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Grand Committee

Volume 736: debated on Monday 26 March 2012

Grand Committee

Monday, 26 March 2012.

Lord’s Resistance Army


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking with international partners to bring to trial Joseph Kony and other leaders of the Lord’s Resistance Army at the International Criminal Court.

Good afternoon, my Lords. I should remind speakers in this debate that it is strictly limited to one hour. If there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

My Lords, I first requested this short debate nearly 18 months ago after meeting Juliet, a courageous young woman, on the day that she delivered a letter to the Prime Minister asking for help for victims of Joseph Kony and the Lord’s Resistance Army. Juliet had been captured by the LRA; she had been raped, and lost her child in childbirth. The British charity, War Child, had brought Juliet to London. Juliet’s case is not an isolated one. There are thousands upon thousands of children like Juliet, and teenagers such as a boy called John. John was abducted by the LRA when he was in his early teens. Beaten, force-marched, kept hungry for days and trained to use weapons, he was told to use other children as target practice. This afternoon, I have met James Odong, World Vision’s associate director of peacebuilding, who is present at our proceedings. He was himself abducted by the LRA at the age of 19 and held for 47 days. He says:

“As a young man in captivity, I saw children brutally murdered right in front of me—and children forced to kill … Many of them have seen things no child ever should”.

Pernille Ironside, senior adviser for child protection at UNICEF, graphically describes how she heard of a girl escaping the LRA who was,

“brutally slaughtered … as a deterrent to everyone else”.

She shockingly describes the slaughter of babies for cannibalism. She, like James Odong, believes that we need to have a different way of tackling the complex problems raised by the LRA. James believes that international justice must put children at the forefront and be accountable to them; that strong national and local-level child protection systems are crucial; and that children themselves have a role to play in conflict prevention and peacebuilding. The failure to contain the LRA has also led to the creation of a no-man’s land in the DRC, from which it is able to launch new incursions into Southern Sudan. It is said that it has been able to operate with impunity with the connivance of paymasters and facilitators in Khartoum, because of their desire to undermine South Sudan’s fragile new democracy. The LRA is a useful tool in the hands of Khartoum, and has become part of a resource war within the region.

Today’s debate is timely for two reasons in particular: the role of the International Criminal Court and the role of public opinion in ending a culture of impunity. Just a few days ago, on 14 March, the ICC secured its first conviction since its creation a decade ago. It convicted Thomas Lubanga for his responsibility for the war crimes of enlisting and conscripting children, and using them to participate actively in hostilities in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. The court’s first conviction shines a light on the brutal practice of conscripting and using children to take a direct part in hostilities—children who are often sent to the front lines of combat or used as porters, guards or sex slaves. A total of 93 victims were represented in the trial, with nine former child soldiers testifying in the proceedings.

That conviction puts perpetrators of unlawful child-soldier recruitment on notice that they cannot expect their crimes to go unpunished. In 2005, the ICC’s very first arrest warrants were issued against Kony, his deputy Vincent Otti, and three other LRA commanders —Raska Lukwiya, Okot Odhiambo and Dominic Ongwen—so no one should be more on notice than him, along with the armed groups using children in around 15 conflicts worldwide. Most recently, al-Shabaab has joined their number in Somalia.

The protection and rehabilitation of children affected by armed conflict should be at the forefront of our minds. Failure to help former child soldiers risks the long-term development and stability of the whole region. Perhaps the Minister can establish for us whether the ICC intends to make a reparation order, or for it to be provided through the Trust Fund for Victims in order to assist the rehabilitation of individual victims. Will he also tell us whether the United Kingdom uses its leverage as a donor to militaries in countries such as the DRC, Uganda and South Sudan to include a formal mechanism in funding agreements that requires disarmament, demobilisation and the reintegration of child soldiers as part of the capacity-building activities?

I said that the debate was topical for two reasons. First, it is set against the backdrop of the role of the ICC, but the second reason is the surge of global interest as a result of the “Kony 2012” viral video, which has been watched on the internet by more than 100 million people worldwide. It certainly illustrates the new power of social networking. Made by an American advocacy group, Invisible Children, it tells the story of Kony and the LRA. Some have criticised it as simplistic, celebrity-centred, income-generating for its makers and inaccurate in implying that Kony is still at large in Uganda, which he quit six years ago. The personal criticism and the extraordinary media frenzy are said to be contributory factors in the mental breakdown of its maker, Jason Russell, who has been arrested and detained in San Diego. Whatever the reason, it is a cruel paradox that Russell has been taken into custody while the man he wants to bring to justice remains at large. Whatever its inadequacies, this internet campaign has been a game changer, mobilising millions of mainly young people worldwide, and has focused on 20 April as the day to make the infamous Kony famous. I even see posters in my son’s school demanding that Kony is brought to justice. Surely this is welcome.

Perhaps we should contrast the impact of Russell’s internet campaign with our failure to apprehend a mass murderer who boasts that he cuts off the lips, ears, noses and breasts of victims and who has ravaged and destabilised vast swathes of Africa for over 25 years, seriously undermining our development objectives. In October 2009, I asked Ministers questions which still remain unanswered. I ask again today. Who funds the LRA? Who arms it? Why have western intelligence agencies not pooled resources to track down Kony? Why have the UN and the African Union been so lamentably inadequate in protecting civilian populations?

In May 2010, President Obama signed into law the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, which calls on the US Government to develop a comprehensive strategy. The United States is also spending more than $1.5 million a month supporting 100 military advisers in Africa working to track down the LRA and its leaders. I hope the Minister will tell us how that operation is proceeding and what assistance we have offered in ensuring its success. I hope he will also expand on the welcome news broadcast on Saturday last that the AU special envoy, Mr Francisco Madeira, has announced the launch of a joint military task force.

Given all these initiatives, as the ICC’s prosecutor, Luis Moreno Ocampo, says in an interview on “Kony 2012”:

“It will be bad for the world if we fail”.

We must capitalise on the welcome surge of interest in Kony and rebuild regional co-operation, scale up Ugandan military operations, strengthen civilian early warning mechanisms and promote defection. Poor co-ordination between regional Governments has enabled the LRA to exploit ungoverned spaces in the triborder region.

What should be our lodestar in determining our approach? In any attempt to bring Joseph Kony and other LRA leaders to justice, the UK must put the needs of children at the centre. To effectively stop Kony and the LRA in countries such as the DRC, the Central African Republic, Uganda and South Sudan, the security sector—the police and military—must be adequately trained, salaried, resourced and made accountable; and, as the LRA has adapted, so must the intelligence community. It must spare no effort in locating the leaders of the LRA.

I for one am grateful that “Kony 2012” has succeeded in pushing this scandalous issue up the agenda, perhaps making 2012 the year when Kony is finally brought to justice. I am grateful to all noble Lords participating in today’s short debate.

My Lords, it is a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in yet again highlighting this crucial human rights issue in such a powerful and consistent way. I want to focus on one issue relating to this: the International Criminal Court and the importance of the international rule of law in upholding human rights. By and large, most conflicts arise from one group of people feeling that they are superior to another or one group of people feeling that they are inferior to another. International law reminds us that we are all equal before the law and are all subject to the law. The International Criminal Court came into being in the Rome statute. Its objective has been said to be to,

“bring to justice the perpetrators of the worst crimes known to humankind—war crimes, crimes against humanity, and genocide”.

Joseph Kony was accused on arrest warrants of 12 counts of crimes against humanity and 21 war crimes. That evidence was mounted by the Office of the Prosecutor. I want to take a slightly sideways approach to this because Jason Russell did a huge international public service in raising this issue through the viral campaign on the internet, but I want to question who the target is. Of course, Joseph Kony ought to be, but what are we asking of the legislators? Is it really just to say that we want one man—one criminal—among many brought to the International Criminal Court, or do we want to see a day when we have universal application of human rights upheld by the International Criminal Court? In that case, his message needs to be directed to President Obama because the US remains a country that has not signed. It originally signed the wrong statue and then unsigned the wrong statute. How a nation that has done so much to uphold freedom and respect for human rights around the world can rest in not lending its support to the International Criminal Court in this prosecution needs a viral campaign many times more powerful than the one that we have seen. I hope that we will see that.

The question of resources is very powerful. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the fact that the US has taken initiatives and passed the Lord’s Resistance Army Disarmament and Northern Uganda Recovery Act, and it has promised $4.5 million per month to fund the campaign to try to track Kony down. That was sensational but why not have that channelled through the International Criminal Court to strengthen the court in its efforts to bring this man to justice? According to the latest records, the Office of the Prosecutor had a budget of €112,000—not per month but per year. It has one member of staff to bring this man to justice. If we want to see justice done and this man before a court, as we all desire, it behoves nations such as the United States to get behind us wholeheartedly and join the International Criminal Court, which will strengthen it in the process.

My Lords, I begin by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate and for introducing it with such passion and understanding. The crimes of the LRA and Joseph Kony are horrendous and well known. Atrocities against civilians have been considerable, and children have been used as soldiers and sex slaves. They have also been turned into drug addicts so that even when they stop being soldiers they remain condemned to a certain kind of life all their lives.

Arrest warrants have been issued by the ICC since 2005 and very little has happened. There is no doubt in anybody’s mind that Kony and his cronies must be brought to justice, but I want to approach the question from a slightly different angle. What would happen if they were arrested and brought before the ICC? The trial would drag on; evidence would be degraded by the time of the trial, as has happened in several other cases before the ICC; or the evidence would fail to measure up to the very high standards required by the ICC for evidential justification. There would be considerable costs involved and the world would eventually lose interest in the trial and what the LRA had been doing. Painful memories of the victims would be revived and, within the countries involved, permanent problems that gave rise to the LRA and other things would remain unresolved.

While I agree entirely that we ought to be doing everything within our power to arrest Joseph Kony and others, we should be paying attention to two important things that are in danger of being neglected. First, we should be looking very carefully at the ICC. It demands standards of proof which are too high. In its conception, it has been modelled on domestic courts of justice and tribunals. That does not work at the international level. It also tends to be heavily cumbersome and dilatory. Proceedings of domestic courts cannot, as I said earlier, be models for what goes on at the international level. Again, the ICC is concerned not with ordinary crimes of rape, burglary and murder, as domestic courts are, but with multiple atrocities. How are cases involving multiple atrocities, in a context where the international law is not entirely clear, to be dealt with? It is also important that the judges should have some experience of dealing with cases involving multiple atrocities of this kind. So we should reflect a little more carefully than we have done so far upon the way in which the ICC has proceeded. It is dilatory and enormously costly. Judgment does not come until quite a few years later, and, more importantly, memories get revived when victims would rather forget.

The second important question we should be looking at is this: justice is absolutely important, but peace and domestic reconciliation are equally important. Once upon a time, the LRA had domestic support and was funded. The question that we should therefore be asking is: how can we create a situation in which domestic issues can be satisfactorily resolved before they get out of control or are hijacked in the way in which the LRA and Joseph Kony have hijacked such issues? It is also important, as many people have pointed out, that we should be looking not merely to the ICC to provide an answer, but also to domestic justice mechanisms. For example, in the Acholi tribe in Uganda, to which Kony belongs, there is a very conventional way of dealing with situations of this kind, which is called mato oput. It involves admission of guilt, asking for forgiveness and paying compensation. This is not enough, because things will go wrong, but nevertheless it provides one important way in which a traditional society is able to deal with crimes of this kind. While the ICC is necessary, we ought also to try to integrate traditional mechanisms of justice, restoration and reconciliation into the ICC procedure.

My Lords, for nearly two decades the LRA roamed across northern Uganda, causing 2 million people to flee their homes, and tens of thousands to be kidnapped, mutilated and killed. Over that time, more than 20,000 children were killed. Violence and disease killed 1,000 a week at the height of the conflict, and more than 70,000 people are still in IDP camps.

Joseph Kony, the self-proclaimed mystic, led the Lord’s Resistance Army on a massacre of civilians, as other noble Lords have commented, slicing off the lips of survivors and kidnapping children for use as soldiers, porters and sex slaves. Threatening to destabilise the whole of the region, Kony has repeatedly failed to sign a final peace deal, demanding that he should not be prosecuted by the ICC for war crimes.

Following the ICC’s indictment of Joseph Kony, the African Union formally designated the LRA as a terrorist group, accusing it of murder, rape and child kidnappings in east and central Africa. The AU’s security commissioner, Ramtane Lamamra, called on the UN Security Council to do the same. He has urged all countries to declare the LRA to be terrorists and to forbid its criminal activities on their territory. Mr Lamamra has welcomed the support for the AU by the recent US deployment of 100 specialist troops and appealed to other international partners to,

“reinforce and support … our own regional states in order to enhance their efficiency in fighting the LRA”.

It is of some concern that reports are circulating that Uganda is complaining that the Congo is obstructing its US-backed hunt for Kony. General Jean Claude Kifwa, leading the fight against the LRA for the Congo, has dismissed tensions with Uganda, suggesting Uganda may be dragging its feet in the hunt for Kony. Mistrust between Congolese and Ugandan forces has hampered the sharing of key intelligence and operational plans by the Ugandans, and tensions between Uganda and the DRC have not abated.

Ida Sawyer, a leading Congo analyst with Human Rights Watch, has commented that:

“On their own, regional governments have not shown the capability or resolve to protect civilians from LRA abuses, or…capture the LRA’s top leaders”.

In 2009, the successful author, Jane Bussmann, published a harrowing account of her experiences with the LRA. She, too, confirmed the lack of commitment in the Kony capture plans.

The AU’s efforts will only be the sum of its parts. Two years ago, an AU-led regional initiative was agreed. It included installing a 5,000-strong regional task force and three tactical sector headquarters, a joint operations centre and a joint co-ordination mechanism. Has this initiative been abandoned in favour of the new announcement? Over the past few days, the AU has announced that arrangements for a regional force are in place, seemingly a knee-jerk reaction to the “Stop Kony” video. Comprising troops from Uganda, South Sudan, the CAR and the DRC, it will be based in Yambio. What confidence do our Government have that this plan will overcome the operational tensions and shortages in key equipment and resources any better than previous joint operations?

There is a lack of resources, particularly in intelligence-gathering, military analysis, logistics and air troop transport, over this huge region. Can the Minister confirm when the joint operational centre in Dungu became available, when it became operational and how the required resources are expected to be provided?

Finally, what opportunities are our Government creating to liaise with Governments in the region to provide co-ordination and communication resources for communities to complete early warning systems such as cellphone tower networks, the completion of which has been extremely slow?

My Lords, I too warmly congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate and on his comprehensive and powerful opening speech.

I will never forget visiting northern Uganda during the LRA’s reign of terror and talking to children and teenagers who had escaped from Kony’s army, with experiences similar to those highlighted by my noble friend. One girl, aged 13, wept as she recalled the morning when she was forced to kill a boy with a panga knife and drink his blood. She still had nightmares but asked, “What else could I do? It was either him or me”. Justin, aged 14, described how he had been abducted, force-marched to a training camp in a Khartoum-controlled area in South Sudan, beaten, kept hungry, given live ammunition and forced to use other children as target practice. One terrible day, his friend tried to escape but was recaptured, staked out on the ground and Justin and his other friends were forced to trample him to death. Then Justin broke down, telling how the LRA had killed his father as a punishment for his escape, so he feels guilty for the death of his dad.

I recount these memories—and there are many more—because such horrors will be being replicated today wherever Kony and his LRA troops are terrorising local people. I hope that they highlight the urgent need to put an end to their activities, and for resources for rehabilitation for individuals who have been traumatised, such as those young people. In northern Uganda, young people who had been victims of LRA atrocities desperately wanted education, to put their past behind them and to build a future. At that time, the Uganda Government did not provide free secondary education. I hope that any countries where young people are now suffering in similar ways will provide access to appropriate education to promote healing as well as an opportunity to develop independence, self-esteem and dignity.

Mention of South Sudan as the location where Justin was taken for training highlights the close relationship between the LRA and the notorious President of the Republic of Sudan, al-Bashir, who is also wanted by the ICC. He gave land to Kony’s LRA to carry out their training and perpetrate their atrocities on local people in South Sudan, including murder, rape, abduction of individuals and destruction of property. Although the LRA is not so active in South Sudan at the moment, there is always a fear that Khartoum has used it to try to destabilise the new republic—and may do so again.

The concerns I have identified highlight the urgency of the need to apprehend Kony and his troops. The case for his indictment by the ICC is clear, as failure to do so may encourage perpetrators of atrocities to believe that they can continue to carry them out with impunity elsewhere.

However, I finish with one plea by the Roman Catholic Archbishop of Gulu, who suggested that, if Kony is sent to The Hague and his trial takes place far away from the people who have suffered at his hands, they may not understand the western approach to punishment, which is culturally very different from their traditional customs, with sophisticated procedures of public repentance, recompense and ultimate reconciliation, as was highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Parekh. The archbishop’s wise consideration of the divergence between the demands for justice as seen by the international community and the expectations of local people may be a salutary reminder of the need to consult those who have suffered most when rulings are made far away and in a foreign context, and to consider ways of bridging the gap so that victims and their communities who have suffered so much can feel that justice has been done for them, their needs have been met and true healing can begin.

I conclude by asking the Minister how Her Majesty’s Government intend to use the presidency of the UN Security Council to try to bring this matter to a conclusion.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his dogged focus on equatorial Africa and for drawing our attention to the atrocities there. I hope Her Majesty’s Government will see this as a unique time to garner the resources and international political will to arrest Joseph Kony and other LRA leaders.

Definite figures are hard to come by, but it is estimated that between 60,000 and 100,000 children have become child soldiers to swell the ranks of the LRA, and that nearly half a million people are currently internally displaced. The mutilation, abductions, and killings have been systematic, but it is equally shocking that this has been going on since 1986—just over 25 years. Before even thinking of other conflicts that have come and gone during this time, but merely of the natural disasters that have rightly demanded the world’s priority, I wonder why this situation of similar gravity seems never to be at the top of the priority list of the international community. The resources needed to heal former child soldiers alone are enormous. This is a unique time simply because, looking back, this has gone on for far too long.

In addition, over this time much international intervention has been perceived to have occurred only where western economic interests or security were at stake, particularly oil. The arrest of Joseph Kony is an international justice issue which could do something to correct that perception. It is most encouraging that the Americans have sent 100 non-combatant troops to assist the regional forces in capturing Joseph Kony. Will the UK Government consider sending similar assistance or lobbying the UN for further resource? Although the US admits that the UPDF is

“a flawed and uncertain instrument for defeating the LRA”,

there does not seem to be any other realistic option, and capturing Kony would, many believe, dissolve the LRA, as it clearly has no economic or political agenda and cloaks itself in messianic terms to give purpose to its spurious existence.

Furthermore, surely the reputation of the ICC, whose arrest warrant has been outstanding since 2005, demands that Joseph Kony be captured and tried according to law? This unique time for the ICC could also provide the momentum to capture Kony. Will the Minister please give some indication of the UK Government’s view as to whether offering a reward would assist in his capture? I believe that with the necessary political will and logistic support he can be arrested.

It is most persuasively a unique time because, as the chief prosecutor of the ICC, Luis Ocampo, has said, the “Kony 2012” campaign has “mobilised the world”. Of course this campaign is not without contention, as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, outlined: it incorrectly focuses on northern Uganda, where the LRA previously operated, and the attempt to make Joseph Kony famous rather than infamous may not resonate correctly with local people. However, in less than four weeks, over 100 million people viewed this video, and it is the first example of campaigning created by and aimed at generation Y. It has been viewed mainly by people under the age of 25 in the US, Canada and the UK—more by women than men—and this is a group traditionally not engaged with politics. However, given the right issue, this group will campaign politically and I and, I suspect, PICT are grateful that viewing the video did not have the option to e-mail one’s MP. This political use of social media will in the future require deft footwork by Whitehall and politicians to keep up.

As Rachael Smith of the Millenials Think Tank has commented:

“What the Kony 2012 video has unleashed is the feeling of empowerment amongst a generation that has struggled to find their voice through conventional channels. What this campaign has done is highlight the power of social media to carry a message, a desire and to make demands”.

It is immensely encouraging that the issue young people have decided to focus on is a justice issue which deeply affects children. I urge Her Majesty’s Government to support them.

My Lords, the Kony T-shirt makes me shudder. I agree with my noble friend that the viral video may have made some important mistakes, notably the assumption that its principal actor is still in Uganda. However, as the noble Baroness has just said, it has alerted millions to the glaring fact that this arch-criminal, after years of being hunted, has still not been caught. The video focuses on Uganda because that is where the atrocities have mainly taken place, and where there are still terrible memories of thousands of mutilated or tortured children and bereaved families. I have met President Museveni and his wife Janet several times here and in Kampala, and I have been a UK patron of her trust to help orphans and AIDS victims in Uganda. I have great respect for what they have achieved, mainly the growing stability and increased prosperity of a country that was ravaged by previous rulers, but there is a legacy of neglect of the north and of the Acholi people for which the Ugandan Government carry a heavy responsibility. It was in those conditions that Kony and his fellow torturers were able to flourish, giving Kampala the pretext to clamp down everywhere. Opposition has been regularly suppressed by the President to the point of even frequently arresting his own former doctor and his allies.

The area concerned is immense. The Anglican Diocese of Northern Uganda is located within the districts of Gulu and Amuru and covers an area of over 11,000 square kilometres. Most of its population of about 450,000 people were internally displaced and confined to as many as 51 IDP camps. Even now that the area has returned to relative peace, about 20 per cent of those displaced have still not returned to their villages. According to the UNHCR, 90 per cent have gone home and about 125,000 remain in need of assistance. This mass resettlement has put pressure on already weakened family support systems, social services supplied by churches and charities, and natural resources. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, many victims will always bear the scars of the brutality of Kony’s irregulars.

I believe that the Ugandan army has done a lot to pursue the LRA over many years and, as we have heard, it is now being assisted by the US. Leaflets are regularly distributed to encourage defections, and children occasionally escape. I suggest that it is largely because Kampala has failed to develop and control the north that Kony has been able to evade the Ugandan army for so long.

In this country and within this Parliament, we have had strongly links with Uganda, not least because of the presence of several Peers and Members of Parliament who were born in Uganda and bring direct knowledge to our debates. I suggest that we do more than we are doing at the moment. The noble Lord, Lord Popat, is travelling to Uganda today to visit the Parliament in Kampala and will also visit the business community. Our economy has benefited from many Ugandan Asians who were the victims of past tyrannies and we must encourage and have encouraged their safe return home. We have had frequent exchanges through the Commonwealth in order to share methods and technology, and may they long continue. However, much work still needs to be done to strengthen institutions concerned with the rule of law, democratic government and human rights in Uganda. I hope the Minister will reassure us that the UK energetically supports this work as well as the development projects in the north with which we were concerned a few years ago. I do not know whether we still are. Oil discoveries on Lake Albert are good news, but they do not always solve problems. They can aggravate them.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate and I associate myself with what he and others said to the effect that Joseph Kony is unspeakably evil. He has been responsible for barbarity and causing human misery on a massive scale.

I would like to say a word or two about the power of the internet. The “Kony 2012” video by Jason Russell has done a great deal that is good. As others have said, it has brought the activities of the LRA and Joseph Kony to the attention of the world. It has had a substantial impact on millions of people, young people in particular, whose awareness of what has happened and interest in international politics has been awakened in a remarkable way. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, that that is all to the good. However, we need to be careful because the video has undoubtedly caused some considerable offence in Africa, particularly in Uganda, because of its implication that Uganda now is associated with the horrors of what went on some years ago. The reality is that there has been great progress. The LRA has not been active in Uganda for some time. Its numbers are reduced and the northern region is now largely peaceful. It is important for peoples and government to develop a culture in relation to the internet that benefits from the increase in awareness that it brings but that is also more critical and less sensitive to internet publications. In that way, the best can be achieved and the worst can be avoided.

I join the noble Lord, Lord Bates, in calling for greater and broader support for the International Criminal Court. It is 10 years since the Rome statute established it. While the ICC has been hugely welcome, it has in many ways been a disappointing decade in terms of solid achievement. The conviction of the warlord Thomas Lubanga for coercion of children as soldiers has been its first success and is to be hugely welcomed, but it has been a long time coming.

In some ways, that has been the result of internal problems at the court and a lack of direction. It is to be hoped that the appointment of a dynamic new chief prosecutor in Fatou Bensouda will make a difference. It is also to be hoped that the ICC will widen the scope of its investigations to look at countries outside Africa, to which its attention has so far been largely directed. But the absence of important states—the United States, China and Russia—as signatories to the Rome statute has been and remains the principal difficulty facing the ICC and imperils its future success.

One reason for that is that if the ICC wishes to prosecute crimes by states not party—let us remember that Uganda and the DRC are both states party—the only route to prosecution is referral by the UN Security Council. With the United States, Russia and China as permanent members of the Security Council, such referrals are difficult to secure because unanimity is difficult to achieve. The normal route has been by the establishment of a commission of inquiry, as in Darfur and Libya, followed by a referral by the Security Council. There is room for diplomatic efforts to work on three fronts: first, to persuade non-signatories to join the Rome statute; secondly, to work within the United Nations to secure referrals from the UN Security Council; and, thirdly, to redouble efforts by the United Kingdom Government and other Governments to support the ICC in its work and to emphasise its importance.

To take two examples that I mentioned when the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, asked a Question of my noble friend last Thursday, it would, for instance, be a major step forward if we could secure referrals in respect of Myanmar and North Korea. Both countries have histories of well documented abuse of human rights by the regime. In Myanmar, where for many years the imprisonment and torture of political opponents of the regime has been routine, there are encouraging signs of progress. But that should not stand in the way of bringing the perpetrators of these terrible crimes to justice. In North Korea, the imprisonment of families of dissenters has led to the children of dissenters being imprisoned for the dissent of their parents.

These misdeeds should not be protected; their perpetrators should be pursued in the same way that Joseph Kony is now rightly being pursued. The role of the ICC is to work towards achieving that. Everything the international community and the United Kingdom Government can do to further that aim must be done.

My Lords, perhaps I may add my thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate and for bringing to it, in his usual way, his extensive expertise and understanding of the subject. The conviction last week of Thomas Lubanga by the ICC, which was just mentioned, represents real progress for international justice and confirms that the judges were being scrupulously fair. Now, attention must focus on the others accused of war crimes and crimes against humanity, including war criminals such as Charles Taylor, Gbagbo, Bashir, Saif al-Islam and, of course, Joseph Kony and his collaborators in the terrible crimes that they have committed. All these need to remain a priority for the court.

I do not want to say too much about the Invisible Children video, except to observe that it is somewhat simplistic, patronising to Africans and—in some respects, as many noble Lords have said—misleading, particularly on the issue of where Kony is. He may be in Uganda; he moves in and out of the borders of the DRC, the Central African Republic and South Sudan. That is how he operates; you never really know where he is. Even with its limitations the video does, however, prove the power of celebrity and social networks, as other noble Lords have said. We have learnt a serious lesson for when we want to get a message across.

Now Obama’s boys, as the US contingent in the region is called, operate from bases in all the threatened countries, and military efforts effectively operate alongside efforts to persuade Kony’s followers to defect. When one of Kony’s many so-called wives saw a photo recently of another “wife” smiling out of a leaflet, proving that she had escaped to safety, she also decided to flee. Incidentally, that leaflet was another Invisible Children initiative and was published in three local languages.

It is estimated that Kony’s force now totals something in the region of 200 to 500, down from thousands at its peak. That is encouraging but it emphatically does not mean that the LRA is a spent force, or that it has lost the capacity to attack or to terrorise communities. Last year we saw 278 attacks, and there have been 20 this year in the DRC, forcing 3,000 people to flee their homes. The affected countries will need assistance and support and, as a US State Department official recently said, what we think about where Joseph Kony is is not as important as where the four regional armies think he is. The four countries—the DRC, Uganda, the Central African Republic and South Sudan—have agreed to work together on this, which represents real progress. We should strongly emphasise the need for African government leaders, institutions and civil society to have a central role in these efforts.

The reality is that we will certainly not see a US “Black Hawk Down”-style military debacle, such as we saw in Somalia. The campaign generated by the video in recent weeks has succeeded in hardening the US commitment to engagement against the LRA, however, and has led to more co-ordinated and concerted action. But there are justifiable anxieties in America, especially ahead of the US election, about US servicemen being killed in Africa, which will naturally prevent the US Army from going beyond its “advise and assist” role. We may, therefore, see other kinds of interventions such as the use of drones and other technologies, including the essential building of cellphone towers and early warning systems in the regions. These provisions will allow for “find and capture” Special Forces operations without resorting to more heavy-handed military intervention. It is also important that the AU has launched its “regional co-operation initiative” to end the LRA—the first time that has happened. This has taken time because of reconciling the demands of its own member states and its main financial backer, the European Union.

All the evidence shows the need never to underestimate the ability of the LRA to resist capture. We hear that approximate locations are known to Governments, the UN and NGOs. What apparently is missing is the ability to act in a timely and effective way.

My Lords, I think we are all extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising this important and, in many ways, grim topic. He is right—so are several other noble Lords—that the unprecedented and astonishing response to the “Kony 2012” campaign has highlighted the British public’s strength of feeling about the Lord’s Resistance Army and its appalling activities. The UK Government completely share that concern. We utterly condemn the atrocities carried out on the orders of Joseph Kony.

I am pleased that the dreadful human suffering at the hands of the LRA is getting increased public attention. I welcome that, as did the noble Lord, Lord Alton. I assure your Lordships that the UK Government remain very actively involved. We continue to work with international partners to disband the LRA and to bring to justice Joseph Kony and the other LRA leaders who have been indicted by the International Criminal Court. However, we should recognise that apprehending Kony has not been, and will not be, an easy task. The noble Baroness has rightly just warned us that although the LRA may be diminished in number, it remains an extremely dangerous operating force, casting a deep shadow over the entire vast region. It is estimated that there are about 300 remaining fighters operating in a huge area, across remote and immensely hostile terrain. Previous military attempts to stop the LRA have always resulted in brutal revenge attacks, casting a paralysing feeling of terror over the whole area. A concerted international effort is certainly therefore still required to bring Kony to justice, and the UK is playing a key role in this.

The UK leads on the LRA at the UN Security Council. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, that we are taking a very active role there in bringing the issue to the fore. We secured the UN Security Council presidential statement of November last year, which has tasked the UN to deliver a coherent, co-ordinated and results-focused regional strategy to combat the LRA. We have pressed for better co-ordination and intelligence-sharing between the UN peacekeeping operations—MONUSCO—which are mandated to provide protection for civilians who are at risk from the LRA. The UK is an active member of the international working group to co-ordinate the international response to the regional problems of the LRA. We have pushed for increased co-operation among regional Governments to bring Joseph Kony and other LRA leaders to justice. We will continue to discuss the issue with Governments in all the countries affected by the LRA.

Our contributions through the EU have been instrumental in supporting the EU’s multifaceted approach to the LRA. The aim is to ensure that the struggle against the LRA is pursued on the civilian front as well as the diplomatic and military front in a comprehensive way. With the support of international partners, including the EU, the African Union has been able to develop a regional counter-LRA operation, which includes a regional task force—an operation constituted of Ugandan, Congolese, South Sudanese and Central African Republic troops in the region. We speak to the ICC regularly and provide it with updates on the pursuit of Kony. Noble Lords have raised the ICC issue, on which there may be time to make a further comment.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, asked whether DfID’s aid was associated with conditions. DfID’s aid to the DRC is on an enormous scale—£790 million over the four years 2011-15. The programme covers a diverse range of issues, including work to improve standards of transparency in the trade in natural resources, support to promote economic development through improved networks of roads, better access to education and work to reform the security sector to make it better administered and more accountable. I have to qualify what I say, but I hope that meets most of his concerns on that front.

I wish to say a brief word about the ICC, which was raised by the noble Lords, Lord Bates and Lord Marks. The broader issue of why the ICC is not signed up to by great powers such as the United States and China is a matter that we have debated fully. I would love to have more time to speculate with the noble Lord, Lord Bates, on why the USA will not sign up to it. It expressed its fears at the time and we have debated them since in the Chamber. I must leave the issue there, but he is absolutely right that it remains a great hole in the entire ICC system.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also asked who funds the LRA. We are advised that there is no particular outside source of funds. It just grabs resources from civilians, villages and from wherever it can. Who arms the LRA? The answer is that it attacks check points and seizes caches of arms and weapons. Again, we do not have any evidence of any systematic outside help on that. Why is there no pooled intelligence? There is now pooled intelligence. The joint intelligence operation centre in Dongo has now started and we seconded an officer there about a year ago. The British officer is a major director of the operation there and, of course, we fund him. As for the protection of the civilian population, it is reasonable to ask why it has all taken so long to get these things organised. We now have the MONUSCO disarmament and repatriation programme and the AU’s regional task force has now formed and is now deploying. Indeed, it is just starting work this week by setting up operations in South Sudan. As we are debating this matter, it will open in a few days.

Many other fascinating points were raised by people very closely concerned with this. My noble friend Lady Berridge asked why there was no reward for capture. The difficulty is that there are so many militias and groups searching around for Joseph Kony, including those now getting organised through the AU and MONUSCO, and so many different sources of intelligence. There is also such terror in the villages about he what will do to them that I am not sure that that would work, but it is an interesting idea to put forward.

Can we do a lot more in Uganda? We certainly can do more, although the aid to Uganda programme is very extensive at the moment. I have a long list of the different programmes of support, which there is no time to read out, that have been pushed by DfID in committing £100 million to post-conflict development in northern Uganda over the current five-year period: building legitimacy and improving the capacity of local government to deliver services to the public; supporting government, civil society and communities to engage in peacebuilding and reconciliation, and many other matters that are simply impossible to recite in the time available. The noble Lord, Lord Parekh, spoke eloquently about the issue, as did the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, who said that we should do more in Uganda. The noble Lord, Lord Marks, also mentioned the ICC issue. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, spoke with considerable knowledge of the area.

I reiterate the importance of the work that the UK is doing, alongside the international community, in bringing this individual—or monster, as some call Kony—to justice. We are working with the UN, the AU, the EU and the ICC constantly to that aim. We provide aid to reduce the threat of the LRA. In this financial year alone, we have contributed £384,000 to MONUSCO’s demobilisation, disarmament, repatriation and reintegration programme. Through DfID we have committed £100 million, as I mentioned, to promote development of northern Uganda as it recovers from two decades of horrific war with the LRA. This five-year programme is half way through and showing some impressive results, such as a lowering of poverty levels in the region. Through this programme we have worked with the Government of Uganda’s peace, recovery and development plan for the north, which has allowed the vast majority of people who have been displaced by the LRA’s activities to return home.

We will continue to work in the region through a wide range of activities to ensure that civilians are protected and can go about their lives without the threat of the LRA. I want to reaffirm the United Kingdom’s commitment to working with our regional partners and the wider international community to bring an end to the LRA’s reign of terror and to bring Joseph Kony and his leaders to justice. I thank noble Lords for their attention, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for raising the matter, and all your Lordships for speaking so eloquently.

Sitting suspended.

Autism Act 2009


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the implementation of the Autism Act 2009 and associated autism strategy.

My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords showing an interest in this debate this afternoon, and particularly to the Minister, who I know takes the Autism Act 2009 very seriously. I have brought it forward at this time because the Act needs to be kept under review. There are certain aspects that I want to air today particularly as far as the implementation of the strategy is concerned. I hope that the Minister will be able to take away some of the concerns that I have about it.

It is important to re-emphasise that this Act, introduced by my dear friend the right honourable Cheryl Gillan MP in another place, is the first, and I believe only, condition-specific legislation on our statute book. As a result, we have a particular regard for the reason why it came about. It was because, as a spectrum, autism is a complex condition, which has only begun to be understood in recent years, and because even those who present as more able on that spectrum can deteriorate in areas of mental health, particularly when they progress from childhood to adolescence and then on to adulthood, if they do not receive the appropriate packages of support, much of which will need to be lifelong for many, even the most able. It was for that reason that Parliament singled out the condition of autism in order to put this legislation on the statute book. The Department of Health has responsibility not just for implementing it but for overseeing it, so that this legislation carries out Parliament’s wishes in the responsibilities of the Secretary of State to,

“prepare and publish … a strategy for meeting the needs of adults in England with autistic spectrum conditions”,

and to issue guidance to local authorities and health bodies to secure the implementation of that strategy. There is also a duty on local authorities and health bodies to act under that statutory guidance.

I would like to begin by raising issues that are in the current strategy, on which I hope my noble friend will be able to answer my questions or, if not, to write to me afterwards. The first is to do with partnership boards. Page 29 of the guidance raises the matter of partnership boards, but in the guidance these are not to be required in every circumstance; there is simply a requirement for partnership boards to be there and to be a body where people with autism and their families could participate. It is not statutory that they should. Will partnership boards be monitored in terms of their being set up, and what is the Government’s position now on partnership boards including those with autism and their families? We know that this is one of those conditions where carers and those who can self-advocate in particular are in a key position to add to what is needed in their own services.

I would also like to raise with my noble friend the question of IQ, on which I have put down Written Questions. Page 15 of the guidance states:

“Assessment of eligibility for care services cannot be denied on the grounds of the person’s IQ”.

This is a very old problem which particularly affects those who present with Asperger’s or the more high-functioning Kanner’s autism. I apologise; I should have declared my interest as vice-president of the National Autistic Society. Having been in another place for 18 years, I have dealt with a lot of casework—not just my own but also that of other Members of Parliament. IQ has been the reason social services and other statutory bodies have denied people on the spectrum the right to an assessment and thus to appropriate services; I must tell my noble friend that I still receive casework of this nature today. The practice is clearly now illegal. In fact, I believe it was illegal under existing legislation affecting social services and their requirement to assess people. I ask my noble friend to take an interest in this, particularly for people who have previously been assessed but did not necessarily have IQs under 70 which would have determined them as learning disabled. It is still a problem in some areas. This legislation should have put a halt to that: my interpretation of the strategy is that it is quite clearly illegal.

I also raise with my noble friend the matter of diagnostic leads in NHS bodies, featured in the guidance. Page 15 states that there will be a clear pathway to diagnosis in every area by 2013. Page 16 goes on to say that:

“Each area should put in place a clear pathway for diagnosis of autism, from initial referral through to assessment of needs”.

Page 15 also states that,

“the end goal is that all NHS practitioners will be able to identify potential signs of autism, so they can refer for clinical diagnosis if necessary”.

I know that we are waiting for NICE guidelines to be published on this. I do not know whether the Minister can give us some indication of the timeline as far as the NICE guidelines are concerned. However, in view of the omission in the guidance of foundation trusts and the implication of the Health and Social Care Bill regarding the bodies which will replace PCTs, I wonder whether my noble friend could tell me how the requirements of the autism strategy are going to be met. Are we in danger—and I hope I am wrong in my interpretation of this—of having postcode lotteries in terms of the requirement of the strategy? For changes in health service organisation, those requirements under pages 15 and 16 may well not be achieved as far as the health bodies are concerned. How are these diagnostic leads and their work to be benchmarked? In other words, how are we to assess how capable they are of doing that work? How are we to assess the geographic spread, bearing in mind that there are many cases of autism among adults that are quite complex?

I am not saying that it is easy to diagnose. Diagnostics across the autistic spectrum, including for children, require people with experience of working regularly with those people. However, by the time people enter adulthood—and sometimes people present quite late in life—there can be really complex needs. A mental health condition commonly overlies an autism diagnosis. I point out to my noble friend for the record—I know that he will know this—that autism is not of itself a mental health condition. However, we know—this applies as much to the more able end of the spectrum as to those with more complex Kanner’s autism—that many learning to get by in life as adults often present very strange behavioural patterns. These are not necessarily psychotic but all too often people who are inexperienced in diagnosing find it difficult to disaggregate rather strange autistic behaviour—I choose my words carefully—from what might sometimes be misinterpreted as a psychotic basis of need following a clinical psychiatric diagnosis. Sometimes, of course, both conditions apply and sometimes it gets more complicated than that. What I am really saying to my noble friend is that I am concerned about these diagnostic pathways, who will be doing them, how we will benchmark their qualifications and the quality of the pathways, and how they will be provided given that foundation trusts are not listed in the strategy and that changes are to be made to the structure of the health service through the Health and Social Care Bill.

The other matter I want to raise concerns the professional training of local authority staff. The end goal is to have staff with clear expertise in autism within each area. I am very nervous of tick boxes. I do not want to see a situation where people who have been on training courses tick boxes but we are unable to define what expertise they have or their interface with the autistic community. Therefore, I hope that my noble friend will find a way of evaluating this training to ensure that it is not just a tick-box exercise.

I am looking at the Whip, as I am sure that she will call me to order fairly soon. However, I want to raise a final matter.

I asked my noble friend Lord Freud whether his department had conducted consultation on the Autism Act before introducing the Welfare Reform Act. The Autism Act is a unique piece of legislation. The Department of Health should check whether new legislation that is brought forward by other government departments affects the provisions of the Autism Act. I am concerned about changes being introduced in housing legislation that affect the under-35s and how the strategy for moving towards independent living will work. I do not know whether my noble friend can tell me what discussions his department has had with the DWP but I am seriously concerned that judicial review will be instigated following what I regard as severe defects in other legislation that clearly has not taken the Autism Act into account. I hope that, as the Minister in charge, my noble friend will make it his responsibility to ensure that this does not happen on an ongoing basis.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Browning—indeed, I am proud to call her my noble friend—for securing this debate today. Those concerned about autism and how we support people with autism and their families have no better champion in this House than the noble Baroness.

All too often in my experience, the public perception of the need to make provision to support people with autism is that it is a matter for the education services alone; it is about helping autistic children. But, of course, while providing educational opportunities for autistic children is vital, necessary and right and proper, I fear that it sometimes masks our appreciation that autistic children grow up into autistic adults, and the support is needed for adult life as well. All too often, I fear that our approach focuses on early years alone, and that is often seen as our priority. It is right that it should be a priority, but it should not be the priority to the exclusion of all else.

When I spent a day at the National Autistic Society’s day centre in Croydon a couple of months ago, I saw for myself how the team there is making a real difference to the quality of life of autistic adults but, like many others, I am concerned about the step before: the support given during the transition from childhood to adulthood. It is often taken for granted that people should be able to move in and out of education throughout their lives. We have to ensure that people with autism have the opportunity to be able to continue to access education throughout their lives and that it is a given right, not a gift which society may or may not bestow from time to time.

The need to improve the transition to adulthood for people with autism is mentioned in the autism strategy, but as far as I can see it contains no concrete proposals to deliver these improvements. I know that Ambitious about Autism has asked the Government to recognise that a good transition to adulthood delivers long-term cost savings to the state, as well as increased life chances for people with autism and their families. Good links between health, social care and education services are essential to a good transition. The current lack of reference to education in the autism strategy is, I think, worrying us all. I would like to see the review of the strategy next year lead to the inclusion of education services.

In its Finished at School research paper, Ambitious about Autism found that just one in four young people with autism goes on to any form of education or training beyond school. It also found that where young people with autism are supported to continue their education, they are more likely to live independently and access employment in later life. This reduces pressure on adult health and social care services. Until local commissioners and those driving the strategy nationally invest in making further education and training accessible to young people with autism, I fear we will continue to see them go down the default path into adult health and social care services. Will the Government consider what concrete measures to improve the transition will be included in the review next year?

In previous debates, I have spoken of the worries that the National Autistic Society has had about the proper guidance, better training and more robust data which services for adults with autism need if those services are not to fail them. A key National Autistic Society concern, which I and others share, is that specialist autism teams such as the Liverpool Asperger Team and the Bristol Autism Spectrum Service will, despite being recommended by NICE, not be commissioned in each area.

The Minister might recall that in a debate on 31 March last year I raised the issue of the National Audit Office investigation into public spending on autism. It found that if such teams are established there is a potential to save money. It estimated that if local services identified and supported just 4 per cent of adults with high-functioning autism and Asperger’s syndrome, the outlay would become cost neutral over time. In addition, it found that if it did the same for just 8 per cent it could save the Government £67 million a year. The Liverpool Asperger Team, which is the longest-standing specialist Asperger’s service in the country, currently reports identification rates of 14 per cent. Four per cent therefore seems a very achievable figure for newly established autism teams, and a cost-neutral level of service is an entirely realistic prospect. How will the NHS Commissioning Board ensure that clinical commissioning groups are given guidance on commissioning services, particularly specialist autism teams, for adults with autism? What steps are being taken to improve data protection and training for professionals in the NHS, and is autism being included in these discussions?

I have a couple more questions. The draft NICE guideline states,

“that the Care Quality Commission will monitor the extent to which Primary Care Trusts … responsible for mental health and social care and Health Authorities have implemented”,

these NICE guidelines. Given this role, will the CQC therefore be involved in the 2013 review? Recently, it was confirmed by the Department of Health that NICE will produce two quality standards for autism, one for children and one for adults. Is there a timeframe for when we can expect these standards to be published? Finally, how can stakeholders be involved in the development of these standards?

This debate has given us an opportunity to put these questions and I fully appreciate that the Minister might wish to reflect a bit further and write. As the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, made clear, this requires ongoing monitoring. If the Act is to be effective, we have to continue to monitor and ask these sorts of questions. I have no doubt that the Minister in his usual good way will make sure that we have an adequate and full response.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for raising this subject. I also thank the Minister for taking this on. One feels that something as difficult as being the lead department on this issue should fall on the shoulders of someone who has not been quite so heavily worked over the past few weeks—but I am afraid that that is the way these things fall.

Every time I have spoken about autism, I use a quote about it being a three-dimensional spectrum; that is, it crosses in all ways. When you know about autism, you generally know about one autistic person and then you meet another autistic person. This is true of most hidden disabilities, but is probably more true of autism than any other.

Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.

My Lords, to continue with the speech that I was making, a quote I often use about autism is that it is a three-dimensional spectrum. I am now going to fulfil a promise I made in September last year, when a councillor, Claire Young, gave me that quotation in a meeting run by the National Autistic Society at the Liberal Democrat conference. I know the words; I do not really understand, certainly not as well as others in this debate, exactly what they mean. I have a perception, because I have some experience of those who have worked with autism and of speaking to those who have it, but I will never know as well as they do exactly what autism means: the idea that it is difficult to assess, deal with and help.

Having got a legal responsibility to follow a coherent strategy led by one department, it is important that the others all join in with it. I have a briefing that suggests that although people at Jobcentre Plus have read the relevant leaflet, young people with autism are reporting back that they still have problems accessing the service. This is pretty typical of anybody who deals with a disability of any description: “I have read the leaflet, I know what is in it, and I know what is going to happen”. They are not trained well enough to be flexible and to understand that there is a spectrum of needs, and you must go from one level to another. This is not unusual to autism; it is just that autism may present a set of problems that are very difficult to access, possibly because the person with high-functioning autism may have difficulty explaining their situation, as been put to me by many people. If this is true, you must make sure that the person who is providing the service is properly trained. A leaflet is not good enough.

I have dealt with this before. In the Welfare Reform Bill, we finally got from my noble friend Lord Freud something that I had been after for about 12 years, that is, that the person who makes an assessment must be trained in the disability that they are assessing. This correlates to the Act that we are talking about today. It is part of the continuum. Let us not forget that the Autism Act would not have been necessary if all the other pieces of legislation that merely referred to disability had provided these solutions. When we looked at the online copy of the guidance, 10 Ministers in the previous Government, representing at least half-a-dozen departments, had all signed up to it. That was an admission, shall we say, from the Treasury Bench— I think that that is a good and fair way of putting it, and I do not think it was disagreed with by anybody—that you must co-ordinate.

Autism presents unusual and unique problems. It is not the only set of original and unique problems. That is why I said that I did not envy the Minister his task. He and his department may well be lumbered with breaking the ground for more efficient support for all disability sectors, because this is clearly the way that it should have happened in the first place.

I have also been encouraged to talk about the SEN Green Paper. The noble Lord, Lord Touhig, has mentioned education. Another truism of mine is that if you are a disabled person, choose your parents well and you will get the best out of the system. As I have said before, I still do not think there is a better combination than a lawyer and a journalist. They are the people who will point out that you are breaking the law and then let the world know about it. Too often it requires that degree of pressing and attacking to get people to move. If this legislation works, they will no longer be necessary. You will not be dumped at the end of one process, waiting to be picked up again by another. That continuation is vital. Not only is it important to receive some form of support at school, but also to be handed over to the college or university sector. As I have bored the House before with my findings on the discrepancy between the apprenticeship system and the university system in the way that some disabled groups, with exactly the same people potentially, are dealt with, I will not go into it again here. That type of disagreement and lack of continuity or progress is frequent, sometimes within the same department.

Will the Minister give us an idea of how the Government are monitoring this and of the type of problems they are addressing? This would be very helpful because we are going through a cultural shift and if there are no problems, it means they have not been looked for. They will be there: everybody here knows that the best way to find that one does not have a problem is not to look for it. If the Minister can tell us how the Government are identifying these problems and what they are doing to look for them, I will be much happier about this. It is not the Autism Act’s implementation; implementation across the board and the establishment of good practice for other groups are vital here. I wish my noble friend well in answering this, but it is not easy.

My Lords, I too am very grateful indeed to the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, for raising this issue; for continuing to put pressure on us to monitor the autism strategy following the 2009 Act; and for deepening our understanding of how autism develops and is regarded within our society. I look forward to hearing details of the 2013 review of the implementation of the Act.

I am grateful for the 2010 statutory guidance to local authorities and health bodies, but I remain alarmed at the slow progress being made on the provision of diagnostic services, especially for adults. I would be grateful if the Minister could tell us what guidance there will be for the health and well-being boards and the clinical commissioning groups as the NHS reforms are taken forward.

I look forward too to the self-assessments of local authorities, which are going to be published by the Learning Disabilities Public Health Observatory in July this year. I am aware of the very different levels of progress being made by different local authorities in how they respond to need and in how they use their own finances in this area. I would be very grateful for comment from the Minister on how the self-assessment project is progressing, and on what assurances he can give us as to the future of the learning disability observatory in the light of NHS reforms. It has a crucial role in the monitoring of learning disabilities in general and of autism in particular.

Successive Governments have worked hard to raise our awareness of autism and I pay tribute to both this Government and their predecessors in raising the issues and in getting us to think about just how autism exists in our society. It remains a disability which is not well understood and can be ignored or even despised by many people. I look for encouragement for a wider expression of the reality of autism. The National Autistic Society does an excellent job in alerting us to the needs of people with autism. It remains true that many people have a very limited concept of what autism is about. I, too, was going to ask about the relationship between the Welfare Reform Act and the Autism Act and how they are seen as working together.

That is not least because I am alarmed by the extent to which people with autism are regarded as unwilling to work or as trouble-makers. The National Autistic Society figures suggest that some 15 per cent of adults with autism are in work. Most people with autism are unable to find work. It is crucial that they are not criticised or rejected as a result of that inability to find the work which many of them would very much like to be part of. Physical disability is often respected by the general public. Social disability is much less easy to understand. The work of the National Autistic Society, which helps us to a deeper understanding of the effects of autism, is welcomed by us all. But we now need much better diagnostic opportunities and understanding of causes.

In my ministry, I have had the privilege of a series of contacts with people with autism and their carers. The noble Lord, Lord Addington, said that once you meet one person who has autism and their carers, you find yourself being introduced to a number of people with autism but they can have very different symptoms and ways in which that autism is expressed. That is one of the difficulties of this whole spectrum of issues. I have spent a good deal of time with people with autism—it is by no means unusual for more than one person in a family to have autism—and have watched the careful supervision provided by their carers. Such carers are among the unsung heroes of our society and we need to do all that we can to support and encourage them.

In the context of this debate, I want to pay tribute to the contributions made to society by those who have autism. There are many skills—specifically mathematical skills, for example—which people with autism are able to share with others. Many have an openness and friendliness which means that they give to society more than they receive. But that is dependent on there being carers around them who are able to encourage and help them to express those skills and qualities which are so deep within them.

In our right concern to protect and support them, we need also to be grateful for what they give. I am very grateful for the work of the National Autistic Society and for the 2009 Act, particularly the self-assessments of local authorities and the way in which those self-assessments are dealt with and responded to. I look forward to the Minister’s response to this debate.

My Lords, I apologise for being slightly delayed in the voting Lobby earlier and for missing a few of the comments, but I picked up their general gist. I too am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, for initiating this debate and, just as importantly, reminding us why the 2009 Act was developed. As she rightly pointed out, it recognised that adults with autism were a particularly socially isolated and excluded group, and it is important to keep reminding our society about that. The Act put two key duties on government: to produce, first, the strategy and, secondly, the statutory guidance which noble Lords have referred to. The Government are now committed to reviewing implementation of the strategy in 2013, and it is vital that this review is as comprehensive as possible. Like many noble Lords, I am also grateful to the National Autistic Society for assisting me with the provision of background information, and for the excellent work that it is doing. I pay it a special tribute.

That society has, of course, not been standing still. It has been looking at monitoring progress towards the full implementation of the strategy. It has particularly been monitoring local authorities about the specific tasks within that strategy: the autism lead; working pathways for diagnosis; established partnership boards, which noble Lords have referred to; including the needs of adults with autism in the joint strategic needs assessment; and developing a local commissioning plan. There is also awareness training, which is vital in all service providers because as the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, pointed out there are still things going on which should not be and which are illegal. We also need to broaden that and have, as she said, awareness training in place for community care assessors.

The results of the national society’s own research are patchy, but it appears that many authorities are starting with the easy bits, as your Lordships would expect. A very high rate—74 per cent—have established an autism lead and 55 per cent have established an autism board. Yet when it comes to more complicated steps, such as producing a commissioning plan, collecting information about adults with autism and having basic training, only about one in three authorities has either taken action or is actively pursuing these goals. The society has advised me that it regularly hears from front-line professionals who say that a key challenge in implementing the strategy is gathering accurate data on the needs of their local population of adults with autism. The strategy sets out that the Department of Health would develop a protocol for information-sharing at local level to help improve local data. This is yet to be published. One of my first questions for the Minister is, therefore: what progress is being made in developing this protocol?

I also understand from the society that the health department is currently undertaking a zero-based review of its data returns. Again, front-line professionals have told the society that adding autism into these returns is essential to help them gather the information they need to plan for cost-effective services. The society is aware that the department has been discussing adding information on autism. What progress is being made to ensuring that data on autism will be collected as a result of the zero-based review?

One important area that the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, and my noble friend both referred to is of ensuring access to diagnosis, which is the cornerstone of the autism strategy. This is also an issue which, to date, very few areas have been able to address successfully. This is one of the areas which I want to focus on. As we have heard, NICE is currently drafting a guideline on the most effective way to develop a local diagnosis pathway, as well as the most effective interventions for adults with autism, which would of course help. However, professionals are telling society—I also read about this at the weekend in an excellent article on autism in the Observer—that a key barrier for developing local pathways to diagnosis is trying to engage the local NHS in local implementation plans. In this respect, the blame is being partly laid on the NHS reorganisation.

I would like to repeat the question posed by the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, to the Minister: as NHS reforms are taken forward, will guidance be developed for health and well-being boards and clinical commissioning groups about the Autism Act? As the noble Baroness has already pointed out, there are already failures in understanding the true nature and requirements of that Act, and we need to ensure that it is understood at all levels as a consequence of the reorganisation.

As we have heard, many aspects of the strategy’s objectives also realise the full potential of people—both children and adults—who are autistic. As many, including the National Audit Office, have identified, the implementation of this strategy will save money: it will save the public purse. I would like to once again stress the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Touhig, to the Minister: what progress is being made by the Department of Health in developing guidance with professionals on the business case for local teams? What action is the Department of Health taking to encourage the development of these teams locally? Will the barriers to developing these teams be considered as part of the 2013 review of the strategy?

My Lords, I thank my noble friend for tabling this Question and pay tribute to the way in which she has championed the cause of those with autism in its various forms over many years. This debate has done full justice to the key issues facing us at the moment. It has also generated a great many questions and I shall do my best to answer as many as I can but I shall inevitably need to write to noble Lords on some of them.

The Autism Act was a landmark piece of legislation. As my noble friend said, it was the first ever disability-specific law. It led to the development of the adult autism strategy and statutory guidance for local authorities and the NHS. The strategy made it clear that to be a success, it would require long-term cultural change. We need to remember that this is not going to be an overnight process. It also requires action right across the public sector.

Since then, we have had some real successes; for example, the North East Autism Consortium regularly brings together local authority and NHS lead commissioners for autism to share their experiences and to drive forward their priorities, all the while involving people with autism in the process. Personal budgets have begun to make a real difference to people’s lives. They have a degree of flexibility that enables people to be creative about how they spend their money. People can make every penny count and get real value for money.

A central tenet of the autism strategy is that adults with autism should be able to access the same services as everyone else. If someone with autism is being assessed for social care, their autism should be taken into account, regardless of their IQ, and I will turn to that point again in a moment. If they are looking for work, Jobcentre Plus should find suitable positions that are sensitive to their needs. To reap the full potential of the Act, local authorities and the local NHS need to work together and co-operate on planning and training, on the identification, diagnosis and assessment of autism, and on the transition from childhood to adulthood. I will come on to some of those themes in a moment.

While the lead must come from local communities, more still can be done to help at the national level. We recently announced a new children and young people’s health outcomes strategy, which is aimed specifically at developing the life chances of young people. To support this, we have established a children and young people’s forum, under the leadership of Christine Lenehan, chief executive of the Council for Disabled Children and Ian Lewis, medical director at the Alder Hey Children’s NHS Foundation Trust. Last April, we published new tools for local authorities and NHS bodies to support communities with the implementation and monitoring of the strategy and the statutory guidance.

The learning disability public health observatory has been finding out from local authorities just how they are delivering the strategy. The results will be published at the end of the month, enabling people to lobby locally and to challenge where necessary. So far, about nine out of 10 areas say that they have a commissioning plan for services for adults with autism either in place or in development. More than half the local authorities in England have established autism partnership boards to ensure that the views and wishes of people with autism and their carers inform the design, development and commissioning of services at a local level.

While central government can set the framework and work to remove barriers and increase awareness, the real work—the delivery of lasting change—is for professionals, providers, voluntary organisations, service users and carers working together in collaboration. The autism strategy has never advocated a top-down process. It is not about setting targets and milestones. It has always been about empowering local communities to come together and to get things done. It is also about integrating care across the NHS, social care and other local authority services, and putting people with autism at the centre of any plans to improve their own lives and, as much as possible, to put them in control. The new health and well-being boards will be crucial to integration. They will bring together all those with an interest in local health and social care. They will draw up the local needs assessment. Crucially, they will also write the local strategy to meet those needs and be responsible for fulfilling it.

A huge amount of work has taken place over the past couple of years. Consistent pathways for diagnosis are being delivered through the NICE clinical guidance for the diagnosis and management of autism. Newly diagnosed patients are being given appropriate advice and information. Lead professionals have been appointed in most local areas to develop diagnostic services. We now have NICE guidelines covering the diagnosis, referral and management of autism among children and young people. Similar guidelines for adults are out for consultation and are due this summer. The proposed adult autism quality standard has now been referred to NICE and an announcement on further referrals following this engagement exercise will be made shortly.

The noble Lord, Lord Collins, paid tribute to the work of the voluntary sector and, in particular, the National Autistic Society, and I would like to echo what he said. The society is now in its 50th year, and there is no doubt that its lobbying, research, advice, support and services do a huge amount to set the standard for autism services and to drive system reform. I would like to thank it and many other organisations that work to improve the lives of people with autism. Alongside them, we have to thank the parents, carers, teachers and friends of those with autism.

My noble friend Lady Browning asked me specifically about the question of someone’s IQ. The strategy and guidance make it clear that people with autism or Asperger’s syndrome can no longer be refused an assessment or access to support because their IQ is too high and they do not have a learning disability. She is aware of that.

We expect more low-level and preventive services to be developed in response to the autism strategy and statutory guidance as commissioning plans are developed locally and a better understanding of local needs is developed. Given the right support, many more people with autism, particularly those with high-functioning autism or Asperger’s syndrome, will be able to live more independently in the community. Some areas, such as Liverpool and Bristol, have developed multidisciplinary teams that help with diagnosis and post-diagnosis support and their expertise can greatly increase awareness of autism among other services. The NICE guidelines, which will be published this year, will look at the use of these teams in more detail.

A number of noble Lords, including my noble friend, the right reverend Prelate, and the noble Lords, Lord Addington and Lord Collins, spoke about the need to raise awareness and expertise at a local level among front-line professionals. The Department of Health has funded a series of online training resources and booklets to increase awareness and understanding of autism across all public services, costing half a million pounds in total. Working with the Royal Colleges of Nursing, GPs and Psychiatrists, the Social Care Institute for Excellence, the British Psychological Society, Skills for Health and Skills for Care, the NAS and others, a range of quality materials to enable front-line staff to better recognise and respond more effectively to the needs of adults with autism have been produced. We are planning further work with our partner organisations to ensure dissemination and uptake of this material. It is, however, important to emphasise that it is for local health and social care organisations to ensure that professionals involved in providing services have the necessary qualifications, expertise and training for the purposes that are required.

My noble friend referred to local governance structures. Those structures are in place, including the partnership boards. Local JSNAs and autism self-assessments should also provide information for local service users and representative groups to benchmark provision within their localities and identify where there are gaps. A key issue is to explore whether local health and care commissioners and providers are taking forward services in line with Implementing Fulfilling and Rewarding Lives, the statutory guidance which was published in December 2010, and to challenge locally where that is not happening.

The right reverend Prelate referred to self-assessment. He is right that we have asked the learning disabilities public health observatory to collect and collate data from the reports that are coming out of self-assessment. Those will be online by the end of this month. I am confident that this is a step in the right direction. Almost 90 per cent of local authorities have submitted a report, which is encouraging.

Clinical commissioning groups were referred to by the noble Lords, Lord Collins and Lord Touhig, among others. The NHS Commissioning Board will be issuing guidance to the CCGs. That may be for a variety of purposes, including to support improvement of outcomes in the NHS outcomes framework, within which are indicators on long-term conditions and mental illness. However, I am careful not to refer to autism as a mental illness. Health and well-being boards and CCGs will be expected to ensure that they comply with all relevant legislation included in the Autism Act.

I am receiving signals that my time is almost up. I apologise to noble Lords as I have a great deal more material here that I would gladly have used. I just highlight two essential priorities for us. We need to benchmark the services and outcomes for people with autism. We have made a start with this through the self-assessment tool. We need better information to plan and commission services, robust local prevalence data on autism and up-to-date joint strategic needs assessments so that services can be commissioned appropriately. By being clear and transparent at every stage we can hold local authorities, the local NHS and others to account for the quality of the services that they are delivering. As we devolve power down, place far more focus on local leadership and personal control and work to drive up outcomes, it will not be only the statistics that start to look better but also the lives of people with autism.



Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to improve awareness of the potential health hazards of para-Phenylenediamine (PPD) in hair dyes and cosmetics, and to improve research in this area.

My Lords, I am very pleased to have the opportunity of introducing this short debate on para-Phenylenediamine, which in future I will refer to as PPD, if I may. It is a debate that we have been waiting some time for, and I am sorry that some of the people who would have liked to take part will not be able to do so, in particular, my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton. We share many interests, including a football team. On this occasion, she wanted to speak in the debate because a friend of hers was adversely affected by hair dye and she wanted to explain the impact that it had.

I should start by declaring an interest because I am afraid that my blonde locks are not achieved entirely without the aid of a hairdresser. Looking round the Room, I think that many of us are in that position. I have been given a word of reassurance as I have looked into this issue, in that I am told that the darker, or more chestnut, the colour, the greater the danger is of a reaction. Those of us who have chosen to be blonde are perhaps getting away with a little. That is of interest and is important, particularly if we were to go on to discuss some of the other issues that are very relevant here, such as the increased use of henna tattoos. That is a problem which could have some very long-term consequences, especially as many younger people are embarking on them, and some are getting these tattoos not in this country, but in places where there are even fewer regulations than there are here.

It is very easy to be somewhat alarmist when talking about a subject like this and to put the fear of god into many people. I do not wish to be alarmist in the remarks that I make, because it is the case that many people use hair dyes, either themselves or through their hairdressers, without difficulty. But there are dangers that we should be aware of, and there are significant steps that could be taken to minimise those dangers and to make people aware of what they need to do.

I am not a scientist in any respect at all, but neither are most consumers. Therefore, the questions that we ask as consumers are just as relevant, especially when so many people are hiding their grey, including many men, and indeed many young people, as I have mentioned. Young people’s use of make-up—cosmetics generally and tattoos—is another subject about which we could have a very wide-ranging debate. I will just put down a marker that more and more people are using these products, and therefore it is important that we understand the issues.

My understanding is that most hair dyes—at least two-thirds, and some people say up to 98 per cent—involve the use of PPD. It is extremely useful in permanent hair dyes. The tints or tinted conditioners that are sometimes used do not usually pose the same risk, but most of us who want to change the colour of our hair want the effect to be lasting. Therefore we are probably using the varieties that use PPDs, because they apparently have a very strong protein-building capacity, which is what fixes the colour, and, as I say, we all want that to last.

However, there are alternatives. I have been given a great deal of information on them—perhaps I should declare a free sample that I have not quite used yet. More people are now looking at the alternatives and at the alternative organic products that there might be. Indeed, there is quite a marketing opportunity there, which is being used.

I have looked at the research on the incidence of problems, some of which shows that PPD is responsible for at least 8 per cent of all allergic reactions. Some colleagues may have seen the British Medical Journal, which shows that the frequency of positive reactions to PPD is increasing. The frequency of referrals to London clinic on them doubled over six years. There is general acceptance that there are probably more allergies now in general terms, which should concern all of us.

I looked at the short section on cosmetics and hair dyes in the House of Lords Science and Technology Committee’s sixth report of the 2006-07 Session, which was some time ago. It refers to the problems that exist, the nature of those problems and the kind of reactions, including those that lead to people being in hospital. Some time ago, there was publicity about someone who had died, it was thought, from the impact of hair dye. The report also draws attention to what is happening on a European Union-wide basis. The existing regulations emanate from there, and we should keep an eye on that. The report states:

“The Commission now plans to extend its assessment ‘to minimise possible risks of allergic reactions’”.

That was some time ago, and I am not clear whether that has been followed up in any meaningful way. I think it is important, and I hope that the Minister will be in a position to consider this and even to put pressure on our EU partners to make sure that everything possible is being done to ensure that we can have proper research on and knowledge of the effects of PPDs, and to make sure that this is taken seriously enough.

I have talked to people from the industry. We possibly have a problem with the colour houses, which are the main drivers of this industry. I do not think that there is a simple solution, such as banning PPDs, although that might accelerate research into alternatives. I was told that a couple of years ago, the National Hairdressing Federation called a conference of all the main colour houses and those bodies which produce these products in the hope of moving things on to get better regulation, better advice and more awareness, but there was a real difficulty in terms of follow-up.

There are alternatives on the market. I am told that PDT is particularly helpful for those who want chestnut-coloured hair. I am sure that the Minister is aware that hairdressing is an unregulated area. It is very difficult to regulate and any of us could set ourselves up as hairdressers. Many of the colour houses and the chains of hairdressing salons take significant measures in terms of training their staff and have guidance on, for example, patch-testing. However, there is a thought that, although products change frequently, if you have been tested once, perhaps you are all right for the next few times. I am not sure that that is always the case and certainly the opposite is the case: if you are allergic to one type of hair dye, it is likely that you will be allergic to others.

It is considered best practice to have a test every three to six months, but I understand how difficult it is for those of us who are customers to keep going back to the hairdresser for tests and then returning later for our appointments. We should be promoting the use of mini-testing. There should be patch tests that are separate from the contents of home-dye kits and a patch test, which I understand exists for a few treatments, that a salon can send out for you to put on your arm to test hair dye properly a couple of days before your appointment. I think that there is scope. It is difficult to make headway without more recognition on the part of hairdressers and the colour houses, and there is real scope when so many cosmetic products are given to us in small doses. When we buy them we get a goody bag of new products to test, and the same should and could be available on hair dyes.

We have a problem with labelling. The advice is there, but it is often in small print and more could be done. We could obviously do more so that we understand labels where they exist. I have looked at a couple of things recently, and I did not understand “This product is noncomedogenic”—that was a new one on me. When things say that they are “hypoallergenic”, what does that mean? It means that they have been tested, which is fine, but what does it mean for individual consumers? There do not seem to be guidelines that we should always know what we are buying when we buy things.

This is just the opening of a debate to try to raise awareness but also to try to get everyone from EU research, the industry and advertisers involved. I hope that the Minister will look at all that the Government could be doing to ensure that they are maximising their efforts to warn people in a calm and sensible, but nevertheless meaningful way, so that more people do not get into difficulty through using these products.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for giving us the opportunity to discuss this today. It is an important part of raising awareness of the issue. Indeed, she has put forward some interesting potential solutions. I fear that some of what I want to say will be a poor reflection of what the noble Baroness has said, because the questions that come to our minds are similar.

The campaign to ban PPD is an extreme response to a problem, and one that it is not realistic to consider. As the noble Baroness has pointed out, the products are used very widely. If we go back 30 years it was quite unusual for people to dye their hair. Now I would say that the vast majority of women—certainly mature women—and an increasingly large number of men do so.

Allergies of all sorts are common. For example, we do not consider banning peanuts or shellfish, although nut and shellfish allergies are very common. The danger with all allergies is that something that might upset you slightly to begin with—in this case, it might give you a sore scalp—several usages on could provoke a serious allergic reaction because it is an accumulation of reaction and sensitivity. I agree with the noble Baroness that the key issue is information. Going back to the nuts and the shellfish, menus and lists of contents warn of those products clearly now. We are even verbally warned or questioned in restaurants by staff who say, “This might have nuts in it”. Public awareness is quite strong in that field. As always, when preparing for a debate, I asked around about PPD among friends and people I know. They were blissfully unaware of the issue. They realised that sometimes people can have a sore scalp, but they did not realise that it was a potentially serious allergic reaction. A great deal more can be done to raise awareness, so I want to pose some questions to the Minister.

Do the Government keep records of how many people are affected by this, especially those who have had a very serious reaction? What consideration have the Government given to responding to this, to educate and spread information and awareness, especially among hairdressers? A lot of people use home kits, but most people at some point go to the hairdresser. Even if they dye their hair at home, they usually have it cut at the hairdresser, who would be ideal for passing on this information. When hairdressers are trained in colleges and so on, this key information could be given to them.

Is there any scope for regulations on the instructions on the kits—the packets of dye themselves? The noble Baroness has pointed out that they are often very confusing; they are written in a language that ordinary, non-scientists do not understand. But the print is also very small and often written against a dark background, so they are terribly difficult to see. The instructions about putting it on your head for half an hour, or whatever, will be quite large but the health warning is often at the bottom in very small print. Can the Government do anything to ensure that the warnings are made very much larger? Work is going on to replace PPD. Are the Government aware of how quickly that might bear some fruit? Might we have products on the market that do the same job as permanent hair dye that do not contain PPD?

I come to the other issue of temporary tattoos, which is really the most dangerous aspect of this. Although it is illegal to use PPD in temporary tattoos, it is being used, probably out of ignorance to a certain extent, and certainly because it is not a greatly regulated area of activity. Ironically, people often go for temporary tattoos because they are worried about the dangers of having a permanent one. They might be opting for something even more dangerous without realising it. Is there a possibility for the Government to spread awareness of this and to give a little more publicity, so that people going for temporary tattoos will ask about the contents and are aware of the possibility of an allergic reaction? I once again thank the noble Baroness for introducing this subject for debate today.

My Lords, I rise briefly to intervene in the gap to say that many years ago I spent 12 years in the perfumery and cosmetic industry as I was the Latin-American director of Yardley, a company that regrettably and sadly no longer exists. It was a distinguished and big name in the perfumery industry but, some years after I left the company, it came to a sad and sorry end. We did not make hair products, which are the subject of this debate, but we made other things that were very popular and tended to be very carefully tested. We had our own laboratories and no product was allowed to go on the market without being very carefully tested to exhaustion. An example is the considerable manufacture of lipsticks. These need to have very sensitive treatment because of their liable effect on skin. Lipsticks are of course very popular. At one time people said, “What is going to happen when there is a recession?”. My answer to that was that the last thing a lady will ever do is give up lipstick, whatever the economic conditions in the country.

I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, on bringing something very important to the attention of the House.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, for raising this debate and raising awareness of what is of course a very serious issue. Many of us have read stories in the newspapers. For example, Sali Hughes wrote in the Guardian that, after attending her hairdresser for 20 years and using hair dye, she suddenly developed an allergy that nearly brought on her death. Raising awareness generally of that possible threat is really important. There have certainly been media stories about it. I would like to repeat the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson: what are the Government able to do to raise awareness, generally, of these risks? These risks are not only in relation to specific products, such as the ingredients that have been mentioned— I am going to continue to use the term PPDs—as people can also develop these reactions even after many years of use. If you do not take into account some of the irritations that you might develop, continual use could cause a much bigger reaction.

I know that a lot of my noble friends, and even the Minister, have been looking at me rather curiously during this debate, because I have been blond all my life, and it is true that I am becoming what in my family we call ash-blond. Okay, I am going to come out about it: I have been tempted to use certain products to keep off that inevitable day when ash-blond will become white. Nevertheless, this is a serious point. I did a bit of research myself, and it is true that an increasing number of men are using such products. What they are not doing is what most women do at some point, which is to go to a hairdresser and see a professional colourist, who does tests and checks. They do not even read the small print. Most men are pretty nonchalant about the use of such products. They certainly would not confess about it or talk about their use, even, on occasion, to their family members.

This is where my research comes in. My husband is Spanish. He is quite dark, but every time he grows a beard it comes out white. His beard is grey, but his head of hair is not. I caught him using a home product, not because he told me but because I noticed certain signs on towels in the bathroom, and thought, “What is this?”. We are not the BBC in here, are we, so I can say that it was a product called Just for Men. He had painted his beard with this product. I am absolutely certain that, while he read the instructions, which are in pretty big print, he did not read the warnings. I looked it up on the internet, and sure enough Just for Men, the product that will make sure that he remains dark in beard, contains PPDs. He is not aware of that and I am sure that, were ongoing use to produce some irritation, there would be no check on that.

I urge the Minister to tell us what more the Government can do, not only at a European level and in terms of the warnings required in EU directives, but also in providing some general guidance in supermarkets and shops: “Read the instructions”, or “Be aware that this might cause a problem”. That is something the Government can do in the short term: link together raising awareness and providing general warnings.

I have suddenly realised that my husband is going to be pretty annoyed with me: I have just outed him as someone who dyes his beard. I will suffer the consequences later.

Another point I wanted to make regards henna tattoos. I do not think that most people who apply these are aware of their contents. They think they are dealing with a natural product. We know that black henna, for example, contains PPD. I have seen the consequences of this myself. I see children being tattooed on the beaches in Spain. At hundreds of flea markets and other places there are children demanding that tattoo from their parents, saying that they will not be satisfied and so on. The Government can do more to advise parents of the possible consequences, and in particular to draw the distinction between the black henna products that give the black tattoo, compared with the normal, natural henna that does not contain PPDs.

I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, again for raising this debate. It really is important, because we know that if ignored the consequences can be pretty dire, albeit for a very small number of people. However, one death is one death too many.

My Lords, I got carried away listening to the story. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, on securing this debate, and I thank her especially for the interesting suggestions which she has made and upon which I will happily reflect. It is an important subject, which has attracted a great deal of media interest. I also thank at this stage my noble friend Lady Randerson, the noble Lord, Lord Collins of Highbury, and the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery of Alamein, for his intervention and support in this debate.

My department is responsible for legislation to ensure the safety of cosmetics. The safety of cosmetics, especially hair dyes, is an area that is constantly monitored at EU level, where the safety requirements are nowadays harmonised. Our industry tells us that nearly 100 million dye units are used each year in the United Kingdom, by both men and women—however, I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins, that many of those men may not be taking advice, or may not be heeding or seeing the warnings that are so much more in evidence for women. Some of these dyes will contain substances that are regarded as potential extreme sensitizers. PPD, if we may call it that from now on, is one such substance and perhaps one of the most common substances used in permanent oxidative hair dyes, particularly those aimed, as we have heard, at the darker shades. PPD is used for the simple reason that it is extremely effective, and when used as directed it is considered safe for consumers.

The noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, referred to the percentage of allergic reactions. The evidence that we have is that the incidence of allergic reactions from hair colorants is 0.3 to 4.3 in every million products sold. However, because of the potential risks, any person who has become sensitive to the substance—for example, those who have had a previous allergic reaction to products containing PPD or to “black henna” semi-permanent tattoos—should not use these hair dyes. PPD is regulated by the European cosmetic products directive, which is implemented into UK law as the Cosmetic Products (Safety) Regulations 2008. This restricts the use of PPD for use only in hair dyes to certain limits and sets the conditions under which it can be used safely. It must not be used in any other cosmetic product. The maximum “on head” concentration limit—that is, when mixed with an oxidising agent—is 2 per cent. This is the level considered safe by the European legislator in 2010, when limits were reduced as a precautionary measure to address consumer risk and to the level that industry submitted safety files.

The noble Baroness will be pleased to know that PPD is one of the most researched of all hair dye substances. The European Scientific Committee on Consumer Safety and its predecessor bodies were asked to report on four submissions before 2006. The committee is currently looking at the fifth submission from the European cosmetics association, Cosmetics Europe, and was expected to report on this at its plenary meeting tomorrow. However, we understand that the scientific committee needs more time to reassess this substance and is likely to provide an opinion in June. Once printed, this information will be available to the general public on the Commission’s website. Since 2001, all hair dyes have been evaluated as part of the European Commission’s hair dyes strategy which is looking at, among other things, their carcinogenic potential.

We believe that it is vital to see and analyse the findings and conclusions of the SCCS before we consider what further research or whether further restrictions are needed on the use of PPD as an oxidative hair dye. That issue will be examined by the European Commission and member states once the SCCS has reported. As the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, mentioned, cosmetics companies are also undertaking research into developing new technologies for permanent hair colouring, but these research efforts have not, thus far, produced products that could replace PPD.

In respect of further awareness, we believe that media reporting has generally been helpful in highlighting sensitivity to hair dyes. However, reports have not always been factually accurate, as is often the way. The UK industry’s trade association, the Cosmetic, Toiletry and Perfumery Association, produces very helpful fact sheets on PPD and other cosmetic issues on its website, This is aimed at consumers and explains the facts in a clear and concise way. The website gets more than 57,000 hits a year with the specific pages on hair colorant safety tips receiving more than 1,800 hits in the past year. The association is trying to make these issues clearer, but at the moment it is only for those who are searching online.

I have tried to answer some of the questions as I have gone along but I will speak now in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, who asked about awareness. We do not have information on the number of people who suffer adverse reactions. The Commission is initiating a collection of data on the serious undesirable facts, on which we will report back when it is done. As regards apprentices, the hairdressing industry is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Taylor, said, an unregulated industry. There are no requirements for qualifications before colouring hair. Hairdressers will of course follow the manufacturer’s instructions since this is often a requirement of their insurance. Often, that will involve the customer being advised to have a patch test using the dye product 48 hours prior to treatment. As we as a Government are so keen on apprenticeships—as I have to admit were the previous Government—and as this is one of the most popular apprenticeships for girls, in particular, I shall look into this further to ensure that the qualifications they are getting show them the importance of these tests as well.

The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Lord, Lord Collins, talked about unclear labelling. Legislation now covers requirements for clear warning labels on the packaging. The Government believe that clear labelling on packaging and clear instructions accompanying the product is critical for its safe use. It is important that all users, whether hairdressers or home users, follow the manufacturer’s instructions, especially when this requires a patch test before use of the product. This is because PPD is not the only known allergen in hair dyes and because it is not known to accumulate in the human body. Instead, the development of an allergic reaction stems from separate exposures to PPD. As a result, consumers could use the same product for many years and still develop an allergic reaction. We encourage the use of the patch test but will take away from this debate that maybe we are not looking at the issue hard enough at the moment.

Our view is that consumers should always have access to safety information. I declare my interest as chairman for seven years of the National Consumer Council—now Consumer Focus. We would argue that product-specific information is far more important than general messages about potential health hazards. Nevertheless, we are aware that the European Commission is exploring whether joint information campaigns with member states could add value for consumers—picking up the noble Lord’s point that somebody may be buying or using something in another member country of the European Union that may not have the sort of information that we do on our products. We will, of course, follow up on that. We will always participate, wherever possible, in any co-ordinated campaign that emerges to protect the British consumer.

Not many people spoke in the debate today, partially because the dates have changed three times. That made it very difficult for people to change around. However, several people, who could not be here today, spoke with great interest before the debate even happened. I thank the noble Baroness for putting this debate before us today and for the information that she has brought. We will take it away and see that it feeds into our future work.

Sitting suspended.

South Sudan


Asked By

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what provisions they are making to support the Government of South Sudan, with particular reference to the development of good governance and responding to the humanitarian crisis.

My Lords, I should inform the Grand Committee that if there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.

My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords for contributing to this debate. I will focus primarily on the humanitarian crisis aspect of the question because of the scale of suffering and because it is difficult to develop good governance for people in destitution and danger with a hostile neighbour potentially destabilising a fledging nation. President al-Bashir has stated his objective of turning the Republic of Sudan into a unified, Arabic, Islamic nation and is pursuing policies to achieve this, including targeted air bombardment of the African people of Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile and denial of access by aid organisations to victims of his offences.

In Abyei, after fighting erupted last May over 120,000 indigenous Ngok Dinka fled to South Sudan. Although some civilians have returned to locations near the town, many still remain in camps in Bahr-El-Ghazal. Last year, I visited one of the improvised camps with my organisation, Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust, where we saw acute shortages of essential supplies causing great hardship to those refugees. In South Kordofan, over 300,000 people have been displaced by Khartoum’s targeted aerial bombardment of civilians and ruthless murder of individuals. Khartoum is denying access by aid organisations to people in dire need. Refugees arriving in camps in South Sudan, such as Yida, have walked for days without food or water and Khartoum has even bombed the camps inside South Sudan. When refugees arrive there, they are so terrified of bombs their first priority is to dig a shelter to try to provide protection.

Reports from Blue Nile describe offensives and atrocities perpetrated by the Government of Sudan similar to those in South Kordofan: aerial bombardment by Antonovs and helicopter gunships, denial of access for humanitarian aid, extrajudicial killings, detentions and torture of civilians and looting of civilian properties. Eighty thousand refugees have fled from Blue Nile into Upper Nile in South Sudan, where they reported that they had also been subject to aerial bombardment by Khartoum. The UN has warned that half of the camps for refugees in Blue Nile in South Sudan will be underwater during the imminent rainy season with dire consequences.

There are also numerous reports of intimidation and assaults on Southern Sudanese living in the Republic of Sudan, including a continuation of Khartoum’s well documented policy of enslavement. It is well known that hundreds of thousands of Southern Sudanese were abducted and enslaved in the north during the war, and many are still missing. Now, there are reports of further abductions, especially of boys, who are forced to serve in Khartoum’s armed forces. Tens of thousands of Southern Sudanese are now fleeing from the north to a devastated South Sudan, which is already inundated with refugees from Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile. For example, 86,000 returnees arrived in Unity state, which is equivalent to 15 per cent of the host population. According to Bishop Moses Deng of the Anglican diocese of Wau in Bahr-El-Ghazal:

“The returnees from northern Sudan are repatriated to South Sudan carrying nothing with them except their sleeping mats and blankets on which they put their shrunken limbs and protect their empty bellies from cold or heat”.

I had the poignant privilege of attending the independence day celebrations last July and witnessed the people’s ecstatic celebration of freedom from a Government who had killed, enslaved and oppressed them for decades. However, the new Government of South Sudan, emerging from years of war, have to try to develop democracy in the context of devastation and destitution, a destroyed infrastructure, widespread illiteracy for a generation of children unable to attend school because of constant bombardment and such a shortage of healthcare that over 85 per cent of people have no immunisation and are vulnerable to diseases such as polio, TB, diphtheria and tetanus. One in seven mothers dies in pregnancy or childbirth and one in seven children dies before the age of five.

A catastrophic food shortage is also looming. A report by the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organisation and the World Food Programme, which was published on 13 February, warns that below average harvests in 2011, insecurity and conflict in many areas, increased demand from the growing number of IDP, refugee and returnee populations and high cereal prices may result in nearly 4.7 million people in South Sudan facing hunger this year if urgent action is not taken.

It is hard to build democracy on empty stomachs, and the challenges facing the new Government of South Sudan have been massively exacerbated by its neighbour the Republic of Sudan. There is widespread concern that the people of South Sudan are perceiving Her Majesty’s Government’s responses as inadequate. Al-Bashir’s policies are so systematically ruthless that they have been described as crimes against humanity and genocide. The catalogue of violations of human rights has been chronicled over the years with devastating authority by Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, the Satellite Sentinel Project and UN human rights investigators. There have also been numerous reports of what is increasingly seen as the racist dimension of Khartoum’s assaults against its African citizens in Darfur, Abyei, Blue Nile and South Kordofan. Time allows only one typical example. A Nuba resident of Kadugli told Agence France-Presse that a member of the paramilitary Khartoum Popular Defence Forces said that they had been provided with plenty of weapons and ammunition, and a standing order:

“He said that they had clear instructions: just sweep away the rubbish. If you see a Nuba, just clean it up. He told me he saw two trucks of Nuba people with their hands tied and blindfolded, driving out to where diggers were making holes for graves on the edge of town”.

After Rwanda, the British Government famously said that they will never condone another genocide, but this is precisely what they are now perceived to be doing. The African peoples of Sudan and South Sudan, having seen Britain’s powerful intervention in Libya, are beginning to wonder whether the UK’s foreign policy is influenced by some racism. Far more people have been killed and displaced in Sudan and South Sudan than in Libya but, as they see it, the British Government merely continue to talk with Khartoum. For years, the British Government have talked while Khartoum has continued to kill. I have been making this point in your Lordships’ House for two decades and it grieves me beyond words that I have to do so again today.

There are sometimes implications in statements by Her Majesty’s Government of a kind of moral equivalence comparing Khartoum’s ruthless policy of the slaughter of its civilians with policies adopted by the Government of South Sudan, but the systematic and ruthless targeted aerial bombardment causing widespread death, injury, destruction and displacement of civilians is a policy exclusively used by Khartoum.

I shall conclude by asking the Minister five questions. First, now that the United Kingdom has assumed the presidency of the UN Security Council, will Her Majesty's Government support an initiative for an international independent committee of inquiry to be sent by the UN Security Council to Abyei, South Kordofan and Blue Nile to investigate and report on human rights violations and abuses, and allegations of crimes against humanity? Secondly, will Her Majesty’s Government also consider targeted sanctions, including a UK trade embargo and diplomatic sanctions imposed on senior politicians in Khartoum’s ruling party, and downgrading diplomatic relations with the Government of Sudan from full ambassador level?

Thirdly, will Her Majesty’s Government promote the cessation of official arms transfers and initiate action against companies which sell military equipment to Khartoum to reduce Khartoum’s capacity to wage war on its own citizens? Fourthly, will Her Majesty’s Government work with the international community to do much more to ensure arrangements for urgent delivery of aid into South Kordofan and Blue Nile before the rainy season makes delivery of aid impossible? Finally, will Her Majesty’s Government help the Government of South Sudan to meet the urgent needs for food aid, healthcare and education so massively exacerbated by the vast numbers of refugees and returnees?

If the Minister can respond positively to some of these requests, this might reassure those who are deeply disturbed by the perceived failure of Her Majesty’s Government so far to respond more appropriately to the continuing atrocities, perceived as tantamount to genocide, perpetrated by Khartoum against its own people; and also demonstrate a robust commitment to assisting the new Republic of South Sudan to emerge from decades of war and humanitarian crises into the stable democracy and freedom for which its people have paid such a high price, for which they yearn and which they deserve.

My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate and on putting forward such a powerful argument. Those of us who follow these events are very grateful. African Union mediators have reported that South Sudan and Sudan have agreed a framework to give their citizens basic freedoms in both nations allowing, “freedom of residence, freedom of movement, freedom to undertake economic activity and freedom to acquire and dispose of property”.

If this agreement in principle holds, unlike earlier deals, it will remove the threat hanging over at least 700,000 southerners that from 8 April, they would be treated as foreigners unless they obtained residency or work permits. Apparently the Government of South Sudan are committing some $17 million to the repatriation, with the support of the International Organization for Migration by plane, barge, road and now rail. Can the Minister say whether this framework agreement is holding? What action are our Government taking to assist the Government of South Sudan in this repatriation process, particularly in ensuring that the freedom of residency agreement materialises?

The first train to travel under the safe return process has reached South Sudan carrying 2,300 returnees. They add to the 360,000 returnees registered last year by the IOM and the 2.5 million previously. There remain huge reintegration challenges, primarily through the slow allocation of land by the Government with inadequate title complicated by the lack of basic transport, education and health infrastructure, particularly in rural areas, and a lack of economic stimulus throughout.

Will the Minister confirm that every support is being given to encourage UK VSO personnel from the state sector who are now being posted to South Sudan as trainers and that no disincentives are arising? Can she confirm they will suffer no loss of pension rights while absent from their state employment in this country, whether they are health workers, teachers, police officers or any others engaged in the state sector?

There is growing revulsion over the actions of the Sudanese Armed Forces against the civilians, women and children, living in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and other areas contested by Sudan and South Sudan. Over 400,000 people have been displaced and 300,000 people are facing severe food shortages. The architect of the violence in Darfur, indicted war criminal and current Governor of South Kordofan Ahmed Haroun, is believed to be directing the assault on the Nuba people.

Although access remains very restricted, alarming reports are surfacing of the deliberate targeting of civilians, the use of chemical weapons and the presence of mass graves. A UNMISS staff member reported seeing the bodies of some 150 Nubians in the grounds of a Sudanese Armed Forces compound, all shot dead. An UNMISS contractor witnessed the SAF filling in mass graves near Tillo. Other staff gathered evidence of more fresh mass graves near the state capital Kadugli. Meanwhile, the Sudanese continue to block access to live-saving humanitarian aid. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has appealed to member states to make available military utility helicopters. UNMISS has to overcome the critical shortage that has arisen after Russia withdrew all its helicopters and crew from the mission earlier in the year. Fighting has since broken out around Pibor in Jonglei, bordering north Sudan, due to the slow deployment of UN troops without helicopters. Do the Government intend to respond positively to the appeal from Ban Ki-moon?

Leading international human rights organisations, such as Amnesty International and Aegis, together with campaigners such as Dr Mukesh Kapila, the former head of the UN in Sudan, are spearheading a public campaign to end the violence towards civilians by the SAF. Do our Government agree that the failure to end indiscriminate bombing or, worse, the intentional targeting and murder of civilians requires swift and effective action by the international community? Will the UK lead the way?

My Lords, I am very grateful indeed to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for her consistent highlighting of the issues faced by the Government of South Sudan as they attempt to establish a civil society which is robust in peace building and the provision of basic services. I am also grateful to the Department for International Development for its work in seeking to ensure a peace dividend for South Sudan and for Sudan, too. I would be grateful for comment on what more can be done to ensure that finance and funding mechanisms are in place for the medium term to support peace building, humanitarian relief and long-term development work.

The churches and faith-based organisations are among those best placed to help in the provision of aid and mediation at a local level within South Sudan. The Anglican Episcopal Church of Sudan, under the leadership of Archbishop Deng, to whom the noble Baroness has already referred, has continued to work ecumenically and with aid organisations both north and south of the border. It seems to me that one of the great advantages of the fact that the Anglican Church has not split into a Sudanese and a South Sudanese church is that it can work across the border and provide support on both sides of it. The churches have often been able to maintain unfettered access to villages at times of crisis and violence and to respond both in mediation and with humanitarian aid. Can the Minister say what progress is being made on the need to stabilise the political situation in and around Abeyi and whether she believes that the international community can do more to support local mediation efforts, including those led by the church, such as recently in Jonglei state? Humanitarian aid remains crucial. The threatened doubling of the cereal deficit in 2012 means that a new emphasis is needed on food security from the international community in support of the World Food Programme. Again, there is a major issue working with local communities so that food is able to reach those in most need of it.

I would like to focus for a moment on education, in which the churches continue to have a historic involvement both north and south of the border. The diocese of Salisbury in this country, and indeed Lambeth Palace, have had a long-established concern to support the Episcopal Church of Sudan in its provision of education, both north and south of the present border. This is crucial to literacy levels and to equality in the education of girls as well as boys. However, 80 per cent of the police force in South Sudan, for example, is currently said to be illiterate, with major implications for the establishment of the rule of law and for justice. Will the Minister comment on how education can best be enhanced both north and south of the border and on what support can be given for the churches’ provision of schools and teacher training which, when provided by the churches, is always provided on the basis of need and without reference to religious or political affiliation? One considerable possibility would be the redesignation of church-supported schools as “community” rather than “private”.

South Sudan is a country of immense promise. At the moment it suffers from the war with Sudan and from Sudanese action against it. In this very early stage of its development, it finds it hard to develop its own structures. I look forward to hearing the Minister’s strategy on how we can help the promise of South Sudan to be fulfilled in the future.

My Lords, I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Ripon and Leeds. I join in paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Cox for her heroic humanitarian work over such a long, sustained time in Sudan. I will also follow her by talking entirely about South Kordofan. The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, referred to Dr Mukesh Kapila CBE, a former senior British official and former United Nations Resident and Humanitarian Co-ordinator for Sudan. Earlier this month, he told parliamentarians from both Houses at a meeting which I attended that in South Kordofan the second genocide of the 21st century is now unfolding, with more than 1 million people affected as a regime systemically kills its own people. He also reminded us of the folly of seeking to appease the regime in Khartoum or of placing such credence in agreements about boundaries or citizenship as we have done in the past. He told us not to be fooled by the Government of Sudan and that, despite many promises on humanitarian access and civilian protection, al-Bashir’s regime has never adhered to one single agreement that it has signed.

During Oral Questions last Thursday, I asked the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Howell of Guildford, to reconsider the Government’s policy of maintaining full diplomatic relations with Sudan and conducting business as usual with a regime ruled over by,

“mass murderers and fugitives from justice”.—[Official Report, 22/3/12; col. 1023.]

Field Marshal Omar al-Bashir and South Kordofan’s governor Ahmed Mohammed Haroun are both wanted by the International Criminal Court for war crimes and crimes against humanity committed in Darfur, a region which I have visited, where more than 300,000 people were killed and some two million people were displaced. Surely, as a matter of principle, where a head of state is indicted by the ICC, we should radically review our diplomatic relations. I hope the Minister can tell us what we are doing to assist the ICC in enforcing arrest warrants in cases such as those of al-Bashir and Haroun.

I would contrast the situation with that of Syria. I hope that, at the very minimum, Her Majesty’s Government will consider at least the downgrading of our diplomatic relations, the freezing of assets and the imposition of travel and other sanctions. Either this is the second genocide of the 21st century unfolding, or it is not. Either those responsible for the first genocide, who are now responsible for the second, are the men who have just been mentioned, or they are not. Either they are indicted by the ICC or they are not. Either it is business as usual, or it is not.

During his evidence, Dr Kapila described the situation in South Kordofan. He said,

“we heard an Antonov above us. Women and children started running and going into the nooks and caves of a mountain, a small hill rather … We saw a burned-out village. As we left the border there was burned place after burned place after burned place. There was hardly a person to be seen”.

He told us that this normally food-rich state faces starvation because the attacks have forced the people from their fields, and to ward off hunger they are now eating next season’s seeds. There are an estimated 300,000 people now internally displaced, and 20,000 to 30,000 refugees.

Where are we in all this? Although the United Kingdom has just assumed the presidency of the United Nations Security Council, the British Government and Foreign Secretary have said little or nothing about these events. I first questioned Ministers about this unfolding tragedy and the complicity of United Nations peacekeepers, who sent fleeing victims to their deaths, on 21 June last year. The Government replied,

“Reports of such atrocities will have to be investigated and, if they prove to be true, those responsible will need to be brought to account”—[Official Report, 21/6/11; col. WA 294.]

Needless to say, no-one has been. In July, I asked what action the United Nations was taking in South Kordofan under Resolution 1590, which requires particular attention to be given to the protection of vulnerable groups. Last September, I raised reports of aerial bombardment. In November, the Government told me,

“we continue … to seek urgent access to those most affected by the conflict”—[Official Report, 9/11/11; col. WA 66.]

Yet there has been no access and no referral of these depredations to the International Criminal Court. Those responsible—led by indicted war criminals—for crimes against humanity continue to enjoy full diplomatic relations with the United Kingdom. That simply cannot be right.

My Lords, I join the noble Lord, Lord Alton, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for securing this debate. She is very much our voice for the voiceless and, along with him, provides a much needed focus and prod to Governments of all persuasions in remembering these intractable disputes. In many ways the term “curse of resources” could not more accurately describe the nature of South Sudan. It is an economy which is 99 per cent dependent on oil revenues, added to which is the little complexity that, to gain the revenue, you need to export it all across the north to Port Sudan. That is an incredible problem, and throws up all sorts of difficulties for people to focus on. Therefore the need to find an alternative route out for that oil export, perhaps through Kenya, and to diversify the economy seem absolutely essential.

In the great briefing pack which the House of Lords Library made available for this debate, I was shocked to see one particular fact: that aerial observation had suggested that only 4.5 per cent of the entire possible agricultural land is being developed at present. That may well be for the security reasons which have been mentioned, but that is a staggering waste. In that part of the world, we are used to seeing many examples where there is simply no food and people therefore need to rely on external supplies, but here is an example where there is land and cultivation available. That ought to be looked at, and it is good to see the noble Lord, Lord Curry, in his place. He has immense expertise in this area and he might get an opportunity to speak on that later.

I close my remarks by focusing on what may seem a tiny thing in the context of all this. It is the Olympic Truce. If noble Lords would bear with me, there are many areas in which the north and the south do not agree. But they agree in that they are both signatories and, indeed, co-sponsors of the Olympic Truce, which calls for initiatives for peace and reconciliation from 27 July to 9 September this year. That is a small area, but it is one which my noble friend the Minister could look at, to see whether anything can be done. The opportunity for this is further heightened by the fact that South Sudan, despite being a co-sponsor of the Olympic Truce, has not been authorised by the International Olympic Committee to send a team. The team which comes to London 2012, in which there are seven athletes, will therefore be made up of northern and southern members. That provides a little window of opportunity. Okay, I know it is not the biggest thing in the world, but sometimes focusing on small opportunities can yield great returns.

My Lords, like others I am extremely grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate and for her constant concern about Sudan. If she will allow me to disagree with one tiny point that she and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made, I have a slight hesitation about downgrading diplomatic relations. It always seems that it is precisely when relations get bad that you need an ambassador on the spot, exerting the sort of pressure that needs to be exerted. I have no difficulty at all about taking a very tough line with Khartoum, but we may be able to do that rather better if we have an ambassador there to do it.

As others have said, the situation in South Sudan is dire. That was true before the referendum, as I know from visiting South Sudan. I declare an interest as chair of the medical aid charity Merlin, which operates in Darfur and South Sudan, and which also receives funds from DfID. The referendum provided a ray of hope, but that hope is dimming quickly with the conflict in the border areas, of which others have spoken, the failure of the north and the south to agree on the distribution of oil revenues, and the decision by the south to cut off oil to the north—thereby depriving itself of 98 per cent of its revenues. That decision is, alas, likely to hurt the south more, and earlier, than it will hurt the north.

The result of all those factors is that the prospect of a true humanitarian disaster and serious conflict between north and south, dragging in their neighbours too, is very real indeed. Perhaps I might also say that if that happens, we will find that the press will wake up again to Sudan and ask why we did nothing to stop it when the prospect was so great. So what can we do? As others have said, Britain has a real role through historical links, though an understanding of the issues and through a sizeable aid programme. That programme, focused on humanitarian aid, must continue and if necessary intensify for the south. I hope that the Minister will be able to confirm that that will be the case.

I fear that the old approach built around the comprehensive peace agreement has now had its day and that we need a new approach with new actors. I believe also that the UK’s role, as well as itself helping South Sudan, is to encourage others to do so. For example, the African Union has a role, if not of leadership, at least of providing a neutral forum for negotiations between north and south. The Arab world has a role. The Gulf states have money to help and will not want to see a further disaster in the Arab world. They can exert pressure on the north and I hope that the British Government can encourage them to do so. The EU has a role.

China, in particular, has a real potential influence with both north and south Sudan. Sudan presents a challenge to Chinese diplomacy because it is not quite in the Chinese way of conducting foreign policy to get involved in resolving a dispute such as that between north and south. But China could have a hugely important influence if it did, and I hope very much that the British Government will encourage it to do so and will work with it to do that.

Britain must help with humanitarian aid and must keep up pressure on both the north and the south to avoid a further disaster. But that will work only if it works with and through others, using its influence in the EU, in the UN—particularly at a time when it has the presidency of the UN Security Council—with the Gulf states and, in particular, with China. If, as I say, there is a disaster, the criticism will be that we did not do enough to prevent that disaster when the prospects of that disaster were real.

Finally, I hope very much that Sudan will remain at the top of the Government’s agenda—of their foreign policy agenda and their development agenda—and that the Minister can confirm that that will be the case.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for getting this important subject on the Order Paper at a time when it has been quite difficult to get the issues of South Sudan, in particular, heard since independence. I am privileged to chair the House of Lords EU Sub-Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Development Policy. We did a report on South Sudan at around the time of independence and we have followed it since then. It is a report which we have followed up on a number of occasions.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Jay, I would say that the fact that the referendum took place, and that independence happened with both Presidents at the ceremony, is perhaps a sign that things can work. Certainly, our committee has looked at the situation and seen the dire consequences that will come if we carry on down the trajectory that we are on at the moment. It particularly concerns us that South Sudan should have taken the decision to cut off oil and, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has just said, its route out through Sudan itself. I am afraid that there is no alternative and that there probably will not be even in the long term. The oil reserves are not large enough and I suspect that, after this, any investment in such a project would be equally difficult.

It is very depressing that we have this breakdown and that government revenues will be cut by a staggering 98 per cent because of that lack of agreement over the oil price. As far as I can see, that is almost equivalent to a mutually assured destruction between the two states of Sudan, although north Sudan relies a mere 30 per cent to 40 per cent on oil revenues, which needs to be sorted. I should point out that we saw very strongly in our own report that South Sudan is not necessarily that good at investing its own oil revenues when it has them. Some $11 billion of oil reserves were not accounted for but they were there and little development has actually taken place, so there are problems all around here.

I have three questions to ask the Minister. First, I understand that the South Sudan Government are now trying actively to join the Cotonou agreement, which I hope can happen quickly. There are all sorts of artificial barriers that could slow that process down but I hope that it can happen quickly and I should like to hear that reassurance from my noble friend. Secondly, there is a proposed EU CSDP mission to protect the security of Juba airport, which is really the only direct gateway into South Sudan. We all know that many European missions take a long time to source, decide on and then implement. Is that due to happen? Is the timescale satisfactory and does my noble friend see that the normal barriers that there are on such missions will be removed?

My last point comes back to one that echoes very much the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Jay. China has a unique wish or motivation to sort this out. Both Sudans are an important source of oil to China and one that China greatly needs. Chinese expenditure on oil finances both those treasuries. I ask my noble friend whether the British Government, together perhaps with the European Union, are trying to persuade China to move outside what we might call its zone of comfort to ensure that it, through its unique role, can bring a solution where maybe more normal passages or channels do not work.

My Lords, the question of what happens to aid money in an impasse in a post-conflict state is intriguing, as the noble Lord, Lord Teverson, said. I hope that the Minister will bring us the answer. My own stock answer is that it is only through non-governmental organisations that you can ensure effective delivery. In truth, corruption will infect all financial transfers and private investment, which includes NGOs. We must face the fact that until the SPLM is disbanded, those who serve military interests will receive salaries well before teachers and doctors. The army will continue to rule until rebel commanders and foreign invaders are all but eliminated, and the disarmament process seems to be a long time away. Security is of paramount concern for the south and maintaining a standing army is not always irresponsible or corrupt; it is necessary.

Meanwhile, the south refuses to deal with the north. The oil has ceased to flow and, although it spells disaster for major infrastructure projects in the new nation, the upside is that, as the noble Lord, Lord Bates, mentioned, it encourages diversity and gives greater attention to investment in agriculture in safe areas, such as Equatoria, in other minerals and, above all, in small businesses. Vice President Riek Machar has given an assurance that basic services will not suffer, even though development may be on hold. This may be wishful thinking, but aid will be urgently needed.

There is another army in South Sudan—tens of thousands of returnees from the north, as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, many of whom have their own skills and capital, but who desperately need employment. The archbishop has continually made the point that they need jobs. I wonder whether we have answered his appeal. There is a lot of expectation of China at the moment because of its investment in both countries. China generally has a good reputation in Africa. I have seen examples of that, such as road building in Ethiopia. China is also credited with supporting the CPA—the peace agreement that led to the south’s independence. I hope that the Government will respond urgently to the EU Committee’s latest alarm call. Another excellent report by ActionAid, on China and conflict-affected states, includes a lot of recommendations that China should do this and China should do that, but it cannot explain the paradox that China’s doctrine of non-intervention does not fit well with its active role alongside Governments of conflict states, such as its arms supplies to Khartoum, for instance, and in other states, such as Nepal and Sri Lanka, it has stayed close to government. China cannot avoid direct involvement. A month ago South Sudan expelled the Chinese head of the country's biggest oil company, the Chinese and Malaysian-owned Petrodar, for making a large payment to Khartoum after oil flows had been stopped.

Then there is Kordofan, rightly the preoccupation of my noble friends. George Clooney's short video from South Kordofan—I hope everyone has seen it—showing the Nuba people hiding in caves from aerial bombardment which has killed innocent civilians and destroyed their homes, should be enough to convince anyone of the evil of President al-Bashir’s regime. It is a crime equal to those of Bosnia or Kosovo, and yet at this distance it seems that there is nothing we can do except complain.

My Lords, I thank noble Lords very much for the opportunity to participate in this debate. Like others, I very much appreciate the fact that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, has tabled this subject for discussion this afternoon. I declare an interest as trustee of a charity called AID, Anglican International Development, working with the Episcopal Church of Sudan. As has been referred to by the right reverend Prelate and the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, Archbishop Daniel Deng is a significant influence in South Sudan, and works very closely with the Government and government Ministers. I believe we ought to recognise that, and enable him to help in bringing about a peaceful solution if that is at all possible.

The position with regard to oil has been discussed in some detail this afternoon. However, the terms under which this agreement has broken down make a resolution unlikely in the short term because of the significant demands the north was making for the transportation of that oil: over $30 per barrel, which is excessive. We have a very difficult situation, which is making the dependence on aid even greater in South Sudan. This leads us to the comment made by the noble Lord, Lord Bates: we need to find ways to help South Sudan to diversify from oil and its dependence on aid. It is to that extent that we in AID are very keen to work with the church and the Government of South Sudan. The church is the only infrastructure in South Sudan reaching the population and local communities, whether it is to assist them in the development of better health standards through medical assistance, or through the development of food programmes, which is clearly a high priority for us.

My personal responsibility is to try to establish institutional links between universities, colleges and training centres here and in Sudan. This will enable provision of help through training and knowledge transfer to assist people to begin to feed themselves. As the noble Lord, Lord Bates, has mentioned, when I was out there and met the Minister, he said that food security was the highest priority of the Government, but that currently they are only 5 per cent self-sufficient in food. South Sudan has some of the most fertile land in Africa. The Nile flows through the country and in many areas they can crop twice a year. They could be part of the bread basket of Africa. However, such is the disruption to infrastructure from the civil war that they are failing seriously to satisfy their own food needs, and will do so for some time to come.

It is critical that our Government do what they can to help; not just through the emergency and short-term provision of aid, but in the long term by developing links with the Government of South Sudan. This is an emerging democracy that is going to need significant help. We have a specific issue at the moment regarding a microfinance project which we are operating in Juba. We have failed, as yet, to receive a licence to operate the project. We have been given a letter and permission to trade, but the Bank of South Sudan does not have a licensing system in place. This is a very small example of the need to assist the Government in establishing institutions so that democracy can proceed. The UK Government can, and ought to, do a lot to help this emerging democracy.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for initiating this debate and for her absolutely tireless commitment and concern for the people of Sudan, South Sudan and many other places in our world, as others have said.

South Sudan is a country where every possible indicator, whether of health, education, social protection or income, illustrates the shocking extent of the disadvantage and vulnerability which the people of that country face. Noble Lords have identified the security challenges and the need for much more co-ordinated action. I suggest that there has to be effective government action to strengthen the security presence in potential flashpoints, peace processes have to get off the ground earlier, those responsible have to be brought to justice and there have to be programmes designed to address communities’ grievances. Also, the UN and its members, including the UK, as chair of the Security Council, need to act with much greater urgency in deploying the full strength of the UNMISS troops to South Sudan.

As post-independence Sudan experiences increasing conflict, we see major displacement, especially of women and children—children who are susceptible to abduction and abuse as they are separated from their families. With so many female-headed households in South Sudan, the insecurity disproportionately affects women and children and the activities of the militia groups that are everywhere keep them on the move and in danger of violence, including terrible sexual violence.

The conflict in South Kordofan and Blue Nile is having a terrible effect on the humanitarian situation. Tens of thousands of people have fled across the border to camps which NGOs have said are at absolute breaking point and where basic needs cannot be met, as MSF has said today. Conflict, population, displacement, poor rains in 2011, border closures, resulting commodity price increases and cattle raiding have all combined to leave the people of South Sudan in absolutely desperate need. We know that a major contributory factor is the negative effect of the shutdown of South Sudan oil production, which is threatening the country’s ability to address food insecurity and the humanitarian emergency. My understanding is that there is not yet any clarity on what the imminent austerity measures will be. However, we already know that the Government, as a result of losing this revenue, have announced that no new personnel will be appointed. That means no new teachers or health workers—exactly the professionals which that country so desperately needs.

Many of us in this Room will have followed the essential South Sudan Development Plan. However, that is now not feasible or deliverable, and the implications for development are very serious indeed. If an oil deal is not agreed, what steps will the UK and other donors take to prepare for the huge impact of the loss of 98 per cent of the Government’s revenue? Will the UK publicly and clearly call for transparency of oil revenues? That is a fundamental governance issue. Will the UK call for any deal that is made to be monitored and properly verified?

Mention has been made of the European Union. I can confirm that last week, President Salva Kiir was in Brussels and presented the request for membership of the Cotonou treaty—that will be agreed—to the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton. I think we can fairly say that the political benefits and the benefits for security and trade and development opportunities will be substantial. Access to committed funds from the ninth EDF and the 10th EDF is also beneficial. That is good news. South Sudan will join the ACP countries. I am sure that each one of them will very much welcome Africa’s newest country.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, for tabling today’s debate, and for her tireless work in this area. Others have paid tribute to that and we know how much we owe her. I also thank other noble Lords for their contributions and work in this area.

The people of South Sudan have been through a huge amount. I, once again, congratulate them on their momentous achievement of independence last July, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, referred and which she attended. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary was in Juba to welcome that achievement. The UK was proud to appoint the first foreign ambassador to South Sudan. We have committed around £90 million a year in aid to South Sudan for the next four years. The challenge for South Sudan is huge. The country has some of the worst poverty indicators in the world and a generation that has known only war now needs to build the institutions of a democratic society, which is an enormous challenge.

We know how vulnerable the region is, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, has just indicated and why this is such a huge challenge. That is why the UK has made such a strong commitment to the people of South Sudan, focusing on five broad areas: accountable, capable and responsive government; security and access to justice; health and education; food security, jobs and wealth creation; and a response to the humanitarian crisis that many have mentioned. The total commitment at the moment is around £60 million to those five areas and I hope that that will reassure noble Lords. The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, in particular, asked about that.

I shall highlight some of the examples of what UK funds are doing. We are helping South Sudan to fight corruption and our funds are supporting efforts to clean up the government payroll, improve budget execution and strengthen the anti-corruption commission and audit chamber. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, is pleased to hear that. We are working to improve healthcare and education, and we will support 240,000 children through primary school, help print and distribute 12 million textbooks, and enable 37,000 women to deliver their babies in the presence of a skilled birth attendant. We commend the church for what it has done to support the education of girls as well as boys. We fully recognise the importance of that. We are also helping to improve the customs service.

Our humanitarian programmes are addressing emergency needs for refugees, returnees and internally displaced people. Through its contribution to the peacekeeping budget, the UK is supporting the UN mission to South Sudan—UNMISS. The programmes that I have described are all intended to help South Sudan build the foundations for peace and development, and, like the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we recognise that it is difficult to organise good governance when facing a humanitarian crisis. Like the right reverend Prelate, and other noble Lords, we recognise that long-term commitment is vital.

Noble Lords have noted with grave concern the failure of Sudan and South Sudan to negotiate deals on a number of areas of difference, and the noble Lord, Lord Jay, and others, have referred to the halt in oil production. The decision to halt oil production puts the Government of South Sudan in a precarious financial and economic position. The noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, was right in her figures. It will be extremely hard for it to cover essential expenditures using non-oil revenues, without entering into damaging debt obligations. Of course, long term one would wish to see the diversification of the economy, but we are a long, long way from that.

We could see the severe depreciation of the South Sudanese pound, spiralling inflation and an increase in poverty. If police and army salaries are not paid, the security situation could get worse. The UK has to assess implications for its own aid programme—the noble Lord, Lord Jay, is right. We will not falter in our commitment to the South Sudanese people but we will not fill the financial gap. We have started to refocus our programmes. We must be confident that they will still deliver basic services for the most vulnerable, even if the Government cannot pay salaries. The building of South Sudan’s institutions, and therefore the Government’s ability to govern properly, will be slowed in this situation, which will be a tragically wasted opportunity.

I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, and others will be pleased to note that the Government will continue to play a leading role in meeting humanitarian needs. We realise that these will be exacerbated by the economic crisis. A poor harvest, to which noble Lords have referred, and internal conflicts have added to the deep underlying food insecurity. More refugees from South Kordofan and Blue Nile, and more returnees from Sudan, will make things worse. In December, my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for International Development approved a two-year package of support for the International Committee of the Red Cross and the Common Humanitarian Fund in South Sudan. DfID recently announced a further package of support to the World Food Programme to help it meet the needs of the 315,000 people affected by the conflicts in South Kordofan, Blue Nile and Abyei. Various noble Lords, starting, of course, with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked me about that, and I hope that that helps to address it.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for International Development has raised the issue of returnees with the Sudanese authorities on both of his recent visits to Sudan, in November and February. We have urged both Governments to allow more time for these issues to be resolved beyond the 8 April deadline.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others asked about the UK’s role in the UN to address some of these issues. The Foreign Secretary called for an investigation when the conflict began in South Kordofan. There have been reports of indiscriminate tactics that target civilians, to which noble Lords referred. These tactics are likely to be violations of international humanitarian law and we agree that they deserve credible and independent investigation. The Security Council expressed its concern about the situation in South Kordofan and Blue Nile for the first time this month, under UK chairmanship. We will continue to press for the Security Council to put its weight behind calls to end the conflict and ensure humanitarian access.

The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, the noble Lords, Lord Alton and Lord Chidgey, and others asked about diplomatic relations and targeted sanctions. President Bashir and Defence Minister Hussein are already subject, as noble Lords know, to arrest warrants from the International Criminal Court, and a Sudan-wide EU arms embargo already exists. The contact we do maintain with the Government of Sudan is consistently used to press for a cessation of hostilities and for humanitarian access. We continue to believe that the most effective pressure on the Government of Sudan is a united international position between the UN, the AU and the Arab League. It is this that we are working to create and maintain. Although I note what other noble Lords have said, I also note the support of the noble Lord, Lord Jay, for diplomatic relations, and his argument that they can in fact be of use in this very difficult situation.

As I have mentioned, there is an EU arms embargo on the whole of Sudan and South Sudan, and a UN arms embargo on Darfur. In answer to questions from the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, we continue to work in the UN sanctions committee to press for full respect by all states of these embargoes.

The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others asked about the ICC in relation to enforcing arrest warrants on Bashir and Haroun, and talked about extending those warrants. We strongly support the ICC and its investigation into Darfur. Should any ICC indictee travel to a country that is a signatory to the Rome statute, we would expect them to be arrested. We continue to make our expectations very clear to others on this, and call on the Government of Sudan to co-operate with the ICC.

The noble Lord, Lord Chidgey, asked me a number of questions. The framework agreement, which was initialled by the two sides in Addis Ababa earlier this month, is to be signed by the two Presidents at their summit next week. We are pressing both Governments to stick to their commitments and implement the agreement in full. He also asked what was being done to assist the repatriation process. I have mentioned briefly that the UK has also contributed £2.36 million to assist the South Sudanese returning from Sudan. However, the onus is on the Government of South Sudan to provide documentation and other support to their citizens.

In terms of VSO, we encourage employers to facilitate those who wish to work through VSO, and the effect on pension rights will be a matter for employees and their employers. I was asked about Sudanese Ministers who hold British passports. We do not hold information on any such Ministers, and if there is any information that the noble Lord wishes to pass on we would be extremely interested to hear it.

We welcome what the church is doing in terms of mediation efforts. I have commented on how we are trying to build greater resilience in terms of food security. On Juba international airport, in principle we support the mission. We appreciate that this has not yet gone through scrutiny, but hope that it will be deployed in the next few months. The noble Lords, Lord Teverson and Lord Jay, mentioned China, which is obviously a critical player in this region. I note with interest that China apparently urged restraint in relations between the north and south and did not want to let the issue of humanitarian access escalate. That is an encouraging sign.

In terms of an Olympic Truce, the UK is strongly supportive of its implementation, if only it could be seen to have some effect in this area. I welcome the noble Lord’s optimism. With regard to South Sudan signing the Cotonou agreement, the EU is providing technical and financial assistance to meet the requirements of this, and has earmarked sufficient funding for South Sudan so that it will not be disadvantaged in that process.

Our goal is to see two secure and prosperous states, drawing on their mutual ties and strengths, with their differences behind them. With our troika partners and the international community, we continue to call on them to swiftly resolve their differences on oil, on citizenship and on borders. We have invested in the process mediated by Thabo Mbeki and the AU high-level implementation panel, and will continue to do so. Noble Lords are right about the need to involve all international partners.

It is right too that, with independence, South Sudan should forge new relationships with the international community, with regional bodies and, bilaterally, with its neighbours. However, full and lasting peace with the Republic of Sudan remains vital for the security and prosperity of South Sudan.

My Lords, that completes the business before the Grand Committee this evening. The Committee therefore stands adjourned.

Committee adjourned at 7.32 pm.