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Lords Chamber

Volume 719: debated on Tuesday 15 June 2010

House of Lords

Tuesday, 15 June 2010.

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.

Introduction: Lord Bishop of Derby

Alastair Llewellyn John, Lord Bishop of Derby, was introduced and took the oath, supported by the Bishop of Salisbury and the Bishop of Leicester, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.

Lord Mandelson took the oath.

Elected Mayors

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they propose to carry out a consultation about the role and number of elected mayors.

My Lords, the Government have made a clear commitment to create directly elected mayors in the 12 largest cities, as set out in the coalition agreement. The Government believe that mayors are an effective model, but it will ultimately be for local people to decide what is best for their city.

I thank the Minister for her reply and congratulate her warmly on her appointment. Will she confirm again that the Government have no intention of imposing elected mayors on authorities, particularly given that many good local authorities and many areas of the country have shown little interest in the system? Does she agree that it would be inconsistent for the Government on the one hand to declare the merits of, and their belief in, localism, and on the other to adopt a “government knows best” attitude in this matter?

My Lords, I can confirm that localism is one of the major planks of the Government’s policies, our intention being to put things down to as low a level as we can. With regard to the 12 cities that have already been named, we expect to engage with local government and other interested parties as the policy is considered. The policy on locally elected mayors will be subject to confirmatory referendums each time.

I warmly congratulate the noble Baroness on her appointment. Her many years of experience in local government will be a great help to this House and to the Government. Does she agree that the creation of single-person executives requires close attention to be paid to checks and balances to prevent abuse of power? What discussions are being had on term limits such as those in other countries?

I thank my noble friend for her very kind comments and welcome. The intention is to give mayors powers, but those powers will be subject to scrutiny by elected councils, which will have full scrutiny over what is being done. The terms of mayoralties have not yet been finalised.

My Lords, I add to the congratulations to the noble Baroness on her appointment. I fondly remember working opposite her on many occasions when she was a stout defender of traditional London boroughs and structures of local government. The Mayor of London today has made a power grab to take over the London region of the Homes and Communities Agency, the Olympic Park Legacy Company, the Royal Parks Agency and the Port of London Authority. It has also sought greater powers over traffic control and awarding rail franchises on routes into London and the allocation of the adult skills budget in London, and to have a greater say in health provision in the capital. Are those proposals supported by Her Majesty's Government and, if so, will they be the powers on offer to the other prospective city mayors?

My Lords, I appreciate that the Mayor of London is looking for greater powers and devolved policies. As the noble Lord will know, we welcome the contribution that the Mayor of London makes, and the new Government have already committed to genuine decentralisation of power. That may mean transferring further powers to the mayor, but that matter is still under consideration.

My Lords, I, too, very much welcome the noble Baroness to her position. She has great experience in local government and the health service, and we warmly congratulate her.

The noble Baroness talks about the Government’s commitment to localism; she has mentioned that twice already. In the past three weeks, the Government have introduced legislation to take education powers away from local authorities. The Secretary of State has announced that council tax will be capped. Local authorities are being required to publish minutiae of information; if they do not, legislation is promised. The 12 largest local authorities will essentially be forced to go down the elected mayoral route. Is not the only freedom that the Government are giving to local authorities the freedom to do what they are told by their boss?

Again, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks. No, I do not think that what he said is true. Local authorities will find that they have greater flexibility and power once localism is introduced. We have already indicated that there will be a freeze on council tax for two years. That is something that local authorities have known they would have to implement for some time. I do not accept that there is more central control. There could hardly be more central control than there was under the previous Government, and we certainly expect to make it less.

Does my noble friend remember that health control for the whole of London by the regional assembly has been considered for many years, going back even to LCC days? Certainly, it was greatly considered in GLC days. Does she not think that it is more suitable for this regional authority to have an interest in public health but not necessarily for it to be running the health service, which is quite capable of running itself in London?

My Lords, I am not sure whether any decision has been made on running health services in London. That is in any case beyond me and in the hands of another Minister.

My congratulations, too, to a good local government friend in the Minister. Does she agree that turkeys do not vote for Christmas—and, if so, does she think that there is a need for someone to make the case for change to the leadership structures of local government?

My Lords, I am slightly confused by the question. If it relates to the mayors—I just raise my eyebrows and look at the noble Lord—then of course discussions are going to take place. This policy is newly announced and discussions need to take place with local government, as I have already indicated.

Parliamentary Constituencies: Boundaries

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is the estimated time required for a full review of parliamentary constituency boundaries.

My Lords, the Government have announced that legislation will be introduced to provide for the creation of fewer and more equal-sized constituencies. Further details will be announced in due course, and we will of course seek to frame the legislation in a way that ensures that the boundary commissions can complete their task in a timely, fair and thorough way.

My Lords, that was an Answer to a question but not to the one that I asked. The Question was what the Government’s estimate is of how long it will take to undertake a full review of parliamentary constituencies—a simple and straightforward question, I would have thought. Is the Minister aware that the previous review took six years and eight months? That was quite proper; it gave local people the opportunity to appeal and for full local inquiries, part of the localism that the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, rightly referred to as being a crucial part of this Government’s objectives. I appeal to him to ensure that there is no short-circuiting of local democracy and no denial of local people’s rights to appeal. If there is any short-circuiting of the appeals procedure in the established parliamentary Boundary Commission, then if this is the new politics, I for one prefer the old.

The Answer drafted by my department was even vaguer than the one that I gave, so I feel rather hurt because that one was all my own work. It answered the Question, too: the previous review lasted nearly seven years but this one will be done in a timely, fair and thorough way. We will see when it ends whether it has fulfilled those criteria; I suspect that it will.

Is my noble friend aware that many people are confused, sometimes to the point even of failing to vote, by the frequency with which constituency names are changed? Is he further aware that, remarkably, the constituency of Aberavon has borne the same name over at least the 42 years for which it was represented by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Morris of Aberavon, after he had defeated me in 1959? More than that, is he aware that it bore the same name when Ramsay MacDonald represented it in the 1920s, and that it bears the same name today? Will he pass that observation on to the Boundary Commission?

I fully endorse that. I have great confidence in the independence of the Boundary Commission. I have to say, with some bitterness, that when the Boundary Commission decided to put Stockport Town Hall, Stockport market and Stockport’s major municipal buildings into Denton and Reddish in 1983 I doubted its sanity, but I am sure that the message about consistency in names and the preservation of historic names is important.

Would the Minister give an assurance that the interests of the constituency in terms of geographical area covered will be given due regard by the Boundary Commission, because some constituencies could be almost half the size of Scotland? Could he also give an assurance that the Boundary Commission will be asked to have regard to those areas of dense population where everyone knows that the number of people who register is far below those entitled to vote, because those not failing to register are not necessarily spread evenly across the country?

Yes, of course the Boundary Commission will be taking all those considerations into account. I understand the concerns about registrations to vote, which are extremely important. As I think was mentioned in a question yesterday, 92 or 93 per cent registration is not bad as an aim, but there is no doubt that there is difficulty about registration. My brief says that,

“non-registration was higher among private renters … unemployed … those without qualifications and those in non-permanent employment”.

There are similar bad figures for ethnic minorities. Those have to be looked at, and I am quite sure that that and other considerations will be taken into account by the Boundary Commission.

The Minister will recollect that, during the general election, much was said about seeking to achieve an equal number of constituents in each constituency. How harshly is that rule to be applied? Does it mean that a time will come when mountain ranges, rivers and county and borough boundaries will count for nothing, and that there will be total arithmetical correctitude but no soul, no character and no history for such constituencies?

No, that would be an absurd objective, but we have to come to a realisation that when a Government are elected on 36 per cent of the vote but are given a healthy 60-seat majority in the House of Commons, the electoral system has got out of kilter. I might also mention that when 23 per cent of the electorate return only 57 MPs, there are signs that perhaps that system is in need of examination. Of course, when the Boundary Commission comes to look at this, the kind of historical and geographical issues to which the noble Lord referred will be taken into account. I am actually quite surprised at the scepticism from some parts of the House. There is nothing up the sleeve; this is a rational approach to a distorted system.

As my noble friend has indicated, this is part of the general objective of trying to make sure that there is equal value for every citizen’s vote, as is the electoral reform to introduce a fairer voting system. Can he reassure us that the Government intend to make sure that this exercise and electoral reform proceed in tandem, and that the programme or timetable to which he refers will indicate an outcome and complete the process before the next general election?

My Lords, will the noble Lord confirm that the Conservative-Liberal coalition’s plans to reduce the size of the Commons will make it smaller than at any time since the passing of the Great Reform Act in 1832? I remind him that the population is now 61 million; in 1832 it was 17 million. Does he, as a former Member of Parliament, as he mentioned, and as a Liberal Democrat really believe that the citizens of the United Kingdom have suddenly become overrepresented in the House of Commons?

The size of the constituency is a matter for discussion. In the present House of Commons, as is well known, it ranges from around 100,000 people to just over 20,000. There are reasons for those extremes but within them there is plenty of room for discussion of what would be a reasonable size of constituency for a Member of Parliament to look after. As well as the differences in population since 1832, there have been great changes in the communications and facilities open to Members of Parliament, and to the staff and assistance that Members of Parliament get.

Transport: Savings

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government how they intend to implement savings of £682 million in 2010-11 in the transport sector in the context of their intention to create a greener and more sustainable transport sector.

My Lords, I can reassure the House that this Government take their environmental obligations very seriously. The Department for Transport is focusing on improving efficiency while protecting priority areas, including green initiatives. The savings will include £112 million from direct departmental spend, £100 million from Network Rail, £309 million from local government grants, a proposed reduction of £108 million from the Transport for London grant and the deferral of £54 million from lower priority schemes.

I am very grateful to the noble Earl for that breakdown of the first cut of the big cuts. I refer him to the coalition’s programme for government, which confirms what he said—that there is a joint ambition to create a low-carbon economy. Could he then tell the House why, in that list of cuts he quoted, there was nothing about a Highways Agency reduction in construction? Will we see road building continue while all the sustainable forms of transport are cut?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his question. I can reassure him that the Highways Agency will take its fair share of reductions in the DfT’s direct spend, including £37 million from the deferral of planned spend in 2010-11 on a small number of Highways Agency schemes. Together, these savings represent a reduction which is in proportion to that being made to Network Rail and local government funding.

Does my noble friend the Minister recollect that two weeks ago, in the debate on the Loyal Address, I put forward a large number of economy schemes which do not affect front-line services? I have had no response to this and I would obviously like one. When people take part in debates in your Lordships’ House, can they expect prompt and proper answers from the Government?

My Lords, I hope to encourage the usual channels to give us a major transport debate, when I will be in a position to answer all the noble Lord’s questions.

My Lords, I welcome the noble Earl to the Front Bench and congratulate him on his appointment. There was a time when the name Attlee brought transports of delight to this side of the House, so I look forward with optimism to the future. Will he confirm that in striving for a greener economy, it ill behoves the Government to cut the number of new carriages to be made available to Thameslink and the carriages that would therefore become available to the hard-pressed north-west railway system? Does he recognise that cutting back on rail transport will produce discomfort for passengers and do nothing to reduce carbon?

My Lords, I understand the noble Lord’s concern and will write to him on the detail. However, he will recognise that ring-fencing or protecting expenditure in one area only increases the reductions required elsewhere.

Further to the point made by my noble friend Lord Davies on carbon, is it not the case that the transport coefficient of growth is very positive, and that if we want to reduce the transport coefficient of growth, the price of carbon may be part of the answer? However, the price of carbon is a sort of poll tax on wheels because it is very regressive. Will the Government publish information on the regressive nature of different forms of carbon taxation?

My Lords, I declare my interest as the president of BALPA. How is aviation affected by the cuts proposed? Where do the Government consider that airports should be extended and new airports sited?

My Lords, the noble Lord will be aware that we have decided to cancel the third runway at Heathrow and will refuse to allow additional runways at Gatwick and Stansted because they are not sustainable.

My Lords, I join those who have congratulated the noble Earl on his appointment and thank him for the courtesy he extended to me when I was sitting in the place that he now occupies. Perhaps I may start with an easy question for him. Does he agree that the maintenance of the commitment to electrify large parts of the railway system, as announced by my noble friend Lord Adonis, and the commitment to build High Speed 2, are both very sustainable and green forms of transport which the new Government will follow?

My Lords, we are committed to High Speed 2, but the noble Lord will understand the problems with expenditure on electrification in the current economic climate.

My Lords, does the Minister understand that certain services in the north of England, particularly commuter services around Manchester and those based in Leeds, already have a totally unacceptable degree of overcrowding? That does not take place just in the London area. Is it not absolutely essential that new carriages are provided?

My Lords, I accept that new carriages are desirable, but we have an affordability problem due to the current economic climate.

Housing: Market Renewal Partnerships

Question

Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government on what basis they determined the reduced allocations to the Housing Market Renewal partnerships.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I remind the House of my interest as a member of Pendle Borough Council.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord. Due to the unprecedented deficit, the Government announced savings of £6 billion to government spending in 2010-11. Much of the housing budget is already committed, and as such the necessary cuts will fall on areas where less has been committed for 2010-11. As part of the £6 billion savings package, therefore, the Government are consulting with pathfinders on achieving a saving of £50 million, approximating to a 17.5 per cent reduction across the pathfinders programme.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the Minister on her appointment. We had some good campaigns together in opposition and I hope that we will have some good campaigns together on this side of the House.

I understand the problems that the Government have and the position that the country and the Government are in and the need to make savings. However, does the Minister understand that the £50 million of savings required from the housing market renewal pathfinders and the councils in those areas are, in the proposals put forward to the pathfinders and councils, concentrated entirely on the capital programmes on the investment for the regeneration side of the pathfinders rather than on the revenue? The revenue is much smaller, but would it not be sensible to allow pathfinders and councils to make savings in revenue spending, which goes partly on administration and, in my view, on some top-heavy and unnecessary bureaucracy, rather than in all cases in the investment in regeneration projects, which the pathfinders are about?

My Lords, capital is capital and revenue is revenue in local government terms, and seldom the twain shall meet; there really is not an option to move between capital and revenue in this instance. That will not provide flexibility. However, the Government announced on 9 June the removal of ring-fencing, so there will be flexibility in local government to deal with issues such as this.

My Lords, will the Government require housing market renewal partnerships to desist from pulling down old houses to which people are very much attached and which it would be less disruptive and cheaper to refurbish rather than replace?

My Lords, this has been an issue ever since the pathfinder programme was set up under one of the previous Secretaries of State, John Prescott, when there was a great overexuberance in some parts of the country for felling old houses. It is entirely up to each pathfinder and local authority as to what they do, but the message must have gone out very clearly that some people love old houses. If they can be put right and the neighbourhood maintained, that would seem to be a reasonable answer.

My Lords, what progress is being made in reducing the number of families in temporary accommodation? I ask, in the context of these cuts, whether those families are still being given priority.

My Lords, that went a bit wider than this Question. If the noble Lord will forgive me, I shall reply in writing.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness on her appointment. In the light of the cuts announced in the Homes and Communities Agency’s budget, what has changed about the demographics of the United Kingdom which means that fewer people need affordable housing? Is cutting back on affordable housing an example of the shared values of the coalition Government?

My Lords, we keep mentioning the situation of which the noble Lord will be aware, whereby the previous Government left us with an enormous hole to fill. Unfortunately, there are areas where savings will have to be made to these programmes. Social housing remains high on the agenda and will continue to be built under the new regime. The way that those funds are allocated may differ slightly, but I can assure noble Lords that there is no relaxation on social housing.

My Lords, why does the Minister keep repeating this nonsense about the inheritance, given that the Office for Budget Responsibility pointed out clearly that the deficit inherited by the Government is far less than was predicted? Will she give an estimate of how many jobs will be lost as a result of this announcement? What will be the effect on the need to achieve growth in the future, which was the one area that the Office of Budget Responsibility said was absolutely necessary?

My Lords, I shall stick to the Question that I was asked, which was about pathfinders. The noble Lord is making trouble for me and I shall not fall into his trap. The proposals for a 17.5 per cent reduction in relation to the pathfinders will be considered, they are out for consultation and I anticipate that there will probably not be much drawing back on the programme as a result.

Will my noble friend remind the House of what happened to affordable housing production since the previous Government came into office in 1997? I seem to remember that it began to decline as soon as they took power.

My Lords, I do not have the figures in front of me, but I believe that the previous Government’s efforts on affordable housing throughout their time in office resulted in less housing being built than during the previous 10 years.

My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that people need affordable housing not just in cities, and that young people in rural areas find it extremely difficult to find any sort of accommodation, let alone affordable housing? What specifically is being done for them?

My Lords, there is a clear recognition that country areas suffer quite a lot from reductions in housing and other things that make it difficult for young people to stay. Policies are being developed relating to housing on farms, which will be ready for discussion in due course.

London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [HL]

Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [HL]

Revival Motions

Moved By

That this House resolves that the promoters of the London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [HL] which was originally introduced in this House in Session 2007–08 on 22 January 2008 should have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session in accordance with the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150B (Revival of bills).

That this House resolves that the promoters of the Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [HL] which was originally introduced in this House in Session 2006–07 on 22 January 2007 should have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session in accordance with the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150B (Revival of bills).

Motions agreed.

House Committee

Liaison Committee

Membership Motions

Moved By

House Committee

That Lord Alderdice be appointed a member of the Select Committee in place of Lord Addington, resigned.

Liaison Committee

That Lord Alderdice be appointed a member of the Select Committee in place of Lord Addington, resigned, and that Lord Campbell-Savours be appointed a member of the Select Committee.

Motions agreed.

Arrangement of Business

Announcement

My Lords, at a convenient point after 3.30 pm, my noble friend Lord Strathclyde will repeat a Statement on the Saville inquiry.

Korean Peninsula: Human Rights

Question for Short Debate

Tabled By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of security and human rights issues on the Korean peninsula.

My Lords, I greatly welcome the opportunity to question the Government about recent developments on the Korean peninsula, especially as they relate to security and human rights questions. In doing so, I express my thanks to all noble Lords who will participate in the debate and I remind the House of my non-pecuniary interest as chairman of the all-party group that considers North Korean issues.

This year marks the 60th anniversary of the outbreak of war on the Korean peninsula. That war led to the loss of between 2 million and 3 million lives, including the lives of 1,000 British servicemen. The immediate cause for seeking today’s short debate, however, was the sinking in March of the South Korean naval vessel “Cheonan” with the loss of 46 lives. This was a shocking and tragic development, which has led to a massive deterioration in relations between South Korea and North Korea; it was reckless belligerence, which could have calamitous consequences. The folly of indifference—this is a faraway country about which we know very little—is self-evident.

History rarely repeats itself exactly, but we need to see the dangers for what they are. The sinking of the “Cheonan” represents one of the worst breaches of the armistice that ended the Korean War 57 years ago. Before this unprovoked attack, the Korean peninsula was already a tense and dangerous place. North Korea has the world’s fourth-largest standing army, comprising over 1 million troops, who are on a war footing. There is the added danger of nuclear capability.

In this jittery climate, it is easy to see how the two sides could slide into combat. America has an estimated 28,000 troops stationed in South Korea, who would be sucked into the conflict, while simultaneously China might find itself in a stand-off against the Americans and South Koreans. That would make the Korean peninsula the most dangerous place on earth. The prospect of two great world powers being dragged into direct conflict should give us all pause for thought.

In assessing these events and what to do about them, the United Nations Security Council and the British Government must not countenance impunity. That would merely tempt the North Koreans to go further. Crucial to finding a way forward will be the leadership and involvement of the Government of China. With China’s active involvement, we should seek the establishment of a United Nations commission of inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity. We should press for a referral of the sinking of the “Cheonan” to the International Criminal Court and we should call for an evaluation of the egregious violations of human rights in North Korea. I hope that the Minister will spell out to us today precisely how we have used our seat at the Security Council and what we have done to engage the Government of China.

When on 2 June I pressed the Government to say whether they would instigate a referral of North Korea to the International Criminal Court, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, replied:

“North Korea is not a signatory to the ICC”.—[Official Report, 2/6/10; col. 250.]

Sudan is not a signatory either, but that did not prevent the indictment by the ICC of a sitting president, Omar al-Bashir, for crimes against humanity in Darfur. Furthermore, this crime was committed against South Koreans in South Korean territory and South Korea is a signatory to the ICC.

The noble Lord, Lord Howell, also doubted whether China would be willing to support joint international action. However, if North Korea went into freefall or if there were to be a new war, China would have more to lose than anyone. Millions of refugees and the danger of two world powers being sucked into such a vortex would threaten China’s stability and development.

The international award-winning human rights lawyer Jared Genser, writing in the Wall Street Journal on 3 June, addressed the issue of the ICC’s jurisdiction. I sent a copy of the article to the noble Lords, Lord Howell and Lord Wallace, and the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock. Genser says that a case can legitimately be brought before the ICC because one of the war crimes that can be prosecuted in the ICC is,

“killing … treacherously individuals belonging to the hostile nation or army”.

He says:

“Merely conducting a sneak attack itself is not considered treachery under the laws of war, as surprise is often used in wartime. What was actually ‘treacherous’ is that North Korea signed the 1953 armistice and committed unequivocally to ‘order and enforce a complete cessation of hostilities’”.

He argues that:

“In this case, North Korea invited the confidence of South Korea that the armistice was in force ... That confidence was intentionally betrayed to sink the vessel and kill its crew. The laws of war make very clear that while an armistice merely suspends active fighting and can indeed be broken, notice must be provided to the other side first”.

I repeat that, although North Korea is not a signatory to the International Criminal Court, South Korea is, and this offence took place against South Korea and against a South Korean vessel. The United Nations special rapporteur on North Korea, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, who will be speaking at a meeting in your Lordships’ House on 21 June, has also called for a referral to the ICC. As in the case of Omar al-Bashir, the ICC’s investigation would underline the ultimate accountability of all political leaders before judicial authorities, demonstrate that there is no impunity and leave open the possibility of a day of reckoning.

Thus far, China has been right to urge restraint, but it would help if she were more outspoken and insisted that those responsible are brought to justice. China correctly described North Korea’s decision to test a nuclear weapon as “brazen” but this is of a similar order. Both our countries must stand with the victim and condemn the aggressor. A common front could transform the situation in North Korea and deliver reform and hope for its beleaguered citizens—and they are beleaguered. The BBC journalist, Sue Lloyd-Roberts, was recently in North Korea and South Korea. Among the defectors that she traced and interviewed—and others whose lives are documented by Barbara Demick in her brilliant new book, Nothing to Envy—were men and women who gave first-hand accounts of enforced disappearances, executions and arbitrary detentions. Here are the stories of religious persecution, the lack of freedom of movement, the lack of labour rights, the non-implementation of legal codes, the lack of a fair trial, the lack of judicial oversight of detention facilities and the severe mistreatment of repatriated persons—mainly repatriated from China, which remains reluctant to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the border areas.

The violence against women in detention facilities is appalling, and the accounts of life in prisons and labour camps are chilling. The individual stories bring home the enormity of the suffering that lies behind individual statistics: the 2 million people who died in the famine during the 1990s, and the 300,000 people who are estimated to be in the gulags today. One such story was recounted here in the Moses Room, at a meeting which I chaired, by a remarkable young man whom I invited to Westminster. Shin Dong-Hyok, who is 26, was born in, and spent the first 23 years of his life doing forced labour in, North Korea’s political prison camp 14. He watched as his mother and brother were publicly executed.

When the Minister replies, perhaps he can tell us what is known about current conditions in North Korean prisons and camps; what individual cases we are pursuing; what is known about food supplies and the humanitarian situation; and what discussions we have had with China about refugees.

Finally, we should reassess the strategic approach being adopted by Her Majesty’s Government and our allies. The 1994 US framework document, the more recent agreements brokered during the six-party talks, and the stop-start initiatives of the Bush Administration have all been too narrowly focused on arms control issues alone.

When, with my noble friend Lady Cox, I first visited North Korea in 2003, among the recommendations in our report, Finding a Way Forward, was the need for a Helsinki-style approach which links security and human rights issues. We called for the formal ending of the Korean War, the creation of an American diplomatic presence in Pyongyang, and a sustained elevation of human rights concerns. In 2009, after our second visit and our report, Carpe DiemSeizing the Moment for Change, we reiterated these recommendations along with a series of other proposals.

Making human rights a pivotal issue has also been advocated by the American North Korea expert, David Hawk. In his 2010 report, Pursuing Peace While Advancing Rights: The Untried Approach to North Korea, he says:

“It is the approach that has yet to be tried in North Korea”.

Throughout the Cold War, alliances were formed between dissidents, religious leaders, democrats and human rights activists. The Helsinki principle of critical engagement, dialogue, strong deterrence of attempted aggression and the insistence of respect for human rights defeated tyranny. We need Helsinki with a Korean face.

I believe that there is a Korean proverb, Karure tanbi, may there be sweet rain in a drought—the cherished hope that something longed for may come about. For 60 years, the Korean peninsula has longed for a lasting settlement based on justice, peace, reconciliation, coexistence and mutual respect. Instead its people have experienced suffering, division and threats. In this 60th anniversary year of the outbreak of the Korean War and in the aftermath of the terrible loss of life on the “Cheonan”, we should redouble our efforts to bring about a lasting settlement. I beg to move.

My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton. His knowledge and his work in the area of the conflict and the situation in Korea is acknowledged and respected by the whole House. If Her Majesty's Government or the United Nations were ever looking for an envoy to dispatch to the Korean peninsula, his would be a fitting name to put forward.

I also welcome my noble friend Lord Wallace of Saltaire to the Front Bench. We are looking forward to his contribution not only in this debate but also in future debates on this matter. I have two points to raise: the first is a specific case of human rights and the second relates to some of my own thoughts about the way forward on the Korean peninsula and some of the issues faced there.

I want to ask the Minister specifically about what more can be done to ensure that human rights abuses in North Korea are put firmly on the international agenda. The House may remember that Robert Park, a 28 year-old American human rights activist, was arrested after entering North Korea on Christmas Day. Happily, as a result of international representations and after being detained for 43 days, he was released. Park had crossed the border from China, carrying a letter to North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong-il. He had attempted to draw attention to tens of thousands of political prisoners held in the communist state.

Since then, Aijalon Gomes has also entered North Korea in the hope of shining a light on some of the 154,000 political prisoners who are believed to be held in six camps across the country. In a Written Answer to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, last week the Government said:

“We are aware of Mr Gomes' case. The Swedish embassy in Pyongyang, which is the consular protecting power for US nationals in North Korea, is handling his case. We are in touch with the Swedish embassy and stand ready to offer assistance if they request it”.—[Official Report, 8/6/10; col. WA 39.]

I should be grateful if the Minister could tell us what response he has received from the Swedish embassy and what is currently known about the whereabouts of Mr Gomes.

The House will also recall that two American journalists were also held in North Korean prisons last year. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were imprisoned in March 2009 after they strayed across the border between North Korea and China while on assignment for Current TV, a company owned and operated by the former American Vice President, Al Gore. They were intending to make a report on the trafficking of women across the border. North Korea sentenced them both to 12 years hard labour. Former President Bill Clinton intervened on their behalf. He flew to Pyongyang and, after five months in prison, they were released. Their arrest had not only been entirely unexpected but the Chinese authorities and missionaries working in the region had been warning for some time that North Koreans were looking for high profile foreigners to use as bargaining chips. Their reason for being on the border was to highlight the plight of refugees trying to flee from North Korea. It was also to highlight the dangers facing those brave Chinese families who have been assisting refugees and who face arrest for doing so.

Can the Minister tell us what is being done to persuade the Chinese Government to allow access to the border areas to United Nations agencies that work with refugees? How does he respond to the report published by Anti-Slavery International into the suffering of many women who make the border crossing in order to earn money to support their impoverished families? The United Nations estimates that 400,000 people have died in the camps in the past 30 years. Many of the stories that have emerged of escapees reveal the primitive brutality that has been experienced there. Many of these barbaric practices were pioneered by the Japanese during their occupation of the Korean peninsula.

In conclusion, I should like to make two points. First, we need to be very careful about demonising North Korea. Alexander Solzhenitsyn, in The Gulag Archipelago, reminded us that the line between good and evil does not lie between nation states or even across the 38th parallel but within each and every human heart. It is not that the people of the north are evil and the people of the south are good. There is good and evil in all. That needs to be recognised. The people of the north have suffered a level of brutality which is unimaginable, not just over the years of the regime which has been in place for the past 50 years but for almost a century since they came under brutal Japanese occupation.

I know that, like me, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, have had the opportunity to visit both north and south of the border and have experienced the depth of feeling that remains there. The experience of Japanese occupation is taught in primary schools and from kindergarten. People experience that day in and day out; they have a living history of that brutality, and it is drummed into them. Not surprisingly, therefore, they view the external world with some suspicion and fear. That was added to by the short and brutal engagement of the Korean War, which is also scarred on the consciousness of every primary school child and every family in North Korea. If it were not so, there is no way that the country of North Korea could keep within its extensive porous borders to the north with China its population of 21 million. We need to place this in the context of the great crimes against the Korean people, and especially the North Korean people, which have been perpetrated over the past century, and seek some truth, justice and reconciliation for them.

The only way forward is the peaceful reunification of the Korean peninsula. The Korean peninsula is artificially divided because of Cold War politics. It is a leftover of Cold War politics. It is a lingering injustice. Long after Germany has seen its reunification, the Koreans are still waiting for theirs. Why does it not happen? In part, people may say that that is a result of the north and the south, but it is not simply a matter of the north and the south getting together. We know that there are external pressures and that great powers are at play. Japan, China, Russia, and the United States all have interests there. They were represented in the six-party talks which followed North Korea's withdrawal from the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty in 2005.

Every effort has to be made to bring about that reunification. North Korea is economically virtually on its knees. Its GDP per capita is about $1,800, which makes it the 193rd poorest country on the planet. Just across the border in South Korea, there is a GDP per capita of $28,000, making it one of the richest countries on the planet. The total GDP of the north is $40 billion; the total GDP of the south runs to $800 billion. The inconsistencies between the two are vast. They are known and they are commented on.

Somehow, the international community needs to correct that injustice by creating a framework in which those two countries currently separated by that artificial division can begin reunification talks. When it was proposed that that might be on the agenda, it was at the six-party talks. When German unification took place there were not six-party talks, there were the four external powers, the Allied powers, but they were called four plus two talks. Germany was allowed to talk freely between east and west with other Allied and interested parties in the room. So it should be in North Korea. There should not be six-party talks; there should be two plus four talks. The agenda of peaceful reunification of a demilitarised and once again proud Korean nation standing there in east Asia should be an objective of us all.

Saville Inquiry

Statement

My Lords, I hope that it will now be a convenient moment for me to repeat a Statement being made in another place by the Prime Minister on the Saville inquiry. The Statement is as follows:

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a Statement.

Today, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland is publishing the report of the Saville inquiry, the tribunal set up by the previous Government to investigate the tragic events of 30 January 1972—a day more commonly known as Bloody Sunday. We have acted in good faith by publishing the tribunal's findings as quickly as possible after the general election.

I am deeply patriotic. I never want to believe anything bad about our country. I never want to call into question the behaviour of our soldiers and our Army, who I believe to be the finest in the world. And I have seen for myself the very difficult and dangerous circumstances in which we ask our soldiers to serve.

But the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear. There is no doubt. There is nothing equivocal. There are no ambiguities. What happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable. It was wrong. Lord Saville concludes that the soldiers of Support Company who went into the Bogside,

‘did so as a result of an order ... which should have not been given’,

by their commander; that, on balance, the first shot in the vicinity of the march was fired by the British Army; that:

‘None of the casualties shot by soldiers of Support Company was armed with a firearm’;

that:

‘There was some firing by republican paramilitaries … but … none of this firing provided any justification for the shooting of the civilian casualties’;

and that:

‘In no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire’.

He also finds that Support Company,

‘reacted by losing their self-control ... forgetting or ignoring their instructions and training’,

with,

‘a serious and widespread loss of fire discipline’.

He finds that:

‘Despite the contrary evidence given by soldiers … none of them fired in response to attacks or threatened attacks by nail or petrol bombers’,

and that many of the soldiers,

‘knowingly put forward false accounts in order to seek to justify their firing’.

What is more, Lord Saville says that some of those killed or injured were clearly fleeing or going to the assistance of others who were dying. The report refers to one person who was shot while,

‘crawling … away from the soldiers’.

Another was shot, in all probability,

‘when he was lying mortally wounded on the ground’,

and a father was,

‘hit and injured by Army gunfire after he had gone to ... tend his son’.

For those looking for statements of innocence, Saville says:

‘The immediate responsibility for the deaths and injuries on Bloody Sunday lies with those members of Support Company whose unjustifiable firing was the cause of those deaths and injuries’,

and, crucially, that,

‘none of the casualties was posing a threat of causing death or serious injury, or indeed was doing anything else that could on any view justify their shooting’.

For those people who were looking for the report to use terms like ‘murder’ and ‘unlawful killing’, I remind the House that these judgments are not matters for a tribunal or for us as politicians to determine.

These are shocking conclusions to read and shocking words to have to say, but you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. We do not honour all those who have served with distinction in keeping the peace and upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland by hiding from the truth. So there is no point in trying to soften or equivocate what is in this report. It is clear from the tribunal's authoritative conclusions that the events of Bloody Sunday were in no way justified.

I know some people wonder whether, nearly 40 years on from an event, a Prime Minister needs to issue an apology. For someone of my generation, this is a period we feel we have learned about rather than lived through. But what happened should never, ever have happened. The families of those who died should not have had to live with the pain and hurt of that day, and a lifetime of loss. Some members of our Armed Forces acted wrongly. The Government are ultimately responsible for the conduct of the Armed Forces. And for that, on behalf of the Government, and indeed our country, I am deeply sorry.

Just as this report is clear that the actions of that day were unjustifiable, so too is it clear in some of its other findings. Those looking for premeditation, those looking for a plan, those looking for a conspiracy involving senior politicians or senior members of the Armed Forces—they will not find it in this report.

Indeed, Lord Saville finds no evidence that the events of Bloody Sunday were premeditated. He concludes that the United Kingdom and Northern Ireland Governments, and the Army, neither tolerated nor encouraged,

‘the use of unjustified lethal force’.

He makes no suggestion of a government cover-up, and he credits the UK Government with working towards a peaceful political settlement in Northern Ireland.

The report also specifically deals with the actions of key individuals in the Army, in politics and beyond, including Major General Ford, Brigadier MacLellan and Lieutenant Colonel Wilford. In each case, the tribunal's findings are clear. It also does the same for Martin McGuinness. It specifically finds he was present and probably armed with a ‘sub-machine gun’, but concludes that,

‘we are sure that he did not engage in any activity that provided any of the soldiers with any justification for opening fire’.

While in no way justifying the events of 30 January 1972, we should acknowledge the background to the events of Bloody Sunday. Since 1969 the security situation in Northern Ireland had been declining significantly. Three days before Bloody Sunday, two RUC officers, one a Catholic, were shot by the IRA in Londonderry—the first police officers killed in the city during the Troubles. A third of the city of Derry had become a no-go area for the RUC and the Army. In the end, 1972 was to prove Northern Ireland's bloodiest year by far, with nearly 500 people killed.

Let us also remember, Bloody Sunday is not the defining story of the service that the British Army gave in Northern Ireland from 1969 to 2007. This was known as Operation Banner, the longest continuous operation in British military history, spanning 38 years and in which over 250,000 people served. Our Armed Forces displayed enormous courage and professionalism in upholding democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland. Acting in support of the police, they played a major part in setting the conditions that have made peaceful politics possible. And over 1,000 members of the security forces lost their lives to that cause. Without their work the peace process would not have happened. Of course, some mistakes were undoubtedly made. But lessons were also learnt. Once again I put on record the immense debt of gratitude we all owe those who served in Northern Ireland.

I also thank the tribunal for its work and all those who displayed great courage in giving evidence. I would also like to acknowledge the grief of the families of those killed. They have pursued their long campaign over 38 years with great patience. Nothing can bring back those who were killed, but I hope, as one relative has put it, the truth coming out can set people free.

John Major said that he was open to a new inquiry. Tony Blair then set it up. This was accepted by the then Leader of the Opposition. Of course, none of us anticipated that the Saville inquiry would last 12 years or cost £200 million. Our views on that are well documented. It is right to pursue the truth with vigour and thoroughness, but let me reassure the House that there will be no more open-ended and costly inquiries into the past.

But today is not about the controversies surrounding the process: it is about the substance, about what this report tells us. Everyone should have the chance to examine the complete findings, and that is why the report is being published in full. Running to more than 5,000 pages, it is being published in 10 volumes. Naturally, it will take all of us some time to digest the report’s full findings and understand all the implications. The House will have the opportunity for a full day’s debate this autumn, and in the mean time, I have asked my right honourable friends the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and Defence to report back to me on all the issues that arise from it.

This report and the inquiry itself demonstrate how a state should hold itself to account, and how we are determined at all times, no matter how difficult, to judge ourselves against the highest standards. Openness and frankness about the past, however painful, do not make us weaker—they make us stronger. That is one of the things that differentiates us from terrorists. We should never forget that over 3,500 people—people from every community—lost their lives in Northern Ireland, the overwhelming majority killed by terrorists.

There were many terrible atrocities. Politically motivated violence was never justified, whichever side it came from. And it can never be justified by those criminal gangs that today want to drag Northern Ireland back to its bitter and bloody past. No Government I lead will ever put those who fight to defend democracy on an equal footing with those who continue to seek to destroy it.

But neither will we hide from the truth that confronts us today. In the words of Lord Saville:

‘What happened on Bloody Sunday strengthened the Provisional IRA, increased nationalist resentment and hostility towards the Army and exacerbated the violent conflict of the years that followed. Bloody Sunday was a tragedy for the bereaved and the wounded, and a catastrophe for the people of Northern Ireland’.

These are words we cannot and must not ignore.

But what I hope this report can also do is to mark the moment when we come together in this House and in the communities we represent: come together to acknowledge our shared history, even where it divides us; and come together to close this painful chapter on Northern Ireland’s troubled past. That is not to say that we must ever forget or dismiss that past, but we must also move on. Northern Ireland has been transformed over the past 20 years, and all of us in Westminster and Stormont must continue that work of change, coming together with all the people of Northern Ireland to build a stable, peaceful, prosperous and shared future.

It is with that determination that I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, I thank the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement from the Prime Minister. As he said, it is more than 12 years since the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, set up the Saville inquiry to establish the truth of what happened on what became known as Bloody Sunday. For the 14 families whose loved ones died and the 13 individuals who were injured, for the soldiers and their families, and for all those whose lives would never be the same again as a consequence of Bloody Sunday, this report has been long awaited. There is no doubt that, for all of them and indeed for the future of Northern Ireland, the Saville report is of great consequence. The Leader of the House, in repeating the Statement from the Prime Minister, has described the conclusions of the report as “shocking”. I have not yet had the opportunity to read the report, but it is clear from the Statement that the conclusions of the report are indeed shocking. They are appalling conclusions.

Perhaps I may remind your Lordships’ House of what Tony Blair said to the other place on the day that the House agreed to establish the Saville Inquiry. He said:

“Bloody Sunday was a tragic day for all concerned. We must all wish that it had never happened”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/1/98; col. 503.]

Perhaps I may also reiterate two further things that Tony Blair pointed to when the inquiry was established: the dignity of the bereaved families whose campaign was about searching for the truth, and the recognition of the thousands of lives that had been lost in Northern Ireland through terrorism.

I also restate our sincere admiration for the way in which our security forces have responded over nearly four decades to terrorism in Northern Ireland. They have operated in difficult and dangerous circumstances and many have lost their lives. Nothing in today’s report can or should diminish the record of service given by so many brave men and women from our Armed Forces.

Will the Leader of the House acknowledge that the setting up of the Saville inquiry was necessary because of the inadequacy of the inquiry concluded by Lord Widgery 11 weeks after Bloody Sunday? The inadequacy of that report deepened the sense of grievance and added to the pain of the families of those who died or were injured. Will the Leader of the House join me in reminding your Lordships’ House that establishing the Saville inquiry to search for the truth played an important part in the peace process, which has done so much to transform Northern Ireland since the Good Friday agreement? As Tony Blair said in the other place, the aim in setting it up was,

“not to accuse individuals or institutions, or to invite fresh recriminations, but to establish the truth about what happened on that day”.—[Official Report, Commons, 29/1/98; col. 503.].

The issue of the considerable cost of this inquiry should not be confused with its value in both establishing the truth and strengthening the peace process.

Because this report is extensive, the Government are seeking in the other place a full day’s parliamentary debate on it. We will in this House wish to reflect on how best your Lordships’ House can consider the report, but I urge the Leader of the House to join me in seeking time in this Chamber for a similar consideration of the report.

The Prime Minister and the Government have had only 24 hours to consider the report. I of course understand that the Government will need to give the report further detailed consideration before they are able to make clear what action they are proposing to take arising out of it. The Leader of the House has said that the Secretaries of State for Northern Ireland and for Defence will report back to the Prime Minister on all the issues involved. But, ahead of that, in terms of the process by which the Government will reach decisions on their next step, can the Leader of the House tell us when he will be in a position to say what, if any, action will be taken in government as a result of the findings of the Saville report; what will be the decision-making processes; and, as the Government take through those actions, whether they will be as transparent as possible commensurate with national security?

The Government have given in their Statement a clear apology. We welcome that and we share in it. Does the Leader of the House agree that this will be of great importance for the families who have grieved all these years, not only for the loss but for the sense of injustice?

I hope that these findings can be a further step towards peace and reconciliation in Northern Ireland. The peace process is a great achievement by the people, as well as the politicians, of Northern Ireland. It is built on the values of fairness, equality, truth and justice. Parliament, not least in agreeing to the Saville inquiry, has played its part. But we must never take for granted the peace process and its foundations. The Belfast agreement, the St Andrews agreement and, of course, this year the Hillsborough Castle agreement are all great milestones in the journey towards a lasting peace. The completion of devolution only a few weeks ago is relatively new and fragile and still requires great care.

The Statement by the Leader of the House says that the Government believe that what happened on Bloody Sunday was both unjustified and unjustifiable—it was wrong. We agree. We agree, too, with the Prime Minister’s view that you do not defend the British Army by defending the indefensible. However, our response to Saville must be as measured as it must be proportionate. We have sought the truth and now we must have understanding and reconciliation. I conclude by hoping that while people will not forget what happened on that day, this report can help them to find a way of both living with the past and looking to the future.

My Lords, the tone of the Leader of the Opposition was statesmanlike and entirely appropriate to the Statement I repeated a moment ago. The conclusions of the report truly are shocking. As the Prime Minister’s Statement says, the conclusions of this report are absolutely clear—the events of Bloody Sunday were unjustified and unjustifiable.

The report speaks for itself. The conclusions made painful reading for those—and I include all noble Lords in this—who want to measure the actions of the state and our Armed Forces by the highest standards. It is a long report, but there is an admirably written list of conclusions which I hope is now available in the Printed Paper Office.

The noble Baroness asked whether I thought that the Saville inquiry was necessary. Indeed we do; it was most necessary. It was entirely right and appropriate and, as the noble Baroness will remember, we supported it at the time it was set up.

History will no doubt take its own view of what happened to the Widgery report. It was of course written in some haste very shortly after the event and during a period of some parliamentary distress at what had happened. That does not necessarily excuse it, but the report which we have today is definitive and certainly draws a line under our knowledge of what occurred on that day.

I am readily happy to accept that there could be a debate on this subject and its aftermath, perhaps after a few months when noble Lords have had an opportunity to read the report. If the Opposition were to make such a request, I am sure that it would be met most positively by my noble friend the Chief Whip.

Specifically, the noble Baroness asked about the Secretaries of State for Defence and for Northern Ireland, who have been invited by the Prime Minister to revert to him on their view as to what the next steps should be. The decision process will be influenced largely by reading about what happened. I think that the noble Baroness was asking indirectly what would happen to the soldiers who have been identified in the report. Everyone knows that Ministers do not control prosecutions, and they certainly will not determine the outcome on this matter. The issue of prosecutions is solely for the Public Prosecution Service acting independently. I am informed by the Advocate-General for Northern Ireland that the Director of Public Prosecutions, together with the Chief Constable, will consider the report and determine whether any criminal investigation is required.

That is the process that should now take place. I know that all who are involved, whether it is prosecuting authorities, former members of the Armed Forces or the families affected, will take trouble to read and look carefully at the findings of the report.

My Lords, my noble friend the Leader of the House is to be thanked for repeating this grave Statement. It makes this a solemn day in your Lordships’ House and in my own part of the United Kingdom, not only because it recalls to our minds the terrible events of Bloody Sunday but also because it was a watershed event in the history of the Troubles. As my noble friend repeated in the Statement, so many people lost their lives in 1972, which was the worst year, and in the years following. It reminds us of all those who lost their lives or who were injured and grief-stricken by the events which followed that terrible time.

My noble friend referred to the length and detail of the report—it is 5,000 pages long. There is much reading to be done, so I am gratified by his indication that, after some time to read and study the report, there will be the opportunity for us to debate the matter in your Lordships’ House in a properly reflective frame of mind and at an appropriate time.

However, is my noble friend aware that the most important part of the Statement today is not just the reflection on the findings of the report in general terms or even the fact of the report? No less important is the fact that it clearly exonerates as innocent those people who were injured and killed on the day, for a pall has hung over them and their families during those many years. However, most important of all is the fact that the British Government have given a clear, fulsome and unequivocal apology to all the communities involved. That is perhaps one of the most important potential contributions to the healing which we all now hope will begin to be seen in Northern Ireland.

My noble friend is right to talk about the healing process. Of the many noble Lords who have been involved in the history of these troubles over many years, my noble friend is one who can claim to share a large part of that experience. My noble friend referred to the civilians who were affected. It is worth quoting from the report itself. The noble Lord, Lord Saville, says, in paragraph 3.70:

“None of the casualties shot by soldiers of Support Company was armed with a firearm or (with the probable exception of Gerald Donaghey) a bomb of any description. None was posing any threat of causing death or serious injury. In no case was any warning given before soldiers opened fire”.

I think that that answers my noble friend’s point on lifting any question of doubt in the minds of families who lost loved ones on that day, when there has been some potential stain. That today is completely removed. I entirely agree with what my noble friend said: the apology made by the Prime Minister on behalf of us all is unequivocal. We must all hope that it is part of the process that continues to heal the wounds in Northern Ireland.

While I thank the noble Lord for repeating the Statement in this House, as someone who was on duty on 30 January 1972, I deeply regret the death of 13 people in Derry on that day. However, I cannot be as magnanimous or one-eyed as I feel that the Saville report has been—and, I am sorry to say, this Government have been in how they have received it. Before Bloody Sunday, 180 people died in Northern Ireland, victims of terrorism. The 13 deaths are regrettable, but no more regrettable than the other 167—the 94 per cent of those who died that year. In the year 1972, 490-odd people died. The deaths in Derry have been investigated at the cost of almost £200 million, when we all knew the answer and that a huge error had been made. Those 13 deaths represented 2.5 per cent of the deaths in 1972.

As someone who, as a soldier, ran the gauntlet of planned IRA assassination and personal attack, I say to noble Lords that it is very easy to be humble on an occasion such as this—but one has to remember the many people who were not rioting and who had not broken away from a peaceful parade to confront soldiers who themselves had never been trained for that sort of confrontation in an urban guerrilla warfare situation. That is the background against which I hope noble Lords and the Government will view this report overall. I hope that we will not dismiss those many deaths into which there has not been an inquiry costing £200 million.

The noble Lord speaks from tremendous experience and knowledge, as he has shown today, and he is right to acknowledge the background to the events of Bloody Sunday. The report is clear that the circumstances of Northern Ireland and Derry in 1972 were tense and bordering on chaotic. It was the bloodiest year of the Troubles. However, we should not allow Bloody Sunday to define the 38 years of the military operation in Northern Ireland in which so many of our brave service men and women served, as well as noble and gallant Lords. We cannot doubt the courage and professionalism of the vast majority who worked to uphold democracy and the rule of law in Northern Ireland, and I am sure that all noble Lords will want to associate themselves with my remark that our Armed Forces today continue to display great character in adversity.

My Lords, the publication of the report is a sad, sad story, and how it has taken so much time is beyond my comprehension. I was the Attorney-General when it began, and it was never contemplated that it would take a fraction of this time. But the report’s findings of accountability are clear, and I welcome that. I wish to place on record the enormous time and energy that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, has put into the work of the report.

In view of the time that has elapsed and the number of amnesties that have been given, will Her Majesty’s Government invite the Director of Public Prosecutions in Northern Ireland to give an early indication of whether it is now in the public interest to prosecute?

My Lords, the noble and learned Lord was involved at the time when the inquiry was set up. Although he did not quite say it, I would agree with him that today is perhaps not the time to look at how long it took or how much it cost rather than at the fact that it has at last reported, and in an unequivocal way.

I do not think it would be right for the Government to direct the prosecuting authorities. The prosecuting authorities in Northern Ireland will have seen what has happened—they will no doubt have their own copy of the report—and they must make their own assessment. So much water has gone under the bridge over so much time that it would be far better now to let the prosecuting authorities come to their own judgment in their own time and make their views known, as I am sure the House will agree they are all capable of doing.

My Lords, the Leader of the House is right in saying that it is clear that on Bloody Sunday 14 innocent people were killed, that the killings were all individually wrong and that mistakes were made in the planning and conduct of the operation. As he also says, however, lessons were learnt, and we saw the fruits of those lessons over the years.

The noble Lord is also right to point to the context. As has been mentioned, there was a serious terrorist campaign already in existence well before Bloody Sunday. That campaign was launched within a mature democracy where there were plenty of opportunities for people to seek reform and change through peaceful and democratic methods, but those who were perpetrating the campaign—the Provisional IRA—knew that their objects could not be achieved by democratic methods. It would be a perversion of what happened on Bloody Sunday if those events were then used to try to justify the wholly unjustifiable campaign that the Provisional IRA launched in 1970.

My Lords, no one seeks to justify the campaign of paramilitaries, whatever side they came from, or indeed the deaths that have occurred over the past 40 years in Northern Ireland as a result of that campaign. We have moved a long way from that stage. A number of agreements have been struck, and we now have a great opportunity to bring peace and stability to Northern Ireland, which I know my noble friend wholly supports.

My Lords, I was a Minister in Northern Ireland when the report was initiated, and I have waited a long time for the results as we have seen them today. There cannot be many countries that could be quite so honest about wrongs that they had committed in the past, and I hope that that will be a signal to other countries as well when they look at what we have done.

It is important that at least one clear conclusion has come out: that the civilians who were shot were unarmed and in no way a threat to peace and law and order in Derry on that day. Above all, we need time to consider the report and I hope that we can resist the temptation to come to too many conclusions at this stage. Otherwise, we are doing an injustice to the work that has gone into the report and, indeed, to the many witnesses who have given evidence. However, I have three particular hopes on which I hope the Leader of the House will agree.

First, I hope that the families of those shot will find a sense of relief and closure after the many years of pain that they have suffered; if the report achieves that, it will have done a great deal. Secondly, I hope that everyone will acknowledge the enormous progress that has been made in Northern Ireland since 1972. It is a quite different place from what it was on that tragic day when those people were shot. Thirdly, I hope—and I trust that the noble Lord will agree—that the result of this will be that the peace process will be strengthened. That will be of benefit to all the people of Northern Ireland and, indeed, of Ireland.

My Lords, I completely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said. As a former Minister, he is right about what he said about the inquiry and right that we should not rush to early conclusions. This is an enormous report to read. Having said that, the document on the conclusions is unequivocal and I know that he will take the trouble to read it, as we all need time to read it and to think about its implications. But it must be right for all of us that this is part of strengthening the peace process. It will be up to individuals, the families, defenders of the Armed Forces and others to recognise what has happened, and we should look forwards, not backwards. As the noble Lord rightly says, the Northern Ireland of 1972 is entirely different from that of 2010, and none of us can wish to go back to that period.

My Lords, my noble friend the Leader is absolutely right that the Northern Ireland of today is very different from that of 1972, but since then terrorists from both sides of the divide have been released from prison and from long sentences there. Indeed, convictions have not been pressed as part of the peace process. People will find it very difficult to understand that the same threat of prosecution is not withdrawn from our troops for offences that, let us face it, may have been committed the best part of 40 years ago.

My Lords, that is a matter for the prosecuting authorities and not for politicians, but if any soldiers are accused of these crimes they will of course be supported by the Ministry of Defence, who will provide them with the legal advice that they need so that they can defend themselves properly. It is right that these decisions are made by the prosecuting authorities rather than by us.

My Lords, the Saville inquiry, which has been published today, looked into 13 deaths—there were actually 14, because one died later. However, this House should take note that we are perhaps setting a hierarchy of victims here and be aware that in south Armagh, for instance, over 300 murders remain unsolved today. Should this House not be aware that the Saville report has the potential to set Northern Ireland back 30 years rather than take it forward? Is every death in Northern Ireland not important to this House? Why should there be a particular inquiry into 13 plus one deaths—that is, 14—when countless hundreds of deaths have not been resolved? There are many issues relating to that. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville, had at his disposal some £200 million to bring about this report, yet the historical inquiry team, which looks at all the issues in Northern Ireland over the past 35 years, has at its disposal some £30 million. Is there not an inequality here?

My Lords, there is no hierarchy of victims and no inequality whatever here. What happened was an extremely rare case of soldiers who killed by opening fire on a march when they had no belief that they were under threat. That is what sets it apart from everything else. It is why Bloody Sunday has cast such a long shadow down the ages. Every death is to be deeply regretted, wherever it occurred, but today we are dealing with the results of the Bloody Sunday inquiry.

The Government ought to be congratulated on making this courageous response to the Saville report. I thank the Leader of the House for the way that he has reacted to this very sad situation, which does not divide the House apart from a few figures. What has happened today is capable of opening a new chapter in the sorry history of Northern Ireland.

My Lords, I very much agree with what the noble Lord said and hope that he is correct in his conclusion.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord the Leader of the House for the clear way in which he laid out for us the painful conclusions of the tribunal of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville. I declare an interest since sometime in the last century I was a historical adviser to that tribunal.

There was one point in the noble Lord’s Statement that I would like to pick up on. He reminded us that our security forces lost 1,000 lives in Northern Ireland. That is around 28 to 30 per cent of the total amount of life lost. The security forces were responsible for about 10 per cent of the fatalities suffered. On the other hand, the Provisional IRA and its allies took slightly less than 60 per cent of all the lives that were lost and accounted for only 12 to 13 per cent of the total fatalities suffered. In other words, our security forces were much more likely to fall in the line of duty than those who had the advantage of surprise. This is my question: does the noble Lord concede that the Widgery report—much inferior as it undoubtedly is to the report of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Saville—sent a signal to the Army about reckless firing on the day; that our Army understood and internalised that message; and that that helps to explain the professionalism and restraint shown by the British Army in Northern Ireland since Bloody Sunday?

My Lords, I cannot possibly speculate as to the effects of the Widgery report on the British Army. The history of the past 38 years stands for itself. However, we are now where we are; we now have, fortunately, a Northern Ireland that is more peaceful today than it has been for many years, with a democratic, directly elected Government and the possibility of genuine unity across the communities, leading to that long-term peace, stability and prosperity that we should all want. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, and others who have spoken from the Cross Benches have great knowledge and experience of, and influence in, what happens in Northern Ireland. I know from what they have said today, and from speaking to them privately, that they want what all of us in this House want—for that peace in Northern Ireland to continue.

Korean Peninsula: Human Rights

Question for Short Debate (Continued)

My Lords, I join others in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for putting his important debate on North Korea before the House today. One reason why I wanted to speak is because we know that North Korea is an area where extreme actions are being taken by a dictator which are dangerous to world peace, dangerous to the people of Korea and, above all, extremely brutal to the people of that sad country. Therefore, it is right that we speak about it today; the noble Lord has a good record in doing precisely that.

I want to intervene relatively briefly because for many years I regarded North Korea as just about the worst of the failed regimes on the planet. By all accounts it is brutal in the extreme and is certainly dangerous. If you look at the effort it is putting into producing nuclear weapons and the rockets to carry them, and bear in mind that it has also been suspected over the years—with good evidence—of producing other weapons of mass destruction, and indeed testing some of them on its own people, you recognise just how extreme this regime is and how dangerous it is to the peace of the world.

In this context, China’s role is profoundly important, as has been said. It is incredibly frustrating that it does not use the pressure it undoubtedly has to bring about change in North Korea. I have great respect for what China has achieved in recent years. It is clearly determined to develop the rule of law and to develop its economy in a much more free and open way. However, it is still a bit ambivalent about democracy. One of its senior politicians asked me, “What advice do you give us, Mr Soley, to develop democracy in the country?”. I thought that we had enough problems here with a population of 60 million and wondered how you defined democracy with a population of more than 1 billion. However, China could do a lot worse than to look to its neighbour, India.

At the time of the cyclone in Burma, which led to the deaths of many people, I put it to the Chinese ambassador at a meeting in this House that China, along with India and Thailand, could, if it so wished, have told the Burmese regime that the aid ships that were sitting outside the cyclone area must be allowed in—that they would have been allowed in if those three countries had insisted on it. A similar incident occurred as regards China and North Korea. Only a few years ago, by all accounts at least a million people, perhaps more, starved to death in a famine. China did not let them cross the border and did very little, if anything, to help. When I put these dilemmas to the Chinese ambassador, she replied, “The problem is, you haven’t had the experience of colonialism”. That was the excuse given for non-intervention. There is something bizarre about all this, because it was the Europeans who defined a treaty of non-intervention several hundred years ago under the treaty of Westphalia. That has been abandoned more and more rapidly ever since, particularly since the British intervention to end the transatlantic slave trade, about which I have talked in this House on other occasions. Certainly since the formation of the United Nations, intervention has been seen as right and proper in certain situations.

China and some other countries are still very reluctant to think of imposing any form of intervention or pressure on a regime to make it change. However, China must be deeply troubled by what is happening in North Korea. Even if it is not concerned about human rights—both previous speakers have mentioned that—the sheer instability of the regime and the danger it poses to others, as shown by the sinking of the South Korean naval ship and the firing of missiles into the Sea of Japan, must make China worried about the nature of that regime. Its approach still appears to be that of, “We can’t do anything, we won’t do anything and it runs against our principles, too”.

One of the ways that the United Nations offered us great hope after the Second World War—a hope which has sadly not materialised, but which we must never lose sight of—was in its recognition that nation states and their Governments had a duty to treat their citizens well and not to ride roughshod over their rights. That led increasingly—particularly after the end of the Cold War—to intervention programmes, most of which were very successful. We regard the intervention programmes in Sierra Leone, Papua New Guinea and Kosovo as successful. The intervention in Iraq was possibly successful, but was carried out in a way which, post-conflict, led to far too much misery and loss of human life fully to justify that type of intervention. It was right, but badly carried out.

Could you do the same in North Korea? There is no doubt that if China chose to intervene and change the regime there, I for one would stand up to say, “I am pleased”—just as I remember welcoming Vietnam’s intervention in Pol Pot’s Cambodia, the intervention by Tanzania into Uganda to remove Idi Amin, and the Indian Government’s decision to move into the then East Pakistan, now Bangladesh. I welcomed all those interventions. Although I am not a great fan of the Chinese form of government, almost anything would be better than what is happening in North Korea.

What can we do? Some suggestions have already been made, but by far the most important is to persuade the Chinese that following the treaty of Westphalia in Asia, 300 years after it was written, is not necessarily the best definition of a good and humanitarian foreign policy. It is certainly not one for which you can make the excuse of having had a colonial experience in order to justify it. We all know that what is happening in North Korea is abhorrent in the extreme and intensely dangerous. We have to be very clear in telling that over and again to the Chinese Government. At the end of the day, only they can change this situation.

If it comes to a war between North Korea and South Korea—which, for what my judgment is worth, will not happen; there is too much to lose by them, and China would indicate that it would be an unacceptable step—the consequences would be horrendous. That is the only other way that change could happen. In fact, change in North Korea needs to come from China. The United Nations must keep asserting the importance of national Governments behaving in a civilised manner towards their own citizens. We must never lose sight of human rights and the importance of democracy and the rule of law in order to preserve stability, peace and tranquillity between and within nations.

For all those reasons I am glad to support the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in his debate.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on this timely debate, on his dedication to the promotion of well-being for the people of North Korea through his chairmanship of the all-party parliamentary group, on which I serve as vice-chair, and on his unfailing commitment to justice and human rights in North Korea and many other troubled parts of the world.

My noble friend reminded the House that on two occasions we have travelled together to North Korea and that the reports we published recommended a Helsinki-type approach based on constructive critical engagement. We intend to travel to North Korea for a third time later this year.

Exactly 10 years ago, Britain and North Korea first created diplomatic relations and there is no doubt that despite the considerable issues which divide us —exacerbated by the sinking of the South Korean vessel, the “Cheonan”, with such a terrible loss of life—keeping open lines of communication is important. Part of the “small steps” strategy we advocated after our first visit in 2003 was the establishment of the British Council in Pyongyang. This strategy does not represent any lack of concern for the suffering of the people of North Korea from violations of human rights inflicted by their rulers; rather, it reflects the policy that it is better to build bridges, not walls, and to extend a helping hand for initiatives to alleviate that suffering, as well as to convey critical concerns such as those already emphasised by my noble friend.

In 2009, my noble friend and I were again in Pyongyang, where we met the British Council teachers. At Kim ll-sung University we met students and discussed life in the UK and some North Korean students coming to the UK to learn English and see our way of life. We were able to bring the Speaker of the North Korean Assembly, Mr Chae Tae Bok, to Westminster, and to have constructive discussions with him and other key officials during our visits. At every opportunity we raised security and human rights concerns.

We also raised the issue of religious liberties and were pleased to note that, since our first visit, a very beautiful new Russian Orthodox church has been built, served by two North Korean priests who studied at a seminary in Moscow, along with a much-enlarged Protestant church and a seminary—although we are sad that still no Catholic priest is allowed. We are also acutely aware of the nature of the Potemkin-style show churches and neither of us naively believes that there is religious freedom or political pluralism in North Korea. However, any opening up of a closed society is to be welcomed. Moreover, we believe that it is important to challenge and engage. Margaret Thatcher—the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher—and President Ronald Reagan understood and implemented that policy in the case of the former Soviet Union and, in 2009, President Barack Obama said:

“No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door”.

On account of its isolation and closed borders, North Korea is often referred to as the Hermit Kingdom—George Orwell’s Nineteen Eighty-Four. It is the only country in the world that is not connected to the internet and where cell phones are confiscated on arrival at the border, as ours were. For years, the communist leadership clamped down on the flow of information or news from the outside world. Anyone caught attempting to leave the country can expect to be sent back to one of the country’s prison camps or executed. The regime knew that, if ordinary Koreans were able to travel freely or to converse with visitors, they would rapidly discover that much of their misery is inflicted by their own rulers rather than by American or South Korean aggression.

However, the Peterson Institute recently reported that around two-thirds of North Koreans are now able to access information not controlled by their Government. Free North Korea Radio believes that up to one in 10 listens to its programmes, which are broadcast to North Korea for five hours daily and can be heard on transistors dropped into the country from the air.

During our last visit to Pyongyang, we were able to see two of the small markets that have been established in the capital—the first sign of free enterprise and a market economy. Illegal technology such as VCR machines, televisions, radios and cell phones, which can pick up signals from South Korea and China, were openly on sale. The regime was recently reported to have tried to close these markets, but there was popular unrest and the markets continue to trade, giving the country’s citizens some small windows through which to peer into the outside world. However, in the BBC report by Sue Lloyd-Roberts, whom my noble friend mentioned, a government adviser, Ri Kong Song, claimed that,

“when socialism is victorious, these markets will disappear”.

I am sure that your Lordships will all agree that we should never allow our dislike of a regime or ideology to deny the need for compassion and love of ordinary people. Therefore, will the Minister tell the House what calculation the World Food Programme currently makes of the level of food and humanitarian aid available in North Korea and whether the latest embargos and sanctions will result in food being used as a weapon of war? What assessment has been made of the numbers who might die as a result? Will another casualty of the current stand-off be the stopping of video reunions, which have allowed separated families in the north and south to be in touch with each other? Surely these poignant opportunities for families, separated for so long, to have some contact should not be denied because of the increase in political tensions.

The most valuable source of information and knowledge about North Korea comes from the North Korean escapees who migrate across the border into China to buy goods and return or to begin the arduous and dangerous journey to South Korea. Sarah Page of Compass Direct recently reported that non-governmental organisations say that anything between 30,000 and 250,000 refugees from North Korea are currently living in China. Will Her Majesty’s Government do more to persuade China to accept the humanitarian case for allowing escapees to have safe passage to South Korea?

Among those escapees are political dissidents, people driven to despair by poverty and hunger and religious believers, including Christians. I was very moved by the evidence given at Westminster to our all-party parliamentary group by one Christian woman, Jeon Young-Ok, aged 40. She said:

“I was put in a camp where I saw and experienced unimaginable things … The women were forced to strip. A group of us were thrown just one blanket and we were forced to pull it from one another as we tried to hide our shame … I didn’t want to live. They tortured the Christians the most. They were denied food and sleep. They were forced to stick out their tongues and iron was pushed in”.

In June 2009, North Korea publicly executed Ri Hyon-Ok, who had returned to Ryongchon, a city near the Chinese border, and had Bibles in his possession. One escapee said that the regime regards,

“having faith in God as an act of espionage”.

National Geographic reported that most escapees to China, who are usually not Christians, pass on the advice to “head for a cross”, knowing that the most likely source of help will be a Chinese church. However, China still refuses to give the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees access to the border areas, so a secret underground railroad has been created by Chinese Christians—like that used by the plantation slaves of America to take them to safety. When did Her Majesty’s Government last raise with the Chinese authorities their refusal to allow this access?

Chinese officials know that anyone caught and returned to North Korea is likely to face the most terrible retribution. There are reports that on 29 May 13 North Korean refugees hiding in a safe house in Dangdong in China were arrested by Chinese border area guards. Three children aged five and six years old were released. However, 10 adults were deported to North Korea on 3 June. The group consisted of two men in their 50s or 60s and eight women in their 20s or 30s. As is well known, there is a high possibility that these defectors, trying to escape to South Korea, will be taken to a prison camp accused of “betraying the mother country”. These prison camps are internationally infamous for their death rate. Survivors have said that they would rather die than live in the camps, where prisoners are beaten and tortured, pregnant women are forced to have an abortion, and new-born infants are killed in front of their mothers. Many prisoners die because they cannot bear the malnutrition and intensive labour.

The DPRK is a state signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and should therefore abide by Article 12, which states that everyone is free to leave his own country and choose a place of residence. Will Her Majesty’s Government therefore urge the DPRK immediately to release these people, proving to the international community that it is fulfilling its international obligations?

In conclusion, I ask the Minister whether Her Majesty’s Government will consider embarking on the strategy which my noble friend and I have advocated since 2003: linking aid to human rights and security issues—a strategy which we have described and to which my noble friend has already referred as “Helsinki with a Korean face”. We can begin by holding to account, through the UN Security Council and the International Criminal Court, those responsible for the deaths of South Korean sailors on the “Cheonan” and the countless victims in North Korea itself. I hope that the Minister’s reply will demonstrate Her Majesty’s Government’s commitment to justice and human rights, and that that will bring some hope to those suffering from injustice and oppression in this beleaguered land and troubled region.

My Lords, I, too, pay tribute to the dedication and commitment that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, shows in relation to North Korea and to many other issues that we debate in your Lordships’ House.

The issues that we are discussing today certainly demand a more comprehensive, more strategic, more persistent and well co-ordinated response from the European Union, the United States and the United Nations. The door must be firmly open to negotiation and to a serious dialogue that is perceived to be flexible, pragmatic and fair.

I believe that it is time to move away from what amounts to crisis management of North Korea to what has been described as the unavoidable triangle between denuclearisation, diplomatic normalisation and human rights dialogue. Our objective must be to seek agreement to country visits by the UN special rapporteur and the High Commissioner for Human Rights. That would indeed be the progress that we seek.

A decade and a half of food aid has not resulted in food security; nor has energy assistance resulted in economic growth or sustainable development. Continuing with the same approach has meant that the nuclear problem shows no sign of going away; nor does the suffering and misery inflicted on the people of North Korea by such a vindictive and callous regime.

Therefore, can the Minister say whether the Government will press for a European Union troika and/or the high representative to visit North Korea? The last visit was in March 2009, when wide-ranging discussions took place between the EU troika and representatives of the regime in North Korea. Post Lisbon, we should be pressing for more progress and for a troika to go there as urgently as possible.

Also, the European Union should ensure that refugees who seek safety in European Union diplomatic representations should be given every assistance, including transfer to European Union states or to other chosen destinations. The United Kingdom, Ireland, Germany, the Netherlands, Denmark, Belgium and Norway have admitted hundreds of North Koreans, and now we need to ask the Government to urge that there be a stronger European commitment to a strategy to implement that as a European Union-wide policy.

As alluded to by other noble Lords, China remains North Korea’s patron and economic lifeline. Turning a blind eye to the transgressions of such an unreliable ally has, for China, been outweighed by the fear that the regime in North Korea could collapse. The Chinese preference is for maintaining the status quo, which is a reason for the European Union and others, as a matter of course, to raise in all discussions with the Chinese our concerns about the situation in North Korea. The UN special rapporteur has described the human rights situation as both egregious and endemic. I believe we can agree with that analysis, which was made by someone who, for his six-year tenure monitoring human rights as an independent expert, has never been allowed any access to North Korea. However, he has described the effects on the people: the food shortages, the public executions, the torture, the arbitrary detention and much more. He has called for North Korea to stop punishing the people in that way, to stop punishing those seeking asylum elsewhere and to institute democratic processes.

Does the Minister agree that an independent, international commission of inquiry, to which the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred, should be set up and should send a clear message that the international community is prepared to deal with what is occurring in North Korea? If we look at the severity of the abuses of human rights that continue with impunity—that is an important word to use—surely we should now be deducing that what is happening in North Korea amounts to crimes against humanity. We must demand accountability and justice, and we should cite the growing global consensus that perpetrators of such crimes should be held to account individually by the International Criminal Court. The victims need to know that they are not forgotten; they need to know that they are being given recognition and that they can expect justice and compensation.

I draw particular attention to the plight of North Korean women. Of those who flee to China for food, medicines and income for their families, 70 to 80 per cent are young women. Many are taken to China by traffickers, and because of their fear of repatriation they are sold to Chinese men, many of whom have no wives because of the effects of the one-child policy in China. If they are returned to North Korea and are pregnant they are forced to have an abortion. The North Korean authorities do not want half-Chinese babies. For those whose pregnancies are too far along, they are forced to witness the infanticide of their prison-born babies. They are subjected to terrible brutality and sexual humiliation.

I believe that we should focus on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on violence against women and urge the new commissioner responsible for implementing that resolution to look very seriously at what is occurring in North Korea. In any peace and reconciliation process that is proposed, the women of North Korea, who have suffered so terribly, should be part of any initiatives undertaken between North Korea, South Korea, the United States and others.

Until and unless we do something about the challenges that we face from North Korea seriously, conscientiously and urgently, we will stand here for years to come repeating the mantras that we have repeated today about the appalling situation in that country. We have to understand that by focusing on the nuclear issue—as we rightly do—but not focusing on the human rights issue, we are in many ways putting the cart before the horse. We need to look through the paradigm of human rights. That is the only way that we can build the kind of reconciliation, peace and security which the people of North Korea so desperately need. If we do not take that audacious approach, I fear that the process that we are encouraging to bring that peace and reconciliation will continue to stutter and stall.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate which, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, has reminded us, is about both the security situation and human rights in North Korea. As she rightly says, the focus of the international community has been rather more often on the whole question of the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction and the illegal trade in weaponable materials smuggled out of North Korea, but we are all also concerned about the human rights situation.

It is quite remarkable that the Government of North Korea continue to permit the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to visit. I suppose that we should take some moderate optimism from their willingness to talk to outsiders who clearly do not share their views. We work very hard to try to open up the hermit kingdom. Her Majesty's Government maintain an embassy in Pyongyang, as we have for 10 years. It is one of the embassies which serves the six-power talks, because neither the United States nor Japan—nor South Korea, which remains formally at war with North Korea—has representation there. That provides Britain with some limited useful opportunities to talk to people there, to influence at the margins what happens, to discover a little bit—but not enough—about what is happening outside Pyongyang and, as the noble Baroness remarked, to undertake some very limited British Council activities and a very limited aid programme. The European Union attempts to operate similarly within the very sharp confines of what any outsiders are permitted to do.

I shall report on recent developments since the tragic sinking of the South Korean naval vessel. The UN Security Council held a meeting yesterday, 14 June, with South Korean and North Korean delegations to hear their accounts of the incident. The UNSC will continue to consult members on an appropriate response. Her Majesty's Government believe that we should work for the strongest possible response consistent with maintaining the unity of the permanent five members of the Security Council. The South Korean Government have shown remarkable restraint in their response to date, and we hope that the rhetoric is now cooling on both sides. Everyone will be aware that South Korea had formally asked the UNSC to consider a response to the sinking of the “Cheonan” on 4 June.

All of us recognise that China remains the key player in securing an appropriate UN Security Council response. China is, after all, the only outside state with direct influence over events inside North Korea. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary and my honourable friend Jeremy Browne raised the question of North Korean human rights as well as other matters with Foreign Minister Yang and Vice-Minister for Europe Fu Ying respectively on 4 June.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked whether the “Cheonan” incident warranted a referral to the International Criminal Court. Her Majesty's Government are, of course, in favour of seeing crimes against humanity investigated. However, we all have some sad awareness of the limitations of referring matters to the International Criminal Court and, in this case, South Korea has not yet asked for the International Criminal Court to investigate.

There was a question about whether a UN commission of inquiry should be set up to investigate North Korean crimes against humanity, which raises similar issues of diplomacy as against justice. To establish a UN commission of inquiry or a referral to the International Criminal Court would require the UN Security Council unanimously to agree to that step and North Korea to recognise the jurisdiction of the ICC. Regrettably, neither of these scenarios currently looks likely. We believe that there should be no impunity for the most serious of international crimes, but the possibility of establishing a UN commission of inquiry is low, so we are left, unhappily, with our UN and EU partners to focus on activities that are more likely to produce results that will improve matters at the margin.

We are, of course, concerned with the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Resolution 1874 of the UN Security Council was one of the toughest resolutions that it has accepted on sanctions against international trade. The stopping of ships outside is now very strong. We are conscious that one or two ships are still getting through, but those sanctions are biting against North Korea.

The North Korean regime’s treatment of its people is a matter of equal concern. We take every available opportunity to raise human rights abuses with the North Korean Government. We do so through our embassies in the region and the relevant embassies in London. During the UK/China human rights dialogue in March, FCO officials raised with the Chinese Government the treatment of North Korean refugees who are returned by China to North Korea. We have also expressed our active support to Japan and South Korea in their efforts to resolve the abductions carried out by North Korea in the years since the Korean War. We are active bilaterally with our partners in the EU and within the UN. We took part in the UN Universal Periodic Review of the human rights situation in North Korea in December 2009 and in March this year. We are disappointed by how little change there has been in the response from North Korea. We supported retaining the mandate of the UN special rapporteur on human rights but, as the noble Baroness remarked, he has unfortunately not yet been able to visit North Korea. Our embassy in Pyongyang tries to engage practically so far as it can. Last year, it provided assistance to a nursery, a hospital and an association for the disabled. We also invite a number of North Korean teachers of English to visit Britain each year, so we are working as far as we can.

We are unfortunately unable to discover reliable information about what is happening inside prisons in North Korea. We thus rely, as do those who have taken part in this debate, on what we are told by the very small number of people who have been through those prisons and have escaped to the outside world. We take up individual cases. Robert Park was mentioned. He has now been released. Mr Gomes is sadly still in jail. The embassy was able to provide some assistance to the two American journalists who were imprisoned last year and who have now been freed.

The European Union continues to raise human rights with the North Korean Government at every opportunity, including during the troika visit to Pyongyang in November last year. The EU continues to lobby for the resumption of the human rights dialogue with North Korea, which was suspended seven years ago following the decision of the EU to co-sponsor a UN resolution on the human rights situation there. The EU is fully seized of the situation in North Korea but, yet again, we have the problem of how far the North Korean Government will accept the need for an effective dialogue.

Let me say a little about food security. The noble Baroness suggested that we perhaps need an embargo strategy. We all know that food security in North Korea is of considerable concern. We are conscious that North Korea prevented external UN agencies from going in last year to get a more accurate assessment of the food situation in the country. We think that several million people are suffering from chronic malnutrition, but of course we cannot be entirely sure. We are conscious that whatever you do with food aid, you are likely to get into a highly compromised situation. If you provide a large amount of food aid, it tends to go to the elite and the military. If you cut off food, it is the poor who suffer most.

The problem with the conditional strategy suggested by the noble Baroness is that it requires a rational dialogue with a relatively rational regime. The Helsinki process worked because the Soviet Union, by the 1970s and early 1980s, was a rational partner with which one could bargain. We are not clear yet, as the North Korean regime enters a very uncertain stage of likely transition from one member of the Kim dynasty to another, that we have a rational partner with which to deal. Sadly, the same caution applies to some of the other issues raised by the noble Baroness; namely, religious liberties, separation of families and the trafficking of women.

The six-power talks therefore remain for us the key way forward. Her Majesty’s Government do not take part directly in those talks, although because we have an embassy in Pyongyang we are able to play a useful ancillary role in assisting in them. We hope that the North Korean regime may move towards a more open situation as the health of its current leader may continue to deteriorate, We recognise that on 25 June we will mark the 60th anniversary of the opening of the Korean War and we will continue to do everything that we can towards encouraging peace, stability, better human rights for all and, in time, a more open society in the northern part of the peninsula.

Poverty

Question for Short Debate

Tabled by

My Lords, it is a pleasure to sponsor this Question for Short Debate in your Lordships’ House. I start by declaring a non-remunerative, non-operational, non-executive directorship of the Wise Group in Glasgow, which promotes intermediate labour-market jobs for people on benefits. An important reason for having this short debate at this time is to try to get an early indication of how the Government are putting together their strategy for the longer term in terms of the new coalition Government’s programme.

I want to skim across four or five big issues. If the Minister runs out of time, as he did last week, I hope that he will resort to answering some of the questions that arise by correspondence. My first is a short-term issue, but it is signally important. At the moment there is a lot of concern in the poverty lobby about the short-term impact of the upcoming financial cuts and how that might impact on households with low incomes. I seek an assurance from the Minister that those who are most at risk will not bear the brunt of the upcoming cuts. Obviously, there have to be financial constraints. The Government and the country face a serious situation. The rhetoric being used by Ministers about “progressive cuts”, which seems a worrying oxymoron when you think about it, is important.

As I say, we need reassurance that those who are already poor will get some protection from the worst excesses of the austerity confronting the country, not just for the three-year period of the next Comprehensive Spending Review, but for a lot longer than that. In that regard, it is worth recalling that it is crystal clear that levels of household debt, as recorded in the Government’s own State of the Nation Report: Poverty, Worklessness and Welfare Dependency in the UK, are at an historic high. A lot of households out there, even those that are not poor, are carrying high burdens of debt that must be weighed in the balance. We know that the Social Fund was being considered for reform under the previous Government, and a consultation began in March. That the Social Fund is able to make short-term loans to financially stressed households is extremely important. Money advice is also important, and I know that plans were put in place by the previous Government that are essential to trying to get people out of some of this debt. I think that the Government should seriously embrace the prospect of restricting APR loan charges that are sometimes charged by loan sharks in this country at usurious rates to low-income households that have nowhere else to turn for short-term cash. Can we have reassurance that those most at risk will be given special consideration in the upcoming cuts?

I turn to my second issue. Although I think I know the answer even before I ask the question, can we have an assurance that the department will be robust in seeking from the Treasury investment resources for welfare reform? This is a longer-term point—I am talking about the next five to 10 years—that relates to some quite radical plans that Her Majesty’s former Opposition put together in documents such as Dynamic Benefits and others. They are indeed radical and certainly worthy of scrutiny and examination, but it is not reasonable to expect radical reform of that kind to be done at nil cost. People will get hurt and there will be a lot of losers if they try. I would like to think that a case is being made to the Treasury for the resources necessary to facilitate that reform.

Something that has always been a bit of a puzzle to me relates to my suggestion for finding money when money is scarce. The departmental report of the Government Actuary regarding the last benefit uprating statement states at paragraph 1.5 that:

“The balance in the”—

national insurance—

“fund at 31 March 2011 is estimated at £50.2 billion, or 63.8% of the estimated benefit payments (including redundancy payments) of £78.7 billion in the year 2010-11”.

That looks forward over the next 12-month period. As colleagues will know, the recommended balance in the National Insurance Fund is one-sixth of annual benefit expenditure. The figure of 63.8 per cent is not a sixth, so the Government have stored away a huge amount of national insurance contributions. The question is this: why do they not use this money in the short term to get some of us, particularly low-income households, through the immediate period we are facing? I hope that the Minister will go back to the department and ask that question robustly.

In addition, I suggest that the Minister looks at fraud and error for savings, as well as at administration costs. Between them those items cost £10 billion, which is a lot of money, so savings can be made. I want also to ask him about the longer-term plan for the department. I have mentioned the report Dynamic Benefits. What public service agreements can we expect for the upcoming three-year period starting in 2011? Do the new Government expect to bring forward any policy papers on this issue in the immediate future? Are there any Bills in prospect? What will the new Cabinet committee be doing? I am in favour of the new committee, although it is astonishing that it has not been set up before. What are its terms of reference, what will it do and what difference will it make?

Finally, who is doing what? I am a great fan of Mr Frank Field. I have known him for a long while and he is a very interesting character, but what on earth has he been asked to do? When will he tell us what he wants done, and what will we do with his advice when we get it? I ask that because the last time he tried, he did not get very far. It would be good to get an idea about the longer-term departmental strategy in this direction.

On child poverty, it is essential to know whether the framework in the Child Poverty Act 2010 will be continued, sustained and consolidated. We spent a lot of time in this House improving the Bill. It will provide a serious foundation between now and 2020 and I hope that its targets will not be interfered with by Mr Frank Field or anyone else. Can the Minister confirm that the statutory requirement is for the Government to set out their plans by March 2011? Can he give the House an idea of when the commission created by the 2010 Act will be set up and an idea of its terms of reference?

As to the working age strategy, there is some concern about the work programme and the kind of consolidated programmes it will bring. The cancellation of the existing New Deal programmes makes some sense but it took me by surprise that, as I understand it from a ministerial Written Answer last week, the Flexible New Deal phase 1 contracts that were set in place last October are also to be cancelled. So a whole raft of contract cancellation charges and costs could suddenly be visited on the providing community. How is that to be folded into the consolidated work programme in the future? I certainly expected phase 2 to be cancelled but the Flexible New Deal phase 1 cancellation is a surprise.

Related to that, the scale of the new providers for the new consolidated work programme will need to be much bigger than previously. They will need to have very deep pockets and be very big organisations to carry the weight of these programmes until they start producing surpluses in the long term. That is a matter of some concern. As to the terms of the work programme more generally, I hope that the viable work carried out by Professor Paul Gregg in setting up a personalised conditionality rating, which I absolutely support, will not be lost in the course of the rollout of the work programme in the longer term.

Finally—sometimes we all miss this important point; it is very easily missed—we need a society-wide response to poverty now. We suffer too much from the red tops taking a swipe at any family they think are pulling the wool over people’s eyes and swinging the lead—no doubt there will be some who do that—and they are castigated as scroungers and caricatured as no-hope people who hold the country back. We need a new paradigm for that debate. I hope that the new Government will look at all these issues and start building some more positive attitudes towards poverty reduction measures in the future. Unless we do so, we will not have a positive enough atmosphere to secure the kind of reform that we all want to see for our low-income households in future.

My Lords, a photograph was displayed in my cathedral church at Blackburn; it was a picture of poverty but it illustrated very much more. It showed a young man sitting in a doorway, head down, his hands wrapped around his knees. You could see his face; he had lost his identity. His vision was limited to his immediate prospects of life on the street. The door behind him was closed, symbolising his exclusion. His poverty was costing him everything, including his hopes for the future.

Blackburn is a town highlighted as one of the most deprived areas of Britain. It also has one of the highest percentages of young people in the country as a proportion of population and, with a large number of single-parent young mothers, it is essential that we sustain Sure Start. I hope that in addressing these particular issues of poverty and trying to bring new hope to communities, Her Majesty’s Government will think seriously about a real partnership with the third sector and faith communities.

County statistics for Lancashire show both the depth of poverty and its dehumanising range. Taking income alone, we see that Lancashire earns 8 per cent less than the national average. Blackpool, for all its image of showbiz glitz and glamour, takes home only 75 per cent of the average pay packet. We have heard of successful new deals for communities in other areas with low-wage economies. Can these be extended? Will government plans emerge to foster grassroots leadership so that people are empowered to address the needs of their poor communities? Again, can we look to a partnership with the faith communities and the third sector in doing this?

One of our greatest concerns in Lancashire is that one-quarter of all children are living in families which are below the poverty line, on 60 per cent or less of average income. They are often in households struggling on benefits or the meagre proceeds of part-time or low-paid work.

We still hear talk of the deserving and undeserving poor, which cannot be helpful. Surely there can be no question of any child deserving to be poor. The Children's Society’s Good Childhood inquiry listened to what children themselves had to say about their lives. It was striking how many children expressed deep concern about the impact of poverty on other children—the lost opportunities, risks to health and shattered expectations. It seems clear that our children have their priorities right. Can we find the courage to make their concern to tackle poverty our political and policy priority?

The experience of my own region shows that some of our communities are on a knife-edge. The risk of a double-dip recession, while it may be avoided nationally, is not inconceivable in some regions where the resources are just not there for recovery to emerge after the withdrawal of public spending. Poverty is the question that we are addressing today, but we will not tackle poverty until we tackle the real inequality between regions and communities.

In front of that cathedral photograph that I mentioned earlier is an image of new life, focused on the sort of young person who could be helped off the streets, away from a culture of ASBOs and exclusion. It is the Youth Zone project within Blackburn’s Cathedral Quarter. It will provide, for 52 weeks of the year, a range of activities and enterprise programmes, in a safe environment, for those aged between eight and 21. It is expected to cater for 3,000 young people a week when it opens next year. The admission cost will be just 50p, and development costs have been supported by £6 million of central and local government funding.

We all know that to reduce poverty is costly, demanding private initiatives supported by public funds. In this coming new age of austerity, let us not walk away from our deprived communities—nor should we let our attention be diverted by domestic deprivation from those places in the international community where poverty is frequently a death sentence.

I start by apologising to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for my tardiness in being a few minutes late and missing his opening remarks. I was delayed by my need to do my day job. This is a most timely debate, and a most welcome one. My interests in this subject go back many years. I am currently chief executive of an organisation called Turning Point that provides services to many of the poorest in our community, covering employment, mental health, learning disabilities and substance misuse. I want to address the challenges of helping those with complex needs and make a few asks of the current Conservative-Lib Dem Government.

Many of the people that Turning Point sees and many of those at the sharp end of the inverse care law—which states that those who need care most tend to get it least—suffer from complex needs. It is hard to separate those with complex needs from those in poverty. Poverty can contribute to those needs and challenges and hold someone in a life of poverty if those needs are not addressed. Not far from this building, we can see the effects on individuals; they can be seen on our streets and in our communities. The differences in life expectancy and health inequalities are stark. A woman in Liverpool can expect to live 78.3 years, whereas a contemporary in Kensington and Chelsea can expect to live for 87.2 years. Those are the stark realities of poverty in Britain. It is the 60,000 households who were newly homeless in 2009 and the 253,000 people in April still claiming jobseeker’s allowance who are at the forefront of my mind.

In explaining poverty, there is a temptation to see personal character as the main cause. I hope that we do not head in that direction. People living in poverty should just try harder—that becomes the subtext of much of the debate. We know that that approach is simplistic; it focuses on the faults of the individual, rather than considering the systemic weaknesses in society that contribute to social injustice. Social standing, as many of us in this House know only too well, is a result of complex interactions of a number of factors. It is the result of privilege of birth and educational attainment—which can also be related to the privileges of birth—social contacts and personal relationships. Strength of character is only one factor. Social justice can only hope to be achieved if this factor is acknowledged.

Of course, we cannot shield ourselves from the realities of the current economic climate. We have a budget deficit of staggering proportions and we have been told that we can expect to pay £70 billion on interest payments on that debt alone, a figure greater than the amount we spend on schools, climate change and transport combined. These facts, and the statements of the Prime Minister and the Chief Secretary to the Treasury, have caused a great deal of fear from those whose livelihood is at risk—fear of the legacy of debt we are leaving our children and fear of what our public services are going to look like five years from now. The low-hanging fruit have already been picked, with the announcement of £6 billion of cuts. However, I am greatly concerned that attempts to rein in the deficit will create further pain for the most disadvantaged in society.

At the moment, our limited knowledge of future plans for the welfare system shows that reform will be based on promoting the value of work by ensuring that it pays to be in employment rather than living off benefit. People will have to work their way out of poverty. The benefits of engaging in meaningful work are clear: it helps to promote resilience, in terms of mental health and well-being, while increasing social networks. However, I am concerned that if we have a one-size-fits-all approach we assume that people are not in employment because of the generosity of the welfare system, and that by tapering the loss of benefits when employment is found, there is a greater incentive to return to work.

Underlying that, though, is the notion of the deserving and undeserving poor, as mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn. Once work has been incentivised, those who do not or cannot work are deemed to be irresponsible. If you want to know how to create an underclass, the recipe is very clear: create unemployment and remove the support necessary for those who want to work to move towards work. We know that much.

Unemployment is currently high. We cannot expect people to walk into jobs. This approach is alarming, and cuts to public spending are set to increase redundancies. The TUC has recently reported that 45.9 per cent of women in the north-east work in the public sector. There is no point blaming the public sector for that; it is a fact. Unemployment is set to increase in the area, affecting the whole community. The Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development suggests that cuts to jobs in the public sector will increase unemployment to 2.95 million, accounting for one out of every eight jobs in the public sector. Personal responsibility does not come into this equation. Unemployment is out of the control of the individual, and we know that every month that someone stays unemployed, their mental health deteriorates—the two are interconnected.

Those in poverty are trapped in a cycle of deprivation, often incurring greater levels of debt. The exclusion from financial services and the difficulty of getting credit, with the high interest rates that can be obtained, mean that those in poverty pay over £1,000 more a year on life’s essentials than they need to.

There is no guarantee that those who work are protected from poverty. Statistics from Barnardo’s suggest that a couple with two children and one parent working for the minimum wage would have to work 60 hours a week to earn the 60 per cent of median income that takes them out of poverty.

I have to be honest—rather than “we’re all in this together”, I am concerned that those communities most disadvantaged are being left on the sidelines. We have seen this before; in the 1980s and early 1990s, long-term unemployment scarred communities and it still does. The effects of unemployment go far deeper than just the individual. It also affects families and community cohesion, often resulting in higher levels of crime, further deprivation and further increased expenditure. We have had a failure to invest in preventive actions to act against the social problems connected to long-term unemployment, adverse effects on mental health and drug misuse. Permitting this degradation of society to occur again is both morally questionable and economically illogical.

We must make sure that the long-term unemployed are given access to support that addresses the obstructions preventing them from entering employment. Communities with high levels of unskilled workers have been disproportionally affected by the high levels of unemployment. We cannot perceive long-term unemployment as being a product of laziness; rather, it is an indication of unmet need in the community.

Those most in need of support are the least likely to receive it. This is for a number of reasons. Staff not recognising the full extent of the problem or believing it is the responsibility of other services—a lack of joining up on the ground, a lack of connectedness in service provision, which is both bespoke and personalised—a lack of confidence and knowledge about the availability of support and a distrust of services can all combine to ensure that those with complex needs do not get the help that they deserve.

Efficiencies can be made by increasing the effectiveness of services. Effective services are designed according to the needs of the communities they serve. We cannot assume that all communities are the same. Rather, people should be given a voice to say what they need from the services, and they should be given the opportunity to design and indeed deliver those services where possible. We must ensure that performance measures are based on the outcomes they achieve for individuals and the wider community.

My own organisation has been working on models that engage communities in designing and delivering services, and auditing the effectiveness of those services in their communities. We have shown that such an approach can give far better access to hard-to-reach groups, and we have found that integrated services offer the best opportunity to improve access to services.

Integration can be through joint commissioning across health and social care as well as whole-system redesign. My view is that the whole system needs redesigning. Slash-and-burn not only will not deliver the savings that we are looking for, but will simply drive more cost into the system for future dates. We can avoid duplication of delivery, which means savings; and many of these services can be made sustainable through a strong partnership with the community.

We have seen the effects of not taking action in the aftermath of a recession—inaction born from the belief that people should be able to resolve their own problems. Instead, we need to recognise that the way that services are currently designed prevents people helping themselves, leading to costly inefficiencies along the way. We need to resolve these obstacles if we are to reduce poverty and achieve social justice.

I end by asking my first two questions of this Government. First, are the Government prepared to report regularly on the impact of the impending spending cuts in public services on our poorest people and communities? Too little is said of the impacts of the economy on our poorest. While I appreciate that Frank Field will be working on measures of poverty, I think that we are in danger of letting the excellent get in the way of the good enough. If you cannot afford to feed your kids, a debate about how to measure poverty will be meaningless to you. I want a “good enough” measure; I am not interested in the perfection of the science. Will the Government report regularly to both Houses, and to the country, on the impact of the budget cuts on the poorest areas and people? Secondly, we have set up an Office for Budget Responsibility. Can we also have an office of social responsibility?

My Lords, whenever there is a time of hardship and deprivation, Wales will suffer as much if not more than any other part. The noble Lord, Lord Rowlands, was of course MP for Merthyr Tydfil for many years; his book, Something Must Be Done, showed the terrible time of hardship in the 1930s in the South Wales valleys. Our hope will now be that if there is a time of austerity, at least the Welsh Assembly Government, working with Westminster, will be able to avoid any similar situation or hardship in this era.

We have to have co-operation between the Government, the devolved Administrations, local councils and voluntary organisations if we are to tackle this problem which is looming at present—we are really in the middle of it. Much of my concern has been with the poverty and deprivation suffered by incomers to the United Kingdom. We could alleviate that situation quite quickly in many respects, because certain Acts could be amended or implemented that would bring about a change in the situation of what I might call the suffering of those particular communities. When migrants from the European Union travel here, some might expect to find that the pavements of London are paved with gold. We have to get into those communities in Poland or Lithuania, or wherever they are, before the people travel here and give them packs of information so that they are aware of the situation ahead of them before they venture here. There is no gold paving the streets of London; there is often hardship and great sadness.

If only we could, as a Government, devise packs of information that would help people to say, “Yes, I am going to venture” or, “No, I am not going to try at this time”. I hope the Minister will consider this seriously. Some will come—of course they will. Young people must venture and be able to see what life is like in other countries. However, we need—possibly with the churches and other voluntary organisations—to establish a national telephone helpline. If people are in great difficulties or circumstances that make their lives a misery sometimes, at least they will know that there is one way to connect with those who might be able to help them.

A while ago I was in the Warsaw Parliament, talking about the possibility of having a benefits system in Europe whereby if a person has contributed in, let us say, Poland to a benefits or national insurance system, that benefit could be drawn upon in any other country in the European Union. This would be a portable benefits system, whereby the contributions in one country could be drawn on in another country within the European Union. I am delighted that in a Written Answer to me a week or so ago, the Department for Work and Pensions said that such a scheme is possible. I ask the Ministers and others who are responsible for this to confirm that such a system exists and that they are ready to publicise it so that those in such circumstances could, instead of finding themselves penniless and on the streets, at least know that there is funding available, which they have paid into in their original country. That, I suggest, is something that we could do to alleviate tremendous hardship.

Failed asylum seekers can come here and become totally penniless, without any support whatever. I have had a message from the director of homelessness services at the Salvation Army. It is a message of despair. So many failed asylum seekers are in total destitution. The letter says that,

“on average these people get £7.50 a week from handouts from churches and charities”.

Can we live, or even breathe, on £7.50 a week? Another report, Underground Lives by Diane Taylor, about destitute asylum seekers in Leeds, was published last year. Somebody in this situation says:

“I wake up hungry and go to bed hungry. I am sleeping on my friend’s kitchen floor. It is very hard and cold but he has given me a blanket”.

That is one existence but there are worse examples which I have no time to mention today.

Section 9 of the Asylum and Immigration (Treatment of Claimants, etc.) Act 2004 withdraws all support from failed asylum seekers, leaving them totally bereft of any support whatever. There were two or three pilot areas where the provisions of this Act were implemented. I should like to know what happened in the pilot areas. More importantly still, what happened to the failed asylum seekers in these areas? We can do something to remove an element of poverty. We can do something to remove destitution.

Finally, I know that the 32 London boroughs, in their own way, try to meet these needs, but they act independently and so do not share their facilities and accommodation with those outside their own areas. We urgently need a pan-London approach to homelessness and rough sleeping. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell me what proposals the Government have to help to bring this about.

My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, for his bright idea of initiating this one and a half hour debate. I shall not take up too much of your Lordships' time, but it is too tempting an opportunity to miss the chance to suggest a number of one’s pet priority areas, which I hope the Government may consider adopting in their important battle against poverty.

I am particularly glad that the coalition Government are to continue with the previous Government’s target to eliminate child poverty by 2020. We all know that targets can be overdone but this one is clearly sensible. The same applies to the commitment to continue with Sure Start as originally conceived. The right reverend Prelate mentioned that; it has done considerable invaluable work. I am a total fan of it. However, a major area I urge the Government to consider is further action to prioritise tackling what Keith Joseph 37 years ago called the cycle of deprivation. I wish to emphasise two specific ways in which that could be done.

The first is to ensure that children with special needs are identified early in their lives, so that the relevant extra support they need can be provided to help them fully develop their potential talents and skills for the benefit of themselves and their whole community. It would be even more beneficial if the Government could extend this form of assessment so that all children are assessed before they start their schooling. This, too, could save both money and misery in the long run. Incidentally, it is an area which many of us—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Elton, who is sadly not in his place—tried to get adopted in a recent education Bill.

My second point is more directly related to the important cycle of deprivation. The Government could undertake—I wish they would do so—an early assessment of potentially delinquent or deprived families with problems. To help identify such families, the Government's plan for more locally based midwives and health visitors will certainly help identify the back-up that may well be needed. Sadly, if prevention is not achieved, offending follows all too often and long-term costs go up considerably—very considerably indeed if a continual pattern of offending is established. Many of these young people who end up in prison have families with a history—often a long history—of parents, grandparents and generations even further back having criminal records. Of course, prison must be the answer for some heinous crimes, but increasingly we are realising that prison does not work for many offenders. Thousands of pounds are wasted each year by sending young offenders repeatedly to prison when they could, with sensible community sentences combined with professional and third-sector mentoring, be reclaimed for a civilised and worthwhile life. Thankfully, if one is to believe anything one reads in the paper, this appears also to be the view of the Justice Secretary, Kenneth Clarke, so perhaps we will see some action in that regard. I hope that the Government will seriously consider a complete rethink. We looked at this in a small committee of Cross-Benchers on penal policy on which I sit, and we all said that it was time to have another royal commission to rethink the whole of penal policy. That might be a thought.

I want to mention another poverty issue affecting us all that I hope the Government will also put on their priority list. A sensible aim of this Government, like their predecessor, is to ensure that welfare benefits go only to those who really need them, but equally it will be essential to give adequate help and retraining to those returning to work after long gaps. If that does not happen, it is obvious that greater poverty will resume. I hope that the Government can reassure your Lordships that sufficient support of this kind will be provided in these difficult times.

Another area of poverty which is unequally shared, yet could produce additional national and individual wealth, if readjusted, is the earnings of men and women. Much of this inequality is due to the assumed and actual caring roles of women, and despite equal opportunities legislation that gap still persists. Will the Government please consider making the right to request flexible working available equally to men and women? Perhaps more challenging would be the right to work either full-time or part-time on a flexible basis. We live in a global economy and work on a 24-hour international basis. Through internet technologies, we can all be constantly in touch with different parts of the world. All of us know that if we ring a company to make a complaint, the phone may well be answered by an employee living in India because it is cheaper for that company to employ—rightly or wrongly—someone living there.

However, if both sexes had such rights, there would be flexible benefits for companies struggling to survive in these harsh economic times, and that would give both sexes the time needed to care for their children, aged parents, disabled family members or friends. They could take a part-time course and stay in employment. There would be other benefits for women— often those who are most in poverty in retirement—because they would be more likely to stay in employment, to be available for selection for more senior posts, and, I hope, to retire on a better pension.

I hope that the Government will give those few thoughts—I am slightly under time—serious consideration.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope, for securing this important debate. Previous Governments have tried to tackle this issue with the best of intentions. However, the complexity and scope of this problem have often meant that past strategies have not been successful in addressing this matter. I intend to focus my contribution primarily on poverty among children and the present condition of adult poverty. I care about issues relating to poverty, and the charity which I chair and totally fund provides help and assistance wherever it can.

I welcome the Government’s pledge to maintain the goal of ending child poverty in the UK by 2020, as stated in the coalition agreement. It is widely believed that children often inherit poverty from their parents. Therefore, adult poverty and its causes are of equal importance in successfully addressing child poverty. At present, 5 million adults are illiterate and 17 million struggle with basic literacy. A significant number are parents to some of the poorest children in our communities. Children and young people who live in households where adults do not engage in any form of employment are not only the most deprived in our society but are most likely to follow the same path once they leave full-time compulsory education. The generational cycle of unemployment is a key factor in the rising levels of welfare dependency and poverty in our communities. A significant number of these parents who are in employment are typically in receipt of low incomes. The incomes of the poorest 20 per cent of families have consistently fallen every year since 2004. This situation has contributed to the rising level of deprivation in our society and, most unfortunately, it has removed the incentive for those on low incomes to remain in employment.

Poverty is a complex issue. A multifaceted approach to tackling this problem is necessary, as divergent components add to this injustice. I welcome the Government’s increased emphasis on how the merits of localism can bring about the change that is so desperately needed in our communities. Local authorities, agencies and community groups have the potential to play a vital role in ensuring that individuals and the most vulnerable members of society receive the support that they need. It is only fair that such initiatives should have access to adequate training and resources to enable them to continue to fulfil these duties.

Greater emphasis is required on tackling poverty among the ethnic minority communities. For example, levels of child poverty are higher among the black and Asian communities, at 31 per cent and 42 per cent respectively, compared with their white counterparts, among whom the level stands at 20 per cent.

There is a link between family breakdown and child poverty. Research suggests that children from separated families are 75 per cent more likely to fail academically, 70 per cent more likely to engage in drug abuse and 35 per cent more likely to experience long-term unemployment and to become reliant on state benefits. Does the Minister agree that recognising this pattern may result in reducing the number of children who live in poverty?

Research has proved that child poverty is less likely to be a factor in households where one or both parents engage in some sort of paid employment. It is therefore in the best interests of our young people for the Government to create an effective strategy to support families with children and to identify those who are at risk of losing their jobs. The State of the Nation Report reveals that 1.4 million people have been in receipt of out-of-work benefits for the overwhelming majority of the past 10 years. These figures are compounded by research from the Office for National Statistics that shows a rise in the number of unemployed people by 53,000. That suggests that the number of jobless people is at its highest since 1994.

I strongly welcome plans for the welfare reform Bill as announced in Her Majesty’s gracious Speech, with the intention of simplifying the benefits system in order to improve incentives to work. As an employer, I support proposals to provide work incentives and to get 5 million-plus people into work and out of poverty. Poverty among individuals of working age now stands at its highest level since 1961. I also await the findings of the independent review on poverty in the United Kingdom, which are scheduled for release before the end of this year.

It is worth touching briefly on some of the challenges that face our ageing population. Pensioner poverty is most prevalent among female pensioners. I welcome the 30-year rule relating to the qualifying period for the full state pension, which now applies to both genders. This will help to alleviate poverty among women, who generally live longer than men.

Studies by the Leonard Cheshire Disability charity reveal that disabled people are twice as likely to live in poverty as able-bodied individuals. I am confident that noble Lords will all agree that this is a shocking revelation. We have a moral duty to ensure that disabled people have access to a decent standard of living. I should be grateful if the Minister could tell your Lordships what steps the Government will take to address this unacceptable trend.

We are one of the wealthiest and most powerful nations in the world. We can boast membership of the G7 and G8, and also a seat on the United Nations Security Council. Despite these accolades, too many of our citizens are living in poverty. Successfully ending poverty in all areas of society is one of the biggest challenges facing us today. I am particularly concerned about lifting children out of poverty, as the future success of this country is in their hands. Young people who are poor often have low self-esteem, which can lead to a number of undesirable outcomes, including alcohol and narcotic abuse. We cannot afford to waste the potential of our young people. The poorest children are at a competitive disadvantage, especially in education. We need to adopt a bold approach in addressing this inequality. We have both a civic and an economic duty to deal with the prevalence of poverty in our society, and the Government’s proposals to address this matter effectively are indeed encouraging.

My Lords, I apologise to the House and to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for being a little late at the beginning of this debate, having missed the ending of the previous one. In compensation for that, I shall not speak for very long, which may be of some comfort to the House.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for raising this issue but, unfortunately, I cannot agree with him about the Child Poverty Act, on which we both worked so hard in the previous Session of Parliament. I am afraid that I consider it to be a bad Act and I ask whether the Government will either repeal or amend it. I ask that not because I am in any way opposed to resolving the problems of child poverty or promoting the well-being of children but because that is not what the Act does with any degree of effectiveness.

First, the Child Poverty Act is about family income rather than child poverty. Secondly, it is about inequality rather than poverty. I think that we should decide whether in that legislation we are talking about inequality or poverty, as they may or may not both be evils. Poverty is certainly an evil and I think that there are circumstances in which inequality may be an evil. Thirdly, I do not think that we shall really ever achieve an answer to the problem of child poverty until we effectively take parents into partnership with us. It is not an issue on which parents have the right to do as much they would like, and then the state has to step in and do all the rest. Somehow we seem to have failed to engage the less committed parents in our society. We have failed to help them to understand the obligations of parenthood and to co-operate in looking after their children. The noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, who is no longer in his place, and others have mentioned that the most disadvantaged and the poorest children come from broken and chaotic households.

I mention in passing that a number of noble Lords— including the right reverend Prelate and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh—brought before the House some very interesting statistics, implying that they are perhaps causal, one for the other. One has to be extremely careful about using that argument. Perhaps the House would forgive me if I mention a birthday card I received on my last birthday. It said, “Birthdays are good for you: the more you have, the longer you live”. That is a perfectly convincing fact. We should be looking at child poverty, at the impact on children and on children’s well-being and saying to ourselves, “Can we evolve a better society and a better form of legislation through which to commit ourselves to improving the lot of children in the context of poverty?”.

My Lords, I realise that I am a mere stand-in for my noble friend Lord McKenzie, who I know would bring his usual incisive, knowledgeable and charming ways to the Dispatch Box, but he is unable to be in the House today, so I will do my best. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for initiating the debate.

Many of the questions that I would like to ask have been put by other noble Lords. During the Queen’s Speech debate, I predicted that the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, would hold his Government's feet to the fire on the issues that are dear to his heart and about which he is an acknowledged expert, but I did not appreciate that the first foray would be quite so soon. I feel a little sympathy for the Minister as, during the debate, a large number of very important questions have been addressed to him. The Minister might take some comfort from the fact that this will be the first of many debates on these kinds of issues, so he might be forgiven for not having all the answers immediately—perhaps that is no comfort at all.

Yesterday, Dr John Philpott, chief economic adviser at the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development, predicted that the coalition Government's deficit reduction measures will stall any recovery in the UK jobs market this year, resulting in a post-recession peak in unemployment close to 3 million, and slowing any subsequent return to low unemployment. He went on to say:

“Given what we know historically about the way in which the social burden of unemployment and stagnant average income growth is shared across individuals and communities, the prospects for those already suffering the most disadvantage seem particularly bleak”.

I turn to two issues to which reference has been made in the debate. I commend the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, for his loyalty, but I thought I would add a few statistics of my own to his. Today there are 353,000 fewer people on inactive working-age benefits than there were in 1997. The number of people on incapacity benefit almost tripled under the Tories from 800,000 in 1979 to 2.5 million in 1997. At 5 per cent the claimant count is half the level it was in the 1980s and 1990s. The proportion of workless households is still lower now than in 1997, despite the recession and a big increase in the number of students. As a result of Labour’s welfare reforms, investment in childcare and family-friendly working policies, 365,000 more lone parents are in work than in 1997. Why have the Government announced that they intend to save £320 million by cutting some unemployment programmes, including the future jobs fund? How many jobs will not be funded through that and what will be the impact of the Government’s proposals?

I remind the House that under the previous Tory Government, child poverty doubled and the UK had the worst level of child poverty in Europe. Since 1999, we have made progress in tackling child poverty, halting and then reversing the upward trend. So I join other noble Lords—for example, the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne—in expressing my anxiety about the suggestion that the Government might drop our target for cutting child poverty. I join the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn in his concern about the future of Sure Start.

The coalition agreement, which I draw to the right reverend Prelate’s attention, states:

“We will take Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention, increase its focus on the neediest families and better involve organisations with a track record of supporting families. We will investigate ways of ensuring that providers are paid in part by the results they achieve”.

How will they know, as Sure Start is intended to be a long-term investment in the future of those children, so the results of the success of a Sure Start programme are known not within a year, two years, or three years, but after 10 years, 15 years or 20 years? We know that from the experience of the United States. I also ask the Minister about the intention not to fund free school meals. Again, that is a direct investment in the health and welfare of our children.

Clearly, it is important that we take care to disentangle the causes and consequences of poverty, and some of what I have heard from those on the Government Benches during the Queen's Speech debate and last week during a debate on these issues in another place suggests not a little confusion on that front. As my honourable friend Kate Green MP—a new and very knowledgeable addition to the Opposition Benches in another place—said:

“It is certainly true that lone parents face an exceptionally high risk of poverty, but it is also the case that poverty and the stress of trying to make ends meet can contribute to family and relationship breakdown. It is important that we help to sustain relationships and keep families together, and ensure that they have adequate resources to remove that stress and concern”.—[Official Report, Commons, 10/6/10; col. 544.]

The Government must demonstrate that they have taken account, for example, of those who face a particular risk of poverty and why they do so—disabled people and people from black and minority ethnic backgrounds, with their unequal access to the labour market and unequal experience within it. Those are the structural drivers of poverty and it is important that public policy addresses them.

My concern is that both my honourable friend Frank Field, for whom I have the utmost respect, and the Minister, Mr Iain Duncan Smith, sometimes give the impression that they have a view of the “deserving” poor and the “not so deserving” poor, as already mentioned by the right reverend Prelate, which sometimes does not take account of the fact that life for those out of work and on benefits is not a life of luxury. I challenge the House to consider how any of us would manage on a disposable income of £65.45 a week. I suggest that when the axis of the noble Lord, Lord Freud, Frank Field and Iain Duncan Smith are creating their policy they learn from what has and has not worked in the past. I am sure that they will want to do that.

As I said, during the 1980s and 1990s, child poverty doubled, but since 1999, the number of children in poverty has been reduced by 500,000. That is not by accident. Child poverty reduced in the years in which the Government invested in family incomes through benefits and tax credits, and increased in the years in which Governments have not. The Labour Government's policy of seeking to reduce poverty through increases in tax credits and benefits is not a failed policy.

I therefore caution Ministers carefully to consider what the evidence tells them and to take careful account of the significant expertise that exists outside the House and on the Benches in this House. I refer to the noble Lords, Lord Kirkwood and Lord Adebowale, and my noble friend Lord McKenzie. I was pleased by the almost entirely cross-party support that the Child Poverty Bill secured during its passage through the previous Parliament. The Child Poverty Act 2010, as it became, put in place a recognition of the need to sustain the poverty reduction targets, confirmed the importance of the relative income poverty target and set it once more at the 60 per cent median line.

What are the Government going to do to redefine poverty? Will they, for example, be taking the definition of the Prime Minister when he said that he was concerned about a definition of poverty as,

“people with less than 40 per cent of average household income”,

or “severe poverty”? That definition excludes 2.5 million children from targets of child poverty. The independent Institute for Fiscal Studies has said that such a definition is “not particularly accurate” because some people might have low incomes but enough wealth to have a purchasing power well above the poverty line. Indeed, the Child Poverty Action Group called the statistic “dodgy” and pointed out that under that definition poverty increased by nearly 500 per cent under the previous Conservative Government.

The coalition Government appear set to water down our commitment to end child poverty by 2020 by changing the current definition of poverty. It is clear to us that this will be a disaster for low-income families who need help and support so that they are not left behind and will condemn some children to falling further and further behind their peers. The Government have already announced the abolition of child trust funds and have hinted that they may cut tax credits and other benefits further than was promised in their manifesto. Will the Minister comment on whether that is the case?

Everyone in this House is very concerned about the effect of the Government’s proposals on the most needy and vulnerable in our society so, along with many noble Lords around the House, I suspect we will be watching carefully and will be returning to this vital issue.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords who made such excellent contributions and, in particular, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, who brought up this important topic for debate in this House. I welcome the opportunity to set out this Administration’s approach to poverty.

The recently published State of the Nation Report sets out in stark terms the challenge that this Government face in combating poverty. It shows that the UK is a country where worklessness and welfare dependency are much too prevalent. A higher proportion of children live in households where no one works than in any other EU country. In total, more than one in four adults of working age are out of work. That fact underpins the concern expressed by my noble friend Lord Sheikh. Furthermore, around 1.4 million people have been on out-of-work benefit for nine or more of the past 10 years and at least 12 million working-age households receive financial support from the Government each week. This costs no less than £85 billion a year.

I bring noble Lords’ attention to the National Equality Panel’s report that was published in January and found that in England the median total household wealth in the most deprived tenth of areas is £34,000, while in the least deprived tenth of areas it is £481,000. Those statistics emphasise the concern that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn expressed about inequality.

However, poverty is not merely about inequality of income or assets. The previous Government spent £28.5 billion on tax credits in 2009-10, yet child poverty has fallen woefully short of the target of halving it since 1997. It therefore seems that simply increasing incomes will not improve the position that this country finds itself in. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, that we are maintaining the timetable on the child poverty commission, and that it will be set up, as planned, over the summer. It is equally significant that the health gap between those from high and low socio-economic backgrounds is wider now than in the 1970s and that the gap in educational attainment between children from wealthy and deprived backgrounds remains high.

Neglecting the interconnectedness of the causes that drive poverty is a recipe for failure. It is with this in mind that I welcome the Prime Minister’s announcement of an independent review of poverty in the UK to be led by Frank Field. The review will look at how we measure poverty and how the home environment can influence educational achievement. Crucially, it will also stimulate debate on the nature and extent of poverty in the UK and make recommendations on how we reduce poverty and enhance life chances for the least advantaged. Without wishing to second-guess the outcome of that review, I am glad today to play some part in that broader debate.

I want to outline four of the most important causes of poverty and give a flavour of the measures that this Government will take to combat them. At the same time I will address the concerns that were so well expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Northbourne, about a purely income-driven approach.

First, we know that a stable home life can make a huge difference to the health and well-being of our children, which is why this Government will, among other things, bring forward reforms to the current tax credit system, removing the material penalty for claimants who live together. I can assure the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Blackburn and the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, of the coalition Government’s plans to take Sure Start back to its original purpose of early intervention, to increase its focus on the neediest families and to better involve organisations with a track record of supporting families.

I should also like to take this opportunity to refer to the early involvement issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe. At this important point of reform, we should take the opportunity to ask fundamental questions about the care system we want for children. We know how important the early years of a child’s life are to their cognitive and social development. We should be committed to meeting the challenge of giving the best possible start in life particularly to those vulnerable children who come into care.

Secondly, it is clear that addiction to drugs and alcohol is one of the most damaging causes of poverty. Estimates suggest that almost 80 per cent of problem drug users are on benefits, often for many years and with no realistic prospect of either recovering or finding employment under the current system. My department will bring forward proposals for a refreshed substance misuse strategy that will move away from focusing solely on heroin and crack cocaine and include all drugs and alcohol. These proposals will more effectively support addicts to sustain a drug-free recovery and employment.

Thirdly, a lack of education and skills traps many people in poverty. Improvements in skills can help to reduce child poverty and crime, and improve health and job satisfaction and the ability to perform non-work-related tasks such as managing household finances.

Fourthly, the Government’s work strategy needs to be aligned with the job outcomes we want. Let me assure the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, on the way in which we are accelerating the work programme, which has been welcomed by the industry. The work programme will offer stronger incentives for providers to work with the harder to help. They will be paid out of the benefit payments that will be saved as a result of placing people in sustainable work. It implies that those providers will look for a holistic approach to tackling the problems of those people and they will bring much higher resources to solving some of those problems.

The concern expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, who I am pleased to see in his place, is one of the things that I hope we will see addressed in our approach, which will start to address the complex needs of many people who need support in getting back into the workplace.

Disabled people are at a substantially higher risk of poverty than non-disabled people. Nearly one in four families with a disabled member live in poverty, compared with less than one in six families where no one is disabled. We want to make sure that work is the best route out of poverty for disabled people and non-disabled people alike. Our plans will help more disabled people to find sustainable jobs and thus regain their independence.

We must also ensure that people can enjoy dignity and security in their old age. The legacy we have inherited includes 1.8 million pensioners living in poverty today. As a first step, we will restore the earnings link with a basic state pension from April 2011 with a triple guarantee. In other words, pensions will be raised in line with earnings or prices, or by 2.5 per cent, whichever is the higher. In the long term, this legacy can be remedied only by cultivating a savings culture in which people have access to a good workplace pension scheme backed by employer contributions.

Let me turn to the many questions that have been asked. There were at least 30 of them, so while I will not be able to handle them all, I shall do my best. The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, urged me to provide information on the shape of the Budget and where the financial cuts, if any, might fall. I regret to have to tell him that I cannot pre-empt the Statement next week and urge him and the lobbies to which he referred to be a little more patient.

On Frank Field’s review and his approach to child poverty and the recommendations he will make, all I can say is that he is due to report in December. We await his recommendations with great interest and will take them very seriously indeed.

The noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, also pressed me on benefit reforms. This is another area where I would not wish to pre-empt later Statements. We are looking closely at ways to unlock what has been called the “unemployment trap” or the “poverty trap” in order to try to put in place a more coherent system so that we can have what my noble friend Lord Sheikh referred to: incentives to work. We will also look to make the system much more flexible, as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, urged us to do. She referred particularly to micro-jobs, those stepping-stone jobs that are so difficult for people to take on under the current system. We want to make that much easier.

I turn to another leading question from the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood. He asked whether any cuts next week, if there are any, will affect the most disadvantaged and whether we will look at fraud and error costs. We are committed to helping the most disadvantaged and I hope that some of the measures that I have just discussed, such as the pensions triple guarantee, have reassured him that we take this issue seriously.

I have to draw my remarks to a conclusion. As I have said, I will write to noble Lords in response to as many of the other questions that have been put to me as possible.

Drugs and Crime

Question for Short Debate

Tabled By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their response to the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime discussion paper Treating Drug Dependence through Healthcare, not Punishment.

My Lords, I rise to ask the Minister about the Government’s response to the remarkable draft discussion paper issued on 2 March this year by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime entitled From Coercion to Cohesion: Treating Drug Dependence through Healthcare, not Punishment. For nearly 50 years, ever since the first UN Convention on Narcotic Drugs of 1961, the UNODC has operated as the defender of the punitive approach to drug addiction as well as to drug trafficking. Some 186 countries have signed up to the three UN conventions, all of which promote a criminalising philosophy. Until relatively recently, virtually all of those countries have followed the criminalising approach without question. For those of us who believe that the war on drugs is misguided and destructive both for individuals and communities, this new UNODC document is indeed a major milestone for the UN and hence for the world drug policy regime.

What does the new document say? A quote from the foreword, signed by none other than Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UNODC, makes clear the radical shift of policy. Mr Costa himself has for years promoted criminalisation. The fact that he now feels it is right to challenge 50 years of UN dogma must be something of a turning point. Mr Costa now says:

“The aim of this draft discussion paper, ‘From Coercion to Cohesion’ is to promote a health-oriented approach to drug dependence”.

The paper quotes the narcotic drug conventions in support of the health-oriented approach. One of the great strengths of the paper is that it argues the scientific case for treatment as an alternative to criminal justice sanctions, suggesting that the health approach,

“is in agreement with a large body of scientific evidence”,

including epidemiological, clinical and neurobiological.

Many across the world have said these things, but not the UNODC. The paper argues that,

“there is increasing evidence that a health-oriented approach is also the most effective in reducing illicit drug use”.

By the same token, imprisonment often worsens the problem in a variety of ways. In my view, no serious policy-maker can ignore this paper.

There are two explanations for the change of heart by the UNODC. First, the sheer cost and level of destruction caused by the war on drugs has become a significant world problem. Secondly, more and more countries have become disenchanted by the UN conventions as interpreted—until now—by the UNODC and they have taken unilateral action. I would add a third explanation—action by 30 Peers from this House. I shall say a little about each of these.

First, as to the cost, the criminals and gangsters involved in the drugs trade are benefiting to the tune of about £320 billion a year, and I know that a lot of people in this House are aware of that. The most severe consequences of course have been in Latin America and Afghanistan. In Mexico, for example, drug trafficking employs some half a million workers and has involved some 5,600 killings a year. The profits to Latin American traffickers have financed 25 years of civil war in Colombia and devastating social disruption in Mexico, Peru and Bolivia. These profits are aiding the Taliban in Afghanistan and, indeed, funding the killing of British soldiers. That is what we are talking about here. The US spends some $40 billion a year trying to eliminate the supply of drugs; it arrests 1.5 million of its citizens each year; it imprisons half a million of them. We in Britain spend £19 billion or so on the criminal justice system responding to drugs and drug-related crime, most of it a consequence of the criminalisation of drug use.

The second explanation for the 180-degree policy shift of the UNODC is the growing disenchantment with the UN conventions. For some years a number of countries have made it clear that they are not happy with the criminalising consequences of the UN conventions—notably Brazil, Mexico and Bolivia in South America, but also Italy, Spain, Portugal, the Czech Republic, the Baltic states, Switzerland and others in Europe, and, indeed, a number of states in Australia and the US. They have explored more civil or health-oriented approaches to drug addiction and have in many case removed criminal penalties for the possession of cannabis or, indeed, for the possession of all drugs. These initiatives have not led, as feared, to increased drug addiction. Rather, countries such as the US and UK, with tougher policies on drugs, have levels of narcotic drug use at least as high as those countries with more liberal policies.

On the role of the House, in 2009, 30 Members of this House signed a letter to the UN Secretary-General, Mr Ban Ki-Moon, urging him to establish an inter-governmental panel charged with the task of examining all possible alternative policies for the control of the drugs trade, including an evaluation of the experience of countries that have experimented with alternative policies despite the UN conventions. In his reply, Mr Ban assured us that the commission on narcotic drugs had on its agenda a review of current policies. We responded saying that we were not aware of any resources devoted to any such review, and so the correspondence continued. It seems reasonable to suppose that interest in an area of failure by the top man in the UN may have been helpful in strengthening the arm of the forces of reform within the UNODC.

I was subsequently invited to the UN Commission in Vienna in March this year and met Mr Costa. Certainly he was well aware of the activities of 30 Members of this House. Since then, Mr Gilberto Gerra, a health policy chief at the UNODC, who was involved in my meeting with Mr Costa, has asked us to do what we can to achieve endorsement of the discussion document by as many Governments as possible across the world—a slightly daunting task, I have to say. I am hoping that our coalition Government will be the first formally to endorse From Coercion to Cohesion. There are strong reasons why they may want to do just that.

As I mentioned earlier, this country spends more than £19 billion on the criminal justice system due to the criminalisation of drugs. The Government want to cut all wasteful public expenditure. There is no more obvious public service area of waste than this—waste of resources on prisons, police officers, court officials, judges and the whole paraphernalia of the system. I should assure the Minister that, by endorsing the UNODC document, the Government would be committing themselves neither to any specific policies nor to any change in the treatment of drug traffickers. This is, not surprisingly, a purely pragmatic document where recommendations, if implemented in some form, would lead to major savings in public spending and to benefits for hundreds of thousands of individuals, for communities and for our whole society.

Let us take just one example of a good policy. The UK’s randomised injecting opioid treatment trial programme showed that heroin-injecting addicts reduced their crimes by more than two-thirds as a result of the programme. Taking heroin-injecting addicts substantially out of the criminal justice system would provide enormous savings to the taxpayer, albeit that some of that money would need to be reinvested in health services. Yet even more savings would be achieved through cuts in the benefits bill as users engaged in therapeutic programmes to help them reduce their drug use, organise their lives and in time return to employment. They might remain intermittent drug users, but if drug use were decriminalised, they could become contributing members of society.

On the supply side, the heroin addicts involved in the RIOTT programme reduced their spending on street drugs by £250 per week, from £300 to £50. It is clear that if countries across the world adopted similar programmes, drug traffickers would lose the bulk of their opium sales. This approach would massively dent the billions of pounds currently earned by the gangsters, who rely on addiction and illegality.

This QSD does not pose an idle question. It represents a real plea for the Government’s endorsement of the UNODC’s most important paper in 50 years. Although many would have liked it to go further, I was delighted to see reference to a review of drugs policy on page 23 of the coalition Government’s programme. They now have UNODC support for such a review. We have the biggest opportunity in 50 years to begin to resolve one of the world’s most challenging and destructive problems. I await the Government’s response with interest.

My Lords, it is my first and very pleasant duty to thank on behalf of the whole House the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, not just for initiating this debate but for co-ordinating the letter to Ban Ki-Moon, working with the UNODC and going to Vienna, which I am quite sure, as she suggested, has had a considerable effect.

I do not think that this is a discussion paper; it is more a positioning paper, which reveals a radical and welcome change in the United Nations’s stance. It is radical because, as we have heard, the United Nations has until now focused almost exclusively on the elimination of drug use and suppression of the drugs trade. Now, suddenly, we see that focus switch towards the only effective way to tackle the drug problem, which is to reduce the demand for drugs by providing appropriate help and healthcare to drug users and addicts. The change is welcome because a growing number of people in public and political life have pressed for a move away from gesture politics towards a more mature and pragmatic policy which will have a significant social and economic benefit.

What has brought this about? It is quite simply a change in the direction of American policy. For years, the United Nations was unable to move even if it had wanted to—which I do not think it did—because its most powerful member and paymaster, the USA, was determined to go on promoting its war on drugs and its “just say no” campaigns.

With the arrival of the Obama Administration, however, that has changed. The language has changed. It seems that—not overnight, but carefully and slowly—the Administration will wind down the war on drugs. It is this change in US policy that has taken the shackles off the United Nations and allowed it to move in this new and very welcome direction.

Crucially, the UNODC is accepting, indeed encouraging, member Governments to act in a way many do already, but, more importantly, in a way which it had previously argued was in breach of the conventions. This paper invites us to take a position started by the previous Government. In reality, very few people in the UK are sent to prison for possession of drugs alone. We remain in the position, however, where an enormous proportion of those currently in prison, probably over 50 per cent, are there for drug-related crimes. This paper invites us—and I am confident the new coalition will accept this—significantly to increase both the availability and the quality of treatment in the criminal justice system and the wider community, with the specific objective of getting people off drugs rather than maintaining them on drugs indefinitely, giving them appropriate support when they leave prison, and helping them to lead healthy and, I hope, happier lives as positive members of society.

Throughout this paper, the UNODC reiterates that drug dependence is a health and social problem, but health and social problems cannot be solved by using the criminal justice system. We therefore cannot say, “We will give you the help you need until the moment you need it most, when you relapse, whereupon we will withdraw that care unless and until you get yourself arrested”. That is a pretty good summary of what happens in too many cases in the UK.

The paper also raises some interesting points about coercive treatment. I agree that this is an unattractive route and I hope the Minister will confirm that that is not within the Government’s thinking.

I make two other points in passing. The first concerns the difference between users and those addicted to, or dependent on, drugs. Not everyone who drinks alcohol is an alcoholic. If you do not believe me, go and look in the Bishops’ Bar this evening. Not everyone who uses drugs is an addict. Addicts and alcoholics are ill. They need treatment, even if they do not always want it. At some stage whether we like it or not, society is going to have to get used to the idea that large numbers of our fellow citizens have made informed decisions to use drugs in the same way that their fellow citizens use alcohol. The vast majority do not have health problems and do not commit crimes and, on balance, they behave better in public than many of their fellow citizens who drink. That is for another day, but that other day is coming.

Lastly, I draw attention to the comments in the paper about drug courts. They exist in the UK to a limited extent, and it would be very interesting to hear the Minister’s views.

We are barely a month into this new Government and it would be unfair to expect a detailed response from my noble friend on the Front Bench today. Indeed, it is a pity we are not having this debate in a few months’ time when we could reasonably expect a more detailed answer. If that is the case, perhaps I could ask my noble friend to come back to the House at a later date and make a fuller statement on the Government’s policy. Even so, I hope he will say that the Government welcome this paper and that it is, indeed, the general direction in which the Government would like to move.

If the Obama Administration, the United Nations, the Public Accounts Committee and the Permanent Secretary to the Home Office in the report that was published by the Public Accounts Committee in April find common ground on a policy issue of this complexity, you can reasonably conclude that a consensus is starting to form. It seems there might be a consensus forming in your Lordships’ House this evening, and I very much hope that Her Majesty’s Government will join, if not lead, that consensus.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Meacher for placing this debate on the agenda. I strongly support her position of decriminalising drugs, and that of the UN. I would also like to disclose my membership of the UK Drug Policy Commission, as a commissioner. However, everything I say here is entirely my view and does not express the view of the commission in any way.

I would like to begin with what would happen if we thought the unthinkable and decriminalised drugs at the point of production. Coming from Iran and being familiar with the Middle East, I can assure the House that decriminalisation of drugs in general, and poppies in particular, would have an enormous impact on the conflict in Afghanistan, and in particular on the support given by farmers to the Taliban. Although during the Taliban era poppy production was banned, it gradually began to seep back in and has taken huge momentum since the departure of the Taliban, for the simple reason that these people live on arid land with very little water. About the only two things worth growing are poppies and cotton. Any economist in his right mind would know that growing poppies might actually ensure survival when growing cotton is very unlikely to do so. In simple economic terms, there is not very much choice for these farmers.

What can be done is to recognise that poppies can be used for medicinal purposes and that they can be contracted to produce poppies for pharmaceutical reasons. That has been done in India and Turkey. In the 1970s, when I was a member of the Iranian Co-operative and Rural Affairs Ministry, it was done in Iran. We found that legalising poppy production helped pharmaceuticals and did not increase the numbers of addicts in the country. Recently there has been a similar agreement between pharmaceutical companies and farmers in Didcot, with Macfarlan Smith. Clearly, as my noble friend indicated, that has not resulted in a marked increase in addicts, but it has increased the number of happy farmers in this country. Legalising production of drugs would help us internationally. As for the national economy, it would be hard to do better than as presented in my noble friend’s explanation with regard to cost-benefit analysis.

My personal experience of working with young people shows that, unavoidably, most dabble with drugs in their early years. I must admit that, although I do not drink, I certainly did smoke pot in the 1960s. It was great fun. I did not do anything to anybody when I was high; I danced a lot and listened to music. I lived to tell the tale, and I assure noble Lords that I am not a criminal. Criminalising drugs “otherises” a whole category of people, many of them young people with a bright future in front of them. The difficulty of being labelled as a criminal, even for those who do not actually go to prison—though many do—is that once you are regarded as an addict to heroin or crack you are no longer employable. A great deal of evidence suggests that only those who are well supported by their families and have a context of support, healthcare and pathways to employment survive their occasional experimentation and possible addiction. It is a great loss of opportunity for improvement. Prisons are universities for drug-dealing and those who come out of prison—and even those who go in—come out with absolutely no alternative but to join the black market. It is a costly alternative. Surely it would make sense to see drugs as a problem exactly like alcohol and others and to treat those people rather than criminalise them.

My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, deserves double congratulations, both on bringing this important United Nations report to our notice and to the Government’s and, as she has described to us, on playing such a significant part in initiating the process that eventually led to its publication.

Its observations and recommendations are not revolutionary in themselves. Most of its points are already well known and understood by those, like myself, who have been involved in helping problem drug users. What is remarkable, as both the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, have pointed out, is that this reasonable and humane paper has emanated from the UN Office on Drugs and Crime, a body that up to now has been on the draconian wing of the worldwide debate on drugs. This was thought to be largely due to the strong influence of the United States, with its tendency to use custodial sentences for drug users, thus having the highest prison population in the world. As well as the other reasons given by the noble Baroness, though, perhaps the change of heart has something to do, as the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, mentioned, with the change of the American Administration.

The paper is the distillation of a discussion between 20 international experts held in Vienna last October. In his foreword, Antonio Maria Costa, the executive director of the UNODC, says:

“This paper outlines a model of referral from the criminal justice system to the treatment system that is more effective than compulsory treatment”—

I emphasise, more effective. What the paper advocates,

“results in less restriction of liberty, is less stigmatising and offers better prospects for the future of the individual and the society”.

A useful feature of the paper is the list of references to the recent research on which its conclusions are based. I recommend that those in the Home Office and the Department of Health who are responsible for drugs policy pay careful attention to the papers that are cited.

The central message of the document is that drug abusers should be regarded as sick or sad people rather than bad people. This is not to say that they do not get involved in crime or become skilled liars in order to obtain the substances on which they are dependent. The document points out that treating drug users as criminals does not deter them from continuing their habit, and that treatment for drug abuse in a coercive setting is less effective than in a negotiated voluntary setting.

I look forward with interest to the contribution of my noble friend Lady Massey, under whose leadership the National Drug Treatment Agency has greatly increased the availability of treatment. I suspect that she is in sympathy with the approach of the UN document. The National Audit Office reports that numbers in effective treatment in the UK rose from 134,000 to 195,000 between 2004 and 2008. I hope that the noble Baroness can give us some figures on the effectiveness of this and on whether there is evidence that drug-related crime rates have fallen.

There has been increasing and welcome use of the drug rehabilitation requirement, the successor to drug testing and treatment orders, for drug users who have committed an offence. However, the NAO reports a lack of consistent research into its effects. Perhaps better results might be obtained if the social needs of drug offenders, particularly housing and employment, were given more attention. I am aware that the Government are aware of this, but implementation is erratic.

An innovation mentioned in the UN paper is the establishment of special drug courts in some countries. These can be staffed by personnel who are familiar with the special needs and characteristics of drug users, especially their tendency to relapse several times before finally giving up fully.

I commend this report to the Minister, and I hope that its contents will be scrutinised carefully and used to improve not only the lives of drug users but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, has said, society as a whole.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for this debate on treating drug dependency through healthcare, not punishment. It will be interesting to hear the Government’s response. We are discussing a huge worldwide problem. For some years, I chaired an organisation called Phoenix House, which has several drug rehabilitation houses in the UK; it also operates in Germany and the United States. It can be an alternative to prison, but it is a drop in a very large ocean. Drug abuse reminds me of King Canute, who could not stop the sea coming in. This debate makes me think: how can the worldwide tide of drugs be stemmed? How can the effect of drug abuse be lessened?

I have served on the parliamentary All-Party Group on Drugs Misuse for many years. Some years ago, a god-daughter of mine died of an overdose of drugs and alcohol. She was a graduate of Oxford University. Drug abuse covers all strands of society and causes much heartache and despair. A co-godmother asked me at the funeral, “Couldn’t you have done something to stop this happening?”. I am sure that many of us try to do our best, but being a Member of your Lordships’ House cannot solve all these tragic situations.

For many years, I served as a member of a board of visitors, now called monitors, at a young offender institution. We used to get the odd case of drug abuse, but always alcohol problems. Now, the majority of the young inmates have taken drugs as well as alcohol. The situation is rocketing. Some people will say that you have to get a prison sentence to get treatment, as there are not enough centres for treatment in the community—and of those that there are, many are very expensive. On Sunday, I met a doctor who runs an A&E department in Middlesbrough and asked him how the situation relating to drug abuse is there. He said, “Rough”, but also that as long as it is criminalised it will go on going up. Recently, there have been murders of prostitutes, all of whom were on drugs. Prostitution was the only way that they could afford their addiction.

As a member of the parliamentary groups on prison health, hepatitis C, HIV/AIDS and tuberculosis, I am pleased that the discussion paper mentions the problem that while,

“people continue to inject drugs and engage in other high-risk activities for the spread of HIV and hepatitis in prison, the prison environment is highly conducive to HIV spread”,

and to TB. It continues:

“The lack of continuity of HIV treatment on entering and leaving prison increases the risk of developing drug resistant strains”,

of the HIV virus and drug-resistant tuberculosis.

Which type of tuberculosis did the prisoner who died in Cardiff prison this April have? Also, what happened to the prisoner with extensively drug-resistant TB who was treated in St George’s Hospital, Tooting, and referred there from Pentonville prison? He originated from Georgia. If these people do not continue taking their drugs, they are exceedingly dangerous to the community where they land up. The mobile X-ray unit that finds and treats hard-to-reach people who may have TB in London, many of whom take drugs, may lose its NHS funding this year. That would be an utter disaster. Many people are already doing vital work treating and helping people with complicated dual-health problems. They need support and funding, as this discussion paper suggests. Health promotion needs expanding. Can the health service and the third sector do it all? That is debatable.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on introducing us to this important discussion paper. I declare an interest as having, over many years, represented and prosecuted in many drugs cases, involving the use and possession of drugs, drug-related crime and the importation of drugs.

The paper accords very closely with Liberal Democrat policy, as set out in the report of the commission under the chairmanship of my noble friend Lady Walmsley some years ago. It is a serious problem that costs the economy a huge amount, as the noble Baroness herself pointed out—some £19 billion a year. However, the punitive approach has not proved successful for drug addicts and alternatives must be found to the sanctions of the criminal justice system.

Drug dependency is brought about by a multitude of factors, as set out most clearly in the report. They include a history of social and personal disadvantage; temperament and personality traits; prenatal problems; poor education; adverse childhood experiences that lead to non-existent self-esteem; a lack of bonding within the family that creates social isolation; and, sometimes, psychiatric disorders. Drugs are seen by many such individuals as a panacea to relieve adverse conditions—a form of escapism. We are dealing, in most cases, with vulnerable and damaged individuals.

Heroin does not cause people to become violent, as alcohol does, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, said, it does make people unemployable. It has that great impact on our society, accordingly, of carrying these people along. I remember one defendant being asked, when cross-examined severely by the prosecution for having administered drugs to his girlfriend, who had died, “How do you know she liked it?”. He said, in a chilling way, “Everybody likes heroin”. It was freely available to him, and more available, he told me, in prison than it was outside. That is one of the factors that we must grapple with.

I cannot follow the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, in referring to people who take recreational drugs in a moderate way. Those who think that taking cocaine socially is clever should remember that their affluence is promoting the importation of drugs by very serious and dangerous criminals, who do not hesitate to use violence to protect their trade in the cities of this country. As for cannabis, I am afraid I missed the 1960s; I was bringing up a family at the time. However, I recall prosecuting three men for growing cannabis. In fact, what they were growing was agricultural hemp and they had to smoke 10 spliffs to get the effect of one. Nevertheless, they got three years’ imprisonment for it and what that did for them I cannot imagine. Imprisonment exacerbates all the problems. It exposes the individual to older criminals, gangs, illicit drugs within the prison estate—which I referred to—and a worsening addiction which, on release, can be the root cause of further reoffending.

It has been demonstrated that more than half of the prison population in the United Kingdom uses drugs, whether it is heroin or crack. If they are there for just three months, or serving a short sentence of that sort, they cannot be dealt with in any constructive way. No treatment can be effective within that period. As the noble Baroness, Lady Masham, pointed out, prison presents additional health problems from HIV to TB to other factors due to overcrowding and prisoners being locked up for substantial periods. These worsen the psychological factors that led to the original drug dependency.

The noble Lord, Lord Rea, referred to drug courts, as mentioned in the report. We on these Benches have watched the pilot scheme under which drug courts have been rolled out in England, particularly the west London drug court. Its statistics are impressive. According to Judge Julian Philips, a stipendiary magistrate since 1989 who was appointed judge in the west London drug court in 2005, there has been a drop of 20 per cent in shoplifting in the area. He said that his methods have been extremely effective. Perhaps others can speak about that. A confirmed addict needs £100 for one day’s worth of drugs. That means that he has to fence £400 or £500 worth of stolen goods to feed his addiction. An average addict will commit 127 crimes a year. Following the approach adopted in west London, some 60 per cent of addicts do not reoffend during the course of a court order, and 20 per cent remain drug free. That compares with an average over the country of 3 per cent, as reported by national treatment agencies.

A complete review is needed of how the resources are used. We should not waste money sending drug addicts to prison but use those resources in a positive and constructive way along the lines that this most helpful paper sets out.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the UNODC discussion paper, and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on securing this very timely debate.

Large numbers of offenders of all ages commit drug or drink offences. I believe that something like 80 per cent of the prison population has a connection with drugs or drink. I do not think that drug dependency is treated in most prisons, so the rate of reoffending is inevitably high and those people are less likely ever to be able to reintegrate into the community. As we all know, drugs are widely available in prisons. I was very shocked to be told yesterday by a barrister who does a lot of prison visiting that prisoners who go in taking cannabis move to heroin because it is less obvious in the blood stream when testing is carried out. They come out of prison heroin addicts. That is a terrible indictment of an element of our prison system.

As regards the human suffering of those who take drugs and those who live with, or are connected with, those who take drugs, there is, of course, a huge effect on families. As the noble Lord, Lord Freud, said in the previous debate, 80 per cent of drug users are on benefits and are, presumably, unemployable. The point that I particularly wish to bring to the attention of the House—it has not yet been referred to—is the effect of drug use on children. They are affected in all sorts of ways. When parents are on drugs, they do not give their children love, care and attention. Children who truant, commit crimes and move into gangs come from dysfunctional families. A substantial group of dysfunctional families in this country are those in which one or both parents take drugs. Children as young as 10 to 12 are recruited as runners and by the time they are 18 are dealers on housing estates. By the time they are 18, they are dealers. That is a terrible aspect of life in some parts of the country.

I do not how many noble Lords know about cannabis farms. Do you know that private houses are rented out to gangs who turn them into cannabis farms? They create one by pulling out all the interior, taking the electricity and water for the spray and heating system, and using polythene. Fortunately, the smell is extremely strong and the police can detect it using infrared technology in helicopters. Thereby, many of the cannabis farms are found. The police discovered a number of cannabis farms in private houses near Heathrow that were being tended by Vietnamese children as young as eight or 10. They had of course been trafficked into this country and all they did was tend cannabis farms in private houses.

It is difficult to know the best way to deal with drug abuse and whether drugs should be decriminalised. One thing is absolutely certain, which encouraged those of us who signed the letter sent by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to Kofi Annan—the present system around the world is not working. It is certainly not working in the United Kingdom. It is costly, time-consuming and is, overall, ineffective, as the noble Baroness told us. The successes in the discovery of loads of drugs only highlight the huge difficulty of keeping up with the inflow of drugs to this country and through this country to other countries. We all know that sentencing, however severe, does not seem to have any deterrent effect on drug abuse.

One possibility might indeed be to decriminalise, but one would have to be extremely brave as the Government of a country to do that in light of the 180 countries that deal with sentencing severely. One only has to go to Singapore and walk into the airport to be told that to carry drugs means death. We are a long way from making Singapore decriminalise drugs.

I was interested in what the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, said about Afghanistan. For a long time I have wondered why this country, perhaps in concert with other countries, does not buy the entire Afghan production of opium. We know that there is a world shortage of morphine and I should not have thought that it would be difficult to sell at a profit. If we bought it, we would do down the Taliban at one stroke—certainly to a large degree.

The proposals of the UNODC are extremely interesting. There seem to be two ways in which one could go on this: either by keeping the criminal system, whereby offenders go through the courts but do not go to prison; or, preferably, by diverting entirely from the prison system. I cannot believe that setting up a large number of clinics in the United Kingdom could be anything like as costly as keeping the drug addicts in prison and releasing them to reoffend whereby, again and again, they are a charge on the state.

I should like the Government to try out further pilot projects that divert from prisons to alternative remedies. It would be crucial that clinics were free, freely available and properly set up to deal with drug offenders. I urge the Government to do something such as that and see by how far they could cut out the people in prisons.

My Lords, after not speaking for some time in this House, I find myself on my feet twice in the same afternoon. It is a privilege to take part in this debate. I add my congratulations to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on initiating it. This is a different debate from the usual one we have on substance misuse. It draws our attention to the discussion paper, which is a step forward—but only if we do more than just read it. We have to act on it, of course.

I declare two interests—first, as chief executive of Turning Point, which is probably one of the largest providers of substance misuse services outside the NHS, and as a member of the Government’s ACMD, the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs.

Our current system is questionable; indeed, I think that it is broken. All the evidence points in the direction that substance misuse is best treated through health and social interventions. Substance misuse has roots in an individual’s psychosocial state. For treatment to be effective, the whole of the person needs to be the starting point of intervention. My organisation is incredibly ambitious for our substance misusers. It is a mistake to assume that providers of treatment for substance misusers allow them to languish on methadone without any intention of moving them towards work. That is wrong, certainly in the case of Turning Point and many of my fellow providers of treatment services, both within and outside the NHS.

We know the numbers, but it is worth repeating them. There are 400,000 problematic heroin and crack users in the UK, while 1.5 million people will be significantly affected by a family member’s drug use. I congratulate the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, on her remarks about children. About three years ago, Turning Point produced research showing that one in 11 children goes home to parents who are misusing alcohol. We must not forget the impact on children, as the problem is generational. We know that those children are more likely to fail in education and we know that failure to be educated thoroughly leads to low job attainment and a greater likelihood of ending up in the criminal justice system. The line that can be drawn between substance misuse, criminal justice, poverty and family breakdown is clear and well understood.

Recovery is dependent on the stability of the individual and is more likely if someone has a steady personal relationship, meaningful employment and stable housing. For me, the question has always been how to get people to the position of having the quality of life that makes recovery more likely.

The use of coercive techniques and prison to prevent substance misuse is questionable. When the noble Baroness, Lady Afshar, spoke about cannabis, we all laughed, but what she said was interesting. If you are caught with cannabis and happen to live in one of the 14 poorest boroughs, the chances of your ending up being able to give a speech in the House of Lords are severely limited, but if you are a member of the Royal Family or on the Front Bench of either party and you admit publicly that you have used cannabis, you will get off. It is an offence, but the impact is variable, depending on your status. That seems entirely unfair.

Leaving that to one side, I have yet to meet a substance misuser who has benefited from a spell in prison. Some might say it, but I have yet to meet anyone for whom prison as an intervention has been effective in removing their drug problem. Addiction is an irrational state. You can punish people until the cows come home, but you will not move them from their fundamentally irrational position. It does not work in that way.

Also, we are naive to think that prisons are drug free. They are not. As the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said, prison imposes a stigma, but it also imposes a significant heroin problem. A number of clients whom I have known over the years have, immediately on moving out of prison, scored heroin and died, because their tolerance has been reduced by their spell in prison. They have been able to get hold of heroin in prison, but only in smaller amounts; when they come out of prison, they go back on to the dose that they were on before they went in and they die. In that respect, prison kills people.

The use of prison as a sanction for substance misuse is short-sighted and fails to acknowledge the nature of substance misuse. We should pay attention to the challenge not just of illegal drugs but of substance misuse generally. Many sufferers from substance misuse have dual diagnosis: they have mental health problems as well as substance misuse problems. It seems rather obvious that, if you decide to be in or are forced into a position where you are killing yourself through the misuse of any drug, you are probably challenged in terms of your mental health. The Royal College of Psychiatrists has suggested that approximately half of all clients in substance misuse services have some form of mental health condition, most commonly depression or a personality disorder. Prisons simply are not suitable places in which to manage personality or mental health disorders. Nevertheless, some people who misuse drugs will end up in prison because they commit heinous crimes. We must ensure that these people are given adequate support to address the root of their personal problems, and this means that health and social care interventions within prisons are a must.

My own organisation, Turning Point, was one of the first to pilot the drug courts programme in Wakefield. We campaigned for many years to get drug courts established because we saw the impact that they had on individuals and their ability to turn people away from substance misuse, and indeed the criminal justice system, towards work and a normal life.

The document that has been drawn to the attention of the House is not the only one that looks at drug treatment. My organisation has signed up to a drug treatment consensus, which has also been signed up to by many leading drug treatment providers. This consensus document encourages the coalition Government to remember that there is more to drug treatment than getting someone off drugs or stabilising them on methadone, which often ends up being the focus of the debate. Rather, we should consider the needs of the individual. Recovery from addiction is a journey on which there are different paths. However, when it comes to addressing their addiction, for some people it is better also to address what is influencing it in the first place. That is seen in the ambition of the signatories to the drug treatment consensus for those with substance misuse problems, although we acknowledge that methadone is a step on the journey towards recovery from heroin addiction.

Although it is an interesting issue, it is worth pointing out that I am not too concerned about having a debate on whether or not to legalise drugs. In a society with a system of legalised drug misuse, would we not have addicts? We would, and we would still be faced with the challenge of what to do with them. That is at the centre of this debate. However, let us move away from illegal substances and draw attention to the legal ones. Alcohol specialist treatment services are much needed.

Solutions to this problem do exist. Often they are denied not because of a lack of evidence—the evidence is there—but because of moral panic and a desire to play to the gallery. We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to set aside moral relativity and to focus on the evidence and the interests of those who suffer from this terrible problem.

My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for introducing this debate with such thoughtfulness. The previous speeches have been so fascinating that I am only sorry that we cannot spend more time on this very complex topic.

I begin by declaring an interest as the chair of the National Treatment Agency for substance misuse. The NTA was set up in 2001 with the aim of doubling the numbers in treatment and reducing waiting times. I am glad to say that these targets were achieved early. However, we are alive to and will address the issues that remain. As an organisation, we work across the health, criminal justice, education and welfare ministries and systems. Drug use everywhere has to be tackled across systems and not by one system alone.

Any addiction is a public health concern, and I am very interested in the coalition Government’s intention to improve public health through a new public health delivery system. Public health, of course, involves family and community issues, as well as housing, employment and education.

The UNODC paper takes a somewhat polarised view and approach, using terms such as treatment being an,

“alternative to criminal justice sanctions”.

I would say that we need effective treatment systems but that we also need effective criminal justice systems where treatment is available. I have worked in countries where the situation is polarised and where prison, labour camps and compulsory treatment centres are the norm. That is not the case in the UK and I want to give some examples.

There has been a dramatic expansion of our drug treatment arrangements over the past nine years due to more money being put into the system. The money has been there largely to fight crime but it has also benefited health. The number of people in England completing treatment and being free from dependency has increased from 9,000 to 25,000 per year. Offenders are systematically referred into treatment, preventing millions of crimes each year and saving costs. England now engages more than 60 per cent of the most problematic drug users in society in treatment, compared with less than 20 per cent in the USA. There are some success stories.

There is an emphasis on two things in the UNODC paper: one is outcomes and the other is evidence-based approaches. Many countries have not had drug strategies. England has a drug strategy against which outcomes can be measured and evidence bases set out. We know that drug users commit crimes to fund their habit; we know they often have other health, social and educational problems, as many noble Lords have said; and we know that each user is different and that successful treatment will address those differences. Recent debates in the media might suggest that treatment for drug use involves a simple choice between an abstinence-only approach and one based on methadone prescribing or other substitute prescribing. Individual users often do not subscribe to ideologies; they use.

The starting point for the NTA is that the majority of addicts want to overcome their addiction and get off drugs. We need a treatment system that helps them to realise that ambition. It may take time. It may take many attempts and different approaches in order for recovery to take place. Users want to recover from addiction. For some, this will be with the help of substitute prescribing or residential rehabilitation and for others it will be detoxification or community services. The NTA has long supported psychological and pharmacological interventions provided by multi-professional teams, as recommended in the UNODC document. Does the Minister agree that that approach is more appropriate than secure accommodation for offenders and drug abstinence orders?

I want to speak briefly of two initiatives in which the NTA has been involved where improvements have been made. One has been the development of the treatment outcomes profile. This is an individual client monitoring tool to reflect progress in an individual's drug treatment. It has received international recognition and was praised in the Lancet last year. It is a simple tool which motivates self-analysis and a change in habits.

The other initiative is the integrated drug treatment system in prison. It was developed to bring together the fragmented delivery of drug treatment in prisons and to ensure that drug misusers could access a range of evidence-based services which are clinically appropriate to the individual. As has been said already, more than half of those in prison are heroin and crack users who will remain in custody for three months or less. They are not in the system long enough to undergo abstinence-only regimes. Good clinical practice is to continue the treatment that the prisoner had before arrest, or prepare them for the treatment that they will receive on release. Not to do so leaves that population vulnerable to suicide or overdose on leaving prison, which is not a healthy option. The Integrated Drug Treatment System means that many offenders are being released into the community having been successfully engaged in drug treatment and not needing to go back to a life of crime. I have visited many prisons involved in this scheme and professionals and users alike speak highly of the system. If noble Lords are interested, there is an NHS/NTA short report called Breaking the Link, which addresses the issue.

So it is not a case of either coercion or cohesion, as suggested by the title of the UNODC paper, From Coercion to Cohesion. It is a case of having a strategy and a policy which address individual health and social needs and which, in turn, have a positive impact on crime, on families and on communities.

My Lords, this document from UNODC is the dawn of a new era. It calls for drug dependence to be treated through healthcare not punishment. For 50 years the United Nations has underwritten the war on drugs and its conventions have inhibited member countries from adopting alternative strategies. Now our task is to challenge Her Majesty's Government to acknowledge this change and, as suggested by my noble friend Lady Meacher, to take a lead in setting up a conference of UN member countries to discuss how the new policy can best be implemented. Many member countries have already experimented with the substitution of a health-oriented approach in place of prohibition, and they should all be invited to share their experiences at the proposed conference.

The common sense and valid arguments in favour of decriminalisation and regulation are well known. Decriminalisation means that drugs will be treated in a similar way to alcohol, tobacco and prescription drugs. It would ensure quality control and reduce the role of the criminal gangs that now control the international market.

However, in current deficit circumstances, an especial benefit would be financial. We and other Governments are desperately looking for sources of finance to extract ourselves from the recession. It is estimated that the war on drugs costs this country about £18 billion per annum. According to the Prison Reform Trust in its prison briefing of May 2010, the prison system as a whole has been overcrowded in every year since 1994 and the overall average cost per prison place is £45,000. About 55 per cent of those received into custody are problematic drug users. We are also told that 49 per cent of adults are reconvicted within one year of being released and, for those serving sentences of less than 12 months, that increases to 61 per cent. It is difficult not to deduce from those figures that prisoners are well looked after in prison and can probably fulfil their drug needs more easily there than in the open market. Clearly, if drugs were to become a healthcare issue, there would be increased costs from the provision of rehabilitation and treatment centres, but there would be an immediate benefit from new taxation and savings from prison and legal costs. In our current circumstances, the financial arguments are very strong.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, on the success of her dealings with the UNODC and hope that our new coalition Government will respond positively.

My Lords, I add my voice to those of others in thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for her untiring efforts to change UN drugs policy. The UN thinks that she can change the world, and I have to tell your Lordships that, after many years’ experience, it is wholly right.

The past 10 years has seen some modest reduction in harms. I pay tribute to the work of the National Treatment Agency in getting so many more people into treatment and care, but there is no doubt that our current emphasis on the criminalisation policy, which we have pursued here and abroad with minimal accompanying strategies on prevention and care, has been unhelpful. At the moment, we spend less than 7 per cent of the drugs budget on healthcare and less than 0.5 per cent on research into effective prevention and treatment strategies. There are no formal figures on how much is spent on education. Those figures alone must make us pause and rethink in the way that the noble Baroness advocated today.

I return briefly to the differences between decriminalisation and legalisation, which are seriously different strategies. Around the world, we know now, especially from studies in the United States, in different states' policies, and in Australia, that eliminating criminal penalties for possession of small quantities of drugs has no effect on the prevalence of drug use. That is true for marijuana and it is probably true for hard drugs as well, although I have to say that only Spain and Italy among major industrialised countries have tried it, and they do not collect outcome statistics that are in any way meaningful, so there is a serious problem there.

I love the story of the American academic researcher MacCoun, who works at Berkeley in California. He asked his undergraduate students whether they would be in favour of California removing penalties for possession of small amounts of marijuana. About two-thirds said yes, and the rest were opposed. Almost none knew that it had occurred 25 years ago.

Decriminalisation is not the same as legalisation, which allows some form of regulated sales or distribution, and of which there is only one contemporary example: the well known Dutch model of de facto legalisation which began in 1976. There is no instance of legal commercial access to cocaine or heroin in a modern, industrialised nation. Switzerland has probably come nearer than most and has concentrated significantly on improving health and reducing criminality among participants in its heroin prescription programme but, again, more rigorous research is needed.

Nevertheless, we can blame prohibition for much of the crime and violence around the illicit drug markets, for a large fraction of drug overdoses and drug-related illnesses and for corruption and the violation of civil liberties. However, other harms are due to the drugs themselves and the influence they have on the user’s health and behaviour. Legalisation would eliminate the harms caused by prohibition, but it would not eliminate the harms caused by drug use. Thus, there is a trade off. If average harm went down under legalisation without an increase in use, we would clearly be better off than we are today, but if legalisation produced a significantly large increase in total use, total drug harm would go up, even if each incident of use became somewhat safer. Total harm can rise, even if average harm goes down. It is true to say that at present there is no firm basis for projecting the relative magnitudes of these effects.

What we need to do is perhaps to have some decriminalisation, but to refocus on the prevention and treatment strategy. President Obama’s adviser, Thomas McClellan, has given many talks in this country and has described very well the new prevention strategy focusing predominantly on school and adolescent education, the re-engagement of parents, constant police monitoring and the involvement of all community organisations that come across young people. They are all pushing a specific message. I should remind noble Lords that drug addiction and misuse start between the ages of 10 and 21. Practically no one becomes an addict after that point. It is therefore very clear where we can focus our prevention strategies.

Overcoming addiction is very difficult. We know that compulsory coercion in the criminal justice system and compulsory treatment do not work. However, there are good forms of coercion. People need to take an active part in the choices that they make. That is part of the NHS commitment to all patients. They need to make active choices, and there are good forms of negotiation and coercion that can get people happily into treatment as a voluntary act. We should use coercion in the good sense of negotiating with individuals and asking what we can do to help them in their lives to make it sensible for them to come in and stick with the treatment. It is a long, hard graft and covers all the other issues that the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, so eloquently described, but it is well worth it for the good outcomes that we can achieve.

My Lords, I should add to the chorus of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for bringing forward this debate. It echoes the debate on 22 January last year when we heard many of the same strands. I was sitting where the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is now sitting, and I found the power of the arguments from the Cross Benches, in particular, somewhat more overwhelming than parts of my brief.

We owe a debt of gratitude to all colleagues who have taken part. I do not want to be the purveyor of buckets of cold water to throw over the enthusiasms of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, but 14 years in the UN system taught me that conferences and discussion papers come and go. This is not a policy statement; it is not a strategy; it is not even a position paper; it is a discussion paper. It is no less valuable a step forward for that, but it has to be seen as something that will not necessarily lead to any immediate change. In the UN system, those are two words that cannot occur in the same sentence. But I expect the coalition Government—I think that we will see this—to look more seriously at enhanced healthcare solutions and decriminalisation. Much of the evidence coming forward in this debate is telling us what is wrong with our present system—about which, the truth is, I think that we have had our doubts. Whatever our capacity over a period, the question is always how we should move forward and deal with it.

I was much impressed by the contributions of several noble Lords. The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, told us that this was very much Lib Dem policy, to which I will come back in a minute. I should particularly like to relate to the contribution made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, who brought children, who are very important, into the discussion. The debate was also sobering—if not by cold water, but by at least a chill—in pointing out the difficulties that we would have with decriminalisation in terms of any United Nations or international areas.

The noble and learned Baroness also posed a question, which I think was also asked in the debate on 22 January 2009, about why we cannot simply buy the crop of poppies from Afghanistan and make that country free from the opium production that is so much an issue there and far beyond. The answer is simply that the Government of Afghanistan do not believe that they could operate a licit system. If it is an economic argument, that needed for medical production could be produced at half the cost by Australia. What can appear to be a simple solution to many of these cases can turn out to be very difficult.

I was very grateful to my noble friend Lady Massey for setting out the improvements that have been made. They are not as much as any of us would wish in terms of solving the problem. The noble Baroness, Lady Murphy, also pointed to some of those difficulties.

I should like to ask the Minister a couple of questions. First, I am interested in the Lib Dem policy. When we discussed it on 22 January 2009, the then spokesman for the Opposition referred to several noble Lords, at least one of whom has taken part in this debate, as being in favour of the prospect of decriminalisation. She said:

“That is a perfectly respectable view. It is not one that I share, because we are an enormously long way from being able to do that”.—[Official Report, 22/1/09; col. 1798.]

That was the view of what is the major party to the current coalition. Will the Minister confirm whether that is still the policy?

Secondly, in the discussion that will no doubt take place on this interesting and valuable report, will the Minister indicate what discussions will take place with our European colleagues? In many of these areas, influence at the international level is much better when done in concert with our European colleagues than when we do it on our own. That would help us to move forward.

Thirdly, no one can expect a very detailed response from the Government tonight on a report which came out in March and was followed by a general election taking place in May. I was interested very much in the suggestion that there might be a return to this discussion at a later date when the Government’s policies are more clearly thought through and their solutions more to hand.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brett, not for a bucket of cold water—rather, I think, for a lifeline for me in responding to this debate. I will certainly take back the point about discussions with European colleagues because it is a very sound suggestion. One of the problems that I now face is that I have 12 minutes. Noble Lords will have seen notes coming from the Box, and I have been taking notes myself that amount to more than 20 pages. I could probably cover a good hour in responding. However, I will make sure that we produce from these notes and the points raised a response that will go to all participants in this debate and to the Library of the House. Taking on board the point just made by the noble Lord, Lord Brett, and that made by the noble Lord, Lord Mancroft, earlier, yes, I will make an absolute commitment that we will have another debate on this issue when the Government have bedded down a little more and have more to say on this matter.

The speakers list to which I will now respond is a checklist of the depth and breadth of experience available to the House on this topic, and I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for promoting the debate and to her and other noble Lords’ success in influencing the UN to produce the report that has provided its basis. The noble Baroness said in opening the debate that no serious policy-maker can ignore this paper. I can assure her, as a fairly new serious policy-maker, that I do not ignore it and neither will I ignore what has been said in the debate. It is timely and relevant.

Drugs are a scourge in our society. The Centre for Social Justice has identified addiction as one of the main factors linked to social breakdown. Drugs destroy lives and undermine the potential of our youth. Drug addiction feeds crime. Between a third and a half of all acquisitive crime such as burglary is drug-related, and drugs also drive street prostitution, as referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Masham. This Government are convinced that tackling the problem of drugs is a priority.

The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, reminded me of that old American saying, “If it works, don’t try and fix it”, because the corollary of that logic is that if it does not work, try something else. Where are we today? Many speakers have referred to the grim statistics. There are at least 330,000 problem drug users—those who use heroin and crack cocaine in the UK. The cost of drugs to our society is enormous. It is around £15 billion overall, of which nearly £14 billion is attributed to drug-related crime. In response, we have been spending around £1.2 billion on various interventions by health services, by the police, in prisons and through our probation services. On average, we estimate that 55 per cent of prison entrants have a serious drug problem, but as has been referred to, many are given short sentences with little time to enter into any serious rehabilitation. We believe that a better balance has to be struck.

Many drug users who leave prison do so with no supervision. Links to the community are there, through healthcare and drug intervention programmes, but too often the join-up is missing. We need to build on approaches such as the integrated offender management programme and innovative work that is being done in the voluntary sector, such as mentoring. Offenders must not fall through the net when they leave prison.

The noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford, Lord Rea and Lord Mancroft, all referred to the drug courts, which are also mentioned in the UN report. Drug courts that support community orders and challenge offenders’ progress through them are starting to develop. Initial results from two courts have been positive, and a full evaluation of four further drug-court pilots is due this autumn. The drug interventions programme has also made real progress by getting those who come into contact with the criminal justice system into treatment early. An evaluation has shown that overall volumes of offending fell by 26 per cent among those studied from this group, and we know that people who enter this treatment through the criminal justice system do as well on it as those who enter voluntarily.

The paper from the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime supports the rationale of engaging drug users in treatment rather than relying on punishment alone. Healthcare and support services play a vital role in addressing drug misuse and drug-related crime. Without them, we would stand no hope of getting offenders off drugs. However, we have to carry public opinion with us, including the public opinion at the other end of this building, and we must not lose sight of the impact that this offending has on victims and our wider communities. Offenders must be made to take responsibility for the harm they have caused. Sentencing and tough sanctions should reinforce the treatment that needs to be available in prisons and in the community.

What should be said loud and clear, however, is that treatment for drug misusers is an essential part of our approach and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, made clear, it is cost-effective. A Home Office study estimated that the benefit for all drug treatments stands at around £2.50 for every £1 spent. As I have said, there is now substantial investment in drug-strategy interventions, and a large proportion of that is allocated to drug treatment. However, I am clear that treatment should not become an end in itself, creating a culture of dependency on state-funded methadone maintenance programmes. I was reassured by what the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, said on this point.

The current approach in this country reflects the broad approach endorsed by the paper. However, we must avoid reading into the paper opinions that it does not express. It is not a blank-cheque endorsement of decriminalising or legalising drug use. The Government’s approach, with the purpose of rehabilitating offenders, will use sentencing and criminal justice services to move them into treatment with the clear goal of turning their lives around, possibly with the incentive of reduced or community-based sentencing if they co-operate. We believe that legalisation takes no account of the consequences of the significant increase in use that might follow and the Government have no intention of legalising the so-called recreational use of any currently controlled drugs. I associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, said about it being a hobby for the rich which finances organised crime.

Our priority is to ensure that investment in treatment provides the best results. That means we must improve the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the treatment framework in place, including making better use of the voluntary sector. I am very impressed by the range of initiatives within the voluntary sector. This is not an excuse for avoiding the Treasury axe because there is a synergy to be built between what the Government are trying to do and what the voluntary sector can do.

Our programme in government is to take a fresh look at rehabilitation to ensure that sentencing for drug use helps offenders come off drugs, and to explore alternative forms of secure, treatment-based accommodation for drug offenders. We want to develop community sentences so that more offenders finish them drugs-free. We want to make sure that prisons are places where offenders address their drug misuse, not where their problems get worse.

I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, said about prisons. My officials are sending me encouraging statistics to show how hard they are working to tackle the problem of drugs in prisons and I shall include these in my round-robin letter.

We want to work with voluntary and private organisations to tackle the root cause of reoffending. Again I associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale, said about these problems often beginning in social and family backgrounds. We want to reduce reoffending through improved management of offenders and to strengthen and empower communities and the voluntary sector to manage those offenders who cause suffering to their local areas.

If we are going to carry public opinion with us on these matters, we have to realise that as well as drugs misuse being a terrible problem for the drug taker and their family and children, it is a terrible problem for the absolutely innocent member of the community who may be burgled or mugged when they come across the need of the drug taker to feed their habit through crime. We have to take them along with us if we are going to get support for the kind of approach that has been so widely advocated around the House tonight. Our approach will not abandon punishment or the criminal justice system but afford priority to treatment and rehabilitation, offering better prospects for the individuals concerned, for communities and for society as a whole.

I know that this position will not meet every hope and aspiration expressed by noble Lords, but I hope that they will see that our direction of travel takes account of the views expressed in the UN discussion paper, as well as the work done in this country and abroad by think tanks and NGOs. I can assure noble Lords that what has been said today will be studied by me and my colleagues in all the government departments concerned. My final pledge is: I will return.

London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [HL]

Motion to Agree

The Chairman of Committees moved that this House resolves that the promoters of the London Local Authorities and Transport for London (No. 2) Bill [HL] which was originally introduced in this House in Session 2007–08 on 22 January 2008 should have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session in accordance with the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150B (Revival of Bills). The Motion was agreed to and a message was sent to the Commons.

Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [HL]

Motion to Agree

The Chairman of Committees moved that this House resolves that the promoters of the Transport for London (Supplemental Toll Provisions) Bill [HL] which was originally introduced in this House in Session 2006–07 on 22 January 2007 should have leave to proceed with the Bill in the current Session in accordance with the provisions of Private Business Standing Order 150B (Revival of Bills). The Motion was agreed to and a message was sent to the Commons.

House adjourned at 7.46 pm.