Tuesday, 23 April 2013.
My Lords, I remind the Committee that if there is a Division in the Chamber, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes from the sound of the Division Bell.
Draft Enhanced Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill: Joint Committee Report
Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I think it has fallen to me, as the longest serving Peer on the Joint Committee, to introduce its report on the ETPIMs Bill. This creates the final part of the architecture of the arrangements to replace control orders. We need only look around today to see that the atmosphere around this is somewhat less feverish than it was when control orders were introduced in 2005, when both Houses of Parliament sat throughout two days and one night. Indeed, we acted as Time Lords, turning the Friday into a Thursday to preserve the continuity of the Sitting of the House.
It is very important that this Bill had detailed pre-legislative scrutiny because it is a draft Bill that may never be introduced into Parliament. It is designed to provide arrangements for preventive measures to be used in a situation of emergency, which of course may never arise, in circumstances in which the provisions of the 2011 TPIMs Act are judged to be insufficient. The Bill will, by definition, be introduced at a tense and worrying time, and would be expected to pass through Parliament as an emergency measure in double-quick time. In these circumstances scrutiny will be very limited, so pre-legislative scrutiny is all the more important as the Bill is not likely to receive intense scrutiny in the emergency situation that will provide the context for the Bill’s legislative career in both Houses. It is an unusual approach, to say the least. It has been called by one person—I have forgotten who—a “back pocket” Bill; it is a Bill that the Government have in their back pocket, which has been scrutinised by this process and will be brought to the House, if necessary, in emergency circumstances.
I have to say that the Joint Committee was not convinced that it would be necessary to proceed in this way. The 2011 Act could have been extended. Extra powers could have been incorporated into it, which could then be activated by laying an order. This would have meant that the powers themselves would have been scrutinised properly in both Houses of Parliament prior to such a different Bill passing through the Houses. One can appreciate the political difficulties in having something on the statute book that quite a few well informed commentators regard as being a version of control orders. I do not think that myself, but it is politically difficult. I shall come to the relationship between the provisions of this Bill and control orders in a few minutes.
However, we are where we are and pre-legislative scrutiny is now the only real scrutiny to which the Bill will be subjected, so this process is of utmost importance. The Joint Committee would still like to see the TPIMs Act and the ETPIMs Bill consolidated into one piece of legislation at the earliest opportunity, although the Government seem to have rejected that in their response to our report.
Control orders, introduced by the previous Government, were always rather controversial. The TPIMs and ETPIMs regimes are intended to succeed control orders and produce a new regime that is more compatible with individual liberty—to be “more liberal”, in the words of the Joint Committee’s report. How, in fact, do ETPIMs differ from control orders and, indeed, from TPIMs? There is no doubt that there is an overlap of purpose, and some overlap of provision, with control orders. However I will stress the differences between the ETPIMs arrangements and control orders.
The first difference is very significant: control orders could be imposed on the basis of the Secretary of State having “reasonable suspicion” that the suspect was engaged in terrorist activity. In the case of TPIMs, it is based on “reasonable belief”. In the case of ETPIMs, it is based on the balance of probabilities, and this is regarded as a more objective test. However, we have received contrasting and somewhat contradictory evidence about how significant this change is. It is represented as raising the threshold by two notches: from reasonable suspicion through reasonable belief to the balance of probabilities. The police evidence from Deputy Assistant Commissioner Osborne certainly regarded it as a significant and real change.
However, the evidence we have had from lawyers on this point has been a bit more guarded. They have taken the view that it is a somewhat semantic distinction, since, in their view, in reviewing control orders judges have tended to use the higher standard, namely the balance of probabilities. So there is a disagreement about whether the threshold has in practice been raised. Certainly, in theory and rhetorically it has been raised, but there is this doubt. We should give quite a lot of credence to the view of the senior police officer about his own practice in evidence-gathering and so forth. He certainly saw the new standard as having some important consequences for police work.
Another significant difference between control orders and TPIMs is the range of restrictions an ETPIM order can impose on a suspect. Under control orders, the Secretary of State had extensive powers to impose relocation; under TPIMs, the Secretary of State could require residence overnight at a specific address. Under ETPIMs, the Secretary of State would have the power to impose a curfew of up to 16 hours—the point about the 16 hours being to make it ECHR-compliant. The court has ruled that more than 18 hours would be a deprivation of liberty. The Secretary of State would also have the power to require a suspect to take up residence in a facility provided by the Government. Under ETPIMs, there could be a complete ban on the use of electronic equipment, compared with a partial ban under TPIMs. Thus the Secretary of State would have the power to prohibit someone subject to a control order from associating with specific individuals without the consent of the Secretary of State.
It seemed to the committee that the differences between ETPIMs and control orders were significant in terms of the evidential basis. DAC Osborne argued that they had led to a change in police practices to meet the requirements of the more rigorous standard and the various impositions I just mentioned. The requirement about hours of curfew had been, as I mentioned earlier, devised to make the ETPIMs arrangements ECHR-compliant, and the Joint Committee certainly welcomed this. Furthermore, the requirements of an order under ETPIMs are limited to those set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill.
This is a big advance on control orders because the 2005 Act just gave a list of potential impositions on suspects or controlees. This is rather burnt into my soul, since I had quite an altercation with the then Home Secretary about it. However, the list that was given was for illustrative purposes only and the Secretary of State could in fact impose any constraint on the situation of a controlee so as to disrupt the attempt by that person to engage in terrorism, whereas under ETPIMs the Secretary of State will be able only to impose those constraints actually set out in Schedule 1.
There is another difference from control orders in that an individual ETPIMs order lasts at most for two years. It can of course be imposed again if the potential controlee has been engaged in “new” terrorist activities or terrorist-related activity. “New” is given a definition in the Bill that is rather different from conventional and ordinary uses of that word, but it is important that it is defined because it is new terrorist activity that provides the justification once the two-year deadline has been reached for reimposing an ETPIMs order on a controlee. These are substantial differences from control orders and it is important to recognise that.
As with TPIMs, as soon as an order under the ETPIM regime is imposed on an individual it would immediately trigger an automatic review hearing of the Secretary of State’s decision to impose the notice. The purpose of the review is to determine whether the circumstances in Clause 2 had been met by applying the principles of judicial review, such as rationality, proportionality, legality and so forth. There would be an immediate review, using judicial review principles, of the imposition of an ETPIM order.
However, since the advent of the Human Rights Act there has been a strong emphasis in the courts on proportionality in the assessment of executive action that impinges on rights. Proportionality has now become the central strand in judicial review. Some jurists certainly take the view that it is very difficult to distinguish between a judicial review that puts proportionality in a central position and a merits review, the reason being that if a court can quash one or more of the individual restrictions on a person under an ETPIM order because it is regarded as disproportionate in relation to a legitimate goal, it is very difficult to see how that judgment can be anything other than a merits sort of judgment about the order.
The committee favoured that idea of a full merits review because proportionality is central to the sort of jurisprudence that flows from the ECHR and it is then very difficult to distinguish between a proportionality review and a merits review. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said in his evidence to us that the difference between the two forms of review—a judicial review and a merits review—was a distinction without a difference. I suppose that as a previous reviewer of terrorism legislation he is one of the two most experienced people in this area, along with David Anderson, the current reviewer. I think that we agreed with that and we favoured the Government just facing up to reality—that there would be what added up to a merits review, and not just emphasising proportionality, legality and the other criteria of judicial review.
Reference to the ECHR is important because Article 6—this also relates to the role of the judges in scrutinising ETPIMs—requires a right to a fair hearing. Satisfying that right has been the problem with control orders and with TPIMs and will be a problem again with ETPIMs, if one accepts that a right to a fair hearing requires that the individual has some knowledge of the case against him or her. Of course, this is not just a matter of the ECHR; it is a matter of common-law principles to do with a fair trial and fair process.
Both TPIMs and ETPIMs rely on the closed material procedure. In the AF case in 2009, it was argued in judgment that a person subject to a control order must be given sufficient information about the allegations against him or her so that effective instruction can be given by that person to their lawyers. The controlee must be given the gist of the case against him for the regime to be Article 6-compliant. That was a judgment in the UK courts. It is a big defect that the Bill does not require the Secretary of State to furnish such a gist as a right but that she will consider doing so only if requested by the court. That puts the Secretary of State between a rock and a hard place. She will have either to supply the gist if ordered to do so by a court or to drop the action, as happened once or twice under control orders.
Therefore, there is a question about the legality of the ETPIMs order itself, never mind prosecution: whether the person does or does not have the gist of the case against him or her provided by the Secretary of State. The Bill is clear that there is no right on the part of the controlee to receive such a gist. The Joint Committee believes strongly that the Government should be prepared to let the controlee have knowledge of the gist of the case against him or her and that that would provide for making the Bill not only Article 6-compliant but also compatible with common law—particularly, English common-law doctrines.
There remains the question of what happens when the ETPIM order has expired. It expires after two years unless the Secretary of State determines that the person has been engaged in new terrorist activities and imposes a new ETPIM regime based on the balance of probabilities. If there is still suspicion about the person being engaged in terrorist activities but not such that can satisfy the requirements of the balance of probabilities, someone is let off the ETPIM regime. What happens next? The Bill is more or less silent about this. The assumption has to be that the controlee will be kept under surveillance by the security services. It would certainly be useful to know from the Minister how public protection will be ensured after the expiration of an ETPIM order—a problem that did not arise under the control order regime, which could be continued subject to periodic review and so forth.
Two further points have become more salient recently. One issue explored by the committee was whether the security situation necessitating the introduction of an ETPIM Bill could be made worse by public sector cuts and a reduction in funds to the police and MI5. This issue was touched on by DAC Osborne. The security situation can be changed by an increased threat both because more people are engaged in this sort of activity and because the police and security services lack the resources to monitor the individuals concerned. The Minister, Mr Brokenshire, rejected this view in his evidence. However, the Times suggested today on its front page that the heads of MI5 and MI6 had made representations to the Government prior to the spending review suggesting that further budget reductions put security at risk. If they do, it might have an effect on whether an ETPIM Bill is introduced. The security threat would have increased not because there were more people engaged in terrorism but because fewer people were engaged in monitoring it. That is an important issue, which was crystallised by the Times today.
Secondly, I would like to know how the requirements of ETPIM orders will be implemented and compliance monitored. Will it be done by the police or by private security companies? We are dealing with people who, on the balance of probabilities and according to an objective threshold of judgment, are regarded as being among the most dangerous people in the country. If their compliance with an ETPIM regime is to be monitored by a private company such as G4S, what confidence does the Minister have that such firms will be up to the job after the debacle over the Olympics? This is very important. We need to know, if not in detail, how the Government see the implementation of this working.
My final point is about prosecution. Paragraph 15 of the Government’s response to the Joint Committee’s report states that the Crown Prosecution Service, in consultation with the police, will decide whether to bring a prosecution. I am not at all sure how this rather bald statement is compatible with the role of government in determining the public interest. Surely it cannot be the case that the police and the CPS will be able to authorise prosecution, with the disclosures that such a prosecution would bring, without getting guidance from the Government about what is in the national interest. If the Government have to have a view about whether a prosecution should be proceeded with, it cannot be the case that only the CPS and the police should decide on a prosecution. I would like some clarification over that. It was certainly the case under the control order regime that the Government abandoned one or two prosecutions because they regarded the disclosures required as being against the public interest. The Government have to make that judgment about the national interest, and, if so, then they are involved in the judgment about whether or not to prosecute. I beg to move.
My Lords, as a member of the Joint Committee that considered the draft ETPIMs Bill, I seek clarification from the Government on three points. The first is emergency legislation. The committee considered the draft Bill in the context of recently enacted TPIMs legislation and accepted it to be a positive move away from control orders. However, I entirely agree with the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Plant: the progress of TPIMs legislation could have included the option for such powers in the 2011 Act, but instead there was talk of emergency legislation should such a need for extra powers arise. The suggestion of emergency legislation for an ETPIMs Bill strikes me as unacceptable to the principles of parliamentary scrutiny. I urge the Government to think again on this point.
The noble Lord has suggested, and the committee is very much in agreement with this, consolidating TPIMs and ETPIMs legislation without the pressure of time or security threat. By its very nature, emergency legislation requires enactment in a very short time—perhaps just a few days. The committee heard that in such exceptional circumstances the Home Secretary would be severely restricted in what information he or she would be able to share with Parliament. One of our witnesses said that the Home Secretary would almost be in a position of saying:
“‘Trust me, or don’t trust me, if you dare’”.
It is essential that a credible process of briefing and scrutiny takes place in the event that ETPIMs legislation is brought forward. It is our duty to scrutinise; it would not do to reply on trust or indeed to offer private briefings to select Members. The formal government response to our report acknowledges that one way to achieve this would be to brief the Intelligence and Security Committee and for it to report to Parliament. Such a structured approach is far preferable to the informal “trust me” option.
My second area of concern is the definition of “exceptional circumstances”. I encourage the Government to be clearer about the rare and exceptional nature of the circumstances that might require the additional powers covered by the draft ETPIMs Bill. There was consensus on the committee that such circumstances were at the rarer end of the spectrum of seriousness, but we heard a call for ETPIMs to be enacted ahead of the 2012 Olympic Games. This was sensibly rejected, but it indicates to me that more clarity is needed.
The Government’s response was that exceptional circumstances were those in which a serious terrorist threat required the additional ETPIMs powers. However, such a definition sheds little light beyond the dictionary meaning of the word “exceptional”. I ask the Minister to reflect on this because our discussions today may well be examined in years to come to see what we intended. The Government must be clearer on this matter.
I welcome, as did the committee, the assurance from the Government that they will establish a formal review group for any ETPIMs orders mirroring those operated for existing TPIMs orders. This would be an important safeguard to ensure that each ETPIMs order goes no further than absolutely necessary in its demands on the person involved.
My third concern is about judicial process. We are all agreed that where possible we must always prosecute those involved in terrorism. A fair and open trial must be the ultimate aim in all cases. To introduce administrative orders restricting liberty stretches the principle of justice that we hold dear. That is why it is right that, unlike control orders, TPIMs and ETPIMs are time-limited measures. However, such time limits mean that we must be ready to answer the question: what happens when the time is up? The Government must take real steps to develop TPIMs exit strategies based around deradicalisation and judicial processes. I recognise that the use of intercept evidence in court will not, in itself, remove the need for TPIMs or ETPIMs, but it may help in later judicial processes. That means that the Government must continue to examine ways to make intercept evidence admissible in our courts, as it is elsewhere in the world.
The Joint Committee was clear that exit strategies from TPIMs and possible ETPIMs must be developed in every case. From my reading of the Government’s response, this is a recommendation that has been accepted. However, will the Minister confirm that clear exit strategies are currently in place for each TPIMs order? What is proposed for those higher-risk cases where neither prosecution nor deportation is considered possible? I look forward to the Minister’s response but I retain the hope that the circumstances requiring the introduction of ETPIMs legislation will not come about.
My Lords, I add my thanks to the Joint Committee for its report on the draft Enhanced Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill and express my thanks for the comprehensive and informative speech introducing the report from my noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield.
In a nutshell, the coalition Government decided that they did not like the control orders introduced in the interests of national security by the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005. They therefore brought in the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011, which replaced control orders with something that was very similar in many respects, namely TPIMs or “control orders-lite”, but which had the key advantage from the Government’s point of view of having a different name.
However, the Government had to recognise that no longer having the full powers under the control orders, as provided for in the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, represented a potential threat to national security. As has been said, they were not prepared to address this reality in the original TPIMs Act because politically that would have weakened even further their argument that control orders should cease to exist. Instead they have prepared a separate Bill, the Enhanced Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill, which has been the subject of consideration by the Joint Committee, and which the Government would seek to pass through Parliament as emergency legislation providing for additional restrictive measures in an ETPIM if they deemed that the circumstances demanded it.
The Minister will no doubt claim that ETPIMs are not the same as the control orders under the Prevention of Terrorism Act 2005, but frankly there is not a lot of difference. The words of the ACPO representative in giving evidence to the committee have already been quoted but he told the committee that, with ETPIMs,
“essentially we go back to the old control order regime ... the old regime was bedded in, and it worked very well”.
Those were apparently his words.
The Joint Committee gave its firm view on the Government’s approach to the draft Bill when it said:
“We can find no compelling reason for the decision to introduce these measures as a separate Bill at some unspecified time in unspecified circumstances. We find it odd that these measures were not included as an order-making power in the original TPIMs Bill where they could be subjected to fuller scrutiny in the course of normal Parliamentary business … The Government’s position that it will introduce this legislation at some future date in response to some unspecified emergency is an unfortunate and unwelcome decision”.
That issue has already been raised with the Minister, particularly by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey.
In their response to the Joint Committee report, the Government have replied to the Joint Committee’s proposal for briefing a select group of properly vetted Members on the reasons for introducing this emergency legislation if the Government decided that had become necessary. Can the Minister say whether there has been any firming up of the Government’s position on that point, as set out in paragraph 5 of their response to the Joint Committee report?
The Joint Committee report states that in November last year there were nine people subject to TPIMs. It also quotes the Association of Chief Police Officers representative as telling the Joint Committee that,
“given the resource currently available”,
and the changes made to policing, the police,
“are adequately managing the risk posed by people subject to TPIMs at the moment”.
That is hardly a ringing endorsement of how things are working, bearing in mind that we are talking about people—the subjects of TPIMs—who are a threat to national security. The use of the phrase,
“given the resource currently available”,
suggests that ACPO thinks the resource currently available to undertake the job in the way it feels appropriate and needed is not all it might be. That is followed by the phrase,
“adequately managing the risk posed by people subject to TPIMs at the moment”.
In a Government who feel that schools deemed “satisfactory” by inspectors are not doing as well as they should, one must ask the Minister whether the Government feel that adequately managing the risk is good enough when national security is at stake? Why did the ACPO representative not feel able to say that they were either properly or fully managing the risk? Indeed, why did he not simply say they were managing the risk, without the less than enthusiastic addition of the word “adequately”?
As I understand it, an individual subject to a TPIM absconded at Christmas, allegedly in a black cab, and has not been caught. If that is broadly accurate, and the Minister may tell me otherwise, was that individual under surveillance, and was what happened an example of what is meant by “adequately” managing the risk? Until control orders were replaced by TPIMs, the individual in question had been the subject of a control order, and had been relocated outside London. Under the TPIM, the person was free to move to London, and it now appears he has absconded.
Would the noble Lord also say something about the cost of TPIMs? Is it true that a TPIM costs many times more than a control order to enforce? Is up to £18 million per annum per TPIM, a figure mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, in his evidence to the committee, anywhere near the mark? If that figure is anywhere near the mark, has it been provided to the Metropolitan Police and does the money appear in their budget?
Enhanced terrorism prevention and investigation measures as provided for in this draft Bill are, as has been said, distinct from TPIMs, with the conditions the Government can impose being more stringent than under a TPIM. The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation said that “in most respects” the ETPIM Bill appeared to,
“replicate what was possible and generally imposed under control orders”.
It is intended that ETPIMs are introduced only in exceptional circumstances. It is clear from their response to the report that clarity on what is meant by “exceptional circumstances”—I think that was a point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, although she would not have used my words—will not be forthcoming from the Government. However, will the Minister say whether, under the draft Bill and in exceptional circumstances, an ETPIM could be deemed necessary if, at the end of the maximum period of two years for which a TPIM could be enforced, an individual covered by that TPIM was still regarded as a serious threat to national security? In those circumstances, could an ETPIM be imposed under the legislation being taken through Parliament? Would that be deemed “exceptional circumstances”?
I think that I am also right in saying that at least some, if not all, of those covered by TPIMs will cease to be so covered at the beginning of next year because the maximum period for which an individual can be subject to the terms of a TPIM, namely two years, will have come to an end for some, if not all, of those currently covered. What do the Government intend to do when the TPIMs in respect of those individuals cease by law to have effect. Presumably, if the Government no longer considered them a threat, the TPIMs would no longer be effective, so the fact that the TPIMs are still effective suggests that the Government still consider these individuals to be a threat to national security.
Are the Government saying that, by a happy coincidence, these individuals will cease to be a threat to national security on precisely the same day the TPIM ceases by law to have effect? If not, what do the Government intend to do? The Government must have made up their mind what action they would take, or what the options would be when the TPIM expired, when they made the decision that TPIMs in respect of an individual could not be effective for more than two years. If the Government are not prepared to answer that question today, when will they give an answer?
Coming back to what the Government mean when they say that an ETPIM would be introduced only in exceptional circumstances, the government Minister who gave evidence to the Joint Committee identified “multiple attacks” or a “really exceptional incident” as possible triggers for the ETPIMs Bill to be introduced. If that is the case, does it mean that an incident actually has to have occurred, with possible injuries or loss of life, before the emergency Bill would be introduced? Could the ETPIMs Bill be introduced in respect of an individual where there was activity which suggested an incident might be about to be perpetrated, or will we have to wait either until we are sure an incident is about to be perpetrated, or wait for someone to be quite possibly killed or injured in an incident before it was deemed that there were “exceptional circumstances” which justified the Bill being introduced? Apparently the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation told the Joint Committee that there would be no question of imposing an ETPIM on anybody unless the Home Secretary were persuaded that they,
“have been involved in terrorism”,
which could be interpreted as shutting the gate only after the horse has bolted. It would be helpful if the Minister could clarify this point and also how, if there are emergency “exceptional circumstances”, there will always be time to go through even a truncated parliamentary process—assuming Parliament was sitting—without putting national security at risk.
Clause 2 of the draft Bill sets out the conditions on which the Secretary of State must satisfy herself before imposing an ETPIM. One of those conditions is that the individual is, or has been, involved in terrorism-related activity, and that some or all of this activity is “new”. The definition of “new” is addressed in the Joint Committee’s report, but it would be helpful if the Minister could give us some examples from a government perspective of what would or would not constitute “new” terrorism-related activity in relation to the conditions on which the Secretary of State must be satisfied before imposing an ETPIM. It could presumably be the ETPIM itself and the conditions attached to it that were preventing the individual concerned from embarking on “new” terrorist-related activity. Could the reference to “new” activity mean that the ETPIM could not be extended or renewed because there was no evidence of new activity even though the reason there was no “new” activity was the existence and conditions already attached to the ETPIM? Perhaps the Minister could respond to this point, and the following comment in the Joint Committee report:
“As such, it is possible that under this legislation, at the end of a maximum two-year period, an allegedly dangerous, radicalised individual will be released without direct restrictions on their behaviour”.
What is the Government’s response to this point in view of the fact that it directly relates to national security?
The Government’s written response to the Joint Committee report did not do justice to all the serious points raised, and questions asked, in the report. My noble friend Lord Plant of Highfield and the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, have raised a number of points and questions today, as have I. I hope that all these questions will receive a considered and thoughtful response from the Minister, since the House has a duty to challenge, question and hold to account the Government, in particular on matters that impact on national security.
My Lords, I will conclude this interesting if intimate debate by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Plant, for introducing it. The way in which he did so informed the Committee of the background in a very thorough fashion. In some ways, that makes it easier for me to demonstrate the Government’s thinking on this issue. I thank all noble Lords, and all honourable Members, who participated in the Joint Committee, in particular the noble Lord, Lord Plant, and my noble friend Lady Doocey. Despite what the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, the Government take the scrutiny of this committee extremely seriously.
As the noble Lord, Lord Plant, described, an enhanced TPIM Bill would be introduced only in exceptional circumstances that necessitate the use of more restrictive powers than those normally available in the TPIM Act 2011. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, rather pushed me to go into more detail about what those exceptional circumstances might be. I do not think that I can genuinely do that. However, the Government will never put national security at risk. Protecting the British public will always be our top priority, and prosecution and conviction will always be the best option for dealing with terrorists.
As the noble Lord, Lord Plant, said, TPIMs were introduced following the counterterrorism powers review. They provide a better balance than control orders between controlling people who are engaged in terrorism-related activity and ensuring that if they re-engage in that activity we can collect evidence that can lead to their conviction. TPIMs assist the police and the Security Service by providing effective powers to manage the risk posed by a small number of terror suspects who pose a threat to our security but who cannot be prosecuted or, in the case of foreign nationals, deported.
TPIMs allow the Home Secretary to impose a powerful range of measures to protect the public. We have also provided substantial extra resources for the police and Security Service to help them manage the risk that such individuals pose, and to maximise the opportunities to put them on trial in open court. TPIM powers give the police and the Security Service a range of powers that, along with additional resources, will be adequate to protect the public from terrorism in all but exceptional circumstances. We made clear when legislating for TPIMs that in future exceptional circumstances may necessitate the use of more restrictive measures. This would be in the event of a very serious terrorism-related risk that the Home Secretary, on the advice of the Security Service, judges cannot be managed by any other means. We maintain that these more stringent measures should be available only in exceptional circumstances.
The example of the Olympics was raised in this debate by my noble friend Lady Doocey. That we did not introduce these powers speculatively in advance of a significant event shows our commitment to do so only in response to specific circumstances that warrant them being on the statute book. As noble Lords will know, we were commended by David Anderson, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, on the restraint shown in the run-up to the Games.
The Government agree that it is right that this legislation receives proper parliamentary scrutiny. That is why we published the draft ETPIM Bill over 18 months ago, in September 2011. We did this so that it was clear what enhanced measures would be introduced and to enable the draft Bill to receive the detailed scrutiny of both Houses through pre-legislative scrutiny. I welcome this opportunity further to debate the draft Bill today, and am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Plant, has tabled this debate.
In his introduction, the noble Lord carefully analysed the Government’s position and whether ETPIM powers should be in the 2011 Act, and my noble friend Lady Doocey shared his concern. Perhaps I can clarify. We consider that these powers will not be routinely needed, and that the 2011 Act will provide robust powers to protect the public in almost all circumstances. We consider that the enhanced powers should be introduced only if they are needed, and should be specifically agreed by Parliament. Our view is that they should not be routinely available on the statute book. That is why we have prepared, but do not intend to introduce until needed, the ETPIM Bill. If we introduced that Bill, we would consider whether to incorporate the enhanced powers into the TPIM Act when the renewal of that Act comes before Parliament at its five-year renewal point, taking into account the circumstances at that time.
Should this legislation ever need to be introduced, the Government will seek to brief Members appropriately. This will need to be done in the context of the as yet unknown circumstances in which it would be introduced, which may well mean that only a limited number of suitably cleared people could be briefed. It would be for both Houses to decide whether those circumstances were exceptional enough to justify the introduction of these enhanced powers.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the Home Secretary has discussed with the ISC its potential role in an emergency legislation situation and the need to assure the House. The exact most appropriate mechanism to assist Parliament will depend on the precise circumstances involved, but noble Lords will know that we have recently debated a Bill that sets out the role of the ISC clearly as a committee of Parliament.
As I have said before, I do not think that it is appropriate to prescribe the circumstances in which the Home Secretary would seek to introduce the ETPIM regime. This is draft emergency legislation to deal with a potential threat that is, by its very nature, unknown. It would be difficult and unwise to attempt an exhaustive hypothetical definition. However, situations in which the draft enhanced TPIM Bill might be introduced are if there was credible reporting pointing to a series of concurrent attack plots, all of which appeared imminent, or in the wake of a major terrorist attack where there was a potential prospect that there may be further attacks. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that an individual may pose a particular threat to national security such that it is necessary to introduce the ETPIM Bill.
The enhanced TPIM Bill makes available a range of more stringent powers that are not available under TPIMs. These include relocation to another part of the UK without consent; the requirement to be in a named residence for up to 16 hours; geographical boundaries beyond which they may travel only with permission; a total ban on access to communications equipment such as computers and mobile phones; and further restrictions on association. The noble Lord, Lord Plant, went into those in his introductory remarks. As the noble Lord identified, there are clear differences between control orders and ETPIMs, and I thank him for setting them out so clearly. They include the higher legal test, the limit on restrictions that can be imposed and the two-year limit.
The noble Lord asked how ETPIM notices would be enforced, and specifically what confidence I would have in a private contractor performing this role. Of course we hope that the ETPIM Bill never comes into force, but if we had to impose an ETPIM notice, enforcement, as with TPIMs, would be a matter for the police, and I am confident that they would not take a step that put public safety at risk. They would make a judgment that conformed to the seriousness of the situation and the national security risk involved.
The ETPIM Bill also includes some important safeguards. First, the enhanced powers will be available only if Parliament believes that they are necessary. The enhanced measures will also be subject to a higher legal test, as I said, in order to impose them. The Secretary of State must be satisfied that the person is or has been involved in terrorism-related activity on the balance of probabilities. That is a higher threshold than “reasonable belief”, which is the test for a standard TPIM notice. I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Rosser that the ETPIM Bill is clear that new terrorist-related activity is that which has been committed after the imposition of an ETPIM notice. That is quite clear in the draft Bill.
The Government agree with my noble friend Lady Doocey that it is important to develop a clear exit strategy for each TPIM subject. Noble Lords will appreciate that I cannot go into detail on this work, but I confirm that there is a multiagency approach to ensure that all options are considered. We continue to believe that prosecution and conviction is the best approach to combat the risk of terrorism, and that the best place for a terrorist is in a prison cell. In addition, the police and Crown Prosecution Service continue to keep under review whether a successful prosecution could be brought against those subject to a TPIM notice. We will also continue to keep under review whether further tools are required to enable the prosecution of terrorists.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Plant, that the Government maintain the fully independent Crown Prosecution Service to apply the public interest test. It is a two-stage test, as it is in all prosecutions: first, that there is a realistic prospect of conviction based on the evidence available; and, secondly, that it is in the public interest to prosecute. To apply this test, it considers the evidence that can be put forward in an individual case, including where there may be any national security concerns. This is why the Government are conducting an extensive and detailed review to assess the benefits, costs and risks of introducing intercept as evidence. This work continues under the guidance of the cross-party group of privy counsellors and will report in due course. The former and current independent reviewers of counterterrorism legislation and my noble friend Lady Doocey have said that IAE would not remove the need for TPIMs.
The Government take their international obligations, to which I was pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Plant, referred, seriously, and are committed to ensuring that our counterterrorism legislation is compliant with our commitments under international law. The finding in AF (No. 3) in 2009 set out the requirement to provide the control order subject with the gist of the case against him. This has been taken as a valid precedent in the treatment of TPIM cases. It is for the court—and properly so—to determine the application and development of case law surrounding TPIMs and, should it be necessary, ETPIMs.
I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, understands that for obvious national security reasons I am unable to comment on the specific detail of the absconding of Ibrahim Magag, but I can help him on costs. In the transition to TPIMs, significant extra funding was made available to the police and security service to enhance its investigative capabilities. Control orders cost the Home Office £12.5 million in total between 2006 and 2010. The administrative cost of TPIM notices is broadly comparable. A significant part of the costs relate to extensive judicial scrutiny to ensure that the use of TPIMs is fair and justified, and I am sure that noble Lords would not wish that to be other than the case. The Government cannot speculate about why the police used the phrase highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, but we are confident that they have been provided with a range of powers and resources to deal with the small number of individuals who are subject to TPIMs.
I conclude by again thanking noble Lords for their involvement in this debate and reasserting that if and when the enhanced TPIM Bill is introduced, it would be for Parliament to decide whether exceptional circumstances exist to necessitate it becoming law.
If the Minister is about to close, is he able to address the question that I asked about what happens to those who are on TPIMs at present? I understand that at least some, if not all, TPIMs will come to an end at the beginning of next year. What is going to happen to them? I asked whether, if those people were still considered a threat to national security, the Government could seek an ETPIM in respect of them or whether they would fail to meet the criteria if they had not committed any “new” terrorist activity. I also asked whether, if someone is subject to an ETPIM, the Government envisage renewing it or extending it in any form because presumably, under their own definition, they could do so only if the individual had committed some “new” terrorist activity while under the EPTIM which, if the EPTIM was being effective, the individual would not have done.
I think that I can answer the noble Lord best by saying that all cases are reviewed properly. I gave a description in response to my noble friend Lady Doocey’s question about the disengagement of subjects from a TPIM order. The future conduct of individuals who have been subject to a TPIM or an ETPIM will be subject to review regarding the nature of the threat that they present to national security. That is how this legislation works in relation to the individuals who are subject to it.
I was going on to say, about the introduction of this draft Bill and the exceptional circumstances that might lead to its presentation to Parliament, that I am sure noble Lords will say that they hope that such circumstances never arise, that this diligent work conducted by noble Lords may not be necessary and that we do not face the exceptional circumstances that would mean that the Government were forced to present the Bill to Parliament. I thank noble Lords.
My Lords, I will not detain colleagues for more than a minute or two, but there are one or two issues that I would like to leave in colleagues’ minds. I was grateful for the Minister’s speech. However, perhaps it is my suspicious mind but I thought that his response on private security firms was possibly a little oversubtle. I do not know whether he meant that it would still be down to each police force that was responsible for an ETPIMs controlee to decide for themselves, in the light of the national security position, whether or not they should contract out the supervision and the way of imposing the ETPIM order on an individual. Is there any prohibition on that, or is it up to each police service?
I think that I made it clear that it is up to the police to make that judgment and that they would do so on the grounds of national security. There may of course be some elements of the TPIM that might well be most effectively done by a contractor and not a police force, but that is up to the police to decide. It is not for us to discuss in detail here because I do not think that that is particularly appropriate. The police are charged with implementing these orders, and they will do so in the most effective way. That is how the police carry out their duties.
I thank the noble Lord for that clarification. I am not sure that I am entirely reassured, but at least I now know exactly what he meant.
The Minister spoke eloquently and correctly about the role of the CPS and the police in deciding whether or not to prosecute. The response of the Government is:
“It is for the Crown Prosecution Service, in consultation with the police, to decide whether to bring a prosecution, not the Government”.
I am sure that that is constitutionally right. I am just a bit worried, though; certainly, evidence that was given to us said fairly baldly that the previous Government had abandoned two prosecutions because of the way in which the disclosure of information would affect national security. According to the evidence—and it may be wrong; I do not know—the Government had made that decision, rather than the CPS or the police acting on their own. If that is right, it is not the case, as stated in the Government’s response, that:
“It is for the Crown Prosecution Service, in consultation with the police, to decide whether to bring a prosecution, not the Government”.
We will just leave that hanging in the air unless the Minister has further information.
All I can say is that it is obviously for the Government to decide whether it would be in the public interest to present that evidence within a prosecution. That could influence the decision of the Crown Prosecution Service on whether or not to pursue a prosecution. As noble Lords will know, we have recently passed some legislation that has perhaps made this decision slightly easier for the Government.
I thank the noble Lord for that, because I thought that it was a rather bald statement and I just did not think that it could be true concerning the role of the Government in abrogating a judgment about what disclosures were in the national interest to the CPS and/or the police. I am grateful for that clarification.
I am slightly bothered about the scrutiny of the Bill. We have come to the end of our time and effort today, but we have not really discussed, except in procedural terms, the extent to which the ETPIMs regime will provide an incentive for prosecution. Given that they last for only two years, you might say that there is an incentive; on the other hand, though, as my noble friend Lord Rosser said, other things within the ETPIMs may militate against the capacity to bring a prosecution. Anyway, we have not dealt with that this afternoon but we have had a good discussion. No doubt at some point we will return to many of these issues. I thank noble Lords for contributing and the Minister for his response.
Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Consequential and Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2013
Considered in Grand Committee
That the Grand Committee do report to the House that it has considered the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011 (Consequential and Transitional Provisions and Savings) Order 2013.
Relevant document: 22nd Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments
My Lords, I shall provide the Committee with a brief summary of what the order is intended to achieve. The order is made under Section 104 of the Scotland Act 1998, which allows for necessary or expedient changes to UK legislation in consequence of any provision made by or under any Act of the Scottish Parliament. This order is made in consequence of the Children’s Hearings (Scotland) Act 2011, which I shall refer to as the 2011 Act. The 2011 Act aims to improve support for both professionals and panel members to ensure consistency of approach and practice, with a view to achieving better outcomes for children and young people involved in Scotland’s children’s hearings system. The 2011 Act will provide for legal and procedural changes to ensure that children’s rights continue to be properly upheld, while also bringing the majority of existing law relating to children’s hearings into a single statute.
The 2011 Act largely restates and updates the law relating to children’s hearings in Scotland. The order will ensure that existing legislation in England and Wales, as well as reserved UK legislation, is updated to reflect those changes. The order also makes cross-border provision to ensure that certain aspects of the children’s hearings system—for example, the placing of children in a particular place—apply to other parts of the UK. The modifications made by the order are largely of a technical nature and will ensure that the existing law continues to operate effectively by recognising the modifications made by the 2011 Act and subordinate legislation made under it.
The order demonstrates the UK Government’s continued commitment to working with the Scottish Government to make the devolution settlement work. I hope that the Committee will agree that the order is an appropriate use of the powers in the Scotland Act 1998 and that the practical result is something to be welcomed. I commend the order to the Committee and I beg to move.
My Lords, my intervention will be largely based on reminiscence. In 1968, when the children’s hearings were set up as part of the Social Work (Scotland) Act, I was a diploma in social work student in Edinburgh and I recall the senior civil servant in charge of the Bill coming to speak to us. I suppose that I have spent the subsequent 45 years watching the development of the children’s panel system, which is characterised by being much admired but hardly ever replicated. I certainly believe that the welfare approach is the right approach and that the children’s hearings are more likely to find a suitable conclusion to, or development of, the person’s situation. I think that we in Scotland were right to abandon the juvenile court approach that was extant before 1968.
I fully concur with my noble friend that this legislation is the inevitable result of devolved legislation. It would be entirely wrong for this Parliament not to pass this legislation. Families clearly have the opportunity to go and live wherever they wish. Indeed, sometimes things go wrong when people are on holiday in Scotland. This order certainly has my support; it comes from a good, and unfortunately a rare, example of this Parliament legislating uniquely for Scotland. That was very good and it does not happen very often. It was certainly a Government who had popular support in Scotland, and it will be interesting to see what the future holds in this respect. I certainly give this order a very fair wind.
My Lords, I totally agree that this is a consequence of the devolution brought about by the Labour Government and that these are natural extensions of it. Before I make my few remarks, I thank the Minister for the helpful communication that he sent me and the offer of assistance. It was much appreciated and I respect him and his staff for that.
There are a few things. It may be that I am nitpicking— I hope not—but my interest was aroused by looking at paragraphs of the order and thinking about how they will be practically implemented. Paragraph 4.9 of the Explanatory Memorandum says:
“A children’s hearing or a sheriff may consider that it is in the best interests of a child to stay with a particular person. If that child then absconds from the particular person, for whatever reason, to a place in England, Wales or Northern Ireland, article 9 of this Order allows a constable in any of those jurisdictions to arrest the child without a warrant and take them back to the person”.
I wonder if there are any practical examples, without names of course, where that has happened. What is the justification? That is quite a lot of power being invested in a police officer, and I wonder what the track record is of any of these things happening. In addition, it seems quite a strong measure and I wonder whether there is any authority in existence that reviews a case. Is it kept within the police or within the social work department? Because everyone should be accountable, it certainly might be interesting or useful to see whether there is any review of any cases like that which throw up any problems with it.
I move on to paragraph 4.10, on offences related to absconding. It says:
“A children’s hearing or a sheriff may consider it to be in the best interests of a child to require them to be kept in a particular place or with a particular person”.
Does a child have any representation at that hearing? Who represents the interests of the child? If there is anything that a child is concerned about or is affecting them but is not known to the authorities, what sort of representation does a child get from the care system in that situation?
Moving on to paragraph 4.12:
“This Order prohibits the publication of certain information about proceedings at a children’s hearing or court proceedings under the 2011 Act if it is intended that publication will, or is likely to, identify the child, the child’s address, or the school which the child attends”.
Can we get some clarification of the word “publication”? Recent events show how something can go “viral” on the internet. Would the publication of a child’s name on the internet be a breach of this? Has that been envisaged, or was this framed and implemented at a time when there was no such thing as the internet? It would be interesting to see whether internet abuse would be covered by this and whether action could be taken, no matter how difficult it can be.
Paragraph 4.13 is entitled:
“Transfer of children from Scotland to England, Wales and Northern Ireland: Effect of compulsory supervision order”.
Quite rightly, throughout the order there is reference to the four home countries. Is there any joint body or liaison on this between the countries, or between any two countries involved in a particular case or incident? We all know how bureaucracy can be, and if there is no scrutiny and transparency things can go wrong. Again, paragraph 4.19, which is entitled:
“Child placed in secure accommodation: decision of the head of unit”,
“Under the 2011 Act, a children’s hearing may, in conjunction with a relevant order or warrant, make a secure accommodation authorisation (SAA) which could specify that the child resides at a residential establishment in England, Wales or Northern Ireland. Under the 2011 Act, the Chief Social Officer (CSWO) must then make a decision as to whether or not to implement the SAA”.
Again, that seems like an awful lot of authority and responsibility to be given to one person. Are there any methods of scrutinising such decisions, or are they reviewed by the chief social worker? I ask this because—and I am not attacking social workers—no one is perfect, and it is all about scrutiny and accountability.
I have raised a number of questions, and the Minister may not be able to answer them. I find no reasons to doubt the order—in fact I support it—but I would like some clarification on these issues concerning transparency, scrutiny and accountability, bearing in mind we are dealing with children, who are not always able to represent themselves properly.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, for his kind words of support. The noble Earl of course has much experience of working with children and young people. I am also grateful for the support from the noble Lord, Lord McAvoy. If I do not answer any specific questions of his, I will of course write, when appropriate. He asked first about the review of cases and the viewpoint of the child. I am not aware of any problems, but of course I will write if I have any useful information. Many of these matters are of course the responsibility of the Scottish Government, but I am content to pursue the points raised by the noble Lord with the Scottish Government and write to him.
He asked an interesting question about publishing restrictions that were felt to be necessary in the age of social networking systems. The restriction is primarily aimed at journalists, to prevent them from publishing information that could identify a vulnerable child. With regard to social media, if the principal reporter is made aware that a sibling has posted something on a Facebook or Twitter page about the whereabouts of their brother or sister, the police have been known to visit them and ask them to remove the post. This is generally complied with as they have not understood the consequences of that post. The Scottish Government do not expect any changes to be brought forward in these types of situations.
It might be helpful to the Committee if I gave a real-world example of the effect of the order. Suppose that a 15 year-old child is subject to a compulsory supervision order with a condition that he reside at home with his mother in the Scottish borders. The CSO also contains a direction regulating supervised contact once a week with his father. His father is estranged from the mother and resides in Newcastle. The father therefore travels once a week to a social services centre in the Scottish borders for supervised contact with his son.
One day the child is persuaded by his father to travel across the border and stay with him in Newcastle. The child tells his mother that he is off to play football with his friends the following Saturday morning, but instead travels to Newcastle. When the child does not return home as expected, the mother contacts his friends and learns that he has gone to see his father. She contacts social services and the police, who arrange to visit the father. The father denies that the child is with him and conceals the child from police and social services in England.
In this instance, the father would be guilty of an offence under Section 171 of the 2011 Act if he lived in Scotland, but without a Section 104 order—the one that we are debating today—he would not be guilty of the same offence in England. We therefore need the Section 104 order to protect Scottish children across the UK. I am grateful for the support of the Committee and I beg to move.
Question for Short Debate
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who are contributing to this short debate. It is a tough subject and deserves our attention and support. I begin by paying tribute to the work of the Samaritans which is, this year, celebrating 60 years of amazing support for people from all walks of life who are trying to cope through a critical period in their lives.
I am privileged to be chairman of the Samaritans Advisory Board and have learnt at first hand so much of the extraordinary achievements all began with one man, Chad Varah, and one phone in one room in a church in the City of London. Chad Varah recognised that suicide is not inevitable, and the ability for someone to be able to share their thoughts with another, on a confidential basis, through the power of communication, could prevent unnecessary deaths.
Since that time 60 years ago, when this was a totally taboo subject, more than 127,000 volunteers have answered over 115 million calls for help—that is, twice the population of the United Kingdom—all without one penny of taxpayer subsidy but through charitable giving.
Samaritans volunteers are ordinary people providing callers with a safe place to talk, without judgment. Today 20,665 volunteers answer 5 million calls across the UK 24 hours a day, seven days a week. That means a contact every six seconds by phone, text, e-mail and letter and face to face.
Confidentiality and anonymity are hallmarks of the charity. I now realise that I have some wonderful friends whom I have known for years without knowing that they are Samaritans. I pay tribute to them all.
Even with the support of Samaritans, more than 6,500 lives are lost each year across the UK to suicide, and it is on the increase—by over 8% in the past year alone. Totally indiscriminate, suicide can affect anyone, no matter what their age, gender or background. Last year Samaritans answered more than 650,000 calls for help from people experiencing suicidal feelings. For every suicide, approximately 20 attempts are made. In 2011, more than 130,000 suicide attempts were made. One little-known fact is that men are three times more likely to die by suicide than women. Men in their 30s to 50s in lower socioeconomic groups are at the highest risk, and we do not know enough about why this group is so vulnerable to suicide.
What, in addition to the wonderful support of Samaritans and other related charities, such as Combat Stress, can be done?
Sitting suspended for a Division in the House.
So, my Lords, what can be done in addition to the wonderful support of the Samaritans and other related charities, such as Combat Stress? Technology is key to recognising that young people, in particular, no longer use a phone in the conventional way. They text and use social media to communicate and share their thoughts. Partnerships between organisations affected by incidents of suicide are critical. An example of this is a five-year partnership between the Samaritans and Network Rail, who are working together to confront suicide with some considerable success. In addition, there is a strong role for government. The new suicide prevention strategy, Preventing Suicide in England, published by the Department of Health in September 2012, is very welcome. This important development in government thinking recognises that any strategy to tackle suicide must be cross-government and needs the support of the voluntary and statutory sectors, academic institutions and schools, businesses, industry, faith groups, journalists and other media.
The link to other social problems, such as family breakdown, unemployment, debt, alcohol and drug misuse and the criminal justice system is so important. In short, we live in a complex society where, too often, people are lonely and feel unable to cope, even when they may have a loving family around them. The strategy makes some critically important statements in its six defined areas of action, which aim to reduce the risk of suicide in key high-risk groups; to tailor approaches to improve mental health in specific groups; to reduce access to the means of suicide; to provide better information and support to those bereaved or affected by suicide; to support the media in delivering sensitive approaches to suicide and suicidal behaviour; and, finally, to support research, data collection and monitoring.
The strategy includes a new area for action, highlighting the importance of providing better support to people who have been bereaved by suicide. Some bereaved families say that hitherto there has been little support available for them to turn to. The strategy is also very clear that, for suicide prevention to be effective, mental and physical health have to be seen as equally important, and we need better mental health for all. That in itself presents an enormous challenge, albeit one that is entirely laudable and should be pursued with rigour.
The immediate challenge is to ensure that the six areas of action are applied in practice and filter through to all parts of the country, both urban and rural, and reach those in need of support. All upper-tier local authorities in England should, I suggest, commit to the development of a local suicide prevention action plan, involving a wide range of statutory agencies and voluntary organisations.
Improvements could also be made in relation to signposting. How do people know where to turn to when they are in shock following the suicide of a family member or friend? Coroners’ officers, GP surgeries and other gatekeepers need to ensure that they are referring people bereaved by suicide to sources of support—for example, making available the Help is at Hand support booklet. In addition, rollout of a new free-to-caller number, allocated by the European Commission and transferred by Ofcom to the Samaritans, is key, albeit additional funding to support this development is needed.
Given that implementation of the strategy is crucial, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention has recently sought to investigate the effectiveness of local suicide prevention plans in England—a relevant question, given both the strategy and the fact that both recent public health and NHS reforms have, as of this month, become fully operational. The all-party group wrote to local authorities and PCTs to establish the extent of suicide prevention activity in each of the 152 county and unitary local authority areas in England, and the response is concerning: 27% of local authority areas do not have a local suicide prevention plan and 46% of local authority areas do not have a multi-agency suicide prevention group.
The all-party group made a number of important, practical recommendations. At national level, these are aimed primarily at the Department of Health, the main thrust being that a stronger set of requirements needs to be imposed by the Government to ensure that the aims and objectives of the strategy are implemented at local level. The necessary steps for implementation at local level include requiring local authorities each to develop a suicide prevention plan led by the director of public health, and those plans should reflect the six areas for action to which I have already referred. Progress needs to be monitored so that there is a clear understanding at national level of where there are gaps in local implementation. Also, a sharing of best practice and other information about suicide prevention work across the country and between the four nations of the UK should be put in place. Therefore, there is a very important role for government and I hope to hear from my noble friend this evening that there is a strong focus upon practical implementation of the strategy.
In addition, awareness among all citizens of this terrible curse upon society must be continually raised and discussed so that more can be done to support those at risk of suicide through all the agencies, coupled with the wonderful support of individuals that exists because of the thousands of volunteers who work tirelessly and with extraordinary compassion so that fewer people die by suicide.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, on having introduced this debate in such an effective fashion. Suicide is an extremely complex form of action to study and, hence, to develop preventive strategies against. There are two reasons for that. The first is that, by definition, you cannot interview people who have committed suicide—there are very few other examples in social life where this is true. Secondly, in order to be said to commit suicide, you have to have the intention to die. If you step off a kerb accidentally and a car knocks you down, it is not suicide. As most people do not leave notes, intention has to be inferred retrospectively by coroners.
When I studied suicide in the early part of my academic career, we looked at lots of judgments made by coroners. They led me to be deeply suspicious of suicide statistics and therefore of preventive strategies based on those statistics. It is not that suicide statistics are just inaccurate around the edges; in my opinion, they are often probably totally wrong and non-comparable. One thing about the government document on preventing suicide in England is that it is based almost wholly on statistics, and risk is calculated in that way. For example, the noble Baroness cited figures suggesting that three times as many young men commit suicide as other groups. However, I think that that is highly unlikely to be true. I do not have the time to say why, but I think that it is highly unlikely. One must depend upon intensive studies of suicide and not just statistical ones.
One way of studying who has committed suicide is to look at those who attempt suicide in various serious situations. We had an interesting study of people who jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge in San Francisco. If someone jumps off that bridge he is almost certain to die—only about 3% survive. The study interviewed the survivors. It was interesting that on the way down, people were thinking, “I didn’t need to do this”, or, “I could have solved my problems”. What they said was very interesting. It was admittedly a small sample, because most people die, but they all said that it was the Golden Gate or nothing. In other words, the method that you use to commit suicide is very important, especially if you intend to do it seriously—there is a massive difference between most attempted and actual suicides.
Another study of the Golden Gate Bridge covered 515 people who were stopped from jumping. That was also interesting. One might imagine that people who really want to kill themselves will go on until they do it, but that is not so at all. In the study, of the 515 people, 95% were either still alive 25 years later or had died of natural causes. In other words, at least for certain types of suicide, if prevented at source, it does not recur. That has important implications.
In this country, some 20 people on average jump off Beachy Head each year—124 people died there between 1965 and 1979. A medical researcher who studied the details very intensively—this is why I am recommending intensive studies—concluded that 115 of this group were almost certainly suicides. To show the point that I was making earlier, only 58 were recorded as suicides by the coroner. That is a huge difference; it is double the rate. A lot of people who jump off Beachy Head are women, not men. Having read Preventing Suicide in England, a bit more lateral thinking would be in order, in recognising all the great work that the Samaritans do.
In my minute I must ask quickly, first, what is the Government’s policy on popular suicide spots? Are they all left to volunteer groups, such as at Beachy Head, where it is mainly a chaplaincy group that tries to stop people? It is very important to know because probably about 500 people a year die in popular suicide spots, which is about 4% of the total number in the country. That is pretty significant. I do not know whether the Government have a policy on that, but as the Golden Gate study shows, if you stop them, the vast majority do not come back to try again. Secondly, is there an analogue to the Live Through This project in the United States, which is pretty intriguing to me. It is backed by the American Association of Suicidology. Oh dear, I will have to stop, I suppose. It is transformational because it is a website for people who have survived serious suicide attempts. They speak out openly in a variety of media sources and communities. The idea is to strip away stigma and shame, and it is the first time that that has ever been done. There is a major input from people on a large scale who have attempted suicide, and there is a public-private partnership to support it. The main thing is that people who have attempted suicide have been seen as objects not subjects. In this case, they appear as subjects. I had a good third point but have no time to make it.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for giving us this opportunity, and for bringing to our attention, as the noble Lord, Lord Giddens, said, the statistic that three times as many young men between the ages of 30 and 44 commit suicide than women in that age range, or perhaps a wider age range. Does that not somehow reflect the economic situation—jobs and so on? A University of Liverpool study suggested that 1,000 suicides in the general age range were because of the recession. How true that is I do not know, but that is the figure that the University of Liverpool gives us.
In Wales we had a different situation. In 2007, seven youngsters in Bridgend committed suicide, six of them by hanging. In that year, there was a terrible dilemma in Wales: why were these people doing it? They were saying, “It is such a boring place, what else can I do? What other job can I get? I want to get out of here”. The only way they could see to get out of there was by committing suicide.
The great contribution of the Samaritans has already been mentioned, as have Childline, the NSPCC, Chad Varah and Esther Rantzen. All these deserve our thanks for what they have done and the countless lives that they have saved.
The reasons for suicide vary tremendously. As a minister, I encountered it fairly often—not too often but often enough. Why did they try to do this? Sometimes you just shook your head and said, “No idea”. At other times you would say, “Ah yes”—there were problems that we were aware of. According to the statistics, 1 million people commit suicide every year worldwide. Of these, 100,000 are young people, 15 to 19 year-olds. I suggest that there are 100,000 different reasons why they would try to commit suicide—so many different countries, so many different situations.
A new scheme is being brought in in Indiana in July this year. Everyone seeking an initial teaching qualification will have to study education and training in the prevention of child suicide and recognising the danger signs. Somehow, because we are talking to machinery, computers or whatever, we are losing the personal touch—in communities and families.
I have discussed this with ministers of other denominations—the number of priests and ministers in communities and the number of lively, active, alert churches is far fewer than it used to be. When that happens, the community is weakened because there is not the person there to support the most vulnerable. The figures from my own church in Wales are startling: 100 years ago we had 137 Welsh-speaking ministers of our own home-grown variety; today we have two or three. It is a big difference. A Presbyterian minister told me, “In my church at the time of the great Welsh Revival 100 years ago we had 1,000 ministers. We now have 40”. So the people who would be in the community to support and listen are not there in the same way, and the families who would also get their support in the churches are not there.
However, it is not only churches. I have a list here: policemen, village-based teachers, local shop-owners, local football teams, bands and choirs, even well run pubs—and I might well be struck off for praising well run pubs. These are all part of the community and they are not there to the same extent any longer. The local community is the strongest and best friend of those who are most vulnerable. We must somehow give it new strength so that it can fulfil what it used to do in treating and responding to needs.
My Lords, every suicide is a glaring reflection of the fact that our society has failed to look after its most vulnerable. The noble Lord, Lord Roberts, has just explained how he sees failings in the community as partly responsible for that, and I can only agree. I welcome the Government’s decision to produce their new suicide prevention strategy, and congratulate my noble friend Lady Buscombe on securing this debate. At this point, I must declare an interest as a member of the Samaritans advisory board. We are well represented here this afternoon. I am in awe of the remarkable work that the Samaritans do.
The reasons why people decide to take their own lives are varied, although there are some factors that seem to be very regular occurrences, particularly financial ones. When World Suicide Prevention Day took place last year, there was a campaign under the heading “You Can Cope”, but those who kill themselves have generally decided that they cannot cope, or at least that they cannot cope alone. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, that they feel alone. This does not necessarily mean that they are single. They may be in relationships, they may be in touch with their family, and they may apparently have a network of friends, but the person who is driven to suicide tends to feel very much alone. A problem shared is said to be a problem halved, but a problem left to grow like a malignant tutor—tumour, although there are a few malignant tutors around—inside the brain and heart of an individual is a problem multiplied. For whatever reasons, and pride may be one of them, too many people today have no one they can share their problems with.
The irony is that in an age when many people have hundreds, indeed, thousands, of what they would term friends on Facebook, there are more and more people who, when they hit the slough of despond, do not have a friend to turn to but welcome being able to turn to a stranger. A friend of mine who spent many years as a Samaritan told me that what was really wanted on the end of the phone was a friend. The main cause that really drove those people to ring was extreme loneliness. She told me that she kept one of her clients going for several days after he called to say that it was the end, there was nothing to eat in the house and he could not cope. She told him the ingredients for cauliflower cheese and sent him out to buy them, and when he came back, she talked him through the recipe. When he said, “But what about the bird? There’s nothing for the bird to eat”, she suggested that the bird should eat cauliflower cheese too. In the end, this guy went away, not happy, but feeling less alone, and over the years he called her again occasionally and they talked recipes.
For those at their wits’ end, the Samaritans enable them to phone a friend. People do that about 5 million times a year. Other charities do fantastic work in helping those who feel suicidal, and the national prevention strategy acknowledges the importance of getting all those organisations to work together and to work in tandem with social services and the National Health Service, but today I shall stress the one way in which these charities can be helped to be more effective; it is by making that life-saving phone call cheaper. The Samaritans’ national helpline number is an 0845 number, which means that landline calls are relatively inexpensive, but calls from mobiles are considerably more. Incredible although it may seem, the Samaritans’ research shows that the cost of that call will put people off making it. The aim is to have a free-to-caller national number. In 2009, Ofcom gave the Samaritans the number 116123, which is pretty easy and memorable. It has been successfully trialled, but to roll that out nationally requires about £1 million a year. It would be dreadful for somebody to pluck up the courage to phone a friend in extremis to ring that number and find it dead. Without the certainty that that £1 million will be there or that there will be some other means of achieving it, that potential lifeline is not being rolled out. Far be it from me to suggest in the current climate that the Government should dig deep, or even quite shallowly, into their pockets and find that extra money, but there has to be a way that together Ofcom, the telecoms operators and the Samaritans can get together and produce some way of doing this. Perhaps the lottery could help. It might cost a little money, but what it would save is immeasurable.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful for this debate. There are just two aspects on which I shall comment. The first is the issue of suicide prevention among people in contact with the criminal justice system—something that concerned me greatly in my early years as Bishop of Exeter. In the three prisons in the Exeter diocese, 20 men committed suicide between 2001 and 2011. Of these, 14 were at Exeter prison—a figure which reflects the higher incidence of suicide in local prisons, especially during the early days of imprisonment. Half of these deaths, though, were between 2001 and 2004, and I note that the number of suicides in prison nationally has also fallen steadily since 2004, apart from a spike in 2007. Hopefully this is a sign that measures taken under the NOMS suicide prevention strategy are having an effect. However, with 57 suicides in prison in 2011, there is still real cause for concern.
I am also aware that on 6 March this year, the Prisons and Probation Ombudsman published a “Learning lessons” bulletin, following investigation of the apparently self-inflicted deaths of three teenagers in young offender institutions. Each of these children was extremely vulnerable and the lessons learnt included better responses to bullying and a greater focus on the involvement of families and outside agencies. This is where I come to my second area of concern and the main subject of this debate. From this month, local authorities have new responsibilities for co-ordinating and implementing work on suicide prevention. It will be for local agencies, including working through health and well-being boards, to decide the best way to achieve the overall aim of reducing the suicide rate. However, while there are clearly opportunities here for local initiatives in co-ordinating and commissioning work, there is also a risk that, especially where there is no local suicide prevention plan, this priority may be overlooked in the allocation of funds.
The findings of the All-Party Group on Suicide and Self-Harm Prevention have already been referred to by the noble Baroness. Only half of local authorities have a local suicide prevention group, while a quarter said that there was no local suicide prevention plan, even where there is a local suicide prevention group. Often there is no formal mechanism for such groups to report directly to health and well-being boards. Only one-third of respondents mentioned specific suicide prevention programmes. Yet the report also mentioned the key role of third sector groups. Many suicide prevention actions contained in local plans involve the voluntary sector in delivering programmes such as support services for people bereaved by suicide. From the available evidence, the majority of groups had voluntary sector membership, underlining their importance to suicide prevention and the heavy reliance on them.
However, within the voluntary sector there are real concerns about the responsibilities placed upon them and the resources that enable them to respond. Take the example of just one not-for-profit, open-access counselling service in Devon. It sees around 160 clients a week. These are self-referring adults who pay according to means. Work is with individuals, couples and family groups. There are no paid employees and all are qualified volunteers. The work of such groups is really important, because the potentiality of suicide often does not appear as a presenting issue, but rather through other therapeutic work, revealing, for example, patterns of isolation, self-harm and despair. However, the sustainability of such a model of group work is increasingly a challenge in the current economic climate. Average client contributions have fallen and margins are tight. Yet the self-funding model still seems to be the only viable way of securing an effective service. Counselling services are notoriously difficult to fund. Counselling does not constitute a “charitable purpose”—something at which Her Majesty’s Government need to take a look—and thus many funders exclude counselling services as recipients.
Where funds are available, such as lottery funding, they can amount to the kiss of death for a service as they are often short-term. Culturally, funders tend to favour innovation and new services in preference to tried, tested and researched ways of working, and funding projects rather than vital revenue costs. In my own areas, the combination of these facts has led to the closure of numerous local services over the years, revolving door-style, including high-quality and relatively inexpensive services for young people at high risk. The fact is that this very important voluntary sector, of which much is expected, suffers from gross systemic underfunding, is too often neglected for its experience and understanding, and thus such funding as there is may often be misdirected and unwisely spent. I think, for example, of the privileging of short-term cognitive behavioural therapy over person-centred and psychodynamic approaches, which evidence shows have a greater longer-term effect.
If Her Majesty’s Government’s well intended suicide prevention strategy is to really work, more attention needs to be given to just how the voluntary sector is most effectively supported and engaged. This also means rectifying the fact that, while much of this work in the third sector is underpinned by a strong faith base, and a great deal of work is being done by faith groups in supporting those at risk of suicide and self-harm, I find it concerning that there is so little reference to faith groups in any of the official documents underpinning the structures and strategies that we are debating today.
My Lords, I declare an interest as another member of the Samaritans advisory group; I think we are quorate today, which is good news. I also declare another interest, as an independent lay commissioner of the Press Complaints Commission, since I want to talk a little bit about the media role in this subject.
About 28 years ago, my boss and mentor fell out of a window four or five stories high in a block of flats. The next morning, the Daily Mail’s front page had a photograph of a mansion block of flats, and a dotted line from the fifth floor to the pavement where he fell. His children had to look at that in the newspaper. The story of media coverage of suicide, and its imitative effects and so on, is actually a good story from that day because coverage is much more sensitive. It is much improved. Editors and journalists are much more aware of the damaging effect of the wrong kind of sensationalist and detailed coverage of the methods of suicide. This is particularly true in broadcasting, where the statutory guidelines for producers and coverage and so on deal in great detail with the coverage of suicide. The media have for once a good story to tell in the way they deal with this subject. There is a substantial body of evidence from around the world which indicates that certain types of media reporting of suicide can have a negative influence on the behaviour of people who are already vulnerable and put them at greater risk.
I am worried about the uncertainty, the lacuna that exists, as we move from the PCC to the Leveson-compliant new formula. There is considerable uncertainty about the nature of that, who is going to sign up to that regulation and so on, which has been well rehearsed in the Chamber. I am worried that the progress that the media has made—and it is a good story—should not get lost. The Government, and those charged with setting up the new body, will understand that the good work that has been undertaken should not be lost in the transition from the PCC to whatever the new body concerned is.
Others have spoken about the good work that the Samaritans and other organisations do, and that has to be true. The “116” phone line that my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft alluded to is a serious worry. We have to find the money to make this happen. I do not think it has to be government money—it is only £1 million. I know it is easy to say that but, somehow, through the lottery—I declare I was once chairman of Camelot—there has to be a way to find this money on a regular basis, because those calls may well, although I am sure not always, be life-saving.
One of the most worrying aspects concerns the causes of suicide. Sadly, throughout my professional and personal life, I have been very close to far too many suicides. In one or two cases you could look at them and say they had everything to live for. Lack of recognition of the symptoms is the most difficult aspect of this subject. I hope that the ease and availability of the Samaritans service and the “116” lines will permeate people’s consciousness, that they will make that last despairing call and that they will be able to afford to do so because the Samaritans can pay for it. That could, in time, save lives.
It is rare these days to pay tribute to the sensibilities and sensitivities of the media, but in this particular case I am very happy to put that on the record. I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for this debate, and all those who have taken part.
My Lords, I thank noble Baroness for this opportunity. It seems that we are all supporters of the Samaritans, which is a wonderful organisation.
As the Minister knows, a member of my family has suffered for four years from acute withdrawal from benzodiazepines, especially sleeping pills given to him during periods of overwork and stress. He still suffers from burning sensations, tinnitus, agoraphobia and occasional suicidal tendencies that have confined him to his room—mostly unable to work or help his family.
This group of patients is still beyond the reach of the National Health Service. They are living in a policy “no-man’s land” because there are hardly any statutory services available or even people who are aware of their condition. Friends and family feel helpless and, in fact, are unable to help beyond informal counselling. There are dangerous moments when no one seems to be able to do anything. In this sense, the urban community has failed much more than the rural one.
Those who suffer first addiction and then withdrawal from prescribed iatrogenic drugs cannot look to their GPs or local clinics like other patients, because it was their doctors who prescribed the pills in the first place. The patients may have desperate thoughts of going to A&E as their last resort, until they remember that they will only be referred to a psychiatrist who will put them back where they started. The only slender threads of hope may be online, with the next e-mail from a fellow sufferer, or via a helpline to one of the saintly withdrawal charities such as CITAp in Liverpool, Recovery Road in Cardiff, the Bristol & District Tranquiliser Project or MIND in Camden, which is the only voluntary service available in London, but only to those who live in Camden. Some of these charities take thousands of calls a year, and I have no doubt that the Samaritans take many more similar calls from the same people.
I declare an interest as the vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Involuntary Tranquiliser Addiction. We are a small core group of about 12 active MPs and Peers. With occasional help from the media, we have been able to bring this issue to the attention of successive Ministers. The BMA held a useful seminar recently. I am glad to say that the present Health Ministers are now well aware of the risks, because it is known that 1 million people or more are taking benzodiazepines long term, not short term, and that their doctors are not stopping them. The Minister will remember all the arguments that we put forward during the Health Bill, and they remain valid today. These include the obvious need for greater awareness among doctors and junior doctors of the risks, good practice in the voluntary sector, better NICE and NTA guidelines, more understanding of the general protocol of withdrawal from prescribed drugs, and the need for a stronger national policy backing up the confusing new local health agenda. I went to see Public Health England only this afternoon and was encouraged that the new health and well-being boards and CCTs will have this subject in their list of priorities, but it will need a lot of encouragement.
Equally important is the need for the department to shift its spending priorities and its drugs agenda just a little way away from illegal drugs towards prescribed drugs. It is really the Samson and Goliath story. Almost all the knowledge in the National Treatment Agency is about methadone and alternatives to heroin, and about counselling. There is very little knowledge of the dangerous effects of prescribed benzodiazepines, SSRIs and Z-drugs, unless they coincide because people are using them with heroin. The US has much more experience. Changing the dosage of Prozac, for example, can trigger suicidal tendencies immediately. There is a black box warning of this in the United States.
We have now reached a critical point with all the new NHS changes. The voluntary agencies have high expectations that the Government will take these various points to heart, recognise the good practice that is out there and give it their fullest support. As the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, said, co-operation rather than competition is absolutely vital in this field.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, for this important and timely debate. I am not a member of the Samaritans board. However, I fully support the calls for a free-to-caller number. I hope that Ofcom and the telephone companies are listening. I wonder whether we should all pen a joint letter to Ofcom and the telephone companies after this debate.
Like other noble Lords, I thank the organisations that have been mentioned, including faith groups, and especially the Samaritans in their important anniversary year. All these organisations, with their thousands of volunteers, work with, care for and support people who are troubled or have a mental illness. For too long, mental illness was shrouded by stigma and deprived of adequate resources. People with a mental illness, including those at risk of suicide, have always depended on what the Government might call the big society. The Samaritans have a shining record on this very tough subject. Thankfully, the stigma in society relating to mental health is increasingly being lifted, and all parties recognise the need for mental health to have parity with physical health. We would all agree on there being no mental health without physical health—and, I would add, without appropriate social care.
As Call to Action informs us, more lives in England are lost to suicide than to road traffic accidents, and every life lost to suicide is a tragedy. I welcome the cross-government strategy on preventing suicide. However, like Sarah Yiannoullou, the manager of the National Survivor User Network, I am concerned that self-help groups, survivor groups and small voluntary and community organisations that have helped with a preventive support have had increased burdens put on them and are having to close because of funding problems. There appears to be a conflict between what is said in the strategy and people believing that this can be delivered in the current climate. The right reverend Prelate made very important points about systemic and short-term funding.
Mental health services are clearly critical in providing the timely help and emotional support that can reduce the risk of people committing suicide. Having spoken to people working in mental health in my county of Gloucestershire, I know that they fear that recent changes in the NHS and the fracturing of services will have a negative impact on the delivery of mental health services in the community, especially in rural areas. There appears to be less co-ordination and less support for joint efforts between health services, charities, churches and other organisations that are working with people who have mental health problems. I would be grateful for the noble Earl’s views on whether there is appropriate integration where necessary. It feels as if the postcode lottery is being extended.
A briefing by the excellent organisation YoungMinds provides disturbing information about cuts by local authorities. Some have slashed 27% of their services, which has had an impact on people with mental health problems. Like the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, I am deeply concerned about the lack of local suicide prevention plans. The Government must not only provide requirements for such plans but must ensure that the funding is there in order for local authorities to implement the plans.
Society has changed profoundly in the past 50 years. We now live in a physically safer society, but emotionally people are far less secure. As many noble Lords said, many people live alone, and even when they do not live alone, they feel alone. We are all living longer, we have more stressful and isolated lives and we have to cope with huge and constant change. As the noble Lord, Lord Roberts, said, the increase in young people’s mental health problems is very disturbing. The factors that contribute to mental health problems, and indeed to suicide, such as drug and alcohol misuse, unemployment, social isolation, poverty and poor social conditions, appear at the moment to be increasing, and there are so many stresses and strains in society with little help available. There is a lack of hope, and it is incumbent on us all to give people more hope and vision for the future.
I look forward to the answers from the noble Earl about the support that the Government are providing to the voluntary and statutory sectors. Perhaps one of the greatest supports would be for the Government to change some of their current policies so that factors such as poverty, which increase the risk of suicide, are reduced. The risk of suicide in the whole population increases when we experience times of financial difficulty—this is not only my view but a widely held one—so I urge the Government to maintain their support for suicide prevention over the coming years.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Buscombe is to be congratulated for bringing forward this emotive and important subject for a debate, which has generated some splendid speeches for which I, for one, am very grateful.
The loss of a loved one to suicide is a tragedy, and yet suicides are not inevitable. There are often opportunities to intervene, and those missed opportunities can highlight systemic failings. Timely access to high-quality mental health services is an essential foundation for suicide prevention. Although good progress has been made in reducing the suicide rate in England over the past 10 years, the recent rise in the number of people dying by suicide to around 4,500 in 2011 is worrying. Suicide continues to be a major public health issue, particularly at a time of economic and employment uncertainty. That is why we set out a new suicide prevention strategy for England in September 2012, which highlights the importance of targeting the groups most at risk by providing the right support at the right time.
My noble friend helpfully set out the key strands of that strategy and I was grateful for her endorsement of them. She is right that success in suicide prevention depends on communities, individuals and organisations working together to tackle the issue. Much of the planning and work to prevent suicides needs to be carried out locally. The right reverend Prelate rightly referred to the role of the new health and well-being boards in planning and co-ordinating local services based on local needs. That role will clearly be a pivotal one in the future. These health and well-being boards will become the forums for determining local needs and priorities, bringing together local authorities, clinical commissioning groups, directors of public health, adult social services and children’s services. I am sure he is right that third sector and voluntary groups will pay a key part in the delivery of local plans in many parts of the country. The concerns expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, about fragmentation of services are not ones I share. She may recall that in the Health and Social Care Act we laid great emphasis on integration as a key driver of commissioning. The very existence of health and well-being boards acting as the hub for so many key players in the public health and health arena will itself be a driver for that kind of integration.
As well as targeting high-risk groups, improving the mental health of the population is another way to prevent suicide, as has been mentioned. Our mental health outcomes strategy, No Health Without Mental Health, sets out an ambitious vision for improving people’s mental health. The implementation of the measures set out in the strategy will build individual and community resilience, promote mental health and well-being and challenge health inequalities where they exist. Again, the Health and Social Care Act passed last year was the first one to contain an objective in all parts of the health service to drive out health inequalities.
The noble Baroness, Lady Royall, referred to the need for parity of esteem between mental and physical health. Of course, I subscribe wholly to that aim. The Government’s mandate to NHS England explicitly recognises the importance of putting mental health on a par with physical health, and closing the health gap between people with mental health problems and the population as a whole. We expect the NHS to have made measurable progress towards this goal by March 2015. This will include ensuring timely access to the best available treatment through extending and developing open access to the IAPT programme, Improving Access to Psychological Therapies, particularly for those out of work. I think that is an important part of the targeting philosophy.
Alongside the development of the suicide prevention strategy, Samaritans—to whose work I pay special tribute in their anniversary year—have been facilitating a Call to Action for Suicide Prevention in England, supported by a grant from the Department of Health. Over 50 national organisations have signed the Call to Action, committing to work together so fewer lives are lost to suicide and to support those bereaved or affected by suicide. Organisations include public and private sector bodies and a wide range of charities, including those set up specifically to reduce suicide such as Papyrus, a charity dedicated to the prevention of young suicide in the UK. This is the first time that so many organisations have come together to deliver real action to reduce suicide across England.
Most people who take their own lives have not been in touch with mental health services. We know that some people, particularly men, find it difficult to speak to their doctor if they are having mental health problems, and this is partly because of stigma and shame. By tackling the stigma associated with mental health problems, we can remove a barrier to people seeking and receiving the help they need before they get to crisis point.
The department is therefore supporting the anti-stigma campaign, Time to Change, with up to £16 million of funding over four years. The campaign is run by the charities Mind and Rethink Mental Illness, and is an ambitious programme to end mental health stigma and discrimination. It has the potential to reach 29 million members of the public with its vital messages on mental health.
We know that the media have a significant influence on behaviour and attitudes towards suicide. My noble friend Lord Grade was absolutely right to highlight this. A number of organisations have developed guidance for the media on the reporting of suicide and its portrayal. One of these is Samaritans, which plays a key role in supporting sensitive reporting of suicide.
As my noble friend said, the media have a significant influence on behaviour and attitudes. There is already compelling evidence that media reporting and portrayals of suicide can lead to copycat behaviour, especially among young people and those already at risk. The media is aware of its responsibility in the representation of suicide. In 2006 the Press Complaints Commission added a clause to the editors’ code of practice explicitly recommending that the media avoid excessively detailed reporting of suicide methods. The 2009 edition of the PCC Editors’ Codebook highlights, for example, the distress that can be caused by insensitive and inappropriate graphic illustrations accompanying media reports of suicide.
We have made grants to charities directly involved in suicide prevention. In March 2010, Maytree Respite Centre was awarded a three-year grant totalling over £154,000 to support the continued implementation and development of its service. Maytree is a sanctuary for people in suicidal crisis, providing a non-medical alternative to hospitalisation or sectioning. The grant helped the organisation support over 4,000 people, with 300 being supported through a stay at the house. It also helped them to develop outcome-focused relationships with several NHS and private organisations. In March 2011 we awarded a £50,000 one-year grant to Survivors of Bereavement by Suicide, a charity that serves more than 8,000 clients each year. They provide a range of services from a national telephone line to local area support groups.
Early intervention is imperative to suicide prevention and various organisations, including charities, can help highlight and address problems such as bullying, poor body image and lack of self-esteem. The commitment to early intervention is borne out by the Department of Work and Pensions’ expectation that all Jobcentre Plus advisers are trained to enable them to identify and support people who are vulnerable and who may be at risk of suicide and self-harm. This is important, as we know that community locations, such as job centres and young people-friendly venues, are more successful in engaging with young men than more formal health settings such as GP surgeries.
The noble Lord, Lord Giddens, whose speech I listened to with great attention, spoke about statistics. I will certainly go away and reflect on his points on that score. He asked what the Government’s policy was on prevention at popular suicide spots. The suicide prevention strategy recognises that one of the most effective ways of preventing suicide is to reduce the means to access. Suicide risk can be reduced by limiting access to high-risk locations. Much of the planning and work to prevent suicides will, as I have said, be carried out locally; it will be for local agencies, working through health and well-being boards, to decide the best way to achieve the overall aim of reducing the suicide rate. I fully expect that the local agencies will work together to monitor those hotspots.
My noble friend Lord Roberts pointed to the effect of unemployment, a point made effectively by my noble friend Lady Wheatcroft. We know that previous periods of high unemployment or severe economic problems have had an adverse effect on the mental health and well-being of the population and have been associated with higher rates of suicide. Despite the good progress that has been made in reducing the suicide rate, we need to remain vigilant on that particular aspect of the risk.
Faith groups were mentioned by a number of noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Roberts. I assure the Committee that the department recognises the comfort and support that people receive from their faith and would expect all medical practitioners to treat their patients holistically, taking into account their physical, cultural, social, mental and spiritual needs. The Government’s mental health strategy, No Health Without Mental Health, draws attention to the importance of ensuring that services meets the needs of diverse communities and faith groups. The right reverend Prelate will know that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, and Time to Change recently hosted an event for leaders from different faiths to look at ways of tackling the stigma and discrimination faced by people with mental health problems in their communities. That seminar was held at Lambeth Palace and was extremely well received.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke about the risk of prescribed anti-depressants. The suicide prevention strategy highlights the potential increase in suicide risk in the early stages of drug treatment and risks associated with withdrawal where people are dependent on prescribed drugs. The noble Earl has expressed his concerns forcefully in debate and privately to Ministers, and he knows that these messages have not gone unheeded—at least, I hope that he knows that. It is, as he said, for health and well-being boards to build into the joint strategic needs assessment suitable provision for this particular type of suicide risk.
Over the past 10 years, good progress has been made in reducing the suicide rate in England. Voluntary organisations, charities and community and faith groups have all played their part in this reduction. The messages are clear. We need individuals and organisations to support our continued efforts, to join us in our drive to sustain and reduce further the relatively low rates of suicide in England and to respond positively to the challenges that we face over the coming years.
Will my noble friend the Minister be kind enough to give us the benefit of his advice on how we might move forward an initiative to roll out the 116 line? I am much taken with the noble Baroness’s view that we might all write a letter, but I wonder if it is an initiative that the department might want to take up and try to co-ordinate to see if we can get a resolution.
Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the short and long-term implications of the large influx of refugees from Syria into neighbouring countries for those countries; and what steps they are taking to work with the international community to provide improved humanitarian aid.
My Lords, I put down this Question for Short Debate in a context where the prospects of an end to the civil war and peace in Syria seem ever more remote. In these very sad circumstances the flight from Syria to neighbouring countries of people seeking a safe haven from the shelling, bombing and destruction of their communities seems likely to continue indefinitely. In the past six months there has been a rapid increase in the numbers fleeing, which shows absolutely no signs of flattening off. There are now close to 1.5 million refugees in neighbouring countries, nearly half of whom are children under 18. The United Nations predicts that the figure will rise to 3 million by the end of the year. Inside Syria there are currently another 2 million displaced people, and the UN estimates that more than 4.25 million are in need of urgent assistance.
The number of refugees who have fled the country has almost doubled, then, since the beginning of February, when the Secretary of State for International Development made a Statement in another place. In that Statement she said that pledges at the special conference in Kuwait in January to discuss the humanitarian crisis amounted to £1.5 billion from 60 countries, which exceeded the UN’s target. Can the Minister indicate how far these pledges have turned into tangible commitments? The estimates I have seen make very depressing reading: only just over half the pledges appear to have been committed. It would be helpful if she could also give the most up-to-date figures on how the funds are being distributed across the region.
I am pleased, as I am sure other speakers will be, that at that time the UK’s total commitment to humanitarian support had reached £139.5 million. However, given the huge increase in the numbers of people displaced since then, I ask what plans the Government now have to increase aid, given the terrible suffering of those fleeing, which I have seen at first hand, as well as the intolerable pressures on neighbouring countries that are being overwhelmed by the escalation in the number of refugees.
Early in February, along with my noble friends Lady Jay and Lord Warner, who are also speaking in this debate, I visited the Lebanon under the auspices of the Council for European Palestinian Relations and witnessed what is happening to one particular group of refugees, Palestinians, who constitute 10% of all refugees from Syria. Their situation is even more dire than that of the Syrians. When they come across the border into neighbouring countries such as the Lebanon they are not eligible for UNHCR support but instead are looked after by UNRWA, the UN agency responsible for supporting Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza as well as in neighbouring countries. Many of them arrive with little money and not much more than the clothes they are wearing. They are traumatised, having been bombed out of their homes, and in some cases have lost members of their families, too. They are poor people, made poorer by the war that has enveloped them.
When they arrive in Lebanon they are looked after by the existing Palestinian population who live in semi-segregated communities in refugee camps, many of which have existed since 1948. These so-called camps are already overcrowded and without the space and facilities needed to take in the new influx of refugees. As a consequence, families with children of all ages have to fall back on renting appalling accommodation at exorbitant rents with money that they brought with them from Syria, or sharing makeshift rooms that have been provided with the help of NGOs or the Palestinian political organisations. In some cases, Hamas and Fatah have made over their offices to house these families; in other cases, the refugees are accommodated in totally unsuitable vacant school buildings; in yet more cases, they are put up in new temporary buildings with tiny rooms divided by plywood partitions. Sometimes two or even three families have to share whatever accommodation they have managed to find in a room furnished only with thin mattresses. The washing and cooking facilities are primitive and shared by many people. Some rented rooms have water coming through the ceiling, and exposed wiring.
The influx of refugees has already pushed up the population in Lebanon by over 10%, compared with around 6% in Jordan. As the conflict in Syria continues, the numbers of refugees in Lebanon, and indeed elsewhere, will go on growing, exacerbating the problem of accommodating them. So far, the Lebanese Government have agreed to keep the border with Syria open, but, in a context where their survival is by no means certain, political pressure could push them into closing it.
Meanwhile many of those crossing the border arrive with unresolved health problems and injuries sustained from bomb blasts and shrapnel. They cannot afford to pay for the treatment they need after they arrive; even modest amounts of medication to relieve suffering among children and the elderly are often unavailable. Providing schooling for their children has been jeopardised by differences in the curriculum between Syria and the Lebanon, and many school-age children are receiving little or no education.
UNRWA is struggling to deal with the crisis and has insufficient funding. It is focusing its efforts on providing small cash grants to families and trying to rectify the lack of schooling. It seems unable to tackle the fundamental problem of providing adequate accommodation. The Lebanese understandably consider that it is a matter for the international community, and there is little or no political will to shoulder the burden. This means that the burden falls on the existing Palestinian community, which has never been able to throw off its refugee status in Lebanon.
While there has been some lifting of the prohibition on Palestinians obtaining jobs, the reality is that there are few employment opportunities for them. Hamas and Fatah are trying to raise money from their own sources and are co-operating with the UN. Sadly, the EU makes no contact with Hamas in Lebanon, even on humanitarian issues, and I would welcome a view on this from the Minister. Do the Government consider that contact on these issues would help?
My noble friend Lady Jay will focus on the effects of the influx of refugees from Syria on the surrounding countries, so I shall be brief. We owe our thanks not only to Lebanon and Jordan but to Turkey, Iraq and Egypt for their generosity in supporting thousands of traumatised and penniless people. However, it is imperative that the international community does more to help these countries, several of which have fragile regimes with their own problems of maintaining stable rule and political, ethnic and religious harmony. These countries also face increased economic pressures, with steeply rising rents caused by the increased demand for housing as well as rising food prices.
Most aid is going to refugee camps, even though about 70% of Syrian refugees live outside the camps, whether in urban or rural areas. Above all, the urban infrastructure needs to be strengthened. Cash assistance is also needed to help refugees feed their families. There is evidence that women are going without food to provide what little they have for their children. For the host countries the refugees are straining water, sanitation, housing, health and education systems. Obviously, as this continues there will be growing tension between the host and refugee communities in the already depressed areas where they settle. The political ramifications are obvious and could push some countries into closing their borders, trapping refugees inside Syria.
What progress have the Minister and her right honourable friends made in securing greater earmarked commitments, especially to Lebanon and Jordan, from other donor countries? Is further consideration being given to whether the UK’s earmarked contribution of £8.5 million for programmes in Lebanon might be increased? Could she also comment on how the vital co-ordination of humanitarian agencies’ work with UNHCR, which is needed to produce a more effective response to the complex challenges that they face, might also be applied to UNWRA? What is being done to facilitate co-ordination between the Gulf donors and the United Nations?
I end with the emotional plea of one elderly Palestinian woman I met outside the Wevel refugee camp not far from the Syrian-Lebanese border: “We are human beings but we are being forced to live like animals. Please help us”. She will of course be helped when a ceasefire takes place and a political solution is found that leads to peace, but we cannot leave her and the many others like to suffer so terribly until that happens. We have to prepare for a protracted humanitarian emergency with longer-term funding, allowing NGOs to plan for the future. We should also be aware that an end to the conflict and a post-Assad regime will not necessarily lead to an end to sectarian violence. I hope that the UK Government will act urgently to do all that they can in the international community to avoid a much larger-scale humanitarian disaster than the one that we already face today.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for initiating this debate.
The appalling humanitarian crisis in Syria is heaping significant pressure on neighbouring countries that are wilfully accepting refugees fleeing in search of a safer environment. I maintain very close links with the kingdom of Jordan and, as such, want to place a particular focus on the situation there. Since early 2011 some 500,000 Syrian refugees have fled to Jordan, an increase of two-thirds on the number that were already settled there beforehand. Of even greater concern is the extent to which the intensity of the crisis is increasing. Of those 500,000, 46% arrived just in the first quarter of this year. By these numbers, Jordan projects that an extra 1 million Syrians will enter the country in 2013.
Jordan has already established four refugee camps, run for the most part by the United Nations. However, it remains the case that only 40% of Syrian refugees actually reside in these camps, with the rest settling into numerous communities across the country. There are now monumental challenges to be overcome, just in terms of fulfilling basic human needs. Greater power generation is urgently needed, which will require greater imports of oil. This will have a negative impact on the economy and Jordan’s balance of trade. Jordan is already short of water supplies, and a sudden increase in population would serve only to put further pressure on an already strained system.
The Jordanian Government are also very concerned about the overcrowding in schools and the inevitable effect that this will have on the quality of education. Jordan has spent considerable money reforming its education system in recent times, and this overwhelming pressure undermines that progress. There are similar concerns in healthcare. Jordan has been providing thousands of vaccinations to Syrian children against a number of diseases and other forms of medical care to Syrians in general. Again, it is now in desperate need of extra resources and hospital expansions.
This has all come at a time of a slowdown in economic growth and employment rates in Jordan, as well as the country’s budget deficit reaching an all-time high. Last year, Jordan spent more than $251 million providing basic services to Syrians in its cities and communities. These costs are projected to skyrocket and my worry is that a potential emerging market such as Jordan is having its economy broken through its own goodwill to others.
Such a large and sudden influx of refugees is naturally going to present extreme political challenges, too. Some of the camps have witnessed riots and some Jordanian police have already been injured in clashes. While the security services are doing their best, it is impossible to ensure the completely smooth running of such a complex and ever-changing situation. The Government of Jordan have formulated their own response plan for the country to host an increasing number of Syrian refugees. I call on our Government to both increase their support to Jordan and use our position within the international community to call on others to do the same. We must all help to alleviate the pressure on Jordan’s fragile economy.
Diplomats at the Jordanian embassy in London told me that they see it as their moral and humanitarian duty to help anybody in the region seeking refuge and a better life. Given the level of tension and unpredictability in the region, I find such principles extremely heartening.
My Lords, I am very grateful to my noble friend for asking this Question. I found our visit to Lebanon, short as it was, very disturbing but in a few days I learnt a great deal, particularly about the special problems of the Palestinian refugees from Syria. Of course, these people are refugees twice over. In Syria, they had fled originally from their homeland and now have fled again from the conflict in Syria. Interestingly, before the violence erupted there surveys suggested that many of the Palestinian population found Syria the best country of their exile. They had educational and work opportunities denied in other places, and living conditions which were reasonably pleasant. All that has of course now changed and my noble friend has vividly described the terrible poverty and despair of the displaced families we met.
I also felt among them a great sense of frustration. Many people, as I said, came from settled lives in Syria and many had professional careers. We talked, for example, to several teachers who are now unable to work in Lebanon because of the restrictions imposed on them by the host Government. These restrictions seem in some ways to illustrate the tensions which there are between the refugee population and the Government of Lebanon. It seems to create an obvious double difficulty, as the teachers cannot help the many children who are now kicking their heels in refugee camps. Neither can they earn their own living, so that any support they have comes from the specialist Palestinian agency UNWRA—the United Nations Relief Works Agency.
This situation is of course not only one for teachers but for many other professional people who have come from a Palestinian background from Syria. I was somewhat surprised that the UNWRA officials we talked to seemed to accept this situation as given. As far as we could tell, they were not pressurising the Lebanese and telling them that they should be lifting the work restrictions in the face of the influx of new people. I must say that we were not entirely convinced that UNWRA has been sufficiently flexible in its approach to the newcomers from Syria.
In the high-level government meetings that I attended in Beirut, our delegation raised the question of giving Palestinians the right to work. We were told that new laws had been passed in 2010 to ease the employment restrictions and improve general civil rights, but those laws have never been implemented. The Libyan president, who we saw, was quite adamant: his Government must give first priority to protecting Lebanese jobs for Lebanese workers. The country’s political and economic situation is too fragile to do anything else. The threat of internal instability was ever present in our discussions. Indeed, the EU ambassador told us that she was surprised that the Government had not yet collapsed under the new demands.
Memories of civil war as well as hostilities with Israel still dominate the politics of Lebanon. Indeed, both Jordan and Lebanon—the small neighbours of Syria—have internal and strategic reasons to be unstable. If their Governments cannot cope with the current refugee crisis, particularly the Palestinians, this will create an international danger way beyond the humanitarian crisis. The domino effect that could occur would reverberate throughout the Middle East and beyond.
The UK Government have been commendably active and generous in trying to alleviate the practical hardships facing the thousands of displaced people, but the time has come for us also to give a lead in supporting the governance of Syria’s neighbours, which are dealing with unprecedented pressures on an already fragile economic and governmental situation.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for giving us this opportunity to debate Syria in this short period of time. It is sobering to speak yet again on the situation of the people of Syria in the context of humanitarian assistance. It speaks to our impotence that more than two years into the civil war, which is bordering on genocide, all these rich and powerful countries are simply squabbling between themselves about not violating national sovereignty.
We are in 2013, eight years since the General Assembly of the United Nations passed overwhelmingly a resolution defining the international community’s responsibility to protect, yet all we can do is offer sticking plasters and bandages to the 22 million people who have had the misfortune to be born of Syrian nationality, who are now killed or driven from their homes, or take up arms on one side or another.
It is right that we have a generous programme of assistance to those unfortunate enough to be displaced, either formally as refugees or informally, relying on their friends and families or simply co-religionists in neighbouring Jordan, Lebanon, Iraq or Turkey. We have heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, as well as the noble Baroness, Lady Jay, and the noble Lord, Lord Sheikh, about the fragile situation in those countries. Our attempts to stabilise them are to be commended but to restrict this debate to the humanitarian situation, while pragmatic in the best British tradition, is to miss the point.
If the civil war continues for the next few years, there will potentially be no Syria left. What we might find when everyone is exhausted of fighting and everything is destroyed is a series of provinces run by warlords or rebel armies, ethnically cleansed, existing in a sullen peace if peace is there at all—a larger Yemen, in the grip of al-Qaeda or other Salafi groups, controlling their own territories with different degrees of terror, in the name of Islam.
So what is to be done by the West or at least by the United Kingdom and France? For a start, we should let the EU arms embargo expire so that arms can flow to the Free Syrian Army. Syria is flush with arms. They are mainly going to our opponents in the terrorist groups or to our opponents in the regime of Bashar al-Assad. Moreover, we should seriously contemplate enforcing a no-fly zone, at least over the part of the country that we might declare a humanitarian enclave, and then press the Syrian national coalition to work with the elements of the FSA that are representative of all communities to run that enclave peacefully. To do so would require us to equip the Free Syrian Army more adequately.
Noble Lords will have seen the interview in the Financial Times with General Salim Idriss, the chief of staff of the various groupings in the rebel forces, which are described as the “supreme military command”. He says:
“What’s the point of medicines to save one wounded soldier if the regime’s air force is striking and killing 40 people at the same time?”.
The only argument used against supplying lethal weapons to the Free Syrian Army is that the weapons we might give them will slip away into the hands of Jabhat al-Nusra, which declared its allegiance to al-Qaeda only last week. In Istanbul General Idriss gave a commitment to the West that his people would track every single advanced weapon provided and return it when the conflict was over. If one did not believe his assurance, the question remains: how do we expect the conflict to end when Qatar, Saudi Arabia and other neighbours are arming some factions, while Russia and Iran are arming the regime? Our Government must ask themselves how they expect to bring the conflict to an end. Is it the surest way to stop humanitarian disaster just to continue if everyone bar us puts arms into the equation or provides military support? How do we somehow obtain a peaceful Syria? What are we to do if chemical weapons are used or if genocide is committed but we do not live up to our legal obligations under the genocide conventions? Noble Lords will know that the ICJ ruled only a few years ago that every state has a duty to prevent genocide. That was the ICJ’s case in Bosnia-Herzegovina v Serbia.
Therefore, for those who fear a repeat of Afghanistan, their inaction may well bring about an analogous situation nearer our borders and lie heavier on our consciences than they have seen before.
My Lords, I have just three points to make. The first concerns the humanitarian dimension of this crisis. The figures are horrendous. I shall not repeat what the noble Baroness has already said but simply note an acceleration in the number of refugees fleeing. There have been more than 40,000 a week since January, and in four host countries—Egypt, Iraq, Jordan and Lebanon—the number of Syrian refugees has to date already exceeded the UNHCR estimate for January to June this year in total.
We have already had our attention directed to Lebanon. It alone has received an influx equivalent to 10% of the host population, placing a huge strain on the country: communally, as most of the refugees are Sunni Muslim, which threatens Lebanon’s delicate communal balance; economically, as there are now food and power shortages; and socially, with a big increase in the crime rate. This inflow, bringing 32,000 Palestinian refugees from Syria into a country which already has around 450,000 Palestinian refugees, brings the potential for further destabilisation in a country where volatility is already great.
There are similar problems in Iraq, which not so long ago saw an exodus of its own refugees, particularly Christians, into Syria. It is now in receipt of at least 130,000 refugees, mainly in the Kurdistan region, with all its own uncertainty. Then there are other large concentrations of refugees inside Jordan with over 430,000, Turkey with nearly 300,000, and, increasingly, Egypt—a country which has also had to host a large Sudanese refugee population in the recent past.
Secondly, I turn to the geopolitical dimension. This very large movement of population not only is disruptive and damaging to individual lives, and a cause of deep concern for the receiving countries, with all the social, economic, demographic and political consequences that it brings, but is further undermining the stability of the region as a whole, as well as the sustainability of many of the existing states and political entities within it.
Just last week, António Guterres, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees, who had led the UNHCR through the worst of the refugee crises in Afghanistan and Iraq, said that in his view the Syrian civil war was more brutal than both and was already the worst humanitarian crisis since the end of the Cold War. With regard to refugees, he said:
“The system is at breaking point. There is limited capacity to take many more. Where are the people going to flee? Into the sea?”.
However, he then went on to speak about the potentially even more serious geopolitical implications, with the political geography of the post-Ottoman Middle East, which has been in place since the end of the First World War, perhaps for the first time beginning to be put into serious question. Should the substantial possibility of partition in Syria be realised, this would inevitably have grave ramifications in Lebanon, Iraq, Jordan and beyond.
In that context, I come to my third concern—the religious dimension—and especially the future of Christians across this part of the Middle East. For centuries, Christianity flourished in Syria, as it did in Iraq, and, it has to be said, since the Baathist coup in 1970 it has been a particularly safe haven for Christians fleeing from conflicts elsewhere. Indeed, one reason that Russia has refused to abandon President Assad is its sense of responsibility for Syria’s Orthodox Christian community, which is now under a sense of threat. Already, the Christian element of the Syrian population has fallen dramatically to around 10%, and Christians are continuing to haemorrhage from the area under the perceived threat of militant Islam. The spread of jihadist groups within the Syrian opposition and the growth of the mantra that “Islam is the solution” are only exacerbating this flight. Therefore, Christian refugees are fleeing into northern Lebanon as fast as Iraq’s 3 million refugees are beginning to pour back whence they came.
One estimate suggests that of the Christian community of Homs, until recently 150,000 strong, some 90% have now gone to Jordan, leaving only a tiny minority hanging on. Where Christians do remain, once cohesive communities marked by peaceful co-existence and co-operation are beginning to fragment, as those of different religious traditions increasingly draw apart. The disintegration, including the religious fragmentation, that has marked post-intervention Iraq, with all the desperate fallout and its consequences which that country continues to suffer, now looks to be replicated in Syria, and the exodus of refugees into neighbouring countries could exacerbate such a trend in this place as well.
On humanitarian assistance the UK has already done a great deal, but with so many western economies facing huge budget difficulties, what work have Her Majesty’s Government undertaken to meet their £50 million commitment at the Kuwait donor conference, and how will this money be spent? What diplomatic steps are Her Majesty’s Government taking, particularly with the Security Council, to seek ways of addressing the wider geopolitical concerns to which UNHCR has referred? What message, if any, does the Minister have for those Christians fleeing the area, and contemplating a Middle East in which they may no longer be secure or welcome?
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness most warmly on raising this extremely distressing but challenging subject. I have every sympathy with the points which the right reverend Prelate has just made. It was the Duke of Wellington who told the House of Lords on 2 April 1829 of his abhorrence of the nature and consequences of civil war. He said that,
“if I could avoid, by any sacrifice whatever, even one month of civil war in the country to which I am attached, I would sacrifice my life in order to do it. I say that there is nothing which destroys property and prosperity, and demoralizes character, to the degree that civil war does: by it the hand of man is raised against his neighbour, against his brother, and against his father; the servant betrays his master, and the whole scene ends in confusion and devastation.”
The iron Duke’s words still serve as an apt enough description of the terrible circumstances of the violent confrontation that has now raged for two years in Syria, and from which more than 1.38 million people have fled to neighbouring countries.
In the face of the huge and growing number of refugees, it is important that we do not forget that each one is an individual whose way of life has been shattered and impoverished. Frightened children, desperate women and the very elderly as well as the lame, the halt, and often the grievously disabled, daily make the long march to seek sanctuary in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey. Research by the children’s charity World Vision in the Lebanon reports how many of the youngest refugees speak of the violence and death they witnessed before leaving Syria. For example, it tells us of one eight year-old girl called Layla who recounted,
“I saw my cousin dying in front of me, so I always see this scene in front of my eyes.”
Other children describe images of their homes and schools burning, or of people getting shot and tanks roaming the streets of their neighbourhoods.
Earlier this month, the United Nations warned that the World Food Programme was running out of funds to help feed the Syrian refugees, as large amounts of money pledged for aid have not been forthcoming. Apparently, the provision of food aid in Lebanon is under threat as early as next month unless urgent new funding is received. World Food Programme officials have stressed that they cannot simply rely on donations from countries such as the United Kingdom and the US. They have particularly singled out Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, Qatar, the United Emirates and Kuwait, whose promised large donations have not arrived through UN channels but instead, the World Food Programme claims, are often being donated directly to opposition groups. In total, around $400 million out of the $1.5 billion pledged by international donors in January have actually been committed.
There are three terms for describing humanitarian aid. The first is contribution, which means that funds to a recipient organisation have been delivered. The second is commitment, which comes with contractual obligations. The third is the pledge, which is not binding and is only an announcement of intention. However, with rapidly rising numbers, it is vital that the humanitarian aid reaches those for whom it is intended. Therefore, I hope that the Minister and Her Majesty’s Government will focus on the need for international co-operation in delivering contributions and commitments. I hope that assurances can be given that the Government will use their good offices to try to ensure that desperately needed aid gets through and that our Ministers continue to show moral courage in vigorously and publicly urging all nations to fulfil their financial promises.
My Lords, I, too, thank my noble friend Lady Blackstone for giving us the opportunity to consider this dreadful situation. First, I make a plea that we take this opportunity to express our solidarity with the front-line humanitarian workers who are doing so much on behalf of the international community. They are often very courageous people who deserve our full-hearted support.
I underline what has been said. If one is looking for an example of collective international cynicism, one has to look no further than at what has happened with the promises of assistance in this grim situation. To have had offered what amounted to some $1.5 billion of assistance at the recent conference in Kuwait and to now find the UNHCR telling us that only $200 million has been made available is a dreadful comment on us all. We need clear reassurance from the Government about what they are doing to make people live up to their reputations. It is little wonder that the cause of cynicism—if it is a cause—spreads so widely in the international community.
Dealing with refugees on this scale is, of course, highly complex. Specific elements arise within the general problem such as the acute needs of the elderly and those with physical and mental disabilities. Specialist support is crucial for people in those categories. There is also the whole issue of psychological trauma, particularly of children. I frequently think that in refugee situations around the world we give far too little attention to the assistance and support that can be provided for the psychiatric and psychological dimensions of the problem.
My noble friend rightly referred to the difference between the refugees in camps outside the country and those in more difficult, sometimes very distressing, situations who are not in camps. We have to ensure that whatever is being done in mobilising assistance is reaching and supporting both communities. In the middle of all this, we also have to remember that we must not engender a culture of dependency. We want to ensure that we are preparing people to return home. However, that is a big issue because how long will it take for any realistic expectations of return to be fulfilled? This issue is particularly acute in the spheres of education for the young and health. Turkey, Jordan, Lebanon and Iraq have played an immensely important part in keeping their borders open. However, they may well be tempted to close them at some point. We all have to think what that would mean. That, again, puts a responsibility on us all to make sure that we give them every possible support.
Perhaps the last point to be made in the time available is that all this is putting a burden on the people of those countries which do not have social provision of the highest order. Are we considering the weight that is falling on them? How can we support the programmes of the Governments in those countries to meet the needs of their own people in the context of this situation? That is important not only in humanitarian terms but to the long-term prospects of having a settled solution in the area, as antagonisms could very quickly become aggravated and escalate unless we look to the needs of the local populations.
My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend Lady Blackstone on securing this debate and I support everything that she said. I declare my interest as an adviser to the Council for European and Palestinian Relations, under whose auspices our parliamentary delegation recently went to Lebanon. The Syrian conflict is a huge humanitarian disaster with well over 4 million people, and growing, still within Syria’s borders needing humanitarian assistance, in addition to the at least 1.5 million people who have fled to neighbouring countries. The scale of the population displacement caused by this conflict must start to call into question the sustainability of some of the smaller neighbouring states involved, unless there is significant international help over a long period of time.
I want to focus briefly on Lebanon, which has received over 450,000 Syrian refugees across its lengthy border with Syria. That is more than 10% of its population. Let us imagine how we would feel if 6 million people suddenly appeared in the UK, considering the fuss that we have made about a relatively small number of eastern Europeans coming into this country. Around 10% of the people coming across the Lebanon border at the rate of about 7,000 people a day are Palestinian refugees. They are fleeing from their camps in Syria, which have been bombed by Bashar al-Assad’s military. It is very difficult to explain to them why a no-fly zone was appropriate in Libya but is not appropriate in Syria.
The plight of these refugees, especially that of children, is heartbreaking. Most of them are fleeing across the border with little more than the clothes that they are standing up in. Lebanon, which has considerable political and economic problems of its own, as has already been mentioned, is paying a huge political and economic price for keeping its borders open—and, one must say, pretty much welcoming these people into their country in many ways. It is asking its own population for the most part to host these people. They call them guests, not refugees, and there are relatively few refugee camps into which these people are moving and living.
What we saw in Beirut when we visited the city were families of 20 to 30 people living in two or three rooms in bombed buildings that are open to the elements, with little access to water or toilet facilities. They sleep in shifts because there is not enough space for them to sleep at night. They are struggling with exorbitant rents, sometimes $500 a month, which is an enormous sum for these people. It is charged by what I can only describe as racketeering landlords, and there is a lack of food, clean water and medicines. Some have untreated wounds and illnesses. Many are groups of vulnerable women and children with few, if any, accompanying working-age men. Where there are men, they are forbidden by local labour laws from working. Even in the well run volunteer organisation camp that we visited, where the accommodation and facilities are less primitive, dangerous electricity systems and inadequate sanitation present their own hazards on top. The meetings that we had with UNRWA on our visit were less than encouraging. Many of the countries that pledged money at the January Kuwait summit have simply not followed through with the cash.
I do not have time to go further, so I should like to close by posing a couple of questions for the Minister. Are the Government satisfied that all the pledges made at the Kuwait summit are being delivered in terms of hard cash for UN relief agencies to use for Syrian refugees? If not, what action will they take with their international colleagues—with a particular focus, I have to say, on the Gulf states, which do not seem to have delivered on the promises that they made? Do the Government accept that the population displacement caused by the Syrian conflict is likely to prove permanent in many individual cases? What discussions do they contemplate having with international partners on this issue, particularly with regard to Palestinian refugees, many of whom have been subject to multiple displacements? We need to engage with these serious issues in a more strategic manner than we have been doing so far.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, for tabling today’s Question. As we have heard in this debate, there is an escalating humanitarian crisis in Syria. The situation is spiralling out of control, leaving relief agencies overstretched and struggling to cope. I thank all my noble friends for their first-hand accounts of the situation in Syria and neighbouring countries.
The two most strategic issues are, first, the need for longer-term funding to enable an effective humanitarian response and, secondly, as my noble friends have pointed out, the need for increased support for national authorities in neighbouring countries. DfID has recently announced additional UK humanitarian funding for the response in recent weeks, which front-line agencies estimate will last approximately through to the summer. That is welcome, but it has become increasingly clear that this is not a short-term crisis. Longer-term funding for the host government authorities is necessary to ensure that their national infrastructure does not collapse under the refugee burden. As we have heard from the right reverend Prelate and my noble friend Lord Warner, the refugee influx into Jordan now constitutes 6% of Jordan’s population. Some estimates suggest that up to 1 million may have arrived by the end of this year.
Support for the host government capacity in Lebanon has been mooted as an element of the next UN appeal, to be announced on 28 May for the period June to December this year. I understand that DfID has also seconded one staff person to a government ministry in Lebanon to assist in liaising with the UN system on the humanitarian response. It is possible that other steps are being taken that I am not aware of, but support for the host Government has not featured in a serious way in the UN-led humanitarian strategy for Jordan, and that needs to change.
I have a number of specific points and questions to put to the Minister in respect of these key elements of the strategy. What steps will DfID take to provide longer-term funding to enable a more effective humanitarian response to what is proving to be a long-term crisis? Can DfID ensure that its future funding pledges will allow for multi-year programming by agencies, and use its influence to encourage the UN system and other donors to shift beyond the current short-term six-month timeframes?
What steps will Her Majesty’s Government take to increase support to host government authorities in neighbouring countries to cope with the refugee influx? Will there be a particular focus on supporting health services, water sanitation and education, on addressing the needs of the host communities and, as we have hard from my noble friends, on addressing the rising tensions between host communities and refugees?
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for securing this debate. The scale of the humanitarian crisis in Syria and the region has reached catastrophic proportions. We already have a protracted humanitarian emergency. While the suffering of ordinary people increases, humanitarian operations on the ground are becoming ever more constricted, as we have heard from noble Lords.
When the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, briefed the UN Security Council last Thursday, she said:
“We are approaching a point of no return”.
The international political agenda must now refocus itself on the humanitarian response. Without this, the human suffering will only worsen and the threat to the stability of the region will be ever more severe, as noble Lords have so clearly flagged up. My noble friend Lady Falkner and other noble Lords portray a very chilling and bleak picture.
More than 70,000 people have died. Some 10 million people—half of Syria’s population—could be in need of assistance by the end of the year. The commission of inquiry has found evidence of war crimes and crimes against humanity. Children have been murdered, tortured and subjected to sexual violence. The long-term implications of such horrors are huge.
The right reverend Prelate has noted the effect on the Christian population. Minorities often suffer disproportionately in these situations, as we are well aware.
The humanitarian situation is now desperate, but it could rapidly worsen should chemical or biological weapons be deployed on a large scale. The implications of the usage of such weapons, accidental or otherwise, are extremely serious. Such weapons usage could lead to large numbers of critically ill persons as well as causing major population movements across the region, as noble Lords have flagged up. All parties to the conflict must recognise the seriousness of the threat posed by these weapons. We are increasingly concerned that there is evidence of the use of chemical weapons in Syria, and we press the UN to investigate further.
The crisis is having a devastating impact on the region. More than 1.3 million refugees have now fled Syria for other countries in the region, and the UN predicts 4 million refugees in the region by the end of the year. This is putting unprecedented strain on the Governments and communities so generously hosting refugees. We are well aware of the effects on those countries. That is why aid is targeted to them, in answer to the noble Lord, Lord Collins. Aid is often given in a way that supports not only the refugees but their hosts as well.
The right reverend Prelate was right to say that the system is near breaking point. Prior to the refugee influx, Jordan was facing its own internal domestic challenges. There are now almost 500,000 Syrians in Jordan, with approximately 2,000 more arriving each day. While media images often show refugees living in camps, such as Zaatari, the majority of refugees live, as noble Lords have emphasised, in Jordanian communities, which were already resource-constrained. Tensions are already beginning to rise. Last weekend saw the most serious violent incident to date in the Zaatari refugee camp.
Lebanon is hosting 428,000 refugees. The projected refugee caseload by the end of the year is 1 million. As the noble Lord, Lord Warner, flagged up, that means that one in four people in Lebanon will be a Syrian refugee. The cost to the Lebanese economy is no less worrying. The response for July to December 2013 is expected to be $600 million. The refugee influx is also putting pressure on Lebanon’s delicate political balance. North Lebanon has already seen increasing levels of violence spilling over from the conflict in Syria.
Turkey and Iraq are hosting 291,000 and 133,000 refugees respectively. Egypt is now hosting more than 50,000 refugees. As the right reverend Prelate noted, Egypt has also hosted Sudanese refugees. As numbers increase, so too does the need for the international community to respond.
The noble Baronesses, Lady Blackstone and Lady Jay, and the noble Lord, Lord Warner, were right to flag up the position of the Palestinians. The impact on Palestinian refugees is acute. Of a pre-crisis population of 500,000 Palestinian refugees in Syria, 400,000 are now in need of urgent assistance. A further 40,000 have fled to Lebanon and 5,000 to Jordan. As the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, highlighted, before the crisis Lebanon was already hosting close to 500,000 Palestinian refugees, and Jordan was hosting 2 million, in very difficult circumstances.
Countries hosting refugees must not be left to shoulder the responsibility alone. The UK has been and is at the forefront of international humanitarian efforts. We have provided more than £141 million in humanitarian funding to provide vital food, water and medical care to hundreds of thousands of people in Syria and across the region. We are very close to the top of the table in terms of our national input. We are assessing the level of support needed for the next two years, looking to the longer term.
I assure noble Lords that the United Kingdom is fully committed to the pledge that we made in Kuwait. Aid will go to the United Nations World Food Programme, the United Nations children’s fund, UNICEF, and the World Health Organisation to provide lifesaving assistance. We are also working tirelessly to encourage others to move from the pledges that my noble friend Lord Selkirk mentioned, through commitment to contribution. At a time of global financial constraint, the longer-term need to do so is self-evident.
Some £56.8 million of UK funding is going to support the refugee response in neighbouring countries. We are seeking to assist those host countries because we are well aware of the pressure on them. We are targeting some of the most vulnerable refugees. Our aid includes psychosocial help for people who have experienced trauma, including sexual violence, as well as £5 million to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency to support Palestinian refugees affected by the crisis.
We are supporting vulnerable host communities. For example, in Lebanon we are funding the delivery of clean water, undertaking upgrades to sanitation infrastructure and providing schooling in the Lebanese host communities. That addresses the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Collins. I reiterate to the noble Lord, Lord Judd, that we realise the importance of supporting children who have been traumatised.
Humanitarian aid to the region is only one part of the story. In Jordan and Lebanon the UK is also providing support through the Arab Partnership to support political and economic reform, as well as funds through the Conflict Pool to tackle the drivers of conflict and provide support, where appropriate, for security-sector reform. However, the levels of humanitarian funding remain woefully inadequate. We continue to lobby donors to deliver on the pledges made at Kuwait. I can tell the noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, that the UN has still received only 52% of the funding that was pledged. We are working very closely with other countries. Last week Kuwait fully translated its $300 million pledge from the Kuwait conference. That is an update since I answered the Question of the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk, recently. We continue to use all channels to lobby those who have not yet committed their pledges.
In order to meet needs in the long term, the international community must radically increase the levels, timeframe and predictability of funding for its response, including by further engaging development actors such as the World Bank, the EU and the International Monetary Fund.
The noble Baroness, Lady Blackstone, asked how the funds were being distributed across the region. I can supply a lot of detail if needed, but will outline a few points now. For the UN appeal for Syria in the region there is a $1.5 billion contribution, with $0.5 billion going to Syria, $0.5 billion to Jordan, and $0.5 billion divided between Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. The UK and the UAE met with UN representatives in the Gulf recently to discuss closer co-operation over Syria. We constantly discuss with the Gulf states the importance of working together and with the UN in this area, something that noble Lords flagged up.
Access for humanitarian agencies operating inside Syria is indeed increasingly constrained, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, emphasised. They are facing considerable bureaucratic hurdles as well as enormous insecurity. The noble Lord is right to commend the enormous bravery of those working on the front line in Syria. The UK is calling on the Government of Syria to remove the bureaucratic barriers as a matter of urgency, and are calling on all parties in Syria to take immediate steps to ensure that humanitarian agencies have safe, full and unimpeded access to deliver lifesaving aid to those in need by the most effective routes.
I understand the frustration expressed by my noble friend Lady Falkner, who urges that we should consider no-fly zones and selectively arming. This is an extremely challenging situation. We believe that political transition has to be the best way to end bloodshed in Syria. However, in the absence of a political solution, it is right that we do not rule out any options. The use of chemical weapons would force us to revisit our approach but these are not straightforward or easy decisions, as my noble friend knows. I also point out to her that humanitarian enclaves in other contexts have not always operated to protect people; she will be acutely aware of that. At a minimum, we urge all parties to the conflict to respect international and humanitarian law and point out the consequences that we see through the International Criminal Court for those who do not do so.
We fully recognise the importance of this terrible conflict and the enormous challenges in tackling it. Noble Lords have rightly highlighted the particular destruction and devastation of civil war. We seek a negotiated end to the conflict and continue to work with UN Security Council members in pursuit of this. I assure noble Lords that we will continue to monitor closely the situation in Syria and the region. We will remain, as we have been thus far, at the forefront of the international humanitarian response.
Committee adjourned at 7.13 pm.