.

Has Nehru’s dream been fulfilled? To this day, every time I land in India, I am hit by its abject poverty, which is as great today as it was when I grew up there as a child. The India that has caught the world’s attention with its 300 million middle-class consumers—a sector of society that is growing at a rapid rate, with 14 million people being added to it every year—is a world apart from the 300 million people at the other end of the social spectrum who live on less than $1 per day.

According to the World Bank, 456 million Indians, or 42 per cent of the population, lived below the poverty line in 2005; in 1981, the number was 420 million. India has 60 million chronically malnourished children, which is 40 per cent of the world’s total. When we talk of India’s GDP growth rate having averaged 8.8 per cent over the past five years, what people overlook is that this is an average. As a leading Indian economist once explained, “If I have one foot in frozen ice and the other foot on burning coals, on average I am comfortable”. There are states in India with appalling sanitation, appalling literacy—especially among women—and appalling malnutrition, yet this is a country that is a nuclear power and that has just launched its first mission to the moon.

As chairman of the UK India Business Council, supported by UK Trade & Investment, and the UK chair of the Indo-British Partnership, I used to deal with the current Home Minister, Mr Chidambaram, who has taken up his post since the Mumbai attacks, in his capacity as Finance Minister. I would say, “Why can’t we reform quicker? Please can you open up the Indian economy faster?”. He would say to me, “Do you think we don’t want to reform quicker?”. However, he would then explain to me the practicalities of implementing reform with a coalition of 18 parties.

On top of that, India is a country of several states. It has a federal system where each state operates almost like a country. In many ways, it is easier to do business between countries in the European Union than between states within India. Not only does India have all the challenges of awful infrastructure and very poor primary education but it is surrounded by neighbours with enormous problems of their own. At 4 per cent, south Asia has one of the worst figures for internal trade. One should compare that with south-east Asia, where it is 20 per cent, let alone with the European Union and what we have here. If only we had more intra-south Asia trade, it would help to bring those countries together and solve many of the problems. However, I believe that India is an example of the saying, “Some people fail because of and others succeed in spite of”. In spite of all its challenges, complexities and problems, India will succeed.

I do not remember a great deal from my physics lessons at school, but I remember one formula: momentum = mass x velocity. A population of 1.1 billion and an economy growing at nearly 9 per cent a year: that is unstoppable momentum. India is now reaping the rewards of the liberalisation of its economy, which started only in 1991. The India in which I was brought up was inward-looking, closed and insular; today, the spirit of entrepreneurship and enterprise has been unleashed and India is an outward-looking, open and increasingly vigorous economy, with Indian companies, in manufacturing as well as in the IT sector about which we hear, going global. This sustained economic growth is critical to tackling poverty. However, the Government or foreign direct investment alone will be unable comprehensively to tackle India’s challenges; we need NGOs, corporates and individuals to do the ground-level work that is so urgently required.

Today, the world has woken up to India and India is rightly taking its place at the top table of the world. The Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver to India, with the help of the United States, acknowledges this fact. It is a defining moment for India, yet India is not a member of the G7 or G8 and it still does not have a permanent seat on the UN Security Council, which I know Britain wishes to see.

I always say that there are two countries to which we in Britain are closer than any others in the world: one is the United States and the other is India. The reason is that we share the same values and principles in terms of democracy, the rule of law, a free and vibrant press, English being the language of business, and, of course, a shared history.

At the Hindustan Times summit in Delhi in November, I shared the podium with a remarkable young man, Chetan Bhagat, who at the young age of 35 has become the biggest-selling author in India. In his speech, he spoke about what really mattered to young Indians. He said that young Indians above all wanted the politics of similarity, not the politics of difference and elitism, and that they wanted education. There is a huge shortage of capacity and quality in education at every level, yet to this day foreign universities cannot open up in India. By contrast, I am delighted to see record numbers of Indian students coming over here to study in the UK. We have a great advantage in this country in that 2 per cent of our population is made up of Indians. That 2 per cent is now reaching the very top, which is no better illustrated than by our Deputy Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Paul, whom I congratulate on his new position. It is an honour to speak in the first debate over which he presides. That 2 per cent of the British population contributes more than double that figure to the British economy.

With all these links, and with the relationship between Britain and India stronger than ever—people to people, business to business, Government to Government—we are in the best position to be India’s best friend, yet when I give talks around the country and ask business audiences how many of them are doing business with India, less than 5 per cent of the hands go up.

When the 1998 financial crisis took place in Asia, India was barely scratched; today, India has been directly affected by the financial crisis now facing us all, to the extent that the Indian stock market has pre-empted the remarks of the US Treasury Secretary and fallen by 60 per cent. However, while we are going to suffer the most awful recession—I hope that it is not a depression—India’s growth is still predicted by the IMF to increase by 6.5 per cent.

The Mumbai attacks were an attempt to destabilise this growth even further. India has sadly experienced several terrorist attacks over the years, with almost 1,000 people killed in the past three years, but it bounces back every time. After the 2001 attacks on the Indian Parliament, the Indian economy turbocharged from 2002 onwards.

When I am in Bombay, I stay in the Taj hotel. When I go with my family and children, they always look forward to it and love staying there—it is, after all, one of the finest hotels in the world. After the attacks, my children asked me, “Daddy, will we be staying at the Taj again?”. I said to them, “Of course, we will”. When I wrote to the resident manager of the Taj to express my sympathies, I got an e-mail back from Birgit Zorniger, which stated:

“Thank you for your supportive words and with every passing day we are getting closer to reopening the Taj in memory of those whose lives have been lost. Your support gives us the strength to go on and we look forward to welcoming you and your family soon”.

India did not invite this attack; she simply embodied the ideals that these terrorists find so threatening—the ideals of democracy, liberty and freedom. The world has admired India’s restraint after these attacks and we should take comfort from the words on Mumbai’s coat of arms:

“Where there is Righteousness, there shall be Victory”.

Britain has time and again proved to its allies that we are not just fair-weather friends; we are eternal friends, with mutual trust and mutual respect. We are partners in the good times and partners in the bad times. It is this spirit, which India and Britain share, that means that terrorists cannot win and will never, ever win.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate at such an opportune time. Like other noble Lords, I express my sympathy for the bereaved and injured as a result of the recent atrocity in Mumbai, and encourage the Indian Government in their measured response to it.

It is important to note at some point during this debate that the Indian constitution is in principle a very sound one, which ought to be followed by a number of other countries in the world where there is no religious freedom, even in theory. The distinguished scholar Amartya Sen has argued that India allows for a secular society in the very best sense of that term: one in which it is recognised that religion has an important role to play, but in which all religions are treated on an equal basis. The relationship of the state to religion may be close or distant, he says, but the point is that in a secular state they will all be treated in the same way.

Against that background, the first issue I raise is the same one raised by the noble Baroness and other speakers, but with a particular slant. That is, why have the Indian Government not taken action in relation to the state of Orissa? The constitution, as I understand it, specifically says that, in the case of internal unrest in a state, the national Government have the right to intervene. We know that there are still something like 50,000 displaced dalit Christians there who are fearful of returning to their homes, because the perpetrators of the recent religiously inspired violence regard themselves as immune from prosecution. It was this very sense of immunity, arising from a failure to bring charges after the previous attack in Orissa in December 2007, that gave rise to the even worse one this year. So I ask Her Majesty’s Government to urge the Indian Government to exercise what I understand is their proper constitutional role in Orissa, to ensure that proper justice is carried out within that state.

My second point has already been made, but it is worth reiterating. Although, like other speakers, I have a particular concern for dalits and dalit Christians, other minorities—not least Muslims—need to be reassured that both the state and national Governments will act to preserve India’s constitutional position of every religion being treated on an equal basis. In Gujarat in 2002, over 1,000 people—perhaps as many as 2,000—were killed, most of them Muslims. Since then, many Muslims in that state have felt fearful. Human rights, including the right to practise one’s religion, are universal; they exist on the basis of our very humanity, and a Christian would rightly be just as concerned with the protection of those rights for members of other religions as for members of their own.

I come to my third point. Dalits in general, but dalit Christians in particular, are being disgracefully discriminated against in a number of different ways. The Indian caste system has rightly been described by none other than the Prime Minister of India, Dr Manmohan Singh, as a terrible “blot on humanity” and it is no less—sad to say—a blot on India itself. Although some steps have been taken to redress this, at the moment it is working in such a way as to disadvantage dalit Christians even more than other dalits. For whereas there is a reservation system in public sector education and employment for scheduled caste dalits, dalits who convert to Christianity lose that status, and therefore their eligibility for a reserved place. So although the state has made some legislative efforts to overcome the discrimination that dalits in general suffer, dalit Christians do not benefit. The result is that dalit Christians are doubly disadvantaged: they are discriminated against as dalits, and because they are dalit Christians. Although the linking between scheduled caste and religious identity has been challenged in the courts since 2004, there is still no satisfactory outcome. The national Government and state governments need urgently to recognise this gross injustice and rectify it.

In speaking of the dalits, we are not just speaking about a few people—although even if it were only a few, it would still be an outrage. There are well over 250 million dalits, perhaps 270 million, in India. The extraordinary thing is that, as I understand it, they represent one in 25 of the world’s population. They suffer multiple degradations, not only segregation and discrimination but bonded labour, child labour, violence done to them and an inability to have the violence done to them properly investigated by the police, and so on. Within that category, the women are particularly degraded and humiliated, with temple prostitution, trafficking, rape and violence all too prevalent.

Take just one area, which has not yet been mentioned—education. The economic development of India in recent years has indeed been remarkable—almost miraculous. But something even more remarkable and miraculous is the extraordinary way in which the millions of poor in India somehow survive against all the odds and, as I have experienced, with extraordinary personal, spiritual dignity and sometimes even joy. That is deeply moving, and such a contrast to people who are degraded in some other western capitalist societies. To focus on the development, they produce more than 2 million graduates a year, and something like half of the world’s software engineers come from India. But this extraordinary development among the middle classes, as already mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, in his wonderful speech, simply highlights the growing gap with the poor, and in particular the poorest of the poor, the dalit women.

The Indian constitution says that every Indian citizen must receive an education, but something like 50 per cent of women generally in India are still illiterate, despite the staggering economic growth, and among dalits it is higher still. Among dalit women, illiteracy is still terrible, with only 28.5 per cent literate. All this highlights the fact that the most demeaning jobs are given to dalit women—in particular the manual scavenging of dry toilets, a dirty and demeaning task performed with only the most primitive implements. Something like 1.3 million dalits are employed in this way, most of them women.

I hope the Indian authorities will give their full support to the growing campaign to phase out this system of dry sewage scavenging, carried out by dalits for a few pence a day. I note the Early Day Motion on this, now signed by many Members of the other place. It is rightly the focus of an international campaign, to which the Indian Government need to respond as a matter of urgency.

I end where I began, by emphasising that India has a wonderful constitution in which freedom of religion and equality for all are clearly set out. However, in reality, the brutal facts deny this. Hindu extremists—not Hindus—are getting away with what should have been stopped and prevented a very long time ago. Discrimination against dalits still exists in multiple forms. The Indian Government must take a significant share of the responsibility for this. It is a cultural phenomenon, but laws are not being properly applied and there are practices that the Government could change. I urge Her Majesty’s Government, with our European partners, to continue to do all they can to help India, not only in the struggle against terrorism but also to end what has rightly been termed as this terrible blot on humanity.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on securing the debate and I thank her for introducing it with the passion and conviction that we have come to associate with her. I should also like to welcome my noble friend Lord Paul in his new incarnation. I wish him well, and it is by serendipitous coincidence that he should be presiding over the House on a day when we are debating India.

In the past few years India has been subject to more terrorist attacks at the hands of Islamic militants than any other country, with the exception of Iraq. Terrorist targets have included the Indian Parliament, commercial centres, commuter trains, five-star hotels, crowded railway stations, airports and, even, hospitals. Methods of terrorism have been increasingly brutal. Recently, at the Taj in Mumbai a man was asked to bring water. After he had done so he was shot in his forehead. Another was asked to render a similar service and his throat was slit.

The aim was to kill. According to the Indian newspapers, the target set for the terrorists was to kill no fewer than 5,000 people. When the Indian Government wanted to negotiate and see whether hostages could be released under certain conditions, the terrorists did not want people under their control to be seen as hostages. Even grievances were not stated and were reeled off at random. No clear demands were made and, in the indiscriminate killing, many Muslims as well as Hindus became victims. This was not therefore a case of instrumental terrorism—the point of which one might under some circumstances be able to see—it was, rather, an expression of mindless hatred resulting in cold and clinical execution as part of a mission with no clear goals.

Happily, the Indian response has been most mature. There has been no Hindu backlash in any part of the country, not even in my own Gujarat. In recent state elections, the BJP, the so-called Hindu fundamentalist party, was defeated in some states. Muslims of India unanimously have condemned these attacks. They have issued fatwas saying that terrorism is incompatible with Islam. They have collectively decided that terrorists should not be allowed burials. Indians, largely, have gone about in a quiet way, asserting life and their own pride. They have confronted death with life and national humiliation with pride. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, spoke about the wonderful example of Tendulkar very quietly scoring a century, knowing in his own mind that it was meant for India and to heal the process of national pain. Every nation comes to terms with its tragedies in its own way. The people of the United States responded in one way to 9/11; we responded in another way to 7/7; and Indians spontaneously drew upon their own cultural resources in order to cope with this process. Surprisingly, although perhaps not so surprising, even in Pakistan there has been some sense of outrage and criticism, in public and in private, of what happened in Mumbai.

The question before us therefore is how we respond to this litany of terrorist attacks in India. Largely, three causes are responsible for what has happened. First, there is the Jihadi mentality, which is concerned largely to restore the earlier Muslim hegemonic empire. The West is seen as the enemy and India, with its increasing globalisation and close ties with the West, is identified with the West and Israel. Therefore, India becomes a target, more so now than before, partly because of the Jihadi mentality that lies at the heart of the terrorists attacks.

The second factor that has played an important part has to do with the history of Pakistan. Unlike all other countries that defined their identity during the colonial struggle against the colonial masters, Pakistan defined its identity in relation to India. While India defined its identity in relation to Britain, Pakistan saw India as its comparator or point of reference. Large sections of the Pakistani population have never really got over this. This has been intensified by a sense of revenge after Bangladesh, for which India was held responsible, rather than Pakistan’s own failure to come to terms with its own diversity. Therefore, there is a certain hard core of opinion, reflected in ISI and in certain circles, that is hostile to India and wants to take advantage of every available opportunity. This is changing, but not fast enough.

A third factor has played a part in India being subject to terrorist attacks. That has to do with India’s own limitations and failings, partly in the case of Kashmir and partly in the case of a large number of disadvantaged Muslims.

If we recognise that these three factors have played a part in terrorist attacks, then the response has to be at all these three levels. Terrorists obviously must be fought and subdued, and India needs all the help that we can give it in the form of shared intelligence, pressure on Pakistan, helping with tracking down terrorists and training counterterrorist forces in India. India also has to learn to handle the whole thing professionally, rather than in a lackadaisical way, as it did in Mumbai.

India needs to make sure that its 150 million Muslims are not deeply alienated. As I argued in a couple of articles recently, if even 1 per cent of India’s Muslim population felt that it had no stake in the country and resorted to terrorism, the number involved would be as high as 1.5 million.

As of now, despite all that has been said, India’s record has been much better than expected, or than that of most other countries that I can think of, in integrating its minorities, including dalits. Dalits constitute about 14.5 per cent of the population. I cannot think of any other country that has embarked on a programme of massive affirmative action, as India did, long before the Americans, back in 1949. I ran one of India’s largest universities several years ago and was responsible for implementing the programme of affirmative action for the ex-untouchables, now called dalits, tribals and other minorities. In sports, in films, in Bollywood, in the economy, Muslims and other minorities occupy important positions. It is also worth remembering that India had a dalit president long before the United States had a black president. Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar, a dalit, was the founding father and the architect of India’s constitution.

Sadly, what has happened in India is that Muslims have increasingly come to be seen either as a vote bank to be pampered, or as a drag on the country’s progress. Muslims have suffered—they are one of the most disadvantaged groups in the country—largely because of neglect, rather than positive hostility. Whatever the reason, all minority communities need to be integrated in the national mainstream.

Here I should like to say something about what has happened in Orissa and parts of south India, where I come from, in relation to Christians. India has a long tradition of showing enormous respect for Christianity. It is striking that the founding father of India, Mahatma Gandhi, was more Christian than Hindu. In his ashram there was only one image, Jesus on the Cross, and none of the Hindu gods and goddesses. It is also striking that modern-day Hinduism, which claims to be anti-Christian, is profoundly shaped by Christian ideas of social service and homogeneity. Lots of Christian influences have permeated modern-day Hinduism. Why is it, therefore, that during the past 10 years and not before, a country with a strong commitment to Christianity should have increasingly felt—this does not apply to all parts of the country—anti-Christian?

It is also striking that, as in 1947 and 1948, the constitution of India protects the right to convert. Why, after 60 years, should the country want to limit the right to convert? Unless you understand the politics and, sadly, the economics and commerce of conversion, you will never understand what is going on in India. As somebody who has made an academic study of this, I can tell noble Lords that things are not as simple as they are sometimes made out to be.

Evangelical Christians in the United States have a budget of $2.6 billion in order to bring as many Hindus as possible into the Christian fold. Some of the others have not been lagging behind either, with the result that a large number of Hindus feel besieged and insecure. Many of them are blackmailed, bought, or tempted in all kinds of ways, into changing religion. I am all for the right to convert and I deeply deplore what has happened in Orissa. However, I do not wish just to condemn; I am concerned to trace the causes of that. We must understand that while Hindu fundamentalists are to blame for what has happened, other groups are not entirely innocent. Unless profound changes take place, so that religion is not seen simply as a commodity to be bought and sold, we will not understand what is happening. Why do we want to convert people anyway? That debate took place in India in the 1930s and 1940s. Unless one bears in mind the kind of debate that has taken place, one will not understand why these things are happening 60 years after independence.

The other point to bear in mind is that, as I said earlier, India has not been entirely innocent. Kashmir is one issue. Again, India began well. It gave considerable constitutional autonomy to Kashmir so that no Indian from the rest of India is allowed to buy land or settle in Kashmir. If a Kashmiri were to marry a woman or man from the rest of India, he or she would lose some of his or her social security rights. So India has gone a considerable distance towards accommodating Kashmir, unlike Pakistan in relation to its part of Kashmir. But things began to go wrong in the 1980s when elections were rigged. The army was increased so that today nearly 600,000 Indian soldiers guard a population of 5 million. About 15 years ago, when I was deeply disturbed at what was going on, I said at a meeting in India House that India needed radically to reconsider its position in Kashmir. I was shouted down as deshdrohi, unpatriotic and a traitor. I am glad to say that, increasingly, the space for dissent has opened up in India and more and more people are beginning to question whether India is right to treat Kashmir as it has. But while India can be criticised in that regard, I do not think that Pakistan has any standing in the matter. Its treatment of its part of Kashmir is not particularly exciting. India was not divided on religious lines. Rather, Pakistan was sliced off along religious lines and the rest of India remained a secular and multi-religious country, as it always had been. Therefore, by virtue of what it is, Pakistan cannot claim to have a representative right or status to speak for Muslims in Kashmir. Whether or not Pakistan is justified in taking up the case of Kashmir, India certainly needs to rethink its position in relation to Kashmir.

A similar change is needed in Pakistan. The people of Pakistan need to reclaim their country from the hands of the military and the mullahs. Thanks to what has happened in Mumbai, there is a sense of shame. There is also an increasing brain drain in Pakistan. More and more talented people are leaving the country. If one watches Pakistani television and reads the Pakistani press, one sees some very important debates taking place. One hopes that eventually there will be a very powerful coalition of progressive forces, something like the rose revolution or the pink revolution in other parts of the world. One hopes that there will be a huge peaceful movement in Pakistan wanting to bypass the mullahs and the military. I had hoped, and had suggested to various friends in Pakistan, that it would be wonderful if important groups were to take to the streets and say to the terrorists, “Not in our name”. If they had been able to do that, it would have had a wonderful impact on India.

It is very important that we in Britain keep a watchful eye on what is happening in India and Pakistan. We have a role to play, partly due to our historical legacy. We can play the role in two important ways: by encouraging the two countries to control terrorists and, equally importantly, by entering into a dialogue with journalists, trade unionists, politicians, academics and others in places such as Ditchley Park. There people from the two countries drawn from different walks of life can get together, talk and try to work out a common agenda. We cannot wash our hands of what is happening. We must help India to fight terrorists and we must help both countries to stay together in fighting a common enemy.

My Lords, the title of the noble Baroness’s debate was prompted by the recent horrific attacks in Mumbai, but noble Lords have rightly ranged well beyond that. I was in Nairobi with the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, at the time and was reminded—as I am sure he was—of the very close ties between families on both sides of the Indian Ocean. These atrocities have affected us all, but they are not the only atrocities in India and we should neither underestimate nor exaggerate the power of a very small minority of extremists. There was obviously a plan but it was not clear whether there was any mission. The atrocities were callous and indiscriminate. I understand from an Indian Muslim friend that 40 Muslims were among the victims.

I agree with my noble friend Lord Bilimoria that we should congratulate both the England and the India cricket teams on going ahead with the test match in Chennai and on producing such an outstanding performance on both sides so soon after these events. The local police must also be commended. We can imagine what was on the minds of those players during the preceding fortnight and we can be certain that it was not cricket. But cricket must be one of the most convincing demonstrations of the victory of the human spirit over violence and terrorism. As my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, in India, Sachin Tendulkar has personified this.

Meanwhile, it is to India’s credit that collaboration with the Pakistani authorities over terrorist suspects already shows promise of more reconciliation between those two countries in future. This was immediately demonstrated by the raid on the main Lashkar-e-Taiba camp last week. This co-operation, if it holds, may be a positive outcome, much as we deplore the cost to all the families affected in Mumbai and beyond.

As my noble friend Lady Cox said, India has seen violence in a variety of forms. There are many areas of non-Islamic terrorism in India, whether from Maoists, Nepalis, Naxalites or others in the south. I was surprised that, after an all-too-brief visit, our Prime Minister’s Statement on Monday made almost no reference to the work that the police, courts and politicians have to do all the time in India to combat terrorism, crime and human rights abuse.

The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Rochester said this week in an interview that during his time at Karachi University you had to choose between three faiths: Christianity, radical Islam and Marxism. When the bishop sent him to work in the Karachi slums, he says, the people were so poor that he had to bury their dead children in fruit crates. Seen from the shanty towns of Mumbai and Karachi, the world has not moved on a great deal from that time, except for mobile phones, which serve every community and cross every divide. Where there is acute poverty and child labour, gangs will always rule and radical Islamists will recruit new suicidal teenagers.

Does the Minister accept the analysis of another cricketer, Imran Khan, that the aerial war on terror in the North West Frontier Province is, and has always been, counterproductive? Does he appreciate that even where intelligence about the location of terrorists is correct, the collateral damage from the air is bound to turn the population against foreign interference? This is not to deny that co-operation with the Pakistan army and intelligence services on the ground must continue and can only improve, as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said. India will be furious at today’s news that Pakistan has lost Masood Azhar, founder of Jaish-e-Mohammad, one of those who attacked the Lok Sabha in that terrible event in 2001.

Another large community in India is exposed to attacks every day of the year; namely, the dalits. I declare an interest as a patron of the Dalit Solidarity Network in the UK. To give one illustration, I was in a village in Rajasthan a year ago, where a shepherd boy had simply spilled water from a hand pump over a bucket belonging to a Rajput merchant family. The boy was thrashed, and when his mother ran to help she was beaten so badly that her clothes were torn and she was taken to hospital. When a bystander later tried to bring charges for this straightforward event, the Rajputs shot his son dead in front of him.

This vendetta against anyone who defends dalits is quite common. The chances of dalits ultimately receiving justice are extremely thin. Even when a case comes to the local courts, the victim is unlikely to win. Out of 297 cases followed by one local NGO in Hyderabad, 287 were acquittals, making an average conviction rate of only 4.7 per cent. In cases lasting more than three years, the rate fell to 3 per cent.

Despite this, I know that a lot of local NGOs in the dalit network are working overtime to prepare cases for court and in the mean time to support families directly affected by these atrocities. I am glad to say that DfID is currently engaged with some of these NGOs through the international aid agencies, and I hope that it will continue this support.

I have also seen how effectively NGOs in Orissa are working with the poorest sections of society. I was especially impressed a few years ago by a CARE International project which demonstrated how young women, given loans and basic literacy, can start small businesses and completely transform their family life and the local economy. My noble and right reverend friend Lord Harries is right to highlight the crucial importance of education in that context. The potential for aid and development is very strong in India, and this can extend to human rights work. I am sure that the Minister will have taken up my noble friend’s important point about internal trade in South Asia. I am sure that we can help there.

However, I should tell the Minister that like the noble Baroness I am not satisfied by the FCO's participation in the human rights dialogue with India. Part of this is bilateral and part of it is through the EU, and the EU commissioner is personally committed to it. But we are old friends of India, and many of us would like to see a much more active role for the FCO, not just through dialogue at a high and occasional level, but through engagement with some of the organisations experienced in human rights in India and, in that way, through the political process in India.

As we have heard, in Orissa last August a Hindu swami and four assistants were shot dead by unknown gunmen. As these men were known to have converted tribals and dalits to Hinduism, Christians were immediately blamed. In the reprisals, more than 200 churches and hundreds of houses were destroyed in Kandhamal; violence in which dozens of Christians lost their lives and thousands became homeless. A nun and a Hindu girl were raped: the girl was murdered, it was said, because her grandparents were converted Christians. We should all be grateful to my noble friend Lady Cox—I know that we are—and to Christian Solidarity Worldwide for all the documentation that is done following the many visits that they have undertaken.

Christmas Day has apparently been chosen for another showdown between the two religious camps in Orissa. The Hindu authorities, backed by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, VHP, have ordered a sit-down strike—or a bandh—on that day if the swami’s killers are not arrested. In response, the National Council of Churches and the Catholic Bishops’ Conference have united to resist all threats to Christians during their most important festival. Violence erupted when a similar strike was called around Christmas last year, and we must hope that there will not be violence this time.

This conflict, like others in the sub-continent, cannot simply be explained by religion, as is usually suggested, especially in popular newspaper headlines. While dalits have generally been the poorest and most neglected in society, many have undeniably improved their socio-economic status through conversion. In itself, that may be a cause of envy and resentment. Yet again, victimisation of Christians and their loss of scheduled status recently led some of them to question whether the church’s protection has in fact led them into violence and homelessness, when they would have preferred to be left alone.

The Chief Minister of Orissa, Mr Naveen Patnaik, is a personal friend of mine from Delhi in the 1960s, when his father was the Chief Minister before him. I know his family well. I was encouraged to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, of his assurances about security at Christmas. But I have to tell Naveen that, from what I have read, neither his Government nor the Union Government in Delhi have taken sufficient action to find the perpetrators of this massacre or to protect its victims still in camps. The state police are inadequate to prevent further violence: some say that they cannot even defend themselves. Is it not time for both central and state governments together to take more initiative? My noble friend has already made suggestions about the intelligence services, which the Minister will have noted.

As a result of the terrorist outrage in Mumbai, there is already a lot of heart-searching in India. There will, I hope, be, alongside the pursuit of criminals, an international recognition of its underlying causes. Further, there must be a renewed determination by the Indian Government, with outside help, to deal with the country’s own major challenge, the eradication of poverty and human rights abuse in all forms.

My Lords, not for the first time, the House owes a considerable debt to my noble friend Lady Cox, both for facilitating this debate and for her powerful report on recent events in Orissa. She is often called a voice for the voiceless, which is an epithet that she has more than justified again today.

At times, Britain and India have had a turbulent relationship; but what is often called “the idea of India” is one that continues to captivate and enthral anyone who has been fortunate enough to travel there.

Britain and India are democratic nations with many shared values as well as significant common economic and security interests. Bilateral trade is worth around £6 billion annually. Our cultural, sporting, linguistic and historic links—some of which have required colonial ghosts to be laid to rest—underline the values that bind us together.

In 1949, India and Britain were founding members of the Commonwealth, which exists to promote democracy, human rights, good governance, the rule of law, individual liberty, egalitarianism, free trade, multiculturalism and world peace—ideals that, as the events of 26 November illustrate, have been undermined and are under siege in many parts of the world today. I join other noble Lords in expressing condolences to and sympathy with the families of the 173 people who died, to the hundreds left injured and to the Government of India.

Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I want to address two questions: first, on the lessons we might learn from that heinous attack and, secondly, on the principal challenges that India faces. The ferocious assault on the Taj Mahal Palace Hotel and other targets in Mumbai was not an isolated incident; it was part of a concerted and systematic international campaign. According to the Wall Street Journal, 5,000 have died in India since 2004—more terrorist fatalities than in any other country except Iraq. This is the third major attack on Mumbai in 15 years. In July 2006 alone, 183 people were savagely murdered as they travelled on commuter trains. During 2008, militants attacked hotels in Delhi, Bangalore, Jaipur, Ahmedabad and the Marriott hotel in Islamabad. One lesson that we must learn is that more commando-style raids on soft targets are likely.

Their purpose, of course, is to spread fear, to disrupt, and to assert a violent ideology. The visceral nature of that ideology can be seen in the decision by the terrorists to hunt down a rabbi and a small group of Jews in Mumbai’s Nariman House. It can be seen in the terrorists’ decision at the Taj Mahal Palace and Tower Hotel to look specifically for American and British guests, in order to execute them. It can be seen in their hatred of all things Indian, the “idea of India”, that led to the indiscriminate and wholesale massacre of innocent Indian lives.

Some have pointed the finger of blame at Pakistan, for persisting, perhaps, with its battles over the status of Kashmir, or secretly aiding and abetting extremists schooled by al-Qaeda, Lashkar-e-Taiba, the Taliban and their affiliates in the madrassas of the north-west frontier. Pakistan’s President, Asif Ali Zardari, has refuted these accusations of complicity, rightly insisting that the same forces who have attacked India want to destroy Pakistan too.

Mr Zardari’s shaky Government need all the help they can get in countering terrorism; and all of us welcome Gordon Brown’s decision to travel to Islamabad and India to underline that message. However, I add the cautious rider that it does not bode well that Mr Zardari quickly retracted his offer to send the head of Inter-Services Intelligence to India, and elements of the Pakistani military have clearly played a double game, by saying that they are fighting the Taliban on one hand and, on the other, diverting resources, often blindly given by the West, to Kashmiri militants, global terrorists and the Taliban itself. The Pakistan army is the most important institution in Pakistan and must be held accountable.

It may be tempting for India's politicians to try to deflect criticism of intelligence failures into rumbustious forms of anti-Pakistan sentiment, or to advocate cross-border attacks; but this would be a dangerous and, given the respective nuclear capabilities of both countries, potentially catastrophic outcome. Competitive demagoguery, and sabre rattling by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Congress Party, would be self-indulgent. It risks raising the temperature rather than effectively combating those seeking to destroy “the idea of India”.

Any escalation of military tension would force Pakistan to divert its army from the West, which in turn would allow the militants to strengthen their bases. An attack on Kashmir would rally extreme elements in Pakistan, escalating an already dangerous situation. This would play into the hands of the Mumbai terrorist-recruiting sergeants. In Pakistan and in parts of Britain, along with the fifth column that operated inside Mumbai, there would be a new glut of applications.

Instead, India and Pakistan, with international support, must combat an enemy that threatens them both. The casus belli of the recruiting sergeants must also be addressed, finding solutions to the running sores of Palestine and Kashmir, as well as assisting the entrenchment of strong civil societies in countries such as Afghanistan and Iraq. But these questions should not be used as an excuse for dealing with deeper structural questions and questions of identity.

In 2009, India’s 700 million voters will elect a new Government, but whoever wins will face the fundamental issues that threaten India’s cohesion. Islamic extremists, Hindu radicals, Maoists and communalism—ethnically or religiously based sectarianism—have all found a fertile breeding ground in India. Terror has spawned terror. The bombing of the Malegaon mosque in 2006 and the arrest of several persons related to Hindu radical groups underline that. Moderates have disavowed violence, whereby, for instance, Muslims have disallowed the bodies of terrorists from being buried in their graveyards and have marched with their countrymen in protest against terrorism; but too often, extremism and communalist violence have gone unchallenged.

Revolutionary Maoism has found a foothold in eastern India. The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, has described Maoist insurgency as the greatest internal security challenge the country has ever faced. The political classes, without a Gandhi or a Nehru, have not risen to these challenges. Criminal elements have found their way into the highest reaches of political life. Of the 522 Members of Parliament in Delhi, 120 are facing criminal charges and 40 face serious charges including murder and rape. Too often, processes of governance face paralysis.

Plenty of attention is given to what should be done; more attention needs to be given to how it should be done. Our Indian diaspora in Britain, great human capital, are uniquely placed to assist in that process. However, the fact that social policy is neglected in Indian national security planning is astounding. As my noble friend Lord Bilimoria said in his excellent intervention, the World Bank estimates that some 456 million people, 42 per cent of the population, live below the poverty line. India has some 60 million chronically malnourished children—two fifths of the world’s total. Last year, 2 million children died, and 1,000 died each day of diarrhoea-related sicknesses.

World recession is likely to reduce growth next year to 5.5 per cent, the lowest since 2002. Exports fell in October by 12 per cent and the country faces phenomenal challenges in building a modern infrastructure while simultaneously reducing carbon emissions. India is the fourth biggest emitter of greenhouse gases in the world.

As my noble friend Lord Harries of Pentregarth mentioned, education is a key to this issue. India is to be admired for providing near-universal education, and there has been a rise from 7 per cent to 13 per cent in those entering higher education, but many agree that teaching remains poor and only 20 per cent of job seekers have any vocational training.

Even these opportunities tend to be denied to the dalits and the 84 million tribal people, who suffer discrimination and marginalisation—an issue touched on by my noble friend Lord Sandwich and many others. The failure to address the caste system, which has left 167 million dalit people trapped by the curse of untouchability, and the failure to counter the surge of communalist violence in states such as Orissa, threatens “the idea of India” and the country’s future. This vast expanse of humanity, trapped in a time warp, appears wholly unconnected to and at variance with India's sophisticated economic and technological advances—and is certainly at variance with the advertising slogans, “Amazing India” and “Incredible India”.

What is truly amazing and incredible in this day and age is that around one in four of India’s population should be classed as tribal or dalit, a term which derives from a Sanskrit word meaning “broken” or “crushed”. Two years ago, on 26 March, on the 200th anniversary of the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade, I quoted William Wilberforce in your Lordships’ House. He described “the cruel shackles” of the caste system as,

“a detestable expedient ... a system at war with truth and nature”.

That week I attended the launch of “India's Hidden Slavery”, a powerful film which highlights the violence, exploitation and discrimination experienced by the dalits. The persistence into the 21st century of this degrading and pernicious system threatens the social stability and economic progress of India. Other noble Lords have rightly quoted Dr Manmohan Singh, who said that:

“Untouchability is not just social discrimination; it is a blot on humanity”.

It is estimated that every day three dalit women are raped; dalit women are often forced to sit at the back of their school classrooms, or even outside; it is estimated that every hour on average two dalit houses are burnt down; higher castes will avoid having a dalit prepare their food for fear of becoming polluted; in one recent year alone, 25,455 crimes were committed against dalits, although many more went unreported, let alone investigated or prosecuted; 66 per cent of dalits are illiterate; their infant mortality rate is close to 10 per cent; 70 per cent are denied the right to worship in local temples; 56 per cent of dalit children under the age of four are malnourished; 60 million dalits are used as forced labourers, often reduced to carrying out menial and degrading forms of work; most dalits are not allowed to drink the same water as the higher castes; and they are trapped in a caste system that denies them adequate education, safe drinking water, decently paid jobs and the right to own land or a home.

Segregated and oppressed, the dalits are frequently the victims of violent crime. In one case, 23 dalit agricultural workers, including women and children, were murdered by the private army of high-caste landlords. What was their crime? It was listening to a local political party, whose views threatened the landlords’ hold on local dalits as cheap labour. The list of atrocities and violence is exponential.

Although laws against caste discrimination have been passed, discrimination continues and little is done to prosecute offenders. In recent years, however, there has been a growing desire for freedom among the dalits and low-caste Hindus. Demands have been made for justice and freedom from caste slavery and persecution, and a detailed charter of dalit human rights was drafted, with appeals to the international community and the UN, in the hope that this would put positive pressure on the Indian Government.

I have one further connected point to make. Since 1956, when the dalit leader, Dr B.R. Ambedkar, led hundreds of thousands of dalits to convert to Buddhism, dalits have often seen religious conversion as a means, either symbolic or actual, of escaping caste. Coercion in a number of ways—the loss of assistance through affirmative action for dalit converts to Islam, Christianity or Buddhism, for example—and anti-conversion laws both need to be challenged because of the way that they affect dalits.

These laws undoubtedly contribute to a climate of violence and aggression against India’s tiny Christian minority, which numbers some 24 million followers—just 2.3 per cent. St Thomas the Apostle brought Christianity to Kerala in India in 52AD, long before it arrived in the US, the UK or many European nations. Christianity in India is almost as old as Christianity itself. However, in Orissa, as my noble friend Lady Cox points out, we have seen the worst spate of communal violence ever faced by Indian Christians since independence in 1947. This has included vicious murders—the Catholic Church puts the number at over 60—and has included burning alive and mutilating bodies. At least 160 Christian churches have been destroyed. I hope that the Orissa state government and the Indian Government will institute a widespread inquiry into these issues and ensure that those responsible are prosecuted.

I want to quote Vir Sanghvi, writing in the Hindustan Times on 11 October. He put it well when he said:

“Every single Hindu I know has been deeply disturbed and more than a little ashamed by the recent violence against Christians ... It reminds us that beneath our gleaming high-tech, IIT-engineered facade, there lurk medieval forces, full of hatred and bloodlust ... without a tradition of religious freedom and equality, we would be no better than Pakistan ... But here’s the thing: ban conversions and you destroy the idea of India. At the root of our notion of who we are as a nation is that we are a secular, liberal democracy. This means not only that religion and politics will be kept separate but that we will afford complete freedom of belief in both areas ... Unless I have the right to change my mind, my secular freedom is meaningless”.

In conclusion, India is the world’s largest democracy—home to one-sixth of the world’s population. It can be proud of its many fine achievements. Like all our democracies, it is a work in progress, and there are many bright spots. India produced one of the first female Heads of Government; a dalit wrote the constitution; a female dalit is currently one of the most powerful politicians in the country; a Muslim has been head of state four times; and a Jew and a Sikh are two of India’s greatest war heroes. So an astounding amount has been achieved.

However, India cannot be proud of the more general fate of the dalits, the caste system or the extremism which still play too great a role in fashioning modern India. In the light of these recent tragic events—from Mumbai to Orissa—Britain and India need to seize the moment and find rational political responses based on our shared values.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on securing this debate. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Paul, on becoming a Deputy Speaker in your Lordships’ House. I have no doubt that, had he not been sitting on the Woolsack, he would have been on his feet in this debate.

I suspect that in my case the title of this debate is a bit of a misnomer, as I shall be discussing matters in which India’s neighbours bear responsibility—the events that took place between 26 and 29 November, in which more than 173 people died and twice as many were injured. We are, therefore, talking about developments in the Indian subcontinent, which includes India’s neighbour, Pakistan.

This was a graphic portrayal of violence, the like of which bears some comparison with the events at the World Trade Centre in New York on 9/11 and the bombing of the Tube and buses in London on 7 July. The most striking and ugly feature of the barbaric actions of the terrorists was witnessed live throughout the world on television screens. This memory will not fade away; nor should it be allowed to be yesterday’s news. When the TV cameras switch their attention elsewhere, the innocent victims are picking up the pieces to rebuild their lives. There are the injured and maimed individuals, who will take a long time to recover. There are those who went to work and never returned and whose memories will haunt their families for a very long time to come. We can express our sense of outrage and understand the anger that Indian nationals have felt.

The facts of the incident are not in dispute. Gunmen launched a series of attacks across Mumbai, the financial capital of India. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, pointed out, these included the Taj Mahal and the Oberoi hotels, the main railway station, a hospital, restaurants and the Jewish outreach centre. It is reported that at least 26 foreign nationals, including UK, US, Australian, German, French, Canadian, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Singaporean citizens, died.

There is no doubt that foreign nationals were the targets, as the hotels and restaurants that bore the brunt of the attacks are normally frequented by foreign tourists. So the terrorists’ intentions were not simply to destabilise the financial capital of India; they were more sinister than that. They were aimed at many of our democratic institutions in the free world. There is no doubt that the terrorists were well briefed and well rehearsed. How else could they have targeted the Jewish outreach centre? However, little publicity has been given to the fact that among those who died were at least 70 persons of Muslim faith.

There are more Muslims in India than in neighbouring Pakistan—a point stressed by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. In fact, during the communal violence in Gujarat—a point raised by a number of noble Lords—the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, and I were the first people of Indian origin in Parliament in this country to contact the Chief Minister in Gujarat and the Prime Minister, making it absolutely clear that these were Indian nationals and that any dispute whatever in a democratic country must be resolved through the process of law and not by communal violence. There is no dispute that we should be able to remind the world’s largest democracy again and again that violence perpetrated by communities is unacceptable.

Perhaps I may talk about the Muslim community. Muslims are Indian nationals who reflect the diversity and secularism that the world’s largest democracy provides. To its credit, the Muslim community in India is predominately law-abiding and there is no evidence that it is involved in these terrorist activities. It is also to India’s credit that there has been no backlash against the community in this current situation.

In contrast, since its creation in 1947, Pakistan has alternated between civilian and military rule. The prospect of democracy looks fragile, and peace and stability are often threatened by internal dissent and radicalism, which the terrorists have used to destabilise Pakistan. The role of the ISI and Pakistan’s future democracy seem incompatible. You can have a democracy with an independent judiciary and the rule of law but any interference by the military in the body politic of Pakistan is bound to discredit this process, as it has done in the past. It will inhibit pluralism, the elimination of poverty, the building of prosperity and, more important, Pakistan’s relationship with its neighbours—in this case India.

We cannot compensate for the lives that have been lost but, after the bombing at the Indian embassy in Kabul, the attacks on the Indian Parliament, the explosions in Bangalore and Jaipur, and the atrocities at the Akshardham temple in Gujarat, there is irrefutable evidence that the Pakistan-administered-Kashmir-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba has been responsible for these attacks. The intercept evidence provided by the United States and the intelligence obtained by the security service have confirmed this and Condoleezza Rice has been forthright in bringing that to the attention of the Pakistan Government.

India has been pressing Pakistan to take action against this group and has requested that the United Nations proscribe the Jamaat-ud-Dawa group, a front for Lashkar-e-Taiba, for being associated with terrorism. Add to this the voice of our Prime Minister, Gordon Brown. He is to be congratulated on the way in which he was able to articulate what he knew was happening in India at that time. He named the Lashkar-e-Taiba militants as responsible for the attacks. The Prime Minister of India, Manmohan Singh, was right when he said:

“First we have to galvanise the international community into dealing sternly and effectively with the epicentre of terrorism, which is located in Pakistan”.

International evidence points to the fact that the war on terror has not reduced terror. Over 22,000 people have been killed worldwide. In the United Kingdom, the security service estimates that 1,600 individuals are a direct threat to our country. I commend the words of our Prime Minister Gordon Brown. He said:

“The time has come not for more words but for more action. We will offer our support to the democratically elected Government of Pakistan, but that Government must act rapidly and decisively against the terror networks based on their soil”.—[Official Report, Commons, 15/12/08; col. 816.]

Pakistan’s own future depends on action against those within its borders who are bent on the destruction of its elected Government and its relations with its neighbours. It has already experienced terrorism on its own soil; the regrettable death of Benazir Bhutto is a case in point.

Now we do not simply need brave words; we need practical action. India’s position in world politics has been recognised, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria. The relations between India and the USA have never been stronger. The USA has provided intelligence that has helped to nail down the terrorist bases in Pakistan, but the fact remains that both the US and British Governments are so deeply entrenched in their military role in Afghanistan—and therefore need co-operation from the Pakistan Government towards this end—that they have failed to give practical support to eliminate terrorism on the borders of the subcontinent. I can well understand their reluctance, because they depend heavily on Pakistan’s co-operation for their military action in Afghanistan, but this is a very blinkered strategy. Those terrorists who have turned against India and other democratic institutions in the world would not hesitate to turn on their own Government, as past events in Pakistan have confirmed. I trust that the Minister will say something on that point.

However, if past experience is anything to go by, South Africa immediately springs to mind. Nelson Mandela was branded a terrorist and both the British and US Governments failed to condemn the apartheid regime. The message is clear. We cannot condemn terrorism and yet at the same time condone activities that give shelter to terrorists. Condemnation alone is not enough. There must be practical demonstration on the ground. We cannot defeat terrorism unless the international community squarely confronts terrorist activities. There cannot be any compromise in the global fight against those who massacre innocent people, whether in Britain, the US, India or any other part of the world. We must, of course, give credit to the United Nations. It has put sanctions on four individuals of Lashkar-e-Taiba. That is a small step in dismantling the infrastructure that feeds terrorist activities.

Equally, Pakistan has an important role to perform. The use of its territory for launching such heinous attacks requires strong action on its part. Of course, there is evidence of steps that have been taken by Pakistan, but much will depend on whether such steps lead to their logical conclusion. The attacks in Mumbai failed to sow the seeds of communal division in a country that prides itself on its secular policies. It is not enough to see al-Qaeda as sole agents for terrorism. There is evidence that young radicalised people, often the product of madrassahs, are now actively involved. Their activities do not recognise territorial boundaries, a point well made by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea. There is ample evidence of funding from international sources. More needs to be done to bring rogue states to account for their action in supporting the radicalisation of young people, which, in turn, influences jihadis on the ground.

Terrorism is not restricted to India and Pakistan. Also, it is a red herring to suggest that this is an issue related to Jammu and Kashmir. Terrorists have no mandate and no democracy would negotiate a political solution under the threat of terrorist activities. To the credit of both, India and Pakistan have opened a political dialogue. The evidence is there for all to see: more tourism and prosperity in Kashmir; more movement of people across the border; and free and fair elections. This has to go much further, however; there has to be a political solution untainted by terrorist activities. The example of the China-India dispute is a case in point. Despite disagreement over the border issue, both countries have regularised their relations on other outstanding matters. Perhaps that could be a way forward with regard to Kashmir.

The international community, for its part, should ensure that there is a comprehensive convention to deal with cross-border terrorism. This is the biggest menace that we all face. One of the most unexplained dimensions of this terrorist attack was that for the first time foreigners were targeted. They played no part in any dispute between India and Pakistan.

We have a lot to learn from such incidents. First, despite the massacre of hundreds of innocent victims, the terrorists have not been able to derail India’s economy. Secondly, they have succeeded in worsening relations between India and Pakistan, particularly when there was strong evidence of reconciliation and the development of economic unity between the two countries. Thirdly, as we have learnt in the West, there is no such thing as total security. Terrorism will flourish if we fail to arrest it. A way forward is to ensure that international legal processes are available to extradite those who commit such crimes. Fourthly, the United Nations must urgently consider sanctions against those countries that provide shelter and financial support to the terrorists.

To defeat terrorism, we must all look beyond our own interests. An attack on a democratic institution is an indirect attack on all the democratic and peace-loving institutions of the world—an enlightened world. I am delighted that the cricket tour is taking place, but I am sad that my team lost. I will let your Lordships into a secret. I met the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, and spoke to him about cricket. His cricket test is no longer valid. I support England and he now supports India. We shall have to revise that definition.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this important debate and for all her work. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Paul, on becoming a Deputy Speaker. What a perfect first to be here in his new position for the start of this wide-ranging debate on India.

I would like to add to the words of sympathy from the rest of the House for the victims and their families of the appalling terrorist attacks between Wednesday 26 and Saturday 29 November. As the right honourable David Cameron said:

“My thoughts are with all those who have been caught up in these attacks. India and Britain stand together at this time in the face of terrorism”.

We could not, and should not, have a debate to call attention to the recent developments in India without placing great emphasis on the recent terrorist attacks. Yet it behoves us all to remember that, despite the recent news headlines, India, complex and diverse, is more than a country of poverty, caste and terrible terror attacks. It is also a hugely prosperous country, abounding in traditions, historical sites and so much culture. It naturally attracts tourists. In November, India undertook its first mission to the moon; on 12 November, Chandrayaan-1 entered lunar orbit and began sending back pictures of the moon’s surface.

As well as discussing those difficult and disturbing issues, let us also pay tribute to the impressive and wondrous. India is an important partner, especially in areas of trade, education and culture. We honour India’s democratic values and treasure her friendship. The noble Lord, Lord Anderson, spoke eloquently and cited Amartya Sen’s description of India as a huge subject. I will limit myself to three topics: the terrorist attacks; the economic situation; and the tourist industry in India.

The attacks on Mumbai were a terrible tragedy and were rightly condemned across the globe. In his outstanding speech, the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, pointed out that it was an attack not only on Mumbai, but on many other parts of the world. As the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, said, it is thought that 173 people died in the attacks and, in addition to the Indian casualties, there were UK, US, Australian, German, French, Canadian, Italian, Mexican, Japanese, Chinese, Thai and Singaporean victims. If ever there were evidence that it was a global tragedy, not just an Indian one, that is it.

However, it would be even more dreadful if that attack were to signify the beginning of heightened military tensions between India and Pakistan. Cracks can already be seen, as on 11 December, when Shri P Chidambaram, India’s Home Minister, stated that,

“the finger of suspicion unmistakably points to the territory of our neighbour Pakistan”.

Given the history of tension, conflict and war between these countries, what action have the Government taken to attempt to defuse tensions and help to maintain good relations? Considering that the Prime Minister has just returned from Pakistan, perhaps the Government could update us on this.

In the Observer, William Dalrymple commented that part of the problem was the,

“abject failure of the Bush Administration to woo the people of Pakistan and Afghanistan away from the Islamists”.

This is part of the great fear that jihadi groups in Pakistan are attempting to push India into an attack that would mean that Pakistan could move the focus of its army away from the Taliban and towards India. That would be an appalling situation. Can the Government tell us what is being done to avoid such a conclusion?

I turn to the Indian economy. More than 400 million people in India live on less than $1.25 a day, which is more than in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. The development challenge is huge, but India is proof in point that the private sector can be the engine of development. Over the past two decades, it has had an annual average GDP growth of 5.7 per cent, and between 1981 and 2005 the proportion of people living on less than $1.25 a day declined from 60 per cent to 42 per cent. India is truly one of the world’s emerging powerhouses. However, India still has a long way to go. We must remember that India’s gross national income per capita is only $14 above the middle income status line. Moreover, while the proportion of poor has decreased, in real terms the number of people living at the $1.25 a day poverty line has increased from 420 million to 455 million.

The recent economic downturn has meant that,

“the global financial crisis began to bite in one of the world’s fastest growing economies”.

On 13 December, the Financial Times reported that India’s factory output had fallen for the first time in 15 years. In October this year, industrial output was found to be 0.4 per cent lower than it was in October 2007. I could go on. Like many other economies throughout the world, the Indian economy is facing difficult times. Can the Government tell us what impact the troubling developments in the global economy will have? Can they also update us on the status of the Doha round of trade talks? Now more than ever, India would benefit from a pro-poor deal in Doha but, as the House will know, the talks have come to a grinding halt over the past 12 months. What discussions have the Government had with the Government of India about the talks, and what assessment have they made of the possibilities of progress following the US election?

A further detrimental impact on the economy is the fact that the recent terrorist attacks are bound to affect the tourist industry. The Indian Ministry of Tourism released a statement saying:

“India is a large nation and an incident in one place does not impact on tourism and day-to-day life in the rest of the country”.

I hope that it is right. Will that statement be enough to convince people? According to the Financial Times, travel and tourism contribute 6.1 per cent to Indian GDP and employ more than 30 million people, which is 6.4 per cent of jobs. It is therefore vital that immediate action is taken to make certain the recovery of this crucial economic strand of industry. What action have the Government taken to aid a speedy recovery for the Indian tourism industry?

Many noble Lords have asked what humanitarian assistance has been given, in conjunction with the Indian federal and Orissa state Governments, to the people of Orissa who have suffered in the outbreak of anti-Christian violence.

As we all recover from the shock of the recent developments in India, it has been most beneficial to have had this varied and informed debate on the issues surrounding that most beautiful and beguiling of countries. We look forward to the Government’s response.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for proposing this debate to discuss developments in India, especially in the light of the recent terrible events in Mumbai. I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Paul on taking on his role with consummate timing and occupying the Woolsack for the first time today.

Let me say at the outset that, as this debate has amply demonstrated, India remains vital to this country’s interests in so many ways. It is a country close to the heart and imagination of many of us. The close ties that bind the British people and the Indian people are rooted in over three centuries of engagement, mutual respect for human values, democracy and freedom and a colourful shared history. Government Ministers have said on many occasions that we regard India as a close friend and partner of the UK and the British people, not just in the context of promoting stability and security in the south Asian region, but in tackling together a wide range of international and global challenges, including the recent global economic downturn and promoting climate security, to name just two of the issues on which we work closely together. We cannot forget the close family and cultural ties that bind over 1.3 million British citizens to India, the world’s largest and most diverse democracy and home to over 1 billion people.

This debate comes only weeks after the terrible events we saw in Mumbai when a series of terrorist attacks on hotels and other public places left nearly 200 innocent people dead and many more injured. As my right honourable friend the Home Secretary said at the time, the attacks reminded us of the real challenges that we face from violent extremists and terrorists who threaten our way of life. As the noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, said, this was not just an attack on India; it was an attack on all of us, but especially on those of us here in the UK, in the United States and perhaps also Israel, if some of the press reports at the time are to be believed. Those attacks serve only to reinforce our shared determination to tackle extremism and violence wherever it arises. I join other noble Lords who have expressed their heartfelt sympathies with the families and friends of all those killed and injured in the attacks.

I briefly turn to the aftermath of the Mumbai attacks and their implications for India’s relations with Pakistan. As noble Lords will be aware, and as several have generously commented on, the Prime Minister has just returned from the region at the weekend, when he met Prime Minister Singh in New Delhi and President Zardari in Islamabad. He used the occasion to press in both capitals the need not to allow the relationship to deteriorate, and to stress to both leaders that the way to prevent that was to ensure that justice was done and that there was no attempt to prevaricate, disguise or confuse the situation, but that those guilty were found and tried.

I also note the kind words addressed to our cricketers for their decision to go ahead with their tour. I shall not take sides about the win, except to say that from these Benches there was rather unsportsmanlike mumbling about whether it would not have been a good occasion for the Indians to have just let us win.

It is now widely acknowledged that the Mumbai attacks were perpetrated by members of a militant extremist group based in Pakistan, Lashkar-e-Taiba. During the past two weeks, we—most recently, the Prime Minister—have urged the Pakistani Government to co-operate fully with the Indian authorities’ investigation of the attacks to identify those responsible and bring them to justice. It is enormously important that no one doubts the evidence—which is utterly overwhelming —that the attacks were organised by groups and individuals based in Pakistan. Equally, there is no evidence to link those groups at this stage to the authorities or any part of the government system in Pakistan. We must start from the base that I have just described and ensure that there is no effort to prevent a clear criminal investigation being allowed to arrive at conclusions and to be followed by appropriate trials and justice.

Before those events, we already had a close working relationship with the Indian Government in addressing the challenges posed by terrorism. UK security and law enforcement agencies work closely with their Indian counterparts and there is a good flow of information both ways on operational and investigation work, as well as on the disruption of terrorist networks. In the wake of the Mumbai attacks, we are looking again at ways in which UK expertise on countering terrorism can be deployed effectively to help the Indian authorities. A similar offer is there for the Pakistan authorities as well. We will help the Indian authorities in any way that they wish with the necessary security preparations for the Commonwealth Games in New Delhi in 2010. We are also engaged with our Indian counterparts in trying to find ways to prevent terrorist financing and improve civil aviation security.

Before leaving the issue of Mumbai and its aftermath, I refer to the comments of the noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Bilimoria, on the number of Muslim victims of that outrage. It is critical to bear in mind just how indiscriminate it was and how, for terrorists of this kind, no life has any value. The victims are indiscriminate in that sense.

I now turn to a subject which has rightly been of some concern to so many speakers today, especially the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in proposing the debate. That is the issue of domestic extremism within India, which manifests itself in many different ways. We recognise the noble Baroness’s close interest in the issue, especially in how social cohesion in India’s local areas can sometimes fracture and, for example, lead to the violence that we saw this year in Orissa and neighbouring states. While abhorring the violence resulting in Christian victims, we must recognise that it is not exclusively the preserve of one social or religious group or another in India, but often the result of various factors such as the interplay between religion and politics and other socio-economic pressures. As my noble friend Lord Anderson of Swansea observed, militants sometimes seek to exploit that for their own ends. However, I must say to my noble friend that the VHP is not proscribed as a terrorist organisation in India or, as he knows, here in the UK. If there is evidence that should lead to that being changed, we shall review it.

I reassure noble Lords that we have raised our concerns about the violence in Orissa State with the Government in India and their representatives in both London and New Delhi. For example, I discussed it with Anand Sharma, India’s Minister of External Affairs, when I visited New Delhi on 16 October, as well as with other officials. It was clear to me that the Indian Government recognised the strength of the international community’s concerns about what is happening in Orissa. We understand, and they assured me, that they urged the relevant state authorities to take immediate steps to bring the perpetrators to justice and to improve the local security environment.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others raised the concern that there may be a renewed confrontation and threat to life over the Christmas period. I will certainly pass on that concern and warning to our high commissioner in Delhi and ensure that we are alert to any signs of that. I was also asked about the assistance that DfID has provided for those displaced. Although there is no specific programme for the displaced, the UK is the biggest bilateral aid donor to Orissa State, and we have tried to do a lot there.

Let me make the Government’s position clear—although I think that no one would doubt it. All violence perpetrated against innocent people on the grounds of their faith, creed or social status is evidently completely unacceptable, but I add that we should recognise that India, with all its complexities—so eloquently described by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others today—is still at heart a democratic and open society, and one where the sanctity of the rule of law generally prevails. We also need to recognise that communal violence in India, whatever form it takes and in whatever social context, is not state-sponsored nor state-inspired, as is regrettably the case in so many other areas of the world.

In judging the balance of complex forces which lead to such conflicts, including the role of caste as well as of religion, we must bear in mind many of the insights offered today—for example, the observations of the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, about the economics of conversion—as well as the issue of the marginalisation of castes and the particular role of the dalits. I particularly noted in that regard the words of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, about the role of Christian dalits, who seem to suffer a double whammy—if one can use that word—of disadvantage. We are doing all that we can to combat caste discrimination in India. We work closely with civil society organisations through our own development programmes to raise awareness of the rights and benefits to which dalits are entitled in Indian society, and we will continue to do all that we can to encourage this work.

How does one have a dialogue with a country such as India on human rights? So many of the speakers today reflected the sensitivity that they know we must bring to bear on this. After all, this is a country that has gone through a brutal attack on Mumbai without subsequent revenge attacks on communities that might be thought to be associated with it. It has had an astonishing incidence of internal and externally supported violence of different kinds, and each time the reaction of the people of India has been in general to show enormous tolerance towards what has happened. The reaction of the Government of India has been to try to suppress any momentum towards intercommunal confrontation. It is in that context that we must talk to India about human rights.

An important EU-India dialogue is scheduled for 2009—the date has not yet been set—and the UK does all that it can on every occasion to raise the case of the dalits and other cases that concern us, such as the tragedies in Orissa, but perhaps the most important intervention that I could make was to find the chairman of the National Commission for Minorities in his very run-down and poorly functioning office, surrounded by huge paper files of the kind that one remembers and that are almost the metaphor for the old India bureaucracy. I had an astonishing discussion with him in which he reflected a profound understanding of the events in Orissa. Equally, however, one was left wondering whether he really had the authority in the Indian Government to carry through the right kind of investigation into what had happened and the right kind of redress. It seemed to me that, to help him and others to redress the balance and ensure that human rights are implemented at the state as well as the national level, the gentle touch of the partner was needed—the offer of capacity-building support and the dialogue in his office—and not necessarily the diplomatic grandstanding from abroad such as always calling in the high commissioner.

Our relationship with India has gone beyond that point. We must be firm but sensitive in the way in which we try to push forward this complex agenda. We must understand the developmental dimensions to this; I referred to the National Commission for Minorities, with its evidently limited administrative and budgetary capacity to take on the vast agenda of minority rights across the country. Behind that are the questions not only of how we help India to establish a more efficient court system and a more effective rule of law, but of how we nudge it to comply with international human rights norms on issues such as freedom of religion. How do we build up a police system? As the Minister covering India, I am constantly bombarded with consular cases where those who have run into difficulties in India feel that they cannot get quick justice out of the court system. How do we help India with its enormously difficult regional relations? After all, this is a massive country that is complex and inevitably challenged by its own diversities of religion, nationality, ethnicity and language but that must also survive in one of the world’s most difficult neighbourhoods. Its challenges are enormous.

As was observed, the country is set in a context in which the India of rapid development is offset, as so many noble Lords observed, by an India that is still mired in rural poverty. It was noted that 456 million Indians are still living on less than a dollar a day, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said. That is one-third of the world’s poor. Seventy million more people in India are living on less than a dollar a day than are in the whole of sub-Saharan Africa. If Bihar—a state which DfID has made a priority for its own development programmes—was a country, it would be the 10th poorest country in the world. These are astonishing inequalities in a country in which the modern, urbanised, middle class whom we saw in Mumbai on our TV screens in recent weeks lives side by side with others in a country that is still mired in the worst of poverty. It is therefore critical to meet the challenge of bringing both our own development programme to bear and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, said, ensuring that India, like the rest of the world, is helped through this economic crisis and that issues such as free trade, which are so important to India, are not lost as a consequence of global economic recession.

I finish on a sad pre-Christmas note. The current Doha development round is not in particularly good health, and the hoped-for ministerial meeting before Christmas could not occur because agreement was not considered to be highly likely. We go into a new year with increasing anxieties about our ability to preserve global free trade for India as much as for ourselves in an era of recession and inevitable tendencies towards protectionism.

My Lords, when I won the ballot, I felt some apprehension at the challenge of addressing the complexity, and indeed the rich diversity, of the land that is the subject of today’s debate. However, when I saw the list of speakers, my anxieties were immediately allayed, because I knew that they would bring such wide-ranging expertise and personal experience that it would create a debate that was a rich amalgam of informed concern, constructive criticism and warm appreciation of India’s rich history and the achievements of a modern, secular democracy. Indeed, my expectations were fully fulfilled. It is also a great delight that this should be the first debate over which the noble Lord, Lord Paul, has presided as a new Deputy Speaker, and I join others in congratulating him on his new position. I am also extremely grateful to the Minister for the way in which he has addressed so many of the questions and issues that have been raised so comprehensively.

In conclusion, I warmly thank all noble Lords for making the debate truly significant—a debate which I hope will be received by our Indian friends as an indication, indeed proof, of real friendship, a friendship that has been cherished for so long and which we will continue to cherish. I hope that the debate will contribute to that friendship. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.



My Lords, with the leave of the House, I shall now repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Prime Minister. The Statement is as follows.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, following my visit to Baghdad and Basra yesterday, I should like to make a Statement about the future of British troops in Iraq—the timetables, our legal agreements and our force numbers.

Let me begin by asking the whole House to join me in paying tribute to the heroism of all our Armed Forces for their service and sacrifice in Iraq, and of course in Afghanistan, and in peacekeeping missions around the globe. Let me pay particular tribute to those who have given their lives in the service of their country—both military and civilian personnel. We salute their courage and will honour their achievements.

Today we remember in particular Lieutenant Aaron Lewis, 29 Commando Regiment Royal Artillery, killed in Afghanistan on Monday, and the soldier, from 1st Battalion The Rifles, killed in Afghanistan yesterday. At a time of Christmas their families are uppermost in our thoughts.

On 22 July this year, I set out to the House the key remaining tasks for the UK’s mission in Iraq and I can report progress on all these tasks. Taken together these tasks reflect our underlying priorities—security for the region, democracy for Iraq, reconstruction to help the Iraqi people, security against terrorists, strengthening democracy in place of dictatorship, and reconstruction to give Iraq’s people a stake in the future.

First, on security, our aim has been to entrench security improvements by putting Iraqis in charge of their own defence and policing, and our most recent contribution has been to help with training thousands of new Iraqi forces and police men and women. In total, the UK has helped to train more than 20,000 troops and more than 22,000 police. In total, across Iraq, 500,000 troops and police have been trained by the Americans, the UK and other forces. In addition, we have mentored three brigades of 14 Division, with 9,000 troops to become combat ready—the very troops who have repeatedly mounted successful independent operations, making Basra now safer for its citizens. As a result, in the past year, violence and criminality in the Basra region have fallen dramatically. Yesterday, I met the commander of 14 Division and Iraqi security forces and their embedded British training teams working with them in Basra. I can tell the House that our commanders judge that training is making good progress and is now nearing completion.

The second task is to strengthen Iraq's emerging democracy. At the heart of embedding democracy is the most immediate task of ensuring successful local, provincial elections. Provincial elections are now scheduled for 31 January 2009. The conditions are in place nationwide for a high turnout under a UN-supervised process, with security led by Iraq's own security forces.

The third task is reconstruction, giving the Iraqi people an economic stake in the future. This has meant restoring economic activity and building basic services in the Basra area. Recent proposals for new investment in the Basra area now amount to $9 billion, and, with assistance from Mr Michael Wareing, the Department for International Development has helped to arrange 18 investment missions. Following our London and Kuwait investment conferences, the new Basra Investment Commission, which we have helped to establish, is hosting a major investment conference today in Istanbul.

In addition, the Basra Development Commission has launched a youth employment scheme which is already working with nearly 100 employers to give work experience and training to, potentially, thousands of young Iraqi people, and we have helped to rebuild the economic infrastructure. Since 2003, the UK has spent £100 million on giving more than 1 million people improved access to clean water and power. Basra airport, which is central to future economic development, is now under effective Iraqi civilian control, delivering on the commitment I outlined to the House in July. This includes air traffic control and management of the airport terminal, which is now under the control of the Iraqi authorities. We expect to complete formal handover arrangements at the turn of the year. Since criminal gangs were driven out of the port of Umm Qasr by the operation Charge of the Knights this spring, there are now plans for major port expansion. New investor proposals and contracts, including from British companies, offer the potential to make Basra once again the major trading hub in the region.

On 1 January 2009, with the expiry of UN Resolution 1790, Iraq will regain its full sovereignty. Yesterday, in Baghdad, I told Prime Minister Maliki, and he agreed, that British Forces in Iraq should have the time to finish the missions I have just set out. In the past three weeks, including our meetings and our talks yesterday, we have made substantial progress with the Government of Iraq in defining, first, the tasks which need to be completed; secondly, the authorisations needed to complete those tasks; and thirdly, a way to provide a firm legal basis for our forces. At all times we have worked closely with President Bush and the Americans, and our other coalition partners.

On 16 December, the Iraqi Council of Ministers agreed to submit to the Council of Representatives a short draft law to give the presence of UK forces a legal basis. This law is now going through the Iraqi Council of Representatives. It had its First Reading yesterday and is scheduled to have its Second Reading on 20 December. We expect this process will be complete before UN Resolution 1790 expires. In the event that the process is not complete, the Iraqis have told us that CPA Order 17, which confers protection on coalition troops, will remain in place.

So, our troops will have the legal base that they need for the future. Once we have finally completed our four tasks, including the training for the headquarters and specialists of 14 Division—with the precise timing of its completion decided by commanders on the ground—the fundamental change of mission, which I described in this House last summer, will take place at the latest by 31 May 2009. At that point we will begin a rapid withdrawal of our troops, taking the total from just over 4,100 to under 400 by 31 July. The majority of these remaining troops will be dedicated to naval training.

Yesterday, Mr Maliki and I agreed that Britain’s future role will focus on continuing protection of Iraq's oil platforms in the northern Gulf against attack, together with long-term training of the Iraqi navy—work that I saw for myself at Umm Qasr—as well as support for training the officers of the Iraqi armed forces. In other words, there will be the realisation of the normal defence relationship, similar to that with other key partners in the region, which, as I agreed with Mr Maliki in July, was our joint objective for 2009.

This relationship will of course be just one strand of a broader enduring relationship with democratic Iraq, which I discussed yesterday with Prime Minister Maliki. Our future relationship will be one of partnership. We agreed to continue the shift of focus to economic, commercial, cultural and educational relations. The UK will maintain a large embassy, headed by a senior ambassador in Baghdad. We will still maintain small missions in both Basra and Erbil.

The embassy in Baghdad will expand its commercial office and the Department for International Development will expand its programme of economic advice in Baghdad. We have discussed with Prime Minister Maliki a plan for British companies to provide expertise to the Iraqi oil ministry and how Britain can help Iraq's plans to give 10,000 Iraqi students overseas scholarships.

In the past five and a half years, Iraq has faced great challenges and has endured dark days, but it has also made very significant progress. We can be proud of the way our forces carried out their mission in the most difficult times and we can be proud of what they have accomplished. In my discussions with Prime Minister Maliki, with the two vice presidents, with Basra Governor Wa'ili and with the army leadership, I was assured of Iraqis’ continuing gratitude for Britain’s role in freeing Iraq from tyranny. And so the UK’s new relationship with the new Iraq is one justly earned by the efforts and sacrifice of our forces, and our contributions to peace and reconstruction.

Iraq has many challenges to confront in the days to come. No road it takes will be easy. But, today, levels of violence across the whole of Iraq are at their lowest since 2003. Economic growth in 2008 should be almost 10 per cent. Yesterday, in Basra, I was told that for just 35 seats in the provincial assembly more than 1,270 candidates, with 53 different party labels, were standing for election. As Iraq approaches its second free provincial elections, democracy is growing. In supporting and protecting the progress we have made, the British campaign has endured great hardship and sacrifice.

Yesterday, I stood with the Chief of the Defence Staff, the head of the Iraqi army in Basra and our forces outside our headquarters in Basra in front of the memorial wall naming and commemorating every single one of the 178 British service men and women who have lost their lives in Iraq in the service of our country. It was a fitting and moving tribute to men and women we must never forget. Because remembrance is vital, the Defence Secretary and I have decided, after consultation, that we shall bring that memorial wall now standing in Basra home to a fitting resting place of its own in our own country and we will do so when at the end of July the last of our combat troops leaves Basra. It is a memorial now for ever to be in Britain. I commend this Statement to the House.”

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating the Statement and I, too, pay tribute to Lieutenant Aaron Lewis, who was killed in Afghanistan on Monday, and the soldier from 1st Battalion The Rifles who was killed yesterday. I believe that I can speak for the whole House when I say that today’s announcement on troop withdrawal from Iraq is most welcome. It will be greeted with huge relief by the families of those still serving. The men and women of the Army, the Royal Navy and the Royal Air Force have served this country superbly. Throughout, they have displayed true courage and professionalism in performing the tasks assigned to them. We must remember those who have fallen in Iraq, and those who have been wounded; their families and friends are in our thoughts. We must pay tribute, too, to the Iraqi interpreters who have worked so bravely with our forces.

As the noble Baroness has made clear, the UN mandate expires on 31 December. I am encouraged to hear that swift progress is being made in the Iraqi Council of Representatives to put in place a law that will provide a legal basis for the continued presence of UK forces. It is vital that the legal position of our troops is secure and settled by 31 December. It is also vital that UK forces have exactly the same legal protection as the Americans under their status of forces agreement.

As we consider today’s Statement on troop withdrawal, we must also consider three issues: first, the achievement of the past six years; secondly, the handing over; and, thirdly, and perhaps most important, what lessons can be learnt. The past six years have not been without significant achievement. In recent months there has been a dramatic, if imperfect, improvement in security. It is welcome progress that the Maliki Government can now take the lead in upholding security. Importantly, democracy has been given a chance to take firm root in Iraqi soil, which bodes well for the long-term future of the country and the wider region. But the noble Baroness must accept that daily conditions in terms of basic services and economic opportunities for ordinary Iraqis remain dire. It is deeply troubling that human rights abuses are being perpetuated, be they against Christians and other minorities, against women, or against blameless civilians across the country.

That leads on to the second issue: who exactly are we handing over to in Iraq, and what are the prospects for the future? The Iraqi army has increased in size and stature, and that is to be welcomed, but is it not also the case that 4,000 US troops will be needed to support them? Can the noble Baroness give the House her opinion of the ability of the Iraqi security forces and the police to maintain security in the medium term? It is in all our interests that Iraq should remain a united, sovereign country. What is the Government’s assessment of the current role of Iran in southern Iraq? I believe that it is vital for Iraq to be able to enjoy normal relations with its neighbours. Are the Government taking steps to encourage all Arab countries to send ambassadors to Iraq?

In terms of the economy, Iraq has established a large fiscal surplus. What steps are the Government taking to make sure that British firms can benefit from that? The Prime Minister mentioned the provision of help for Iraq’s oil industry. Does the noble Baroness accept that Iraq’s huge natural resources, including oil reserves which may be second only to those of Saudi Arabia, give it the potential to be a leading force for development and prosperity in the Middle East? Does she agree that the goal must be to see Iraq re-established as a stable and key nation in the region, and that we must use all our diplomatic resources and skills to see that position restored so that the Iraqi people and nation can regain respect after the harrowing years of destruction?

The third issue is the matter of lessons to be learnt for elsewhere, in particular Afghanistan. Does the noble Baroness agree that Iraq has taught us some difficult lessons on the need for such missions to be carefully planned, not just in terms of the war—fighting—but in the post-conflict phase? Does she further agree that they must have clear and specific objectives and that they must be properly resourced at the outset? Does she accept that the mission in Iraq showed grave deficiencies in all these respects and that it is essential that we do not perpetuate these mistakes in the continuing mission in Afghanistan? Is it not the case that in Iraq it was when key sections of the population decided to lend support to the Iraqi Government, and not just the insurgency, that the real breakthrough was made? Is that not a most significant lesson and one of equal importance for Afghanistan?

My right honourable friend in another place, Mr Cameron, has urged the Prime Minister to announce a full-scale independent inquiry, for which we on these Benches have been calling for so long. With that, we can draw the maximum benefit from all these lessons. I am sure the noble Baroness agrees that it is vital that we do not repeat past mistakes. Such an inquiry would not simply re-examine the decision to go to war, important though that is, but would examine the mistakes that were made in its planning and conduct. I do not see why such an inquiry need wait until all our troops have been withdrawn. To suggest otherwise might mean that we have to wait many years before holding an inquiry, which would not benefit our soldiers in Afghanistan now. It should examine the origins and conduct of the war in their entirety, and should be able to question Ministers, including all members of the War Cabinet. Will the noble Baroness add her support to the call to set up such an inquiry so that we can learn from the mistakes that have been made?

I know I am not alone when I suggest that this is just one of the very great debts we owe to our Armed Forces.

My Lords, first, I welcome the Statement made earlier by the Prime Minister in another place and repeated by the Lord President. I also commend and thank the Prime Minister for again visiting troops in Iraq, which I know is greatly appreciated by the Armed Forces. In an article in today’s Guardian, Sir Jock Stirrup argues that our Armed Forces should leave Iraq with their heads held high. I do not think there is any doubt at all that they will and that they have every right to do so, and we on these Benches salute the courage and professionalism of our armed services. We remember all those who have died, including Lieutenant Aaron Lewis and the other recent casualty, as we remember the many hundreds more who have been injured and will carry disability with them for the rest of their lives.

However, in commending the Army, one has to say some very harsh things about the political decisions that put it into those circumstances. In so doing, I look at people I have known for most of my political life and who have grown up with me politically. They are people I know to be honest and decent, but when faced with probably the greatest decisions of their political lives, I fear that they made disastrous choices. I joined the million-strong march against the war, with its very powerful slogan, “Not in my name”, and I still count it as something that I am most proud of in my life. My party, under its then leader Charles Kennedy, had to endure cries from both Benches of “Charlie Chamberlain” as we warned against the war.

There is a need for an inquiry into the conduct of the Government and for an inquiry into the conduct of the Official Opposition, who failed so lamentably to ask the right questions and joined in the general scramble to war. I hope we get the inquiry in 2009 because this war, for all the flowery language in the Statement, leaves Iraq’s future desperately uncertain. In this country, as we saw in the most recent trial, the claims by the then Prime Minister, Mr Blair, that there was no link between Iraq and domestic terrorism is being proved wrong daily. I also believe—and will to the end of my days—that the so-called “shock and awe” bombardment of Baghdad, an undefended city, was a war crime as much as Guernica was a war crime. So let us have that inquiry.

If we are going to switch our forces to Afghanistan, I echo the demand by the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, that we make proper preparations for that commitment. There is a need for guarantees from the Government of Afghanistan about corruption and there will have to be some frank talking about burden sharing if we are to sustain public support in this country for a long-term commitment to Afghanistan.

I have three questions. When does the new naval commitment start and what kind of deployment does it involve permanently in the north Gulf? When on earth does the expansion of commercial, cultural and educational ties start and what kind of security guarantees can we give to the people who will work in this expanded British embassy? Finally, I received today a Christmas card asking me to remember the five British hostages held in Iraq. Did the Prime Minister have talks about their future while he was there?

Sir Anthony Nutting called his memoirs of the Suez debacle No End of a Lesson, and, unless mistakes are to be repeated, we need to learn the lessons of the Iraq war. I believe that the inquiry—as happened under the Conservatives after the Falkland Islands war—should be implemented while memories are fresh and while people can give valid evidence. Mr Blair said he was prepared to wait for the judgment of history. I fear that that judgment will be harsh—and rightly so.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords opposite for welcoming the Statement. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Rawlings, I am sure that it will be greeted with relief by the service men and women who do us proud, and of course by their families. We do indeed owe a great debt to our Armed Forces. I thank the noble Lord, Lord McNally, for saying that our troops will be, and should be, leaving Iraq with their heads held high. I am sure that they will do so. I also pay tribute to the interpreters and the many other civilian men and women who have worked with our troops in Iraq. They did a fine job.

I shall deal first with the inquiry and the lessons to be learnt. Yes, of course there are many lessons to be learnt about what happened in Iraq, about the things that we did not do as well as we should have done and about the things that we did wrongly. But also such an inquiry should look at the things that we did correctly. We have done good things in Iraq and that should not be forgotten. I agree that one of the lessons we must learn is that in such situations there must be a comprehensive solution and that all the arms of government—DfID, the Foreign Office and the multilateral agencies—must work together. That is an important lesson that we must now have learnt and that we must implement in Afghanistan to ensure that the outcome there is one that we all want.

I have been asked whether there is going to be an inquiry and when it will be. It is clear that there will be an inquiry; there is agreement across the House that there should and must be an inquiry, and that we must learn from our mistakes. But today is not the proper time to consider what the inquiry should look at and when it should take place. The fact is that it should and must take place when the last of our troops have left Iraq. What should be included in the inquiry is for another day.

The noble Baroness asked who we were handing the situation over to in Iraq. We are handing over to Iraqi service men and women and Iraqi police. We believe that they have the ability to maintain stability in that country. Of course the United States will be there, but it will be in the Basra region maintaining a base for the supply routes with Kuwait, which will be important for its withdrawal. It also needs a presence there to ensure that it is aware of what is going on, for its own security.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the difficult decision to go to war—a decision that was painful for everyone involved—but we must not forget that Saddam was an evil tyrant. Too often we forget that. He mentioned Guernica and war crimes. That is a simile too far.

Are British companies benefiting from the new Iraqi prosperity? Yes, they certainly are, especially in Basra. Since April 2008, DfID has facilitated 18 visits to Iraq by 14 potential investors. That has led to proposals worth up to $9 billion. So our business men and women are getting in there, and I pay special tribute, as did the Statement, to Michael Wareing and his efforts on behalf of British business there. I understand that British trade and investment have a presence in Baghdad and that my noble friend Lord Mandelson will be visiting Iraq in the new year.

The naval commitment is already in force. We are training colleagues working in the Iraqi naval services. Initiatives in education, health and investment are already taking place. The noble Baroness said that UK troops must enjoy the same legal protections as US troops. The UK legal agreement with the Iraqi Parliament is not the same as the US agreement because our tasks are very different from those of the US. Our agreement is for a transition to a normal relationship while completing specific tasks. Both the service chiefs and the Prime Minister agree that our agreement provides the necessary legal protections for our troops.

The noble Baroness asked about the Government’s assessment of Iran’s activities in southern Iraq. We encourage all Iraq’s neighbours to respect fully its sovereignty, to support the development of democracy in Iraq and to reject violence and criminality—and we certainly call upon Iran to do so in the whole of Iraq. She also asked about the diplomatic relations of Arab countries with Iraq. We are doing everything possible to ensure that all Arab countries take up proper diplomatic relations with Iraq.

I am grateful for the comments of noble Lords opposite and I look forward to further questions. I, too, received a Christmas card from the supporters and families of the hostages; I was glad to be reminded of them. I cannot comment on any discussions that are taking place but this is a useful opportunity to remind ourselves that these people are being held.

My Lords, may I add gratitude from these Benches for the Statement? Like others, I pay tribute to the professionalism and courage of our military forces, who have served so spectacularly well in Iraq, and in extremely testing circumstances. I am sure that many families who will continue to bear the effects of bereavement and injury will greet today’s Statement in a telling way. It is a relief that our forces are coming home: indeed, an answer to many prayers. Yet the withdrawal of our forces must not, in any way, conclude our interest in and commitment to the people of Iraq. Were we to give that impression, would it not lead to even greater cynicism, at home and abroad, about our motives for prosecuting that war? I am grateful, then, for many elements of the Prime Minister’s Statement.

There was, however, a telling omission, on which I have some particular questions for the Minister. Does she recognise that the Christians in Iraq have been among those most adversely affected by this war? Does she acknowledge that they are now severely reduced in number and, in the past five years, have exchanged the status of a respected and historic minority for an experience of fear, intimidation and, indeed, persecution? Is it not tragic that two western powers with a strong Christian tradition may, unwittingly, have almost eclipsed one of the longest surviving Christian communities in the world? Does that not suggest a worrying degree of religious illiteracy among those who advised on prosecuting the war? It makes you wonder what the rest of their advice was like. What assurances can the Minister give that the Government will continue to seek a better future for Christians in Iraq, and indeed for other religious minorities there? It is not simply the Christians who have experienced such changed circumstances.

I have one other question. Some of our military personnel have experienced extended and intense, frequent terms of service in both Iraq and Afghanistan. What special measures are in place to monitor the psychological effects of such service, which may only be revealed over a long period? Among the lessons to be learnt, we surely need to avoid any sort of echo of the problems following the Gulf War.

My Lords, on the situation of Christians in Iraq, we utterly condemn any religious intolerance. We condemn attacks on Christians wherever they are—especially, in Iraq, those that took place in Mosul, which caused tremendous suffering, particularly for the Christian community.

I assure the right reverend Prelate that we will continue to press the Government of Iraq to protect all communities, and to take tough action against those responsible for any acts of violence and intimidation, regardless of political, ethnic or religious affiliation. There is, one may say, a ray of hope, for I understand that the Iraqi parliament has just passed legislation to establish a national human rights commission that will seek to improve and embed human rights. It will also have a scrutiny function. The UN will be supporting its establishment, and that scrutiny function will help to ensure that the Christians and other religious minorities have a much safer and more secure situation.

The right reverend Prelate also spoke of the returning troops, and the long-term effects that the difficulties they have encountered might have on them. I reassure all your Lordships that we are closely monitoring our troops when they return from theatres. There are now special units precisely to monitor the troops, and much more action on the mental health front, as we recognise that when people return from those theatres they often suffer mental problems and anguish. They need to be assisted in whatever way is possible, but things on that front are improving, and I assure noble Lords that we will continue to work hard in that specific area.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the Statement made only the most fleeting reference to regional security? Now that the withdrawal of combat troops—by both the UK and the United States, and by others—is operating within a finite timetable, would she not agree that the Government should really put its efforts into the urgency of trying to get some kind of sub-regional organisation for security, confidence-building measures, economic co-operation and the like? This has been an extremely fragile region, and looks as if it might become even more so in future.

The Government cannot, of course, achieve that on their own, but an Iraq whose neighbours are expressing no more than verbal commitments to its territorial integrity, or to non-interference, will be very vulnerable. An Iraq in which those commitments are embedded in regional organisations, such as we have seen in other parts of the world, could be a great deal more stable. Could the Minister say something about the Government’s intentions in that respect?

My Lords, the Government recognise that regional co-operation is extremely important in ensuring the security of each individual country in that region. I do not have the facts and figures at my fingertips on quite how the Government are going about bringing people together to ensure that regional co-operation, but I will certainly write to the noble Lord and put a copy of that letter in the Library.

My Lords, apart from the troops who will stay in Iraq on a training mission and, no doubt, some specialist units who will be heading to Afghanistan, we will be bringing back quite sizeable forces to this country. Are the Government satisfied that we will have accommodation available of the quantity and quality which those troops are entitled to expect? I am conscious that the Defence Minister is in her place; it is appreciated. Perhaps the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, could write to me on that issue.

Having put up with the dangers and deprivations of Iraq, it would be quite outrageous if only substandard accommodation was available. I know that the Government are working on a fairly sizeable upgrading programme for accommodation; nevertheless, I hope that they may have considered accelerating that programme, which would obviously benefit our forces that are coming back. In wider economic terms, it would also benefit our construction industry on a regional basis.

My Lords, I recognise that when our troops return from such operations, they deserve the best possible accommodation that we can provide. The Government have an enormous programme of improvements, precisely so that when they come home they will be accommodated appropriately.

I understand that, over the past year, we have invested £700 million in accommodation. There will be another £3.1 billion of improvements to family and single accommodation over the next 10 years. Over 26,000 new, en-suite single bed spaces have been delivered in the past five years, and a further 28,000 are due over the next five. I recognise that it must seem extremely slow to those who are not living in accommodation of the level that they have a right to expect, but we are on the case and will continue to press ahead.

I express my own tribute to the skill and professionalism of the British Armed Forces in Iraq. I welcome today’s Statement because it marks the beginning of the end of one of the most foolish acts of British foreign policy. Is the Minister aware that the picture she paints of Basra is not a complete one? Over the past 12 months in Basra, religious deaths have increased by 70 per cent while convictions have stayed static. Is she further aware that the Iraqi commander in Basra—referred to, I think, in the Statement—said a fortnight ago that vast tracts of Basra were still in the hands of militias and insurgents and that he needed at least another two brigades to begin to come to terms with the problems he was confronted with. Is she aware that, although this is one of the most regrettable pieces of British foreign policy, she must not give the impression that the work undertaken so courageously by our troops in Basra has been as successful as the Statement seems to imply?

My Lords, the noble Lord is expressing his point of view and seeing things from his particular perspective, and I accept that that is how he sees it. However, things in Basra have improved greatly. Clearly the situation is not fantastic there, but people now live in a much more secure situation than they did. They have electricity, healthcare, education and access to clean water, things that they did not have before. As I said earlier, we should not forget that Saddam Hussein was a tyrant. I accept, though, that there are still problems and there is much more to be done. However, I am also confident that the security forces in Iraq have been well trained by our troops there, and I think things will continue to improve.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that there are two aspects to any inquiry that may be held? I think all of us accept the need for an inquiry into the post-conflict situation. Many of us recognise that the failure to provide sufficient troops after the successful invasion and the dismemberment of the Iraqi state without forces being put in place to maintain security was a serious matter. Many of those aspects are known but still deserve an inquiry.

That is, however, not the end of it, as some people imply. If we take the long view, there is the question, to which my noble friend has already alluded, of how we deal with psychopathic killers in charge of nation states. In 1991 we chose not to remove Saddam Hussein; we left him in power, despite the fact that at the time we had the support of the regional powers. The question then became: how many people died in that period? There were literally thousands, if not hundreds of thousands. This is not a zero-sum game. When you choose to remove a dictator, many deaths may follow; if you choose to leave the dictator in power, many deaths will certainly follow and the United Nations will continue to be flouted, as it was by Saddam Hussein. The issue is complex. I am in favour of an inquiry, but I do not want it to be just on the immediate issue of the post-conflict situation, important though that is.

My Lords, I recognise that any inquiry would have to cover many aspects. I do not know what the criteria for such an inquiry would be, but it seems eminently sensible that it should look at the difficult issues that my noble friend has outlined. That is precisely one reason why we are working and pressing for reform of the UN.

With regard to Saddam Hussein, I know that many people believe—and I understand why they believe it—that he should perhaps have been finished off, if one might put it like that, at the end of the first Gulf War, but it would not be appropriate for me to comment. It is necessary, though, for us as a society to consider how we deal with tyrannical rule.

My Lords, the Prime Minister’s reference in his Statement to a phase of reconstruction is very welcome. The excellent job that our Armed Forces have done should now leave a phase to open up where reconstruction and commercial activity can recommence.

There is a sense in-country in Iraq that we are concentrating exclusively on Basra. Anyone who knows anything about Iraq knows that Baghdad is the crucible of the country; it is the nexus and the focus of all national life, culture and everything else. I can say with conviction, since I have first-hand knowledge, that the British Trade International support there consists of one low-grade person; she is very good and works very hard, but that situation is completely inadequate for the phase we are about to enter.

I am pleased to hear that the Secretary of State for Trade is going there in the new year. Will he make sure that he goes to Basra and that the embassy mission there is left with an adequate amount of professional support to encourage businesspeople to go, and to assist them with travel? Travel to Baghdad is quite difficult at the moment, and to get there people need Foreign and Commonwealth Office help. At the moment the FCO is actually discouraging people from going because it believes the situation is too dangerous. It is not too dangerous for our international competitors, and it is time we started taking an active interest in commercial development in Baghdad.

My Lords, we have been focusing on Basra because that is where our responsibilities lay in southern Iraq, but that is not to say that we should forget the rest of the country. I note what the noble Lord says about only one person from UKTI being in Baghdad, but of course that person will be working in partnership with other people, I hope. Possibly that will be strengthened—I do not know, but I will look into that. We want Iraq to succeed economically, and we want to ensure that our businesses can benefit from that country’s potential. We will do everything we can to ensure that that happens.

My Lords, I remind the House of my interest as I am still a serving TA officer. I was in Iraq in early 2003 on Op Telic 1. I have been involved in peacekeeping operations before, but Iraq was my first and only war—thank God. At the time the legality and the necessity of the operation did not concern me as I was a lawful combatant. Now, though, I, too, think it is time to start a full inquiry into all aspects of the war, and I agree entirely with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Soley.

The Minister said that the inquiry cannot start until all our troops have left, but does she agree that we will have a number of troops in Iraq for a considerable time, perhaps at least 10 years, engaged purely in training? Does her comment about “all the troops” refer to the perhaps 50 troops on training operations, or does it refer to the withdrawal of all the combat troops?

I welcome the drawdown in Iraq, although of course it is much later than planned or expected. We are doing serious harm to our Armed Forces by operating at double medium scale plus when we are scaled and resourced only for single medium scale operations. We can now concentrate on the more strategically important operation, Operation Herrick in Afghanistan. But does the Minister agree that the Statement does not mean that we can redeploy to Afghanistan all the military capability that is currently in Iraq? Rather, it means that we can concentrate all our efforts, not just the military ones, in Afghanistan. Of course there will be enhancements to our capability in that country, but the main opportunity must be to get our Armed Forces’ training back to where it should be. Does she agree that we have been training for “the” war and not for war in general? That, of course, is the hidden cost of exceeding the defence planning assumptions.

The Minister talked about elections. What is the situation regarding justice and the rule of law in Iraq? How far have we come with regard to that pillar of development?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl for raising the fact that the TA has been and is in Iraq. We should all remember that the Territorial Army does a very fine job, working on its own account but also supporting our regular troops wherever they are.

It was interesting to hear the noble Earl agree with my noble friend about the remit of an inquiry. I do not know whether other noble Lords saw some soldiers being asked on “Newsnight” the other night about their view of relations in Iraq, where they had been serving. They said that they left the politics of the situation to the politicians, but that they were fiercely proud to have done a good job in Iraq. I thought, “Chapeaux!”.

We always do what our senior military personnel say we have the capacity to do. We do not overwork our capacity. I can assure the noble Earl that there will not be a straight switch of troops from Iraq to Afghanistan.

We of course train our troops for specific wars, but we also train them for war in general.

Parliament: Communication with the Public


Moved By

To call attention to the case for enhancing Parliament’s ability to communicate with members of the public; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I am delighted to have the opportunity to raise the issue of how Parliament communicates with members of the public. It is crucial to the health of our political system that there is effective communication between Parliament and public. Parliament does not, and should not, operate in a vacuum. What we do should be accessible to members of the public, and we should be alert to the views, and the knowledge, of people outside the Palace of Westminster.

I quote from the report of the Hansard Society Commission on the communication of parliamentary democracy, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam:

“The public have an absolute right to know what happens in Parliament, as well as a right to participate. The public should be able to understand proceedings, to contribute to inquiries and to access all forms of information about Parliament”.

The commission recommended a major overhaul of Parliament’s communications structure. The report was published in 2005. Since then, we have seen some significant developments and I think it essential that I open by acknowledging what has already been achieved.

We have come a long way since the days when reporting the proceedings of Parliament was an offence. Members of the public can now not only read our proceedings but watch them on television. Recent years in particular have seen a major investment in resources. All public meetings are webcast, either via audio, automated web camera or broadcast video coverage. Broadcasters have greater opportunities to broadcast from within the Palace. The amount of material that is available on the Parliament website is extensive. Visitors to the site can read and download anything from committee reports through to deposited papers. Users can sign up to a wide range of alerts through QuickSubscribe for new material published on the website. There is extensive educational material, ranging from the Education Service website through to the excellent research papers and notes prepared by the Libraries of the two Houses. The material is notable in terms both of its quantity and its quality. The website is now far more user friendly, with further enhancements planned.

Both Houses have created information offices. I know that I speak for the House in commending the Information Office of this House for its outstanding work. What it does on limited resources is remarkable. I am a great consumer of its resources in speaking to schools and other organisations; the feedback is always excellent. Its latest publication, a detailed guide to visitors, is a good pedagogic tool.

The Education Service, supported by both Houses, has revamped its website and we will see in due course a dedicated visitor centre. There is a parliamentary outreach programme, which has now seen the appointment of officers not only in Parliament but also, experimentally, in selected regions. In your Lordships’ House, the Lord Speaker has been at the forefront of the outreach programme, which has encompassed the Peers in the schools initiative as well as the blog, Lords of the Blog, which enables a number of us to engage with members of the public.

We are thus not starting from scratch; we are building on what has been an impressive array of developments, hence the Motion's reference to “enhancing” Parliament's capacity to communicate with members of the public. What more, then, should be done?

There are two points that inform my recommendations. The first is that we need to go further to keep pace with what is happening outside Westminster. There are significant changes in the very nature of politics. Some people are losing interest in politics; others are not losing interest but rather diverting their attention away from political parties to interest groups. There has been a phenomenal growth in the number of interest groups over the past 40 years. The membership of political parties has seen a major decline as the membership of interest groups has increased. We need to be in a position to engage both with those who come together to form particular groups and those individuals who believe that politics, and what Parliament does, is not for them. There have also been major changes in the means available for communication, especially electronic means. We have exploited those means to some degree, but we need to go further and ideally be ahead of other organisations in communicating with the public.

The second, and in many respects consequential, point is that communication should not be seen as flowing only in one direction. The emphasis has been on making material available to those who wish to access it. There has been less attention given to enabling members of the public to communicate with Parliament. We put information in the public domain, but we do not necessarily create the means for the public to respond to that material. I quote again from the Puttnam commission report:

“Where the public expect institutions to be responsive to their concerns, Parliament provides almost no opportunities for direct voter involvement, interaction or feedback”.

It is essential that we see communication as a two-way process, and not one where we are simply ensuring that people can follow what we are doing.

In looking at changes, we can therefore consider them under the headings of “opening up Parliament to the public” and “enabling members of the public to communicate with Parliament”.

In terms of opening up Parliament, the starting point must be the recognition that uploading material on to a website means that it is in the public domain but not necessarily that members of the public are aware of it. Parliament’s role is essentially passive rather than proactive. Committees, like government departments during consultation exercises, may alert bodies on their mailing lists—in essence, the usual suspects—but not do much beyond that.

We can do far more to utilise the internet. Bills are now published in XML format, so anyone can use the material to tag particular clauses and subsections. That takes us some way towards meeting the aims of bodies such as mySociety. We should be able to build on this capacity so that Bills posted on the website are indexed in order to enable users to search text and sign up for more specific alerts.

The Constitution Committee of your Lordships’ House, in its 2004 report entitled Parliament and the Legislative Process, advocated the greater use of informal Keeling schedules, where a Bill amends an Act, enabling people to see how the original sections are amended by the Bill. The Modernisation Committee of the other place has also recommended exploring the possibility of publishing on the web the text of Bills as amended in Committee, with text that is added or deleted shown through the use of different colours.

I understand thought has also been given to interleaving Bills and Explanatory Notes, so that relevant material from the notes appears on the page facing the clauses referred to. That not only makes it easier to grasp the purpose of a clause, but may also encourage those who write the Explanatory Notes to ensure that a note on a clause does not simply repeat the provisions of the clause. I suspect it will be as helpful to parliamentarians as to members of the public.

There is also more that we can do to exploit broadcasting opportunities, both in further enhancing the facility for broadcasters to cover the work of Parliament, and in ensuring that what we do is both relevant and understandable to those outside. These are examples of the sort of thing we should be pursuing. At the very least, we need to give thought to how we might disseminate information to a wider audience and not simply expect that audience to come to us.

We can also do more in respect of the audience that does come to us. Every year, almost 1 million visitors pass through the Palace of Westminster. There is far more information made available to them than ever before, but there is still much more to be done to ensure that more of them leave with an understanding of Parliament as a working political institution, a body that has an impact on their every-day lives.

However, the biggest challenge is to enable people to communicate with Parliament. Let me offer a few suggestions. Committees—not least those engaged in pre-legislative scrutiny—can make greater use of online consultation. Even though we are ahead of the game internationally, its use remains limited. Where it has been employed, it has been extremely useful. As the Constitution Committee recommended in its 2004 report, committees should also consider commissioning public opinion polls where they believe it useful to have an awareness of public opinion on the Bills in question.

In your Lordships’ House, we need to think more about how we exploit the capacity for engagement. We receive briefing material from organisations that know how to contact us, and we hear from individuals, many of whom are prompted by outside organisations. But we have not developed means for enabling others to contribute—not least electronically—when a Bill is going through. In part, this is because we have not emulated the other place in using evidence-taking committees. We need to think about going down that route.

We also need to look at the recommendations of the Procedure Committee in the other place in respect of e-petitions. Even if we do not make use of that procedure, we may usefully think about how we use the internet, perhaps following the precedent of Lords of the Blog, to facilitate a dialogue with members of the public about issues that concern them.

Each House can learn from the experience of the other. Both can learn from experience elsewhere. The Constitution Committee argued the case for spending more time looking at the communications strategies of other legislatures, including the Scottish Parliament. Though in some areas we are ahead of other legislatures, there remains much that we can learn from others.

We can also learn from and work in partnership with government departments when Bills are going through. I commend Defra for its Marine and Coastal Access Bill newsletter of 5 December, in which it explains the parliamentary process and encourages people to listen to debates on the Bill, check progress on the Parliament website, and, if necessary, write to their local MPs. I hope that disseminating such information—though perhaps with more emphasis on your Lordships’ House—becomes standard practice.

The developments I have outlined are clearly not cost free. There are resource implications, both in terms of time and money. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, wrote in the foreword to his commission’s report, the costs involved,

“must be regarded as an investment in modern democracy, not a charge against it”.

As he also says, cut-price democracy will never represent much of a bargain.

The cost relates to the activities of Members and to the activities of each House institutionally. Communicating with members of the public creates a cost for Members, both in terms of their time and their support resources. The mail received in your Lordships’ House is substantial, but it is as nothing compared with Members of the other House. We need to improve support resources, but to do so in a way that enhances Members’ capacity to communicate as Members of either House and not in their capacity as party politicians. I would place the emphasis here on the flow of communication from members of the public rather than on funding parliamentarians to promote themselves to the public.

However, the main resource implication is in respect of the institutional capacity to communicate with and to hear from the public. That entails investing in our capacity to utilise electronic resources effectively and to be at the forefront of such development. Both Houses, as I have said, are investing in the internet and the Parliament website. More, though, can be done, and not always at great cost. The Information Office of your Lordships' House accounts for less than 1 per cent of the budget of the House. It delivers tremendous value for money. We could expand its resources, enabling it to be proactive, without making a great dent in the parliamentary budget.

I end as I began. It is crucial to the health of our political system that there is effective communication between Parliament and public. We have taken great strides in communicating with members of the public, though there is still more to be done. The biggest challenge is to enhance the capacity of members of the public to communicate with us. That requires commitment and resources. The health of our political system is worth the investment. I beg to move for Papers.

My Lords, I warmly welcome the debate on Parliament and the public. I offer to the House three points of reference that I always find useful in discussions of this sort to help me to view the subject in some perspective and, I hope, in a constructive way.

I begin with a text for the first point of perspective on Parliament and the public. It comes from a Fabian pamphlet for speakers in the 1945 election, as will become immediately apparent. It states:

“There is a considerable amount of political cynicism. The men and women in the forces quite properly posed the question—‘What Government has ever kept its election pledges?’ A quite similar saying from the doorstep is—‘Well, it’s all the same whoever gets in!’—and—‘They are all out for themselves anyway.’”.

I offer that quotation from 60-plus years ago simply to remind the House of two things. First, there was no golden age of a love affair between Parliament and the public, or, if there was, I have not yet detected it. In addition, and perhaps more relevant to this debate, improvements in relations and communications between Parliament and the public are likely to come in small stages and not necessarily in dramatic advances. They are a matter of—if I may misquote—eternal vigilance. It is something that needs to be worked on. I certainly do not have any golden solutions, but I shall make one or two suggestions.

The second context in which I view these subjects—I hope that I am not sounding complacent when I say this—is that we must all believe, and I hope that we do all believe, that in communicating Parliament to the public we have what is fundamentally a very good product. If you say that, there is always a danger of people thinking, “It is just complacent; it is parliamentarians talking among themselves all the time. They all think they are wonderful”, and so on. I certainly do not come from that school. Over the years, I have tried in many ways to improve the ways in which we operate, including how we communicate with the public.

Our parliamentary democracy, with its general elections, delivers Parliaments, Governments and MPs accountable to their constituents. The Government offer a legislative programme each year, which is debated throughout the year and either stands or falls. This is conducted—let us be honest, given all the exaggeration of recent months and years—in an incredibly free environment, which is still the envy of huge numbers of countries in the world. That is a good product. You cannot communicate a bad product; unless you believe in the product, you might as well give up on your communication strategy.

The third thing that I want to say—this is important, as it is a pretty pervasive finding of polling—is that, whereas the public’s perception of politicians in general is low, all the tests show that their perception of the parliamentarians whom they know and with whom they have worked, in particular their local MP, is always much higher. That is very much in keeping with tests undertaken in other walks of life. For example, people say that there are real problems with the health service. They talk about infections in hospitals and waiting lists. But when you ask them about their personal experience of hospital, they say that their local hospital is terrific. That happens time and again in polls and is relevant to today’s debate.

It is from those three points of reference that I offer some limited solutions. My first one relates to the point that I have just made. If we are to improve the way in which we communicate with the public, and the public’s perception of us, most of the work necessary to achieve this will have to be done by parliamentarians. You cannot subcontract it. MPs do an awful lot of work with their constituents, in advice bureaux, in offering information and in enabling visits to Parliament, and the same applies to Peers. Many noble Lords do an awful lot of work in that respect. We should certainly commend the outreach work that the Lord Speaker does. There is no better advertisement for Parliament than parliamentarians talking to the public about the work that they do. That is the case with most of us at any rate. We need to strengthen the outreach work to which the noble Lord, Lord Norton, referred.

Secondly, we need collectively to take pride in the institution. I offer two perhaps not so popular points in that regard. I wince whenever Members of this House make ferocious criticisms of the way in which Members of the other House operate and vice versa. It is a common activity. People make the mistake of thinking that, if you are in Chamber 2 and you demean Chamber 1, you are simply demeaning Chamber 1, when in fact you are demeaning the whole parliamentary process. They do not tend to say that they like some policies but not others. We should be cautious in that regard, particularly as a lot of what we say about the other Chamber simply is not true. Far more scrutiny takes place in the other Chamber now. When I was first elected, there were no Select Committees, which frequently hold the Government to account, and there was no broadcasting of any kind. Huge advances in accountability have been made and we are wrong to think otherwise.

My other mildly controversial point concerns the language that we use. We need to recognise and applaud—I hope that I might get the support of three-quarters of the House when I say this—the work of political parties. I am not ashamed of being a lifelong member of the Labour Party. Next year I will have been a member for 50 years, if anyone wants to send me a card. I am proud of that. I respect enormously members of other political parties who knock on doors on wet nights and attend public meetings where people shout at them. I have absolutely nothing against the other parties other than the fact that they get so many things wrong. However, I greatly respect their commitment to the operation of our democracy. I have many friends on the Cross Benches but I do not accept that somehow there is something inherently superior about someone who sits on those Benches. I know that they do not say that but sometimes the commentary on the Cross Benches is in those terms. We should applaud political parties and recognise what they do. You cannot understand Parliament without understanding how they operate.

We must make our language and our method of operation more accessible and intelligible to the public at large. I have two seconds left but I make a plea to our friends in the broadcast media not to show the stock shot of us all in ermine, which is totally unrepresentative of how the place operates. If we are to communicate more effectively with the public, let us at least have pictures that are accurate.

My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. My first duty and pleasure is to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for initiating the debate. Sometimes we find ourselves on different sides of the argument about the precise future of this House. However, I know from committee work with him and from personal contact that we both share a pride in and an awe of this building and what it represents. I have been coming here now for over 40 years in various guises and I still come through the doors of this place with a sense of awe for what it represents. We have no differences about that in the debate today.

Secondly, I associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Norton, about the way in which the Lord Speaker has grasped the task of parliamentary outreach and so promoted it. I know how difficult it is to get change in this place. She has managed to get places opened up for meetings of the Youth Parliament, including this Chamber, and she has promoted seminars and conferences in a way that was unknown only a few years ago. I also associate myself with and look forward to the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, whose Information Committee often tries to push us faster than this old House is quite ready for.

Thirdly, the Hansard Society has played an important role in championing research and discussion. That is why I look forward to hearing from the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, later in the debate. The recent Hansard Society report, Parliament and the Public: Knowledge, Interest and Perceptions, found that 32 per cent of people claim to have a good understanding of the way in which Parliament works, but only 19 per cent thought that Parliament worked for them. In some ways, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. Rather as with personal knowledge of the local MP, in all those years I have never had visitors to this place who have gone away disappointed. It is interesting that the Hansard Society research claims that 26 per cent have a fair amount of knowledge of the House of Lords and 42 per cent claim to have a fair amount of knowledge about the Commons. Perhaps that is not surprising, given the direct link between a Member of Parliament and his constituents, but it shows where we may have work to do.

Some 53 per cent express a general interest in Parliament. Where there is a concern lies in what the noble Lord, Lord Norton, hinted at: turnout in 2001 was 59 per cent and in 2005 it was 61 per cent. Perhaps even more worrying, the turnout among voters under 24 in 2005 was 37 per cent. A parliamentary democracy needs democrats to make it work, so the task set by this debate is important in making sure that citizens see the connection between casting their votes and the decision-making processes here that influence their lives.

My only caveat is that I do not want to see us dumbing down politics or making the process of voting too easy. There is a social contract between the voter and the process, which should require a certain amount of effort from those taking part. I remember the late Hugo Young saying that if only 50 per cent are willing to be involved and 50 per cent do not care, perhaps we should concentrate on those who do rather than those who do not. That is probably too harsh; we have to reach out and encourage participation, particularly among the young, but I do not want us to try to do that by methods that debase the political process.

I will be interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Renton of Mount Harry, says. I know what his committee said about making parliamentary processes more understandable and simpler. I agree, but I also agree that this place—both ends—needs certain pomp and circumstance. I have said previously that if you start to look like Croydon Council, you will start to be treated like it. I received letters after saying that the first time, so I will probably receive them again, but I hope that Croydon Council and the House know what I mean by that.

I welcome the various initiatives to which the noble Lord, Lord Norton, referred. I am encouraged by looking at how President-elect Obama in the United States has managed to use new technologies to inspire young people. However, I want to use my last couple of minutes for another plea. We already have in our hands a superb piece of communication—BBC Parliament. It is already the best viewed parliamentary channel anywhere in the world, but it seems to achieve that in spite of itself, as there is no proper schedule and you never know what is on. It is like a lucky dip; you tune in and sometimes you can find the most interesting stories.

I was telling the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that I switched on and saw a beautiful little documentary about the Reform Act 1867, which showed how in 1867 Gladstone tried to put through a piece of modest reform, which Disraeli completely sabotaged only to bring in the following year an even more radical reform. I pointed out to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that it might be better for him to take the Lords reform that was on offer, in case a future Conservative Government decided to be even more radical. However, he did not completely follow me on that. Nevertheless, BBC Parliament should be made to be more like any other channel, with cross-references, proper scheduling and the like.

The other good news that I discovered when I was researching for this debate was that in September 2009 the BBC is to launch “Democracy Live”, a new online portal that will be live and on demand, covering all the UK political institutions and the European Parliament. The key feature of the site will be an eight-screen video wall that will give people access to full sessions of Parliament, Assemblies and committee proceedings. People will be able to search for on-demand video by political representative, by institution and by issue. The video will be supported by guides to the devolved political system, to the process and to biographies and information about the politicians concerned. We should be looking at the BBC Parliament channel as a major asset. It should be backed up by a single committee of both Houses, which would overlook communications services.

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord McNally, kindly referred to the fact that I am chairman of that domestic committee, the House of Lords Information Committee; indeed, that is one reason why I wanted to take part in this debate. Another reason is that I was a member of the commission of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, in 2005. I remember it well and that the booklet it produced was provokingly entitled Members Only? Parliament in the Public Eye. We have moved on from that, as has just been said, but it is about that subject that I wish to talk.

I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton, in particular on all that he has done in this field and, of course, on winning the ballot for this debate. I have followed in his footsteps. I became a guest blogger last week. “Blogger” is not yet a word in the Oxford dictionary—I expect that it will be soon—but I am a blogger and I also have seven minutes of my words on a podcast which can be listened to. They say, “Come on. Learn more about Parliament”.

I have been delighted by one or two of the replies that I have received to my blog. Perhaps I may read to your Lordships one from a Norwegian student:

“Hey a really interesting site you guys got. Cool to see that the people that are ‘running’ the country are having different ways to get in contact with the people. The House of Lords blog is a great example of how the members of parliament can get and stay in touch with the people. Hopefully the parliament in my native Norway will try something like this. Keep it up and thanks for a great blog that is making the distance between parliament and the people smaller”.

Hooray! One of the other replies was slightly terser:

“What is the average age of a Lord? What do you actually do? How many hours do you usually work per week? Do you like your position as Lord, and why? Is the House of Lords necessary as an addition to the House of Commons?”.

Those are good questions, which I took great care in answering.

I want to say a few words about the Parliamentary Education Service, which I certainly consider to be one of the successes of the past few years. Its purpose, as many noble Lords will know, is to support young people in developing an understanding of Parliament and democracy. There has been an enormous increase in the number of children visiting Westminster for both school workshops and tours. The figure was 9,700 four years ago, and 35,000 are expected this year. Our aim—that is, working with the other House—is for 100,000 to visit when the new education centre is built in the Palace of Westminster. That is not likely to be completed until 2012. The Lords will pay for 40 per cent of it and the Commons 60 per cent, so it must be educational about us as well as the Commons. However, the most important point is that, when children come here, they should have had a bit of fun. They should be able to go home and say, “Dad”—or Mum—“that really was good. I have learnt something and we should get more people from my school to come”.

My noble friend Lord Baker suggested that it was necessary for every child to visit Westminster before leaving school. We should almost make that a target, although it would mean visits from 750,000 children a year. We will not manage that but, given new websites and perhaps with a new approach to the internet and information and communication technology, all those children could see Westminster through a virtual tour and could find out what we are about from a website through the internet. Using information available throughout the country for matters such as teaching children how to use the website intelligently but in a way that is exciting will be a tremendous challenge for us.

In this context, the Director of Information Services and Chief Librarian, Dr Hallam Smith, who is well known to us all in the Lords, is very optimistic about what can be done with developments in ICT and websites. She feels that, as we go forward, we could attract many more people to the idea of listening to us electronically, at a distance. She says that we have multiple audiences, from the aficionados of the Westminster village plus journalists and Whitehall on the one hand to users who may be unfamiliar with the work of Parliament and schoolchildren on the other. We are moving forward with new information architecture—I think that is the right word—that will enable more people to learn about us from a distance.

I should like to say a few words about the Information Committee, which I have chaired for the past two years. We have produced an annual report, which I hope we may have an opportunity to discuss in the Lords when we come back in January. Our remit is:

“To consider information and communications services”,

including the parliamentary website, parliamentary outreach, visitor services and the broadcasting of parliamentary proceedings. We have an active and hard-working committee. I am glad that two members of it are here this afternoon and intend to speak.

Against that background, and against the background of all the bright ideas that we will hear in this debate, which will merit further consideration in the new year, I propose to invite the Information Committee to conduct an inquiry into how Parliament, and the House of Lords in particular, can communicate better. Such an inquiry would allow us to hear from noble Lords and from those outside Parliament and we could give fuller consideration to what may be proposed. My initial thought is that we could look back to the reports of the Puttnam commission and to the Modernisation of the House of Commons Committee of 2004, not just to appreciate how Parliament has changed for the better since then, but to see whether there is still work to be done. We could call witnesses from interested bodies such as the Hansard Society and, following our inquiry, our report would be able to set out the good activities already covered by the House, but also provide recommendations on where we go next and how we should take matters further. I shall propose that to the Information Committee when it next meets in January. It is a challenging and interesting proposal and I very much hope that it will have the backing of everyone listening to this debate.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, very much for giving us this opportunity to voice a few ideas. I shall not go into detail as others are doing so more competently than I can. I want to make a couple of small points about communication and to offer some thanks.

An interesting development is putting stuff about the Lords on YouTube. I was interested to see how we are rated. About 10,000 people have looked at the piece by the Lord Speaker, which is interesting and informative; about 12,000 people have looked at the Youth Parliament which took over the Chamber last summer; but 47,000 people looked at a pop group called the House of Lords, which was next on the list. That tells me that people are attracted by entertainment. If we are to try to get our message across, we shall have to make it quite entertaining and short, sharp and snappy so that people become aware of it.

Such things are image enhancing. I looked at some of the stuff under the Lord Speaker’s piece and someone called Ash Connor said:

“Although I am pro republic and do not believe in an unelected house, I have seen the value that the Lords have in preventing absurd legislation proposed by the Commons in more recent years. This is mainly due to the hysterics of modern-day terrorism. Let's hope that the Lords do everything in their power to stop the 42-day detention bill from becoming law”.

Noble Lords may or may not agree with that, but it is interesting because it raises our image. Brand and image come across well there. It was very simply summed up by Akeeda, who said:

“Honestly, from what I have noticed, it seems to more often be the House of Lords which cares more about common sense which is funny beyond words”.

That is good; I like that. That is the whole point of it. The Lords of the Blog come along with more serious pieces. I have looked at that and it is heavier stuff to go through, but it is good. We need some short, sharp things. I think Twitter used very short sentences to track the State Opening of Parliament; for example, “The Queen has just entered the House” and so on. I do not know how many people showed interest in that, but all those little things build up more interest and then some people dig deeper. That is important.

What I get from the Information Office, from Mary Morgan, is extremely useful. I often speak at and host occasions concerned with Parliament and I find the supporting material very useful. Some of those packs are used by children who become interested and take them into school. With a bit of luck, that will have a knock-on effect and it is viral marketing effectively, which is good.

Our parliamentary website needs much doing to it. Work is going on behind the scenes. Of course, moving forward something established that has shortcomings in its structure is a problem. I know there are a lot of interesting ideas. I should like to see more material available on the internet for our own convenience; for example, the annunciators. They are not secret, yet you can get them on the intranet only and you have to log into Parliament to do so. If I were down in the Commons and the annunciators were not switched on—they often are not in some places—or do not work, I could get them on my PDA, see where a debate has got to and arrive on time for once. There are all sorts of little things like that. It would be much easier to have everything in one place instead of splitting stuff off and making some of it appear secret. We should protect only those things that we do not want the public to see; for example, certain internal processes that should not be tampered with. I look forward to more openness.

However, if I want someone to find out what I am up to in Parliament, I tell them to go to The sad thing about that is that Peers are not indexed on the front page, so I am hoping that Tom Steinberg will read this and will put Peers on the front page so that I do not have to tell people to type /peer/earl_of_erroll to find me. So there can even be improvements on the associated sites, but I do not disapprove of them because they have greater freedom to do things that we cannot because of the constraint that the support here must be independent. It has to be terribly careful not to take a party’s side or a view one way or another.

The noble Lord, Lord Norton, spoke about responding to petitions and consultations. Who responds will be critical, and there are all sorts of things that we will have to work out on that. If it is done personally by a Lord of the blog and it is that Lord’s consultation, he can respond with his opinion, but we must make sure that it is clearly stated that it is his opinion because, for instance, I know that I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton, about an elected versus an appointed House, and there are many such issues. However, we are moving forward and things are improving hugely.

People want power to influence. The main reason people do not turn out to vote is because they feel that they have no influence when they vote for one person who does not have real power. The Civil Service produces all the statutory instruments, and we cannot alter them. People are not stupid, and they know that that is so. That is why they love No. 10 Downing Street petitions. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord McNally, that we have to be very careful about going too far on e-voting and making voting too simple. We do not want to know what people did on the spur of the moment with a click of a mouse; we want to find the opinions of people who have thought about things. I do not want to go off the point, but I am not that keen on people being forced to vote or on very young people who have not thought about the issues being given the vote, just so that we can say that we have lots of authority because lots of people voted for us. That counts for nothing. People have to think about these things.

Another problem with consultations is writer’s block. I like speaking, I am afraid, but I am not good at writing. I spend too much time agonising over it and things never go off. They sit in drafts for ever. People very rarely get a response. I hardly ever write a letter, but I e-mail on business. We have got to watch that we do not skew things.

Two things really interest me. The Obama campaign was the first campaign influenced by the internet. McCain thought that he would not have money, but he got thousands of small donations, which is how parties should be funded—by people who believe in them donating in large numbers and small quantities. There was also viral marketing. I got a wonderful e-mail that read: “Merlin Erroll: the one who did not turn out to vote, so we lost”. I had to click on it, and it had wonderful clips of very senior people saying, “And we could have won”, and underneath, “CNN: Merlin Erroll fails to turn out to vote. Obama loses by one vote”. It was very clever and of course I sent it on to other people. There are clever ideas out there, and we have got to get them.

How we communicate is what it is about. Things need to be short, sharp and amusing to get people to look at them. I learnt that from my daughter who is at the London College of Communication studying graphic design. She has just done a short animated video for Row for Kids to get people to give money for sports equipment. She spent a lot of time on it, and it is amusing, short, sharp and witty. It is on YouTube and the charity’s website and will get people to do things. We need similar things here. We need to look at the way we communicate our message so that people want to see it.

My Lords, I want to talk about the relationship between Parliament and the Government, because that is what the public, on the whole, most observe. There is bound to be tension between Parliament and the Executive. That is why Parliament was invented: to act as a limit and control over the behaviour of the Executive. That tension can and should be a focus of public interest in Parliament. It is where the public should find most relevance to the whole concept of representative government, which is of course distinct in certain respects from democracy.

That Ministers and civil servants should find Parliament an inconvenient intrusion into their operations is inevitable. Civil servants have to fight on two fronts, as the immortal—and I mean immortal—“Yes Minister” series described. Much damage has been done to Parliament over the past decade. I start with the guillotine. When I was a Lobby correspondent, the prospect of a guillotine was worthy of comment. It meant either that the government business managers had got into a muddle or that the Bill was so controversial that agreement could not be reached within a reasonable time—or, sometimes, that there was a deliberate attempt to filibuster the Bill.

Now that a timetable is introduced for every Bill, few pieces of legislation get proper discussion in the other place. As we all know, Bills come to us from the Commons with whole sections undebated. The absence of the guillotine in the House of Lords is one of our most valuable assets and, therefore, a great asset to the country. I hope that those who speak outside the House of Lords about what we do will emphasise that point.

Secondly, there is far too much legislation, which is often poorly prepared. The Home Office is especially at fault on both points. It is a department notorious for its lack of either imagination or lateral thought and, most of all, for resistance to change or any outside views. We get from the Home Office Bill after Bill, year after year—usually two or three in a year—which all matter a great deal to the public. I fear that the Home Office has not even started to earn remission from the findings of the right honourable Member for Airdrie and Shotts, Dr John Reid, when he was Home Secretary: that it was “not fit for purpose”.

Thirdly, much legislation is so complicated, with the desire for certainty overcoming the need for clarity, that it is incomprehensible to the legislators. Explanatory Notes are a useful innovation, but I fear that pre-legislative scrutiny is not really working. If it were, the Regulatory Reform Act 2001 would not have had to have been repealed by the Legislative and Regulatory Reform Act 2006 because it proved virtually useless in reducing red tape. The fact remains that much legislation, especially that by order, has to be read and applied by outsiders. When they find it unclear, they blame Parliament, which is not good for our reputation.

Fourthly, far too many shortcuts are now being used in the legislative process. They are normally proposed as being in the urgent national interest and, on occasion, they are, but often that is quite bogus. A most deplorable example occurred last month, when the Government added 23 pages of complicated financial regulations to the Terrorism Bill and rushed it through both Houses in a few hours.

Fifthly, new Labour, using the usual Whips’ tincture of charm and patronage, to, in my view, an excessive degree, has sought to control the behaviour of its MPs. Some noble Lords may remember the story of the Labour MP who, in 1997, insisted on wearing his ear phones while his hair was being cut. Eventually, he was persuaded to take them off. Suddenly, the barber realised that the MP had stopped breathing. The barber seized the ear phones, held it to his ear and heard the reassuring voice of Peter Mandelson saying, “Breathe in; breathe out”.

Finally—and, I admit, controversially across all three parties—I turn to House of Lords reform. I supported the cull of 750 hereditaries, but what has emerged has been outstandingly successful, especially with the erosion of the influence of the Commons. This House should now be left well alone. This Government, and their successor, will have much bigger fish to fry.

There is in your Lordships’ House an astonishing collection of talent, experience and wisdom, especially among those described as the great and the good. They have been put here for what they have achieved. The rest of us are here not for anything that we have done but in the hope and expectation of some modest contribution to the everyday work of this place. Of the 740 Members, there are no fewer than 200 privy counsellors—and you do not get that for nothing. There are also a number of fellows of the Royal Society, who, like the judges and the law officers, should also be called noble and learned. Then there are the top military, with half a dozen former Chiefs of the Defence Staff. They are called noble and gallant, but any noble Lord who has been decorated for bravery, such as the noble Lord, Lord Mackie, who has both the DSO and the DFC, should also be called noble and gallant. Add to that the other distinguished academics in so many fields, including my noble friend Lord Norton, who has done so much for Parliament and for the constitution and to whom we owe this useful debate this afternoon. This House has many other examples of expertise.

I make just one small specific suggestion: that the Information Office be tasked with providing, and then updating, a profile of the achievements, skills and qualifications of the Members of this House, and that this summary should appear in all our publications. I think that the public would be really impressed if they saw the sort of wisdom that there is here and which is available and at the service of the country. For this purpose, the Information Office would have to have access to an IT database, designed by the Journal Office and Information Office and supported by PICT. It must be given the resources to do this. I am glad that my noble friend Lord Renton is here, because I hope that he may remember this suggestion.

My conclusion is simple: if Parliament were to assert itself so that it played its proper role in legislation and in holding the Executive to account, people would take more notice of it. If we go on as we are, people will become increasingly cynical and disillusioned. If they feel that they cannot rely on Parliament to safeguard their interests, they will take to the streets whenever they have big grievances, as they do in France.

My Lords, I am about to refer to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, so perhaps he would like to stay for a minute. The noble Lord, Lord Norton, and I stand very firmly in different political traditions, but we very often agree on the things that we want to debate. When I saw that this debate had been tabled, I thought that I must take part, and I agreed with 99 out of 100 points that he made. The point that I did not agree with particularly was when he suggested that we are not necessarily here as political animals. I am very much a political animal. I am here not because I am good, great or particularly wise—I do not necessarily think that I am any of those things—but because I am a politician who stands for a particular point of view, which I believe to be valid, and I am incredibly privileged to be able to take part in the councils of this country and in this House. Without political parties, this House simply would not function. I am in no way undermining or underrating the role of Cross Benchers, but we would not work without political parties. I was very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, for saying that, and he can go now.

The noble Lords, Lord Grocott and Lord Norton, referred to the visitors who come here and whom many of us delight in taking around this quite astonishing building, partly because it makes us look at it again. However, there is a real danger when we do so that we only look at the building and listen to the people who do the organised tours and give their little speeches. It is always worth eavesdropping on them, however, because they give us things to tell people about the building, concentrating on historical things such as Henry VIII and his concubine on the wall, the Runnymede barons who look very appropriately on everything that we say, and curiosities such as the holes in the Door in the House of Commons where Black Rod bangs his staff and in the Door here where he banged his staff during the war.

We must force ourselves to explain to visitors how this place, the House of Commons and Parliament work, because people are interested. They do not know and they do not understand. I agree that the television authorities do us a disservice by always showing the State Opening, which does not show what we do. People ask me, “Oh, do you dress up?”. I say that I do not and they ask, “What do you do then?”. People also have the impression that the House of Commons is just Prime Minister’s Question Time. As a legislative chamber, that does it a disservice. I am not one of those people who slags off the House of Commons and thinks that everyone here is wonderful. We are complementary. We both do our best and we both can, and should, improve the way in which we do it.

One million visitors may come around this building, but there must be many more millions of people who never get inside. When they come to London, they come to see this building. They stand on the pavement and have their photograph taken with the Clock Tower in the background. Perhaps some still have a photograph taken with the policemen, although not the policemen with a gun. But that is it and they never come inside the building.

The lack of a proper visitors’ centre is a shame. A proposal—I think it was made last year—to build a rather expensive, elaborate visitors’ centre at this end of the building was thrown out because, basically, it was thought to be too expensive. As a spin-off from that, there will be an education centre, which will be very valuable, but it is aimed at school pupils and students. The lack of a proper visitor facility to explain how this place works, its history and the building is a disadvantage. That matter should be returned to so that something is provided not very far from this building.

A lot of noble Lords have talked about modern communication. I very much applaud the Lords of the Blog, the most interesting being the noble Lord, Lord Norton, and my noble friend Lord Tyler, but that is because I am interested in the same sort of things, which is why I am taking part in this debate. I do not go on Facebook or YouTube and I hope that I will never need to. I know that Twitter exists, but that can stay where it is. However, I applaud noble Lords who get involved in such things. We have to stay up to speed with communication, but it is not just that.

My noble friend Lord McNally said that he was on the big march against the Iraq war, as was I. But it was not a march, it was a shuffle at about one foot an hour at one stage. As we got to Parliament Square, being able to use the House of Lords as a comfort break was a very useful side perk of being a Member of this House. I am not sure what I would have done otherwise: it would have been a bit difficult.

Old-fashioned political involvement and communication is just as important. It is a great shame that the Mayor of London has overturned the former Mayor of London’s proposals to make Parliament Square a much more people-friendly place. I liked the idea of it being a public forum where public debate could take place—such as at Speakers’ Corner—and where Members of Parliament and this House could engage with people and take part in debate. That that will not be possible is a shame and I hope that it will be revisited.

Finally, my noble friend Lord McNally referred to the parliament channel. I am astonished at the number of people who say, “I saw you on the parliament channel”. I ask them why they were watching it and they say, “Well, I could not get to sleep. It was three o’clock in the morning. I was flicking through the channels and the House of Lords came on”. After the debate on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, I looked for the parliament channel on London television, where it is on a different number from my home. There I was talking to myself. It was a most extraordinary experience. I now find that on 25 people get an e-mail every time I speak in this House. It is frightening, but it is the modern world and we have to live with it. It is quite extraordinary.

I think the parliament channel is excellent, but I echo my noble friend in that we do not want it to turn into a normal entertainment broadcast, as has happened with party conferences. Journalists talk over the first minute that people are speaking so you cannot understand what they are talking about. Having a continuous, uninterrupted broadcast is the right principle, but more explanation is needed. Anyone who tries to follow the Committee stage of a Bill in this House or the House of Commons without any background information finds that it is just gibberish. They do not know what is happening. We stand up and say erudite things like, “I am standing up to move Amendment No. 356ZA and other amendments in the group”. It is garbage, really. At the very least, there ought to be a line along the foot of the screen as they have on “BBC News 24”—they can do it quite easily nowadays—explaining what is being debated and perhaps giving a URL to the documents we are debating for those interested enough to follow it. That kind of basic information is absolutely essential and I cannot imagine that it would be expensive to do.

My Lords, along with others who have spoken in the debate, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton. I agree with a great deal of what he had to say, as I do with much of what other noble Lords have said. I, too, want to place on the record my thanks to the Hansard Society and the Information Office of this House, not only for their work on the Lords of the Blog but for their work in general. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Norton, that we have seen significant improvements in recent years.

I want to say a brief word about the media and politics. I have great respect for my noble friend Lord Puttnam and for the work of his commission, but I feel that we have never quite got to grips with the interface between the media and politics. For that matter, it is not just us who have not done so, it is the media as well; we are both partly to blame. I certainly do not want to go back to the old situation where the Times would report line by line what was said—it does not and would not work, and the media have changed so much that it is meaningless to talk in those terms—but there is a problem that needs to be addressed by editors and politicians. I can give only one or two examples because of time constraints.

A few months ago, there was a massive demonstration where thousands of people came to Parliament to lobby about the European Union Bill, which they felt would affect Britain constitutionally. I disagree with their point, but they made it very powerfully and there were thousands of them. That story was virtually pushed out of the media by three young people who climbed on to the roof of Parliament to make a protest. I have to say that if editors choose a news story about three fit young people who are devious enough to get on to the roof of Parliament and brush aside the efforts of thousands of people engaged in a lobby, something is going wrong with the reportage. Not only does that make people feel that lobbying Parliament has no impact on the media but it also encourages demonstrations of the type that I have described.

When I started a blog as an MP in 2003, I was struck by a long series of exchanges in response to my entry about Fathers for Justice. The debate went on for a long time and involved many people. One of them said to me later that the fact that he had felt able to communicate directly meant that he did not have to climb up on to a crane. Noble Lords will recall that, at one point, men from Fathers for Justice were climbing cranes and doing all kinds of other things. If the media will report only the dramatic, what makes an attractive picture, and ignore how the democratic process works for thousands of people, something has to be addressed. That is important.

I turn to the weblog, or blog, as it has become known. One of the reasons why I think that this form of communication is important—people may think that I would say that because I had a hand in formulating it and was one of the first in the House of Commons to write a blog—is that the figures in the report, which is now available from the Information Office, show that around 55 per cent of the people visiting the site are between the ages of 18 and 34. Some of the best programmes that the BBC and broadcasters are delivering on podcasts and so on—“Today in Parliament” is a good example, but there are others—are attracting an audience drawn from the other end of the age range. The real point here is that the nature of politics is changing. People are not less interested in politics but more issue-interested.

One of the good things about weblogs is that people can go in and look at what a person is saying about particular issues. That is important, particularly for young people. We ought to be doing more to develop this, whether through Facebook or whatever. Indeed, one of the best examples in Parliament is Derek Wyatt MP. He has an incredibly interactive site, where he talks directly with people. That is the way things are going. The 18 to 34 age group that is using the Lords of the Blog will be the older group, who may well still listen to “Today in Parliament” and the other programmes but will also be looking for ways to interact. That is profoundly important. Although I was pleased with the site’s take-off performance—we reached 113,000 visits, which is no small number—the usage of Lords of the Blog is relatively low at the moment and there is further to go.

I confess that I have not made enough entries recently. I aimed originally to do at least one a week but I have not achieved that. All credit to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, who manages far more than I do. He has taken to it like a duck to water, but we have to make sure that he is not left as the main blogger. Other people need to come in. We have 10 or 12 noble Lords who blog occasionally.

The noble Lord, Lord Renton, and the Lord Speaker did guest blogs, which were very useful. I suggest that we write to all Members of the House saying, “This exists. This is what it does. Remember that you are talking particularly to younger people but also people who are interested in the House of Lords. It is not difficult to do. Please phone this number in order to have your hand held, if you like, while you get on line. It does not take much time when you are doing it”. The thing that puts people off is the fear of being pulled into arguments and discussions that go on for ever, but it is not like that; you can have perfectly reasonable discussions in a limited time. I have also written to the education department of the House, which has agreed to make sure that this is drawn to the attention of schools and colleges, because they will build on it.

On the language that is used in this place and elsewhere in Parliament, I am not against the grand occasions here—although, like others, I think that it is a mistake that the media produce only one photograph of the House of Lords—but more important is the day-to-day language that we use. Whenever I speak, I try to use language that is understood on the street. I did so when I was in the House Commons and I do so here. The language in here is not always the language that is understood on the street. A little while ago I asked some youngsters what they thought a right reverend Prelate was. Not too many knew, but they all knew what a bishop was.

A point has been made about the use of the word “gallant”. As an ex-national serviceman who was not that gallant in his service I cannot claim to be gallant, but I am not sure why we make the distinction. I have always felt that the use of the word “learned” in the phrase “noble and learned Lord” was a shrewd marketing move by barristers to get their trade recognised and given the status that it deserves.

The other typical phrase that troubles me is “the other place”. If you say that you had a conversation with someone in the other place, quite frankly it sounds as though you had a chat with someone in the loo. It is not like that, but that is how it sounds on the street. So can we get rid of some of it? If we talk in ordinary language in here, people will understand it and will relate to it better. However, I am delighted with the work that is being done. We need to do more and I urge every Member of the House of Lords to at least give the Lords of the Blog a try. Have a shot at it. It does not take very long.

My Lords, I think that everyone knows what “noble friend” means, and I am delighted to thank and congratulate my noble friend on this afternoon’s debate and, indeed, on the lucid and incisive way in which he has tackled a series of constitutional issues over the past few years. The whole House has benefited from it.

My noble friend has introduced a subject of extraordinary importance, much greater than we are giving it credit for today. My noble friend Lord Marlesford reminded us that Parliament was invented to control the Government. Before that, we had chaos and blood-letting. It actually cost a great deal of blood to build this institution that we now occupy so placidly. It is what stands between the British people and a reversion to some unsatisfactory, undemocratic and, quite possibly, violent existence. It is foolish to think that mere stasis will preserve it.

The line between government and Parliament has been so blurred since the reign of George I that many of the public do not understood the function of Parliament, because they see government functioning inside it. There are, I think, 140 Members of the Government and PPSs occupying Benches in the House of Commons. They are inside the machine invented to control them, into which none could have put a foot before the reign of George I, who did not speak English and had to have somebody here to do his work for him. We are looking at a precious thing. As the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who has not yet returned to his place, pointed out, the product is very good: it is liberty.

Now, if the British people do not understand that, and if Parliament becomes devalued, they will not stand to protect Parliament because they will not see it as protecting themselves. Therefore, we have a real duty to show the people how the power of Parliament has been eroded, is being eroded and will, if future Governments of all political colours have their way, continue to be eroded, because Parliaments are a thorn in the flesh of Governments. If the public are to understand that, they must understand what we are doing.

I have been impressed by the catalogue of new technologies that my noble friend has produced for your Lordships. Others have added to it and Members of this House have further embellished it, but that is resource-intensive. There is one simple method that rests not on what I call new technology but on the traditional media—that is to say, the press, the radio and terrestrial television—where Governments have successively taken things out of the hands of Parliament and, principally, out of the hands of the other place, or House of Commons. At this point, I fear that the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, will wince when he reads Hansard, because I must draw your Lordships’ attention to the change that has come across the handling of information—from Parliament as a whole, but principally from the House of Commons—since I first became interested in politics in the 1960s.

When I was a parliamentary candidate and started looking at these things, I well remember the furore of excitement if a Minister ill advisedly let a government policy out of the bag, deliberately or accidentally, outside the premises of his appropriate Chamber in Parliament. I do not know what happened in this House, because I am unaware of there being an incident, but if a Minister in the other place, or House of Commons, were to make a policy statement outside it, as soon as that was known he was hauled back by the Speaker to face an emergency debate. He got a headline, but not the one that he wanted about the policy; it was the headline of how he was humiliated and brought back, embarrassingly, to put right what he had done by making the announcement outside Parliament.

What happens now, almost without comment and as a matter of routine, is that almost all government policies—or all but those of the hugest importance—are made outside the House, by the Government, to an audience invited by them and consisting mostly of media reporters from newspapers and elsewhere. As a result, the only comments that the media hear come from Ministers, the officials supporting them and the other reporters. That means that not only are the voices of the enraged Opposition, of whatever party, not heard but the voices of the disenchanted Back-Benchers of the government party are also silenced. So what the public get is a picture that bears no relation to Parliament at all and nothing gets reported from these two Chambers.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, is now here to wince as I comment on proceedings in another place. Would it not be a simple matter for the House of Commons to take this matter back into its hands and to require the Government to release all news about their business that affects the electorate inside the Chamber? That is where the news would then be, as would the reporters, who would hear what Members of Parliament thought about it. That would be the news, and it would be broadcast on the traditional media, at least. That way, at no extra expense to anyone, Parliament would begin to come back to being the focal point of public interest, which is where it must be if this sovereign and free state of ours is to maintain its freedom in the years to come.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, on initiating this debate. It launches us into the Recess with a thought-provoking and cross-party topic. As we have heard, it is surely at the heart of a democracy that members of the public should be in dialogue with those responsible for government, and equally that those who are elected or appointed to make laws should ensure that they remain in contact with members of the public.

Communication is indeed a two-way process, yet many of our citizens have so little interest in communicating with Parliament that they do not even vote. As my noble friend Lord McNally pointed out, in the previous two elections four out of 10 people did not participate in this very simple activity. It seems that they failed to see any relevance to their own lives in the work of these Houses or to make connections with decisions on education, health, tax, housing, the environment or security, on any one of which they would have had a violent opinion, and all of which are issues that affect their everyday lives.

We see that lack of interest at local, national and European levels, with many studies and reviews analysing the reasons and remedies. We have already heard mention of the estimable Hansard Society as one of the bodies that looks at that, aiming to strengthen parliamentary democracy and encourage greater public involvement in politics. One recent forum posed the question, “Are young people allergic to politics?”. It found that the young people were not backward in telling the commissioners exactly what they did not like about politics, how it could be more child-friendly and what could be done to promote politics to young people. One barrier particularly identified by young people is the lack of diversity among parliamentarians.

A survey conducted recently by Girlguiding UK, which has more than 500,000 members, identified that girls were put off by a lack of young MPs and by having so few female role models to emulate. In fact there are some very able young male and female MPs but they are of course greatly outnumbered by those who are older, and the men greatly outnumber the women. This is an issue for all parties that look for a fairer gender balance among candidates as well as better representation from minority ethnic communities. In that respect, your Lordships’ House is more representative than the other place; it has much wider diversity in gender, ethnicity and disability. Youth, as we all know, is a comparative concept. Knowing the part that women play in the debates in this House, it is unusual that in this debate today I find myself as the only representative of the gender minority.

The public perception means that this House may seem even more remote to the average citizen, and the barriers already referred to of communication in our procedures, customs and language are pretty mysterious to new Members of your Lordships’ House, so to outsiders they can seem even more impenetrable. Mention has already been made of the snapshots of Prime Minister’s Questions that we see on television, with selected extracts of people shouting, interrupting, heckling and generally not behaving very well. The interminable picture of this House is of the State Opening, with the red robes and tiaras, which is assumed to be a typical day. I have been asked by people who I thought might have known better whether I have to wear my red robe every day. It is a widespread misunderstanding. The third picture that we see is of near-empty Chambers where lonesome souls toil away on some worthy topic, which gives an immediate impression that we do not work very hard.

Broadcasting both Houses has therefore been a great benefit to open government, but has given some distinctly misleading impressions about what goes on in Westminster. Given that the media generally prefer to focus on shortcomings and mistakes, it will add to the publicity if the centre of the story is an MP or a Peer and again disengage the public from what is going on Westminster. We therefore start with an uphill struggle in communicating all that Parliament does towards good governance of the country and towards improving the lives of individuals.

The good news in all this has already been referred to in previous speeches: the positive initiatives of new technologies; the parliamentary website being constantly upgraded; and the blogs—I, too, have to refer to the Lords of the Blog, as my noble friend will follow me in speaking. The Education Service produces teaching and learning materials to stimulate interest and discussion in schools. The outreach team has worked with more than 1,000 teachers this year alone. Another part of the service receives schools here, a programme which has expanded nearly fourfold in the past five years, with, on average, 40 schools a week sending parties to visit, tour and learn about the work and role of Parliament. As we have already heard, the UK Youth Parliament was held here to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Life Peerages, giving young people the opportunity to participate in debates and discussions. These visits are memorable and make Parliament more real to the young people who take part. I add my voice to those who expressed admiration for the Lord Speaker’s outreach programme, which is expanding its services with Peers in schools, women’s institutes and Rotary groups.

There is a natural curiosity about us and our role which we can use to the advantage of this House. Unlike Members of the other House, we have no electorates to look after and are not restricted to any particular part of the country. We have a greater assurance of continuity, at least for the time being. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that, in spite of all the benefits of multimedia facilities, face-to-face contact with other people remains a powerful means of communication.

This House is well known for the collegiality and conversation of its Members. Those very skills can be used to such good effect outside the House as well as in it. We can as individuals play our part in keeping channels of communication open with members of the public. Through this debate, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, has given us food for thought for our new year resolutions.

My Lords, I add my thanks to those offered to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for introducing this debate. It was a model introduction, and it leaves me only to support and amplify his points, although, encouraged by the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Elton, I think that I shall go a fraction further.

Eleven years ago today, at this very moment, I gave my maiden speech. I deliberately chose the final debate before Christmas on the assumption that it would hide my inadequacies and I could then flee for a three-week break before having to face noble Lords again. Many changes, most of them improvements, have occurred since that, for me, awesome day. Some of them are obvious, but many more are not. Among the more obvious is the far greater diversity of background and ethnicity displayed within this House. It is also fair to say that the House is typified by a significantly improved level of tolerance towards the beliefs and lifestyles of others. In sum, it is a Chamber that far better reflects the make-up and attitudes of the nation as a whole.

I shall now dwell for a moment on the unobvious changes that have taken place—first, in the quality and nature of the support we receive, in terms of both personnel and technology. Sadly, this has not been accompanied by improvements in accommodation; I still have three people sharing two chairs in my office and it represents a daily problem, though one that I am sure the House authorities will find a way of solving eventually.

For obvious reasons, today’s technology is quite unrecognisable; none the less, it is a welcome aid to making a number of other important improvements possible. But, for me, it is the people who have been recruited who have made the real difference in the past 11 years. I have time to mention just three.

John Pullinger, the librarian in another place, is a dynamo and someone who has a real vision of the future. He understands where Parliament is going and what needs doing. Similarly, our own Elizabeth Hallam Smith is absolutely committed to making this place a House we can all be proud of. Tom O’Leary, the head of education, and his outreach team are beginning to do some extraordinary things. I know the plans he has, and if we can supply him with resources and encouragement, I think he could do a job that we will all be very proud of in years to come.

The indefatigable efforts of the Lord Speaker, which have been referred to by many noble Lords, have made outreach and the promotion of this House a very visible priority. The commitment of all those I have mentioned, and those who support them, and the opportunities afforded by the digital environment that the noble Lord, Lord Norton, so eloquently set out, are exactly what we need to move forward.

The obvious arguments against rushing our fences are usually made very well and many are good ones. But when considering opportunities afforded by the future, I would always beg your Lordships’ House to set those opportunities against Primo Levi’s famous question, “If not now, when?” There are times when we move more slowly than we need to do.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, mentioned the Hansard Society. I have the privilege of being the vice-chairman of that organisation. He has laid out the statistics, though there is one more worth adding. Less than one-quarter of British people believe they have a fair knowledge of the work of the House of Lords, whereas almost half believe they have a fair knowledge of the work of the House of Commons. This indicates to me that there is still a lot of work to be done.

At the Hansard Society, the greatest frustration is not the job that we do but, in some senses, the broader job that we believe we could do if we were given the encouragement, and—in some respects—the resources to do so. The Hansard Society is a very important institution and is often taken for granted by this House when it could be more actively encouraged.

Lastly, what should we as individuals in this Chamber do to address the broad thrust of the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Norton? I think quite a lot. The reputation of Parliament is going through one of its periodic low ebbs and, although my noble friend Lord Grocott assures me that this is something that happens constantly, I would argue that, while there is a consistent superficial cynicism toward Parliament, and I think he was right to refer to that, there is something rather different going on at the moment. There is a lack of trust. Trust is something I spoke about in last week’s debate. Trust is absolutely fundamental to this House, and this is where I think we all have a role to play. People are rightly concerned—many even quite frightened about the future. The traditions of this House for reflection, for expertise, for consideration of very complex issues and even of wisdom are more important than at any time in my recent memory. This Chamber is seldom less than reassuring and, at times, is capable of being positively inspiring when it considers the options available to the country.

The more those qualities are visibly demonstrated on a day-to-day basis, the better. That is actually what differentiates us from the other place. Occasionally—and I apologise to my noble friend Lord Grocott for saying this—there is an addiction to outbreaks of fairly juvenile behaviour. I am not a professional or even a tribal politician, but I have spent a lifetime as a professional communicator. The media may enjoy knock-about politics, but the thinking public are resolutely unimpressed by them, or are even positively turned off. Here, the media and the BBC in particular, can be very guilty of a form of conspiracy. Every one of us knows that, should any of us happen to have a Jonathan Ross moment in this Chamber, we would be absolutely guaranteed an appearance on “Today in Parliament”. It would not reflect the Chamber, or the traditions of the Chamber, and not even the normal behaviour of the noble Lord concerned. The truth is that it would be repeated on TV. In that sense, we are seen as a branch of show business. This helps nobody, particularly the BBC. Even in our own Chamber we are capable of being guilty of the occasional outbreak of yah-boo party-political point scoring. Earlier this week I was sad to see that break out during Questions. My judgment is that it hurts us, it hurts our reputation and wins us absolutely nothing. At times of crisis, such as these we are living through, it can potentially even lose a great deal.

I thought that what the noble Lord, Lord Elton, said early in his speech about the importance of Parliament was very relevant indeed. Last Sunday, in the New York Times there was a good article about church attendance in the United States. In it the Reverend A R Bernard said:

“When people are shaken to the core, it can open doors”.

It struck me that, interestingly, that is all of a piece with much of what has been said in the debate today. New doors are open because people are frightened. We have both an opportunity and an obligation to keep those doors open. However, the door that we most need to keep open is the door to democracy; it is the door to hope and to a belief that we in this Chamber can offer something better—a better future for the people of this country. Should we not take every opportunity to drive that point home? We do ourselves a disservice, and I think we do the electorate a disservice as well.

My Lords, we all congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, not just on his persistence in bringing this subject to the Floor of the Chamber, but on the fact that he practises what he preaches. As has already been said, he is our prize blogger. The rest of us who attempt to blog on a regular basis cannot keep up with him. I do not always agree with everything he says, but he introduced two major themes at the beginning of the debate that were extremely important. First, he urged us to recognise that we need to keep pace with the technological changes outwith this building and with political changes. That is extremely important, and we need to keep it constantly in mind.

Secondly, the noble Lord made the very important point that new forms of communication—other noble Lords have referred to this—make possible a degree of two-way communication that simply was not available to our ancestors and predecessors. That is very important.

I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, because I served on the commission that has been referred to several times and which produced the excellent report entitled Members Only? Parliament in the Public Eye. He will recall that that was followed up a couple of years later by Parliament in the Public Eye 2006: Coming into Focus?, which I think it is fair to say—I hope he will agree—ticked off a number of improvements that had been made, notably, at this end of the building. I will return to that point in a moment.

I very much agree with the noble Lord on the recruitment of additional staff, and the wider remit given to the education unit and to the outreach effort, which has been extremely effectively driven by our own Lord Speaker. Perhaps I may say—because I am sure nobody at the other end of the building is going to watch this part of the parliamentary channel—that we outshine the other place in terms of recognising these things, not least because of the interest of the Lord Speaker. We should always remember that we had television cameras in this Chamber some time before the House of Commons thought it was safe to let them in down there.

I want to refer to two specific things—I am conscious of limited time—before I come back to other noble Lords’ comments. The Hansard Society in its excellent reports—and I too have to declare that I am a vice-chair—has indicated a number of important issues as to how the public see us. These have been referred to by my noble friend Lord McNally and others. One has not been mentioned. I think that the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Marlesford, will be interested in this. Only one in two members of the public is confident that Parliament is not the same thing as the Government. That is a very serious issue. The noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, may recall that in his commission I pointed out that if you then went on the No. 10 website, you could view a day in the life of the then Prime Minister. If I tell you that Alastair Campbell arrived on screen at regular intervals during the day of the then Prime Minister, you will understand how very interesting this was. At the end of this sequence of pictures of the then Prime Minister doing this, that and the other, and having endless conversations with occasionally the then Deputy Prime Minister but much more often with Alastair Campbell, there came a picture which did not have the then Prime Minister in it. It said underneath, “The Prime Minister has left for the House of Commons”—full stop. There was absolutely no explanation of why he was going to the House of Commons, that he owed his position to the House of Commons or that he could not be Prime Minister without the authority of the House of Commons. What is even worse, I have now checked on the new Prime Minister’s information on his website. The explanation of what he does and why he is there makes not one single reference to Parliament at all. As far as anybody looking at that website is concerned, the Government have no responsibility to this building and the people in it who serve the public. That is a disaster. If nothing else comes out of this debate, I hope that the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will, in his inimitable way, persuade the Lord Speaker or somebody to drop a hint to No. 10 that it might be useful to explain to the public of this great country of ours that the Prime Minister owes his position to Parliament. We are a parliamentary democracy.

My other passion is that we need to demonstrate that this building is not just a historic monument, and nor are the people who occupy it. Noble Lords have referred to this. I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Greaves that we have to demonstrate that this is a working democracy. Many years ago I suggested that instead of having just the virtual tour of the building, showing the pictures or whatever, we should have Billy the Bill finding his or her—it should be gender-neutral—way through this building. If the relevant Bill starts in your Lordships’ House, Billy should show where it goes and, most importantly, should show that in Committee in the Moses Room or on the Floor of the House those who have an interest in the Bill have an entry point into the decision-making process of the building. That would be helpful. I have a wonderful ally in the person of Mary Morgan in the Information Office, but I have argued for four years that our fellow citizens should be able to access such a site easily on the parliamentary website. Incidentally, during those four years I have had it on my own website in a rather limited amateur form as I am no great technocrat, but the number of hits on it is amazing. Every time I go to a school on behalf of the Lord Speaker, I find a ready audience for the suggestion that that should be put to better use.

I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, that there was no golden age. We sometimes hear older Members of both Houses say that somehow or other in the good old days it was possible to read their speeches on the parliamentary page of the Times. They were the only people who read them, of course. The limited readership of Hansard in those days is nothing compared to those who watch the parliament channel or look at our proceedings online. We have a huge audience now and there is an appetite—the Hansard Society has demonstrated this—to know more about what we are doing. It is true that sometimes navigation of the site is not very easy because generally the public do not know what a Select Committee is or where the Moses Room is. However, they are very interested in the issues we discuss. We have to try to ensure that we fulfil their expectations in that respect.

I also agree with the noble Lord, Lord Grocott—he hinted at this point and I hope that he will forgive me if I paraphrase his words—that in a parliamentary democracy the fundamental form of communication between Parliament and the people is the ballot box. I hope that he agrees that important lessons can be learnt from that, possibly by your Lordships’ House as well as the other place.

I very much agree with my noble friend Lord McNally—perhaps I should, as he is my leader. What he said about BBC Parliament is absolutely critical. I have not had the advantage of being so desperately short of sleep as my noble friend Lord Greaves to watch what is happening on that channel at three o’clock in the morning. However, when I did watch it, I was infuriated by the dead silence that was recorded whenever there was a Division in your Lordships' House or in the House of Commons. We operate rather quickly here but down there 18 to 20 minutes of dead silence elapse when there is a Division. That is enough to turn anybody off. Anybody who is involved in any sort of communication will know—as will the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam—that silence is not encouraging to the viewer or to the non-listener. Those 18 to 20 minutes present a wonderful opportunity to explain what Members are voting on. However, commentators are prevented doing that not by their editors or the broadcasters but by the House of Commons and, I suspect, your Lordships' House. I hope that we shall look at that because that would be the ideal time to explain what is going on.

We should not forget “Today in Parliament”, not least because I have just recorded an interview for it for tomorrow night. There is this afternoon’s plug.

The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, obviously speaks with a great deal of professional experience. We all have to learn how to be more succinct. I have tried with my blog, and it is very hard work. The public are used to soundbites, and they are not used to long, flowery phrases. We all need to remember that great saying by Dr Johnson, “I haven’t time to write a short letter”. We need a bit more preparation on the behalf of Members of the House and those who work for us all.

Time is short. I want to address what was a very interesting contribution by my noble friend Lady Garden. It is a critical part of open government that we have a transparent parliamentary system. I do not understand how the public can feel engaged with politics or with governance if they cannot see what is going on. Robin Cook once said that good governance demands good parliamentary scrutiny. The relationship between Parliament and the Government is incredibly important. It needs to be as open as we can make it—not just open in the sense of opening windows and doors so that the public can look in, but so that they can actually influence what is happening in the building.

We are very much indebted to the noble Lord, Lord Norton, not just for this debate, but for all that he does in this field. I hope that others outside the Chamber this evening take note of what has been said. It is constructive, extremely relevant and important.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Norton of Louth for introducing this debate this afternoon. He clearly has much experience in this area, and he made numerous very good points. When I say that he touched on a topic, that means that he gave a very succinct description of a situation. He has given us a brilliant introduction to our debate.

My noble friend Lord Renton talked about his intended proposal for the Information Committee. Noble Lords appeared to approve it, but it is not a matter for me to determine.

My noble friend Lord Norton touched on interest groups, and he is right, but I have some concern about single-issue pressure groups. I do not find their briefing as valuable as that of the groups with wider areas of concern; there always seems to be a lack of balance and rather too much intensity.

The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, made one of his characteristic speeches. He is very knowledgeable about IT; I have heard about him outside your Lordships’ House as well. He made some very good points, some of which were about relatively easy problems to solve. I was going to suggest that he is appointed to the Information Committee, but I found out that he is already on it.

My noble friend Lord Marlesford talked about the need for the guillotine in the Commons. Mindful of the strictures of the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, I agree with my noble friend’s analysis of the difference between the two Houses. I well recall the noble Lord who is now the Chairman of Committees inviting me to drop several of what I believed to be brilliant amendments during the passage of the then Transport Bill to finish the Bill in good time, because the principle of this House is that the Government get their business.

The noble Lord, Lord Soley, talked about the choices and the quality of the choices made by the media. I agreed with everything that he said on that point. Many noble Lords remarked on the good work done by the Information Office, with limited but slowly increasing resources. One operational problem is the number of single-man posts; it must be very challenging to maintain continuity of service. This is an issue of how much resource we are prepared to put into the Information Office. One of the big improvements made by the Information Office is in the generation of media interest in publications of your Lordships’ Select Committee reports. I have certainly noticed the effect of this outside your Lordships’ House when you casually pick up a newspaper and see that a Select Committee report has been published.

The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, and many others, mentioned the Lord Speaker’s outreach programme. I confess that I have not yet made a presentation, but I will do so next year. I look forward to doing it, and I hope other noble Lords will join me. We really ought to try to do one every year, although I know that that will be challenging.

Many noble Lords have touched on the media, directly or indirectly. Media operations cannot be ignored, and any organisation that does not pay attention to the media will experience serious problems.

The noble Lord, Lord McNally, talked about BBC Parliament. I share all his views, good and bad. It is surprising how many people dip into it just by chance. More would look at it if it were better organised. A couple of weeks ago, I discovered that it was not that easy to see what we have been up to. I had exactly the same experiences as those described by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I agree with him, and his view of the URL links brings me to my next point. However, the relevant technology is fast moving and can be hard to keep up with, even for the best resourced organisations—but we need to keep up.

Most of the population obtain their information via the internet, and my noble friend Lord Norton touched on that. Having a high-quality website is vital, but I am not an expert on web design. Can the Chairman of Committees say whether our website could be assessed by an outside organisation? It is no good that we look at our own website, because we are either not very experienced at assessing websites or look at our website through rose-tinted spectacles. How good are we at measuring the quality of our website?

I am surprised at how few private individuals make direct contact with me in Parliament, either by e-mail or by letter. It may be that I need to raise my profile a little in the way suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam. Organised letter campaigns, often by Christian religious organisations, are an exception. However, I receive few communications, despite my e-mail address being easily available through open sources. Many years ago, it was with some trepidation that I published my e-mail address in Commercial Motor magazine—the publication for managers in the transport industry. I was surprised that I received very few e-mails as a result, despite there being several big issues which remained to be decided.

I pay tribute to the website. So far, I have received about half a dozen e-mails. I have carried out a test this afternoon to see how fast I would receive an e-mail back, so shall see whether that is on my desk when I return to my office. That website is a positive development.

I should also draw noble Lords’ attention to the website, which other noble Lords have mentioned. It is excellent and allows the public to see what we have been doing. It is constantly being improved and developed. I am confident that its operators will recognise some of their problems and that they are taking steps to rectify them. The website measures how many times each noble Lord speaks in debate or at Question Time. I have spoken 33 times in the past year, my noble friend Lord Selborne has spoken 13 times, and the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, has spoken 16 times. However, the reality is that this year I have been rather less assiduous, because I have been doing other things, whereas my noble friend Lord Selborne has, we know, done tremendous work with the Science and Technology Select Committee of your Lordships’ House—although the site does not show that. Similarly, the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, is an absolutely sterling Member of your Lordships’ House and is highly regarded inside it and outside. I am sure that he has done much more than I have done this year, but he does not receive any credit for it on the website. It needs to do some work to measure better what we have been doing. Nevertheless, both sites— and—perform a very useful function and we should encourage them.

My final point concerns visitors. As well as outreach visitors, thousands visit the Houses of Parliament, some hosted by a Peer or MP. I certainly regard it as my duty to host as many visitors who would not normally be able to come here as part of their work as I can. I have only once failed to sell the virtues of the House, even to some somewhat sceptical guests. However, the vast majority of visitors are taken around the House by a range of guides, and improvements have been made to the operation of the tours system. The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, touched on the excessive attention given to ceremonial dress and photographic images of the House. One difficulty is that both Houses form a working Parliament; we are not a museum.

Furthermore, we must be getting fairly near to maximum capacity for visitors. My noble friend Lord Renton talked about virtual visits and other means of achieving the same effect as an actual visit. The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, talked about the visitor centre. I am not aware of the pros and cons of this project but no doubt the noble Lord the Chairman of Committees will be able to give us a little information about it.

My concern is with the message put out by the guides. The history of Parliament is interesting and the State Opening ceremony is important, but I fear that visitors from the UK and overseas leave with a good idea of Tudor history but are little informed about our day-to-day work and our ethos, which we believe to be distinct from that of the House of Commons. For example, do visitors learn that we are a self-regulating Chamber? Your Lordships will recognise that we could not have arrived at that position from a clean sheet of paper. It is a bizarre situation but it works. Therefore, will the Chairman of Committees take steps to ensure that the guides, while still being accurate and objective, are more definite about the message that they send out about your Lordships’ work?

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Norton of Louth, for raising this important subject. I also congratulate noble Lords who have contributed so knowledgeably to today’s debate. I think we can all agree that ensuring effective communication between Parliament and the public is absolutely crucial. Not only should we strive to publicise the valuable work carried out by Parliament—and, from our point of view, particularly by the House of Lords—but we should also make it as easy as possible for the public to communicate with Parliament.

Over the past few years, much work has taken place to improve Parliament’s performance in this area, and I congratulate the noble Lords and staff responsible. I am particularly grateful for the work that your Lordships’ Information Committee is doing in this area. It has done a great deal to advise and support the House’s information and communication services, as shown in its recent annual report, which I commend to the House. I also pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, who spoke very knowledgeably in the debate and who chaired the highly influential Hansard Society commission on connecting Parliament with the public.

I shall start by setting out some of Parliament’s current activities in this field before attempting to respond to the questions raised by noble Lords. The activities fall into three broad categories: visits to Parliament, including those by school children; parliamentary and House of Lords outreach work; and remote access through a variety of different media.

I turn to the first of those—visitors. One of the most effective ways in which we can help the public to increase their understanding of Parliament is by encouraging personal visits. As noble Lords will know, much good work has been done over the past few years to enhance the visitor experience. A Central Tours Office was set up in 2003 to manage groups of visitors invited to Parliament by Members and to train guides to a standard script. I hope that that will please the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. The office also runs the summer opening programme, which is now a permanent and extremely popular fixture.

Visitor Assistants have been introduced to provide an improved welcome to visitors, to manage queues and to give out information about parliamentary business. They are also trained in the workings of both Houses and so are able to impart useful information and answer questions from visitors. The 24-strong team now provides a service until both Houses have risen. In addition, the Cromwell Green visitor reception building provides an enhanced access point for the public.

In 2007, the Palace received more than 1 million visitors in total, including 184,000 visitors to the Galleries of either House, 134,000 visitors on Members’ sponsored tours and 29,000 people on Education Service visits. These impressive figures speak for themselves.

An essential part of our visitor strategy is the Education Service, to which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred. It has significantly increased the number of young people it welcomes to Parliament and provides valuable tours and workshops about the role of Parliament. It is hoped that 37,000 young people will be received by the Education Service in the 2008-09 financial year, up from 7,500 only four years or so ago. Plans for the provision of a dedicated education centre in the Palace of Westminster will enable the service to receive 100,000 learners per year and to provide an even better service. I have to admit that that is still a little way off at the moment.

In addition, the Education Service produces materials, including a new website, which support teaching and learning about Parliament. The education outreach team trains teachers to increase their knowledge and understanding of Parliament. This year alone, the team has worked with 1,000 teachers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Garden, pointed out, across all parts of the UK, including the most far-flung places. We will, of course, continue to ensure that the Education Service covers fully the important role of the House of Lords within its material.

I now turn to my second category, outreach. This House’s outreach and engagement programme seeks to connect external audiences with the work and Members of the House through outreach visits by Peers, events held in Parliament and online initiatives. The broad aims of the programme are to increase understanding of the role and relevance of this House and to raise awareness of how people can interact and engage with us. I warmly welcome the Lord Speaker’s leadership in this area and I join the noble Lords, Lord Grocott, Lord Puttnam, and others in congratulating her on that role.

The outreach visits by Peers are a particularly important means for raising awareness of the work of this House. So far, 160 visits to schools have taken place, involving over 8,000 young people, 300 teachers and nearly 70 Peers. I am sure that some of those 70 are in the Chamber now. Visits are also made to many other organisations and groups, including regional meetings of the Women’s Institute and, in the future, to district conferences of Rotary International.

I also welcome the outreach events that take place in this House. For example, in May 2008, the UK Youth Parliament held a debate in the Chamber which was very well received, as referred to by the noble Lord, Lord McNally, and others. A number of events are planned for next year, including a flagship event in the Chamber—there will be only one such event each year; seminars designed to showcase the expertise of Members; an annual lecture in the Robing Room to follow on from the five very successful lectures celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Life Peerages Act which took place over the course of the past 12 months; plus new projects involving young people.

In addition to the Lord Speaker’s outreach programme, the parliamentary outreach service does good work in spreading awareness of the work and processes of the institution of Parliament. Four regional outreach officers have been appointed, working predominantly in the two start-up regions of Yorkshire and Humberside and eastern England. The intention is to expand the service over the next two years, ensuring a national service from year 2 which will be consolidated in year 3. The service offers training and information events to a range of audiences, including people from the voluntary sector.

Parliamentary Archives is also heavily involved in the outreach agenda, placing emphasis on engaging the public with the archives and the history of Parliament with a view to stimulating interest in the current work of both Houses. A key part of its strategy has been to increase the provision of online services; for example, inquiry-answering and online payment for copies of records. Also important are the exhibitions and websites that have highlighted elements of the collection.

The archives are also starting an innovative project that will take its outreach work beyond the confines of the parliamentary estate into the regions, supported by the parliamentary outreach team. The initiative, entitled People and Parliament: Connecting with Communities, will involve partnership working with regional archives, thus making connections between archival material in Westminster and archives held locally. This, in turn, will lead to community-based activities producing content for the new living heritage section of the parliamentary website. In addition, locally based displays will help to bring the holdings and work of the Parliamentary Archives to the attention of new audiences.

The last of the three strands I mentioned is connecting with the public through the work of the Information Office, the internet and broadcasting media. Clearly, this area is by far the largest in terms of the size of the audience reached. I start with the Information Office, and I join the noble Lord, Lord Norton, in praising its work and I congratulate all those involved. This House was the first to appoint a professional to promote its work and the first to appoint a press officer dedicated to publicising committee work. The Information Office carries out valuable work in promoting the work of the House, emphasising the important role that your Lordships play in holding the Government to account through scrutiny of legislation, Select Committee work, Questions and debates. It also focuses attention on the broad range of expertise to be found in this House, which the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in particular, referred to, and the more we can do of that, the better.

The Information Office conveys these messages in a variety of ways. Noble Lords will know that it produces a range of publications and briefing materials, such as the excellent pamphlets entitled The Work of the House of Lords, 100,000 copies of which are circulated to target audiences annually, and the Guide to Business in the House of Lords. The Information Office also provides an inquiry service, so that members of the public, journalists and others can get answers to their queries by telephone, e-mail or letter. In the past financial year, around 20,000 inquiries were handled.

A significant part of the Information Office’s work is its press and media strategy because coverage in the media reaches a very large audience. The focus is on promoting debates, Select Committee reports and outreach activities. In the past Session, the Information Office undertook for the first time to promote general debates to the media with a view to highlighting the diversity of expertise and experience in the House. In total, 45 debates were promoted, which resulted in 150 items of news coverage in national newspapers and 103 in regional or local news sources. That was a 63 per cent increase on the number of articles related to Lords debates in the previous year. The general tone of the media coverage was positive and the expertise of the Peers taking part was often referred to.

The press officers have also been successful at promoting the reports produced by your Lordships’ Select Committees, ensuring that they receive maximum exposure and make a significant impact. Notable examples last Session included the Science and Technology Committee’s report on waste reduction, which was widely covered in the press and on the radio, the Communications Committee’s report, The Ownership of the News, and the Economic Affairs Committee’s report, The Economic Impact of Immigration, which sparked a very high-profile debate. In addition, reports of EU sub-committees often receive widespread coverage by the media.

In this day and age, one of the most important ways we can communicate with the public is via the internet, as many noble Lords said. The Parliament website has improved substantially in recent years and provides an excellent service that is very widely used; in the past year, over 7.8 million people have visited it. I can tell the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, that the web centre uses an external agency to do real-user testing, using members of the general public to validate the website. One of the key features is the Bills service, which provides access to all legislation before Parliament as well as to amendments and other relevant documents, such as Library research papers. In November, these pages received 118,000 unique visitors who generated 210,000 visits. Further enhancements are planned, such as the introduction of plain English updates after each Bill stage.

I am aware of mySociety’s Free Our Bills campaign, which the noble Lord, Lord Norton, mentioned. Many of the issues it raises have already been addressed through improvements to the website. For example, Bills, amendments, related copies of Hansard and research papers are put on the website minutes after they are published in hard copy. Access is easy and users can sign up for a wide range of alerts. In addition, Bills are already available in XML format—whatever that is—which allows individual clauses and subsections to be tagged, as mySociety wants. This material is available with a free “click-use” licence.

The difficulty in indexing Bills in the way that mySociety wants is that UK legislation is frequently referential, and often makes provision without anything that would appear to the lay reader to be an obvious or useful keyword. None the less, I understand that a feasibility study on clause-by-clause indexing is in train. The study will also consider how the results of indexing might be integrated with the current Bills information on the website. Further progress on that point will depend on the outcome of the study.

Other valuable services on the website include the parliamentary calendar, which enables people to find out what is going on in Parliament; the improved search engine; virtual tours of Parliament; quick guides to Parliament; podcasts; and an enhanced news service. The capacity of the website to run online consultations on behalf of Select Committees is also being developed. Some such consultations have already been held, with 42,000 unique visitors making 85,000 visits to the web forum site. I also note that the Lord Speaker’s Competition for Schools 2008 involved your Lordships’ Science and Technology Committee inviting school groups of different ages to submit their ideas to the committee’s inquiry into waste reduction. Finally, I welcome the fact that analysis of the results of Divisions will be posted on the website from next month onwards, which I hope is good news.

Elsewhere on the internet, the House of Lords has been at the forefront of developing new approaches to engaging and informing youth audiences, with the launch of five videos about the House on the YouTube website, to which the noble Earl, Lord Errol, in particular, referred. To date, there have been 111,000 views of videos on Parliament’s channel on YouTube. Work is also ongoing to enhance Parliament’s presence on other social websites, to which some noble Lords referred. That brings information about Parliament to a much broader audience and provides a forum for discussion of relevant issues.

I should also mention the innovative Lords of the Blog website, where certain Members discuss political topics of interest. Since its launch in March 2008, the site has received more than 110,000 views and more than 2,400 comments from the public. Indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Norton, wrote on the site about this debate, and more than 20 people suggested topics for him to raise in his speech. I welcome this dynamic communication between Members and the public. I was very interested in the figures given by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, whom I know has been very much involved, showed that younger people, in particular, were interested in that form of communication. I can tell him and other noble Lords that the next edition of Red Benches next month will invite all Peers to take part in the Lords of the Blog website. I hope that we will get enhanced coverage from that.

Broadcasting is another important medium for conveying the work of both Houses to the public. The full proceedings in both Chambers and in Westminster Hall are covered, as are a number of committee meetings in both Houses. In addition, Chamber and committee proceedings are made available online through the website, either in visual form or in audio only. As a result of the planned capital programme to upgrade committee rooms, an increasing proportion of committee meetings will be available in visual form, rather than audio only. I should add that the length of time for which proceedings are available on the website has recently increased substantially, from 28 days to a year.

I turn briefly to some of the specific issues raised in the debate, some of which, I must say, are not for me. The noble Lords, Lord McNally and Lord Greaves, commented on the BBC Parliament channel. My influence over that is very limited, but I hope that the BBC will pick up on what they said. The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked why Divisions were always broadcast in complete silence. I do not know the answer to that, but I shall try to find out and let him know.

Other noble Lords criticised—or at least mentioned—both the Government and the House of Commons. Of course I cannot—or would certainly not want to—answer or comment on such criticisms.

I can reassure the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, only that he will have to be patient for accommodation and will have to wait for the bright, sunny uplands of Millbank House, in which I am sure a palatial suite of offices will be made available to him.

The noble Lord, Lord Tyler, asked me to do something about the Prime Minister, mentioning going to Parliament. I am not sure whether I can do that either, but I shall read with care what the noble Lord said and I will see what can be done.

I shall now conclude. This has been an excellent debate on a subject of first-class importance. I hope that I have demonstrated that Parliament has made great strides in improving the way in which it communicates with the public, although it is clear from noble Lords’ speeches that there is still more work to be done. I am particularly interested in the forthcoming inquiry of the Information Committee, to which the noble Lord, Lord Renton, referred, and I hope that the committee agrees to it being set up next year.

Once again, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Norton, for bringing this subject forward, and all noble Lords who have contributed to such an interesting debate.

My Lords, I begin by picking up on a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves. I did not mean to suggest that we are not political animals. We are, and we should be, political animals; political parties are absolutely essential to the health of our political system. I hope that that means that I now have 100 per cent agreement from the noble Lord. I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, who made a point in that light, that I joined the Conservative Party when I was 13.

I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. The list of speakers today is notable for its quantity as well as its quality. The fact that so many of your Lordships have taken part in the debate on the last sitting day before Christmas is testimony to the importance that we attach to the subject. Some excellent points have been made, and I am very grateful to the Chairman of Committees for his detailed response.

It is clear from what has been said that this debate should be seen as part of a process rather than the start or the end of one. I very much endorse what the noble Lord, Lord Soley, has said, which the Chairman of Committees picked up on, about blogging and contributing to Lords of the Blog. Any noble Lords who have not yet seen it may wish to go to to see exactly what we are talking about and the contributions that have been made. May I also say how delighted I was by the speech of my noble friend Lord Renton and his proposal for an inquiry into this topic by the Information Committee? I hope that he will ensure that members of the public have an opportunity to contribute to that inquiry.

As I said, it has been an excellent debate. Very good points have been made, which I hope will feed into and allow us to build on what has already been achieved. As I said and as the Chairman of Committees has emphasised, we have achieved an awful lot already. It is a question of building on the strength of that and taking it further. It is clear from the debate that we recognise the importance of communicating with the public and enabling them to communicate with us. Let us take this further forward. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.

Royal Assent

The following Act was given Royal Assent:

Consolidated Fund Act 2008.


Motion to Adjourn

Moved by

My Lords, as we are at the end of business for the day, and indeed for the calendar year, it falls to me to move the Adjournment of the House for the Christmas break. Before I do so, however, as is traditional, my colleagues in the usual channels and I take this opportunity to pay tribute to the hard-working staff of the House: the clerks, the doorkeepers, the attendants, the Hansard writers and those whom we do not see who work below stairs, if you like—the cleaners, the cooks, the chefs—all those who keep this House working and enable us to do the job that we do. I pay tribute to them, as I am sure everyone in the House does.

This is not always an easy place in which to work, with its sometimes long and unpredictable hours. The staff must be flexible and committed, and I am constantly impressed by the qualities that they all display. Everyone who works here provides a world-class service, for which we should all be truly grateful. We should be particularly grateful that many members of staff are prepared to invest their whole careers here, building up incredible expertise in the work of the House and a terrific rapport with its Members.

I know that my opposite numbers in the other parties will pay tribute to some outstanding individuals, but I should like to focus on just one—Mr Stephen Ellison, who recently retired as Clerk of the Records, the head of the Parliamentary Archives. As Clerk of the Records from 1999, he instigated a major programme to modernise the Parliamentary Archives, which was done with great sensitivity. He can be proud that he transformed it into its present shape, which is used by everyone from Peers of the realm to family historians in Australia. During his time, among other things he managed the refurbishment of Victoria Tower to modern standards, the creation of an online catalogue and some spectacular exhibitions, including those on the Gunpowder Plot and the Act of Union, which many noble Lords, including me, were fascinated by and will remember for a long time.

Stephen also steered through the development of a records management service for both Houses. As a relative newcomer, I know how difficult it can be to make real change happen in this place, so his were very real, long-awaited and genuine achievements. Stephen joined the House of Lords Record Office, as it was known then, almost four decades ago, in 1969—I think that I was doing my O-levels—at the tender age of 18, so he really was here man and boy. But it started even earlier than that: as a baby he demonstrated an attraction to Parliament, eliciting a kiss from Winston Churchill in the 1951 general election campaign. No lasting damage was obviously done.

Stephen’s career in this House is a shining example to us all. He joined the House as a clerical officer and rose through the ranks to become the Clerk of the Records, in the process breaking through the glass ceiling that was undoubtedly present in the early years of his career. He combined this success with his love of skiing. His willingness to be more reckless with himself than he was with both Houses’ historic records and papers left him with an injury or two. He also made a lot of very good friends, as do we all, both personally and in the archive profession.

I am sure that all noble Lords will join me in wishing Stephen and his wife, Susie, whom he met while they were both working here—a House romance—a long and happy retirement. All that it remains for me to do is to wish all staff and all noble Lords, regardless of their politics, a well deserved break and a restful and enjoyable festive period.

My Lords, it is my pleasure and privilege to follow the noble Lord the Captain of the Gentleman-at-Arms in paying tribute to all staff of this House, both personally and on behalf of my colleagues on the Benches of Her Majesty’s Opposition. As the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said, we are extremely well served in this House at all levels. The details that he set out today are evidence of that across the board. I thank wholeheartedly the officers and doorkeepers for their patience, courtesy and assistance, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has said, often through very long and unpredictable days and nights. In addition, it is important to record the work of the police and fire staff, who all take great care to ensure our security. In the modern climate, that is a most difficult job to do day after day. We thank them all for keeping us safe. The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, has put on record the remarkable service of Mr Stephen Ellison, who recently retired as Clerk of the Records. I add my congratulations to his.

I should like to put on record today the remarkable service to this House of Mr Peter Davies, who retired as our Deputy Librarian on 16 September. Without superb Library staff, the quality of work carried out by Peers would suffer incalculable damage. We are fortunate indeed to have the first-class service of our staff in the Library. They respond to the varied and exacting requests of Peers with unfailing professionalism and expertise. Even when asked to produce the impossible by yesterday, they manage it.

The standard of service in the Library has been developed and maintained to meet the demands of the modern information technology age by the work of Mr Davies over the past 30 years. After completing a PhD at the London School of Economics, Peter joined the House of Lords in 1978 as a Senior Library Clerk, one of a team of just two in those days to answer Members’ research inquiries. Peter was appointed Deputy Librarian in 1991. He managed the Reader and Technical Services teams, the Library budget and business plans, all crucial work to ensure the provision of an effective service to Members. He played a lead role in strategic planning for the Library itself, ensuring that the standard of service for Members and other users is of the highest quality. He also represented the Library and the House as the public face of our work to external audiences. These activities brought him into direct contact with the House of Commons and a wide range of partner organisations such as those represented in the European Centre for Parliamentary Research and Documentation. I have been made aware that Mr Davies’s quiet dedication to the service of the House is already much missed.

Finally, like the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, I wish Members and all staff every happiness for the festive season, and health and happiness for the new year.

My Lords, I join both noble Lords in wishing the staff who run this building a happy festive season, and thank them for all their support. I always like to say something about the Hansard staff before I turn to individuals, for the simple reason that I am not sure whether I am a hindrance or a help to them because I do not use notes. But the fact is that they usually manage to make sense of what I say and apparently people read my speeches and enjoy them, so full credit to them.

I also pay tribute to the doorkeepers. On one occasion last year I forgot that I had some visitors coming to the House. I received the most polite but thorough reprimand that I have ever experienced in my life. I thank that sterling body of men and women who help us so much, and of course I thank all the rest of the staff.

I want to thank in particular Yvonne Williams, who started work in the catering department on 29 September 1973. If an army marches on its stomach, Parliament, shall we say, pontificates on its stomach. Anyone who has kept the people in this building fed for that many years has given sterling service. Yvonne was known universally as “Mum”, and someone who could generate that degree of affection deserves the respect of all. I hope that she enjoys her retirement, that she has a particularly good festive season, and that she goes on to do many interesting things in her retirement.

My Lords, it is that very happy time of the year again and I add my personal tributes and those of the Cross-Benchers to all those that have been paid today. I find that I tend to use the staff of the House rather more than anyone else. I am for ever asking things such as, “Who is speaking?” “How long will they speak?” “When will the vote come?” “When will the House be up?” “Have you found my lost brooch?” “Is there any way in which you can accommodate below Bar my newly arrived friend from New York?”. Nearly always the answer is yes. It is wonderful. I truly thank the staff around the House for their courtesy and generally good cheer in providing such a service for us.

In particular, I should like to mention two more retirees this year: Celia Choudri, who began work in 1995 as a general assistant and who more recently worked in the Peers’ Dining Room—many noble Lords will remember her—and Barbara Beadon, who began work in 1996 as a housekeeper and was promoted to team leader in 1999. She retires to Australia with her family. We wish them a very happy and well deserved retirement. On behalf of the Cross Benches, I wish them and all staff—including the Library staff, Hansard, doorkeepers, attendants, police, cleaners and the restaurant staff—a truly happy Christmas and a very good new year.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 5.39 pm.