House of Lords
Thursday, 21 November 2013.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Birmingham.
The following Act was given Royal Assent:
High Speed Rail (Preparation) Act
Internet: Copycat Websites
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to discourage customers from using copycat websites that charge for services, such as European Health Insurance Cards, that are provided free of charge by government departments.
My Lords, most users access digital government services via the major search engines. This user behaviour has been used to inform the design of gov.uk so that government services consistently come at the top of search results. Easy access to and education about the official source of digital government services is the main way the Government protect users from inadvertently using non-official sites. The Government will continue to take action against websites that misrepresent their relationship with government and misuse government logos.
I thank my noble friend for that reply, but is he aware that if he googles “European Health Insurance Card”, the first two or three sites that he will come to will charge him something more than £20 for the card, whereas if he goes down to the National Health Service official site, he can get one for free? There are other examples of this, most notably passport applications where one can pay well over £40 for something that one can do oneself for nothing or go through the Post Office and pay just over £8 for help with filling in the form. Does my noble friend agree that some of these sites, to a non-legal eye anyway, come very close to passing themselves off as the official site? Would not the solution be for the Government to make sure that their site, even if it costs money with Google, always comes first on the list?
My Lords, I spent some time on Tuesday afternoon looking at some of these sites. I confirm I had not realised—no doubt a number of noble Lords have not realised—that the first two or three sites to come up on the list are sponsored ads, which is indicated in very, very small print. In all cases, the top site of the non-sponsored ads was the gov.uk website. I also checked a number of the sponsored ads, which are extremely well designed. They all say that they are not an official website, but it is quite easy if you are in a hurry to miss that paragraph. Perhaps I should add that Transport for London also suffers from this if you are paying your congestion charge. I suspect that one or two noble Lords have paid more than they should for their congestion charge on one or two occasions.
My Lords, if that be the case, what can the Government do about it?
My Lords, the Government could pay, as the noble Lord, Lord Brabazon, suggested, which perhaps would drive up the cost of sponsored ads—or perhaps they could intervene and forbid search engines from carrying sponsored ads in that place. I think that we would be hesitant to do that. The Government are in constant dialogue with Google. We look at these sites and check on the number of complaints—and after agreement with Google a number of these sites have been removed. The subtle design of them clearly is improving.
My Lords, I share the concern about copycat websites, but is my noble friend aware that there are occasions when the Government make money out of services that should be free? Surely, what is right for the private goose should be right for the government gander. For example, for many years now, government departments and agencies have been using 0870 high-rate telephone numbers. This has resulted in a change, but I understand from a news item this month that some £56 million is already being made by government out of services that ought to be free to the citizen and taxpayer. It is outrageous that this continues. Will my noble friend give an assurance that it will be dealt with?
My Lords, I do not want to be tempted down the road of what the Government should charge for and what we should provide free. The Government do, after all, charge for renewing a passport—one of the most frequent areas in which other services then charge on top of the government fee if you answer a sponsored ad by mistake.
My Lords, should the Government not now call time on the people who operate these sites? I suggest that the Government speak to the internet providers and tell them not to accept these sponsored ads. Secondly, can the Government and TfL not refuse to accept the payment? That would solve the problem.
My Lords, I am not entirely sure that I am familiar with the legal subtleties of this. A number of government agencies and authorities have looked in detail at this and we are in constant dialogue with the search engines about these sites. As I said, they are extremely well designed and all of them claim to offer additional services, but there are occasional complaints that the additional services are not fully provided.
My Lords, is my noble friend aware that I became a victim of a TfL scam on congestion charging some three weeks ago? When I phoned my bank to stop the payment, I was told that it could not be stopped because the money was taken at point of sale. It is quite disgraceful that these people are able to do this. Will my noble friend do all that he can to marginalise the perpetrators of these scams?
My Lords, the Government Digital Service, by whom I was fully briefed for this Question, is actively working with other departments of government to see how far it can control this. Of course, not all of these sites are hosted within the UK. We are familiar with many overseas agencies that get into the ether and do this.
My Lords, in the dash to digital by default, will the Government remember that in addition to some people not even being connected to the internet, others are very unfamiliar with using it for business? They are vulnerable to these people taking advantage of them. Will the Government, therefore, in addition to monitoring this, ensure that there are easy routes to redress and compensation when such a service has been mis-sold?
My Lords, these scams are concentrated on the sort of services that people access only occasionally—to renew driving licences, passports, the European Health Insurance Card and those sorts of things. There are also phishing efforts in which sites that claim to be HMRC say that you are offered a refund—I do not know whether the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, has fallen for that; he looks as though he might have done—and ask for your bank details. They then manage to gain access to your account.
My Lords, as another person who has inadvertently been involved, although not with congestion charging, the question that came to my mind was not how much the Government are discussing the matter with Google, but why the Government do not simply make it clear that they will not authorise other groups to provide services that the Government are statutorily required to provide to the taxpayer.
My Lords, quite a few of us have used private agencies to speed up getting passports or visas for other countries. Indeed, you can obtain visas through the House of Lords travel office. The question of how far private agencies should be enabled to assist in speeding up the process is difficult. The Government Digital Service and a number of other government agencies are actively engaged in following this. Of course, the internet evolves as quickly as the Government chase those who are abusing their services, but I assure the House that the Government are actively engaged in looking to do everything we can to limit such activities.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government when Public Health England will publish its strategy for tuberculosis.
My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper, and declare an interest as a member of the All-Party Group on Tuberculosis.
Public Health England has made TB one of its main priorities, and is leading a coalition of key stakeholders to inform its development of a strategy for tuberculosis. This aims to bring together best practice in clinical care, social support and public health to strengthen TB control, leading to a year on year decrease in incidence and a reduction in health inequalities associated with TB. The strategy will be published by March 2014.
My Lords, I thank the noble Earl for his Answer, but is he aware that London is now known as the TB capital of Europe? It has some good facilities for prevention and treatment, but are those the same throughout the country? That is why the strategy is so important. There is plenty of tuberculosis—and drug-resistant tuberculosis, which is the big concern—in Birmingham, Bradford, Leicester and many other cities. Will he ensure that the strategy is pushed out as soon as possible? That is vital.
The noble Baroness is absolutely right about the seriousness of the position, especially in some of our big cities. I can tell her that a TB control board has been set up in London, where about 40% of TB cases occur in the UK. The board is developing a dedicated London TB plan to strengthen measures to prevent, diagnose and treat TB in London. There are similar initiatives in Manchester and Birmingham. However, she is also right to say that we need to focus on the rest of the country, not least some rural areas, and the strategy there will be different to identify cases, diagnose them quickly and intervene early. Work is going on to roll out the plans for that.
My Lords, does the noble Earl accept that some years ago there was an increased incidence of drug-resistant tuberculosis in the UK, and it was discovered that that was, at least in part, the result of the disease being detected in an increased proportion of immigrants? When I went to the United States in 1953 as a visiting fellow, I had to take an X-ray with me to show that I did not have TB. What is now government policy on the medical screening of potential immigrants?
My Lords, the policy now is that migrants to the UK from outside the European Union who apply for a visa for more than six months need to be screened in the country of origin. That work is proceeding, although I have to say that implementation has proved patchy, so we cannot be complacent. That is why it is vital to have services in this country capable of identifying people, particularly with multidrug-resistant TB, who may pose a threat to the community in that sense.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the cost of treating multi-drug-resistant TB is £100,000 a year, compared with the cost of £5,000 a year to treat non-resistant TB? We now have a new category of extensively resistant TB, which is even scarier. I hope that Public Health England will treat as a matter of urgency getting a national strategy that brings standards up to those of Homerton Hospital, which is completing treatment of most patients whereas the rest of the country lags behind.
The noble Lord is absolutely right. That is one reason why we are placing a particular focus on research into multidrug-resistant TB and diagnostics in that area. We fund UNITAID, which aims to triple access to rapid testing for MDRTB and to reduce drug prices for treating the condition. We have made a 20-year commitment to UNITAID of €60 million a year, subject to performance.
Following the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Walton, is the Minister aware that point of entry is very important? When I was involved in a health issue as a local councillor, we had a case of someone detected at Heathrow. It took two weeks to track him down, by which time he had infected 40 other people because he had moved into very limited accommodation where many people were all living in one room. This situation is developing again. What facilities are available at the airport now to pick up these cases?
My Lords, there are regulations covering ports and airports which provide a contingency for when a passenger on a ship or a plane enters the UK, is suspected of having a notifiable disease and perhaps refuses to seek medical attention. The regulations include provisions for notification of such a case to the destination port health authority and for the detention of that person for the purposes of a medical examination. There are also quite flexible powers for local authorities to deal with incidents or emergencies where infection or contamination presents or could present a significant risk to public health.
My Lords, I refer noble Lords to my health interests. The Minister referred to a number of strategies in London, Manchester and Birmingham. Will he confirm that the implementation, particularly of some preventive strategies, will depend on the work of TB specialist nurses? Is he aware that some budgets are under pressure and there is a risk that we will not have enough nurses to do the job? Will he guarantee that we will see an increase in the number of TB nurses?
My Lords, as the noble Lord is aware, NHS England allocates funding to clinical commissioning groups which commission health services on behalf of their local populations. It is for CCGs to decide how best to use the funding that is allocated to them, underpinned by clinical insight and knowledge of local healthcare needs. We expect health and well-being boards to have a major say in those areas where TB is commonplace.
One of the key strands of the directly observed therapy recommended by the World Health Organisation for TB is standard treatment with supervision and patient support. What steps are being taken to empower patients with TB so that they can support DOT? Is there an expert patients scheme, as there is with many other chronic illnesses?
My Lords, we do not regard directly observed treatment as necessary in the majority of cases. It is, however, helpful for certain hard-to-reach groups in society, for example, the homeless, and there are pharmacies which are equipped to do that.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what is their assessment of the impact of the result of the elections to the Constituent Assembly in Nepal on 19 November.
My Lords, the elections took place on Tuesday and the results are still coming in. The UK agrees with the provisional findings of the official observer missions that the election process in Nepal has been broadly credible. The announcement of the final results may take several weeks. These elections are necessary for Nepal to reach a durable, democratic and inclusive constitutional settlement. That is why the UK has been working to support them politically, technically and financially.
My Lords, Britain and Nepal are approaching 200 years of friendship. I know that the Government have been generous in assisting in the elections and in international development. However, there are some urgent tasks coming up. Nepal needs a new constitution, a new independent human rights commission to address human rights violations going back to the civil war, and to move forward on many other fronts. How is the UK going to help to move Nepal through a peaceful transition to constitutional democracy?
The noble Earl has asked some important questions. The Government’s view is that achieving a credible election is the first step towards moving to a much bigger peacebuilding exercise. The Government have committed £14 million to these elections—for election preparation, for holding the elections and to create the right environment for free and credible elections. That has been done alongside a significant contribution to peacebuilding both through DfID programmes and FCO-funded projects. We will continue to provide that support, and to support the drafting of a constitution which will underpin that peacebuilding. We will work alongside other development partners to continue to provide support once the new assembly has been formed.
My Lords, should not the people of Nepal be warmly congratulated on achieving a turnout of 70% in this very largely peaceful set of elections? However, can my noble friend say why we should think there is any better chance of reaching an agreement on the new constitution with the newly elected constituent assembly than there was with the old one? What steps can the Government take to further that process?
As my noble friend is aware, Nepal has had an unstable history, at least over the past two decades, which has resulted in a number of elections taking place but without progress being made. Of course we congratulate the people of Nepal on this election. Preliminary findings showed that violence was lower and there was a higher use of voter ID cards and a higher level of enthusiasm for the process. Although there were armed police around polling stations, they were not inside them. However, initial concerns have been raised about unaccredited, unidentified people within polling stations and some scuffles and confusion. It is important that we wait for the final results and then hope to build on that to support the people of Nepal to achieve the stability that they so deserve.
My Lords, these credible elections are no doubt a welcome sign, but can the Government give any indication of what might be possible in moving towards the agreement of a new national constitution in Nepal? These negotiations have been failing now for several years inside Nepal despite lots of encouragement from us and many other international donors and agencies, and there has been no progress whatever. These elections may herald an opportunity, but what steps will we encourage to try to ensure that there is progress in the very near future?
The constituent elections are being held to create a constituent assembly, which is all about having a remit to set about creating a constitution that is agreeable to all the people of Nepal. In the light of Nepal’s history it would be difficult for me to predict exactly when and how that will happen, but we are optimistic. As I said, we have been engaged in the process—not just the election process but the broader one—for a number of years, and my right honourable friend Alan Duncan has visited regularly. We are therefore heavily engaged in this; DfID is heavily engaged, as is the FCO with its conflict work.
My Lords, will the Government consider the establishment of a truth and reconciliation commission to address many outstanding instances of human rights violations?
Of course we would support that, and indeed that is one of the issues that were at the forefront during the elections. It is the only way that we can really see justice done, and in which the whole of Nepal can move forward.
My Lords, when did Her Majesty’s Government conclude that they have all events in this country so well under control to the public benefit that they can afford to spend so much time, not least in this House, on discussing the affairs of other countries which are not within Her Majesty’s jurisdiction? Can we spend a little more time on our affairs and a little less time following the example of Prime Minister Blair, whose Government had such disastrous results when they interfered in the affairs of other countries?
My noble friend always makes interesting points. However much I thoroughly enjoy coming to the Dispatch Box almost on a daily basis, I do so in response to the questions of your Lordships’ House, and I will continue to do that as long as there is interest.
My Lords, going back to the Question itself, can the noble Baroness do anything to discourage the Government of Nepal from contemplating new electoral boundaries which may be along ethnic lines and would certainly be a diversion from the other priorities?
This is, of course, a live debate in Nepal, but I think that we can take some comfort from the fact that voting purely along ethnic lines was not in the forefront of people’s minds when they were polled. People were concerned with everyday issues such as unemployment and electricity. That was the indication of the public and we hope that that is how their leaders will respond.
To ask Her Majesty’s Government, in the light of the withdrawal of a private-sector bidder from plans to manage defence procurement through a government-owned, contractor-operated organisation, whether they have any plans to close off that option.
My Lords, a review is under way to assess two options—a government-owned, contractor-operated entity and a transformed DE&S+, remaining in the public sector. We remain convinced that we absolutely must change our process to deliver the best value for money for the taxpayer and enable the right equipment and support to be delivered on time for our Armed Forces. The status quo is simply not acceptable.
My Lords, is the reality not that the GOCO competition concept is now totally dead in the water? It is quite impossible to run a competition with just one bidder. The very fact that this one bidder, the Bechtel consortium, has a bid in of 1,200 pages surely draws attention to the manifest absurdity and complexity of the bid process.
This concept has been driven through by Bernard Gray with very little support in MoD and the services; should not he now, in the circumstances, given that it has collapsed, consider his own position and consider resigning? But is not the real culprit the Treasury, whose bone-headed attitude over the years has restricted the MoD in employing the quality of people from the private sector, bringing in private sector disciplines, to handle and manage our £14 billion procurement budget properly? So is not DE&S+ the answer, as supported by many noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Levene and Lord West, who sadly cannot be here today?
My Lords, on my noble friend’s first point, the very fact that one commercial bid team has submitted a bid shows that it believes that there is a potential deal and it can deliver against requirement. We have always known that running a defence acquisition would be challenging, which is one reason for testing through the assessment phase whether it can be done. As for my noble friend’s second point, he is right to recognise the specific needs of defence acquisition and support personnel to match the professionally motivated defence industry. That is why we are very clear that, whatever option we choose, we will need to work with colleagues across relevant departments to put in place the necessary freedoms of operation to provide our Armed Forces with the right kit at the right time and deliver the best value for money for the taxpayer.
The only outside bidder left in this process is a consortium led by Bechtel, a company with a litany of mismanagement of public service contracts, from Iraq to Romania to the United States. In Boston, for instance, it was responsible for the Big Dig, a tunnel construction project that went $1 billion over budget—and two-thirds of the problem was down to its mistakes. Given its mismanagement of the Big Dig, if Bechtel gains control of our defence procurement, will not Britain’s defences end up in a big hole?
My Lords, the answer is no. The materiel acquisition partner’s team comprises Bechtel, as the noble Lord says, PricewaterhouseCoopers and PA Consulting, a consortium of world-class private sector businesses. The team has extensive experience of complex programme management; between them, they have delivered programmes to the United Kingdom, the United States and to 140 other countries around the world. Bechtel has ranked as the largest programme-managing engineering and construction company in the United States for the past 14 years. Specifically, MAP members have been involved in the Crossrail and High Speed 1 rail projects, as well as the Jubilee line, and in transforming major businesses in both public and private sectors.
My Lords, it has been suggested that the consortium that withdrew did so because it did not trust the MoD’s numbers and there was far too great a risk of it being held to account on meeting targets based on erroneous assumptions. Could the Minister comment on that criticism and its accuracy?
My Lords, I cannot comment on the Ministry of Defence’s accounting procedures, but I have full confidence in them.
My Lords, my noble friend the Minister said that the status quo is not an option, and certainly there needs to be a massive improvement in the procurement capabilities and efficiency of the Ministry of Defence; it is a long-standing problem. However, when my noble friend Lord Lee says that you cannot have a competition with only one entrant, is it not true that the competition now is between an outside contractor—Bechtel and its consortium—and an in-house resolution? If we do that, will he ensure, because it is essential, that there is more continuity and expertise, as has been referred to, in the procurement section of the MoD?
My Lords, I can give my noble friend that assurance. Two processes are happening—one as a result of the single GOCO bidder and, as yesterday’s Written Ministerial Statement made clear, that requires a further review across government of the validity of the competition. Secondly, the MoD will be assessing the bid that we have on the table for a GOCO, along with a DE&S-plus proposal, when we have it, to see which will provide the best solution.
My Lords, on 19 November, a Written Ministerial Statement on the GOCO competition included a vague reference to a review by the Cabinet Office and the Ministry of Defence. This review, which I could not find on the MoD website, expressed grave reservations about a competition with two private sector bidders. A copy of the review is available only from the Library. Given the importance of this issue, and the Prime Minister’s commitment to have the most open and transparent Government ever, will the Minister commit to publishing the review in full on the MoD website? Further, if the Government are minded—it seems that the Minister is implying this—to continue the GOCO competition with only one private sector bidder, will he commit to a further joint review by the MoD and Cabinet Office on how such a competition is viable, and publish that review on the MoD website?
My Lords, as a Government we want to be open. I am sure that the review will be put on the website. Clearly, the contract is commercially confidential, so we would not put that on the website—certainly until the position is very much clearer. As far as a further review is concerned, we hope to make a decision on the validity of the competition very soon, and a final decision on the whole process by the Summer Recess. I am sure that the whole House will agree that it is important that we take a considered view before making any decision.
Defence Reform Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Business of the House
Timing of Debates
That the debate on the Motion in the name of Lord Alton of Liverpool set down for today shall be limited to three hours and that in the name of the Lord Bishop of Leicester to two hours.
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of Her Majesty’s Government’s policy towards countries responsible for violations of human rights.
My Lords, in just under three weeks’ time, we will mark the 65th anniversary of the adoption of a declaration which asserted that,
“disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want”.
It is as much a declaration of human dignity as a declaration of human rights. I hope that those words and the declaration’s 30 articles will serve as the architecture for today’s debate. These rights are universal and not available for selective enforcement according to culture, tradition or convenience.
Every year, the Foreign Office publishes a comprehensive report on human rights violations. It clearly should be followed by an annual debate in both Houses, the appetite for which is underlined by the distinguished list of speakers who will contribute today, albeit in speeches far too constrained by time limits. We eagerly await four maiden speeches: those of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, whose grandfather, Dr Alfred Wiener, dedicated much of his life to documenting anti-Semitism and racism in Germany, and whose first wife, Margarethe, died shortly after being released from Bergen-Belsen.
It was in the aftermath of those horrific events that the 1948 declaration was promulgated, the United Nations established, and the Nuremberg trials commenced. During today’s debate, I hope that we will reflect on whether the Security Council, the General Assembly, the United Nations Human Rights Council, which replaced the discredited Commission on Human Rights in 2006, and the International Criminal Court, established by the Rome statute in 2002, have been effective guarantors of the high ideals of that declaration.
It is just 10 days since China, Russia, Saudi Arabia, Algeria, Cuba and Vietnam were all elected to the Human Rights Council despite concerns about their own human rights records and their decision to exclude United Nations monitors from their jurisdictions. Ban Ki-Moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, has said:
“All victims of human rights abuses should be able to look to the Human Rights Council as a forum and a springboard for action”.
But will they be able to do so with any certainty in the future? I shall be interested to hear whether the noble Baroness believes that international bodies charged with upholding human rights should be wholly independent of national governments who violate them.
China, in particular, has huge diplomatic, political, economic and military influence, and its attitude will determine the shape of global attitudes to human rights. Through the Opium Wars to the Rape of Nanking and the horrors of Mao Tse-Tung, China has itself suffered gross human rights violations. The protection and promotion of human rights should not only be seen as a moral cause, but it can never be in a nation’s self-interest to see universal freedoms and values trampled upon.
In today’s debate, we will hear about the situation in many countries and we will hear many themes, from female genital mutilation and the use of rape as a weapon of war to the killing of human rights monitors—in Colombia 37 have been murdered already this year—from human trafficking and repression arising from sexual orientation to the caste system, which inflicts such misery on Dalit people. Sometimes the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is seen as an à la carte menu from which we may pick and choose. But these rights stand together. None should be emasculated; they are there for a reason.
Let me give one example. In a report by Members of your Lordships’ House, Article 18 was dubbed an “orphaned right”. Sidelining a right which upholds the right to belief, or indeed the right not to believe, is a serious error and the failure to uphold this orphaned right is leading to appalling consequences. As the noble Baroness the Minister rightly warned at Georgetown University last week, there is a need to “build political will” and to actively uphold the Human Rights Council resolutions on the treatment of minorities and tolerance towards other faiths. She said that in large parts of the world Christians “face extinction” and that senior politicians in countries like Pakistan have a “duty” to denounce persecution and to set a standard for tolerance. The noble Baroness is right and she is to be commended for leading by her own formidable example.
There are growing restrictions on freedom of conscience that range from the suffering of the Ahmadiyya Muslim communities in Pakistan and Indonesia to the plight of the Baha’is in Iran and Egypt; from the Rohingyas and other Muslims in Burma to Falun Gong, Tibetan Buddhists and Uighur Muslims in China, and of course Christians in these countries as well as in countries as diverse as Egypt, Syria, Nigeria, Sudan, India, Eritrea and Cuba. But I stress that it is not only people of religion who suffer from violations of Article 18. In Indonesia a young man, Alexander Aan, has been jailed because he declared himself an atheist. For that, he is serving a two and a half year sentence in a remote prison in west Sumatra. Whatever our beliefs, the defence of Article 18 is therefore something which all of us should champion.
Among the organisations mandated to defend human rights that needs urgently to be strengthened is the International Criminal Court. It is mandated to prosecute individuals for genocide, war crimes and crimes against humanity, but it has been wholly inadequate in its mechanisms of enforcement. Let us take the situation in sub-Saharan Africa. Last week I met Dr Kasereka Jo Lusi, a remarkable surgeon who works in Goma in eastern Congo. He told me that an average of 48 women are raped every single hour in the DRC. Twenty different militias carry out these horrors with impunity. Why is no one brought to justice and what can we do to promote a paradigm shift in attitudes and beliefs towards women and girls? In confronting impunity, why is it that Joseph Kony, who created the LRA killing machine responsible for terrible atrocities and indicted by the ICC, has not been brought to justice? Why does the indicted Sudanese president, Omar al-Bashir, remain at large? Bashir has been hosted by signatories of the Rome statute, which stipulates that they have a duty to co-operate with arrest warrants. What have we done to seek compliance?
Within the past month, I have made speeches in this House about Egypt and Sudan. Can the Minister give us her latest assessment of the continued aerial bombardment of civilian populations in Darfur and the Nuba mountains? There is also the plight of Copts. We saw the murder of two little girls at a recent Coptic wedding and the orgy of violence which I have described as Egypt’s Kristallnacht.
In May, I raised human rights abuses in Pakistan. If the assassination of Shahbaz Bhatti, the Cabinet Minister, who was well known to the Minister and who was charged with upholding the rights of minorities, remains unsolved, what faith can ordinary citizens have in the justice system? Why should potential attackers fear the law? What progress is being made in bringing his murderers to justice?
Last week, the Minister replied to my Written Question about the discovery of two mass graves in Sadad, in Syria. Yesterday, Human Rights Watch issued a new report on the 45 people killed there by the Islamist militias of al-Nusra Front and Daash. Are we any closer to verifying those accounts or to bringing to justice those who have used chemical weapons and those responsible for the daily violations of human rights using conventional weapons?
On Tuesday, I visited the protesters who, for 10 weeks, have been on hunger strike outside the American embassy in London, protesting about the massacre of Iranian democracy activists shot at close range at Camp Liberty in Iraq in September and who are highlighting the execution of 120,000 political prisoners, including women, in Iran since 1979. I hope the Minister will respond to the account of Tahar Boumedra, the former head of UNAMI, about the massacre in Camp Liberty, which my noble friend Lady Boothroyd, the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Waddington, I and others sent to William Hague, the Foreign Secretary, yesterday. Can she tell us when we last raised these issues with Nouri al-Maliki, the Prime Minister of Iraq? How did human rights violations figure in this month’s decision to upgrade our diplomatic relations with Iran?
As the Prime Minister discovered last week at CHOGM in Colombo, the judgments we make about when and how to engage on human rights questions can derail delicate relationships and even threaten the cohesion of admirable organisations such as the Commonwealth. What balance do we strike as we consider the complex questions of engagement?
I will conclude with the example of North Korea, which, with 200,000 people in its gulags and egregious violation of human rights, is sui generis—in a class of its own. Almost all of the rights set out in the Universal Declaration are denied. Only yesterday, the United Nations General Assembly’s human rights committee unanimously adopted a resolution citing the “systematic, widespread and grave” human rights violations in North Korea, including torture, the death penalty for political and religious reasons, and the network of political prison camps.
I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, which, at evidence-gathering sessions, has regularly heard from escapees. Earlier this year, I published some of those accounts and, last month, I gave evidence to the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. I have advocated the need for such an investigation for many years and pay tribute to Her Majesty’s Government and other Governments for working to secure its establishment. The inquiry has heard accounts of arbitrary imprisonment, torture, slave labour, rape, summary execution, forced abortion and medical experimentation. It has heard how three generations of a family can be dispatched to North Korea’s vast gulag system for such “crimes” as criticising the political leadership. It heard of a mother forced to drown her own baby in a bucket, of prisoners scavenging through excrement for morsels of food, of inmates forced to live on rodents, grasshoppers, lizards and grass, and of an inmate watching the public execution of his mother and brother. Mr Justice Kirby, the Supreme Court judge from Australia who chairs the commission of inquiry, said he wept on hearing many of these accounts.
I have visited North Korea four times, three times with my noble friend Lady Cox. On each occasion we have confronted the North Korean regime with its appalling human rights record. Precisely because of its isolation, I have long proposed a policy of constructive, but critical, engagement with North Korea, what I have termed, “Helsinki with a Korean face”, following the model of our approach to the Soviet Union at the height of the Cold War in the Helsinki process—a robust stand on security and a critical stand on human rights but a willingness to put those issues on the table and talk face-to-face with the regime.
Only a week ago, the Times reported that the regime carried out 80 public executions in seven cities on one day—3 November—for alleged crimes of watching South Korean television dramas or owning Bibles. The Times said that they were allegedly tied to stakes, hooded and killed by machine gun. In the 1990s, 2 million people died of starvation in a country which puts its resources into a nuclear capability and one of the world’s largest standing armies. In January the Sunday Times reported that in two provinces, North Hwanghae and South Hwanghae, as many as 10,000 people had died of starvation and that the starving had resorted to cannibalism. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether we have raised these reports with the regime through our ambassador in Pyongyang, and describe our engagement with the United Nations commission of inquiry.
In March I had the opportunity to meet Daw Aung Sang Suu Kyi in Burma. She famously said:
“Please use your liberty to promote ours”.
Perhaps that is the purpose of a debate such as this and of our being Members of your Lordships’ House. She told me that the BBC’s Burmese Service made a major contribution to the process of opening up Burma. There is much that can be learnt from this and applied to North Korea. Burma is an example of a country where the right combination of international pressure, the flow of information and critical engagement has led to progress.
More than 12%—one report says it is as high as 27%—of those who have escaped from North Korea say that they have heard broadcasts from outside the country. The BBC World Service should make broadcasts to the Korean peninsula a priority. This would help to break the information blockade in the north and promote democracy, human rights and the English language. A popular campaign has been launched by young South Koreans calling for this. To facilitate BBC broadcasts from Korean soil, changes to South Korean law would be necessary. Was that discussed with President Park during her recent state visit? The Government have expressed sympathy for the proposal. Are we taking the idea forward?
In confronting each of the challenges that I have described, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights provides us with a map and with a compass. I think that today’s debate will mirror the FCO’s six human rights priorities: women’s rights; torture prevention; abolition of the death penalty; freedom of religious belief; business and human rights; and freedom of expression on the internet. Many will doubtless concur with the Foreign Secretary’s view that human rights must be “at the heart” of British foreign policy.
We need to do far more to ensure that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is less honoured in its breach, and I hope that today’s debate will demonstrate the determination of this free Parliament to insist on the centrality of the declaration to our approach to foreign affairs while also providing a voice for voiceless people. I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on a wide-ranging and comprehensive speech, as well as on raising this debate at a very relevant time. Abuse of human rights takes a great many different forms, but it is on the often savage hostility currently being shown towards religious minorities in many countries that I wish to concentrate.
It was alarming to hear from the Minister only last week that, given the available evidence, Christianity is now in danger of extinction in some nations of the Middle East, which were the very birthplace of the Christian faith. She said:
“There are huge advantages to having pluralistic societies”,
and went on,
“we all have an interest in making sure that Christian communities do continue to feel that they belong and are not persecuted in the places where this religion was born”.
Indeed, the loss of religious freedom has a profound effect on not just the political arrangements in a country but the cultural, social and economic situation that exists there. The right to religious freedom is one of the fundamental promises about human rights made to people in some of the great declarations and finest speeches proclaimed down the years.
On 5 March 1946, while visiting Westminster College in the small Missouri town of Fulton, Sir Winston Churchill famously observed that an iron curtain had descended across Europe. It was less than a year since the war had ended and, with President Truman at his side, Sir Winston said:
“We must never cease to proclaim in fearless tones the great principles of freedom and the rights of man”.
Five years previously, in his State of the Union address, the United States President, Franklin Roosevelt, had spoken eloquently of the four great freedoms which must be fought for and upheld. He listed them as freedom of speech, freedom of worship, the freedom from want and the freedom from fear. While composing the speech, the President let three of his advisers into the secret of the imperishable soundbite that he was about to deliver. The famous “four freedoms” paragraphs were not included until they had been dictated by the President one night in his White House study and taken down in longhand by his aides to be added to the fourth draft. He ended his speech by saying:
“Freedom means the supremacy of human rights everywhere. Our support goes to those who struggle to gain those rights or keep them”.
These four freedoms were later enshrined in the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the new world authority in 1948.
As the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said, Article 18 promises freedom of religious worship, and among those who voted in favour were Iran, Egypt and Syria. It is clear that when this freedom of worship is abused, the other freedoms singled out by President Roosevelt are in jeopardy, too. This is because fear grips communities where extremism and violence rule, and want stalks the lives of refugees fleeing from persecution.
Democratic Governments who believe in human rights upheld by the rule of law must have the presence of mind and the will to raise such matters wherever religious minorities are being hounded and abused, whether by Governments or by other religious groupings. I must ask the Minister to give an assurance that the Government will have the continuing will and boldness to raise such sensitive issues in the countries under criticism. After all, if the Prime Minister could give a lead in relentlessly pursuing such matters in Sri Lanka last week, surely it is not too much to ask that other Ministers continue to speak out whenever they are dealing with those Governments who commit intolerable abuses of human rights.
A deliberate attempt is being made to engage in religious cleansing in certain communities which are seeking to force into extinction Christianity and a number of other minority religions. If rational discussion fails to produce results, we should seriously consider withholding overseas aid or other forms of economic assistance to those countries until such time as they are prepared to conform to civilised norms. I can see great merit in the suggestion made in another place by my right honourable friend Tony Baldry that the Government should consider appointing a special envoy for freedom of religion and belief who, working with other UN and US emissaries, could co-ordinate the United Kingdom’s diplomatic efforts in this field and shine a relentless spotlight on abuses.
I end with the words of the former Chief Rabbi, the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, quoting the eminent historian, Lord Acton. He said:
“The most certain test by which we judge whether a country is really free is the amount of security enjoyed by minorities”.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, on securing this debate and thank him for introducing it with such passion and wisdom. We are right to concentrate on the promotion of human rights rather than on the promotion of democracy, which has been in the air for quite some time. The rights are easy to identify and monitor, and there is greater international agreement on what rights are worth preserving and what rights are human rights. There is also greater international pressure for implementing those rights as opposed to the promotion of democracy, because democracy can mean many different things in many different contexts. Therefore, I particularly welcome our discussion of violation of human rights rather than violation of democratic norms.
It is also right to point out that we cannot deal with violations of human rights in the whole world; we have to be selective. In that context, it is important for us to concentrate on those countries with which we have close ties, and where we can make an impact. In that context I particularly thank the Prime Minister for the stand he took at CHOGM in Sri Lanka. He was right to go. I think that the Prime Minister of India was not right not to go. Our Prime Minister was right to visit Jaffna, commiserate with the Tamils, condemn the army operations which killed thousands of Tamils, demand an investigation into what actually happened during the war and afterwards, and meet the representatives of the Tamil group.
An equally sensible attitude is increasingly being taken with reference to Gujarat, the Indian state from which I come, where genocide took place in February 2002, when a large number of Muslims were killed with the complicity of the state. The American Government denied a visa to the Chief Minister but the British Government took a very sensible view and said nothing. Increasingly, the British Government began to recognise that we had no conclusive evidence that the Chief Minister had been directly and actively involved in what had gone on; after all, he had been in power for only four months. Nor did we ignore the fact that this sort of thing had happened in other parts of India, and therefore we could not single out one state alone. About 18 months ago, or perhaps a little less, the British Government asked the British high commissioner to India, Sir James Bevan, to visit Mr Modi, the Chief Minister of Gujarat. More recently, the Foreign Office Minister, Mr Hugo Swire, visited the place. In Kolkata recently, the Prime Minister said that he would be more than happy to meet any elected leader. This is not to exonerate the leader of his responsibility but simply to indicate that not talking to people is not the answer.
I wish to make three general points. First, as we cannot promote all kinds of human rights we obviously have to prioritise. Of the six priorities listed by the Government there is not much reference to the rights of trade unions, which in my view have played, and continue to play, an extremely important role. Business rights are fine but they are not supposed to include trade union rights. During the Arab spring, trade unions were the vehicle through which important radical change was achieved. Minority rights are also important. Generally, the standard definition of human rights concentrates on individual rights and tends to ignore minority rights.
Secondly, while we are right to condemn violations of human rights, we sometimes tend to ignore our own complicity in these violations. Large corporations based in our country sometimes engage in practices abroad that violate human rights or lead indirectly to violations of human rights. We ought to tighten up the monitoring of our corporations. Many violations take place during civil wars. We are sometimes complicit in instigating or tolerating civil wars in other countries, which can result in gross violations of human rights.
Thirdly, we tend to be selective about where we condemn violations of human rights and where we do not. Violations of human rights in Pakistan or Saudi Arabia are by and large ignored, whereas we tend to concentrate on them in countries such as China. This sometimes gives the impression that we are unprincipled and that we are using human rights discourse or issues to promote a particular political agenda. We need to ensure that we are principled when we condemn violations of human rights.
My Lords, I gently remind noble Lords that this is a time-limited debate. When the Clock hits five, speakers have had their five minutes. We want to ensure that we have enough time for our maiden speeches, the Minister’s winding-up speech and for the noble Lord, Lord Alton, to respond at the end.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on securing and introducing this important debate. It has been said that wartime rape is as old as war itself. Women’s lives and bodies have been unacknowledged casualties of war for too long, but now greater media awareness and reporting, probably in part because of the exceptional women journalists covering conflict, have brought wider knowledge of the extent to which rape is occurring. The consequences of rape are also better understood. Five years ago, a United Nations resolution described rape as a tactic of war and a threat to international security.
Rape is used as a punishment for men as well as women, by forcing men to watch as their wives, sisters, mothers and daughters are raped. Victims of rape are left emotionally traumatised, physically damaged and at risk of potentially fatal sexually transmitted diseases. Rape humiliates, dominates, instils fear and disperses communities. The after-effects of rape are felt for generations, as women bear their rapists’ children, and face shame and revulsion. Surely it is time to draw a line, and time for the international community to take rape as seriously as it does the use of other weapons. As my noble friend mentioned, hundreds of thousands of women have been raped in the Congo. Reports of rape have also emerged from the current conflict in Syria. When will women’s human rights be recognised and acted upon?
Rape is always an abuse of power. In the case of rape, it is an abuse of physical power. When communities are under threat, it is the weak and vulnerable who suffer the most. People with disabilities are subjected to more violence in any country, but more so in a country in turmoil, where people are concerned for their own lives and livelihoods and may not have the resources to look after the most vulnerable people in their communities. It may be as obvious as someone with physical disabilities being unable to flee rebel attacks, or as insidious as someone with a disability being last in the queue for food and water. Disabled women and girls are also raped.
The Human Rights Watch report of an investigation in Uganda in April and May 2010, which looked at the treatment of people with disabilities during conflict, was called As if We Weren’t Human. It was sobering reading indeed. Over one-third of the 64 women and girls with disabilities interviewed by Human Rights Watch had experienced sexual violence. Charity, a Ugandan woman with a physical disability, described how, in the camp,
“people told me: ‘You are useless. You are a waste of food.’ People told me I should just die so others can eat the food”.
Women reported being abused by aggressors because of their disabilities. A partially blind woman had her eyes removed because she had not seen where her husband kept his gun. A girl with learning disabilities was beaten and raped because she did not understand the questions she was being asked.
It is unusual for victims of rape and sexual violence in times of conflict to seek help, but when they do, those with disabilities are at a further disadvantage. Health centres and police stations are far away and victims rely on others to take them there, leaving them at greater risk of the untreated physical complications of rape. Police stations and courts do not have the resources to facilitate communication with those who have difficulties, such as the deaf and people with learning disabilities. Many girls and women with disabilities are illiterate and rely on their families for communication. Families will often not support a woman or girl in reporting a rape because of the additional stigma that rape brings to a family already stigmatised by disability.
The Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities recognises the specific vulnerabilities of those with disabilities and requires its signatories to take appropriate measures to protect such persons from exploitation, violence and abuse. We signed the CRPD in 2008, but what is our policy on those countries that do not comply with it? What is our policy on those that allow such human rights abuses to be carried out on women and girls? The G8 this year declared rape to be a war crime. Will the Minister explain to the House what the British Government are doing about it?
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this debate, and I also associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Selkirk.
Many of the pictures painted are dramatic and challenging, and I invite the House to think a little about the context that we are in and how we might approach some of these huge issues. The Government have identified six key priority areas, including women and freedom of religion, and those are the two things that I will look at in particular. We are in a world where we have ideals and fall short of them, and need to negotiate between the two.
In my own language, I start by inviting us all to look at the motes in our own eyes. I am embarrassed that my church has legislation in place to discriminate against women, as much religion still does. We are moving towards tackling these things, and the prime movers have been women themselves. One point that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, made is that the victims need to be listened to so that they can help us understand what changes are required. It is not legislation but the stories of the victims that need to come first.
We as a church have been criticised, rightly, for the long and tortuous path of giving women full access to leadership in our institution. It is very easy for society to think that we have already done that: we have sex equality legislation and human rights legislation. Noble Lords will know that next Monday is White Ribbon Day, when in this country we remember the increasing levels of violence against women in our society. That is part of the context.
Just yesterday I was involved in a debate for Parliament Week—where the theme, as we know, is “Women in Democracy: Women in Society”—about lads’ mags and the fact that companies such as Tesco sell these magazines along with cheese and cornflakes. They objectify women and normalise the offensive attitude of making women commodities. We give large companies such as Tesco the freedom to degrade the women in our midst. That is the context in which we come to this debate: the motes in our own eyes.
I will suggest a way in which we might move forward. I think that the Government already have some line on this: the Foreign Secretary talks about engaging with complexity and the Minister talks about being pragmatic. We need to be pragmatic in negotiating between ideals and reality. As a trustee of Christian Aid, I know that women are key to development, with new voices and new perspectives, but I also know through my work with Christian Aid that the human trafficking of women and girls is increasing exponentially. Therefore, the ideals and the practice are in enormous tension.
I turn briefly to my specific point. The 2012 list of countries about which we have particular concern does not include India. My diocese works with churches in north India and is especially involved with Christian Dalit peoples—the lowest caste. In the past week, I have been in touch with a colleague in Delhi who worked with Christian Dalit women. She told me about Lakshmi, who works on a construction site from six in the morning till six at night and has to sign a register saying that she is getting the minimum daily wage, although in fact she is paid less than half of it. She also told me about a girl called Anjum, who was put into a brothel at the age of 15 and, last week, was rescued by the churches. She had found herself in that position because she was a Dalit woman in that culture.
The Prime Minister has just visited India and is talking about a special business relationship with that country. We need that: it will be good. However, what can we put into that relationship that will lead these issues to be taken seriously? In your Lordships’ House earlier this year, we made a decisive intervention during the passage of the Enterprise and Regulatory Reform Bill about Dalits in our own country. First, how can we take that learning and that experience into our work with business in India to help people aim for a similar result?
Secondly, how can we maintain concern for women and girls caught up in the ever-expanding criminal work of human trafficking? Thirdly, how can we look at the motes in our own eyes and challenge the right of large companies such as Tesco to degrade women in the midst of selling cheese and cornflakes and make it normative? As has already been asked, how can we better play a role in the UN? Finally, I guess that I and my colleagues on these Benches need to go back to our own institution and ask how women can play a more constructive and creative role among us so that we have more integrity in contributing to this debate.
My Lords, at the moment I took the oath in the House I was filled with wonder and gratitude. There was gratitude to be given the privilege to sit among your Lordships and to contribute to your deliberations. There was gratitude to my supporting Peers, the noble Lords, Lord Owen and Lord Coe, the latter having forgiven me for defeating him in an egg and spoon race. What can I say? He can run but he dropped the egg. There also was gratitude to all the officials of the House. They have helped me to overcome every practical issue related to having a peerage, save the one that still vexes me; namely, how, in a suburban house containing three children and six guitars, do my wife and I fit a two-foot, red leather box with a large wax seal? I now understand the strategy of barons since the time of King John, which is to get a castle first and only then acquire a peerage.
Finally, there was gratitude that as the son of refugees I live in peace in this extraordinary country with its respect for human rights. It is therefore fitting that human rights should be the subject of my maiden speech. My mother is a survivor of Belsen concentration camp and my father was an exile in a Siberian prison village. Pinner is nicer. People often bemoan the absence of big ideas in British politics. I always reply that big ideas drove my family from their home and their country, murdered my grandmother, starved my mother, imprisoned my father and stole our property. So I like pragmatic, small British ideas, our quiet suburbs and our stable institutions. My politics were never better summarised than by my paternal grandmother saying, “While the Queen is safe in Buckingham Palace, I am safe in Hendon Central”.
My necessarily brief contribution to this debate is that we in this country have a special understanding of the value of allowing people to live their life in peace as they see fit, to enjoy their privacy and never having to fear what they are because they fear their neighbours or the state. For that reason, because of the respect for that fundamental human right, we have become a leader in extending to gay people the freedom, equality and respect that should rightfully be theirs.
However, with that leadership comes a responsibility. Last year, the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights identified 76 countries which criminalise private, consensual same-sex relationships. Even where homosexuality is not illegal, all over the world lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people are subject to arbitrary arrest, violence and torture. When they are the victims of crime, they cannot turn to the police or the authorities because it is they who will be arrested. They are left defenceless. In Iran, there are secret executions; in Cameroon, there is torture and imprisonment; and, in Belarus, there is police intimidation and confiscated passports.
The only complaint that these countries can make is: why pick on them? The disrespect that they show to fundamental human rights, and the way in which they defy international law, is not theirs alone. It is common. I recognise—we all do—that there are limits to what we can do and I know that much of what we can do we are doing. It is right to pursue a policy of active diplomacy; right to link aid to the Commonwealth to the question of gay rights; and right to use bilateral diplomacy to, for instance, raise Russia's discrimination against gay people. Perhaps, as the Foreign Office reviews its priorities in its human rights policies, which I am sure it does from time to time, it might consider whether the rights of LGBT people should be among them. After all, internationally, if it is not us, who is it?
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for that extraordinary tour de force that describes the parlous state of human rights in the world today. We are grateful to him because he is dogged in his determination to continue to raise these issues and to make our consciences awake. I am delighted to be speaking here today but I cannot continue without congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, on his extraordinarily witty and elegant speech, which was serious too in subject matter. We wholeheartedly support his views on LGBT rights.
The noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and I have two things in common. We are both alumni of the London School of Economics, that hotbed of political radicalism. We both started political life as members of the Social Democratic Party—less of a hotbed of political radicalism. But it is well known that the noble Lord could not really contemplate a future with the Liberals or indeed the Lib Dems when the merger between the SDP and the Liberals happened and he made his way to the Conservative Party. But as with all things in life, what goes around comes around and we are both now happily united under the wonderful umbrella of coalition government. I am sure that I echo the sentiments of the whole House when I say how delighted we are to have such a distinguished journalist among our ranks and we look forward to his witty, elegant and thoughtful contributions.
I also want to mention how much we are looking forward to the maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Suttie. She will bring a formidable knowledge of foreign affairs and the European Union to our deliberations, as I am sure we will hear before too long in this debate. For myself, given the limited time that we have today, I want to talk of just one situation—the most egregious human rights violation currently under way, namely; the civil war in Syria and the failure of the international community to do anything to end those atrocities.
In the two and a half years of this war, we have had talk of arming the opposition to change the balance of power in the early stages. Then there was talk of a no-fly zone to enable a humanitarian corridor to be established. Finally, there was the failed resolution of 29 August this year, which was an attempt on the part of some United Nations Security Council members to live up to their promises on responsibility to protect—namely, to act collectively to prevent genocide, crimes against humanity, war crimes and ethnic cleansing.
During all this time, the cost of the tragedy in Syria has risen. We have 150,000 dead, 7 million people displaced—2 million in neighbouring countries. Moreover, we have seen the hopelessness of getting even basic medical assistance to the victims of violence. It is estimated that of the original fleet of 500 ambulances in Syria, only 40 or so are still operating. More than 16,000 doctors have fled and at least 36 paramedics in uniform have been killed.
Let me turn to the record of the United Kingdom Government. Yes, we have been generous—some half a billion pounds in humanitarian assistance and countless visits to refugee camps by luminaries to publicise the state of those camps. But when genocide is under way, with jihadi groups singling out not just Alawite but all Shia as infidels, and ethnic cleansing through killing or displacement is rife, it is legitimate to ask when the international community will act.
So let me turn to the concrete question asked by the noble Baroness, Lady Boothroyd, only last Tuesday regarding the creation of a humanitarian corridor. My noble friend Lady Northover, who I am delighted to see is in her place today, explained how difficult it would be to get all sides to the conflict to sign up to a ceasefire at the same time. While I can see the difficulties on the ground, it is also evident that when there is a will on the part of the Russians—the main obstruction in this case—a solution can be found. The chemical weapons inspectors were given safe passage only a few weeks ago.
What discussions has my noble friend been having with Russia and Iran regarding their leverage with the regime to gain the co-operation of the Syrian military and with Saudi Arabia and Qatar on the compliance of the Islamic State of Iraq and Syria—a rather neutral-sounding name for the al-Nusra Front and all its barbarism? What discussions have the United Kingdom had with the leaders of the Free Syrian Army?
While we accept that there are several hundred groups fighting on the ground, we can all agree that most have external powers whose support keeps them going. So let me turn briefly to the United Nations Security Council. The current composition provides an opportunity. If Russia co-operates with permanent members, as it did over chemical weapons, then we also have a further three Commonwealth member states plus an EU state. With the impending replacement of Saudi Arabia by Jordan, the necessary majority for a fresh United Nations resolution should surely be attainable. I hope that my noble friend will be able to tell the House what efforts the Government are making to secure the United Nations Security Council resolution to provide some sort of humanitarian corridor in Syria.
Human rights protections derive from the inalienable and pre-political rights of individuals. It is a collective responsibility of all to uphold them.
My Lords, first, I, too, commend the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for introducing this debate. When I saw that each of us had about four minutes to make our contribution, I was concerned whether we would be able to have a debate in depth and breadth which would touch on many of the issues about which I feel passionately. I should have had greater confidence in your Lordships’ House, because each speech before mine has ticked off a number of the issues that I wanted to touch on, whether religion or human rights for gay people and women. To the fine maiden speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, I feel able to say “amen”.
I would like to take my few minutes to concentrate on issues relating to women. The recent discourse within the Commonwealth has shown us the importance of human rights and the way in which they impact on all our people, but the rights of women is a matter which the Foreign Office has rightly highlighted as a key issue which we as a global community should communicate. I absolutely agree with the comments made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, about the impact of rape. According to the World Health Organisation, domestic violence affects one in three women across the world. It is now of pandemic proportions. It is the greatest cause of morbidity in women and girls worldwide. If it was any other form of disease, there would be a global outcry that so many women and girls are dying and being seriously injured by such a vicious and pernicious form of assault on their human rights, their dignity and their right to live.
The report demonstrates that 35% of women worldwide have experienced either physical or sexual intimate partner violence or non-partner sexual violence. It goes on to make it clear that, globally, as many as 38% of all murders of women are committed by intimate partners. Globally, 7% of women had been sexually assaulted by someone other than their partner. The scale and enormity of the abuse of women must be seen to be believed. Ban Ki-Moon was right when he said:
“There is one universal truth, applicable to all countries, cultures and communities: violence against women is never acceptable, never excusable, never tolerable”.
I commend the Minister, in particular, and Her Majesty’s Government for what they have sought in policy in relation to women and girls, but does she think that it is right that Foreign Office policy should restrict its purview to violence against women in areas of conflict, bearing in mind that violence against women in and out of conflict is a fundamental breach of their human rights which needs to be addressed? Will the Foreign Office consider expanding that role?
I commend the Government on signing the Istanbul convention last year, but when are they likely to ratify it, so that we can become one of the first 10 nations to enable that convention to come into operation? If we are to continue to have our position of prominence in raising the issue of human rights for women and girls, it is incumbent on our Government to use their best endeavours to make sure that we are among those 10. I have to tell the Minister that if the previous Government were still in being, I very much hope that we would be the first to sign and ratify and would not risk coming not even in the first 10.
This is something that we can choose to address. If we wish to make violence against women something of the past, it will take all of us to raise our voice. Will the Minister tell us a little bit about the strategy that the Government intend to operate and deliver in order to make that a reality?
My Lords, I am grateful to my friend, the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this important debate. Manipulation of religious sentiment to persecute those of other faiths is a sad feature of human rights abuse in much of the world. I would like to take this opportunity to give a Sikh perspective on possible ways to a fairer and more tolerant society.
When we talk of human rights abuse, we immediately think of countries such as Syria, North Korea and Iran. We rightly condemn their abuses of human rights, but we look more benignly at countries with which we have close political alliances or trade links—as the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, perceptively observed. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby reminded us, we should look to the mote in our own eye. If we were consistent, the UN report of a government massacre of some 40,000 men, women and children from Sri Lanka’s Tamil minority and evidence of continuing human rights abuses would have led to that country’s immediate suspension from the Commonwealth pending an investigation.
I will give another example of this less than even-handed approach to human rights. Next year sees the 30th anniversary of the Indian army attack on the Sikh Golden Temple in Amritsar and the subsequent massacre of tens of thousands of Sikhs throughout India. An independent inquiry headed by a former Chief Justice of India found overwhelming evidence of top Congress Party involvement. Yet our Government’s response to this attack on a minority faith was total silence. When I raised the matter with a then Cabinet Minister, I received the reply, “Indarjit, we know exactly what’s going on, but we are walking on a tightrope. We have already lost one important contract”. He was referring to the Westland helicopter contract.
We rightly condemn the use of sarin gas in Syria but were silent over America’s use of Agent Orange in Vietnam—which, even today, is causing horrendous birth defects half a century after its use. The same country’s use of drones to fly over sovereign territory to kill and maim those it does not like and, in the process, kill many innocent civilians sets a dangerous precedent.
I have spoken about our country’s selective approach to human rights only as an example. Other world powers, including India, China, the USA and Russia, behave in exactly the same way, making any co-ordinated approach on human rights virtually impossible. It was the great human rights activist Andrei Sakharov who said that there will be little progress in our universal yearning for peace and justice unless we are even-handed in our approach to human rights.
My hope is that Her Majesty’s Government will take the lead in working for a world in which principle always transcends the interests of trade and power-bloc politics. I firmly believe that our country is best placed to give a lead in this wider view of human rights.
My Lords, I am very proud and honoured to stand here today as a Member of this House and make my maiden speech. I begin by thanking noble Lords on all sides of the House for the warm welcome that I have received. They will know that I am preceded here by my husband, my noble friend Lord Kennedy, but I also know that noble Lords will be familiar with the quote that begins, “Behind every great man …”.
I also thank all the staff for the help they have given me. One day when I was looking particularly confused, one staff member asked, “Would it help, my Lady, if I pointed out which way Lord Kennedy went?”. I was impressed by how skilfully he gave me the option of going in the opposite direction. I need to give particular thanks to the doorkeepers. Some noble Lords may have noted that when I and my noble friend Lord Kennedy were introduced, the galleries were rather packed. I would like to thank the doorkeepers and assure them that there are currently no other Kennedys working for the Labour Party on the way to this noble House.
I also thank my supporters, my noble friends Lady McDonagh and Lord Collins, and my mentor, my noble friend Lady Gould, for all their advice and support. My final thank you is to my friend Margaret Bradley, a local Cradley historian whose research helped me with this speech.
I was delighted when it was agreed that I could use Cradley as my territorial title. It is a town rich in history. For hundreds of years, ironwork—nail-making and chain-making—was the staple industry of Cradley and its surrounding towns. Right up until I went to university, I lived in Cradley, in the same house and in the same street—and it is where my father still lives today. Since at least 1830, my ancestors’ livelihoods relied on the nail and chain industries in Cradley and the surrounding towns.
Noble Lords may be wondering why the history of my home town is relevant to today’s debate on human rights. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for initiating this crucial debate. It is relevant because it reminds us of the evils of child labour. In Cradley, children were born, reared, worked and died in the chain shops. It was not unusual to see baby baskets swinging from iron poles so that women could hammer iron and rock their baby at the same time. By the age of eight, children were experienced chain makers.
Thankfully, the dominance of child labour in Cradley is a distant memory. However, this is not the case in many other parts of the world, where child labour exists on a colossal scale. Millions of children younger than the basic minimum working age are deprived of their childhood and work in appalling conditions that damage their physical and mental well-being. The ILO estimates that across the world, instead of going to school, 168 million children aged five to 17 are child labourers. Every child has the right to a childhood, and every child has the right to an education. Child labour is a violation of a child’s human rights.
Today, I want to highlight two areas of child labour that particularly affect girls: mining and domestic work. Across the world there are more than 85 million children engaged in hazardous work, the most menacing of which is the plight of child miners. Children as young as six and seven are handling explosives, exposed to toxic air and carrying heavy loads. The physical and psychological effects are traumatic for both boys and girls. However, girls bear a double burden as they also have to carry out domestic chores at home for the family. There is no time for rest, and no time for school.
Another area where girls are particularly vulnerable is when they work behind closed doors as domestic workers. Some 11.5 million children, mainly girls, work dawn to dusk taking care of domestic chores in other people’s homes. They live with their employer. They are under the control of their employer. They are isolated and trapped. Many suffer verbal abuse or, even worse, physical abuse. Girls are suffering in silence. It is slavery by anyone’s definition.
We must work with each other and everyone involved in our civil society to alleviate global poverty, achieve universal primary education and eliminate child labour. We know we can all do more. There are many charities in the UK that work to alleviate poverty. I declare an interest as I am a trustee of one such charity, APT—Action on Poverty. APT fights poverty by giving people the means to feed their families all year round and forever. It works with local partners on the ground in sub-Saharan Africa and south-east Asia to build lasting livelihoods for the most vulnerable.
We know that child labour is directly linked to poverty, which is why charities like APT are vital. When a person knows that they can feed their family not just today but every day in the future, they can fully embrace education, not employment, for their child. If children fail to get an education, they fail to get the skills needed for their own growth as well as their country’s economic growth. The poor of today remain the poor of tomorrow. Sadly, child labour is not just an issue for developing countries. Studies have shown that children here in the UK have been found in forced labour. That is why I very much welcome the Government’s commitment to bring forward a modern Slavery Bill, which I hope is still due in December. I hope that it will pay particular attention to child labour here and across the world.
Government must do more to work with international businesses to encourage them to address the issue of child labour in their operations and supply chains. Businesses should not just demand that child labour stops but should help influence national Governments and employers in countries around the world, encourage better working conditions, mobilise communities around education, support social protection programmes, and invest more in education and in modernising agricultural production in poor rural communities where child labour is rife.
I will make one final plea. The next World Day Against Child Labour is on Thursday 12 June 2014. Let us all commit now to join together on that day and encourage other organisations to join with us. Children need to be learners, not labourers. Children should no longer be denied a childhood, an education or the most basic of human rights: a future.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this very important debate, and I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, for her very clear and powerful speech. It is particularly important that she mentioned something that has not been mentioned so far in this debate, namely the way that children are still exploited in so many parts of the world. We look forward to hearing her clear and powerful voice on subsequent occasions.
When future historians look back on the immediate post-World War II period, they will judge that one of the greatest achievements of that time was the UN declaration of human rights and the ensuing conventions. Those affirmed in law the unique worth of every single individual. They are, in the words of the late Ronald Dworkin, “trumps”, which cannot be overridden by any raison d’état. Of course the trouble, as we know, is that it is so easy to be deeply depressed at the massive way in which human rights are violated in so many countries in the world. The noble Lord, Lord Alton, gave us a long list at the beginning, although he did not mention some of them. It is very easy to get depressed by that, and it is difficult to know what to focus on in this debate. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, reminded us, it is important that we should not be selective. However, when we get depressed, we need to go back to the fact that we still have a benchmark in the UN declaration. It is a question of being as persistent in the pursuit of that as the noble Lord, Lord Alton, has been in setting us a very good example in his wide-ranging and persistent concern for human rights.
I hope that noble Lords will excuse me if, as chairman of the All-Party Group on Dalits, I focus very briefly on them. I do so first because of the sheer scale of the problem that affects them: there are something like 260 million Dalits in the world, mainly in India and other south-east Asian countries. Secondly, although all human rights violations are appalling—torture, religious persecution and so on—there is something particularly humiliating and degrading about the way in which Dalits are totally rejected by the surrounding culture in which so many of them live and every area of their lives is affected. If anyone doubts the sheer horror of this I would recommend the novel A Fine Balance by Rohinton Mistry. The “fine balance” of the title is the balance between hope and despair. I have huge admiration for the poor of India, for their sheer resilience, hope and even joy, despite everything. However, the problems are huge. In almost every area of exploitation the Dalits will be found at the bottom, more exploited than anybody else.
I am glad to say that we will hear more over the next months about different forms of trafficking. Noble Lords will not be surprised to know that because the Dalits are the most vulnerable of all groups, they are found in all forms of trafficking and at a much higher percentage than other groups. Trafficking takes the form of bonded labour. It also takes the form of the Sumangali system for the payment of dowries. Although that system has been officially abolished in India since 1961, it still goes on. However, the sex trade is perhaps the most shocking of all. As Dalit Solidarity Network UK puts it,
“Most girls and women in India’s urban brothels come from Dalit, lower-caste, tribal, or minority communities”.
Much of that has its origin in religiously sanctioned prostitution. It has been reckoned that some 250,000 women in India fall into this category, many of them enslaved unknowingly when they were still young children. Dalit Freedom Network has said that almost all women trapped in ritualised prostitution are Dalits.
When the concept of human rights was first formulated after World War II, the particular concern was the way in which individuals need to be protected against their states. There is a particular complication, of course, with the kind of discrimination the Dalits experience, because it is so deeply embedded in cultures. Therefore, I very much hope that the Government, when they raise their general concerns about human rights in India and other south-east Asian countries, will continue to bring this issue before those Governments.
My Lords, like the words “location, location, location” in a very different context, “consistency, consistency, consistency” should be the key to our Government’s attitude to countries that violate human rights. Our foreign policy must be realistic—of course I recognise that. I am in favour of our trading nation having the commercial foreign policy that we are developing. However, I am also in favour of the motif once used so effectively by the late Robin Cook: the need for an ethical foreign policy. The two are not at odds and indeed both trade and aid can be used as powerful levers to bring about change over the years in delinquent countries. To illustrate this I will compare and contrast our attitude in this context, particularly in relation to religious freedoms, on Iran and on Turkey, where there are dominant Governments.
I turn first to Iran. While all are hopeful that Mr Rouhani, the new President, may make things better for persecuted minorities, we should all recall that instant warm words of welcome in the media for apparent, new liberal change around the world often have to be eaten pretty quickly, as the plight of the poor Copts in Egypt, highlighted by the noble Lord, Lord Alton, shows us at the moment. They are clearly the most up-to-date victims of religious clearances in Africa. In Iran, all religious groups other than orthodox Muslims are now in the religious cleansing firing line under Mr Rouhani’s new presidency. There is no or little freedom and much persecution of all those who are not Muslims, from Sufi dervishes to evangelical Christians, from the poor Baha’is, who are so persecuted, to those Armenian and Assyrian churches who happen to conduct their services in Farsi, which is thought not to be acceptable. Some of those churches are still being closed down under the new liberal presidency of Mr Rouhani.
There has been little visible change and a bit of hope, and the Government have been very robust in trying to do what they can to help and to condemn such persecution in Iran. Good. Strangely, however, the Government seem—although perhaps I am misguided—to pull their punches a bit on Turkey, a country which is always described as “mildly Islamist” in polite diplomatic discourse. Bad. Is it mildly Islamist for Turkey to suppress the ancient Greek monastery on Halki island, or to restrict the freedoms of worship of the Alevis in Turkey? Is it “mildly Islamist” to make it impossible for Christians to have public places of worship established in the seaside holiday-making areas of coastal Turkey? One Anglican clergyman has told me that they have to flit from house to house underground to have underground services, as if they were living in some kind of penal times—and actually they are living in some kind of penal times.
I am very glad that some of our leading western Christian leaders have got off their knees at long last to say that this anti-Christian trend must be resisted. I hasten to add that I recognise that being on their knees is part of the day job of right reverend Prelates, and others, as they pray for us in need of their prayers. But I am glad that they have shown this leadership. A few years ago, I took part in a debate in this place with the noble Lord, Lord Alton, which highlighted the apparent onset of Christian clearances in Iraq. It is a bit late now, as those clearances are more or less complete. Turkey next? I do not know—I hope not—but I do know that it is not “mildly Islamist” to disperse with such terrifying violence peaceful demonstrations in Gezi Park in central Istanbul, where I have walked, rightly condemned by Amnesty International for its “large-scale human rights violations”. Is it indeed respectful of freedom of expression for so-called “mildly Islamist” Turkey to have in its prisons more journalists than any other country on earth, including China? Only three days ago, on Monday, it was reported that the Deputy Prime Minister of Turkey, Mr Bulent Arinc, is calling for the former Christian basilica of Hagia Sophia, presently a secular museum, to be opened up for prayer—I guess Muslim prayer.
In my noble friend’s wind-up, could she find a moment or two just to explain to your Lordships what exactly is meant by the phrase “mildly Islamist”, or do we turn a blind eye to what is going on in Turkey?
My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on securing this timely and important debate. I congratulate my noble friend Lord Finkelstein on his excellent and deeply amusing maiden speech. In the month since my introduction, I am grateful to noble Lords from all sides of this House for having made me feel so welcome. I am hugely grateful, too, for the helpful advice from ever-patient members of staff who have dealt with my numerous questions with good humour and tolerance. In particular, I would like to thank Black Rod and his department for their excellent induction course.
I also thank my two supporters. My noble friend Lady Scott of Needham Market and I have been friends since getting to know each other in Brussels, when she was serving on the Committee of the Regions and I was working in the European Parliament. My noble friend Lord Kirkwood of Kirkhope is in some ways responsible for getting me involved in politics in the first place. As my excellent constituency MP in Hawick in the Scottish borders, I used to write to him on a regular basis from Hawick High School with a variety of obscure and occasionally precocious inquiries. We subsequently worked together on two separate occasions over several years in the other place. As a very dear friend and colleague, he has also been a constant source of sunny optimism.
Exactly 25 years ago, I was studying in Voronezh State University in southern Russia in the Soviet Union. I was there as part of a three-month Russian language exchange programme from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh. It was there that I not only learnt the beautiful Russian language but learnt to appreciate Russian art and culture as well as the very generous and at times overflowing Russian hospitality. It was the era of Glasnost and Perestroika which by then, in 1988, had even reached the provincial city of Voronezh. It was a time when culture flourished, banned novels were published, and, as British students, we were able to discuss issues such as politics and humans rights, which in the darker days under Brezhnev would have been unimaginable.
After graduation, I returned to work in St Petersburg, or Leningrad as it still was then, from December 1990 to spring 1991, as an English teacher. By this stage, the Soviet Union was in a state of evident collapse. I survived thanks to the kindness of my Russian friends, as food was rationed and the shelves were completely bare. The August putsch took place later that year and, by the end of December, the Soviet Union was dissolved.
During my regular visits to Russia in the 1990s, I saw the gradual transfer to a free market Russian style of capitalism but, sadly, this has not been matched by a move towards parliamentary democracy, independent institutions, the rule of law and respect for human rights. Indeed, since the parliamentary elections at the end of 2011, which many observers regarded as fraudulent, and the presidential elections to re-elect Vladimir Putin in the spring of 2012, we have witnessed a considerable backwards step in terms of parliamentary democracy and human rights. Journalists and businesspeople, in particular, have faced threats and serious intimidation, or worse, when they have challenged the Kremlin’s line.
I am relieved, as I am sure are all noble Lords, that the British freelance journalist Kieron Bryan was granted bail yesterday, but the case of the Greenpeace 30 more than ever illustrates the need for thorough judicial reform in Russia. I hope that the Government will continue to press the Kremlin for a speedy, transparent, proportionate and fair conclusion.
In March this year, I did some political training work in Chisinau, in the Republic of Moldova. The politicians I spoke to told me of their fears of having such a heavy dependency on Russian energy supplies. In the run up to the Vilnius summit next week, as they prepare to sign association agreements with the EU, they are understandably worried. Russian Deputy Premier Dmitry Rogozin’s chilling remarks to Moldova that he hoped that they, “Wouldn’t freeze this winter”, are perhaps sadly typical of the current neo-colonial state of mind in the Kremlin.
In the run up to the Sochi Olympic Games, when Russia is very much in the public eye, we must use every opportunity to continue to push for real institutional reform in Russia, as well as an independent judiciary and for the creation of genuine parliamentary democracy.
My Lords, it is a considerable honour to congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie. She is a proud daughter of Hawick, a historic town, which I know. She has told us of her experience of international development and human rights, especially in Russia and eastern Europe. I know that she has spent many years in Westminster and has gathered that kind of political experience, not least in managing two senior Liberal Democrat politicians, including the Deputy Prime Minister. That must be a test of endurance. We look forward to hearing her many times in future.
I also have the exhortation of the new noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, ringing in my ears—that we know we can all do more. That will take a lot of living up to, because human rights is an essential issue in foreign affairs. My noble friend Lord Alton has raised it with a skill nurtured over many years in Westminster, and he has given me and others a lot of encouragement. I have joined him often in debates, especially on Sudan, where human rights violations continue daily. He mentioned the Nuba mountains and the bombing there, and I agree with him about strengthening the ICC. But today I shall be in Asia, for a change.
The Commonwealth summit, or CHOGM, has again tested the nerves of diplomats all over the world in the past week, which is largely down to our own Prime Minister and the initiative that he has taken. I have seen the Channel 4 documentary; there can be little doubt of the shelling and abuses of human rights against fleeing Tamils in the last stages of the civil war. President Rajapaksa has a hard shell but, with India and Canada keeping away, he has received a strong message of disapproval. I am sure that the UK was correct to stay with the Commonwealth meeting and influence it from within. At the same time, we must not forget the atrocities of the Tamil Tigers during the war; nor can we ignore the strength of feeling on both sides.
There comes a point where outsiders without such recent experience cannot really fathom the depth of prejudice and discrimination that continues beneath the surface, long after the world has turned away. I am thinking of the EU candidate countries mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, in the Balkans, where the European External Action Service is still pushing through its hardest tests of good government, not always with success, against the relatively recent background of ethnic genocide. Politicians cannot behave like leaders of human rights NGOs, whose stamina we all applaud. Political parties have to be selective; picking from what my noble friend called an à la carte menu, they turn continually to other subjects, and for this reason are always open to charges of hypocrisy.
We can learn a lot from our recent debate on China—another Conservative initiative, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dobbs. His understandable concern was with our business and trade with China, and whether our relationship would be affected by too much emphasis on human rights, such as our preoccupation with Tibet and China’s attitude to the Uighurs in Xinjiang province, where the conflict has been no less violent. The noble Lord, Lord Goodlad, said in that debate that,
“it is perfectly possible … to exert quiet and helpful influence, to encourage moves towards greater openness while avoiding explicit criticism or confrontation … not through lecturing or preaching but through the sharing of best practice with partners representing a very ancient civilisation”.—[Official Report, 7/11/13; col. 349.]
That seems to sum things up very well.
The Dalai Lama told a journalist recently that trust develops gradually, even with an animal,
“if you show genuine affection”,
but that if you are,
“always showing bad face and beating, how can you develop friendship?”.
The same might be said of many other situations in which we have to do business with tyrants or bring humanitarian aid to victims of brutality.
In Nepal there are unresolved human rights cases left over from the 10-year civil war—more than half of them at the hands of the army or the state. According to the agency INSEC, more than 3,500 violations took place in one year alone, 2012, including much violence against women, but there has been no single prosecution in the seven years since the end of the conflict, owing to the political turmoil. This is why I am particularly asking the Minister if she will make every effort to encourage Nepal to re-establish the independent human rights commission, which has never been quite independent and needs more support from outside. This is where I fundamentally disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Tebbit, who seems to think that every country can fend for itself. We must reassert the international solidarity that is so important in these situations.
Human rights in the Commonwealth and elsewhere will elude us as long as governance, the rule of law and other principles of democracy remain unaddressed. We have to keep banging the drum and not get too frustrated when no one listens.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for securing this debate. It follows on very helpfully from a short debate that I secured two weeks ago on the situation with regard to religious freedom following the events of the Arab spring.
The all-party parliamentary group’s recent report on international religious freedom, Article 18: An Orphaned Right, to which a number of us in this Chamber contributed, accurately shows that over the past decade every region in the world has seen marked declines with regard to religious freedom. Christians in Egypt and Syria, Baha’is in Iran, Shi’ite Muslims in Indonesia, and Sunni Muslims in Thailand and Burma face serious threats to their viability and even survival. We have heard other examples today, including comments by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, on the situation in Turkey.
If freedom of religion and belief is a primary barometer of the social health of a nation, the palpable decline in recent years in respect of this most fundamental right suggests a worrying state of affairs regarding the health of the global common good. Despite this trend, Governments the world over—ours included, I fear—still assign it too low a priority than the scale of the crisis at present requires.
Part of this reluctance, I imagine, is that Governments and opinion-makers are hesitant, perhaps even reluctant, to acknowledge the connection between levels of religious freedom and the basic health and well-being of societies. This is not about protecting the rights of one religious community over another but about providing for the human flourishing of all, irrespective of whether they have a religious belief—as was hinted at by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. It is about being confident of one’s core values in our society, so that a variety of different communities may prosper.
Like other noble Lords, I applaud the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, for the careful attention she has devoted to this issue. I noted in an earlier debate that she is a near neighbour to me in Wakefield; there is solidarity in West Yorkshire. Her speech last week to the Council of Foreign Relations in Washington DC was but the latest example of the forthright engagement that we have come to expect from her.
It is of course true that a great deal of work is being done in relation to freedom of religion and belief. However, this work is not necessarily focused on ensuring that everyone is able to exercise that right in peace and security. So the question, it seems to me, is how we move on from the essentially negative strategies that have been rooted in combating discrimination, intolerance, hate speech and incitement. Of course these things are important, but they work only once there is a clear commitment to the underlying value of the freedom of religion or belief. Core values need to be supported by proactive policies. Other noble Lords have hinted at such policies; indeed, the noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, talked about the independent human rights commission. Is it not now time for the Government to shift their attention to a more positive approach to religious freedom and to recognise the wider societal benefits that it brings?
How might this be achieved? Some suggestions have already been put forward during this debate. Certainly the appointment of an ambassador at large or a special representative for religious freedom would help enhance the voice of the UK as the champion of an inclusive approach to freedom of religion or belief. A number of us have been pressing for this recently.
The head of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s human rights and democracy department is indeed an impressive figure. However, the incumbent of that post on her own is unable to give this matter the attention it rightly deserves because of competing priorities and pressures on her department’s time. We need to look again at strengthening the machinery of government in this area. It is to be hoped that when the Foreign Affairs Select Committee looks at its work programme for the next year, it will take upon itself the task of examining this issue with its usual forensic attention. I have been assured in a letter by the committee’s chair that this will be taken into account.
In concluding, I note only that unless we are prepared to give this issue the urgent attention it requires, we cannot be surprised if respect for religious freedom continues to decline markedly. The existing strategy across our world is not working, and it is time to think again.
My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Lord for securing today’s debate, particularly as I chair the All-Party Parliamentary Group on International Religious Freedom or Belief. We specifically added “or Belief” when the British Humanist Association became one of the stakeholders. The issue has for too long been viewed as global identity politics. Christians seemingly speak up only when Christians are persecuted, Sikhs for Sikhs, and Baha’is for Baha’is, and this has contributed to Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights not being treated as a universal human right. The issue needs careful nuance and although some commentators, especially some on the centre right, want neat analyses, the following cursory around-the-world tour reveals that to be too simplistic.
On 28 August 2013 in the southern Iranian city of Bandar Abbas, Mr Ataollah Rezvani, a well known Baha’i, was murdered. He had come under pressure from agents of the ministry of intelligence who were intimidating him. On 17 November at around 9.30 in the morning, Pastor Zhang Xiaojie, who leads the Nanle county Christian church, a Three-Self state sanctioned church in China, was detained. Currently the pastor and 20 other members of the church are still being detained without arrest or charge. As has already been mentioned, Alexander Aan, an atheist, is in prison in Indonesia. Interestingly, Papua New Guinea has recently launched a consultation to prohibit non-Christian worship. If you are a Hindu in Pakistan, the law does not allow you to marry. Also, in November 2012, Ummad Farooq, whose father is president of the Ahmadiyya Muslims in his local community, was shot in head. Ummad is being treated in Birmingham and I am proud to say that he is claiming asylum here in the United Kingdom.
In Colombia, two pastors were killed in 2012 and about 300 indigenous Christians were displaced from their homes. Pagan indigenous populations receive material support from paramilitary organisations to organise the persecution of local Christians. The Rohingya Muslims in Burma, Shia Muslims in Saudi Arabia, the Coptic Christians in Egypt and, of course, all followers of whatever religion or belief in North Korea are being persecuted. However, not all persecution is far from our shores as anti-Semitism and attacks on Jews and Jewish places of worship have re-emerged in Europe, particularly in Hungary and Greece.
All the studies point to a simple fact: the persecution of people of faith or no faith on the basis of their belief is rapidly increasing. I warmly congratulate the Government on the fact that this is a human rights priority for them, but given the trend I have just outlined, does it not merit its own sub-group of the Human Rights Advisory Group? Most if not all of the other priorities do so. Moreover, does it not justify more than a part-time, unpaid special rapporteur as its main resource at the international level? The Prime Minister is to visit China next month, so will Her Majesty’s Government raise the case I have outlined, as well as the plight of Falun Gong followers who are tortured and imprisoned for their belief?
I was heartened to read in the Minister’s recent speech delivered at Georgetown University in America the assertion of the freedom to change one’s religion. This is the reason the APPG’s first report focused on Article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948 as it is the international instrument that states this unambiguously. Globalisation and the internet on smartphones means increasing exposure to different beliefs around the world. While traditionally where you were born and the community you were from perhaps dictated what you believed, individuals are increasingly able to make such decisions for themselves. There is a global trend of religious conversion and the emergence of new religious movements. This positive empowerment is, however, often met by harsh responses from many Governments around the world. For instance, as other noble Lords have mentioned, while diplomatic developments with Iran are promising, dozens of Muslims who have become Christians, along with Baha’is who are seen as apostates, remain in prison because of their faith. Can my noble friend please comment on our policy towards religious freedom in Iran?
A truly worrying example in this context are the recent reports that the Arab League is developing a regional blasphemy law that will criminalise any expression of opinion that is deemed a blasphemy, even when such opinions are expressed outside the jurisdiction of a particular country. If such a proposal ultimately is put into law by Arab League states, it will be in full breach of international human rights standards. Have Her Majesty’s Government made representations to the United Nations and the Arab league on this proposed blasphemy law?
I hope that protecting the freedom to convert will be on the agenda of the January summit on Article 18 that my noble friend is planning. The United Kingdom should be at the forefront of preserving the freedoms that have been opened up to this Twitter generation.
My Lords, I congratulate and pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton of Liverpool, for securing this debate. The noble Lord is well known for his commitment to these issues and I can recall listening, in the late 1980s, to a passionate defence of the rights of Jews being persecuted in the Soviet Union that was made by the noble Lord. Today, I possess a great sense of gratitude for the warm welcome that I have received from all sides of the House. I have been truly struck by the sincerity and good will of all. I would also like to thank the staff of the House for their unfailing courtesy and useful advice. Their help is hugely appreciated. I am also grateful to my noble friends Lord Levy and Lord Janner of Braunstone, who supported me at my Introduction. Together with my mentor, my noble friend Lord Mitchell, they embody the best of this Chamber. I am sure that I will learn more from them and, indeed, from the whole House than I will ever be able to contribute. This is also a very special debate as I find myself in the company of good friends and colleagues who have made really outstanding maiden speeches.
I grew up with friends and family scarred by and in the shadow of the Holocaust. I appreciated the universal lessons that were drawn from those terrible events. Also around that time we saw the rise of the Khmer Rouge and the establishment and operation of the murderous and brutal regime known as Democratic Kampuchea. As a young school pupil, I remember participating in the work of a TV appeal to bring relief to the Cambodian people. These events have had a lasting impact on me, and in many ways they have guided my life. The events of the Holocaust and the end of the Second World War gave rise, of course, to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
International systems, conventions, treaties and courts may not be perfect, but it is essential that they exist rather than not. I congratulate the Government on their successful election to the Human Rights Council. This reminds us how broad the role is that Government can play, and in this regard I would like to make a few suggestions and offer some thoughts on what the Government can consider. First, we need to remind ourselves that our work defending, protecting and advocating human rights protects not only those who face the denial of those rights, but also our own way of life. This is a dangerous period and the erosion of human rights can be an early sign of a broader attack on liberty. If our role in the world is to stand for anything, it is not just about adhering to the universal declaration, it is surely to protect our liberal values and way of life and extending the same rights and freedoms to others. We should do this by making the world more stable, increasing economic inclusion, making government outcomes more fair, less corrupt and more effective, and giving more people a stake in successful democracies. We should cement all of that in place through stable, equitable free trade and a growing economic interdependence that binds us together.
Secondly, this is a vast task with many actors. Human rights and democracy are frequently challenged. They are still very young in most countries and under pressure, particularly where education and the checks on elected Governments and corruption are weak, as well as where there is little appreciation that violence and discrimination against women is perhaps the greatest bar to a nation’s progress. Human rights must be part of a long-term strategy across a range of government departments, international institutions, parliamentary initiatives and an active, thriving international NGO and civil society sector.
The Government are well placed to achieve a lot and their influence depends on the level of international engagement. I am encouraged by the work of this and many previous Governments to extend our reach, and I add my support to these efforts. But I would encourage the Government to look more closely at whether we are using all the tools we have as effectively as possible. Surely it is worth considering whether development aid can do more to support a strategy of long-term political development as part of a wider strategy across government departments.
My final point is this. We need to address the economic dimensions that influence the attainment of human rights. There is a need to understand that the factors which curb human rights go beyond the traditional notions of corrupt regimes—rather, it is the fact that terribly uneven societies endure and the extractive capabilities of nations continue to be plundered while the prosperity and well-being of their citizens are ignored that causes great forms of repression. Creating the right market conditions, promoting growth, values and responsibility in the private sector is certainly part of it, but there is some merit in the argument that we should be vigilant. We must try to ensure that we do not allow societies to reach the tipping point where a population feels that the diminution of their and their children’s long-term economic prospects and a fundamental lack of hope adds to instability and conflict and a further erosion of their human rights.
I thank all noble Lords once again for the warmest of welcomes.
My Lords, I feel privileged to follow my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn. I read that when he was introduced into the House, he said, “If, over my service, I can make even a fraction of the contribution to public life of my introducers, I will achieve a great deal”. My noble friend has a long history of working towards justice, both in the UK and in the Middle East. He is deeply involved in, and dedicated to, his work in the north London Jewish community. After today’s excellent, enlightened and thought-provoking maiden speech, I am sure that his presence in this House will be greatly appreciated. The presence of my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn on our Benches along with my noble friend Lord Bach will be music to the ears of all sides of the House. I am sure they will bring great harmony.
I, too, congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, on giving us the opportunity to speak on this issue, which has been so pertinent to our values and is the foundation on which the principles of our Commonwealth are built. Following the Prime Minister’s visit to Sri Lanka, there cannot be a more appropriate time for this House to deliberate on how these values and principles translate into action beyond our immediate environment, into the Commonwealth and extending into the international domain.
As has been said, during the UK’s successful bid to join the UN Human Rights Council, a point of collaboration was made. We all agree that collaboration and international unity are paramount to how the Government are able to respond to violations of human rights. The point committed our Government to working more effectively with international partners and emphasised constructive association with both Commonwealth and EU partners to share best practice and expertise. With this newly acquired position, we furthered our ability. I need not point out to this House that with ability comes obligation.
The Government have made reference to the steps they have taken to promote human rights in Sri Lanka, through bilateral and supranational funding and through sharing experiences and expertise. My concerns are twofold and I would like to hear the Minister’s response on the following points. What efforts are being extended to other Commonwealth countries, and how do the Government intend to utilise the merits of the Commonwealth charter to promote human rights internationally? Further to that, as the Government are keen to replace the Human Rights Act 1998, what assessment, if any, have they made of their proposed British Bill of Rights and how it would compromise our own ambitions to work internationally?
I will not delay the House any longer, as most of the questions that I want to raise will come up later.
My Lords, we are all immensely grateful to my noble friend Lord Alton not only for introducing this debate but for his long persistence and faithfulness on these issues over, one dares to say, a generation. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for introducing in his excellent maiden speech the responsibilities of business and the corporate sector. I want to focus on that in some of my remarks.
We are all conscious of the UN human rights responsibilities as they were laid out in the 1940s, but they were updated in 2011 by the guiding principles on the responsibilities of business. The new principles and burdens which fall on business, in essence, oblige businesses to sign up to the Human Rights Council guiding principles. They require organisations such as my own, KPMG, to:
“Avoid causing or contributing to adverse human rights impacts through their own activities, and address such impacts when they occur”—
“Seek to prevent or mitigate adverse human rights impacts that are directly linked to their operations, products or services”.
This is a golden opportunity to bring the corporate sector into line with the responsibilities of public authorities. It is a chance for corporations, which have long held in private their own concerns about whether they have witnessed, for example, trafficking of individuals, unfair discrimination or employment procedures in other companies that were unacceptable, to take a stand alongside public duties.
On 16 October, there was an interesting report in the Guardian on a new assessment survey rating called “Tomorrow’s Value Rating”, set up by an organisation that seeks to assess the way in which companies are living up to the guiding principles on business and human rights. It found some interesting points of note. For example, although a vast majority of companies, such as my own, are signatories to the UN Global Compact, only a third of those that said they were devoted to human rights had a policy in place or a mechanism for measurement. It also found that in the oil and gas sector only three of the 10 companies covered had a stand-alone human rights policy and that management of human rights often appears to be reactive rather than proactive.
One does not want unduly to punish companies that are in the early stages of assessing their human rights responsibilities, but this is a chance not just for a debate in this House but to look at the way in which the Government think about future legislation for the UK alongside our partner countries, to set a tone of expectation in the corporate world as well as in the political sphere. In 2013, a long list of obligations relating to the principles of human rights for companies was set out by the Institute for Business and Human Rights in the UK. Point 6 of its 10 points of emphasis is titled:
“Renewing efforts to protect lives in the work-place”.
I want to draw attention to a specific example with a positive outcome, and I hope that we will see companies acting in this way in future.
None of us will forget the events in April surrounding the collapse of a building in Rana Plaza in Bangladesh. We will all recall the loss of life—1,200 individuals—the maiming, in particular, of many women and the loss of livelihoods. However, I am immensely grateful to be able to report to this House and for the benefit of public understanding that many of the companies involved, including ABF—Associated British Foods—the owner of Primark, decided that they would take their responsibilities immensely seriously. They would not only pay out for those who had lost livelihoods but stand together to take a responsible position on building requirements, regulations and standards for the future. Not only was this a dreadful affair that saw the unjust loss of multitudes of lives but it has been a golden opportunity for corporations to take their duties seriously. I am very grateful for the leadership of George Weston, the chief executive of ABF, and for his stand in its annual report, published on 5 November.
In conclusion, we have an opportunity in the corporate sector as new markets increasingly emerge where many of the pressure points that my noble friend Lord Alton and others have mentioned are brought to bear. If we can bring about a process for better common working practices between corporations and public authorities, we could see companies taking a greater lead in preventing human rights abuses.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who I much admire, on his commitment and his courage, often in joint harness with the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. I will make three brief points.
First, I recall in the early 1980s going to a south Asian country and saying to our ambassador, “What are you doing about human rights?”. His answer was, “Oh, that’s a job for my first secretary”. That would no longer be allowed. Indeed, there has been an immeasurable improvement in the overseas department’s links and attitude to human rights. I think, for example, of changes in the structure of the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, with the human rights and democracy department; the human rights report, which, happily, came from a recommendation of the Foreign Affairs Select Committee, which I chaired at that time, which has certainly been refined and improved; the human rights and democracy programme; and also the much improved links with non-governmental organisations.
My second point is about the interlink between the domestic and the foreign. I recall the former Foreign Minister of Australia, Senator Gareth Evans, saying, “How can we Australians be taken seriously on human rights representations abroad if we maltreat our Aborigines”—being Australian, he actually said “Abos”—“at home”. That shows that there is a linkage between what we do at home and the strength of our representations abroad. That obviously relates to our immigration policy, our counterterrorism policy and our attitudes to Islamophobia and anti-Semitism.
Looking at our international organisations, I am delighted that we are now on the Human Rights Council, which is an enormous improvement on its predecessor, the United Nations Commission on Human Rights, which could reach agreement only on attacks on Israel. I look forward to reports during our two-year tenure, starting in January. I think also of the Commonwealth and the Council of Europe, included in the second priority in the 2012 human rights report.
On the Commonwealth, of course we think of CHOGM and whether or not the Prime Minister should have attended the Sri Lankan summit. Yes, there is a time for engagement but I am troubled by the question of cui bono—who actually benefited most from the Prime Minister’s attendance? I fear that the answer may well be the President of Sri Lanka. The Commonwealth charter is a magnificent document but in practice, if one looks at the 60% of Commonwealth countries that still have capital punishment and attitudes towards the criminalisation of homosexuality, there is much work for our Government to do in persuading our Commonwealth colleagues of the importance of human rights.
On the Council of Europe, there is a danger of the Government making a major error in defying the European Court of Human Rights in respect of prisoners’ rights. I do not talk about the subject of the question but the danger of defiance. The Prime Minister unwisely said that,
“no one should be in any doubt: prisoners are not getting the vote under this Government”.—[Official Report, Commons, 24/10/12; col. 923.]
I saw the embarrassment of the Attorney-General when he appeared before the Joint Committee earlier this month. It would be a disastrous precedent in respect of Russia, Turkey and other defaulters, if we—pioneers of the system in the Council of Europe—were to defy it. There is a way out. Clearly the court will grant a wide margin of appreciation. It is insisting only that there is no blanket ban.
Finally, there has to be a balance in any matter of human rights. Sometimes it is best to do things in a low voice and behind the scenes. I was a member of the human rights mission to China that was led extremely ably by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Howe of Aberavon, in which we were effective because we made quiet representations to the Chinese authorities. I concede also that there is a temptation to be strong on the weak and weak on the strong.
Of the six FCO priorities, freedom of religion is key. This has been the leitmotif of so many speeches in this debate. It is very important indeed that the Government consider seriously the recommendation of the excellent report of the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and others, Article 18: An Orphaned Right, which includes the right to change one’s religion, which was omitted from the final communiqué of CHOGM—I wonder why. The Government should look carefully at the case for a special envoy or ambassador and I hope that they will come back with a positive response to that.
My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend Lord Alton on his tenacious commitment to justice and the protection of human rights. From a vast array of concerns, I will focus today on Burma and Nigeria.
The widely celebrated reforms in Burma are welcome but while western political leaders, investors and aid agencies flock to Rangoon, many ethnic national peoples suffer military offensives, gross violations of human rights by the Burmese army and exploitation of their natural resources by the Burmese Government.
The Muslim Rohingya people suffer systematic oppression, with 140,000 forced to live in dire conditions in camps in Rakhine state and thousands more forced to flee to Bangladesh or in precarious boats to other countries. Human Rights Watch describes the situation as “ethnic cleansing”. Will Her Majesty’s Government support calls for an independent international inquiry into war crimes and crimes against humanity?
My small NGO, HART, works with partners in Shan, Kachin, Karen and Karenni states. We have visited them to witness the plight of their people, which has not been reported by the media. In Kachin and Shan states, the Burmese army continues military offensives, driving hundreds of thousands of civilians to camps for the displaced. We have seen their destitution and heard heartbreaking stories of atrocities perpetrated by the army, including the recent rape of girls aged eight and 15.
Land confiscation and environmental degradation from investment projects are increasing, as in northern Shan state, with China’s oil and gas pipelines. Indeed, people in Shan state are asking what sort of peace this is, when they are losing more and more of their lands and livelihoods.
In Karen state, the cessation of fighting is welcome, but the ceasefire allows the Burmese army to build more, larger camps along the Salween river and the Burmese Government to exploit, destroy or confiscate natural resources, with no compensation. Human rights violations by the Burmese army, including sexual violence against women, continue with impunity.
Burma’s ethnic national peoples share many concerns; for example, that the 2008 constitution, which does not recognise the rights of ethnic national peoples or allow for the development of a federal union, will become the accepted political road map for Burma, and that ethnic national people, who retain their armies for protection from Burmese military aggression, will be seen as rebel groups with rebel armies.
Their situation is best expressed in the words of their own local leaders. I quote a leader of the Shan people:
“The Burmese Government has conceded just enough credibility to achieve everything it wants from the international community: investment, aid and hosting international events”.
A senior officer in the Shan state army said:
“When the lights went on in Rangoon, everyone rushed there—and nobody stopped to visit us in the darkness”.
A healthcare worker helping displaced people in the jungles of Karen and Karenni states said:
“They are playing a game like Chess: take one piece at a time. While they sign a ceasefire with the Karen, they launch major offensives in Kachin State. They wear a beautiful mask, but the original face, which is brutal, is hidden”.
Will Her Majesty’s Government make much stronger representations to the Burmese Government to desist immediately from military offensives against civilians in Kachin and Shan states; to increase humanitarian assistance to displaced people in Kachin, Shan and Rakhine states and allow unhindered access for international aid and human rights organisations; to call the Burmese army to account for violations of human rights, including murder, torture and rape; to ensure that concessions granted to the Burmese Government in recognition of recent reforms do not promote exploitative investment; and to allow ethnic national people to participate in discussions and agreements concerning the extraction of resources from their own lands—and the future of Burma?
I turn very briefly to the disturbing situation in Nigeria’s northern and central belt regions. The escalation of violence in the past two years by the Islamist Boko Haram movement follows two decades of violence in which thousands of Christians have been killed and hundreds of churches destroyed. Although Christian communities may have resorted to self-defence, the instigation of violence has been consistently asymmetrical, and now Boko Haram has stated its commitment to drive all Christians out of northern Nigeria.
We work with partners in Plateau, Kano and Bauchi states. These states are generally not visited, for security reasons—which is why we have gone there—and we have seen the suffering of local communities, as well as initiatives by local leaders, such as the Anglican Archbishop of Jos, Benjamin Kwashi, and the Anglican Bishop of Bauchi, to promote reconciliation between the different faith communities. Given Boko Haram’s escalating violence against Christians and its equally brutal killings of Muslims who do not support it, will Her Majesty’s Government do more to support these initiatives, in addition to the already well supported programmes in Kaduna state?
I conclude by expressing gratitude for the opportunity to highlight situations that we encounter working with victims of oppression, who are often trapped behind closed borders or off the radar screen for security reasons. I hope that the Minister will be able to give some reassurance to some of these hidden victims of violations of human rights in our world today.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for giving us the opportunity to have this timely and important debate. I also thank him for his tireless efforts, in this House and outside, to expose the persecution and ill treatment of people. My comments could apply equally to the noble Baroness, Lady Cox. They are an example of why this House exists and why we have to take an interest in other people’s affairs.
This debate is timely because there are currently seven people on a hunger strike here in London. A group of very brave people are calling for the release of seven hostages taken by Iraqi forces at the behest of the mullahs in Tehran. Many Members of this House will be aware of the hostage situation in Iraq. The tragedy of the hostage-taking is quite easily traced back to the evil regime in Tehran. This House is indebted to the persistence and determination our colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, who cannot be with us today but who keeps members aware of what is happening to those seven hostages. His efforts are in stark contrast to those of our own Government, who appear to be quite laid back about latest outrage and abuse of human rights in Iran.
Earlier this month, I had the privilege of attending a meeting in this House on the human rights situation in North Korea—another meeting arranged by the noble Lord, Lord Alton. We heard from Mr Michael Kirby, the chairman of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights. We heard a report on the situation in North Korea. My remarks today will concentrate on the dreadful situation in Iran, but at the meeting on North Korea I heard a quote from a Mr Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Many of you will know of Dietrich Bonheoffer; I did not—I put that down to my obvious lack of education. The quote stuck in my mind; I wrote it down straightaway. Mr Bonheoffer said:
“Silence in the face of evil is itself evil”.
I must confess that I did not know anything about him, but now I know much more. He was hung by the Nazis just 23 days before the German surrender. I am confident that that brave Lutheran pastor, who opposed the Nazis, would be with us in this debate today, not being silent but speaking out about what is going on.
While we remain silent, the evil regime in Tehran and the hearts of those wicked people grow stronger. It is almost 30 years since I first became involved in protests about human rights abuses in Iran. Over the three decades, I have seen evidence of the torture wrought upon innocent people: gouging of eyes, lashings and stoning of women. Many other things have gone on that are too evil to talk about, but in my locker in this House I have the video evidence of how those wicked people have treated their own people.
I think of those poor people of Ashraf camp, where they put loudspeakers right the way round, bombarding them 24 hours a day and driving them mad with the incessant noise. In recent years, we have seen unprovoked attacks on the residents of Ashraf. On 1 December, 52 people were killed—52 lives extinguished by these wicked people. Those victims had been promised protected person status when the Americans and British left Iraq. Our Government promised that we would look after those people in Ashraf, but they quickly abandoned all attempts to give them some guarantee of freedom. All they get is ever more pressure, ever more torture and ever more violence against them.
I also recall with great sadness the murder of Faezeh Rajabi. Faezeh was a 19 year-old girl who communicated with us by a telephone link, and I had the pleasure of talking to her. She died among her friends in the massacre of 8 April 2011. I also think about the 16 year-old girl who appeared in court having been raped and assaulted by a man. The judge said to her, “You’re responsible for this immorality”. She had the temerity to argue with the judge and he ordered, “Take her out” and she was hung. She was a 16 year-old girl. When people talk about the “moderate” Mr Rouhani, I would suggest that if you are going to parley with him, you should take a very long spoon. There is not time to tell this House about his pedigree, but I recommend that all those who want to know what this so-called moderate is all about should read about him. I deplore him and the people he represents. Maybe we should remember those voices that are silent now, of Lord Corbett, of Lord Slynn, of Lord King of West Bromwich and Lord Archer of Sandwell. They called over the years for our Government to do something stronger about what is going on Iran and I echo their sentiments today.
My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead. I pay my tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has been an indefatigable campaigner. He gave a very fine keynote speech today and it is a privilege to take part in this debate. It is a privilege also to follow four very distinguished, and I might say distinguishable, maiden speakers, each one of whom brought a particular quality to our deliberations.
In a brief debate, I want to highlight one or two things. First, we must always be persistent—the noble Lord, Lord Clarke, did right to quote the great Dietrich Bonhoeffer. I think back to those in our own country who struggled for what we now take for granted but what, as the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, pointed out, is certainly not taken for granted in many parts of the world. I think of Wilberforce and his campaign against slavery, and Shaftesbury, who rescued children. We have a great deal to be proud of—which does not mean that we have great deal to be complacent about. We must also remember that persistence pays off.
I want to relate two, very brief stories to the House from my own experience. I do it in the light of the comments of the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, who talked about Russia as it is today—and certainly there is a great deal of imperfection. When I came into Parliament some 43 years ago, I immediately became a great friend of the noble Lord, Lord Janner. We decided to form a campaign for the release of Soviet Jewry. He thought that it was right that I should chair it, as a Christian, and he was a very tireless secretary. I am sorry that he is not in his place at the moment, because I pay tribute to him. At that time, it was impossible to get a visa to go to Moscow to argue our case. It was impossible to get religious books accepted in the Soviet Union. I remember we sent one, signed by all the party leaders, to a dissident called Slepak’s son for his bar mitzvah. It was sent back. Twenty years later, as a member of an international commission on human rights, I took part in an epiphany service in the Kremlin in a place where the leaders of the Soviet bloc countries had gone in the past and Christian worship would never have been permitted. At that service, handed to Mr Gorbachev’s special representative and chef de cabinet, Andrei Grachev, was a volume of the Scriptures which was symbolic of a million Bibles being accepted into the Soviet Union. That was true progress.
I relate just one other incident. Two years later, in 1972-73, we were in Vienna receiving some who had come out and been given visas. There was one young lady who spoke the most perfect English. I joked with her and said, “You must have been top of all your classes” and she said, “Well, actually, I was, until the day after my parents were granted the visa, when I was summoned to the vice-chancellor’s office and told that I had been the victim of a mistake and I had failed everything”. Thirty-one years later, I stood in that vice-chancellor’s or chancellor’s office in the University of Tartu in Estonia, a country by then a member of the European Community and of NATO, and rejoiced at the freedoms that had come.
I tell these two very brief stories merely to illustrate that persistence can and does pay off. It is important that we maintain dialogue—the noble Lord, Lord Alton, referred to the Helsinki accords. It is important that we keep contact with those countries whose regimes we deplore, and it is important that we deplore them publicly so that there is pressure on the leaders of those countries to make them realise that they are not acting in isolation but are being looked at, and that their words and deeds are being monitored. Let us remember that in almost every country of which we are talking, be it Pakistan, Nigeria or Iran, a vast majority of ordinary, decent people are desperate to have the freedoms which we enjoy and which my noble friend Lord Finkelstein spoke so movingly about earlier in this debate. If we are going to be able to ensure that human rights really are universal, we must keep up both the public and the private pressure.
My Lords, the debate we are having today on human rights violations and the Government’s response to them is of critical importance to our relations with a whole range of countries where those abuses have taken, or are taking, place. These are not simple judgments to make and the noble Lord, Lord Alton, who has done much to shine a spotlight of publicity on so many such countries, most particularly North Korea, deserves credit for insisting that we examine the dilemmas posed to our foreign policy.
It is easy enough to caricature the two extremes: a foreign policy based solely on realpolitik, aimed at securing the national interest as narrowly defined; and, on the other hand, what has been called an ethical foreign policy where human rights considerations override all others. However, it is also easy to dismiss either of those extremes. The real dilemmas are to be found in the foreign policy choices that lie between those two extremes, and they have to take account of the separate circumstances of individual countries. There is no single template for policy which can be applied worldwide.
This week the spotlight is very much on Sri Lanka, where the Commonwealth Heads of Government have been meeting, where massive abuses of human rights by both sides took place during the final phases of the civil war, and where the UN’s High Commissioner for Human Rights recently discerned a drift towards authoritarian rule, with pressure on an independent judiciary and free press. I trust that the Minister will give the House some idea of how the President of Sri Lanka responded to the Prime Minister’s representations. Will she also assure us that the Government will not slacken in their advocacy of an independent inquiry into the events at the end of the war? An inquiry is surely going to have to be international if it is to be truly independent. Will we also keep up the pressure on the need for reconciliation and genuinely even-handed treatment of all ethnic and religious groups in that country if the present very welcome peace there is to be consolidated and sustained?
In considering how Britain should respond to human rights abuses, I suggest that one mistake we need to avoid is looking at the issue principally, or even solely, in the context of our bilateral relationship with the country in question. However, Britain’s influence and leverage are unlikely to be decisive nowadays. All too often we have seen how easy it is for the country in question to punish us for our temerity and play us off against other countries which have been less assertive. We saw that over the Chinese reactions to the Prime Minister receiving the Dalai Lama, and the Russians are past masters at that game. A multilateral approach is not just a soft option and makes it more difficult for the country on the receiving end of the pressure or the sanctions to divide and rule. I give a few examples of where it has been very successful: the Commonwealth sporting boycott of apartheid South Africa; the wide-ranging international sanctions on the military regime in Burma; and the pressure the European Union is bringing to bear on Ukraine in the run-up to the Eastern Partnership summit later this month. This surely points to our making maximum use of the multilateral instruments and forums that exist for handling human rights. How effective are those instruments and what sort of shape are they in? As many other speakers have said, the UN Universal Declaration of Human Rights must surely remain the cornerstone of our activity, whether multilateral or bilateral. However, it contains no enforcement machinery and the UN Human Rights Council, established in 2006, has yet to prove itself fully, although its universal periodic review of every member state’s human rights record is an instrument of real value. We need to do what we can to strengthen the hand of the admirable High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms Pillay, who visited London recently. In that context, I hope that the Minister will say what response the Government gave to Ms Pillay’s plea for an increase in our voluntary contribution to her office’s work to help reverse the recent reduction in resources at her disposal.
Then there is the Council of Europe, the convention and the court of human rights, which is so often intemperately denounced for excessive interference in our affairs. Do those critics ever stop to consider the work the council’s machinery does in a whole range of countries whose human rights record is well short of perfection? Any action we might take which weakens that machinery would inevitably reduce its effectiveness.
I conclude with a simple thought. The 20th century saw probably the most widespread, dramatic and repugnant abuses of human rights in recorded history. The challenge to us is to ensure that in the 21st century the world turns away decisively from that appalling inheritance and that Britain plays a prominent part in bringing that about.
My Lords, I echo the congratulations given to the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, and the noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, and to my noble friends Lady Kennedy of Cradley and Lord Mendelsohn on their outstanding speeches and look forward to their future contributions. I was intrigued to hear that the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, has five guitars at home, as do I. It sounds to me as if we have a basis for at least some sort of discussion.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for initiating this debate, which centres on human tragedy and the stance that we should take to it, and for providing the architecture for it: that is, the 1948 universal declaration, and the need to construct foreign policy with Article 18 in mind. Indeed, that was enlarged on by my noble friend Lord Parekh. Her Majesty’s Government—in my view, rightly—have set out their six priorities and their decision to serve on the human rights global machinery. I support these priorities unreservedly, not least because they flow from the voices of victims. These priorities orientate us. However, I hope that we will also explore the contradictions which result from them, as did the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, a few moments ago.
I have a similar objective to that expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, which includes his point about multilateralism. I will focus on capital punishment as an example of a priority. Our strategy is to oppose the use of the death penalty because we promote human rights and democracy and because there are no circumstances in which we believe that it is appropriate or ethically justified. We want to influence people and dissuade them from using capital punishment, including those with whom we enjoy normal, peaceful diplomatic and trade relations, such as our traditional friends the United States, but also countries such as China or Iran. We are also clear about the imperative of developing relationships with those countries.
Iran, with whom we seek a renewed relationship, not least because we wish to reach an accord on nuclear enrichment and end conflict in Syria, has killed at least 120,000 people judicially and non-judicially since the overthrow of the Shah. It routinely executes minors, and nearly half of those suffering the death penalty are under 30. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Kennedy on her important intervention about children generally; the execution of children is part of that. There have been 59 United Nations General Assembly resolutions and countless reports by the human rights commission but they have had more or less no impact.
I support all that the noble Lord, Lord Alton, said about the murders at Camp Liberty, North Korea, Joseph Kony, and much else. I also support what the noble Baroness, Lady Cox, said about Burma, the analysis of Syria of the noble Baroness, Lady Falkner, and the remarks made by the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries, about the suppression of people because of their caste. The United Kingdom’s priority is clear and right, yet “no relationship with Iran” is a position that it would be difficult to advocate or sustain in the world of real politics. We lobby at a high level, fund human rights and pro-democracy projects and take trenchant positions on all these issues. However, we cease diplomatic relations only exceptionally and unwillingly. That seems sensible and necessary in most circumstances.
The FCO has a priority to prevent torture and, a few moments ago, my noble friend Lord Clarke illustrated what this means in Iran. Again, the ethical priority cannot somehow mean that we cease to deal with states that employ torture, much as it is repugnant to us. That is not out of indifference or cynicism but because we need relationships to address a wide variety of global and regional problems. The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, spoke of the problem of dealing with tyrants. I can personally say that you may end up talking for days, as I did in Doha, with people whom you would rather see hauled before the International Criminal Court in The Hague, if only you could achieve that outcome.
The FCO also has a priority, which was rightly emphasised by my noble and learned friend Lady Scotland, to end violence against women and girls—a problem which is now frequently a weapon of war, as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, so rightly said. We have a detailed policy that repays reading, as will study of what the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby has said today. Equally, the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, talked about gay people’s rights. We should prioritise all these issues, just as we prioritise the renewal of the push towards democracy. In this case, we apply few tests of whom we will or will not deal with. There is no adequate litmus test available, and even when we hold our noses, we frequently have to prefer to talk.
Like the late Robin Cook, to whom the noble Lord, Lord Patten, also referred today, I ask myself what might guide us in these difficult times and give us a chance to set out a strategy that is neither naive nor bombastic about human rights. What guides the post-Cold War world, a world of multipolarity? There is a great instinct in general to hold nations directly or indirectly accountable for their actions. It is our current trajectory that I want to look at. Do we balance properly the ethical foreign policy that we should adopt, if we can, with the United Kingdom’s national interest and its commitment to human rights? There must be a new disposition between all these.
I conclude that there will never be an unbending standard to judge every circumstance and, equally, that no foreign policy can be humanity blind because it might happen to suit us on a particular day because of a particular commercial interest. If we were to do so it would give full scope to dictators, war criminals, illegal arms dealers and others. It would demand of us only that we looked after our own security and financial profitability. We would have intervened in Libya because it had armed the IRA and not because it was slaughtering its own people. These are the issues that we have to face. We would have turned our backs, in those circumstances, on the 1948 convention.
Does the Minister agree that the core guidelines, which we may need to behave more appropriately now, are perhaps these? First, our foreign policy in these areas should obviously protect our security and that of our allies, while promoting conditions in which we are least likely to be attacked at home or have our people attacked in other parts of the world—and we should do so with our allies in a multilateral way. Secondly, while our choice of means in such circumstances would almost always lead to peaceful means, we must acknowledge circumstances where, for the right and wholly disclosed reasons and with parliamentary consent, wherever possible, we should intervene as a last resort with proportionate steps and reasonable prospects of success. I labour this point because, aside from our own security—the paramount reason—we also have obligations to protect. They are part of our international obligations and often imply preventing, reacting and rebuilding after conflict. I find it hard to conceive of retaining a permanent seat on the United Nations Security Council, as I wish this country to do, if only the United Kingdom’s interests ever determined the judgments that we made.
My noble friend Lady Howells made the point that human rights must be matched by a responsibility to protect; she is absolutely right. I commend my noble friend Lord Mendelsohn and the noble Lord, Lord Hastings, on their comments in this regard. In my final few moments I will commend also the work of the Canadian Government, who have captured this thought. Their international commission on intervention judges the evidence of serious harm, including mass murder and starvation, and whether the state involved is unwilling, unable or opposed to averting such harm. If these conditions hold, the principle of non-intervention yields to the responsibility to protect—something that we should take very seriously. It was close to Robin Cook’s thinking, and I believe that it was close to Tony Blair’s in his speech to the Chicago press club.
In all these cases, what we may need is a realistic checklist that gets us through how we are to deal with despotic, murderous and antidemocratic regimes—regimes for whom war crimes are just a tool that they use from their toolkit—and at the same time oppose the behaviour that they espouse. I commend the Canadian approach as being among perhaps the best architecture that has been designed. It was somewhat lost in the aftermath of 9/11 and it is hardly known or studied in many circles, but it should be. It should also be fully debated and I hope that on some occasion, we may have the opportunity to do so in your Lordships’ House. Let us try to make sure that we are debating the fundamentals of how we proceed alongside the examples of egregious harm.
My Lords, first, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for his tireless efforts to shine a light on the darker corners of humanity. He brings to our attention the plight of those suffering human rights abuses throughout the world, not just today but on a regular basis in your Lordships’ House. Secondly, I take this opportunity to congratulate my noble friend Lady Suttie, the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, and my noble friend Lord Finkelstein on their maiden speeches. The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, mentioned the phrase “Behind every man” but did not complete it. I have a phrase of my own: behind every powerful woman there is usually a man who wakes up in the morning and says, “Darling, where are my socks?”. Given the in-depth knowledge of the area of human rights among the noble Lords who made their maiden speeches today, I very much look forward to hearing more from them on these issues.
This has been a wide-ranging debate and it is almost impossible for me to respond fully in 20 minutes, so I apologise if I do not address all concerns. As always, the interventions were thought-provoking and wide-ranging. It was incredibly interesting to hear from noble Lords such as my noble friend Lord Cormack, who can through his own experience recall changing situations around the world. I am also grateful for the incredibly thoughtful speech of the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, who eloquently detailed the challenges, conflicts, considerations, principles and pragmatisms that all play into our foreign policy—and, of course, human rights as a part of that.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights underpins what we do but, sadly, it is too often disregarded. We take our place in the international human rights community incredibly seriously. That is why we campaigned most recently for a seat on the UN Human Rights Council. I am delighted to say that we were elected with 171 votes, and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, for his kind congratulations. As noble Lords know, the Human Rights Council was set up in 2006 and has addressed numerous rights-related situations in countries such as Burma, North Korea, Belarus, Syria, Libya, Sudan, Iran and Sri Lanka, to name a few. The United Nations Human Rights Council also addresses important thematic human rights issues such as freedom of expression, freedom of religion or belief, women’s rights, LGBT rights, and business and human rights.
A number of Human Rights Council resolutions, such as those on Libya, have led to vital action at the UN Security Council. When our term begins in January, we will bring this commitment and ambition, as well as our resources, to support and strengthen the council, and to uphold the independence and effectiveness of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights—something that we believe is of paramount importance. Of course, we will be working alongside countries whose records on human rights give us cause for concern, too. But with membership comes responsibility and we will not shirk from reminding other states on the Human Rights Council of their responsibilities.
The universal periodic review process has played a critical role in facilitating the wider acceptance of international human rights scrutiny. The success of UPR is a priority for the UK; it is often the first time that a state has had the opportunity to carry out an open, self-critical review of its human rights commitments. The majority of states have engaged constructively, and the UPR looks likely to help facilitate wider acceptance of international human rights standards. It is therefore a crucial tool for implementing our human rights priorities. The UK works hard to ensure that other countries approach the UPR process in a transparent and constructive manner, and it is therefore important to us that we are able to demonstrate having taken the process seriously ourselves. The UK’s own UPR was successfully presented in 2012 by the Ministry of Justice, under the direction of my noble friend Lord McNally.
We have pledged to use the membership of the Human Rights Council to work for the protection of the most vulnerable in our societies, responding actively to global challenges and looking ahead to the future of universal human dignity, and to keep human rights at the core of the UN’s work. We will particularly press forward on the six global thematic priorities that the Government have set. Before I go through them, though, I acknowledge the suggestion from the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, of considering LGBT issues as a thematic priority. I will certainly consider that at the time of our review.
We continue to work on our first priority, which is the abolition of the death penalty. We work with the all-party parliamentary group, chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Stern, to push forward the debate towards abolition in countries that retain the death penalty. We fund practical initiatives, such as training judges and lawyers and modernising penal codes, to reduce the use of the death penalty. We work for an increase in countries voting in favour of the UN’s biennial resolution against the death penalty, which will be run next in 2014. This demonstrates how, over time, the tide of global opinion is turning against the use of the death penalty.
Another priority is on initiatives to prevent torture. We are running a global campaign to encourage states to ratify the UN convention against torture and the optional protocol. The protocol compels states to establish intrusive mechanisms of inspection of places of detection, to shine a light on the treatment of people held by the state. We share the UK’s own experience of implementing the optional protocol through Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Prisons, and run projects to help states to set up their own systems to end the scourge of torture.
We use our membership of the HRC to push for more states to take action to implement the UN guiding principles on business and human rights—another thematic priority. This specifically references the principle of the effective abolition of child labour, which was referred to by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy. The UK has done this through its own action plan, launched in September by the Foreign Office and the Business Secretary. The plan responds to the call for British business to help the principles flourish in every market, in a way that respects human rights and ensures proper remedy for those whose human rights are harmed by business activity. I hope that this is seen as the start of the Government setting the tone on expectations and standards, as outlined by the noble Lord, Lord Hastings.
On the specific issue of child labour, which was raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy, at the Human Rights Council in March this year the UK co-sponsored the resolution on the rights of children, which further calls upon all states to translate into concrete action their commitment to the progressive and effective elimination of child labour, which interferes with a child’s education and is harmful to a child’s health, both physical and mental, and to their moral and social development. The noble Lord, Lord Mendelsohn, was right to reference in his maiden speech that market forces too must work for the benefit of the populations of countries that are rich in resources.
Another priority for the Foreign Office is working to ensure freedom of expression, both online and offline. Freedom of expression underpins democracy and is the gateway to many other rights and freedoms. In a networked world we need to ensure that people everywhere, including those not yet connected to the internet, can enjoy the economic and social benefits of a free, open internet, and can do so safely and securely. This is the vision that the Foreign Secretary set out at the London conference on cyberspace in 2011, which has since been taken forward by conferences in Budapest and Seoul, and which we will further pursue at the conference in 2015 in The Hague.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, detailed harrowing examples of the abuse of women. Women’s rights are another priority—tackling one of the greatest challenges of the century, to ensure that the full social, economic and political participation of women becomes commonplace. We work to end impunity for the use of rape as a weapon of war and for wider violence against women and girls. We share our own experiences in tackling problems that the UK faces, along with many other countries, from how to get women on boards to ensuring that no girl has to endure the trauma of FGM or forced marriage.
I take on board what the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, said about violence in a domestic situation. The Foreign Secretary, however, has focused his efforts on preventing sexual violence in conflict because he feels that accountability and justice is an area where there is the most glaring lack of political will, and where Governments can make the most difference. The PSVI initiative supports existing and extensive cross-government work on conflict prevention and violence against women and girls. The initiative has made excellent progress in securing great international commitment to tackling sexual violence in conflict. G8 Ministers agreed a historic declaration in April, and in June we secured the first Security Council resolution on this issue in years.
In September at the UN General Assembly, the Foreign Secretary launched the Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict, which has so far been endorsed by 135 countries. The political campaigning has been underpinned by practical action that is already starting to take place in Bosnia-Herzegovina, the DRC, Kosovo, Libya and Mali and on the Syrian borders. I commend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Derby for referring to the White Ribbon project, to which I was able to lend support only yesterday; it is an incredibly important initiative for men to speak out against violence directed at women.
The noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland, also spoke about the Istanbul convention. The UK is supportive of the principles underpinning that convention but there remain a number of areas that need further consideration before a final decision can be made on whether to sign—particularly the criminalisation of forced marriage and the extension of extraterritorial jurisdiction to the wide range of offences in scope of the convention. As part of this further consideration, the UK Government launched a consultation in December 2011 on whether to create, for example, a new offence of forced marriage. The Government are considering how these and other issues might be resolved, and will make a statement in due course. Should the final decision be that the UK signs the convention, primary legislation will need to be introduced to make sure that the UK law is compliant.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hollins, raised the issue of the abuse of human rights of disabled members of our society. In 2012 we used our role as host nation of the Paralympic Games to highlight the power of sport to deliver the vision of the UN convention. The UK is proud to have welcomed the highest ever number of participating Paralympic teams at the Games, and disability rights were a core element of our joint communiqué on human rights.
The sixth thematic priority, and a personal priority of mine, is one that was raised by my noble friends Lord Selkirk and Lord Patten and the noble Lord, Lord Singh: the freedom of religion and belief. I shall explain what religious freedom means to me. It means the freedom to have a religion, to believe what one chooses to believe, to manifest those beliefs, to show them outwardly, to share them with others, to change your faith or to not have a faith, and to do so without fear of discrimination, attack or persecution. I echo the words of my noble friend Lady Berridge that we place emphasis on both religion and belief. We work in this area in many ways, including in multilateral organisations—which, as the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, said, is sometimes the most effective way.
Within that, we are committed to working with the United Nations Human Rights Council to implement Resolution 1618. This resolution lays the foundations for combating discrimination against people based on their religion throughout the world. Political consensus is crucial to achieving that. Therefore, in January this year I brought together in London Ministers and senior officials, from the Foreign Minister of Canada to the Foreign Minister of Indonesia and the OIC, to try to take forward a political track to the Istanbul process. A further meeting was held in New York during the UN General Assembly week.
We also engage on this issue through bilateral engagement. I have made freedom of religion a priority in the areas that I have responsibility for, but I also believe that every Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office is and should be an ambassador for religious freedom. We saw that with the Prime Minister in Sri Lanka only days ago. Each and every one of us raises and promotes these issues in the countries for which we have responsibility.
Thirdly, we engage in project work with human rights and faith-based organisations around the world, particularly those that bridge sectarian divides and promote dialogue between religions.
Fourthly, given the key role that faith plays in our global politics today, we are equipping our diplomats with the understanding of the crucial role that religion plays in the world today. We are ensuring that experts on freedom of religion and belief sit on the Foreign Secretary’s Advisory Group on Human Rights. I am planning to hold a conference on freedom of religion and belief next year to bring the many strands of this work together.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Wakefield and others suggested the appointment of an ambassador for religious freedom. We keep this constantly under review, but we have also been looking at the experiences of other countries that have done this and we have seen that, disturbingly, these ambassadors are sometimes not given access to the countries, or indeed to individuals at the highest level in those countries, to raise these challenges. Therefore, it is important that we make sure that we work in the most effective way in this area.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Anderson of Swansea, that we have greater credibility overseas if our record at home is good—a point made eloquently by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay. The noble Lord, Lord Hannay, asked me specifically about meeting Navi Pillay. I do not have an answer to that but I will certainly write to him with an update.
The noble Earl, Lord Sandwich, and the noble Lords, Lord Parekh, Lord Anderson and Lord Hannay, spoke of CHOGM. There has of course been much debate about the Prime Minister’s decision to go to last week’s Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in Sri Lanka. I believe that the Prime Minister was right to go. As the noble Lord, Lord Parekh, said, not talking to people is never the answer. By going, the Prime Minister shone a spotlight on the situation there, and he was the first foreign leader to visit the north of the country since 1948. Because of his decision, journalists were granted access that would otherwise have been impossible to gain, and the local people—the families of the missing—were given an international voice.
The PM was bold and blunt in his views. He had a frank and tough meeting with the President, in which he clearly set out the need for Sri Lanka to make further progress in a number of areas, including a credible and transparent independent investigation into allegations of war crimes. If the Sri Lankan Government fail to do this, the UK will fully back an international investigation. The talks also covered a meaningful political settlement with the north, including demilitarisation, and proper implementation of the range of Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission recommendations. However, I accept that more needs to be done, not just in Sri Lanka but to ensure that the principles of the Commonwealth charter are applied by the countries of the Commonwealth.
My noble friend Lady Falkner asked about Syria. We are deeply concerned about recent media reports of mass graves being discovered in Sadad. We have consistently made it clear that those who have committed these and other crimes during the conflict will be held to account. We have trained more than 60 Syrian activists to document human rights violations and abuses to assist in any future accountability process. We have consistently made it clear that those responsible for the most serious international crimes in Syria should be held to account, and we believe that the situation in Syria should be referred to the International Criminal Court. We will continue, publicly and privately, to make the case for ICC referral. We are pushing for a strong resolution on human rights and accountability to be adopted by the UN.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, and others raised the issue of Camp Liberty. We remain of the view that the Government of Iraq, as a sovereign Government, are responsible for the situation at the camp. We have called on the Government to take all necessary measures to locate missing residents and ensure the safety of the remaining residents at Camp Liberty.
The noble Lord, Lord Alton, also raised the issue of Sudan. We continue to make the case to the Government of Sudan and the international community that we expect compliance with arrest warrants for ICC indictees. We regularly lobby Governments and make public statements to this effect—for example, when President al-Bashir recently travelled to Nigeria.
The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Harries of Pentregarth, raised concerns relating to discrimination against the Dalit community. DfID has supported the Indian Government’s Education for All scheme, which has helped to bring the number of Dalit children in school proportionately in line with the general population. We have also supported measures in India’s 120 poorest districts to promote empowerment and access to benefits and services for excluded groups. Dalits have been a large part of that.
The noble Baroness, Lady Suttie, gave an incredibly interesting account of her experience in Russia. The promotion and protection of human rights continues to be a key priority in our bilateral relationship with Russia. The UK is unique among EU member states in holding annual bilateral meetings to allow formal discussions about human rights. In addition, we regularly meet human rights defenders and NGOs in Russia, and we fund projects run by Russian NGOs to promote progress in human rights.
The noble Baroness, Lady Howells of St Davids, asked about the European Convention on Human Rights. We have agreed, in the context of the coalition agreement, that the obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights will continue to be enshrined in British law.
The noble Baroness, Lady Cox, asked about Burma. We are lobbying the Burmese Government for further action to address the humanitarian situation. We are providing £4.4 million in humanitarian aid—the largest amount of bilateral aid—for Rakhine state, and we are continuing to support Kachin state. In July, the Secretary of State for International Development announced a further £13.5 million of UK funding. Unfortunately, I shall not be able to address further questions on Burma and Nigeria.
The noble Lord, Lord Clarke of Hampstead, spoke about Iran. The UK will continue to hold Iran to account for human rights abuses. To date, we have designated, under EU sanctions, more than 80 Iranians responsible for human rights violations, and have helped to establish a UN special rapporteur. Last autumn, we lobbied for the support of a UN General Assembly resolution on Iran’s human rights, which was supported by an overwhelming majority. As the Prime Minister and the Foreign Secretary said, increasing our bilateral engagement with Iran will enable the UK to have more detailed, regular and direct discussions on human rights.
I end by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Alton, for allowing us to discuss these important issues. Without respect for human rights, security cannot be guaranteed. Without peace and stability, economies will not grow, poverty will endure, the rule of law will crumble and the cycle of poverty, abuse and instability will perpetuate. Preventing this, breaking this cycle and upholding the fundamental rights to which every human is entitled are at the very core of every aspect of our diplomatic engagement, just as I know it is at the core of the work of this House. Once again, I am grateful for the contribution of all noble Lords to this cause.
My Lords, it was suggested during Question Time today that your Lordships have no business spending time on non-domestic issues. Twenty-six powerful speeches, including the Front-Bench speeches of the noble Baroness, Lady Warsi, and the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, illustrate why this House should spend time on these issues, why it should bring its insightful, intelligent, well informed and wise contributions to these questions, why we have a duty to use the hard-won freedoms gained over 800 years since the promulgation of Magna Carta, and why we should use our liberties and freedoms to speak for the women in the Congo, the dissidents in Iran, the 300,000 in the gulags in North Korea or the 44 young people who were murdered by Boko Haram while sleeping in a dormitory in northern Nigeria.
Anyone who doubts the relevance or purpose of your Lordships’ House should read today’s Hansard. During my time here, I have felt deeply privileged to be able to work with many of your Lordships who have spoken in today’s debate. In four remarkable maiden speeches, we have heard about the oppression of gay people, about Putin’s Russia, about the need for an overarching strategy on human rights and about child labour.
The noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of Cradley, reminded us that the welcome modern slavery Bill will appear later this year. More than 200 years ago, William Wilberforce and his friends believed that they had abolished slavery. Interestingly, he said, “Now we must turn our attention to the Dalits and the caste system”. These old evils still need to be combated, even as new giants emerge. Perhaps in our generation we might make caste history. Wilberforce, whose biographer is our Foreign Secretary, William Hague, once remarked that, having seen the evidence, “we cannot turn away”. Today, there has been no shortage of evidence and, like Wilberforce, we cannot turn away.
During our debate, we heard mention of the assault on the right to belief. It was mentioned in many speeches, including those of the two right reverend Prelates. I agree with Timothy Shah, who said:
“When people lose their religious freedom, they lose more than their freedom to be religious. They lose their freedom to be human”.
Lest anyone doubts the evidence, let them read the 160-page report that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office publishes every year on human rights violations. If a Select Committee produced that report, there would be a mechanism to debate it. It should be a given that every year we should have a full-scale debate on that annual report in both Houses. It should not be left to the vagaries of a ballot. Given the vast experience in your Lordships’ House on all our Benches, it is patently absurd that there is not an international affairs Select Committee, a foreign affairs Select Committee, where issues such those that we have been debating can be examined in detail.
The Foreign Secretary rightly said:
“While human rights are not the only consideration in forming a nation’s foreign policy, if we allow human rights to suffer while we pursue our legitimate national interest, we will in the long term have failed”.
We have seen remarkable change in our lifetime—the fall of the Berlin Wall, the end of apartheid in South Africa and the beginnings of a peace process in Northern Ireland. Since coming to your Lordships’ House, I have been able to go to Burma on four occasions, three of them illegally. Eighteen months ago, I would not have believed that I would be able to address an open- air meeting of the National League for Democracy in Yangon. It is a small beginning, a small start and a welcome change.
It was said by Benjamin Franklin that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance. We have been vigilant today but, as so many have said, we must persist, persist and persist. We must use our freedoms on behalf of those whose freedoms are cruelly denied.
Church of England: Holistic Missions
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the July 2013 report by ResPublica, Holistic Missions: Social Action and the Church of England.
My Lords, the Church of England is on the verge of extinction, or so you would believe if you accept this week’s tabloid headlines. The report of the think tank ResPublica, entitled Holistic Missions: Social Action and the Church of England, presents us with a different picture. It presents a picture of a church which is present in every community, town, village and city and embedded in its localities. It is a church which baptises, marries and buries a significant proportion of the population, educates some 1 million children in church schools and serves the poor, the homeless, the lonely, the hungry and the distressed in often unnoticed but crucial ways.
The report’s central argument is that a nation cannot thrive and progress purely as a result of the success or otherwise of the market or the Government. These have both in different ways failed us. The NHS has been implicated in massive scandals of appalling care and resultant cover-ups. Our banking system has been the province of vested and bonus-seeking self-interest. In the United Kingdom, social mobility is stagnating and inequalities are rising and embedding. This debate arises from the conviction that we need to renew, recover and restore the transformative institutions which can make a vital difference. The institution primarily placed to do that is the Church of England.
I am delighted, as I am sure we all are, that this debate has attracted two maiden speeches. The noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence of Clarendon, brings to our debate an unrivalled track record of courage and resilience in challenging and shaping civil society, not least through the work of the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle benefits us with his understanding of the challenges and opportunities of the rural churches and communities in Cumbria, as well as his particular portfolio among the Bishops in relation to the NHS. As one of those from this Bench who has the longest train journey to London, he usually comes exceptionally well-acquainted with the agendas of our meetings.
If we are to grasp the unique role of the church in social action, we must recognise that faith plays a vital part in motivating and energising voluntary action at every level. Some 79% of church members who responded to ResPublica’s survey have been involved in social action in the past 12 months, compared with the national average of 45%. According to the Sunday Telegraph, members of the Church of England give some 22.3 million hours each month in voluntary service.
I see that daily in my diocese. The street pastors in Leicester and the county towns have a transforming impact on street crime and vulnerable young people, especially on weekend nights. Our diocesan centre provides a base for the City of Sanctuary projects, reaching the most desperate asylum seekers. Our work with the Prince’s Trust transforms self-confidence and life chances for unemployed young people. Apprenticeships in churches and church schools are beginning to develop high quality training and work experience. Outreach youth work in the diocese now exceeds all the resource from the other agencies put together. This pattern is replicated up and down the country where the social mission of the church is indivisible from its spiritual mission—a reflection of God’s concern for all people, especially the poorest and most vulnerable.
Further, much of this work is done in partnership with other Christian denominations and other faiths. Indeed, co-operation with the faith communities around, for example, food banks and other forms of social provision, is becoming a hallmark of the Church of England’s work in many of our major cities. Not only is this work widespread but it depends on an institution which is exceptional in its reach and essentially focused on the local. Churches, especially the Church of England, act both as a bridge across communities but also essentially as a gateway into communities. Quite frankly, it is the established church which is uniquely placed to achieve almost universal access through its networks of staff and buildings, and its particular place in the story of every locality.
Speaking to the General Synod this week, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York emphasised that point. He said:
“Parishes up and down the country are striving hard to tackle the consequences of poverty … Indeed for a parish not to be doing something about it is becoming the exception rather than the rule. Take Middlesbrough … for instance, where churches of all denominations are currently running 276 activities designed to help the vulnerable. It has been calculated that these … amount to 800 hours of love-in-action each week”.
Many of those themes have been taken up recently in a major conference in Liverpool under the title “Together for the Common Good”, building on the social action tradition of Bishop David Sheppard and Archbishop Derek Worlock on Merseyside in the 1980s. This morning DCLG has launched its programme, Together in Service, to support faith-based social action across the country. The Near Neighbours scheme funds community cohesion by directly recognising the presence and effectiveness of the Church of England in every neighbourhood.
Across the country, much of the support for this work comes from the Church Urban Fund establishing joint ventures in places as diverse as Birmingham, Cornwall, Lancashire, Liverpool, Middlesbrough, Newcastle and Nottingham. These local hubs bring churches together in common action and outreach. They build capacity and confidence, and act as a source of experience and stories through which policy and leadership can be shaped for the future. All that activity contributes to a much-needed debate about the common good and the kind of society in which we all want to live and in which the fruits of all our labours are available for the flourishing of all parts of our society.
There are one or two points that I want to put specifically to the Minister, but first I want to establish a general point. We do not from these Benches advocate the co-option of the Church into the wholesale delivery of welfare programmes on behalf of the state. Experience suggests that there is a danger here of the faith and voluntary sector being systematically undercut by the big corporations, which can drive down costs and perhaps quality of service to below that which the churches could countenance.
The report does, however, issue a major challenge that the churches and government need to take profoundly seriously. It is a challenge to rethink and rebalance the relationship between state and community provision through the churches. In particular, the report calls for what it calls “a new settlement”. This suggests a model of social action that focuses on service with the community rather than for the community. This model involves all parties in seeking solutions. As the report puts it:
“If we want to see powerful, resilient and faithful communities with the capacity to address their own problems, then people need the power to act for themselves rather than being dependent on services”.
That requires a devolution of power both from government and the private sector and a readiness to break up monopolistic power that leaves the churches and the voluntary sector sometimes out of the equation. It also requires government to think more holistically in terms of partnering with the churches in health, education, work and training programmes and so forth.
We on these Benches recognise that there is more that the churches themselves can do in this area. Much of this work needs to be done at local level, harnessing the networks and experience already in place. For example, efforts are being made to bring together the different levels of church social action. In 2012, a project was launched by the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of York, under the title Resourcing Christian Community Action, which aims to be a catalyst to bring together current best practice in providing Christian care in local communities with the resources and knowledge needed to multiply this work across the country. The challenge in the report to the mission and public affairs department of the Church of England to set up a social action unit is a powerful one, but it suggests a top-down approach which may not be the most effective way of achieving necessary change in the dioceses and parishes of England.
Yet there is a great deal in the report to support. We support the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Faith and Society’s faith and localism charter to ensure trust and transparency between commissioners and faith-based organisations when preparing to commission services from them with a view to making contracts clearer and more open.
Secondly, we would advocate that more attention needs to be given by government to capacity-building the churches as long-term, sustainable and trusted partners. There is much in the report in that area that would repay study. Will the Minister respond, in particular, to the proposal that Big Society Capital should encourage a social investment platform with good links to church-based social ventures to act as an intermediary on lending to such groups? Here especially is an opportunity to replicate and scale up established and proven initiatives and to move on from the endless construction of new schemes sometimes devoid of a track record in order to exploit contracting opportunities.
Thirdly, will the Government's new commissioning academy include advice for commissioners on how to partner effectively with church groups and how faith-based social action is of huge benefit to public services?
The report rightly reminds us that we stand at a moment of exceptional opportunity. Far from extinction, the church is ready to play its part. Its great strength is in the creation of local networks of neighbourliness and civility which allow informal bonds to develop and reduce the demands for many aspects of state welfare. This is a vital part of the ecology of welfare provision because it embodies Beveridge’s conviction that strong state provision works only if there is a well-resourced informal network of voluntary action to support community resilience. The time has come to value that network more, to understand it better, to resource it more effectively and to enable it to play its vital and proper role in creating the common good that we all wish to see.
My Lords, I do not know whether one should declare an interest in a debate of this kind, but I am a lifelong if doubting Anglican and an occasional Quaker attender. I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for inaugurating this debate. It is a useful one to have. One must thank ResPublica for its report because it is stimulating and useful. I welcome to today’s debate the two maiden speakers, the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence of Clarendon, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle.
I want to concentrate on the central recommendation of the ResPublica report. It diagnoses what it calls the failings of state departmental silos and private sector cherry picking, trapped between individualism and collectivism. I have a lot of time for that analysis: it is broadly right. It also talks of the potential institutional role of the Church of England as the “hyper-local” hub or gateway to compensate for the failings that I have just referred to. It says:
“Communities exhausted by the break-up of traditional structures of both families and communities are simply unable to access the all-inclusive and bespoke provision that alone can transform their lives. Unless we tackle this institutional deficit we will not save the poor from poverty or secure the middle classes against a similar fate”.
Again, I find myself in broad agreement, particularly with the reference to the breakdown of communities about which I will say a little in a moment.
It is sometimes useful when confronted by large themes such as this to go back to local particular example. I come from a town in Suffolk that is, I suspect, typical of many towns in our nation. There are more than 300 market towns such as Sudbury. Today, it has more than 12 places of worship. There are 20,000 people, three Anglican churches, one Catholic, one Baptist church, a Methodist church, URC, Strict and Particular Baptists, Quakers, unattached Protestants, Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Vineyard and others besides.
That does not give the impression of a community that is falling out of contact with Christianity. I should go on to say that there is a thriving Muslim community now, mainly made up of the local restaurateurs and their families. They carry on their services in the Quaker meeting house, which is a delightful and appropriate thing for them to be doing. There is in the town a strong Churches Together set-up, which is typical of most towns. That does a huge amount, quietly and effectively, to co-ordinate activities between the different churches and faiths, and provides a flexible and organic utility for that community.
I sometimes think that of all the aspects of our national life that we do not pay enough attention to, it is the decline of community life, which over my span has been continuous and now has now reached a critical position all round the country. The consequences of the breakdown of community are incalculable because it is through community that we learn our humanity, learn to tolerate and be tolerated, and imbibe so much of the collective wisdom that otherwise escapes us as mere individuals in our families. The ResPublica report proposes this hub role for the Church of England largely as a means of shoring up the community life of the country. The report refers to the decline of the tradition of communitarian civic conservatism. I think that that is with a small “c”. Again, it is right. In my home town, for example, in the 1950s, the leaders of the community were its natural leaders, in that they were the leading business people, the leading professional people, leaders from trade unionism and so on. Sadly, that is less and less the case. I repeat that that is a national tendency. Not having those in the community who are most naturally looked up to—the natural examplars, you might say, of civic and citizenship identity—is a massive setback from which we are all suffering today.
One of my gripes with the ResPublica report is that it concentrates far too much on the Church of England. All churches have that vital, practical, exemplary role. The phrase keeps coming back to me of walking the talk. If the churches do not walk the talk, what the heck are they for and who are they following?
The report suggests that the Church of England is given the key role of being the institutional hub in the process of reviving communitarianism, countering the rabid individualism, consumerism, materialism—call it what you like—that is, I think, deforming our society today. It wants the Church of England to celebrate its values and purpose rather than celebrating celebrity itself, as we spend so much time doing, I fear.
My problem with all of that is that I do not think that the Church of England, although I love it dearly, is fit for that purpose. It is in a state of extreme inequality within itself. In some parts of the country, some churches and cathedrals are vibrant and thriving, but many are not. They are very much on the back foot and struggling. I believe that, in any event, a state church, such as the Church of England is supposed to be, is better off being less connected with the state than more. I think that it infringes on the independence of a church to be too establishmentarianist. I think that that saps the independence of the church and its congregations; it makes it more subject to the vicissitudes of Governments—sometimes the same Government, let alone changing Governments; it reduces its freedom of collective or congregational criticism; it also places a downward pressure on the potential for civic and congregational innovation.
I see the Church of England—indeed, all churches—not as great, hub institutions embraced with and by the state but as seed beds of individual civic activism, hotbeds even. Often, thank goodness, churches and chapels are. I see them more as fertilisers of community vitality rather than some sort of grand master of the same. For those reasons, I am sceptical of what I take to be a central proposition of the ResPublica report, although I thank the organisation for addressing the issues and challenging me.
Lastly, lest I sit down on what may sound too complacent a note, I think that the Church of England has a huge amount to do—we have a huge amount to do. The failure of the Church of England to engage young people is, I fear, is central to its challenges. In my congregation, I suppose that the average age must be about 70. We do not have a Sunday school, but we are thought to be a successful church. We are not. You cannot say that you are in those circumstances. We are still far too middle class and far too disinclined to get our hands dirty. I do not oppose the central proposition of the report or by any means suggest that all is right in the state of the Church of England. It comes down to action: walking the talk, as I said earlier. We have a great deal to do in that direction. My word, does not the country and do not our communities need the Church of England, all churches and humanists? For goodness’ sake, do not let us, in our religiosity, get trapped in some bubble that does not allow others who do not share our beliefs the same dignity, respect and potential power.
I close by quoting good old Chaucer, who often got it spot on. Vis à vis what the Church of England should be doing today, he wrote the wonderful sentence,
“if gold rust, what shall iron do?”.
My Lords, as I take the place of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Liverpool, perhaps I may say how very grateful I am for the warm welcome, kindness and assistance that has been afforded to me by both the staff and your Lordships.
I have the great privilege of living in the beautiful county of Cumbria, which is also the diocese of Carlisle. People naturally associate it with the magnificent scenery of the Lake District, which makes it one of the most popular holiday destinations in England, but it has its share of deprivation, especially on the west coast. In recent years, it has experienced particular difficulties, among them the devastation of foot and mouth disease, severe floods in places such as Cockermouth and Workington and, of course, the terrible shootings, which attracted worldwide publicity.
The people of Cumbria have shown extraordinary resilience throughout all that, prompting one local man to describe them as being as tough as teak but gentle as lambs. Cumbrians are also very warm and appreciative. As one of my 20th century predecessors, Bishop Herbert Williams, observed:
“A true Cumbrian does not express his amazing affection for those who live in his vicinity until he is quite certain that they are safely dead”.
The diocese of Carlisle is not the oldest diocese in the country, dating from only 1133, but it is geographically one of the largest and one of the most colourful in its history. Early Bishops of Carlisle acted as the King’s agents in the north. Together with the Bishops of Durham, they were responsible for keeping the Scots out of the so-called disputed lands surrounding Hadrian’s Wall and, to that end, they employed a small private army, which was housed in their official residence, Rose Castle. According to a local chronicler, at least one bishop was noted more for his prowess in the saddle than in the pulpit and Rose, together with the medieval cathedral in Carlisle was frequently attacked and pillaged by Robert the Bruce, among others, with the direct consequence that both the castle and cathedral are half their original size—rather, it must be said, to the relief of those who have to maintain them. Subsequent bishops have included Thomas Merck, who features in Shakespeare's play “Richard II”, currently being performed by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, and Owen Oglethorpe, who crowned Queen Elizabeth I because there was then no Archbishop of Canterbury and the Archbishop of York claimed that he was too old to make the long journey down to London.
Today, the diocese is generally flourishing, although rather mixed, with Church of England congregations beginning to grow after a long period of decline. Tourism is one of the county’s main industries, and we are developing church trails and other means of welcoming some of the 16 million visitors to Cumbria each year and introducing them to our rich cultural and religious history. With Sellafield in the diocese, we are involved in continuing discussions about nuclear power, the disposal of nuclear waste and future possibilities for energy generated by wind and water. We continue to make submarines in Barrow, and although only 4% of the inhabitants of Cumbria now work on the land, farming remains a tremendously important part of the county’s life.
As we saw during the shootings, the church remains at the heart of our rural communities, creating local networks of care and enabling a great deal of informal support, as we heard from the noble Lord, Lord Phillips. This is not just the Church of England. We are beginning to work so closely with other Christian denominations—I think the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, will be glad to hear this—that Cumbria has become the first so-called ecumenical county.
One current project that has already generated a great deal of interest is a plan to turn Rose Castle into an international Christian centre for reconciliation. We hope that very soon it will become a global hub for scriptural reasoning between Christians, Muslims and Jews, for training journalists, politicians and others in religious literacy, for conflict resolution at various levels and for environmental sustainability.
That brings me to the subject under debate: holistic mission. It seems to me that the imaginative proposal for Rose Castle, the former residence of the Bishops of Carlisle, is a very good example of the way in which the church is already involved in a number of activities contributing significantly to the public good. Reconciliation between people of different faiths, including not just the great world faiths but, of course, humanism and atheism, is an obvious priority in today’s society.
Like my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, I am grateful to ResPublica for highlighting some of the extensive and excellent church work that is currently taking place. This week, as we heard, the General Synod of the Church of England has been meeting here in London. Several of the topics under discussion related directly to how the church can and does create social capital and add value in our society. For instance, in a debate on church schools, we were reminded not only of their high educational standards and increasingly inclusive approach to admission but of the fact that our clergy give hundreds of thousands of hours each year to the million or so children who attend such schools in their parishes. There was a meeting on credit unions, something with which many individual Christians and whole congregations have become involved in recent years and a very hopeful way forward in these times of mounting personal debt.
As mentioned by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, we also heard a presidential address on poverty and talked about the way in which churches have been instrumental in establishing food banks around the country. I have some first-hand experience of them. There are several in Cumbria. At the recent launch of a new report on poverty and deprivation in Furness, the local MP singled out the churches for particular mention in this regard. In many ways, initiatives of this sort are building on the sustained work of the Church Urban Fund which, as we heard from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester, has sponsored a huge number of social projects over the past few years.
In my role as lead bishop on healthcare, I am very conscious of the holistic, patient-centred care that is offered by the church to many individuals with mental health problems, recognising that mental health underpins a wide range of social challenges. We are also exploring and trying to develop schemes such as parish nurses, health centre community chaplains and parishioners acting as local carers for the elderly and housebound in their own homes. These all approach the issue of health from a holistic angle and have the potential to save huge amounts of money as well as offering a lifeline to some of the most vulnerable people in our society.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester indicated, we do not envisage the church taking over all the provision of health and social care in this country or delivering major welfare programmes on behalf of the state. That is not how it works best, nor would that be appropriate, but we are glad that ResPublica highlights so much valuable work that is already going on and applaud the potential for closer working together and partnership to which this interesting report draws our attention.
My Lords, I rise with great pleasure to follow the maiden speech of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle. It is not a good week to be a Methodist Minister, so I am hoping very much that the right reverend Prelate will recognise the sincerity of what I am about to say. The pair of us go back quite a long way. When I was on the management committee of an ecumenical project that he was running at Bar Hill, just outside Cambridge, I used to have to keep an eye on him to make sure that he was doing the right things. That is the right relationship of the Methodist Church to the Church of England. Subsequent to that, in Grasmere, when he was the Bishop of Penrith, we had a marvellous, county-wide effort and we met up again there. What he does in Cumbria for the cause of ecumenism is almost proverbial and is certainly trend-setting. I hope that since there are two other right reverend Prelates sitting there, they will learn from his example and follow the same route.
It is lovely to hear that extra dimension being drawn into the right reverend Prelate’s remarks. We must remember, as we concentrate on a debate that so specifically picks out the Church of England, that that is only one player in the field—of course, I want to draw attention to that. However, we look forward to many useful, helpful, edifying contributions from the right reverend Prelate. If they are not forthcoming, I will tell him so. Of course, I feel as if I am in the middle of a sandwich here, because I look forward with great interest to the maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, who has set a tone for British civil society and indeed for the national consciousness that we must all learn from. It is not for me to thank her for what she has not yet delivered, but I stand in great anticipation of what she will deliver.
On this debate, I have to say that my greatest anxiety is that it can delude us into thinking that the Church of England is where it all is. What does it mean to be a Methodist? It is often thought that John Wesley, when he started off, was a pietistic preacher, full of spiritual energy and indefatigable zeal. However, perhaps less is known about the fact that intrinsic to his ministry from the beginning were actions of social commitment that were totally convincing. He had a kind of mini health service, free at the point of need, which he ran from the place in City Road where I now work. He had a ministry to people on death row in Newgate Prison, a microfinance project with a commitment to helping the poor with their financial needs, and a ragged school, which attracted boys and girls from the Moorfield slums, clothing and feeding them if necessary. I can say only that the vital religion of a Methodist like John Wesley is coupled inevitably with a commitment to the transformation of society, so we do not have to think of it as an add-on at all. We think that we are not doing our job if we are not doing such things, and that is the end of the matter.
I have been the superintendent of the West London Mission for a number of years and was the boss of the late Lord Soper of Kingsway—although if anybody says that they were his boss, they need their head read—who initiated extraordinary work across the capital city that still exists to a large extent. That included a bail hostel with a day centre for over 25 year-olds—it is easy to get money for the needs of children and young people, but getting money for the needs of older homeless people is immensely difficult. There was total commitment, and it was open 365 days a year. He also initiated work with young offenders, a walk-in centre for people with addictions or substance abuse of one kind or another, which is multifaceted and free, again, for all who cross the threshold. That was a remarkable piece of work, with 80 employees and hundreds of volunteers who helped to keep it running. That, therefore, is of the essence; I have often said from the pulpit, “What’s the point of you having religion if you don’t bring a smile to someone’s face and make their lives a little easier?”. There does not seem to be much point otherwise.
I want simply to draw the circle outwards a little—no, I do not want even to do that. I do not like the compass having its fixed point in the Church of England, with ever larger circles drawn outside it. We are partners in this, and this whole thing must be seen in that sense. Why finish there? Why think that that is the range we are thinking of? My colleague, a very redoubtable Yorkshirewoman, is at this very minute standing up—if the programme that I have here is running to plan—to introduce someone from the Amida London Buddhist Centre. Ten minutes ago she introduced Mohammed Kozbar from the Finsbury Park Mosque as part of Inter Faith Week. Our work with the faiths is considerable.
John Wesley’s sermon on bigotry said that if someone else is doing a good piece of work, and it is recognised as being good, those of us who are Christian have no right to think that we cannot collaborate with them. You hold hands together and do the good, and that is the end of it. The work in the field of interfaith work has to be recognised at this point; there is so much of it around. I will give some figures: there are 289 social projects run by Islington faith-based organisations—that is 289 in one London borough. There are 536 volunteers, 68 full-time staff and 52 part-time staff. Some 74% of faith-based organisations work in partnerships across faiths and within faiths, and 65% are done in collaboration with people of good will who have no faith at all. At the end of the day, social need is social need, and you work together. If people who have faith feel that that is what motivates them, that is fine—but you do it with everybody else. Phrases such as the “unique place” of the Church of England, and self-aggrandising phrases like that, set my teeth on edge when I read this particular report.
I go back to Islington, as all good people do in the end. Of the social projects run by faith-based organisations in Islington, 32 are in the area of education, 20 in housing and homelessness, 25 in art and music, 19 to do with drug abuse, 20 in the field of health, 14 in the area of business and enterprise, and 13 in the area of employment. That is absolutely fantastic. Just two days ago, in the Cholmondeley Room—I hope one day that someone will tell me why it is pronounced “Chumley”; I am sure that there is a reason—we had a reception for Action for Children, which is a charity that I have supported all my life. It used to be the National Children’s Home, a good Methodist charity. There were 92 volunteers receiving their annual Stephenson awards. As was said in one of the speeches, the monetary value of the voluntary work being done there amounts to £500,000. It would cost the organisation that amount to buy in those services.
We recognise all the good that is done and have no reason to boast about it, because if we were not doing it we would not be the people of faith that we claim to be. There is no need to make a song and dance about it; it is the essence of our very being that we translate what we believe into action of the kinds that we have been talking about.
I am a little bit dubious, too, about the proposals and recommendations that have been made in the ResPublica document. Who wants an office in the Cabinet Office to centre all of this stuff? The Department for Communities and Local Government already has a base there, and it has accomplished a great deal in bringing faith groups together as one means of helping to build an integrated society in Britain. In 2008 the Department for Communities and Local Government produced a report called Face to Face, Side by Side, offering a framework for partnership in our multifaith society. Those are the notes that we need to hear because, at the end of the day, people of good will, whether of faith or not, and those of us who are of faith, know that we must make allegiances and common cause against deprivation and need of every kind.
I offer these remarks not to sink anybody’s ship or rattle anybody’s skeleton cupboard but rather to honour the Church of England as the state church for all the work that it does and recognise that it has a historic role in British society to do just this. But I plead with its representatives to see, in an instinctual way, the existence of others out there not as people for whom to broker involvement in the provision of answers to social need but as partners ready and willing to do our bit as best we can.
I am very grateful to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for bringing this subject to the Floor of the House. I know that our concentrated thinking on this will raise the profile of the work being done but, perhaps, also challenge us to go on doing it in a more imaginative and colourful way.
My Lords, I rise to give my maiden speech with some anxiety and, I must admit, emotion, surrounded as I am by so many experienced Members of your Lordships’ House and reminded, as I am, of the role of this establishment in my life’s story.
Before I embark on the substance of my speech, which will be concerned with the importance and value of voluntary and community sector organisations, I must express the honour that I feel in joining this House. My journey has been a difficult one, and there are Members here who have walked part of that journey with me in solidarity. Their integrity, conviction and calibre assures me that I am among good company.
I have never taken for granted my public platform as someone who should be out there speaking. I do it because I think that there is something important that needs to be conveyed, and this is what drives me. I therefore pledge myself to contribute the knowledge and understanding that I have to offer, building on many years of experience in issues relevant to the decisions of this House and the nation as a whole.
In my short time here, I have been impressed by the commitment to causes in this Chamber. I should like to thank most sincerely Members on all sides of the House for their friendly and supportive welcome. It has been a warm, joyful, if slightly bewildering, experience. The staff and officials, too, have been most helpful. I should like to extend my thanks to my two supporters, the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, to my mentor, the noble Baroness, Lady Crawley, and to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, the Leader of the Opposition.
I welcome today’s debate in the name of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester on the ResPublica report but wish to focus my contribution on the value of community-based organisations in the broadest sense—mainstream, grassroots, youth-led, women’s, BME and faith-based. My parents, like many of their generation, came here from the Caribbean in search of a better life for their family. Never would they have imagined the nightmare that was to engulf my family—my son Stephen’s life was taken so brutally and so senselessly by racists—and the 20-year battle for justice which followed. The experience has taught me that power is often resistant to the claims of justice and basic human dignity. Those who demand these rights must be prepared to fight every single day for them, as they will come up against an establishment more interested in maintaining the status quo than it is in helping to foster a society where everyone has an equal claim to justice, no matter who they are or what they look like. I have to believe that in overcoming the hardships, we have contributed to a collective effort in making this country a more fair and inclusive place to live.
The local church played a large role in my life growing up in south London. It was very much a social hub for community members to congregate. During some of my difficult times I sought solace from my friend the Reverend David Cruise who baptised my daughter and led the memorial for Stephen. My one belief that has remained firm despite being challenged time and time again is that of justice and fairness. That is my credo. Ensuring that every person in British society, particularly our young people, have access to the same opportunities to learn, work and succeed is the bedrock of a progressive democracy.
Following the death of my son I was touched and deeply moved by the number of people who reached out to me and my family. I was impressed by the number of people in this country who were moved to show the love and care they have for strangers who have suffered terrible pain and injustice. Some of the people who reached out to me were religious, but many were not. They were appalled by Stephen’s murder and the injustices our family were made to suffer by the police and institutions. It was only because of the support of so many kind people that I was able to maintain any hope and affection for this country.
Over the past 20 years I have become increasingly aware of how many different groups, organisations and charities do great work within our society. I have had the privilege both of being helped by them and working alongside them with my own charity, the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which enables children from disadvantaged backgrounds to have the opportunity to have a career in architecture and the built environment, the career Stephen always wanted to pursue.
Faith-based organisations are an important resource for many communities, providing volunteers, buildings and a stable network for those in need. But it is important to note that more than two-thirds of charities and voluntary organisations working in the UK today have no connection with a religion. An example of one of these charities is Stop Hate UK, of which I am a patron; it works with victims of hate crimes and encourages those who have been victims of or witnesses to hate crimes to report them.
Amazing work is being done on the ground by young people at the grassroots level, self-organising in their communities around the issues that they are affected by. It is important that we do not think just of those who want to volunteer—we must also think of those who are actually in need of help from the voluntary sector. A holistic approach must take these people into account.
Profit-driven privatisation has left what should be public services serving shareholders rather than citizens. Yet only by transferring power back into the hands of the people and away from private interests seeking profits under the veil of “efficiency” can the British Government regain the support and trust of the public. Voluntary organisations representing every section of our rich and diverse society deserve to be listened to and supported in order to bolster their contribution to making Britain a safer, healthier and more prosperous country to live in. Only by remaining committed to these fundamental principles can we strive towards a future that is genuinely equal and fairer for all.
My Lords, it is a great honour to welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, to your Lordships’ House after such a moving and considered speech. I can confidently say that all in your Lordships’ House wish that the noble Baroness had not had to go through what she did after the murder of her son, Stephen. The tenacity, courage and boldness to stand up to such institutional injustice are inspirational. But the noble Baroness has not exhibited bitterness or the brittle anger that is often seen in today’s media when responding to injustice. She has been gracious but righteously angry when, sadly, that was needed. Speaking truth to power has too often been required of her.
Few people know that the noble Baroness even had to sacrifice her career to give her time to the Stephen Lawrence Charitable Trust, which now offers architectural scholarships in his memory. I am sure that many noble Lords on all Benches will wish to help the noble Baroness use her voice, place and seat here to bring this charitable work to a whole new level. I applaud the Benches opposite for her appointment.
All of your Lordships, I am sure, long with the noble Baroness for a final resolution to the judicial proceedings that will bring some sense of peace to her family. I look forward to her contributions to your Lordships’ House. Life is different today for the British black community and our Metropolitan Police is radically improved due to the noble Baroness’s contribution to our nation’s life. Thank you so much Baroness Lawrence.
When it comes to the leadership of our great religious communities, we are living in a time of change. In Rome, Pope Francis has sent shockwaves through his own global community by choosing simple living over the alternatives. Closer to home, we have welcomed a new Chief Rabbi to succeed the noble Lord, Lord Sacks, who has done so much to inspire our diverse nation to live face to face and side by side. Just recently, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury has set a fresh tone for my own church’s role in the public realm through his notable contribution to the banking reform Bill, his commitment to “compete out of existence” Wonga, and his forthcoming visits to all the Primates of the Anglican communion in their home provinces. All these actions are laudable. I welcome the opportunity that this report gives to highlight the social action work of Christians in the UK and how best the Government can engage with the church. The latter relates to my previous work as the executive director of the Conservative Christian Fellowship.
One of the biggest changes we have seen in English Christianity is that it has come to reflect the wider world beyond our shores. We have witnessed the rise of new and energetic churches and denominations with a passionate commitment to serve across the localities. In urban areas many, although not all, of these game changers are rooted in diaspora communities, bringing to their mission a striking awareness of the pressing social needs of their members living in Britain today. Forward-thinking leaders such as the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Bernard Hogan-Howe—who needs to increase the diversity of his force—have been guests at the Festival of Life event where 35,000 Britons from a black-led denomination, the Redeemed Christian Church of God, gathered for an all-night prayer event.
I also had cause to reflect on the truth of the idea of the “dragon mother” when visiting the Chinese Church in London and seeing the many young people being so competent at playing their musical instruments. The Coptic Church’s cathedral in Stevenage is part-worship sanctuary and part-sports hall. Indeed, in many parts of the country, it is the Church of God of Prophecy, the Chinese Church, the New Testament Church of God and others like them which are saving the buildings of much older denominations that have become not significant community assets but distracting neighbourhood fundraising burdens.
This report, funded by an Anglican charity, analyses how the Anglican Church could restructure its social action work by creating social action teams in each diocese and having a social action unit in Church House. It is very laudable but the report’s gem is the tension at its heart, which has been outlined by other noble Lords. It emphasises repeatedly the uniqueness of the Anglican Church in terms of buildings, geographical spread of staff and connection to the state. The most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury said at the launch of a cross-denominational social action initiative, HOPE 2014, that he imagined looking back at 2013 and seeing that, “the churches put aside their differences and they chose to pray and work together”. Again and again, the initiatives relied on in the report are those of the churches working together. HOPE 2014 connects with more than 25,000 churches in the country. Sometimes it will be the Anglican priest who is the facilitator, but the Rutland Foodbank, of which I am patron, is run by churches together, and the local council first approached the Baptists. Sometimes the Anglican church is the best building but often it is not and purpose-built worship centres, such as the Birmingham Christian Centre, an Elim Pentecostal church, might be best.
However, this does not matter. Some of the best social action projects are done not by the churches but by para-church organisations and charities such as Trussell Trust Foodbanks, Christians Against Poverty debt counselling, the Lighthouse Group’s alternative educational provision, the Message Trust and Eden projects, which run youth work on difficult estates, Street Pastors, whose members do the long night shifts with the police in dozens of towns and cities, parish nurses, and the Messy Church, which is actually run by a little-known organisation called the Bible Reading Fellowship. However important the interfaith agenda—I note the comments of the noble Lord on the Benches opposite—is in multicultural Britain, I think it has masked the Christian diversity that needs to be recognised.
The Anglican Church is a unique presence in every community, but perhaps not necessarily in the form of a building. It is people that should be resourced rather than excessive bricks and mortar—and I speak as a former member of an Anglican church in Manchester that used the little-known building material terracotta. Even Giles Fraser was lamenting in the Guardian recently how distracting from his core purpose the likely cost of repairs to his church was becoming. I dare say there is not a Bishop in your Lordships’ House who cannot identify with him.
The report also focuses on geography, as it must do for a primarily parish-based system. However, for me, the report fails to address the fact that my generation and the generations below live networked lives more often than not rather than lives tied to a locality. Their neighbours are their friends on Facebook not the person living in the flat next door. That is a challenge that the Church of England is beginning to realise exists.
The report scopes a wonderful vision and I believe it can be delivered, just as I believe that Wonga can be out-competed. If the church—with a small “c”—wanted to marginalise the worst payday lenders, is it not possible that a coalition of the CCLA, the Salvation Army’s Reliance Bank, the National Catholic Mutual, Stewardship, Epworth Investment Management, the larger religious orders, the pension funds of Anglican universities and the family trusts of high net-worth Christian families could start a social venture that might subvert current market patterns? I know that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on the Benches opposite, is a fan of credit unions but I think that he would ask us to give this one a go.
Earlier this year, I was delighted to launch the Cathedral Innovation Centre in Portsmouth. It not only develops socially responsible managers, as the report suggests, but also facilitates the creation of new ventures across the social, private and public sectors. To date, it has spun out a new disability charity, now based in Cambridge, and a management consultancy working in London and the north-west, and given businesses from the Isle of Wight their first space on the mainland, alongside 10 others creating jobs and apprenticeships locally. It will soon open its second centre in Southampton and is already supporting an innovative asset transfer initiative there. February will see the launch of a sister centre at St Peter’s in the City in Derby, with others to follow.
This initiative is underpinned by a community share offer but it is the Treasury that helped to get things started from central government, and a widespread coalition of a social entrepreneur, the cathedral chapter, the Royal Society of Arts, the Roman Catholic diocese, the Rotary Club, Portsmouth Business School, Northampton University and tens of volunteers is making this happen. As I saw at the launch, the church had to have the confidence to be a partner and colleague rather than the social force that had to take all the credit, and the alchemy of change that it is supporting is commendable.
I hope that the Anglicans look at whether the proposals in the report will work but I wonder whether perhaps the Government do not adequately grasp the potential stored up in the Christian church as a whole. Of course, I have yet to mention that the Salvation Army is the largest provider of social services outside of the state. The report, due to this tension, slips between Church with a capital “C” and church with a small “c”. If the Government set up a unit in the Cabinet Office, it is important that it engages with the church with a small “c”. It was beyond the remit of this report to find out the views of the rest of the church in England but a Government must consult widely.
A recent presentation by Professor Linda Woodhead to parliamentarians focused on church attendance, which is only one measure. In England, of those who attend church, 28% are in the Anglican Church, 28% in the Catholic Church and 44% in others. So 72% of churchgoers in England are not Anglicans. Of course, the Government would also need to think about the engagement of the church in Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland. The Church House social action unit would have one space at the Cabinet Office table, and the Catholics have a clear structure to engage with government.
This brings me back to my work at the Conservative Christian Fellowship. How can the Government engage with that 44% of others? Perhaps the challenge is to put a structure in place on a par with that of the Catholics and Anglicans. It will take time and thought to do so but it will also bring more women to the table. The Baptist Union has its first ever woman general secretary and I hope that someone in Her Majesty’s Government has already had the pleasure of meeting her. Can the Government please outline how they are intending to—or do—engage with that 44% of others?
In an age of austerity, when Ministers long for fresh models and new approaches to making a little go further, we will break through only if powerful parts of all denominations and government are content to step back and bring on the innovators, the inspirers and those able to recombine a wide variety of skills, talent and assets in fresh forms. This means new relationships and serious time being invested in the task and, for the church, it means the confidence to give without asking anything in return.
My Lords, it is my pleasant duty to start by congratulating the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle on speaking to us from the depths of history as well as the depths of theology to prove that the Anglican Church is well founded and likely to survive many storms, as it has survived many before.
I also warmly welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, and congratulate her on a most moving speech, which revealed the new and valuable dimension that she brings to our collective knowledge. I welcome her commitment to sharing that experience with us whenever it is appropriate. If anything is valuable in a democratic Chamber, it is direct experience of the realities of life, however harsh, in which Parliament can take a hand. She is very welcome here.
This debate is principally about the welfare state, which is not what it was. I have two personal memories about what it was, or that are relevant to it. The first was at the age of 12, sitting with some 300 other of my schoolfellows in the school assembly hall listening to a very enthusiastic young man with horn-rimmed glasses and wild hair talking to us about something called the Beveridge report. I recall him telling us that, when it was implemented, the world, and particularly this country, would be a better place, that a new era would dawn and that everything would be lovely. There was no examination on the subject, so I apologise to your Lordships for not recollecting more of the talk than that.
Some six years after that, I was walking with my father one evening in the fields near our house and he said to me, “I joined the Labour Party in order to achieve various things. With the passage on to the statute book of the National Health Act and the National Insurance Act, all those objectives have been achieved”. I see the contented smiles on the Front Bench opposite, so I regret to say that he then said, “That being so, I see no purpose whatever in remaining in any political party and I’m going to sit on the Cross Benches”. Those are my two memories; they are the sort of marker buoys for the start of a sailing race which brings us to where we are, and it is somewhere very different indeed.
I find it very difficult to unthread the tangled collection of ideas raised during this short debate and in the report. The report I welcome warmly, because it has triggered this very badly needed discussion. It has some shortcomings. If I can be really petulant and elderly, I would say that the principal ones are the very small type, the use of white print on blue and the use of semi-colons instead of full stops practically throughout, which means that you never have a capital letter to go back to when you are sitting in an ill-lit passenger seat in a car trying to read the thing going up the M4. On a purely practical point, I ask ResPublica to revise its publishing criteria.
However, its research criteria are excellent. The research base for the report is pretty narrow. Nineteen parishes out of 43 dioceses do not amount to a great deal. It is not enough to come to conclusions on, but it is plenty to start the discussion. I think that we can all endorse, and everybody has endorsed, the extraordinary variety of the existing interventions of the Anglican community into social efforts to improve the life of all.
The noble Lord, Lord Roberts of Burry Port, hit the nail on its head when he pointed out that, actually, the Church of England is not the only church. That chimes in with one paragraph on page 8 of the report, on the social and spiritual mission of the church, where it was thought necessary to start with a little apologia about the necessity of the church taking social action at all. That rather took my breath away, because surely the duty of the church is not to run churches like a chain of theatres around the country trying to fill the house with suitable programmes; it is to be the body of Christ in the community. You cannot be the whole body of Christ if you are only one church when there are many churches. We must have a broad co-operation in this.
What puts the Church of England at centre field in this country is the existence of its organisation and its resources in the form of buildings. The report refers to the church in many communities being the only landmark at the moment. It seems to say that there were other landmarks—there were pubs and schools, which were of course the social landmarks. More and more villages and towns have lost most of their pubs and schools, and some have lost all of them. The church is the last visible central link; its spire puts it ahead of the chapel, which does not make it any better than the chapel, just more visible. It is also apt to be bigger and can house more people. However, the church is ultimately conservative with a small c, which means that it is full of pews. If churches are to diversify their activities, they need to make a clean sweep. I think I see agonised expressions on the faces of the right reverend Prelates to my left because if there is anything more divisive and difficult to do to a medieval church than remove the pews, I do not know what it is. But the fact is that it is done very successfully. The church ought to publish a brochure showing that, extolling the fact that the atmosphere of the place can still be spiritual, and explaining that far more members of the community can make use of the church. Incidentally, members of the existing congregation, which may possibly grow, will also find that they are able to do new and inventive things. That is another spin-off of the report.
Like my noble friend Lady Berridge, who made a very good speech, I attended a meeting recently in the Jerusalem Chamber, where the final version of the authorised version of the Bible was agreed, to hear Professor Linda Woodhead of Lancaster University give a PowerPoint presentation. She gave a most illuminating account of the position, outlook and membership of the Church of England. I strongly recommend that account to my episcopal friends and ask them to distribute it as it was a suitable forerunner to the great declamation by the noble and right Revd Lord, Lord Carey, in Shropshire, which nobody has yet had the bad manners to mention, which warned of the end of the church unless something changed. We now have to look at whether what is being proposed is the right change. A good deal of reservation has been expressed about that, not merely because it puts everything in the hands of one church but because of its rather obscurely articulated union with government. The union of government and church is a very dangerous institution, indeed. If the church is seen to co-operate with the Government, de facto it is not co-operating with the Opposition and it is likely to get all the flak that the Government get for things that go wrong which are not the fault of either of them.
I turn to the practical difficulties of what is proposed. The subject of how the two organisations can co-operate and make use of their respective resources is a very fruitful one, and the Cabinet Office is possibly the right body to engage in it. However, what really matters is what happens at the bottom end in the parish. Parishes vary very much, as do churches. I lead a fragmented life which means that I worship in three churches regularly and in a fourth from time to time. One of the churches, in which I was for some years a licensed lay minister, and in which I now have the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Oxford’s permission to serve, is a tiny chamber about four times the size of the Bishops’ Bar. It has a thriving life but no room to expand. Apart from arousing great hostility, taking the pews out would not increase the congregation. I also worship fairly regularly in a church in south London, which I suppose is rather bigger than the Peers’ Guest Room. I fear that this speech is going to read very badly in Hansard. That church’s congregation is rather more black and ethnic minority in origin than it is white. It is a very harmonious congregation. Then we go to a very big church in west London, which is humming with activity and full of people, and which has a completely different ability to help. We do not want to think that one size fits all but we want to realise that it is not only the Anglican parishes that are there when there are all the denominations which your Lordships have just heard recapitulated. I will not run through them.
So what is it that the Church of England has to offer? Because it is becoming increasingly ecumenically minded, it has the ability to focus the activities and interests of all the Christian family—the Kingdom of God on earth, as it strives to be—and to arrange the interlocution between the churches and the Government, not to be the only voice but to orchestrate it. I am warming to my theme and have just thought of all the clear principles that I should adduce, but the time stands at 12 minutes and I am grateful to your Lordships for your indulgence.
Perhaps I might suggest, as the Lord Griffiths of Burry Port, that the Lord Roberts of Burry Port is a hybrid creature who is not yet a Member of your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, first, I join other noble Lords who have spoken in this debate and put on record my thanks to the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Leicester for putting his Motion down for debate today. I congratulate and pay tribute to the right reverend prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and my noble friend Lady Lawrence of Clarendon for making their excellent maiden speeches in this debate.
My noble friend Lady Lawrence is widely respected as a woman of great courage, a tireless campaigner for justice, race equality and better policing who works successfully at every level from Government and Parliament to town halls, communities and local schools. She is an extraordinary woman who will be a huge asset to your Lordships’ House and will speak with profound authority on a range of issues on which she has quietly and with great determination become an expert, as she demonstrated here today. She will be a voice for many who feel that they have no stake in British society, and it is a privilege to serve in this noble House with her.
I also thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which has been excellent and shows the House at its best. The report produced by ResPublica is an interesting, well thought-out and well argued contribution to the debate, and we should warmly welcome it. That is not to say that I or these Benches agree with every word of it, but it is a timely contribution and we on this side of the House are grateful for the work of James Noyes, Phillip Blond and the other contributors who are too numerous to mention.
I should say that I was brought up in an Irish Catholic family, but was born here in London, and that I have always had huge respect for the Church of England and its ability to raise the right issues, speak up for those who do not have a voice and provide a progressive leadership, which has never been needed more than it is today. I am looking forward to the response to the debate from the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire. I wonder if he will mention the big society. I accept that it was not in his party’s manifesto at the last general election but it featured prominently in the first few months of the life of this Government. In recent years, however, it has been brushed aside, covered up and forgotten about.
The key findings of the report on the role that the church plays in communities up and down the country are that the Church of England has a dynamic presence reaching deep into neighbourhoods and transforming lives, along with being a well-established social service provider. The Church of England, as the established church, has a unique role to play that provides added value to communities up and down the country, and, as others have said, its parishes and congregations are at the heart of all it does. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle gave an excellent example with the plans for Rose Castle, where the church can provide that added value.
Much of what I will say could, as the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, pointed out, be said of other faith groups who in their own communities provide direction, leadership, moral guidance, protection and caring services. My noble friend Lord Griffiths of Burry Port made an excellent point about interfaith work and how important it is to do that, because it is right and the essence of our very being.
The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, highlighted the wide range of faith groups and interfaith groups and the excellent work that they do. I should perhaps also point out to my noble friend Lord Griffiths that I stand here as a Labour and Co-operative Member of your Lordships’ House.
It is true that we always need to look at the institutions around us that deliver the services that we need as a country. It is also true that the solutions that were relevant and delivered at a particular time can become less relevant and undeliverable for the future, so we must always be open to new ways of delivering services and providing new opportunities, underpinned by clear priorities and principles. With innovations and developments in technology, we can deliver services in a much more individual way, tailored to people’s specific needs rather than a one-size-fits-all approach. We have seen this with NHS personal care plans and other developments at a local authority level, but it needs to go much further.
The report argues that the church has the potential, the experience and the capacity to become one of the foundational enabling and mediating institutions that the country needs. Whatever role it plays, its mission, its job, is not to become the social services department or any other department of the local authority or central government. I would go further and contend that if it took on those formal roles, we would lose what we are celebrating and cherishing in this debate today. I believe that the church has a unique role to play in our society.
As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester said, the report found that 79% of the congregations are involved in some sort of voluntary activity and 90% in some sort of informal voluntary activity, as opposed to 40% and 54% of the general population respectively. Two-thirds of those doing voluntary action state that it is through the church, and one-fifth of those doing such work support those with disabilities.
The church certainly has a wealth of experience in a variety of fields. That can cover issues such as prisoner rehabilitation, helping people recover from drug addiction and dealing with homelessness and mental health issues. In addition to this, the report found that the church had a high level of education and managerial ability in its attendees and, as the report points out, there is a will and a genuine intention to do good from the congregations with their voluntary action.
I was delighted that the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle mentioned credit unions in his speech. I am very excited by the work that the church is beginning to do around credit unions and financial inclusion. As the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, mentioned, I have championed this cause since I joined this House over three years ago because it is an unfortunate fact that in our country, if you are poor or struggling financially, you will pay the most for access to credit of any sort. Championing the cause of those who are less well off—and shining some light on those who, often through sharp practice, are making a lot of money—can bring about much needed change.
The noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, spoke about the breakdown of community, and I agree with those comments very much. I have seen the Church of England at its very best, doing its best in the community that I grew up in. I grew up in Walworth in the London Borough of Southwark, and I was lucky enough to meet the new vicar of St Paul’s Church, in Lorrimore Square, towards the end of 1979—or was it early 1980? I can assure noble Lords that I was a very young man then and my hair was a bright red colour; things have changed a bit since then. Until his retirement in April this year, Canon Graham Shaw was a central part of the community in Walworth for 34 years. My two brothers and my sister, along with many young people in the area, attended the Crossed Swords Youth Centre that he founded in the basement of the church.
As part of the Faith in the City initiative, following the publication of that report in autumn 1985, Canon Shaw set up a mental health drop-in centre at St Paul’s Church. He did that because of his experience and work in the parish and the problems, stresses and strains that he saw every day. People with long-term mental health problems are one of the most excluded groups in society, and social exclusion and discrimination in turn sustains poor mental health. He understood that the role of a good mental health service was to ensure social inclusion. For many of the people who used the service, it represented their first step towards recovery, helping them to regain a sense of belonging to a community and to gain stability, safety and acceptance. For some people, this can then lead to an emerging sense of possibility about their future, hope and personal confidence in their ability to take the next step on the road to recovery.
The centre closed in 2008 after 23 years of service to the local community when the services were transferred to a larger charity, Certitude, following a negotiated shift in services with more opportunities for co-dependence between staff and members, and growing links with the wider community. The Lorrimore drop-in centre did fantastic work in a deprived part of the borough that I grew up in.
St Paul’s in Lorrimore Square was also for many years the home of the London Ecumenical Aids Trust, which worked with communities right across London. When it initially started its work as the London Churches HIV/AIDS Unit, the reaction of many in society was not as enlightened as it is today, with talk of gay plagues and other equally ill informed opinions. In each of those three examples, the church never sought to become, replicate or replace the services provided by the NHS or the local authority. However, what it did do in each case was provide essential, cost-effective support for the community, without which there would have been further cost to individuals and to the community, more prejudice, and more costs and additional problems for the institutions of the state to deal with. For me, that is the strength of the church and it is what needs to be built upon.
So when the report talks about the church having to make itself fit for purpose, I disagree. I think that the church is fit for purpose in the important work that it does and that it is an example to civil society of what can be achieved and what is possible. As I said earlier, I do not believe that it is for the church or any faith group to replace the local authority or any government department in delivering services, but they have an essential role to play in the communities in which they are active.
In my opening remarks, I referred to the big society and how it very quickly seems to have gone out of fashion within government circles. Many in the Church of England were initially very receptive to the notion of the big society, and I think that at one level we, on all sides of the House, can support it. However, like many other parts of civil society, we have all been disappointed and have begun to worry about the political motive behind this agenda.
It was reported in the Observer that the former Archbishop of Canterbury, the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Williams of Oystermouth, said:
“Big society rhetoric is all too often heard by many … as aspirational waffle designed to conceal a deeply damaging withdrawal of the state from its responsibilities to the most vulnerable ... if the big society is anything better than a slogan looking increasingly threadbare as we look at our society reeling under the impact of public spending cuts, then discussion on this subject has got to take on board some of those issues about what it is to be a citizen and where it is that we most deeply and helpfully acquire the resources of civic identity and dignity”.
In particular, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, will be able to update your Lordships on the government response to the recommendations in this report that have been specifically directed towards the Government—I think they are Recommendations 1, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7 and part of Recommendation 10. If he is not able to respond fully today, I hope that he will assure the House that he will write in detail to all Members who have spoken in this debate addressing those points and that he will place a copy of his letter in the Library of the House.
In concluding my remarks, I again congratulate the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle and my noble friend Lady Lawrence on their excellent maiden speeches. I place on record my thanks to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester for initiating this debate and to the Church of England and other faith groups for all they do to provide leadership, guidance, protection and services to some of the most vulnerable people in our society, as well as the work they do with the agencies of the state and wider civil society in delivering that.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. I particularly enjoyed the two maiden speeches, with the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, talking in particular about the role of churches in the inner city and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle talking about the role of churches in distant and sometimes very remote communities, around some of which I have walked with great pleasure over the years.
Perhaps I may start not by talking on behalf of the Government but by being a little personal. I grew up in the middle of the Church of England and part of my mixed response to this report comes from my personal experience. My mother was part of that great volunteer army of middle-class women who held civil society together. They had enormous energy, they were not allowed to have jobs and they threw themselves into working to support their locality.
The church that we went to when I was a boy had pews which, if I remember correctly, were allocated in a sort of hierarchical fashion. The bank manager’s pew—my father was the local bank manager in this small town—was third from the front on the right. I was slightly relieved when I went back into that church in north Northamptonshire with my sisters a few years ago and discovered that they had removed all the pews and put in a really good new floor. It is now very much a social and community centre. Once one got over the shock of seeing this medieval church with its very beautiful floor, one realised that it was real progress.
In the 1950s, the Church of England was a little too close to the idea that it was there to enforce morality and social order, and was not enough about the social message. It is a problem that the Roman Catholic Church has retained for a rather longer time than the Church of England. I partly escaped by becoming a chorister at Westminster Abbey where I therefore had to listen to two sermons every Sunday. Since one of our canons held very firmly to the view that the church had a clear social message, which is probably why he never became a bishop, I certainly picked up the idea that the church had a strong social mission. I married into a nonconformist family. Indeed, the Wyke Gospel Temperance Mission tea urn still has a place in our dining room. Like many other things in our cities, the mission was demolished 30 or 40 years ago, as most of the Wyke community was demolished. That is part of why our communities have been getting weaker. Much of the physical environment which held things together has gone, and great new estates have been put in place.
The role of Methodism in evangelising the working class and providing working class communities with a clear sense of where they belonged was enormously important. Part of the historical tragedy of the Church of England has been the split of Methodism, which I firmly hope will be resolved by reunification of the churches in the not too distant future. I live in the village of Saltaire. At one point it was suggested that it might be demolished because it had lots of old-fashioned terraced houses and was dominated by a Congregational church—one of only two churches in England that I know has a full peal of bells. The Congregationalist mill owner who built the entire village clearly had some tendencies towards respectability, which meant Anglicanism. The full peal of bells in the Congregational church was his gesture in that direction.
I am very conscious that everyone is talking about rebuilding communities—not just the Church of England by any means but a whole range of other faith networks. On occasion, they can create an enormous difference. I once spent a long morning in east London with a Baptist minister from Bradford who showed me what he had achieved, starting with a semi-derelict Baptist church. I am referring to the noble Lord, Lord Mawson. We have to work together in everything we do. I am also a Liberal. The Liberal Party, as a nonconformist party, has always been doubtful about established churches, particularly state churches. The long battle over who controlled the schools is part of what defined the Liberal Party against the Conservative Party all those years ago.
I remember the Church of England publishing Faith in the City as a major step forward. I also remember the very hesitant acceptance of Faith in the City by many of the rural parishes in the diocese of Bradford and elsewhere, because they were not quite sure that they wanted to be too concerned with the inner city. It was a hard battle in the church to get that through, but it was part of the turn towards social action.
All of us who have lived through the past 60 to 70 years are conscious that the decline of communities, above all in our cities, has followed from a range of other activities. It was partly due to the slum clearance and demolition of those old, tightly knit communities. As the noble Lord, Lord Phillips, remarked, market towns retain the built environment and the sense of tradition and community which in some of our big cities we sadly have entirely lost. The decline of communities was also due partly to cars, TV and middle-class housing developments—those dreadful suburban places without any centre—as well as children moving away to college, and the internet. Let us face it, the downside of the liberation of women has been the loss of that great volunteer army who used to hold local communities together. It has been partly replaced by the emergence of fit, retired people of both sexes who now do some of that job—but in some areas there is a bit of a gap.
The question really is: can faith communities help rebuild the sense of community? After all, churches and families build communities. People with children are most concerned about local schools and streets and how safe they are. Binding the young, and particularly teenagers, into their local communities is so important for us in rebuilding a strong society.
The wider issue raised in the ResPublica report about the relationship between state, society and the market is one that we all have to address. None of our parties has the complete answer at the present time. The noble Lord, Lord Elton, remarked on our learning bitterly that the welfare state cannot provide everything. We are now up against rising life expectancy, rising spending on health and pensions, and the need to spend more on education and training, with a population that nevertheless wants tax cuts—or certainly does not want to have a much higher rate of tax imposed.
So the model of public provision and services by the state is under deep challenge. The model of provision of public services entirely by paid professionals to passive recipients—the model of the 1990s and early 2000s—is neither affordable nor desirable. We have seen the dangers of producer capture in too many of these public services—whether from doctors, bus drivers or others.
We have also lost, in the reorganisation of local government, the sense of really local democracy. In our big cities, we have wards with 10,000 to 15,000 voters where it is almost impossible for even a good local councillor to know most of the people in most of the communities. That is a real problem. I therefore strongly believe, as does my party, in recreating what we have to call urban parish councils, because the parish is the sense of the local. That is very much part of the way that we will reinvolve people in communities.
Going round some of the large housing estates in Bradford and Leeds, I am struck by the extent to which many people there feel totally alienated from public institutions, and regard the local authority as part of the public institutions from which they are alienated. They do not vote. They want to take their benefits, but they certainly do not think that it is part of their job actively to contribute to them. Incidentally, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, that that is part of what the big society initiative is trying to resolve.
So what is the role of the church in this? I strongly agree with the noble Lord, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, that the church should not be too close to the state. The church should be in healthy and dynamic tension with the state. We have an established church. It is not a state church. It is a church that I am happy to say now works very closely with other churches and across faiths. It has, as the Church of England rightly says, physical bases in the sense of churches within most of our local communities, from which one can provide public services—be they food banks, the basis for credit unions or all sorts of other community initiatives.
The noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, and others talked about the role of some of the newer churches, particularly the black churches, in the inner cities, in galvanising people to recognise what we can all do for others. Going around a large housing association in Bradford in the early summer, I was struck by the importance of the faith of two or three of the senior executives in making sure that they were committed to regenerating a very troubled city.
I am happy that the Church of England has transformed itself from the rather exclusive church that I remember as a choirboy. At the Coronation in 1953, the only ordained priest who took part in the service who was not from the Church of England was the Moderator of the Church of Scotland. I attended the 50th anniversary service for the Coronation, when the Cardinal Archbishop read the first lesson, with officers of the Salvation Army visible behind him as he spoke. Down in the lantern were representatives of Britain’s other faiths—Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, Jain, Zoroastrian, Baha’i, and probably one or two others—demonstrating that we are part of a national church that stands for all of Britain's national faiths in all sorts of ways.
We obviously have to answer the question raised by the report: what contribution should the state make and how can the state develop alongside society to help to strengthen it? I say to the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, that I am one of the greatest enthusiasts in the Government for the big society. Those of us who work in the Cabinet Office and therefore go out to see what is happening on the ground can see how much difference some of the Government’s initiatives are making.
A number of graduates came to talk to the Cabinet this week about what difference going through the National Citizen Service scheme had made to them. I started out as a great sceptic of the scheme until I went to see one of them in Bradford and was made to work with the teenagers. In my instance, I was teaching them how to make a public speech. I saw how teenagers who did not think that they could do anything were slowly learning what they were capable of and what they could do within their communities. That was an extremely invigorating experience. Community organisers, also within the big society programme, are trained precisely to work within big estates in big cities and to help people understand how they can help themselves and work within their communities—where, often, there are no churches or chapels to provide such leadership.
The big society programme, although now a little out of the public eye, continues and, I think, makes considerable progress. Through the social action fund, we have supported church-based initiatives such as the Cathedral Archer project, and have given more than £1 million to Tearfund’s Cinnamon network to deliver social action projects.
The Community Organisers programme has helped organisations such as Southwater Community Methodist Church to act as hosts for the organisers, as they seek to make changes in their local community. The Community First programme has examples where government, the church and local communities have worked together. In Swindon, for example, the Gorse Hill and Pinehurst Community First panel funded the Pinehurst initiative forum for a project to support local residents in piloting a set of activities to engage children and young people in creating music. Few local children have access to musical instruments at home and the school provision was poor. This project got in-kind match-funding from the Church of England in the form of staffing support, which was invaluable to its success. We continue to support faith-based organisations through new funds that we have made available, such as the Centre for Social Action Innovation Fund, which will work with the Youth Social Action Fund—so a range of activities are well under way.
To answer the questions of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Leicester at the end of his speech, Big Society Capital was launched in April 2012 with up to £600 million to build the social investment market. In its first year, it committed a total of £56 million across 20 investments. In 2013, it intends to commit another £75 million to £100 million of investment. It works with all sorts of organisations at a lower than market rate.
The right reverend Prelate asked about advice to commissioners on how to commission the church in faith-based action. We launched the academy to train public service commissioners, local and central, in development and best emerging practice. We work with all others outside, not just faith-based organisations.
This has been an excellent debate. Speaking on behalf of the Government, we welcome all churches as partners in building a stronger society in Britain and in rebuilding our weakened communities. We see the Church of England as an important partner, but not as a privileged partner. We see it as a major element in rebuilding a strong society and as a necessary balance to a limited state and an open but regulated market.
Before the Minister sits down, he has not addressed a number of points noble Lords made—nor the points in the report to which I drew his attention. Do I take it that he will be writing to me and other noble Lords and will place a copy in the Library?
I have read the report and I noted the noble Lord’s questions about how we will respond to its recommendations. I think it is much better that I write on that since they are, as he well knows, rather complex recommendations, and rattling off my answers in two minutes would probably be less valuable than the letter that I promise to send to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.
My Lords, yesterday at a question and answer session in the Jubilee Room, the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury made the bold claim that there was probably more faith-based social action going on in this country than at any time since the Second World War. Whether or not it is possible to measure the accuracy of that claim, it is very clear from this debate that there is a high level of interest in this subject and a high level of support for faith-based social action—the social action of the churches in general and of the Church of England in particular.
I am very grateful to all noble Lords who contributed to this discussion. I shall not rehearse the points made by noble Lords, but will take firmly to heart a point that many made: the Church of England is but one player on this field. We heard so powerfully about the Methodist tradition of Lord Soper and John Wesley. It is impossible to be the Bishop of Leicester without being only too aware of the enormous variety of faiths and the enormous proportion of the population of the city who on a Friday, Saturday or Sunday are in places of worship and who are giving expression to their beliefs and their motives during the rest of the week in a variety of ways—without which, quite frankly, our common life in the city would be quite impossible.
As other noble Lords have done, I will pay particular tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, for her moving and telling speech and for the way in which her life is indeed a speech in itself about the need for constant attention to justice. She knows she has friends, support and enormous respect on all sides of this House. I want to pay tribute to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Carlisle for opening our eyes to what is now possible in Rose Castle. Some of us looked with envy on successive Bishops of Carlisle for living there, but those days are now over and the Church of England is putting not only that building but so many of its buildings to new uses in practical ways for the contemporary needs of our contemporary society. That is why the noble Lord, Lord Elton, will be pleased to know that there is much more support from here for the removal of the pews than he might suspect. I invite the churches in my diocese to invite me to pew-burning parties on a regular basis.
I think we have had a really useful debate. I am sure that the Minister will take note of what has been raised—as, indeed, will colleagues in ResPublica and elsewhere, who will continue to stimulate and challenge us on these matters. It is now some 43 years, I think, since I was a civil servant in Whitehall, working as a Second Secretary in the Foreign Office. I used to walk up Whitehall to Trafalgar Square and St Martin in the Fields. The experience of seeing one church attending to the needs of the homeless and destitute while also ministering to the occupants of Buckingham Palace, engaging in the campaign for the ending of apartheid in South Africa and involving itself heavily in the Covent Garden community projects and a whole range of other things inspired me to think that this was a way of life that really could transform life at the heart of one of the world’s great cities, and set me on the path to ordination. That vision has shaped so much of my work and is why I care passionately about the matters we have raised today. I am very grateful to all those who have contributed to this debate, and I commend this report to the further attention of the House.
EU Report: Effectiveness of EU Research and Innovation Proposals
Motion to Take Note
That this House takes note of the Report of the European Union Committee on the Effectiveness of EU Research and Innovation Proposals (15th Report, Session 2012–13, HL Paper 162).
My Lords, I beg leave to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper. It is a great privilege to do so in place of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, chairman of your Lordships’ European Union Sub-Committee B on the internal market. She was responsible for chairing this important inquiry but sends her apologies as she is unable to be here today.
At the outset I take the opportunity to thank the clerks to our committee, and Nicole Mason and Paul Dowling for their marvellous contribution and hard work in having steered this very short inquiry over a three-month period in the previous Session to a successful conclusion. I also take this opportunity to thank members of the then-EU Sub-Committee B, the noble Lord, Lord Elton, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Scott of Needham Market and Lady Buscombe, for their important contributions to the deliberations in the committee at that time.
The committee decided to undertake a short inquiry during a period in which the question of the next multi-annual financial framework of the European Union was being discussed—that is, the Union’s budget. We did that because, as your Lordships will be aware, EU Sub-Committee B has responsibility for scrutiny of matters dealing with the internal market. During the previous Session we began to receive a large number of proposals for scrutiny, which were eventually attributed to funding in that new multi-annual financial framework in a programme known as Horizon 2020, which was dedicated towards research and innovation in the European Union.
It was of course welcome to see so many proposals coming forward from the Commission that related to the question of research and innovation. However, there was some anxiety among noble Lords on the committee that with so many proposals coming forward, it was not entirely clear what the Commission regarded as research and innovation with regard to such a broad range of proposals that would ultimately be dependent on a single pot of funding. It was also not entirely clear how so many proposals could be accommodated in what would ultimately be a limited budget. The period of the inquiry was a mere three months, and we are grateful to all those who took the trouble to make submissions, both written and oral, for consideration by the committee. I must express deep gratitude on behalf of the chairman of the committee to all members of the committee for having worked so hard in that very compressed period of time to conclude this important report.
The report has so far enjoyed a very detailed response from Her Majesty’s Government. I must express the deepest gratitude to Her Majesty’s Government for having dealt with it in such a timely fashion and for having provided a detailed response to many of the recommendations that the committee made. It is regrettable that we have so far yet to hear from the European Commission on the important conclusions that were raised in the report, which was designed to be available to the Commission as it started to consider in more detail the framework for research, innovation and funding over the next cycle of the European Union budget. We understand that that response will be forthcoming very shortly and we look forward to receiving it. However, regrettably, your Lordships will not have the benefit of the Commission’s view on the work of your Lordships’ committee as part of this debate.
Before proceeding further, I remind your Lordships of my own entry in the Register of Lords’ Interests as Professor of Surgery at University College London, chairman-elect of University College London Partners academic health science centre, and a recently appointed UK business ambassador for healthcare and life sciences. I am therefore eligible to apply for much of the funding for research and innovation available in the European Union and would like to make sure that noble Lords are aware of that.
The reason why the committee decided to undertake this important inquiry was that research and innovation is at the heart of what Europe requires to drive economic growth. It is well recognised that research and innovation is at the heart of any successful, vibrant economy. The World Economic Forum recently suggested that we should move away from talking about developed and developing economies and talk instead about innovation-rich and innovation-poor economies. In that context, there has been some concern that, in the economic crisis that continues to face many parts of the European Union and many member states, there might be a temptation for the Commission to decide that a clear and determined focus on funding research and innovation should be sacrificed to use those funds for other purposes. We wanted to assure ourselves that that would not be the case.
As part of our inquiry, we were reminded that the European Union’s principal competitors are deeply committed to research and innovation. One such example is China—an important competitor, which, by 2015, has determined that 2.2% of its GDP will be focused on research and innovation expenditure, some €180 billion a year. The agreed 2014-2020 multiannual financial framework commitment for research and innovation expenditure under the Horizon 2020 programme of the European Union is some €70 billion. We need to put in context the fact that our competitors have recognised and are determined to drive forward innovation in their own economies. Of course, that can be done in part at European level, but it needs also to remain a deeply committed area of activity for each member state as part of the use and setting of its own budgets.
I mentioned a concern about the drift in describing certain programmes and projects as relating to research and innovation as their primary purpose in the hope that they might avail themselves of funding from the Horizon 2020 envelope—the €70 billion currently agreed as part of the proposed budget. Here we need to be clear that there are mechanisms in place, as the new budget goes forward, to secure true research and innovation focus for funding that is attributed to research and innovation activity. In 2009, a declaration made by the Commission, member states, stakeholders and others in the research and innovation community—the Lund declaration—made it clear that, in going forward in the European Union, the focus in research and innovation funding should be to meet the grand challenges facing member states. The big issues such as health, well-being, and so on, should be addressed by big programmes of imaginative research and innovation rather than by defining rigid themes of activity that are somewhat ossified before the funding becomes available and prevent the true purpose of innovation.
The Lund declaration also recognised as a set of principles on which to take forward research and innovation funding in the European Union that the prime, underlying principle on which funds are made available across Europe for competing projects is one of supporting excellence and the highest quality, not compromising those funds in any way for other purposes or any form of political expediency. In that context, your Lordships’ committee came to the clear conclusion that, despite the economic crisis, the European Union should redouble its efforts on research and innovation expenditure. Although the funds finally agreed in the current budget round were not as high as one might have hoped, they are an increase on the funding available for research and innovation in the previous budget, and that should be welcomed.
In terms of practical issues, the first is participation. Here I look much more at the position of participants from the United Kingdom wishing to avail themselves of the important funds available in the Union for research and innovation funding. Our higher education institutions and many of our larger commercial enterprises are well organised and able to develop the partnerships and create proposals that are highly attractive in order to enjoy substantial European funding. In particular, our universities have become adept at developing relationships across Europe to make their proposals of relevance not only to academic communities and society more broadly in the United Kingdom but applicable, and therefore of interest, to similar academic entities and society more broadly among European member states.
However, the large body of small and medium-sized enterprises, some 98% of companies in our country, have found it less easy to interact and develop the successful pan-European alliances necessary to attract substantial research and innovation funding. Yet when we look at the issue in economic terms, there is no doubt that the success of these SMEs is going to be vital to drive economic growth across Europe and help achieve the kind of increase in employment that we all expect these types of businesses to deliver for the broader economy. In this regard, I ask the Minister where Her Majesty’s Government are on ensuring that the mechanisms available within our own support structures for businesses in terms of their application for European funding currently stand. Contact points within the structure of the technology strategy boards seem an appropriate opportunity for a greater focus on helping small and medium-sized enterprises interact more successfully in the future. This can be done first by influencing the calls for proposals that are put out under the banner of research and innovation funding in the European Union—the Horizon 2020 programme; by ensuring that our SMEs are better able to develop European alliances to make their funding proposals attractive as pan-European projects; and by ensuring that they are able to deliver those applications and, if those applications are successful, programmes that have meaningful impact for the European economies. I wonder whether the Minister can comment further on where Her Majesty’s Government are with regard to developing those support structures.
The second practical issue is the basis for the allocation of these funds. We have heard that although the budget will be substantial—some €70 billion over this financial framework—those funds still represent only a fraction of the global expenditure on research and innovation available among our principal competitors. It is therefore essential that a single principle remains at the heart of the allocation of these funds—that is, allocation based on the excellence and quality of the proposals and independent peer review, with no other influence on how those funds are allocated. It is that basis of allocation which has ensured that our own universities and other participants from the United Kingdom have done so well in this funding, and it is the basis on which we can be certain that much of what has been done in previous programmes of research and innovation expenditure in Europe continues to develop strong outputs for the benefit of all citizens across Europe. It was reassuring to learn that the Commission now has appointed a chief scientific adviser with a scientific advisory council. Can the Minister confirm that the Government continue to emphasise among their European partners in the Council of Ministers and in their discussions with the Commission the vital importance of the transparent, objective allocation of funds based on the excellence and quality of applications? They should not stray into using these funds potentially to build capacity in parts of Europe where the science base is not currently strong, which is an important objective that should be achieved through regional development funds, rather than this funding for research and innovation.
We heard some disturbing statistics about the time to grant. This is the time it takes from the end of a call for proposals to grants being made. It averages some 340 days. We found this unbelievable. In the fast-moving area of innovation and research where discoveries are being made every day, a proposal to seek funding for a particular project can remain fresh only for a certain period of time, after which by definition something else must be discovered and that should take precedence. If the bureaucratic process actually to get the funds out is taking so long, that can be a major disincentive to smaller organisations, particularly the SMEs, and to university departments where committing funds to keep staff in place to be able to work on an ultimate research project can be exceedingly difficult. I would be grateful if the Minister could confirm that Her Majesty’s Government will continue to push for a reduction in the red tape. Of course there must be processes in place securely to protect the funding, but we must make sure that they are not so bureaucratic that in the end the purpose of the exercise, which is innovation, is inadvertently destroyed.
Finally, there is an important ongoing need to continue to review the success with which these funds have been applied. It needs to be clearly and objectively demonstrated to the citizens of all European countries that this money, coming ultimately from the taxpayer, is being used to good purpose through a careful assessment, first, of the needs of the projects being supported, and then that what was promised as part of the application process by successfully awarded programmes is being delivered, and that the deliverables which were the focus of so much hope as part of the application process are translated into meaningful impacts and benefits for the people of Europe.
Many other noble Lords who contributed to the development of the report have points to make about other elements in it. I beg to move.
My Lords, at the recent Lord Mayor’s banquet, the Prime Minister said that we were in a global race, and I am sure that he meant a race to the top. Most of us agree that we cannot leave our success or failure to chance or to simple market forces. We need a strategy, one to get us to the top and, of course, a central part of that strategy is research and innovation.
The European Union agrees with that and supports this work, as it has done for many years, through the framework programme currently in its seventh phase which finishes at the end of this year. From 2014 we will have Horizon 2020, which will support research and innovation. The framework has been especially important to us. As the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, has just told us, our higher education institutions are among the top participating institutions, and this participation has provided an additional 15% on top of the UK Government’s own budget. It is growing and it compensates in cash terms for the freeze in our domestic science budget.
Unfortunately, the successful participation of our higher education institutions in the framework is not reflected in the participation of our private commercial businesses. They comprise only a quarter of the total number of UK participants, and there are very few small and medium-sized enterprises among them. So the purpose of our inquiry was to see how this could be improved: how small private businesses could achieve the same high participation rate as our higher education institutions. The inquiry is seeking to identify the right structures for us to achieve this increased participation.
Basically, what we have said in our report is that we want less complexity in the structure. We want shorter and simpler intermediation, more focus on monitoring outcomes and less on auditing expenditure, and more consultation.
Many of our recommendations are, yes, directed towards the European Commission, and I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, that it is disappointing that we have not had a response from them in time for this debate. However, its actions, along with informal observation, seem to indicate that it agrees with our direction of travel.
The response from the Government to our report is encouraging. They agree that the participation of companies and small to medium-sized enterprises in Horizon 2020 has to be supported, facilitated and encouraged by a greater presence in Brussels for those organisations that support them and help them to participate, such as the Technology Strategy Board, the national contact points, trade organisations and chambers of commerce. Many are already represented there, which makes consultation and information transfer with the participating companies shorter, simpler and quicker.
That is especially important because many small enterprises look to this EU money to help compensate for the failures in bank lending. I agree with the Government’s observation that Horizon 2020 needs a “pro-innovation regulatory framework”—indeed, many of our recommendations are directed towards that end. However, my one request is that innovation should be regarded in the broadest possible terms: not just new products and services through science and technology but all the other aspects of innovation that are important to business and in which it invests. These include writing new software, modernising and speeding up the supply chain, design, branding, and developing new business processes and new ways of serving customers. I suggest to the Minister that perhaps one reason why private industry, particularly SMEs, participates far less than higher education institutes in the framework is that, to them, research and innovation is far wider than science and technology. If the Government want business to participate more in Horizon 2020, they must seek to broaden the interpretation of innovation. If the Minister will not take it from me, he may be persuaded by the recent McKinsey report which confirms that.
This does not, of course, detract from the importance of science—it is in addition to it. Indeed, I had the opportunity to briefly discuss our report with the noble Lord, Lord Rees. He is sorry that he is unable to speak in this debate, but he was disappointed that the European Research Council did not feature in our report. He considers that the European Research Council is probably the most cost-effective EU institution supporting research and innovation. Certainly, it mainly supports academic research in universities, but business eventually benefits from that. It has been going for six years and now has a budget of €2 billion. He wanted us to be aware of the excellence of its work and is anxious for us to benefit from it. He said it is as excellent as our own research councils.
I note in the Government’s response that they plan to create much greater awareness of Horizon 2020 through a range of events at all levels. We all say amen to that. However, if you are trying to capture the interest and attention of companies, you must include innovation in the less tangible aspects of their businesses.
I said at the start that we are in a global race and Horizon 2020 has to be part of our strategy to get to the top. That strategy must include all areas covered by the Commission. In our report, we again spoke of our concern about the quality of impact assessments. All parts of our Government and all parts of the Commission rely on these for making informed decisions. So it is essential that these impact assessments should indicate how the issue being assessed impacts on this strategy—how it contributes to our getting to the top. This must be applied consistently across all policy areas. It should also be part of the assessment of costs and benefits. I understand that the Commission is reviewing how to quantify these benefits in an impact assessment. Is there any news on this work? It is important to us. Members of the European Parliament must be taking this seriously because they have set up their own impact assessment unit. We, too, should be making use of this resource.
I have a couple of other points to make. In our paper we speak of public procurement as a means of encouraging demand-side innovation, to use the economists’ jargon. Thanks to the imaginative schemes run by the Technology Strategy Board here in Britain, we have developed a fair way of encouraging companies, large and small, to participate in this. It includes interim grants for small and medium-sized companies. Most small and medium-sized companies are aware of these schemes and many participate. The Commission has its own schemes, which are less successful and more bureaucratic. Can we not try to persuade the Commission to use our schemes, on the simple grounds that they are more effective and, combined, would be more beneficial?
Whenever research and innovation are discussed, intellectual property rights are always a concern. The problem for smaller companies is that protecting their intellectual property rights slows down outcomes: it delays the practical and actual introduction of their innovative services or products. The world of business moves very fast, as the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, told us. In a perfect world, these companies would protect their intellectual property before it is made public. It is for this reason that our report calls for a more cautious approach to open access, which the Government reject. I hope the Minister understands that in doing so they are slowing down the rate at which innovative products and services are introduced by some firms in this country.
In closing, I thank my chairman and colleagues for their companionship in this inquiry. I give my particular thanks to our staff. I give my thanks also to all who came and gave evidence or sent in written evidence. It has been absolutely fascinating and illuminating—and, I think, worth while.
My Lords, I am the first speaker in this debate who was not a member of the committee. Indeed, I have never served on any of the European committees, but I was persuaded to take part by the chair of the committee, my noble friend Lady O’Cathain. I very much share the regret of the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, that she is unable to be here today.
To pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, figures that I have seen recently about what is called, in the jargon of the business department, BERD—business enterprise research and development—show that it is a smaller proportion of the total because research and development in other fields has grown very rapidly, but BERD has continued to grow in recent years. This should not be ignored. Indeed, in 2011 it increased in real terms by 6%. As that normally happens only during periods of economic growth, this is quite encouraging and we should not be too pessimistic about it.
When I put my name down to speak, I was a bit apprehensive that I would very quickly find myself out of my depth and perhaps addressing issues that were outwith the main thrust of the report. I need not have worried. The noble Lords, Lord Kakkar and Lord Haskel, have both raised issues to which I will wish to return.
I am doing this because, when I read the committee’s report and the Government’s response, they threw some fresh light on how institutions within the European Union deal with this hugely important area of research and innovation. It led me to compare the way in which this is done in the Community with what happens in this country, always remembering, of course—as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, reminded us—that much of the money spent in this country that counts as UK research and development or research and innovation is funded through the Community programme.
First, there is obviously common ground. The procedures for assessing the impact of any proposal for research have developed in recent years often in different ways and at different paces, but the purpose of impact assessments has become increasingly clear both to EU institutions and UK bodies such as universities and the research councils. Simply stated, it is this: they are to help those whose task it is to decide how to spend research and innovation money to make choices that will give the best value for money.
But immediately one comes to a question: what is meant by value? At this point, I should perhaps state my interest. I attended a recent seminar held by the Foundation for Science and Technology, of which I was chairman for nine years and am now the president. The subject of the seminar was:
“Maximising the value of the UK strengths in research, innovation and higher education”.
I thought that this might throw some light on the comparison between this country and the EU. Indeed, the words might have been paraphrased as “the effectiveness of research and innovation proposals”, which appears in the title of this report, but that case relates to the European activities.
Whether it is value that you are talking about or effectiveness, I am inclined to believe that they aim at the same thing. Here, the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, gave us an interesting point on what he thought might be part of value or effectiveness. That was echoed by one of the speakers in our seminar, who asked the question, “What is the value?”. He answered it by asking more questions: “Is it employment, or productivity, or human capital and skills, or human contentment and health—or is it all these things?”. Some of the participants in the discussion started at the other end and suggested that the purpose of research is the advancement of knowledge and understanding, and that this should in turn lead to the innovation which we all seek.
One feature of our discussion on that occasion was that, although the UK stands very high in the world rankings for research or universities or whatever it is—I shall cite in a moment some figures on that which we were given—when it comes to innovation, we are not so successful, as the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, indicated. I shall come to one or two of the reasons.
However, I turn first to universities. Three or four of our top universities regularly figure in the top 10 of virtually every world ranking of universities. When one looks at a longer list of, let us say, the top 50 universities, one sees that there are very few, if any, in other parts of the European Union. In Europe, we absolutely dominate the university field. It has been suggested to me that this may be because far less research is done in EU universities than is done in universities this country and, therefore, they do not rank as high. I can understand that but it is interesting to note that almost none of them is in the top 50. That may to some extent colour the attitude of some of our partners in the European Union.
Turning to research, the UK has 1% of the world population and produces nearly 8% of research papers, almost 12% of world citations and 14.5% of the world’s most highly cited papers. This is a remarkable record of which this country can be very proud. However, as I said a few moments ago, we are not as good at innovating—not nearly as good as this volume and quality of research would suggest that we ought to be. We discussed the trends that may be giving rise to this. The noble Lords, Lord Haskel and Lord Kakkar, have already mentioned one or two of them, but it comes down to knowledge transfer—that is the key phrase—and the difficulty of transferring knowledge from the research field to the industrial field. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, was absolutely right to put his finger—as does the report—on the fact that this is even more difficult as regards SMEs. Why should this be? Several reasons have been given. One is the inherent institutional, cultural and financial barriers between universities and business. Another is the great reluctance of businesses in this country, but perhaps also in Europe, to take risks and to realise that introducing the products of new research does involve taking risks. There is a reluctance to do that. I was told that if a firm announces that it is going to undertake a major research programme, its shares immediately fall on the market, whereas one might think that this would be a plus. However, in the eyes of the market it is not; it is a minus. The other tendency, of which we are all very well aware, is that of thinking short term rather than long term. However, some of the results of research and innovation may be a long time coming.
I come to my main point. Many of the speakers at the seminar emphasised the huge importance of impact assessments. These have grown over the years in many different ways. In this country it is virtually universal practice to require researchers to make the best assessment they can of the impact which they believe their research could have. The Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Research at Brunel University said that in the experience of that university the very process of having to support a research application for funding with a carefully composed impact assessment was making applicants look at how their research might be transferred to other fields. He went on:
“If the ‘impact agenda’ was to be effective in ensuring that researchers embedded knowledge transfer at the start of projects, they must understand how business might be able to use their research”.
Those seem to me wise words which should apply universally. However, when I turned to the report—here I pick up the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar—I noted that paragraph 133 states:
“We … urge the Commission to ensure that analysis of R&I policy and proposals is based on scientific evidence, rather than political considerations”.
I find it quite astonishing that that has to be said. Then we had the Government’s response:
“Funding based on excellence is fundamental to the Government’s national research strategy and we also encourage this approach at EU level, as it is the most cost-effective use of public money”.
Can my noble friend on the Front Bench say what the Government are doing within the institutions of the EU to make that happen, if this still has to be said? After all, this is the second report that the committee has produced; there was a 2010 report where it made these selfsame points. Yet here they are three years later, having to repeat them yet again.
This is now the second or third time that this point has been made about peer review. Nature has shown that the whole process of peer review and so-called excellence of research tends to be highly biased towards the English language and the American literature. Some of the most important discoveries were hardly referenced at all in the English language. The EU takes a very broad view of science across Europe, while the rather mechanical view of some of our British colleagues about the nature of choosing by excellence is too narrow. The EC, quite rightly, takes a political and social view of the breadth of science across Europe.
I do not know enough about that aspect of the European attitude on this but I totally support what the committee and the Government have said about the huge importance of basing their decisions on, as they put it in their response, “scientific evidence”. It went on:
“Moreover, it is important to stress that this evidence must be robust, peer-reviewed and replicated. Policy decisions should not be made on the basis of a single report which happens to support a political objective”.
I have no doubt that we will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, a little later, but I would be interested to know whether my noble friend on the Front Bench supports completely what was said in the Government’s response to this report.
I will not go on quoting; I have taken enough time. Again, I come back to my reaction to this. I found it surprising and depressing that these things still have to be said and are not accepted as part of the overall process of assessing research and development projects. We have been brought up against the background of the Haldane principle. Why do we not have something like the Haldane principle operating within the European Union? We may have our problems in this country—I have outlined the problems of knowledge transfer—but I shall finish on this note. I am left with an uncomfortable feeling that the EU’s approach to the effective use of impact assessments in helping decision makers to secure the best value for money appears to leave a great deal to be desired.
My Lords, I am also a member of Sub-Committee B so I declare an interest there. I join the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, in expressing our gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Cathain, for leading us through this exercise, which was not easy. I express our grateful thanks, too, to our clerk, Nicole Mason, and our policy analyst, Paul Dowling. Additionally, I express my gratitude to the Minister, David Willetts, since I have taken evidence from a number of Ministers over the years and I think that we found his approach very refreshing. He was open in endeavouring to respond to the points that we put to him, and it is worth putting on record that he seems to be doing his best there. However, he is not doing it with the easiest of hands.
I say that in the light of having recently been in Brussels. I had not been there for quite some time and those I met ranged from representatives of the Parliament through to the Council. It did not surprise me that we had not had a speedy response to our document because the people I was meeting seemed to be saying, “Well, we want you to stay in Europe and we’re keen to have you there, but if you don’t want to stay then you will go”. This was a new response, different from any that I had heard before.
One felt also that there were some feelings that we have been withdrawing in a number of areas. The following statistic links indirectly to this question: the UK is entitled to 12% of the officials in the European Union but we are now down to only 4.5% of the people working in Brussels and in related organisations of the EU. If we are trying to get business in there, bidding for research and so on, it helps if we have officials working within the EU and particularly working in Brussels. That was given to us in evidence by some people who have made very successful applications in the past for money. We heard from a representative from Cambridge who has now moved to Brussels and says that having a base there has made a world of difference to what they could get when bidding compared with what was happening to them previously. I say to the Minister that, in the broadest sense, we need to have a look at what is happening with our representation there at official level. What chance do our people stand when going in from a distance, or indeed on the spot, if they do not have British officials who know the ropes, so to speak, and can guide them through the labyrinth that has evolved when it comes to submitting bids?
As others have said, many witnesses have explained that R&I is increasingly a global undertaking. While we might have some misgivings about some of the operations of the EU, its performance generally in this area has been identified by most of the people who gave evidence to us as being a worthwhile venture, to be supported and indeed expanded—subject, of course, to trying to ensure that we are getting value for money and that the infrastructure through which people have to apply for the money operates properly and is properly accountable. It is therefore good to see that the EU R&I budget for Horizon 2020 was agreed and publicly announced this week, at €79 billion. This is one of the areas where our committee can claim some success: we said in one of our recommendations, after the Council meeting in February, that the figure of €70 billion that was on offer was not enough and we thought it should be more. The good news was announced yesterday that it has gone up to €79 billion. We were one of the drops of water that went on to the pebble that has made the change.
I am sorry that we have not yet had a response from the Commission to the other points. I will therefore have to speak primarily to the issues where we have some influence and control, and that relates to the recommendations that impact on the areas where the Government can influence the course of events.
In their reply to us at the end of June to our report that was written in April, they seemed to be accepting that they were content with the €70 billion that had been allocated at that stage. We have ended up now with €79 billion. Reading the letter again, I find that it gives some feeling of complacency—a lack of ambition on our part in trying to maximise the returns that we could get for our people then to compete for research and innovation. I am wondering where the Government stood in that negotiation, and I would like to know if today they could give us some insight into how the figure moved up by nearly €10 billion—a phenomenal increase, really, given the background to the budget negotiations. I would welcome some insight there. I suspect that to a degree it might be related to the way in which, since Lisbon was introduced, the Parliament has been able to take unto itself far greater powers than was ever envisaged in the Lisbon agreements.
It is important for government and for all of us to take note of what is taking place in Europe, with the shift in power and relative strength between the Council and the Commission and between the Parliaments. Indeed, if we are to maximise the returns from our involvement in Europe, it is very important that we review the nature of the relationship that we have with some of our representatives there and that we spend more time with our MEPs. That is a side political issue but it knocks back into the question of how we approach research and innovation.
It is interesting, too, to look at how some of the other countries have responded immediately to the announcement about the budget decision having been reached. I see that the Irish have already set out their stall and are seeking to get at least €1 billion for Ireland. It is a far bigger amount than technically they are entitled to but that is the ambition that they have publicly announced. A number of other countries have already said what they plan to do. We have been waiting for quite some time in working with these processes, so can the Minister give us an indication of our ambition in the claims we will be making? How much money do we anticipate we will be trying to get back in terms of research and innovation? We do not have any clarity on this, whereas others have. Similarly, in looking at the shift in the budget figure, our approach may be somewhat complacent and not as ambitious as some of the other countries, which will be in there pitching very vigorously indeed to get the maximum amount returned to them.
We are of course in an international competitive scene and, in certain respects, as others have said, Europe is starting to fall behind some of the major world competitors such as China, Brazil and India. We have seen that, increasingly, they are maintaining high levels of investment in research relating to business and that in many areas they have a much clearer link with businesses than we have.
I am pleased to see that noble Lords associated with the academic world will be speaking later in this debate. We do extraordinarily well, in relative terms, in finding funding for our universities and our higher educational research areas, and long may that continue. The amount that Europe spends in the academic field of research compared with that spent on research in industry has been declining in recent years, whereas the element that our competitors devote to industry and manufacturing has been going up. However, the UK is even worse than it was some years ago in the division between the money going into research for academia and that going into industry. This is a cause of concern for all of us. If the Government are serious about trying to effect a shift in the basis of our economy, moving away from finance and more towards manufacturing and industry, this is something that needs to be given serious attention.
We questioned the Minister about that and about trying to establish closer working contacts, particularly with SMEs. As the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, mentioned, SMEs are producing 98% of the business in Europe generally and they also feature very highly in the UK. One point of concern to us was the failure to make contacts with SMEs. In turn, that led some of us to have a look at the nature of the structure in the UK for reflecting SMEs’ views and for trying to link SMEs into government machines and, in turn, into applications for research funding and assistance.
Compared with the Germans and two or three of the other major successes in Europe, we find that we are very far behind. We have a disparate approach, ranging from the CBI to the chambers of commerce and even the Federation of Small Businesses. When I read some of the FSB’s submissions, it almost appeared that it was more interested in attacking Europe and its red tape than in trying to offer assistance to its members in submitting applications for research and improving their performance. The Government have to spend more time looking at the contact points. I think that the Minister, the right honourable David Willetts, was not entirely happy with what was there. Previously, they were underfunded and there were not sufficient of them. Have we made changes and do we have plans to put in further resources to provide that assistance?
I come from a trade union background and the Government are ever anxious to do inquiries into unions whenever they seem to be doing things that are not quite acceptable. I do not accept or support unacceptable behaviour. But in general terms of what the country needs, it is time that this Government, or some Government, look at the basis on which we seek to represent the major drivers of growth and jobs in this country—the SMEs. Can we not find a better way to bring them into a collective arrangement whereby they are given the necessary assistance and support to go forward and try to get—to use the rather foul term—their snouts in the trough of the very substantial amounts of money which should come to this country but which go to some others on a scale that is disproportionate to their entitlement?
My Lords, I did not serve on the sub-committee which produced the valuable report but I served on the Select Committee which approved it. It is one of the most telling and focused reports produced in the past year. The Government’s reply is also remarkably satisfactory, although some issues need to be expanded on and explained a little more. Although the European Commission has not directly responded to the report as yet—I understand that part of the reason for that may have been the uncertainty about the multiannual financial agreement—it has now issued a press release, which seems to cover in general terms most of the points made in the recommendations of the report. At least, the press release addresses many of the issues that have been highlighted in the report.
First, the press release, which was issued on 19 November following the European Parliament’s decision on the multiannual financial framework, indicated that,
“EU-funded research and innovation will do more to improve Europeans’ quality of life and enhance the EU’s global competitiveness”.
It also confirmed that, as regards the money, which I believe still is subject to the imprint of the Council, the Parliament has agreed that some €79 billion should be devoted to this, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, has indicated. That is an indication that the Commission has been listening to the committee which produced this report. It is also indicative of the strength of Britain in influencing the direction of European policy.
Central to the report, the second point made by the Commission in its press release is:
“Horizon 2020 is … a centre-piece of the EU’s drive to create new growth and jobs in Europe. Researchers and businesses across Europe can count on strongly increased and simplified EU support”.
That is a very important commitment. We have seen over recent years that, although higher education in the United Kingdom is obtaining support from the innovation and research programme to the extent of 61%, private commercial organisations have received only 24% of that assistance, which is not as satisfactory as we would wish.
The third point that is made in the Commission’s statement is that it will seek to strengthen industrial leadership and innovation, including through investment in key technologies and greater access to capital and support for SMEs. It goes on to indicate by way of example some of the most pressing requirements, including the need to address climate change, develop sustainable transport mobility and make renewable energy affordable. Those are sensible priorities. I declare an interest in that I am chairman of a company that promotes marine energy. It is certainly my hope that that form of alternative energy will be recognised as one that has not only great possibilities for this country but more widely.
The final point that is made on the industrial side of research and innovation is also important in the Commission’s statement. It says that it will help to bridge the gap between research and the market by, for example, helping innovative enterprises to develop their technological breakthroughs into viable products with real commercial potential. That has already been trailed to some extent by the connection between Sainsbury’s and the European innovation project in respect of solar power. Pure research is not the entire target that should be focused on under Horizon 2020. We should focus on how it can be deployed to commercial and economic advantage.
I recognise that there are areas of research in which it would be highly appropriate for pure research to be done. To my mind, that is a necessary part of the message that we are sending out. The need to address health issues is clearly one that we ought to focus on. I cite, for example, motor neurone disease, which as yet has no cure and which widely concerns the medical profession—and not only in our own country. We could, for example, hope that the European Union will watch with great interest the convention that is taking place in Milan in December for motor neurone neurologists from across the world. I believe that 700 will be there. They might, by introducing themselves to find some lines of inquiry worth supporting.
That raises another issue, which is whether the money should go only to the European Union. A number of other countries have participated in programmes of research and innovation, and that is highly sensible. I recognise the competitiveness element, which is important in focusing and directing research energy, but other countries could come in on collective research projects and, by so doing, reduce the overall costs.
We would be happy to hear from the Minister answers to some of the questions asked by the chairman of the Sub-Committee in her letter to the Government following their helpful reply. For example, there is an issue about how the NCPs can be operated more effectively. There is another issue about Brussels representation. That is mentioned, but it is not stated how that will be brought about effectively.
Finally, I very much agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said about the need to represent SMEs’ interests and possibilities in deciding what projects should be backed. That is a matter for this country to concern itself with: how to get across with clarity and authority the concerns and demands of small enterprises, which are key to our growth.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, for securing this timely debate and congratulate him and the EU Committee on a trenchant and thorough report. I certainly look forward to debating in this House any reports that he makes to us in his new role as an ambassador for healthcare and life sciences.
There are others to congratulate as well, notably the Minister, Universities UK and the UK Higher Education International Unit, as well as other bodies which have been involved in the long-running lobbying campaign to secure a good outcome for research, innovation and higher education in the EU budget negotiations, which were concluded on Tuesday. Although the final figure is less than the €80 billion originally proposed by the Commission, about which the EU Committee is rightly disappointed, it is none the less excellent news for the UK that the budget for research and innovation has been protected in the context of the first overall reduction in the EU budget. However, I have a caveat to that praise in relation to the arts and humanities, to which I will return, as I will be urging the Minister to take further action.
The quality, breadth and depth of research in the UK enable it to secure a disproportionately large quantity of EU research funding, as others have said. Research and innovation is one of the areas where UK interests are most closely aligned with opportunities offered by the EU. The more that the EU invests in research and innovation, the more the UK benefits from EU membership. However, the decision to protect the innovation and research budget in a climate of cuts is also excellent news for Europe. Evidence suggests that each extra 1% invested in public R&D in Europe generates an extra 0.17% in productivity growth. The European Commission has estimated that the current framework programme for research and innovation will create 900,000 additional jobs, and growth in GDP of nearly 1%—growth which equals the total expenditure of all other EU budget lines combined.
In short, the European Union has made the right choice to protect investment for growth. We in the UK will benefit enormously from that decision. So far, under FP7, the UK has received more than 15% of all funding. Only Germany has received more. We are certainly the most successful country by far in applications for European Research Council and Marie Curie research funding. I want to quote one exemplar: UCL. I declare an interest as a council member. UCL is a lead player in EU-funded research and is consistently ranked in the top four HEIs in Europe. It has more than 600 FP7 projects with a total cumulative budget in excess of €300 million. ERC research funding, arguably the most prestigious in Europe, represents half UCL’s research income, which clearly demonstrates excellence across all areas of activity. UCL is the lead HEI in Europe in health-funded research.
The report that we are debating today rightly points out the importance of prioritising excellence. There has been substantial pressure to distribute research funding on other criteria. In my view, it would have been wrong to distribute research funding merely on the basis of geographical factors. Not only would it be unfair, but it would have diluted the economic impact of this investment. The fact that the funding for excellence pillar of the Horizon 2020 budget has been increased is also good news. Further, EU-funded research and innovation enables stakeholders to engage in international collaboration on a global scale. This has positive impacts in Europe and the UK by building a critical mass of knowledge and adds significant value given the global nature of the research environment and the common global societal changes we are all facing.
I now come to my caveat: the arts and humanities. Only last week, the foreign secretary of the British Academy and the president of the All European Academies wrote to the Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science expressing deep concern that the social sciences and humanities were being marginalised in the development of the Horizon 2020 programme. The amount proposed for SSH research provides considerably less funding than has been available under FP7. The draft work programme foresees bids of between €1.5 million and €2.5 million, which means, on average, roughly four to five successful projects per call across the entire European Union. This is nonsensical. It is bound to have an impact on those bidding, when the chances of success are so small. The presidents are concerned, as well, that there are no structures which embed interdisciplinary work, and I know that the vice-chancellor of Cambridge is raising these issues as we speak with DG Research in Brussels. Will the Minister undertake urgently to talk to the British Academy to understand its concerns so that his department can intervene with the European Commission, should it prove necessary, in order to reassure the social sciences and humanities research community that it will, indeed, be able to contribute to a successful Horizon 2020?
Meanwhile, a new element of the research budget will be targeted at widening participation in research programmes and spreading excellence. It will receive about 1% of funding from the Horizon 2020 budget and will encourage partnerships between strong research institutions and those in new member states through new twinning and teaming initiatives. This will be complemented by much larger structural funds, the receipt of which is now linked to a national innovation strategy being in place.
Although the outcome of the budget negotiations in general is, in my view, good news for the UK and Europe, we cannot afford to be complacent. As the EU Committee points out, if we are to compete with emerging economies, we will have to spend a still higher proportion of GDP on research and innovation. Europe has failed to make significant progress towards meeting the Lisbon goal of investing 3% of GDP in research and development. The EU average is just 2%, while the OECD average is higher at about 2.6%. The UK lags behind, spending less than 1.8% of GDP on R&D. The previous Government had a target to increase this to 2%, but we have made frustratingly slow progress towards that figure.
Meanwhile, as other noble Lords have emphasised, emerging economies such as China and South Korea are increasing investment rapidly and seeing results in improving performance in patent and citation indices. What has happened to that target? What plans do the Government have to raise our game? Does the Minister accept that it would be dangerously complacent for us to assume that we can continue to outperform faster-developing economies when we have much lower levels of investment? As the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, has pointed out elsewhere, the UK has a fantastically efficient research system, more so than the US, as measured by the number of citations for each unit spent. However, it is not at all clear that we can continue to maintain that advantage in the long term.
Finally, the committee is right to identify private sector involvement in R&D as a priority. The UK has an inglorious history of decline on this score. Universities do much to stimulate investment through partnerships with industry, but if we are to maintain our position as a leading economy we need a long-term strategy to address this issue, including by encouraging private firms to participate in European funding projects.
I conclude by asking the Minister to tell the House what plans the Government have to support business, particularly SMEs, to help them take advantage of the opportunities that Europe so clearly presents.
My Lords, I should also like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, for giving us the opportunity to consider this report today. I congratulate him on giving an excellent tour d’horizon of its contents, which means that I can make a much shorter speech than I had originally planned. I have no interests to declare, other than that I am a member of the EU sub-committee that compiled this report. I take this opportunity to associate myself with remarks that were made earlier. I thank our parliamentary clerk, our policy analyst, the secretariat and others for all the diligent work and help that they gave us during the whole process. We received wise counsels and guidance from many quarters, not least from our chairman, my noble friend Lady O’Cathain. I am sorry that she cannot be with us today.
The very nature of research and innovation means that it seeks to break new frontiers in technology. This inevitably means that it is a keenly fought battleground for new ideas, and as noble lords will be aware, we live in a very competitive world. We have heard that the Horizon 2020 budget, which is to be rolled out next year and which will run until 2020, will be €71 billion—although as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, mentioned, another €8 billion may be added, which would make it €79. That sounds like a lot of money until—as the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, said—you look at countries such as China, which are set to increase their spending on R&I to €181 billion by 2015.
If we in Europe are to try to compete with the likes of China on a much smaller grant base, it is essential that we give as much encouragement as we can to involve small and medium-sized businesses in the process. They employ some 70% of our entire workforce, but up to now they have applied for only less than a quarter of all available funding.
Therefore the main point of the report that I will focus on this afternoon is the perceived urgent need to make it easier and more attractive for our SMEs to apply for R&I grants from the EU. One of the reasons for their reluctance to apply for funds in the past is that they see the whole application process as labyrinthine and too bureaucratic. Add to that the fact that they may have to wait up to 499 days—as a worst-case scenario—for their application to be accepted, and then factor in the possibility of late payment, which further exacerbates the time to receiving the grant, and you can see the problem all too clearly. Indeed, my right honourable friend David Willetts, during a very helpful session with the committee, cited a company that was advised that it had been awarded a grant and was so excited and enthused at being told this that it recruited extra staff, but the money was so slow in arriving that it went bust. Paragraphs 100 and 101 on page 35 of the report draw particular attention to that problem.
The committee was also concerned at the lack of flexibility in funding at the end of a given project. By its very nature, innovation is not an exact science and there can often be a time overrun in bringing new ideas to fruition. When that happens, it will inevitably incur extra costs, but there is currently no provision for this in the Horizon 2020 funding package. We believe that the process should be more flexible and that follow-on funding should be made available to help to ensure that projects are completed and achieve full commercial benefit.
The only other point on which I would briefly like to comment concerns the duplication of impact assessments. While they are very important, as noble Lords have said, having them carried out by the European Commission and the European Parliament separately is one level too many. Surely, time and money can be saved by having just one impact assessment board.
I very much look forward to hearing what my noble friend the Minister has to say. Of course, we keenly await hearing from the EU Commission when it responds to the report that we have submitted. I end by expressing the hope that, by 2020, our horizons will be broader, and we will all have benefited from this exciting funding initiative.
My Lords, I welcome this constructive debate, introduced by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, on the vital issues of research and innovation for the future prosperity of the UK. This is in the case of the UK working inside and with the EU. I regret, as do many commentators, from the Economist to the CBI, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and as insiders have commented in the EEC, that the debate about the UK’s future membership of the EU reduces significantly the UK’s influence on improving the effectiveness of EU programmes for promotion of research and innovation.
Despite the constructive tone of the report, I am sure that UK SMEs will be pleased that Minister Willetts in the Government’s response highlighted the importance to the UK of the Horizon 2020 future programme, and the public-private dimension of that programme. However, it is surprising that I have now heard one or two speeches by Minister Willetts, and he has never mentioned Europe. There was a big meeting of the Royal Society on the future of science and technology in universities, but Europe was not mentioned. There was mention of the Conservative Party programme on science and technology, but Europe was not mentioned. So I am very pleased at the constructive tone of the Government’s reply in this correspondence.
Everyone, including EC officials whom I have contacted—there may not have been an official response, but I e-mailed some EC officials this week and asked them what they thought about this—agree that the delivery of these programmes could be more efficient and easier for SMEs. I declare an interest as a scientist, working on EC programmes for the last 20 or 30 years, and as a director of a small high-tech company that has received funds from the EC as well as from the UK Government.
The European Commission and European institutions have, of course, transformed many aspects of European science and technology, particularly through their practical and commercial applications. Europe leads the world in practical meteorology. You go to the United States now and turn on a weather channel and they say, “The European weather forecast is the following and the American forecast is this”. You can listen the next day and find out which is correct; for example, the Europeans get the hurricanes right. Europe is remarkably advanced in environmental science. In Beijing, the pollution forecasting for the Olympics was done by a public-private team from Europe. Similarly, in aviation, we know which aeroplanes are the best, and it is the same with advances in nuclear fusion.
I hope that the Minister will take the message from this debate to the Prime Minister that, when he goes to China in two weeks’ time, he should travel on a European aeroplane, Airbus, and make sure that he chooses an airline that has an Airbus with Rolls-Royce engines. That may take a bit of trickery but I can assure noble Lords that there are airlines that do have them. I hope that when he goes to Beijing he will talk about the European prowess in innovation and research and not just leave it to Monsieur Hollande. Time and time again we hear no mention at all by British Ministers of European projects in which the UK is involved, whereas when Monsieur Hollande goes there, one might think that all these European projects were French—but they are not; they are British. We build the wings of Airbus. Enough said, but I hope that the Minister and our colleagues in the Box will take this message away.
This report emphasises how the European Commission has been particularly effective—much more so than the United States in many ways—in identifying new areas of technical research and setting up networks across the EU. One of Boeing’s top aerodynamicists came to a conference this summer in Lyon and was amazed by the new concepts and applications for turbulence over wings developed by European programmes. No academic in the United States has any idea about Boeing’s future plans, but in Europe hundreds of research groups are participating in the Airbus programme. It is a remarkable general programme. However, I received a very mealy-mouthed response to a PQ in which I asked what the effect on our Airbus programme would be of Britain leaving Europe. To my astonishment, the reply was that there would be no difference except, perhaps, to one or two tiny research projects. Leaving Europe would have an enormous impact, and this is something that we should be clear about.
The regional networks are rightly emphasised in this report, despite the Government’s destruction of some of the regional economic programmes which existed before they came to power. The networks that I helped to set up with colleagues across Europe to bring researchers together with industry have been going successfully since 1988. One of the points made in the report is that programmes are funded by the European Commission and then stop. What happens to the people involved? If the various industries and researchers have their own networks then although the EC projects may come and go, the bottom-up network will continue. Some EC officials were reluctant about having these independent networks but now realise that they are actually a good way to fit the pieces together.
The other feature of the EC system is that it is inevitably bureaucratic because it is trying to do things that have not been done before. It is trying to bring people from all across Europe together and introduce interdisciplinary projects. I accept that there will not be much correspondence if you have one project in Swindon that is working on one topic in one lab. But if you are trying to do something across Europe and break new ground, you will have a lot of meetings and letters—because it is worth it and you will get the most remarkable results. There was an effective project on system dynamics in policymaking involving all sorts of disciplines which, noble Lords will be pleased to hear, ended up considering even the fashionable question of defining happiness. We also had interesting discussions about what is wrong with economics, and we had meetings here in Parliament. That is outreach and broadness and it takes a lot of organisation. However, through the extraordinary European office of University College London, all this was handled smoothly and no one complained about bureaucracy. None of these kinds of projects occurs in the United States or any other advanced country.
I asked the CEO of a high-tech SME who was previously a director of a university science park about this issue in order to get an objective view. He agreed about the benefits of EC support for networks but said that there were definitely problems for many individual SMEs. The difficulties included understanding what the grants were and how to apply for them. He said that there were certainly problems about payment and it was important to understand the rules on payments when applying for a grant.
The tenor of this report implies that the big companies can move through it all smoothly and it is just the SMEs which are having difficulties. One of the reasons the SMEs find it difficult is that the big companies delay delivering their share of the contribution. No one gets paid if the big boys do not do their job in time. It is not quite as simple as has been implied, and I have seen that problem for myself.
There is a major gap in this report. While listening to speaker after speaker, I thought that surely someone would mention it, but astonishingly no one mentioned the really surprising thing. The Government and the European Commission have to promote the technology of Europe. They do a pretty bad job of it. If you go to Beijing, as I do quite often—and I came back from Kuala Lumpur last night—you will have 25 trade missions, including the European trade mission, all giving little bits of this and that. Then you have the American trade mission with extraordinarily specialised offices from all the federal agencies. Who will you buy your product from when you have it all explained to you by the United States? The co-ordination behind pushing out European projects is absolutely hopeless, and this needs to be discussed.
We have the UKTI and I am pleased to see that the present Government are promoting exports and supporting UKTI’s budget. However, the department should be working with other European countries. The noble Lord, Lord Oxburgh, and I went to a trade fair in Singapore. If I may say so, there was a pathetic little sideshow by the Brits. It should have been much broader and more European in order to compete with Japan and the rest of them. I hope that that might be something that could be considered. Where we do have European projects, of which the Airbus is a brilliant example, they are promoted because they need to be. Monsieur Hollande does a good job, and let us hope that our Prime Minister will take that point on board.
Another feature of this debate is that our Government should themselves be able to promote these European projects. The United States Department of Commerce has an office not only for promoting US products, but for looking at products for promotion from all around the rest of the world. I do not believe that our Government in Whitehall are even looking at the European projects we are funding, some of which are Brit in origin and some in other countries, to see how we can use them. That is a really important point. Our money is being used to fund technological projects in other countries in Europe, but are we making use of them for our industry? Probably not. This is a broader aspect of the process that needs to be considered.
An interesting aspect of the report is the recommendation to support the Chief Scientific Adviser. I interrupted the noble Lord, Lord Jenkin, earlier in the debate on the question of objective science. I get slightly complicated about objective science because I have been to France, Japan and China where you can see that the nature of peer review is terribly Anglo-US dominated. There is a lot of very important science that is never referenced or seen by these things. The IPCC is perhaps another example. That is particularly true of the humanities where you have all sorts of literature in many different languages. It should be part of the Chief Scientific Adviser’s remit to take a broad view of what the standard of science is across Europe, and the office should also be involved in identifying flagship projects.
Finally, what Europe needs to do is build on the brilliance and originality of its design innovation. The great thing about the UK is that we have a rather anarchic form of originality that does not fit easily into the more Napoleonic systems of administration in the European Commission. It is good that we have a Chief Scientific Adviser from Scotland who understands anarchy, so hopefully she will understand how the Brits can make better use of the EC.
My Lords, I felt inhibited participating in this debate even before that tour de force, delivered by my noble friend Lord Hunt. Like all other participants, I congratulate the committee on its comprehensive report, which has initiated a debate that is definitely one for the connoisseurs but is fascinating and wide-ranging. Everyone who participated in the debate recognised the challenge facing the UK in an increasingly competitive global marketplace. As my noble friend Lord Haskel said, we need a strategy—a coherent strategy—that enables us to succeed by harnessing the undoubted talents that exist in both higher education and public and private enterprise. Importantly, the committee report focuses on the question of SMEs.
As was said a number of times during the debate, higher education managed to get a 61% share of the budget, putting us among the top participating nation states. We need to replicate that success with private commercial organisations. Are we ready to take advantage of the new framework programme, Horizon 2020, which starts in 2014?
In preparing for the debate, I looked at the joint statement, Fuelling Growth: Research and Innovation as Drivers of UK Growth and Competitiveness, published by the Academy of Medical Sciences, the British Academy, the Royal Academy of Engineering and the Royal Society. It says that although we are world leaders in research, that cannot be taken for granted, as international competitors are catching up. It recommends that the Government,
“enhance its support for research and innovation with a long-term vision for the UK’s knowledge economy”,
and build a 10-year investment programme for R&I,
“at the heart of its emerging industrial strategy and plans for growth”.
A couple of other areas are well worth quoting from. One area the statement focuses on is the question of developing skills if we are going to achieve the kind of objectives we want to see in research and innovation. It says:
“Global competition for excellence makes it essential that the UK remains an attractive place for the most talented individuals and teams to work, whether they are from home or from elsewhere in the world. Excellent people will in turn attract commercial investment. With over one million new science, engineering and technology professionals and technicians required by 2020, the supply of high quality STEM skills in the UK will be even more important than it is today. The UK’s ability to nurture domestic talent and attract the best international researchers will be an important component of the response to this shortfall”.
I would welcome the Minister’s response on that particular issue. The statement ends with a plea:
“We advise the Government to develop a stable ten year investment framework for research, innovation and skills in consultation with the research communities in academia, industry and charities. This framework should sit at the heart of its emerging industrial strategy and plans for growth”.
Does the Minister agree with those two key aspects of the joint statement? Do the Government support the views in the report?
I am very interested in the Government’s response on assisting SMEs with what are defined as the national contact points. The committee welcomed the reform of these national contact points. The Minister writes that the national contact points will, collectively, be better resourced and a majority accessible on a full-time basis. Following up on the committee’s concern about engaging businesses and SMEs specifically, the Minister states that national contact points will offer:
“A stronger central support … especially to businesses”.
What exactly does the Minister mean by that? Outcome rather than intention is of paramount importance and it is hoped that this will contribute to increasing the share of participants coming from business and industry.
Many universities have associated business parks and science parks, and provide facilities for SMEs and start-up businesses; I have visited a few of these myself. Surely these business hubs should be the ideal place to encourage participation of SMEs. Unless I missed it, I did not see any reference in the committee report or the Government’s response to the role of local enterprise partnerships, which, after all, are the Government’s replacement for RDAs—something that we did not agree with but they are with us. What is the role of local enterprise partnerships in achieving the Horizon 2020 objectives? Surely they should be a key part of the jobs and growth strategy for encouraging SMEs to participate. The point made by my noble friend Lord Brooke about the role of the Federation of Small Businesses and chambers of commerce in assisting this process is also very important.
My noble friend Lord Haskel made the point that this funding is vital because in part it compensates for the failures in bank lending. Another important point was made by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, in his introduction, when he pointed out that innovation is at the heart of what Europe requires, and I liked his suggested new definition of countries as either innovation-rich or innovation-poor. It is an interesting viewpoint.
Throughout this debate we have seen the importance of funding. Although everybody has welcomed the increase, the point has been made a couple of times that if you compare the European contribution of something like €79 billion with the Chinese one, it is a cause for concern. When it comes to how long it takes for money to be received through this project—whether you take the 340-day average or the worst-case scenario that the noble Earl, Lord Liverpool, pointed to—surely that is a concern, even if one accepts the complexity of some of these projects. My noble friend Lady Warwick pointed out the importance of the funding and that we are nowhere near to meeting the Lisbon goal of 2% of GDP.
Another interesting point was made by my noble friend Lord Brooke when he talked about the UK attitude to Europe and whether we like it or not—and many of us do not—the fact that we now seem to have such a sceptical or ambivalent attitude towards Europe is being reflected in the European attitude towards us. He quoted the worrying statistic that now only 4.5% of EU officials are British.
The questions that the Minister has to address, apart from the specific ones that have been put to him by noble Lords, are: do we have a coherent strategy? Do we have a long-term vision for research and innovation? Do we have the policies that will encourage SMEs to become more active? Can we ensure that the policies we have will enable us to make the maximum use of the Horizon programme? I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, it has been a stimulating debate. We have travelled far and wide—to Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and China—and I will cover most if not all of the questions in my response. Before I go further, it would be remiss of me if I did not pay tribute to the excellent introduction to this debate provided by the noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and congratulate him on his recent appointment as UK business ambassador for health and life sciences—which, again, underlines and illustrates what we hope is the continuing promotion of British and European interests abroad. It is also appropriate for me to pay tribute to the chairmanship of my noble friend Lady O’Cathain. What I am sure would have been her forthright and robust contributions to today’s debate have been missed. I am also always mindful of the fact that while our debates on Europe may take place under various watchful eyes, they are under the watchful eye, too, of the chairman of the EU Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, who remains my noble friend. I join other noble Lords in thanking the members of the committee for their excellent report and the comprehensive way in which they have dealt with a variety of issues which I shall seek to address.
The report examined in great detail the issues surrounding the EU’s major funding programmes for research, development and innovation and made a number of important recommendations. As several noble Lords have pointed out, the Government have responded and we have had various exchanges in this regard.
The report is aimed at ensuring that these programmes, which will be responsible for spending some €70 billion over the next seven years, from 2014 to 2020, are as effective as they can be. Many of the recommendations were addressed to the European Commission and, like all noble Lords who have spoken today, the Government look forward to seeing its response in the near future.
On the UK’s track record of participation in EU research programmes, one point which emerged clearly from the report was the major opportunity that the EU’s existing and future funding programmes have offered, and will continue to offer, to UK researchers and research institutions. The UK is already a very strong player in the EU’s current framework programme, FP7. It receives, as several noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, pointed out, 15.4% of the total funding available, which puts us second only to Germany among our European partners. The UK also participates in more successful projects than any other country: 41.2 % of all grant agreements in FP7 to date include at least one UK partner. Research-intensive UK universities have been particularly successful in this regard and are actively engaged in Europe. Several universities—Birmingham, for instance—have Brussels offices and now derive a substantial proportion of their external research income from EU sources. The value of presence on the ground was a point made by several noble Lords and our universities are certainly taking this forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, in his excellent contribution, stressed the importance of the assessment of programmes and their delivery. In this regard, I want to highlight to your Lordships’ House several notable success stories. For example, the Nobel prize-winning work undertaken at Manchester on graphene, an ultra-thin, ultra-light and superconductive material with potential uses ranging from energy storage and high-speed computing to improved tennis racquets, was partly EU-funded. Jaguar and Rolls-Royce are collaborating with Queen Mary College and innovative UK SMEs in a project aimed at turning waste heat from engine exhaust gases into electricity, meaning reduced carbon dioxide emissions and better fuel consumption. ARM Ltd has successfully participated in a series of EU research projects which have helped underpin its global leadership in providing microchip designs for a broad range of digital technologies. I say to my noble friend Lord Maclennan that the Jaguar and Rolls-Royce example underlines issues and challenges that we are looking at in terms of environment.
On the quality of the UK research base, the UK does well because of the excellence of the research conducted here. An indicator of this strength is provided by the distribution of grants by the European Research Council, which funds groundbreaking research on the basis of Europe-wide peer review. Among all the ERC grant-holders, the UK ranks well ahead of both Germany and France. This quality provides a firm basis on which to build even stronger engagement in the future. I agree wholeheartedly with the praise of the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, for the European Research Council, which plays an important role in all these EU research programmes, and from which, as I have already illustrated, the UK has done well.
The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and others referred to Horizon 2020. The process of negotiating the new seven-year Horizon 2020 programme has been long and complex but the political agreement that was reached between the Council and the European Parliament represents, in the Government’s view, a good deal for Britain. It retains the primacy of excellence as the factor for deciding who receives funding. I know that we have discussed this issue but I assure my noble friend Lord Jenkin that excellence is the key determining factor in this regard. The programme is structured round a limited number of key societal challenges such as health, climate change and energy security. It also provides a range of support right along the innovation chain, from blue sky research through to large-scale demonstrators of new technologies. It seeks to embed and mainstream the insights from research in the social sciences and the arts and humanities—I know that was a concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Warwick—another area of UK strength across the programme, as she rightly pointed out. It will allocate increased levels of dedicated funding to innovative small and medium-sized enterprises. I agree with the important point that the noble Lord, Lord Haskel, raised about applying a much broader interpretation of research and innovation. Horizon 2020 will make provision for other areas of support and for new business models.
The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, and others referred to red tape. One of the key challenges and issues for the implementation of the programme remains that of reducing red tape and administrative overheads. We should not look at this just in a European context. As someone who spent many years in the private sector before joining your Lordships’ House—indeed, during my time on the Conservative Back Benches I continued in business—I know that red tape is not just an issue that government must tackle but one with which many businesses across the board have to grapple. The rules that set the conditions for participation in the Horizon 2020 programme contain welcome simplifications, which is something for which we have pushed. The Government will monitor in particular the European Commission’s performance in delivering on its commitment to reduce the time taken over funding decisions by 100 days. My noble friend Lord Liverpool pointed out that it is all very well securing the funding but asked what is the point of bidding for it if, by the time it arrives, the business has closed. That is a very important point on which to reflect.
As regards Horizon 2020 funding, within a smaller overall multiannual financial framework for 2014-20, spending on research and innovation is one of the few areas to increase. This is in recognition of the potential for spending in this area to contribute to sustainable growth and jobs and add real value to the investments made at national level: a point underlined at the European Council meeting last month.
I turn to business participation. As several noble Lords have pointed out, in looking at UK participation in EU funding programmes, I have thus far focused on the performance of our UK universities. I am aware that UK business participation in the framework programme has not always been as strong as we would have liked. There are several reasons for this. I have already referred to the levels of bureaucracy and red tape associated with EU funding. I assure all noble Lords that we shall work with the Commission to address this in Horizon 2020. Indeed, the committee’s report specifically highlighted this as a major concern.
The Government also need to enhance their support to potential participants. The Department for Business, Innovation and Skills and the Technology Strategy Board have therefore been working on the implementation of new national support services for Horizon 2020. A new TSB-hosted website and helpline service will be ready in time for the launch of the first competitions for grants in December. I turn to some specific questions in this regard. The noble Lord, Lord Kakkar, referred to the key role of SMEs. The Technology Strategy Board has a key role to play through the national contact points system in prompting opportunities for SMEs. It is welcome that funding will be allocated on the basis of excellence, as I have already mentioned. For the first time, individual SMEs will be able to receive funding, so they will no longer be required to find out about partner organisations. This, we feel, should help participation and make it easier for SMEs to participate themselves.
The noble Lord, Lord Young, also raised the issue of the national contact points. Full-time employees of the Technology Strategy Board will be better integrated with the technology innovation structures, the knowledge transfer network and the Enterprise Europe Network to provide a better co-ordinated service. He also raised the important point about the role of local enterprise partnerships. The TSB is in the process of developing relationships with the LEPs, including a focus on their innovation agenda. This includes drawing attention to the opportunities available for EU funding, notably via the structural funds.
The TSB’s recruitment of the new Horizon 2020 national contact points is under way. The TSB is also actively looking to establish a presence in Brussels early in 2014 that will further help to improve the support it provides in increasing business access to Horizon 2020 programmes. Furthermore, we are working to strengthen communications strategies to ensure that information about Horizon 2020 and the opportunities which it offers is available to all those who might have an interest in participating. I fully take on board the important point made by several noble Lords about having presence on the ground. Again, I underline the Government’s commitment to encouraging that. When I was discussing this debate with officials, I raised the obvious point that while it is all very well having the funding, if you do not know about it then it is a difficult chore. Therefore, the communication strategy that the Government are seeking to put behind this will, we hope, also encourage wider and greater participation, especially at the SME level.
Several noble Lords also mentioned the barriers to innovation. It is essential that European funding programmes for research and innovation foster the emergence of new industry sectors and jobs. The committee’s excellent report rightly drew attention to issues that affect the exploitation of the outputs and outcomes of the projects funded. One such was the EU regulatory environment. For instance, there is little point in working on disruptive technologies if the regulatory framework or regime favours existing technologies. More generally, there are concerns about EU regulations or differences of approach between EU countries which make it excessively difficult, at times, for business to bring innovative products to the market. The noble Lord, Lord Haskel, spoke about the importance of the demand side in innovation, particularly in public procurement. I am glad to report that Horizon 2020 will in fact introduce a new SME instrument aimed at pulling innovations through into the market place.
I turn to promoting innovation-friendly regulation. My right honourable friend the Minister for Universities and Science has been actively promoting a more innovation-friendly regulatory environment in Europe, working with key partner countries. We are now seeking to build on this momentum and to provide and promote a greater role and higher profile for scientific advice in policy and decision-making, drawing on the expertise of the chief scientific adviser to the EU and the Commission’s in-house joint research centre.
We have heard a lot about what some noble Lords suggested was the diminishing influence of Britain in Europe. I do not agree with that point. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, pointed out, it is notable that the Commission’s chief scientific adviser, Professor Anne Glover, is indeed British. I use that word deliberately. She may be Scottish but she is British as well, and long may that be the case.
The noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Hunt, raised the issue of representation on the ground in the EU. I must point out that in this policy area, notwithstanding how many British representatives we have at the moment, one of the important things to realise about Europe is that while officials there are of course promoting national interests, there are also the wider interests of Europe. We certainly take the view that we must establish good working relationships with all Commission officials. The only thing I would point out in support of this point, which was also well made by my noble friend Lord Maclennan, is that the success of our relationship is perhaps underlined by the fact that Her Majesty’s Government have secured many of our key negotiating objectives within Horizon 2020.
I shall deal with a small point as an aside. The noble Lord, Lord Brooke, and my noble friend Lord Liverpool raised the issue of the actual funding amount. Because this was preset, the actual funding remains and is then adjusted, so the figure of €79 billion that we are hearing being quoted has been adjusted for inflation. It is important to point out that distinction.
I turn to the launch of Horizon 2020. The package is now largely agreed and waiting for formal adoption at the end of this year. Officials are working closely on this point. Indeed, in a “hot off the press” moment, I was informed as I was coming in to the debate that only this morning the European Parliament agreed in its plenary session in favour of the Horizon 2020 package. This will now pass to the Council of Ministers and we are currently awaiting the date of that meeting. We will continue to work with all UK stakeholders and our partner countries in preparing the ground for the formal launch of the programme, drawing up work programmes, for instance, and engaging with potential participants to ensure that they are fully aware of the opportunities on offer. A series of promotional events is planned, with BIS holding a formal high-level launch event for Horizon 2020 on 31 January next year. I am of course happy to share the details of the programme as it is agreed.
I shall touch on a few other questions that were raised. The issue of impact assessments was mentioned. As I said, excellence will remain a key part of this. My noble friend Lord Liverpool raised a concern over duplication of the European Parliament’s role as well as the role of the European Commission. That is something that we have taken up and we are assured that, rather than duplicate this, the role will be perceived as being complementary in nature.
I have great respect for my noble friend Lord Jenkin and 99% of the time I find myself agreeing with him on the matters that he raises. He referred to the political criteria currently being used and asked why certain issues have to be raised again. One of the things that I grew up with in personal, business and indeed political life was that if you believe in a particular point, if you believe in something such as the importance of excellence and the importance of reiterating a point, and you wish to provide some constructive input to your friends, you keep reminding them of it. However, for many years applications have been assessed on the basis of an independent peer review. The principle is now fully accepted and written into the Horizon 2020 legislation. As I have already said, the principle of excellence is manifest in the European Research Council, which is widely acknowledged and which supports world-class research.
My noble friend Lord Maclennan raised an important point about the EU research and innovation programme and the importance of participating and perhaps broadening it more internationally—I agree with him on this point—where there is mutual benefit to be had. Again, this will be an important feature of Horizon 2020. My noble friend also asked various questions about the committee’s reply to my right honourable friend David Willetts’s letter of 19 July. The TSB is actively looking to establish a Brussels presence, as I have already said. The issue of British nationals in the DG was raised. Up to 59 currently work in the research directorate-general. The noble Baroness, Lady Warwick, raised concerns about humanities, which I hope I have addressed and reassured her about. There were a couple of other small questions which, if I may in the interests of time, I shall write to noble Lords about.
Before the noble Lord reaches his peroration, I wonder whether he could address a specific point. Because of the urgency of the position with regard to the arts and humanities, will he undertake to talk to the British Academy about its concerns?
I assure the noble Baroness that that is already happening: officials are talking on the exact point that she has raised. I do not think that it is happening in real time but I assure her that an ongoing conversation is taking place.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised various issues concerning China and the representations made there. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister is visiting China. Through UKTI, we have an established presence in China—in both Beijing and Shanghai—and we continue to promote not only UK interests but European interests as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, also suggested that I could perhaps use my influences in relation to the Prime Minister’s travel plans. I can only share my experience as someone whose in-laws are in Australia. When I go there, I try to book the A380 simply because it is an easier way to travel, and I shall certainly seek to share my experiences on that front.
Both the noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Hunt, asked whether the Government are committed to research and innovation and whether we believe in it. I can do no better than pay tribute to my right honourable friend David Willetts, the Minister for Universities and Science. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said that he has not been mentioning the EU much, but perhaps I may give a direct quotation. He said:
“Driving research and innovation in the EU is central to putting our economies back on the road to a sustainable and competitive future … This is one of the areas where we can benefit the most from constructive engagement with our European counterparts. Some of the most exciting and innovative research projects have been the fruits of greater cross-boundary cooperation and mobility”.
Where did he say that? Was it in the letter?
He said it in the letter.
Exactly, but not in a public speech.
I can assure the noble Lord of one thing. My right honourable friend is well known to him. I represent his interests and his department, and that is a view that he shares quite publicly. I shall certainly review his speeches and get back to the noble Lord, but perhaps I may also say that that particular sentiment is confirmed within the committee’s report.
It is vital that this opportunity is seized across the board both by the well established participants in the EU’s recent programmes and by newcomers. The UK has been a major player to date in EU research funding programmes, and the Government are totally committed to ensuring that participation is further strengthened in the years ahead.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken the trouble to contribute to this very thorough and thoughtful debate, in which important issues have been raised. I think that it has demonstrated the deep commitment of your Lordships’ House not only to pursuing questions with regard to research and innovation, which are vital for the future of our nation and, indeed, for the future of all European nations, but to continuing to scrutinise and encourage the further development of programmes within the European Union. Those programmes can be brought to bear not only for the benefit of the people of our own country but for the benefit of the citizens of Europe more broadly.
House adjourned at 6.33 pm.