Skip to main content

Lords Chamber

Volume 706: debated on Thursday 22 January 2009

House of Lords

Thursday, 22 January 2009.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chester.

Communications: Digital Britain Review

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what consultations they have had on the Digital Britain review; and when the interim report of that review will be published.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Question. Prior to the interim report, we have had seven steering board meetings with our 11 independent experts, eight formal presentations to the board, more than 30 research submissions, more than 100 engagements with more than 50 stakeholders, and detailed discussions with all three devolved Administrations and all nine regional development agencies. I will make a Statement to the House on publication of the interim report, but we will continue consulting up to the time of the final report.

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that very full Answer to my Question. Does he accept Ofcom’s analysis of the difficult situation facing ITV and the other commercial broadcasters and that there is a need for urgent action to resolve the difficulties facing those companies?

My Lords, the Government certainly accept Ofcom’s analysis of the challenge facing commercial public service broadcasting, which in the main is driven by two things: first, the decline in the value of traditional advertising and, therefore, the revenues generated by those businesses; and, secondly, the multiplication of other ways of watching and using content. We received the report yesterday and it will be part of the input into the Digital Britain process. Some very profound questions are raised, particularly for the publicly owned public service broadcasters, in particular, Channel 4 and the BBC. We will take the necessary time to come to the right answers.

My Lords, we all recognise the huge value of the digital and communications sector to the United Kingdom and look forward to the publication of this review. Will the Minister elaborate on what is being done to promote digital inclusion at a time when almost 17 million people across Britain do not have access to a computer, either at home or at work?

My Lords, I very much welcome that question. Notwithstanding the challenges facing public service broadcasting, the issue the noble Lord raises is the more profound, long-term question. There are still issues about absolute availability in this country of broadband services. We shall seek to address those and the related resilience and reliability issues. As the noble Lord rightly points out, there are very profound issues about the numbers of people participating, even when those services are available. The Government have done much work already on digital inclusion and there is a cross-government programme. The Government have also announced a specific initiative in relation to access through schools to families who are not participating. We intend to readdress some or all of those questions in the interim report. I would be disappointed if, when the noble Lord sees what we have to say, he did not feel that we were taking those issues seriously.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the creative industries today represent a beacon of light in the financial meltdown surrounding us, particularly with the opportunity for them to create and maintain jobs, given the unemployment problems? Does he accept that there is a suspicion—and indeed comment—that his Digital Britain review in these circumstances will be insufficiently far reaching and imaginative?

My Lords, let us not rush to judgment. I am sure that when the noble Lord sees the report he will be able to make his own analysis, as will others. The initiative that led the Prime Minister to commission this review was to try to produce an imaginative and, we hope, far-reaching piece of work. I could not agree more with the noble Lord’s comment about a beacon of light. Last night, I had the pleasure and privilege of making a speech to the creative and communication industries in the appropriately named National Treasures Room in the Natural History Museum. I made the point, which I reiterate to the House, that as we look at the economy and the issues facing it globally and domestically and look for industry sectors to step up to the plate to provide the economy and the country with the growth, success and leadership that financial services have provided for much of the past decade and more, the creative and communication industries must be at the head of the pack.

My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that coming after a report by Ofcom, on which there has been extensive consultation, there is a risk that his review could be seen as stalling, while still showing concern, and that any delay could prejudice the availability of commercial funding as it gets even scarcer?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that very fair question. The Ofcom report published yesterday was on an important, but specific, issue; namely, public service broadcasting. The Digital Britain report and review is to look across the entire digital communications industry. The first needs to be answered but it needs to be answered in the context of the second. On the broader point of whether it will have the effect of stalling, we are aiming to reach final and determinative conclusions by the early summer. That is a significantly fast pace.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one way to ensure that in future every household has broadband and, if possible, super broadband would be to use some of the money that will be taken from the sale of the analogue spectrum for that purpose?

My Lords, my noble friend will forgive me if I do not comment on spectrum hypothecation or the possible destination of the proceeds from spectrum sales. However, he made a critical point for public and government policy about how we make broadband services at the right speeds, and at speeds that have future, as opposed to current, capability, available and affordable to the entire country.

My Lords, does the Minister accept the estimate of £28.6 billion for the rollout of fibre to every home in the country? If he does, will the Government review the necessity of having universal rollout, which means that we will never get the fibre that is necessary in certain sectors of the economy?

My Lords, the noble Lord raises a question on which there are almost as many views as there are numbers attached to the cost. We have had many submissions from many sources about the cost of fibre deployment. Prior to the publication of the interim report, I shall say two things, but perhaps we can return to this question. First, most technologists say that future networks will be a mixture of fixed and wireless capabilities, rather than purely fixed, and the economics change significantly depending on how fibre is deployed and how interoperable those technologies are. Secondly, the market is already providing early, healthy signs of accelerated interest in fibre deployment. There are legitimate questions about whether the market will ever provide anything resembling universal availability, but initial deployment is beginning, and that is very welcome.

Planning

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they ensure that images submitted as part of planning applications for building developments are accurate.

My Lords, the Government’s guidance to local authorities on the validation of planning applications, published in December 2007, provides advice on the information that may be required to accompany planning applications. This can include the provision of photographs or photomontages. If there is any question over accuracy, local planning authorities have the right to request additional information.

My Lords, I am grateful for my noble friend’s reply, because it indicates slight movement since my previous exchange with her. Is she aware that computer-generated images of building or wind farm proposals superimposed on to wide-angle landscape photographs can give a misleading impression by minimising the apparent bulk, scale and height of developments, making them seem further away than they would be in reality? Why will the Government not insist that these images should at least comply with the Landscape Institute’s 2002 guidelines and show developments as the human eye sees them?

My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. We have tried in recent years, in simplifying the planning system and making it more accessible, to get a balance between being too prescriptive and enabling local authorities to take control of shaping local places. We have in recent months had the key recommendations from the Killian Pretty review, which looked at the process of planning as a whole, including information requirements, and made recommendations for improving information processes. As we put together our response, I propose to ensure that we address that question. In doing that, we will look at the Landscape Institute’s recommendations. That is the best answer that I can give my noble friend, but I will certainly keep him informed.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that an even more serious problem, in my view, is that of people ignoring the plan and building what they like? I have personal experience of that in both Oxfordshire and London, where the property being constructed pretty well on top of me has been built not in accordance with the plan. When I phoned the council to say so, it said, “That is perfectly all right. It is being built the right way”. Then, 18 months later, the council says, “It did not accord with the plans but, as it is now finished, we should not put people to the cost of redoing it”, so it grants retrospective permission. Is that not even worse than the false impression that might be created by digital drawings?

Yes, my Lords, I think that that is worse and I do not understand quite how it is happening. I cannot comment on individual applications, but the planning system is there to prevent such things and to regulate the process. If the noble Baroness gives me details, I will think about whether we can address it in other ways.

My Lords, the noble Baroness’s Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, was welcome but, following the question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is not the problem that the planning authority that approves the plans has no duty to ensure that those plans are carried out accurately when the development takes place? It has no duty to inspect automatically and routinely, but does so only after there have been complaints. Would it not be a good idea to give the local planning authority a duty to inspect developments as they are taking place to ensure that they are in accordance with approved plans?

My Lords, of course building regulations enable that element of planning to be accurately delivered, but the noble Lord raises an important point.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree that more information, including accurate and meaningful images, would give local authorities much-needed confidence to turn down bad schemes, as well as to approve good ones? How can she further this in general?

My Lords, the planning system has become more robust and transparent in recent years, so that people can find out what is planned. Having worked through the Planning Bill with me, my noble friend will know that we put in place much stronger provision for local planning authorities to have to consult on what they plan to do. Indeed, to give people more purchase on the system, we have a planning portal, which provides accessible and clear information about how the system works. That is extremely popular and is being well used. We require local authorities to have pre-application discussions with developers, so that they have better information about how the application will be processed and what the development will look like. The Killian Pretty review put forward a whole range of recommendations about how the system can engage better with local communities, statutory consultees and developers. So we are moving in the right direction.

My Lords, is not the Government’s failure to include a requirement for accurate images in the December 2007 guidance in breach of the law, given the Government’s obligation under the European Landscape Convention to integrate landscape matters fully into planning policies? Is not such a breach of the law enforceable by interested parties against individual planning authorities and the Government?

My Lords, we take our obligations under the European Landscape Convention very seriously. Although I agree with the noble Lord, I do not think that putting this into guidance is necessary or would satisfy any requirement that we are bound to. However, when we come to review the Killian Pretty recommendations and how we can address issues of images, we will look at the noble Lord’s question in the context of the Landscape Institute’s guidelines

My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that abuse of the system, which was the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner of Parkes, is fairly widespread? For example, in a number of national parks, planning permission is given but not monitored or enforced. Will she consider notifying the national parks in particular that they have a responsibility to make sure that the conditions attaching to planning permission that is granted are maintained and enforced?

My Lords, no one knows better than the noble Lord how the requirements relating to national parks are specific and different. If he would like to draw examples to my attention, I will look at them. He raises an important point, which I will discuss with the chief planner.

Piracy: Royal Navy

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the capability of the Royal Navy to safeguard United Kingdom trade routes against piracy and other illegal activities.

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 long-retired lowly officer of the Royal Naval Reserve and a member of the parliamentary naval association.

My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the families and friends of Marine Travis Mackin, Captain Tom Sawyer, Corporal Danny Winter and Acting Corporal Richard Robinson, who were killed on operations in Afghanistan recently.

The Royal Navy has already had demonstrable success in tackling piracy and illegal activities around the Horn of Africa, which is a vital artery of world trade.  The best effect can be achieved by operating in the multinational partnerships, Operation Atalanta and the combined maritime force. However, these problems cannot be tackled solely within the maritime environment, and we must continue to work with the international community to tackle them at their roots through the provision of humanitarian and development assistance.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply and join her in the condolences that she has offered. Does the United Kingdom have a data centre for long-range identification and tracking—LRIT—and, if not, does she agree that an estimated 1,000 British merchant ships would be trading but would not be LRIT-compliant, opening up those ships and, indeed, the United Kingdom to security violations? Is she aware—I am certain that she is—that Royal Navy manpower is down by some 6,500, or 14 per cent, and that the fighting fleet is down by some 29 ships, or 25 per cent, since 1997? Does she agree with me about the law of elasticity—that when a property is overstretched, it breaks and can no longer do its job?

My Lords, we have made it clear on a number of occasions that while we regard our Armed Forces as stretched, we do not accept that they are overstretched. Our contribution to tackling problems such as piracy is extremely important. The noble Lord will be aware that the first EU naval task force is headed by a British commander and its headquarters are at Northwood. On data tracking, we should place significant emphasis on international co-operation; that is the basis on which we are working under, of course, the umbrella of United Nations resolutions.

My Lords, I join those on these Benches in the earlier tribute. Clearly, the payment of ransom encourages further piracy. Are the Government or the international community taking active steps to discourage owners of vessels that have been captured paying a ransom, and does the maritime force have any instructions to make the physical handover of any ransom that much more difficult?

My Lords, the Government are against the paying of ransoms in such circumstances, which we have made clear. The majority of our international partners agree with that. It is an area where the greater the level of international co-operation, the more likely we are to get to a situation where we are all pursuing the common objective. It is important that we emphasise that we are not only dealing with incidents of piracy but trying to prevent these incidents happening in the first place. Again, co-operation has been extremely important.

My Lords, does my noble friend accept that, in safeguarding our trade routes, if we capture pirates there needs to be an urgent resolution of how and where we bring those pirates to trial so that there is proper retribution for their illegal acts?

My Lords, my noble friend is right. Piracy is a crime of universal jurisdiction and any state is entitled, as a matter of international law, to prosecute anyone who has been involved in piracy. It is an area where we are considering whether we need to change our domestic law. But the agreement we made with Kenya on 11 December last year will be extremely helpful, because it has agreed to take and to try pirates who were captured in one incident and that is to be extended should the situation arise again.

My Lords, what inhibitions are there of either a practical or a legal nature which would be an impediment towards the arming of some of these massive tankers with weaponry that is appropriate and adequate to repel attacks from small boats?

My Lords, there can be a danger in private-armed situations, which is why we have placed our emphasis on international co-operation to police these waters, to try to deter and to prevent incidents of piracy. So far those have been extremely successful, but we should not be complacent because the threats are very real, specifically in that part of the world.

My Lords, following the very good point made by the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson, let us assume that a piracy attack on a British merchant vessel is intercepted by a Royal Naval vessel and pirates are captured. I would assume that there would be no other place where those pirates could be tried other than in the United Kingdom. Perhaps they come from Somaliland and the worry would be that they will claim political asylum. How do we get around that?

My Lords, that is precisely why we have developed the agreement such as the one I mentioned we have with Kenya. HMS “Cumberland” apprehended pirates and we had the agreement with Kenya, which means that they are now to stand trial in that country. There are difficulties. We are aware of the danger of bringing pirates here who would want to claim political asylum, which is why we are looking at our domestic laws. Our arrangement with Kenya provides us with a satisfactory situation at the moment.

My Lords, we join the Minister in sending our condolences to the families of the servicemen who were tragically killed in Afghanistan. I understand that the Chinese are sending two warships to the Gulf of Aden to combat piracy. Will they be attached to the EU combined task force or the US one, or will they act independently?

My Lords, the noble Lord is right to say that there are several aspects to the international effort on piracy and the Chinese have recently indicated their willingness to help in this situation. We are trying to make sure that we have an international contact group so that those countries that wish to make a positive contribution can do so.

We have had extremely good co-operation between the NATO force that was in the area until December and the EU mission that we now have, as well as the combined maritime force which has been ongoing for some time. We are extremely hopeful that the Chinese will wish to participate in the co-operating mechanisms to make sure that we maximise the effort and international co-operation.

Gaza

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will ask the Government of Israel to contribute to the reconstruction of infrastructure and housing in Gaza.

My Lords, we would welcome an Israeli contribution to the wider reconstruction effort, and indeed we agree that Israel should feel that there is a responsibility on itself to contribute. The most essential Israeli action that we continue to press for is the immediate free and unhindered passage of humanitarian aid, construction materials and the staff of UN agencies and international NGOs through the Gaza crossings.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for that detailed, helpful and positive Answer. What Zeb Brzezinski described yesterday as a “massacre” has resulted in the lives of thousands of Palestinian families being ruined, some tragically for ever, including those who are now severely disabled as a result of their wounds. Does the Minister agree that Israel need feel no shame in making amends for what has happened as part of the peace process by making full financial restitution and compensation to the victims and providing aid both for the reconstruction of over 20,000 buildings, and, in particular, in respect of more than 400 children who have been killed? That will be part of the peace process.

My Lords, I certainly agree with the broad direction of the sentiment. There is a well understood practice at the end of a war that a country contributes towards reconstruction. The same point was raised only last night by the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, in the House. However, I do not want to imply that there is a responsibility under international law to pay for that reconstruction. As part of the peace process, it clearly would have enormous value and would be a healing step.

My Lords, does my noble friend agree with the European Union, the United Nations and Israel that the reconstruction effort in Gaza should be led by the legitimate Palestinian Authority rather than by Hamas? What talks have our Government had with Egypt and others, in view of the upcoming reconstruction conference, about bringing the Palestinian factions together to enable the Palestinian Authority to perform this essential function for their people in Gaza?

My Lords, as the elected head of the Palestinian Authority, President Abbas does indeed represent Palestinians on this issue. However, he and his own colleagues have made it clear that it is important that reconstruction and all activities in the Palestinian territories should be led as soon as possible by a Government of national unity under the Palestinian Authority flag, representing the citizens of Gaza as well as those of the West Bank.

My Lords, I am following on from the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Janner. Can we make sure that, in our contribution to UN thinking on this, the proposal of Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon for an international committee to oversee reconstruction in Gaza—it is, of course, desperately needed, whoever contributes, Israel or anyone else—so that the driving force really is to achieve what we all want: a single Palestinian state, a united Palestine? Surely that is not only the aim, but perhaps also the opportunity as one tries to pick up the pieces after this horrific tragedy.

My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord would agree that I can add to his words not just the aim and opportunity but the necessity for this. The cycle of reconstruction followed by renewed violence and destruction is one that all in this House feel must be broken this time.

My Lords, the most immediate need is humanitarian. Financial and reconstruction help comes next. We must say to Israel that it is time to be generous and to open the crossings between Israel and Gaza. Further, since we know that many civilians have undoubtedly been injured, Israel should offer them medical and hospital assistance. Can the Minister press on Israel the need for generosity and the extent to which such generosity is in Israel’s long-term enlightened interests?

My Lords, before addressing the broader point, I can assure the noble Lord that this week the crossings at Kerem Shalom, Nahal Oz, Rafah, Erez and Karni were opened. On 20 January, the date for which we have the latest statistics, significant numbers of truckloads of humanitarian goods were able to enter Gaza, both through Karem Shalom and via the Karni conveyor belt, in addition to ambulances passing through the Rafah crossing. That is encouraging. However, we are more dismayed to see that there does not yet to seem to be easy movement of either diplomatic or international NGO staff through the crossings to support the delivery of assistance.

On the noble Lord’s broader point, he knows that I share with him completely the view that this is a time for Israel to exercise statesmanship, to open up and move forward on this and to show within that statesmanship an element of contrition.

My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that the time has now come for EUBAM to be reinstated at Rafah, so that people can move in both directions?

My Lords, the Prime Minister made it clear in his meetings at Sharm el-Sheikh and Jerusalem at the weekend that we would very much support its use at the Rafah crossing and extend it to other crossings, if that was the way to build trust and get the movement of goods going.

European Communities (Definition of Treaties) (Agreements concluded under Article XXI GATS) Order 2009

Postponement of Local Elections (Northern Ireland) Order 2009

Northern Ireland Assembly (Elections) (Amendment) Order 2009

Motion to Refer to Grand Committee

Moved By

Motion agreed.

Drugs

Debate

Moved By

To call attention to the 1998 United Nations Declaration on Countering the World Drug Problem and the 10-year review in Vienna in March 2009; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, in proposing the Motion for this morning’s debate, my aim is to provide support to the Government in making maximum use of the window of opportunity provided by the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs session to be held in Vienna in March. I am aware of the geopolitical backdrop to the consideration of the UN conventions, which provide the framework for the criminalisation regime that has been in place for 40 years across the world.

I want at the outset to recognise and congratulate our Foreign Office officials who, I understand, have been playing an important role in developing a helpful EU position paper on drug control. They have been working in the context of the Bush Administration’s position of full support for criminalisation in what is described as the “drugs war”.

Just before I came into the Chamber, I was handed the EU position paper. I have not had a chance to do more than glance at it during Questions, for which I apologise, but I can refer to two brief statements in it. The first is that, in future, scientific evidence and results should be the basis for formulating drug policies. I warmly welcome that statement in a EU document, because it is precisely my position and I feel that it has not been the position of the Bush Administration, who have dominated this debate for many years now. Secondly, the EU position paper states that the health principle has not received sufficient attention in the past. I hope that every Member of the House would support that point and many others in this important document.

The new US president provides new hope in this important policy area, along with so many others. Perhaps I can be allowed a few seconds to offer my humble but heartfelt congratulations to Barack Obama on his extraordinary victory. He posted on his website, on his first day in office, a string of commitments. One of those commitments, believe it or not, had to do with moving to a drug reduction and health focus in drugs policy. I find it remarkable that this man, on day one, refers to what we are talking about in this debate. I could go into detail but I think that I have said enough to make the point.

Just as President Obama wants to relegate the phrase “the war on terror” to the history books, I believe that he may replace the “drugs war” with a harm-reduction approach in the future. Sadly, the March commission meeting is too early to benefit substantially from this new and radical Administration in the United States. However, everyone at that commission should take account of that day-one commitment by the new president, and everything that it puts in its declaration should be influenced by that new approach.

To avoid any misunderstanding, I make it clear that I regard narcotic drugs as dangerous, particularly so for people with severe mental health problems. My concern is that the current punitive regime increases those dangers considerably. Our aim must be to reverse the relentless rise in the serious harm caused by these drugs. This debate is just one small step along a very long road, but if we do not take steps we will certainly never arrive at our destination.

The slogan for the UN’s 10-year strategy of 1998 was:

“A drug-free world—we can do it!”,

which is reminiscent of Barack Obama, no less. However, since the first UN convention outlawed narcotic drugs, their use has risen by 300 per cent. We have to recognise that the UN slogan is not realistic. Human beings have always used mind-changing substances and surely always will. As many informed experts in this field have said, the task is therefore to find the best regime for limiting so far as possible the harm caused by these substances.

In a very helpful meeting with the noble Lord, Lord Brett, this week, he reminded us of the political constraints limiting the Government’s ability to come out with clear statements and policies in this area. Our Government will want to tread carefully. Nothing can be achieved quickly. I respect all of that.

So what do we want from our Ministers? The first step would be to send a senior Minister to the Vienna commission meeting in March, but my understanding is that the plan is to send a junior Minister. There is no doubt that in an international meeting the seniority of the government Minister representing a country affects the seriousness with which that country is taken and the influence that it can have.

My understanding is that the EU is pressing for the unintended consequences of the criminalisation regime to be recognised in the declaration of the UN commission. I was looking for the words in the document, but they are obviously hidden somewhere; however, I understand that this is what the EU is committed to. Our first request to Ministers is that the UK draws particular attention to the enormity of the unintended consequences and hidden costs of the current regime in our ministerial speech to the commission. I would be grateful if the Minister today could give me some assurance on that. We also request that the Minister at the commission goes out of his or her way to press for the inclusion of a reference to unintended consequences in the declaration. It is great to have this sort of commitment in Europe, but now, with Barack Obama as President of the US, I cannot see any reason why this declaration cannot be a little more radical than it would otherwise have been.

The unintended consequences and hidden costs of the regime are well known, but it is worth summarising them briefly for the record. Violent criminal entrepreneurs now control a criminal market in narcotic drugs worth £300 billion a year. Think how much Governments would welcome that money right now to help us with the banking crisis. Property crime and prostitution are massively inflated by the needs of low-income dependent drug users to feed their habit. The Government estimate that this small population of dependent heroin and cocaine users is now responsible for 54 per cent of robberies and 70 to 80 per cent of burglaries—how much better we would sleep in our beds if those burglaries were reduced by anything like that number—as well as 85 per cent of shoplifting and 95 per cent of street prostitution. Of course this situation applies across the globe. Researchers have estimated that half the crime in the US can be put down to the sellers of drugs or people on drugs trying to steal money to feed their habit.

The current regime inspired by the UN conventions criminalises millions of otherwise law-abiding people and makes an unparalleled contribution to our prison overcrowding. The Government’s No. 10 Strategy Unit estimated that drug-motivated crime resulting from the current criminalising regime costs this country £19 billion a year, which is one-third of the total cost of UK crime.

The risks of these narcotic drugs are increased by the unregulated gangsters and drug dealers, who have no incentive to ensure that the drugs are clean and pure. Governments have no method of controlling the purity of these drugs, whose danger is therefore vastly greater than even that of the original drug.

The Taliban and al-Qaeda are making vast profits from the international drug trade. As Anatole Kaletsky points out, our efforts to promote economic development, education and political reconstruction in Helmand province are failing because the local people do not trust us. They see us as alien interlopers, taking away their one opportunity to make money, which is by growing drugs.

If the UN commission’s declaration in March openly discussed these unintended consequences and hidden costs of the current regime, it would take the world an important step forward. We have given the 1961 UN convention 40 years to prove that it can be effective in reducing the use of—or, ideally, eliminating—drugs, but the opposite has happened: the use of drugs has increased year by year for 40 years.

My second request is that the UK Minister’s speech at the Vienna meeting pushes the envelope on the limited feasibility available under the UN conventions. Countries are permitted to avoid using penal punishments. Some countries are already using civil penalties or flexing the UN rules to introduce regulation. I hope that our Minister will make clear UK support for evaluated pilots of alternative approaches to the control of drug use. This is crucial. Once we have evidence that alternatives to criminalisation can work, we can ask our politicians to come out of the cupboard and promote alternatives to criminalisation.

Already, we have some useful examples—it is not that no evidence is available. Portugal decriminalised possession of drugs for personal use and has taken a health-led approach. It has lower levels of use and misuse than the UK. Surely that is indicative. The Netherlands decriminalised possession of cannabis for personal use and de facto decriminalised possession of other drugs for personal use. It, too, has lower levels of drug misuse than the UK. Switzerland has had a successful, legally regulated and controlled supply of heroin for 1,400 addicts via clinics that also provide psychosocial support. This policy has the majority support of the population. Once you can prove that you can do it, the population will come behind you. The UK has heroin prescription trials. So far, participants have reduced criminal acts from 40 per month to six. Let us just think of the positive implications of that policy if we were to extend it across the country. Do the Government plan to do that?

We know that Julian Critchley, the former director of the Cabinet Office’s anti-drugs unit, came to believe that regulation would be less harmful than the current strategy. He went into that job with no policy on drugs, but once he understood the situation, he came out in favour of regulation rather than criminalisation. It is interesting that he said that his views were shared by the “overwhelming majority” of professionals, including police, health service workers and members of the Government. The problem is that Ministers, understandably, will not come out on this issue until we have the evidence to support them. That is the purpose of today’s debate.

I recognise that this is a tricky and difficult topic for Ministers, so the first step must be to pilot alternative approaches. If regulation would lead to reduction in the harm from narcotic drugs—and there is some evidence that it would, as I have said—Governments need to move forward urgently with pilots and research to build the evidence base to support a new UN convention. If we continue with the current regime, we can expect an illicit drugs market worth £1.6 trillion in 10 years’ time. Surely we must avert that catastrophic situation. With our Ministers’ commitment, the UN commission just might start the ball rolling. I beg to move.

My Lords, the whole House is very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for introducing this debate. It is a very rare sort of debate in your Lordships' House. Indeed, I have a suspicion that if the noble Baroness had not introduced it, the Government in the form of its junior Minister might have slipped off to Vienna without consulting any of us. That is partly the problem that we have had. All these things have been organised and arranged behind closed doors, between Governments, for 30 or 40 years—and we can see where that has got us.

Where the United Nations thought it was going to get us was to what it was going to call a drug-free world. Looking back on that now, after 10 years, we can see that that was a slightly ambitious idea. It will be interesting to see what the UN claims in Vienna in March; there is a temptation for it to say that it looks as if drug use may have stabilised in some parts of the world. Maybe it has, actually—it was going to stabilise in the end, somewhere. But if it has stabilised, it has done so at far too high a level, one that is too expensive in many ways, both personally and economically, for society to stand, and which must be reduced further. I hope that the UN does not claim that as a success, as I do not think that it has much to do with that stability anyway.

I hope that the failure of the concentration on supply controls will be talked about and admitted, because that is really where the whole problem lies. The noble Baroness alluded to some of the costs; here in Britain, the crime cost of drugs alone is about £19 billion every year. But there are even wider costs, which will be reflected in every other country in the world, in different ways, but in some countries in an even worse way. Colombia is now what you might as well describe as a narco-state; it is a country entirely dependent on, run by and ruined by the narcotics industry. Meanwhile, what can one say about Afghanistan? The sad business is that in going in there and trying to sort it out, the allies have made the situation in respect of the drugs trade and therefore the economics of that country significantly worse. It really has been an absolute policy disaster, and one of which we should be deeply ashamed. Then there is Mexico, which would not have been on this list two or three years ago. It is quite clear now that one of the most important countries in the Americas, which bridges the two continents, north and south, is now rapidly descending into a narcotic state, with 8,000 people killed in the past two years there as a result of the American war on drugs.

As the noble Baroness said, we have a new man in the White House, and a new mood in America—one of great enthusiasm and optimism. As practically every commentator has said in the past few days, that new man in the White House is going to find that he has rather a heavy in-tray. Everybody talks about the two wars that lie in his in-tray, in Afghanistan and Iraq; of course, there is the third war, the war on drugs, which has been going on a great deal longer and has cost a great deal more money and lives, while producing absolutely no results.

We had a similar moment of hope and celebration in Britain, about 10 years ago. I remember when Mr Blair was elected Prime Minister, although clearly I am not of his party. I remember the day when he was elected and he was walking down Whitehall, when there was a mood of optimism and celebration in the country. I thought that at least one of the things that enthusiastic young Prime Minister would do, of my generation, would be to look at this difficult, awkward and complex issue of drugs with a new pair of eyes—a clean, younger pair of eyes—from a generation that understands it. Sadly, like so many of the great issues of 1997, Mr Blair ducked and sidestepped it.

It is important that we try to find ground that we have in common. This is not an adversarial debate; nor should it be a party-political debate. Everyone, on all sides of both Houses, would like to see a reduction in drug use and the harm caused by drugs. Nobody wants to be soft on drugs but, increasingly, fewer and fewer people want a war on drugs, either. The only beneficiaries of wars on drugs are the drug dealers, who make huge amounts of money out of them, and the main casualties of the wars on drugs are our young people and their families.

At the same time as the meeting in Vienna in March, the various NGOs came together and produced a report, Beyond 2008 Declaration. It is a wordy document. It is signed by 500 NGOs from 116 countries and 65 international NGOs. It will not surprise noble Lords that they have not, in their declaration, used one word where 25 will do, so it takes quite a lot of reading. They have said, in a very polite and NGO-ish way: “This is all very well, UN, but please take the focus off supply reduction and on to demand reduction”. This means treatment, education and prevention. At the risk of boring this House, the only way that we will ever really resolve the drug issue is through prevention. We still spend less than 10 per cent of the country’s drugs budget on prevention. We still spend well over 50 per cent on trying to control a health problem using the criminal justice system, which clearly cannot work.

Times are changing. The recent debate in your Lordships’ House on the reclassification of cannabis showed that if nothing else. Two former Secretaries of State spoke out against prohibition and in favour of looking at a regulatory form of control, something that would not have happened several years ago. Today’s debate could not have taken place in this House 10 years ago. I know; I tried to do it. The leader of my party has talked and written much about what he calls the “broken society”. It is perfectly clear that the single biggest cause of the breakage of our society is drugs. I hope we realise that dragging children before the courts in the West, firing phosphorous at farmers in Colombia and pouring billions of dollars into an unwinnable war in Afghanistan are not the answers to these problems.

In our last two debates on this subject, the Minister was, frankly, incapable of answering the questions that your Lordships posed to him. The brief that he was given simply did not cover the subjects that your Lordships wished to address. The Government had not even looked at what Members of this House were looking at. They were speaking in different languages. As I said, this is not a party-political debate. This is not a criticism of the Government. The debate is gathering speed, the language has changed and the Government have been left behind. They will be left even further behind by the new presidency in the United States. We will watch and listen to the Minister’s reply politely and encouragingly, but the House will note very carefully whether or not it is an adequate reply, because that is what we now need.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Meacher for bringing this important UN declaration to your Lordships’ notice. I quote from the declaration:

“Drugs destroy lives and communities, undermine sustainable human development and generate crime. Drugs affect all sectors of society in all countries; in particular, drug abuse affects the freedom and development of young people, the world’s most valuable asset. Drugs are a grave threat to the health and well-being of all mankind”.

I agree wholeheartedly with this statement by the states members of the United Nations. Some years ago, one of my goddaughters died of a drug overdose mixed with alcohol. She was a vivacious young woman, a graduate of Oxford University. She had been through treatment three times. At her funeral, the church was full of young people. On another occasion, the only son of a friend of ours killed himself in a car crash. He was high on cocaine and alcohol. Again, at his funeral, the church was full of even younger shocked friends.

When one witnesses these tragic young deaths, one feels helpless at the waste of lives which could have had such hopeful futures if not for the scourge of drug and alcohol misuse. Controlling and preventing drug abuse must be the greatest challenge across the world for all responsible countries. The United Nations should have all the support it can get on this. Item 10 of the UN’s political declaration expresses,

“deep concern about links between illicit drug production, trafficking and involvement of terrorist groups, criminals and transnational organized crime”,

and resolves,

“to strengthen our cooperation in response to those threats”.

This is a huge and dangerous task. The production of drugs seems a most complex matter. I am told that the Taliban in Afghanistan kept drug production down. Now, however, production has risen again, and some of the warlords are the biggest drug barons. It seems a no-win situation.

If there were no drugs or alcohol in our society, about two-thirds of the young offender institutions might be empty. When I started as a member of a board of visitors, now called monitors, it was for an open establishment for young people aged 15 to 21. Alcohol was always a problem for them. Now, however, it is a closed prison with a very high fence for inmates of 15 to 18. Most of them have been involved with drugs. So many of them leave, some still of school age, without family support or a supportive community. What hope have they of staying out of trouble?

I cannot agree that making all drugs legal would solve the problem. We have witnessed the problem of addiction from over-the-counter and prescribed drugs that are legal. It is a coincidence that the All-Party Parliamentary Drugs Misuse Group launched its inquiry into physical dependence and addiction to prescription and over-the-counter medication on Tuesday this week. As an officer of the group who heard evidence, I recommend this inquiry to your Lordships. I hope that the recommendations will be taken up by the Government and PCTs. I congratulate our chairman, Dr Brian Iddon, Member of Parliament for Bolton South East, who I consider to be one of the hardest working MPs, and Gemma Reay, Brian’s parliamentary researcher, for producing the inquiry’s report in its comprehensive and readable form. It took some hard work to produce.

It was the quotation of the press kit to the 2006 International Narcotics Control Board annual report, published by the United Nations Information Service on 1 March 2007, that persuaded Brian that the APPG should conduct this inquiry:

“The abuse and trafficking of prescription drugs is set to exceed illicit drug abuse, warned the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) in its Annual Report released today (1 March 2007). The Board added that medication containing narcotic drugs and/or psychotropic substances is even a drug of first choice in many cases, and not abused as a substitute. Such prescription drugs have effects similar to illicit drugs when taken in inappropriate quantities and without medical supervision. The ‘high’ they provide is comparable to practically every illicitly manufactured drug”.

We found that addiction to over-the-counter painkillers is becoming a serious health problem. More than 30,000 people may depend on drugs containing codeine, with middle-aged women most at risk. Some are taking more than 70 pills a day, putting themselves in danger of liver dysfunction, stomach disorders, gallstones, constipation and depression. We found that the internet was making it easier for people to buy bulk supplies of drugs, including Solpadeine and Nurofen Plus. We found that many doctors were unaware of the problem, and that addicts were rarely given adequate support. These benzodiazepine drugs are supposed to be taken for four-week periods only, yet some GPs keep patients on them for years. We hope that there will be stronger regulation of internet pharmacies and that GPs and pharmacists will have training in spotting addicts. Restricting the availability of codeine over the counter is very important. I personally met two splendid women who ran tranquilliser help groups, one in Yorkshire and one in Humberside. I do not know whether they are still in operation as I know that funding was a problem. This type of addiction can lead to suicide. Would it not be possible for PCTs to help with the funding, as it needs to be local and near people’s homes? There is much to be done across the world and near to home. I hope that this debate will make many people more aware of this scourge of addiction, which causes misery to so many people.

My Lords, I speak in support of my noble friend Lady Meacher and congratulate her on her excellent presentation. I was also pleased to hear the speeches of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, who both have a lot of experience in this very difficult field.

The United Nations has taken a significant interest in the global drugs problem going back to as long ago as 1946, and more particularly since 1988, when the UN met under the slogan “A drug free world, we can do it!” to announce its support for the global prohibition of narcotic drugs and psychotropic substances. Since then, there has been a total refusal to admit that prohibition has been a failure, as exemplified by the following extract from the executive director’s report following last year’s meeting of UNODC in Vienna, in which he claims:

“Member states have made significant progress over the past 10 years in implementing the goals and targets set at the twentieth special session of the General Assembly, but that, in a number of areas and regions, Member States have not yet fully attained the goals and targets agreed in the Political Declaration adopted at that session”.

In other words, all is well. Prohibition is still the rule.

While it is beneficial in theory that member states have an agreed common policy on the drugs problem, it is beneficial only if the policy is successful in solving the problem. If it does not solve the problem, it is likely to be counterproductive in that it inhibits experimentation of other possible ways of tackling the problem. This is clearly what is actually happening. The United Nations’ policies are inhibiting experimentation.

I am one of those who is shocked by the statistic that the drugs trade is the second largest international market after oil and is totally in the hands of criminals. I find it hard to understand how sophisticated democratic Governments can tolerate this situation. Decriminalisation and regulation of the drugs market would disenfranchise the criminal fraternity and generate substantial tax revenue, which would be available to finance rehabilitation and harm reduction facilities. It would ensure quality control and finance a publicity campaign stressing the dangers to health of drug abuse. We have managed to reduce massively the use of tobacco, without making it illegal, and there is no logic for treating drugs differently from tobacco and alcohol.

I come back to the role of the United Nations and to the forthcoming Vienna convention. The UK participates in its own right and as a member of the European Union. Clearly, it is unrealistic to expect radical changes in core policies, but there is one proposal that our Government’s representative could discuss with our European colleagues, with a view to putting it jointly to the convention: the UN should establish an international commission with a specific brief to explore alternative strategies and to produce a report within a fixed period. Such a commission should have as wide a brief as possible. As part of its research, the commission will obviously examine the experiences of countries and regions such as the Netherlands, Portugal, Switzerland, Canada and South Australia, which, in spite of UN rules, have experimented in one way or another with the drugs problem. If such a commission proved unacceptable to the UN, it could perhaps be acceptable at the European level as a starter.

The important challenge is to get the drugs debate out into the open, free of discredited dogma and evidence-based in its conclusions. A properly constituted UN research commission could achieve this.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on initiating this debate. This topic has enormous implications, a huge impact on individuals, families, communities and states, and on economic and social policy worldwide, yet is so little considered and so little debated in this Parliament. I am most grateful to the noble Baroness.

I want to concentrate on some of the consequences of the UN system of drug control and suggest that it should be brought firmly within the United Nations human rights framework. I declare an interest as a senior research fellow in the International Centre for Prison Studies at King’s College London, which produced a toolkit for the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime in conjunction with the WHO and UNAIDS on the prevention of HIV and AIDS in places of detention. This is, of course, relevant, because drug users injecting in prisons put themselves at great risk of contracting hepatitis and HIV by sharing needles.

I speak from the perspective of someone who is connected with prisons and has visited them in many parts of the world, and I have been involved in criminal justice reform in some very poor countries. From that perspective, the current international regime on drugs, which emphasises law enforcement too much, harm reduction too little and human rights not at all, has been highly counterproductive.

The prisons of the world are full of people who are there because they have been in possession of small amounts of banned substances or because they need a constant supply of such substances to make their lives possible, and they engage in other crimes to sustain that. Some are there, of course, because selling these substances is their business, their daily work, although I have to say that only the lowest levels of this business enterprise seem to end up in the world’s prisons. Many of these people are sick, mentally or physically, or both.

The prison population of the world is rising, and has increased from 8 million in 1999 to 9.8 million now. A reasonable estimate is that between one-fifth and one-quarter of these people are in prison because of activities connected with the illegality of drugs. Overcrowding is increasing; 110 out of the world’s 218 prison systems for which we have information are overcrowded. I have often seen rooms with 50 bunk beds, three high, holding more than 120 prisoners. I have seen and, I may add, smelt them. In some places, prisoners sleep standing up, tied to window bars; they even suffocate because of prison overcrowding. Many come to prison not using drugs, but leave doing so. The illegality of those substances opens up many opportunities for corruption, in prison systems already prone to deep-seated corruption.

The effect on prison life is to increase the dangers and violence—the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, mentioned Mexico, in whose prisons there are drug gang murders almost every week—and to increase the spread of disease through the sharing of needles. The battle to stop illegal drugs from coming in leads the authorities to take measures that greatly worsen prisoners’ treatment, requiring them to urinate in front of prison staff, for example, to ensure that samples are not falsified for drug testing, while grilles are put up between prisoners and family members who visit.

Counternarcotics laws that criminalise possession and use have created considerable problems in criminal justice systems around the world. In countries where poor people have no access to medicine or painkillers, substances that have been used for generations become illegal under counternarcotics laws, yet no affordable substitutes are available. According to the House of Commons International Development Select Committee, in Afghanistan,

“in the absence of readily available alternative medication”,

opium

“is often used as an analgesic and even to tackle teething problems in babies”.

Whole swathes of a country’s population are thus criminalised.

That criminalisation fills the prisons of such countries with people at the lowest level of drug activity, leaves the highest level of the market untouched and further impoverishes poor people. Then, the drug control system discourages harm reduction measures, such as issuing clean needles. If we issued them, say the prison administration, we would be condoning a crime. Therefore, for these and a number of other reasons, we urgently need a change in the UN regime—one that brings the UN drug control system within the UN human rights framework, reaffirming the right of all to,

“the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health”,

as the UN international covenant says.

Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime, pleaded for a new approach at the meeting, last March, of the Commission on Narcotic Drugs. He said that as a result of the control system,

“public health, which is clearly the first principle of drug control … was displaced into the background”.

He said:

“A system appears to have been created in which those who fall into the web of addiction find themselves excluded and marginalised from the social mainstream, tainted with a moral stigma and, often, unable to find treatment even when they may be motivated to want it”.

He also said:

“The concept of harm reduction is often made into an unnecessarily controversial issue, as if there were a contradiction between … prevention and treatment on one hand and … reducing the adverse health and social consequences of drug use on the other”.

He called for the drug conventions to,

“proceed with due regard to health and human rights”.

I was glad to hear what my noble friend Lady Meacher said about President Obama’s website. Now that we have had regime change in the United States, and the Foreign Secretary’s excellent speech explaining why it was a mistake to see ourselves as engaged in a war on terror, can we stop having a war on drugs? I know, from experience, that when the UK Government decide to work hard at an international level to achieve a good outcome, they are very effective and successful. The progress of the Optional Protocol to the Convention against Torture is testament to that. This is an area where such commitment is vital, and I hope that the Minister will take that message on board today.

My Lords, the House owes a great debt of gratitude to my noble friend Lady Meacher for introducing this debate. It is very opportune because we do not have a great deal of time in which to persuade the EU to take a different approach before the meeting in Vienna this year.

I should at this point sit down, saying merely that I agree with every word spoken by my noble friends Lady Meacher, Lady Stern and Lord Cobbold and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft. No doubt others will continue this theme.

I understand that the Chinese were the first to pin their faith on prohibition to control opium, in 1792. The penalty for keeping an opium den was strangulation, which I dare say was quite effective in individual cases. However, noble Lords will recall that 30 years later the opium wars erupted because of officially sanctioned British smuggling of opium from India to China in defiance of China’s drug laws. China’s defeat in both wars left its Government with no option but to tolerate the opium trade. It is always as well to remind ourselves that it was the British that pushed the opium. The worldwide, highly successful, illegal drug industry—tolerated, if not sanctioned by some Governments—now controls the provision and sale of drugs of all kinds, as we have heard, and the United Nations concordat has failed to stop the industry’s growth. There has to be a better way.

Despite some of our well developed drug policies, strategies and services, the UK has an unusually severe drug problem compared with our European neighbours. The problem is that we simply do not know enough about which elements of the Government’s drugs strategy are working—or how they work, if they do. There is insufficient independent rigorous research and analysis to inform the development of policy, and political and media debates are often ill-informed and polarised. We talk about being tough or soft on drugs, but neither phrase is appropriate. Undoubtedly, the political climate stifles innovation. Our aim should be to minimise overall harms that drugs do to individuals, their families and society and to keep an open mind about all kinds of approaches informed by proper research.

Last year, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs reviewed progress over the previous 10 years and launched a period of “global reflection”. That will culminate in the 2009 ministerial segment in Vienna to discuss the future direction of policy. In 10 years, we have seen no reduction in harm; rather, we have seen the profound damage done to individuals and society by the current criminalisation policy. That has led to an extraordinary imbalance in public spending, not just here but abroad. The November 2008 annual report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction attempted to collect public finance statistics across Europe relating to the balance of expenditure. It has been very hard for the centre to get accurate figures but it estimates that annual expenditure currently amounts to about €34 billion. The vast majority of it, as we have heard, is spent on prisons and police activity, with less than 7 per cent being spent on health. In the UK, less than 0.5 per cent is spent on research into effective prevention policies, treatment approaches or, indeed, policy research. There are no figures to indicate how much is spent on education. The monitoring centre simply does not record it and nor do the Government here. That must give us pause to rethink in the way that my noble friend Lady Meacher advocates.

There is evidence, albeit generally weak and mostly from overseas, of some prevention programmes which work and which could be used to develop interim strategies, but we need far better evaluation. It is far from clear whether current enforcement practice reduces harms at all or whether it represents value for money. So I say again that there is a need for comprehensive research into some of the variation, not only in policies on research but also in policy implementation locally. Now that we devolve so much implementation to the local level through primary care trusts, local authorities and other agencies, we almost never have any clear idea of whether those policies are being implemented effectively. Perhaps it does not matter if we do not know whether they work.

We need an urgent review of systems and structures for delivery and better coordination. I am not advocating decriminalisation alone. I remind the House that 40 years ago we partly decriminalised personal use of heroin for a short time. That does not encourage us to drop the decriminalisation policy. I, like others, am advocating that we should move away from a wholesale criminalisation policy to a much greater multi-faceted approach.

The dangers of misuse are quite widely known, but they need to be reinforced by a major public health campaign. How much really effective youth education could be delivered for the more than £1 billion or so that we currently spend on this ineffective policy? Young people respond well to accurate and balanced information, but are rightly sceptical of scare stories. It is useless, for example, to prohibit ecstasy when their experience tells them that it is usually harmless, is available at every party they go to and they see it in use.

I do not want to play down the dangers of drugs nor the profound harm. As a psychiatrist, I know that my colleagues in general psychiatry services all have to be experts in drug misuse and dual diagnosis in a way that my generation did not. Just as tobacco and alcohol controls are far better achieved by fiscal policy and easy access to opportunities to get help with misuse, so cultural change through public education and through much greater investment in masses of help for those who misuse drugs are likely to prove better strategies for reducing harm. I ask the Government what approach is being taken to examine the balance of government drug expenditure and what steps can they take to try to persuade others in Europe that we need a different United Nations concordat this time round.

My Lords, I too thank my noble friend for calling the important and timely debate. It is also an honour to follow my noble friend Lady Murphy, given her detailed understanding and her long professional experience in this area.

I wish to concentrate on one of those facets to which she referred: the supply of children and young people who want to take drugs and want to continue to take drugs when they know, from their experience, that they make them feel worse and worse. Why do so many young people want to take drugs which they know to be harmful and then persevere with that over long periods when they see their health deteriorating and when they see their looks going?

What can all parties do long term to improve the quality of childhood in this country? It requires a clear, cross-party, long-term commitment to improve the experiences of young people’s childhood. I suggest that one reason young people take up drugs and alcohol and stick with them is often because they are very unhappy with their lives, have low self-esteem and perhaps take drugs to forget how bad they feel, or to attack themselves. They feel they do not deserve to be treated well.

I say that because of my experience listening to young people coming off drugs and alcohol and hearing their life stories. You hear that their fathers and mothers were alcoholics, their grandfathers were alcoholics and their brothers and sisters were alcoholics or drug users. One young man, who cared for his alcoholic mother, said that one morning she would be all light and brightness towards him and the next morning he would go upstairs with a tray of bacon and eggs, or whatever he had made for her, and she would almost throw it in his face. These young people have such histories that they have very low self-esteem and are very vulnerable to people who are often hooked on drugs.

I remind your Lordships of last year’s UNICEF survey on the welfare of children in the 21 most developed countries, in which the UK came lowest. One of the areas looked at was the relationships children enjoyed in their families. It highlighted that in Italy it is still the norm for children to sit regularly with their families over a meal and enjoy the relationship with their parents. A Minister in this House, who was advocating the use of more early years childcare, said that children are entering primary school unable to speak because, rather than sitting with their family and talking, they are sitting in front of the television. There is no opportunity for them to sit together, enjoy relationships with their parents and speak.

If we wish to cut the supply of children and young people keen to try drugs and to stick with them, no matter how they harm them, we must address the need to support parents better, have adequate housing for families and support the professionals who work around them. I am encouraged by the Government’s work on the childcare workforce and what they are trying to do with the social work workforce with their taskforce on social work. It is encouraging that they are looking at how we can improve social work courses so that social workers are better equipped when they start working with children and families. They are seeking to recruit higher calibre people—social work requires the best people—and are looking at how to support new social workers in their practice.

The Conservative Party’s initiative and its attention to social work also encourage me. The report produced by that party No More Blame Game looks at social work and calls for a champion for social work, a chief social work officer to make clear to government social workers’ development needs.

We cannot write these families off. They need help if we are not to have generations of young people involved in these activities. Last week, I met four consultant social workers from Hackney Council. It was encouraging to hear those fairly young—to my eyes—people talking about their work with families over the past year under a new initiative, a new form of approach, in Hackney. Only one of them was English because one has to look abroad for good quality social work training at the moment. We have some fantastic social workers, but they are a mix because we have not given a commitment to social work in the past. Hearing what they are doing in Hackney, with its poor history in this area, gave me hope.

It also gave me hope to read in Hansard what the right honourable Mr Iain Duncan Smith said recently in a debate on early intervention supporting families:

“The key is getting a 20-year programme of change that we agree on. We need not agree on all the mechanisms to be used, but we should at least agree on the objectives. If we do that, we will have achieved something that is about good government. We go on about the nanny state, but we are already the nanny state in these areas, and an ineffective one. The costs of that are enormous and we still fail to change people’s lives. This is not about having no government or smaller government, but about having effective government”.

Earlier in his speech, he said:

“More than 30 per cent. of those in prison come from care homes, although only about 0.6 per cent. of all our children have ever been in care”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/1/09; cols. 15-16WH.]

The most neglected children are getting involved in drugs and the criminal justice system. That is an important facet of reducing supply.

We do not need constant new initiatives, constant changes or constant new structures, as well intended as they may be. We need a consistent policy supporting parents, families and the professionals who work around them. We also need to resource that consistently. We need to consider how to resource the social work and other professionals working around families in the long term, and not suddenly cut their resources so that they have too large a caseload without proper supervision, so that the best leave the profession and we find ourselves back where we are again. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for her eloquent opening speech. It was not quite up to Obama’s standard, so she will have to work on it a bit. This has not been a debate. A debate is somebody here saying one thing, somebody there saying another and somebody over there saying a third thing. This has been a chorus of abuse for the present drug policy.

On the evening of the election for hereditary Peers all those many years ago for our temporary stay in this House, I was on “Have I Got News for You” and what’s-his-name—the man who got sacked for cocaine use and for playing with tarts—turned to me and said: “Lord Onslow, you’re pro the legalisation of drugs, aren’t you?”. I said, “I will answer that question seriously because I think it’s the most disastrous social policy that we have in this country. I do not approve of drugs. I think anybody who takes them is silly, but to follow the present policy is absolutely mad. They should be available under controlled legality, and we should cut out the crooks and the ungodly”. The audience cheered me to the rooftops. Perfectly reasonably, it was not put in the programme, not because it was wrong, but because it was taking something seriously.

I have always held this view. I am old enough, or perhaps privileged enough, to remember Lady Wootton, who sat on the Liberal Front Bench. She made a programme saying that pot was not too bad for you. Incidentally, we have had the farce of the reclassification of cannabis. The Government have blatantly ignored their professional advisers because they think they are in league with the Daily Mail and had better try and do something popular, as messing up the economy is not popular. We have got to look at this programme again. A noble Lord on the Cross Benches who is a judge told me that 75 per cent of the people who came in front of him at his Crown Court were involved in drug crime of one sort or another. It is not the better off and the privileged who suffer. It is those on the poor estates, where there are drug needles lying in lifts, people get bashed up and the underprivileged get burgled by the even less privileged. It is a terrible, ghastly social problem. The total failure of the present policy is making it worse.

I take a drug: it is called drink. Possibly, I take too much of it. Several of my forebears have died of it. One of them was sent back from Hong Kong because of drink. In 1914, he was in hospital in Paris, complained that all the milk was being given to the wounded soldiers, and died, so I am not particularly proud of him. Drink is a drug, and it causes more deaths than heroin and the illicit drug trade combined. Smoking is also a drug. I do not smoke any more. I used to, but I felt that it was a silly thing to do and gave it up. I am not being smug about it. Thirty years ago, practically everybody in this House smoked. Now we do not. Smoking has come down enormously.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, produced the argument about Afghanistan. Let us imagine that, instead of the Afghan opium crop being criminalised, it was bought legally, under very strict control, and was then used either for diamorphine for the National Health Service or under a controlled programme for people who have become drug addicts.

The point about supplying drugs in that way is that there is no incentive to go on producing more. Members of the ungodly who make money out of drugs have an incentive to increase their market. The essential thing is to ensure that those who supply the drugs—there will always be demand for them, let us not kid ourselves about that—do not have an incentive to increase the market to increase their profits. Criminality, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, said, involves corruption in prisons, police forces and other law enforcement agencies. The more that you corrupt law enforcement agencies, the more society collapses. That is not unknown in this country. It is considerably better known in several other countries. That has a disastrous effect on civilisation.

That is why we should change our views. I am absolutely certain that there will be an unholy alliance between the two Front Benches and the Daily Mail and the Sun to say that we must continue with criminalisation—anyone can take me out to a very expensive dinner in Whites or some five-star restaurant if that is not the case, but I am sure that it will be. We must change, because the current situation is doing so much damage to our society. The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made the point about the damage that it does to children. There are failures in society of which we should be ashamed, and we should not continue with a policy that makes things worse.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is to be congratulated on initiating this debate. I shall echo many of her sentiments. I also applaud the powerful global sweep that we have just been offered by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern.

The UN resolution on drug demand reduction adopted by the General Assembly in 1998 was well intentioned. Its focus on the problem drug user was welcome. But the resolution lacked clarity on what success would look like and how it might be achieved. I declare an interest as the strategy adviser to the previous Prime Minister. I led the 18-month-long study on drugs, mentioned more than once already in the debate, conducted by the Cabinet Office Strategy Unit, alongside the Home Office in its old, mighty form and other government departments and agencies.

I was involved in a number of such long-term studies when I was in government, but none took as long as that one. The reason was—again, there are echoes from earlier in the debate—that despite a welter of activity in the UK and around the world, hard evidence was difficult to come by and it took a large, capable team a very long time to quarry, to assess and to analyse the data available.

We finally identified a cohort in the UK of about 300,000 heavy users of heroin and crack. I have no doubt that that cohort will have grown since. Those problem drug users had a massive and adverse impact on themselves, their families and on the rest of us. Most problem drug use arises from—and intensifies—deprivation. It costs the wider society tens of billions of pounds a year in harms caused.

The health and welfare cost was significant, but the biggest economic impact was through crime. Five years ago, offending by problem drug users to fund their habits cost the economy £16 billion. Problem drug users commit 80 per cent of all burglary and about half of robbery and fraud. Crack addicts can be very violent indeed.

At any one moment, 80 per cent of the 300,000 heroin and crack users in the UK were not in receipt of treatment of any kind. On the other hand, most encounter the criminal justice system and the treatment agencies over and over again, as if in some continuously revolving door. Some spend short terms in prison. Others experience multiple treatments from multiple providers, constantly slipping out of the system, constantly relapsing.

Our best estimate of long-term abstinence in the UK and around the world as a result of treatment was 20 per cent. For nearly all problem drug users, their addiction will be a lifelong condition. Even those who have abstained for long periods can relapse.

Every concerned person who looks at drugs leaps at the notion that supply should be staunched. But the illicit drugs industry has built over decades into a vast worldwide business comprised of tens of thousands of interlocking organised crime networks and hundreds of thousands of individual, front-line user-suppliers funding their own habits. In so far as drug production can be depressed in originating countries, historically it has just displaced production elsewhere. There is as yet no example of sustained success in substantially disrupting supply. The big, depressing picture over decades is that supply volumes have soared and prices have dropped. Seizures worldwide run at about 20 per cent of production. For the drug industry, that is no more than the cost of doing business.

There are many good reasons for countering criminal networks but, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, reminded us at the beginning of our debate, we invest far too much money in a chimera: that we can solve the drug problem by attacking supply.

There is a chorus and consensus in this debate, by which I am slightly surprised. The overwhelming drive of drug policy in our country and other countries should be to focus on reducing the harms that arise from drug use. To do that, we need to set aside prejudice, unevidenced assertion and the vested interests —not to be underestimated—of the multiple agencies that identify with the status quo.

There are no easy ways forward to reduce the harms caused by heroin and crack addiction. In this country, we need a brand new legal framework to enable us to identify, grip and hold on to the problem drug user to stop them constantly slipping away from us and causing widespread social harm. We then need a treatment regime tailored to individual need that offers a range of medical and social interventions directed at reducing harm of every kind. For some, this would mean heroin prescription, and we as a society should not fight shy of that. Finally, we need a new, clear, simple organisational regime to bring accountability, authority and funding into line.

None of that is politically easy in any country, least of all ours, but let us hope that this year's UN review will demonstrate rigour as well as noble and good intention.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for initiating this debate and for raising the specific issue of the forthcoming 10-year review of the United Nations declaration on countering the world drug problem, which will take place in Vienna in March. I will stick, so far as possible, to the issues relating to the review because that is the immediate issue; we may in the end revolutionise our system in this country, but we must first consider the review. It gives us an opportunity to comment on the problems that drug addiction causes for individuals and society and invites us to look at the need continually to examine—and, I would say, re-examine—ways of tackling these distressing problems. To that extent, I go along with the chorus referred to by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. We must be realistic; even if we changed the system substantially, there would still be a lot of problems—violence, danger to health and so on; they would not be swept away immediately.

I say to the Minister that I am not critical of the Government; indeed, I have supported them on a number of occasions. More generally, I believe that those who are working in the difficult areas of drug addiction, preventing illegal importation, reducing drug-fuelled crime, educating our young citizens on the risks involved and seeking to help those suffering from drug addiction are doing their best in difficult circumstances. That list amply demonstrates the spread of the problem.

I am not critical but, like many of our fellow citizens, I am concerned because it is obviously in the interests of our country to cut back crime that is directly related to hard drugs and prevent, where possible, mental health problems that are related to drug usage. We are doing our best but the results are not as good as we would have hoped. The level of drug-fuelled problems is much higher than we would have wanted. The World Drug Report 2008, which the Minister made available to us—thank you very much—shows that although the world drug problem is being contained, the world is under threat: I read that to mean that the UN’s view in that document is that it will probably get worse.

The Minister may know that I have taken an active part in legislation on mental health. I am the patron of a mental health charity, Rethink, and I am aware that drug usage is not always—perhaps never—the sole cause of mental health conditions such as schizophrenia and depressive illness. None the less, drug usage probably contributes to the development of some of these conditions; there are social problems and the loss of quality of life for individuals and carers.

For a number of reasons, I support the plea of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. We should give some priority to the UN review on countering the drug problem. The review is imminent and, if we are to play some role, this debate is timely. It is not clear how much knowledge and experience we have to contribute or how much we can learn from other countries, but it is certain that the drug trade and practices are an international matter. As many noble Lords have said, illegal drugs are one of the world’s largest trading products and are a serious concern to many countries. We need to make the most of the opportunity of the review to see what we can learn, how we can improve our record and how international co-operation can cut back supplies and improve the health of our citizens.

I understand that the European Union was seeking to reach a common position to respond to the United Nations review. I see no difficulty in that. If we care enough, we can influence that position satisfactorily. Even if the search for consensus makes it necessary to have a common position that does not correspond totally to the wishes of some noble Lords, we should be able to provide in the text of the common position sufficient pegs to make possible at least a thorough examination or re-examination in the UN context in future years of ways of achieving better results in the struggle against the harm caused by drugs. Although the review in March is a fixed point, it may also involve an ongoing programme and I would expect further regular reviews over time.

I turn to the UN declaration on countering the world drug problem and the context of the review. I attach importance to the explicit commitment to the concept of harm reduction and the eradication—accompanied, if possible, by alternative developments—of dangerous crops. We must keep those two basic ideas at the forefront. We should not step back from a forceful approach to those points, and the convention remains a framework for national law in this regard.

I share the view of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, that there is another opportunity to examine ideas discussed, advocated or adopted in other countries. We should have an envelope, if that is the correct term—it is a good term—in the review that does not inhibit sensible examination of such ideas.

The Minister’s opportunity to give full answers to this debate may be limited by the fact that we are currently working in the European Union to construct, as far as is feasible, a common position. Most importantly, there is a very good chance of including in the common position an accent on evidence-based practice as a feature of any forward programme resulting from the review. That would be consistent with a point in the original declaration of 1998, which deals with this possibility. That implies that we, in common with our international partners, should do our best to collect that evidence. It would involve some experimentation on methods without prejudicing the basic principles of harm reduction and the elimination of dangerous drug crops. I hope that the Minister will comment on that point about evidence-based practice.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for this opportunity to discuss this problem. I have no axe to grind except as a citizen who is threatened by the spin-offs from the problem. I have never been addicted and I do not have a desire to indulge in illegal drugs. I am worried about the misdirected use of taxpayers’ money in dealing with this.

I was amused to read that this year is the 100th anniversary of the Shanghai opium commission; I wonder how much further down the road we are. I join other noble Lords in seeing a separation between supply and demand. There is a crossover on the demand side in that some addicts fund some of their habit by supplying on a small scale, but they are not the real suppliers. I see the supply side as involving people who are in it as a business and who supply regularly as big dealers. We should adjust our laws to reflect that.

I turn to the comments of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow. Most of us need an escape, sometimes from pressure and sometimes from tedium; it differs for different people. Each society has a drug, but what that is varies around the world. In reaction to pressure and tedium, the Victorians used to take laudanum, which I seem to remember is opium. They found it very effective—it is, after all, a natural drug. The real problem is that some people cannot handle drugs and they go overboard. That is why we should treat addiction as a medical problem. Behind this is a second medical problem, which concerns not just addicts. It is the collateral damage of, say, dirty needles spreading HIV/AIDS. If we treat this as a medical problem, we will deal not only with the addicts but also with a lot of others who could be damaged by this procedure.

The problem with bureaucracies, Parliaments and Governments is that they think that they can control things and people, but they cannot. The world is too complex for that. Too many poor people who have to make money will find ways around methods of control and will breach them. Some countries have people at the top who are definitely involved in crime, although there are many other countries that do not. Any large body of people will include people who are corrupt. We need to realise that we can never have perfect control.

That makes me think back to the demand issue. We have to look at incentives rather than at trying to control behaviour. One incentive of the Swiss decriminalisation approach, which says, “If you are addicted, come along and we will try to solve your problem”, is that addicts can be given a safe supply of a decent, uncontaminated drug and so not cause other medical problems. I was interested that the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, referred to the fact that we had a decriminalised regime here 40 years ago, which I can remember. About two nights ago, I sat next to someone who was a pharmacist many years ago. He remembers supplying addicts over the Boots counter late at night with clean needles and proper heroin at the correct strength, which was controlled by doctors. At that time, we did not have a large problem. I seem to remember we had about 7,500 registered addicts and probably about as many again who had not registered and received their supplies from elsewhere. We did not have a big drugs problem until the Government decided to send out a message and criminalise drugs. The world went mad. All the big suppliers moved in and created a bigger market.

When I consider how far we have moved on, I look at the waffle. For example, among other things, the declaration from the 1998 United Nations General Assembly Special Session on countering the world drug problem said that participating Governments should commit themselves to,

“achieving significant and measurable results in the field of demand reduction by the year 2008”.

All we have done is focus on supply and not on demand. How far did that get us? Last year, 10 years later, it was said:

“In 1998 UNGASS generated much excitement by its commitment to review progress against clear objectives for the global drug control system over a 10-year period. However, as the UN agencies and member states have come to realize how difficult it will be to claim success against 1998 objectives, this commitment to transparent and objective review has receded to varying degrees”.

In other words, it is desperately trying to obfuscate the fact that it has failed.

“The 2003 mid-term review passed without any meaningful examination of progress and future options, and there are some in the UN system, and many member states, who would like to see the 2008/9 process pass by in the same way—the default option, of course, being ‘business as usual’”.

In other words, there was a lot of talk and nothing effective.

The noble Baroness, Lady Stern, picked up on the interesting speech made by Mr Costa, to which I should like to refer. On supply, what is wrong with the proposal voiced by the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, that we buy up the opium crop? Mr Costa said:

“Yearly, world markets are still supplied with about 1,000 tons of heroin”.

I do not know what that translates to in terms of opium, but I should love to know whether that figure is correct. If it is, we are not looking at a huge amount of opium to buy. Economically, it would be a jolly sight cheaper than what we are doing at the moment. Mr Costa had a few punchlines. He said that,

“media reporting expresses equal apprehension about the status quo … too much crime and too much drug money laundered … too many people in prison and too few in health services … too few resources for prevention, treatment and rehabilitation … too much eradication of drug crops and not enough eradication of poverty”.

That is right. On the matter of scale, Mr Costa said that,

“there are no more than 25 million problem drug users—that’s less than 0.5% of the world population. There are more people affected by AIDS”.

We suddenly realise that we may be putting our resources in the wrong places. He said that,

“deaths due to drugs are limited to perhaps 200.000/yr”,

which is not a large figure in some ways. Perhaps we are looking at this issue the wrong way around.

I seem to remember that a definition of madness is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different outcome, which is exactly what we are doing. In 2001, the National Audit Office report Modern Policy-Making: Ensuring Policies Deliver Value for Money stated:

“The costs of failing to identify flaws in policy design and implementation and not learning lessons from previous policy initiatives can be substantial”.

That is where we are now. We have to stop treating just the symptoms. We have to look at doing something much more radical and start trying to cure the disease, the addiction. We must stop trying just to control supply.

That is why Vienna is so important. Our efforts must be international, otherwise we will just move the problem from one country to another. For example, if Holland is doing something clever, suddenly it becomes a magnet for everyone else because no one else is responding in a similarly intelligent way. Unless we do something in this direction, in 10 years’ time we will see the same old depressing business as usual.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has focused minds on this complex subject and has timed the debate well. Members of Parliament, the Government and those in Vienna should all be taking note of this extremely important subject. The drug question is complex. Drug trafficking is a multibillion dollar industry, associated with organised crime, corruption, arms trafficking, cybercrime and terrorism. At the heart of the production problem are the vast profits and the exploitation of those in poverty who have no incentive or markets for substitute crops.

We see a start to the enormity of the problem when we recognise that, in 2008, Colombia had 98,000 hectares of illicit coca crops. That can produce 600 tonnes annually of cocaine, much of which ensures that the murderous civil war in that country continues. Similarly, Afghanistan’s 193,000 hectares of poppy crop, which can produce 880 tonnes of opium annually, undoubtedly prolong the war in Afghanistan.

I wish to make the need for consistency the theme of my remarks today. The United Nations and the United States Government, for example, produce different estimates of the area cultivated with illegal crops in Colombia. Accurate data on the scale of illegal crops and on the effectiveness of manual and spray eradication are essential. Despite the high technology used by satellites, their pictures are not as accurate as many believe. Estimates depend on the degree of resolution and what area the pictures cover, and this is in addition to the vagaries of cloud cover. To be fair, geographic complications arise. Plantings tend to be located in isolated, difficult-to-reach areas, distant from urban centres, with farmers tending to camouflage them. To minimise detection, plantings are also frequently mixed with legitimate crops and placed under the shadow of trees. The same necessity of accuracy applies to data on seizures of precursor chemicals, manufactured drugs and seized drug assets.

I say to the Minister how encouraging it is to know of the continued presence in Colombia of specialist personnel from the United Kingdom. I commend the efforts of Bogota’s anti-narcotic police and others, including President Uribe, who has brought much-needed security to the countryside. There is general cause for alarm, however, about a new transit route to Europe that has opened via Venezuela and a number of west African countries, including Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Ghana and various Francophone countries. Producer countries of differing precursor chemicals, which are essential to produce cocaine, such as Germany, Holland, Belgium and the United Kingdom, should do much more to monitor the illegal traffic of those products.

A political declaration is in the offing from Vienna that, I hope, will address the need for across-the-board consistency in policy and official data. It is certain that policy formulation will be strengthened. Perhaps I may make some specific suggestions, with time not permitting more today, on policy changes for UNGASS. First, an important change would be to devise a financial mechanism to allow UNODC policy formulation and evaluation processes to be independent of donor country policies. No more than 15 per cent of the agency’s funds come from the UN general fund; the rest comes from donor countries for specific projects. This puts pressure on the agency’s ability to criticise country policies. Secondly, current anti-drug policies are formulated and implemented within the framework of three drug conventions. It is UNODC’s mandate to oversee the enforcement of these conventions. However, anti-drug policies may conflict with other conventions on human rights and the environment and it is important to explore these conflicts.

Thirdly, the executive director of UNODC has argued that anti-drug policies have some negative unintended consequences which must be removed. When policy is formulated from the perspective of only one or two disciplines without taking others into account, the probability of achieving objectives without encountering unintended consequences is low. Fourthly, the UN Commission on Narcotic Drugs, the International Narcotics Control Board and UNODC all agree that anti-drug policies should have a strong scientific basis. However, there is no consensus about what “scientific” means.

Fifthly, UNODC reports great advances in the enactment of laws on money-laundering, trafficking criminalisation, precursor controls and alternative development. It is now imperative for UNODC to focus on results in terms of asset seizure and expropriation, the decline of supply and other policy goals. Sixthly, it is important to generate measures of the amount of precursor chemicals seized relative to total precursor production. This type of data would improve policy formulation and implementation. Similarly, anti-money-laundering activities should be evaluated in terms of the amounts seized and the proportion of money that is actually expropriated relative to total drug-trafficking revenues. The experience of individual countries should be compared in order to derive recommendations that will strengthen anti-money-laundering legislation. Seventhly, harm reduction should be extended to the supply side. Eighthly and lastly, there should be no suppression of data.

Closer to home, an additional aspect of addiction not touched on in the 1998 declaration is highlighted in the report published yesterday by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drugs Misuse, to which other speakers have referred. The report details the problems faced by individuals who develop problems of dependency on a range of prescription and over-the-counter medication. This is an aspect that decision-makers in Vienna might wish to recognise.

Finally, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and many others have spoken of the need for a wide-ranging debate on drug use. A conclusion of the Beckley Foundation’s Global Cannabis Commission states that,

“regimes which do go beyond de-penalization or decriminalization have been characterized by inconsistencies and paradoxes”.

Recent global anti-smoking legislation may have set a precedent that could adversely affect the ability to open a broad debate on drug use, even controlled use. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Williamson, that a pan-European Union policy on drugs is absolutely essential. For all that I have said today, I am certainly not opposed to, and would even encourage, a root and branch review of all aspects of the drug question. However, until that time comes, my remarks remain.

My Lords, after the UN General Assembly Special Session on the world drug problem in June 1998, the Transnational Institute commented that the summit had been an,

“uninterrupted three-day sequence of political speeches … no evaluation of current drugs policies took place whatsoever”.

The institute spoke for many in making that comment. This debate has been quite the opposite, and tremendous gratitude is due to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, not only for her powerful introduction, which set the tone for the debate, but also for allowing us an opportunity to hold a debate that can serve as an exemplar of the approach that needs to be taken to this issue—one that talks about policies that work and those that do not, as well as a discussion about replacing the war on drugs with harm reduction. I hope that this debate will inform what the UK Government will say both at the EU level and at the UN review in Vienna. They also need to be brave enough to admit to what does not work because that is critical in terms of what they can bring to the debate at the UN.

The noble Baroness and others referred to President Obama. In his books, which are absolutely riveting to read, he has been brave enough to admit that he used drugs but then rejected the sort of life that cocaine use might have led to. It is refreshing to meet a US President who has actually worked on the streets and remembers all that he learnt from the experience. That sort of honesty, and not developing the scare stories referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, is critical to the debate.

The noble Lord, Lord Birt, said that problem drug users in this country number around 300,000. He was correct to distinguish between those problem users and other users. The Government also need to identify the 300,000 problem drug users and treat them separately from the many other occasional users. Whatever our opinion of those who occasionally use cannabis or ecstasy, they cannot be lumped into the same category as the 300,000 problem users. That is the sort of honesty we need to have in this debate.

The 1998 political declaration set four goals, and in the first part of my contribution I shall talk about demand reduction. It is an area that this country needs to think about when making a contribution to the UN and in future drugs strategies. A powerful case has been made all around the House for a new approach. I shall rehearse briefly the statistics that have led to my conclusion that this is absolutely necessary. The British Crime Survey shows that drug use among people aged between 16 and 59 in England and Wales is roughly twice what it was a decade ago. As the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, pointed out, the Centre for Social Justice highlights the fact that a significantly higher percentage of our population is addicted to drugs than is the case for our European neighbours. In 2007, the UK Drug Policy Commission said, against a background of increasing problems, that:

“Despite the increased investment in treatment, the majority of government spending on responding to illegal drugs is still devoted to enforcing drugs laws. It is however difficult to estimate government expenditure on drug policy, as it is not transparently reported. From the available data, we calculate that in the UK, as in other nations, enforcement expenditure (including police, courts and prisons) accounts for most of the total expenditure on drug policy”.

That is a very difficult situation, and one borne out by other statistics I have researched. Members on these Benches believe that this is one of the fundamental problems, and an area where the Government really need to shift their thinking.

In 2008, seizures of class A drugs entering the UK recorded by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency were down for the fifth year running, and prices on the street for cocaine and heroin were both lower. This means that more drugs are coming in but we are seizing less. Legislatively, the Government have reclassified cannabis down and then up, ignoring the expert advice from the body that they set up to advise them, and they may now take the same route with ecstasy, which would be regrettable. It would fly in the face of an honest approach and reject the science that has led to that approach.

Other noble Lords referred to treatment. It is incredibly striking that, according to the National Drug Treatment Monitoring System, only 9 per cent of the 61,000 people who left treatment in England in 2006 were free of drugs. That suggests that treatment centres are still concentrating on throughput rather than on quality. That will have to change. After all, if we accept the figure of 300,000 quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Birt, then we are not talking about millions, and such a number of people should, with sufficient will, be treatable.

In summary, the UK has seen prices going down, more drugs on the streets, seizures going down, more people using drugs, treatment not working, custodial sentences for users filling our prisons but not resolving addictions, and traffickers still operating largely unaffected. But before I leave this issue, I must give the Government one word of praise for their legislation on the assets of crime, which I think will bear fruit. The noble Lord, Lord Williamson of Horton, said that we are doing our best. I suggest that the Government are doing their best in the wrong direction.

On the international situation, the UK has done a great deal to take on responsibility for curbing heroin production in Afghanistan but, despite this, the area devoted to opium poppy cultivation has surged to 193,000 hectares, which is double the 2005 figure. I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, that that area is greater than the area devoted to growing the coca bush in all of Colombia, Bolivia and Peru. We must therefore concentrate our thoughts totally on Afghanistan. Coca is a traditional crop in Bolivia and we should bear in mind the comments of President Morales that it is the processing of coca into cocaine and its trafficking that is the problem. I am not sure that we should comment on that country’s cultivation of coca for its own use. The situation in Afghanistan is undoubtedly blighting an otherwise improving drugs picture, according to the UNODC report in March 2008, and I urge the Government to concentrate all their thoughts on Afghanistan and to encourage the other countries in the UN convention to do the same.

In its publication Stabilizing Afghanistan, the Independent Women’s Forum called for more resources to encourage the production of other crops; adequate, safe and secure water supplies; and organised and available access to fertiliser, quality seeds and training for planting alternatives.

I hope the Government take to heart the plea from Human Rights Watch and others that the UN war on drugs does not justify rights violations. The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, mentioned Mexico and the 8,000 deaths there, and Thailand intends to return to its war on drugs, which led in 2003 to 2,800 extra-judicial killing—and those are only two examples. We cannot have a war on drugs that violates human rights and expect to make any progress internationally on solving the misery that drugs produce worldwide.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness recognise that this is a global problem—I referred to Colombia—and that it is extremely important that we, as friends wishing to help that country get through its problems, should understand more about its internal affairs?

My Lords, it will become immediately obvious that I am not speaking with my normal verve. If this becomes too painful for your Lordships and impossible for me, my noble friend Lord Bridgeman will leap up, grab my notes and finish off my speech. But, because this is an extraordinarily important debate, I want to take part and I hope that noble Lords will forgive me for squawking at them.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for bringing the debate to the House today. We have heard a number of extremely important speeches, which have varied from the personal anecdotes of the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, to the determined and straightforward research of the noble Lord, Lord Birt. We have covered a whole raft of the drug question. My noble friend Lord Mancroft drew attention initially to the question of growing crops; the economic problems of the countries that rely on the cultivation of drugs to keep them going and how that then impacts on the world. There are probably not many areas left untouched.

The noble Baroness, Lady Masham, started by repeating the political declaration made in the UN in 1988. I shall not repeat it but I reiterate that drugs destroy lives; they affect all sectors of society; and they are a grave threat to health and well-being. That has been amply borne out today. The statement might be accepted as blindingly obvious but—obvious or not—all of these points can be borne out by experience and evidence in this country.

It is a sad fact that it has been recorded in a report of the European Monitoring Centre for Drugs and Drug Addiction into the state of the drugs problem that the UK has the highest proportion of adult amphetamine users in Europe, and that ecstasy use remains consistently higher in this country than elsewhere. As the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, stressed, we know, too, that levels of crime are affected by drugs in that the number of those charged with both minor and more serious offences has increased. In 2007-08, there were 228,959 drug offences recorded, an increase of 68 per cent over the figure 10 years previously. But as serious is the fact that statistics published in October last year revealed that recorded drug offences for April to June 2008 had increased by 8 per cent. So we are nowhere near on top of the problem.

This does not seem to indicate that the Government are fully on top of the situation. We are losing control of the crime situation, both in regard to petty crime and the serious crime of importing and pushing drugs. I am a magistrate—I declare an interest as such—and any magistrate will tell you anecdotally that the true position is that the vast majority of crime, particularly petty crime, is committed by people who are hooked on drugs. The latest figures I have are for 2003-04—I do not know where we are now—and they estimate that the size of the UK illicit drug market is more than £5 billion and is considered to have the greatest impact on organised crime in this country.

The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, my noble friend Lord Mancroft and the noble Viscount, Lord Waverley, referred to the tragedy caused in countries which rely on the production of drugs as the base of their economy. We have more than an uphill struggle if we are ever to get on top of that. The United Nations will have to do a great deal more than it is doing at the moment if those crops are ever to be driven out of the system.

Prior to our current desperate economic situation, many people would agree that the drug problem was one of the most serious, debilitating threats to our society and individuals. No one would pretend for a moment that it was a problem confined entirely to this country but it is apparent that, despite many initiatives, we are still one of the countries most adversely affected by it. One would expect that the Government’s every sinew would be stretched to ensure that the matter was researched and strong measures were put in place to counteract it. It is disappointing, therefore, to note from the independent UK Drug Policy Commission that the authors of its most recent report were unable to locate any comprehensive published UK evidence of the relative effectiveness of different enforcement approaches. They were also not able to identify any published comparative cost-benefit or value-for-money analysis for different interventions within the UK. I checked that last night on the UKDPC website.

Have the Government not commissioned research into the strategies they have put in place to increase enforcement, or of those in which they co-operate with other EU and global countries? Perhaps the Minister, who is looking very perplexed, as if I am entirely wrong, will tell the House what bodies are scrutinising and giving policy advice and direction to any initiatives. Perhaps he could also say what the enforcement initiatives are in which the Government are ensuring this country is engaged.

Many speakers—my noble friend Lord Onslow, the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and the noble Baroness, Lady Stern—were in favour of talking about the prospect of decriminalisation. That is a perfectly respectable view. It is not one that I share, because we are an enormously long way from being able to do that, but it is a point of view that a great many people seem to share.

The “beyond 2008” conference in Vienna that was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, and the UK Drug Policy Commission have both called for better evaluation of drug policies in general. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, drew attention to the lack of these, as did the noble Lord, Lord Williamson. What evaluation and independent research takes place on the umpteen strategies on health, education, crime reduction, crime prevention, treatment and rehabilitation that are all to do with drugs? There are a great many of them but the problem stays stubbornly strong, despite the fact that it is recorded that about one-quarter—£380 million in 2005-06—of the total cost of delivering the drug strategy has been dedicated to reducing supply.

Efforts to reduce supply can be successful only if our porous borders are secured against the illegal importation of drugs, if the supply from those countries that earn a large income from their production is reduced and if those who are making a fortune out of the plight of others are apprehended. The first of those problems is largely one for us alone. Our borders must be policed by a border police force that has the capacity and the powers to search, seize, interdict and prosecute offenders. Despite creating the UK Borders Agency, and even now in the new borders Bill, no attempt is being made by the Government to bring the police force into the agency, which would give it a strong backbone. On this side of the House we have made it clear that we believe that that is essential.

The inability to prevent drug importation means that our young people, who do not seem to be deterred from taking drugs, have ready access to them. This country, after Denmark and France, has the third highest proportion of cannabis users in the EU. Fortunately, the Government have reversed their previous disastrous decision on cannabis and reclassified it to class B, but many mixed messages were given out by that one action. The UK also has the highest proportion in Europe of cocaine users between 15 and 64 years of age. As the Drug Policy Commission also noted, while the availability of controlled drugs is restricted by definition, it appears that additional enforcement efforts have had little adverse effect on the availability of illicit drugs in the UK.

While it is clear that the United Nations has a big role to play in urging countries on to greater efforts and co-ordinating, monitoring and scrutinising policies and their outcomes, it is inevitably individual nations that have to deal with this problem and bring it under control within their own borders. The debate today has done nothing to reassure me that we are anything like far enough along that road, but I hope it will have contributed something to the Government’s thinking as many important aspects have been raised.

Again, forgive me for my voice today. I hope noble Lords have survived it; I, clearly, have only just made it.

My Lords, I, too, have enjoyed the debate. It has had a most interesting mix of anecdotal, scientific and passionate views that reflect a range of opinion outside this Chamber. I am grateful for the opportunity to hear those views, particularly on the 1988 declaration and its review. It is inevitable in a debate on this issue that matters will stray from international to domestic policy. I was about to say that I was going to respond to a chorus of opinion but, having heard the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, I think the chorus is not quite as in tune as the parliamentary choir.

My Lords, the chorus was particularly noticeable from those who are not on the Front Benches. That is the bet that I originally placed, and it seems to be going my way. Everyone else says one thing and the two Front Benches say another.

My Lords, I missed that bit out from my speech to spare everyone, but I wanted to say that I was very sad that I would not be taking up that offer of dinner.

My Lords, far be it from me to intrude on private grief. I was going, with some levity, to accuse the noble Earl of bribery because I, too, was thinking, “Is it worth changing my brief in order to have an experience I have never had—a five course dinner at White’s?”.

We are agreed that we want to see an honest review taking place in Vienna—the Government certainly want to see that. We also want an outcome that will take us forward in the world efforts against illicit drugs and, as has been emphasised, the harm they cause. To secure that, we need to build on what has already been achieved.

At the risk of justifying the forecast of the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, that this would be an inadequate response, it is worth taking a moment to give some context to the forthcoming review because that context influences the Government’s approach. International efforts against drug trafficking and misuse have a long history, as the noble Earl, Lord Erroll, reminded us: right back to the Shanghai International Opium Commission of 1909. Since then, machinery has been built up through freestanding conventions, from both the League of Nations and, latterly, the United Nations. Today we have quite elaborate international machinery: three UN conventions; the UN commission of officials that meets annually to manage the system and set policy; the permanent executive to that commission, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime; and an expert body, the International Narcotics Control Board, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, referred, whose role is to keep countries that have signed up to the convention—most countries have done so—up to the mark. The INCB also has the job of ensuring that the amount of licit drugs produced, such as opium, is enough to meet the world’s medical and scientific needs but is not so much that it risks leaking on to the illicit market.

As I have said, almost all countries in the world are signatories to the conventions and participate in the system—I say that with a health warning, because it means that one has to get that number of parties in agreement for any international convention or policy change.

That is the formal machinery and the context. I turn to the 1998 declaration. In the 1980s and 1990s, there was a growing tide of opinion among some countries, particularly those which we have heard named in Latin America where coca is produced, that the international drug control system needed looking at, the argument being that the demand for drugs was driving the market. Reducing demand, rather than focusing exclusively on supply, was the best way to address the problem.

The eventual response by the world community to this concern was a decision to hold a UN General Assembly Special Session on drugs—an UNGASS, as we call it in UN-speak. I had 14 years’ experience dealing with international conferences with the United Nations, a memory which causes me as much to shudder as to remind me of pleasant occasions. The result of that assembly was the 1998 convention, whose declaration is now the subject of review.

That declaration was not a radical document. Fundamentally, it urged the international community to do what the system already sought, but to do it better. It laid particular emphasis on demand reduction, highlighting the need for a balanced approach and domestic and international strategies to reduce both the illicit supply and demand for drugs. It specifically recognised demand reduction as an indispensable pillar of the world approach. To help the international community ratchet up its performance, it set out a series of guiding principles on how to work better—principles for supply-side as well as, significantly, demand-side issues. The declaration also set out a timetable. As we have heard from several noble Lords, 2008 was to be the year by which there was to have been complete success or significant progress towards the demand and supply-side goals set out.

Let us be clear: those goals have not been achieved. In this country, the drugs strategy is making some progress, but cocaine use is still worryingly high, as we have been reminded. Internationally, the world still suffers from a very serious drug problem, which, if anything, has grown worse over the 10-year period. I need not rehearse the details now, nor remind your Lordships of the increased effort that is needed in Afghanistan. It has been referred to and I shall return to it later in my response.

The Government’s view is that our not having made the progress that we wished does not mean that the 1998 declaration was a complete failure, or that we should tear down the existing system and set up a new one. I know from my personal experience of the United Nations that the danger of “new directions” is that it takes a long time to lay the foundations and start to build. Therefore, building on something that exists and can be improved is much more likely to succeed than scrapping it and starting again.

As the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, enunciated, we, all our European colleagues and, so far as we are aware, most of the rest of the world stand by the principles that were established by the 1998 declaration. We stand by the existing international control system under the three conventions. However, the issues have moved on since 1998, and we want the forthcoming review to take account of this in a number of ways. I hope that some of them will give comfort to several participants in this debate.

First, intravenous drug-injecting is a significant vector of blood-borne diseases, including HIV/AIDS. The Government are committed to the achievement of the eight millennium development goals set by the millennium summit in New York in 2000. In June last year, we published our updated plan to support the achievement of goal 6, which is to reduce the incidence of HIV/AIDS, TB and malaria. We are determined that the March review should recognise this and support measures to prevent the spread of the diseases through intravenous injecting.

Secondly, on access to controlled medication by the world’s poorest, we fully support the work of the International Narcotics Control Board in maintaining the balance between supply and demand of opiates, but we believe that the way in which the system is currently working inhibits access to controlled medication in many countries where it is badly needed. The reasons for this, and the answers to them, are complex. We are not in favour of policies that have no basis in fact or likelihood of success. It is certainly not as simple as selling off Afghan opium, which would cause great damage in Afghanistan. The Afghan Government acknowledge that they do not have the capacity to administer a licit scheme, the probable outcome being that opium would continue to be diverted into the illicit market. However, we want to see the review start a process to address this issue.

Thirdly, we want to see the review do more to encourage effective law enforcement effort. There is a pressing need to enhance efforts to collect and share information and data on the manufacture, supply and consumption of drugs, to analyse those data systematically, and to ensure that policy and operational decisions on all aspects of supply-and-demand reduction are evidence-based. We shall press that on our colleagues in Europe and beyond.

Fourthly, we want to see the review recognise the effectiveness of using intelligence in combating drug supply, particularly in combating trafficking in narcotic drugs and encouraging the sharing of intelligence between law enforcement agencies.

Fifthly, we want to see the review recognise that illicit production and trafficking of drugs fuels instability and insecurity in many parts of the world. Sixthly, we want to see the review call for the strengthening of regional and international co-operation in combating the cultivation, manufacture, trafficking and consumption of illicit drugs.

Seventhly, we want to see the review affirm the need to continue to devote particular attention to measures for the control of precursor chemicals. Eighthly, we want to see the review reflect our position that eradication of illicit crops in Afghanistan and elsewhere is targeted on areas where farmers have access to alternative sources of income.

That is the Government’s position in our discussions in Europe—

My Lords, the Minister seemed to ignore the fact that the evidence says that the policy as being presently run has resulted in the increased use of drugs. Are the Government ignoring that evidence?

My Lords, as ever, the noble Earl is quick to his feet. I was about to answer questions posed by noble Lords in the debate. If I respond to him on that basis, I may be able to bring together some of the questions—

My Lords, will the Minister respond to the request of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, that our Ministers press for a commission to take forward the pressure for an evidence-based policy and look at alternative approaches to dealing systematically with the drugs problem, to prepare the ground for consideration of a reformed UN convention? Will the Minister take that forward with his colleagues?

My Lords, I am limited to 20 minutes. Therefore, if questions that I have not yet answered are not posed twice, I shall probably fit in more answers in the remaining nine minutes of my time. I shall come to the point of the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, in the order in which it appears in my list of interventions from noble Lords. If the noble Baroness waits for a couple of minutes, I think that she will find that I answer her question.

The noble Baroness raised ministerial presence at the conference. We consider it to be a high-level and important conference and that is why we will send the Minister who has the relevant authority and responsibilities in the Home Office, Mr Alan Campbell, to represent the United Kingdom Government. We will make sure that all contributions to this debate are brought to the Minister’s attention before his speeches are written.

The noble Baroness and others also raised the sense of hope, which I share, created by a change of Administration in the United States. I know from my experience of previous changes of Administration, from Democrat to Republican and vice versa, in the UN system, that, because of the advise-and-consent system, top posts in the international sphere do not change as quickly as Governments in the United States. The appointment of civil servants is an administrative problem. However, we can hope that the tone set by the representative of the United States at the conference will display a marked difference from what we have heard in the past. In that sense, I hope that noble Lords will find a synergy between what we have said here in setting out the UK position and the statement made by President Obama on the first day of his presidency.

The noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, expected my reply to be inadequate, and I may have fulfilled that. He made one comment that I found myself in some difficulty agreeing with, in which he described Colombia as a narco-state. It is a state with many difficulties after 50 years of civil war. The answer to his point was made rather well, if I may say so, by the noble Viscount; I share his view on Colombia’s attempts to solve its problems, rather than dismissing it as a narco-state.

The next point was raised, very movingly, by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, and others, who rightly gave us a reminder of the problems that come with drugs and the need to control them much better to deal with the harmful consequences.

The noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, raised the question which has now been repeated by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher. All that I can say is that we will draw that request—underlined, in a sense—to the Minister’s attention. I have to say that we have little prospect of it being accepted at the UN level, given the basis of our understandings of the positions of other countries and the degree of opposition to such proposals when they have been suggested in the sidelines of conferences in the past. However, the EU is committed in the 2009-2012 action plan on drugs to looking particularly at the amount and at improving the quality of what works in reducing drug demand. I hope that that gives some comfort to the noble Lord, Lord Cobbold, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, who raised some of the same issues.

On the question of whether you have phrases such as “war on drugs” or “war on terror”, one difficulty that I have found—and I think that the previous Administration found the same problem with the community charge—is that once such a phrase gets into the media it becomes very difficult, whatever Governments do, to change the language. The language tends to remain what the media have adopted.

The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, in a very powerful contribution, raised a fundamental issue, also raised by many other noble Lords, on attention to demand. She made the point, which is shared by others, that more research is required. All the evidence is that supply reduction measures are expensive but, while drugs are illegal, there remains a commitment from government and the legal authorities to pursue criminals who trade in drugs. That is a statement of the obvious.

I shall not be able to do justice to all the contributions. To digress a moment, I should say that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, asked a series of questions on evaluation. I think that they would be better dealt with in a written response from me to her, rather than me just giving her a one-sentence response.

The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, made a contribution that will read well, because it reminded us of the wider context in which drugs damage our society and in which our society is damaged beyond not only the generation taking drugs today but through the generations that will come.

The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, apart from the lifestyle lesson that I was fascinated to hear and the attempted bribery, which I found difficult to resist, raised very strongly the question of Afghanistan. I hope that the position is clear. The policy that was suggested is not one that the Government of Afghanistan could operate, so it would not be likely to succeed. But it is important that, whether in Colombia or Afghanistan, when we are seeking to remove the growing of crops for illicit drugs, we supply alternatives to those who seek a lifestyle supported by drug-producing at the farming level, and that they have other things that they can do.

The noble Lord, Lord Birt, gave us a very powerful basis for his evidence and for the study that he took. Seeking not just a new way forward but a whole new legal basis is perhaps an issue for study rather than immediate response, so I shall resist responding.

The noble Lord, Lord Williamson, reminded us rather well that what we are doing here is rather a narrow part of the problem of drugs, and about how we move through the next few years in the UN system. I hope therefore that what we have set out as our position, which I am sure will be enhanced by the knowledge that Ministers will have of the contributions made by your Lordships in this valuable debate, will take us forward. I do not think that I can add any more at this stage, but I shall examine Hansard and look to see where I can amplify or supply answers in written form to the Front Benches in particular.

My Lords, I did not mean it rudely, and I hope that the Minister will forgive me if he took it that way, when I said that his answer would be inadequate. In fact, he has given a hugely comprehensive response to the many points raised. However, what I was fearful of has happened; the central theme that ran through so many speeches was that we as a nation—partly because of the UN treaties—devote far too much time, money and effort to the failed policy of trying to reduce supply and do not spend enough resources, effort, time, money and concentration on trying to reduce demand. That was the overwhelming theme that ran through this debate, and that is what the Minister has not answered. We believe that the Misuse of Drugs Act and how we try to control drugs actually just hands them to criminals. That is the central point.

My Lords, I did not take any offence and did not think that the noble Lord was being at all rude. I assure him that I am adequately responding, because he has a view that is not shared nationally. It may be shared in this debate and it is a valuable contribution to the debate, but the debate goes on. It would be wrong of me to pretend that the position held by noble Lords here is one that attracts support across the whole world, and which will allow a wholesale change of policy in March in Vienna. There will be a balanced approach to the question of supply and demand; the issue is that, having had policies that have failed, we will seek to improve to have policies that succeed. That is pushing in the direction of the point that a number of noble Lords have made. It is a small step forward and a small step towards an adequate response.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their extraordinarily eloquent, constructive and supportive contributions to this debate. It has been enormously helpful and I am very grateful to all involved.

I assure noble Lords that I will, with colleagues, seek discussions with the Minister who will represent this country in Vienna, in the hope that we can achieve as much as conceivably possible in the direction of an evidence-based policy and the establishment of a commission of some sort—whether European or broader than that—to consider the different approaches that have been explored and develop pilots that will be evaluated, in the hope of preparing for a better UN convention for the future.

Motion withdrawn.

Tourism

Debate

Moved By

To call attention to the opportunities and challenges facing the United Kingdom tourism industry; and to move for Papers.

My Lords, I feel that this may be a very opportune moment to have a debate on tourism. The credit crunch and consequent devaluation of the pound may present an opportunity for British tourism. On the other hand, it is equally possible that tourism may suffer the fate of other industries in time of recession. The way it goes will depend to a large extent on being able to change the Government’s view on tourism.

Successive Governments seem to have regarded tourism as something of only limited importance. The portfolio for tourism has been moved from one department to another and tourism Ministers, when they have existed at all, are constantly being replaced and never being given the opportunity to shine. The tourism industry is of vital importance to the economy of this country. If official figures are to be believed, it is the fifth-largest generator of income, adding £85 billion to the economy and employing 1.4 million people.

However, in spite of these impressive figures, British tourism is not in a particularly healthy state. A world tourism and travel study has forecast that, over the next 10 years, the UK tourism industry will be one of the worst-performing in the world. The study predicts that out of 174 countries, the UK will experience the 10th-worst level of tourism-revenue growth, and a 20 per cent decrease in global market share. Every year, we attract a smaller share of the world market. We have to ask ourselves, is this primarily because we offer the visitor a less attractive product than most other countries, or is it because all other comparable countries—and many much smaller than us—take tourism much more seriously and spend considerably larger sums selling themselves in the marketplace?

The one part of Britain that has the resources to market itself successfully is London. Apart from all its obvious attractions, London has all the advantages, including—crucially—most of the main gateways into Britain. Fifty-five per cent of all foreign visitors come to or pass through London, so there may be a tendency for Ministers to equate the crowds of Italian and Japanese tourists blocking the streets of London with a thriving British tourism industry. The fact is that London is not Britain. I must admit that when such figures as £85 billion per year and 1.4 million employed are bandied around, the Government may have reason for scepticism. The question is, how do you define a tourist and what should be classed as part of the tourism industry?

The traditional image of a tourist is that of a foreigner who spends one or more nights in one or more hotels or guest houses and visits museums, visitor attractions and famous landmarks, spending money in restaurants and gift shops. Of course, he always carries a camera. Alternatively, he may be one of a group of youngsters touring Britain in a camper van, spending nights camping in a tent and eating and drinking in the local pub. However, many other groups are also classified as tourists. For instance, there are businessmen who fly to Manchester or Birmingham for a conference. They stay in up-market hotels and are referred to in the tourism industry as “business tourists”. What about our relations in Australia who stay in our house for a few weeks? They may not do much for the neighbouring hotels, but they are still foreign visitors and bound to spend money here.

You may conclude, then, that a tourist can be defined as anybody who changes dollars, euros or yen into pounds and spends money in Britain. You would be wrong because foreign visitors account for only 20 per cent of the tourist spend. Eighty per cent comes from the domestic market. By far the greater amount of tourist income comes from British citizens taking short breaks in Brighton or Blackpool, going to business conferences in Glasgow or Birmingham, renting a holiday cottage in Sutherland or walking in the Lake District. Then you have the day trippers, who take the family out for a day at a nearby visitor attraction. I own a visitor attraction near the Firth of Clyde on the west coast of Scotland. Sixty per cent of our visitors come from the Glasgow conurbation some 30 miles away. Only about 10 per cent are traditional foreign tourists. We also have the coach parties, schools groups, Boys’ Brigade outings and corporate entertaining in the castle to add to our tourist number.

There are all sorts of tourism. There is golf tourism, green tourism and, in Scotland anyway, more specialist forms such as fishing, stalking and grouse-shooting tourism. Bucket-and-spade and beach tourism have been declining for a long time for obvious reasons. Many of our traditional seaside resorts, which still depend on visitors for their economic survival and have had a particularly difficult time in the past 30 years, have had to invent new ways of attracting them.

What, you may ask, is a tourist? He used to be defined as someone who spent at least one night away from home. Now the definition has been refined to anyone spending more than eight hours away from home. When, then, is a tourist not a tourist? I suggest that it is someone who does not intend to spend any money. That is when he ceases to be a tourist. Regardless of how “tourist” or “tourism” are defined, and in spite of government scepticism about how tourist spend is calculated, it is unquestionably a huge and disparate industry, vital to the economic health of our country. In remote parts of Britain, such as the Welsh mountains or the Scottish highlands, it is the only industry that enables these small communities to survive.

Of course, not only people working in tourism benefit from a thriving tourism industry. It is not only the hotels, guest houses, visitor attractions and tour operators who flourish, but the museums, cathedrals, country churches, pubs, restaurants, golf courses, shops and manufacturers of souvenirs, such as mugs and T-shirts saying “I love London” or something worse. There is practically no person or business in Britain that does not benefit directly or indirectly from a flourishing tourism industry. However, if you discount London, Britain’s tourism industry is one of the least successful in Europe, yet—surely—it has at least as much to offer as any other European destination. We have cultural attractions second to none, history and heritage, castles, gardens and stately homes, the best and cheapest golf courses in the world, some marvellous festivals that take place throughout the year, outstanding scenery and wild and remote places to explore.

The most common excuse for our poor performance is the British weather. It is certainly very unreliable, as those of us who live in the west of Scotland will confirm, but not everybody is looking for the sun. Not everybody wants to lie on beaches, getting brown now and dying of skin cancer later. Another reason given for our poor showing in the international tourism stakes is that England is perceived as being an unfriendly, unwelcoming and overpriced tourist destination in comparison with the competition. Based on the results of visitor surveys, Christopher Rodrigues, chairman of VisitBritain, has said that bad service and grumpy Britons are at least partly responsible for this perception. The likes, he says, of Basil Fawlty still patrol some hotel check-in desks. Some hotels are still blighted by grumpiness and a failure to offer basic services, such as fresh soap. I think it is quite true that some British hotels do not provide the sort of service and facilities that modern-day visitors have come to expect from their holidays abroad. However, I do not believe that the average Briton is any less friendly to visitors than the average Frenchman or Spaniard. We in Scotland have a better reputation for friendliness than those in England, but some of our hotels still leave a lot to be desired.

My car broke down on the M6 outside Wigan some years ago. In a very grumpy mood, I was forced to spend the night there. I am now convinced that Wigan is the kindest, most helpful and most visitor-friendly town in Britain. Nothing was ever too much trouble for the people of Wigan. Although Wigan pier may not be the most inviting visitor attraction in the country, I recommend to your Lordships that, next time you drive north, you take the time to make a small diversion and soak in the atmosphere of that wonderfully friendly town.

If the English really are perceived as being unfriendly to visitors, this is a serious problem. As someone who has spent the past 25 years of my life in the tourism industry, I have no doubt that the single most important thing that a visitor wants is to be cared for and made to feel welcome. It is obvious, really, but so easy to forget. We come back to the same place again and again because we like the people who run the hotel, not necessarily the hotel itself. Being made to feel welcome should start as soon as you arrive in the country. However, if you arrive at Heathrow or Gatwick, for instance, you are made to feel the opposite of welcome. BAA, it seems, is interested only in getting you to part with your money. You are funnelled down channels with retailers on both sides, trying to sell you luxury items—once classified as “duty free”—that you could very well do without.

Gateways to Britain are particularly important to the visitor experience. Why are there no immediately accessible tourist information centres with friendly staff visible all over the airport, or in railway stations, whose job it is to ensure that you have a pleasant stay and to help you to find what you are looking for? Britain in general needs many more tourist information centres located in strategic places all over the country, not only to provide information but to send out a message that says, “You are welcome here, and we want you to have a good time”. The Irish can do it; why can’t we?

I urge the Government to consider investing taxpayers’ money in providing this country with more tourist information centres and in training staff to man them. Local tourist boards and local councils have been abandoning them over the past 10 years due to their expense. But these TICs can do more than anything to change the visitor’s perception of Britain being an unwelcoming place.

In the past, one of the other main reasons given for Britain’s poor performance in the international tourism market was the relative strength of the pound against the currencies of other Western countries. Basically, Britain was too expensive. It did not give value for money. But now that the pound is so much weaker, that is no longer the case. Surely this is our opportunity to market Britain much more aggressively, particularly to North America and the other European countries, now that they can afford to come here.

Conversely, British holidaymakers will be thinking twice about whether they can afford their planned holiday abroad. Surely this is the time to consider staying in Britain and helping the British economy at the same time. For the benefit of you English, I recommend Scotland for your holiday—maybe taking in Wigan on the way. The Scottish weather is not always as bad as you may have heard. When it is good, Scotland has the most dramatic and beautiful scenery in the world. We really are friendly, even if you do not always understand what we say.

VisitScotland has this year spent a lot of time and money promoting “Homecoming Scotland”, a campaign aiming to persuade people of Scottish descent from all over the world to return to the country of their roots. This coincides with the 250th anniversary of Robert Burns’s birth. Dozens of specialist events associated with “Homecoming Scotland” will take place all over Scotland. I recommend that noble Lords visit Edinburgh during the festival in August. It is by far the largest yearly arts and music festival in the world, and something that everyone should experience at least once.

Speaking again for the whole of Britain, this year’s economic woes could be a great opportunity for the tourism industry. The weak pound should encourage more foreign visitors to spend their holiday money in Britain, and more Britons to spend their money at home. It is one of the few industries that could benefit from this depression and, perhaps more importantly from the Government’s point of view, provide employment, be it seasonal or temporary, for many of those who will find themselves out of work this summer.

British tourism can thrive only if the Government are prepared to invest more money in the industry. Yet VisitBritain, whose job it is to sell Britain abroad, has recently had its budget cut from £49.9 million last year to £40.9 million in 2010. Surely it needs more money, not less. It needs the resources to market Britain even more over the whole world. I urge the Government to consider spending money to establish more tourist information centres, particularly at the gateways into Britain. This cannot be done by local councils or area tourist boards. They do not have the resources.

I endorse an idea put forward by VisitScotland and supported by the Scottish Parliament: the establishment of a tourism development bank that would enable small businesses in the tourism industry to borrow the money they need to improve and develop their product. I hope that the Minister will be able to prevail upon his colleagues and persuade them that it is in the country’s interests, particularly at this time, that the tourism industry is given a much higher priority.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, on securing this important and timely debate. From the outset, I declare an interest: I am the chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tourism and was the shadow Minister for Sport and Tourism for five years.

It is unfortunate that we seldom have opportunities to debate the importance of tourism and hospitality in this House. That must surely be strange when we consider the importance that both those industries have to the UK economy, not only in revenue terms but also for employment. Successive Governments have never really grasped the significance of tourism—not only the economic arguments, but its impact on the well-being of the nation at large. One has only to think about the relationship between tourism and the 2012 Olympic Games to understand that.

Some argue that there are perhaps some—dare I say it?—“green shoots” emerging. I was heartened by the words of the Prime Minster at the VisitBritain and DCMS national tourism summit in Liverpool last week when he indicated that the Government were taking a fresh view of the British tourism industry. At that summit, there was a clear understanding by Ministers that Governments have not, in the past, given the appropriate recognition to the economic importance of the industry.

The PM set the tone of the summit by clearly spelling out tourism’s growing importance in the next decade, seeing the potential of attracting visitors not only from the emerging European countries but also from China, India and Asia, and pointing out the UK’s tourism industries’ proven ability to take advantage of downturns in the economy. Of course, we have one now, but we have had them in the past as well.

We all know that talk can be cheap. Tourism needs specific undertakings that will not only benefit the industries of tourism and hospitality but the country at large. However, I know from talking to some of those who were at Liverpool that it seemed to them for the first time in some years that the Government were moving in the right direction, albeit in a difficult period for the overall economy.

The executive summary of the British Tourism Framework Review, which I am sure many noble Lords will have seen, sets out clearly Britain’s tourism strengths and weaknesses. We can be proud of our strengths. We have superb cultural assets, some of which the noble Earl pointed out. These include great heritage, the world’s best museums and galleries, unrivalled theatres, more Michelin-starred restaurants than France, great cathedrals of sport such as Aintree, Ascot, Wembley, Lord’s, Wimbledon and Old Trafford, and stunning and diverse landscapes. In VisitBritain we have not just a national tourist board of which we can be proud but, according to the World Travel Awards, the world’s best tourist board for five years, as voted for by national tourist boards around the world.

The whole House will be acutely aware that, as has been pointed out, tourism is being hit alongside other important industries and, I dare say, will continue to be hit for some time because of the downturn in the economy. So, more than ever, the strengths, adaptability and ingenuity prevalent in the tourism bodies of the country will undoubtedly be needed to mitigate the problems that tourism will face.

Although tourism has not escaped the economic effects of the downturn, it has been cushioned to some extent by the weakness of the pound, as the noble Earl pointed out. This means that Britain is at least 25 per cent less expensive for visitors from the eurozone countries and 37 per cent less expensive for Americans, Britain’s most important market, than this time last year. We know that Britain is an attractive actual and aspirational destination for these important markets, but coupled with the fact that Britain has never been better value for overseas visitors is a hugely positive opportunity. We must equip VisitBritain with sufficient funds to exploit this opportunity and aggressively and creatively to market this country to mitigate the worst effects of the recession. This may well be a welcome temporary silver lining but surely what is urgently needed is a national strategy, for which many leaders in the industry are calling.

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Tourism and the Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee in the other place entirely supported the industry’s vehement criticism of the Government’s cuts to VisitBritain’s budget in the recent Comprehensive Spending Review. The cuts might have been justified if VisitBritain was not efficient, but it is. They might have been justified if the economic climate and the imminence of London’s 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games did not warrant additional marketing funds, but they do. I strongly recommend to the Minister that this is exactly the time to invest in marketing and equipping VisitBritain with the funds needed to do the job.

In conclusion, I return to a hobby-horse that I have mentioned in this House and the other place over many years: the need for joined-up government. The Minister for Tourism has relatively few policy responsibilities that cut across her desk. Most policies that genuinely affect tourism lie elsewhere in Whitehall: transport, visa prices, aviation, local government spending, regional development agencies and so on. I strongly suggest to my noble friend that, given this, the Minister for Tourism should chair a Cabinet committee of relevant Whitehall Ministers to create a joined-up approach to growing the tourism industry in this country and to reducing the obstacles to our international competitiveness. Let us hear from the Minister when he replies that the encouraging words of the Prime Minister in Liverpool will be spelt out in positive and specific action plans for tourism in the months and years ahead.

My Lords, I begin my remarks, as did the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, by thanking the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, for initiating the debate. Like him, I reiterate my registered interests. I am president of the Cumbria Tourist Board, a part-owner of the Pheasant Inn, Bassenthwaite Lake, in the Lake District, Cumbria, and the owner of an historic house that is open to the public.

It seems absolutely axiomatic that the events in the financial markets over recent weeks will have a major impact on this very important industry for our country. I think in particular of, first, the credit crunch; secondly, the impoverishment of our own citizens that will result from the recession; and, thirdly, the consequences of the collapse of sterling against a number of other currencies.

First, as regards the credit crunch, it has been widely discussed in this Chamber over the past few days and weeks that the banking system is still pretty well paralysed. It is incredibly important—this is as true for small business as it is for big business, and much tourism is small business—that that system should be loosened up. It is not necessarily a matter of not being able to get any money. We are told by all kinds of people, not least bankers themselves, that money is available, but somehow nobody is prepared to take any decisions, which is absolutely hopeless for people trying to run businesses.

Secondly, there is the whole issue of the impact of the impoverishment of our citizens on the domestic tourism industry. I am fairly relaxed—I use the word in a technical sense—about that, because, although some of our current customers will cease to be customers, as they will have less money, many new customers may be available, as I am afraid that many people who have gone abroad for their holidays will find themselves priced out of the market and will decide to take a holiday at home. We must be careful in reading the runes in respect of this part of the current crisis.

Thirdly, there are the consequences of the collapse in the value of sterling against other currencies. I suspect that this may be the silver lining to this particular gloomy cloud, because it is absolutely inevitable that inbound tourism will take advantage of this. Our prices, and hence our products, will become much more attractive than they have been. One of the characteristics of the industry, certainly in my area, is the complete absence of Americans, which has been the case for a number of years.

It is absolutely clear that many businesses are extremely apprehensive about what will happen over the next months and years. As regards my hotel business, in December takings were something like 15 per cent down on the previous December. I gather that that is probably typical. Indeed, some people are worse off.

Against that background, the most important thing that the Government can do—I reiterate what has been said about other sectors of the economy—is to get the banks lending again and get the money flowing. It is incredibly important that the vampires in the Treasury stay off the neck of this industry. We do not need tax increases, we do not need national insurance increases and we do not need increases in business rates. All those things would do is exacerbate an extremely difficult situation for those trading. Of course, it is necessary to have regulation. In the world in which we live, we cannot throw all regulation out of the window, although that is rather a wonderful idea. However, the regulation that we have needs to be administered sensibly and sensitively and must not be heavy-handed. We need to bear in mind the underlying purpose for which the rules were first put in place.

The tourism industry often complains to me—I think that this was touched on by the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow—that it does not have a big enough voice or command enough attention in government. While I understand what it is saying—in certain circumstances, things would be a great deal better if it were listened to a bit more carefully—I generally respond that in my view the less the Government have to do with tourism, the better things will be in the round for tourism. I stand by that proposition.

However, given the nature of the predicament that the industry is facing and its economic characteristics, it is important to be absolutely clear that that is not to say that the Government should do nothing; far from it. In the context of the industry in Cumbria, which is the part I know best, it is time to shift the emphasis of the promotional material that has been published, either directly or indirectly, under the Government’s aegis. After the considerable success of the promotion of Liverpool as the city of culture, there should be a change of emphasis towards visiting the countryside, particularly visiting national parks and areas of natural beauty. I urge VisitBritain to initiate a spring campaign entitled “Return to the Countryside”.

My Lords, I start with a quotation:

“Tourism matters. It is a major source of jobs and wealth creation across Great Britain. But in many ways it is a forgotten industry, and one that features all too seldom in the political or economic debate”.

Those are not my words but those of Richard Lambert, the director-general of the CBI, in a foreword to the recently produced British tourism framework review, Achieving the Full Potential of the Visitor Economy. His words were sad in some respects but very true.

I join in congratulating my colleague and noble friend Lord Glasgow on choosing this timely and apposite debate. I certainly go along with all he said about Scotland. Last year I had the privilege and pleasure of fishing on the Tweed, playing golf at Loch Lomond and attending the Edinburgh Military Tattoo. I have not as yet visited his castle but I look forward to doing that in due course. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to the Front Bench, because I think that I am right to say that this is the first debate on tourism that he will have answered. Given that he has a split ministerial role between DBERR and the DCMS, he is in many ways the ideal Minister to answer this debate and help us to take the industry forward.

I declare my interests: I was Tourism Minister in the late 1980s, I was on the English Tourist Board in the 1990s, I served three terms as chairman of the Museum of Science and Industry in Manchester and I have been chairman of the Association of Leading Visitor Attractions—the million-visitors-a-year club—since its formation in 1990. We have 42 members, including Westminster Abbey, the Blackpool Pleasure Beach, the Eden Project, Historic Scotland, the Churches Conservation Trust and—I am delighted to say—the Palace of Westminster itself. I have a number of shareholdings related to travel and tourism listed in the Register of Members’ Interests.

I shall briefly touch on the history of the relationship between tourism and the Government. In March we will celebrate the anniversary of the Development of Tourism Act 1969, which first established a statutory framework for the national tourist boards. I think that I am right to say that my colleague and noble friend Lord Rodgers, as President of the Board of Trade, brought in that legislation. Since then there have been 20 Ministers with responsibility for tourism, and I understand that they will all be invited to a celebratory lunch in March for that anniversary.

Ministers and shadow spokespersons come and go, but the sad reality that has been hinted at is that, irrespective of party, tourism has never been taken seriously by Governments of either main persuasion. I am delighted to follow the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, who has been a great champion of tourism over the years, but I recall that many years ago, when he was first appointed as shadow tourism spokesperson, he told me that he went to the filing cabinet and pulled out the file marked “Tourism”, and at that stage it was empty. When I was Tourism Minister, I remember also talking to the chairman of the Northumbria Tourist Board, who told me that the only way that she could get money for tourism was to raid the fire brigade’s budget.

Things have improved somewhat over the years but, by and large, Ministers and Governments have just fiddled with the structure of the tourist boards. We have had countless summits, reviews and strategy documents that must have cost an absolute fortune. I believe that when a new Minister arrives at the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, the officials immediately say, “Now, Minister, what would you like? We can let you either have a tourism review or produce a strategy document”. Not a great deal more happens. Something new called, I gather, the tourism advisory council will be created. I am not sure why that is needed, when we have a very effective Tourism Alliance. Nevertheless, it gives Ministers something to talk about in their speeches before they move on to other ministerial offices.

I know that I sound cynical; I am very cynical, because I have seen what has happened over 20 years. Tourism has moved from the Department of Trade and Industry to the Department of Employment, the Department of National Heritage, and now the Department for Culture, Media and Sport. All the past chairmen of our national boards have departed from office disillusioned with the reaction of the Government, not with the industry. There has been a steady reduction in funding for the National Tourist Board. There is to be a 19 per cent reduction over the next three years, which has resulted in VisitBritain having to reduce its staff overall by 30 per cent, and I think that I am right that the reduction will be 40 per cent in London.

Tourism is not in the title of the DCMS, yet it is our fifth most important industry. The role of the chairman of VisitBritain is seen by the Government as a six-days-a-month appointment. The chairman has always spent more time than that at the job, but that is the way that his role is perceived by government, which is, frankly, absurd. At the end of the day, it does not really matter what individual departments think or do. What we have to do is get the message across to the Prime Minister and the Chancellor of the Exchequer, where the axis of power lies in this country. Until they change their perception of tourism, nothing will really happen.

That is why I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to the Dispatch Box, because he is well known as having considerable influence with No. 10, where he came from, and with the Prime Minister. I hope we will see some changes, because, as the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, said earlier, the Prime Minister attended the tourism summit in Liverpool and paid customary lip service to the successes of the industry and its opportunities. However the test will be what action the Government take. Will they take tourism seriously for the first time, because, at a time of rapidly rising unemployment, a very worrying economic situation and a weak pound, perhaps tourism’s time has come?

I recall that more than 20 years ago the noble Lord, Lord Young, brought tourism with him from the DTI to the Department of Employment, because of the job-creation potential of the industry, when at that stage unemployment was the dominant issue. In the latter 1980s, during the broad period when I was Tourism Minister—although I do not claim any personal credit for this—the tourism and hospitality industry was creating some 1,000 net new jobs a week. In my speeches at the time, I referred to the complementary nature of the industry as between service and manufacturing, because tourism was still dismissed as a semi-candyfloss industry.

There is a link between manufacturing and service and, 20 years ago, I noted that the largest contract for steel placed at that time was by the Blackpool Pleasure Beach for the new big ride there. We calculated then that 80 per cent of the content of new hotels was of UK-manufactured origin. Regarding our aerospace industry, think of the number of aircraft built for the tourism industry and for holiday travel.

Today, I suggest that tourism and hospitality can play a significant role in creating employment and boosting our economy. There is a great opportunity for a double tourism whammy, with the weak pound attracting overseas visitors, and a weak economy and rising unemployment here sadly meaning that more people stay at home and take more modest holidays. There are some encouraging trends: in the past two or three months Eurostar has experienced a 15 per cent increase in inward passengers. Most of them are shoppers, so the trick will be to convert those shoppers into tourists by encouraging them to extend their stay. On the domestic situation, the Caravan Club is reporting something like a 40 per cent increase in bookings to their campsites this year.

Despite some of the comments that have been made, there has been an improvement in the quality of our hotels and restaurants in recent years. There has been a substantial development in new budget hotels, the skills of the industry have improved, and I am sure that there is fresh soap in the hotel of the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, knowing the standards that he has set.

We have to build on the opportunities. The industry is appealing to the Government for £6 million—that is all—to promote a “value Britain” campaign, under the slogan, “Britain has never been more affordable”. Similarly, regarding the 2012 Olympics, on which we are spending billions of pounds on capital accounts, so far the Government are refusing to put in any extra money to support VisitBritain’s marketing campaign. No commercial organisation would spend so much capital without some supportive revenue.

Apart from money, the industry has a number of other requests. It seeks better co-ordination between government, VisitBritain and the regional development associations; the lifting of some regulatory burdens; and a ministerial tourism group chaired by a senior Minister—it is important to have that. We need infrastructure improvements. I pay tribute to the improved train service from Manchester to London, which is now first class, with three trains every hour. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, will be referring to London. We certainly need a major new convention centre in London. Double summer time would also be much appreciated.

Tourism, then, offers a rich jigsaw of attractions in this country, in heritage and the countryside, and in our resorts. We have so much to offer the overseas and domestic visitor. I urge the Government to respond to the industry’s pleas tangibly and, for the first time, to take tourism seriously.

My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for securing the debate, and I echo many sentiments that previous speakers have expressed. For too long, the tourism sector has been considered as “nice to have” or as some sort of luxury, but that view is out of date and surely not shared by most noble Lords.

We are in the middle of the sharpest downturn that any of us can remember. The whole UK—London in particular—suffers more day by day, as yesterday’s employment data confirm. We must hope that the Government’s various interventions, the arrival of Obama and concerted international measures can help us at least to see the bottom and, on a not too distant horizon, the beginnings of recovery.

The collapse of Lehmans, in particular, sent shock waves beyond banking. It acted immediately on consumer confidence, almost like a wrecking ball. Confidence is still desperately fragile. Retailers and restaurateurs, hoteliers and visitor attractions have mostly—not all—survived Christmas and the January sales. The injection of cash into London’s West End by overseas visitors can be like CPR—a vital electric shock to the heart of the UK economy. Those euros and dollars enter the UK economy and, like the tourists themselves, filter out from London to spread a boost across the country.

Where do we go from here? It is vital that the economic contribution of tourism, of hospitality and of visitor-targeted retail is acknowledged. It is not a frippery but a sector worth over £100 billion annually to the UK economy, over 8 per cent of GDP and over 2.5 million jobs. Whether that means that the departmental responsibility should pass from DCMS to DBERR may be worth debating, but the point is that the value of the sector can usefully be compared to that of manufacturing, broadcasting or construction, all currently sponsored by the latter-mentioned department.

The Motion that we are debating refers to opportunities. The most immediate is the impact of the current exchange rates. The economic downturn has not reduced the attraction of London, Stratford or Oxford’s heritage offerings. The recession has not damaged the cultural offerings of London, York or Edinburgh. The landscapes of the Lake District, Snowdonia and Dartmoor have not become less dramatic because of a global downturn. They are still fabulous, unique and special but, to quote a well known retailer’s strap-line, they have become surprisingly affordable—to overseas visitors, at least.

Tourism has a disproportionate effect in London. Fifty per cent of all visitors to the UK include London in their itinerary. It also supports a much wider range of businesses than are usually considered under the heading of “tourism”. There is retail and transport, for instance. Tourism-led businesses, such as hotels and catering, also employ many who are less skilled. That is of increasing importance, now we have so little labour-intensive heavy industry. So, it is important that our Government and our political leaders more widely acknowledge, encourage and support businesses in the tourism sector. Now is the right time to do so. I can see no clearer win-win intervention for government to make than this. It does not take months to turn around or have complicated side effects, and we know that it works. I paraphrase the 1950s TV series, “Flash Gordon”: “You’ve 24 hours to save our retailers and hoteliers”. Now is the time, not just for Gordon but for Boris.

It is all the more disappointing, then, to learn of significant government cuts in the funding of tourism promotion, as was alluded to earlier, with £1.9 million cut from so-called DCMS gateway funding to promote London to would-be visitors from North America and Europe. It has recently been demonstrated that the American campaigns generate a return of over 15:1. That is, £15 of economic benefit to UK plc for every £1 spent in promotion: not so much “Buy one, get one free”, as “Buy one, get 15 free”. Does the Minister fancy that as a good deal?

The Government have trumpeted their £10 billion of support to SMEs. If each RDA were to receive just 0.1 per cent of that to plough into proven tourism marketing activity, it could keep the visitors coming and strengthen the economic lifeline that they provide. Compared with the vast sums invested in banks and SMEs, that is a rounding error.

In the longer term, the 2012 Olympics provide a fabulous opportunity. In the next four years, we must concentrate our efforts on putting on a good show and telling the world about London—not just a good show, but a West End show. We must invest not necessarily huge amounts of money but time and effort to make London’s West End product more desirable to the new visitors we seek to attract. Marble Arch, for instance, would benefit from a status beyond that of an oversized traffic bollard, and, in making Marble Arch, our public realm, our theatres, shops and restaurants the best they can be, London can beat any city in the world.

I offer the Minister something that government Ministers rarely get: a quick, affordable and deliverable win. In the great scheme of things, a very small investment could yield very high returns. Now is the time. I implore the Minister to return to his colleagues and evangelise on this theme. We have the world’s leading visitor attractions: from the O2 to the “Angel of the North”, from the British Museum to Stonehenge. We must do all that we can to show them off to the world.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate, my noble friend Lord Glasgow on securing this debate and, in the context of what I hope to say in the rest of my speech, I declare an interest as a member of the British Mountaineering Council and of Pendle Borough Council.

I hesitate a little to take part in these debates; they are full of experts in tourism and economic development, and I am neither of those. I pay particular tribute to the work that my noble friend Lord Lee of Trafford has done in the north-west. He was wrong about one thing: we do not have a new, 15-minute railway service from Manchester to London but a new, 15-minute railway service from London to Manchester. That is the important thing.

I suppose that I bring to the debate some personal experiences, those of a person who could have come in his big leather boots for tramping over the hills and mountains. I could have brought my dainty little rock-climbing shoes, which I still wear occasionally. I could even have come in my cycling tights, although the Doorkeepers might, in their usual polite manner, have had something to say about that.

I last took part in one of these debates on 3 November 2005, when my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones asked a Question for Short Debate. Then, I talked about mountain walking, mountaineering and climbing and other adventure sports—in general, informal, outdoor recreation. That covers a lot of people in this country; perhaps one-third of them undertake some kind of informal, outdoor recreation regularly, and more do it occasionally. My lifetime climbing partner tells me that he has now taken up fly fishing, which is also the same kind of activity. These activities are characterised by the fact that they are voluntary. Individuals are self-motivated; they go out and take part because it is a nice day—even a nasty day—and they feel like doing it. Much of this activity is relatively unorganised and a lot of it is very unorganised, but it is based on what people do.

The organisations that exist in these areas—some are more formal—range from the British Mountaineering Council and the Ramblers’ Association to various cycling bodies and groups. Most of the people who take part do not have any direct contact with them, although they benefit from what the organisations do and from the improvements they make to facilities or access and so on. They may benefit socially from joining local clubs, such as cycling or climbing clubs, but most people who undertake these activities just go out and do them.

Often, these activities have a strong code of ethics—none more so than climbing and mountaineering—and many of the unwritten rules are enforced by peer pressure. People have a quiet word when they see others doing things that are not acceptable, whether it is banging bolts into a gritstone crag, leaving farm gates open so that the cattle and sheep can get out, or even—dare I say it?—cycling on pavements. I look around the Chamber and am glad that today I do not see any of the people who, whenever cycling is mentioned in your Lordships’ House, complain about people knocking them down.

Overall, we are talking about activities that are economically beneficial—I spoke at length about that last time we debated this subject—socially beneficial and beneficial to people’s health. Some research has been done into what is called “green exercise” and, although I am no expert in being able to tell how accurate or valid it is, it seems right from my personal experience. I refer to the sense of mental well-being, the increase in self-confidence and perhaps the reduction in a tendency to anti-social behaviour that can come from what people used to call “communing with nature”. There is little doubt that people feel an affinity with the natural world and nature. We feel it naturally and instinctively; it is built into our genes. I refer not just to the great outdoors but also to the local park. Combining that with physical activity in what can be called “green exercise” brings together two beneficial features and, so far as one can tell, that has nothing but a beneficial effect on those who take part. All these things are unquantified and are not directly related to the tourism economy, but they are certainly related to the population’s general, mental and physical health.

From my own point of view, when I really feel like beating up the world, getting on my bike and pedalling up Pennine hills has a remarkably beneficial effect. For some strange reason, going to the top of Pendle Hill in a roaring gale, when the rain is horizontal, has the same effect. Equally, I have memories of incredible winter days in the Lake District, walking, for example, along Striding Edge, Swirral Edge, Sharp Edge and other such areas, when the mountains have been covered in snow in the middle of winter and there has not been a cloud in the sky. You remember those things for the rest of your life, and it helps you when you are going through difficult periods. I may be going off the subject of tourism a little, but I do not think that we should in any way underestimate the importance of this kind of activity. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said, I think, the Government do not relate to this kind of thing very easily.

I want to talk about one particular aspect of tourism. Last time I spoke on the subject, I reminisced that 30 or 35 years ago when my wife and I stood up in the local council and advocated the development of tourism as an aspect of the local economy in east Lancashire, we were laughed at, shouted at and jeered at by people who thought that it was a ridiculous idea. In their view, tourism was something that you did once a year when you got on the train to go to Blackpool on your holidays, unless you were lucky and could go for a dirty weekend at some point as well. That is what tourism meant. It happened at seasides or in foreign places; it did not happen in industrial towns. Interestingly, now tourism can occur anywhere and everywhere.

We recently opened a new tourism facility in Pendle called “Discover Pendle”, which we were able to build on the forecourt of a huge new discount store called Boundary Mill that has just been built in Colne. Those who see the adverts on television will know that it is at the end of the M65 at Colne. As part of the planning permission, we were able to get some planning gain, which meant that we were able to get the visitor centre built. It is not a traditional tourism destination. It is managed by Boundary Mill on behalf of the council, which seems to be a sensible arrangement because it knows how to manage these things. It knows how to sell things and deal with customers, which council staff are not always best placed to do. This little “Discover Pendle” centre opened in March 2008, and we have already had 60,000 visitors through the door. I am told that the Northwest Regional Development Agency did a mystery shop there and gave it a 100 per cent score. I have no idea what these statistics mean, but that sounds good to me.

That is the kind of opportunity that local councils, local partnerships and so on need to take to promote their area. They need to look again at what is in their area, whether it is the beautiful countryside or something else, and understand how it can be attractive to those outside. We have fantastic countryside in what we now call Pennine Lancashire, right on the edge of the Yorkshire Dales. The area is not much different from the dales, except that it is not a national park. We have industrial and townscape heritage, as well as Titanic heritage with Wallace Hartley. Therefore, there may be plenty of things for visitors to do, but often the local people will not see them because they are used to them being there all the time. They do not look at their surroundings as they would if they went to France or India, where they would say, “This is a very interesting place”. They do not see the interest in their own areas, although they should.

I want to comment briefly on the Marine and Coastal Access Bill, which has the potential to bring economic development to coastal communities. I sincerely hope that the relevant parts of the Bill will get through both Houses and that the Government will set up the new coastal path around England as soon as they can. The Ramblers’ Association believes that it could bring up to £128 million to coastal businesses and create more than 11,300 jobs. I do not know whether that is an optimistic view, but the opportunities will be there. To those in some communities who are worried about this impending legislation, I say, “Do what we have done in Pendle. Look at yourselves. Look at what you can offer to people and take advantage of the opportunities offered by the new coastal path”. There is no doubt that the south-west coastal path brings more than £300 million to the regional economy. The chief executive of the Ramblers’ Association, Tom Franklin, says that the continuous coastal path for coastal economies is paved with gold. That may be a little over the top, but there are certainly opportunities there if the local people are able, willing and prepared to take them, which I sincerely hope they will be.

As the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, and others have said, there is a huge opportunity in the present economic situation. Fewer people will go abroad, and therefore there is the chance to sell them tourist facilities in this country. We have fantastic countryside and fantastic mountains; we simply do not sell them as hard as we should to people in the rest of Europe and the rest of the world.

My Lords, other noble Lords have underlined the fact that tourism is a substantial earner. It is a creator of real jobs. We might contrast that with the fact that many of the real jobs in, for example, the City of London have been founded not on producing goods and services that people want but on what I would call fool’s gold—money-making financial instruments that, in my view, have little real value to people.

Will the Minister tell us what other industry stands at such a threshold of opportunity as the tourism industry at present? We hear doom and gloom on all sides, but is tourism anything but an opportunity waiting to be seized? As we see our money poured into the coffers of banks all around, we are aghast at the small amount of support given to capitalising on the opportunities that many noble Lords have described. Obviously, the industry needs better organisation, but it does not need bureaucratic organisation. The various bodies could put into practice what we have heard about if they were given a little more money.

The industry is very diverse. We heard from the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, about certain aspects and from my noble friend Lord Glasgow about others. I draw attention to the National Trust. I have the 2009 members’ handbook. Those seeking to create jobs for young people might look very closely at two things to which I have contributed lately, as I imagine other noble Lords have: the appeals made by the National Trust for Tyntesfield and Croome Park. Those are two enormously important historic buildings. Croome Park is a house and estate of unrivalled significance, with the grounds landscaped by Capability Brown. The National Trust is taking on people to learn the craft of repairing and keeping together historic houses and estates. That is work for the future. It could take on many more young people, who could learn a very useful trade.

If the House permits me, I shall go back to the days when I was general manager of western region at Swindon, where we had a large training workshop for fitters and electricians. Swindon works was going to close but I pleaded with the Government to keep the training facility open so that we could continue to take on apprentices and train them as fitters and electricians. That plea fell on the deaf ears of the people to my left, now the Official Opposition. They insisted on closing the facility and, of course, not long afterwards we were desperately short of fitters and electricians. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Carter, that we should take this opportunity to train the people who will provide the tourist amenities that people want.

I endorse what my noble friend Lord Greaves said about tourist centres. This time last year, I was in New Zealand. I stopped in a fairly remote place, in the middle of a volcanic area, where there was a magnificent visitors’ centre which was attracting huge numbers of people. It was beautifully put together and explained how volcanoes work. I do not suppose that it was ludicrously expensive, but, in the heart of a tourist region, it focused your attention on what there was to see and, of course, where you could spend your money.

We obviously need well organised packages. The industry is capable of doing that. For example, the Swiss have a travel pass, with which the Minister is familiar and which, I imagine, most people have bought when in Switzerland. You get a little red card and you can go on every bus, every train and every ferry. The Swiss market it magnificently, but we do not have a similar product in this country. I do not ask the Government to do that, because in Switzerland it is not done by the Government, but they could bring together people who could contribute to or market such a card.

There is inertia in our tourism market. There are many things to be done, but probably very few people doing the most important things because they are all extremely busy, as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said, doing their own thing. They are not there to sell Britain abroad; they are there to run their hotels, their country houses or whatever in the most efficient way. That is all we can expect.

I am, to some extent, critical of some of the big hotel groups. For nearly 10 years, since coming to your Lordships’ House, I have stayed in a hotel run by the Thistle group, one of the biggest groups. However, last time I stayed there, it had taken the bottled water out of the bedrooms. I am paying a substantial sum of money—not peanuts—to stay there, but there must be two separate people, one who decides to take the bottled water out of the hotel bedroom and another who decides to print on your receipt, “Committed to service”. These people do not live in the same world; one wonders whether accountants run the business and not people with a feel for tourism, a feel for visitors and a feel for the attractiveness of the country.

I make one other plea. One of the worst features of this country is the state of public lavatories. I do not want to harp on this, because the matter was raised in your Lordships’ House last week, but it is very difficult to find a public lavatory and often they are not clean. They are a disgrace to the country. Thirty or 40 years ago we used to make fun of the French and Italians because they did not have them. A little while ago, when I went to Paris, the facilities—if that is the right description—at Gare Saint-Lazare were pristine, clean and modern. That is something one rarely sees here. I do not think that the Minister is the Minister for public lavatories, but I wish that he would bring the matter to the attention of those whose responsibility it is.

My Lords, I speak at the end of a long list of Members from these Benches. Much of what I wanted to say has already been touched on. Originally, I thought that I would talk about sports tourism, with an emphasis on the Olympics. However, as I started work on this, I became increasingly aware that everything to do with sports tourism concerns other forms of tourism. One takes part in a leisure activity and one derives pleasure from that. It comes down to the service industries and what one does at the edges of the core activity.

In sport, it is quite simple. The bar for sporting activities and facilities for sport in this country has been raised quite dramatically over the years. There are now corporate boxes at football grounds, rugby grounds and cricket grounds. We expect to be looked after and fed well. Most of us expect to sit down in reasonable comfort when we are watching those games. Some people do not, however, and I had a nice little punch-up at my party conference about it. If you are paying Premiership prices, things possibly get a little better. You expect to be well maintained and looked after.

Unfortunately, we do not seem to be able to maintain that across the entire experience. In this country, there is still prejudice against the service industries. They are low-prestige industries. Although standards have risen in hotels, that has often been due to foreign staff who have shown that it is quite possible to make somebody’s meal pleasant without having to make the food wonderful. Adequate will do as long as it is well presented and served on time with a smile and with the courtesy of calling the person paying “Sir” without a chip on the shoulder. These things do not seem to come naturally to part of our system.

Things are worse at the lower end of the economy in smaller-scale units, which have least time to invest in staff. My noble friend Lord Glasgow referred to people attending conferences being tourists. We have all stayed in various places at party conferences and there has been a varying degree of service. Certain places just do not get the idea that you are supposed to be having a reasonably pleasant time all the time. You wonder why you go there on party conferences—it depends on the venue, but I am not quite brave enough to attack specific venues—because the cheaper end is not a good experience. That applies across the board, in sport and elsewhere. If the things around what you are doing are pleasant, then everything goes well.

Has the clock been reset?

I did not think that I had been speaking for 12 minutes, although it may have sounded like that to others.

For once, your Lordships are on cue. The whole idea of trying to improve service comes across. The Olympics are an opportunity to establish training levels in a way that we have never done before. We have a wonderful precursor: the Manchester Commonwealth Games. They allowed the Olympics to occur because they proved that it could be done. We are also very lucky to have the Glasgow Commonwealth Games coming up. We can transfer an experience around sport across the sporting world so that you do not just go, watch and leave. Even if they do not particularly want to be mollycoddled at the ground, most people would like to be served a drink or a meal in reasonable circumstances on the way to or from that experience. If you are served by people who have the same first language, they will probably have a slight edge, no matter how charming a person who has English as a second language is, because they can interact with you at a better level about the cultural experience you are going through. It would probably be an economic advantage.

How are we going to achieve this? Will the Government take a more flexible approach to how they provide training in this sector for these groups of people? How will they sell the idea that working in the service industries is not something that you do only when you are a student or cannot find anything else? That is what happens at the moment. Statistics from the Culture, Media and Sport Committee of the other place show that 15 per cent of people involved are on the minimum wage and 14 per cent of people are below it because they are under 18. It is not a prestige industry. How are we going to improve that? The Government have done some work, but how will they inform the qualifications and the culture that lead into the industry?

The Olympics and the Glasgow Commonwealth Games are coming. That will not give the Government enough time to get the whole thing done, but they can make a start now with best practice models and how to adopt them. I hope that the Minister will tell us how the work is going because, as my noble friend Lord Greaves said, in all sections of leisure activity, the extra pound that you can make comes from making the experience pleasant. It is not about the core activity, which has probably been milked dry, if that is the correct expression; it is about how much time people spend around the edge of the core activity. If people can get a decent meal when they have been to the Olympics, I am quite sure that they will go on to the theatre and perhaps take a trip on the train up to York or Edinburgh—or Manchester or, indeed, Wigan. Rugby league might be going on at the same time.

Perhaps Wigan will be playing against Wakefield, my Lords. If we can combine these things, we will stand a chance of getting the best out of the Olympics. However, if we expect people to go, come back and keep quiet, we will not, and we will miss most of the benefit.

My Lords, I am delighted that my noble friend Lord Glasgow took the opportunity to raise the future of tourism in his well informed and elegant speech opening this debate. He raised some important points about the nature and potential of British tourism and the huge benefit it brings. Many other well informed noble Lords, including many of my noble friends, made important and powerful contributions, including some on leisure and recreation. I hope those reading Hansard after this debate will have their appetite whetted for some of our beauty spots. They may even hope to catch sight of my noble friend Lord Greaves in his cycling gear as he goes swiftly up Pendle Hill.

I join my noble friend Lord Lee in welcoming the Minister to his first tourism debate. It is a subject that many of us feel passionate about, despite its somewhat Cinderella status within government. I am pleased to debate with the Minister for the first time. My noble friend alluded to the achievement of my noble friend Lord Rodgers, who pushed through the Bill in 1969 that set up the original national tourist boards. That is a significant 40th anniversary that we should be celebrating. We should be building on that achievement with our debate today and government action, which I certainly hope is in the offing.

In the debate on the Queen's Speech in December, I argued that the Government urgently need in their policies to better reflect the value of tourism and travel to the British economy. In particular, I argued strongly against the drastic government cuts to the budget of VisitBritain and for tourism promotion, which have led to a reduction in staff numbers by VisitBritain of 120 over the past few years and will lead to the loss of a further 90 posts in future. Since then, I am glad to say that the executive summary of the framework review was published in January, as mentioned by my noble friend Lord Lee. It relies on an important piece of work by Deloitte’s on the economic case for the visitor economy.

The Deloitte's report confirms that tourism as an industry is more important than even advocates such as me had thought. As mentioned by other noble Lords, measured by conventional accounting, tourism is the UK's fifth-largest industry and is currently worth almost £52 billion to the economy. 1.3 million jobs are sustained by tourism activity in the UK and it employs more people than are employed by construction or transport. Deloitte’s, using what is called tourism satellite accounting, which has been developed over recent years by the World Travel & Tourism Council and Oxford Economics, makes the argument that the tourism economy has an even greater significance. This takes into account the impact on other sectors, such as suppliers, retailers and manufacturers.

On that basis, with direct and indirect economic impact, it represents about 8.2 per cent of the UK economy. Deloitte’s points out that tourism is a very important source of enterprise and business formation. It makes a great contribution to sustainable development in coastal and rural areas and to regeneration in urban areas.

However, there are some very worrying indicators, some of which have been mentioned by noble Lords. The UK's share of world tourism has declined in recent years, and the country has slipped from being the fifth-highest earner in the world from tourism in 2005 to sixth now. The tourism deficit now stands at £20 billion. Domestic tourism is also declining. Spending by UK residents has fallen by almost £5 billion since 2000. The latest figures, issued last September, show that inbound tourism has dropped heavily, particularly from North America. My noble friend Lord Glasgow mentioned that the forecasts by the World Travel & Tourism Council for UK tourism are also very gloomy.

Deloitte’s says that as a result of the impending recession, growth in expenditure could slow by between 3.4 per cent and 4.7 per cent, equivalent to £11 billion, and that 114,000 jobs could be at risk. The Deloitte’s report demonstrated some worrying longer-term barriers to development: transport difficulties; poor information for customers; lack of marketing; a skills gap; visa costs and availability. Yet, even in the face of those barriers, Deloitte’s still stated that it believes that the tourism economy could, over the next few years, grow to £188 billion-worth of GDP.

The framework review—as yet published only as an executive summary—as well as arguing for a full agency to promote English tourism, makes a powerful case for more government support to take the opportunity of a falling pound and to guard against a severe recession that could affect 114,000 jobs and to take full opportunity of the 2012 London Olympic Games.

The Government seem to hope that the tourism industry will be worth £100 billion by 2012, and anticipate that the London Olympics will provide a major boost to the sector. This target will be much harder to achieve given the global economic crisis. The framework review makes the case that we cannot successfully promote the UK as a tourist destination in the run-up to the 2012 Olympics without addition to VisitBritain’s promotional budget.

Small and medium-sized companies, which the Government claim to be keen to help through this recession, make up to more than 90 per cent of the tourism sector. They are, in the main, dynamic and entrepreneurial but, as the Deloitte’s report makes clear, government support is needed. The industry is fragmented and the free rider effect means that there is little incentive for smaller businesses to contribute to promotional costs. As was pointed out by my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, there is also a credit crunch in the sector.

Will the Government at last acknowledge that the budget for VisitBritain’s activities must be increased if this vital sector of the economy and small businesses within it is to survive and prosper? Will they heed the warnings from those such as the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, about access to credit? The framework review has demonstrated that there are few further economies to be made through structural changes to tourism promotion. What is the Government’s response to the review? Do they acknowledge the importance of the industry? At the very least, it is the fifth-largest UK industry and, as the Deloitte’s report shows, it contributes directly and indirectly to 8 per cent of GDP. Do they even understand the multiplier effect on other parts of the economy mentioned in the review? The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, was eloquent about London and the multiplier effect. The recent national tourism summit was held in Liverpool, the site of the fantastic 2008 city of culture year, which has now become a real tourism magnet in the north-west. Liverpool is also an example of the multiplier effect. From the minimal VisitBritain promotional budget of £45,000, it managed to generate some 3.5 million first-time visitors and £176 million in additional local economy spend.

The estimate in the tourism industry is that the multiplier effect is even greater than 15:1; it is that there is a 40:1—yes, 40:1—return on promotional expenditure on tourism. That has now been endorsed by the Treasury. What possible excuse can there be for hanging back?

Do the Government understand that the fragmentation of the industry and the free-rider effect mean that they need to play an active enabling role? Do they understand the case that the review is making for much better co-ordination of action between national tourist boards, the anomalous position of England and much better policy co-ordination on tourism matters between the nations? I hope that the Minister will make the Government’s view crystal clear.

My noble friends have asked a number of questions and I hope that the Minister will answer them. Specifically, in this context, will the Government support, first, a stand-alone national tourist board for England that is separate from VisitBritain, with a separate corporate body? Secondly, will they create a cross-national ministerial working group of UK Tourism Ministers to address reserved matters affecting tourism—for example, visas, taxes and immigration policy? Thirdly, will they create, at the very least, a cross-Whitehall policy working group on tourism? What are the Government’s intentions towards a tourism advisory council? We on these Benches would prefer something more powerful than a Whitehall policy working group; we would like a powerful Cabinet committee, which the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, mentioned. Fourthly, will they reappraise the budget needed by VisitBritain in light of the review, particularly for tourism promotion, especially when compared with others, such as Turkey, Spain and Greece? The Government have put more money through the recent Comprehensive Spending Review into heritage, museums and the arts, but the one thing that could ensure greater audiences and visitors in all these areas—tourism promotion—has been cut back. Where is the logic in that?

Fifthly, will the Government agree the very sensible and reasonable suggestion that they join in the public-private promotional “value Britain” campaign, which is designed to ensure the growth and development of the UK tourism industry and take advantage of the lower pound? Sixthly, will they heed the warnings about the need to fund fully the 2012 tourism strategy to promote Britain as a destination and ensure that the legacy tourism opportunities are taken?

In addition to greater marketing and promotion, we need to examine other measures to encourage visitors to the UK, such as the competitive disadvantage suffered by the industry because of VAT on visitor accommodation. The cost and availability of visas is another matter that needs examination. The Home Office seems to have absolutely no concept of the knock-on effects of the cost of visas on tourism.

It was disappointing that the heritage protection Bill was not included in the Queen’s Speech, for the very reason that it is so important to our tourism industry. There is no room for complacency in the British tourism industry, as my noble friends Lord Bradshaw and Lord Addington made clear. We do not need to copy the last Tourism Minister, Margaret Hodge, who went out of her way to criticise the tourism industry, but there is no doubt that many aspects of what the British offer need improving. The delays experienced by delegates, including foreign government Tourism Ministers, when travelling to the World Travel Market at ExCeL were inexcusable. We also need all hotels to take part in a national classification system.

This Government have taken the British tourism industry for granted for far too long, but there is huge potential. Britain has the fourth-strongest tourism brand in the world. The Government need to recognise its current contribution, its greater future potential contribution to the economy and the dangers of government inaction as we head into recession. We need a real change of heart from the Government towards tourism. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, we have had a most interesting debate. I join other noble Lords in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Carter, to his first tourism debate. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, for giving us such an excellent opportunity to debate this subject at this time. It is even more important now than it has been.

Tourism in this country is the fifth largest industry. It is massive, and it seems to generate more than £90 billion per annum for the economy. There seems to be some doubt in this regard—that is my figure—however, whether the figure is £90 billion or £85 billion, it is a lot of money.

The industry is responsible for 1.4 million jobs. As we have heard, domestic tourism accounts for 80 per cent of the value of the industry, but there has been little growth in the domestic tourism market in the past decade, whereas, although there have been ups and downs, inbound tourism is growing significantly year on year through the UK. This is an area which needs attention, especially right now when the weakness of sterling makes Britain an even better and more attractive tourist destination.

When we debated this issue in November 2005, I commented that it was a sad reflection on this Government that such an important industry did not merit a government department to administer and assist it, nor did the department which looks after it include the word “tourism” in its title. I find that incomprehensible. Nothing has changed and it has been only too obvious that the Government have not regarded tourism as a really important part of the UK economy: that is, until, perhaps, earlier this month when the Prime Minister attempted to promote British tourism at a hastily organised summit in Liverpool, during which he rightly argued that we should weather the economic downturn by choosing a domestic rather than an overseas holiday this year. Why has it taken a recession for the Government to realise the value of the British tourism industry? As my noble friend Lord Inglewood said, many people will not take holidays at all this year, but the domestic tourism market should take advantage of those who will not want to go abroad.

The difference between the amount spent by Britons on holidays abroad and the amount spent by overseas visitors to the UK has increased from £4.7 billion to around £19 billion since Labour came to power. What recent steps have the Government taken to reduce the tourism deficit in the UK? In the light of the economic situation, surely the Government should do everything in their power to persuade Britons to stay at home and to encourage more overseas visitors to make the trip here.

Yet, in October 2007, the Government announced that VisitBritain would have its funding cut by 16 per cent as part of the then Chancellor’s Comprehensive Spending Review. Does the Minister really think that cutting the budget of the organisation responsible for marketing Britain around the world makes commercial good sense just four years ahead of London hosting the Olympic Games? Is he aware of the response by my honourable friend Jeremy Hunt, the Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport, to the Prime Minister’s recent speech on tourism? He said:

“Instead of lecturing the tourism industry, Gordon Brown should answer one simple question: why has our share of international tourism declined by 10 per cent since Labour came to power?”.

Can the Minister explain that satisfactorily? If one compares the UK tourism growth rate to the global average, we underperform by close to 5 million visitors to the UK each year. When will the Government begin to give the tourism industry some kind of priority and take it seriously?

We have heard about the Olympics today, which will provide London with a once-in-a-generation opportunity to market this city around the world as a tourist destination. Given that the Games are estimated to cost at this moment £9.3 billion, what are the Government doing to ensure that the full potential of hosting the Games is realised in terms of boosting the tourism industry? What are they doing to assess and minimise any threat of terrorist attacks during the Games, which could impinge on the wider tourist industry? It would be an enormous wasted opportunity if the fear of terrorist attacks, combined with the perceived overcrowding in London because of large numbers of people coming to the Games, put regular tourists off coming to this country.

Some years ago, in your Lordships’ House, I made a plea to the Government to encourage riparian authorities to follow up some of the good work done in recent years on improving facilities beside and on the River Thames. The Thames flows right through the greatest tourist destination in the country, yet it is lamentably underused as a tourism resource, especially if one compares it with the Seine. What resources and encouragement have the Government given over the past three years to develop the tourist potential of the river and all the valuable heritage sites that lie along it, described a few years ago as, “the string of pearls”? Indeed, what will the Government be doing in the next months and years to exploit this great river?

The Conservatives believe that there should be a Minister dedicated solely to tourism. We would set up a working group of the Ministers of those departments which have an impact on the tourism industry to review its structure and the different roles played by the RDAs, the Visit organisations and local authorities.

Much is right about the tourism industry; it is brilliantly organised and remarkably resilient when bouncing back from hazards. It is poised and ready to expand to meet demand. The Government should find some way to boost the activities of VisitBritain and other organisations in the future. In the mean time, I look forward to hearing the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Carter. Perhaps he will surprise us with some new initiatives.

My Lords, I hope not. I, too, thank the noble Earl for raising this topic in what has been an absorbing debate. As someone born, raised and educated in Scotland—originally from Beith, not far from the noble Earl’s rather fine castle—I share his view that this is a critically important industry. He and other noble Lords demonstrated in their comments that while some people love London, and I count myself among them now, it remains the case that Glasgow is still “Miles Better”, as they used to say in his part of the world. I enjoyed his call to arms on this question. I also take the admonishments and I shall try to answer some of them. Moreover, if as a fellow Scot I am allowed to, I should like to place on the record the House’s appreciation of Scotland’s greatest poet on the 250th anniversary of his birth. As I listened to the noble Earl I racked my brain for an appropriate verse with which to respond to him. The best I could come up with is:

“His locked, letter’d, braw brass collar

Shew’d him the gentleman an’ scholar”.

The importance of this sector has been made clear in the debate. It is interesting that what is an emerging sense of optimism in these stark economic times also means that debates are looking at other sectors. In my full-time day job as the Minister for Communications and Technology, we have another such sector; one noble Lord asked whether we could think of any sector other than tourism that could possibly step up to the plate as a growth opportunity for the UK economy.

I felt that a number of noble Lords rather flippantly criticised the Government for not including “tourism” in the title of the department. I have jotted down what I think the name of the department would be if we included every one of its responsibilities. At the least, the department would require rather large business cards and probably take even longer to answer the telephone than is currently the case. But that should not be taken as an indication of what the Government think of this important sector. We have a Minister for Tourism, my honourable friend Barbara Follett, and we have demonstrated in numerous different ways that this is a critical industry. The current circumstances may put it into sharper relief, and that could be a virtue from which the industry can benefit. I make no apologies for that.

The industrialisation of tourism is a prize that could be ours, and that is waiting for the taking. We have come a long way since “Fawlty Towers” epitomised in people’s minds the traditional resort hotel with the immortal words, “Manuel will take you to your room—if you’re lucky”.

The noble Earl referred to the comments of Christopher Rodrigues. I think he was misquoted. The point he was making is that we need to avoid being seen as a destination of bad service and as “grumpy Britain”; he was not making a comment about the current state of the industry. While I know the noble Earl was making a slightly jocular point, it is unfair to suggest that there is a service apartheid between the Scots and the English, or even the Scots, the English and those from Wigan.

The service ethic in this country has transformed itself in the past 20 to 30 years. There may well be valid points to make about comparative standards with other countries in the world, and valid points have been made today about the professionalisation of service as a career option for long-term occupation and the available rewards that go with it, but, on any measure, for those of us who have been holidaying and vacationing—and many in the House, I hope, have been holidaying for longer than I have—in this country, the opportunities afforded are remarkably improved.

The noble Earl raised a question about the definition of tourism. I was intrigued by the notion that one could be a tourist if one is absent from one’s house for more than eight hours. On that basis, I, like many noble Lords, am a tourist in my own household. However, it raises an interesting question about how we measure the industry, and I shall reprise some of the comments made to try to scale the industry that we are talking about before addressing some of the other questions that have been raised.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, referred to the Deloitte study—the framework review—and used that to quantify the industry. As it stands, tourism is the fifth-biggest industry in the economy and our tourism, hospitality and leisure industries represent all kinds of businesses, from the multinational hotel corporation to the individual boutique, from the stately home to the local visitor centre and the local village museum. We have much to showcase, both to visitors new to our country and to the large numbers of us who increasingly will choose to holiday at home. I have been a regular holidayer, both abroad and at home, and I would say that the quality of the seaside attractions in this country, the quality and cleanliness of the water, the resorts and facilities on offer have improved beyond measure over the past 15 or 20 years.

I share the noble Lord’s view that, notwithstanding the disruption it may bring to landowners—which Defra undoubtedly needs to take into account—the opportunity to make our coastal path more accessible and more of a route of attraction, to allow more people to take a journey around our kingdom, is to be grasped with enthusiasm.

As many noble Lords have said, we can be tourists in many ways—overnight stays, short trips, business tourism, long vacations, weekend breaks and tourism surrounding sporting activities, as the noble Lord, Lord Addington, pointed out. The wealth of our arts and heritage provides a great attraction to both the international and domestic visitor.

I was, for all intents and purposes, raised in Edinburgh, educated in Aberdeen and have lived in London, and throughout the various roles and jobs I have had I have found myself in different cities. Noble Lords will forgive me if they take it as a nakedly party-political point, but in the past 10 or 15 years the quality of our civic centres has been transformed. If you travel round this country—to Manchester, to Liverpool, to Leeds, to Newcastle, to Bath, to Bristol, to Edinburgh, to Glasgow—you will find that these cities have a sense of purpose, civic pride and quality of attraction, and a sense of themselves, which is unrecognisable from where we were 10 or 15 years ago. Some of that has been through investment in regeneration schemes; some has been a function of investment from the lottery; some has been a sense of reinvention of industry in the locations which has made them more vibrant centres; and some has been a function of devolution and a greater desire in people to stay where they are rather than head south to London.

The importance of the tourism and hospitality sector to the well-being of this country cannot be overstated. We can debate whether it is possible for us to get to the £100 billion target by 2012 or whether we could take the sector to being the fourth or third-largest sector in the economy but, needless to say, the Government are seized of its importance. Having a Minister focused on it is of value. I take the gentle criticism that Ministers, departments or perhaps some combination of the two reach for reviews, followed by strategic reviews, followed by further analysis, followed, hopefully, by departure to a new post. However, it is fair to say that the framework review in this sector has been beneficial; indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, was using it to try to pin me on five or six questions, which I shall return to in a second. These things have value.

The noble Lord asked whether there was value in greater cross-government working in this area. We believe there is, and earlier this year my colleague announced that a joint ministerial committee would look at the issues that touch multiple departments in order to get greater co-ordination across government. We have floated the proposal of an advisory council. We can debate whether that council has enough scale, reach or stature, but the principle of having the individuals who represent and work in the industry advising a dedicated Minister on a regular basis is a sensible proposal, and one that has merit.

A number of contributions today referred to the national tourism summit. It is harsh to describe it as “hastily arranged”; in fact, it was rather well arranged and very effective. If any noble Lords have engaged with people who were at it, they will have found that there was a general view that this was an appropriate time for the Prime Minister, the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport and the Minister for Tourism to firmly underscore the importance of the sector, outline the initial findings from the framework review—we have made it clear that we will respond formally to those findings on 11 February—and lay out some support for other areas of activity.

Some noble Lords have raised the question of transport infrastructure and whether London is overdominant as a gateway into the United Kingdom. London is undoubtedly the primary point of entry into the UK, but different parts of the UK benefit in equal measure. The spread of the tourist industry across the country continues to grow. The Government have, somewhat controversially, supported the third runway at Heathrow. We have invested a further £6 billion on increasing capacity on the roads. We have commissioned and partly funded a further study into High Speed 2 to see whether additional high-speed rail services would be of value between London and Scotland, to increase connectivity. We recognise the role of infrastructure as a way of feeding the tourist industry around the United Kingdom.

The scale of the challenge facing the industry from the global economic downturn is considerable, and I do not wish to ignore that, but we should focus our debate not on the parlous state of the industry—it is not in a parlous state—but rather on the opportunities afforded to it. Liverpool has been referred to on two or three occasions. The city has forged a stunning success from its year as the UK’s European Capital of Culture. Many noble Lords—particularly, I suspect, the noble Earl—will recall Glasgow’s success as the European Capital of Culture, but Liverpool has gone slightly further. It has quantified that success, and the numbers are impressive. Liverpool’s tenure as Capital of Culture generated an £800 million boost to the regional economy. The city welcomed 3.5 million first-time visitors, 25 per cent of all its visitors, generating £176 million alone in tourism spending. A record 1 million hotel beds have been sold in the city, with average occupancy rates hitting nearly 80 per cent. The programme also helped generate 15 million visits to cultural venues. The Tate Liverpool and Merseyside Maritime Museum each attracted more than 1 million people for the first time, and I could go on.

If Europe is ready to learn from Liverpool—in many instances, it appears that it will—then so must we be. The key here is that people are still willing to spend on the right product and high-quality attractions so long as they can be assured of their value for money.

The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, and two other noble Lords pointed out how increasingly competitive the tourist market was and asked whether we could explain why our market share was changing. It is changing because the market is infinitely more competitive than it ever was. The number of emerging and developing countries coming into the market increases; the quality of their product is increasingly impressive. We should not ignore that, but recognise that the number of players in, and supply of product to, the market are increasing. That makes it a more difficult market in which to compete.

The noble Lord, Lord Addington, raised sporting tourism and its opportunity to raise the bar and set a standard from which we could learn and drive further activity. The Olympic and Paralympic Games are clear examples of that. There are others, too. In 2009, we will have the Ashes; in 2010, we will have the Ryder Cup; in 2011, we will have the Badminton World Championships; we are bidding for the Rugby League World Cup in 2013; in 2014, Glasgow will host the Commonwealth Games, and Scotland will host the Ryder Cup; and we may conceivably host the football World Cup in 2018. The Government have given significant resource and commitment to each of those sporting bids and events because they represent fantastic opportunities to showcase our towns, cities, regions and nations.

The Government want our sporting and cultural bodies working ever closer with the public and the private sector, and we want the tourist bodies maximising the economic benefits for our regions. We believe that this country offers excellent value for money, and it is clear that the current position of our currency is an attraction both for those people visiting this country and those of us who choose to holiday at home rather than abroad. I am not sure that I feel entirely comfortable with the notion of the Government encouraging, or perhaps even going further and instructing, people to holiday at home. That is a legitimate job of the tourist industry; I am not sure that it is a legitimate role for government. Needless to say, the current situation makes the country ever more attractive.

The Government have, however, allocated an additional £6.5 million investment for the VisitBritain and VisitEngland “value for money” campaign. The noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, raised the valid question whether that is sufficient. Once upon a time, I used to spend my time encouraging people to get returns from marketing investment and we could debate whether the available funds for marketing are as large as we would wish them to be. Suffice it to say that we will continue to keep those amounts under review, but the Government need not be the sole provider of funding. The RDAs, which the noble Baroness also raised, can be a source of funding. We saw earlier this year the north-west RDA announce that tourist boards across the north-west will be given a £20 million boost to help them through the current economic slump.

My Lords, did the Minister say that the Government have agreed to fund the “value” campaign to the tune of £6.5 million?

My Lords, I said that the Prime Minister announced on 8 January that VisitBritain and VisitEngland will launch a “value for money” campaign, involving an investment of £6.5 million.

The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, raised the framework review. As he knows, the headline findings of the framework review were published at the Liverpool summit. They included redefinition of VisitBritain’s role, enabling it better to support the work overseas of its partner agencies in Scotland and Wales, and the creation of a new English tourism lead body. We will publish the full findings of the review, which will be presented on 11 February.

I turn to the specific questions that noble Lords have raised that I have not answered to date. The noble Earl, Lord Glasgow, asked about overseas spend. There is growing evidence that the exchange rate may be encouraging greater spending; indeed, the initial results on global refunds reveal a 55 per cent rise in December in sales to visitors reclaiming tax. That is an interesting and encouraging statistic.

I hope that I have answered the questions from the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, about joined-up government and from the noble Lord, Lord Lee of Trafford, about the tourism advisory council. On the question of double summer time, I am profoundly aware that for those in the tourist industry it is a key question. As a Government and department, we are aware, too, that while the tourist industry may favour this change, many sectors in our communities are strongly opposed. We have said as a department that we will keep this under review as the evidence is presented to us.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, raised the point about coastal paths, which I hope I have addressed.

Finally, on the skills point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Addington, we absolutely agree that customer service is the key determinant. I have a particular view, which I share with others, on how important that is, not only in the tourist industry but in all industries. To a degree, this is a cultural point. As the noble Lord knows, the Government have made significant sums of money available as part of the national skills strategy, which is designed to target customer service as a vital area in which we recognise that improvement is needed. The Government have made nearly £500 million available annually for the tourism and hospitality sector, specifically to try to improve skills in this area.

Finally, while I would have no problems being the Minister for public conveniences, I share the noble Lord’s observation that taking a leak in a public place in the United Kingdom is harder than it is in Paris. Perhaps that is something that he and I could take up later. I thank noble Lords for the debate.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken the trouble to take part in this debate. All of them have contributed something very important to it.

I also thank the Minister very much indeed for his charming and well researched answers. I am not totally certain exactly what he said at the end and whether the Government are going to take tourism more seriously and contribute more money. I hope that that is the case. I believe that he is passionate about tourism and will put pressure on his colleagues to ensure that tourism is given a higher profile in the Government, particularly at this time.

One thing that all noble Lords felt strongly about was the fact that the money given to VisitBritain to market Britain had been cut. I hope that the Minister will revisit that, as VisitBritain is so important to the tourist industry—and I hope that it might have its budget increased instead of decreased.

Motion withdrawn.

European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Regulations 2009

Motion to Approve

Moved by

That the draft regulations laid before the House on 24 November 2008 be approved.

Relevant Document: 1st report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments

My Lords, I am grateful that it has been agreed that the statutory instruments can be taken together. The three pieces of legislation refer to the European parliamentary elections, to be held in the United Kingdom on 4 June this year, and form an important part of the Government’s preparations for these elections. All three statutory instruments have been subject to consultation with the Electoral Commission and other stakeholders, and drafts were revised and amended when appropriate, as a result of responses to that consultation.

I will deal first with the European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Regulations 2009. The main purpose of these regulations is to amend the European Parliamentary Elections Regulations 2004 to take into account the changes which have been made to electoral law since 2004. In general, this is meant to apply the changes made in the Electoral Administration Act to European parliamentary elections. We have already undertaken this exercise for the various types of local elections and the GLA elections. Even though the scale of changes is minor, in order to assist electoral administrators in the practical application of the legislation we have re-enacted Schedule 1, on European parliamentary election rules; Schedule 2, on absent voting; and Schedule 3, on modification of European parliamentary elections rules for combined polls, to the 2004 regulations in their entirety.

The European parliamentary elections are administered in Great Britain by 11 returning officers, one each for Scotland and Wales and nine for the regions of England. They are known colloquially as regional returning officers, or RROs. They perform some functions, for example nomination procedures, at a regional level, but most of the mechanics of the delivery of the poll fall to electoral administrators in each region, known as local returning officers, with the RRO acting as a co-ordinator. The European parliamentary election rules confer functions on the returning officers and local returning officers to ensure the smooth running of the poll.

Schedule 2 to the regulations replaces the European parliamentary elections rules in Schedule 1 to the 2004 regulations, and reflects the new security measures introduced under the 2006 Act. These measures include security markings on ballot papers, the introduction of unique identifying marks and the replacement of counterfoils with corresponding number lists. The rules also reflect the changes made under the 2006 Act in relation to the retention and inspection of election documents after the poll.

The key policy changes that we have made in relation to absent voting at European elections are set out in Schedule 3 to these regulations. The changes include new provisions for the collection of personal identifiers from persons applying to vote by post or proxy in a European parliamentary election; a requirement for postal voters in European parliamentary elections to provide their signature and date of birth on postal voting statements, which they must complete and return with their ballot papers; and a requirement for local returning officers to take steps to verify the signatures and dates of birth on postal voting statements, which involves checking that the identifiers provided on the postal voting statement correspond with those previously provided with the postal vote application.

Schedule 4 to the 2004 regulations, which sets out the modifications needed to the European parliamentary rules in the event of a combination of polls, has also been updated to reflect changes that have been made to the 2004 regulations as a result of the 2006 Act.

To facilitate the smooth running of a poll in Scotland, we have defined “local counting area in Scotland” as a local government area in Scotland. However, the local returning officer for European parliamentary elections in Scotland remains the person who is responsible for UK parliamentary elections there, as required by Section 6 of the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2002. We have been able to provide, in Schedule 1 to the regulations, which inserts a new Schedule A1 in the 2004 regulations, that the local returning officer for each local counting area is the person responsible for a specified parliamentary constituency. To make this work in practice, we have assigned a local returning officer to each local counting area. This means that, on the ground, the checking of personal voting identifiers will be simplified because electoral administrators will not have to use multiple software systems to perform the task. This change was the express wish of the Scottish electoral administrators.

On future boundaries for the European parliamentary elections, in the long term we have included measures in the Political Parties and Elections Bill which, subject to Parliament’s approval, provides that all future European parliamentary polls after 2009 will be administered on local authority boundaries.

The European Parliament (Representation) Act 2003 enfranchised the Gibraltar electorate for the purposes of European parliamentary elections in response to a judgment of the European Court of Human Rights. We have worked with the Gibraltar Government to ensure that all necessary amendments have been made to those regulations to enable the Gibraltar electorate to continue to vote in elections to the European Parliament as part of, and on the same terms as, the UK. For example, the regulations require personal identifiers to be used in Gibraltar for the first time at a European parliamentary election.

On 9 January, the Gibraltar Parliament passed the European Parliamentary Elections (Amendment) Act 2008. The Act amends the European Parliamentary Elections Act 2004 to closely mirror the changes which were made for Great Britain by the Representation of the People Act 1983 as amended by our 2006 Act. Thus, the Gibraltar electorate will be able to take advantage of late and anonymous registration.

We have consulted the Electoral Commission and have incorporated a number of the points which it raised in its formal response to the regulations. This included a provision, and a recommendation to make it clearer on the ballot paper, that a voter must mark his or her vote with a cross—an X—in the box.

After careful consideration the Government agreed to implement the Electoral Commission’s recommendation to change the rules in relation to the use of party descriptions on the basis that the change is in line with Ron Gould’s recent findings about the use of descriptors at list-based elections. This means that the registered name of the party must appear first on the ballot paper, followed by any description of the party which has been used in the nomination papers. We will work with the Electoral Commission to review whether a similar change to the use of party descriptions would be beneficial for electors at local and UK parliamentary elections.

Following the Electoral Commission’s recommendation, we have taken steps to make it clearer that a voter should mark his or her vote with a cross—an X—in the box to the right of the name of the party or individual candidate he or she is voting for, by amending the wording at the top of the ballot paper to read:

“Vote once (x) in one blank box”.

The Electoral Commission also put forward a recommendation for the regulations to make provision for the acceptance of valid votes where electors mark them in numbers rather than using an X or other mark to indicate who they are voting for. However, after informal consultation, the Ministry of Justice concluded that, in the light of the current legislation and guidance on the rejection of ballot papers, all decisions as to whether a vote is valid or not where a voter has marked his or her vote with a “1,2,3” should be left to the discretion of the returning officer applying the current rules.

We have worked to complete the regulations as early as possible, with an aim to meet Ron Gould’s recommendation for electoral legislation to be in place six months prior to the European parliamentary elections. While we have narrowly missed that target, the regulations will, subject to the approval of both Houses, be in force four months before the election on 4 June, which will hopefully be helpful to electors, electoral administrators and other stakeholders.

I move to the European Parliament (Disqualification) (United Kingdom and Gibraltar) Order 2009. Its purpose is to take account of the changes which were made by the Gibraltar Constitution Order 2006. The most notable changes are “Gibraltar Ordinances”, as they were called, now being known as Acts, and the House of Assembly being renamed as the Gibraltar Parliament. The repeal and re-enactment of the 2004 order is therefore due to a change of nomenclature rather than policy. The 2009 order continues to ensure that a consistent approach is taken in relation to the disqualification of MEPs in Gibraltar and the United Kingdom.

Finally, as regards the European Parliamentary Elections (Loans and Related Transactions and Miscellaneous Provisions) (United Kingdom and Gibraltar) Order 2009, during the four months before a European election, Gibraltar, which, as noble Lords will know, is combined with the south-west region of the United Kingdom for the purposes of voting in European elections, is subject to a modified form of the statutory provisions regulating donations to political parties.

The 2004 order allows UK political parties which declare an intention to contest a European parliamentary election in the combined region—that is, the south-west region and Gibraltar—to accept donations from donors who are based in Gibraltar in the four months before a European Parliament election, and regulates loans entered into by Gibraltar parties contesting the region during the same period. In addition, the order caps the total amount that UK parties may receive from Gibraltar donors at the amount of campaign expenditure which the registered party would be permitted to incur if it were standing for election in the combined region only, which equates to £315,000. This figure is called, perhaps sensibly, the “permitted maximum”. This order is required to update the 2004 order to take account of changes which were made to the regime for the financial support of parties in the Electoral Administration Act 2006—specifically, to apply new Part 4A of the 2000 Act to Gibraltar.

The order replicates the current donations provisions for loans; that is, to permit loans from specified individuals and organisations in Gibraltar to UK political parties contesting the combined region in the four-month period preceding an election and to regulate loans to Gibraltar parties contesting the combined region during this period. It also, in effect, alters the matters that count towards calculation of the “permitted maximum”. The order alters these matters by ensuring that the value of loans as well as donations must be taken into account by a party when deciding whether the permitted maximum has been reached. In order to reflect the spirit of the provisions in relation to donations from Gibraltar, loans entered into with Gibraltar individuals or bodies during the four-month period may not be subject to actual capitalisation—that is, an increase in the capital borrowed—after the date of the poll. The intention behind this is to prevent non-Gibraltar parties using existing loans to borrow more money from Gibraltar individuals or bodies after the end of the permitted period.

This draft order will help to fulfil the United Kingdom’s obligation to ensure that the Gibraltar electorate is able to vote at elections to the European Parliament on as similar a basis as possible to the UK electorate. It has been the subject of consultation with both the Gibraltar Government and the Electoral Commission: they are both content.

I appreciate, and am grateful for, the fact that noble Lords have borne with me while I outlined each of the statutory instruments. I hope that they will agree—although I am not sure about this—that it is important to go through the details. The Electoral Commission and other stakeholders have given us many helpful, useful and practical comments that we have taken into account in the final drafts of the statutory instruments before us today. The statutory instruments will enable the combined elections to go ahead successfully and make sure that they are conducted properly. I hope that they will also make matters easier for electors. That is our objective, and I commend the regulations and draft orders to the House.

My Lords, I speak at this rather late hour on a Thursday afternoon because I should have liked to speak in the debate on 14 October last year on Statutory Instrument 2008/1647, which deals with the same general subject matter as the proposals before us. However, I had a family commitment out of London that evening and was unable to do so. Nevertheless, before the debate I spoke to my party’s spokesman, my noble friend Lord Kingsland, and to the noble Baroness the Leader of the House, with whom I have subsequently had a most cordial correspondence.

I should first make it clear that I am the hereditary Peer referred to in the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee’s report in respect of the 2008 order who was both an elected hereditary Peer and a Member of the European Parliament between 1999 and 2004. I was, incidentally, elected to remain in this House by my party’s Peers, in the full knowledge that I was a Member of the European Parliament. My memory is that there was a degree of controversy about that at the time—my noble friend Lord Henley might confirm that, as he was Chief Whip—but the ballot box delivered its verdict.

My concern is that the Government have not taken the opportunity in these statutory instruments to remedy some of the shortcomings pointed out in the debate of 14 October 2008. In particular, I return to the discrimination between the exempted hereditary Peers and life Peers in respect of access to the process of disqualification made available in UK law for life Peers but not the 92 exempted hereditary Peers. This is also the subject of a petition that I have lodged in the European Parliament.

The reasons for this were described by the Minister in the House that evening, at col. 676 of Hansard. While I think that I know humbug when I see it, I do not wish to make any further comment about the merits or otherwise of that policy, other than to say that it is a bit bizarre to have a policy to eject the 92 hereditaries from this House as soon as may be while denying them the right of resigning.

The important issue is the dog that did not bark on that October night, regarding whether or not that policy is implementable under European Union law. After all, given the doctrine of the supremacy of EU law, Governments often discover that there are things that they would like to do but cannot. That is a long-established and recognised phenomenon, as we all know in this House—indeed, as anyone engaged in political life in this country knows in respect of things such as the common agricultural policy and the common fisheries policy.

Speaking as an individual, I entirely understand the thinking behind the “no dual mandate” rule for the European Parliament, and I see absolutely no difficulty with it, as long as due legal process is observed when implementing the legislation across the EU. It must be seen in the context of European law as a whole. In this instance, all that is required is for those in the second Chamber to have an escape route available to them. It is widely known that at one time in this country it was thought that the leave of absence procedure, which is available to hereditary Peers, as it is to every other Member of this House, would provide that route. However, more recently it was felt by the European parliamentary authorities that that was not the case. As a result, statutory instrument No. 1647 was put on to the statute book. However, that escape route is not available to the 92 exempted hereditaries who are, as the Minister explained in terms to the House on that evening, identical in respect of their membership of this House.

I expect that the Minister will say that the rules for election to the European Parliament for this country are exclusively a matter for the United Kingdom Government. That is probably the case, but I would not emphatically and completely agree with it. However, I am not making that point now. Rather, in dealing with this issue, the Government have completely failed to address the implications of Article 19 of the European Communities treaty relating to the question of citizens of a member state seeking election to the European Parliament in another member state. This is not a completely fanciful notion. After all, in the European Parliament there is Danny Cohn-Bendit, who some noble Lords may remember as “Red Danny”; he may have been a hero of the Minister in his youth. There is also Ari Vatanen, the world champion rally driver and Finnish national who represents France. I have not asked the noble Lord, Lord Grenfell, whether this is the kind of thing that he might be interested in, but I dare say it could be. Anyway, the rule may well have relevance and application in, for example, the island of Ireland.

The failure of the Government to deal with this point regarding the 92 exempted hereditaries denies them their rights as European citizens to stand in another member state, unlike their life Peer colleagues. I ask the Minister, although this may be a triumph of hope over experience, to bring forward provisions to remedy this shortcoming by regularising the position and any other deficiencies in European Union law that may relate to it. The important point here is that, on these kinds of rights, we are not talking about something in the gift of the Government. The fact that the Government may, in their words, be planning to deal with these matters at some point, even in the quite near future, is interesting but not directly relevant.

It matters not at all whether the Government like or hate hereditary peers, whether they admire or despise them, or whether they agree or disagree with them. It is not a question of how we got here. The question is: now that we are here, what is the right position? We, too, have rights. Equally, those who have rights cannot sell or renounce them, or give them away, or have them modified by UK statute. Indeed, that is one of the criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Pearson of Rannoch. Whether any of us, as individuals, exercise our rights is our affair and a matter for our judgment and our conscience.

I turn to how these provisions were negotiated with the European Parliament’s legal service. My inquiries have revealed that the legal service made it clear, at the outset, that the rights sought by the UK Government should be available to all Members of this House. The Government demurred, saying that they would be dealing with the problem posed by the 92 quite soon, and perhaps rather weakly, but understandably—given that the UK Government rather than the European Parliament initiates legislation in this House—there was little more to be done. What is, however, absolutely clear is that the timescale of “soon” does not correlate with the Government’s policies as contained in An Elected Second Chamber: Further Reform of the House of Lords, which was published in July last year—that is to say, before the October statutory instrument came before Parliament.

First—to state the obvious—nobody knows the outcome of the next general election, although we can guess at it. Secondly, it is expressly stated that there is no finality about any plans for further reform. Thirdly, there is no certainty about how the issues posed by the remaining 92 are to be dealt with; option 2 envisages that some may remain for many years, possibly until 2021, although I agree that that is short compared to the period between the 1911 Act and the 1999 Act. Fourthly, if I have understood the document correctly, and I believe that I have, it is anticipated that the same process that will be applied to the 92 hereditaries will also apply to the life Peers for whom the statutory instrument was specifically put on the domestic statute book.

A serious question, about how this was presented to the European Parliament’s legal service, needs to be answered. If I were one of those legal staff, I might feel that Her Majesty’s Government had been perhaps rather economical with the truth about what was happening. We must not forget that our reputation abroad as “perfidious Albion” must have come from somewhere.

I dare say that your Lordships will call this a nitpicking, pettifogging, silly little argument. In many ways, I am the first to agree but, in my opinion, the Government, by relying on nitpicking, pettifogging legal arguments, are attempting to take a nice cheap hit at the expense of the hereditary Peers. That hit goes against not only the provisions of the European treaty but the letter and spirit of the compromise behind the 1999 changes here.

It may seem a small matter, and in one sense it undoubtedly is, but it has considerable, wider implications. In my view, it is the wicket gate to the primrose path. It is just the kind of issue that I was expected to take up, and did, on behalf of my constituents during my 10 years in the European Parliament. It seems to me that if you choose to live by nitpicking, pettifogging legal arguments, you have no business to complain if you subsequently die by them. Over the weekend, I turned on the television and heard the right honourable Caroline Flint, the Minister for Europe, telling the nation on behalf of the Government that their role in Europe is to see that the rules are obeyed. Quite right; I agree entirely. However, the Government should take the beam out of their own eye before going around trying to take the motes out of other people’s eyes.

My Lords, I was fascinated by what the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, said but I do not think that it was exactly the subject of our discussions this afternoon. I entirely understand why he has taken the opportunity to put his thoughts on the record but the Minister will probably be pleased to hear that I shall not be pursuing that line.

In most cases, these regulations and orders just regurgitate everything that has been before with, as the Minister said, a few changes to bring them into line with previous regulations and with the 2006 Act. Therefore, there is not much to complain about on the whole, although I shall start with a couple of general quibbles. I shall be very brief because, again, they are not really the subject of these regulations.

The first is the whole question of postal voting, which is now regulated for the European elections in the same way as it is for national and local elections. It remains my personal view that postal voting in this country is far too easy and far too open to corruption. The new rules and regulations have changed the way in which people who wish corruptly to use postal votes operate but they have not prevented them doing so. Having said that, I do not imagine that there will be a huge amount of fiddling of postal votes in the European elections, as it is not clear what its purpose would be. The smaller the electoral area, the easier it is to fiddle the postal votes and change the result. I do not think we should expect there to be a lot of postal-vote fraud in the north-west, for example, on this occasion. There should certainly be a lot less than there was last time, when there was universal postal voting. It is some five years since we discussed the pilots Bill that brought about that postal voting, and I should put on the record that we on these Benches are pleased that the Government appear to have moved away from the idea permanently—at least, I hope that they have.

With my second general point, I wish to put down a marker about the electoral system. Obviously, the electoral system for European elections has to be proportional. It is unfortunate that the Government have chosen the worst possible proportional system for these elections, but I shall say no more than that at this stage. We would be delighted if everyone had to put “1, 2, 3 and 4” on the ballot paper instead of an “X” but I shall not pursue that further at the moment.

I have one or two questions but, before raising them, I wish to make one general gripe, which is probably nothing to do with the Minister or this legislation. Clearly, this document is laid out in the way in which statutory instruments are normally laid out. They are normally one, two or 20 pages long, but here we have a document of 139 pages. There are no running page headings so that you can understand where you are in the document, and there is no list of contents and no index. That is rather ridiculous, especially in these days of computers, when it is so easy to do such things. This style is okay for short statutory instruments but absolutely hopeless for a document of this size, particularly as this will be a working document for a lot of people. There are now people around the country—and there will be more when the document is approved by both Houses—who are using it as the basis for their administration. It will be reprinted in other forms that may be more convenient for people to use but I think that my point is valid. It is a general point about the unfriendliness of this type of government document. The Minister is nodding his head, so he obviously has the same problem as I do.

I have one or two questions on this document. The first is on the verification of postal votes and the verification of personal identifiers: the signature and date of birth. Does that apply to 100 per cent of the postal votes which come in? When they were first brought in, at least in some areas, only a proportion were verified, although in some parts of the country, including parts of Lancashire, they verified 100 per cent because there was thought to be a problem in those areas. Is there to be 100 per cent verification? I hope the answer is yes. Secondly, I am a little confused about the situation in Scotland. I looked at the table and did not understand it. I understand it a little more now—it is Schedule 1A. Are the votes in Scotland counted and announced by constituency or by local authority area? I assume that in England it will be local authority area, as it was last time.

The Minister said that part of these regulations referred to combined elections in those areas which will have county council elections in England, but they do not appear to set out how those combined elections will take place. Therefore, I assume there is another set of regulations and that the Minister will tell me whether they have already been approved—I assume they have not. Will they allow the two elections to be administered together, or is it already set out somewhere that that is not required?

Will the Minister say where the marked registers will be held after the elections? In the past, there were problems when we had combined elections because they were taken to London and some of them were lost. I understand that all the marked registers will now be kept locally. Can the Minister confirm that that will be the case for the marked registers in June, so that people who want to check them for the county council elections will not find that they have been taken to a warehouse in Chelmsford or somewhere in the south-east of England and then lost? Will the marked registers be kept locally now for both of the elections?

New Regulation 74 refers to the imprint on election literature. That is the new form of imprint with the printer, the promoter and on whose behalf it is produced. Is that compulsory from these elections onwards? There was a period when either the old or the new imprints could be used and everyone was totally confused. For these elections, will the new imprint, as I have just described it, be compulsory?

The name and description on the ballot paper are set out in Regulation 22. As the Minister said, it must contain the names followed by the description, if any, of the registered parties shown in the statement of parties and individual candidates nominated. I am confused about that. One can use up to six words to describe a candidate. Instead of “Liberal Democrat”, I could say “Liberal Democrat against airport on Pendle Hill”, or whatever. Some years ago, the Liberal Democrats in London ran as the “Liberal Democrats”—

My Lords, there was a slogan. Will we have “Conservatives against Europe” or whatever? People can register and use those descriptions. It is a long-standing grouse of mine that people are allowed to put slogans on ballot papers, which I think is wrong.

My Lords, many of these slogans are misleading, but parties are allowed to register them. The Electoral Commission does not subject them to an analysis of ideological or policy purity; it just accepts them. Are we now saying that there will be a description that is actually the name of the political party, such as the “Liberal Democrats” or the “Conservative Party”—the Conservative and Unionist Party, or whatever it has decided its name is—which is the registered name, and then there will be up to six words of description in addition?

My Lords, I recall standing in an election where there was the Liberal Democrat candidate and the Real Liberal Democrat candidate, and I do not think the Real Liberal Democrat candidate represented the noble Lord’s party.

My Lords, that was probably before names were registered because it would not be allowed now. The Electoral Commission would not register “Real Liberal Democrat” because it would say it is too close to “Liberal Democrat”. However, it allows a party called the Liberal Party to be registered and one called the national liberal something or other, which is a crazy fascist outfit in some part of London, so it is not entirely consistent.

Will there be the name of the party, which we all recognise, such as the Labour Party or UKIP, and underneath any six words it wants? That seems undesirable because it allows a slogan on a ballot paper. A standard ballot paper is shown on page 53 of the regulations, and it appears to show just the names of the parties and no descriptions, so I am not sure where the description would appear and in what size typeface.

My Lords, I apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, and will try not to make interventions from a sedentary position in future. As a former—many years ago—member of the Liberal Party, it is occasionally too difficult to resist the temptation. I offer my commiserations to the Minister, whose voice seems to be suffering a little. I shall try to keep my questions relatively short but, no doubt, he will still manage manfully to answer all the questions put by my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Greaves.

I start, for once, by offering the Minister some congratulations. He said that the Ministry of Justice had narrowly missed its target for publishing the second order on time. That is a great improvement on what it has achieved in the past, as it has quite frequently missed its targets by a considerable margin.

Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said, the points made by my noble friend Lord Inglewood are highly relevant and important. He pointed out that in this and in previous orders the Government are proposing to treat Members of Parliament, whether hereditary Members or life Peers, differently in relation to election to the European Parliament. We want a full and proper answer from the Minister, and I hope he will be able to give it. If he does not, he will find that this matter will have to be considered in due course by the European Court of Justice, if not by the European Court of Human Rights on a human rights issue. There is a case to answer, and the Minister must try to do so for the Government.

I agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, said about postal voting. Over the past few years, the Government, in their desperate desire—so they say—to increase turnout at elections, have made it easier and easier for people to have postal votes. A lot of that is very good and quite worthy, but—I do not want to make a party political point because we all know from press reports that there has been corruption in postal voting involving all three parties—there is corruption, and it is very easy. It behoves the Government to look very carefully at postal voting to see how it can be tightened up.

On the extracts from the Explanatory Memorandum that the Minister read out on postal voting, are the Government proposing slightly tighter rules in European elections than in general elections and local elections, or are they just bringing them all into line? The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, rightly said that he did not think that there was likely to be that much fraud with postal voting in European elections because, obviously, it would be very difficult to influence the result of the election given the number of votes involved. However, bearing in mind that the European elections will, as I understand it, take place on the same day as the local elections, it is also likely or possible—the noble Lord will not know any more than I do; it depends on what the Prime Minister decides—that there could be a general election on the same day. The possibility of fraud in one will influence all three, so it is very important that the Government address that in due course, even if they cannot sort it out—

My Lords, when the Minister replies, can he confirm that the Electoral Commission said that it would not want a general election on the same day as European elections? That might be quite important.

My Lords, I will leave the Minister to respond to that point—no doubt he will if he has time to take advice from those who offer him advice on such matters.

My last point echoes some of the remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Greaves, about how we have the worst possible electoral system.

My Lords, let me be quite clear: I did not say that it was the worst possible system; I said that it was the worst possible form of proportional representation.

I stand corrected, my Lords. It is still a pretty awful system. The noble Lord may remember my late friend Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish and his long arguments against the closed lists that the Government were imposing on us. At the time, I was Chief Whip and I remember saying privately to my late friend, when he talked about the evils of the closed list, that it might be a Chief Whip’s dream in terms of party management but not quite the most democratic way to select the people who are to represent us in Europe or, for that matter, in any other election that the Government choose to put before us.

I hope that that will provide the Minister with sufficient questions to answer, and that his voice will bear out for the remainder of this afternoon.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken and, in particular, the noble Lord, Lord Inglewood, who, as I think he knows, I will not be able to please very much today. I pay tribute to him both as a Member of the European Parliament for the 10 years that he served there and as a Member of this House. He is a highly respected figure in both institutions. I am very sorry that he was not able to be here on 14 October, because his speech would have been, if I may say so, much more apt on that occasion, as I think he said this afternoon. We know that there are always good reasons why people cannot be here; that often happens on the days when you particularly want to be here.

However, I do not intend to attempt to answer the noble Lord’s point today. I regret his phrase—in time, I hope that he will too—describing the Government as being economical with the truth on this matter. I do not think that that is either fair or a particularly sensible thing to say, if I may say so. As he knows, the instruments that we are debating today are made under different enabling powers from those needed to address the issue which I absolutely concede is of great importance to him and others.

The noble Lord knows that the issue of hereditary Peers was given full consideration by this House in that important debate in October and he knows the line that the Government took—I was the Minister. It was that hereditary Peers and life Peers arrive in this House by different means and that that includes, as he pointed out, standing for election in the case of hereditary Peers; the consequences of a vacancy are rather different, because the House of Lords Act 1999 provides for a vacancy only following a death. I attempted to make it clear in that debate—I will quote myself now, which is not something that I am prone to do—that:

“Our intention with these regulations”—

I was referring to the regulations of that day—

“was to provide a simple, pragmatic and interim solution to a specific and pressing problem”.—[Official Report, 14/10/08; col. 677.]

We dealt sensibly with that problem in those regulations. I understand absolutely that that has not satisfied the noble Lord. I remind the House—the noble Lord referred to this—that we remain committed to ensuring that the issue that he and others raised should be considered as part of the wider debate on House of Lords reform. The European Parliament (House of Lords Disqualification) Regulations 2008, which were debated and agreed on 14 October, were intended as an interim solution in advance of full reform of the second Chamber.

The noble Lord, Lord Greaves, made some general points and asked some very interesting questions. He and the noble Lord, Lord Henley, quite properly raised the issue of postal voting. They will know that postal voting has proved popular and has boosted turnout at elections, which I am sure they support. They rightly pointed out that we must balance accessibility with security. That is why we have recently acted to tighten security and have introduced new requirements to produce personal identifiers to get a postal vote and stronger sanctions, powers of investigation and punishment of those who are guilty of electoral fraud. The Electoral Commission’s report on the 2007-08 elections suggests that our action had a positive effect on the safety and security of the system. The available evidence suggests that incidents of postal voting fraud remain isolated. However, it is important that the Government are not complacent about this issue. We keep the electoral process under review and will consider what future action may be taken to ensure that it remains secure and whether we need to take action to address malpractice in other parts of the system, for example, personation in polling stations and proxy voting generally. That is as far as I can go this afternoon in response to the noble Lord’s general points.

I have to admit that I have a sneaking sympathy with the noble Lord’s comments on the large regulation. He explained why that happened; statutory instruments are published in that way. I hope that it will comfort him to some extent if I agree to go back and say that when a statutory instrument is of this size, an index, for example, might be of value. I do not for a moment say that I will succeed, but for our purposes and, more importantly, for those of electoral administrators, we need some sort of index. I thank the noble Lord for making that point.

The noble Lord asked a number of detailed questions, including whether there was 100 per cent verification of postal votes and personal identifiers. Perhaps I may remind him that the statutory level remains at 20 per cent, which I think he knows. However, I understand that the majority of areas will aim to check 100 per cent. If 100 per cent checking proves impossible in each region, we will have to see whether the statutory level should be increased for future elections.

The noble Lord asked me about counting votes and announcing results in Scotland. I am advised that the votes are counted by the local returning officer in each local counting area, but that the returning officer for each electoral region announces the result for each registered party and individual candidates.

My Lords, in England, the result is announced centrally as to who has been elected; a declaration of the number of votes cast in each local authority area where the votes are being counted is not made. It is unusual in a British election to have the votes split up in that way. Is that the case in Scotland? Is it done on a local authority area-basis in Scotland?

My Lords, the answer is yes. On how the combination of polls will work, that is governed by the Representation of the People (Combination of Polls) (England and Wales) Regulations and the Local Elections (Principal Areas) (England and Wales) Rules 2006. It looks like more than one statutory instrument governs this issue. Perhaps I may write to the noble Lord with the statutory references. The election rules are modified in the event of combination. He asked whether marked registers are stored locally. The answer is, yes, they are stored locally for local and European elections.

If party descriptions are required on the ballot paper—unlike the party label, which is required—they should follow the registered party name on the ballot paper, as the noble Lord surmised. The description should be on the same line, albeit in a smaller font. The font is not specified in order to ensure that suppliers have maximum flexibility when printing the ballot paper. There are directions for printing the ballot paper on the back of form A. That arises particularly from the 2007 Gould report into the Scottish elections. The noble Lord gave an example from page 53 of the regulations. As I understand it, each of the parties has put down just its proper title, as it would be required to do. It has not included any phrase or form of words that may excite or attract local voters. I hope that that is helpful to the noble Lord.

My Lords, to be clear, should the words that might follow be from the six words of one of the party descriptions that has been registered with the Electoral Commission, or does this have to be done specifically for this election?

My Lords, they should be from what has been registered with the Electoral Commission. If I may, I shall write to the noble Lord on his other point.

Yes, my Lords. I am grateful for the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Henley, and I have tried to respond to his points about postal votes, a topic rightly raised by both noble Lords. I commend the regulations and hope that they make the coming elections in June run smoothly and successfully, with a high turnout.

My Lords, could the noble Lord eventually answer the question on whether the Electoral Commission has indicated that it might not be appropriate to hold a general election on the same day as the European elections?

Motion agreed.

European Parliament (Disqualification) (United Kingdom and Gibraltar) Order 2009

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft order laid before the House on 26 November 2008 be approved.

Relevant Document: 1st Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Motion agreed.

European Parliamentary Elections (Loans and Related Transactions and Miscellaneous Provisions) (United Kingdom and Gibraltar) Order 2009

Motion to Approve

Moved By

That the draft order laid before the House on 20 January be approved.

Relevant Document: 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments.

Motion agreed.

House adjourned at 4.56 pm.