House of Lords
Thursday, 7 January 2010.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bradford.
House of Lords: Secretaries of State
My Lords, all Secretaries of State should be fully accountable to Parliament. In principle, we see no reason why Secretaries of State in the Lords should not appear before the House of Commons, if that were the will of the two Houses.
I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her response. Does she agree that any proposals to make Secretaries of State in this House answerable to the House of Commons at its Dispatch Box introduce an entirely new principle into our bicameral Parliament? Do the Government propose that Secretaries of State who sit in the Commons will equally be answerable to this House at the Dispatch Box? Will the Government therefore publish the Prime Minister’s letter to Mr Speaker Bercow, reported in the press on 25 October, and give an assurance that the Lord Speaker and this House will be fully consulted before any constitutional changes of this nature are contemplated?
My Lords, it is my understanding that Peers can already appear before the Commons as witnesses if this House gives them leave to do so and they themselves consent or think fit. However, that is a power that has lain dormant for some time. If Members of this House or anyone else were to envisage Secretaries of State from this House answering questions at the Dispatch Box in the other place, there would have to be a change in the procedures of that House, and it would require the consent of both Houses. It is precisely a matter for both Houses, not for the Government—that is an important point.
I am aware of the Prime Minister’s letter. I will seek authorisation vis-à-vis its publication.
My Lords, does the noble Baroness the Leader of the House agree with me that, whatever arrangements are made in another place to scrutinise government Ministers, Ministers in this House owe their primary responsibility to this House, and it is to this House that they should answer questions? Will she therefore join me in welcoming the new arrangements made by the Procedure Committee to give specific questions to Secretaries of State who are Members of the House of Lords, and in wishing this experiment well?
My Lords, I completely concur with the words of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. It is an interesting innovation, which I look forward to. I am sure that it is going to be a great success, and it will enhance the accountability of our Secretaries of State in this House.
My Lords, I endorse the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde. I hope, and I hope that the noble Baroness agrees, that all Members of this House will make a real success of the innovation of questions to Secretaries of State sitting in this House.
I approached this Question with some trepidation because I thought I was going to have to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, but hers is a timely warning. The Cunningham committee, which I sat on, reported that the strength of both Houses was their differences in procedures and practices. We should be careful before we start blurring the edges.
My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right. It is for this House to make a success of this new opportunity for questioning Secretaries of State. It is important that we have procedures at this end which are different and distinct from those in the other place. The questions that we will be putting to the Secretaries of State from next week onwards constitute a very different procedure from the procedure in the House of Commons, and I welcome that difference.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that the best definition of conservatism is that we should never do anything for the first time? Many of us would welcome major changes in the way that Secretaries of State are scrutinised in both this House and the other House, and clearly we agree that both Houses should take the decision. However, the idea that it would be totally out of the question for us to make any changes is certainly not acceptable to me and, I imagine, not acceptable to most of our colleagues.
My Lords, I think that there is agreement around this Chamber that everybody welcomes the innovation of having Secretaries of State answer more questions in this House, thus enhancing their accountability. I completely agree that change is a good thing, but I also detect an appetite on all Benches, including the Conservative Benches, for the sort of change that we will be having next week in this House.
My Lords, will the noble Baroness bear in mind that a good many years ago, when the Department of Energy was first set up, my noble friend Lord Carrington was appointed Secretary of State in this House? It was my honour to be the Minister of State in another place. Will she also bear in mind that since then we have had the first stage of the reform of the composition of this House, which Ministers have repeatedly said makes this House more legitimate? Is it not strange that we are having this pressure now to enhance the powers of another place by giving Ministers the opportunity, as some are suggesting—not the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd; I agree entirely with what she said—to go along there to answer questions instead of, as we are now proposing, and as my noble friend has rightly pointed out, a new procedure for them to be answerable to this House? Is not that the point that she needs to bear in mind?
My Lords, it is absolutely right and proper that Secretaries of State sitting in this House should have more opportunities to answer questions in this House. What happens in the other place is largely a matter for the other place; but whatever decisions are taken in the other place, we will have to agree those procedures if they have an impact on the Members of this place. However, what we are doing is a good innovation. It is good for this place and good for democracy.
My Lords, perhaps I may ask the noble Baroness the Leader of the House whether, if ever Secretaries of State in another place were to answer questions in your Lordships’ House, they would not bring with them the raucousness which sometimes emanates from another place? I ask that question not in any way criticising another place, just to draw attention to the differences.
House of Lords: Procedures
My Lords, it is up to the House itself as a self-regulating body to determine any changes that it wishes to see to the procedures under which it operates. I have recently put proposals to the Procedure Committee relating to Oral Questions to Secretaries of State, the tabling of Written and Oral Questions, and procedures for operating the new powers conferred on Parliament by the Lisbon treaty and the European Union (Amendment) Act 2008.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Leader for the work that she has done on that and for the work that she has been doing so admirably on the code of conduct and on our expenses and allowances—I understand why those have been taking priority. She has mentioned previously in responding to debates that she is aware that there is a good deal of feeling in all quarters of the House that it is now time that we had a comprehensive review of the way in which our practices and procedures operate. It is nearly eight years since this House last had a look at its procedures and I believe that it is now high time, given the pressures coming from different quarters, for us to look for a degree of change to improve our efficiency and effectiveness. In the best spirit, I congratulate her on the work that she is doing, but I hope that she will return to the Procedure Committee and press through the usual channels for the establishment of a Leader’s Group with the following terms of reference: to consider how the procedures of the House can be improved, to increase its effectiveness and efficiency and to make recommendations to the House in due course.
My Lords, we all want an efficient and effective House. The noble Lord points to the fact that we have not had a review of our procedures for eight years. It may well be that a review should take place, if that is the will of the House, but we should not forget that there have been profound changes over the last eight years—relating to the Lord Chancellor and to the establishment of the Supreme Court and the post of the Lord Speaker—all of which have led to procedural changes. Then we have our expenses and code of conduct. We have made fantastic progress, but those issues have not yet been completed. I made it clear at the Procedure Committee in December that, in view of the recent report from the Wright committee and suggestions from many Members, I was conscious of the desire in many parts of the House for a review of Lords procedure. I look forward to hearing the views of the committee on that issue and then perhaps we will take it further.
My Lords, given that the noble Baroness is a senior Cabinet Minister, can she tell us whether any of her colleagues have complained that your Lordships’ House is not effective enough? Can she give us any examples in recent years of where she believes the House could have been more effective?
No, my Lords, I have had absolutely no complaints from my Cabinet colleagues, all of whom think that we in this House are doing an excellent job. However, we should all be vigilant—every Chamber and authority and all elected and unelected representatives should have a view to efficiency and effectiveness. That is our duty as public servants.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, reminds us, the Chancellor of the Duchy of Lancaster is a senior Cabinet Minister, yet she has been on her feet now for 11 minutes without expressing undying support for the Prime Minister. Is this an oversight?
My Lords, in looking at ways of strengthening the procedures and using the expertise in your Lordships’ House, does the Leader of the House recall the question that I put to her recently about the desirability of creating a foreign affairs Select Committee, which would be able to harness the considerable expertise and experience available in your Lordships’ House? Will she tell your Lordships whether she has been able to make any progress on that stand-alone proposal?
My Lords, at the time I said that that was an interesting and rather good idea. However, it is not for me to take that proposal forward. The noble Lord needs to take it forward to a committee of the House—forgive my ignorance, but I will speak to the noble Lord after this Question Time and we will find a way of taking the suggestion forward.
My Lords, would my noble friend accept that there is a need to amend paragraph 5.07 of the Companion, which deals with Members’ supplementaries on ministerial Statements? On a recent occasion a Member of the House took five minutes of the total of 20 minutes in asking a supplementary question on such a Statement. Are not such Members making a mockery of self-regulation? If we cannot make self-regulation work in that area because Members are not prepared to respect the request made from the government Front Bench, then surely we should transfer that responsibility to the Lord Speaker.
My Lords, on the whole, self-regulation works extremely well in this House. However, in order to ensure that it functions properly, all Members of the House, including members of the Government, have a duty to ensure that the procedures are properly applied and to show self-restraint in relation to speaking times.
Alternative Medicine: Astrologers
My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the charity Sense About Science. The forms of alternative medicine which the Government propose to regulate have as much scientific basis as astrology. As official regulation is likely to give such practices a spurious scientific reliability and respectability, is it not unfair to leave out astrologers? More seriously, will the Government note that august bodies of proper scientists—the Medical Research Council, the Royal College of Pathologists, the Academy of Royal Medical Colleges and other eminent professional bodies—strongly oppose the proposed regulation? Will the Government ignore the assiduous lobbying for pseudoscience from Clarence House?
My Lords, I am aware that the noble Lord is making a wider and serious point about alternative therapies. At present there is no statutory regulatory system in the United Kingdom to govern the practice of complementary and alternative medicine, with the exception of chiropractitioners and osteopaths, who are regulated by statute. We are undertaking a consultation exercise to determine whether and, if so, how to regulate the practitioners of acupuncture, herbal medicine and traditional Chinese medicine. The Science and Technology Committee of this House suggested that we should address that issue. No other complementary therapies, including medical astrology, are within the scope of this consultation and we have no proposals to regulate in any of these other groups.
My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the Council for Healthcare Regulatory Excellence. I remind the House and the noble Lord who asked the Question that the purpose of regulation is to protect the public, and that is what we try to do. However, in order to help me do my job better, can my noble friend give me a definition of medical astrology?
My Lords, medical astrology is traditionally known as iatromathematics and is an ancient medical system associated with various parts of the body, diseases and drugs and the influence of the sun, moon, planets and the 12 astrological signs. For example—I did the research on this issue myself—the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, and I share the same birth sign, Libra, which apparently rules excretory functions through the kidneys and skin. I could go on about lumbar regions but noble Lords will get the picture. I am happy to say that the underlying basis for medical astrology is considered to be a pseudoscience and superstition as there is no scientific basis for its core beliefs. The Government remain neutral on this issue.
My Lords, does the Minister share my view that this is an uncharacteristically flippant Question from the noble Lord, Lord Taverne? Does she accept that statutory regulation is not a badge of rank but exists, as the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley, has just said, to safeguard the public? The key regulatory bodies—the Health Professions Council and the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency—have both concluded that acupuncture and herbal medicine practitioners should be subject to statutory regulation.
The noble Earl is quite correct and I concur with him that this is a very serious matter. Although we do not specifically promote or endorse the use of complementary or alternative medicine, we have to appreciate that a high proportion of the population actually uses these medicines, and our concern, as my noble friend said, is to protect patients. Responsible complementary practitioners adhere to codes of ethics, know the limits of their competence and make appropriate referral of patients to orthodox practitioners where there is potential risk to their health and well-being. However, the noble Earl is completely correct—we have to look to how best to safeguard patients in respect of those complementary medicines such as acupuncture and Chinese herbal medicines that have the potential to cause harm. Therefore we need to take serious action to make sure they are regulated in the correct fashion.
My Lords, I confess to being an Aquarian, and share my birth date with Copernicus and my Auntie Ivy, although I have to say that my Auntie Ivy had much more influence on me than my birth sign. However, on a more serious note, does the Minister agree that the popularity of mumbo-jumbo such as astrology and many forms of alternative medicine is due to the fact that people have very little scientific education at school? Will she say what this Government, in their 10 years in power, have done to further education in science and mathematics?
We have done a great deal for further education in science and mathematics, although that is not exactly what this Question was about. I agree with the noble Baroness that of course people often turn to things like medical astrology because they do not understand the basis of whatever ailment it is they are looking at, and that can be a risky thing to do. However, I simply do not accept this Government have not put a significant amount of investment into mathematics and science in our schools.
My Lords, we have not heard from the Cross Benches yet.
My Lords, I declare an interest as Astronomer Royal, and therefore as someone who could enhance his income hugely by becoming an astrologer and offering horoscopes. Does the Minister agree that, even though were we in India it might be appropriate to regulate astrology because government ministers there, one is told, are heavily guided by it, in this country to do so might imply that the problem has rather more seriousness that it really deserves?
My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we should indeed have no truck with pseudoscience? As it happens, I have some sympathy with the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Tonge, raised about the teaching of science and mathematics. None the less, there are, as Hamlet observed,
“more things in heaven and earth … than are dreamt of in your philosophy”,
and some very respectable branches of medicine were once alternative in their day. Therefore, it is important that we keep an eye on the things in which people invest confidence, and make sure, as my noble friend Lady Pitkeathley observed, that they do not cause harm.
My noble friend is right. Complementary and alternative medicine therapies have proven to be effective, cost-effective and safe. Decisions about which treatments to commission and fund, for example, are the responsibility of the NHS locally, and indeed primary care trusts often have their own policies about funding complementary medicine such as osteopathy or chiropractic. Indeed, we are funding research into complementary therapies, for example in the care of cancer patients.
My Lords, I speak to the Minister as a fellow Libran. Is she satisfied with the quality of regulation of therapies such as psychotherapy? Is it still the case that anyone can set themselves up as a college of psychotherapy or any other therapy, and offer diplomas and apparent validation to practitioners whose skills may be negligible?
My noble friend raises an important point, which the House has discussed in the past year. I had a huge postbag about that; I was inundated by suggestions from psychotherapists of all different kinds on this issue. My noble friend is quite right that there is an issue, and the department is looking at it.
Defence: Chinook Helicopters
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether the concerns about FADEC software and the general safety of Chinook helicopters expressed by the Ministry of Defence’s Aircraft Testing Centre at Boscombe Down before 2 June 1994 were made available to and seen by Air Chief Marshal Wratten and Air Vice Marshal Day during their inquiry into the cause of the accident at the Mull of Kintyre.
My Lords, first, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of those killed in Afghanistan recently: Lance Corporal David Leslie Kirkness, 3rd Battalion The Rifles; Rifleman James Stephen Brown, 3rd Battalion The Rifles; Corporal Simon Hornby, 2nd Battalion The Duke of Lancaster’s Regiment; Lance Corporal Michael Pritchard, 4th Regiment Royal Military Police; Lance Corporal Christopher Roney, 3rd Battalion The Rifles; Lance Corporal Tommy Brown, The Parachute Regiment; Rifleman Aiden Howell, 3rd Battalion The Rifles; Sapper David Watson, 33 Engineer Regiment (Explosive Ordnance Disposal); and Private Robert Hayes, 1st Battalion The Royal Anglian Regiment. I am sure that our thoughts are with their families and friends and, indeed, all those who are serving in Afghanistan.
Turning to the Question, the concerns expressed by technical experts at Boscombe Down were widely known. These concerns had been addressed in operating restrictions imposed by the initial release service for the Chinook mark 2. The air marshals both gave evidence to the House of Lords committee that they had been aware of questions raised about FADEC, but had discounted them as possible factors in the accident.
I thank my noble friend. I share her concern about the loss of servicemen’s lives at any time, not least during the current struggle in Afghanistan. As chairman of the Mull of Kintyre Group, I am used to such replies as she has given us this morning. Is she aware that, since the findings of the inquiry conducted by Wratten and Day were, in effect, overturned by the Scottish fatal accident inquiry, grave doubts have been raised about the quality of the evidence that led to the far higher requirement of guilt that Wratten and Day were able to place on record against the service personnel? These concerns have never been satisfied. I ask the Minister whether she would be prepared to appoint a senior legal figure—a retired judge, for example—to assess all of the evidence that was before the original tribunal and anything that was not available at the time but has since come to hand, and to confirm that this higher level of proof of guilt of gross negligence can be justified. Until such assurances can be given, grave doubts will be raised by the families not only of the pilots and crew but also of the other men whose lives were lost in this dreadful tragedy.
My Lords, my noble friend and everybody who has been involved in this issue have taken it extremely seriously. The fact is that the board of inquiry was properly conducted and properly reviewed. Many Secretaries of State for Defence and other Ministers have looked at this issue time and time again, as have chiefs of air staff. The simple point that we must reiterate is that no new evidence has been presented. The issue in my noble friend’s Question was included in the Powers report that he himself was instrumental in submitting to the Secretary of State two years ago and which was looked at in great detail. In the absence of any new information it is not possible to raise any hopes that this inquiry can be revisited.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that Air Chief Marshals Wratten and Day are men of great probity? I served with them when I was in the Royal Air Force. While I appreciate the great distress caused to the families of all who died, is not the fundamental point about this tragedy the standard of airmanship displayed in the vicinity of the Mull on a routine transit flight with many passengers on board?
My Lords, I have to agree completely with the noble and gallant Lord. I was very open-minded about this issue when I looked at the information. It is very disconcerting to consider what happened on that day, but I am afraid that the judgment that it was about a fundamental standard of airmanship is the correct one.
My Lords, first of all can I enjoin these Benches in the earlier tribute to those who have been lost so sadly in Afghanistan? Just before Christmas, a number of us were engaged in querying aspects of the Haddon-Cave report into the tragic loss of the Nimrod in Afghanistan and discussing the Statement made to the House. Now the Chinook affair has flared up again. Developing the point that the noble Lord made a little earlier, would it not make sense for a truly independent commissioner to be appointed to consider any personal appeals in these types of situation, or the importance of any new evidence that may come along?
My Lords, it is important to recognise that the Haddon-Cave review made no criticisms of the board of inquiry procedures. There are very clear procedures laid down. When there is an accident of any kind, action is taken very quickly to set up the appropriate kind of inquiry. We should not hold out hope to people when there has been such an extensive inquiry, as there has been on the Mull of Kintyre incident. I have heard it described as the most extensively examined air crash in the history of British military aviation. There comes a point when we have to draw a line and accept the conclusions that have been arrived at.
Video Recordings Bill
First Reading and Statement
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
My Lords, the House has just given a First Reading to the Video Recordings Bill, and of course I am delighted with that. This may therefore be a useful point for me to set out the Government’s plans in relation to this Bill. With the agreement of the usual channels, the Government intend to fast-track this Bill through its stages in this House. Many of your Lordships will be aware that this is the first time that we have introduced a Bill with the intention of fast-tracking it since the Constitution Committee published its report on Fast-Track Legislation: Constitutional Implications and Safeguards.
One of the committee's key recommendations was that, for all Bills that are to be passed with unusual expedition, an explanation of the reasons for using a fast-track procedure should be provided. The Government accepted that recommendation, and in a Written Answer in December last year my noble friend the Leader of the House gave an undertaking that, for any future Bill being fast-tracked, the Explanatory Notes accompanying the Bill would contain a full explanation of the case for fast-tracking, addressing the key questions set out in the Constitution Committee’s report. I am pleased to say that the Explanatory Notes accompanying this Bill, which will be printed tomorrow morning, address each of those questions.
The committee also recommended that when the Bill is introduced to the House, the Minister responsible be required to make a Statement outlining the case for fast-tracking. With the leave of the House, that is what I propose to do.
The purpose of the Video Recordings Bill is to repeal and revive the existing provisions of the Video Recordings Act 1984 to make the criminal offences in that Act enforceable. The 1984 Act established a system of age classification for video works administered by the British Board of Film Classification, together with a regime of criminal offences and penalties. The Bill does not introduce any new provisions or offences into the 1984 Act. The Act is simply revived without any substantive changes.
Noble Lords may be asking why it is necessary for us to do this. Unfortunately, the offences under the Act were made unenforceable because of a failure at that time to notify certain provisions of the 1984 Act in draft to the European Commission in accordance with the technical standards directive. This failure to notify was only discovered last August in the course of preparing the draft Digital Economy Bill which is currently before the House. The 1984 Act has now been notified to the Commission in accordance with the directive.
Until the 1984 Act is made enforceable, no new prosecutions can be made under the Act and prosecutors cannot oppose appeals made in time against convictions. This means that publishers of video games and DVDs can distribute their goods free of classification requirements and retailers can sell or supply classified and unclassified material to any person, regardless of age, with limited statutory powers to stop or prosecute them. The Government therefore are seeking to fast-track the Video Recordings Bill to restore the protection afforded to the public under the 1984 Act; the only certain way of providing the important public protections set out in that Act is to ensure that its provisions are made enforceable as soon as possible.
The Bill consists of only two clauses and one schedule. Clause 1 repeals the provisions of the 1984 Act and immediately revives them. Clause 2 relates only to the Short Title, commencement and extent of the Bill. The schedule sets out transitional provisions to ensure that the repeal and revival of the provisions of the 1984 Act do not change their effect or the effect of other enactments, instruments and documents that refer to them, thereby making the classification system under the Act seamless following the passage of the Bill. I am sure that the House will share the Government’s desire that these public prosecutions be reinstated as soon as possible.
Finally, if I may detain the House just a few moments longer in my capacity as Deputy Chief Whip, it may be helpful if I set out the proposed timetable for the Bill agreed with the usual channels. We propose Second Reading as first business on Monday 18 January. That leaves the usual minimum interval of two weekends between First Reading and Second Reading. A list of speakers for the Second Reading debate is now open in the Government Whips’ Office. We then propose to take Committee as last business on the same day, with Report and Third Reading being taken on Wednesday 20 January. This will allow the Bill to gain Royal Assent on Thursday 21 January. To assist the House in considering the Bill, the Public Bill Office will be accepting amendments in advance of Second Reading. I hope that the House will support the Government’s approach and will also support the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for outlining both the procedure and the policy with regard to the Bill. Earlier, during Question Time, the Leader of the House responded to questions about whether this House can react to changing circumstances to make sure that the Government are more accountable to the wishes of this House. The noble Lord, Lord Davies of Oldham, has today outlined the way in which the Government have responded to the request of this House to be more accountable in matters whereby expedited legislation is proposed by the Government, and responded in an appropriate manner. The House may believe that some matters outlined by the Minister would more normally and properly be outlined at Second Reading, and therefore he needed to take some time today because, in order for the Government to be accountable, some Second Reading comments had to be made. It was most helpful to hear about the policy and the difficulties encountered. I support everything that the Minister said and am sure that all noble Lords on the Benches behind me will wish public prosecutions to be reinstated, and for there to be no uncertainty with regard to matters subject to criminal prosecutions that could proceed as a result of the Bill.
My Lords, the novel experience of hearing the usual channels justifying their decisions is very agreeable and welcome. I entirely support the intentions of the Bill. However, I reflect—this is the first occasion on which one has been able to do this—that we are denying ourselves an opportunity to give mature reflection to the standards that are enforced in the management of the video-games industry, and to the effect of these games on young people and society. That cost should have been taken into account by the usual channels when they agreed this procedure.
Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Bill [HL]
That, as proposed by the Committee of Selection, the following Lords be appointed to the Special Public Bill Committee on the Third Parties (Rights against Insurers) Bill [HL]:
L Archer of Sandwell; L Bach; L Borrie; L Goodhart; L Henley; L Hunt of Wirral; L Lloyd of Berwick (Chairman); L Methuen; L Paul; L Sheikh; B Whitaker
That the Committee have power to send for persons, papers and records;
That the evidence taken by the Committee shall, if the Committee so wishes, be published; and
That the Committee do meet on Tuesday 12 January at 11 am.
Order of Consideration Motion
That it be an instruction to the Committee of the Whole House to which the Equality Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 6; Schedule 1; Clauses 7 to 31; Schedules 2 and 3; Clauses 32 to 38; Schedules 4 and 5; Clauses 39 to 52; Schedule 6; Clauses 53 to 80; Schedule 7; Clauses 81 to 83; Schedules 8 and 9; Clauses 84 to 88; Schedule 10; Clause 89; Schedule 11; Clauses 90 to 94; Schedule 12; Clauses 95 to 98; Schedule 13; Clause 99; Schedule 14; Clauses 100 to 106; Schedules 15 and 16; Clauses 107 to 115; Schedule 17; Clauses 116 to 148; Schedule 18; Clause 149; Schedule 19; Clauses 150 to 184; Schedule 20; Clauses 185 to 187; Schedule 21; Clauses 188 and 189; Schedule 22; Clauses 190 to 194; Schedule 23; Clauses 195 and 196; Schedule 24; Clauses 197 and 198; Schedule 25; Clauses 199 to 203; Schedules 26 and 27; Clauses 204 to 206; Schedule 28; Clauses 207 to 210.
National Security Strategy
Motion to Approve
Motion agreed, and a message was sent to the Commons.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who will be contributing to the debate at this critical time for Sudan. Tomorrow will be the fifth anniversary of the signing of the comprehensive peace agreement, which has brought some respite from the relentless war unleashed by the National Islamic Front regime after it seized power in 1989—a war that has resulted in 2 million people dead and 4 million displaced. Then the conflict in Darfur erupted, with hundreds of thousands killed, displaced, injured and still suffering in refugee camps. Now there are fears that the CPA will be breached and that the war against the south will be reignited; or that the country will implode, creating chaos and instability.
I will focus first on the urgent need to promote and protect the peace process, and for the international community to encourage all parties to adhere to the provisions regarding the census, the elections and the referendum; and on the need to prepare for the post-referendum scenario, whatever the outcome, and the critical issues of wealth-sharing and power-sharing agreements and security. I will deal, secondly, with the recent violations of the human rights of people in northern Sudan, including the arrest of opposition leaders in Khartoum; thirdly, with the continuing violence in southern Sudan; fourthly, the humanitarian crisis in many regions; fifthly, the continuing suffering of people in Darfur; and sixthly, the plight of people, including the Beja, in marginalised areas such as southern Blue Nile, Abyei, southern Kordofan and eastern Sudan; and finally, slavery.
I will briefly state my own interests. I first worked in Sudan as a nurse in a remote area of desert in northern Kordofan in the 1980s, establishing an immunisation programme in the small township of Hamrat-el-Wiz. After the war erupted in 1989, I returned 30 times to locations in Bahr-el-Ghazal, eastern and western Equatoria, the Nuba mountains, southern Blue Nile, eastern and western Upper Nile and the Kassala region. During that war, Khartoum would regularly announce airstrips open to the UN’s Operation Lifeline Sudan and the closed locations. It would then carry out military offensives in the closed areas so that no one could take aid to the victims or tell the world what it was doing. I focused on those locations, incurring the NIF's displeasure and numerous threats, took aid to civilian victims and obtained evidence of atrocities perpetrated by the NIF, including massacres of civilians, destruction of livestock, villages and crops in a scorched earth policy, and the abduction of tens of thousands of women and children into slavery.
Since the CPA, the small NGO, HART—the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust—with which I now work, is establishing primary healthcare clinics and helping with agricultural programmes around Yei, rebuilding a school in Bahr-el-Ghazal and supporting war widows in the Nuba mountains. My contribution will therefore reflect some of the first-hand evidence from those areas, and I am most grateful to other noble Lords who will address other issues.
I turn to the CPA and other peace agreements, drawing on a comprehensive report by the International Crisis Group. It states:
“Sudan is sliding towards violent breakup. The main mechanisms to end conflicts between the central government and the peripheries—the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), the Darfur Peace Agreement and the East Sudan Peace Agreement—all suffer from lack of implementation, largely due to the intransigence of the National Congress Party (NCP). Less than thirteen months remain to ensure that national elections and the South Sudan self-determination referendum lead to democratic transformation and resolution of all the country's conflicts. Unless the international community, notably the US, the UN, the African Union (AU) Peace and Security Council and the Horn of Africa Inter-Government Authority on Development (IGAD), cooperate to support both CPA implementation and vital additional negotiations, return to North-South war and escalation of conflict in Darfur are likely”.
At the core of the current political crisis are delays in implementing key benchmarks laid out in the CPA. The referendum on independence for the south is due in January 2011. Before then, Sudan must hold national elections. These are set for April 2010, but President Omar al-Bashir's Government have failed to pass key democratic reforms promised by the agreement, and without these, there is no way that the results of the elections can be accepted.
Tensions have been rising between the NCP in the north and the SPLM in the south. In October, the President of southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, for the first time openly called for the south to secede. Both sides are rearming. Another civil war would be devastating for the Sudanese people, as well as for the entire Horn of Africa and other neighbouring countries. The situation was exacerbated on 7 December, when the Khartoum Government arrested and maltreated SPLM leaders and other peaceful protesters who were angered by the NPC’s use of its majority to impose amendments to the crucial referendum law which they deemed totally unacceptable.
But there are some signs of hope. On 29 December, the National Assembly finally adopted the referendum law, and the recent progress of negotiations on the Abyei area referendum and the popular consultations in south Kordofan and Blue Nile regions are positive steps. However, agreements still need to be found on many crucial issues before the referendum takes place, including border demarcation, demilitarisation of border areas and arrangements for security and wealth-sharing, including oil revenues. There is also concern that the donor community has not fulfilled its 2005 commitments. Only a small fraction of the $4.8 billion pledged has reached essential infrastructure projects, as humanitarian aid for Darfur has absorbed most of the money.
Consequently, many parts of southern Sudan and the marginalised areas have been off the radar screen for many major aid organisations and the international media, resulting in largely unreported humanitarian crises. For example, southern Sudan has the lowest immunisation rate in the world. In January last year we were told that only 17 per cent of children are immunised, leaving 83 per cent vulnerable to preventable killer diseases such as polio, tetanus, measles and TB, with one in seven children dying before they reach the age of five. One in seven pregnant women dies as a result of pregnancy-related problems, and a girl is more likely to die in childbirth than she is to finish school. Three years ago, we discovered previously unidentified leprosy in eastern Upper Nile. There has also been a lost generation of children unable to receive education because of constant aerial bombardment. Even now, less than half the children in southern Sudan receive even a basic five-year primary education; and 85 per cent of adults are illiterate, with an even higher figure of 92 per cent for women.
The effects of an infrastructure devastated by war include the desperate need for rebuilding roads, without which people cannot move freely, especially in the rainy season, so people in rural areas cannot reach towns for healthcare or education, or polling stations to vote. Yesterday, I read a welcome announcement that Her Majesty's Government will be giving a very generous donation of £54 million, I think, to Sudan. Of course that is most welcome. However, is the money which the Government are providing through DfID being most effectively used in southern Sudan? One concern recently raised with us was the decision adopted by many aid agencies to change priorities from relief to development. That is understandable, but given the statistics of child and maternal mortality and morbidity, there is clearly still an urgent need for relief aid.
Perhaps I may offer a practical suggestion regarding voting. Will Her Majesty’s Government and the EU press the authorities to arrange polling stations in a mobile form to reach remote rural areas? Otherwise, with no roads and the fear of attack from local militias in unstable areas, many people will effectively be disenfranchised. Can there also be an extension of voting over two days, to enable such mobile stations to reach all remote locations?
Problems of violence and insecurity claimed 2,500 lives last year and displaced 350,000 people. The notorious Lord’s Resistance Army, or LRA, which created havoc and horror in northern Uganda for 20 years, has now been responsible for many deaths, injuries and abductions in southern Sudan; intertribal fighting has been responsible for the rest. There is widespread concern that Khartoum is supporting the LRA and instigating the tribal clashes. Given Khartoum’s support for it in previous years, when it allowed the LRA to operate its brutal military training camps for children abducted from Uganda in NIF-administered territory, suspicions of northern involvement in last year’s deadly confrontations are not unreasonable. To date, no evidence has been found, but there is an urgent need for confidence-building measures if such conflicts are not to exacerbate instability and undermine the peace process.
For example, would Her Majesty’s Government use their influence to encourage the United Nations Mission in Sudan to undertake a more proactive civilian protection role, in accordance with its mandate, and to define more clearly the circumstances under which it will provide protection with appropriate intervention rather than mere observation? Darfur remains cause for grave concern. Tens of thousands of displaced Darfuris still suffer extreme deprivation in harsh conditions in camps, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton who will be speaking on that continuing tragedy.
In other regions of Sudan, the people continue to suffer the after effects of war and continuing political challenges. Last year I visited southern Kordofan, formerly known as the Nuba mountains, a name which is still preferred by the local people. The area is now governed from Khartoum and the peoples in the SPLM-administered areas describe systematic discrimination. For example, they have a desperate need for education but claim that the resources being made available from Khartoum are limited to schools in the Islamic tradition. Even the Muslims who live in those areas are deeply unhappy, as they wish their children to receive the more broadly-based southern Sudan or east African curricula. There is also an acute shortage of healthcare and provision for vulnerable people such as war widows.
Other marginalised peoples continue to suffer humanitarian crises. For example, the plight of the Beja people in eastern Sudan remains so serious that the southern Sudanese, whose own predicament is dire, undertook an investigation and claimed that the Beja people’s plight is even worse than their own. Can the Minister say whether EU and DfID funding therefore includes appropriate weighting to provide essential assistance to those all-too-often forgotten people in the marginalised areas?
Finally, I turn to the still unresolved problem of the systematic abduction of tens of thousands of African civilians, mainly from Bahr-el-Ghazal and the Nuba mountains, during the 1980s and 1990s. For some years, many major international organisations denied the existence of slavery in Sudan. However, Gaspar Biro, the UN special rapporteur, confirmed the reality and subsequently many reports, books and documentary films, including a BBC “Everyman” programme, have testified to that inhuman and large-scale practice of slavery, supported by Khartoum. The slave raids, the after effects of which I witnessed many times, were perpetrated by combined forces of government soldiers, mujaheddin jihad warriors and the murahaleen local tribesmen, who swept through the countryside, generally killing the men and abducting women and children.
My first encounter was typical. In Nyamlell in Bahr-el-Ghazal in the early 1990s, 82 men had been killed and their bodies thrown into a mass grave and 282 women and children had been abducted. We were able to assist with the rescue of many hundreds of women and children and their stories were heartbreaking. Some are recorded in a book on modern day slavery which I wrote with my colleague Professor Marks. I shall put a copy in your Lordships’ Library in case any of your Lordships would be interested to read the evidence. Eventually an organisation was established in Khartoum, CEWAC, to identify and repatriate those enslaved. But it is estimated that there are still tens of thousands in captivity. In the past few months, I have met two people, one an Anglican priest, who know they have relatives still enslaved in the north. But, as the priest said with infinite sadness:
“I cannot go to rescue my brother. I will just be killed and no one will be able to do anything about it”.
When I had the privilege last year of meeting the President of southern Sudan, Salva Kiir, and other southern leaders, they acknowledged this tragic situation, but with so many problems related to the CPA, this is an “issue too far” for them to raise. However, they did ask us to urge the international community to press Khartoum to ensure the urgent identification, repatriation and rehabilitation of all still in captivity in the north. I ask the Minister to raise this issue.
I greatly look forward to the Minister’s reply. Along with other noble Lords, I have great respect for her commitment to justice, peace and freedom in Africa and beyond that great continent. I believe that she may be visiting Sudan in the near future and I hope that this debate will be helpful in the important discussions which she will be holding with the leaders there.
The Sudanese people always look to the United Kingdom to play a special leadership role, given our historic involvement and responsibility. I hope that this debate will demonstrate our commitment to provide that help and that it will be a source of encouragement; a sign of true friendship; and a support for all in Sudan who are seeking to achieve the peace, freedom and justice which they so urgently need and so richly deserve. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate. Achieving peace and stability in any region that has been ravaged by war and has a wealth of cultural differences is always a challenge. In this region of Africa, the task is that much greater as these variations are coupled with intense poverty and tribal intolerance. Since independence from Britain in 1956 and the subsequent civil war, Sudanese politics has been characterised by violence, ethnic and religious prejudice. Sudan’s vast area, 133 languages and mineral wealth should have given it great responsibility and influence. It has yet to rise to this challenge.
National elections in Sudan are scheduled to take place in April this year. The continent’s longest civil war formally ceased with the ratification in Kenya of the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement. The CPA has been successful in returning thousands of refugees and internally displaced persons to southern Sudan. The agreement has enjoyed further success with the creation of the Abyei Boundary Commission. The comprehensive peace agreement will expire in July 2011.
It is encouraging to see that the vice-president of Sudan and his counterpart in southern Sudan have reached an agreement on increasing the allocation of seats in the National Assembly for southern Sudan. The recent approvals of the southern Sudanese referendum law and legislation that will determine the future of the Abyei region are also positive developments. Both Governments must now agree to accept the results of these imminent elections. Southern Sudan will vote in January 2011 on secession. The Sudan People’s Liberation Movement has expressed its concern about a clause in the Bill that would allow the use of absentee ballots for southerners who live outside the territory. A census produced by the Sudanese Government suggests that over half a million southerners live in northern Sudan at present. This figure has been disputed by a number of officials in the south.
The Government of southern Sudan have welcomed the Abyei Referendum Bill. Residents of the Abyei region, which has significant mineral wealth, will be able to decide whether to continue as part of northern Sudan in the southern Korfordan state or to revert back to being part of southern Sudan. This decision has not been welcomed by all southerners. Representatives from the Misseriya tribe of Abyei have asked President al-Bashir not to ratify the Abyei referendum law. The Misseriya group in the National Assembly left the Parliament in protest before the Bill was announced, as the Bill does not give the Misseriya people the right to vote. Some members of the tribe see this as discrimination and have pledged to disrupt the result of the vote if the Bill is not amended in their favour. The Speaker of the Assembly has stated that the Bill would not be amended and participation in the Abyei vote is the decision of the commission, which will be chosen by the National Congress Party and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement. Members of the SPLM have argued that the comprehensive peace agreement only grants the Misseriya people access to water and grazing for their cattle.
This dispute reflects the extent to which Sudan is a fractured state. The complex nature of this disagreement should serve as a reminder to the international community that Sudanese politics should not be viewed in simplistic regional terms. Tribal divisions within the SPLM have also contributed to the volatile situation in southern Sudan. Violence in the region resulted in 1,200 deaths last year. Most of the unrest has occurred in Jonglei, which is the biggest state in the south, and hostilities among southerners could cause the election in 2011 to be postponed. The Government of southern Sudan must take steps to improve security in the region to avoid the outbreak of a civil war. The current climate in the region suggests that more efforts should be made to bring extra security to southern Sudan. Does the Minister agree that the African Union could play a vital role in bringing peace to the region? If so, what steps will the Government take to support an enhanced role for the union?
I welcome the decision taken last month by Chad and Sudan to renew discussions about promoting peace on their mutual border after years of tense relations. I am optimistic that the meeting scheduled to take place in Chad today will result in a significant breakthrough for the security of the region. The historic context of diplomatic difficulties between Chad and Sudan has its foundations in the Darfuri conflict and ethnic identity. Tribal identity is at the heart of the unrest that has devastated this region. The obvious lack of confidence of the citizens in the state and the constant struggle for food, land and resources have caused some people to seek militia groups rather than the Government for protection. The Janjaweed in particular bypasses national divisions to recruit members along tribal lines. An improvement in relations between Chad and Sudan will contribute to achieving peace in Darfur, where approximately 300,000 people have died since hostilities began in 2003. Darfur has resulted in 3 million people being displaced, a number of whom have crossed the border into eastern Chad.
The instability in the region also has implications for the elephant population in Chad. Janjaweed militiamen have been raiding Zakouma National Park and areas surrounding the shared border, killing elephants for their ivory. As a consequence, the elephant population in the park has been significantly reduced. The profits gained from selling ivory have helped the Janjaweed and other militias to purchase weapons and to finance their operations in Chad and Sudan.
The activities of the Lord’s Resistance Army in the region have caused a number of refugees to seek asylum in both Chad and Sudan. The terror unleashed by the LRA is one of the main stumbling blocks to peace in the region. The United Nations was forced to suspend humanitarian work in Sudan near the border with the Democratic Republic of Congo as a result of sustained attacks from the Ugandan LRA rebels. The LRA and other militias in that region have unashamedly abused women and children in their quest for power. The international community must put greater pressure on the Sudanese Government to implement the recommendations made as a result of the Doha peace process and the Sudan People’s Initiative. A successful resolution of violence in Darfur will become a reality only if regional dialogue among the neighbouring countries is implemented. There are humanitarian implications, with widespread malnutrition among infants and a scarcity of resources as a whole.
The progress that Sudan has made in the last few weeks is to be commended. Greater challenges lie ahead over the next 12 months. We have a duty as part of the international community to assist both Sudanese Governments in making sure that all elections held over the next year are free and fair. The Abyei dispute must be monitored to ensure that it does not result in violence between the Ngok Dinka and Misseriya tribes. Tribalism is viewed as far superior to nationalism in this region. We must therefore respect this outlook in our dealings with all groups in Sudan.
Sudan is the largest country in Africa. We have a historic connection with Sudan. We need to continue to work towards resolving the political, tribal and humanitarian problems in order to achieve peace and prosperity not only in Sudan but in Africa as a whole. With regard to humanitarian issues, I declare that I am the chairman of the Sheikh Abdullah Foundation and that my charity has undertaken humanitarian work in Sudan. The Muslim charities in the United Kingdom have now agreed to work in harmony when carrying out aid work in Sudan and I hope that we can all undertake good work there.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, on introducing this debate, and on the comprehensive manner in which she has given us an overview of the situation. I hope that I can reinforce many of the points that she has made.
Peace in Sudan remains very fragile. In 2009 alone, violent conflict claimed some 2,500 lives in southern Sudan and displaced more than 350,000 people, almost double the figure for 2008. The latest reports from the UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs confirm that the LRA continues to destabilise most of Western Equatoria State in southern Sudan. Internal fighting has intensified, resulting in massive displacements, abductions of children, gruesome injuries and huge death tolls.
As the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned, the Ugandan LRA rebels are a key threat to the relative calm established by the 2005 comprehensive peace agreement. The collapse of the CPA, should it happen, would likely revitalise the LRA as a force that could easily destabilise both Sudan and the whole region. The re-emergence of the LRA in different parts of southern Sudan may force the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement to consider an appropriate riposte, according to some military sources in southern Sudan. In that regard, there are growing concerns over reports that a number of LRA splinter groups are continuing to move unchecked across the region, terrorising civilians in northern DRC, parts of the Central African Republic and Sudan.
It is of course important that the door be kept open for the diplomatic approach, but attempts by the UN special envoy to the LRA-affected areas, Joaquim Chissano, to effectively engage the LRA high command have apparently failed so far. With the final refusal of Joseph Kony to sign the Juba peace agreement, there is now a greater acceptance that a targeted and strategic military approach may be the best of a bad set of options, although always preferably combined with a diplomatic approach.
Much more needs to be done to apprehend the key LRA leaders and, in doing so, weaken the command and control and leadership of that movement. In October 2009 the European Council issued a statement calling for the LRA to honour its commitment to sign the final peace agreement and stressing the necessity of a comprehensive approach to defining a solution to LRA-related problems. On 17 November 2009 the UN Security Council, of which the UK is a permanent member, called for a better co-ordinated strategy between UN forces in the DRC, in the Central African Republic and in Sudan to protect civilians against further LRA attacks.
The Government have stated that they support legislation currently going through the US Congress, the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which in part aims to target and apprehend Joseph Kony and LRA top commanders. Informed sources have confirmed that military intelligence is available within the international community to pinpoint his location. While the failure to acknowledge that facility may neatly avoid any commitment to the Security Council and, on the ground, to the resources needed to secure his apprehension, failure to act is allowing the LRA to regroup and flourish.
Will the Government commit to comprehensively reviewing how they could contribute intelligence and logistical support to a careful and credible apprehension strategy? How could they better bring pressure to bear on the LRA to accept a peaceful solution? Will the Government then work for a unified military approach to tackling the LRA, working with other EU member Governments to apprehend and remove Kony and the top LRA commanders, therefore ensuring stability to the wider region? What representations will the Government make to the United Nations Security Council in order to support a more co-ordinated approach to tackling the LRA across the region?
Simply commending regional states that are targeting the LRA is not sufficient. What is required is targeted and strategic action. Recent successes—for example, the death, reportedly at the hands of Ugandan forces, of the second-in-command of the LRA, Bok Abudema, and the surrender of “Captain” Ocen—are positive signs, but continued and increasing acts of violence against civilians in Sudan, the DRC and the Central African Republic are proof that removing just one or two key individuals is not enough.
The report from the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in December records that in the three months to March 2009 a series of 27 confirmed attacks were carried out by LRA elements in Western and Central Equatoria, including attacks on 19 villages and four vehicle ambushes. More than 80 villagers were killed, with many others injured, mutilated, raped, abducted and forced to work as child soldiers and sex slaves. Villages were destroyed and more than 38,000 people displaced near the border with the DRC. LRA groups entered southern Sudan after a joint military offensive against them by the Ugandan and Congolese armies in December 2008. In recent months LRA attacks have resulted in a further 135 deaths and 67,000 people driven from their homes. Attacks are now extending to looting food distribution points, where the LRA is also abducting children and young women.
The cross-border nature of the LRA is a clear threat to international peace and security in the region. There is a growing concern among NGOs such as the Enough Project that the UN Security Council has yet to take seriously its responsibility to protect civilians from the LRA, and to put in place an effective counterinsurgency strategy. There is a growing call for the UN Security Council to authorise, and for member states to resource, a comprehensive strategy to protect civilians in LRA-affected areas, to identify and sever external lines of support, to increase opportunities for rank-and-file fighters to defect and to end the insurgency once and for all through more effective military pressure on LRA leader Joseph Kony and his high command. Through what means do the Government plan to target and sensitise LRA fighters in order to encourage them to disarm, demobilise, repatriate, resettle and reintegrate, commonly known as DDRRR?
The Government are contributing £400,000 to MONUC's DDRRR effort, part of which will be spent targeting the LRA. Can the Minister provide a breakdown of how this money will be used to target the LRA? Given the Security Council's recent statement that it would like to see a more unified, regional approach to combating the LRA, how do the Government intend to support UNMIS, as they have pledged to support MONUC, to target and apprehend LRA fighters and protect civilians?
The Government have committed to encouraging MONUC to increase its presence in LRA affected areas. Given the porous nature of the borders between the DRC, Sudan and the Central African Republic, and the regional aspect that LRA movements have taken in recent years, it would seem necessary to adopt a similar approach with UN forces in southern Sudan. What plans do the Government have to support an increased civilian presence in Sudan?
DDRRR efforts led by MONUC in the DRC have been successful to an extent but have not prevented new LRA recruits from being either abducted or simply recruited from the civilian population. To be effective, DDRRR must be accompanied by a strategic and targeted military approach that will prevent LRA command structures operating effectively and will weaken co-ordination and recruitment. Do the Government recognise the need for a multipronged approach to the LRA problem, and if so what plans do they have to approach the problem from both military and DDRRR points of view? I hope that the noble Baroness can comment on how this policy might be affected by the £54 million that has just been pledged for the forthcoming elections.
According to the report by the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in December 2009, evidence suggests that LRA actions during attacks in the early part of that year,
“may amount to crimes against humanity”.
The high commissioner notes that under the statute of the International Criminal Court, murder, enslavement, imprisonment, torture, rape and sexual slavery are all considered to be crimes against humanity if carried out,
“as part of a systematic attack directed against any civilian population”.
He calls for Governments in the region to co-operate with the ICC to apprehend the LRA leaders. What steps are the UK Government taking, as a member of the international community, to co-operate with the International Criminal Court and with Governments in the region to search for, arrest and surrender the LRA leaders accused of crimes against humanity and war crimes under the Rome statute?
The United Kingdom is a member of the troika of the UK, US and Norway, and is a guarantor of the comprehensive peace agreement. Therefore, what steps are the Government taking, and what have they taken so far, to ensure that the LRA is not allowed to become a threat to the peace process in Sudan by threatening local populations and therefore impacting on the implementation of the CPA?
A new International Crisis Group report, which I believe the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned, notes that the failure to stabilise Jonglei and other areas of concern risks seeing south Sudan become increasingly unstable ahead of next year's national elections and the planned 2011 self-determination referendum. Intertribal fighting has taken on a new and dangerously politicised character, with the worst violence in and around the vast, often impassable, state of Jonglei. The escalation of violence has deepened divisions among its communities and leaders, some of whom may be manipulating conflicts to their own ends.
Action is needed now to stop the LRA becoming stronger and more uncontrollable—a threat underlined by reports that the LRA is now being sponsored by the Government of northern Sudan in much the same way as the Janjaweed. In this context, the Government of southern Sudan need to tackle the inability or unwillingness of the police to address domestic security issues, of which the LRA must be a prime concern. Police reform must become a greater priority in southern Sudan. The United Nations mission in Sudan should undertake a more proactive civilian protection role, as set out in its mandate, and better define the circumstances under which it will provide protection. That apart, there are serious concerns about the integrity of the forthcoming election process. Notwithstanding the difficulties mentioned earlier by the noble Baroness about accessing polling stations, voter registration has been greatly delayed. It has proved extremely difficult to motivate and organise people to register, which does not augur well for the success of future elections and referenda.
Finally, there is a pressing need to ensure local stability to work towards regional recovery and development. Without an active peace process, a commitment to increasing accountability for crimes committed against civilians, a fully deployed, equipped and performing UN/AU peacekeeping force, and serious planning for regional recovery, the situation across southern Sudan will continue to fester, destabilising the country and the region.
My Lords, I am sure the House will be agreed on three points: first, our gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for having given us an opportunity to debate this important subject today and our respect for her personal experience and consistent interest in the people of Sudan; secondly, that we ought all to be sending a message of solidarity to the front-line workers in southern Sudan and Sudan as a whole who carry so many burdens on our behalf and do it so effectively, with so much commitment; and thirdly, how good it is to see my noble friend handling this issue on the Front Bench—nobody can question her long-standing commitment to the people of Africa. I understand that she may soon be going to visit southern Sudan. When she does, I hope she will take the opportunity to meet with and hear the insights of NGOs such as Oxfam and Saferworld—in which I declare an interest as a trustee—which are anxious to share with her what they are discovering.
This month sees the fifth anniversary of the comprehensive peace agreement. It is, therefore, sad that it is faltering so badly. There is an urgent need for the troika—the UK, the US and Norway—to re-energise it. The US, of course, has a lead role, but I believe that the UK must now become a catalyst and my noble friend is exactly the person to ensure that this happens. We have to learn from history. A re-energised comprehensive agreement must not be seen as an end in itself. What follows in terms of economic and social progress and human rights is what matters, and this will demand resources and sophisticated support from the international community.
Similarly, the result of the 2011 referendum on secession of the south must not be seen as an end in itself. Unless it is to contain the seeds of renewed bitter conflict, the context in which it takes place will be vital. For example, there will have to be absolute clarity about where exactly the north/south border lies and about arrangements for sharing and handling oil revenues, together with convincing arrangements for both north and south on dependence on Port Sudan as the exit point for exports.
I vividly recall that I was in south Sudan in 1983, on a visit as the director of VSO, when the garrison down the road from Juba rebelled. General Garang had been recalled from his PhD studies in the States to try to persuade the garrison to behave itself. I was staying at an FAO project. General Garang arrived when the rebellion took place. It was interesting then to see that he was actively debating with himself and those immediately around him whether to stay with the Government of Sudan or take the road that he did take of leading the SPLA and the independence movement.
That was almost 30 years ago, and it is more than 50 years since the bitter dispute began. It is difficult to envisage the pain, suffering, slaughter and bereavement which is the terrible reality of this dreadful saga. As we have been reminded, 2009 was the most violent year since the comprehensive peace agreement was signed, with 2,500 people killed and 350,000—I repeat, 350,000—people displaced. Meanwhile the poverty remains acute: one in seven pregnant women will die; one in seven children under five will die; less than 50 per cent of the population has access to safe water. We cannot compare the national neurosis about our current cold spell with challenges of that scale.
Against this background, it is troubling that the World Bank multidimensional fund is evidently not being dispersed as effectively as it might be. Front-line NGOs are seriously short of funds for the sustainable long-term work which they desperately want to do, as distinct from the short-term relief projects which come their way. As the noble Baroness stressed, roads are a critical element in this.
Yesterday afternoon I was able to have a personal briefing by Maya Mailer, the Oxfam policy adviser in Juba. She had returned on Tuesday from the searing heat of Juba to the snarled-up, frozen London for a brief working visit. It was a first-class but very challenging briefing. Later today, in Committee Room 4A, she, together with representatives of other organisations, will be presenting a report on the situation which they have just prepared.
The insights of those working on the front line lead me to make the following observations, which I hope my noble friend will take on board and respond to. While the Government of south Sudan are right to be concerned about the need to disarm the civil population, how realistic is it to overconcentrate on this in the total absence of effective human security? Surely the provision of convincing human security must be the first priority, although I recognise the chicken and egg dimensions of this. The situation is complex and confused. In Jonglei state alone, traditional cattle raiding has escalated into vicious attacks on whole communities and is made all the more devastating by the widespread presence of AK-47s, machine guns and grenades. The SPLA uniforms worn by some of the participants suggest that SPLA deserters have been opting to join their kin.
The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred to the Lord’s Resistance Army, which is involved in sinister and far-reaching destabilisation across the region as a whole. Children who should be at school are instead joining the so-called Arrow Boys, endeavouring to resist the LRA and protect their communities. One thing is sure: if human security is to be achieved, the international community must act resolutely and fast on the control of arms trafficking and the flow of arms into conflict regions such as this. The objective of an arms trade treaty is highly relevant in this context. There is also an urgent need for a regional strategy in dealing with the cruel presence of the LRA, whose real motivation has so far escaped analysis.
More generally in Sudan as a whole, there are other issues on which the policy of my noble friend and HMG will be important. I shall list them briefly. There is a need for independent assessments to be conducted throughout—I emphasise throughout—northern Sudan. These are also badly needed along the north/south border in order to pinpoint gaps in humanitarian assistance and basic services. There are similar requirements in the east. Apparently the current joint communiqué and subsequent monitoring system in effect apply only to Darfur. Similar agreements are a necessity for the rest of northern Sudan. The UN Office for the Co-ordination of Humanitarian Affairs and the resident co-ordinator’s support office should be strongly supported by the international community in achieving these.
There is a need for the high-level committee to hold the Government of Sudan to account for their commitments to remove bureaucratic impediments and for their responsibility to ensure that commitments made at the federal level are turned into realities at the state level. There is also the imperative of ensuring that humanitarian services in northern Sudan are delivered to their targeted beneficiaries in an independent, neutral and impartial manner. In this context it is important not to let rest the inexplicable expulsion of certain key international NGOs such as Oxfam UK and to insist that the Government of Sudan should stop their internal and external misinformation campaigns and negative propaganda, enabling such agencies to return. I always recall that, when I was director of Oxfam, we realised that what we called in one of our publications on Central America “the threat of a good example” was invariably one of the most difficult challenges for illiberal, authoritarian regimes.
There is also the need for the UN donors and diplomats in Khartoum, through both the high-level committee and bilateral discussions, to persuade the Government of Sudan to accept a clear definition of humanitarian assistance, which includes the vital task of protection. The urgency of recognising that UNAMID must have a greater capacity to protect civilians and increase security to ensure humanitarian access cannot be ignored. Quick-impact operations can blur the ongoing civil-military imperative. UNAMID has a key role in protecting humanitarian assets and personnel. In the total absence of alternatives, it also has to increase its role in the protection of civil populations by more patrolling of roads, towns and internally displaced camps. Its monitoring of human rights and human protection issues through its civilian and police elements is an essential part of this. However, if we will this, we have to will the resources for it to happen.
The UN mission in Sudan must be supported in putting its core mandate—namely, monitoring CPA security arrangements—more effectively into action. When the mandate of the UN mission is renewed this coming April, it would be unforgivable if the opportunity was not seized to reinforce its responsibility for civil protection. However, again, if we understand it and will it, the provision of adequate resources is an essential obligation. The situation on the ground is far too grim for playing intellectual, theoretical policy games on the international stage. Those involved internationally have, above all, strenuously to continue to seek and facilitate a cessation of hostilities, followed by an effective, monitored ceasefire which brings on board all major parties to the conflict. This is indispensable if human security and humanitarian access to people in need is to be ensured.
Finally, in all that we do we must constantly remember that, ultimately, sustained and enduring stability can be ensured only by the people of north and south Sudan, the wider region as a whole and their Governments. They have to own the solutions; the absence of such ownership contains the seed of inevitable failure. We must, therefore, constantly ensure that we are in the long run—and it will be a long run—enabling and not disempowering. One day we will all have to learn across the world that peace and security can only be painstakingly and patiently built; they cannot be imposed. We have all the time to remember that if we will the end, we must will the means. It is good that HMG take this point and are determined to pursue it.
It gives me great pleasure to join others in congratulating my noble friend Lady Cox on once again raising in your Lordships’ House the long-standing suffering of the people of Sudan. I will speak about two issues: the situation—following the speeches of other noble Lords in this debate—in southern Sudan and the situation in Darfur. I remind the House of my non-financial interest as honorary secretary of the Associate Parliamentary Group for Sudan.
This debate is a particularly timely curtain-raiser, as that group will next week begin a series of hearings that will provide an opportunity to examine the fragile comprehensive peace agreement. There will be written and oral evidence from all the major players, including the Governments of north and south Sudan, international agencies and the Department for International Development, whose biggest programme in the world is in Sudan. A report will subsequently be published, focusing on the key challenges facing Sudan. I know that the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, has welcomed this initiative, which will reinforce the distinctive British policy in Sudan. As my noble friend has said to the House, we should never underestimate the crucial role that Britain plays in Sudan, or the high regard in which Sudanese people hold the United Kingdom. The Minister has herself taken a long-standing interest in these issues—we collaborated while she was a Member of the European Parliament in highlighting the unfolding tragedy in Darfur. She and her predecessor as the Minister responsible for Africa, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown, have shown tireless commitment to the continent.
Sudan has the largest landmass in Africa. I first visited southern Sudan during the civil war, when John Garang’s Sudan People’s Liberation Movement took me to see some of the ravaged areas, devastated by 21 years of aerial bombardment, and which led to 2 million deaths and 4 million displaced people. I visited the Ilemi triangle and southern Sudan again last year. Following the January 2005 CPA and Garang’s death, the SPLM has been led by Salva Kiir Mayardit, the president of southern Sudan, and vice-president of Sudan. He has had to face the massive legacy of that war, with acute needs for most basic services, including, as we have heard, healthcare, agricultural production and education. He has also had to face the complexities of a society comprised of a population of around 15 million people, with more than 200 ethnic groups.
The challenges, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has reminded us, are daunting. Last year, the south’s immunisation programme reached just one in five, while there are a mere 20 secondary schools serving the whole region. Less than half the population has access to safe drinking water, and, as my noble friend has told the House, pregnant women in southern Sudan have a greater chance of dying from pregnancy-related complications than a woman almost anywhere else in the world. One in seven children will die before their fifth birthday. Close to 90 per cent of southern Sudanese women cannot read or write. Humanitarian agencies lack the capacity to reach people in need. In a region that is around the size of France, there are less than 50 kilometres of tarmac roads, and those centre on the capital, Juba. In the long rainy seasons, many rural locations are unreachable by road or air for weeks at a time.
In addressing these considerable needs, southern Sudan has been relying not just on aid from countries such as our own—I join others in welcoming the support that Her Majesty’s Government give—but also on oil revenues to assist in its efforts to build its infrastructure. However, in a report last September, Fuelling Mistrust, Global Witness found that oil figures published by the Khartoum Government do not match those from other sources, and concluded that there is insufficient oversight of oil revenues. Another report suggested that $266 million of oil arrears was outstanding. Perhaps today the Minister can tell us the current position in respect of these desperately needed resources.
The House may be aware that earlier today 10 major non-governmental organisations—including Oxfam, Christian Aid, Tearfund, Caritas, World Vision, Save the Children and the International Rescue Committee—issued a briefing paper entitled Rescuing the Peace in Southern Sudan. The House will look forward to hearing from the Minister about the Government’s response to the recommendations and conclusions of those NGOs. They describe the situation in the south as “fragile”, and they warn:
“The next 12 months will be critical for the future of Sudan … With landmark elections and a referendum on the horizon, the peace deal is fragile and the violence likely to escalate even further unless there is urgent international engagement”.
Already there are worrying signs that Khartoum will seek to deny Sudanese people a chance to take part in fair and free elections. Only yesterday the political secretary of the National Congress, Professor Ibrahim Ghandour, said that the United Nations has “no right”—I stress that—to observe the coming elections. It would be helpful if the Minister would say something about independent monitoring of the elections and the provision of facilities such as the mobile election units that my noble friend referred to earlier; she might also mention the provision of a United Nations-sponsored radio station that could broadcast to the whole of Sudan during the run-up to the elections, disseminating much-needed information.
Despite the enormous challenges that Sudan faces, the political leadership in the south must be commended for its efforts to safeguard autonomy and to develop models of good governance and in particular for the improvements made in the treatment of minorities. This is all in stark contrast with the persecution and systemic abuses of human rights that characterise the policies of the Government of Omar al-Bashir in the north. Earlier this week, the Open Society Institute raised the cases of Sudanese human rights campaigners forced to flee Khartoum. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether Her Majesty’s Government are satisfied that they are meeting their obligations to implement the 2008 EU guidelines on human rights defenders.
Despite all of these significant issues, it is worth noting that the 10 NGOs that I mentioned suggest that although,
“Sudan faces many interlocking challenges … if the international community acts now, they are surmountable”.
Surely the greatest of those challenges remains, as so many of your Lordships have said, the problem of conflict and insecurity. Instability and violence in the south has been fuelled by a number of contributory factors. The promised peace dividends have been slow to materialise and this is breeding disillusionment, which has replaced the initial post-war euphoria. In this climate, warlords and sectarian leaders have emerged. This inflammatory situation, in which 2,500 people have been killed and 350,000 displaced during 2009, has been ruthlessly exploited by Khartoum and its agents.
In a briefing for today's debate, the international agency, Saferworld, says that the Government of southern Sudan,
“continues to be driven by the belief that a renewed confrontation with the north is likely; this perception dominates its security thinking”.
Saferworld points to the other danger to Sudan's peace process: escalating violence and insecurity among the south's diverse inhabitants. When the Minister comes to reply, perhaps she could say what is being done to develop southern Sudan's security and civil institutions.
Khartoum's hand is frequently found stirring tension and rivalry and inciting violence via its proxies. The north's belligerence and in particular its collaboration with the Lord's Resistance Army, led by Joseph Kony, about which we have heard so much, and which has been turned into a significant actor within the region, have continued to result in horrific violence in Sudan, northern Uganda and other neighbouring countries. This notoriously vicious rebel group continues to wreak havoc—since the end of 2008 alone, the LRA has displaced close to 70,000 southern Sudanese in Western and Central Equatoria states and led to an influx of some 18,000 refugees from the neighbouring DRC.
Within the last few weeks the LRA have carried out gruesome attacks in Ezo, Nzara, Yambio, Tambura, Nagero and Ibba counties. The attacks are always characterised by abductions, killings and looting. Let me refer to an extract from the joint NGO report published today:
“The unpredictable nature and brutality of the LRA attacks has sent waves of fear through Western Equatoria, the most badly hit area. With its fertile soils and relatively educated population, this should have been one of the first states in southern Sudan to thrive after the CPA. Instead, some communities are too frightened to stay in their villages or venture into the fields to cultivate. As a result, rural school enrolment has declined, and normally productive farming families are going hungry. To defend themselves against LRA attacks, communities have formed voluntary youth militia armed with traditional weapons. According to community accounts, the presence of these ‘Arrow Boys’ has provided a sense of security. But the reliance on a militia, which includes children among its ranks, is extremely worrying and is a sign of the inability of the GoSS security forces and the UN peacekeeping mission (UNMIS) to protect civilians”.
In a letter that I, the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, the noble Baroness, Lady Chalker of Wallasey, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Winchester, along with Mr Eric Joyce, MP, sent to the noble Baroness on 4 November, we argued:
“LRA attacks exacerbate underlying political and ethnic tensions and have the potential to destroy advances made in the development of democratic government—and it neutralises the considerable investment of UK aid”.
In her reply of 8 December, the Minister admitted:
“The LRA continue to undermine efforts to provide humanitarian and other assistance in parts of South-Sudan ... The insecurity they create also risks hampering local level preparations and conduct of the 2010 elections and the Referendum in 2011”.
The Minister told us that Ban Ki-Moon,
“is also considering establishing a regional office to focus on the LRA”.
Perhaps the noble Baroness can today tell us where we have reached in this process. Are we raising within the Security Council the proxy role of the LRA, which has a clear and deadly intent to sabotage any stability or progress in southern Sudan? Will she also propose that the Security Council strengthen the civilian protection mandate of the UN mission in Sudan by increasing its operational presence, establishing a comprehensive civilian protection and conflict monitoring system, and creating rapid response capabilities for conflict-prone zones?
In her letter, the Minister cited the potentially positive impact of Senator Russ Feingold’s Lord's Resistance Army Disarmament Bill. Perhaps she can tell us what progress this is making and what is being done to create a coherent regional strategy to deal with the LRA. Her Majesty's Government could do worse than to appoint a special envoy—perhaps someone of the calibre of the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Malloch-Brown—to spearhead our policy in a region which has seen the loss of more than 7 million lives in the past couple of decades: Africa's World War 1.
We should never forget that the indictments against Omar al-Bashir and Joseph Kony are against war criminals responsible for crimes against humanity. Louis-Moreno Ocampo and the International Criminal Court deserve much more robust support from the world's political leaders than they have received thus far. The intelligence community should spare no effort to apprehend the leaders of the LRA.
We also ought to be doing more to ensure not just that we bring about disarmament, but that we stop the flow of arms into this deadly region. The weapons of mass destruction in Sudan are the hundreds of thousands of foreign-made deadly small arms. In a report issued last month, it was claimed that “transport and brokering actors” come,
“from a range of other states, including European ones, despite the EU embargo, which prohibits ‘brokering services, financing and other related services’”.
It points to European actors, including British companies and citizens, which have been involved in that. What are the Government doing about this? What are we doing to encourage China to stop supplying arms to Sudan? The acquisition of arms by Khartoum, which already has 470,000 weapons in its security forces and 2 million in the hands of civilians around the country, grievously adds to arms proliferation and insecurity. Millions have been killed in this part of Africa. If ever there is to be long-term peace and reconciliation, there must be a determination to secure justice and security.
In Darfur, 400,000 people have been killed, 2 million have been displaced and 90 per cent of the villages have been razed to the ground. There is no timetable or mechanism equivalent to the CPA. There is no durable peace agreement with Chad. The UN's proclaimed doctrine of a “duty to protect” has frequently been made a mockery of. We must concentrate our efforts on all these issues.
In our generation, conflict has led to 7 million deaths in Sudan, Congo, Rwanda and Uganda. We should be indebted to my noble friend for ensuring that we never lose sight of this appalling carnage. It is without parallel anywhere in the world.
My Lords, we owe our thanks to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I also pay tribute to her for all the work that she has put in over many years. She has helped to keep this important country, Sudan, in the public eye.
Sudan is generally seen by the media as a trouble spot, but we must also remember, as the noble Baroness said, that there are signs of hope. The threat of a return to civil war has undoubtedly served as a deterrent and has renewed the commitment of both sides to a comprehensive agreement, imperfect as it may be. The latest agreement on the Abyei ballot is an example of this determination to move forward. The south has gradually developed its autonomy, while the north has enjoyed prosperity—as yet, not shared equally with the south. In the east, Chad and Sudan have reached an agreement to monitor the border and expel rebel groups.
The framework of a peaceful transition to good governance is there, ready to be used as soon as the parties show enough willingness to use it. The international community, in my view, is doing its utmost to help to implement the CPA and, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, said, it must be down to the Sudanese themselves to move as smoothly as possible towards the elections and the referendum.
As Ashraf Qazi, the Secretary-General's special representative and head of the UN mission, said a few days ago, this year will be critical. He continued:
“As far as possible, each and every Sudanese will need to make every effort, both individually and collectively, to contribute to the success of the CPA, which will be measured, above all, by the extent to which it brings about, consolidates and sustains peace”.
Those are wise words. He would also recognise the key role of the churches in this success. It is a pleasure to look forward to the speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford, although we are sorry not to have his colleague from Salisbury here.
There are problems right at the centre of the CPA and the most serious of these is wealth-sharing, which is absolutely fundamental to the success of the agreement and above all to the political trust that must be invested on either side. Sudan is potentially a rich nation—it is the third largest producer of oil after Nigeria and Angola with about 500,000 barrels per day. However, the north-south border, along which many of Sudan's oil fields lie, has still not been drawn and the status of Abyei and the other central states, Blue Nile and South Kordofan, is still not clear.
The whole question of the survival of the south as an autonomous state depends on a post-2011 wealth-sharing agreement. This must therefore be developed now. The terms of the CPA were agreed on the basis of a unified state, and will go rapidly out of date during the course of this year unless something is put in their place. With pipelines running as they are, the north will hardly give up its oil fields lightly.
There are, however, many technical difficulties, not least in determining how much oil there is. Most of the old oil companies have left. Out of the 15 oil companies remaining, only three—from China, Malaysia and India—control 88 per cent of oil production. The China National Petroleum Company takes 57 per cent of exports.
I have a number of questions for the Minister at this point, although I recognise that she may have to wait until she has returned from Sudan; I wish her well in that visit. Given the large and growing economic influence of China, what estimate can the Minister give us of its political influence and its contribution to peace in the north and south? To what extent have EU and US diplomats been able to engage and involve the Chinese in discussions about the implementation of the agreement? We must surely not wring our hands and assume that China, judging from its unwillingness to engage in human rights elsewhere, will not be a willing partner in discussions over Sudan. I do not believe, for example, that China has not noticed events in Sudan such as the recent beating up of opposition and southern politicians.
China's doctrine of non-interference was understandable when it began trading in Sudan many years ago; indeed, every empire begins that way—ours did. But it becomes less justifiable when it achieves a degree of considerable economic power. Its political influence on and, indeed, support for the Government of Sudan is undeniable; my noble friend Lord Alton has reminded us of the arms shipments. The question is what will happen to China when north and south—and, therefore, its own interests—are divided in two. The south has by far the largest share of oil in the ground—some say 88 per cent—but it is certainly not receiving its fair share of revenues as laid down by the CPA. Global Witness says that the south has only received $2 billion a year since 2005. The SPLM secretary-general, Pagan Amum, says that only $7 billion of $50 billion of total oil revenues has gone to the south.
There are also concerns about lack of transparency. Both the actual production figures and the prices on which transfers are based remain uncertain. The south has too little influence in Khartoum, and there are not enough southern appointees in oil consortia or senior positions in the industry, perhaps because of inexperience or because not enough names have been put forward. To add insult to injury, oil transfers to the Bank of Southern Sudan remain largely in Sudanese pounds. And of course there is corruption. Much of the revenue has gone astray or ended up in false grain contracts.
There are also doubts about the quality of oil. High-quality Nile crude from the Muglad basin in Unity state is now declining rapidly and major companies such as Lundin have pulled out altogether. The new Dar blend in Upper Nile is taking over from Unity and South Kordofan. But there is a lack of refinery capacity and the inexperience of new companies, insecurity and political mistrust have together created new uncertainties.
To return to my original theme, we must be positive about Sudan. I was sorry that even the 10 aid agencies are straying into alarmist language in some of their reports this morning. As the treasurer of the all-party group I strongly endorse their general conclusions, but they must be careful how they record what they have learnt. To judge from some of the media, the civil war has never ended. An article published in the New York Times in December described an attack by the Nuer on the Dinka as “no cattle raid”. We have to resist descriptions of Sudan such as:
“The land here is unforgiving, and in places looks like a junkyard of war, with burned-out tanks and shot-down jet fighters sinking into the weeds”.
I have seen one or two places like that in the south, but journalists tend to repeat the same stories based on the same places. This is a vast country, scarred by war perhaps, but full of promise. The Nuer, the Dinka and many others have reasons to fight each other, but they are not only warriors, but a wonderful pastoral people of considerable stature and integrity. They need and deserve our support as they move towards a self-reliant, autonomous and probably separate state.
The Los Angeles Times saw it from another angle when it recently interviewed one of the “lost boys”, who escaped from the civil war in the south and was resettled in the United States. He is called Mayuol and has returned to start projects in his home village. He says:
“There is no more shooting, but nothing else has changed. There is still a lot of suffering. People are dying of hunger. There is disease and no medication”.
The drama of Sudan is therefore not war, but poverty, which is the original source of both conflict and corruption. I believe that we are addressing it, but it takes time and we need to persuade all the parties to the comprehensive peace agreement, including those on the sidelines, that that is the real priority in Sudan. As the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and my noble friend Lord Alton said, too many suffer from hunger, malnutrition, ill-health and lack of education and the oil revenues are not coming through fast enough to help them.
My Lords, I begin by offering apologies from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Salisbury. I spoke to him at about 9 o'clock, when he was on Salisbury station. He is still somewhere between there and Waterloo. He asked me to cover some of what he would have said. It is on my computer, so I shall be covering what he might have said.
I add my thanks and my admiration to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for prompting this very timely debate. As others have said, it is a year until the referendum is due. It is also timely because next Monday, Archbishop Daniel Deng of the Episcopal Church of Sudan will be visiting the Archbishop of Canterbury. Together, they will meet the Prime Minister to talk about the situation in Sudan.
The role of the church, as has already been mentioned, is key to the future of Sudan, especially the south. The Government of Southern Sudan have asked the Episcopal Church and the other churches to work for peace and to encourage people to register to vote. Indeed, in many parts of southern Sudan the churches are the only organisations on the ground that are there among the people and able to effect change. I was at Archbishop Deng’s enthronement last April in Juba. He has committed himself to working for peace in Sudan and has committed the Episcopal Church to work right across Sudan in the peacekeeping and reconciliation process.
Peace can be achieved in Sudan only if there really is a concerted, co-ordinated international effort. First, the international community has to put together sufficient political and economic incentives to make it worth while for those warring or would-be warring parties—the NCP, the SPLM, the Darfuri rebels and others—to want peace rather than war. The current initiatives of the United States go part way towards what is needed, but they are not comprehensive enough and they are unilateral proposals.
So, secondly, the US, the UK and Norway, who helped to broker the CPA, together with China and other members of the Security Council, members of the African Union Peace and Security Council and the members of the IGAD need to agree to support an individual of international standing who can lead negotiations towards returning to the peace process. I think it almost goes without saying that this person should be an African. The sticking points are many and have been referred to by previous speakers.
Thirdly, there must be a really determined action to provide security for civilians in the south. Much has been said about the Lord’s Resistance Army already, but there is also the threat of other local tribal conflict being deliberately ignited to destabilise the region, and there is a real suspicion that the Government are acting as agent provocateur. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, referred to conflict between the Nuers and the Dinkas. I know that when Archbishop Daniel Deng, who has been travelling right across southern Sudan, visited that region, he was able to bring peace and reconciliation between those two factions.
Fourthly, we need to have hope and confidence and to look beyond the referendum itself. Negotiations need to begin now to map out the most peaceable way possible after the referendum, whether we have two countries or one, considering issues such as how the oil wealth is managed, movement of population, what the currency will be, and issues of security.
Sudan is often viewed as two countries artificially brought together by British administration. Superficially, separation might seem to be the easy solution and the one that appears most attractive at the moment, but there is no neat dividing line. My interest in Sudan arises out of the longstanding link between the diocese of Bradford and what was the diocese of Khartoum in the Episcopal Church of Sudan. That one diocese is now four, and at the end of March I am due to go to Sudan for the creation of a fifth northern diocese. The bishops in the north work hard with local and national government to keep the authorities honest about the plural nature of Sudanese society, including in the north.
On my first visit to Khartoum, I went round some of the camps of displaced people. I was told that there were 3 million displaced people, but I do not know how accurate that figure is. They are living in the deserts around the capital. Some of those settlements are still very primitive indeed; others are gradually becoming more developed. Many of those thousands of people are from the south, driven north by the civil war, but for economic and social reasons most of them would want to stay in Khartoum. Many of them are Christians.
Also in Khartoum, we have quite a number of members of the Sudanese army who are from the south. One can imagine that if civil war were reignited, those southern soldiers would not stand idly by while their brothers and sisters suffered in those settlements. The fault line between north and south also runs right through the Nuba mountains, through what I know as the diocese of Kadugli. As a slight aside, our diocesan office in the West Yorkshire village of Steeton is called Kadugli House. Nobody has a clue why it should be called that, but it was a statement that I wanted to make of the link that we have between a very troubled part of Sudan and a very different part of England.
Before the civil war, Christians and Muslims in that region lived happily side by side. They were often related to each other. It is less easy to live like that today, but the religious demography of Sudan poses the question for the future of what should be the place of Sharia in a country or countries with such a high proportion of non-Muslims.
As we reflect on Sudan and as we make recommendations from the comparative comfort and ease of this country, we should realise the enormous logistical problems that there are. On my last visit I spoke to the director of Tear Fund in Khartoum. They had had to pull out of their office in Juba because of the violence there. I was there because my diocese works in partnership with Tear Fund in providing wells in Darfur. I could hardly believe what the director told me, that it takes seven or eight days for a lorryload of grain to travel from Khartoum to Darfur, and 30 per cent of those lorries are hijacked or disappear for some other nefarious reason. Quite a number of the drivers have lost their lives. When I travelled back from Juba to Khartoum, some people travelling back with me went by a special flight to Khartoum. They then had to travel half way back to Juba by road, because that was the only way to get back to where they were going. The logistics are enormous, and any thoughts of peacekeeping or providing aid need to take that into consideration.
The Motion of the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, refers to recent developments in Sudan. I hope that the House will allow me the indulgence of speaking about what is happening on the ground. Work for peace in that country needs to happen not only at national level and among the community of nations, but also locally within Sudan. The diocese of Bradford is helping in a very small way to provide education in the Nuba mountains and in the north. We have a project, Good Morning Teacher, which helps to build permanent classrooms and provides teachers’ salaries. A little goes a long way: £15,000 will build a couple of classrooms. This then encourages local people to find extra resources for development of much-needed schooling. These schools that we are supporting are open to Muslims as well as Christians. I encourage Her Majesty’s Government to do something similar. Education, education, education is true for Sudan as well as for this country. There are local as well as national initiatives that we need to support, and support altruistically, if there is to be any hope for the people of Sudan.
When I visited one of those settlements for displaced people, I discovered that its name was Jabarona, which meant, “We were forsaken”. May it not be the comment of the nation of Sudan that they were forsaken. I give my wholehearted support to the Minister as she visits Sudan. I hope that, in the light of this rather depressing debate, she will perhaps take the advice of the general in one of the wars, who sent a signal of his situation, “We are surrounded on every side, my left wing is collapsing ... We shall advance”. I urge Her Majesty's Government to help the community of nations to advance for peace for Sudan.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, speaks from long and continuous experience of humanitarian work in many parts of Sudan. As the noble Lord, Lord Judd, has said, we listen to her with the greatest respect and with gratitude for raising the formidable obstacles to implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement and the Darfur agreement. She quoted the opinion of an NGO that Sudan is sliding towards a violent breakup. That is the general fear of several others in a report issued just now, warning of a possible humanitarian disaster. That was also referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. They are demanding urgent diplomatic effort to prop up the fragile five year-old deal that ended decades of internal conflict. I ask the Minister whether this can be left to the NCP, as the noble Baroness suggests, or whether it really needs interested action by the international community to reinforce those negotiations between the parties.
I am afraid that Sudan has had too little attention for a country that is ruled by a dictator accused before the International Criminal Court of war crimes, crimes against humanity and genocide, with the backing of the subservient National Congress Party. It is incredible to think that Omar al-Bashir, who has been in power for 20 years, is certain to win the elections when they take place, even though under his rule, as we have heard, 5 million to 6 million people have been internally displaced—the largest figure for any country in the world—with a quarter of a million refugees having fled over the borders to neighbouring countries and some 2 million people having been killed as a result of internal conflicts, including 300,000 in Darfur since 2003.
The NCP is the only recognised lawful political party, with 355 seats out of a total of 360 in the last parliamentary elections of December 2000. It is difficult to see how a reasonable and fair election can be held under these circumstances. The elections cannot possibly be free and fair when the Government have conspicuously failed to honour the conditions laid down in the CPA. According to the International Crisis Group, 16 provisions of the CPA remain to be implemented, including new laws reducing the powers of arbitrary arrest and detention, allowing the freedom of the media, an independent electoral commission and unrestricted access to international observer teams. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, rightly asked what discussions had been held with China, which has been conspicuously silent on these issues. I look forward to the Minister’s answer to that question.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred to the arrest last month of three senior leaders of the opposition SPLM. They were released hours later, but while they were in custody, one of the detainees, the deputy secretary-general of the SPLM, sustained injuries that required hospital treatment. If this is to be the pattern, the election campaign will be a disaster. Our ambassador in Khartoum said last June that we were committed to “establishing an environment conducive to free and fair elections” and that we had “been supporting preparations for the elections for some time”. What assessment have the Government made of the chances that any of the 16 conditions that were named by the ICG as not having been met will be accomplished in the short interval that remains before April? At what time does she think we ought to cut our losses and withdraw support, which is costing us a lot of money?
Since October last year, the US has been following the path of appeasement, and as its special envoy acknowledged under questions from a congressional committee, it is dealing with senior officials of a genocidal regime. If there were signs of reform, the new policy might be politically, if not morally, justifiable; but the goals of US policy in Sudan—the establishment of stable, sustainable governance and the prevention of a haven for Islamist terrorism—are nowhere in sight. Are we following in the footsteps of the US, as we usually do? Will the Minister say what is our policy, and that of the EU, on direct contacts with the regime, and as a result what concessions the regime has made on the implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement?
Meanwhile, the UK is a substantial contributor to the funding of UNMIS, the UN Mission in Sudan; UNAMID, the hybrid UN/AU mission in Darfur, and MINURCAT, the UN mission in Chad and the CAR, where the spillover from Darfur is a major causal factor of unrest. How much of the $2.2 billion cost of these three operations are we paying for as a Government, and what personnel are we providing? Is each of these operations likely to continue into 2010-11, and will their budgets be of the same order of magnitude? How can the Security Council justify spending such a large sum of money on a state which has defied the principles of democracy and human rights, and is heading now for a rigged vote?
The one bright spot on the horizon is that the terms of the referendum on the status of southern Sudan appear to have been agreed between the Government and the SPLM. I am pleased to hear that the people of Abyei, which is on the borderline between north and south, are to have their own referendum. South Kordofan and Blue Nile are to have what are described as “public consultations”, although it seems that the terms of reference and timing of the consultations have still to be announced. If the Minister has any information about the details, it would be useful for it to be put on the record in this debate. I understand that the Security Bill, passed at the same time just before the Sudan Parliament was prorogued for an indefinite recess, provides a far-reaching power to arrest people without their constitutional right to fair process, legal counsel and a proper prosecution with a stated charge.
Although both parties want the April elections to succeed, the SPLM challenges the validity of the census which determined constituencies and boundaries, and there is the problem of the 2 million displaced people in Darfur who will be disfranchised because they would have had to return to their homes to be registered three months before 7 December, the last date of the process. The conflicts in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei must have made registration there equally problematic. Can the noble Baroness give us any indication of how many of the people who would legitimately have been entitled to return to their homes and register to vote are now being deprived of their opportunity to take part in these elections?
The International Crisis Group recommends that a mediator of international stature be appointed, to convince the NCP and SPLM that they should renegotiate the timetable for meeting the comprehensive peace agreement benchmarks, with the April 2010 elections postponed to November, but the referendum still being held in the first week of January 2011. What is the Government's view on this proposal, and do they know what the reaction to it by the parties has been? Of course, if the Government have no intention of allowing free elections, a seven-month delay would be futile because the same considerations would apply after that gap. In any case, steps have to be taken to prevent a constitutional vacuum in July when the GNU and other interim institutions created by the comprehensive peace agreement expire. Does this not require a new protocol to the CPA? What steps are being taken for that purpose?
The CPA contained no provision about delineating the border between north and south, and in the five years since it was signed, that deficiency has been ignored, as the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, pointed out. Since the main oilfields are in the border region, the matter has become extremely sensitive. Khartoum has been accused by the NGO Global Witness of falsifying the oil production figures so as to short-change the south on the revenue-sharing. Is it possible that the two entities might agree to commit themselves to agreement on definition of the line by an independent international commission, as with the Lauterpacht commission on the boundary between Eritrea and Ethiopia? If this is not practicable, what other methodology should be considered for reaching the decision in less than 12 months’ time?
Finally, several noble Lords mentioned the depredations of the LRA, notably my noble friend Lord Chidgey and the noble Lords, Lord Sheikh, Lord Judd and Lord Alton. It has continued to wreak havoc in Western Equatoria, and on an even larger scale over the border in DRC. The noble Baroness asked whether UNMIS could be given a more active role in protecting civilians, presumably on the lines of the Security Council's Resolution 1906 giving an enhanced role to MONUC. Others, notably my noble friend Lord Chidgey and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, have made a case for strong action on this if the election is to be successful. It is an interesting idea that the goals of the two missions should be closely aligned, and it leads me to ask whether the Minister thinks that it would be possible to go a stage further. If UNMIS and MONUC were to co-ordinate drives against the LRA, as my noble friend Lord Chidgey was suggesting, by the regular armed forces on both sides of the DRC/Sudan border, it ought to be possible to eradicate this very unpleasant armed group once and for all.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for introducing this important debate on recent developments in Sudan. I echo the remarks of the noble Lords, Lord Avebury and Lord Judd, on the noble Baroness’s continual interest and expertise in this area.
One of Sudan’s most violent regions, Darfur, has almost disappeared from the news completely and has been deemed a “low intensity conflict”. But the magnitude of the conflict has not lessened for those living in it who after all these years are still struggling to survive. Even the very survival of the state is uncertain, as is the quest for peace in this fragile country.
This is still the biggest humanitarian operation in the world, with almost 4.7 million people dependent on aid. More than 250,000 refugees from Darfur have lived destitute lives in truly horrendous conditions in refugee camps in Chad for six years. Camps with more than 2 million internally displaced people inside Darfur are even worse, and 30 per cent of those displaced are school-age children. On a daily basis, men, women and children as young as eight are raped, killed or abducted the moment they step out of camps to get food or water. Sadly, there have been reports of these atrocities occurring within the camps, perpetrated by family members, refugees and, disturbingly, some aid workers. This is not isolated in Darfur; it is occurring, and is largely undocumented, right across the refugee camps and killing fields of Sudan and its neighbouring areas.
Several noble Lords mentioned the Lord’s Resistance Army, which emerged in Uganda and has kidnapped tens of thousands of children during two decades of guerrilla war. There are reports that the LRA is now striking across Sudan’s south-western frontier, hunting for children. What representations have the Government made to the peacekeeping forces in Sudan to bring to their attention these security breaches and human rights violations so that they can act against them?
Part of the crisis in Sudan is caused by the influx of refugees from conflicts over the border in the Democratic Republic of Congo and the Central African Republic. Two thousand people have been killed in southern Sudan since January last year, including in horrific massacres. The United Nations mission to Sudan has described the situation in southern Sudan as a “humanitarian perfect storm” caused by intertribal fighting, a food deficit and a budgetary crisis. What are the Government doing to help resolve these three causes? What is the Government’s stance on Omar al-Bashir’s refusal to recognise the International Criminal Court, thereby evading justice for the crimes that he has been accused of committing? Many Sudanese do not recognise the ICC. What efforts are the Government making to strengthen its reputation and influence?
Despite the unimaginable monstrosities that continue in Sudan, there have been positive developments in some areas. Most notably, after much negotiation, the north and south have agreed on terms for a referendum in 2011 on southern independence. This was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Sheikh. Elections are due to be held in April this year. They will be the first since 1986. What actions are the Government taking to ensure that Sudan keeps its promises? How will both these events be policed and monitored for transparency and fairness? This point was made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is almost certain that violence will increase in the run-up to these events. What plans are in place in anticipation of such an occurrence? Will the Minister inform the House of any plans and support that are in place to assist Sudan after the election and referendum?
The implementation of the comprehensive peace agreement is a step towards enhancing political stability in Sudan. It provides a framework for wealth and power sharing. It also establishes restrictions on the resupply of military equipment to forces in the agreement’s ceasefire zone. However, a study by the Geneva-based Small Arms Survey accused forces in north and south Sudan of engaging in an arms race that risks plunging the nation back into civil war. The study stated that,
“arms transfers to all parts of Sudan continue unabated and, in some instances, are increasing”.
In the light of the fact that the report says that EU-based organisations are facilitating the arms trade, what action will the Government take to stop such activities?
Although Sudan is not officially at war, we all know that this does not equate to peace. All the underlying causes of conflict remain and extreme violence could return very quickly. My noble friend Lord Sheikh pointed out that our historical connections with Sudan go back a long way. Therefore we in the United Kingdom must do everything in our power to help that country's quest for peace.
My Lords, as all noble Lords have quite rightly done, I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for her unstinting efforts and commitment on behalf of Sudan. Having visited Sudan many times myself, I know how respected and known her work is in that country, and we are very grateful to her for instigating this timely debate.
As all noble Lords have indicated, these are crucial times for Sudan. As the fifth anniversary of the CPA approaches, we know that that country is still suffering from relentless, pervasive poverty and violence. In southern Sudan in 2009, 2,500 people were killed and 350,000 people were displaced. That is not a firm peace: it must be described as still a fragile peace.
The CPA ended 20 years of war, during which millions of people died and thousands of women and children were captured and taken to live in the north. However, this week sees the launch of Sudan 365, which will take place across the world. There will be drumming outside 10 Downing Street, the visit to the Prime Minister of Archbishop Deng and lots of opportunities for us, including this evening when an excellent multi-agency report will be launched here.
This debate has, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox intimated, added a great deal to the essential efforts needed to ensure that the campaign can see greater engagement and to the recognition of the dangers of escalation into further conflict in Sudan. That is why we in the UK must continue with our strong and determined engagement in Sudan, and must be especially vigilant as it faces an election in a matter of months and a referendum on separation in January 2011. Our task is to ensure that that election is credible, and that difficult outstanding issues are dealt with and resolved ahead of the referendum. This will be necessary regardless of which way the people of southern Sudan vote next year.
The issues must be seen in the context of the fact that the south is awash with small arms, there is fierce competition over natural resources and there is the added misery inflicted by the LRA. Many noble Lords have alluded to that. In many areas, access to people needing humanitarian aid is difficult and deteriorating. We must work to ensure that this is improved and that the capacity of local NGOs and churches in the south can be increased, because they alone will be able to reach the more remote areas. As well as international engagement, Sudan’s political and regional leaders must, in the coming year, redouble their efforts and engage in substantive political dialogue. This is the missing objective that we must emphasise. The motivation must be to steer a course away from violence, poverty and inequality.
Many questions were raised and I will do my best to deal with as many as possible. I will deal first with the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. A number of noble Lords mentioned the report of the International Crisis Group. I agree that it is an excellent report and we welcome it, along with other reports from NGOs and think tanks such as Chatham House that are now being released.
On the question of insecurity in southern Sudan, we know that more people have died in the south as a result of tribal fighting than have died in Darfur. That is a shocking statistic. Attacks by the LRA have forced 300,000 people from their homes—more than double the number in 2008.
The Government are supporting a range of programmes to strengthen law-enforcement capacity and community-led security work, which is very important, as well as the promotion of reconciliation.
On the issue of the demonstrations, of course we are deeply concerned at the Khartoum Government's handling of the peaceful demonstrations held in Khartoum. In the context of this and other forms of violence, elections must be credible. Along with our international partners, we will be closely monitoring the run-up to the elections and polling itself, in order to ensure that freedom of expression, freedom of speech, media freedom and other precursors to a credible election are in place. We want full monitoring, as many noble Lords have said that we should, and we are keen for an early decision to go in from the European election observation teams. They took a technical mission before Christmas to make assessments, and we are waiting now to hear from them, but I am confident that they will announce that they will be taking a substantive mission to Sudan very soon to prepare the electoral commission work, and so on.
We welcome the Referendum Bill’s passage through the National Assembly and see it, as the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, suggested, as an important step in the progress that must be made towards the referendum in 2011. We know that it is essential that we build trust between the two sides. They must work together before the referendum, not at cross-purposes. On our development money and what we are funding, the budget in Sudan is £115 million for 2009-10, rising to £140 million from this year to next year. Our funding is focused on six thematic areas: supporting greater power-sharing and democratisation; promoting wealth-sharing; enhancing security, justice and reconciliation; strengthening public institutions to enhance the delivery of basic services—that includes education, which was raised by the right reverend Prelate, and I will come back to that later—improving natural resource management; and meeting the challenge of climate change, which has been proven to have important effects on conflict.
On the question of whether we are protecting civilians, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others, we have called and will continue to call for measures to protect civilians and give proper priority to those operations. We also call for close co-operation with the UN missions in LRA-affected areas—in particular, MONOC and UNMIS. The noble Baroness asked about mobile polling stations. Elections are currently scheduled for 18 April, and my latest news is that they will extend for two days. In rural areas, this is expected to give people three days to vote. As mobile polling stations would be moved around during the day, the concept has been rejected by national stakeholders, as the perception is that they would increase the risk of fraud and cause misallocation—which is a euphemism for losing ballot papers on purpose. That is probably a good point. The option for polling stations which, although stationary during the day, change location each day is still being considered, and that may be a helpful answer.
On the arrest of SPLM leaders, we are deeply concerned that Pagan Amum, Yasser Arman and others were detained in Khartoum on 7 December. We urge the Government of Sudan to avoid the disruption of peaceful protests, to respect the rights of freedom of assembly and freedom of speech, and to protect people from arbitrary arrest and detention. I will be raising that and other issues with the authorities in Khartoum when I am there next week.
On the former African slaves we are greatly concerned that, five years after the signing of the CPA, instances of abduction between north and south Sudan have not been investigated or resolved. We will continue to press the Government of Sudan to respect human rights and bring an end to the alarming culture of impunity which is allowed to exist. Again, I assure the noble Baroness that I will raise the issue next week.
Several noble Lords raised the issue of eastern Sudan. The population in the east is one of the poorest and most disadvantaged in the country. We are seeking increased focus on the situation in the east. We urge Sudan’s political leaders to ensure implementation of the remainder of the eastern Sudan peace agreement. I can inform the noble Baroness that we are also providing funding and support through the UNDP to the state Governments in the east.
How do we ensure that our funding reaches marginalised people? In such a deeply unequal society as Sudan, we are well aware of the issue of marginalisation. DfID’s approach is very much about reducing poverty and reaching the more marginalised people. Again in the east, we are involved in healthcare services, demining—another important issue—demobilisation and reintegration of former combatants. On EU funding for the east of Sudan, there are some development programmes, but perhaps we should press for more.
The noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, mentioned Abyei. The implementation of the ruling in July 2009 is a crucial part of the CPA. We are concerned that, despite public commitment by both the NCP and the SPLM, as the noble Lord suggested, progress remains very much behind schedule. Only a small number of border markers have gone down, and we continue to press for urgent action on that. A representative from our embassy visited Abyei in December as part of a joint UK-US evaluation, and we will continue to raise our concerns.
We are marking the fifth anniversary by a statement from the Prime Minister, the Foreign Secretary and the troika. The maintenance of the CPA for that period represents some achievements, but we hope that it will galvanise us to achieve not just a CPA that is a short-term, intermediate measure, but one that will lead to long-term peace and security for the people of Sudan. On Kordofan, Abyei and Blue Nile, we have provided humanitarian and early recovery support to the traditional areas since the signing of the CPA—£5.1 million to South Kordofan in 2008 and £28 million through the multi-donor trusts since the CPA was signed. We have committed £30 million over the next three years to provide basic services to those areas. On voting in Abyei, the referendum commission will decide who is eligible, as the noble Lord suggested. We welcome the recent improvement in relations between Chad and Sudan, and encourage more concrete steps likely to build security in the region. I have probably said enough about the assessment of the security situation in the region.
Several noble Lords asked about the LRA. In Sudan, we have raised the issue of the LRA at a senior level with the Government of south Sudan, including the chief of staff of the SPLA. We have urged the Government of south Sudan to co-operate regionally to address the issue robustly—more robustly than we have seen to date. We assess that LRA units are currently active in north-east DRC, south Sudan and the Central African Republic. It has been suggested, including by some Ugandan officials, that the LRA could, under continuing regional military pressure, head for Darfur or Chad. We have no confirmation that that is the case. We are providing significant humanitarian assistance to those who are displaced. DfID is the largest donor to the Common Humanitarian Fund. We are providing £6 million to the ICRC in Sudan and assistance and protection to those people displaced by the LRA.
Why has Joseph Kony not been arrested? That is a very difficult question, and I wish that someone could come up with an answer. To date, we have not been able to do so. We do not comment on intelligence measures, as I am sure that the noble Lord will understand, but I would be happy to offer any more detailed briefing to him on the matters that he raised. The LRA’s impact is disproportionate to its size and we must do all that we can to end that terrible campaign. We will be in touch very soon.
We will continue to call for the protection of civilians and for close co-operation between the UN agencies. As for what we are doing to facilitate more defections from the LRA, as noble Lords will be aware, Uganda and other countries involved in operations against the LRA are working on encouraging defections. To some extent that is working; it includes work with the International Organisation for Migration, with UNICEF and with MONUC. We are studying whether more can really be done. I can come back to noble Lords on this when we have a better idea of what is possible in dealing with the abductions and coercion and the terrible implications for the individuals.
Will the Government make representations to the Security Council? The Security Council discussed the LRA in November and the Government very actively emphasised the need for regional governments to do all they can, and other matters. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked about the breakdown of the £400,000 and MONUC. I do not have those details to hand but, again, will be very happy to follow that up with him.
I am sorry—we did not sit down for interventions in the other place where I worked. I shall have to learn new habits.
The activities of the regional players are now very important. They are all actively working to deal with the effects through regional military co-operation and are attempting to follow through. I will happily come back with more detail on the point that the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, makes, because quite a lot can be said on it.
On the north-south civil war, we believe that neither party in Sudan wishes to return to it. What possible interest could the north or, indeed, the south have in perpetuating further tension and conflict? However, we need to see full implementation of the CPA. We are pushing hard for that and on all the post-referendum and oil-sharing issues that have been raised.
As for the £54 million announced yesterday, this will provide £36 million to the Common Humanitarian Fund, £10 million to development in the south and a further £8 million to supporting the election. On the troika, we have been working very closely with all the players in Sudan—the United States, the Norwegians and others who, like us, have a close affinity and concern. We meet regularly with donors and agents. Regular telephone videoconferences and so on are taking place on these matters.
My noble friend Lord Judd made a number of important points. He is someone whom I have enjoyed working with over many years. He was a fine director of Oxfam, and he is always extremely effective and perceptive in the many roles that he plays. I can assure him that I will be meeting Oxfam in Khartoum on Monday and Saferworld in Juba later in the week. So those two things will be covered. I will also be attending the NGO launch this evening in order to add my thanks for the work that they have been doing. My noble friend also asked about UNAMID and protecting civilians. Since UNAMID’s inception the UK has contributed more than £100 million to the mission. In March 2009, we contributed a further £1.8 million in discretionary funding for the training and equipping of a Sierra Leonean reconnaissance company which was then deployed to UNAMID.
What is the UK doing to support Darfur? We support the AU-UN Darfur political process through the leadership of the UN. Qatar’s vital contribution should be noted as we seek a cessation of hostilities. We welcome the recent report of the AU Panel on Darfur, whose recommendations offer scope for progress on peace, justice and reconciliation. I will be attending the African Union summit in a few weeks’ time in Addis and will specifically raise issues on Darfur and Sudan while I am there.
As for the assessment of the operating environment in Darfur, we are aware of the decision by the International Committee of the Red Cross to suspend its activity in Darfur and eastern Chad because of constant attacks on their employees and staff, which are of course deplorable and make it even more difficult for the people of that region. We should realise that, seven years after the crisis began, this is still going on; seven years down the road, people are still living in those camps and are still afraid to go home. The women are still being raped and still being surrounded by militias. I should very much hope that noble Lords will agree that it would be absolutely wrong for us to lose sight of the importance of continuing to focus on what is occurring in Darfur.
There are of course very many small arms moving around Africa, not least in Sudan. The north-south conflict has been responsible for a great deal of that. The borders of Sudan are extremely porous, and weapons are easily available and reasonably cheap for those who wish to purchase them. I welcome the APG hearings which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, mentioned. The Secretaries of State for Foreign Affairs and for International Development have written to the APG on this topic, and like the noble Lord, I am sure, I keenly look forward to the group’s report.
As for oil production, we are aware of the Global Witness report. Indeed, I read it with interest and noted with deep concern some of the points that it raised. Transparency is extremely important on this matter, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and others have said. We have constantly emphasised the importance of transparency, and I agree that we need to look at the issue of auditing to ensure that all the parties—and this will be a key issue in how the referendum plays—are satisfied that the revenues will be shared fairly. That is one of the most contentious issues to be resolved, as the Chatham House report, which many of your Lordships will soon be seeing, says.
An audit of the oil revenues will be necessary. Oil is critical to both the north and the south, providing 97 per cent of the south’s revenue and 44 per cent of the revenue for the Government of national unity. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is quite right to suggest that the south has not been receiving revenues. There is currently a huge shortfall in the money owed by the north to the south, so we need a post-CPA oil-sharing deal. I am receiving notes that I have to finish but I shall just plough on.
On the International Criminal Court and what recent assessment has been made, I reassure your Lordships that we have a long-standing position of support for the work of the ICC as an independent judicial body. We have repeatedly urged the Government of Sudan to co-operate with the ICC. We continue to monitor the situation closely, and to make clear our expectation that all countries should cooperate with the ICC in order to ensure that the particular obligations of states parties can be met. Needless to say, I shall not be meeting President Bashir next week.
I will close here. I think that I have covered points that noble Lords raised later in the debate. I hope that I have covered as many points as possible. I very much value and appreciate the expertise and experience shown by noble Lords in this debate. This House has continuously maintained its interest and support for Sudan, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has played a central role in those efforts.
A great deal remains to be done. We are still struggling to believe that a sustainable peace and development in Sudan are within our grasp, but we have to believe that they are. I agree with the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, that this is not a time for pessimism. We have a year, and there is time. If the political will is there, so much can be achieved. There is no time for any grim forebodings. We do not want to hear any of those; the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, is absolutely right. There has to be political dialogue and an end to violence. On my many visits to Sudan, I have certainly understood that now really is the time for co-ordinated and urgent action. Above all, the task is to prevent any escalation into further violence, to encourage dialogue and to ensure that peace, security and reconciliation can be enjoyed by the long-suffering people of Sudan.
My Lords, in opening the debate I expressed the hope that it would be a source of encouragement to all those working to promote peace and democracy in Sudan. I believe that every one of your Lordships’ contributions, culminating in a very full response from the Minister, have fulfilled that hope. They have all illustrated a great diversity and breadth of experience; expressed the strongest possible support for the peace initiatives; shown a deep commitment to the welfare of people suffering humanitarian crises; and reflected a profound and legitimate concern, because there is no room for complacency. However, we can hope that many of the recommendations made to the international community, along with the leadership of Sudan, will help to sustain the comprehensive peace agreement and promote the peace for which so many have died and for which so many have long yearned. Therefore, I thank every noble Lord who has contributed to this very important debate, as I thank the Minister for her detailed reply and the good news that it contained. We wish her well on her forthcoming visit and ask her to take our good wishes with her to those whom she will meet in Sudan. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
My Lords, I am pleased to have secured this debate today, as the level of child obesity is unacceptable and, if current trends continue, it is set to rise even further. However, too often this debate has a negative and hopeless tone to it. The problem is serious, but it is not hopeless. There is plenty of hope. A number of organisations are doing good work, there is record investment in our young people and we are seeing the worrying trends begin to reverse.
Let us be clear about the facts. Too many people in this country are obese and far too high a proportion of them are children. In fact, the National Health Service Information Centre report on obesity published earlier this year found that 30 per cent of girls aged between two and 15, and 31 per cent of boys, are classed as overweight. Of the girls, 16 per cent are obese, while for the boys the figure is 17 per cent. The figures are the result of a steady and worrying increase in recent years. In 1995, only 12 per cent of girls and 10 per cent of boys were obese, which means that there are now around 300,000 more obese girls and roughly 550,000 obese boys.
On top of that, a sad and difficult but none the less true fact to absorb is that these increasing trends tend to be concentrated in less affluent areas, which has led to significant health inequalities over the years. The direct cost to the National Health Service has reached £500 million a year, with a further cost of £2 billion to the wider economy. The Government’s worst-case projection of recent trends suggests that 75 per cent of the population could be suffering the ill effects of excess weight within 15 years, with spiralling annual costs. Thankfully, these projections have been downgraded recently, but the threat remains.
Obviously there are significant health risks associated with obesity, which can begin at a young age. They include heart disease, some cancers, high blood pressure, high cholesterol and mental health problems—mental health disorders now affect 10 per cent of all 10 to 16 year-olds. Worryingly, we have also seen a big increase in the number of young people suffering from type 2 diabetes, despite its normal association with adults. In order to do something about rising obesity levels and to prevent the problems that I have described, we have to go back to basics and ask ourselves why so many children are obese today. There is no great mystery about it: too many children take too little exercise and eat too much junk food.
Let us take diet first. An average of only 21 per cent of boys and girls consume the recommended five portions of fruit and vegetables every day, despite the fact that 65 to 70 per cent know that five a day is what they should be aiming for. Similarly, with physical activity, nearly 30 per cent of boys and 40 per cent of girls are unlikely to take the recommended amount of exercise, despite the fact that they know, and their parents should know, that it is good for them.
It would be easy to despair at these figures and paint a picture of doom for the future, but it is not my intention to do that. I am perhaps more positive than many on this issue. It is very important to note that, although the figures for a good diet and plenty of physical activity remain too low, they are increasing all the time. For example, the 20 per cent of children now eating their five a day represents an increase of 10 per cent since 2001. That is good progress, because, as we all know, behaviour takes a long time to change.
Similarly, it would be easy to despair at the worrying lack of fitness among our young people. A report entitled Nature, Childhood, Health and Life Pathways was published in December 2009 by the University of Essex. The team found that aerobic fitness in English children is lower than the global average. However, that is not all; in fact, it is declining by 1 per cent a year, which is twice the global average. All the research behind the report suggests that in 1998 the average 10 year-old could beat in a fitness test 95 per cent of children of the same age in 2008. The report goes on to give specific examples as to why this is and why fitness and physical activity are not necessarily an integral part of our culture or mindset. In the east of England, for example, the study found very low levels of cycling among young people despite the fact that the region, as we know, is flat, relatively dry and has a mild climate. Only around 7 per cent of boys and 2 per cent of girls cycle to school. The report calculates that a small change in culture, so that children who are currently being driven to school cycled instead, would lead to a substantial increase in fitness and have the added bonus of a 70,000 tonne annual reduction in carbon emissions.
However, as with diet and nutrition, I am not going to paint a picture of despair. Some fantastic work is going on at all levels—by national and local government, in schools and through the national governing bodies of sport—that seeks to revolutionise the country’s approach to physical activity. That is a source of great hope to me and, I hope, to other Members of the House and it will form the focus of the rest of my speech.
Members of the House will know that I have strong links with sport and recreation through various sports organisations and their umbrella body, the CCPR, and through my chairmanship of the All-Party Parliamentary Sports Group. I take great interest in these issues and I can say through my experience that more emphasis than ever before is being put on physical activity for young people by the Government, schools, PCTs and sports organisations. That is having a big impact on the ground and gives us hope for the future.
The benefits of physical activity are well documented and can be crucial in tackling crime and anti-social behaviour, improving education and fostering community cohesion. However, as we are talking about obesity, it is in health that the benefits of physical activity can really be seen in the young. That is underpinned by the fact that people involved in sport and physical activity are 20 to 30 per cent less likely to die prematurely and up to 50 per cent less likely to develop major chronic medical conditions. The World Health Organisation argues that positive and early exposure to physical activity can have a significant impact on healthy lifestyles for young people and therefore influence the choices that they make when they transfer to a less structured environment. Physical activity at a young age also provides key health interventions at an age when they can last. These interventions lead to lasting improvements in bones, muscles, joints, the heart, lungs, co-ordination and movement control and obviously to maintaining a healthy body weight.
As the European Non-Governmental Sports Organisation states, physical activity is,
“especially important as sedentary lifestyles amongst children are rising”.
This is not a policy position or an opinion; it is merely part of the argument over the benefits of physical activity. That argument has been won and recognised by the Government. In adopting the Department of Health’s Be Healthy, Be Active physical activity action plan, the Secretary of State celebrated the difference that physical activity makes to people’s lives. He set a target for the UK to rise from 21st to fourth in the international physical activity table and pledged to hold regular ministerial summits on the issue in recognition of the cross-departmental benefits of physical activity. Of course, there is also the target of ensuring that young people are able to do at least five hours of organised physical activity per week—known as the 5 Hour Offer—which is as bold as it is necessary.
Staying with government initiatives, I believe that the Change4Life scheme is starting to make a big impact. If it is afforded the right support and time to become truly established, this impact will widen. Launched last January, the scheme’s aim is to tackle the unhelpful habits that our way of life has caused many of us to fall into, by encouraging small changes in the way in which we eat and move, with the ultimate aim of allowing us to live better and longer lives. The scheme, which was launched through a series of targeted TV adverts, provides easy guides for parents wondering what to feed their children and how to get them moving; it even allows parents to plan active rather than sedentary family holidays. It also lets parents know what physical activity events are taking place in their areas, with Bike4Life, Swim4Life and Walk4Life events planned all over the country.
The Change4Life initiatives have inspired other, more specifically local schemes, such as one in Manchester, which as noble Lords may know is close to my heart. A sub-brand of Change4Life has been developed and will be launched this month as Points4Life. Developed by Manchester City Council and surrounding district councils, this is a loyalty scheme like a Tesco or Sainsbury’s club card. It is designed to ensure that participants can have free access to leisure centres or purchase sports equipment. With the right support, this scheme can provide an enormous incentive for people to make small but necessary changes in their lifestyles.
The emphasis placed on physical activity by the Government is crucial in driving the agenda forward. However, despite the potential impact of things like Change4Life and the 5 Hour Offer, they are not delivered at the snap of a finger. It takes drive, determination and partnership on the ground, where the difference is really made. It is worth mentioning organisations that have done this best. The Youth Sport Trust is a central part of the offer. As schools present a unique opportunity in terms of time, facilities and supervision of young people and physical activity, the trust has worked individually and collectively with more than 500 schools across the country to improve physical activity provision for pupils. Together they are doing a great job and are reversing trends that have been embedded over a number of years.
It is right that we recognise that 93 per cent of young people took part in at least two hours of PE in 2007-08, up from 82 per cent in 2005-06. They have been helped by a number of institutions, which have attained sports college status. Those have been shown by government surveys between 2005 and 2008 to have had a very positive impact on the frequency of physical activity and on the health of pupils. The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development has acknowledged that the combined efforts of government, schools and the Youth Sport Trust have led to young people in this country doing more physical activity in schools than young people in many other countries do. This represents major progress.
The governing bodies of sports have also done great work in increasing the level of physical activity among young people. New initiatives have taken root in communities all over the country and are making a big impact. For example, the free swimming initiative is a £140 million programme driven by the Amateur Swimming Association and supported by central and local government. The British Cycling Skyride days are popping up all over the country, with 65,000 people taking part in the London ride in September. Cricket’s Chance to Shine initiative, a £50 million programme to get cricket back into schools, led to nearly 250,000 young people playing cricket in 2,082 schools, with 56,000 coaching hours provided. England Netball is placing great emphasis on getting young people to play the sport again. This is great for girls, for whom this is one of the most popular activities, but it also ensures that many boys are playing netball. The Rugby Football Union’s Go Play Rugby scheme focuses on player recruitment and retention. It provides local rugby events, training days and links to local clubs. There is also a reward system, which provides incentives for new players to get their friends involved.
Football is also playing its part through the auspices of the Football Foundation, of which I am president. For example, Brighton and Hove Albion last year received more than £113,000 for a healthy living project. Notts County received more than £222,000 over three years for a similar project. The Premier League and the Professional Footballers’ Association’s community fund has granted Middlesbrough FC £300,000 to help youngsters with healthy activities and Sunderland £270,000 to tackle obesity.
These are only a handful of examples, but there are many more across the whole range of sports and activities. It is laudable work and it adds great value to what is going on in schools. The work by schools and governing bodies has been consolidated further by the excellent work of a number of outside organisations, which we should also celebrate. The StreetGames organisation, for example, provides physical activity opportunities in deprived communities that lack facilities and in which childhood obesity is heavily concentrated. It brings the chance to be active to the doorstep and at the same time fosters a sense of togetherness and community pride. According to the legal firm KKP, which undertook an assessment of StreetGames programmes, there is growing evidence of their,
“positive impact on the social capacity and community infrastructure of run down and neglected housing estates, making sport accessible to everyone regardless of income and social circumstances”.
Because of the time, I will not go on to talk about some of the other developments that are taking place. Although childhood obesity remains too high, I hope that I have painted an optimistic picture for the future. There is more investment and more emphasis on physical activity than ever before; people are working with drive and expertise to provide new and constantly improving physical activity opportunities for the young people of this country. If we support this work properly and allow it to flourish, the worrying rise in childhood obesity can be reversed and this country will be much better off for it.
My Lords, there is only one cause of obesity and that is taking in more calories than you use up. For a normal active child on a healthy diet there is really no problem about obesity—the difficulty arises when they either eat too many calories or use up too few, or perhaps both. My noble friend Lord Addington will talk about the issue of sport and exercise and their role in using up calories and strengthening the heart. So, apart from recommending dancing as a very enjoyable and fashionable way of taking exercise in these days of the popularity of “Strictly”, I am going to concentrate on one of my favourite topics: food.
I love food. Indeed, I would die without it. I like to grow it, pick it, cook it, eat it and socialise with it. I certainly like to know as much as possible about what is in the food that I do not grow myself and how it was produced. I have a great aversion to factory-farmed meat with all its animal health issues and to battery hens and eggs. I have also found that children are fascinated by growing and picking food and then, of course, eating it. However, one of the main causes of child obesity these days is that their parents do not cook, so they eat a lot of fast food or processed food. Then you really do not know what is in it; there is often too much salt, too much sugar, too many additives or preservatives and too many calories. But when you cook your own food you know exactly what is in it. You can have a wonderful school meals service, and I will say more about that later, but if the parents cannot or will not cook at home, school meals are only taking care of a minor, though important, portion of the child’s diet, although the advent of breakfast clubs has increased that proportion.
Having been brought up in a household where my mother cooked and then taught me, I find it sad that there are many young parents who did not have that advantage and did not learn to cook at school, since for many years it was not taught. Indeed, many schools simply did not have the facilities, and then we had a subject on the curriculum called Food Design and Technology which had more to do with processing, packaging and labelling than with real food. However, these days cooking has become part of the entertainment industry so, even if you did not learn at school, you can hardly fail to see cooking done on TV. How many cookery programmes are there, and what proportion of books and magazines are devoted to it? Cookery books have become bedtime reading, but I sometimes doubt how much of their contents land up on the plate. But I wonder what other leisure activity saves you money, improves your health and extends your life.
Famous chefs may not thank me for saying this but I think cooking is not difficult. Certainly, following the many recipes you find in women’s magazines and even newspapers is not too difficult. I cooked a soup from the weekend Guardian on Monday. I think the Sainsbury’s Magazine in particular has done a fine job in showing that cooking can be easy, fun and accessible, and I would point out that you do not have to shop at Sainsbury’s to read it. These magazines, if the recipes for family meals were followed, would certainly save a great deal more than their cover price for the family budget. In these times of recession, many magazines have concentrated on economical cuts of meat and other cheaper but nourishing ingredients. I think that it is more a matter of confidence than ability when people say they cannot cook. So how do we get over that?
We must certainly teach children to cook in school. How are the Government getting on with their pledge that every child will learn to cook? I heard an excellent programme on Radio 4 last week about school food. It talked about one particular school where the 11 and 12 year-olds were actually helping in the school kitchen to cook school lunches and food for the breakfast club. The health and safety issues had been overcome and the idea was being rolled out across the county. The cook was running after-school cookery clubs for parents, showing them how to make some of the dishes that were most popular with the children. There is now, I am pleased to say, a lot of this sort of innovation in schools. School dinner ladies and gentlemen have vastly improved their skills, and facilities have improved enormously under the Building Schools for the Future programme.
It is five years since Jamie Oliver, inspired by a particular dinner lady who has now taken a national role, called attention to the state of our children’s school food, and enormous strides have been made since then. I pay tribute to him and the school caterers, the School Food Trust and the many schools that have put their minds to improving their food and attracting more children to choose it over packed meals. Mind you, there is nothing at all wrong in principle with a packed meal as long as it is healthy and balanced, though I would much rather have a hot one in this weather.
The advantages of children taking school meals are many. Apart from the new criteria on quality, balance and nutritional content, which are difficult to achieve in a packed lunch, they learn to socialise when eating, which is what they will do for the rest of their lives. They learn table manners and about green issues, such as food miles and GM, and about the food culture of other cultures, and, in the best schools, they are encouraged to be adventurous and try a little of something they do not get at home. There are lots of good reasons for making school food attractive to children so that they will choose it.
Some schools encourage children to bring in recipes that their parents cook at home. Some that have the space have started a school garden where the children grow fruit and vegetables and then cook and eat them. I heard about one school that displayed its very first lettuce from the school garden with such pride on the counter at lunchtime that I am not sure if anyone ate it. I understand that pride. My husband often laughs when I come in from the garden proudly laden with my own produce—he laughs and then he eats it. Unfortunately, many schools do not have the open space to enable them to grow food. Does the Minister know of any scheme whereby other land such as a free allotment might be made available for a school that wanted it?
Of course, many of us these days are so busy that we rush our food. There is a great danger of that in schools as well, since there is a limited time for lunch and hundreds of children to get through the system. It presents a great logistical problem. However, I am very concerned about one particular solution to this: the biometric solution whereby children are fingerprinted and pass through the till by putting their finger on a screen that then deducts the cost from the balance their parents have put into their account. Some schools have done this without asking or even telling the parents, and I feel that it is an infringement of the child’s privacy. I have every sympathy with the need for a quick cashless system but I feel that a personal bar code would be more acceptable. Of course a cashless system also has the advantage of lacking stigma for those children on free school meals, but there are other ways of doing that.
There are also lunchtime clubs to which children want to rush off so they hate queuing in the dining room, which is an enormous challenge for the caterers. This is one of the most frequent reasons given by secondary-age pupils for not having school meals. The trouble is that their solution is often not a packed lunch but whatever they happen to buy at the nearest supermarket or fast food outlet.
That is why education for the pupils themselves about the importance of a healthy diet is vital for preventing obesity. In the end it is the child who will choose his food, but I strongly support those head teachers who make it a school policy that children do not leave the premises at lunchtime, particularly because of the social problems that it often causes in the neighbourhood when hordes of teenagers descend on the local chip shop. I realise that I will not make myself popular with the managers of chip shops by saying this.
As long as the school meals offer is attractive, good value and of high quality, and there is an option of a packed lunch, I see no reason why such a policy should not be enforced. Therefore, it is important that as many children as possible take school meals, now that they are usually of good quality. Price, of course, is an issue for hard pressed families. I am sure that you can put together a filling packed lunch more cheaply than a school lunch, but it may not be as nourishing. Only this week, the School Food Trust has suggested that schools should offer discounts or special offers on lunches for a limited period to encourage children to try school meals, just like a January sale. The trust says that such a move would dramatically increase take-up of healthy school meals as demand for school food is more sensitive to price changes than other foods. Research by London Economics has estimated that a 10 per cent increase in the price of school meals can lead to a fall in take-up of between 7 and 10 per cent. The trust adds that areas where discounts have been offered have successfully boosted demand. A three-week period of discounts in 2009 in York and Waltham Forest increased take-up by 22 per cent and 10 per cent respectively according to an analysis of the relationship between school meal take-up and prices.
I accept that it can be very difficult for caterers to keep quality up and prices down. However, there have been interesting experiments whereby local councils have made school meals available free to all pupils, not just to those who qualify for them. This increased uptake terrifically and, I believe, improved school discipline and learning, but it is hard for a council to offer such a programme in these constrained days. However, the results showed that the outcomes were very beneficial to both behaviour and learning. Do the Government have any plans to do their own experiments along these lines in order to inform national policy?
I end by giving your Lordships an example of what can be done given the will to do it. I found this case study, and many more interesting ones, on the School Food Trust website. In 2004, six Liverpool primary schools identified the need to improve the quality and choice of their food, so they set up a not-for-profit consortium called Food for Thought, an apt name given that children’s ability to learn has often been reliably shown to be affected by what they have for breakfast or lunch. They brought in lots of partners including the local authority and the local Sure Start programme and invested their delegated budgets in it. Within a year they were delivering meals in all six schools, replacing processed food with homemade dishes from fresh locally reared and sourced ingredients. Meal prices remained fixed and were cheaper than the meals at other schools provided by the city council. Menus run on a six-week cycle, subject to pupil preference and the seasonal availability of produce.
Staff rotate across the schools and share best practice. Children are encouraged to experiment and get a more varied diet than before. They have open days when parents can come in and try the food with the children, and they are pleasantly surprised. Local NHS staff deliver training and taster sessions for parents, teaching them about diet and nutrition. They also have small groups of children helping in the kitchen to prepare the food. The result was a 67 per cent increase in uptake in one school and big improvements in the others. Children enjoy their food and look forward to it. Their director, Mike Carden, says:
“The solution to healthy food is to develop a service that actually cooks its own meals. It is only by adding value to fresh vegetables, meat and fish in the kitchen that real costs and real quality can be managed effectively”.
I quite agree with him, especially in these days when, for so many families, cost is a real issue. We are what we eat. It is only by cooking from basic ingredients that you can feed a family on a tight budget, so we owe it to our children to teach them how to do it and to make sure that our schools have the facilities to do that.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, for calling for this debate on childhood obesity. Your Lordships may think that I speak simply as an act of confession. My robes hide the fact that I suffer from central adiposity; in other words, I put on weight around my middle and therefore carry an increased risk of type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, and when I look round the Chamber, I see that I am not the only one. Therefore, the topic for debate is close to home.
Obesity in this country has reached epidemic proportions and the trends in childhood obesity are so serious that we now expect life expectancy to be shortened by its knock-on effects. The cost to the economy is predicted to be £45 billion a year by 2050. The second reason why this debate comes close to home for me is that Bradford has a higher rate of obesity among children than the national average, and standards of healthy eating and physical exercise are among the lowest in the country. I suggest that in the battle against obesity we are focusing, so far at least in this debate, far too narrowly and that we are starting too late in a child’s development. The message—I know that we want a message which is easy to understand—seems to be to children, and, yes, through their parents, to take more exercise, give up junk food and eat their five fruit and veg. It is an important message but it only goes so far. I asked my daughter, who is a paediatrician, what one thing she would like me to say in the debate. She said, “Educate the parents. Don’t put blame on children for things they can’t control. Get parents to think about what they want their children to be like as grown-ups”.
The obesity epidemic has come about through a change of lifestyle: the availability of energy-dense foods; the plethora of fast-food outlets; use of microwaves; pre-prepared meals; decline in cooking skills; the fact that families do not eat together but graze on their own; and the decline in physical activity. These have been mentioned by previous speakers. Is it not ironic that there is so much sport and so many cookery programmes on television but we are so busy watching them that we do not exercise or eat properly? But these are lifestyle choices and they are adult choices, not children’s choices. They are choices that adults make for their children.
Chronic stress leads to obesity as well. First, our bodies respond to stress by depositing fat around the middle rather than on the hips and thighs. Secondly, we turn more and more to comfort foods. Three years ago the Sun newspaper had a feature on child obesity. One child gained 15 stone in five years after his parents divorced. The stress is caused by the parents. In poor countries obesity is a disease of the rich but in the developed world it is a disease of the poor, as the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, noted. Wilkinson and Pickett, in their book, The Spirit Level, argue that this is more about relative wealth and poverty than actual wealth and poverty. They compare the Netherlands, a comparatively equal society where 7.6 per cent of children aged 13 to 15 are overweight, with the United States, the most unequal of rich countries, which has 25.1 per cent overweight. They also note that when the Berlin Wall came down and inequality increased dramatically in what had formerly been East Germany, there is evidence that the social disruption led to an increase in the body mass index of children as well as adults, although this could, of course, have been due to stress as well as to the greater disparity between wealth and poverty.
Poverty itself restricts choice. Some poor people do not simply have access to the nutritional foods recommended in the Sainsbury’s recipes in the same way that most of us do. I could take you to a large council estate in Bradford where there is no greengrocer. There is nowhere for the people to buy their five fruit and veg which we would not be without. The local vicar saw the problem so he went to the wholesale market every week early in the morning, bought the fruit and veg and sold it in the church hall to everybody who came to the various clubs and so on. This enterprise has grown to such an extent that the wholesaler now delivers to the church. The point I am trying to make is that overcoming obesity is not purely a matter of individual exercise and diet. It is about the way we shape our society institutionally and corporately. I would add that educational programmes are too narrow and suggest that they start too late in a child’s development.
My third and main local reason for choosing to speak in this debate is to commend to this House a wonderful piece of epidemiological research known as Born in Bradford. Fourteen thousand mothers are being recruited during antenatal care and 80 per cent are responding. Fifty per cent of these are of south Asian origin. Their family history is recorded and their child’s growth and development monitored. As your Lordships will know, obesity leading to type 2 diabetes and CVD is particularly prevalent among south Asians in Britain. The aim of the programme—or at least the part of it relevant to our debate—as laid out in a grant application made in 2007 is as follows: to strengthen public health systems for monitoring excess weight gain in infants; to deliver new protocols and supporting tools to enable the identification of children who are at risk of obesity; to improve our understanding of the aetiology of childhood obesity in multi-ethnic populations; and to test new family-based solutions to prevent obesity in these populations. Twenty per cent of the 14,000 children in the project are monitored in detail.
A few months ago I had a preview of some of the early results of the project. Unfortunately for us they have not yet been published but they prompted me to wish to speak in this debate. Professor John Wright, the co-ordinator of the project, has allowed me to say that they have identified levels of obesity starting off in the first year of life common to white British and Asian babies. Yet the advice given by NICE on obesity in 2006 does not look at the evidence base for children under the age of two and, as far as I know, there is no advice available to health visitors in relation to obesity management for under-twos, in particular those in south Asian families where in-laws are an especially important influence on babies’ diets. There is also the need to explore further what has for some time been known as the Barker hypothesis that those who are underweight at birth are more prone to cardiovascular disease later in life.
The noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, kindly gave me samples of booklets from the Change4Life project. I am grateful to her. They are a valuable and attractive contribution to the battle against obesity. I suggest that materials such as CDs be prepared for those who are not comfortable with the written word and in some other languages besides English and I particularly urge that there be greater focus on the impact on childhood obesity of infants’ experience in the womb and in the first year of life.
My Lords, I begin by congratulating my noble friend Lord Pendry on initiating this debate. I commend him for all the excellent work that he does to support sport and physical well-being in this country.
The subject of this debate is much more interesting, consequential, and intellectually and practically challenging than might appear at first sight. Obesity among young people and adults is not just a problem for the UK but is a genuinely global issue. The WHO’s international obesity task force estimates that in 2007 some 1.4 billion people in the world were obese or overweight using standard measures. This number includes a rapidly accelerating proportion of children and young people under 21. The scale is truly extraordinary. In Europe there are few countries reporting obesity rates below 10 per cent and in several European countries these rates are above 20 per cent, including the UK and countries as diverse as Germany and Finland. In fact, the most rapid increase of all is in this country, where rates rose threefold between 1980 and 2001. In the United States, famously, obesity affects one in three adults and reaches rates of 50 per cent among some groups. This touches on what the right reverend Prelate said because these groups especially include poor black American women. In Latin America, obesity rates are rising in many countries; they are more than 20 per cent in Paraguay, for example, and have reached 36 per cent of women in that country.
Similar figures pertain to Asia, where Japan is an interesting case. Japan was easily the longest-lived society in the world, largely as a result of the Japanese diet, but rates of obesity are climbing very steeply and have now reached more than 20 per cent among adults. They are climbing especially strongly among young people and the rates among those aged 15 to 21 are the same as for the adult population—20 per cent. It is a quite extraordinary secular change.
Some people say that with a phenomenon such as obesity we can apply the post-modern argument that you cannot judge; that there are many different kinds of people’s bodies and we should not sit in judgment over what size they might be. That argument is demonstrably wrong for reasons which have been alluded to by my noble friend Lord Pendry. There are deep connections between obesity—and, indeed, being overweight by the standard measure—and dramatic health consequences, the most important one of which is type 2 diabetes. In the United States it has been noted that 45 per cent of children with newly diagnosed diabetes have type 2 diabetes and almost all of them are radically overweight or obese at the time of diagnosis. Looking at the United States healthcare system, some people argue that it could be overwhelmed by the prevalence of type 2 diabetes some 15 or so years down the line simply because of the implications of this. As my noble friend said, these problems converge with a range of other harmful effects.
A phenomenon this profound and on this scale is not going to be dealt with by homilies such as we should take more exercise, eat less or eat more healthily; it will not be dealt with by public health programmes. I support what the Government are doing, what my noble friend said and the importance of education and health programmes, especially those aimed at young children, but a phenomenon which is this deep-rooted and global will not respond significantly to such endeavours and we will have to look elsewhere if we are seriously going to confront it.
I hope your Lordships will forgive a slight digression. A few years ago I wrote a book on anorexia, the rise of which in modern societies correlates more or less directly with the expansion of supermarket culture. Once you have supermarkets there are no longer local diets; you cannot follow a local diet. Everyone has to decide what to eat in relation to how to look and how to be. At this point there is a tremendous acceleration in compulsive or addictive eating patterns, not only here but across the world. It occurs mostly in the affluent parts of the poorer world as well as in the developed world. Anorexia is obviously the opposite of obesity but the two often go in tandem. For example, you will sometimes find young girls who will starve almost to the point of death and six months later they are really fat; you get an alternation between the two.
The scale of this phenomenon and its expansion show that we are dealing with addiction or compulsiveness. When you have strong addictive or compulsive elements it is difficult to alter them. We will have to be much more radical and structural if we are to get to terms with the impact on our society to which obesity and being radically overweight, and eating disorders in general, should be closely linked.
There is an interesting overlap between the issue of obesity and being overweight and the more general debate around the issue of well-being. The two matters are closely connected and have common policy implications. I disagree with the right reverend Prelate because, to me, obesity across the world is by and large a phenomenon of affluence. It is certainly heavily class biased—it tends to be concentrated among poorer groups—but it is mainly in those countries which are becoming richer where obesity takes off in a radical way. We are, by and large, dealing with the phenomenon of affluence, even though it is heavily related to inequality for well known reasons.
If your Lordships take the point that obesity often has a strong component of addictiveness or compulsiveness about it, let me offer three observations on a more radical and structural approach to the issue. First, certainly in the UK and in many other countries too, alcohol consumption is significantly related to obesity. It is also strongly addictive, not only physiologically but socially and morally. When we consider the issue of obesity, we should take on board what the Chief Medical Officer is saying about alcohol because the two are intimately related. Quite apart from whatever you eat, if you consume enough alcohol it makes you fairly robust; it follows the similar fast food addictive pattern of behaviour. The Chief Medical Officer says— and I agree, although it was very controversial when it was announced recently—that we should radically curb children’s access to alcohol, eliminate the availability of cheap alcohol and regulate the siting of alcohol in shops and supermarkets.
Those are the kinds of interventions that I feel we need, not just because of the direct overlap with obesity, but because of the obvious relationship between commercial sales, obesity and being overweight. In a supermarket, where do they put the sweets. They put them where you leave the shop, knowing that is where you make impulse buys. That is also the case in other kinds of shop. I am not going to mention the name of the shop, because I am speaking in the House of Lords, but you go out of the House of Lords, you get into the Tube station and there is a well known paper shop there. You buy a paper and they offer you an enormous chunk of chocolate, reduced in price by 60 per cent. That is ridiculous. You need some kind of structural regulation of the sale of certain kinds of food goods, and you need to break the pattern that is initiated by an organised consumer culture. That is essential both for alcohol and for food related to obesity and being overweight.
Secondly, by all means do what my noble friend Lord Pendry is suggesting, which I strongly support, and encourage young children and young adults to take more exercise. We hope that the coming of the Olympics to this country will have some positive impact on that. Indeed, my noble friend mentioned the progress that has been made. But again, we are talking about massive social changes here, which underlie the phenomenon of obesity. This is essentially the transformation from an industrial, agrarian society, which happens with affluence, to a service-based society, a post-industrial society. A life of physical labour sustained the health of a large number of working people—although it sometimes also broke their health in coalmines. Now only 10 per cent of the population are involved in physical labour, and mostly it is not of the old kind.
A post-industrial society is a car-based society. It has been mentioned that not many children cycle to school. Well, hardly any parents walk their children to school anymore; they drive them. So you are talking about a whole form of social organisation that underlies these patterns. A significant interventionist aspect of coping with obesity is actually intervention in urban design. That is the only way we are going to resolve these issues in a satisfactory way.
I shall refer to one or two of the countries that were alluded to by previous speakers. Denmark has low rates of obesity, not just because of eating patterns, but because in Denmark you have a lot of cycle paths and quite rationally organised cities in which there is encouragement to use public transport and to walk to work. These sorts of things are structurally implicated in the phenomenon of obesity and therefore we have to intervene on this kind of level and have a convergence of policy.
Thirdly, we should consider a more stringent and targeted use of the fiscal system, where it seems to me—strange though it might appear—that there is a kind of analogy with the politics of climate change. In fiscal systems, for obesity or being overweight, we should apply the “polluter pays” principle. For example, in New York State, a 15 per cent tax is being proposed for all sugar-based soft drinks. We should consider such tax-based interventions here, unpopular though they are with the food industry. We should recognise that producing structural change will meet resistance from vested interests in that industry, but it is in the interest of the Government to try to secure as much co-operation from it as possible.
At the moment, the situation is very like climate change, because you have an industry that is deeply implicated in promoting a certain kind of diet, linked to a certain kind of sedentary lifestyle, where that industry does not pick up the social consequences of what it is producing. This is directly analogous to organisations that are producing greenhouse gases. They are not picking up the cost to the environment of those gases. We should apply the “polluter pays” principle to them.
My concluding thought is that we had an interesting report from the Government yesterday on food security. We do have to plan ahead for food and I hope that the programme on food security will be extended to include the issue that has been the subject of this debate.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lord Pendry for enabling us to have this debate. As my noble friend said, one of the ways of addressing obesity among young people is through the development and expansion of sporting activity. I recently participated in the Parliamentary Sports Fellowship Scheme, which provided me with an opportunity to spend some time with Sport England and see the kind of projects and schemes in different parts of the country that it supports financially, and develops with other organisations and bodies in order to increase involvement and participation in sport.
Among the many benefits which the evidence shows that increased participation in sport and physical activity deliver is a reduction in the specific risk factors that contribute to poor health, one of which is obesity. Sport England is investing nearly £880 million in sport in the run-up to the Olympics to create a top-class community sport system, to benefit people of all ages by getting 1 million to take part in more sport. To achieve that will involve reducing the numbers of children and young people who drop out of sport when they leave school, as well as developing those with talent to fulfil their potential. We need a sporting structure that enables more people to stay and enjoy being involved in sport—whether as players, coaches or volunteers—throughout their life. In terms of the Olympics and Paralympics, it means ensuring that as many of the venues as possible are designed and developed for community use once the Games have finished.
According to the Active People Survey results, 635,000 more people of all ages are doing more sport since the Olympic bid was won. As only one example of how this is being achieved, I mention that over 100,000 young people have completed Paddlepower Start, a Canoe England initiative aimed at getting more young people into canoeing.
In autumn 2008, Sport England also launched a £36 million Sport Unlimited programme to give 900,000 young people aged 11 to 19 access to 10-week high-quality courses in an array of sports out of school. The young people concerned are asked what sports they want to do, and the 10-week taster sessions are then laid on in the sports that people are interested in doing. Results to date show that 177,000 young people have completed courses since the launch of the scheme, and the three-year programme aims to get 300,000 of the participants to go on to play regular sport in a club.
One of the big challenges for Sport England is tackling the drop-off in sports participation when people leave school. Links have to be further developed between clubs and schools, as young people who join a sports club are far more likely to continue playing sport when they leave school. In 2008-09 school club links enabled 1.5 million to take part in sport at accredited clubs, which was an increase of 130,000 on the previous year. On average, schools had links with seven different clubs in 2007-08 compared to five in 2003-04, and 32 per cent of pupils participated in club sport in 2007-08 compared to 19 per cent in 2003-04. Nine sports have signed up to reduce the number of children dropping out of sport when they reach 16: badminton, basketball, football, gymnastics, hockey, netball, Rugby League, Rugby Union and tennis.
Sport England also invests in StreetGames, to which my noble friend Lord Pendry referred, a national charity with a proven track record in overcoming barriers to participation in disadvantaged areas by delivering what is called doorstep sport, which uses tailored, neighbourhood-based sporting initiatives delivered at a time, location and in a style that meets the needs of local people. Figures show that StreetGames should have met its target to achieve its 1 millionth attendance by the end of 2009, having only officially launched in 2007.
StreetGames has committed to working with at least six national governing bodies of sport, and will be increasing that to 14 bodies, which will involve connecting doorstep sport to mainstream clubs, leagues and talent development structures, as well as help in recruiting and deploying volunteers within disadvantaged areas. Since its launch in 2007, StreetGames has recruited and trained over 5,500 coaches, community sports leaders and volunteers and has successfully engaged groups of young people who are often hard to reach; 87 per cent of participants are from disadvantaged communities and 31 per cent are from black or ethnic-minority backgrounds.
Sport England also runs leadership and volunteering programmes for young people to promote and organise sport, particularly among their age-group peers, and then works with local clubs, schools and the community to create the broader opportunities that allow such young people to create a formal and valued contribution to sport.
Of course, addressing obesity is not just a question of seeking to increase participation in sport and physical activity. It also involves issues of diet, lifestyle and the activities and objectives of the major food and drink manufacturers and retailers. However, investment in sport can have an impact on obesity as well as having many other benefits. I have never ceased to be impressed by the energy, enthusiasm and commitment of the thousands of volunteers who give up so much of their free time and play such a significant role in helping to provide and develop sporting opportunities and facilities for people of all ages, including young people. I also see this through my involvement as an honorary vice-president of the Ryman Isthmian football league, where so many of the 66 constituent clubs also run teams for young people from the age of eight, thanks to the involvement of committed volunteers.
There is now an increasing clamour for swingeing cuts in public expenditure. The resources and support that a body such as Sport England provides enable all those thousands of volunteers, as well as the paid professionals, to provide the opportunities for young people to participate in increasing numbers in more sports and physical activity. That provides a benefit in a variety of ways, including addressing obesity, not only to the young people themselves but to the community as a whole through the financial and social advantages of having a healthier and happier population.
I hope that in the months and years ahead, common sense and sound financial sense will prevail and we will continue to see the necessary resources provided to enable the good work that has already been done on increasing and developing sporting and physical activity, particularly among young people, to continue and thrive.
My Lords, I am grateful for this opportunity to contribute to this debate by speaking in the gap. I participated in a debate earlier in the week, but it was somewhat curtailed by the weather and I was unable to pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Pendry. His contribution to young people and, above all, to sport and recreation, through a long and distinguished political career is, without doubt, outstanding, as was his contribution to the debate this afternoon. His assessment of the subject of obesity characteristically focused with equal weight on diet and medical treatment on the one hand, and on activity levels through sport and recreation on the other. As he knows, I firmly believe that an Olympics sports legacy from London 2012 must reach far wider than the confines of the Olympic park and the satellite venues. I declare an interest as chairman of the British Olympic Association, a director of the organising committee for the Games and a member of the International Olympic Committee’s international relations committee.
I shall confine my brief comments to London. To tackle obesity in London, we must transform the landscape for Londoners by improving access to improved sport and recreational faculties at an affordable cost. As a starting point, what is required is for government to introduce a much needed statutory requirement to ensure adequate provision of facilities for sport and recreation in England and Wales. In Scotland, where such legislation exists, the per capita funding for sport is £46; in England, where local authorities are under no such obligation and are struggling to meet their statutory requirements, it is no surprise that the per capita spend is £19. Working with Kate Hoey and her London Community Sports Board, of which I declare membership, we are seeking to make a small difference by delivering a genuine grass-roots legacy for sport in London. The facts provided by the Government’s Active People Survey make disturbing reading for Londoners. Only one-fifth of Londoners regularly take part in sport and while the most recent results, published last month, show a slight increase on the previous year, participation in sport still remains significantly lower than it was on the day that London was awarded the 2012 Games. We have, I believe, only one 50-metre swimming pool in operation. Almost half of London's adult population does no activity at all. Participation rates for disabled people are less than 10 per cent. One in six Londoners is obese. On current trends and without a major increase in facilities, 50 per cent of Londoners are predicted to be obese by 2050.
More seriously, in many respects, one of five London children is obese, and one in three is in the category of obese or overweight, which is significantly higher than in England as a whole. In short, we need action. We need to build a London-wide programme to deliver on the four goals identified by the mayor in his 2008 plan for increasing participation. They are: get more people active; transform the sporting infrastructure; build capacity and skills; and maximise the benefits of sport to our society by recognising its immense value as a tool for tackling crime and promoting community cohesion, as well as improving health and contributing towards tackling obesity. These are key objectives in the challenge to deliver a true Olympic sports legacy for the country.
My Lords, this is one of those debates when we have a lot of old friends and a lot of themes that occur again which we have to look at. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, displays that great political quality of persistence on this. We have to keep coming back to the subject and monitoring what the Government do, how we look at it and how we develop our approach to problems such as obesity and the relative factors of sporting activity and diet.
I was cursing the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford at one point during his speech because he got to the joke that I wanted to make about the fact that we seem to have produced a nation that sits on a sofa watching TV, predominantly sport and cookery programmes. We are told consistently by various chefs, whether they are selling books or trying to do a public service, or some combination of the two, that we should understand what we eat and that, if you are going to eat meat, it is probably better that it is healthy meat, both for the taste and for the sake of the animal before it becomes a lump of protein on your plate, and so on. They go on about this, but you are watching it sitting at home with a bag of crisps in front of you, the crust of a take-away pizza with far too much cheap cheese on it and several cans of lager that were sold at a discount in a supermarket.
It is not a very good image, but then again, as somebody pointed out to me, historically did we ever have that great a diet? No, we did not. The British were renowned for the fact that, if we did not boil it, we fried it; to us, vegetables were exotic things that had to be boiled into submission before they could be eaten, just in case they misbehaved in some way.
As the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, pointed out, we used to break a sweat when we went out to work; we actually worked and used our bodies much more. Even in getting to work and back we would invariably use muscle power. The whole process is out of whack. We are an animal that has developed a body based on muscle designed to move and do certain types of functions. If you do too much of it you will break the body down eventually, but it is designed to move and be active. We have got to a point where many people in our society are not doing this.
Many people have enjoyed and do enjoy types of physical activity. Sport is a natural expression of this, as are recreational activities. There is a bizarre dividing line between exercise and sport; it does not really exist, but we try to put it in. I would say that going jogging is not sport, because you are not competing with somebody, yet on many government statistics it is. It does not matter. We are talking about certain types of recreational physical activity.
I was one of the few people to be told that they had lost a few pounds over Christmas, because I now have a much fitter dog and I live out in the countryside with hills. That leads to my other point. If you happen to live in a part of the countryside where you can walk, you will take exercise because it is a pleasant activity. If you live somewhere that does not have well marked footpaths or you do not have the opportunity or a pleasant environment to do this, you will not. Of course, many people in extreme green politics would tell us to go back to a world where we live in unheated houses. Being cold and trying to keep yourself warm burns off calories; possibly we will all be a pound or two lighter at the end of the current spell of weather. Unless we can make a society where this type of taking exercise is encouraged as a pleasant leisure activity, it is not going to happen. The temptation to sit on the sofa and watch a professional athlete or a professional chef doing something is always there. We have all done it. If you have not, you are very unusual.
We should also remember that eating can be seen as a leisure activity, which we have all delved into. There has to be some reason to encourage us to go out. Saying that it is good for you may make you join a gym or buy a diet plan, but it does not make you use the gym or the plan. That is the fact of the matter. Many people in the fitness industry used to make a great deal of money out of people who joined a gym and did not use it. Of course, they now realise that there was a huge greater potential in putting people on prescription activity, but I welcome their self-interest, which is possibly the nation’s self-interest here. Perhaps the Government would like to comment on how much they intend to encourage the use of gyms, predominantly in down periods, for treatment. I would be very interested.
How are we going to encourage people to exercise? The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Pendry, touched on this. We have done a lot of work for the self-interest of sports to keep people coming through, trying to make sports more enjoyable, especially in the initial phases. I have bored the house silly about Rugby Union’s transition from a 15-a-side game, played at the age of 13 when the wingers froze to death and there were three people round the ball hugging on to it all the time and everybody else pretended to tackle and got out of the way, to a game that encourages minis and juniors. I thought that that was the case until I discovered my nephew at a state school announcing that he would rather be a soccer player and being told that he should play for the honour of his school—it was an honour to be there, not something for him. Despite the fact that I think that soccer is probably a second-best option, which should be considered only in a dire emergency—it helps to have your prejudice on the table occasionally—I still felt on that occasion that the school was very wrong, because it should be encouraging people to take part in a sport that they enjoy.
That leads to my other point, which is where clubs are better. Clubs will make sure that you do not drop the activity at the first available opportunity. We have to work on this. How are the Government going to encourage it? What is their ongoing process? The Government have done a lot. The noble Lord, Lord Pendry, mentioned some of the projects, but the fact is that they still are not working well enough. A great deal of effort has gone in. In the debate on Tuesday, to which the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, referred, I asked which of the schemes for initiating people into a sport and encouraging them to keep active works best. I was promised an answer. The Minister who gave me that promise is sitting beside the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton. Has the Department of Health made an assessment of the best return in its terms about this? What do we have to do to deliver? Is the best option to go through the junior clubs to get the mass participation levels up? Is it things such as infrastructure? Is it making sure that parks are available and that buses take you to somewhere to go for a walk, with or without a dog? What is being done? How are we encouraging people?
As my noble friend said, growing your own vegetables in allotments is popular. You are taking exercise if you do some gardening. How are the Government taking on and structuring the task of making activity pleasant? They have to do it that way. Unless we forget about 150 years of technology, most of our lives are not going to be ones of heavy manual labour. For many, there will not be even the labour of walking somewhere or riding a horse. We must to try to find a way to show that taking the right amount of exercise to keep us healthy is a pleasant experience. The challenge for this Government and anyone who supports this aim is how to integrate it into society. The structures that are needed to take in the changes and the sticks and carrots that will have to be used on society are complex. There will be more than one answer. There will not be a right answer; there will be better answers. We know that nothing is absolutely for free.
I have raised sports medicine on numerous occasions in this House. Are we investing enough in sports medicine, physiotherapy and educating doctors about when to use sports medicine? I have a permanently misshapen left arm, because only a couple of years ago a consultant did not know that anything could be done about it. Apparently I am lucky that I still have function in the arm, as that might not have been the case. What are we doing about making sure that the medical profession knows about maintaining people in activity and making sure that they are not frightened, for instance, of being curtailed in work activity because of sporting activity? How is all this being integrated?
We have the advantage in this House that when we ask the Government questions we do not ask individual departments. I suggest that when the noble Baroness replies she tells us how to bring these matters together. The noble Lord, Lord Davies, has told us that the Treasury takes overarching control of sport, despite the fact that it has no way of delivering. It has to go through the departments responsible for health and education and through the DCMS, which does not have much of a chance of delivering. How does that come together? Unless we take sport and recreational activity more seriously and give them more thrust, the Government are bound to waste effort. Will the Government give at least some of the answers to this great, multifaceted question?
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Pendry, deserves our thanks for giving us the opportunity to debate this extremely important public health issue, which we have not done for a considerable time. I thank him in particular for his very powerful opening speech.
Indeed, I am sure that the Minister will agree that we have had some excellent contributions this afternoon from around the House, pointing to a good measure of cross-party consensus on this subject. Although I do not intend to fracture that consensus too much, because there are many things which the Government are now doing right, I think it is worth beginning by putting today's situation into context. We are living at a time when nearly a quarter of all adults in this country, and nearly a fifth of children, are obese under the standard definition. Those percentages have practically doubled since 1993.
The real wake-up call, if any were needed, came with the Foresight report of two years ago, which predicted that, without corrective action, Britain could be a “mainly obese society” by 2050. Pro rata, the UK now has more obese people than any other OECD country except Mexico, the USA and, perhaps surprisingly, New Zealand. The penalty to be paid for this in the long term will be measured, certainly, in premature mortality; but its effects will chiefly be felt in terms of increased morbidity, which will carry with it a high knock-on cost to the general economy. The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, rightly mentioned diabetes.
The seriousness of the threat posed by obesity is nothing new. However, that is why it is all the more reprehensible that, until recently, Ministers have failed to place due emphasis on it. The Minister may not like to be reminded that the last Conservative Government put considerable emphasis on this area of policy. As early as 1992, we set a target of reducing obesity to 6 per cent of men and 8 per cent of women. In 1999, the Government scrapped that target and did not replace it. It took two scathing reports—from the Chief Medical Officer in May 2003 and the Health Committee in May 2004—to prod the Government into setting a new target in July 2004. That target was to halt the year-on-year rise in obesity among children under 11 by 2010. What happened to that? It was abandoned in the 2008 Comprehensive Spending Review, when it became obvious that it was not going to be met. Instead, Ministers published a new target to reduce the proportion of overweight and obese children to 2000 levels by 2020. That is an incredibly ambitious target, bearing in mind that thus far the Government have not even managed to stall, let alone start reversing, obesity levels.
For too long, the Government took their foot off the pedal when it came to the effort and resources devoted to the issue. The story is all of a piece with their general record on public health. In many major problem areas, such as deaths from alcohol and the incidence of sexually transmitted infections and teenage pregnancy, the trends have been and still are in the wrong direction. By their own admission, the Government are even on course to miss their target for infant mortality and life expectancy at birth. The difference between the life expectancy of the richest and poorest in our country is now greater than at any time since Queen Victoria. That is not the sort of legacy that any Government, let alone a Labour Government, would wish to leave behind.
Only in the last two years has the government effort to combat rising obesity levels begun to take shape. Change4Life, with its various offshoots such as Start4Life, is a well conceived and worthwhile programme. It explicitly acknowledges that success in tackling obesity depends not only on the state, but also on industry and, crucially, families and individuals taking action. In this respect, the problem of obesity is different from the public health challenges that we faced in the past. The issue cannot be solved by passing laws, as we did with water sanitation in the 19th century and air pollution in the 1950s, because obesity originates in private space and does not impinge directly on the freedom or well-being of others. Any sustainable solution to the problem must start from that realisation. Only by changing people's attitudes and motivation will we be able to make a difference over the long term.
What does it take to do that? Of course there is a role for government: regulation is important. The Government’s job is to provide leadership and an environment in which consumer tastes can be influenced and healthy eating choices made. The obvious examples of creating such an environment are food and alcohol labelling, making sure that there are consistent and clear public messages on nutrition, and making physical activity more accessible to greater numbers of people. However, if the key to the problem is changing people's motivation and attitudes, the trick is to encourage them to take responsibility for their own lifestyles and health. You do not encourage a sense of responsibility by nannying people and lecturing them on the negative consequences of being overweight. Instead, you provide them with positive messages about the benefits and enjoyment to be had from healthy living. You provide them with information with which to make choices, and examples and role models to follow. This applies to children as much as adults. Young people most of all have to feel empowered rather than put upon. We have to tap into their self-esteem.
One mistake made by the Government was their failure to recognise that when they introduced healthier school menus. Healthy meals can deliver benefits, but they will not do so if there is no motivation on the part of the children and their families. The introduction of those menus led to an increase in the uptake of packed lunches stuffed with crisps and chocolates. What was the Government's response? To impose another regulation to inspect school lunchboxes. We ended up with mothers feeding their children burgers through school railings. Thankfully, the Healthy Schools programme has come some way since then, including, I am glad to say, the introduction of cookery classes. I quite agree with what the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said about that.
In fact, many of the decisions that people take about what they eat and drink are not really decisions at all; they are actions driven by force of habit—even compulsiveness, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said. A lot of people damage their health without understanding what they are doing or how to put things right. In that context, the Minister may be aware of some research published recently by Volterra, which accounted for the rising obesity over recent years by reference to the phenomenon of peer acceptance. Peer acceptance is about people continuing to follow modes of behaviour because other people within their social group are behaving in the same way. People feel less pressure to change their actions and habits if their friends are not also doing so. It becomes socially acceptable to be fat. Volterra does not claim that that is the only factor that accounts for the rise in obesity—far from it—but it is certainly one that ought not to be ignored in any study of the subject. That takes us into an interesting realm: the psychology of human behaviour and the way in which societal norms are created and maintained. Those are difficult subjects for policy-makers, but ones that must be grappled with.
I said that I am supportive of Change4Life, but if there is a difference between the Government's approach and that of my party, it relies in the split of responsibilities between the different stakeholders. My view is that regulation in areas such as food advertising has reached its limit of usefulness, apart from trying to put in place a consistent approach in all media channels such as the internet. On the other hand, the Government have taken too long to give a clear commitment on food labelling. The traffic light system may have the merit of simplicity, but its main flaw is that it characterises food as good or bad when what matters is whether a diet is good or bad. The EU Commission has said that we need to adopt a uniform system based on guideline daily amounts, combined with a colour indication system, and I agree. On interventionist measures, I also agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said about urban design and the use of fiscal levers, particularly in relation to high-strength alcoholic drinks.
Looking at the wider agenda, the food industry is capable of taking on greater responsibility for promoting healthy living—not just in reformulating products, which it is already doing very successfully, but in initiating and sponsoring exercise and wellness programmes. Many large food manufacturers are doing great work along those lines in schools, in the workplace and in the community under the Business4Life banner. I have no doubt that we should encourage more businesses, including SMEs, to buy in to that sense of shared responsibility. We owe a debt to the Advertising Association and, not least, to its former chief executive, my noble friend Lady Buscombe, for having secured a commitment worth about £200 million from industry to resource those initiatives.
Recent reports have suggested that childhood obesity is levelling out. We need to treat those reports with caution, because some of them look only at averages. A team at University College, London, reported last month that obesity in children from wealthier backgrounds may indeed be improving, but that the problem is still getting worse—indeed, considerably worse—in children from lower socio-economic groups. Those are the people who should give us the greatest concern, and we should bear in mind, too, that hospital admissions of patients being treated for obesity have shot up over the last five years. Within normal value-for-money constraints, I believe we owe it to the Government to support them in any properly researched programme designed to combat obesity in the young. With an expanding buy-in from industry as well, it may at last be that we are on the right road to achieve results.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising this important issue and congratulate him and other noble Lords on their usual informed and important contributions. It is of enormous regret that, due to the weather, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, has not been able to make what I know would have been an outstanding contribution to the debate. I understand that she will seek another opportunity in future and I very much look forward to that.
I welcome the opportunity to update noble Lords on the progress we have made in tackling obesity. First, however, like most other noble Lords, I shall refer to the scale of the problem we face. In 2007, as the noble Earl, Lord Howe, mentioned, the Foresight team published its report entitled Tackling Obesities: Future Choices. It predicted that if action was not taken, the levels of obesity would rise by 2050 to 60 per cent in men, 50 per cent in women and 25 per cent in children. It also forecast that the direct cost of obesity and overweight to the NHS would double by 2050 from the already massive current figure of £4.2 billion. My noble friend Lord Pendry quite rightly mentioned the obvious health effects, such as the increase in childhood diabetes.
Obesity is a complex and long-term phenomenon, and no sensible analyst would pretend that there is only one answer or there is an easy one. A number of factors drive people towards overweight and obesity. Foresight has described the “obesogenic environment”: the physical and social environment in which we are often encouraged to expend the least amount of physical effort while consuming a large number of calories. Noble Lords have given various descriptions of that in this debate. Of course it is essential that we eat healthily and exercise appropriately, but, as noble Lords have also said, simple exhortations telling people to engage in more activity or to exercise greater self-control are not enough. Indeed, that can be counterproductive when talking to the young and children. My noble friend Lord Giddens is quite correct that the homilies are not working.
In January 2008 we published our obesity strategy Healthy Weight, Healthy Lives, which set out how we will help people to reach and maintain a healthy weight. Further commitments were made in April 2009 when we published our One Year On plans. Our aim is to be the first major nation to reverse the rising tide of obesity, with the initial focus on reducing the percentage of obese children to 2000 levels by 2020. Our strategy has four essential strands for action which commit us to helping people to make healthier choices, creating an environment that promotes healthy weight, ensuring effective services are available for those at risk and strengthening the delivery system of their services. Our strategy is based on expert input from Foresight and is internationally recognised.
I am pleased that we have made some progress in the past year on a number of fronts in addressing obesity among children and young people. However, my noble friends Lord Pendry and Lord Giddens rightly say that this is about changing culture and changing habits. Noble Lords may be aware that child obesity rates are beginning to level out, so I would say to the noble Earl, Lord Howe, that this reflects some progress. New data published in December from the Health Survey for England for 2008 show that child obesity levels are the lowest since 2001. Among two to 10 year-olds, the reported figure for 2008 is 13.9 per cent compared with 15.5 per cent in 2007 and 2006. These figures are supported by data from the National Child Measurement Programme 2008-09. However, obesity levels are still too high, especially for teenagers and adults, and we certainly cannot be complacent. What we can say is that we have taken a tiny step towards progress.
We have been helping children and their families to make healthier choices, and many noble Lords have referred to the importance of recognising that parents remain the biggest influence on their children. There is a significant correlation between obesity in parents and their children. In families where both parents are overweight or obese, a child is six times more likely to be overweight or obese than a child in a family where the parents are both of a healthy weight. Nurture, not nature, is the main reason for this. What children eat and drink and how much physical activity they get is largely determined by the choices that their parents make for them. Therefore, last year we launched Change4Life, a highly innovative campaign which aims to help families to,
“eat well, move more and live longer’.
The campaign, aimed primarily at families with children aged five to 11, seeks to motivate individuals and families to make behaviour changes around diet and activity. More than 412,000 families have registered with the campaign and receive information and advice tailored to their needs on healthy eating and physical activity. At the national level, we already have the support of over 170 companies and organisations that are Change4Life partners and who promote Change4Life to the people who use their services. Noble Lords mentioned the importance of working with industry at all sorts of levels, and indeed that is exactly what we have aimed to do with the Change4Life campaign.
I hope that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bradford will be pleased to learn that on 1 January we launched Start4Life, a sister campaign to Change4Life. Start4Life is aimed at parents-to-be and parents of babies and children up to the age of two to encourage them to get their babies off to the best start in life through breastfeeding, effective weaning and active play. If we are to head off the obesity epidemic of the future, we need to begin with the parents and children of today. My native city of Bradford is clearly a target for this campaign. I was keen to learn what the right reverend Prelate had to say and I join him in expressing my concern for our city.
My noble friend rightly mentioned the work of the Sports Trust and other organisations with these campaigns and initiatives. I join with other noble Lords in paying tribute to all organisations, particularly in the third sector, which are active in this area. I mention in particular the sports and leisure trusts across the country which have fully embraced Change4Life in its various manifestations such as Swim4Life.
We have been trying to create an environment that promotes healthy weight. The Healthy Child Programme covers the first five years of life. This universal health visitor-led programme has a clear focus on promoting healthy weight, with more targeted support for those who need it most. In September, we issued comprehensive new guidance for the review that takes place when a child reaches the age of two. At the same time, we launched the new Healthy Child Programme for children and young people aged five to 19. Led by nurses working with families, schools and young people themselves, and in partnership with other providers, this means that we have for the first time a comprehensive programme to promote the health of all children and young people. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, made a superb case for good food and cooking, and we would all agree with her that cooking is in fact easy. Indeed, I join her in paying tribute to Jamie Oliver as one of our celebrity cooks who makes the case that cooking is easy and something that everybody can do.
For children at school we have extended the statutory nutritional standards for the types of food that can be served in schools, and we have restricted choice to healthy options in maintained secondary schools and special schools so that all state schools are now covered. The regulations also ban high salt, fat and sugar foods from vending machines in schools. We are supporting schools with funding for new and refurbished kitchens and to train cooks to prepare healthier menus. We provided £220 million-worth of funding over three years from 2005-06 to help schools and local authorities manage the transition to the new standards, and a further £240 million over the following three years to 2010-11 to subsidise ingredients and other costs directly related to the cost of providing a school lunch. In all we have invested £650 million between 2005-06 and 2010-11 to support school food. We believe that this investment is paying off. The noble Earl may be right that this had a slightly unsteady start, but we know that the proportion of children eating school lunches is rising again. The latest figures show that nearly 44 per cent of primary pupils and 36 per cent of secondary pupils are now eating healthier school meals.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned new initiatives and the importance of the School Food Trust which, of course, is financially supported by the Government. Cookery classes are compulsory in primary schools and have been reintroduced into the curriculum at key stage 3, so that pupils aged 11 to 14 can learn the basics of cooking simple, healthy meals.
My noble friend Lord Pendry is known for his work promoting sport and physical education in schools, and he will be aware that nine out of 10 pupils aged 5 to 16 now take part in two hours of high quality PE and sport in the curriculum each week, but we need to go further. Our PE and sport strategy for young people sets out our ambition that this age group should be able to take part in five hours of sport per week. The noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, knows that we want to use the enthusiasm and interest that will be generated in the run-up to the Olympics in 2012. We are putting more professional coaches in schools, upgrading school sports facilities and providing more attractive sporting opportunities for the community, but I welcome the noble Lord’s remarks and hope that he will agree that we are making some progress. I congratulate him on the work of the London School Board.
For 16 to 18 year-olds in education, schools and colleges will be expected to work in partnership with clubs and community groups to ensure that at least three hours of appropriate activity are available. For young people not in education, training or employment, community providers and local authorities should work together to provide access to affordable opportunities to take part in sport. In the eight years to 2012, we will have invested £2.4 billion in PE and sport for children and young people.
My noble friend Lord Rosser outlined the achievements of and challenges faced by Sport England; he is quite right that we have a huge problem of young people dropping out of sport in their teens, particularly girls. We should not think of physical activity only in terms of PE and sport, as the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, said. We are encouraging children and young people to be physically active in their everyday lives through travel, play and leisure. The Chief Medical Officer recommends that children and young people should undertake a minimum of 60 minutes of moderately intensive physical activity each day. We are reviewing these guidelines and consulting on new recommendations for infants, toddlers and pre-school children, with the aim of producing guidelines to help them. We also think that travelling to school is very important, and have invested £140 million in travelling-to-school projects which encourage schools to have travel plans to get children walking, using public transport or cycling to school.
Children and young people have a life outside school. In the Children’s Plan we announced a new agenda for supporting play, with the biggest ever investment in play by the Government. We have put in £225 million over three years, and an additional £10 million was pledged in April 2008, underlining the importance of play and why it should be taken seriously by every council in the country. We have consulted on our play strategy, which sets out a commitment to deliver 3,500 new or refurbished play spaces, and 30 new staffed adventure playgrounds, so that there is one in every neighbourhood in the country.
I have already mentioned the work that we are doing to improve the quality of food in schools. We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, about the need to increase the number of children taking school lunches. We are also promoting healthier food choices in a number of other ways.
The noble Earl referred to advertising. Working with Ofcom, we have placed restrictions on the broadcast advertising to children of foods high in fat, salt and sugar. Ofcom has reported a 34 per cent reduction between 2005 and 2007 in children’s exposure to adverts on television for foods that are high in fat, sugar and salt. We will conduct a further review of the impact of these restrictions during 2010. We have committed to look at developing a set of voluntary principles to underpin all marketing communications about food to children, and we will be working with stakeholders on this over the coming months.
Front-of-package nutrition labelling is now widespread in the UK. The noble Earl asked how that would be taken forward. I agree with him that the FSA will need to resolve this issue; indeed, the intention is that that should happen in the course of this year.
Much of our focus is on preventing problems arising in the first place. We are also working to meet the needs of those at most risk of becoming obese, including those who are already overweight. We know that weight management services can play an important role in helping overweight or obese children to move towards and maintain a healthier weight. This is very important; nothing makes a young woman more miserable than being seen as and called “plump” during her teenage years. As well as the physical impact of these issues, we should not underestimate their impact on young people’s mental health. In this financial year we are therefore providing PCTs with funding of £69 million within overall allocations that are about commissioning more weight management services.
I turn to specific issues raised by noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, raised the issue of cookery classes. As I said, they are already compulsory in primary schools and will be compulsory in secondary schools from 2011. The Cook4Life pilot programme aims to train Sure Start children’s centre staff to run cookery activities for families with children, and the aim of the pilot is to develop skills, inspire and give confidence to parents with young children to cook healthy and nutritious food. That is an example of the kind of programmes that we are taking up.
The noble Baroness also raised the issue of the take-up of free school meals. We know that the take-up is increasing but we have commissioned the Child Poverty Action Group to report on the stigma of free school meals. It found that not all parents are aware of their entitlement and others do not know how the system at their school works, so we are also aiming to tackle it from the point of view of the amount of information that is available to parents as well as how the school handles those issues.
The noble Baroness raised the issue of biometric systems and barcodes for cashless food payment. I took her point about that, but she will know that these arrangements are made locally.
The right reverend Prelate raised several issues. I want to refer particularly to the Born in Bradford research that is going on, which I think is going to be very important and informative. I hope that he will take the opportunity of his presence in your Lordships’ House to bring that information to us at a time when he is allowed to do so. He made an important point about the lack of money and the availability of healthy food in poorer communities.
The right reverend Prelate asked about NICE guidance for the under-twos. The evidence base for obesity in that age group is still quite small and not conclusive, but obesity in children may well begin in habits picked up from birth. We are therefore giving guidance to health visitors about what happens at the review at two years old. I suspect that the research from Bradford is going to assist us with this issue.
The Change4Life material is on DVD. Leaflets and information in languages for the black and ethnic minority community are expected to be available from February this year.
My habits from being a student at the LSE die very hard, and I nearly took up my pen and started making notes while my noble friend Lord Giddens was speaking. His analysis was spot on. I very much take the point about anorexia and obesity going hand in hand and about the issues of addiction and compulsion. We hope that some of the work that we are doing will address these problems. I think that he recognised that. I totally took his point about alcohol.
My noble friend Lord Rosser made a very important contribution about the work that he has been doing through the Parliamentary Sports Fellowship Scheme. It is one of those activities that I have always intended to do but never quite managed due to time constraints.
The noble Lord, Lord Addington, never bores the House silly on these issues. He is part of the expertise available in this House on these matters. Many of our programmes are working. I say to the noble Lord that it is not a choice of parks, clubs, change for life or allotments; we have to work across government. It is the responsibility of the whole of government, but also of all of us, to take these issues forward.
I take the noble Lord’s point about the need to monitor and assess these activities to see which is the most effective. That is built into these programmes. We will be monitoring and assessing them. That is why they are often changed.
The noble Earl, Lord Howe, made an interesting comment about the targets for obesity being set by a Conservative Government. I wish to make two comments on that. It was a Conservative Government who put us in the terrible position in which we found ourselves as regards school meals. It was also a Conservative Government who allowed the sale of playing fields and did not even bother to record the number of playing fields that were sold, thereby reducing the availability of playing facilities. We have steadily reduced that. The first thing we did in 1998 was to start to count the number of playing fields that were being sold.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way, but how would the Government know the number of school playing fields that had been sold given that she has just said that no statistics were kept to identify whether new playing fields were being added or sold?
The point I am making is that if you are not even counting the number of playing fields that are being sold, that suggests there is no commitment to ensuring that children have access to those playing fields. The first thing you need to do to stop the sale of playing fields is to find out how many of them you are selling and where.
However, I think that the noble Earl and I agree on most of these issues, particularly as regards food and alcohol labelling and people taking responsibility for themselves as well as the Government providing leadership on these issues.
As regards the 2004 target for halting the rise in child obesity, we wanted a more ambitious target which included overweight as well as obese children. We do not regulate school lunch boxes. Schools decide their policy on packed lunches and have their own rules.
No one should be in any doubt that this Government have made tackling obesity a top priority. I thank my noble friend Lord Pendry and all other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. I hope that noble Lords will be assured that we are working across government to help today’s children to have a healthy and happy future as the young people and adults of tomorrow.
My Lords, I, too, thank everybody for participating in this debate. I am glad that my throat virus did not prevent me being here. I do not intend to reply to all the points that have been made. However, I thank those who covered points other than the ones I made about sport and physical recreation. Food was the first one that came up. We also heard about the problems of alcohol with youngsters.
There have been some very thoughtful contributions. I always enjoy the speeches made by the noble Lord, Lord Giddens. He referred to the problems of obesity in a more global way than I did and I learnt a great deal from what he said. I also enjoyed contributions from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and from the noble Lord, Lord Addington, who is always here in debates relating to sport and physical recreation. I agree with the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Bradford and his daughter that the importance of this should not be put on children alone, or even parents alone, but on the environments in which they are brought up. The highest percentage of obesity is in those run-down estates.
I would like to thank my old sparring partner, the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for his kind words. When I was shadow Minister for Sport in another place, I had to shadow five Ministers for Sport but he was by far the best. I have said that publicly before but I say it here in this House. However, I must correct him on his intervention in the Minister’s speech. We do know that 3,000 playing fields were sold off. When I debated this with the then Prime Minister, John Major, he agreed. We must place on the record that the Prime Minister of the day agreed that those had been sold off. Let us not have that from the noble Lord again because it is not the first time I have heard him say it.
I thank the Minister for her thoughtful response to the debate and the noble Earl, Lord Howe, for his contribution. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Co-operative and Community Benefit Societies and Credit Unions Bill [HL]
Order of Commitment Discharged
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Contaminated Blood (Support for Infected and Bereaved Persons) Bill [HL]
Order of Commitment Discharged
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
House adjourned at 4.04 pm.