House of Lords
Thursday, 10 March 2011
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Leicester.
Introduction: Lord Blencathra
The right honourable David John Maclean, having been created Baron Blencathra, of Penrith in the County of Cumbria, was introduced and took the oath, supported by Lord Waddington and Lord Howard of Lympne, and signed an undertaking to abide by the Code of Conduct.
Autism: Disability Living Allowance
My Lords, we are still designing the personal independence payment assessment so it is not yet possible to comment on its impact on people with autism spectrum disorders. However, we are committed to ensuring that it reflects the needs of all individuals effectively. We recognise that the current assessment criteria for disability living allowance can favour physical impairments and do not always fully reflect the needs of disabled people with mental, intellectual, cognitive and development impairments, including autism.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the main carer for an autistic adult in receipt of DLA. I am grateful to my noble friend for that Answer. Do the Government accept that autism is a communication disorder, and that a face-to-face interview with a stranger should be carried out only in the presence of a professional or carer who knows the autistic person? Otherwise, autistic people will not turn up at all and so lose their benefit, or the assessment will result in them losing the benefit on which they rely.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for bringing up this really important matter. As I say, we are designing the personal independence payment now. One of the things that we want to get absolutely right is how we look after the most vulnerable. The default position is that we would like to see people face to face, but where that is not realistic, helpful or appropriate we will not be doing so. We will also encourage people, autistic people as well as others, to bring a carer, a family member or a professional with them so that we get the best evidence-based result that we possibly can.
My Lords, the Government’s decision to scrap the mobility award for people in residential care will certainly adversely affect those with autism. There is now to be a review, although I share the view of the National Autistic Society that the original decision was wrong and no review is necessary. However, we are where we are, so can the Minister tell the House what the terms of reference for the review will be?
My Lords, there is no review. We are reviewing the position of the mobility allowance in the context of an overall look at the personal independence payment. As I have told the House in the past, we are committed to making sure that people in residential care homes maintain mobility.
My Lords, I first declare an interest as patron of Autism Cymru. With regard to the flexibility that will be needed in the new system, in view of the very wide range of conditions that fall within the spectrum of autism, how will he ensure that there will be sufficient sensitivity to the needs of the individual in the context of these interviews to which reference has already been made?
My Lords, that is a key point. One of the main changes we are making to the work capability assessment is exactly about this sensitivity. Professor Paul Harrington, who is conducting the reviews, made a series of recommendations as to how we should adjust this assessment that we inherited to make it more sensitive. We will have learnt those lessons, and will ensure that we pull that over into the personal independence payment.
My Lords, is my noble friend the Minister right to say that the previous scheme used for the migration to the employment and support allowance would not be appropriate for this form of assessment in the future successor programme to the DLA? Given that so many people were assessed and then went on successfully to appeal against their assessment, we surely now need a different system. Can the Minister tell us whether we have cracked the nut about how we assess people with the sorts of disabilities that autism presents over such a wide spectrum?
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for what is actually a very complicated question to answer briefly. This is a different assessment. The personal independence payment is looking at what people need to function in their daily lives, whereas the work capability assessment is designed to look at whether people are capable of working. They are different. We need to make sure that we do not have too many tribunal cases. At the moment, under DLA, tribunal cases are at 11 per cent, which is too high. One of the attractions of going to a consistent, coherent new personal independence payment is that we can have criteria which make it much less obvious that people need to go to tribunal.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the person who took the Autism Bill through your Lordships' House. The Minister will know that that Bill placed an obligation on local authorities to survey the number of adults with autism in their area to ensure that there are enough services for them and their carers. Given the restrictions on local authority budgets, has he any concerns that they will not be able to do this, thus further disadvantaging people with autism and their carers?
My Lords, we are all indebted to the noble Baroness for taking that Bill through the House. One of the effects of that Act is that even in times of restraint local authorities have an obligation to look after this group of people. The Act provides that protection for them.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that one of the most dreadful times for any person with a disability is the transition from childhood to adulthood? The Government have just published an exciting report which recommends that children with difficulties, disabilities and behaviour disorders have one assessment. Will he assure us that that one assessment will take that young person right through—obviously, that assessment will be reviewed—and that therefore these new reviews in adulthood will be unnecessary?
My Lords, I ought to declare an interest as the Secretary of State under whom DLA was introduced. That is not to say that I want to defend every dot and comma but I would like to associate myself particularly with the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lady Browning and the noble Baroness, Lady Pitkeathley. I hope that the Minister’s department will continue the sensitive way in which he has sought to answer these questions.
My Lords, one of the issues around DLA is that it is concentrated far more on physical, rather than mental, impairment. As we start assessing how to make personal independence payments, we are learning about the importance of properly factoring in mental impairment. That will be one of the main differences between the personal independence payment and DLA.
My Lords, the Government are looking at the approaches taken towards prostitution in different localities throughout England and Wales in order to identify effective practice in terms of policing, minimising harm, multiagency working and enabling people involved in prostitution to leave it. Practical guidance for local areas will be published later in the spring. As the noble Baroness will be aware, the Government have accepted 21 of the 23 recommendations of her recent review. I should like to thank the noble Baroness, particularly on behalf of the Home Secretary, for the wisdom and hard work that she has brought to this issue.
I thank the Minister for that extremely encouraging reply and for her very kind remarks about the rape review. Does she recall that after the conviction following the horrible murders of three street prostitutes in Bradford, the Association of Chief Police Officers called for a review of the laws on prostitution and for a dialogue on better ways to manage the problem? Does she accept that the current law is far from ideal? It does not protect prostitutes from danger, it does not help—as it should—those who want to exit prostitution, and it does not help the police to manage the problem. Does she intend to have a dialogue with the Association of Chief Police Officers about this?
My understanding is that it was one particular member of ACPO who commented recently on the subject and that his remarks focused more on management issues—in particular, the establishment of the database, how we fund it, how we get at information about how people are led into prostitution and what we then do about it—than on changing the law. The Government’s attitude to the legal situation is that given that there has been a recent change in the law, about which my party had some misgivings, we should now let the change settle down and see how it operates. However, we are doing that on the basis of very close evaluation of its effectiveness.
My Lords, trafficking people is a very serious offence, in which the Serious Organised Crime Agency takes a particular interest. I assure the noble Baroness that we are aware of the degree to which prostitution is fed by traffickers, and we will tackle it both at the trafficking end and the prostitution end where women unfortunately become involved. We entirely agree about how serious this is.
My Lords, is there any liaison between the Minister’s department and the Department of Health? As she may be aware, I made known my views on brothels during the debate last week on International Women’s Day. For a long time I have argued that it would be good to have brothels registered so that doctors could do regular inspections. That would help with health and liaison with the police over crime.
My Lords, there is a great deal of multi-agency working in this area. I am afraid that I am not aware of the detail of the relationship between the Home Office and the Department of Health, but I will write to the noble Baroness on that subject. I entirely agree that the health aspect of prostitution is an extremely important angle. Her point is well taken.
As a co-chairman of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Human Trafficking, I will take up the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. Is the Minister aware that if these women who are trafficked from overseas are processed too quickly and sent back to their homes, many of them are very likely to be retrafficked? That is particularly true if they are sent back to villages in China and Romania.
My Lords, following the question of the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, does the Minister agree, without commenting on any case currently before the courts, that a woman working in the sex industry who claims to have been assaulted by men should expect protection from the police and from society, rather than face prosecution for brothel keeping?
My Lords, is the Minister aware of the considerable work done in Ipswich after the dreadful murders of five prostitutes in 2006? Does she agree that the Ipswich prostitution strategy, which brings together all partners such as health, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Trumpington, referred, local authorities, police and probation, is an excellent example that should be implemented nationally?
My Lords, the number of anti-Semitic incidents in the United Kingdom is a very depressing reminder that this unacceptable behaviour remains a cause of great concern. In December, the coalition Government published the three-year-on response to the All-Party Parliamentary Inquiry into Antisemitism, which highlighted the steps we have taken to tackle and reduce anti-Semitism. In addition, the cross-government working party to tackle anti-Semitism will be taking forward future work.
I thank the Minister for her constructive reply. Does she agree that this ancient hatred is most pernicious when it takes root in the minds of young people and that she should therefore urge vice-chancellors to take steps, as is their duty under the law, to stop incidents of hate speech on campus? Will she also tell us how she proposes to prevent race and religious hatred material imported from overseas being used in faith schools, including out-of-hours faith schools?
My Lords, the last place that we want anti-Semitism to take a hold is in our schools or universities. We expect universities to have measures in place to ensure that their students are not subject to threatening or abusive behaviour, and those institutions have a strong legal framework to help them to deal effectively with this. With regard to people coming in from outside and talking on campuses, again, a range of guidance, providing a practical framework, is available to higher education institutions to help them to support tolerance. All these subjects remain part of the work being done by the working party to ensure that, if further guidance is needed, it is provided.
My Lords, I am a member of the all-party group inquiring into anti-Semitism. Will the Minister have regard to two somewhat different concerns, although they are both about diffuse anti-Semitism rather than specific acts of violence, which are recorded by the Community Security Trust? I have in mind both the plethora of hate speech on the internet, which in a sense is, sadly, publicly available and the recent report by the Sunday Times to the effect that the word “Jew” is now being used as a term of abuse and opprobrium in the playground. That kind of conduct cannot be acceptable. Can I have my noble friend’s assurance that Her Majesty’s Government and all decent-minded people will work their hardest to see that it does not take root?
My Lords, we must do all we can to ensure that the use of words such as “Jew” in a way that causes people to feel upset or afraid is not taken up for threatening, antagonistic or hatred purposes. Of course, schools must stamp it out at the very earliest stages so that no child ever considers it to be an acceptable way of talking about someone.
The internet is another area of great concern, and it is also quite difficult to handle because we do not always have ways of tackling the problem. The task of removing hate from mass media channels, such as the internet, is daunting and challenging, but we have to look at how we can do so. Many states still view the balancing point differently from the United Kingdom, and that makes the task much more difficult because they do not all see the same pressure and impact. However, we continue to look for opportunities and ways to deal with the problem. In fact, what is on the internet goes beyond hate, and very soon we will have to find a way of obliterating and blotting out such unacceptable material.
My Lords, there are two ways of looking at multiculturalism. One is the bringing together of communities and cultures, and the other is where disparate groups keep their cultures separate. Whichever way you look at it, I do not think that multiculturalism is going to have anything to do with hatred. My view is that hatred is generated not by culture but by fear, and there is a need for groups to be brought together. If, as I am sure he has done, the noble Lord looks at the report, he will find mention all the way through of incidents in which two or three people get together and are horrible. They use the word “Jew” and then assault or impact in some way on others. Therefore, I do not think that multiculturalism has anything to do with this.
My Lords, the statistic quoted by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, is both shameful and deeply worrying for the future. Will the Minister affirm the importance of religious education in schools as being one of the crucial ways in which there can be a deepening of understanding between faiths? Will she also commend the work of the Council of Christians and Jews in tackling issues of anti-Semitism?
My Lords, I declare an interest as the lead commissioner on religion and relations for the Equality and Human Rights Commission. We all agree that it is completely abhorrent that anyone should be intimidated on the grounds of their race, colour, gender, sexuality or religion. That applies also to famous fashion designers. The trust report shows that there are spikes or rises in anti-Semitic incidents that are related to tensions in the Middle East. With current events in mind, will the Minister please set out what is being done to ensure that communities, particularly those of different faiths, are brought together to ensure that we promote the British tradition of tolerance and understanding?
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government do not pay bribes. In relation to fees incurred for charter flights, the payment of handling fees at airports, including for the landing and departure of planes, is an established practice. Like all countries and carriers, HMG had to pay them. These charges increased at Tripoli airport as the situation in Libya deteriorated. Paying these fees was essential to be able to evacuate British and other nationals by plane.
My Lords, the whole House will be grateful for the assurance in the first sentence of the Minister’s response. However, the rest of it reads rather strangely in the light of what the Prime Minister said in another place last week:
“The point I would make is that in getting people out of Libya, we did have to pay some facilitation payments for the services in the airport”.—[Official Report, Commons, 2/3/11; col. 298.]
“Facilitation payments” is a bizarre way of describing regular airport handling fees. Can I therefore press the Minister and ask him to be absolutely clear about this? Were any payments made which were in any way irregular? Were payments made to individuals, or were payments simply made to the appropriate authority in a routine fashion for the flights that took place?
The latter is the answer. The noble Lord mentions regular situations, but the situation was far from regular. The situation was one in which these fees were rocketing because there was a desperate queue of aeroplanes to get in and people to get out. There is absolutely no doubt that the fees went whizzing up as very brave pilots and crews managed to get their aeroplanes down, slotted and then off the ground again. I sometimes think that we do not appreciate fully the extraordinary bravery and courage of those getting these aircraft in and out in very dangerous situations. So I can tell the noble Lord that nothing irregular was done of any kind, but it was a far from regular situation in which brave and courageous people had to move very quickly.
My Lords, on a slightly broader note regarding the Bribery Act, is my noble friend aware that delays in introducing that Act have left the Government open to charges of not being committed to fighting corruption? What is the Government’s response to warnings from the director of the Serious Fraud Office that the US justice department and the OECD are now suggesting that British companies should be placed on an export blacklist as a result?
As my noble friend will appreciate, that is a broader question than the one we are looking at now about Libyan employees and officials, so I do not have any additional comment to make, except that I am sure that the matter is carefully under review and in hand.
I do not think that that is worth a further comment. We all recognise the need, in a desperate situation, for large payments to be made. I think that the noble Lord and everyone else appreciates that that was the need; that was the requirement; we had to get people out.
Authority was given by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and those in the team engineering—with great bravery and swiftness—the evacuation procedure. No doubt there were checks back to London on whether the larger sums should be paid, and I am sure that immediate authority was given.
As far as I know, they were made to—I use the word again—regular authorities. However, one must envisage, as I am sure that the noble Lord, with his enormous experience of international affairs, recognises, that this was a chaotic situation in which various authorities were controlling the movement of aircraft and the operations of the airport. The ones who asked for the fees were those who normally charged the fees. That appears to have been the pattern. However, it was a far from regular situation.
Tax Credits Up-rating Regulations 2011
Guardian’s Allowance Up-rating Order 2011
Guardian’s Allowance Up-rating (Northern Ireland) Order 2011
Access to Justice Act 1999 (Destination of Appeals) (Family Proceedings) Order 2011
Family Procedure (Modification of Enactments) Order 2011
Data Protection (Subject Access Modification) (Social Work) (Amendment) Order 2011
Code of Recommended Practice on Local Authority Publicity
Motions to Refer to Grand Committee
Fixed-term Parliaments Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
House of Lords: Use of Electronic Devices (AWC Report)
Motion to Agree
My Lords, this report has been put before the House because the Administration and Works Committee identified a need to clarify the rules regulating the use of electronic devices in the House. Those rules are not only outdated and incomplete; in places they are also inconsistent and contradictory. As a result, many Members are unclear about which devices can be used in and around the Chamber, for what purpose and at what time.
Following careful deliberation over two meetings, the committee has proposed new rules on the use of electronic devices in the Chamber and Grand Committee, as well as in other locations on the Principal Floor. On the whole, the report only restates and clarifies the existing rules or proposes new rules and restrictions where there are currently none.
There is, however, one area where we have recommended relaxing the current rules, in which I am sure that many noble Lords will be interested. The committee has recommended that, for a one-year trial, Members should be able to use electronic handheld devices to access parliamentary papers and other documents that are clearly and closely relevant to the business before the House or Grand Committee.
For example, Members would be able to use electronic versions of the Order Paper, Bills, Marshalled Lists, Hansard or government reports. Although that may seem a big step to some, it seems perfectly reasonable that, if Members prefer to access documents electronically rather than relying on a multitude of paper copies, they should be allowed to do so, provided that the material is generally available to all Members by other means. The report is clear that Members should not use electronic devices to search for material for use in debate to which other participants do not have access.
It may be helpful if I give an example of how I see the rules working in practice. For instance, if there were to be an Oral Statement on a newly published White Paper, it would be entirely appropriate for a noble Lord to use an electronic device to consult the online text of the White Paper. We do not, however, think that a noble Lord should use Google News to search for media comment on the White Paper and then relay that comment in an intervention on the Statement. I hope that the House will agree that this is a proportionate, common-sense approach to a difficult area.
The committee tried to be as general as possible in defining which electronic devices should be permitted, as it was conscious that any rules agreed now could soon be overtaken by new technology. The key considerations are practical. In paragraph 10,
“we recommend that Members should be able to use electronic devices, in silent mode, for any purpose not related to the proceedings before the House or Grand Committee, provided they do not distract other Members”.
The noise of someone typing on the keys of a laptop could be rather distracting to other Members, a problem that does not arise to the same extent with handheld devices. Furthermore, while handheld devices can be held quite easily and discreetly out of view, laptops are altogether more intrusive. It is for this reason that we have decided to recommend that only handheld devices should be permitted and not laptops.
I hope that the report is clear in its propositions. I encourage noble Lords to consult the box on page 6 for a clear and concise summary of our recommendations. While the rest of the report provides the background of the committee’s deliberations, it is only the points in this box that we propose should be adopted formally. If the report is agreed today, the Procedure Committee will be invited to amend the Companion when it is next updated and the Members’ Handbook will be revised accordingly.
This House is well respected for the quality and depth of its debates and the way in which it conducts its proceedings. The committee was therefore extremely conscious of the need to maintain an environment that is conducive to good and proper debate. However, I am sure that noble Lords will agree that we need to move with the times and that, where there is a demand and good reason to use modern technology, we should respond positively. I therefore hope that noble Lords will agree that this report strikes the right balance between embracing the use of electronic devices while maintaining the dignity and self-regulation of this House. I commend the report to the House.
I think that the whole House will be grateful to the Chairman of Committees for the way in which he has introduced this item and the work that has gone into it by the Administration and Works Committee. There are many elements in the report that I am sure the whole House will welcome, in particular the reiteration of the importance of devices being held in silent mode.
I wonder whether the report quite deals with its prime focus, which, as I understand it, was to reduce the degree of confusion that Members might have as to what is or is not permitted. Although the report refers to devices such as iPads, the words in the box do not. It simply says: “Hand-held electronic devices”. How big is the hand? Does that include holding an iPad or a Kindle? What is or is not a laptop? Is it something that opens and closes? Perhaps an iPad will be permitted under the words in the box. My understanding is that the latest version of the iPad can have a little add-on, which folds over the top of the iPad and switches it off. Is a handheld device something that opens and closes? Many small, handheld devices also open and close.
If it is not the fact of opening and closing that is the issue, it is presumably a question of size. Laptops come in a variety of sizes. The marketing phrase now is “netbooks”, some of which are extremely small. Is it that they should be no larger than a certain size? I am raising all these questions because, although this has been a helpful move to try to resolve these matters, it has not removed the scope for confusion.
Secondly, perhaps it would be helpful if further consideration could be given to the question of what people can do with these devices. Of course it is sensible that, rather than lugging around large volumes of paper, people should be able to access paperwork, parliamentary material and so on electronically, but I wonder whether it makes sense to forbid the use of search. Perhaps I should apologise to the House at the outset for the fact that I have on occasion used a handheld device in this Chamber and that I once—
I apologise unreservedly, as I apologise for what I am about to say. On one occasion during Oral Questions, in order to clarify whether I was correct in the point that I wished to make, I did a quick Google search. As a consequence, I was much more confident about putting to the Minister the point that I wanted to make. However, it seems to be entirely legitimate and sensible that people are able to do that. I note that our Clerks in your Lordships’ House have in front of them a laptop. On occasion, I have noticed that it is linked to Google, so obviously our Clerks, who are not Members of the House, have been known to google things during your Lordships’ proceedings.
I hope that we can look at these matters because, while I understand that we might not like the idea of people being able to relay comments externally prior to the Minister knowing what those comments are, the material resulting from searches about factual matters is available to all Members; it is just a question of whether it is permitted. In any event, how would this be enforced, unless there are inspections or we have some sort of fancy monitoring device that lets you know exactly what people are accessing in the Chamber, which I am sure could be supplied by the relevant people? I wonder if that would be useful.
Perhaps I may make one final plea to the noble Lord. When the Administration and Works Committee looks at these matters again, would it also consider the quality of mobile reception around the Palace? I am aware of a number of areas where the reception is very poor from one provider or another. I am sure that, if this provision is to be made, we want to make sure that it is available equally to all Members of the House wherever they happen to be sitting.
My Lords, it was my enthusiasm for my new iPad that led me, as a member of the Administration and Works Committee, to suggest to your Lordships that the use of an iPad in the Chamber would be perfectly proper. The point about an iPad is that it is silent; there are no clicking noises. It is quite small and can be held easily in one hand. However, I am a bit old-fashioned and the thought of standing up and referring to notes on my iPad is not very encouraging. I am old-fashioned enough to say that I will still be using paper, as many of your Lordships do in any case.
On a more serious note, most of us in this House have electronic devices and there is confusion about where they can be used. I take absolutely the point made by the noble Lord who is my namesake about where electronic devices can be used, as well as the lack of coverage in parts of the House, which is another important point.
Our devolved Parliaments and Assemblies use laptops, although they are old-fashioned now. While watching them use that technology, I felt that we were very disadvantaged. Members there were able to get absolutely up-to-date papers, yet Members of your Lordships’ House have complained many times that we have not been able to get hold of a report while it is being discussed on the Floor of the House. I encourage noble Lords to accept the recommendations made by the committee and to join us in the 21st century.
My Lords, can my noble friend tell us whether the committee considered, if it wishes to clarify the position, whether handheld devices should not be used in the Chamber? To what extent did the committee consider the effect that such use may have on those watching the proceedings of the House on television? They may well think that Members who are using handheld devices are not paying sufficient attention to what is happening.
My Lords, I strongly support what my noble friend has just said. I must confess that I do not Google, Twitter, tweet or blog, nor do I have any particular desire to do any of those things, but it seems to me that to have handheld devices in the Chamber is not conducive to good debate and intelligent participation in it. The fundamental reason for my opposing the idea is that it is the beginning of what I would call electronic mission creep—if I can use some jargon. I am very concerned about how instructions could be monitored or enforced. The answer is that they could not be. Therefore, anybody sitting in this Chamber with a handheld device could do anything from googling facts to getting in touch with his bookmaker. I suggest that the committee consider once again the point that has just been made briefly but forcefully by my noble friend.
My Lords, I very much look forward to using my new iPad, when I get one, on the Education Bill, which amends 17 Acts. I very much hope that the Chairman of Committees will confirm not only that we will have wi-fi access in the Chamber when we come to debate that Bill in May, so that I can get at those documents, but also that we will have easy access to statutes in force, because, as he will remember from his days as a Minister or a Back-Bencher, the Acts that one can have printed in the Printed Paper Office are nothing like those that we are amending. Such access would therefore be immensely useful.
I find rather strange the worry expressed in paragraph 8 about having access to things that are not generally available to participants in proceedings by other means. One of the great reasons why I come to this Chamber is that it is full of people who know things that I do not know and understand things that I do not understand. Are we not supposed to have an equality of arms in this place? The point about being here is that you have access to a lot of people who know things that you do not. If someone happens to know something because they have looked it up on the internet or consulted an authority, rather than having done it in the Library five minutes before, I really do not see the problem.
We should allow ourselves to think about how we are going to catch up with the Commons when it comes to allowing participation by the public. The Commons is now allowing public participation in its Committee stages. Committees accept outside briefing from all sorts of people; they often hold open days when people can come and give evidence in front of them. We cannot do that with our committee system, because we use Committees of the whole House, but lots of people watch our proceedings live on television. If they were submitting to a public site comments on what was going on, why not allow us to read them so that we might see what they were saying and pick up the ideas that they might have? I understand the noble Lord’s difficulty with having us quoting people whom we are picking up off Twitter or some blog, but merely to gain insights and intelligence from people who may have vast practical experience and happen to be watching us on television would be a good thing.
I am grateful to my noble friends for making me feel, for the first time in a while, that I am a member of the younger generation.
My Lords, I support what has just been said. Perhaps I may suggest also that making a virtue of being out of date is really not helpful for this House. Let us transpose this debate to the time when writing came in. It was perfectly true that writing might have upset the person sitting next door—it might have taken your mind off the debate—but most of us now write to make notes in this House. Most of us use this electronic equipment—well, I hope that we do; those who do not perhaps are not really involved. It is silent; it is extremely helpful. I must say to my noble friend that the idea that it is better to be ignorant and make a speech where the fact is wrong than to look it up and make sure that you have got it right seems very peculiar. I am pleased that it will not matter, because we will all do it and nobody will be able to see. I hope that the privacy Acts and the Data Protection Act will stop people looking over our shoulder to see what we are looking up. We hear some speeches made in this noble House where perhaps playing Scrabble on our devices would be a better alternative. This House does itself no good in making a virtue out of obscurantism. We either do things properly, which means using the wonderful mechanisms that we have, or we must accept the likelihood of being thought to be out of date.
My Lords, I suggest the compromise that these devices be used simply as readers and that, for the present, we should allow the use of electronic readers and the searching within documents on the reader. We will not be out of date if we rule out devices that are connected. I am a member of a couple of quite big organisations in New York and, when they have large board meetings, typically today the modern thing is to say, “There will be no connected device during this meeting. There will no connected BlackBerries or laptops”. However, to rule out electronic readers would be foolish, because very soon there will be large A4-type readers that are much better than a pack of papers. I suggest the compromise that we make the distinction that we allow the use of electronic devices to read documents and to search within them, but that we do not allow connected devices.
My Lords, I support the report in its entirety. I do so first for the reason that the House authorities are anticipating working, where sensible, in a more paperless way for the duration of this Parliament. Why? Because it will save money and a great deal of waste and will create efficiency in the proceedings and work of this House. I am sure that the direction of travel is right. Between now and 2015—if that is the time we are given—we can make sensible provisions for those who wish to adopt touchscreen technology. We are talking not only about iPads—we must not promote Apple exclusively—but about tablet technology. Touchscreen technology will take us into completely different considerations, and is so important because it does not distract people in the way that my noble friend said. Distraction is a potential danger, and the report identifies that.
It might reassure colleagues such as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, and others that if, after looking at the technology over the next year, they genuinely feel that they wish to adhere to the tried and tested ways of doing things, that will be absolutely fine; they should be entitled to do that without distraction. If the pilot produces distraction and the noble Lord and his colleagues feel that they are being put off or that people are abusing the new flexibilities in these rules, the pilot evaluation should take that into account and there should be a serious reconsideration.
However, the pilot should reassure our colleagues who take that view because it will proceed gently, step by step and year by year, consider what is available, change things and try to make the issues as clear as possible. There will always be difficulties but, at the end of the day, people will have to rely on their own judgments, soul and conscience. The rules will do the best job that they can and we should proceed with caution in the way that the committee report suggests.
As noble Lords may know, I am chairman of the Information Committee. I am keen to explore the development of touchscreen technology—not only readers but enabled connected devices—for Select Committee reports, which could transform the amount of paper produced for members in their service on Select Committees. Over the next year, I shall be particularly interested in looking at that.
Let us accept the report. Not to accept it would be a backward step. Let us look at the situation in a year’s time and, if it does not discomfort or discommode colleagues who do not wish to adopt the technology, which is a different matter for evaluation, let us take this step. For all these reasons and more, as the Lord Chairman said, if we do not do this we will not be moving with times—and it would not be in the interests of this institution if we do not move with the times.
My Lords, I, too, support this report. We should accept it in full. As many noble Lords will know, I use an electronic device, even before the report has been accepted. I am using it now, so I suppose I should apologise to the House in the same spirit as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, did. As noble Lords will know, I have this electronic device, which I am holding up and showing now. It is just about handheld, but I prefer to use two hands so that I can read it. It is a bit less cumbersome than the device I had when I arrived in this House. This is the only practical way for me to access much of the information, some of it taken from the intranet, which I need for engaging in your Lordships’ proceedings.
In recognition of this, the House authorities have been very accommodating and have fitted up a little tray on the back of the Bench in front which I can pull down, rather like an aircraft tray table, so that I do not have to hold it in my hand the whole time. I can put the device down and use it more conveniently when I am trying to make a point during the proceedings. I am very appreciative of this accommodation. It is, in the jargon of disability discrimination legislation, a reasonable adjustment, and very helpful it is too. Without it, I would not be able to participate in your Lordships’ proceedings in the way that I do. I am very grateful for that.
I think that the sort of facility that has been extended to me should be extended to the rest of your Lordships. I make this point on the basis on which I make many of my interventions in your Lordships’ House: namely, as an ardent champion of equality for the sighted.
My Lords, I welcome this report, which will take our technology into the 21st century. It is of course right for us to update our rules and for us to make proper use of new technology, but we should be under no illusion; it will change fundamentally the way in which we work in this Chamber. That is not to say that it is a bad thing, but it will change it. iPads and other new technologies are absorbing and addictive and will change the way we work. As long as we are aware of that, that is absolutely fine.
The report talks about the policing of various uses of pieces of technology in this self-regulating House. I believe that for the new technology of which the report speaks, it has to be all or nothing. It is simply not feasible and not possible to police the use in the way that is suggested in the report. Like my noble friend, I refer to the box on page 6, which states that the new technology,
“may be used to access Parliamentary papers and other documents … but not to search the Web for information for use in debate”.
That is simply not possible.
Many interesting and valuable points have been made in this debate. I suggest that the report should not be referred back, because it is a good report, but that it needs to be revised in the light of what has been said to make it more coherent and to bring clarity. At the moment, I do not think it brings the necessary clarity. I advise the noble Lord to have a look at the box on page 6 to ensure that it is properly clear because, while it is suggested that this should be for a trial period, this is the sort of issue on which, once one has advanced, there is no retreat. We have to be clear about what we are doing.
My Lords, we have had an interesting debate on this subject, as I suspected we would. Given the opposing views of those in favour of this advance and those who I might say are more old-fashioned and do not want to see anything change, it looks as though we got the report about right.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, asked me a large number of questions, one of which was whether I could define the difference between a laptop and an iPad. I use the expression “iPad” in the same way that one uses the expressions “hoover” or “fridge”. It does not necessarily mean the Apple product—there are other varieties. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, who is a member of the committee, put her finger on this when she said that it should be used silently. We do not want people clicking away on a keypad—at least that was the idea. That is the fundamental difference between what I see as an iPad, such as the one that is now on the Table, and a touchscreen device. Of course, technology might move on. It has moved on enormously. Only a few years ago we changed the rules of the House on the use of mobile telephones.
Then the answer is that we would prefer devices that do not click and that therefore do not distract noble Lords while they are in the Chamber.
I have slightly lost my thread now. I was referring to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. He held up his hands to say that he had used his handheld to search the web for something that was relevant to the debate at that time. The committee did not consider that an appropriate use, for the reasons that we set out at some length in the report, but I remind noble Lords that we specifically say that this is for a one-year trial period in the first instance. We will, of course, take into account the observations that noble Lords have not only made today but will no doubt make during the course of the year. The matter will then be reviewed again by the Administration and Works Committee, and we will have another debate. When we produce a report, we will have to bring it to the House.
As several noble Lords said, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the matter relies on your Lordships’ good sense and self-regulation. My noble friends Lord Higgins and Lord Cormack worried that people working away on their handheld devices would be a distraction and that it would not look good on television. At least it would prove that those noble Lords were awake and not asleep. It would look no worse than that. That is unfortunately a picture that one gets occasionally in the television coverage of your Lordships’ House. I can tell my noble friend Lord Cormack that nothing in the present rules would prevent him getting on to his bookmaker. If he has been doing that, good luck to him.
My noble friend Lord Lucas asked a number of questions. I am glad to say that he was generally in favour of these proposals. We have measures in hand to improve wi-fi access in the Chamber and we will take those forward. My noble friend asked about various things, for example statutes in force. As it says in the report, those would be closely and clearly relevant to the business of the House and would therefore be just the sort of thing that it would be permitted to look at.
Other noble Lords made various other observations. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kirkwood, for his support. He is, of course, also involved in this as chairman of the Information Committee. No doubt it, too, will come forward with proposals in due course. He is right to have said that this is a step towards cutting down on the use of paper and going in the direction of a paperless way forward. The noble Lord, Lord Broers, suggested that one should be able only to read from one of these devices, rather than to access new information, while one was in the Chamber. However, the report makes it clear that it will be possible to download White Papers and that kind of thing, and if one happens to want to do so while one is in the Chamber I can see no objection to that.
I hope that I have answered most of the questions raised. I am sure that your Lordships want to get on to the main business of the day—
My Lords, I hope the noble Lord will forgive me, but I did suggest that he should look at various aspects of the report again. For example, the box on page 6 is untenable, as is clear from this debate. I urge him to ensure that the report is clear, because point 2 in the box is not possible; we will not be able to police matters in that way. I urge the committee to look at it again.
My Lords, before the Chairman of Committees answers that point, I want to make a similar point quickly. Paragraph 16, the conclusion, says:
“If the House agrees this report”—
I have no doubt that it will—
“the Procedure Committee will be invited to amend the Companion when it is next updated”.
Can I have an assurance from someone, please, that the Procedure Committee will take account of this somewhat divergent debate in that consideration?
I can give that assurance. On behalf of the Procedure Committee, I may well have to produce another report on these matters and have that debated on the Floor of the House again. In answer to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the main cause of concern in today’s debate has been about paragraph 8 of the main report rather than the box at the back that summarises it. As we say there, this is a one-year trial period in the first instance. We will just have to see how that trial works out, and come back in one year’s time.
British Overseas Territories
My Lords, the British Overseas Territories are 14 tiny territories scattered throughout the world. They have been described as the remnants of a once great global empire that have freely chosen, for a variety of reasons, to remain in partnership with the United Kingdom. Their constitutional position, origin, population size, geographical location and politics make them exceptional in the international order of states, and I hope that today’s debate will enable us to focus on both general and bilateral issues that affect the people who live in those territories—from Bermuda, now the largest with a population of some 60,000, to the Pitcairn Islands with its population of 50.
My own special interest in what were then known as dependent territories—they had previously been the Crown colonies, and the change to British Overseas Territories came in 2002—began when, as a Member of the first directly elected European Parliament, I was asked to be one of the six British MEPs to look after Gibraltar’s interests in the European Union. Gibraltar had chosen to become part of the European Union when we joined in 1973, but it did not gain the right to vote directly for representation in the European Parliament until much later; I believe that it was 1999. That was after a long campaign, supported by your Lordships in debates such as this. I remain involved in Gibraltar as president of the United Kingdom-based Friends of Gibraltar Association.
Since becoming a Member of this House, my interest has broadened to include all the territories and I have had the privilege and pleasure of introducing previous debates on this theme. Today, my intention is to deal with some general issues, since I know that other speakers plan to concentrate on specific territories and issues.
Perhaps one of the most important recent developments in the overseas territories is a recognition of the importance of environment, climate change and biodiversity. The United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change and the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change class small island developing states among the countries which will be the first and worst affected by climate change, but which do not have the internal resources to respond to the challenge. There are, I know, a number of projects—some supported by the Government—to address these threats, to conserve biodiversity and to promote sustainable tourism. For example, DfID has funded a three-year Caribbean overseas territories climate change project to conduct vulnerability and capacity assessments, improve ecosystem monitoring, educate the public and develop climate change adaptation strategies, while Defra has funded a series of projects across 11 overseas territories to address alien invasive species and climate change threats.
In their United Kingdom Overseas Territories Biodiversity Strategy, the Government are committed to helping the territories access the large international funds for biodiversity and climate change which the territories cannot access directly themselves, because of their status. Will my noble friend the Minister confirm that the Government intend to help the overseas territories in this way, and will all those territories be able to access the £2.9 billion allocated in the recent comprehensive spending review to the international climate fund? Further, does he recognise the potential for the development and use of renewable energy in the overseas territories, and can he pledge government support in that area?
Biodiversity in the overseas territories is globally significant. There are many examples: Ascension Island supports the second largest green turtle rookery in the Atlantic; Gough Island, near Tristan da Cunha, is one of the most important seabird islands in the world; and the Great Chagos Bank is the world’s largest coral atoll. Over 75 per cent of the globally threatened species for which the United Kingdom is responsible are located on these small islands, which hold more bird species under threat of extinction than the entire European continent. The work of the UK Overseas Territories Conservation Forum, the Royal Society for the Protection of Birds and others is invaluable in calling attention to these issues but, again, can my noble friend reassure us that with regard to those challenges the Government will give their support and ensure that United Kingdom overseas territories are not disadvantaged in relation to EU policies, strategies and funding?
Another general issue that affects many of the territories is that of funding for cultural heritage projects. The built environment often links the historical ties between the territories and the United Kingdom. It is also important for the development of tourism perspective and for obtaining world heritage status, which I know is pending in Gibraltar and St Helena and may be elsewhere. St Helena, indeed, is a good example of this and I understand that much could be done to conserve and preserve the historic buildings in Jamestown. Let us not forget in this context that France also has an interest in the Napoleonic aspects of St Helena’s heritage, so co-operation there may be a way forward. Is my noble friend able to give us any hope that the Heritage Lottery Fund could be made available for projects in overseas territories, which it is not at present?
Education is also of paramount importance to small territories, which in some cases cannot sustain a viable sixth form, let alone institutions for higher and further education. One of the battles that we have won in the past has been to change the rules for the charging of overseas student fees, and I am proud to have been associated with that campaign. Nevertheless, the need for more scholarships and fellowships remains, and I trust that the Minister will be able to convey to his honourable and right honourable friends in other departments the need to ensure that they realise that the overseas territories are a special case.
It appears that the current relationship between the European Union and overseas countries and territories, OCTs, was under discussion at recent meetings in New Caledonia. The United Kingdom, after all, is not unique in having overseas territories, and I understand that the Overseas Association decision and its extension that govern the relationships within the European Union are due to expire in 2013. It is important that any new decision is flexible enough to deal with specific cases and recognise that OCTs are at different stages of development. Some of our overseas territories, like Montserrat, St Helena and indeed Pitcairn, will still require development assistance. Because of geographical location, not all OCTs are able to integrate regionally. May we therefore hope that the Government will go in to bat on this to ensure that the United Kingdom OCTs are not disadvantaged?
I have made reference to tourism in relation to biodiversity and conservation. Tourism is of course of prime importance to all the overseas territories, and it is essential for their continuing economic development. The impact of air passenger duty is therefore of considerable concern. The Caribbean territories in particular—for example, the British Virgin Islands, Anguilla and Montserrat—are all dependent on tourism and, together with all the other countries in the Caribbean, they fall within Band C, a more expensive tax category than the whole of the United States of America, including Hawaii. This inequality is punitive not only in tourism terms but to the diaspora of these territories looking to visit friends and family at home. The Falkland Islands are also at risk on this score as they fall within Band D, the most expensive tax category. Given that the United Kingdom is the sovereign Parliament of the overseas territories, imposing a tax on people flying to them—flying home, as it were—seems unfair and regressive, apart from the fact that the smaller numbers involved make for a special case as well.
I fear that time will not allow me to dwell in depth on the financial services status of many of the overseas territories, notably the British Virgin Islands, the Cayman Islands, the currently troubled Turks and Caicos Islands and, closer to home, Gibraltar. I trust that others will cover these issues; suffice it to say that OECD guidelines and new financial regulation systems are in place and are being applied in the territories. Openness and transparency are much more evidence than perhaps they were in the past.
There are also individual political issues, such as the worsening of relations between the Falklands and Argentina, underlined in the UNASUR statement by the various countries of South America regarding the significant movement of ships whose route includes the Falkland Islands, South Georgia and South Sandwich. This, of course, could have repercussions not only for tourism but for fishing and petroleum exploration. On the other hand, Gibraltar is flourishing, and its relationships with the present Spanish Government is constructive. The main problem there appears to come from the mayor of the neighbouring town, La Linea.
I look forward to hearing from my noble friend, I hope with answers to some of these questions and an update on the Government’s thinking in general. I also look forward to today’s maiden speech and to hearing the contributions of all the other speakers. I take this opportunity to acknowledge the work of the British branch of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association, which is most supportive of the overseas territories, and the various all-party groups that exist in this field. I voice my appreciation of how the representatives of the overseas territories work together and keep us parliamentarians up to date and informed on both the general and bilateral issues.
The most important effect of this debate is that the overseas territories are remembered and appreciated; remembered because of our common history and background, and appreciated because of their enduring and ongoing loyalty. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hooper on securing this important debate. She has great experience of the overseas territories, as we have heard, and has been a constant supporter of these small and remote parts of the world. I also look forward to the maiden speech of our new colleague, my noble friend Lord Ribeiro.
I want to speak about three of the overseas territories, two of which I visited some time ago. The first is St Helena. I congratulate the coalition Government on deciding very early on that the airport on St Helena will finally be built. This is not controversial. The previous Labour Government came to the same conclusion because the economic and social case is unanswerable. Unfortunately, the world economic crash happened and the previous Government decided on a pause. Now that pause is over. Will the Minister give an update on how contract negotiations are proceeding, when he anticipates the contract will be signed, when he expects construction of the airport to start and, finally, when the airport will be operational?
Secondly, there have been budget problems in Anguilla which have led to discussions here, after which DfID funded two consultants to visit Anguilla from the Organisation of Eastern Caribbean States—OECS—to examine the 2011 budget. The consultants advised that they believed that the global estimates of the 2011 budget which were approved by the Anguilla House of Assembly in December 2010 are achievable, albeit with some adjustments on the revenue side to tax mechanisms to make up for the lost time while the 2010 budget has been in abeyance. Currently, I believe, lawyers are determining whether a new budget needs to be brought to the House of Assembly, or, since the global estimates have not changed, whether the budget can be passed as a matter of procedure: that is, the Secretary of State signals his consent and the governor then signs it off. Whatever the options, the 2011 budget needs to be put to bed soon before more time is lost and more confusion arises from, in effect, having “two budgets” which have to be dovetailed. Will the Minister please give an update on the current situation on Anguilla's 2011 budget?
My noble friend will also be aware that, after the last elections in Anguilla, the new Chief Minister wrote to our previous Foreign Secretary outlining his concerns about the manner in which the territory had been governed in recent years. There are still concerns about the constitutional arrangements of the overseas territories, particularly surrounding the powers of the governor. Can my noble friend say how these concerns are being addressed?
Thirdly and lastly, the Turks and Caicos Islands are currently under direct rule. I went home last night having prepared my speech, and arrived this morning to an e-mail about an anti-British demonstration which has been taking place over several days this week, blocking the road to the airport in Providenciales. My informant, a senior journalist, tells me:
“Flights have been cancelled and there are a lot of very frightened Brits here at the moment. For the first time ever I am really concerned for mine and my family's safety. What the protestors are asking for is election dates”.
He wants to know what guarantees the British Government can give British people there in terms of their safety.
I realise this is not a situation of this Government's making. Direct rule was enforced by the previous Government more than a year ago. Since then, TCI has been in somewhat of an economic meltdown and a state of limbo. The economy has run into severe difficulty, caused partly, no doubt, by the global downturn. However, direct rule has led to many potential investors pulling out of the territory, causing an increase in unemployment and a decrease in government revenues.
A special investigator and prosecution team—SIPT—was set up to investigate allegations of corruption detailed in Sir Robin Auld’s report. So far, no charges have been laid and I have no idea how much longer the legal team, which is costing several tens of thousands of pounds each month, is expecting to continue its investigations. I understand that this is a legal process, and that the UK Government, quite properly, should not try to influence the outcome of the inquiries. I was interested to read an article in the Turks and Caicos Sun, which claims to be the leading newspaper in the TCI; I think that the TCI Weekly News would contest that. It is an interview with the special prosecutor, Helen Garlick, who says:
“Money laundering investigation is a central part of the Special Investigation and Prosecution Team (SIPT) work and involves very considerable amounts of money, running into several millions of dollars … We are investigating several cases of exceptionally serious corruption and misconduct allegations and we are also investigating complex money laundering allegations that includes investigations in many jurisdictions around the world”.
However, Mrs Garlick dismissed reports that there would be about 50 trials:
“There may be several trials, each of which includes several people and many different allegations within a single indictment, but most certainly not 50 trials because that would be absurd”.
Later on, the article refers to her as “the veteran prosecutor”, which, having met Mrs Garlick, I think is a bit harsh. She is certainly experienced in this area: she was assistant director of the UK Serious Fraud Office when she was the first head of its overseas corruption unit. She currently has a team of more than 30 people in TCI investigating these serious allegations. Can my noble friend give any update on progress apart from the one that Mrs Garlick gave in that newspaper interview? How long does he expect this to go on until charges are laid and court action begins? Will my noble friend also explain who is paying the costs of the SIPT? Is it the UK Government or the TCI Government? I have my doubts about whether TCI has the capability to pick up these costs in the current economic climate.
Direct rule will eventually come to an end and elections will take place. There will be a return to local rule, albeit under a British governor. I pay tribute to the current governor of TCI who has been in a very difficult position and has carried out his duties as one might expect from an experienced diplomat. It cannot have been an easy or comfortable time for him. Can my noble friend estimate when elections might take place in TCI? Will it be this year, next year or some other year? Can he advise how political parties should be preparing themselves, including selecting appropriate candidates for these elections? May I suggest that when these elections do happen, it is important that experienced election observers from the Commonwealth should be on hand to ensure that they are free and fair?
One of the results of the increase in unemployment in TCI has been an increase in crime, some of it violent crime. I met recently with a magistrate from TCI who told me that his workload had increased dramatically. One aspect which concerned him immensely was that there are no facilities on TCI itself to deal with those sentenced to custodial sentences who have mental health or other special needs. In previous years these people have been sent to special units elsewhere in the Caribbean and the results in rehabilitation have been good. Now TCI simply cannot afford to send them to these special units. The result is that these people are banged up and eventually come out worse than when they went in, only to offend again. Will my noble friend please look at what kind of help can be given to ensure that appropriate treatment is given to these offenders so that they do not become long-term problems for TCI?
I am aware that many people in the Turks and Caicos Islands and, indeed, the other overseas territories, are aware of the importance of our debate today. I have received a submission from a senior lawyer in TCI. It is rather long and I do not have time to read it all, but I would be happy to share its contents with the Minister afterwards. One paragraph leapt out at me. It says that,
“the single-most egregious factor in the unhappiness of the population is the sheer daily tension that springs from the suspension, the imposition of a British-dominated Interim Government, which projects an attitude that the whole of Turks and Caicos Islanders are crooks, and are subject to arrest. The people of Turks and Caicos are a Christian people. They believe that where there is wrong, responsibility must be taken, and the right judgments are to be enforced. But what we have in Turks and Caicos, even in the face of the presumption of democracy in the heart of every British citizen and subject, even in the face of the European Convention on Human Rights and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, certainly appears very much like a dictatorship … an Editorial in a local paper The Free Press warned on the day of suspension: ‘You cannot reform what you disdain. And if the people feel that disdain, nothing rational can result’”.
Those are harsh words.
However, it is not all bad news on the TCI front. I congratulate the TCI Government and InterHealth Canada on the new hospitals in Grand Turk and Providenciales. They will celebrate their anniversaries on 10 April and have made a huge difference in the islands. Largely, they are staffed by British management, nurses, doctors, surgeons, facilities staff, engineers, paramedics, paediatricians and GPs. I am told that many, many lives have been saved that would previously have been lost. The facilities are state of the art and a million times better than what was available before.
I should like to add to the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, on air passenger duty. A family of four travelling to the Caribbean now pays £300 in economy and £600 in premium class in APD. Flights to the USA cost 20 per cent less in tax. The reason for this anomaly is that the different bands are based on the distance of the capital city of the destination country from London. Honolulu in Hawaii is 7,230 miles from London whereas Tortola in the British Virgin Islands is only 4,130 miles from London. However, because the bands are based on the distance to Washington and Tortola respectively, the APD on a trip to Hawaii is 20 per cent lower. Will my noble friend please ask the Treasury to look again at air passenger duty in order to recognise the special legal status of the overseas territories? Will he also ask about relaxing the rules on frozen pensions for those who qualify for UK state pension and now live in the overseas territories? They are in a different position from those people living in Canada, Australia and New Zealand because of their legal status on overseas territories. Those in Gibraltar and Bermuda have their pensions uprated each year; those in other territories do not. Correcting this anomaly would cost very little in Treasury terms. I understand that the full year cost would amount to around half a million pounds, which is loose change in Treasury terms. This is a price worth paying to put right an injustice.
Where do we go from here? I am grateful that the Foreign Secretary is looking again at the overseas territories with a view to making the partnership between them and their sovereign Parliament fit for the 21st century. As individual parliamentarians we have a role to play in keeping in contact with the people of the territories, taking up their concerns and making sure that our Government are aware of what is going on.
In replying to this debate, I hope that the Minister will set our minds at rest that the coalition Government will continue regular communication with, and treat properly, our overseas territories, where the wonderful people are loyal subjects of the Crown and think so much of being British.
My Lords, I am very pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who knows an enormous amount about the overseas territories, has introduced this debate. After all, there are 14 overseas territories under direct British government responsibility, with a total population of about 239,000. These are important responsibilities and there ought to be regular opportunities to hold Her Majesty’s Government to account for the performance in those territories. Of course, these 14 territories are an inheritance from the former British Empire, which has long since gone, but they have, for one reason or another, decided that they do not wish to proceed to complete independence or—to put it another way; due to particular constraints that they may face—they feel that it is impossible to proceed towards independence at this stage. It is right, too, that we now describe them as British Overseas Territories. I think that it was Robin Cook, as former Foreign Secretary, who decided to drop the word “colonial”. In my view the matter has nothing to do with colonies now; there is simply a British responsibility for these territories.
I wish to make one or two general observations and then comment on three territories. On the general side, the Minister and I and many other noble Lords share a very strong belief in the value of the Commonwealth. I was glad that the noble Baroness mentioned the value of the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association. As I think the noble Lord will know, a number of Chief Ministers consider that it would be of value to them if they had a closer link with Heads of Government in the Commonwealth by means of a forum at the Heads of Government Meeting or perhaps by holding regular meetings once a year, or every other year, with the current chairman of the Heads of Government of the Commonwealth. This ought to be looked at because there are common interests, for example between the independent Commonwealth members of the Caribbean and the overseas territories of the Caribbean. I hope that the Minister will look at that.
Over the past decade there have been one or two rather unfortunate examples of poor performance by people appointed to serve in those territories—notably by judges. One such case arose in Gibraltar, involving a chief justice, and another in the Caribbean. We need to be extremely careful how we appoint people to serve in these overseas territories. I suggest that the noble Lord consider a wider draw, including from Commonwealth countries, when appointing judges and others to fill important positions.
The principal approach, as I hope the Minister will confirm, should be to allow these territories to achieve the maximum possible level of self-governance. However, that has to be in keeping with Her Majesty's Government’s ultimate responsibility for ensuring the good governance and, if possible, the financial viability of those countries. It is interesting to note that DfID has regularly to support only Pitcairn, Montserrat and St Helena. The others—with one or two exceptions, such as the Turks and Caicos—are expected more or less to finance themselves. That should be the right approach.
One thing that has already emerged in this debate is the number of territories that rely on financial services for their viability. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, rightly referred in detail to the Turks and Caicos, but other territories such as the Cayman Islands, the BVI, Bermuda and Gibraltar, as well as the Turks and Caicos, also rely on success in their financial services in one way or another. There is therefore an onus on the British Government to ensure that we satisfy ourselves that all these territories comply with international financial sector standards on, for example, transparency, financial regulation, money-laundering and counterterrorism financing.
I should like to comment on just three territories. The first, of course, is Gibraltar. I declare an interest as a former governor of that wonderful territory, with its remarkable people, in the late 1990s. I have noticed how much things have improved there in the past decade, since I returned from that job, and I should like to highlight three strands. First, Gibraltar has negotiated a new constitution which is in keeping with today’s age. The Government of Gibraltar have more powers now, and there is a better balance between the powers of the governor and those of the Chief Minister. I very much hope that this new partnership will work effectively.
Secondly, Gibraltar now has a trilateral forum involving the British and Spanish Governments and the Chief Minister of the Government of Gibraltar. All three participate in regular discussions and I think that that is a notable improvement. For example, an agreement was reached in Cordoba on arrangements for practical co-operation between Gibraltar and the region—Algeciras and so on—in modernising the airport, sharing its services and contributing to the general development of the region as a whole. All that must be welcome.
The third issue is Gibraltar’s financial services. Tourism is important to Gibraltar as well, but financial services have contributed to steady growth in the territory, at a rate which we and many other countries in the European Union would envy. This growth is possible because Gibraltar now has a well regulated authority, an independent financial services commission, and practices that are totally in keeping with OECD standards. There is proper transparency and tax information agreements; and on 1 April—in three weeks’ time—a 10 per cent corporation tax will be introduced to deal with the problem of unfair tax competition. All that is welcome. Gibraltar should also serve as a model for the other territories in how to manage financial services. I am not sure of the extent to which there is a consist approach in this field.
It is disturbing that, over the past few months, there has been a dispute with Spain over the territorial waters around Gibraltar, arising from a particular EU directive. There have been incidents between the Royal Gibraltar Police and the Civil Guard based at Algeciras. It would be helpful if the Minister could say how this issue is progressing and whether there is any prospect of finding a resolution to it.
The final matter that I want to raise about Gibraltar is defence. At one time defence was the primary purpose of Gibraltar; but over the past two or three decades that purpose has diminished, and it now represents a much smaller proportion of our total activity in the territory. However, Gibraltar commands the entrance from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mediterranean; and in the past three or four weeks we have seen precisely the type of unforeseen circumstances that can lead to instability—on this occasion, in north Africa. Surely that reinforces the value to us, and to the West and NATO, of retaining a defence interest in Gibraltar. I therefore very much welcome the joint statement from the meeting on 3 February between the Chief Minister, Mr Caruana, and Nick Harvey, the Minister for the Armed Forces. They have confirmed the continuation of a joint operational base in Gibraltar and reinforced the value of the role of the Royal Gibraltar Regiment, which I am very proud of, and which is made up of very able and competent soldiers. It is to take on additional roles from the MoD, which is very welcome.
I wish briefly to comment on the Turks and Caicos Islands, because it is important that the Minister should tell us where we stand on this difficult issue. It is a serious matter for any Government to decide to declare direct rule. On this occasion, it occurred in August 2009, and arose principally as a result of Sir Robin Auld’s report which declared that there was systemic corruption in Turks and Caicos. Parts of the constitution have been suspended as a result. The elections proposed for this year have been postponed, as the noble Lord, Lord Jones, said, and it would be good to know what the plans are now. I hope the Minister will also say something about DfID’s loan guarantee of £160 million over the next five years to enable Turks and Caicos to restore its fiscal surplus and eliminate its debt. I hope that this will not be a cost to the British taxpayer. Nevertheless, I welcome the fact that DfID has taken the lead.
The Minister will not be surprised to hear that the last issue on which I wish to touch is the British Indian Ocean Territory. This is a longstanding problem. In the late 1960s and the early 1970s, the territory’s very few inhabitants—1,500 of them—were expelled to enable the United States to set up a base in Diego Garcia. This was an abuse of human rights. No successive Government—one of whom I was a part—have succeeded in restoring justice to these people. Nevertheless, I acknowledge that this Government are trying hard to find a way forward, bearing in mind that there is currently an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights, as well as serious financial constraints on the Government. It is welcome that Mr Bellingham, the Minister dealing with this issue daily, is taking a positive attitude. In his letter to the chairman of the all-party group, which specifically mentioned the marine protection area which must never be set up at the expense of the Chagossians, he said:
“Nothing has been done to implement the marine protection area and nothing that is currently contemplated would be a bar to the British Government complying with any judgment of the European Court of Human Rights or a bar to any British Government choosing in future to change the policy on resettlement”.
I welcome that very clear statement by the Minister on behalf of the Government, and I hope that it will provide an opening for a way forward. I appeal to the Government to develop a strategy involving discussions with the United States and Mauritius that could lead to compromise proposals which could be incorporated in the exchange of letters between the United States and Britain, which is subject to renewal in 2016. This is an ideal opportunity to ensure that justice is done to the Chagossians. Mauritius has a vital role as it claims sovereignty over those territories should the United Kingdom no longer need to continue with its sovereignty. Mauritius now has the support of all 52 countries of the African Union, and of a growing number of members of the Commonwealth.
It seems that the Americans will say that they need to retain Diego Garcia for the foreseeable future. If that is necessary, so be it. However, it should be possible to work out, for the outer isles that are a long way from Diego Garcia, co-management arrangements between Britain and Mauritius for the marine protection area, and to arrange for the Mauritians to work with the Chagossians on the outer islands on conservation matters to do with the marine protection area. If that can be done, and if they can be trained up and brought out from time to time to help with conservation, it would make a contribution. At the end of the day, we are entitled to look to the British Government to work for a solution, using the exchange of letters due in five years’ time as the basis for a new arrangement.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for securing this debate, and for the breadth of her contribution and those of the speakers whom we have heard so far on the multifarious issues that affect the British Overseas Territories. I look forward to the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro.
I will concentrate on the responsibility and opportunity for Britain in the role of many overseas territories as tax havens and on the need for us to face the financial element in the role of those territories to which attention was drawn by the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Luce. The issues surrounding the tax haven status of some territories are made more important by the secrecy that has developed around them over the years. In the 2008 presidential election campaign, Barack Obama claimed:
“There is a building in the Cayman Islands that houses supposedly 12,000 US-based corporations. That is either the biggest building in the world or the biggest tax scam in the world”.
At a time of cuts in this country that are bearing down hard on all of us, not least on the most deprived, it is crucial that no quarter is given to corporations that hide profits in tax havens in order to avoid tax. I hope that the Government will assure us that they will take the opportunity of the November G20 summit to ensure that the present secrecy laws will continue to be disbanded and that they will use their authority and influence over the overseas territories to ensure that they will be among those who give a lead. I am delighted by the developments in Gibraltar, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred. I am delighted at the way in which the OECD regulations are developing openness and transparency. However, there is a long way to go.
This is not just a matter of business integrity, crucial though that is. Much of the wealth that is hidden in the tax havens is siphoned from the poorest countries of the world. I am grateful for the Government’s defence of the aid budget in tough times, but I remind noble Lords also of the comments of Andrew Mitchell, the Secretary of State for International Development, that 21st-century development is about much more than aid. It is about creating opportunities across the policy spectrum. This is an area where that could be crucial. Christian Aid estimates that tax havens cost poor countries some $160 billion per year in lost tax revenue. At worst, the aid budget pours into poor countries money that leaks out again to tax havens. What policies do the Government plan to promote to enable poor countries to collect the tax owed to them and to remove the structural barriers to their doing so?
One important point is the extent to which some British Overseas Territories have become dependent as communities on their status as tax havens. Among the responsibilities of the Government must be to help our overseas territories to diversify their economies so that the abolition of tax haven status does not simply create poverty for the people there. To live in a tax haven does not mean that you are rich. There is a desperate need in the Turks and Caicos, as we have heard, and in other countries as well, for the reskilling of people and the acquisition of new knowledge bases. I would be grateful to hear more about plans to support and encourage that diversification, whether it is into agriculture, fishing or tourism. More effort must be made to assist those territories to create economies that are not as dependent as they are now on the financial system.
The historical ties between the United Kingdom and its overseas territories need to be cherished. They are highly valued by the people of the territories. I look forward to promises from the Government that they will enhance those links by aiding the development of those economies in ways that cease to encourage them to be an instrument of oppression for the poorest countries of the world.
In conclusion, I return to the ecological point raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper. The territories have an extraordinarily exciting and important ecological base. They contain a significant number of the species of birds, animals and plants that are in danger and under threat of extinction. Britain is committed to the target of ending the loss of global diversity by 2020, which I very much welcome. The overseas territories are crucial to this aim and I hope that the Minister will tell us more about what plans there are to maintain that diversity. There is a right and developing concern about animal, bird and plant species in the UK. The challenge is far greater in these beautiful and exciting islands.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for her comprehensive introduction to this subject, in which she demonstrated the enormous diversity of the islands. I propose to follow up a slightly different angle, following on from the right reverend Prelate, who in the latter part of his speech talked about ecology. I am going to talk about Antarctica, the largest overseas territory. It comprises some 660,000 square miles and has a resident population of 50 in winter and 400 in summer. Antarctica holds 80 per cent of the world’s fresh water locked up in the ice mass, which in places is 5 kilometres deep.
British Antarctica is part of a mutual recognition agreement with four other sovereign nations and their Antarctic claimed territories. The UK is an active participant in the Antarctic Treaty system, which is extremely important and provides the framework for how operations take place there. However, today I propose to concentrate on some of the events that will take place this year in connection with Antarctica.
I start with the International Maritime Organisation, which at a meeting at the end of March will consider a polar shipping code for all passenger and cargo vessels with more than 12 passengers. This is very important, as every year there are accidents in the tourist season. The last season was no exception, as the “Polar Star”, a Bahamas-flagged vessel, hit a rock and passengers had to be evacuated, fortunately with no loss of life. However, I believe strongly that Her Majesty’s Government should press for the code to include fishing vessels and yachts. I hope that the Minister will be able to say something about that when he replies to the debate. A Korean shipping vessel sank in the Ross Sea in December with 22 fatalities, while a Norwegian yacht sank last month also with loss of life. This needs to be rectified and clearly the IMO should extend its plans to include such matters. The organisation moves very slowly, so I hope that, as we are an important participant, the Government will start to press for that to happen.
The next important event is the Antarctic Treaty Consultative Meeting, which is scheduled to take place in Buenos Aires in June, marking 50 years of the Antarctic Treaty. It has been an enormous achievement and it is important to recognise that. An Antarctic Bill concerned with environmental protection and safety planning is in the pipeline. Indeed, that was mentioned in part by previous speakers in connection with what the IMO is doing. The wide consultation phase has been completed and the Bill awaits parliamentary time. On present progress, it does not look as though it will get on to the statute book before spring next year. So far, only four countries have ratified the treaty out of a total of 28. As we are one of the most important, and original, consultative members, we should be the first to ratify and not among the last.
At the next treaty consultative meeting in June, the UK will present an environmental evaluation of a scientific project to drill into a sub-glacial lake in the Ellsworth mountains. In order to find a freshwater source, drilling will be required to take place some 3,000 metres through the ice, taking it to below mean sea level. It is a fascinating concept, which could reveal much about the evolution of organisms and so on. This lake has never seen sunlight and one wonders what might be growing there. Therefore, science is of the essence in this matter.
Next year marks the centenary of Scott’s last expedition to the South Pole. Scott reached the pole on 17 January 1912 but of course never returned. Unfortunately, he was beaten to the pole by 35 days by Amundsen, who arrived on 14 December 1911. The Scott centenary is something that we should also recognise and I hope that we will do so. A number of events to mark the centenary are at the planning stage and many of them will focus on the scientific legacy. Science is the important thing, but I hope that the centenary will be fully supported by Her Majesty’s Government.
The final event taking place this year is the construction of the new Halley Research Station, which is going well. The handover to the British Antarctic Survey is expected to take place in February 2012. It will be a worthy successor to the first Halley station, which was established by the Royal Society in 1957. Halley is the furthest away from the cluster of bases on the peninsula on the eastern coast of the Weddell Sea and it is therefore likely to be rather colder than the others.
In summary, all in all Antarctica is a vital continent with regard to science. It is recognised by everyone concerned as being exclusively for science, so we need to, and indeed do, support it. I hope that Her Majesty’s Government will not in any way diminish any funds that may be available for the extraordinary work of the British Antarctic Survey, which is very worthy of support and needs to be continued at full speed and without any diminishment.
My Lords, I rise with all due humility and pride to give my maiden speech in your Lordships’ House. I have learnt much in the weeks since my introduction in December, and I owe a debt of gratitude to my supporters, the noble Lords, Lord McColl of Dulwich and Lord Patel, and to my mentor, the noble Baroness, Lady Sharples, for guiding me through what can only be described as a minefield of parliamentary procedure and protocol. The personal attention of the staff has been remarkable, particularly given the heavy workload that they have experienced in the past two months.
My territorial title, Achimota, denotes my birthplace and is also home to a boarding school in Ghana, then the Gold Coast, where my late father taught history and Latin. It was founded in 1924 by three visionaries: the governor, Sir Frederick Guggisberg; the first principal, the Reverend Alexander Fraser; and the assistant to the principal, Dr James Kwegyir Aggrey. They founded the first co-educational school in West Africa and, in doing so, spawned the architects of Ghana’s independence movement, which saw the introduction of self-rule in 1951 and independence in 1957.
The motto of the school, Ut Omnes Unum Sint, meaning “That all may be the same”, is a reference to the abiding philosophy of the founders that, starting in the context of school life, black and white, male and female, should integrate and combine synergistically for the good of all. This is also graphically represented by the symbolised black and white piano keys—the emblem of the school. Dr Aggrey observed that:
“You can play a tune of sorts on the white keys and a tune of sorts on the black keys, but for perfect harmony you must use both”.
This defining principle of harmony has guided me throughout my career and has emboldened me to achieve my aims in life. Such an attitude was uncommon in the British Empire as a whole and yet my father experienced nothing but friendship and support during his degree course at London University before the last war. One of his pupils at Achimota, Major Seth Anthony, became the first native-born African in British military history to be commissioned from Sandhurst in April 1942. Serving with the 81st Division of the Royal West African Frontier Force, he was promoted in the field and awarded an MBE after the Battle of Myohaung in Burma, in January 1945.
Some 374,000 Africans volunteered to serve in the British Army in theatres such as Ethiopia, Somaliland and Burma during World War II and it was a pleasure to discover that the noble Viscount, Lord Slim, had presented Major Anthony with his Burma Star badge, three months before he died in 2008.
My father, like Seth Anthony, was able to serve his country as an ambassador in Africa, Europe and America and, as a young student, I observed how effectively British diplomacy had translated to its newly independent states. Following the “wind of change” which passed across Africa, Britain is now left with 14 overseas territories which, as we have heard, fall roughly into three categories: military bases, areas of biodiversity and financial interests. Within the military context, the strategic defence and security review appropriately entitled, Securing Britain in an Age of Uncertainty, gives an undertaking to defend the UK and its overseas territories. It goes further, stating that Britain requires,
“an independent ability to defend the Overseas Territories militarily”.
I hope events over the past few weeks in North Africa have not reduced our resolve to defend these territories from opportunistic attack.
In the 1850s, Herman Melville, in his book Moby Dick, described a real event of a giant sperm whale which attacked and capsized the whale-ship “Essex”. Some of the survivors landed on Henderson Island in the Pitcairn group of islands in the Pacific, no doubt accompanied by a cargo of rats. This Government are to be congratulated on meeting the challenge of eradicating the rats from Henderson Island in order to protect the eggs and the chicks of the native birds, in particular the petrel bird, some 25,000 of whose eggs are eaten each year by the rats, representing 95 per cent of their population. Protecting the bird life of these and other islands in the overseas territories is essential to maintain biodiversity, and despite cuts in the public sector, the UK Government have found £413,000 to support a £1.7 million project by the RSPB to remove Polynesian rats from the island.
We have heard mention of financial services. It is interesting to note that the legacy of a tax-free zone, promised by King George III to the Cayman Islanders, has provided a tax haven in the Caribbean, which has benefited many, but not always the indigenous islanders, many of whom came originally from Africa. As a child of the empire and an African, I have some sympathy for the citizens of the Turks and Caicos Islands, the majority of whose population are of African decent, and who, having tasted a period of self-rule, find that elections promised for July 2011 are now postponed, with no date set for further elections. What steps will the UK Government take to ensure that the loan guarantees made to the islands will lead to the announcement of elections in the foreseeable future?
In his Ministerial Statement of 9 December 2010, my noble friend Lord Howell of Guildford referred to the milestones that had to be met before progress could be made. One of these was the reform of the public services. If any lessons are to be learnt from the transition from self-rule to independence experienced by Ghana and other former colonies, it is that time spent in reconnaissance is seldom wasted. Similarly a sound educational base is needed to provide the infrastructure to support a transition to self-governance. My father used to say to us as children that the most important gift that an African child could have was a good education, and ensuring that this is in place across the islands will encourage the next generation of leaders.
A Pathé News clip—I am sure noble Lords remember them—of the Gold Coast elections in 1951 said of Dr Nkrumah's party:
“They have caused trouble in the past; will power breed in them a sense of responsibility?”.
Sixty years on, one may ask the same question of the Turks and Caicos Islands, although in slightly more diplomatic language.
I very much hope that the UK Government will continue to meet their obligations to the overseas territories and support self-governance and independence for those who wish it. I look forward to making further contributions to this House and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, for initiating this debate.
My Lords, I know I speak for the whole House when I say what an enormous privilege it is to be the first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Ribeiro on a very distinguished maiden speech. He describes himself as a child of the empire and he brings to this debate what my noble friend Lady Hooper called the remnants of the empire, a unique perspective. It must be unusual, to say the least, to have in his territorial designation a title which includes both his birthplace in Ghana and Hampshire. As someone who comes from Hampshire, I am delighted to welcome a neighbour.
After qualifying at Middlesex Hospital Medical School, my noble friend embarked on his career in surgery and he culminated as an outstanding president of the Royal College of Surgeons from 2005 to 2008. He has been a major participant in the restructuring and modernisation of surgical training and he has overseen the introduction of a new surgical curriculum. He brings with him a great deal of expertise and I hope he will speak frequently. I look forward to further interventions from my noble friend.
I join others in thanking my noble friend Lady Hooper for giving us this opportunity to talk about developments in the British Overseas Territories. Like her, the right reverend Prelate and others, I want to concentrate on environmental issues. It has already been pointed out that our territories are of enormous significance as regards habitats and ecosystems and that they impose on the UK Government responsibilities and obligations under the Convention on Biological Diversity. Many of these territories support a large number of endemic species—that is, species that are found nowhere else in the world. Of course, in some of the territories that very biodiversity underpins the economy. Nowadays, the Falkland Islands depend largely on their fisheries for their viability and in other territories which have been discussed tourism is dependent on the natural environment. Therefore, biodiversity plays a critical role in helping to achieve sustainable development for the local population.
I should declare an interest as chair of the Living with Environmental Change partnership, which brings together 22 publicly funded organisations for collaboration in designing, undertaking and delivering research programmes, not just in the United Kingdom but overseas as well, and which addresses environmental change issues.
The cost of conservation and restoration projects undertaken in overseas territories—sometimes, but not always, with a contribution from the British taxpayer; often from the British public via NGOs—can be high. Invariably, there are demands for support from government agencies and sources such as the Joint Nature Conservation Committee, which at one time I chaired. The demands are always that those sums be increased.
My noble friend Lord Ribeiro referred to the control of rats in Henderson Island. Indeed, there are programmes for the control of other alien species in the Falkland Islands, Tristan da Cunha and St Helena, all of which have rat control programmes as well as trying to control other alien species.
We have not always been as successful as we should have been in attracting European Union funding for such projects. Frankly, France has stolen a bit of a march on us on this, and I hope that we can be more successful in future. I was heartened, therefore, that last week the European Commission announced a €2 million pilot scheme for biodiversity projects in overseas territories. The project will be used to prepare the ground with a view to longer-term support. We should take a close interest in that; we must ensure that we have our own pilot schemes so that we can get longer-term funding for our overseas territories from European funds.
I shall concentrate my remarks on two territories in which there is no permanent local population: the British Antarctic Territory, to which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, referred; and the British Indian Ocean Territory, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred. I was fortunate enough to visit the British Antarctic Survey’s research station at Rothera, on the Antarctic Peninsula, in January. For just a few days, I represented a significant proportion of the population to which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, referred.
Thanks to the Antarctic treaty, to which the noble Viscount also referred, despite competing territorial claims from Argentina and Chile, we are able to collaborate harmoniously, conducting research of great importance in those unusual conditions. For example, I saw some of the research on marine organisms, climate change, telecommunications and much else, all of which is of enormous significance. Again, the noble Viscount referred to that.
A massive cleanup is under way on the Antarctic continent, as detritus from earlier generations is dismantled and removed, often from remote locations. Everything which is now taken to the Antarctic has to be removed; no waste is ever allowed to stay there. So we are imposing far higher standards of care on that pristine continent than was the case in previous generations. That is an example of excellent international co-operation and a scientific treaty which is really working.
I turn, as did the noble Lord, Lord Luce, to some of the problems in the British Indian Ocean Territory, where, in April, the previous Administration agreed to the establishment of a marine protection area in what has been described as probably the richest marine ecosystem under United Kingdom jurisdiction. My noble friend who will respond later told us in June that the intention to proceed with the MPA was confirmed. That designation has been widely—but, it has to be said, not universally—welcomed. The problem, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, referred is, as with anything to do with the Chagos, the smouldering sense of injustice arising from the clearance of the entire archipelago between 1968 and 1973. Generation after generation, or decade after decade of politicians since then—including David Miliband as Foreign Secretary last April—pointed out that we have to accept responsibility for that long-term suffering. That responsibility will never go away.
Although I, like most others, welcome the designation of the marine protected area, I must say that the way that we are negotiating for it to be established leaves something to be desired. Whatever the outcome of the apparently interminable litigation now in the European Court of Human Rights, we have accepted that if in future—it is probably a long way off—the defence base at Diego Garcia is no longer required, the archipelago will be transferred to Mauritius. Therefore, in all conscience, we simply must get the Mauritius Government’s support for any initiative in the long-term interests of the environment and, of course, for any future population there.
The Great Chagos Bank is the world's largest coral atoll, as my noble friend reminded us. It is clearly appropriate that the Mauritius and the Chagos refugee groups should recognise what great service can be done to the economy and to the environment by that designation, but, at the moment, the Mauritius Prime Minister and some, but not all of the Chagos refugee groups, are deeply suspicious of the designation. That is not helped by Wikileaks—which, as always, complicates the issue terribly.
We need to do what has been done so much more successfully in the British Antarctic Territory: demonstrate how we can have an international initiative in which the Mauritius Government and Chagos refugee groups can participate. It is no good us thinking that we can impose a designation without their having any opportunity to contribute to the design and management of the project.
Conservation projects around the world, however worthy—and this one is as worthy as they come—will invariably fail if the interests of the indigenous population, even when they have been moved elsewhere, and of sovereign states with sovereignty claims, are not taken into account. Much more fundamental claims have been accommodated in the Antarctic. We need to follow that example in the Chagos Archipelago.
My Lords, at the time of the Statute of Westminster in 1931, before I was born, if I recall it right, one-quarter of the land mass of the world was British. More than that, I believe that we controlled perhaps half of the oceans of the world, having the best and most effective Navy.
I suffer from several weaknesses. I am an islander at heart. I love islands; I love the sea. There are about 70,000 islands in the world, and every territory that we are discussing today is an island. Beyond that, we look at the resources of the sea. I have raised the point in your Lordships' House before that the Commonwealth has the longest coastline in the world at about 44,000 kilometres. I have to declare certain past interests; in my banking days, the bank that employed me was the main correspondent bank in London to the British Dependent Territories. We were always concerned about their future.
When I have my noble friend Lady Hooper, the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and others together, I know that these are the professionals in this world. I am only the amateur, and a very gifted one at that, but I love this subject. Therefore, I thought that I might advance a little into the world to make certain suggestions. If what I say is true—that we are still, with the Commonwealth, the most effective and impressive land mass of friends, and have the sea—it is our duty to take initiatives at certain times.
I was brought up to believe that you did not read in your Lordships' House, even with electronic devices, and that you could not even have visual aids, but today, as a bit of support for what I have to say, I have two pieces of paper. One shows little red spots where the territories are. Strategically, they are most extraordinarily presented. If our ancestors planned, as I am sure they did, they would have put points here and said, “This is where we need British representation to the future of the world”.
They were also wise in some ways in making sure that those who wanted to support their initiatives followed certain cultural relationships. For example, if you wish to know which countries have claims in Antarctica, all you need to do is say “rugby”. All countries that play rugby—Papua New Guinea, Fiji, Australia, New Zealand, South Africa and Argentina—have claims in the Falklands, the biggest single land mass. Then you would ask about the origins of these territories. My family mottos are “Per mare, per terras” and “God will provide”, although God is sometimes not as generous as I would have hoped.
On this paper, you see the remarkable name of Bermuda, whose motto is “Whither the Fates carry”. We are being a bit unkind about Bermuda in many ways because we use the phrase “tax havens”. We are coming up to the feast day of St Giuseppe—St Joseph—the patron saint of work. If I recall correctly, the Pope normally at this time delivers an address to one of the Vatican towns on the lines of “man works to live; he does not live to work”.
We have to look at each of these territories and ask where their economic future is. In some way or another, they have carved out a financial services future. Given the comments that have been made about our own financial services sectors in recent years and the losses that have been incurred, I do not think that we should lecture others.
Let us take the simple example of Bermuda, which is the base for most insurance companies. Is there anything wrong in setting up a corporation in a place that has tax advantages, which are of course within the control of the governing body of that country? I am not sure that there is, but I have certain views. Surely, if a nation is overtaxed, it will not be valiant and glorious—I do not know who said that. At one level, we have Bermuda with its significant financial services business, which perhaps is under attack. Other smaller islands with relatively little alternative economies are also classified as tax havens. Perhaps they could be offshore financial centres. Surely, if the majority of these countries are British Dependent Territories, it would not be beyond the realms of possibility for the Government to introduce certain codes of conduct and behaviour, which could be supervised by the Bank of England and could effectively restore confidence.
The right reverend Prelate referred to the Cayman Islands, which has the motto “For he has founded it upon the seas”. However, the only sea business that Cayman can do apart from tourism lies in the turtle sector, but those turtles are now relatively rare. A ban was introduced on, I think, Lusty, that it could no longer produce turtle soup. In all these areas we have to look for alternative uses. I will try to explain to your Lordships that if 70 per cent of the surface of the earth is sea, and we by chance have bits of land stuck in important places and could declare a 1,000-mile exclusion zone or protection zone around all those, we might be able to introduce quite a lot of new business and activities.
We know that the United States has a difficulty when it wishes to go off on military exercises. It does not have many places to land. It is often forbidden from overflying, which is why I have never been supportive of exclusion zones because they are difficult to enforce. Here we have territories, bits of land, located in strategic places. When we look at global warming, we are looking at all sorts of activities for which these bases could be developed for surveillance, for monitoring and even for do-gooding, as it is called. When I chaired a body for sport and recreation for a previous Government, it was suggested to me that, instead of trying to reintroduce national service, we should gather together groups of young men and women and send them off to the dependent territories to do some research and studying. The mottos of some of the territories relate to research and development.
As I speak today I have a certain sense of optimism, but I wonder what the British Government can do. It is not really a question of providing grant aid to many of these places. Under the Nationality, Immigration and Asylum Act 2002, the one thing that these places have is British citizenship, which should never be taken away. There could or should be some form of collective plan, which I suggest might be advanced under Commonwealth supervision. We know that to this can be added the bailiwicks of Her Majesty’s realms. The dominance of the British culture in the world is demonstrated perhaps by the fact that one-third of all people speak English as their first or second language, or they are learning it. We have certain communication advantages.
I hope that this debate has created certain thoughts and ideas. I am always most grateful to my noble friend Lady Hooper, who has a habit of popping up in most unusual places. When she takes up a cause, those who oppose her should be very careful indeed.
My Lords, this has been a wonderfully varied debate, culminating in the typically discursive speech of the old seafarer, the Lord, Lord Selsdon, moving from motto to motto. For me, the debate seemed to depend on the three Es: that is, the economy—the tax havens and tourism; the ecology, particularly the British Antarctic territory referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, and the British Indian Ocean territory as mentioned by the noble Earl, Lord Selborne; and the ethical obligations set out by the right reverend Prelate as regards dealing with people and not financiers.
I was particularly struck, as I am sure all Members of your Lordships’ House were, by the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Ribeiro. He is a distinguished surgeon and perhaps, more relevantly, a distinguished son of Achimota Hospital, which has sent distinguished Ghanaians around West Africa and beyond as the pioneer providing the new colonial experts from West Africa.
We owe a debt to the noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, who has been a long-time campaigner for overseas territories. I was delighted that she mentioned the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association and the role that it plays in focusing our attention on the overseas territories. I note that at the current 60th Westminster Seminar on governance, parliamentary procedure and practice, of the 67 participants, 12 come from the overseas territories. That is so important in making these people, who are often from remote territories, walk tall in the world.
With regret, I note that there is often a prevailing attitude in this country to the overseas territories of ignorance and neglect. I am very ready to concede initially that that neglect did not begin at the time of the previous election, nor did the problems we have in looking to the future. Save at times of crises, there is little mention in the UK of the overseas territories. An exception was the interesting series of articles in the Times in November 2009 by Michael Binyon. About the overseas territories, he wrote:
“They feel abandoned, forgotten, former strategic assets that are now seen in Whitehall as costly liabilities”.
The temptation in a debate of this nature is to give a Cook’s tour of various overseas territories. I congratulate the noble Baroness on taking up several key themes, rather than taking us around places she has recently visited.
I shall concentrate on only a few reflections and will not mention all the overseas territories. How would one explain now to the man—perhaps one should say person—from Mars the nature of our overseas territories? In the old empire there were swathes of red all over the map. Now there are but pinpricks. One is struck by the fact of diversity in the fullest sense. Fourteen islands and territories are scattered around the globe, the only nexus being a fierce loyalty to the Crown as remnants of a once-proud empire and too small to be viable on their own. Some are large, some are small; some are constrained by old treaties such as Gibraltar and Utrecht; some are rich—indeed, Bermuda and the Caymans have among the highest GDP per head in the world—some are poor, such as St Helena and Pitcairn; and some are inhabited and some uninhabited, like the British Antarctic Territory mentioned by the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, and of course the Chagos Islands, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and the noble Earl, Lord Selborne.
Some of the territories have a recent history that makes us feel somewhat ashamed. There have been criticisms that we have not been as quick and ready to deal with the new Government of Anguilla as we should. We think also of the corruption scandals that have characterised the Turks and Caicos Islands in the recent past, the sex scandals affecting eight of the 50 or so inhabitants of Pitcairn, and the disgraceful attitude of this country towards the Îlois, the Chagossians. The noble Lord mentioned the Wikileaks material which showed a certain hypocrisy on the part of the then Government who talked about the marine protection area as if it had been devised for environmental reasons, but it seems that a key consideration was that it was a device for denying the Îlois the right of return. Before the election, the coalition partners were generous in their promises to the Îlois. One can cite statements made by both the current Foreign Minister and Nick Clegg, who said:
“It is a disgrace that £2m of taxpayers’ money … has been squandered in order to uphold this injustice”.
In replying, can the Minister say whether we intend to spend yet more taxpayers’ money in opposing the application before the European Court of Human Rights? The coalition has called for a new approach to the overseas territories, saying that it regards them as assets and not liabilities. Obviously we need some indication of how this approach is intended to work.
My second reflection is this. Rather like the title of the film “The Empire Strikes Back”, there are a number of problems left for London, along with a number of contingent liabilities. A 2007 National Audit Office report stated:
“Our overall conclusion is that since 1997, whilst progress has been made in managing and mitigating some risks; the degree of success in both individual Territories and across key risk areas has been mixed”.
An earlier report from the Public Accounts Committee, published 12 years ago, pointed out the difficulties we faced as a result of our international responsibility for the territories in terms of social matters, the death penalty and so on.
Equally, there are the problems of financial regulation and the tax havens mentioned by the right reverend Prelate. The Cayman Islands is the largest centre for hedge funds. Gambling is becoming an increasing provider of employment on Gibraltar, as many companies move there from this country as a result of its favourable tax regime. Another general question in the report was: what was in the past a benefit to the UK in terms of trade routes but which perhaps is not a continuing benefit, what are the obligations to the territories which remain? These were covered generally in the NAO report. The noble Lord, Lord Jones, pointed out that the Government underwrote £160 million of bank loans to the Turks and Caicos Islands following the corruption scandal. What are the potential liabilities on the aid budget because that sum represents a substantial amount for each of the inhabitants?
In July, Ministers approved the use of aid funds for the construction of a long-promised airport on St Helena. I concede that it is a moral obligation, yet there has to be a question mark over the viability of the population of St Helena, particularly following the grant of citizenship in 2002. Swindon has benefited from the many Saints who have gone to live there, and one wonders how demographically St Helena will survive when so many of the younger people have tasted the good life in Swindon. I made this point to some representatives of the Saints at the time of the granting of citizenship in 2002. Perhaps it is, alas, one of the unintended consequences.
My final reflection is this. How stable and long-lasting is the current relationship? Each territory presents its own problems. Is there any vision on the part of this country, any overall plan for the next decade or two, to ensure that the territories will be assets and not liabilities? For example, will the relationship between the FCO and DfID concerning the overseas territories be the same? Do we assume that Bermuda, with its large and prosperous population, will remain an overseas territory for, say, the next decade? If Bermuda becomes independent, that would make the overall population substantially less than 200,000. Have we considered new options, such as the precedent of the French territoires d’outre mer and other interesting constitutional devices to give the overseas territories a greater voice here in Westminster? Why should not selected representatives of the territories sit in your Lordships’ House? It would not be difficult and it would mean that the voice of the people of the overseas territories could be heard quite directly. France is able to benefit substantially from EU funds as a result of the DOMs and the TOMs, and equally through representation of French people from overseas in the French Parliament.
I turn to the position of Gibraltar and the Falklands, referred to so well by the distinguished former Governor of Gibraltar, the noble Lord, Lord Luce. We have successfully resisted pressure from neighbouring countries on both Gibraltar and the Falklands, and perhaps the lesson of 1981, in which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, played a distinguished part, is that we need to consult more closely with the inhabitants of those countries on any constitutional change. In Gibraltar, the Chief Minister has indeed made contact with the Spanish and recently sent up an interesting trial balloon by talking about a sort of Andorra solution for the future of Gibraltar. Can the noble Lord say whether Ministers are willing to give this a hearing or not?
On the Falklands, had there been someone from the islands here, no doubt they would have spoken rather more clearly about their vulnerability to defence cuts than the distinguished former military people who speak on their behalf. We recognise that relations between the Falkland Islands and this country are good, which was particularly evident at the Overseas Territories Consultative Council held last November. Like others, I shall raise three issues on behalf of the Falklands and the overseas territories.
Based on the fact of UK sovereignty and the need to boost the economy, the fees for Air Safety Support International, which has not been mentioned so far, have risen greatly. The Department of Transport is seeking to recoup higher fees from, for example, the Falklands, amounting to around £125,000. The impact of the air passenger duty has already been mentioned. It has a specific impact on the Falklands, because they fall into band D. Since last November, there has been an increase in duty per passenger to the Falklands of £85 in economy and £170 in other categories, which is clearly a potential blow to tourism in the Falklands.
Pension payments to UK citizens have been already been mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Jones, and others. Her Majesty's Government have already accepted the principle that there should be no discrimination in UK law in respect of fees to students from the overseas territories.
There is a need for some innovative thinking, a consideration of what it means for these territories to be assets, and a recognition that we cannot continue to stumble along with no fixed aim as we are doing currently.
My Lords, as one would expect in this House, this has been a dazzling debate full of expertise. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Hooper on instigating a valuable debate on the overseas territories. A lot has happened since the previous one in 2008 and it is certainly right that we should mobilise some of our collective expertise. It is right as well for the Government to make their comments, which I shall seek to do in a moment, on the overseas territories as a whole. I was particularly delighted to listen to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Ribeiro, who brings to this House, with his enormously distinguished record, great expertise and clarity. I shall comment on some of the things that he said as I go along, but I think that we are all extremely pleased that he has joined us and hope often to hear from him in the future.
The only way of tackling this vast range of subjects, issues and territories is for me to go through those subjects, issues and territories in turn and then to relate to noble Lords who have spoken on them as I go along. I may not succeed in 20 minutes in referring to every noble Lord; I may not succeed even in covering every one of the issues, although I shall have a very good try. I shall therefore proceed on a themed basis.
To reassert a point made by noble Lords, the Government are responsible for ensuring the security and good governance of the overseas territories and promoting the well-being of their inhabitants—that is not in question. We are talking about almost a quarter of a million people, most of whom are British citizens, and some of the smallest and most remote communities in the world. We have a responsibility to provide effective stewardship, even for our uninhabited territories—they include some of the world’s most pristine and varied environmental assets, to which some of your Lordships have referred. We take these responsibilities extremely seriously and none of them should be underestimated. I do not deny that the territories create substantial challenges for the UK Government, but they also have the potential to offer common benefits for all. In our view, we need a vigilant and active approach to managing the risks and problems, especially at a time when a number of the territories have been extremely hard hit by the global recession and the shrinkage of trade, particularly tourism, in some areas. It is a broad and complex agenda that involves many government departments, but I shall endeavour to give the overall picture from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s point of view.
This Government have to some extent lived up to their responsibilities already—we have been office for some eight or nine months. In the strategic defence and security review, we identified defence as a core mission. We relaunched the air access project on St Helena and initiated the task of underpinning public finances in the Turks and Caicos Islands, to which I shall come in detail in a moment—a number of your Lordships rightly and unsurprisingly raised that issue. The Foreign Secretary commissioned a review of our policy towards the overseas territories, led by the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Henry Bellingham, with a view to framing a new strategy to guide our relationship in the future and addressing some of the points that the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, rightly raised. Mr Bellingham has discussed aspects with ministerial colleagues and a range of interested organisations and individuals, including the leaders of the overseas territories. The Government intend to announce the conclusions of that review shortly. In the mean time, we have already announced, back in February, that the overseas territories programme fund will be raised by £7 million a year. By way of a further update, we have just announced additional funding to meet certain problems to which I shall again come in detail as I go along.
We continue to stand up for the Falkland Islands, to which the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, has just referred. We have no doubt about their sovereignty. The principle of self-determination enshrined in the UN charter underlies our position. There can be no negotiation on sovereignty unless and until the Falkland islanders so wish. Members of the Government, including the Prime Minister, have consistently made this clear. We are also wholeheartedly committed to the Falkland islanders’ right to develop their economy, including a hydrocarbons industry within their waters. We are fully aware that Argentina’s neighbours support its call for negotiation over the Falklands’ sovereignty. That is nothing new; it just maintains endless persistence. We are in close touch with partners in the region. We are enhancing our relationship with Latin America through forthcoming high-level visits and engagement. The noble Baroness, Lady Hooper, has been a tower of strength in developing those relationships. We will continue to defend robustly the Falkland islanders’ right to self-determination and to develop their economy both in private, with partners, and publicly. I do not have anything to add at the moment on the detailed point about fees raised by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, but I shall look into it. If I obtain more detailed and useful information, I shall write to him.
I turn to the British Antarctic Territories—the order in which I address each territory is not a reflection of its importance; it is merely the order in which it was referred to in the debate—on which the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, the noble Lord, Lord Selborne, and others spoke with great expertise. We have a long-term, strategic, scientific, environmental and sustainable management interest in the Antarctic, South Georgia and the South Sandwich Islands. These interests are linked to but in many cases distinct from the Falklands issue that I have just discussed. We will continue to protect our interests and sovereignty by taking a leading role in the Antarctic Treaty system and through a policy of presence, governance and commitment to deliver our international obligations. As to the draft Antarctic Bill, we remain committed to meeting our treaty commitments and will introduce legislation as soon as parliamentary time allows. The Government are considering all options for an expeditious introduction of that Bill, a matter on which there has been a certain amount of comment.
Perhaps I should say a little about our investment in Antarctic science. The particular issue is a matter for the Secretary of State for Business, Innovation and Skills, but I believe that detailed announcements will be made in due course. In general, the UK directly invests some £50 million a year. It is difficult to quantify the total investment, as there are many cross-cutting programmes and in practice a range of research council activities contribute directly to polar science. For example, the UK’s European Space Agency subscription is about £48 million per annum and includes earth observation work. The main funding in the Antarctic is provided by the Natural Environment Research Council primarily for the British Antarctic Survey. Similarly, many UK universities are involved in Antarctic research. There are too many of them to mention individually. However, I should highlight Cambridge University’s involvement, not least via its support for the Scott Polar Research Institute.
On Gibraltar, the noble Lord, Lord Luce, of course, was a distinguished governor and knows probably more than many people about the situation there. Again, the position is quite clear: the UK will never enter into arrangements under which the people of Gibraltar would pass under the sovereignty of another state against their wishes. Furthermore, the UK will not enter into a process of sovereignty negotiations with which Gibraltar is not content. We will continue to stand up for Gibraltar’s rights and interests, including in the European Union. We are fully committed to the trilateral process of dialogue, which has been working rather well between the UK, Spain and Gibraltar, and Spain and Gibraltar share our commitment. We hope that the trilateral forum will continue to make progress on enhancing co-operation for the benefit of all the people of Gibraltar and the surrounding area.
The Turks and Caicos Islands were mentioned by my noble friends Lord Jones, Lord Ribeiro, in his remarkable maiden speech, and Lord Selborne, and by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson. I shall spend several minutes on this matter because it is very important and I know that it concerns your Lordships considerably. We are determined to sort out the problems in the Turks and Caicos Islands and to put the islands back on the path to a sustainable future under a democratically elected Government. There are three main strands to what we are trying to do: rebuilding public finances; implementing systemic reforms, including a modified constitution; and ensuring that the special investigation and prosecution team can pursue its work.
The Minister of State at DfID announced in a Written Statement at the end of February that DfID has now finalised a loan guarantee to provide the Turks and Caicos Islands Government with access to a maximum capital amount of $260 million over the next five years. The intention is that that guarantee should cost the taxpayer nothing but will enable a return to fiscal surplus. We are pursuing reforms in nearly every aspect of the territory’s administration. Following extensive consultation, the Government have now published a draft constitution that makes proposals for the months ahead. This is an important opportunity for the political parties in the territory to engage in detail. We must ensure that reforms are well advanced and embedded before we can safely return the territory to elected government.
I say to my noble friends that we do not want to postpone elections any longer than necessary, but they cannot be held this year. A joint FCO/DfID Written Ministerial Statement last September set out the milestones—I think that there has been reference to those because I have commented on this since—an assessment of which would need to be met before elections could take place. These milestones do not include everything that will have to be done before elections take place, but they are, in the Government’s view, at this stage, minimum preconditions before the Turks and Caicos Islands can return to elected government. It is hoped that the milestones will be met in time for elections in 2012.
It is true that very recently there have been demonstrations in the Turks and Caicos Islands calling for a date to be set for the elections. One fully understands the pressure and concern and no one questions the right of everyone in the TCI to have the freedom to express their views, but I cannot condone the use of lawbreaking in support of freedom of expression. Such actions could easily deter future tourists and investors from visiting the islands and could have a disastrous effect on the islands’ already fragile economy. The governor remains open to dialogue with responsible community representatives to discuss their concerns and I hope that the demonstrators will use this avenue to convey their grievances.
In addition, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary has announced that he is approving a discretionary grant of £6.6 million to the Turks and Caicos Islands Government to reimburse the costs incurred in the past year pursuing corruption and violent crime. That is for the special investigation and prosecution team, for related civil recovery work and for the Royal Turks and Caicos Islands Police. Officials in the Foreign Office are co-ordinating this carefully with DfID’s work to underpin the territory’s finances. That is the scene on the Turks and Caicos Islands. If I had more time, I would go into more detail, but I have not.
I turn now to another issue that greatly concerns your Lordships, the British Indian Ocean Territory, to which the noble Lord, Lord Luce, my noble friend Lord Selborne and others have referred. Let me set out the position as we see it now. Successive Governments have expressed regret for the way in which the resettlement of the Chagossians was carried out in the late 1960s and 1970s. I repeat those regrets today and do not seek to justify many of the things that were done at the time. However, the UK courts have considered the issues very carefully. The Law Lords upheld the validity in law of the BIOT Orders in Council 2004, which mean that no person has the right of abode in BIOT or the right to enter the territory unless authorised. A High Court judgment given by Mr Justice Ouseley on 9 October 2003 and upheld by the Court of Appeal on 22 July 2004 went thoroughly into the circumstances in which the 1982 compensation settlement was reached and in which it was accepted that the compensation was in full and final settlement of all claims.
The Chagossians have taken their case for resettlement and further compensation to the European Court of Human Rights, as we all know. The Government will continue to contest the case, as we believe that the reasons for not allowing resettlement on the grounds of feasibility and defence security are clear and compelling; nor do we see the case for paying further compensation, as it has already been paid in full and final settlement of all claims. Obviously, I and my colleagues fully understand the disappointment felt by Chagossians on hearing that the Government have decided not to change the fundamental policy on resettlement, compensation and the marine protected area, but I stress strongly that we are most keen to continue engaging with the Chagossian communities. The Minister for the Overseas Territories, Mr Bellingham, has already met Mr Olivier Bancoult and Mrs Sabrina Jean of the Chagos Refugee Group and Hengride Permal of the Chagos Islands Community Association to hear their concerns. Our high commissions in Port Louis and Victoria continue to meet Chagossian communities in Mauritius and the Seychelles, while officials from the BIOT Administration keep in touch with Chagossian communities in the UK.
We are looking at ways of mitigating the impact of our policy on the Chagossians through continuing to enable them to visit the territory and engage in humanitarian, cultural and environmental activities. We are arranging a further visit by Chagossians to the territory later this month and Mr Bellingham is very keen that such visits should continue. We want to involve the Chagossian communities in implementation of the marine protected area—although there is a certain difficulty, obviously, as the Chagossians are seeking annulment of the area in the UK courts—and we are seeking practical ways in which we can continue to help the Chagossian communities in Mauritius, Seychelles and this country.
I say finally on the issue that, while we have no doubts about the UK’s sovereignty over the British Indian Ocean Territory, we value our bilateral relationship with Mauritius and would welcome a constructive dialogue with its Government on these issues. We will continue to look at this policy in detail and engage with all those with an interest.
I have a long list of many more other issues. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds raised the issue of tax havens and I have not commented on the Caribbean, which covers some of the same issues. We are working closely with these territories to stabilise public finances and to strengthen regulatory regimes, to help them to meet international tax transparency standards, which is very important, and to support them in longer-term economic planning.
I should like to spend more time on the Commonwealth but time does not allow. The case for full participation in all Commonwealth meetings is based on membership of the Commonwealth. Of course, the OTs are not strictly individual members of the Commonwealth, but they are associated. We are looking at ways to strengthen the links between the OTs and the Commonwealth.
On advanced passenger duty, the Government are exploring changes to the aviation tax system. Any major changes will be subject to consultation. On St Helena, the Secretary of State stated last July that we have made progress on a wide range of aspects. The invitation to tender has gone to bidders. Air Safety Support International has approved the use of engineered material arresting systems for the St Helena airport and the Secretary of State for International Development will consider issuing a further Statement when he is in a position to report on all the conditions that he set out in the July Statement. On Anguilla, we have accepted the package of measures and actioned the recommendations by the UK-funded experts to deliver the Chief Minister’s commitment to balance Anguilla’s overall budget by the beginning of 2013. I do not have time to cover offshore financial centres, but I have mentioned them in referring to the Caribbean.
In the last minute, let me reassure noble Lords who raised matters about defence that part of the strategy for the protection of the overseas territories is the maintenance of a minimum credible deterrence and reassurance posture on the islands. There are many more details that I could give about defence, but time does not allow me to cover them. Therefore, I must simply end this debate by saying that we are determined to see a policy of strategic engagement with the overseas territories. We share the view expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Anderson, that new and positive thinking is needed and we believe that we can carry forward the proposals that we have in mind with some of the suggestions of your Lordships. This is a complex and wide-ranging portfolio. There are many other points that I would dearly have liked to cover with your Lordships, but under the rules of this engagement in your Lordships’ House I must here call an end to this debate.
My Lords, this Motion has been on the Order Paper for some time and I was delighted at last to be fortunate in the ballot. Not so fortunate is my noble friend the Minister. The luck of the draw means that he is faced with winding up two major debates on subjects of considerable importance to this country today. What was topical at the time when my Motion was tabled may have moved on, but it is clear that sufficient matters of topical interest remain. The debate has been truly global and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated and given us the benefit of their wide knowledge and experience. In particular, I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Ribeiro on his excellent maiden speech. I found it fascinating to hear how he blended his African background with an interest in the overseas territories in the six Caribbean countries in particular.
The Motion was widely drawn by intention. I am therefore particularly pleased that areas such as Antarctica, the least populated but by far the largest territory geographically, were given due consideration. I thank in particular my noble friend Lord Selborne and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery. I welcome the news of the early introduction of the Antarctic Bill and look forward to it. The Chagos Islands case was advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Luce, and my noble friend Lord Selborne and the Minister dealt with it thoroughly. Nevertheless, I think that we will all have to read Hansard carefully in this respect. It is a very difficult issue.
This debate is not party political. Indeed, I think that it is probably the least contentious area of government policy. It is therefore disappointing that a number of our colleagues who have visited the territories and who generally participate in events relating to them have not been able to be in their places to join in the debate. I therefore congratulate in particular the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, on being the sole contributor from the opposition Benches, carrying out his task thoroughly and making the important point that any future reforms of your Lordships’ House should bear in mind possible representation from the overseas territories.
Finally, I thank the Minister, who dealt with the many and varied issues raised. It is always the fate of Lords Ministers that they have to deal with all subjects arising in relation to their departments, not just with those relating to their departmental responsibilities. My noble friend does this with what appears to be ease and authority and always with evident interest. I have certainly been reassured and informed by his reply, as, I hope, have the representatives of the overseas territories. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
My Lords, the last time we had a full-scale debate on Zimbabwe was in June 2010 at the instigation of the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, who I am glad to see in his place. I am looking forward very much to hearing what he has to say. The debate before that was two years ago, just before the global political agreement was signed, and yet the global political agreement is still very largely unimplemented, and progress towards its most essential objectives has been painfully slow. The Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee has told President Zuma, the SADC facilitator, that it aims to have a draft of the constitution ready for approval by 30 September, but at the same time it complained that lack of resources has been hampering its work. The chairman of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission—ZEC—says that it cannot begin to work on the electoral register until it is provided with $20 million needed to carry out the operation. He estimates that another $200 million is required for the referendum on the new constitution and that the same amount is required for the national elections to be conducted on the cleaned-up register.
The backdrop to the looming election is the crescendo of political violence by ZANU-PF and the security forces against the opposition coupled with total impunity for the perpetrators, as detailed in a hard-hitting report from Human Rights Watch that was published earlier this week. Here, the coalition Government have announced that we are increasing our aid to Zimbabwe to £100 million a year to encourage fair elections and other reforms. The EU is spending €90 million on humanitarian aid in support of the key reforms of the GPA to promote an environment conducive to a general election. Presumably, the depoliticisation of the ZEC secretariat and staff must precede the collection of names for the electoral roll, but is that built in to the rules for the disbursement of aid? Will my noble friend say what we in the European Union are doing to combat the false allegation by the Justice Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, that sanctions are to blame for the underfunding of the electoral commission? This is being echoed in newspaper advertisements in Zimbabwe carrying ZANU-PF and government logos that claim:
“Sanctions are an attack on our health, on the education of our children, on our social services and our infrastructure”.
This message gets picked up elsewhere in Africa. Have our embassies been instructed to explain to their host countries the truth that humanitarian aid is not affected by sanctions and that they bite on only 163 individuals and 31 businesses that are involved in human rights abuses and anti-democratic activities?
On 15 February, the second anniversary of the GPA, Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai listed, not for the first time, his requirements for free and fair elections. He wants a new biometric voters’ roll, a stable and secure environment, a credible electoral body with a non-partisan secretariat, a non-partisan public media, security sector reform and a new constitution approved by a referendum. The need for a new list of electors was underlined just now by the ZEC finding that 27 per cent of the names on the existing list are of dead people.
There cannot be a free and fair election before these key milestones are achieved, the Prime Minister said, because, under the GPA, ZANU-PF has no power to hold an election without the consent of the other political parties. Obviously, they will agree only when the provisions of the GPA have been implemented. That position has been reiterated just now by SADC. They will also not allow elections to be held under the conditions that exist at the moment and without the substantial reforms that we expect from the GPA.
The three party leaders have just reiterated their commitment to the 24 principles of the GPA but that was exactly what they did last August, with ZANU-PF insisting that implementation should be concurrent with the lifting of sanctions. Is that still the position and what has been done to try and persuade ZANU-PF to lift that condition so that we can get on with the implementation of the entire GPA? Will my noble friend confirm that the US, EU and UK have no intention of lifting sanctions until substantial progress has been made towards full implementation? Will he also say that none of our $100 million-worth of aid will be dispersed until the sections of the agreement that were due in the first month are set in motion?
The Prime Minister wants a timetable based on the attainment of specific objectives with no dates attached. That seems to be the view of President Zuma, the SADC facilitator. Mr Zuma’s immediate concern is for an end to the politically motivated violence, as he demanded on a visit to Harare last month. The response since then has been more arrests, the torture of detainees and the denial of access to more than 50 political activists in custody by their lawyers and doctors. Nine of them, including MDC MP Munyaradzi Gwisai, face trumped-up charges of treason, which of course attracts the death penalty. Their lawyer reports that they have been severely tortured and are held incommunicado on charges of watching a video of the uprisings in Tunisia, Egypt and Libya. Only yesterday, police disrupted a human rights workshop being held in a church and arrested the two co-chairs of the session. This morning, Elton Mangoma, the MDC Deputy Treasurer-General and Minister of Energy and Power Development, was picked up by three plainclothes police officers at his government offices, the Chaminuka building. Is SADC keeping a record of these events and reporting them to the African Union? Mr Mangoma is a member of the MDC negotiating team on the GPA and also co-chairman of the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee for the GPA, so this could be a particularly serious development.
Remembering the extreme violence at the 2008 election run-off, which led to the withdrawal of the MDC after they had been solidly ahead on the first round, do President Zuma and SADC have a fallback plan if their warnings about the urgent need to curb the ZANU-PF armed gangs and security forces are ignored? Without security sector reform, there is no chance that they would refrain from manipulating the electoral register and intimidating opposition candidates and voters. Has SADC considered enlisting the AU, its co-guarantors of the GPA, to bring extra pressure on ZANU-PF on this objective?
In our previous debate, there was some discussion about how the Commonwealth might be enlisted. Even though Zimbabwe is no longer a member of the Commonwealth, there might be an agreement to welcome it back into the fold if it performs on the GPA. Would my noble friend consider whether the Commonwealth might have that important role, of course with the consent of SADC?
Mugabe and his party want a polling day this summer, no doubt fearful that at any moment his failing health will mean that he has to step aside. In between visits to Singapore for surgery, he finally met the other party leaders on 25 February and agreed to start implementing the GPA in accordance with the implementation matrix they had already adopted in August 2010. Have we any reason to assume that that agreement will go ahead this time when the August one was in fact a dead letter?
I turn now to the prodigiously lucrative Marange diamond fields, said to be the largest in the world and of which some 97 per cent are under the direct control of the military. The remaining 3 per cent was assigned to two companies granted their concessions without a tender process, both closely associated with ZANU-PF and military commanders. Senior executives of one of the companies, Canadile, are being prosecuted for obtaining their concession by fraud and smuggling $100 million-worth of diamonds into Mozambique so that they were not taxed. The frontier with Mozambique is still wide open to illegal exports sponsored by the military, as people at Global Witness told me when I spoke to them last week. We have some leverage with Mozambique, a major recipient of aid. Could we help it put an end to this traffic?
Leakage of revenue also seems to occur at ministerial level. Finance Minister Tendai Biti said a month ago that more than $100 million generated from recent diamond sales had not been accounted for. His ministry had been given a schedule from the office of President Mugabe listing a total of $170 million said to have been transferred to the Treasury by the Minerals Marketing Corporation of Zimbabwe, but in fact it received only $64 million. Mr Biti said he had asked the Accountant-General to investigate the destination of the missing millions, to which the Minister for Mines immediately said that he had no right or power to hold such an inquiry. If there has to be an alternative, one obvious choice would have been the KP monitor, Mr Abbey Chikane, but his betrayal of confidential discussions with Farai Maguwu, head of the Centre for Research and Development, the most effective human rights campaigner in Marange, ruled him out. Ironically, Mr Maguwu has now been chosen by the civil society organisations to head the technical team of the local focal point for the Kimberley process. Could SADC be asked to suggest an independent accountant to resolve the difference between Mines Minister Mpofu and Finance Minister Tendai Biti, and to recommend measures that will fully identify the amounts of money received and by whom they are now held?
This Kimberley process mechanism is responsible for overseeing the certification of rough diamonds as produced in an area free from conflict or human rights abuses. Even though the military is now firmly in control of the region, ITN reports that extrajudicial killings and major human rights abuses are continuing. That is confirmed by the recent Human Rights Watch report that I have already mentioned. There is an even greater likelihood that money from the three auctions held last year was siphoned off by the generals. Two of the auctions were held under the supervision of the Kimberley process but a third was not. It came to light only when Mugabe announced that $250 million from that sale would be used to pay the arrears of civil servants’ salaries. Last week, Mr Tsvangirai said that diamond sales had generated $300 million revenue so far and that the money would be used to reduce foreign debt. As Mr Biti said, there is no accountability for the moneys being generated by these operations. Zimbabweans are not allowed to know what sums were raised in each of the three auctions. Does the lack of transparency not make it easier for the crooks in government to dip not just their fingers but their whole arms in the till?
The EU still occupies the chair of the Kimberley process Working Group on Monitoring, which is supposed to assess the effectiveness of monitoring. Yet when the KP plenary in November 2010 broke up without reaching agreement on what to do about the Marange diamonds, the KP monitor, Abbey Chikane, made a quick dash to Zimbabwe where he certified the whole stockpile of 3.9 million carats, worth some $160 million.
The KP chair issued a notice to members not to trade in Marange diamonds pending consultations on how Zimbabwe could bring its operations into compliance with KP rules. But amendments were agreed that would make it harder to secure investigation of human rights in the area, and it was to be no longer required that individual parcels of diamonds be certified. Even with those concessions, the Mines Minister said last Friday that Zimbabwe had not agreed to the light-touch KP guidelines that would allow Marange diamonds to be sold on the world market. The Mines Minister defiantly told Voice of America that the Government objected to any reference to human rights and that they would continue to sell diamonds regardless of whether the sales were authorised by the KP. It is as if they had decided to withdraw altogether from the KP, to avoid oversight that would reveal official theft of the proceeds that belong to the people. What does that mean for Zimbabwe diamond sales? Will lower prices have to be accepted because the sales will not be KP-authorised?
This is a make or break moment for the people of Zimbabwe. SADC and the AU, as guarantors of the GPA, could “do the right thing”, as Mr Tsvangirai puts it, and tell Mugabe that if elections are held without any of the reforms that were agreed two years ago, they would not be endorsed as free and fair, and any Government who came into office through such a process would not be accepted as the legitimate voice of the people. If on the other hand the elections are postponed until after the promised reforms are implemented, there will be a brilliant future ahead for Zimbabwe and its people. Like the Prime Minister, we have confidence in President Zuma and his team, and the EU should stand by to offer them any help we can provide.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for bringing this matter to our attention and giving us this opportunity today. For more years than I remember, and probably more years than he cares to remember, he has brought such matters to the attention of your Lordships’ House and made sure that we debate these things properly.
I come to this debate as a person concerned for the well-being of all Zimbabweans, those living in their own country and those scattered around the world and here in the UK because they have had to flee their own country in fear of what might happen to them and their families. I come to this debate also as a Methodist minister. Methodism has had a long relationship with Zimbabwe and with Rhodesia before that. The earliest missionaries from the British church followed the 1891 pioneer column and, by the end of that year, bases for outreach had already begun in Salisbury and in Epworth—named for the place where John Wesley was born, of course, and now a high-density suburb of Harare. Later Methodists from the American church came to the country and focused their efforts especially on its eastern fringe. The relationship between Methodists in Britain and Methodists in Zimbabwe has weathered many difficulties, the creation and subsequent break-up of the Central African Federation, UDI and the war for black majority rule. The Methodists in Zimbabwe now form an autonomous and vibrant church with which we still have close ties. Indeed, where I work, my colleague is herself British Methodism’s special envoy to the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe, and we have contacts all over the land with whom we are in regular touch.
Zimbabwe is a country with great resources, wonderful landscapes, and above all a diligent, hard-working, resilient and extremely hospitable people. As with others we long for the day when the country can once again hold its head high in the community of nations. As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, reminded us, the current situation in Zimbabwe gives us very little cause for hope. The global political agreement signed in 2008 between ZANU-PF and the two parts of the MDC—one of which is itself terribly fragmented—which led to the formation of an “inclusive Government”, has for the most part not been implemented. Indeed, 24 articles have never been implemented, especially those that relate to security and the media. Technically, the lifespan of the GPA was over on 11 February 2011, so it ought to be behind us. Renegotiating it seems necessary, with seeking the implementation of all its articles as part of that negotiation.
According to our sources, the economic situation has seen some improvement with a reduction in inflation, largely the result of an abandonment of the Zimbabwe dollar in favour of the US dollar and other currencies. The relationship between the parties in the inclusive Government is largely characterised by mistrust, and ZANU-PF still controls the vital ministries dealing with security, the police and the media. Prime Minister Tsvangirai has still not been able to do something as basic as moving into the official prime ministerial residence.
At its last party conference at the end of last year, ZANU-PF chose Robert Mugabe—aged 87 years—once again as its presidential candidate, and is eager to have elections as soon as possible. I wonder why. June this year would be its favoured time. Its hope is to gain an outright election victory and dispense with the GPA altogether. We have already heard eloquent arguments as to why such elections or proposals for elections should be held off until all the things mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, are in place. Elections this year and in the current circumstances could certainly not achieve a free and fair election acceptable to the majority of Zimbabweans and it is my strong conviction that Her Majesty’s Government should do all in their power to support and encourage those groups in Zimbabwe, in the region and in international organisations working for a postponement of elections until proper procedures and safeguards can be put in place. I hope that the Minister can give us some assurance on that when he winds up.
South Africa and the countries of the southern African region are crucial in working on a road map towards elections, and it is in that area that we in Britain might best offer our support and, if requested, technical expertise. A new constitution, mentioned again by the noble Lord, was an essential pillar of the global political agreement, but has still not been achieved despite some half-hearted attempts at consultation. That needs to be in place before any election. More pressure needs to be exerted to bring about a full implementation of all the other articles of the GPA. A new electoral register needs to be produced, as was again mentioned by the noble Lord. I do not apologise for repeating matters mentioned in a previous speech, something that I normally find offensive, because the more we say this thing, the better. There needs to be an open media that will give coverage to all shades of political opinion. Contacts across Zimbabwe inform us that there is already a great deal of violence and intimidation around the country because people, by virtue of the last conference of ZANU-PF, are on election alert already. Therefore, the population is already, once again, in a state of fear. It is important that SADC and African Union missions be in place now and in the run-up to elections, and not leave their presence or activity too long.
It is perhaps an irony that President Zuma of South Africa should have come out so clearly in favour of removing President Mubarak from one country in Africa when his country has played relatively little role in seeking the removal of President Mugabe from Zimbabwe. Messages coming from Zimbabwe indicate that the MDC is being banned by the police from holding meetings in the run-up to its own party congress, let alone any election that might be in the offing. Church people—Anglican bishops and the general secretary of the Council of Churches—have had death threats issued against them, as no doubt have others from civic organisations who are working for cases of harassment and violence to be investigated and for the individuals responsible to be brought before the courts. We can highlight the plight of these people; perhaps we ought to. These are real things, happening right now. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, mentioned other instances of violence against people and the creation of a climate of fear. We should keep mentioning that to keep it before the public eye; then perhaps our Government can put pressure in the appropriate places to get assurances and action that will minimise these instances.
I shall finish here at home, with a word that may need to be said. We need to be conscious that the security situation in Zimbabwe has not improved greatly and that refugees and asylum seekers should therefore not be pressurised to return home prematurely. Perhaps we can put a little bit of muscle behind the coaxing—if it can be done with muscle—of the UK Border Agency and other authorities towards that end. Instead, the good work of agencies in this country in preparing and training Zimbabweans to go home when things are settled and to take their rightful places in rebuilding their country should be continued and expanded. Zimbabwe has slipped down the news agenda. It has gone on for so long that thresholds of patience, tolerance and interest have been exhausted but the situation there is important. The people there need our best attention and any efforts that this Parliament can put behind making things better for them.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lord Avebury on securing this debate. He is a man I am proud to sit alongside on these Benches for all that he does for oppressed people. This is a time when the process of political reform in Zimbabwe is under serious threat. Dozens of people have been arrested in the past couple of weeks in a co-ordinated crackdown on political dissent. There is a renewed assault on freedom of assembly and freedom of speech. The build-up of intimidation and the recent deployment of military units on the streets of major cities are aimed at reinforcing a menacing sense of fear in Zimbabwe.
Ironically, while people have been, as my noble friend Lord Avebury mentioned, charged with treason simply for watching films about what is going on in Tunisia and Egypt, it is President Mugabe who makes inflammatory speeches that really threaten the future safety and economic well-being of the people of Zimbabwe. It is clear that he, together with the military high command and secret police, is determined to prevent any further progress along the road to democracy. They still have control of all the really important levers of power in Zimbabwe, which they plan to use to veto any further concessions to liberalisation.
I shall concentrate particularly on one area that is bearing the brunt of this crackdown: the independent media. I shall address some particular issues relating to freedom of the press and of broadcasting. Control of the mass media has long been a weapon in the armoury of those imposing repressive rule in Zimbabwe and it remains a key element in the old-guard strategy for undermining those working for reform. Free speech, free association and open access to the broadcast media would all give vital space in which to challenge the system of repression, but the tight system of control and regulation prevents that happening. That system was largely inherited by ZANU-PF from the minority regime of Ian Smith.
It is not just editors and journalists who face danger every day. I pay tribute to the people who are the unsung heroes of trying to disseminate free media: the newsvendors. They are attacked by Mugabe’s mobs simply for selling newspapers, such as the Zimbabwean, that favour reform. Their stock is destroyed and they put their limbs as well as their livelihood at risk. Meanwhile, vitriolic comment and denunciation of Morgan Tsvangirai and other MDC Ministers is a regular part of the diet of propaganda and distortion peddled by the state-controlled media in Zimbabwe. There is no BBC News, no ITV, no Channel 4 and no Sky. The television and radio stations of the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation, which has a near monopoly on broadcasting, are under state control, and despite the existence of the “inclusive” Government, in this context “the state” still means ZANU-PF loyalists. They also control the major daily newspapers: the Herald, published from Harare, and the Chronicle, published from Bulawayo.
Two major tools of control are the AIPPA, a positively Orwellian piece of legislation that stands for the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act—true “doublethink”, given the way it is used—and POSA, the Public Order and Security Act. Those two Acts need to be repealed or radically reformed as a high priority. The international community has entrusted oversight of reform in Zimbabwe to the region. I hope the Minister will be able to tell the House that this issue is raised with South Africa and other SADC members in diplomatic and ministerial contact with the region. As major providers of aid to Zimbabwe and to its neighbours, the people of the United Kingdom—and, indeed the EU as a whole—have a right to expect serious engagement on these issues.
I also urge Her Majesty’s Government, bilaterally and through the EU and the Commonwealth, to make every effort to ensure that adequate support is given to independent media operators. That means help to fund professional training and help with legal resources and technical assistance to ensure that robust and independent media operations flourish in Zimbabwe. It is very important that this should encompass support for investigative reporting on economic and social issues as well as politics. In an environment in which the media has largely been used as a tool for spreading propaganda, there is a real danger that the skills of journalism are lost. Corruption and malpractice in commerce as well as in central and local government have an easy ride if there are no vibrant and well-trained independent media professionals.
One of the most important ways in which we can support reform in Zimbabwe is by backing a free and fearless media sector on which an accountable, democratic tradition can be built. I am very pleased that the first group of Commonwealth professional fellows have just arrived in the UK from Zimbabwe and that part of their programme involves media training. However, I am also concerned that a fifth fellow, Tafadzwa Choto, is not here, as he is one of the six people still being held on charges of treason for watching television coverage of events in Tunisia and Egypt, as was mentioned before. I encourage both the FCO and DfID to continue to explore ways of supporting the independent media sector in Zimbabwe. I hope the Minister will reassure the House on that and add his voice to those who are calling for the immediate release of those who are being held on treason charges for watching the news.
Another important way in which our aid programme to Zimbabwe can help is by supporting the specially appointed statutory bodies such as the media commission and the electoral commission. They need assistance in the form of finance and technical expertise. I have a particular interest in the media commission, but the electoral commission is also vital. Unless these commissions are adequately resourced, their work is hampered and they become ineffective in their role. In dealing with the composition of these commissions, attention needs to be paid to the staffing of their secretariats. There is no point in carefully selecting the representative commissioners who oversee their bodies if their work is then compromised or undermined by staff whose loyalties lie with the old regime. Although these issues might appear to be primarily the responsibility of DfID, they have a huge impact on the political and diplomatic areas for which the FCO is responsible, so I hope the Minister will be able to comment on these areas.
Finally, I have an observation—here, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths. Restrictions imposed on the British media, which had included banning the BBC, were lifted a couple of years ago, but this does not seem to have resulted in adequate coverage in our own media of this very important story. I am glad to say that on this point and in this country, I do not expect the Minister to have any influence.
My Lords, I, too, express my appreciation to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for his initiative in securing this very timely debate.
I pay tribute to the thousands of brave Zimbabweans who remain committed and in the front line of the struggle for democracy and human rights. I have had the honour of meeting some of them when they have visited us here at Westminster. There are countless others in towns and villages across that country whose dedication compels them to risk imprisonment, torture and even death in order to bring freedom to their people. Many of them are women. I think particularly of the courageous trade union leaders: Lucia Matibenga, General Secretary of the Commercial Workers Union; Gertrude Hambira of the General Agricultural and Plantation Workers Union, who is now forced into hiding and exile in fear of her life for exposing the way that members of her union were persecuted by Mugabe's regime; and Thoko Khupe of the Zimbabwe Amalgamated Railway Union, now Deputy Prime Minister.
It is heart-warming to see the solidarity with these heroes shown by the international trade union movement. The Confederation of South African Trade Unions has been staunch in its support, and in this country individual unions have mobilised support for their affiliated unions in Zimbabwe—the CWU with the Communications and Allied Services Workers Union, and the NUJ with the Zimbabwe Union of Journalists. Practical support such as this directly aimed at those working with people at the grass roots is enormously helpful, and I hope that more such links will be promoted.
Not long ago I had the pleasure of giving tea in this House to a member of the rather small union that I used to belong to, the Speaker of the Zimbabwean House of Assembly, Mr Lovemore Moyo. As well as being pleased to meet Speaker Moyo, I was delighted that the assistant accompanying him, Mr Zitha, has spent time studying at the University of Leeds, close to my home town. That reinforced for me the relationship between Zimbabwe, which has been spoken about earlier in this debate, and the United Kingdom. There are many deep and personal links at all levels of society between our two countries, so this debate and the many occasions when we can raise issues regarding Zimbabwe are most valuable.
At my meeting with Speaker Moyo I discussed some of the important protocols that protect Parliament. They have to be fiercely guarded if parliamentarians are to be free to conduct thoroughly and without hindrance the tasks entrusted to them by the electorate. I gave Speaker Moyo copies of our sessional orders, which I used as Speaker and which were agreed at the beginning of each new Session of Parliament. They protect Members of Parliament from obstruction or interference in the conduct of their parliamentary duties. These rights are vital to parliamentary democracy, by whatever mechanism they are enacted and however they are enshrined, and I am very disappointed by recent reports from Zimbabwe that show that they are not being upheld.
I make no apology for deviating for a moment. Only a few minutes ago, I had a note handed to me that comes from a very reliable source. It tells me that a court ruling in Zimbabwe today says that the conduct of the secret ballot by which Speaker Moyo was elected was improper. This is a very worrying development and a serious situation. It is another example of the way in which the judiciary is often used to undermine democracy. A re-election could of course be used as a shoo-in for a new Speaker sympathetic to the Mugabe regime. That could be the case if enough of the MDC MPs are kept locked up in jail. Although there is not much longer to go in this debate, I hope that the Minister will have something to tell us about that devastating news when he winds up.
Six years ago yesterday, on 9 March 2005, I raised the case of the Member of Parliament Roy Bennett. My concern then was the imprisonment of Mr Bennett as a result of an altercation in Parliament. The penalty imposed was out of all proportion to the misdemeanour for which he had unreservedly apologised. Mr Bennett was sentenced to 12 months’ hard labour in the most inhuman conditions. Six years on, Mr Bennett is in exile but continues to devote himself to fighting for the rights and dignity of his fellow citizens.
The arrest of any Member of Parliament is a serious matter. A few weeks ago I learnt of the arrest of Mr Douglas Mwonzora. Mr Mwonzora is co-chairman of the parliamentary constitutional select committee, as was mentioned earlier, and is jointly overseeing the process of consultation on a new constitution for Zimbabwe. He simply lodged a complaint with the police about the violent disruption by Zanu-PF militia of a meeting that he was holding in his constituency. In what seems an utterly bizarre turn of events but sadly is not at all unusual, Mr Mwonzora himself was subsequently arrested by the police outside Parliament in Harare.
As the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, has mentioned, we got the news that Elton Mangoma, MDC Minister for Development and a member of the MDC negotiating team on the global political agreement, was picked up from his government office by police. The reasons for the arrest are unknown to me. Perhaps the Minister will have some news of this latest arrest in his wind-up.
Politically motivated arrests affect other citizens too. Vexation charges are brought but time and money that can ill be afforded are then needed to mount a defence. Court proceedings are deliberately delayed, leading to protracted uncertainty. There seems to be a calculated process by which key people like Mr Mangoma and Mr Mwonzora are diverted from their duties and important responsibilities, and it inevitably means that the vital reforms so desperately needed in Zimbabwe are delayed or derailed altogether. Arrests of this nature have become far too commonplace. It is what that brave lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa has called “rule by law rather than rule of law”.
I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us when next there might be an opportunity for the Foreign Secretary or the Minister for Africa to discuss these matters with the South African authorities. After all, the current political dispensation in Zimbabwe was imposed by South Africa. Robert Mugabe was able to engineer his so-called “victory” in the presidential elections only because he manipulated the figures in the first round and managed to deny Morgan Tsvangirai an outright win. In the second round, Mugabe unleashed such a wave of violence that Morgan Tsvangirai felt compelled to withdraw from the race to prevent further bloodshed. As we know, the former President Thabo Mbeki of South Africa then used his powerful position within the region to manoeuvre for a settlement that propped up Mugabe and allowed him to remain in office. It was not a good development for democracy. It never is when the will of the people, democratically expressed, is denied, subverted or overridden. The way in which deals have been brokered allowing presidents to remain in office, just because they want to stay put despite losing an election, is to me a very worrying development.
We have to deal with the world as it is today. We have heard much about the global political agreement signed in 2008 by Mugabe and Tsvangirai. It is supposed to be guaranteed by South Africa as well as by the AU and SADC. Furthermore, it has been incorporated into the constitution of Zimbabwe. What is shameful is the continuing contempt with which Mugabe treats the obligations to which he solemnly signed his name. He has continued to take unilateral action on key appointments, and has threatened to call elections unilaterally without consultation with Prime Minister Tsvangirai and without waiting for the approval and implementation of the new constitution.
Surely the Minister would agree that such action is in contravention of the global political agreement. I feel very strongly that these issues need to be raised with Ministers from SADC countries. But I ask whether they are raised. Perhaps the Minister will be able to tell us.
Surely we can negotiate with SADC countries. I do not need to remind your Lordships that we grant substantial sums of aid to them in our budget. We have good relations with them and most are members of the Commonwealth. Can we not use that leverage for the benefit of Zimbabwe? I hope the Minister will agree, after all, that political progress in Zimbabwe will help the progress of the whole region.
The government statement on priorities for UK overseas aid made it clear that we want to see value for money. I agree with that. Surely an important aspect of this, in the context of Zimbabwe, is that we need to deal with the causes of the crisis and not simply with the symptoms. The causes are political and the symptoms affect the whole of southern Africa. In footing the bill, should we not make it clear that we need the partnership of the region to overcome the political obstacles that are holding back development of SADC as a whole?
Last week I was encouraged to read the comments on these issues made by Marius Fransman—
I am so sorry; I will bring my remarks to an end—as important and fascinating as they are. As a former Speaker I must do that.
I look forward to hearing from the Minister what steps the Government will take to impress upon members of the AU and SADC the gravity of the commitments they have made. I particularly look forward to his comments on the possible Speakership in Zimbabwe that I spoke about in my comments.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for this timely debate. I rise to speak in it because of an association with Zimbabwe over some 20 years. I have had the privilege of both employing and training some of the Bishops who now lead the Anglican Church in Zimbabwe, and I attended most recently the consecration of the present Bishop of Harare, the Reverend Chad Gandiya.
The Anglican Church in Zimbabwe is undergoing a sustained and brutal persecution with its origins in a dispute over church properties and the non re-election of Dr. Kunonga, the former Bishop of Harare and someone widely regarded as a plant of the Mugabe regime. When Kunonga lost the election in 2007, instead of stepping down he went on to form a rival faction. The police have consistently failed to protect Anglican congregations and clergy. This is something that I have witnessed, all too painfully, for myself in a number of places.
Police claim to be acting on orders from above. This persecution is evident across the country, most evidently in Masvingo and Matabeleland. Members of your Lordships' House will recall that in the 1980s, shortly after independence, the Mugabe Government recruited the North Korean Fifth Brigade with the specific intention of subjugating Matabeleland through a series of well documented atrocities, amounting to what has been described since as ethnic cleansing.
The noble Lord, Lord Griffiths mentioned the current death threats which have been made against the Bishops of Harare and Manicaland, and both men have recently escaped through warnings from friends when attackers have been on the way. All the congregations in Harare and Manicaland are prevented from entering their churches, or being within 200 metres of them, each Sunday, and this has been the situation since 2008. Policing this situation requires the use of hundreds of officers every Sunday. There are weekly arrests of clergy without charge.
Most recently, an 89 year-old woman, Mrs Jessica Mendeya, was killed defending the church. The Bishop of Harare described the circumstances surrounding her death, and I warn your Lordships that the description is shocking. Gandiya said:
“People came on Friday night. They raped her, they cut her mouth and genitals and pierced various parts of her body”.
Those who did this said it was something to do with the fact that she belonged to the Anglican Church. Following this killing, Gandiya said that he hoped that the police would step in this time to offer them help. He said:
“My hope is that they will do their work in terms of protecting all the citizens of Zimbabwe without singling us out as people not to be protected”.
The Bishop has also spoken of the resilience of the people, again something I have personally witnessed on a number of occasions. Reporting on a meeting a week or so ago, Gandiya spoke of another elderly woman beaten by Kunonga's supporters who had lost the use of one of her arms. She said:
“They can come and beat me and render my other arm useless but I will never give up my faith”.
Your Lordships cannot fail to notice how both the murder and the attack that I have reported signal a move to targeting the old and defenceless, indicating new levels of violence and human rights abuses.
The Anglican tradition is strong in Zimbabwe. The church has been active in peacemaking and reconciliation. Bishop Gandiya in his enthronement sermon in Harare Cathedral, an occasion itself marked by the locking and barring of the cathedral, offered an olive branch to those who supported Dr Kunonga. Bishop Gandiya is a valued member of the Archbishops international visitor programme, which I have the privilege of chairing, a body which seeks to keep conversations going across the divisions of the communion.
The oppression of the Anglican Church must be seen in the context of the wider oppression of civil society in Zimbabwe, of those perceived to be, or in fact in, opposition to ZANU-PF. Freedom of association has long been strictly limited in Zimbabwe and this has extended into restrictions on freedom of worship for many Pentecostal and Methodist groups, as well as other Anglican groups. As other noble Lords have mentioned, human rights groups—most particularly Amnesty International, of which I am a member—and Human Rights Watch, have recorded the extent of those abuses over the past few years and are due to present these at the international human rights review of Zimbabwe, which will happen in November. But November is a long time away, and things are pressing.
The prerequisites for new elections outlined in the global peace agreement have not been met, as we have heard. We also know that ZANU-PF is gearing up for a brutal election campaign of propaganda, intimidation and violence which will be funded through misused government funds, illegal diamond sales and sympathetic foreign regimes.
The persecution of Anglican Christians in Zimbabwe involves one of the most serious and sustained violations of human rights and religious freedom and demands international advocacy. The most reverend Primates the Archbishops of Canterbury and York, together with the head of the All Africa Council of Churches and the Archbishop of Cape Town, have supported the need to develop a regional advocacy strategy. The international human rights review will not take place until November, as I have said, but discussion needs to take place. As the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, has said, there is an opportunity surely for the representatives of SADC to enable something of this kind to happen in the meanwhile. The support of your Lordships' House in this regard would send a strong signal to all those who are seeking an end to violence and intimidation. I hope that this debate will contribute to a better and more peaceful outcome in the beautiful country of Zimbabwe.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for securing this debate. The recent developments in Zimbabwe do not reflect the aims stipulated in the historic global political agreement. Progress has been painfully slow with fears of a return to the old regime. There is speculation that Mr Mugabe has sent serving and retired Zimbabwean military personnel to Libya in support of Colonel Gaddafi. The 46 people who were arrested in Zimbabwe for watching footage of the uprising in north Africa are to be charged with treason—an offence that carries the death penalty in Zimbabwe. The former MP and Labour activist, Mr Gwisai, is among those to be charged. A magistrate in Harare has since halted the proceedings against these individuals and ordered that they undergo examination for torture. Most worrying is the revelation that among the 46 arrested is a woman who has had three operations for a brain tumour yet was assaulted by prison guards and refused treatment.
These actions have resulted in widespread condemnation, with the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights expressing concerns about civil society in Zimbabwe. The situation in Zimbabwe is such that there is hunger, poverty and unemployment among the majority of citizens but wealth is enjoyed by a select few. The combination of low incomes and a shortage of food have exposed Zimbabwe, among other nations, to fluctuating market prices. The average citizen spends a large portion of his wages on food supplies. A meteoric rise in the cost of provisions has the potential to trigger protests in Zimbabwe as seen in north Africa. The decision by the Zimbabwe Electricity Supply Authority to increase tariffs by 30 per cent puts further pressure on the cost of living, especially for citizens on the lowest incomes. Although economic activity has increased over the past two years, Zimbabwe’s headline rate of inflation was still high for January despite the monetary policy statement of the Bank of Zimbabwe warning against the effects of rising inflation on the economy. Zimbabwe caught the world’s attention at the end of 2007 with hyperinflation which led to price increases of more than 60,000 per cent.
The rise in political violence is a cause for concern. Amnesty International has reported that supporters of the Movement for Democratic Change Party have been targeted by Mugabe’s ZANU-PF for a campaign of prolonged violence and intimidation. It has been just over two years since the historic power-sharing agreement was signed by the two parties. Shopkeepers who stock and sell independent newspapers are being harassed and intimidated by people suspected of being members of ZANU-PF. A new organisation, Wealth to the Youth, which is linked to ZANU-PF, has been looting shops owned by foreigners. I support the decision of the European Union and the United States to extend sanctions on Zimbabwe until February 2012. This is the correct approach to dealing with a nation that does not reflect and does not respect its citizen’s human rights, democracy or the rule of law. These requirements were stipulated under the global political agreement but have not been implemented.
Britain is one of the largest donors to the Zimbabwean state and last year gave the biggest aid package to date. The Government have pledged to increase aid to Zimbabwe over the next four years provided that it holds free and fair elections and successfully implements reforms. I am in favour of this decision as Britain’s development aid reaches the people of Zimbabwe through the United Nations and non-governmental organisations.
I welcome the Southern African Development Community’s efforts to encourage the political parties in Zimbabwe to work towards achieving social and political reforms. The SADC is also playing an important role by investing in projects aimed at improving the infrastructure in Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe has accused Barclays and Standard Chartered Bank of profiting to the detriment of Zimbabwe’s economy and has threatened to bring them under state control. I should be grateful if the Minister could inform your Lordships’ House as to the steps Her Majesty's Government will take in response to this overt warning.
During a recent visit, the Chinese Foreign Minister called for the withdrawal of sanctions on Zimbabwe. China has signed a deal to provide Zimbabwe with a grant of $7.6 million. It is important to remember that in 2008 China vetoed a United Nations Security Council resolution that sought sanctions against Zimbabwe for violating human rights. Having an ally with the economic prowess of China provides the Zimbabwean Government with limited incentives to implement reforms.
It is not only irresponsible but incorrect for Robert Mugabe to blame the sanctions placed on his country for Zimbabwe’s ailing economy. It is more accurate to place a significant part of the responsibility for the nation’s suffering on the violent land-distribution programme that has almost destroyed the agriculture industry. The way that the white farmers have been treated by Robert Mugabe reminds me of how the assets of my family and other Asians were seized by General Amin when we were expelled from Uganda.
The concerns of foreign investors in Zimbabwe are compounded by Mugabe’s Economic Empowerment Act that states that black Zimbabweans should own 51 per cent of companies worth more than £307 million. Any form of discrimination is wholly unwelcome. It does not serve the best interests of Zimbabwe’s economy or society to implement such a blatantly odious piece of legislation that gives rise to racism. I should be grateful if my noble friend could provide up-to-date details of British companies and individuals affected by this law.
The recent direction taken by the President of Zimbabwe is hugely disappointing in the light of notable successes. The nation appears to have made progress, given its participation in the 2011 Cricket World Cup. The Carlyle Group intends to launch a fund for investment in Africa, with a presence in three African countries, including Zimbabwe. The power-sharing agreement brought a great deal of optimism to Zimbabweans. However, it appears that ZANU-PF is still behaving in a manner that was rejected by the electorate two years ago.
Mugabe’s continued defiance of pressure from the international community is a constant concern. We have an historic duty to engage with partners in the region to work towards achieving the social and political reforms that the people of Zimbabwe greatly deserve.
Finally, I am a great believer in the Commonwealth and would like to see its countries, particularly the African states, do more to resolve the problems in Zimbabwe. I have spoken previously in your Lordships’ House on the Commonwealth. It should do more on conflict resolution and promoting trade among its various countries.
My Lords, the great privilege of being invited to join your Lordships' House has been exceeded in the past six weeks by the kindness and courtesy that everyone within this House has extended to me since 24 January, when I took my seat. My only sorrow is that my long-time friend and colleague, Lieutenant General Sir Freddie Viggers, was not able to lead me into your Lordships’ Chamber. I know that your Lordships have paid generous tributes to him for his time as Black Rod, which was curtailed only by his wretched illness. While I was the Chief of the General Staff, General Freddie was my No. 2 as the Adjutant General. Nothing would have given both of us greater pleasure than serving our nation together in your Lordships’ House; but it was not to be.
However, I thank my two, or really three, supporters who guided me in my early days, and I hope they will continue to do so, given that map-reading is not my strong suit. I am most grateful to my senior supporter, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Bramall. He was the undoubted father of the modern British Army and I could have turned to no one else than he to stand beside me. Field-Marshal Dwin had won a Military Cross in battle five years before I was born. The noble Lord, Lord Bilimoria, has been a friend for many years. We share a common background in our military antecedents. As a Christian on the one hand and a Zoroastrian Parsi on the other, we share a common desire to do the very best for and with those around us. My third supporter, who was unavoidably detained elsewhere on the day of my introduction, was my former commanding officer and mentor, the noble and gallant Lord, Lord Inge. Having been his adjutant and principal staff officer many years ago, I am delighted to be standing by his side in your Lordships’ House today.
Before entering your Lordships' House, it was my privilege to serve for 40 years in the Regular Army— 40 years that naturally divide into four decades, each with very different characteristics. Those decades resonate soundly with this afternoon's timely and important debate secured by the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, whom I thank for providing this opportunity. Perhaps noble Lords will permit me to reflect briefly on those decades to make the association with today’s debate.
For me, the 1970s were characterised by service in Northern Ireland; 1977 was the only year in that decade when I did not serve in the Province. The 1980s was the final decade of the Cold War, and of course included the Falklands conflict. The two are connected, because I believe it was not lost on the Kremlin that a democracy such as ours was prepared to send a task force 8,000 miles to fight for a principle. My third decade was that of the so-called new world order, when Francis Fukuyama announced the end of history—but we discovered the Balkans, East Timor and Sierra Leone, not to mention the deserts of Kuwait and southern Iraq in the first Gulf War. Then 9/11 ushered in my final decade as a soldier, propelling the Army, which it was my privilege to lead for three years from 2006 to 2009, back into Afghanistan and Iraq—countries well known to our grandfathers and great-uncles, and those of previous generations.
The conflicts that I took part in, or which formed the backdrop to my professional career, were all about people: their rights, their hopes and their future. That is all that the people of Zimbabwe are asking for. Like the people of Northern Ireland in the 1970s, the Falklands in the 1980s, the Balkans in the 1990s and Iraq and Afghanistan in this decade, all they want is to live free from intimidation in a secure environment that is conducive to freedom and prosperity. Is that too much to aspire to after the first decade of the 21st century?
It was as a schoolboy in 1965 that I heard that the then Prime Minister of Rhodesia, Ian Smith, had unilaterally declared independence from the United Kingdom. To a teenager at the time, it seemed preposterous that this should have happened, and therefore it was with some relief that one heard in 1979 that, after a vicious and bloody civil war, there was the prospect of peace, perhaps reconciliation, and a better future for Zimbabwe. In the years that followed, I visited Zimbabwe several times, noting with a degree of professional pride the staff college that the British Army had established in Harare to underpin the professional development of the post-UDI army. I often reflect that there must be a generation of Zimbabwean army officers who were trained by us in the 1980s and who know that there is a better way than that of the repressive dictatorship of Robert Mugabe. Will they, I wonder, find the moral courage to stand up and do the right thing? They know what that is; we taught them.
On my third day in your Lordships' House, we had a debate on the military covenant. I was too much of a new boy to take part, but the debate highlighted what is really at the heart of the people issue that I am talking about today. In general terms, the covenant touches on the unwritten contract, or bond, between those who govern and those who are governed. In specific terms, it sets out the relationship between an elected Government, who decide what military operations are to be carried out, and those of their citizens in uniform, and their families, who are to carry out those operations. When the covenant is in balance, much can be achieved: when it is out of balance, the sparks fly. In a mature democracy such as ours we can debate these things, imbalances can be rectified and the scales brought into equilibrium: but in a brutish and nasty society such as Zimbabwe’s today, the imbalances are perpetuated, injustices go unchallenged and the poor get poorer while the rich get what passes in Zimbabwe for richer. It is therefore no surprise that decent people around the world say that enough is enough and that the regime of Robert Mugabe has more than had its day.
In closing, I pay tribute to those who, despite the repression and opposition, have continued to try to do what is right for the people of Zimbabwe. I declare an interest as a periodic contributor to the Daily Telegraph and Sunday Telegraph for choosing the charity ZANE— or, to give it its full name, Zimbabwe A National Emergency—as one of the charities for its 2010 national Christmas appeal. The £350,000 raised will go a long way to making the lives of former service and civilian pensioners just that little bit more bearable. However, in a country such as Zimbabwe, rich with agricultural and mineral potential, it should not be like this. The people of Zimbabwe deserve a chance, just as the people of Northern Ireland, the Falklands, the Balkans, Iraq and Afghanistan have deserved a chance—a chance being given to them, by our nation, as I have witnessed over the 40 years of my military service, but there is more to do. I am grateful to have been given the chance to continue to serve people here in your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to be the first to congratulate my noble friend Lord Dannatt on his interesting and compelling maiden speech. We have all followed his recent career both as a soldier and, for a time, as a party politician, and I hope and expect that it is with great relief that he has arrived on the Cross Benches, where he will feel among friends both gallant and otherwise. As my noble friend told us, he completed 40 years’ service in the Army. He held many prominent positions, including Commander, Allied Rapid Reaction Corps, 2003-05, Commander-in-Chief Land Command, 2005-06, and Chief of the General Staff, 2006-09. He also told us very movingly of his personal experience of and service to Zimbabwe and Zimbabweans. I reassure him that his map-reading in the House can only improve. In the mean time, we will greatly look forward to his contributions to our debates.
We are all grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for securing this debate at a time when we need to be more watchful than ever of events in Zimbabwe, which, again, are taking an unpleasant turn. It seems that the violence that we saw three years ago leading up to the elections is returning in a similar form. The noble Lord, Lord Avebury—as he does so well—and others have given us details of this rise in violence and human rights abuse. Inevitably, the MDC is being targeted, as are the churches, the trade unions and civil society—in fact, anyone, for whatever trivial reason, who falls foul of the authorities. The most ludicrous example was the video of the news the other day, and most recently there have been gruesome attacks on those attending International Women’s Day and other events in Bulawayo.
There is a new determination by ZANU-PF to block constitutional change, remove or intimidate the opposition, and threaten more violence in preparation for possible elections later this year, no doubt assisted by the diamond money which is being pocketed by officials. I strongly support those who call for a firmer intervention from SADC and the African Union. They could be selecting observers and getting ready for these elections now. What can the Minister tell us about the UK’s contribution, including technical support for the Electoral Commission, the need for voter education and making better use of civil society organisations, churches and trade unions in spreading awareness? Some of us have direct experience of the elections in South Africa, where this was so effective. It seems that history is repeating itself. It may therefore help to look back at what happened after the 2008 elections and to examine the EU’s and the UK’s diplomatic role at that time.
During the summer when Mr Mugabe had clearly lost all legitimacy and credibility, in the June 2008 elections, could the UK and other EU members have played a cleverer game? In retrospect, we now see that, three months later, he got ahead of us by entering this agreement which led to a coalition the following spring. Surely we can now admit that the coalition, which left the opposition with almost only the junior portfolios, was a considerable coup for the president and a major deception for the rest of us, as my noble friend Lady Boothroyd said. It simply became a prop to perpetuate Mr Mugabe’s regime.
Secondly, I wonder whether the sanctions, strengthened in February 2009 and relaxed since then, have really had any effect on Mr Mugabe, or whether in some perverse way they have actually boosted his morale. If we look at the Ivory Coast, we see President Gbagbo grandstanding against the French colonial power in order to boost his post-election position, echoing Mr Mugabe's performance three years earlier. Colonel Gaddafi in Libya is playing a similar game of one-upmanship by baiting foreigners. Clearly, the Zimbabwean dictator has attracted other African leaders, or should I say gangsters, to his master class. Interestingly, Jeune Afrique magazine left him out of its list of contemporary political arch-criminals from Salazar to Saddam last week. Is it possible that we in the UK have exaggerated the importance of Mr Mugabe and, thereby, contributed to his platform?
Having recently spent two weeks in Africa, I am certain that in both African and European Union eyes we in the UK still seem to feel over-responsible for Zimbabwe and are still his outstanding critics. I am not sure that that is a good thing. Is it perhaps time for us to lower our profile and join forces with the European Union in reaching a more convincing EU foreign policy? I recognise that that is controversial, but in a sense the process is inexorable and it might be a more effective and pragmatic diplomatic policy. We already have positive examples of close EU co-operation. At the time of the coalition—the Minister may confirm this—some EU members were understandably reluctant to work with the ministries held by ZANU-PF but since then there has been a more general engagement with the Government as a whole which has undoubtedly been a more productive way of working.
Another example has been the success of the EU’s partnership with the NGOs, which kept many families out of poverty during the harsh times of inflation and the collapse of social services. We can be very proud of the EU aid programme, and our own, and of the work of UK aid agencies over the past 10 years, also mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh. With the restoration of most services, NGOs, rather than being purely service providers, are beginning to adapt to a more traditional development role, albeit under a humanitarian banner. I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, about the need to support skilled Zimbabweans in the UK and the organisations which are behind them.
With the positive changes in the economy, thanks largely to the excellent Finance Minister, there is a new investment climate. There has also been an improvement in food supply and health performance mainly in urban areas and a decline in the prevalence of HIV/AIDS, but some of the figures for maternal mortality, as my noble friend Lord Crisp will probably say, are still among the worst in Africa. I could speak of the conditions of farm workers, but I have spoken about them in these debates before.
In conclusion, I am not suggesting that sanctions should be further relaxed, but I feel that we are stuck where we are and that we should press much harder for the rule of law, fairer elections, constitutional change and a great deal more commitment from SADC, the African Union and Zimbabwe’s African neighbours.
It is always a privilege to follow the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, in his contributions to this House. I say for the record how much I enjoyed his company and his wisdom in Sudan a couple of weeks ago. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, on his first speech to the House. I am sure that the definitive words that he gave us will be the first of many such contributions, to which we look forward. I also thank my noble friend Lord Avebury for bringing the debate to us today. His contributions over many years have always stimulated this House into making its views known on important issues of the day.
The debate comes at a time when there are developments inside Zimbabwe that give us some cause for pessimism, as many speakers have said. However, they are balanced by encouraging signs of more robust engagement within the region, which gives us slight cause for optimism, to which I shall come later.
Let me deal first with the threat to regional investment in Zimbabwe. The political and economic sabre-rattling by Mugabe will do nothing to encourage re-engagement by the international community. Conferences and initiatives to encourage investment in Zimbabwe, such as those in Harare in the past week or so, take place against a backdrop of a renewed threat by Mugabe, as set out in his recent birthday speech, to seize foreign businesses in the country. He was not talking only about EU or American investments in Zimbabwe. As Newsday, an independent newspaper in Zimbabwe, commented:
“Hardly a week after the ministerial statement on the Bippa with Botswana, birthday-boy President Robert Mugabe drove horses and chariots through the positive development on the signing of the Bippa … He also made threatening noises against South African-owned platinum miner Zimplats, accusing the giant mining firm of squirrelling profits across the Limpopo. He said Zimplats had ‘never given us any substantial money’”.
It is against that background that we can see that patience with Mugabe within the SADC region is wearing somewhat thin.
As for South Africa’s approach, Mugabe’s claim that he could call snap elections and bring an end to the power-sharing inclusive Government was countered by Deputy President Motlanthe of South Africa. He said that, when elections eventually take place, there will need to be international monitoring on the same scale as happened at the end of the liberation war when Rhodesia became Zimbabwe. He said:
“There would be a need for an international presence of the same scale, to ensure a bridge with the past”.
He said that the next elections were viewed by all parties as watershed elections and therefore they had to prepare for them thoroughly to ensure that there would not be any more violence and intimidation during the course of the election campaign. As the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, mentioned, there is now a real window of opportunity. The European Union, the Commonwealth and UN institutions need to set in train the plans, preparations and funding arrangements for election monitoring. To be effective, that monitoring would need to be longer term than the normal election observer missions—both before polling and afterwards. I hope that the Minister will be able to tell us what we in the UK are doing to make sure that plans for such monitoring are put in hand. What budgetary planning is there for such an intensive programme? It will be expensive, but it will be money well spent. The recent announcement of a 15 per cent increase in the UK aid programme to Zimbabwe, which several noble Lords have mentioned, from £70 million to £80 million in the next financial year, is good news and I welcome it, but what resources are specifically set aside to ensure that a countrywide network of international monitors can be adequately resourced in staff and infrastructure?
On the contributions from the AU and SADC, President Khama of Botswana has consistently adopted a closely engaged and constructive stance on supporting political and economic progress in Zimbabwe. It is good that others from the region, such as Georges Chikoti, the Angolan Foreign Minister, are demonstrating support for the democratic aspirations of the people of Zimbabwe.
I hope that this debate will help the Foreign Secretary and the Minister for Africa to demonstrate the support that there is at Westminster and among the people of the United Kingdom for the people of Zimbabwe. The DfID aid budget has shown that over many years and, as I and others have said, it is still rising. The fact that we have a large Zimbabwean diaspora living in towns and cities throughout the UK also strengthens our ties with their families and friends in towns and villages across Zimbabwe. I hope that Ministers stress that financial commitment and those close personal ties when engaging with the AU and SADC on Zimbabwe.
In mid-February, the EU announced the rollover of restrictive measures on Zimbabwe for a further 12 months, with the arms embargo, the travel ban and the asset freeze remaining in place, as noble Lords have mentioned. At the time, the Foreign Secretary said:
“This rollover … reflects the fact that the economic progress that has been made since 2008 has not been matched by progress in key political areas such as the rule of law, democratic reforms and the creation of an environment conducive to free and fair elections”.
I am particularly concerned that the upsurge of political violence and intimidation that we are seeing now suggests that a pre-election intimidation campaign is gathering momentum. Can the Minister confirm that the United Kingdom remains committed to supporting the people of Zimbabwe? Last year, the UK gave its largest ever aid package to that country. With free and fair elections and a reforming Government in place, is it the case that the UK would significantly increase its aid to Zimbabwe over the next four years?
When we here at Westminster call for a greater sense of urgency from the AU and SADC in implementing the reforms set out in the global political agreement, it is because we want to see no delay in efforts to improve the lives of the millions of Zimbabweans who suffer hardship and poverty as a result of corruption and political repression.
In this context, it is important that the vexed question of security sector reform is tackled. It is quite possible to conceive a well run election with a proper voters roll taking place only for the process of transition to be thwarted by an intransigent military high command. All the indications are that support for ZANU-PF has fallen to a very low level right across the country, probably below 20 per cent. This poses a serious threat to senior officers in the army, the air force, the police and the intelligence services, who have vowed never to recognise Morgan Tsvangirai as President of Zimbabwe even if he wins elections. According to recent reports on ZimOnline, more than 80,000 youth militia, war veterans and soldiers will be deployed across the country in an army-led drive to ensure victory for Robert Mugabe in the next elections, which, according to the investigations, look set to be the bloodiest ever witnessed in Zimbabwe.
The investigations, which include interviews with Cabinet Ministers, senior military officers and ZANU-PF functionaries, revealed a desperate determination by the hard-line generals to thwart Tsvangirai even if he should somehow triumph against the planned violence. They plan to continue to wield a de facto veto over the country’s troubled transformation process. Serious thought, planning and financial resources must be put into reform of these sectors. It is not an easy area to tackle, but it is futile to plough resources into the development of Zimbabwe while the military continues to believe that it can thwart the democratic will of the people. A military veto of the transfer of power would not only be disastrous for Zimbabwe but have a serious impact on future development across the whole region.
The Joint Operations Command in Zimbabwe is made up of the top military commanders in that country. With the introduction of the inclusive Government, the JOC was supposed to be disbanded and replaced by the National Security Council. In fact, the JOC continues to operate as a political high command. Unless security sector reform is tackled urgently, the JOC poses a real threat to further progress towards reform and democratic government in Zimbabwe. I hope that in this, as in other areas, the Minister will be able to reassure not only this House but the people of Zimbabwe and the region that the UK stands ready as a friend and ally to support the aspirations of the people for political and economic progress.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, on his powerful introduction to this debate, which sparked many other powerful speeches, including the remarkable maiden speech of my noble friend Lord Dannatt. I want to speak briefly about health in Zimbabwe. Our main discussion today is naturally about the political situation, rights and the rule of law, but I know that noble Lords will well understand the relationship of health in the short term and, perhaps more importantly, in the long term to the condition of the country. The reduction in health status that we have seen in recent years is as significant a deficit in the country as any other problem.
A healthy population is strongly connected to the economy, to well-being, to civil society and eventually to the rehabilitation and rebuilding of a healthy society. There have been some improvements over the past two years, but they follow a desperate decade of deterioration. Everywhere we can see chronic shortages in the supply of drugs and of staff, many people having fled the country, some of them coming here but a significant number going to their neighbours, poor morale and—that indicator of difficulties in the future—a reduction of and other problems in the education and training of health workers.
The result, as my noble friend Lord Sandwich said, is predictably awful. Over the past 18 years, maternal mortality has more than doubled, from 380 deaths per 100,000 births in 1990 to 810 per 100,000 in 2008. Translated into terms that are easier to understand, it means that one mother dies in every 120 births. The equivalent would be a mother dying every week in St Thomas’s Hospital across the river. These are awful figures. Over the past 15 years, life expectancy has dropped from the mid-60s to 44 years. The health status of the country has deteriorated very quickly.
As I said, there has been some improvement over the past two years, which can be linked to economic improvements in the country, but there is more to do. What I want to draw attention to in my remarks is the work and role of diaspora organisations and the many links that we have between the UK and Zimbabwe. From time to time, I am approached by groups of Zimbabweans who ask how civil society, as much as government, can help to support the rehabilitation and improvement of health in the country both now and, crucially, in the longer term.
Let me talk about one such group, Zimbabwe Health Training Support. Founded in 2006, the group comprises health professionals who are almost all from Zimbabwe, the others having strong links with the country although they come from the UK. Its role is to leverage the talent of the diaspora and to create sustainable links between this country and people in Zimbabwean organisations in order to support improvements in health.
Currently the group is supporting 10 Zimbabwean institutions across all parts of the country, regardless of politics, and working with organisations such as the Zimbabwe Association of Church-related Hospitals. Zimbabwe Health Training Support responds to need. Over the past four years it has trained 100 midwives with partners in the UK, including the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, and by drawing strongly on British talent has trained 16 people in emergency obstetrics The organisation is grateful for the support that it gets from the UK, recognising that some element of DfID money allocated to the country is going towards maternal and child health, as well as towards water and sanitation improvements. The group recognises that at the moment it can receive only a small grant from DfID to support its work but urges the department to pay more attention to helping it to support the training and education of future health workers in Zimbabwe, because that is what will be vital in the years to come.
I conclude my brief remarks with two questions. First, thinking forward and at the right time, do the Government plan to provide specific support for rebuilding and revitalising the health sector in Zimbabwe? Secondly, in the short term, what support will they give to diaspora organisations, such as the one that I have talked about, which are working in the healthcare sector?
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for giving us an opportunity to debate this extremely important subject. It is vital that Zimbabwe is kept high on the political agenda. I am also delighted that my noble friend Lord Dannatt was able to make his maiden speech. He did not mention it, but he and his son have been very involved in the charitable sector, particularly the protection of street children in Sierra Leone.
While much has been achieved on the economic front since I initiated a similar debate on Zimbabwe in June last year, sadly that cannot be matched by developments on the political front. Rather than repeat the many achievements of the coalition Government since the signing of the GPA, I shall address some of my concerns about current developments in that country.
It is well recognised that the country has enormous potential, boasting a comparatively highly educated workforce, a reasonable infrastructure and huge potential for agriculture, mining and other industries. The country also has minimal debt, with GDP growth expected to be in excess of 9 per cent this year. However, the country will be unable to achieve its full potential until and unless there is a clearer political road map and the brain drain of Zimbabweans to all parts of the world can be reversed.
In the past 10 years, more than $100 billion of trade has flowed into sub-Saharan Africa. That is 10 times the amount of trade in the previous decade. However, trade flows into Zimbabwe have reduced by 40 per cent from 10 years ago. For Zimbabwe to achieve its much needed foreign direct investment for infrastructure, mining and other key areas, so as to create much needed jobs and to reduce poverty, not only does there need to be much more political certainty but issues arising from the Indigenization and Empowerment Act, for example, need to be resolved. The promulgation without any consultation of the MDC of that Act, which aims to give 51 per cent of all businesses to locals, is farcical and a major deterrent to international inward investment into that country.
The noble Lord, Lord Avebury, raised the prickly issues of Marange diamonds, human rights violations and allegations of gross corruption. I warmly welcome the recent demand by the Minister of Finance, Tendai Biti, for a formal audit inquiry by the Zimbabwe Revenue Authority into the diamond proceeds from that area. Not surprisingly, there has been fierce resistance to the audit from the ZMDC and others involved in Marange. I am also pleased that an amendment has been made to the Kimberley process agreement, insisting on more monitoring and transparency of the operations in Marange. There have been many varying reports on exactly how much money is unaccounted for, but I understand that it could be as much as $300 million. Many believe that the fortunes of ZANU-PF have been revived by the proceeds of Marange diamonds.
Time prevents me addressing today the sensitive issue of land reform and the Lancaster House agreement. It is clear that it needs to be addressed. Sadly, there are continuing reports of farm invasions, which have a massively destabilising effect on the revival of the agricultural sector.
There has also been a lot of speculation about the timing of the next election. President Zuma of South Africa as well as the SADC countries have made it clear that they will not support an election until and unless all the electoral conditions and the constitution have been agreed and implemented. This will be the only chance for free and fair elections. At the very earliest, it could be achieved by the last quarter of this year or early next year.
There has also been a lot of speculation about the health of President Mugabe and how long he will be able to continue in his current role. If he dies in office, one of the Vice-Presidents is obliged by the constitution to take over. There is growing support for Vice-President Joyce Mujuru to succeed him. If she were to do so, she would need to call elections within three months unless there is an agreement between ZANU-PF and the MDC, as well as Jacob Zuma, to maintain the unity Government until 2013, which is the very last date by which elections can be held.
I am pleased that the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, raised her concerns about the need for more freedom of speech and more freedom for the press and the media. While Jacob Zuma managed last year to negotiate for the establishment of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the Zimbabwe Media Commission, these commissions appear to have been established in name but without any muscle. Can the Minister give an update on the envisaged powers and independence of these commissions?
Clearly the people’s revolutions in Tunisia and Egypt have resulted in a mood of paranoia in the senior hierarchy of ZANU-PF and, as many noble Lords have mentioned, it is farcical and outrageous that 46 citizens were arrested and charged with treason for watching a programme on the uprising in Egypt. The coalition Government of ZANU-PF and the MDC could never be an effective Government of national unity while the military and the police force are controlled by ZANU-PF.
Robert Mugabe has, on several occasions, indicated his desire to engage in more proactive negotiations with the British Government, and particularly with the Conservative Government. Apart from the assistance of DfID, can the Minister elaborate on what plans there are to engage with the Zimbabwe Government on agreeing a road map for the future of the country?
Finally, can the Minister also outline the Government’s policy on the future of sanctions in Zimbabwe? While I have always supported sanctions if they can be seen to be effective, I am of the view that our sanctions policy against Zimbabwe has been singularly ineffective. It has been used as a weapon to bolster support against the West and for the poor performance of certain parts of the economy. The likes of Emerson Mnangagwa have been egging for an early election and supporting the anti-sanctions rallies and the indigenisation campaign, blaming the MDC as being puppets of the West. I am of the opinion that President Mugabe is keen for Zimbabwe to rejoin the Commonwealth and that this incentive is more powerful than the current sanctions policy against the country.
I know that the likelihood of free and fair elections in Zimbabwe is a pipe dream. We live in hope.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, for instigating this debate and for his continuing insights, determination and commitment to fighting against injustice wherever and whenever it occurs. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, on his excellent maiden speech.
There has been a great deal of discussion today around all the issues of concern. I contend that the best way forward for us would be to exert our influence and raise our concerns through stronger collaboration with fellow member states of the European Union. As Members of the House have said, we have seen a serious escalation of violence in recent weeks and it should alert us to the need for insisting on a radical improvement in human rights before any election can be contemplated or take place. We need clarity in order to oppose Mugabe’s manoeuvring to ensure that the election takes place as early as possible for him.
The EU would want to assist with the preparation for and organisation of an election, but of course the circumstances and the context—which includes freedom of speech and freedom of assembly as well as other issues—need to be right before any election observation would be worthwhile or appropriate. Of course neither the European Union nor the Carter Center nor anyone else will go to such an election unless they receive an invitation, which they would also require. I think it highly unlikely that the European Union or any international observers will receive an invitation from Mugabe, were he to have total responsibility for it. As in 2008, we could see a very complex situation in which only those who have no neutrality or independent thoughts on this matter are “observing” the election.
As other noble Lords said, the security situation is likely to continue to be deeply concerning. We have seen serious disturbances which have been proven to have been instigated by pro-Mugabe militias trucked in for that purpose. In addition, the police force remains partisan, and the MDC will take the brunt of the violence that occurs. Politically motivated violence and the lack of accountability for abuses remain serious problems. All that we see and hear poses questions about the likelihood that anything like a credible election will occur.
Under Article 96 of the Cotonou partnership agreement, which was agreed between 78 African, Caribbean and Pacific countries and the European Union, appropriate measures have been applied to Zimbabwe to prohibit any government-to-government co-operation. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that any such co-operation would be totally inappropriate at this time. Zimbabwe is also subject to other measures, including an arms embargo, a visa ban and asset-freezing for targeted individuals and institutions.
Despite what Mugabe says, the EU remains one of the biggest donors, and the measures in place do not affect humanitarian aid. All programmes and projects to support public health, education, micro-projects, decentralised co-operation, democratisation, support for human rights and the promotion of the rule of law are still in place and funded by the European Union. A package of €635 million is in place to assist the people of Zimbabwe. The sum of €130 million has been allocated under the EU’s development envelope, but funds from this envelope will be available only if progress is made on the political dialogue instigated in 2009.
As noble Lords will be aware, the EU has removed 36 names from the visa ban list. In the current circumstances, I trust that no further concessions will be considered. Although there is some scepticism about sanctions, it would seem an endorsement of Mugabe’s position to do anything else at this stage. We should not be seen to be bending to the blackmail on sanctions which he is endeavouring to exert on the European Union. There has to be measurable progress on justice, human rights, violence and corruption, and very serious efforts to address the issues of accountability and impunity.
Mugabe and ZANU-PF are pushing and pressing for elections before reforms because Mugabe knows that reforms will improve the MDC’s election prospects. He does not want reform because he knows that that election outcome would be a direct effect of reform implementation. As other noble Lords said, we can assume that it is unlikely that South Africa and SADC, the key arbiters of the GPA, will endorse early polls. I certainly hope that that is the case.
Although there are huge tensions within the power-sharing Government, these tensions have not received much mention this afternoon, and they are increasing. Tendai Biti has made progress in stabilising the economy but the economy remains fragile. This progress will not be enough without the necessary constitutional reform and a credible election process. Twenty-four items of dispute have been identified between the two parties, and these items remain largely unresolved. An electoral commission and human rights commission have been appointed but they lack adequate financing and continue to argue about their respective remits. Critically, there is little confidence that bodies aligned with ZANU-PF, notably the security forces, will in any case respect anything that those commissions do. I trust that the EU will monitor the constitutional reform process and make it clear that such a process must be in place before any election is contemplated.
Just last week, I think, Finance Minister Tendai Biti predicted that Zimbabwe risks experiencing a repeat of the 2008 election, in which 253 people were killed. He said:
“So yes to an election”—
not a boycott—
“but no to a bloodbath ... It’s an African challenge. What has happened in Ivory Coast, what has happened in Kenya … is unacceptable”.
He knows that more than 80,000 militia, war veterans and soldiers are already being deployed across Zimbabwe in order to ensure victory for President Mugabe. This week, we have seen the response to the peaceful International Women’s Day demonstrations. In both Bulawayo and Harare, women were arrested, imprisoned and report being tortured. Efforts to intimidate and silence political opponents and stifle open debate are evidenced everywhere you look at this time—efforts which are consistently backed by politically motivated violence. Women have memories of terrible sexual violence in the last election and actually fear another election taking place because of how vulnerable they will be.
Meanwhile, as reports of instability and violence continue, I was surprised to read that at the African Union summit in Addis in January, Zimbabwe did not feature in the discussions on crisis countries. The focus was entirely on Côte d’Ivoire, Somalia and Tunisia. Incredibly, the AU’s commissioner responsible for democracy and human rights said that the view was that the situation in Zimbabwe had improved and therefore Zimbabwe was not on the AU radar at this time. Has anyone told the African Union about the widespread state-sponsored violence that exists in that country? Two years after the power-sharing agreements meant to end human rights violations and restore the rule of law in Zimbabwe, we see, sadly and tragically, that the terrible suffering and misery goes on.
My Lords, we all owe a debt of thanks to my noble friend Lord Avebury for returning to this issue, which the House has debated many times in great depth and with great concern. He is right to bring our thoughts back to it when so many other turbulent events are occurring round the world. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, on his excellent maiden speech. He brought his immense military experience to bear and applied it both to this issue and to the many issues round the world that we have to face. We all listened with the greatest interest to what he said and look forward to hearing much more of his vast supply—his hinterland—of expertise applied to the many issues of international affairs which we have to deal with in the House.
I am also grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, for a number of things that she said. I shall come back to some of them in a moment. She hit the nail very much on the head in pointing out that the sanctions measures that the EU are taking do not affect humanitarian aid. All the propaganda that has been put to the contrary is of course propaganda and no more than that. That cannot be said too strongly, and I will come back to that point a little more in a moment.
This debate has brought out one matter that gives the Government growing concern: the marked recent increase in politically motivated intimidation and violence after a period of relative stability. This point was made by my noble friend Lord Avebury, the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, and the noble Lord, Lord Griffiths, and was amplified when the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, focused on the media restrictions that are also closing down parts of Zimbabwean life instead of opening it up. There is no doubt that the whole pattern is one of ratcheting up the pressures on the reformers and generally closing down Zimbabwe’s society.
The particular issue to which the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, drew attention is a very telling indicator of particular issues. First, there was the arrest of Minister Mangoma, to which my noble friend Lord Avebury also drew our attention. Then there was the declaration that the election of Lovemore Moyo as Speaker is to be declared null and void. These are both highly sinister developments, marking a significant increase in pressures. The Government are urgently seeking further clarification, and we will have no hesitation at all in voicing our concerns with the appropriate interlocutors, and in every way we can. These are clear evidence of a development that we do not like, which might herald the start of pre-election intimidation campaigns, although there is no certainty yet about the date of elections. Obviously, a longer timeframe would permit more of the building blocks for free and fair elections to be put in place, instead of all these counterpressures. If the elections take place later this year, which is one suggestion, those attempts to build conditions for free and fair elections will be curtailed. So our aim is to do whatever we can to help prevent a repeat of the violence that marred the elections back in 2008. That must be the right way forward.
We continue to work closely with our international partners in support of the work being undertaken by SADC and the South Africans on developing a road map towards credible and properly monitored elections. The role of SADC as guarantors of the global political agreement will be key to the future of Zimbabwe—a point that my noble friends Lord Sheikh and Lord Chidgey made graphically. It is in SADC’s interests to have a neighbour that is politically stable and economically thriving, and it has a regional mandate to take concrete action when the UK or EU does not. We are encouraged by the recent increased diplomatic activity in working to create an environment conducive to holding free and fair elections, and fully support it in its continuing efforts.
In our view, an election is the only route by which Zimbabwe will be able to move forward sustainably. The key determinants for a credible election are political will in Zimbabwe and the SADC region, but development assistance can provide much needed technical expertise and funding for checks and balances to help level the playing field. We will assess carefully any requests made by the inclusive Government for support to a credible election process, taking into account the changing political context and, particularly, the anticipated South African-sponsored road map to elections that we want to see.
Noble Lords will be aware that we have recently engaged in extensive discussion with our EU partners over the future of our restrictive and appropriate measures in Zimbabwe. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, asked about this point. The outcome, as stated by my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary in his Written Ministerial Statement of 16 February, a month ago, was the right one. We have acknowledged the continuing economic progress in Zimbabwe, but we have noted our strong concern at the lack of equivalent political and democratic progress by keeping the measures in place for a further 12 months. The noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, addressed that point. We have removed a modest number of individuals from the target list and have left the door open by announcing our willingness to revisit the measures in a year in response to concrete developments on the ground, in particular in relation to creating the right environment for free and fair elections. I hope that that meets the point that a number of your Lordships raised.
Perhaps I might come to some specific, additional points that were raised before I develop one or two broader themes. The important issue of diamonds was again raised by my noble friend Lord Avebury. We call on Zimbabwe to maintain a firm commitment to the Kimberley process and to continue to take action to bring all mining operations in the Marange diamond fields into compliance with the KP requirements. In that way, diamonds can contribute to Zimbabwe’s economic development instead of distorting it in the way that some of the proceeds appear to be doing now.
The UK remains fully committed to the Kimberley process, which is of course an EU matter. The EU is the body representing the UK in the process. We play an active role in and through the EU in pushing for Zimbabwean compliance with KP minimum standards. We have persistently called for a robust EU response to Zimbabwe's failure to comply with the aspects of the joint work plan agreed at the 2009 Kimberley process plenary. That plan clearly sets out the improvements that Zimbabwe needs to make to ensure compliance with the Kimberley process minimum standards, so that is the position and the stand we have taken. Exports of diamonds cannot take place from Marange until resolution of the KP negotiations with Zimbabwe and we will go on fighting for a robust solution on that matter.
I wanted a word on the interesting theme that my noble friend Lord Sheikh touched upon: the role of the Chinese. Their role throughout Africa, and indeed throughout the Indian Ocean area, is a matter of great interest. Some people have mixed feelings on the involvement of China—even in north Africa, as we have seen in recent days—but we think China has an important role to play in the growth and development of Africa. There has been progress where there has been infrastructure development as a result of China’s financing. That can only be for the good.
However, we think it vital that donors such as China are open about their investments and make it clear what they are spending and what the results will be. That empowers people to hold Governments to account and ensures that donors can co-ordinate their work effectively and avoid building up contingent liabilities, which may be difficult for future Governments to meet. We have no evidence that China is willing to commit, as one report suggested, $10 billion to development in Zimbabwe. That was a press report which we cannot confirm, but it could be that Chinese authorities will come to understand that a stance of saying, “We’re involved commercially but have no interest in political developments”, is not possible. They, as they have perhaps found out in Libya, find themselves drawn into the political process as well. That is an interesting and important theme to which this House will no doubt return its attention.
My noble friend Lord Sheikh also mentioned the Commonwealth. I am one of the strong believers—hopers is perhaps the word—that the Commonwealth can, in due course and at the right stage, play a valuable and leading part along with SADC in the recovery of that great country, Zimbabwe. I hope so. I do not think we are yet at that point but we want to get there and, when it comes, there can be a very constructive role for Commonwealth leaders. I hope that this will be discussed at the forthcoming Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Perth, Australia, at the end of October.
The noble Lord, Lord Crisp, made an interesting contribution on health aspects. Our observation is that the whole health service structure in Zimbabwe is close to collapse. DfID has provided critical health sector support to tackle the staffing crisis, provide essential medicines and address HIV/AIDS. We will continue to support this in future with a particular focus on reducing maternal mortality rates, which I think the noble Lord specifically referred to.
I am advised that DfID has funding mechanisms to support civil society and diaspora groups in Africa, and I invite Zimbabwe Health Training Support to contact DfID to see whether it would be eligible to access these mechanisms.
I shall say a further word about the European Union, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, made several references. I have already said that our rollover to the package of measures as a whole recognises the huge shortfalls in matching progress with political reform. There has been some progress, particularly on the economic side, but on the political side there is a long way to go. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary said in his Written Ministerial Statement the other day that we, along with the EU, have emphasised that we are willing to revisit the measures should there be concrete developments on the ground. I think that that covers a number of the specific questions. If I have not covered them all, I will write to noble Lords about them.
I shall summarise how we see the situation. This debate has been enormously valuable in reminding the wider world—I hope that it will get noticed outside—that human rights abuses, cruelties and brutalities continue. This is not a country that is quietly improving; a vicious regime is still at work and anti-freedom and anti-democracy measures are growing, as is personal brutality of the kind so vividly described by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Bath and Wells. That is an unpleasant and worrying atmosphere.
We note, as the noble Lord, Lord St John of Bletso, rightly noted, the remarkable economic progress since the formation of the inclusive Government, and we will continue to support those who are driving that reform. I repeat, however, that we share the strong concern at the lack of real inclusivity in that Government when we consider the lack of progress on the real sharing of power. There has been a bit of opening up regarding the written media, although I was struck by what the noble Baroness, Lady Bonham-Carter, had to say, and the constitutional review process has helped a little to open up the democratic space. However, that window, which we hoped would open wider, now appears to be closing in anticipation of the right of people to give their verdict on the Government’s progress.
Your Lordships have rightly focused in this debate on the need for the next elections in Zimbabwe to be freer and fairer than those of 2008, and have stressed the need for effective observation and monitoring, including by the UK, the EU and, as I have suggested, the Commonwealth. In fact, I think that the Commonwealth can play a significant part in that aspect too. That is what we want to see, but it is not within our gift. Observers have to be invited by the host Government, and it is not inconceivable that objections might be raised on the grounds of perceived political bias. That is why the role of SADC is key; it has the mandate for ensuring full implementation of the global political agreement, and we will continue to give it our full support as it works to create an environment conducive to credible elections.
This afternoon we have heard expressed, again and again, concern about human rights abuses. I have said that we share that fully, and we urge the Government and police in Zimbabwe to act impartially in punishing perpetrators. Whether our urgings are heard is in question, of course, given the pattern of events. We urge the Government and the authorities to respect the rule of law, whether it applies to the freedom to express political views or to freely enjoy property rights, whether to a farm or to a business. Respect for the rule of law will be the crucial condition if Zimbabwe hopes to attract concrete investment from many businesses now expressing an interest in the country. The potential is there, as the noble Lord, Lord St John, reminded us, and investment is ready to go into Africa. The recovery of Africa and its advance into the pattern of emerging powers and nations is one of the heartening trends of our time, but it does not apply in Zimbabwe yet.
In this context, Mugabe’s recent threats to nationalise British companies are utterly irresponsible and counterproductive. We are in contact with British companies, and have offered those who might be affected whatever support we can. In a similar vein, we also urge the Government of Zimbabwe to maintain a firm commitment to the Kimberley process, which I and my noble friend Lord Avebury mentioned, and to bring all mining operations in the Marange fields into compliance so that diamonds may benefit the people of Zimbabwe rather than just a small, corrupt clique.
In the mean time, we will continue our support to the ordinary people of Zimbabwe. As my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development, Andrew Mitchell, recently announced in another place, we are prepared to increase our aid substantially over the next four years in response—and this is important; it is the condition—to credible elections and the creation of a reforming government in Zimbabwe.
I am grateful to all those who have spoken for their lively and informed contributions to this debate. It is important that we have these debates, and I am particularly grateful to my noble friend Lord Avebury, as I said. The Government share the goal expressed by your Lordships of a better, more prosperous and democratic Zimbabwe. There is sadly a long way to go on the political side, but I believe—as we all do—that it is a brilliant country, a potentially prosperous and admirable country that could rise again from its dark period and escape the grip of a once trusted man who has sadly been transmogrified into a twisted tyrant. That day, for Zimbabwe, will come.
My Lords, it only remains for me to congratulate, as all your Lordships have done, the noble Lord, Lord Dannatt, on his brilliant maiden speech based on 40 years of experience, much of which was concerned with the rights of people and how they obtain them. He gave several examples from Northern Ireland and more came from East Timor where, ultimately, the people were successful. The same can happen in Zimbabwe. We hope to hear from the noble Lord again, not only on this subject but on the many other conflicts that plague the world.
I also thank my noble friend the Minister for giving his usual thorough and careful reply to the many speeches that your Lordships have made. I endorse the picture that has been presented almost unanimously of a state of affairs where there is an increasing degree of violence, which stems from the top. It comes from ZANU-PF, and not only from the militias but from the security forces of the state which they control. If one message comes out from this debate, it is that we must insist on security sector reform as one of the earliest things that you do before you get to the rest of the conditions that are laid down in the GPA, such as the rights to freedom of expression and assembly mentioned by my noble friend Lady Bonham-Carter.
It is horrifying to think—as my noble friend Lord Chidgey and the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, said—that they are already deploying tens of thousands of militia all over the country in preparation for attacks on the MDC and disruption of the preparations that the opposition are making for the election. Once this process is on site and working, we can never expect people to be able to cast their vote in a free and fair election. I, too, join the Minister in hoping that what your Lordships have said this afternoon will gain a wider audience.
I make the more general point that we as a country need to ensure that the people of Zimbabwe know that we are definitely committed to a much higher level of aid over the years—the Minister mentioned this—which is conditional on the performance of the undertakings which the parties have already agreed. All they have to do is to go forward on that basis and large amounts of help will come, certainly from Britain, and from the European Union and the United States. Zimbabwe can look forward to a rosy future not only with the aid that she will get from the rest of the world but with the regularisation of the sale of Marange diamonds. I am not so sure that I share my noble friend’s optimism on this because the Minister of Mines has ruled out any commitment by Zimbabwe to taking part in the KP. That is a separate issue which will have to be tackled very seriously by those who are in charge, including the EU chair of the monitoring process.
However, faint signs of hope have been identified. The parties have agreed to enter the timed programme for implementation of the GPA. We shall know in a few weeks whether it is possible for progress to be made that will enable the European Union and other friends of Zimbabwe to play a much larger role in promoting and arriving at the democratic elections that they all want to see. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.
Visas: Points-based System
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I am very glad that we have the opportunity today to debate the points-based visa system and the effect that it has had since its introduction in November 2008. I thank the Library for providing a briefing pack. I also thank the Visual Arts and Galleries Association, the National Campaign for the Arts, English PEN, and the campaigning group the Manifesto Club, whose painstaking documentation of the numerous, often humiliating, experiences of non-EU artists, academics and students over the past two years provides an important ongoing contribution. I also thank the Greater London Authority, which last month commissioned a survey on this issue and has made available to me its conclusions, which I have the privilege of sharing with this House and making public for the first time.
I look forward to hearing the speeches of noble Lords, some of whom are experts in this field and have been pressing this issue for longer than I have. In addressing the points-based system directly, I argue that we go to the heart of the problem. I find it extraordinary that such a major change to our immigration practice, with such strong cultural implications, should have occurred only through altering existing Immigration Rules without any necessity for debate in Parliament.
As an artist myself, my particular concerns are with tier 5: that is, temporary visits that are far and away, at least officially, the main route by which non-EU artists and academics enter this country. These could include artists present for the opening of an exhibition, poets attending festivals or musicians playing concerts, with visits ranging from a few days to a few weeks. The GLA survey discovered that a quarter of artists and academics were from outside the EU and, of those, 98 per cent were applicants under tier 5.
The irony of the new system is that while it appears simpler, the process of making it tighter and stricter has led to an often overwhelming bureaucracy not only for those applying to come to the UK but for their hosts. The new criteria include proving that one has the equivalent of £800 in a bank account for a minimum period of three months, applying in person, supplying biometric details, paying an individual fee and having a sponsor who also has to pay at least £400. The application process is therefore lengthy and tortuous and is often not completed in time. Many applicants can be refused for no obvious reason.
Let me start with this example from Sarah Perks, programme director at the Cornerhouse, Manchester. She says:
“In April 2010 we presented an ... exhibition called ‘Contemporary Art Iraq’, the product of several years’ research and planning including my visit to Iraq and a collaboration with a small organisation Artrole ... who foster relationships between UK, America and Iraq. We invited three of the artists and two academics to the opening of the exhibition and to take part in our ... symposium. We would have liked to invite more but the process ... necessitated sending the group to Beirut for three weeks to get their visas. The group were a mixture of backgrounds, gender and ages. Everything was done in time and with the assistance of ... solicitors. All the visas were declined on the basis of insufficient financial information as most had letters from their employers but not bank account statements (as is fairly standard in Iraq at present). We had already booked their ... accommodation and would provide them with enough money for their visit. So ... despite the hope of cultural exchange, we ended up with no artists in attendance who are currently working in Iraq, and significantly out of pocket because the procedure meant ... booking all their travel to the UK before applying for a visa”.
I would like to say that this is an isolated case, but it certainly is not. Artists denied entry to Britain include Russian pianist Grigory Sokolov, the Chinese artist Huang Xu and the great Cannes prize-winning film director Abbas Kiorastami, despite his being invited in 2009 to Britain to direct “Cosi fan Tutte” at the English National Opera. After twice being fingerprinted, he gave up in disgust, vowing never to visit the UK again, yet saying how much of a real and indeed deserved welcome he receives in other European countries. In November, the cellist Kristin Ostling from the Chicago-based string quartet Carpe Diem, which was invited to play at a music conference in Leeds, was detained at customs before—in the words of the conference organiser, Derek Scott—being,
“bullied and rudely questioned for eight hours”,
and then sent back to America. The reason given was that she was taking work from British musicians, even though her attendance, which would have included three recitals, was unpaid. Her ability as part of this quartet is unique—something that is indeed true of all artists. Perhaps the Minister will note that this single incident has had significant reverberations in America in both the musical and academic spheres.
While these cases are relatively high profile, those most affected by the system remain the poorest and often most geographically distant artists. The NCA has drawn attention to,
“Malian musicians who have had to travel thousands of miles to their nearest visa application centre in Dakar, Senegal, and then had a ... wait of up to 10 days while their applications were sent for processing in Banjul, The Gambia”.
Perhaps the Minister can throw some light on whether such Kafkaesque situations have now improved. Also, we will never hear about those artists who, either because of the sheer difficulties of the procedures, the lack of money or our growing reputation for unfriendliness, understandably fail to apply.
Let me turn to the arts organisations that are expected to act as sponsors. Here, the conclusions of the GLA survey are pertinent. They are, in order of significance, legal hurdles, increased administration tasks, and last-minute changes or cancellation of events, and they are all significant. One small theatre states:
“The worry of not knowing whether we will have to cancel a sold out event two days before, because the artist has been refused entry on some paperwork technicality, hugely discourages us from booking overseas artists due to the financial risks involved. This is highly detrimental to the quality and diversity of the UK cultural sector”.
Forty-two per cent of arts organisations in the survey feel that they will work with fewer non-EU artists and academics as a result of the changes to the system; 64 per cent say that the PBS has increased stress associated with event planning.
One of the things that the sponsorship rule is doing is to sow seeds of mistrust where none previously existed. As with universities, sponsors are now in effect expected to snoop on the artists in their charge. The Place theatre in London, which puts on up to 90 contemporary dance productions a year, tells me that it has, embarrassingly, to check the paperwork of every dancer for each production, irrespective of how established the company is or how well known to it the dancers are. The management tells me how much this “jars”—its word—with the culture of trust in contemporary dance.
English PEN says that organisations,
“do not wish to take on a role of surveillance or monitoring for their artists, which could seriously damage their working relationship”.
There are indeed a significant number of organisations both large and small that are technically breaking the law by telling visiting artists to make their own arrangements. I do not blame them for doing this. This says that the system does not work; and it does not work because it is wrong.
The current system fundamentally misunderstands the way in which the arts operate. Whether they come in on a visa or via another route, the artist never stops working. For Customs officials to try to prevent a photographer such as Alec Soth from using his camera in the country, or even, as has been the case, to try to prevent artists using paints and sketchpads while they are here, is a joke—and a surreal one at that. Nor does the system take into account the rapidity and spontaneity with which arts events are often organised.
In the GLA survey, 70 per cent of arts organisations stated that the points-based system was not the right way to limit non-EU workers. English PEN, while asking the UKBA to develop the entertainer and festival visa routes, also stated:
“A points-based system is inappropriate for temporary visits by artists”—
a view that is supported by many, including VAGA and the Contemporary Art Society.
The late Lord Strabolgi, who is greatly missed, not least in arts debates, told me last year of the singular, and at the time unusual, case of a relatively unknown Cypriot artist who, during the troubles in Cyprus, was not allowed into the UK. Lord Strabolgi fought the Government of the day and won. It seems that we have gone overnight from being a relatively welcoming country to one that is quite the opposite. Jude Kelly, artistic director of the Southbank Centre, stated in the Evening Standard of November 23 last year:
“Today we're in danger of losing our reputation as a world city if we're incapable of welcoming the world”.
A year ago, the Manifesto Club submitted a 10,000-strong petition to the previous Government that highlighted discrimination against artists from developing countries and those with a low income. The petition was signed by many in the arts world, including Antony Gormley, Rachel Whiteread, Sandy Nairne and Nicholas Hytner, as well as by Members of this House. Will the Government respond to the Manifesto Club petition, and will the Minister ponder the strength of feeling and deep concerns about these issues within the arts in Britain?
There might be a solution to some of these problems. The entertainer's visa may be expanded. Perhaps it could be called the artist’s visa, and payments of fees to artists be allowed. I understand that there is to be a review of tier 5. I hope very much that we will not see the introduction of more bureaucracy that will only discriminate further, and instead see a move towards a more flexible and progressive system.
My Lords, I decided to speak briefly today, in part to follow up on the short debate that I introduced on 11 January, which related more to the new regionalised system of so-called spokes and wheels that is being operated by the UK Border Agency and that is causing such anguish to many of our visitors from Latin America—as I know—and also to those from other parts of the world outside the European Union. In that debate, I asked whether a review of the border agency's work could be instituted in order to see if it was working as was originally intended, rather than simply treating everybody who wishes to visit the United Kingdom and requires a visa as a potential terrorist. The then Minister, my noble friend Lady Neville-Jones, said that a review was under way of the border agency system centred in New York, which was the particular subject of my interest since that is where everybody from all over the Americas now has to apply to obtain a visa. Therefore, I will take this opportunity to ask the Minister whether there is any news of that review and when its mission might be accomplished.
I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on securing this debate. It is very important to keep up the pressure. I find it extraordinary that the quota-based system appears to have been introduced without consultation or any widespread dissemination of information. I find it very hard to understand why distinguished performing artists should be subjected to such an unnecessarily unfriendly and unwelcoming system.
It would be very interesting to have a review of how the system is working on a case-by-case basis to show us what security it has preserved for us. When I hear about some of the cases, including those enumerated by the noble Earl, I wonder how the British Council would feel if performers going from the United Kingdom to other parts of the world were subjected to the same treatment. I agree that it is hugely detrimental to the United Kingdom’s image as a cultural and artistic centre of world status.
My own experience lies more in the world of classical ballet—in particular, in relation to the Royal Academy of Dance, of which I am a governor. It is the institution which teaches the teachers of dance, and it has also introduced the first ever degree in classical ballet in collaboration with the University of Sussex. Again, many of the students who come over to follow that course are subjected to this new quota-based system, and the future of the royal academy now depends on the number of overseas students that we have. Therefore, it is vital that we improve the system and get over the difficulties that have certainly been experienced in recent years.
It always seems a nonsense that people from our prestigious academic institutions spend a lot of time going around the world looking for potential students, and indeed in some cases for teachers at their institutions, and they are then faced with the hurdle of overcoming the visa application system. Therefore, I warmly support the noble Earl in his efforts to have the system reviewed and I look forward to hearing the comments of other speakers.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on introducing this debate and showing how our immigration system is largely seen as unwelcoming to outsiders. He concentrated on how this points-based system is likely to affect artists, musicians and others, and how right he was to do so. However, I want to concentrate on an area that requires even more attention—namely, the way that tier 1 and tier 2 affect academics and researchers. As I understand it, the Government want to restrict tier 1 immigration of non-EU staff to 1,000 and tier 2 to 20,700—a reduction of nearly 20 per cent. I am convinced that that will greatly damage our universities and research centres, and I want to spend the next few minutes showing why.
Our universities currently have a non-EU staff of 19,000. Last year, it was 18,400 and the year before it was 15,650. In other words, it has been going up every year, for obvious reasons—there is a demand for it. Universities increasingly recognise that they need to compete with other universities across the world and that they are going to require highly talented people from outside. If the total cap is set at 21,700, universities, which already employ 19,000-plus people, will have to bear more than their fair share of the burden.
Tier 1 is the key route to academic appointments, and it is absolutely vital for professorial appointments. The non-EU academic staff are concentrated in certain areas: clinical medicine, social studies, business and management studies, various types of engineering and computer science. Many of these areas are expanding and will continue to do so, and they will need world-class staff. New and unexpected areas continue to spring up, as we saw in the case of nanotechnology. I can point to instances in social sciences and the humanities, where totally unexpected areas of research spring up. If universities are to compete, they will recruit people, and as these are new and unexpected areas, the talented people needed to do the teaching can come only from outside this country.
The numbers of people needed in unexpected areas cannot be predicted, let alone arbitrarily capped. The non-EU staff have contributed greatly in a number of areas. A quarter of our Nobel prize winners come from non-EU academic staff and they make Britain proud. They train the next generation of scholars and keep up the lead that this country has globally. They also attract foreign students and, no less important, they help to shape the academic and moral culture of our society. Talented scientists and others should not be seen merely in terms of the courses that they offer or the discoveries that they make, but also in terms of the contribution they make to the moral and social life of this country.
In my view, the restrictions that the Government propose are extremely severe and more severe than those of the United States or even Australia, whose points-based system we claim to have borrowed, although we have dropped some of the good points that the system has and added a few others that we should not have. The talented staff from abroad will not come if we put too many restrictions on their dependants and the ability of those dependants to work here, which is what we are doing. We cannot have a points system on the basis of UK experience, which many of these people do not have; nor on the basis of previous earnings because that depends on a number of factors; nor on the basis of established reputation because that takes no account of the potential of a scholar. Reputation is established over a period of time and, as Oxford and Cambridge universities and my own institution, the LSE, will tell you, you very often pick people on the basis of their promise and their potential, and you nurture them rather than go for fully trained and fully established people of academic reputation.
Therefore, I strongly urge that we should trust universities and research institutions. So far, they have shown a great deal of responsibility, they are closer to the ground and they are fully aware of the new trends in sciences compared with the Government. A bureaucratic muddle could easily arise if the Government start to set targets. Even as far as tier 2 is concerned, they cannot say that skilled people can come in only if there are gaps or there are no British equivalents. The concept of a gap or a shortage is extremely ambiguous and very puzzling. Gaps cannot be identified in advance. Even when they are identified, it requires years to train home-grown people. Sticking to a British-only policy, or looking elsewhere if no British applicants are available, will not work. If there is a gap and no locals are available, let us bring in outsiders.
Let us consider the concept of shortage. Shortage implies that there is a demand but no supply. That presupposes that demand is static and does not take account of the fact that demands are created. A creative mind, a creative scientist, can come along, open up new areas of inquiry and suddenly there is a global demand for a particular course or research and many people from all over the world begin to enrol for that or take interest in that research, and the country which started that research first has a global advantage. That is what entrepreneurs do in business. They do not try to cater to existing demands but they anticipate what people might like to have and create a demand. Indian restaurants did not open because there was a demand, but they created the demand. In exactly the same way, in academia and in research centres, talented minds come along, open up new areas of research, new interdisciplinary ways of looking at things, and lo and behold, a demand is created. Suddenly there is a gap where there was none before because something new has come into being.
The Immigration Minister, Mr Damian Green, says that we should attract the brightest and the best to fill job gaps. I say: attract the brightest and the best, then leave them alone and you will be surprised by what new gaps they can create. The points-based system is heavily biased in favour of high salaried jobs—above £40,000. That can happen in engineering or some areas of science, business studies and management. It works against social sciences. I do not need to point out to this House how many of those of us in social sciences, philosophy or international relations do not earn the £40,000 that is demanded for tier 2.
I end by making two simple points. Of course we have a right to control immigration; of course we must do everything to stop bogus students or those who do not want to do high level courses coming in. We must test their language competence and inspect institutions which recruit them so freely, but we need to remember that we need their money, partly for our economy and partly for our universities. To reduce the number of 300,000 students coming in by 120,000 is a large reduction which I think neither the economy nor the universities can bear without taking the risk of what happened to the LSE recently. So my first point is about students.
Secondly, as for academics and researchers in tier 1 and tier 2, leave it to the good sense of the university. Of course the Government, who are in charge of this country's immigration policy, must keep an eye on it, but it would be totally wrong to be too prescriptive. That would stifle the potential of our universities.
First, I commend the patience and determination of the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on securing this debate on a subject about which I know he feels extremely strongly. I also congratulate him on his opening speech, which set out so clearly the case on the tier 5 visas.
The points-based visa system was introduced in November 2008 by the previous Government to ensure that we were bringing in the right skills from abroad to meet the needs of UK business in the permanent workforce. I have no quarrel with that aspiration, but in a number of areas, the system has proved over-bureaucratic, self-defeating and damaging to Britain's reputation. Nowhere has that proved more the case than with the provisions relating to non-EU artists who wish to perform or exhibit in the UK.
After the introduction of the PBS in November 2008, it became immediately apparent that tier 5, for visiting performers and artists, was having an adverse effect on cultural exchange—in particular, international artists and academics who visit the UK for a variety of cultural and academic activities. Rather than being welcomed, visiting artists are being treated with suspicion.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, set out the current basis of the system, with requirements for savings, sponsors and so on. I first became aware of the issue when the Manifesto group, in 2009, published Cancelled by Order of the Home Office, which set out an appalling catalogue of the damage done to Britain's reputation as a centre for international arts as a result of the new system. Other organisations, such as English PEN and the National Campaign for the Arts, which the noble Earl referred to, also are heavily engaged in trying to improve the system.
The new system affects international artists and academics who visit the UK for a variety of cultural and academic activities. The regulations have led to a stream of cancelled talks and art events by artists and academics from anywhere outside Europe, as the noble Earl described. He mentioned the petition presented last year to No. 10. Subsequently those petitioners, in a letter to the Times, said of the points-based system:
“It is ruining Britain's reputation as a cultural hub and also turning cultural institutions and universities, against their will, into surveillance arms of a UK Border Agency, itself largely unaccountable … The vibrancy of British cultural life rests on the openness and independence of its institutions, and on maintaining rich and extensive collaboration with thinkers, artists, and the students who will make the future”.
I totally agree with that sentiment.
As a result of the new visa arrangements, more than 20 major events have been cancelled or badly affected. In December 2009, I raised the matter in this House and received the reply that I was not giving the then Government credit for what they were doing to mitigate the situation.
To his credit, Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, in his cultural strategy document entitled Cultural Metropolis, launched in November 2010, also called for an overhaul, believing that the new system is onerous and costly and damaging London’s reputation as a world centre for culture. The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, has given us some of the early results from the survey carried out by the Mayor of London into the problems caused by the tier 5 visa system—results which are pretty damning in themselves. Despite the campaign, and even under this Government, the catalogue of problems for visiting artists and academics has continued to grow, and the regulations have continued to lead to a stream of cancelled talks and art events by artists and academics from anywhere outside Europe.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, mentioned the case of Kristin Ostling, the cellist with the US Carpe Diem String Quartet who at the end of last year was held for eight hours at Heathrow. What he did not say was that she was caught by UKBA because she had a cello. The members of the quartet seem to have been allowed into the conference because their violins were more discreet. A Brazilian theatre company, Teatro da Curva, which was intending to perform at the Camden Fringe, was deported. Last October, five writers heading for the Southbank Centre’s Poetry International Festival were refused entry to the UK. One of them apparently did not have enough money in her bank account. I could mention a similar catalogue of woes in respect of visiting academics. I was extremely interested to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, had to say on that subject. The Manifesto Club set these out in Fortress Academy, which it published last year.
In the face of these real instances of bureaucratic ill treatment and ignorance I have been pressing, with others, for a review of the PBS as it applies to the arts and academia. I was extremely interested in the noble Lord’s optimism in that respect. However, on 22 July, in response to a Question in this House, I was assured by the relevant Minister, my noble friend Lord De Mauley, that although there were no plans for a full review, a broader survey across all categories of tier 5 had been undertaken and will be published shortly. He asserted that the arts and entertainment task force was closely involved to ensure that the detail of the system reflects the creative sector’s needs while being robust and fair. Where are the results of the survey? How many times has the task force met to discuss the visa issue? What are its conclusions?
There has been some progress. Of course I welcome the inclusion of certain categories of artist in the UK shortage occupation list. There are also ways of mitigating problems associated with the current system which could be, and I hope will be, adopted. There could be better training for immigration officers so that, for instance, they understand what is meant by the expiry dates on certificates of sponsorship and correctly stamp artists’ passports with the correct permit to work. We could introduce minimum service standards, with a maximum of three months for renewing certificates of sponsorship. We could improve the levels of understanding of the officers who conduct the compliance visits. There could be better information and forms for applicants, and simplification of the certificate of sponsorship scheme. There should be an exemption from the immigration cap limit for artists who use the shortage occupation route under tier 2. There also needs to be improved biometric facilities so that applicants do not have to travel to third countries to get a visa.
There are further fundamental issues to be addressed. We need a comprehensive review. It is completely inappropriate that visiting artists and academics are dealt with in the same way as long-term migrants. These people have no impact at all on net migration into the UK. The exchange of artists is the lifeblood of the creative arts and industries, and of the education sector. We should do everything we can to facilitate that. This means that visa routes outside the points-based system must be developed. The entertainer route should be expanded; it is currently too narrow. There are some high-profile festivals, such as Edinburgh, Glastonbury and WOMAD, which have been marked out for special treatment. The approved list should be expanded to cover more and smaller festivals. I welcome the current proposal to create a tier 1 exceptional talent route for the arts, sciences and the humanities to cover people at the top of their profession, but will that be capped? Perhaps the Minister will clarify what this will mean.
Schengen visas for performers and artists are much more readily obtainable. So what should happen? Will all future gigs be held in Paris or Berlin while all our interchange is over Skype? Believe me, I am not joking. I hope that the coalition Government will recognise that this is a major issue and agree to undertake a full review so that we can ensure that the points-based system no longer damages UK arts and cultural exchange.
In the final minute, I want to deal very briefly with the specific issue of postgraduate work visas for overseas students under tier 1. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in the course of answering questions for the Government on student visas recently, gave an assurance that the Government are determined to protect our overseas students. But speeches by the Minister of State run somewhat contrary to that. The almost universal response to the proposal from businesses, universities, research charities and student bodies to eliminate post-study work visas has been negative, and for good reason. Recent experience in Australia has shown that changes in the student visa rules have led to drastic declines in student applications to Australian universities. There could be a sensible compromise so that these visas are obtainable by those with a higher degree in the form of a master’s. I hope very much that the Government will consider that.
My Lords, like other speakers, I am most grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for initiating this timely debate and for his masterly overview of the subject. I wish briefly to speak about the problems faced by nurses, particularly from Australia, New Zealand and Canada when applying to work in the United Kingdom. I would mention that the disparity in requirements between healthcare professionals applying from outside the European Economic Area and from within it is, in my view, little short of scandalous. However, I have tabled a Question for Short Debate on this subject which is due in the next few weeks; and in any case it is a problem for another department. I therefore propose today to concentrate on the group which is from outside the EEA.
This country has a long tradition of welcoming nurses from what might loosely be called the old Commonwealth. They, by and large, have received their training on the old British pattern, with great emphasis placed on hands-on nursing and the ward hierarchy. In many hospitals they form a vital element in the nursing staff. They are characterised by excellent nursing, hard work and fitting in easily. There has also been a tradition, through their networking back home, of finding replacements. In other words, they are a hospital employer’s ideal source of staffing.
Let us be realistic. The immigration issue is a huge problem, and I very much welcome the Government’s efforts to tackle it. In the recent past, however, the overseas nurses problem, particularly with regard to the countries that I mentioned, has been in danger not so much of being overlooked as of government failure to appreciate just what they have to offer. Save for one or two very specialised exceptions, nurses have been removed from tier 2 and the shortage occupation list. Incidentally, I would be grateful for the Minister’s clarification on whether the position has been changed as a result of the Migration Advisory Committee’s announcement of 3 March. Assuming that the position is in fact unchanged, the UKBA obviously has no difficulty in enforcing the test that no home-reared candidates are available to fill vacancies before a visa for a non-EEA nurse is granted. On a totally different subject, the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, made a very interesting comment on the British-only policy. However, all this is to ignore the very high quality of skills brought by the nurses to whom I have referred.
There is also the expense element. Registration with the Nursing and Midwifery Council, admittedly common to all nurses, is required. There is also the Overseas Nurses Programme, lasting 20 intensive days. However, there is a shortage of capacity for the course both in the United Kingdom and in countries of origin that has led to cases of exploitation about which the Nursing and Midwifery Council is rightly concerned. Then there is the English language proficiency test under the IELTS. In short, an applicant is unlikely to be out of pocket for anything less than around £2,000, and in some cases considerably more. I would mention in passing that the expenses for a nurse seeking to practise in the UK from within the EEA are confined to the NMC registration fee of £76. An additional hurdle to be overcome by any non-EEA applicant is a very rigid policy applied by the border agency to applications by hospitals for work visas for sponsored nurses. It is hardly surprising that many qualified nurses from those countries cannot face the immigration procedural minefield and end up working in bars in this country.
Without minimising the problems faced by other non-EEA applicants, I suggest that there is a case to be made that hospital professionals and nurses in particular fulfil a clear community requirement. It is surely the ideal of any community that its sick and dying should have the very best nursing care. Here we have a resource that has been well made use of in past years. However, the current figures speak for themselves. In 2003-04, the number of these nurses registered with the NMC was 1,674; in 2006-07, it was 373; and in 2009-10, it was 208.
The current recruiting position for nurses from the EEA, including the United Kingdom, is reasonably satisfactory, though the quality is in many cases questionable. The number of the nurses that I have discussed is not large. Nevertheless, here is a resource which many hospitals have found in the past to be of great value—I declare an interest as a former chairman of an independent hospital which has made considerable use of it. In short, the resource is currently underutilised.
If I may tread dangerously with my metaphors, we have been in danger of throwing out the baby with the vast and turgid bathwater of the immigration problem. I respectfully suggest to the Minister that this issue is in need of revisiting.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for giving us the opportunity to debate the points-based visa system, which was introduced in November 2008 by the previous Government. I was unhappy about it then and I remain unhappy about it. Like everyone else who has spoken, I believe that it operates to the detriment of the arts world, our international relations, our relations with business and the strengthening of our economy. It does not make sense as currently designed.
As many know, I have spent time as the chair of the British Council. I have also chaired other arts organisations, such as the London International Festival of Theatre. I have seen at close quarters the great enrichment of our society, our creative people and our academics that comes from having the opportunity to meet and mix with artists from abroad and the great cross-fertilisation that comes about through those connections. Such contact strengthens our relations around the world and greatly enhances our creative environment here.
I shall speak first about the education world, because I am the president of the School of Oriental and African Studies, and the detriment that we experience as a result of the system. I shall speak also about the business of the visa system as a whole.
We are about to launch yet another assault on our engagement with the world by reducing substantially the proportion of international students coming to Britain. In doing so, we forget the huge and long-term benefits that come from our relationships with them. Approximately 79 per cent of students who come to this country return within five years. If we add another year to that statistic, we see that the proportion rises to 85 per cent. The vast majority go home and those who remain do so by and large as professionals who set up their own businesses and add to the enrichment of our society. Those students also bring in £5.3 billion-worth of revenue. At a time when our universities are being hit, that is very important.
The enrichment that I wish to talk about has been referred to by my noble friend Lord Parekh. It concerns the ways in which international academics come to us. Because of the skills and new knowledge that they bring with them, our own academics working with them are able to provide a plethora of courses. That would not be possible without those international academics spending time here. However, increasingly they are being put off by the way in which they are treated by bureaucracy and the difficulties involved in bringing with them their families, their partners, their spouses and their children. The complex nature of our immigration system is discouraging that important element of what is on offer in our universities.
On the problems that have been raised within SOAS, we run important pre-degree programmes for students who come from education systems around the world that are different from ours. It is therefore difficult for some of them to be assessed or to take on a particular university degree, not because of their lack of ability but simply because their own education systems are so different. We provide pre-university preparation for international students, who then go on to become students in universities in the UK. Those in-house foundation courses are provided for undergraduates and postgraduates to enable them to take on deeper educational opportunities. The programmes attract large numbers of bright students, but the system for visas is now acting as a serious detriment to their coming to Britain.
On the English language test—again, this was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Parekh—most students coming to Britain acquire the English language very quickly. To make the demand that we make for other economic immigrants—that they are able to speak English before they come—often works as a disadvantage for those coming to pre-courses or as students. These people are incredibly intelligent and acquire the English language very quickly, but our system of immigration does not recognise that. There has to be a criticism of the culture within the Home Office around this because the system does not recognise that there is a difference between students and economic migrants. Limiting the entitlement of students to work makes the UK a less attractive place in which to study.
There is a madness in all this and the system needs to be looked at holistically. We are in a very competitive situation in the offers that we make to students around the world and we are now tightening the entry requirements in such a way that many students will not choose Britain as their preferred place to come. I would like the whole system as it is currently operating to be looked at again. We are sending out messages to potential students that they are not welcome here.
There has been an inheritance of the system that was in existence, but the efforts now will deepen a system that is not working. I say to noble Lords on the government Benches that the system is ripe for reappraisal and that we should look at the workings of the points-based system to see whether it can be improved.
On a point raised by the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, Goldsmith’s, one of the really fine art schools in our country, has written to organisations complaining that it needs international artists to come and be part of the programmes that it makes and offers for its art students and that increasingly it is becoming impossible to do that. That experience is shared by other schools around the country. The example given was that of Abbas Kiarostami, a film director renowned and admired throughout the world, who gives us links with a country with which we have troubled relations. He was coming to direct an opera at English National Opera. He found it impossible to get over the hurdles and felt it insulting to be expected to go through the processes that were described by the noble Earl.
I think that revisiting this system is timely. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for introducing this debate and other noble Lords who have spoken. It is truly a source of scandal that we cannot invite people into our country who are enhancing everything that we are seeking to do in the arts, education, business and the economy. Last night, I met a senior executive of Google. One of the things that he immediately raised with me was the problem that it is having in getting skilled people into this country to work. If we are upsetting a company such as Google, we are really in trouble.
My Lords, I declare an interest as executive director of the Association of Universities in the East of England and, through that role, as an employee of the University of East Anglia. This country has a proud history of over 800 years of intellectual rigour and academic excellence in its higher education institutions. Even in medieval times, there was a free flow between universities across Europe, with the best academics moving around to teach, research and learn from others elsewhere. The horizons of our universities today are truly international and the breadth of knowledge being shared is quite extraordinary. Many noble Lords in this House have contributed to this global exchange.
This is not just about Cambridge, Oxford and Imperial, proud as we are of their international rankings. Every university I have worked with has groundbreaking research or teaching projects in which they are collaborating with universities overseas or are hosting exceptional researchers to strengthen the UK’s knowledge base and, really importantly, given the Government’s focus on innovation and growth, to provide the innovation that our economy needs to make it grow over the next few years. Our universities are genuinely global businesses, generating about £8 billion of foreign exchange earnings for the UK every year. They have globalised workforces. This country needs the brightest and the best, not least because within the UK we undersupply in several critical areas, for example in mathematics and engineering.
There are structural difficulties with the new points-based system that may prove to be catastrophic to our universities. The closure of tier 1 general means that universities will now have to use tier 2 general to try to recruit academics and researchers from overseas, which will place additional pressure on this category. As an aside, the planned closure of tier 1 post-study work, which is currently under consideration as part of the consultation on the student immigration system, has implications for the recruitment of international graduates of UK universities into research and academic posts on completion of their studies in the UK. This route has been widely used for the recruitment of postdoctoral staff and others into universities. The closure of this route will further restrict the progression and recruitment of highly skilled academics into our universities.
I echo the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. Further problems relate to the 21,700 annual limit—1,000 for tier 1 exceptional talent visas and 20,700 for tier 2 visas—as it applies only to 2011-12. Draconian as this 20 per cent reduction is, I understand that the limit is likely to be reduced further for 2012-13 to facilitate reductions in net migration, so the future availability of visas will definitely be an ongoing issue. I believe that the creation of the tier 1 exceptional talent route for people in the sciences, academia and arts is a welcome recognition of the arguments put forward by Universities UK and other organisations about the importance of international mobility to higher education and research. However, the arbitrary cap of 1,000 visas a year for this route is very peculiar as talent is rather difficult to quantify and discriminate between on a numerical basis. It is also unclear exactly how exceptional talent will be judged and what steps will be taken to ensure that emerging as well as established talent is recognised. Who will judge? I hope it is not UK Border Agency staff. Their record on understanding even the basics of our higher education system has, as we have heard today, caused real problems in recent years.
There are also practical problems with the UK Border Agency’s belief that visa demands nationally remain relatively steady month by month and that high demands in certain sectors at given times will be balanced out by lower demand in others. This is absolutely not true of the higher education sector, which is inevitably highly cyclical, with the vast majority of posts starting at the beginning of the academic year in the autumn. I cannot see this being balanced out elsewhere.
In addition, the quota now given to universities and research institutes under the points-based system is damagingly tight. For example, under the new quota system the University of Bedfordshire, which has over 1,000 staff, makes a contribution to its local economy of £270 million a year, and is perhaps not the top of most people’s thoughts about an intensive research university, was allocated a quota of two. This was used up in employing two outstanding professors in the first month of the year.
My own employer, the University of East Anglia, and across the Norwich Research Park, is experiencing the negative impact that this is having on key appointments whereby first-rate brains from outside the EU are discouraged from applying or have to be passed over. Appointment strategies have to be reshaped in a manner dictated not by research priorities but by this narrowing of the range and quality available in the UK. The negative effect on scientific progress and academic collaboration is compounded by the squeeze on short-term academic visits. Posts and academic fields affected range across the disciplines, from English literature and Japanese culture at one end of the spectrum to critical scientific areas at the other, including plant science, on which the Norwich Research Park has been the academic place of choice for the world’s foremost specialists.
As a result of this ill thought through visa system, the best academics are likely to have job offers and opportunities available to them in other parts of the world. Will they go elsewhere due to delays in obtaining a visa to come to the UK to take up a post? We rightly worry about the brain drain from the UK, but these proposals will discourage the best academics from coming here and might turn our higher education sector into a backwater instead of being globally competitive.
The proposed structure of the new system might mean that employers suffer delays and uncertainties in the issuing of certificates of sponsorship for visas. I end by quoting from correspondence that I have had with Dr Oren Scherman, the Harrison-Meldola Prize winner for 2009 and an inorganic chemist working in supramolecular polymers, a highly specialised area of research excellence. He highlights how the nuts and bolts of the visa system seem to be designed to fail applicants at every turn, even when their finance is provided by EU funding specifically because they are exceptional overseas researchers. He says:
“The first application for a Certificate of Sponsorship by the University to the UK Border Agency at the Home Office appeared to take longer than usual and then the visa application by the post-doc was denied because apparently the wording on the letter confirming maintenance from the university was incorrect at that time although it had been acceptable for another candidate a few months earlier. We were told that the rules for visas had changed between the University application to the Home Office and the completion of the post-doc’s visa application in India. We then had to go through the process of rewriting the support letter and applying to the Home Office and the candidate applying for his visa, a second time. This points-based system seems very complex and the delays we incurred caused the Post-Doc to wait in India, unpaid, for at least four months, during which time he almost took up the offer of another position in India. I had to persuade him then that we were really keen on employing him in Cambridge although the delays must have suggested otherwise”.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for instigating this debate. I hope that the Government can review the whole system as a matter of urgency, because it is clearly ludicrous, and for it to be easier to recruit professional footballers from overseas than the professors and researchers that our country so badly needs makes this country a laughing stock.
I offer my congratulations to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for instigating this pressing debate. I rise to join my voice to those of others in expressing my most extreme concern as to how the points-based system of issuing visas to visiting artists is affecting the arts in this country in their capacity to sustain their worldwide reputation for excellence. It is jeopardised daily by the arbitrary, overbureaucratic and inconsistent application of an already complicated system.
I speak with the experience of the National Campaign for the Arts behind me. I was its chair when this problem first loomed on the horizon, and when I ceased to be chair last year the problem was still with us, and getting worse. From the very first moment when the points-based system was mooted, the NCA brought to the attention of the immigration authorities what it would mean for the arts. They were genuinely surprised, as it simply had not occurred to them the scale of ongoing problems that the PBS would cause.
International performers and artists are a vital part of our internationally renowned UK arts scene. In a recent survey of the NCA's 550 members, including everyone from the Royal Shakespeare Company, the leading orchestras, the Sage, the Tate, the Lowry, and so on, 76 per cent had hosted artists from outside the EEA in the past two years, and 55 per cent considered it essential to their business. No other activity is so instantly global in its reach: music, painting, dance, sculpture, mime and even circus all transcend language, and performances and performers are interchangeable across sovereign frontiers. Indeed, it is one of the glories of the arts that they transcend frontiers and reach immediately into the hearts of all people.
These visa problems are not occasional, but the daily nightmares of concert planners and managers across the country. It does not have to be so but, in fact, it is threatening to get worse. More and more UK consular posts overseas are withdrawing their visa services. Los Angeles is closing its visa section and all applications now have to be processed via New York. The length of time it takes, when time is of the essence, is getting longer. Dusseldorf closed its office on 1 March, and now all applicants in Germany have their passports and support documents shipped to the UK and back for visa processing. Some artists enter the UK to take up the offer of long-term employment. The listing of ballet, contemporary dancers and orchestral musicians on the shortage occupation lists has been very encouraging. However, the recent imposition of an immigration cap with those now seeking to enter under tier 2 needing to demonstrate degree-level qualifications is quite inappropriate. The arts are not like that: they do not operate on conventional and business models. Innate ability and naturally blossoming talent is often the most precious thing an artist can have, which others wish to enjoy; academic qualifications do not necessarily come into it at all. Records of sustained employment do not fit either. Even the most outstanding performers rarely have careers of non-stop working; artists are freelances. Their earning patterns may be wayward and erratic and are certainly no guide to their talent. So the new criteria are squeezing artists doubly hard.
The world of art is international: its practitioners speak to each other, exchange gossip and advice, career hints and touring tips. The reputation of Britain is high in their estimation for our venues, our audiences and our enthusiasm. It is damaged around the world by the way in which the points-based system is operating; it is doing this country a disservice. A full review of this system is pressing.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, on securing this debate on an issue which has provoked and continues to provoke much interest and concern, as all the contributions to this debate have highlighted.
The Motion we are considering asks the Government what assessment they have made of the points-based visa system introduced in November 2008 as it affects non-EU artists, performers, academics and others intending to work in the UK. I am sure we all wait to see whether the Minister has anything new to say on that score on behalf of the Government. There have already been assessments made, one of which, by Alasdair Murray, a senior adviser at Quiller Consultants, was helpfully provided in the briefing pack made available prior to this debate, as the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, said. I mention that since some of my comments reflect that assessment which, I hasten to add, was not exactly uncritical of the previous Government and the 2008 points-based system.
Three years ago, the previous Government created a new points-based migration system for selecting non-EU economic migrants, under which potential immigrants can gain a work or student visa only if they meet a points test which considers a number of laid-down factors such as income, education level and language skills. The intended purpose of the points-based system was to provide an objective and transparent measure of a migrant's potential contribution to meeting the needs of this country’s economy. A points-based system was not an untried approach since Australia, New Zealand, the Czech Republic, Singapore, Hong Kong, Denmark and now the United Kingdom have all introduced one in the past 20 or so years.
The assessment by Mr Murray was that the new system had been, in some ways, a success with non-EU economic migrants having high labour market participation rates and making a net positive contribution to public spending. However, he also said that the new tier system was superficially simple, with both the previous and the present Government being,
“unable to resist continually tinkering with the system”.
In the case of the present Government, the tinkering he refers to is the commitment to a cap on non-EU economic migrants—an example of top-down state intervention in the economy and society, which the Government have claimed to be against.
A points-based system has to have rules. That, in the eyes of some, leads to inflexibility not least in respect of non-standard qualifications or expertise in the academic field and the world of the arts—areas specifically referred to in the Motion we are discussing. The present Government’s interim cap and intended permanent cap will certainly reduce the flexibility of the system since, subject to what the Minister may say, the cap is a fixed figure rather than, for example, a target range with a minimum and a maximum. Businesses and universities, as my noble friend Lord Parekh explained, are concerned that this approach to non-EU economic migration, which is an important source of expertise and highly talented staff, is giving an adverse impression of the openness of this country’s economy, as my noble friend Lady Kennedy of The Shaws mentioned. They are concerned that companies will decide not to invest in projects in the UK because of concerns over the availability of specially skilled staff.
With their cap on non-EU economic migrants and their objective of reducing overall migration levels to “tens of thousands”, the Government clearly want to be seen as actively discouraging migration and reducing the overall number of migrants. On the other hand, they want to maintain high-skilled migration as part of the open British economy. There appears at present to be a conflict between the two objectives, with even Ministers on record as expressing concern about the economic dangers of an inflexible cap.
Reducing overall migration levels to tens of thousands means halving net migration from its 2009 level. The Government will be dependent on a cut in non-EU economic migration to achieve this goal, even though non-EU economic migration represents just a third of all migration to the UK. Achieving the Government’s objective of reducing overall migration levels to tens of thousands is going to be dependent not on the cap on non-EU migration but on the net emigration of British citizens, which has fallen in the past few years, and the movement in and out of EU citizens, as well as the impact of the Government’s exemption from the cap of intra-company transfers, which could lead to a rise in numbers that would affect the Government’s objective of reducing overall migration levels.
The main issue with the Government’s cap is that it appears arbitrary rather than based on hard evidence that it is the figure that is in the best interests of the country economically and socially. Perhaps the Minister will tell us what the evidence is that led the Government to believe that the cap they are implementing is the right figure. Will he also say what will happen if the cap is reached before the month or year concerned has ended? If it means that people who would have qualified for entry will not do so as a result, does that not create potential uncertainty and problems for employers wanting to take on non-EU staff?
The curb on tier 1 has led to complaints from science and research-based firms and institutions that Britain’s international pre-eminence in many fields and long-term competitiveness will be damaged. Do the Government share that view? If not, what is it that they consider such firms and institutions have misunderstood? An investigation by the Migration Advisory Committee showed that 90 per cent of entrants via the tier 1 general route were in employment, and 90 per cent of these were in highly skilled work.
The Government have indicated that they want to tighten the rules for the student visa system, though it appears from press reports that the Minister responsible is still “fuzzy” about how to do it. It is questionable that even a drastic cut in student numbers would lead to anything other than a short-term decline in net migration figures, since evidence suggests that the vast majority leave the country at the end of their courses; thus, over a period of five years, those leaving will closely match those coming in. However, a reduction in student numbers coming in under the student visa system is likely to reduce the student fee income at a time when higher education establishments are already facing the effects of cuts in public spending. What are the Government's intentions in this area? Do they agree with the concerns that have been expressed by higher education establishments on this score?
Concern has also been expressed by writers and other artists—as has been said, a petition was presented to the previous Government shortly before the election—about the operation of the points-based system. Discussions have continued to take place with UK Border Agency officials under the new Administration. Writers and other artists enter the United Kingdom under tier 4 for students or tier 5 for temporary workers. The argument being made by non-EU writers and other artists is that they are normally only visiting the UK for a few days or weeks, have no right to government benefits during their visit and have no impact on net migration into the UK. Yet the time taken to process an application discourages such cultural visitors from coming to this country, and examples have been quoted today of internationally acclaimed artists being denied a visa under the points-based system or simply failing to receive one in time. The UKBA has a certificate of sponsorship scheme but it is apparently regarded as bureaucratic and expensive particularly for smaller organisations.
No doubt the Minister will be commenting on that issue, and on any government plans for addressing the concerns of writers and other artists, when he responds. Perhaps he could tell the House what the figures are on the numbers of writers and other artists entering the UK before and after the introduction of the points-based system. This situation, if the Government accept that what we are told is happening is not an inaccurate picture, will do nothing to enhance the cultural life of this country, nor will it do anything for our international reputation in the creative and cultural industries that form an important sector for us, both in terms of jobs and financially. However, the fixed cap that the Government have introduced on non-EU migrants will only exacerbate the position for non-EU writers and other artists. Perhaps the Minister could comment on that aspect too.
I assume that the Government will be reflecting on the concerns expressed in this debate. They are clearly wedded to reducing net migration to “tens of thousands”. Their efforts to achieve that goal, however, with the introduction of this rigid, inflexible and damaging cap for which there is no hard evidence to justify the figure chosen, risk causing considerable harm to the British economy, not least in the areas that have been highlighted today.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, for asking his QSD. However, I would have found a three-hour debate much better for me, as it would have given me longer to answer your Lordships’ questions.
Let me begin by making it clear that this Government recognise and value highly the contribution made to our society, culture and economy by non-EU artists, performers and academics. I will set my response in the context of the Government’s overarching approach, which, quite simply, is that we will restore public confidence in the immigration system. We have said that we will reduce the number of non-EU migrants to ensure that net migration drops from the unsustainably high levels consistently seen in the past 10 years. Britain will benefit from migration, provided that it is controlled and in the country’s best interests. We are not seeking zero or negative net migration. The aim is to reduce net migration to the levels of the 1990s—the tens of thousands each year mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, not hundreds of thousands. So we are taking action to tighten all entry routes—work, students and family—and break the link between temporary routes and permanent settlement.
This debate focuses on the points-based system under which foreign nationals come here to work, study or train. There are distinct tiers to the PBS, designed for different skill levels and entry purposes. Tier 1 is for exceptionally talented individuals. Tier 2 is for skilled workers with a job offer, usually longer term. Artists, performers and academics would be able to qualify under both tiers, provided that the requirements and criteria are met.
We have started reforming these tiers. We are creating an exceptional talent route in tier 1. This will allow competent bodies to nominate the most exceptionally talented migrants and allow promising young talent to come to the UK for at least three years without the need of a job offer, although many will have one. This will be limited to 1,000 places, with half for the scientific community, led by the Royal Society. The main route for academic and research staff will be under tier 2, subject to the limit that we announced last November. If this is oversubscribed, applications will be ranked, with applications weighted for those coming to fill PhD-level research jobs. In addition, we are raising the minimum skills level, which will reduce numbers at the lower end, creating more room for the most economically valuable. Through these changes we shall attract the brightest and best, as mentioned by my noble friend Lady Brinton. It is not about closing our doors; it is about a more selective approach in the interests of Britain.
Then there is tier 5, which provides for temporary workers. This tier has a category specifically for artists and performers coming here for shorter periods of up to a year: the creative and sporting category. Most foreign creative artists and performers are likely to be entering through tier 5 if their purpose here is short-term, paid work. For academic activities, the tier 5 government-authorised exchange category provides for a rich variety of schemes involving academic exchange. These include the Chevening programme for scholars and researchers; the Commonwealth exchange programme for teachers; the International Association for the Exchange of Students for Technical Experience scheme, enabling foreign science, engineering and applied arts graduates to gain experience through work placements; and the UK-India education and research initiative. There are several other such schemes that support and nourish academic endeavour.
Some believe that the PBS prevents the entry of legitimate overseas artists or academics. We do not accept that view, nor are we aware of evidence to suggest that it is well founded. The creative and academic sectors have been closely engaged through system development and now via the arts and entertainment task force and the joint education task force. Significant changes have been made to the advantage of these sectors. Moreover, the entry possibilities are not limited to the points-based system. The entertainer visitor route mentioned by my noble friend Lord Clement-Jones allows entertainers to come—
I should rephrase that and say that I am advised that that is the case. The noble Lord may find the remarks that I shall make later more to his liking.
I was talking about the entertainer visitor route, which allows entertainers to come here for up to six months without doing so under the PBS. This route is principally used to facilitate those performing at cultural festivals. An academic visitor route enables foreign academics to conduct personal research or participate in formal academic exchange. Exceptionally, in comparison to all other visitor routes, such academics may come for 12 months.
An important indicator that the system does not obstruct is the simple fact that significant numbers of visas are applied for and issued every month to those coming here under these routes. For example, in 2009 an average of around 500 visas a month were issued to creative and sporting applicants and in 2010 that increased by 30 per cent to an average of 650 a month.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, and other noble Lords referred to several individual cases, on which I am not in a position to comment. Noble Lords should write to me to enable the cases to be reviewed by Ministers as part of the machinery of government, which I am sure all noble Lords understand. However, I do not object to noble Lords quoting cases to illustrate the problem as they perceive it.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in his good Front-Bench contribution, asked what would happen if the cap were breached after nine months. It will not be, as our limit will be split on a monthly basis and we will have about 1,500 places per month. It will not run out early. Many noble Lords said that the cap was arbitrary. However, we were advised by the independent Migration Advisory Committee, which is the right body to advise on this. The MAC is an independent committee comprising some of the UK’s top labour market economists. It advises the Government on economic migration matters, including the level of the Government’s limit on tiers 1 and 2, shortage occupations—jobs for which there is an endemic national shortage—and other matters put forward by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary.
The noble Earl, Lord Clancarty, suggested that sponsors are unhappy with reporting on their migrants and having a surveillance role, as I think he put it. The points-based system is based on the principle that those who benefit from migration to the UK should take some responsibility for ensuring that the system works properly and is not abused. We do not believe that this is unreasonable. We do not think that it is unreasonable for highly trusted sponsors and universities to have to report that a foreign student has failed to enrol, has dropped out or is otherwise on an unauthorised absence. After all, we know that the student route has been severely abused. The noble Earl also suggested that the UKBA should develop an entertainer and festival route.
Absolutely, that is why we have the highly trusted sponsor system, which most universities will be signed up to. The real abuse occurs in the fake language schools and accountancy schools.
I was talking about the festival visa routes. Specific proposals can always be considered, but the present visa is intentionally narrow and is not intended to provide an alternative route for entertainers who are coming here to do paid work. The noble Earl asked about modifying the certificate of sponsorship scheme to help smaller organisations to invite artists to the UK. It is not accepted that the system of PBS sponsorship represents a bureaucracy that is particularly acute for small organisations. The online process for a sponsor licence should take approximately 30 minutes to complete.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said that there ought to be an urgent review of the system. I suggest that she considers the praise that the Home Office received when our tier 2 policy was announced. The CBI and British Chambers of Commerce praised the Government for listening. The Campaign for Science and Engineering, a good adviser to the Home Office, expressed its delight.
The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, suggested that many in the social sciences, philosophy and so on do not earn £40,000. I fear that there might be a misunderstanding. The £40,000 requirement will apply to intracompany transfers for periods of more than 12 months. A scientist or philosopher will enter generally through tier 2. Here they must be paid at least £20,000 per annum, and if they are not earning £20,000 per annum it is not clear to me how they will support themselves.
I am running out of time. The noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, described how some customers must travel long distances to submit their visa applications. The UKBA keeps this matter under constant review and is looking at ways to provide a facility to make it easier in some areas for customers to provide their biometric details.
The noble Lord asked about a survey of PBS applicants. The results of the survey he mentioned were published and I will write to him with the details. In brief, the majority of applicants found the applications easy to complete and that the decisions were received in a timely manner.
The noble Lord suggested that the points-based system is designed to manage long-term migration and that applying the same system to short-term cultural visits was inappropriate. The assertion that the points-based system is designed to manage only long-term migration is not correct. While economic migration was the focus, the clear intention when the system was introduced was that it should cover all routes by which foreign nationals enter the UK to work, train or study.
The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, suggested that additional pressure was put on tier 2 when we closed tier 1 general. I disagree. Tier 2 will become a graduate occupation route from 6 April. Tightening the route in this way will release pressure.
My noble friend Lord Bridgeman asked whether the position of nurses had changed as a result of the Migration Advisory Committee's announcement of 3 March. There is no change. The Government have neither accepted nor rejected the MAC’s shortage occupation list. He mentioned the cost of registration with the NMC, of the ONP course and of the international English language test, and suggested that the overall cost would be about £2,000. The UK Border Agency has no control over the cost of registering with the NMC, or over the ONP cost. My noble friend spoke about the cost of the English language test in relation to Australia, New Zealand and Canada. This is not an issue because these countries are English-speaking and we do not expect English nationals to pass this exam.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws, made a very strong contribution on the university sector. In particular, she suggested that our system of immigration is making it less attractive to study here. The Government have been clear that high-quality students will continue to be welcome in the UK. I recognise the particular issues around foundation courses. These were considered in detail when we consulted on student policy, and we will announce that policy in due course.
I have completely run out of time. I have left many points unanswered. I will of course write to all noble Lords who have taken part. I will also draw to the attention of my right honourable friend the Secretary of State the strength of feeling in your Lordships' House. However, the Government will regain control of our immigration system.
House adjourned at 6.09 pm.