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Grand Committee

Volume 752: debated on Thursday 27 February 2014

Grand Committee

Thursday, 27 February 2014.

Charity Commission

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of the Charity Commission.

My Lords, I declare a few interests. I own a business called Third Sector Business and am a consultant with B&W Consulting, both of which are small organisations that work extensively with charities.

I thank all noble Lords who will take part in the debate. The Charity Commission was founded under the Charitable Trusts Act 1853, and I suspect that the first debate on the subject of its effectiveness probably took place in 1854. It is a subject upon which many people have an opinion and few, if any, are neutral, and it is one to which Parliament returns often in the light of difficult cases. So it is today.

The commission has been heavily criticised in a series of reports over the past 12 months and at the moment appears somewhat beleaguered. The reason for holding this debate today is simple. As long as England and Wales continue to have a large and diverse charitable sector, it is in the best interests of government, charities and, above all, the public that there is an effective regulator of charities. We had the welcome news this week from the Charity Commission that the income of charities in England and Wales has risen by almost £3 billion and now surpasses £61 billion. That is a lot of public money sitting in trust, and the organisations to which it is entrusted have the right to show that they are worthy of that trust.

Today’s debate is an opportunity for Members of your Lordships’ House, with their long and distinguished experience in these matters, to think about ways in which we can rebuild confidence in the Charity Commission’s regulation of charities. It is not an opportunity for another bout of the favourite sport of bashing the commission. Noble Lords will remember that last year the commission appeared before the Public Accounts Committee, which asked the National Audit Office to review the commission’s effectiveness as a regulator and report back. The PAC produced a report written in characteristically scathing terms. It is a shame that the precision and forcefulness of its forensic examination and questioning was followed by a set of rather unclear and unhelpful suggestions for the commission. It would have been more helpful if the PAC had given a clear indication of exactly how it wished the commission to fulfil its functions in future.

The NAO report, the Regulatory Effectiveness of the Charity Commission, was published on 4 December, along with its report on the commission’s handling of the Cup Trust. Those reports do not make for easy reading but they make plain that the problems that the commission now faces are longstanding and are not the fault of the current officers of the commission, or indeed their immediate predecessors.

It is helpful to look briefly at the history of this issue to understand why some of those underlying problems have arisen. In the mid-1990s, charities grew substantially as providers of public services under contract. In 1996 the NCVO produced the Deakin report, which stated that in order to have a vibrant voluntary sector there had to be robust regulation, a clear role for the regulator and a clear legal framework within which the regulator and charities could operate with confidence. In 2001 the NCVO returned to the issue and produced a report entitled For the Public Benefit?, which, again, stated the need for a clear legal framework and, in particular, for there to be clear guidance about what is and is not a charity. That led to the 2004 Charities Bill. Many of your Lordships sat in this room throughout 2005 during the passage of that Bill and had yet more discussions on key issues such as: what is public benefit? I have to say that the decision of Parliament to leave the matter of what is public benefit to be decided by case law presents the commission with an ongoing and enduring problem in delivering its role as a regulator.

Today we are back to the position where the commission has had its budget reduced by one-third and, as ever, there are arguments about the way in which it has gone about pursuing particular cases. However, it is clear that we need to help the commission to recover ground and confidence. I work with lots of organisations, and the best of them—it does not matter which sector they are in: public, private or voluntary—do three things: they have a clear vision of what they are trying to achieve, they have the information that they need to fulfil that vision, and they have excellent relationships with other organisations. Were we to look at the commission in terms of those three issues, that might help us, the Government and the commission to see our way forward.

At heart, there remains a lack of clarity about what the commission’s job is. Following the strategic review of the commission a couple of years ago, everyone has now agreed that its principal role is to be a regulator; that is the unique role that it can fulfil. However, what do we want it to regulate—simply charity law, compliance with charity law, or the increasingly individual charities? In certain parts of government, I think that there is a view that we should have a de minimis regulator along the lines of the FCA, which simply regulates compliance. I do not think that is right. We have the most advanced, complex and vibrant voluntary sector in the world, and we need a regulator that is much more proactive about setting standards of good governance and trust. We need the Charity Commission to regulate within that framework.

On the matter of relationships with other organisations, I have always had a feeling that the commission is a somewhat distant and aloof organisation. In these times of straitened economics, the commission needs to be far more adept at developing good strategic relationships with other organisations. It ought to proactively signpost charities and the million trustees who use its services to go to other organisations for top-quality information and advice. It has always been reticent about doing that in the past.

The principal issue on which there could be a steer from government is the relationship between the commission and other regulators. The report into the Cup Trust has shown clearly that HMRC was at fault. From the beginning, it was clearly an issue of tax evasion and should have been dealt with primarily by HMRC, with some assistance from the Charity Commission on its areas of specialism. In future, that is what the commission should do with all regulators. The onus should be on other regulators, and the Charity Commission should be a specialist back-up point.

In the very little time remaining, I want to say one thing. The budget of the commission has been cut; we all hear about that endlessly. The Government should make one piece of investment: in the commission’s digital strategy. I am sad enough that I use the Charity Commission’s register all the time. It is incredibly clunky; you have to really know what you are looking for. In this day and age, it does not answer the strategic needs of anyone—of government or of the sector. The single most important thing that could be done to encourage public trust in charities—that is what this has all really got to be about—is to require any organisation that calls itself a charity to have the most simple of websites, on which it must have its annual report, its governing document, its latest accounts and its statement of activities. If the Charity Commission were in a position to actively promote digital transparency throughout the sector, far fewer problems would end up at its door. The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts, was absolutely right. There are 175,000 registered charities, and a greater number of very small organisations that call themselves charities but are not registered. The commission alone cannot police every one of them but, with the help of the Government, who are currently pursuing their own digital strategy, it can drive up standards of transparency and accountability. I hope that we will focus on that today.

My Lords, I must first declare an interest. Members of my family remain within the religious group which has been the subject of much controversy with the Charity Commission, namely the Exclusive Brethren. I thank my noble friend Lady Barker for securing this debate. It is clear that the future effectiveness of the Charity Commission will involve the investigation of charities such as this. This needs resources, and clearly £137 per charity is not sufficient. As one pays for the issue of court proceedings and to get a passport, I do not think that there is anything objectionable in the Charity Commission charging for the services it offers.

Under the new leadership of William Shawcross, I believe that the commission is more effective and a new day is dawning. In what may seem to colleagues like an Oscars speech, I thank him and Kenneth Dibble for their unique finding concerning the alleged group which I have mentioned. They found,

“on balance, that there were elements of detriment and harm which emanated from doctrine and practices of the Brethren and which had a negative impact on the wider community as well as individuals”.

The actual doctrines and harsh disciplinary practices were the issue this alleged church had to address. It was made to amend its trust deed, and will be reviewed in a year’s time to see if its behaviour has changed. This finding is an important acknowledgment of the mental, emotional and financial suffering of ex-members of this group, which is controlled from Australia by universal leader Bruce Hales. I thank ex-members of the group who bravely came to Parliament recently to tell their testimonies. The mental health implications were obvious to colleagues of living in a system where people are told, “We will do the thinking, you do the doing”. In this system people risk being separated from their family if they even own a phone from Carphone Warehouse, or go away to university. People work for a Brethren-owned company, so for some gaining their freedom meant losing their home and their job as well as members of their family, even their own children.

I previously called for a church-led inquiry, as I was aware of the wonderful pastoral support being given to ex-Brethren in many churches. However, I was naive. As my noble friend Lady Brinton and I stuck our heads above the parapet others ducked for cover, perhaps sensibly. Sadly, the Christian lobby fraternity have clearly brought this group under their umbrella, despite my repeated requests not to do so. I quote from the Evangelical Alliance in November 2012:

“This particular church has now become a test case for the 16,000 strong UK movement as a whole”.

In 2014, it was called a Brethren church by the Christian Institute. Neither of those groups has thanked the Charity Commission for exposing the victims’ stories, nor made them available for their many supporters to read. Nor are my speeches or those of my noble friend referenced. This does not reflect the Christians who support these groups, who I believe would give—even sacrificially—to help ex-members, particularly those who need legal fees to obtain contact with their children who remain in the group. Christians must always condemn groups such as this one, where there are allegations of racism, persecution of homosexuals and separation of families. They must never reserve criticism only for the Charity Commission’s assessment of the public benefit test.

However, a more effective Charity Commission will mean more work for the Government and for HMRC. The following issues arise from this effective investigation. Are the Government really content with a public benefit law which allows a group causing such detriment and harm to be a charity? Is this decision being considered by the Department for Communities and Local Government for its cohesion implications? Just imagine if there were allegations that imams dealt out such sanctions if their people did not purchase their mobile phone from a company whose directors were also the mosque committee, so that their calls could be monitored. I have seen such technology. Is evidence being sought by the Department of Health around the mental health implications for members of such a group?

Most chilling of all, this group runs its own schools. It does not recruit: you are born and educated into it. If this group is not a church—which I maintain strongly that it is not—then its nature is a matter of serious concern. As a friend of the Charity Commission, I believe that it needs to show that its annual review has teeth. As the right honourable Bernard Jenkin, chair of the Public Administration Select Committee, asked of Mr Shawcross, the changes for this group should be not superficial but substantive.

This group’s leadership is scary and intimidating. It is only because I am immune from legal proceedings in Parliament that these matters can be stated. This privilege of Parliament has been won by my predecessors, and I and the victims of this group could not be more grateful for it.

My Lords, I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Civil Society and Volunteering.

I congratulate the noble Baroness on securing this debate. She will not be surprised to see that the usual suspects are gathered here today—that is, those noble Lords with an interest in and commitment to the charitable sector. For most of us it is a commitment of many years’ standing. I certainly remember the Deakin review extremely well.

None of us can therefore deny that the way in which the Charity Commission has been operating in recent times has been a cause for concern. The series of reports mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, make dismal reading. The PAC report of 5 February this year concludes in no uncertain terms that the commission continues to perform poorly and is failing to regulate charities effectively. The reasons for this have been well rehearsed. It has been too slow; too reactive rather than proactive; too narrow and legalistic in its approach to regulation; and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, clearly stated, there has been confusion about its primary purpose. Is it there to support the voluntary sector or to protect the public interest?

In addition there has been a constant problem with resources. Is the commission being asked to do too much with too little? Undoubtedly the commission, like much of the charitable sector, has taken a severe financial hit in recent times and has had to reduce staff drastically.

Much controversy has surrounded the commission, not helped perhaps by changes of personnel at the top. The appointment of a new chief executive—which I understand will shortly be announced—will be of the utmost importance. It is vital that this person has the skills and experience to enable the commission to fulfil its important role, to be clear about its mission and to provide authoritative leadership, especially in developing strategic alliances.

It is certain that, in spite of the controversy, there is universal agreement within the sector that it needs an independent and effective regulator which focuses entirely on charities. For example, trusts and foundations which give grants to other charities have to give due diligence, and the less the Charity Commission does the more the trusts and foundations have to do. So there may be duplicated effort using donated money rather than the public money which enables the Charity Commission to do this kind of due diligence on which trusts and foundations and others who give money were habitually able to rely. It is vital that we continue with that.

Therefore the Charity Commission’s move to take firmer, swifter action with the few charities which offend—we should remember that, although there have been serious cases, few charities offend—and its desire to enhance further its legal powers has met with nothing but support from the charitable sector. Better use of data, as the noble Baroness reminded us, and closer working with HMRC are also moves in the right direction. The Government would be well advised to banish all thoughts of merger with HMRC, should they have such thoughts, which I hope they have not. If the Charity Commission continues with its programme of reform and delivers the changes it is promising, the Government must do their part to ensure that they provide realistic funding for this important—indeed vital—organisation.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lady Barker on securing this important debate. I welcome the fact that the Charity Commission is taking a more detailed look at charities’ activities, specifically under the public benefit rule, and challenging what in the past was almost a rubber-stamp approval for charitable status.

The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, has already outlined the reason for the commission’s investigation into the Preston Down Trust but I want to add two or three more comments. For those who do not know, the Exclusive Brethren withdraws as much as it can from contact with the wider world. Its members will not eat or drink with worldlies, as they call us. They will not use TV, radio and computers that have not been approved by their Australian leaders, and its young people are banned from using Facebook. Their school books are heavily censored, with pages ripped out or stapled together.

The formal decision from the commission lists some of the evidence that it received from people who were members of the Exclusive Brethren, but who have left or been asked to leave—withdrawn or “cast out” in their parlance. Paragraph 89 of the decision says that it took evidence on:

“the impact of the doctrines and practices on those who leave PBCC; the exclusory effect on family life and relationships when members leave as a result of complete severing of ties; … absence of assistance and support to those who leave, including vulnerable children and young people; those who leave are ostracised and consequently treated differently from other members of the public; … loss of inheritance where relatives remain and leave their property to the Brethren which is encouraged; inability to participate in funeral arrangements and services of Brethren relatives; threats of legal action against those who speak out against the Brethren; and fear and anxiety of repercussions for themselves and family members who remain in the Brethren”.

I have met a number of people who have had to leave the Brethren because they are homosexual. One notable case, reported by the BBC in 2011, is that of Dario Silcock, who was bullied by the elders and the children in his church because he and they suspected that he was gay. He was asked to repent, as there is zero tolerance of homosexuality in the Brethren, and the teacher from whom he sought support and advice was suspended by the Brethren school. He said to the BBC then, aged 18, “I miss my family, but I have never been happier”.

Last year, a number of Parliamentarians heard evidence from another former member, who was abused by an elder when he was in his teens. He followed the advice that I think we hope all young people in his position would follow: he went to talk to another elder about the abuse. To his consternation, he was ordered on to his knees to ask God for repentance. As far as the EB was concerned, the rape was irrelevant. Because he had taken part in a homosexual act, he was guilty. It was not surprising that he left. He too has been allowed no contact with his family since he left.

I raise these two accounts with noble Lords because I have hope for these men and many others. The Charity Commission’s decision has made it clear in paragraph 98 that, if the Brethren does not comply with its undertakings to treat former members more fairly and differently from the list of its actions I cited earlier, the commission will review its charitable status again. The current public debate on disbelief, not just looking at public benefit, is very important and one reason why I am more positive than others that the new and more thorough approach of the commission will provide some real benefit.

However, what I really pray for is a change in culture where people who have left the Exclusive Brethren are allowed to have contact with their families with no pressure on them. If the Charity Commission can have achieved this, it will have made significant progress, but I am not holding my breath.

My Lords, I will not reiterate what has already been said about the levels of underfunding of the Charity Commission. There is great concern that the vital work that is going on needs proper support if we are going to develop this very important sector in our country. A number of noble Lords have spoken about the need for proper resourcing.

I want to comment briefly on the group of charities that are described by the Charity Commission as excepted charities. These include not just churches and chapels but charities that provide premises for some types of schools and Scout and Guide groups, and charitable service funds of the Armed Forces. It is very significant and helpful that Her Majesty’s Government have decided to extend exception from registration for a further seven years beyond 31 March 2014. It is unclear whether there are any plans afoot for an orderly transition to registration in the lead-up to 2021. Of course, to some extent inflation will reduce the number of excepted organisations and other charities as they reach that £100,000 registration threshold, but unless some queuing system is agreed in advance, at the end of the seven-year extension there is a real possibility of a logjam.

That is just one of the reasons why we need to ensure proper funding. The commission has the responsibility to offer, as well as regulation—which clearly is needed and for which we are very grateful—advice and support. There has been a question about the focus of the work. Certainly, my experience of being involved with many charities is that with increasing legislation and, indeed, litigation, many people are deeply worried about taking on trusteeships. If we are going to see this grow, surely we need to ensure that we have proper, adequate support.

Who do we turn to, from a charitable point of view, if we want authoritative advice? Expecting umbrella organisations such as the NCVO to replace the commission is simply unrealistic. None of them has sufficient clout to do the job. In my own sphere of work, the Churches’ Legislation Advisory Service tries very hard to provide sound advice to member churches but it can never have the detailed expertise and knowledge of the commission. In short, if we are to have proper regulation and guidance, it really is important that we get proper resourcing behind it.

Many of your Lordships will have been involved in the Transparency of Lobbying, Non-party Campaigning and Trade Union Administration Act 2014, and will be acutely aware of the concerns that were expressed by a number of churches about its provisions on non-partisan lobbying, particularly about churches organising hustings at election time. The church’s provision of venues plays a vital role in the democratic process. At each general election for many years now, my own cathedral in St Albans has hosted hustings. It is by far the largest hustings around: without exception, all the candidates turn up and a very large number of people gather for the event. Many people who take part say it is one of the few times that they come to a hustings in the traditional sense, where there is real cut and thrust and argument and so on. We are convinced that this is a major contribution to political involvement at a time when there is a worrying disengagement by many voters.

The Electoral Commission and Charity Commission are both working on guidance for charities on the effect the Act will have on their activities. I hope that they are being encouraged to speak to one another as they develop those guidelines. Specifically, it would be helpful if the Minister could reassure the church that the Act will not prevent it from providing hustings in the run-up to the general election in 2015.

My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a trustee of four different charities, ranging from Deaf Education to the British Lung Foundation, all of which are to be found in the register, and I have been a charity trustee for 30 years.

The Public Accounts Committee concluded that:

“The Charity Commission has not regulated the charity sector effectively”,

but I think the committee’s outlook is too bleak. There is a new team leading the Charity Commission now, with William Shawcross taking over from the “Quango Queen”.

The search is under way for a new chief executive as well. It takes a long time to change the ethos of an organisation, to make a bureaucratic elephant tap-dance, or even to make the elephant head in the right direction at any speed. I have made a change in the private sector, changing an inefficient, lazy monopoly supplier into a tiger, but it took a long time and I got support, not criticism, from stakeholders. I am not sure that everything done so far has been perfect. Shawcross’s comments on the pay of CEOs of charities could have been better.

The charity sector has changed, moving from the saintly amateur to the professional. The commission has to change from working on the chief assumption that all players in the sector are honest gentlemen to the reality that, hidden among those saints, are occasional sharks. All regulators rely in part on the integrity of their subjects, and integrity is harder to find now than 20 years ago. We should compare the Charity Commission’s failures in spotting the Cup Trust as a cracked vessel with a similar failure—that of the Bank of England and the FSA to spot the “crystal Methodist” as a bad banker. After all, some politicians could not even tell there was a problem with the affiliates of a charity, even when they were employed as full-time legal officers. Is not the percentage of imprisoned politicians from another place greater than the percentage of bent charities?

I think there is another, hugely important issue that the commission must combat with time and resources. That is taxpayer-funded political campaigning. The problem starts with the Government. Over the past few decades, they have given state support to an increasing number of charities. The intention might be good, but the result is not.

Christopher Snowdon of the Institute of Economic Affairs has carried out extensive work on this issue. His research has shown that some groups are being set up to champion certain pieces of legislation under the guise of a charity pursuing its objectives. He rightly calls such groups “sock puppets”. They prey on the good nature and trust of the British public because government departments and councils are camouflaging themselves as benefactors. Snowdon found that a shocking 27,000 charities are dependent on the Government—or, more accurately, on taxpayers—for more than 75% of their income. That has to have a big impact on the independence of charities and their ability to criticise the Government of the day.

What shall we do to tackle this evil? A lot of the responsibility for fixing the problem lies with the Government, not with the Charity Commission. Any statutory funding should be restricted and should not be used to lobby politicians or engage in other political activity. These charities should also be subject to freedom of information legislation. Much effort was needed to put together the Transparency of lobbying, non-party campaigning and trade union administration Act. Perhaps now we need a new “lobbying by sock puppets” Act to deal with this issue.

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Barker for this debate. It is sad that it is so short. The issues that it seeks to cover are immense and deep, so I am going to have to be as selective as everyone else. I declare my interests, which are in the register: I have been a charity lawyer for 40 years, and I suppose I have had as many dealings with the Charity Commission in that time as anyone alive. I want to come to their aid, though it has many shortcomings. I have one point, which I know is a dangerous one to make but it is at the root of those shortcomings, of which I have been the victim over the years: it is grossly under-resourced.

The noble Lord, Lord Hodgson, made that point, as did the NAO. It is fruitless for any of us to go on saying, “They must do this better,” “They must do that better,” “There must be better inquiries, more inquiries, more of this and more of that”. In its report, the NAO says that in the past six years the commission’s income has declined by 40% in real terms. None the less—like everyone else—it makes a list of recommendations, more than half of which require greater resources of men and women. The lawyers in the Charity Commission oversee more than 330,000 charities. Half of those are registered, but more than half are below the levels for registration. They all have to be registered. They are ruled, governed and led by volunteers. I hope I do not misconstrue what the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, said, but the charity sector is essentially and at its heart a volunteer movement. That is its ethos. That is why altruism is still the central legal purpose of charity. You cannot conceivably do what it is asked to do.

As I was saying, the NAO made a huge number of recommendations, over half of which need extra resources. The legal department, where I was, has only 10 to 12 lawyers. My firm, one firm of solicitors, has over 10 to 12 charity lawyers. What sort of farce is that? They do their best and on the whole they are jolly good, but they are pathetically underpaid. Any good lawyer can go out of the Charity Commission any day of any week and get paid two to five times more than they are paid at the commission. How can we ensure that it can therefore recruit the people that it needs, let alone extra people, to do the job, which—I could not agree more—is so important?

I end by emphasising how important all this is, and that the funds that I am talking about—the actual resources—are but a drop in the bucket compared with what the voluntary and charity sector does. Frankly, without the charity sector, this country would be in a profound mess; it is in enough of a mess. We live now according to money, sex and celebrity. The charity sector is wonderful counterbalance to the phenomenal materialism that engulfs us now, with 1 million unpaid trustees. Think of that: over half the adult population giving of their time willingly and lovingly in a country that is parched of those characteristics. I therefore, like my noble friend Lady Barker, do not emphasise the shortcomings of the commission. Of course it has them—I could give your Lordships 10 things that it could do. However, it must have more support and help. Without those, it is a load of hot air.

My Lords, the question I am posing and attempting to answer in this debate is, “Are there lessons for the Charity Commission from the parallel activities for the regulation of non-profit housing associations, most of which are charities?”. The Homes and Communities Agency regulates so-called registered providers and nearly three-quarters of these are “exempt charities”, operating outside the Charity Commission’s regulatory powers

Two aspects of the arrangements for the voluntary housing sector seem worth considering for the wider charity sector. First, would it help to copy the model of having an ombudsman to resolve complaints from service users? Ombudsman services cover many industries—financial services, telecoms, electricity and water companies, and legal services—as well, of course, as most public services. However, only a minority of charities, like the charitable housing associations, are covered, because they come under a specialist ombudsman service. Just as the Housing Ombudsman takes a load off the shoulders of the HCA, I suggest that a charities ombudsman could relieve pressure on the Charity Commission by sorting out the everyday service disputes that can prove so arduous and time-consuming.

I declare my interest, at one remove, as chair of the council of the Property Ombudsman, which deals with private sector estate agents and managing and letting agents. This experience has led me to the view that ombudsman services—independent redress schemes, free to the consumer and service user—can be very valuable. An ombudsman has teeth in being able to make awards—usually financial compensation—when a complaint is upheld, in being able to publicise bad behaviour and, where appropriate, in passing on its findings to the regulator, in this case to the Charity Commission. Let us have a charities ombudsman.

My second proposition relates to the concept of co-regulation, which, I feel, the Homes and Communities Agency is taking to a more refined level than the Charity Commission. The co-regulation approach brings together the regulator and the regulated. It encourages the organisation that encounters a problem, which may be governance-related, to take it to its regulator as early as possible and to discuss a mutually acceptable way forward. In place of hoping that the regulator will never find out about the problematic issue, the board—the trustees—shares the burden and gets the advice of the regulator.

This is not a mechanism for discovering criminal intent or gross misconduct but, for those cases where things have gone wrong and the trustees are well intended, co-regulation can sort out difficulties in an atmosphere of mutual trust, not defensiveness and hostility. It requires the regulator to assist the organisation to take steps to put things right and to keep in close contact. This contrasts with the regulator standing back and not coming down from on high in a heavy-handed manner. Direct intervention need happen only in extreme cases. I believe that the Charity Commission is heading in this direction and, from experience of seeing how co-regulation can work, I commend an acceleration of that process. If the way for the Charity Commission to increase its effectiveness is by taking forward the two suggestions I am making here, perhaps by raising some part of the funding from an annual levy on the charities themselves, that might be a price worth paying for a better service for charity service users and for the charities themselves.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, for the debate on regulating what is one of society’s most valuable assets, charities, which are often described as,

“the very bedrock of our civil society”.

There are nearly 1 million trustees of charities, and I reckon that around 700 of them are in your Lordships’ House. I have set up and run various charities and I remain a trustee of two.

The regulator’s role in maintaining trust in this sector is key but, as we have heard, today’s debate comes after the NAO and PAC inquiries, the latter saying that the commission fails,

“to regulate charities effectively. The Commission is a reactive rather than proactive regulator, and has yet to use its powers properly … we are not convinced it has the leadership capability to tackle its significant failings and transform its culture”.

It goes on to say that the commission has “no coherent strategy” and that it is “buffeted by external events”. It is,

“too willing to accept what charities tell it”,

and has failed to tackle “poor performance” and to “implement recommendations”. Indeed, the Charity Commission itself has admitted that it was,

“weakest in identifying … deliberate wrongdoing”.

Furthermore, when asked whether it had,

“sufficient resources to effectively regulate the sector”,

Mr Younger’s answer was,

“very close to being no”.

So, should the commission and the Government begin to rethink what has become a near impossible job and consider even the issue, which has just been raised, of a levy on charities? The commission thinks that anyone who feels like it should be able to establish a charity. It gets 27 applications a day, but we have heard nothing about how those 7,000 concerns a year perform or whether all their trustees, who are often untried and untested, are actually capable of running a charity, given that,

“charity law is hard … especially … for trustees setting up small charities”,

and that, to quote the commission,

“in the overwhelming majority of cases where trustees are getting it wrong”,

it is “through ignorance” that sometimes seems to be “bordering on negligence”. Given this, why of all things did the chair of the commission promise to tackle “the politicisation of charities” or consider that the lobbying Act was broadly satisfactory to the sector, despite its “gagging” effect and despite the sector’s own view?

The Charity Commission’s report on investigations shows that fraud is one of the most common problems. Indeed, of its completed investigations, 39 were about fraud, accounting and crime, 33 were about trustee issues and only one was about political activities. Is there another agenda here, as I fear we have heard something of today?

We welcome many of the suggested new powers in the government consultation, especially broadening the range of offences for which trustees can be disqualified, but focusing on powers misses the point. The problem stems from being overly cautious, not from a lack of legal powers. Some of those suggested may go too far, such as giving the commission the pre-emptive power to block charities from holding certain events or inviting particular speakers. Preventing fraud, mismanagement, abuse and the funding of terrorism should be the priority, not gagging legitimate activities.

The Charity Commission has made progress. However, there is more to make, and the Government have a role in terms of thinking whether they are asking this small organisation to do far too much on far too little money.

My Lords, I welcome this debate. Given how important the charities sector is for the country, holding regular debates on aspects of charities law and charities regulation seems to be one role that the second Chamber might usefully consider as particularly valuable for itself. These are immensely complex issues, as we all know. We have inherited charities law as developed over the past 400 years, and it continues to adapt. I have spent some time looking at public benefit issues and think I am persuaded that if we were to define “public benefit” now, in statute form, we would find ourselves having even more legal cases about the edges of public benefit. I am therefore persuaded that allowing it to evolve through case law is very important, in particular, for those elements of charities which are concerned with religion. For the first 300 years of charities law, it was almost entirely concerned with charities associated with the Church of England or, after some time, with a number of non-conformist churches. That eventually included a small number of Jewish charities and, as we all know, it now extends over a much wider area, in which the questions of what religion and belief are have come to be very much part of where we all are.

I will take on the question of the Preston Down Trust case, which went before the tribunal. One of the things I think I have learnt is that using the charities tribunal, which was intended to save money and time, has now become a very expensive legal activity. It was felt more useful therefore to negotiate. We have negotiated an agreement which will be reviewed after a year and we will see where we are then. The noble Baroness is well aware of the intensive lobbying that there was on both sides, including by a number of MPs from within her own party—not always, I think, necessarily wisely. However, this is now in train, it will be continued, and a review will take place.

To come back to where my noble friend Lady Barker started, this is an important sector which has a gross income of £61 billion, although I suspect that contains a certain amount of double counting because some charities give money to other charities. It includes more than 160,000 different charities, although 1,000 are the most important and account for the largest amount of spending. As the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, said, the sector has become much more professional, and in certain ways some of the larger charities have become a good deal more ruthless, which is part of what I discovered in the extensive consultation I had with large charities over the transparency of lobbying Bill. It is a much more professional sector than it was. Reading through the evidence given to the PAC and others shows that the Charity Commission has been going through a change of culture from one in which you automatically assume that almost everyone in this sector is full of good will and altruism and that the role of the Charity Commission is to be helpful and offer advice, to one in which we recognise that a small number of charities, whether small or large, test the limits or are involved in actual fraud, and that the Charity Commission has therefore got to be a less trusting regulator. Questions have been raised by a number of noble Lords about whether it can do that and whether its resources are too small. Reading through the various reports and the evidence given, it is quite clear to me that if the new Charity Commission board and chief executive can make a strong and positive case for additional resources, the Government will look at it very carefully. Whether some element of charging for larger charities becomes part of that larger package may be for a further debate on another occasion, but we recognise that resources are now extremely stretched and that the clear regulation we need requires to be strengthened.

Digital transition is an important part of this, as the noble Baroness said. The Government have provided a further £500,000 of capital spending to the Charity Commission to assist in moving towards an easier digital openness strategy. As a trustee of a couple of musical education charities, I agree strongly with the noble Baroness that simple provision in digital form of accounts, declaration of public benefit and all the things that one needs to do, as well as advice to trustees, is exactly what one needs. When I went around the Charity Commission’s website last week looking for a simple definition of public benefit, it was not as easy to find as I had hoped and expected, so there are improvements to be made.

I reassure the Minister that he has not been deficient in his trawl of the website: it is just that there is no simple definition of public benefit. It is intrinsically complex.

That is one of the reasons why charity lawyers can make such a good living.

The Cup Trust, into which I have looked in detail, was raised. As has been said, clearly that was fundamentally a tax avoidance scheme. The Charity Commission decided that it could not take up the case. I am assured that HMRC has not paid out any money on the tax avoidance scheme. It issued guidance about such schemes at an early stage in the process and is now resisting paying the gift aid refunds that the scheme was set up to gain.

On the transparency of lobbying Act, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, on a number of issues, but I also disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter. I have learned a great deal about the shift in a number of big charities towards campaigning, but campaigning has always been part of what charities have done. One of the most impressive discussions I had was with the dementia trust, which has managed by campaigning to raise public awareness of the importance of the issue—to raise the quality of understanding of an extremely important public issue. That is entirely legitimate and desirable in the public debate. The idea that charities should not have a campaigning dimension is something that I hope we all accept is not appropriate. Let me reassure the right reverend Prelate that the Act in no way affects hustings in the run-up to the 2015 election. A great deal of exaggerated concern was put out during the passage of the then Bill about what it might do. If you read CC9—I must have read it 15 times in the last year—it is entirely clear that it is not affected by that Act, and that churches will continue in their extremely valuable role in public education in this respect.

I hope that I have now answered a number of the issues raised. Why not charge charities? The question is out in the open. Needless to say, charities do not respond with much enthusiasm to that suggestion. The Government are looking at the question of how we provide the resources needed for regulation. I have also discussed public benefit. We all have a concept of public benefit. Happily, no one today has mentioned public schools—that is out there as well. Public benefit can be provided in a range of different ways. Case by case, you look at the sort of public benefit being provided, but it has to be public. The noble Baroness will know that, in religious cases, those religious bodies that do not open some of their facilities to a broader public and do not provide wider benefit to a broader public are therefore not accepted as charities.

On the question of executive remuneration, the noble Lord, Lord Borwick, said that he regretted that the new chairman of the Charity Commission had offered some criticism. Charities are in the public sector and in the public view, so they need the respect of their members and people who give money. During the consultation on the transparency of lobbying Bill, I remember being told by representatives of a large charity that it is important that the charity should maintain its reputation because the people who give small sums of money need to know that it has that reputation. That is part of the reason why charities need to be aware of the dangers of becoming overly professional and corporate. Some of our big charities have edged a little far in that direction.

On the question of co-regulation, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Best, the Charity Commission now has a clear partnership strategy and works with a number of partners. Incidentally, we are aware of the question of accepted charities and how to move towards a different situation with them without swamping the Charity Commission.

The question of a charities ombudsman has also been discussed. The Government are not yet convinced that the case has been made. The Charity Commission does its best to respond to queries from charities. Part of the reason why the Charity Commission has been swamped in recent years is because many charities throw a lot of queries for advice at it which get in the way of its compliance activity.

I hope that I have answered most of the points raised. I encourage the noble Baroness and other noble Lords to return to this question regularly. This is a large and important part of our social fabric and economy, and we need to be sure that it continues to command the confidence and respect of the public, politicians, government and financial accountants.

Sitting suspended.

International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what are their priorities during their chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance in 2014.

My Lords, this morning Chancellor Merkel referred to the events of the Second World War as a break with civilisation and declared that she bowed her head to the victims. She referred to the hand of forgiveness and reconciliation stretched out by European nations to Germany. In this spirit I address the question of Holocaust remembrance 75 years after the start of the war.

Few countries in the world have as noble a record as the UK when it comes to Holocaust remembrance. This is the month in which the Government assume the chair of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which is very fitting. The Government are to be congratulated on the recent establishment of the Holocaust Commission, on legislating for the return of stolen art, including Holocaust education in the national curriculum and appointing a special envoy for post-Holocaust issues. They have also housed the Holocaust Archives at the Wiener Library in London and participated in the online publication of the global catalogue of looted art. For all this, I and thousands of others are immensely grateful.

However, in this special year for the UK I have to tell the Minister that survivors need action as well as memorials. They need action to combat the resurgence of anti-Semitism in Europe and they need help to reclaim their cultural heritage. The Holocaust was not only genocide; it was the greatest theft in history. The Nazis, and in some countries the communists, took not just people’s lives but their religious heritage, their property, their professions and their assets.

Most people are aware of the issue of looted art, most recently through the discovery of a hoard of art in a Munich apartment. But it is not just art. Before the war, Poland was home to more than 3 million Jewish citizens, 90% of whom were killed and their properties occupied by others. There are thousands of properties in plain sight—houses, synagogues and factories—that have not been returned to the survivors and their heirs, of a value that dwarfs the art.

But the price is not all. As Chancellor Merkel said, Europe is bound together by respect for the rule of law. Yet there is one big wound on the body of Europe that must be tended to, otherwise it will fester for ever. Poland is a success story of modern Europe but more than two decades after it became a democracy, the failure to make restitution still blights it. An entire people—killed or forced out—was dispossessed. Poland’s success is built in part on the property of others. This is a property issue like no other. The stolen homes stand for the remembrance and recognition of the history of the Jewish population of Europe and the contribution of Jewish people to the culture and businesses of the countries they once lived in. Museums and tourism to the sites of former concentration camps do not begin to restore that memory. Survivors living in poverty may well ask why Governments contribute to the preservation of the Auschwitz site but not to the relief of their situation. The claims of the survivors need attention to demonstrate that Europe was not made lawless by the atrocities of the Second World War but upholds the law.

Poland is isolated as the only European country not to have enacted comprehensive legislation and settle the claims; indeed, it has retained communist nationalisation laws despite urging by international organisations and, most recently, by US Vice-President Biden. Many survivors live in poverty while their property is inhabited by the now free and democratic citizens of their former country of residence. The fact that Poland was a victim country itself does not remove the obligation to restore stolen property from which its citizens continue to benefit. But ultimately, it is not just about art or property; it is about recapturing people’s history. The art that hung on their walls and the houses where they lived are part of the legacy. If we allow the theft of an entire generation of a people’s culture, it is as if they had never existed. That is why the achievement of restitution must be the Government’s priority this year.

In making this a priority, the Government will be fulfilling their obligations under the terrorism declaration and guidelines of 2009 and 2012. The declaration was signed by 47 countries and called for support for the welfare of 500,000 Holocaust survivors and restitution of wrongfully seized property. This was the culmination of many post-war international conferences on this issue. However, progress is slow in central and eastern Europe, for example Romania. The greatest failure is Poland. There are about 90,000 surviving claimants to property of whom the majority are non-Jewish. On at least 13 occasions, Poland has drafted legislation and then shelved it. It puts every obstacle in the way of claimants in its own courts and makes unrealistic demands of proof, given that those who were killed were unlikely to have left title deeds behind. Its Government are acting in rejection of Council of Europe, US Congress and European Parliament resolutions, in contravention of the first protocol of the European Convention on Human Rights and of hopes held out prior to it entering the European Union. There are survivors here listening to us as we speak and they would say that their experience of claiming and being rejected has led them to believe that Poland is waiting for all the survivors to die out. They do not want total compensation. They do not want the eviction of present inhabitants, but a restitution and reconciliation commission to be set up by Poland modelled on the one that worked well in Austria. Such a commission could distribute a small percentage of the lost value from a fund donated by the Polish Government, with realistic requirements of proof carried out expeditiously.

This is nothing new. In 2001, Austria established a general settlement fund to resolve all remaining issues. The Government set up a three-person claims committee to receive claims using relaxed standards of proof—for example, the 1938 property records, witness statements and birth certificates. The Austrians put $210 million into the fund and more for insurance claims. Claimants no longer had to take legal action at their own cost. The committee dealt with 20,000 claims relating to 240,000 individuals before closing its work. Bulgaria had a good scheme, utilising government bonds and settled private claims.

This year, Holocaust remembrance needs to be refreshed and remodelled for future generations. There are already countless memorials around the world. There is a veritable tourist industry in trips to the sites of former concentration camps. In this country we have three Holocaust museums, memorial days and sophisticated education programmes. There is much to be gained by viewing “Schindler’s List” and reading The Hare with Amber Eyes and The Diary of Anne Frank, but these efforts are not an excuse for not taking the more difficult actions that survivors need. Moreover, all the conferences and education have failed signally to hold back the resurgence of anti-Semitism that we now see on the continent of Europe: the Islamist attacks on French Jews; the rise of Jobbik in Hungary and Golden Dawn in Greece; the marches in Lithuania; the resurrection of the blood libel; the antics of footballers and Dieudonné; and Holocaust denial and sales of the forged text, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion. Although the number of incidents reported by the Community Security Trust is down a little this year, it has only returned to the levels of 10 years ago and the totals cannot take account of the anti-Semitism so evident on social media.

The European Union Agency for Fundamental Rights reported on Jewish experiences of anti-Semitism in eight European nations in 2013: 76% said that there had been a deterioration in the past five years and 21% had experienced an incident. I suggest to the Government that we need a vigorous search for, and return of, looted art, and use of the remedies that already exist in law to stamp on the anti-Semitic actions and words that are suffered every day. As chair, they should call on Poland and other countries to honour their commitment to the democratic principle of property rights. There is a case for the creation of a European commissioner for post-Holocaust issues modelled on Sir Andrew Burns’s role, and a pan-European effort to provide some degree of remedy for the great injustices of the past so vividly remembered today in this Chamber.

My Lords, I welcome this debate. In congratulating the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on securing it, I pay tribute to the wonderful speech that she has just made. I also congratulate the Government on their chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

The Government take up the chair as anti-Semitism is again rising in many places, as we have just heard. It is often excused as criticism of Israel or support for animal welfare as, again, religious slaughter of animals is attacked—or, as we have recently seen in Denmark, banned altogether even though no Jewish religious slaughter is undertaken there. The latest is that circumcision will be brought into question. The sight of young men making the quenelle gesture in front of concentration camps and before the Western Wall in Jerusalem demonstrates how the message of the Holocaust risks being lost only 70 years after being revealed to the world after the Second World War. My simple message to the Government is this: please use every opportunity to remind people, especially young people born long after the Holocaust, of what happened, and to reiterate that anti-Semitism and any form of discrimination will not be tolerated.

Much is done now to educate and the UK was a founding member of the Task Force for International Cooperation on Holocaust Education, Remembrance and Research. I pay particular tribute to Dr Stephen Smith, who leads the USC Shoah Foundation and the Holocaust Centre in Nottingham, which does wonderful work in educating our young people on this subject. This work, and the work of all those who teach and remind us of what occurred, is very important.

However, I fear for the future, for a time when there are no Holocaust survivors left to tell us what happened to them and when the Holocaust appears to many to be just another history lesson. Those who deny what happened are very clever. Even now there is distortion as to what occurred. Unbelievably and shockingly, there is blame on the victims; there is denial of the extent of what took place. Many records have been kept and the USC Shoah Foundation is dedicated to making audiovisual interviews with survivors so that their message is preserved for all time and never lost.

I have a fear that in the future—not in this century but beyond—those clever and despicable people who deny what occurred will dismiss these archives and the harrowing, grainy films of the camps and survivors as computer-generated films that were the product of clever film-makers. That is why educating every generation about the Holocaust and keeping it alive is so important. The creation of Holocaust Remembrance Day, taking place around the world on 27 January each year, has become a fitting reminder of what horrors took place within the lifespan of so many of us. Many people born long after the war are taught what happened and are shocked at the murderous acts that occurred as a barbarous attempt at racial cleansing.

I am therefore pleased that the Prime Minister has set up the Holocaust Commission to investigate what more can be done to ensure that Britain has a permanent and fitting memorial to the Holocaust, along with sufficient educational and research resources for future generations. I hope that the UK will use its chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance to lead all other nations in following our excellent example.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on securing this important debate. In recent years a huge amount of important work has been done, including by the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, to ensure that the memory of the Holocaust remains alive for generations which increasingly have no contact with anyone who lived through those terrible years, and it is important that it does so. However, memorialising can distance and weaken the power of example and of history, and the Holocaust should never become dusty and remote history. The lessons that it teaches us about the fragility of civilisation and the repeated need to shore up protections against savagery need to be taught and learnt generation after generation.

However, that is made harder when open wounds remain and, as we have heard, some still do. Restitution is important because, while nothing can undo the evil that was done, it at least recognises that evil was done. The material recovery of property, as the noble Baroness said so persuasively, matters less than that recognition, the recovery of that heritage and the bearing of witness to the fact that such evil was done. Without it, the wounds will always remain raw.

Of course, the restitution of assets is not the only way for such recognition to take place. The German artist Gunter Demnig, for example, has created the concept of “Stolpersteine”, small memorials positioned in places associated with the victims of Nazism. There are now hundreds of them in Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Hungary and other European countries commemorating, among others, Jewish, Roma, homosexual and Christian victims of the Nazis.

However, the restitution of assets still has a crucial part to play in this process, not just for the victims of the Nazis, because the people of central and eastern Europe suffered from not only their tyranny but that of the communists. As the noble Baroness so compellingly argued—and I associate myself with everything she said—it is regrettable that Poland remains the only major European nation without legislation on the restitution of assets stolen during the Holocaust. As we have also heard, more needs to be done to make restitution effective in Romania, Hungary, Croatia and Latvia.

I hope that that will be a priority for our Government during their chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, but I hope that it will not be the only one. Of all the crimes against humanity, genocide occupies a unique place because of the way in which it seeks to exterminate entire peoples, their cultures, their society and everything that sustains them as a people. If remembrance of the Holocaust is to fulfil its purpose, we cannot be complacent about what has happened since the Holocaust took place. To the shame of the world, in the past 20 years we have been witness once again to what can only be described only as genocide. We have seen it in Rwanda, Yugoslavia and Darfur and, for all the efforts now to secure accountability for those crimes, the civilised world failed to prevent these terrible crimes against humanity—crimes that have amounted, again, to genocide.

Moreover, we have seen brutal repression in Tibet and systematic attempts to eradicate Tibetan culture, and a savage onslaught on the Mayan people and their culture in Guatemala. No continent can take pride in its record in recent years in preventing these terrible atrocities that remind us that the Holocaust, for all its horrifyingly unique characteristics, was not the last of the ways in which civilisation can be overwhelmed by savagery—savagery that is rendered all the more terrible by the way in which the power of modern technology has been applied to its perpetration. History is harsh on those who, whatever they might say, in the end do little than more than wring their hands.

My father’s uncle and his family lived in a small town in what is now the Czech Republic. The family graves in the Jewish cemetery suggest that the family had lived there since before the 18th century. Ten thousand Jews lived in that town and the remaining population was about 70,000, most of whom were Sudeten Germans who had lived there since the 17th century. My uncle was a second father to my father. The town was a place of refuge for him from a difficult childhood in Vienna, and his first job was in the family firm there.

When the Nazis invaded, my grandmother, grandfather and father managed to escape to London. My grandmother’s brother refused to go with them; Jews had lived through hard times before, he thought, and this, too, would pass. He, and all his family, died in the death camps. After the war, the new state of Czechoslovakia expelled all the Sudeten Germans. In less than 10 years, that pretty little spa town had been entirely depopulated. Such tragedies happened over and over again to millions of people throughout central and eastern Europe. Such brutality still continues all over the world.

Debates such as this help to keep these memories fresh, and help us to remember why we need to remain vigilant—and, I hope, prompt us to do better in future in preventing such tragedies. For that reason, we all owe the noble Baroness a debt of gratitude for securing this debate today.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for initiating this debate. My contribution is about testimony and how we can ensure that personal witness of the Holocaust in World War II, and other holocausts across the world since then, can be sustained, and what we in the UK can contribute to the international understanding of that in the coming year. Diplomacy is one of the great strengths of this country, and I hope that we will demonstrate clear, diplomatic leadership on the issue of restitution during our leadership year. A lot of work has been done, not least through the Terezin declaration in 2009. Some countries have been very responsive on restitution, but all should because it is never too late to do so.

The commemorative events planned over the next five years in relation to World War I demonstrate how, as a country, as communities and as human beings, we will ensure that the memories of the horrors of that war will never fade. Of course, so many UK families have memories passed down between generations. We have personal possessions, war memorials, public buildings paid for by subscription, monuments, films, plays, museums and wealth of personal testimony in books, many written shortly after the war. Of course, study of World War I is in the national curriculum. It is vital, now, that we clarify how we will maintain personal testimony of the Holocaust as well.

A lot has been done in developing resources in teaching and learning by the Holocaust Educational Trust since its creation in 1988. It has brought understanding to new generations, particularly since 1991, when Holocaust studies became part of the national curriculum at key stage 3. The trust tells us that when students listen to a survivor tell their personal story, they will often say that it is the most memorable lesson of the year. We should acknowledge that, within its capacity, the trust does an excellent job in teacher development, resourcing schools, colleges and universities, and in enabling visits to them by survivors and visits by students to Auschwitz. Its beacon school and regional ambassador programmes should be commended.

However, each new generation—which is, in practice, only a school’s generation—moves on, and another takes its place. That is why the work of the trust is a continuous process. This raises the question of how we can maintain personal witness and testimony in the years ahead. I have on several occasions led discussion at events to mark Holocaust Memorial Day. I have done so following a performance of “The Tin Ring”, a dramatisation of the autobiography of Zdenka Fantlova, a Holocaust survivor. The importance of this dramatisation is that it takes witness testimony and transfers it into a theatrical landscape where that testimony can live on the through the performer.

Testimony not communicated is not actually testimony. Sometimes drama can be the most effective way of communicating it. Sometimes that can be in writing, film, poetry, sculpture, art or painting, and sometimes it can be through another person, in particular through the testimony of the children of survivors. But my concern in relation to the debate is that we should use our leadership role this year to encourage the spread of good practice internationally on how to preserve personal testimony in the years ahead.

That is very important. There were two facts in the Library briefing that I think should be of concern to us. The first is that research shows that over 40% of teachers say that teaching the Holocaust is difficult in terms of managing cross-curricular co-operation, dealing with the emotional content, and responding to student misunderstandings or prejudice. I find that a very high percentage and it needs to be reduced. Secondly, the briefing refers to the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance’s UK country report of October 2012, which states that in 2010-11, 13,276 people came before the UK courts charged with hate crimes, either for assault or verbal abuse, most of them racially motivated. More than 80% were convicted. Those figures tell us that we have to maintain our vigilance, and therefore memories, and that the testimony must not be allowed to fade.

My Lords, in 1985, Ronald Reagan’s visit to Bitburg became the subject of controversy. He had been visiting the graves of members of the SS and he decided that he would therefore also visit Bergen-Belsen. I remember hearing this on the radio in my bedroom and thinking that my mother would be interested because she was a survivor of Belsen. I went down to the kitchen where Mum was doing the washing up. “Mum”, I said, “Ronald Reagan is going to Belsen”. “So what?” she replied. “I’ve been”.

In my brief contribution to the debate that the wonderful as well as noble Baroness, Lady Deech, has secured, I want to make just three points. First, Holocaust remembrance is about to face its biggest challenge. We are going to need to think about how to keep the memory of the Holocaust alive when the distinct and irreplaceable voice of the survivors can be heard no more. I recall my mother preparing to speak at our synagogue and telling me for the first time that she and her sister had seen their family friends, Margot and Anne Frank, arrive in Belsen, and that her sister had recorded the event in a little pocket diary, the keeping of which was in itself a crime under the camp terms. She asked me if I thought the children would be interested. Yes, I thought they would be interested. My mum is still alive and continues to give talks about her experiences, but how do we replace that electrifying testimony? That is the job of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission to consider and should also be a priority during our chairmanship of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance.

My second purpose in speaking is to lend support to the campaign of the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for compensation for Polish victims of the Holocaust. On the mantelpiece of my parents’ home is a clock embedded in a statue of Marshal Pilsudski, the leader of the Second Polish Republic. On the hour it plays Polish anthems, although generally we switch it off. My father was born in Lviv, which is now in Ukraine, but he was deeply proud of having been born a Pole. On his deathbed he told me that I should always honour the Polish people and never blame them for the crimes committed against them. So I do, and I am happy to do so. The revival of a free Polish nation and its emergence as a great European power is one of the happiest political events of my lifetime. It is why I can say with confidence and belief that I know that Poland will respond to the case the noble Baroness has made today.

Stalin’s Soviet Union stole my father’s house and the family business when it imprisoned and exiled my father’s family. In 2005, Poland made compensation available for this theft and we are pursuing the claim, although I have to confess that progress is slow. I am sure that as that claim has been recognised, so Poland will understand and respond to the noble Baroness. Poland is our friend, a friend of liberty and justice, and a great modern nation—and that is what great modern nations do. Helping our friends do the right thing should number among our priorities as chair of the alliance.

I have one other point to make. The alliance has 31 members and four observers. There are more than 190 countries in the world. Not to belong to this alliance and not to adhere to the Stockholm declaration is not just to show disrespect to those who died, it is the canary in the coal mine. It demonstrates that a country does not want to teach its children about hatred and genocide. We should make it our business to leave the alliance bigger than we found it.

In the 1920s my grandfather Alfred Wiener began collecting Nazi artefacts and literature. He believed in the power of truth to set people free. His library helped produce the evidence that tried the Nuremberg defendants and convicted Eichmann. It showed that truth will always have assailants and victims and will always retain enemies, but that truth can be victorious. Let us dedicate our chairmanship to that task.

My Lords, in seeking the Government’s priorities, which were so admirably set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, I also want to draw attention to some of the victims of the Nazi regime who are less remembered. I refer to the Romani population of Europe, called by themselves Roma. I say this without wanting in any way to diminish the enormity of the Shoah, and the memory of those of my Polish grandfather’s family who died in Auschwitz. I should declare that I am chair of the Department for Education stakeholder group on the education of Gypsy, Traveller and Roma children, and I am president of other relevant organisations which are shown in the register.

I hope the Minister will tell us how the Government’s new Holocaust Commission will deal with the Roma genocide. Can he tell us whether the Government have invited any UK Roma organisation to be affiliated with the International Alliance? One of the aims of its committee on the genocide of the Roma is to find ways of drawing Roma representatives into its working processes.

I do not think that the public as a whole are aware that a quarter of the Roma population of mainland Europe were killed by the Nazis, or cares much that the descendants of those who remained are still harried, persecuted and sometimes killed because of their race throughout the European mainland. There is a history of ignorance. Little regard was paid even by the Nazis to what they were doing. In contrast to the meticulous documentation and photographing of Jewish victims, few records were kept of the Roma. Some think that this is because, ironically enough, the Roma were more Aryan than most Germans, being descended from 15th-century migrants from the Punjab, which presented a problem to Nazi racial theorists.

While the fate of the Jewish victims of the concentration camps and the gas chambers was acknowledged soon after peace was signed, it took until 1982 for the German Government to recognise the Porrajmos or Roma annihilation. Even now, the word is probably unfamiliar to many noble Lords. It was not until 2012, after 20 years of campaigning by Roma groups, that a memorial to the Sinti and Roma people murdered under the Nazi regime was opened in Berlin. A campaign to place a memorial on the site of the Lety Roma concentration camp in the Czech Republic, where there is now an industrial pig farm, is so far unheeded.

However, as my noble friend said, it is not enough to commemorate. One Roma man I talked to said, “There is a Kristallnacht every weekend in the Czech Republic. Today it is nothing extraordinary to see patrols of extremists in T-shirts with slogans such as ‘Burn the Gypsies’”. Segregated education of Roma children en masse exists. Forced sterilisation exists. Inhuman and degrading treatment by police exists. All these are included in recent evidence from judgments in the European Court of Human Rights.

Another aim of the IHRA’s Roma genocide committee is to include Roma history and the contemporary situation of Roma in the school curriculum. Can the Minister tell us how far the Institute of Education and other bodies funded by Her Majesty’s Government to improve holocaust education have got with that?

The European Commission is well aware of the situation. Following the wretched deportation of hundreds of Roma people from France in 2010, it proposed in 2011 a Roma integration strategy which all member states of the EU signed up to. Yet the UK did not devise a specific strategy, saying in 2012 that they had got as far as setting up a national Roma contact point and a ministerial working group for the Gypsy and Traveller community with a list of commitments, although this had been set up for other purposes in 2010. Eventually, they were persuaded to include issues specific to the Roma people from the European mainland. We nevertheless hear insults and bigotry stereotyping all those of Romani and Traveller descent throughout the tabloid press and in casual conversation in a way that would not be tolerated for any other ethnic group. It is not unknown for parliamentarians and even Ministers to talk, for instance, about the proximity of Travellers having a “negative impact on business”. However, the negative impact is in the other direction: Travellers and those of Romani descent have by far the worst outcomes in mortality, general health and education of any ethnic group in the UK—although again, this is not often remarked on.

At a time when we still mourn the greatest fighter against race prejudice, Nelson Mandela, those of us who joined in the struggle against apartheid might well have cause to be ashamed of our continent. Europe, the nursery of so many ideas of freedom and justice, could do better. The UK, which is capable of great tolerance and humanity, could do better—save for the shining example of the Welsh Government, who have a comprehensive strategy. Our political leadership could do better. The leadership of the faith communities could do better in this country, although they have joined in an open letter to the Romanian Government. Nelson Mandela spoke of an,

“inalienable right to human dignity”—

what we also call human rights. We still need to make that a reality for our Gypsy, Traveller and Roma citizens. I look forward to the Minister’s comments.

My Lords, first, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on securing this important debate, which is very timely given that the United Kingdom took over the chairing of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance just this week. It is also very timely in view of the address we heard this morning from Angela Merkel and the great grace and dignity with which she spoke of the awful events of the previous century.

The Foreign Secretary, my right honourable friend William Hague, in launching the chairing of this important alliance, noted that the United Kingdom was,

“one of the three founding members of the Alliance”,

and was “proud” once more to take up the leadership. He continued:

“We pledge to use our chairmanship to strengthen the efforts of the IHRA’s 31 member states”.

I very much agree with my noble friend Lord Finkelstein that that is not nearly enough members in an international community of some 180 or 190 states. We must see it as a major aim to extend that. The aims of the international body are of course, as the Foreign Secretary said,

“to promote education, remembrance and research”—

interlinked aims—

“to strengthen the moral commitment of our peoples, and the political commitment of our governments to ensure that future generations can understand the causes of the Holocaust and reflect on its consequences”.

The Foreign Secretary went on to say:

“Among our aims for 2014 will be to intensify work on the IHRA’s programme of academic, educational and commemorative research and to continue to extend the influence of the organisation beyond the confines of Europe and North America”.

I will return to that aim because it is an important one.

The Foreign Secretary’s stated aims reflect the Stockholm declaration, which is, in effect, the founding document of the organisation as an international body. It emphasises the importance of upholding the terrible truth of the Holocaust against those who deny it and of preserving the memory of the Holocaust. That is an extremely important aim and a touchstone in our understanding of the human capacity for good and evil—there was of course good in those times as well, that of people who sought to combat that dreadful evil. The declaration also recognises the responsibility of the international community to combat genocide, ethnic cleansing, racism, anti-Semitism and xenophobia. I will come back to the genocide point, which the noble Lord, Lord Wills, also mentioned.

The three core themes, as I said, are interlinked and grants are awarded for promoting these aims. I was pleased to see, just this month, that some school pupils from Pembrokeshire—an area that I used to represent in the National Assembly for Wales—are going to Poland to visit Auschwitz. I appreciate the point about the danger of a sort of Holocaust tourism industry but it is important that the memory of these dreadful events is kept alive. On the basis that hearing is not like seeing, these visits are important and vital. Indeed, there is a very real danger if we do not do these things that Holocaust memory will die. There is evidence, as has been stated, of many schoolchildren and others not really understanding this. This will certainly be perpetuated as people die who have direct memory of those dreadful events.

I agree very much with what the noble Baroness said about property restitution. This is a vital part of our chairmanship of the international institution. Through the EU and other organisations, we need to put pressure on Poland and other states. Poland is perhaps the most obvious state that is not fulfilling its obligations, but there are others and they need to be pressurised during our chairmanship to live up to their international obligations. That is an important priority. As has been said, there is an urgent need for action because the longer this goes on, the more difficult it becomes and the fewer direct survivors there are.

Finally, I applaud the work of the alliance and its important aim of extending its influence beyond Europe and North America. The link between holocaust and genocide has been noted and is important. In the past year I visited the Holocaust Memorial in Berlin, which is a deeply moving experience: you see people of all ages and racial and religious backgrounds in tears and hugging each other, which is a measure of its impact. I also visited the site of the killing fields just outside Phnom Penh, and there was a similar thing going on there. I remember as a younger man, probably in my teens, visiting the Anne Frank House, and these things are important. Restitution is also important. I associate myself with everything the noble Baroness said and I look forward to the Minister’s response.

My Lords, like others, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, on securing this timely debate, and all noble Lords who have contributed to a knowledgeable, passionate and, in some respects, very personal debate.

There is no party-political divide on this issue. We stand as one in our commitment to the Stockholm declaration and its acknowledgment that:

“The Holocaust fundamentally challenged the foundations of civilisation”,

and we must commit to remembering the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us and reaffirm humanity’s common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice.

In remembering, we must not just look back at the Holocaust as a now-distant historical event. We need to understand that genocide does not take place on its own. It is a process which can begin if discrimination, racism and hatred are not checked and prevented. If we have any doubt about that, we have the horrors of subsequent genocides in Cambodia, Rwanda, Bosnia and now Darfur to remind us—as my noble friend Lord Wills said, to the shame of the world.

My noble friend Lady Whitaker reminded us that genocide under the Nazis was not confined to the Jewish community, although of course it is estimated that as many as 6 million Jews perished during the Second World War. The Romani population, those with physical and mental disabilities, and homosexuals were just some of those also persecuted. My noble friend made some telling points about the current plight of the Roma community in Europe and the discrimination it faces.

Therefore, remembrance of the Holocaust is not enough. This is why the Alliance was formed: to place political and social leaders’ support behind the need for Holocaust education and research, as well as remembrance. We helped its creation and we support it still. We welcome the pledge of its new chair, Sir Andrew Burns, to do more to ensure that future generations can understand the cause of the Holocaust and reflect on its consequences, and that its remit must include: support for the struggle against historical revisionism; the fight against Holocaust denial, in particular, and denigration; as well as the continuing fight against anti-Semitism and racial and religious prejudice.

Sir Andrew set out a number of issues in his new White Paper, including working processes and outreach. On the first, he is seized of the need to address the problems of the restricted financial resources of Governments and NGOs, as well as the need to make deliberations more accessible to less well resourced countries. Perhaps the Minister might say something about the resourcing of the alliance. Sir Andrew’s focus on plenaries being more content-driven and less administrative will doubtless ring true with many.

The White Paper notes that 13 of the Governments who were represented at the Stockholm forum in 2000 and endorsed the declaration are still not affiliated to the alliance. These need to be encouraged into the fold together with others. Further plans approved in 2010 to seek engagement with countries in north Africa had been put on hold but a tentative revival of this is suggested.

Another development outside the alliance, but sitting full square with its agenda, is the launch of the Prime Minister’s Holocaust Commission. This has been referred to by a number of noble Lords and I think the noble Lord, Lord Finkelstein, sits on the commission as an adviser. We have been pleased to participate in this on a cross-party basis. The Commission’s remit is to investigate what further measures should be taken to ensure Britain has a permanent and fitting memorial to the Holocaust along with sufficient educational and research resources for future generations. The Labour Party fully supports this. The point is made that we will not always have with us the survivors who have shared their stories. In Luton, at this year’s Holocaust memorial event, there was only one local survivor of those who arrived via Kindertransport.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, spoke with passion and justice about the need for restitution. When in government, we fully supported Holocaust asset restitution and we continue to see the issue of restitution as morally important as well as legally and culturally vital to honour. We endorse the Terezin principles and strongly encourage the Government to use diplomatic efforts to encourage other states to sign up to and honour what the declaration called for. There is particular concern about Poland, as we have heard today. Poland is yet to become a signatory to Terezin and we believe that it has a moral duty to sign up to the declaration and to honour it. As we have heard, survivors of the genocide need and deserve restitution.

A number of speakers have recognised that the Holocaust is unique. For the first time in history, industrial methods were used for the mass extermination of a whole people—the systematic and planned attempt to murder European Jewry. We have to do everything in our power to ensure it never happens again. Support for and working with the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance will help to that end.

My Lords, I join other noble Lords in thanking and paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Deech, for her contributions, not just to this debate but to the issue. This is an important debate for everyone, and we have seen and heard many personal and moving interventions from noble Lords today. The Holocaust will always have a universal meaning given its magnitude, the unprecedented and unparalleled suffering involved—as the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, said—and the scarring of humanity that took place. We are collectively committed to ensuring that all our children and future generations understand the events of the Holocaust and can reflect on its consequences. We also remember the many lives which were so cruelly cut short, and we support and sustain the survivors, who are all too few. We are truly honoured by the presence of some of them here today.

Our determination to remember the Holocaust and to learn the lessons of history domestically is reflected at the highest levels of the Government, as seen by the Prime Minister’s recent creation of the new cross-party, multifaith Holocaust Commission. Internationally, as noble Lords have acknowledged, the Foreign Secretary’s envoy for post-Holocaust issues, Sir Andrew Burns—who I am delighted has joined us in the Public Gallery today—draws together activity across government. Along with the executive secretary of the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, Dr Kathrin Meyer, and with academic and non-government experts, Sir Andrew provides a clear British profile, presence and influence in this field.

I also pay tribute to all the Government’s partners in the UK delegation to the IHRA, which is drawn from academic and civil society organisations. Their activities in the field of post-Holocaust issues, and the best practice they are able to share with the IHRA’s other members, are the real heartbeat of the organisation. I particularly thank the brave survivors who every day actively visit schools and community groups to share their first-hand testimonies and help us in the ongoing struggle against Holocaust denial and anti-Semitism. We are truly honoured by the presence of two such incredible people, brother and sister Ben Helfgott and Marla Tribich, who have joined us to listen to the debate today.

It is a great privilege for the UK to succeed Canada as chair of the IHRA. It is an honour for us to be at the helm of the foremost international body committed to promoting multinational co-operation in Holocaust education, remembrance and research. As several noble Lords pointed out, the alliance is now at a crossroads. From three initial country members, it has now grown to a sizeable regional alliance, encompassing 31 member states. I assure my noble friends Lord Bourne and Lord Finkelstein that outreach to new countries is central to the IHRA and is a priority in our chairmanship. Yesterday, our special envoy for post-Holocaust issues briefed ambassadors from a number of interested countries, and we will continue those conversations with countries such as Australia, Albania, Morocco, El Salvador, Uruguay and Moldova. Other countries not yet part of the organisation but registering interest in it include Macedonia, Portugal and Turkey. These countries, of course, have their own Holocaust history and their own experiences to bring to the organisation.

A key part of the Holocaust issue is education, remembrance and research. The alliance has recently launched a multiyear work plan which will feature prominently in our chairmanship throughout this year. This includes addressing the deficit of knowledge of what took place outside of the death camps. The name of Auschwitz, for example, is horribly etched in our minds and sends shivers down our collective spines, and I assure my noble friend Lord Shipley that we recognise the importance of ensuring the impact of the Holocaust is not forgotten when the survivors are no longer with us. We pay tribute to the book The Tin Ring and to organisations such as the Holocaust Educational Trust, the Holocaust Memorial Day Trust and the Association of Jewish Refugees, with which we work actively and imaginatively to ensure that survivors’ stories are kept alive and are shared through various innovative ways. We are actively looking to share our best practices with other members of the IHRA.

However, there are other sites across Europe where mass shootings took place which remain relatively unknown, and other people suffered, such as the Roma people mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie. We are taking forward the Roma integration strategy within our broader social inclusion and integration policies because we believe that is the best approach in a diverse and decentralised country such as the UK. Our approach is fully in line with that of countries we are working with at all levels.

The recent IHRA conference in Krakow on killing sites demonstrated that work still needs to be done to anchor Holocaust remembrance in our societies, and we are ensuring that Holocaust deniers do not get their way in any sense. We want to ensure that we curb these perverse and dangerous views. I assure my noble friend Lord Gold that I understand the sentiments he expressed. Tackling Holocaust denial or trivialisation is another priority of the organisation. This struggle is so important because it confronts a form of anti-Semitism which risks raising its head again, as we have already seen in parts of Europe. I assure my noble friend Lord Gold that we work actively through IHRA’s committee on anti-Semitism and Holocaust denial to ensure that the international community takes action to combat anti-Semitism wherever it is seen. That means that the IHRA is not just a legacy-based body looking backwards, but, more importantly, is tackling anti-Semitism now.

The UK has, from the beginning of the alliance, played a leading role in Holocaust education, remembrance and research. Our chairmanship, 15 years on from the initial political impetus that launched the body, and 70 years on from the end of the fighting, brings us back to the centre. We plan to use this year to build the necessary government support to reaffirm the original declaration from the Stockholm International Forum on the Holocaust including to,

“remember the victims who perished, respect the survivors still with us, and reaffirm humanity’s common aspiration for mutual understanding and justice”.

I hope that reassures my noble friends Lord Bourne and Lord Finkelstein in this regard.

I assure the noble Lords, Lord Wills and Lord McKenzie, that we are not complacent about what has happened since the Holocaust in Rwanda, Cambodia, Srebrenica and Darfur. During the Balkans conflict, I visited Bosnia and Croatia. The situation was heart-wrenching. We work actively with international partners to ensure genocide prevention, including the concept of responsibility to protect, but there is always more we can do. That is why we are planning a reaffirmation of the Stockholm declaration, as I have already said. The IHRA will also need to address the future more directly and the “solemn responsibility” accepted at Stockholm to fight the evils of genocide, ethnic cleansing, anti-Semitism and xenophobia.

The noble Baroness, Lady Deech, the noble Lords, Lord Wills and Lord Bourne, and other noble Lords rightly drew attention to the issue of restitution. This is key to the concerns of the UK and the mandate of Sir Andrew Burns. The issue of restitution of property wrongfully seized by the Nazis between 1933 and 1945 is on the agenda. What has been described as the last injustice of the Holocaust has been played out recently in front of our media with the discovery of artworks stolen from victims of the Nazis and hoarded away or even displayed in museums. Sir Andrew continues to respond directly to the families of UK victims of the wrongdoing by actively lobbying other Governments to address Holocaust-era restitution issues. He and my ministerial colleagues have raised the issue of restitution of property with Ministers and officials from Poland, Germany, Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Estonia and Lithuania. We are also having discussions with the US and Israel, interested non-governmental organisations and relevant international organisations such as the European Shoah Legacy Institute in Prague.

I reassure all noble Lords that we will continue to raise our concerns about the lack of implementation of international declarations on restitution. Moreover, we will go on highlighting UK initiatives on restitution, including the Spoliation Advisory Panel, established in 2000 to advise claimants and institutions in the UK on claims for the return of works of art lost during the Nazi era, and will continue to push this through bodies such as the European Shoah Legacy Institute.

The record of other countries in addressing the issue of restitution of property, whether communal or private, is not all negative. For instance, there was the extraordinarily successful Austrian operation to compensate Holocaust survivors. We must also recognise that issues of legislation are matters for sovereign parliaments and that international agreements in this area of restitution are ultimately non-binding. We believe that there is more that countries can do to right this wrong. We will continue to put pressure on them and to play our part, bilaterally or collectively, through the offices and channels of the European Union.

I feel honoured and humbled to be responding to a debate of this magnitude and importance, not least by the presence of Holocaust survivors with us here this afternoon. I came across a prayer for Yom HaShoah which was found on a piece of paper in one of the concentration camps. It reads:

“Lord, remember not only the men of good will but also those of ill will. But do not remember all the suffering they have inflicted upon us. Remember, rather, the fruits we have borne thanks to the suffering: our comradeship, our loyalty, our humility, the courage, the generosity, the greatness of heart that have grown out of this. And when they come to judgment, let all the fruits we have borne be their forgiveness”.

The Prime Minister, on visiting Yad Vashem in Jerusalem in 2006, wrote:

“We owe it to those who died—and those who survived—to build a world in which this can never happen again”.

The pledge of our Prime Minister is the pledge of our Government. That is why Britain will remember. That is why Britain will never stand by. That is why I say to everyone present, both domestically and internationally, the past will never die, and its valuable lessons will not be forgotten as we build our future and our tomorrow for the benefit not just of ourselves but of generations to come.

Sitting suspended.

Counterterrorism Practices

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the effectiveness of counterterrorism practices; and what measures they will adopt to reduce any harm caused by ineffective or provocative practices.

My Lords, the background to this debate is the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Judd, on 25 June last year. In a characteristically hard-hitting speech, the noble Lord pointed out that criticisms of secret detention, rendition and Guantanamo had made:

“Killing … a more attractive proposition than making captures”.

He went on to ask,

“where does that leave the rule of law … Where does it leave the credibility of the alliance?”.—[Official Report, 25/6/13; col. 721.]

I start from the proposition that democracy and humane values can best be defended by humane and lawful methods. The so-called war on terror has been a mistake from the start, although the use of force against particular terrorists is acceptable. I remind your Lordships that successive British Governments used the criminal law against terrorists associated with Northern Ireland. Internment and shoot to kill were briefly tried, but soon rejected. If anyone says that the IRA or others were just operating in a remote part of Ireland, I would reply that we should remember that the whole British Cabinet were twice nearly killed, in Brighton and in Downing Street.

For the reason I have given, I opposed the use of indefinite detention without charge or trial. My name was included, with many others, as an amicus curiae in cases about Guantanamo detainees and I have met with Reprieve and others defending such detainees. I deeply regret that President Obama has not yet fulfilled his pledge to end detention without trial. Secret detentions—in eastern Europe, Djibouti, Afghanistan or elsewhere—are equally objectionable. Rendition to enable others to carry out torture that Western states are too law-abiding or too squeamish to do themselves is wholly despicable. It cannot be doubted that British airspace and airfields were used to assist renditions, whatever equivocations have been used to deny this. Waterboarding and other techniques of enhanced interrogation, although approved in some cases by US authorities, are tantamount to torture and therefore rejected by most fair-minded people. Why have I gone through this list of unacceptable practices? It is because they are wrong in themselves as well as short-sighted. They sacrifice long-term interests and reputation for the sake of short-term gains, which may well prove illusory.

Attacks by drones, or UAVs, began in 2002. In Yemen, there were 93 strikes, killing some 900 people, including 66 civilians, for example a wedding party last December. In Pakistan, at least 400 civilians have been killed, including some children. Survivors have given evidence to Congress, and only this week I met some such survivors here in Westminster. The toll may be much higher, as also in Afghanistan and Somalia. The All-Party Parliamentary Group on Drones last May put the total number of deaths at 2,700. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, who I am glad to see in his place, when replying to the earlier debate, said the RAF had launched 394 missiles in Afghanistan. Our forces were relatively lucky, because it is claimed they have only killed four civilians.

Since 2001, detention and drone killings have been principally used against Afghans, Arabs and other assorted Muslims who have come under the sway of jihadi ideologies. What seems to have been overlooked is that Afghans and Arabs have a highly developed sense of personal honour. The special term for this is “izzat” in Pashtun and “karama” in Arabic. For every person arbitrarily detained, tortured or maltreated, and for every related woman or child killed, a whole extended family or tribe may seek revenge in order to restore their wounded honour. It is true that traditional Sunni ethics forbid suicide, even to promote a just cause; they also ban the killing of women and children even in a just war. The extreme jihadi/takfiri ideology has, however, consistently rejected such teaching. We should therefore beware of policies that simply raise up future generations of jihadi holy warriors, including suicide bombers. We should understand that death from the skies is a good way to alienate whole populations, who are largely defenceless.

It is worth noting that the United States has followed Israel in its policy of targeted killings of supposed enemies. Between 1995 and 2012 Israel assassinated at least 61 men in the Middle East outside its own borders, and no doubt others before and after those years. Israel thus lowered itself to the level of the notorious medieval Old Man of the Mountain, the patron of the Assassins. I hope that the US will see that assassinations have not stopped terror attacks, or even defeated national resistance. Neither has administrative detention, as the Israelis describe it.

Will our Government discuss these issues with the United States, pointing out the risks involved and how counterproductive some of the practices are likely to prove? Will they press for binding codes of conduct? Will they emphasise international law and conventions and assert the importance of parliamentary, civilian and judicial control over the treatment of suspects and the use of drones to kill alleged enemies?

I thank in advance your Lordships who are kindly speaking in this debate, despite the strong pull of the main Chamber. I look forward to replies to questions of which I have given notice. Some of the counterterrorist practices which I have criticised are wrong in themselves. All of them may harm British citizens overseas, provoke terror attacks at home and damage our social cohesion.

My Lords, I am glad to follow the noble Lord, Lord Hylton. Nobody has been more consistent, in his modest but effective way, in pursuing the issues before us in this short debate. In supporting him, I will make a few general observations.

First, we must not allow ourselves to be tempted into thinking that it is somehow weak to say that we are in a battle for hearts and minds. We are faced with an appalling threat which every father and grandfather in this country must take seriously: the threat to the innocent is real. We must therefore talk about what is muscular in policy. What is muscular in policy is not to react—not to settle for simply containing and managing the problem—but to seek to win minds. One observation that I would make about extremism and terrorism is that they operate best in the context of ambivalence.

There are large numbers of people, as we saw in our own history in Ireland, who would individually be appalled and horrified by some of the things that happened. Yet they would always have an element of doubt. However dreadful and however deserving of unqualified condemnation the acts, there was the idea that the perpetrators were perhaps on their side. They were perhaps fighting for rights and a concept of society which had not yet been achieved. There is a grey area of ambivalence. This means that people do not leap up from—or struggle out of—bed every morning and say, “What can I do today to expose the terrorists?”. There is an undermining element of doubt and ambiguity. That is why I will never take second place to anyone in saying, “Let’s be rid of the nonsense which we allow ourselves to hear from time to time about what is strong and what is weak in the response”.

The real issue is to win minds. If we are to do this there must be something to which people can relate. There must be hope, and a context of decency and fairness in society. There must be a convincing context of justice that people can see and relate to. In the aftermath of Syria we have been presented with a renewed campaign. I applaud those with responsibility in this area who remind us without qualification that the dangers of terrorism in our own society are accentuated because of what is happening in Syria. We have to be on our guard and we have to be effective.

However, that makes it all the more important that we establish in the United Kingdom in all we do a transparent commitment to the values that we say are basic to our society and which we wish at all costs to defend. That is why I am very glad indeed that the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, is replying to this debate. If I am allowed to say so, over a number of issues over the years I have come to like and admire him as a decent parliamentarian who cares about society, although across a political divide.

I now want to make some points about the interconnections, or connected government as we sometimes call it, and our effectiveness in winning hearts and minds. Forgive me if I have to oversimplify slightly. If a well qualified, intelligent, thinking and decent man or woman, who is struggling to find a future for their family in the real desperation of the world as it is, has a bad experience in the immigration process, are we not sowing the seeds of the ambivalence of which I speak? I am not one of those who object to the concept of the need for a convincing immigration policy; we cannot just have an open door. However, this is why it matters desperately that everything within the procedures happens with decency, civilised values and so on.

When something goes wrong, let us please remember that there is an element of real potential—I hesitate to use the word because it is very strong—treasonable activity. It plays into the hands of the extremists, who play on the doubts and the anxieties that exist. It strengthens the climate of ambivalence: is this society really about the things it talks about, or has it got double-speak and double values? That is why what we do in immigration policy is so important. It is why, when we are talking of the armed services, the police or the security services, we should uphold people within those organisations who are determined to operate by the highest standards.

When things go wrong, they are not just wrong and to be condemned as acts that are insupportable in terms of the rules and regulations and conventions, they are counterproductive in terms of giving ground to extremist recruiters. We have to be infinitely more rigorous in seeing the connections in so many elements of our society and public life between what is happening and the way it is happening, and our determination to preserve security in this country.

I think I have said this in the House before and I do not apologise for saying it again: I was greatly influenced at the age of 13, in 1948, when I was taken to Geneva by my father to an international conference that he was organising. At that conference, I had the privilege of meeting personally Eleanor Roosevelt. Eleanor Roosevelt was not just championing a nicer way of organising society in which human rights would be an element. She was a tough woman. Like many others in the aftermath of the Second World War, she had seen that human rights and all that attaches to them were a fundamental and indispensable element of security and stability. If you do not have human rights, there is always the danger of extremism gaining ground. The commitment to human rights throughout everything we do is therefore desperately important.

Sometimes I am anxious about phraseology that is too easily used about the trade-off between human rights and security. There is no trade-off between them. Human rights are central to security, and from that standpoint it is all about how we uphold them in everything we do.

My Lords, perhaps I may also add my voice of thanks to the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and say of him and a number of his noble colleagues in the House of Lords that they constitute the collective conscience of the Chamber, and in that context I want to express my great appreciation of all the work that he does. Let me also say, like the noble Lord, Lord Judd, for whom I have the greatest respect, that it is very nice to have the noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, here to respond to the debate. As far as I can tell he works infinitely hard to respond to the questions and pleas of his fellow Members. I would like to express my thanks to him and to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for their willingness to be present and to take seriously the issues we are raising.

I am going almost entirely to address the domestic scene because the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Judd, have talked quite rightly about the international and broader position. I want to talk a bit about the issue of the indefinite detention of those who are either suspected of terrorism or, in some cases, are simply illegal immigrants, because I believe that it is a very serious issue. We all heard this morning an inspiring speech by the Chancellor of Germany, and one of the most impressive things about it was the way in which she frequently reiterated the goals of the European Union. She said that they are peace, freedom and prosperity. I want to address the issue of freedom.

Of all the countries of the European Union, there are only two that have no limit on the length of detention of people who are sent to detention centres either because they are illegal immigrants or because they are suspected—in most cases it is found to be rare—of being involved in some kind of terrorist activity. I found that amazing when I first heard about it. I did not really believe it, so I pursued it using every line of research I possibly could. Let me say in a completely non-partisan spirit that the understanding and agreement to allow non-limited detention to go on started with the Labour Government and has been continued, to my great regret, by this Government. I want to challenge this bipartisan policy.

For every EU country which has not opted out of the so-called return directive which was passed in 2008 and made active in 2010—it is a prime EU directive—that directive says that the maximum period for which people can be detained without any form of trial is six months. One can then appeal for an extension of an additional 12 months, making a total maximum figure of 18 months. However, we should not forget that that figure is subject to there having been an agreement to the extension of 12 months: the normal limit is six months and 18 months is the absolute limit. That is not so in the United Kingdom or the Republic of Ireland, partly for reasons that are a hangover from the terrorist issues of the past, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, indicated.

That means that, at the present time, on the figures for 2012-13, we spend £34 million in keeping just under 3,000 people—the latest figure is 2,685—in unlimited detention. That is bad enough. However, in addition to that, these detention centres—and there are enough to deal with the 3,000 figure, which is the current maximum—are outsourced to private administrators or private executors of the rules. They are not run by the Home Office or the police; they are run by private bodies.

As I understand it, these private bodies are not subject to any form of regular inspection. They are inspected if there is a death in their premises by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, but that is the only form of accountability there is. Therefore one of the first questions I want to ask my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach is whether the Home Office might consider bringing in a regular inspection of these detention centres. In some centres, such as Harmondsworth, the numbers are quite troubling. Eight people have lost their lives through self-harm, suicide or accident in Harmondsworth over the past few years. The figures are lower for other detention centres.

I declare an interest: I am a patron of the Gatwick detention centre, which is remarkable and has never had a single unacknowledged death. What characterises Gatwick but does not characterise Harmondsworth is the existence of a regular pool of volunteers drawn from the locality, from the countryside—from the community, if you like—who regularly visit those in detention, giving them moral support and help and useful advice. That has had a wonderful outcome because it has not only given the local community an understanding of the detention centre and made it willing to engage with it, but it has also given the detainees, some of whom had been tortured or imprisoned for years before they got here, the kind of moral support and friendship that they desperately need. It is a wonderful social experiment, recognised by the Queen but not very much by Parliament.

Having asked the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, whether we could consider some kind of accountability for these detention centres, I come to the serious point that many of those in detention find it difficult to apply for bail. Under the new Immigration Bill, they will largely be expected to apply for any reconsideration of their case from another country. For most of them, that is not possible and not practicable. They cannot afford it, they do not have the communication, they do not have the language and they do not have the advice.

The other aspect of this issue which troubles me, apart from the high expense, is the fact that it makes the UK look like a poor member of the attempt to get civil liberties and freedom strengthened within the European Union. I repeat that we are the only country— along with the Republic of Ireland, which has been persuaded by us to support an opt-out—which has opted-out completely from the return directive of 2010. Sadly, that opt-out was made in 2006 and so, once again, none of us can say, “Sorry, it was not us”. It was us. It was all of us.

As I have said, the current expenditure is £34 million, which is quite a lot for 3,000 people, but there is now a proposal to convert the old prison at Verne in Dorset to a detention centre at a cost of £30 million. That is a big jump in the amount of money made available for detention. It is due to open later this year or, at the latest, early next year. So, on the basis of legality, freedom and expense—and, not least, on the basis of losing the good will and respect of other countries, because we are one of only two in the whole of the EU about which this is true—we really ought to consider whether there are some alternatives.

Let us take people—for example, from Somalia—against whom there is no criminal charge but who cannot be returned under United Nations HRC rules because their country is too dangerous to be sent back to. They are in suspension: they are not out of detention but cannot be returned, they have not been tried, they have not committed crimes and there are several hundred of them in this condition. I ask the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, whom I regard, as does the noble Lord, Lord Judd, as a sensible and thoughtful person, whether he and the Home Office might not find it possible to let such people —I am talking now about Somalians, or others who cannot be returned for the reasons given—be released on licence, or, if you like, under probation, where they might have to report to police every week and their position would be regularly reviewed? It would cost the country a great deal less, it would obviate a great deal of real psychological and mental suffering, which, as I said, has led in some cases to self-mutilation and suicide, and it would save the Government a great deal of money and gain them a great deal of respect.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for providing us with the opportunity to discuss this important subject. I am delighted and honoured to follow the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Judd, and the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, who are all much more experienced, knowledgeable and committed than I am. However, I want to say a few words. We are discussing this important issue a day after Michael Adebolajo and Michael Adebowali were sentenced for their appalling, despicable and heinous crime against Lee Rigby, an innocent soldier. I thank Mr Justice Sweeney for separating these two criminals from the Islamic faith and the Muslim community in his remarks.

In February 2011 the Prime Minister, David Cameron, tarnished the image of British Muslims by speaking in Munich about radicalisation and “Islamic extremists”. Then in December, during his visit to China, he said:

“There are just too many people who have been radicalised in Islamic centres, who have been in contact with extremist preachers, who have accessed radicalising information on the internet and haven’t been sufficiently challenged. I want to make sure in our country that we do this effectively”.

I have no problem with the Prime Minister’s fight against extremism and we will help him and work with him, but I wish that he had made these two speeches in east London, Bradford or Luton, or even at his Eid party at Downing Street, rather than in Germany and China. It sounds so much like the colonial attitude of divide and rule. The good guys are invited to the Eid party but the bad guys he cannot face—Sufi Islam versus the Jamat-e-Islami, the Deobandis and the Ahl-e-Hadiths, the so-called Wahhabis. Although he enjoys the hospitality of Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Kuwait and others, I wonder whether the Prime Minister tells them what he says and does at home.

The isolation of large sections of the Muslim community is not good. Demonisation and sensational headlines in the tabloid newspapers are also bad. Despite what the media portray, Muslims are not the major source of terrorist atrocities. The Government seem preoccupied with Islamist terrorism despite the fact that, according to Europol, fewer than 6% of terrorist acts across the continent, year on year for the past 10 years, have been carried out by Muslims. Counterterrorist anti-extremism measures need to be more holistic in their approach and be careful not to cast aspersions and turn particular communities into social outcasts.

Counterterrorism practices have often been leveraged through dangerous rhetoric on so-called “non-violent extremism” and “conveyor belt theory”. The whole discourse is problematic and lacks evidence. CIA officer Marc Sageman, who also advised the New York Police Department and testified in front of the 9/11 Commission, described the conveyor belt theory as “nonsense” and said that there was little empirical evidence for such a conveyor belt process:

“It is the same nonsense that led governments a hundred years ago to claim that left-wing political protests led to violent anarchy”.

The Government need to take an evidence-based approach. There are clear laws surrounding incitement to violence and hate speech. For the Government to develop a new category called “non-violent extremism” and claim that it produces a conveyor belt to violent extremism has real implications for freedom of speech. People have a right to hold opposing views on political governance, whether they be communist, socialist or whatever.

Both the media and the Government have made assertions that radicalisation is occurring at universities, yet the Universities UK report makes clear that there is no evidence for such a link. Ms Dandridge, the chief executive of Universities UK, said that universities had been unfairly singled out for attention because many terrorists went to university,

“but they tend to be young people and 40 per cent of young people go to university”—

again, an evidence-based approach, not simply making assertions. Such measures would only be detrimental to free speech at university campuses and oppose the values that we are supposed to cherish. The protection of free speech on campus is enshrined in law within Section 43 of the Education Act, but it is in jeopardy.

Professor Michael Lister and Professor Lee Jarvis from Oxford Brookes University and Swansea University wrote a paper based upon empirical data from a series of UK-based focus groups. It was on the impact of antiterrorism measures on citizenship in the UK. They found that people felt that antiterrorism measures eroded rights, freedoms and liberties and went against the whole point of living in a democracy. If you remove the freedom of individuals, it restricts the democracy we live in. The Government should take on board a wide range of expert opinions, not a few select or cherry-picked voices.

I turn to policies abroad, a point raised by the noble Lords, Lord Hylton and Lord Judd. At the meeting of the APPG on Drones on Tuesday, we heard evidence from two victims of drone attacks and from Mr Clive Stafford Smith from Reprieve, who described the 600,000 citizens of North Waziristan as living through a blitz. His mother had lived through the Blitz and he said that she described how people lived day after day in the same conditions. One third of the population in the region is on antidepressants due to drone attacks and the fear of them. He said that the American policy on drones has made the Americans the most hated people on earth for the Pakistanis in Pakistan. True, the Pakistan Government are taking action against the terrorists and the Taliban. It because they are doing it themselves that the public support that action. However, they resent any outsider making attacks on their land, on their culture and, as they perceive it, on their religion. That increases radicalisation and creates suicide bombing.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for giving us this opportunity to debate a matter of real concern and import to the citizens of this country. The subject matter of the debate is the Government’s assessment of the effectiveness of counterterrorism practices. I want to refer in that context to the recent developments in Syria.

Terrorism is not just a major issue for the United Kingdom; it is a global threat. As I understand it, in 2011 more than 10,000 terrorist attacks occurred in around 70 countries, resulting in almost 45,000 casualties and more than 12,500 fatalities. About three-quarters of those attacks occurred in the Near East and south Asia, but in 2011 attacks in Africa and the western hemisphere were at a five-year high. The figures indicate that in the 12 months to 30 September 2012—I am not sure if there are any more recent figures—there were 245 terrorism-related arrests in Great Britain; 45 people were charged with terrorism-related offences and 18 convicted, with a further 25 people awaiting trial. At the end of 2012, 122 people were in prison in Great Britain for terrorist, extremist or terrorism-related offences, including those on remand. As the noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, has already mentioned, the sentencing in a case yesterday reminded us of the brutality and savagery that can be involved in such offences in our own backyard in broad daylight. The value and importance of the work that our police and security services do to protect us cannot be overestimated.

In their last annual report on the UK’s strategy for countering terrorism, the Government stated that there were now hundreds of foreign fighters from Europe in Syria and that, as and when UK residents return here, there is a risk that they may carry out attacks using what were described in the report as the skills that they have developed overseas. The most recent annual report of the Intelligence and Security Committee of this Parliament also referred to the increasing potential for those who travel overseas to train and fight alongside one of the al-Qaeda affiliate groups to subsequently return to the UK and pose a direct threat to the UK’s national security. The report went on to say that what was most significant in this regard was the growing trend for UK resident extremists to join elements of the opposition in Syria, and that this was likely to form part of the terrorist threat picture for years to come. The report said that the shape of the terrorist threat was potentially changing from what it described as tightly organised cells to looser networks of small groups and individuals who operate more independently, and that it was essential that the agencies continued to make a clear assessment of this evolving picture in order to keep ahead of the threat.

We have had a much more recent update on the position, with the head of the Office for Security and Counter-Terrorism being reported in the media as saying that the biggest challenge now facing the police and intelligence agencies was the size of extremist groups in Syria and the number of Britons joining them. He was reported as having gone on to say that the number of foreign fighters in Syria was higher than anywhere since Afghanistan in 1989, and that Syria was different from any other counterterrorism challenge that this country had faced since 9/11 because of the number of terrorist groups now engaged in the fighting; their size and scale; the number of people from this country who are joining them; the ease of travel; the availability of weapons; and the intensity of the conflict. Statements along very similar lines have also been made recently by the head of Scotland Yard’s counterterrorism unit.

There have been suggestions—I stress that that is all they are—that there may now be new laws being considered by the Government. That would of course be an interesting development; the Government have hardly strengthened our ability to keep a check on the potentially most dangerous people, since the Government’s own terrorism prevention and investigation measures, which placed the most menacing terror suspects under special, albeit watered down, restrictions were, I assume—subject to the Minister telling me otherwise—brought to an end, as intended, a month or so ago.

The independent reviewer of terrorism legislation has confirmed that those who were the subject of terrorism prevention and investigation measures and their special restrictions were considered the most dangerous threats even by the standards of international terrorism. In relation to one who absconded, the Secretary of State simply tried to assert that the only reason why that individual had been made subject to a TPIM was to prevent them travelling to support terrorism overseas. In the light of the recent warnings about Syria, that suggests that if that really is the Government’s criterion, rather more people should be being placed on TPIMs instead of allowing the measures to lapse after two years with the consequences that we now see. It would certainly be helpful if the Minister could indicate what the additional cost has been, in terms of extra surveillance, of watering down the previous control orders and replacing them with TPIMs, and what is now the additional cost of surveillance of those who, I assume, were until a month or so ago subject to a TPIM and its associated restrictions, but are no longer so even though there has presumably been no change in the assessment of the serious threat that they represent to national security.

Perhaps the Minister could also say if the Government are indeed considering new laws. Are the Government considering activating the Enhanced Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Bill, which, in essence, reinstates control orders? Is Clause 60 of the Immigration Bill, on deprivation of citizenship, the Government’s response? A number of steps were initiated following the work of the task force set up by the Prime Minister on tackling radicalisation and extremism. What is the position now in regard to the implementation of those steps, and what consideration is being given to any further steps that may be needed in the light of very recent concerns that have been expressed, particularly in relation to the potential implications for us of the situation in Syria?

We all have a common interest in national security and in protecting the citizens of this country from acts of terrorism. We need to have the ability to take proportionate, strong and firm action quickly and decisively, within the law, against those individuals who constitute a real threat. Equally, though, the approaches that we adopt and the actions that we take need to give at least as much attention to strengthening the hand of those who work hard to persuade predominantly young men and women to ignore the siren voices of those who may seek to encourage them to go down the road of violence and hatred, and instead to reject that route.

I hope that the Minister will be able to say what the Government's response is to the very recent concerns that have been expressed about the potential consequences of the situation in Syria, and apart from—of course—continuing to try and get negotiations to resolve matters under way, what further actions if any the Government now intend to take in respect of counterterrorism practices.

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions to this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, for tabling it. It has been a useful discussion. The debate has ranged far and wide. I hope that my noble friend Lady Williams of Crosby will allow me to write to her on detention and detention centres because I would like to be a position to reassure her. She raised some challenging issues in bringing that into this debate. If I may, I will copy all noble Lords in on the subject and place a copy in the Library.

I think it is clear that we all share a common agreement that the Government’s first responsibility is the security of the public. We face a real and serious threat from terrorism, and this threat becomes more diverse and less visible. It disperses into areas where it is harder for us to work and threatens the freedoms that we all hold dear. The police and the intelligence agencies do an outstanding job in identifying and disrupting terrorist plots. It is good that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, paid tribute to their work. It is vital that they have the resources that they need to do just that. The Government have protected police counterterrorism funding, maintaining core capabilities since 2010.

As Andrew Parker, the director-general of MI5, informed the Intelligence and Security Committee when he appeared before it in November last year, since the attacks on London on 7 July 2005, 34 terrorist plots have been successfully disrupted in this country. However, there can be no guarantee that each and every plot—some hatched thousands of miles away, or by a lone individual—can be thwarted.

The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, reminded us of the sentencing yesterday of the murderers of Fusilier Lee Rigby in Woolwich. That, in turn, reminds me of the similar incident of the vile murder of Mohammed Saleem in Birmingham. Further afield, we remember the attacks at the Boston Marathon and the Nairobi shopping mall, which resulted in 60 deaths, six of them British nationals. All this goes to show that terrorism is an international problem. The numerous casualties of terrorism are found in many countries. Our partnerships with international allies are vital to the protection of the UK and our interests overseas, and innocent people everywhere. The noble Lord, Lord Ahmed, should be assured that the Government are well aware that both victims and protagonists of terrorism are of many different faiths and are found in many different countries. The statistics given by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, reinforce that point.

The threat continues to arise from Syria, as the noble Lord, Lord Judd, pointed out. We know that it is the number one destination for jihadists today. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, pointed out, thousands of foreign fighters, including a large number of Europeans, gain combat experience and forge extremist links there. It is sobering that more than 200 of these individuals have connections with the UK.

Notwithstanding the terrorist threat, this Government also remain committed to protecting our freedoms. In combating the threat, the United Kingdom will never use methods that undermine our deep attachment to freedom, human rights and the rule of law, and we will not condone them anywhere. The noble Lord, Lord Judd, was right to emphasise the necessity of maintaining civilised standards in regard to human rights. Naturally, we expect all states to act in accordance with international law and take all feasible precautions to avoid civilian casualties when conducting counterterrorism operations.

The noble Lord, Lord Hylton, asked me how we measure the effectiveness of our counterterrorism practices. As he will know, we do this under the UK’s counterterrorism strategy, CONTEST, with its four key aims. I hope that as I recount these I will reassure noble Lords about this strategy. Our strategy is to prevent people becoming terrorists. Our strategy is to protect against terrorist attacks. Our strategy is to prepare, in the event of an attack, and to pursue terrorists and those who support them. That lies at the core of our policy. It is shared, I think, by people across the political spectrum.

Under CONTEST, we continually review our counterterrorism powers to ensure that they are effective and fair. Following our 2011 review of these powers, we reduced the limit on pre-charge detention from 28 to 14 days. We ended the indiscriminate use of stop and search powers. The Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, David Anderson, QC, is often quoted when we discuss these matters. He said,

“The cautious liberalisation of anti-terrorism law from 2010 to 2012 is to be welcomed”.

While ensuring that our powers that are proportionate, we also have to be certain that they remain effective. The Justice and Security Act 2013 means that civil courts can handle and protect sensitive material and provide for robust oversight of our agencies by the Intelligence and Security Committee. Noble Lords will remember passing that legislation through this House late last year. The Bill that I have just been handling provides further safeguards that we have proposed to Schedule 7 to the Terrorism Act 2000. These include a reduction of the maximum time for which someone can be examined at our ports and borders.

We have also recently updated the royal prerogative, which can be used to prevent individuals from seeking to travel on a British passport to, for example, engage in fighting overseas and to return to the UK. Any action to refuse or withdraw a passport must be proportionate, and this power will be used only sparingly. We continue to enjoy an open and constructive relationship with international partners, including the United States, on a range of counterterrorism matters, such as the security of our borders.

Since the attempted aviation attacks on Christmas Day 2009 and at East Midlands Airport in 2010, we have banned inbound flights from the highest-risk countries, helped to raise security standards at departure points, strengthened pre-departure checks and introduced a no-fly scheme to stop those who pose a threat from travelling here. Following the Boston and Woolwich attacks, we have worked with the US to share learning on preventing radicalisation, including radicalisation online. Our success in countering terrorism is supported by our relationship with other countries, by sharing our learning with each other.

In order to be truly effective—in order to work—our counterterrorism powers must also command the trust of British communities. The Prevent strategy, which we revised in 2011, aims to stop people becoming or supporting terrorists. It can work only if the public believe our approach is measured and appropriate. I reciprocate the generous comments that the noble Lord, Lord Judd, made about me. He pointed to the importance of a civilised relationship between citizen and government at all times. He will know we work closely with local authorities, the police and others to challenge the radical and distorted ideologies that can lead to violence and to support those who may be vulnerable to them. The Prime Minister’s Extremism Task Force will ensure that no opportunity is missed to counter terrorism in all its forms. We cannot be complacent: the terrorist threat changes and develops. We must change and develop with it.

I have mentioned the threat from Syria and elsewhere overseas, but back home we must also continue to build Prevent capability, make our borders and aviation sector more secure, and give the police and agencies what they need to do their jobs. There can be no doubt that the publication of intelligence material stolen by Edward Snowden has made this work harder. Communications data remain essential to the investigation of serious crime, and this must be addressed in the next Parliament.

Our powers must remain strong and effective to counter the terrorist threat. But I assure the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, and all Members of the Grand Committee that we are clear that they must remain within the bounds of international law. We must also ensure that they remain necessary and fair, and are understood publicly by all to be so. We have a proud tradition of protecting our freedoms, and this must be upheld. It is fitting for me to pay tribute to the police officers, prosecutors, community workers and others who protect us all from the very real threats we face.

Before the noble Lord sits down, will he say something about the kinds of bilateral conversations with the United States for which I was asking?

I think I made it clear that we work very closely with the United States and with other allies. If the noble Lord would like me to, I can perhaps expand in writing to some degree on what I have said in my response if he feels that it will help, and I will certainly include other noble Lords in that correspondence, but he will also be aware that we do not comment in detail on security matters. Given the scale of the threat we face, we have to honour that convention because it is very important for our security that we do so. But to the extent that I am able to reply to the noble Lord, I will very much seek to do so; I will copy in noble Lords who have participated in this debate and place a copy in the Library.

Sitting suspended.

Health: Concussion in Sport

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what advice they are giving to (1) sports national governing bodies, and (2) national medical services, regarding concussion sustained in sporting injuries.

My Lords, I first thank everyone who bothered to put their name down for this debate. I would like to say why I felt that a discussion on this matter would be worth while. When we start talking about concussion and injuries and the areas around them it is important to try to get the whole situation in context. When it comes to head injuries there is always a great deal of fear within any organisation, and quite rightly so, because we are not entirely sure what happens. If your head goes, everything goes. Every time you talk about this, in particular when there is the idea that children will be involved, there is a fear reaction. Also, in sport—and this is probably very true of my own sport, rugby union—there is the machismo. “Well, it didn’t do me any harm”, a player will say as he twitches and staggers. However, that reaction always comes in.

I want to look at a debate which started at the elite level of the game. Here I pay tribute to Chris Bryant MP, who I first met on the Commons and Lords rugby trip about 10 years ago. Not a bad centre, likes to run straight and does not miss many tackles: that is my assessment of Chris. He has done a great deal of work at the professional end of the game. In the period of time since I had my flirtation with the top end of the game—and when push comes to shove it was a flirtation—professional rugby union players have got bigger, stronger and harder. They have gained weight and got fitter. They are now basically monsters. One of the biggest changes in the game is that they now take the defence more seriously and look for heavier collisions more frequently.

The other side is that those players are professionals. They have a structure which looks after them, which is aware of them and has invested in them on dozens of different levels to observe what is going on. At all levels there is a great incentive to make sure that people are functioning properly. Most of sport does not have that. It is also the case that most sport is played at an amateur or community-level basis, where people are not playing or training primarily because they are paid but because they want to be there. They enjoy the process. There are some, possibly not in this debate but quite frequently in other situations, who cannot understand this process and the fact that people enjoy what they are doing.

Virtually all sports have a danger of concussion and head injury. They involve people moving around and bumping into each other, and occasionally bumping into very hard balls travelling very fast. All sport has an element of risk. All sport will have to try to adjust and ensure it knows what it is doing. All of sport will have to interact with the National Health Service to make sure that these problems do not become chronic. As we become more aware of these problems we tend to discover more of them.

At the amateur, more participatory, casual end of sports, people frequently play more than one sport. The specialist at the top end will concentrate on one sport alone. That is why I frame this debate in these terms. Rugby union, rugby league and possibly gridiron football, although not that much of it is played in this country, look for a collision, as do the martial arts. In other sports it will occur as an inevitable part of the game at even the most casual level. In basketball, players are not supposed to hit each other, but people jump up for the ball and two of them can hit each other. If they do not clash heads and elbows, there is a nice hard surface to bang their heads on. It will occur. For example, in football, if the defender, goalkeeper and the forwards all go up for the same ball, all trying to head it—or the goalkeeper punch it—there is the possibility of impact. It has occurred at the top level of the game.

I have tried to look at how all sports manage to get the information running through themselves about what they should do and how they manage to get this down to the more vulnerable groups. In this case, children and the young are more at risk—more of them apparently have head injuries and more come into casualty. Much of this may be simply because the young climb trees, for instance, or cross roads less carefully than others, but it still occurs. They are more at risk not only from the one incident but the secondary incident. How do we take this on board and encourage the sports themselves to identify when somebody is at risk? How do we make sure that the people who are in charge of the organisations and of coaching know to tell the rest of them when to step down? How do we tell the medical services when they should take action and when they should tell you to go home? Very importantly, how do we tell them when not to overreact?

There is a general consensus that exercise is the wonder drug. It helps prevent types of cancer and even dementia. Most people take exercise, at least initially, through a sport. If we could all be trained to jog the 2.3 miles 2.4 times a week that are required to keep our bodies healthy, we all would and we would not have to worry about this—but we do not, as people find it basically fairly boring. How do we interact and make sure that this is going on?

When it comes to examples of good practice, the best culture I have seen for dealing with injuries is probably in anything to do with riding or the equestrian world. I live in Lambourne, the valley of the racehorse, and in National Hunt jumping, people come off the horses fairly frequently. I have seen quite an intimidating tea-towel about some old National Hunt jockey—I cannot remember which one, but he had X number of wins, rides and broken bones—which showed which bones he had broken flying off a horse. In that sport, a hard hat is the thing you absolutely always wear. The sport knows that people get hurt and it shares doctors now with rugby union. In rugby union, you probably have twice the amount of person to practise on but similar types of injury.

How do you get that culture down into the grass roots? Rugby union has a very good scheme, which seems to be a brand leader, called “Use your head”. It comes down to a culture of making sure that introductory-level coaches are taught how to deal with people who have head injuries. Will the Minister encourage all sports to get similar types of schemes going? We need to encourage people to take part.

Also, how do the medical services react? They should not just say, “Don’t do it for X number of weeks”. That would mean people will ignore you, because most of the time—statistics prove this—although you have a slight headache and feel slightly giddy, you are fine. We do not want to go back to assuming that you are not in danger, but most of the time you are fine. It is when this gets compounded and, on the odd occasion, the freak event and the panic occur. How do we square this circle of reaction? Can we please have some guidance about what are the best schemes? How can we address this and get through?

We are told not to go to accident and emergency all the time as we are clogging up the doors. Will the other elements of the National Health Service know when to refer you on, when to tell you not to panic, when to tell you to rest and when to come back? That is what I am trying to get at. If we overreact here and act inappropriately we get rid of the benefits of sport. If we do not react at all, we will have occasional cases of tragedy and then more commonly occurring cases of impairment and damage in later life. We have got to work these together. What are the best practices for what we are doing and how are we going to bring them together? That is what I am trying to get at here.

I hope that this is the start of a process in which the NHS and all the sporting bodies talk to each other. They need to ensure that there is communication at the grass roots, at the schoolboy—or schoolgirl—level, and that people know what is going on and what is best practice. If they do not, we are in danger of creating another case where overreaction, bluff and basic ignorance mean that we end up with slightly less competition—not just in sport but in any competitive environment—and a few tragedies are the result. We do not want that. We want to go forward with activity and safety. That is something that we can achieve and we should try to.

My Lords, the Committee is indebted to my noble friend Lord Addington for securing this debate. It is both timely and important. It is timely because it comes on the eve of the screening next week at the Curzon cinema here in London of the world premiere of “Head Games: The Global Concussion Crisis”, which will spark nationwide comment and debate. From the acclaimed director Steve James, it is a revealing documentary featuring neurological findings related to rugby and soccer players that will serve as a wake-up call for those who think that the devastating and chronic effects of repetitive head trauma are found only in American football and boxing. The film is inspired by the book Head Games: Football’s Concussion Crisis, written by the former Ivy League football player and WWE wrestler Christopher Nowinski. I believe it will capture the attention of the sports world, and it is already causing a stir in the United States.

Concussion is increasingly recognised as a serious medical condition that is interesting legislators around the world. Indeed, it is the only medical condition whose treatment is currently mandated by legislation in the United States. This is the result of the Zackery Lystedt law, started in Washington state, home of the Seattle Seahawks, by the Seahawks’ doctor, Dr Stan Herring, after a terrible accident involving a teenager, Zackery Lystedt. There are now Zackery Lystedt laws in 49 of the 50 states of the union; Mississippi is the only one that does not have one.

The Zackery Lystedt law states, first, that concussion education must be delivered to parents, coaches and players in all sports, not just contact sports. Secondly, after a concussion the player must be removed from play and not allowed back on to the pitch. Thirdly, after a concussion the player cannot be allowed to return to sport until cleared to do so by a healthcare professional who has experience in concussion.

We have no legislation in the United Kingdom and, as my noble friend Lord Addington has highlighted, individual sports vary greatly in their attitude towards concussion management. That is the urgent issue that needs to be addressed. My noble friend mentioned horseracing, which is way ahead of the rest and started a management programme in 2004. The work that Dr Michael Turner, until recently chief medical officer of the Jockey Club, has done for jockeys has been world-leading and deserving of careful study and praise.

Rugby is still trialling new and appropriate codes; for example, the five-minute concussion timeout to allow doctors to assess and diagnose concussion. Speaking from a non-medical perspective, that seems a totally inadequate length of time and yet rugby has put many of the issues under consideration on the world stage. The highly controversial decision to allow Australia’s George Smith to return to action during his side’s third-test defeat to the British and Irish Lions last year, despite clearly having been concussed, has prompted one of a series of changes to the global trial of the pitch-side suspected concussion assessment, the PSCA protocol.

What is needed above all is education at the grass roots. At the moment there is nothing in this country that is structured for coaches, parents and clubs. That is a very serious state of affairs, which should concern all sports administrators and politicians. The South Africans have a great programme in this context called BokSmart, which should seriously be considered by all our governing bodies. The Canadians have Parachute and we have Headway.

The main source of information is the latest concussion consensus statement from Zurich 2012. It recently emphasised, once again, the need for education and in the United Kingdom all sports, not only contact sports, have faced the consequences of this. In soccer, there were changes to pitch-side assistance and medical requirements soon after the Reading-Chelsea match when Petr Cech sustained a depressed skull fracture and then the substitution goalie sustained a concussion, leaving John Terry in goal.

The Australians are probably the leaders internationally given the work being done in Aussie rules football in particular. Many sports are now caught up in the debate—NFL, ice hockey, FIFA, boxing, equestrian, rugby league and union. It is a global issue as well as a legal one.

What needs to be done? In this country we could create a national concussion and head injury research centre. This could address all of these issues, bring them together and ensure that what we are debating today is not a series of different practices across sports, clubs and schools but a centre capable of bringing together all research in this area and then disseminating it to all sports in this country. Above all, we need consistency in the approach of the national governing bodies of sport, both amateur and professional. Without it, and without such a voluntary approach working with the governing bodies of sport, there may be serious calls for legislation in the future, as there are at the moment in the United States.

Will the Minister, with his ministerial colleagues at the Department of Health, agree to a further meeting with interested members of the medical profession to discuss the establishment of a world-leading centre in the United Kingdom based on international co-operation, which I have called today the national concussion and head injury centre?

Perhaps I may set this in context. The current definition of concussion was first agreed in 2001 at the Vienna concussion consensus conference and has remained largely unchanged over the subsequent three meetings—the Prague concussion conference and then in 2008 at Zurich 1 and in 2012 at Zurich 2. It has been recognised that concussion is a complex neural process that does not involve any structural brain damage and does not produce any changes on conventional imaging—for example, an MRI scan. Normally it resolves spontaneously in seven to 10 days without medical intervention. However, it may linger on, and post-concussion syndrome may lead to long-term problems.

On the subject of long-term concerns, recent research published in the USA suggests that multiple concussions or sub-concussive impacts might lead to a serious brain condition called chronic traumatic encephalopathy. This has resulted in a number of law suits being initiated in North America against the governing bodies of professional sports, the NFL and the NHL, and unless we in the UK act, sports governing bodies must expect similar legal action in the future.

My noble friend focused his remarks on the sports with the highest incidence of concussion. We need to look at all sports. Dr Turner, to whom I have referred, recognised that if concussion does not involve any structural damage it is reasonable to suggest that a little more impact would lead to a few nerve fibres becoming damaged or dying. He refers to this as concussion plus. You cannot tell the difference between concussion and concussion plus. They are indistinguishable at present because the tools we have are not sensitive enough to pick up the microscopic structural and chemical changes involved.

This is the tip of a highly complex medical iceberg. It is vital that we bring together all the expertise available in order to ensure that, by setting up a national centre—which could be world-leading and could co-operate internationally with best practice—our athletes, our clubs and our governing bodies are best served. I repeat, I hope the Minister will accept that this kind of initiative is worthy of further study and that he will attend a meeting—I hope with his colleagues from the Department of Health—with medical experts in this field, including Dr Michael Turner, to see what can be done to ensure that we are world leaders in this context, above all because we will be protecting the interests of our athletes, both able-bodied and disabled, as our first priority.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for tabling this timely debate. The issue of concussion has been gaining momentum over recent months. The journalist Anne Peters has written extensively about it and it comes on the back of the announcement last August of the case of the NFL in the USA, where 4,500 athletes took a class action suit and sued the league. The league agreed to pay out a total of $765 million to fund concussion-related compensation, medical exams and research.

I am very pleased that the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, raised the issue of “Head Games”. Unfortunately, I cannot make the premiere next week, but I have read the book instead. It makes stark reading in terms of the information it lays in front of us. Who can forget the tragic case of Ben Robinson who died in 2011? He was a young man who died after being concussed on the pitch three times. I spoke to Ben’s father Peter this morning. It was very emotional. It is hard enough reading about Ben’s case, but it is incredibly powerful listening to a man talking about his son who died playing the sport he came to love. It is probably fair to say that Ben was not a natural rugby player, but he was really good at the sport and was one of the best players on the team. The hardest part was listening to Peter say that Ben’s mum Karen had been at the game and she realised that something was not right, but did not feel that she had any power to stop the game going ahead. When she did try to intervene, she was told to “calm down”.

This is a powerful argument in making us realise that we have to involve many people and governing bodies in the discussion. I absolutely do not want to stop children playing sport, because the benefits are greater than being inactive. Peter told me that Ben received advice on nutrition, training and absolutely everything except concussion. Peter also said that he has a younger son who does not play rugby, but he would let him if he felt that he could do so safely.

There is a lot of information out there, but would I have gone out and looked for it had I not been taking part in this debate? The answer is no, because I would have assumed that concussion would not be an issue in most sports that my daughter and I are involved in. Some of this comes back to how we educate people. Sport Scotland has issued a really good leaflet highlighting the issue of concussion and what you have to do if you see it in a young player. At the launch of the leaflet, Dr Willie Stewart presented a huge amount of information. He had interviewed 300 schools from the south-west of Scotland. The good stuff was that 90% recognised that concussion could be fatal. However, 30% of the schools said that they would still leave a child with suspected concussion on the field of play. Curiously, virtually all the 30% who would have left the child on the pitch would have then informed the parents that they thought the child had concussion, so there is a bit of a mismatch in terms of how young people were being treated. The survey also made it very clear that there was a need for a physical test in the first 24 hours after injury, but there was not the understanding that it was important for the brain to rest as well—that is a really important part of rehab.

It is also interesting that well known rugby players like Will Greenwood have spoken out on this matter and the need to take it seriously. However, it is really difficult for current players to speak out, because it is their career. How much time they spend on the pitch affects their sponsorship, media coverage and future contracts. So I think it is important that we engage retired players and, I hope, encourage more competing players to think about this.

Over the weekend, I was told the story of a professional club player who was very clearly concussed but refused to leave the pitch. The good news is that the referee refused to carry on. That might be easier to do at club level and it should be hugely applauded. But at a lower level, where there is a lot of pressure from parents and the children themselves who want to play, we should not be asking the children, “Are you okay to play on?”.

I have had a lot of help with preparing for this debate. The RFU has showed me a lot of information. Rupert Moon, a great Welsh rugby player and also a friend of mine, put me in touch with a lot of professional people within the sport who are trying to filter the information down. But we have to do so much more than we currently do. We have to recognise that, while there are many stories about rugby, the problem is about so much more than rugby. Yesterday, in the New York Times, there was a story about a young man, a 29 year-old former soccer player who died from chronic traumatic encephalopathy. He is the first named player to have died from this condition. On a four-point scale of severity he was considered to be at stage 2.

Part of all this is education and getting people to think about the issue, no matter whether it is lacrosse, hockey or any other sport we can think of. We also have to recognise that sport is dangerous. There were a number of concussion injuries during the recent Winter Olympics, while Maria Komissarova was injured during ski cross training. She has undergone a number of operations on her spine. My own husband broke his back cycling, and indeed many of my friends are in wheelchairs due to playing sport. I have twice been hit by cars while out training. By the end of my career I also knew that, despite all the benefits of doing sport, I would probably end up with some severe damage to my back, neck and shoulders, which has happened. But I still believe that the benefits far outweigh the risks.

I was trying to find some kind of context for this. Stories about sports injuries will obviously hit the headlines in lots of media outlets, but it is a question of trying to figure out what the comparable data are. Statistics from Headway using data extracted from the NHS show some massive figures for head injuries. During 2011-12, 213,752 people were admitted to hospital. There has been a 33% increase in UK head injuries over the past decade. The number of severe traumatic brain injuries is running at between 10,000 and 20,000 per year in the UK. Interestingly, men are twice as likely to sustain a brain injury as women, and if we look at the target groups, it is 15 to 24 year-old males and people aged over 80. Those figures are important in terms of putting the issue in context and showing how many people are injured. However, it is hard to find data for the UK, so measuring data is an area in which we need to do more work.

Mortality rates due to blunt trauma in the USA among athletes aged under 21 in organised high-school and collegiate sport show that there were 261 trauma-related deaths, 1,139 cardiovascular deaths and 427 deaths from other causes. If those numbers are broken down by sport, American football is responsible for 56.7%, track and field 10%, baseball 6.9% and then gymnastics at 1%, hockey at 1% and weightlifting at 0.4%. The average number of deaths per year is nine. Again, comparing these figures against deaths in the general population, some 12,000 are killed in road traffic collisions, there are 6,000 homicides, 2,500 young people die of cancer and, bizarrely, 50 are killed in lightning-related incidents, which is interesting. That is why we need some context in the UK.

I am also very conscious as a mum whose daughter plays a lot of sport that the temptation is to stand on the sidelines and say, “Come on, you are all right”. My daughter has never hit her head playing sport, but when they skid across the hockey pitch one says, “Come on, darling. Give it a bit of a rub and you’ll be okay. Get back out there”. That is because there is pressure on people to carry on playing, and that is much more the case for boys. We have a culture where it is cool to be a sporty boy but not so cool to be a sporty girl. I think that that kind of pressure on boys is huge.

I have received some interesting information from a colleague of mine, David Sutton, who is the strength and conditioning coach at Northants Cricket. He has worked in numerous sports. He sent me some information on fencing, which I had never considered to be a sport where there was a risk of traumatic head injuries. What is looked for is the natural position of the arms following concussion. Immediately after moderate forces have been applied to the brainstem, the forearms are held flexed or extended, typically in the air, for a period lasting up to a few seconds. It is interesting that there is a lot of work in this area through fencing. David Sutton said that this ultimately comes down to three simple things. We need to educate our PE teachers and coaches. We need to be unafraid of running a SCAT score in order to check whether a young person has been injured. It is not enough just to say, “Are you okay?”. We also need much more training through accident and emergency departments and GP surgeries so that health workers understand the realities of concussion.

I am really pleased that we are discussing this subject in a debate and I hope that we will return to it again in the future.

My Lords, first, I thank my noble friend Lord Addington for initiating this important debate. I must say at the beginning that I am speaking on this issue while being aware that there are noble Lords here who have far more experience and understanding of the subject than me. I wanted to speak in the debate for a number of reasons, which will become apparent in the next few minutes. I am a former teacher, and the importance of sport in general, and team sports in particular, is there for all to see. I do not need to catalogue the details of that importance. We are becoming an increasingly sports-mad nation, with more and more people participating in sport in so many different disciplines.

Every parent wants to know that their child is as safe they possibly can be, whatever sport they take part in. Parents want to know that their child has the right and suitable advice, equipment and medical support if something goes wrong. Of course, accidents do happen, and I am mindful of that myself. Having taken up skiing late in life, I was standing at the side admiring the view, completely out of anybody’s way, when a snowboarder hurtled towards me. The next thing I knew I had broken my tibia and torn my cruciate ligament. I had to be rushed off to hospital through no fault of my own. These things do happen.

In contact sports, the problem of concussion must be taken seriously. A cursory browse through the newspaper headlines shows what a real issue it has become: “Brain Damage Fear Hits Junior American Football”; “Concern over the Effects of Heavy Knocks to the Brain is Rising among Contact Sports”; “Rugby Union Doctor Warns of Legal Cases over Brain Damage”; “Concussion is a Massive Problem for Rugby, Says Players’ Union Manager” and so on.

I have been rather disappointed by Answers to some Questions in the other place. Jim Shannon asked the Secretary of State for Health,

“what recent discussions his Department has had with the Rugby Football Union regarding the problem of concussion in that sport”.

The Reply was that there had been,

“no discussions with the Rugby Football Union regarding the problem of concussion in the sport”.—[Official Report, Commons, 27/1/14; col. 435W.]

Sir Bob Russell asked the Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport what advice players were receiving regarding head injuries and was told:

“It is a matter for National Governing Bodies”.—[Official Report, Commons, 20/11/13; col. 921W.]

I do not think it is a matter just for the governing bodies of those sports. We should not think is somebody else’s problem—it is an issue for all of us. I think that all of us would expect that the Government take these issues seriously and work with the national bodies and relevant partners to see what can be done.

One of the delightful—or less delightful—things about debates is that you have to do some research. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, mentioned Ben Robinson, who I did not know about until I did some research. I was saddened by the case of this lad who suffered a double concussion and died while playing a sport that he loved but, as in so many other cases like this, the parents immediately took up the issue, and a campaign was started. There was a meeting with the Scottish Government, there are leaflets available on what can be done and the message was developed, “If in doubt, sit them out,” which has been taken up by American football authorities. Out of this personal tragedy, a really important campaign has started. In my own city, a young boy called Oliver King died while swimming due to sudden arrhythmic death syndrome. He was 12 years old. As a result of that terrible tragedy, his father set up the Oliver King Foundation, which campaigns for defibrillators to be placed in every school. I am pleased to say that the Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Nash, is going to meet with the parents in the next few weeks. Again, some good has come out of a tragic sporting death.

It is not just a matter for sporting authorities. What should we do? First, we should not assign contact sports some sort of pariah status, but nor should we pretend that there is not a problem. We should not believe that there are quick and easy answers, such as a mandatory three-week rest that will solve the problems. Nor should we believe that we can spend 15 minutes looking at a cut as a result of a contact sport, but only a few minutes if there is concussion.

After doing the research, the person who best summed up for me what our attitude should be is the rugby player Dean Ryan, and I will leave his thoughts with you. My noble friend Lord Addington will know that Dean Ryan had six caps for England and is currently director of rugby at Worcester Warriors. Bizarrely, he was concussed not while playing rugby but in the victory celebrations after winning a match when somebody, in moment of hilarity, actually hit him. Examination showed that he had a large bruise on the side of his head. As he said in a newspaper article:

“The rule then was that concussion brought a mandatory three-week rest from the game, hence me missing that final league game at which the cup was presented”.

He had to give up the sport, as he started having 20 to 30 seizures per month and so on. I think that what he says is very telling and sums up my thoughts:

“To rid ourselves of the effects of a poisoned history and the macho culture which still pervades the issue of concussion, players have to believe in the guidance they are getting and this is where my frustrations lie. The game, the professional game, isn’t getting it. I’ve been to recent conferences on the subject hoping to learn the way forward, but instead came away with yet more conflicting views and argument. What the professional game needs is to be told what it must do. It must be authoritative and convincing. And until it gets that guidance there is little chance of persuading players that there is a way forward; that they can stop running away from the doctor, that they can stop hiding behind a wall of lies which prevents appropriate and sensitive treatment”.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for this debate. After listening to all the previous speakers, there is not much left to say. That is a good job because I have just been told that I have two minutes. Despite that, I am undaunted.

The purpose of this debate is to show that we are living in changing times. Only days ago, we were being thrilled by the Olympics and seeing people whizzing down slippery slopes on trays and so forth—all potentially lethal. At the weekend we saw the England and Wales rugby; if ever there was a clash of titans, that was it. In past times we would have accepted the odd bang or fall and expected play to resume fairly quickly. However, these are new times. The recent medical evidence has brought with it a far more cautious approach. The long-term effects cannot be ignored. In fact, the medical evidence has already affected the views of parents and participants in a whole range of sports. Rugby union, as has been said, is under more scrutiny than ever. It is now apparent that parents are refusing to allow their children to play that sport, which is something we all ought to be concerned about.

All sports played at either a competitive or non-competitive level share the possibility of injury. However, life is strange, and it is not only contact sports which have become the focus of public attention and apprehension. Three weeks ago, I went to the ballet at the Royal Opera House. Before it began, the house manager came forward and said that two of the dancers had collided at the matinee that day and had mild concussion. Previously, there would not have been an issue, but the manager said that he was very sorry but they were unable to dance tonight and the ballet was cancelled. In the old days, it would have been on with the show.

We have to be very careful now. This is a game-changing period. We cannot ignore advice, and we have to be sensible. The Government must take their responsibilities keenly. We do not want to spoil or lose the beauty and wonder of our sport, but we must ensure that people taking part are fully protected. I look forward to the Minister’s reply.

My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Addington, for tabling the debate today. As a couple of other noble Lords have admitted, I also have to admit that this is not an issue that I knew a great deal about prior to this debate but, now that I have looked into it, I agree with him that this is a serious problem. I very much look forward to hearing from the Minister about how the Government are acting to address the issue.

As the noble Lord has pointed out, growing awareness has occurred because of very sad deaths, particularly among several young people. It is particularly sad when that happens on a school playing field, where pupils ought to be properly supervised and protected by the highest standards of safety protocols. Parents should be able to feel assured that their children are being looked after in that context.

However, there is also growing awareness of the more insidious and widespread threat of longer-term damage for those who play sports, particularly professional sports on a regular basis. It is becoming increasingly clear that a number of sports players who have suffered concussion on a repeated basis are suffering from dementia and other longer-term brain issues. That is obviously a particular cause for concern. While it might not be possible to eradicate the danger completely, we owe it to amateur and professional sports men and women to invest in research to understand the dangers better; to provide rules for safe play; to ensure that staff are educated in diagnosis and response; and to ensure that there are strict regulations regarding return to play.

What does this mean in practice? First, we should welcome the latest Zurich consensus statement on concussion, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, which provides a well informed and practical set of recommendations for those involved in the healthcare of sports men and women. Their advice provides diagnostic tools about what should happen should concussion be suspected, and emphasises the importance of standard emergency management procedures to ascertain the extent of the injury.

Importantly, the advice recommends that it should never be permitted for a player to return to play on a day where concussion is suspected, not least because, even if they get up and say, “I feel all right”, or if their mum and dad say, “Come along, pull yourself together and get back on the field”, there may be post-injury damage that is not immediately apparent. This is a particular challenge in high-level high-contact games such as rugby and football, where both the player and the medical team may be keen to downplay the injury and allow the player back on the field. However, as evidence grows of the longer-term health risks, it becomes more apparent that we need strict enforcement of the rules on the principle about returning to play.

The guidance that I have just referred to also makes it clear that any return to play should be on a graduated basis—over a period of a week is recommended—while tests continue. Again we need to ensure that this approach becomes standard practice. I would be grateful if the Minister would confirm whether his department is taking on board the Zurich conference recommendations and what discussions are being held with the Department of Health to ensure that health professionals are more aware of the dangers of this type of sporting injury and understand the signs that they should look for.

Secondly, we need a clear set of rules specific to children and adolescents, recognising the particular health dangers for this group whose brains can swell uncontrollably after a single bang on the head. All schools need to be aware of the dangers and the steps that need to be followed immediately an injury is suspected. Every PE teacher should be trained in the assessment procedures, and should be expected to carry a card that lists the nine red-flag symptoms that warrant urgent action. Parents and governors should be expected to check that the necessary staff training and awareness has taken place and should have a system for monitoring the responses to sporting accidents, as well as rules for rest, rehabilitation, and return to play. I agree with many of the points about the improvements in school procedures made by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson. Will the Minister give details of any discussions held between his department and the Department for Education about the need to raise standards of care in sporting accidents, specifically on school premises?

Thirdly, at the professional end of sports, all players and coaches should be trained to understand the dangers of concussion and its diagnosis. This should follow the initiative already taken by the rugby union, to which the noble Lord, Lord Addington, referred, and should extend to other sports. This is increasingly necessary in the light of the rising number of concussions that have been recorded per 1,000 hours of play since 2011. Andy Hazell, who was forced to retire from England rugby after failing to recover from a concussion injury, rightly made this point, which was echoed by the noble Lord:

“Players are getting bigger and faster, and the collisions are getting a lot bigger”,

so the challenges in this particular sport remain high. It is not just rugby union, though; concussion remains the most common injury in premiership football. Training and awareness for both players and coaches across all sports have to be key to improving safety, so will the Minister give details of discussions held with the governing bodies to roll out a programme of training for players and coaches across the spectrum for all sports?

Lastly, there needs to be a review of what further preventive measures can be undertaken. It is not good enough to say that these games are inherently dangerous and that this is the nature of the sport. Where changes can be made to the rules to protect players from dangerous practices, they should be introduced. Most sporting rules are not set in stone; they are constantly being reviewed and updated by their governing bodies. For example, rugby union rules have been regularly updated to provide greater protection for individual players without taking away any excitement of the game, and that can be done across the board in other sports. We should be asking all sports bodies to review their rules to see what further steps can be taken to limit impact on the head, and what penalties should be introduced against those who flout the rules.

We should also be encouraging more research into helmets and other head protection to ensure that the best possible guards are available and permitted in the games. Will the Minister reassure us that dialogue is continuing with sports bodies to encourage research into safety equipment and to develop safer rules of play? Will he give serious consideration to the proposal of the noble Lord, Lord Moynihan, for a meeting to discuss the establishment of a national research centre? I thought that he made the case very well in his contribution.

The solution to many of the problems that we debate in this House is better liaison between departments and more joint working, and that is certainly true in this debate. The solutions lie in better education, better awareness among heath professionals and more responsible sports governing bodies. I hope that the Minister is able to persuade us that he is taking all these issues on board, and I look forward to hearing what the department is doing to liaise effectively and improve performance on this important issue.

My Lords, I, too, congratulate my noble friend on securing this debate on such an important subject. I thank noble Lords for this illuminating debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, and my noble friend Lord Storey acknowledged at the outset of their speeches, participating in sports greatly benefits individuals and society, but we must ensure that risks are minimised and that appropriate medical treatment is available to all.

Any head injury sustained on the sports field must be treated seriously. Instances of serious injury are, thankfully, low, with many patients recovering fully without special intervention. However, a minority experience complications that must be minimised or avoided with early detection and appropriate action. The noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, spoke movingly about the tragic death of Ben Robinson and about his brave parents.

Instances of concussion are undoubtedly of concern to governing bodies. From what I have seen, I believe that they take this matter increasingly seriously, and responsibly. The Football Association and other sports with experience of head injuries, such as rugby, American football and ice hockey, are working together to establish appropriate internal guidance. This point was raised by my noble friend Lord Addington. The equestrian community, to which my noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Moynihan referred, is very much at the forefront of this. We need to ensure that the experiences of the equestrian world are incorporated into what other sports are doing.

The FA rules on head injuries are extensive but, in essence, a player suffering a head injury must leave the field of play and may then return only if he is given medical clearance to do so. My noble friend Lord Addington referred to the amateur and community level of sport—what I would call the grass-roots end of the game—where a medic may not be present. There, the default guidance to all affiliated clubs in the FA is that the player cannot resume play, and the reintroduction of the player to football in the following weeks should be tightly controlled. The FA emergency aid certificate provides club representatives and volunteers with crucial skills and gives prominence to head injuries and concussion.

As the leading body on concussion management in sport, the Rugby Football Union works proactively with the International Rugby Board and independent experts to raise awareness, stay at the forefront of research and promote best practice, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred. My noble friend Lord Moynihan mentioned the importance of global exchanges of experience. I have the leaflet produced in Scotland and supported by Scottish Rugby, the Scottish FA and sportscotland, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, referred, entitled, If In Doubt, Sit Them Out. Rugby has taken specific steps to reduce risk in the game and these messages are being cascaded to clubs.

My noble friend Lord Storey referred to the “Don’t be a HEADCASE” initiative, which educates players and coaches—it is very important to mention coaches as well—below professional level to recognise and remove players with concussion. Some 200,000 concussion awareness cards have been distributed, and posters have been sent to every member club and newsletters to every member school. The “HEADCASE” website has also been adopted by the Medical Officers of Schools Association. The RFU’s first-aid course for volunteers, coaches and officials also gives prominence to concussion. Its pitch-side immediate trauma care course for healthcare professionals also includes specific concussion training.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, rightly raised the important issue of safety within schools. Many young people engage in sport at school. Indeed, the Department for Education expects schools to provide a safe environment for their pupils and they must ensure that their training includes child safety and well-being. There is, of course, also the DfE advice on health and safety. Indeed, the Association for Physical Education and the Royal Society for the Prevention of Accidents provide professional advice to schools on how to manage activities safely and reduce the risk of injuries. My noble friends Lord Addington and Lord Storey mentioned that advice.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, rightly referred to the need for dialogue. DCMS Ministers meet DfE Ministers monthly as part of the ministerial board on PE and sport. The board also includes external partners, such as the Association for PE, that play a lead role in health and safety in PE lessons. The departments continue to work together to ensure that schools have the necessary resources to deliver high-quality PE and sport, including through professional external partners such as the Association for PE, and provide guidance and advice on ensuring the safety and well-being of their pupils when playing sport. The Association for PE guidance on safe practice in physical education and sport is available online through the Department for Education. This comprehensive guide provides examples of issues that schools should consider in risk management for school sport, and advice on managing and applying safe practice.

All sports governing bodies working with schools should ensure that participation takes place in a safe environment. All national governing body coaches working in schools should obtain the level 2 coaching standard, which includes basic first-aid skills as a minimum requirement. Indeed, as part of the school games initiative, in which around 17,000 schools take part, national governing bodies have developed competition formats designed to ensure that schools can provide safe, meaningful and appropriate competition to all pupils regardless of age, ability or disability. As to guidance on sports-related concussion, the national governing bodies and schools do good work in disseminating advice to prevent injury and improve pitch-side care. However, it is clear from the examples given today that undoubtedly more needs to be done.

At an international level, my noble friend Lord Moynihan and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, referred to the Zurich consensus of 2012. I am pleased to acknowledge and endorse what the noble Baroness said about the welcome for this statement, which of course forms part of the learning that is increasingly being developed in the area of head injury. This outlines that when an individual shows any symptoms of concussion they must either be assessed on site by a licensed healthcare provider using standard emergency management principles or be safely removed from practise or play for urgent referral to a physician. The statement also highlights that a player with diagnosed concussion should not be allowed to return to play on the day of injury; that sufficient time and adequate facilities should be provided for the appropriate medical assessment, both on and off the field; and that the final determination regarding a diagnosis of fitness to play should be a medical decision.

Standards in sport and exercise medicine are set and maintained by the Faculty of Sport and Exercise Medicine, a faculty of the Royal College of Surgeons and the Royal College of Physicians. The faculty works to develop and promote the medical specialty of sport and exercise medicine, and oversees the training and assessment of doctors working in this discipline. In November last year, the faculty outlined key messages of concussion management in sport at all sporting events for athletes of all ages.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about advice to health professionals. The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence, established by the Government to provide evidence-based clinical advice, issued updated guidance last month to support clinicians on the diagnosis and treatment of head injuries, including concussion. The faculty helped to develop this guidance.

The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked about the rules for children and adolescents in these matters. The recent clinical guidance, CG176, is on the Triage, assessment, investigation and early management of head injury in infants, children and adults. So the guidance refers to it all.

My noble friend Lord Moynihan raised the issue of a research centre. The Department of Health’s National Institute for Health Research is supporting a research project in Birmingham that is looking at the effects of repetitive concussion on athletes from sports such as rugby, football, cycling and gymnastics. The institute has awarded a research professorship to Peter Hutchinson at the University of Cambridge to study head injury. The institute at the moment has an annual budget of over £1 billion and I hope that this will be an important resource. I shall of course be pleased to have a meeting with my noble friend to discuss his proposal and see how best we can all help on these important matters.

There is so much more to say. The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, mentioned guidance. A lot of this further public awareness, which is so important, is on the NHS Choices website.

Concussion is one of the most complex injuries to assess, diagnose and manage. Clinicians will make a diagnosis on a case-by-case basis, using their training and clinical judgment, and take into account the individual circumstances of each case. Much has been said in this debate. If there are any outstanding points that I have not raised, I will write to your Lordships. It is important to say that I have consulted officials from all three departments in preparation for this debate. It is clear that all three are working together. UK Sport, as part of DCMS, is working with the governing bodies. The system is working, but I think we can always work better. It is important that individuals engaged in sport, which is such a force for good and benefits society so much, are safe and secure. We must make sure that participation is in the right environment and that, in the event of injuries, all steps are taken to secure a full recovery.

Young People: Suicide

Question for Short Debate

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking to reduce the levels of suicide among young people in the United Kingdom.

My Lords, each year in the United Kingdom, between 600 and 800 young people aged 15 to 24 take their own lives. Under the age of 35, the number rises to more than 1,700. In England and Wales, around 24,000 attempted suicides are made by 10 to 19 year-olds. To put this in another way, as appeared recently in the national press, that represents one every 20 minutes.

In Northern Ireland, since the signing of the Belfast agreement, the number of suicides almost equals the number of killings during the years of our Troubles. Professor Tomlinson of Queen’s University has concluded that the steep increase in the Province’s suicide figures is accounted for in part by those who lived through the Troubles as children in the 1970s—some of the worst years of our violence.

These are truly shocking figures. The statistics from across the United Kingdom are the reason for my Question to the Government this evening. Last week’s release of the latest UK suicide statistics shows a welcome decrease in the number of young people under the age of 35 who took their own lives during 2012 compared with the previous year: 1,625 compared with 1,746 in 2011. This fact is welcomed by the many charities that do such valuable work among young people. I will quote the words of the chief executive of one of those charities, PAPYRUS Prevention of Young Suicide. He said:

“While we welcome this downward trend, suicide remains the highest cause of death for men and women in the 15 to 34 age group in England and Wales.”

Taken against the figures for suicide in the United Kingdom as a whole across all age groups, it might seem as if I am asking noble Lords to consider a small proportion of this tragic problem. However, any of us here or further afield who in our professional lives have seen first-hand the emotions of parents and families where a young person has succeeded in taking their own life, or indeed attempted to do so, have little doubt of the impact on family life and community reaction.

So what are we talking about in this debate? A future of possibilities, a lifetime of promise and usefulness cut short; shattered hopes unfulfilled; hopes never realised. There are the inevitable questions, none of which have easy answers: why, how, and could it have been prevented? Then there is the agony of parents—“Where did we go wrong?”. Much research over the years has been devoted to seeking answers to those questions. That research has produced a complex and at times contradictory picture. It has spoken of broken homes and family relationships, drug and alcohol abuse, mental and emotional conditions, bullying, the influence of the social network on vulnerable lives, and the impact of certain aspects of television and some films that seem to cheapen the gift of life and paint a picture of the glorification of self-inflicted sacrifice of life.

However, a single fact emerges: each case represents individual circumstances and needs. Therein, I suggest, lies the problem, not just for government but for society. Prevention calls for a multifaceted and multidimensional approach. It calls for many disciplines to work in collaboration—social services, the medical profession, charities and the churches, to name but a few—and for a sharing of information. However, research is expensive, and in today’s economic climate many charities ask about government priorities in this field.

The recently published Preventing Suicide in England: One Year On was the first annual report on the cross-government outcomes strategy to save lives. Of the regions of the UK, Scotland, with its “Choose Life” campaign, was well resourced and had a clear implementation strategy, with a 20% target to reduce the rate of suicide. In Northern Ireland, some £7 million is allocated annually to suicide prevention, but here in England there is concern on the part of charities when comparisons are made with Scotland and Northern Ireland. PAPYRUS claims that had there been as clear a strategy and sense of purpose as in Scotland, probably 814 lives could have been saved. There is a genuine feeling that the Government have not granted new resources to deliver their strategy and have failed to present a clear implementation strategy. That may be the view of one charity, but I found that it is shared by others. Equally, there is a growing concern that in various parts of the country children and adolescent mental health services are seriously underresourced to meet the growing demands on their services.

I could point to many more aspects of this tragic scene but time permits me to mention only two. First, how accurate is the picture we have of the enormity of this problem? In a coroner’s court, a suicide verdict cannot be given for those under 10 years of age. That means that many of the figures published tell only part of the tragedy. Equally, how can we gain an accurate figure of those children attempting suicide or inflicting self-harm?

There is one option that I suggest could be followed and would be welcomed. There is an urgent need to change the burden of proof used by coroners to reach a suicide conclusion. The continued use of the criminal standard of proof is surely unacceptable in this day and age. It contributes immensely to what so many of us refer to as the stigma surrounding suicide—a stigma that a lot of us feel inhibits many from seeking help.

I will end on a positive note. There has been a general welcome for the support of the Department of Health and the Royal Colleges for the sharing of information in a suicidal crisis. However sensitive though the issue may be—and I fully accept the sensitivities of patient confidentiality—many support the words of the chief executive of PAPYRUS:

“The duty of patient confidentiality should not be allowed to outweigh the chance of saving someone’s life”.

I hope that this debate, short though it is, will give the Minister ample opportunity to reflect on some of the challenges that we know are there in everyday life across the UK, and to put on record the Government’s reaction.

My Lords, I warmly congratulate the noble and right reverend Lord on securing this debate on a critical and all too often overlooked subject. It is a source of huge pain for all those concerned, not just from the loss of life but for the family, friends and community in which the individual lived. A traumatic, violent death is bad, but when it is self-inflicted it is hugely confusing.

Of course, suicide is historically fraught with stigma—not least, I do not need to tell the noble and right reverend Lord, in the church. Some 20 years ago, when I had to formulate the “Health of the Nation” strategy, there were five areas where we wanted to see improvement, which the health service or government departments could not deliver but which required the co-operation of the community and the charities. Under mental health, my targets in 1992 were indeed reducing the overall suicide rate by at least 15% by 2000 and reducing the suicide rate of severely mentally ill people by at least 33% by then. However much prejudice there was against mentally ill patients at that time, the greatest danger that they posed was to themselves, and the rate of those officially receiving mental health care was appalling.

I do not want to encroach on the area of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, but in today’s environment the terrible loss of life in young offender institutions is of great concern, as is the extraordinary influence of the internet, which in one way can be a source of befriending those at risk of suicide but, it seems, has somehow been distorted, misused and abused to actually precipitate suicide events. It is my view that, rather like when the Member of Parliament for Worthing was very preoccupied with reducing road accidents, there was a time when more young people lost their lives in road traffic accidents. Now, of course, the figure for suicide is higher, and has been for some time.

A campaign to tackle that could not be done just by allocating money. I fall out with the noble and right reverend Lord for simply thinking that charities need more money so that they can abuse the Government further for not giving them more money. The answer here is more subtle and requires broad ownership.

In the voluntary sector I want to commend Cruse Bereavement Care, of which I am a patron. It provides support for those whose relations and friends have taken their own lives. As the noble and right reverend Lord touched on, the result is intense anger—how could the individual have done it?—shame and isolation. You can tell somebody that your relation died of cancer, but it is still very difficult to say it of suicide. There is guilt—what more could we have done? There is confusion—why?—and endless reproach. It is very hard to achieve a sense of peace when a close relation has taken their own life. As we know, there are all too many in our parliamentary family whose children have done that.

The parents of Charlie Waller set up a wonderful charity when their son took his life in 1998. It works with health, education and the private sector on tackling depression and giving practical advice to people whose children and friends might be thinking of suicide. These people might think, “If I mention suicide, will the individual go over the top and take their own life?”. Many people are uncertain what the toolbox is. Traditionally GPs were particularly poorly equipped in mental health skills, but they are improving.

I congratulate the Government very warmly. I have looked closely at the suicide prevention strategy. I think it is a tremendous step forward. It is in the context of the “No health without mental health” keystone of government policy in relation to health. I am not sure it is just a question of more money. I am sure that it is constantly reminding us that this is a critical issue, a serious threat to life that people should not be afraid to discuss and draw to other people’s attention. For that, again, I praise the noble and right reverend Lord.

My Lords, I apologise for arriving late. If it is the Minister’s feeling that I should not continue, having missed a very large part of the opening speech, which I bitterly regret, I will sit down.

It is the normal convention to hear the person who is moving the Motion, so I think my noble friend knows my advice in the matter. It is really a matter for her to consider.

I will go on. I will focus on suicide among young people in the criminal justice system. They are the most disadvantaged and damaged in our society, with enormous mental health needs while being in the care of the state—our care. We lack adequate skills to recognise and understand the degree of the vulnerability of many of these young people, with the result that, since 2000, 282 children and young people have committed suicide while in custody. Untold numbers of others have tried but did not succeed.

One example is that of a 19-year-old girl with no previous convictions and a long history of self-harm who set fire to her mattress as an act of self-harm and was remanded in custody for arson with intent to endanger life—her own. She was recognised as having a personality disorder but could not be sectioned because she was deemed to be untreatable, so she continued to self-harm until she strangled herself to death. Meanwhile, her twin sister, also a self-harmer, found appropriate support in a therapeutic community.

Prison staff greatly need training and skills to understand better the needs of this very vulnerable group, but so do the Government, as their plans demonstrate. Hence, although restraint is now understood to be hugely distressing for these children, future plans, under the new Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, will allow restraint to be used by prison officers if their orders are not followed. Places at secure children’s homes—the one source of real security—are now going to be reduced by 17%, and fortified schools will cater for children who offend. A huge secure training college taking 320 young offenders—the antithesis of what these children need—is being planned. Young people over the age of 18, who are indeed just as needy and immature, will be left only the option of prison. Vulnerability is an explicit element in remand decisions in the court but not, amazingly, when it comes to sentencing, apart from mitigation if imprisonment is being considered. Crucially, sentencers too must be made more aware of what provision is locally available to them and what is appropriate for children in such desperate straits.

I am delighted that there is going to be an independent review into deaths in custody, chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey. It must include children as well as those over 18 if they are to have a chance. Children’s lives depend on our getting plans for them right. Prison is for the most violent, dangerous and prolific offenders in society, not vulnerable children who are at risk of taking their own lives.

My Lords, I congratulate my noble and right reverend friend Lord Eames on obtaining this debate. As was forecast by the noble Baroness, Lady Bottomley of Nettlestone, and as the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has done, I shall focus on young people in custody. I am conscious that what I am going to say may not strictly be the province of the Minister, but I hope very much that in the context of this important debate he may relay some of what I am going to say to his colleagues in the Ministry of Justice.

In 2012 I launched a report by the Prison Reform Trust and the charity INQUEST, titled Fatally Flawed: Has the State Learned Lessons from the Deaths of Children and Young People in Prison? The answer to that question was clearly no. Of the figures that my noble friend gave, 46 of this age group died in custody by their own hand between January 2011 and January this year. This report showed that there is commonality between the children who had committed suicide. They all had multiple disadvantages: substance abuse, mental health difficulties, learning disabilities, ADHD, special educational needs and personality and conduct disorders, plus all the other neglect.

Added to that, one has to remember that the adolescent brain has not fully formed at this stage, and cognitive behaviour and the development process are not completed until, possibly, the mid-20s. Therefore the problems that young people face are first, acute, and secondly, different from those of adults.

Last week the Youth Justice Board published the report Deaths of Children in Custody: Action Taken, Lessons Learnt. This was the result of long analysis, and it included the conclusion that the Youth Justice Board must work with providers of custody to enable them better to understand how to support children who are at risk of being suicidal or self-harming. There are other factors in this, but the clear finding was that there were common features in all the reports on all the suicides of this group, which surely gave an opportunity to identify common solutions.

Having called for an independent review and having had that call rejected by the Ministry of Justice, when I raised a Question about this three weeks ago I was disturbed to hear that the review to be carried out by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, will not include children. This was also mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater. Well, why on earth will children not be included? The factors include, inadequacy of management in the custodial centres, inadequacy of staff training, multi-agency failure in communicating individual vulnerabilities and needs, and failure to listen to children. There is also failure to circulate and implement recommendations which have been laid down in countless reports by the ombudsman and others, and recommendations made by coroners in inquests under Rule 43 of the Coroners’ Rules.

The Ministry of Justice’s reasons for rejecting the report were that, instead, it would have internal reviews by Ministry of Justice agencies; it would have discreet specialist reports into such things as the use of force; it would have better publication of information; and it would try to expand the scope of the law governing inquests. That has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this debate, which is the prevention of children committing suicide, particularly in custody. I therefore ask the Minister to do all that he can to persuade his colleagues to include children in the review by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, so that, among other things, it can include the Youth Justice Board report which contains many of the factors that it will need to carry for a slightly younger part of the same age group.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, for initiating this debate.

The Association for Young People’s Health recently published its key data on adolescence. At present, the statistics show that the levels of self-harm are relatively stable, although for such a sensitive topic there is likely to be low reporting. It is clear that girls are at least three times more likely to self-harm than boys; on the other hand, suicide is much more prevalent among young males, particularly those aged between 20 and 24. This coincides with the evidence from ChildLine. Numbers have fallen fractionally in more recent years but the report questions whether this will continue.

How this correlates with child well-being needs careful consideration. We all remember the United Nations report about the unhappiness of children in this country. ChildLine reports that the number of children contacting it about suicidal feelings has risen for the third year running, including a rise of 33% in the last year. Overall, child well-being in the UK, according to the United Nations, has improved from 21st out of 21 to 16th out of 29 countries. Economic reasons have been stated and there is much correlation with the commentary from the Association for Young People’s Health.

Clearly the motives towards suicide are varied but the underlining factor seems to be lack of self-worth. This is underlined by the evidence of high rates among minority groups. I shall say a word about that later. Whether or not bullying is a component, although often it is, the social isolation and lack of affirmation which these young people feel are key components. It is both encouraging and concerning that more young people are contacting ChildLine about this. Obviously it is good that they are communicating, but bad because they say that when they have rung up other places or have been online, they have not really felt the understanding or acceptance that they were hoping for. All this shows that we, as a society, may not be providing sufficient support in the early days when these young people’s foundations in relational networks are initially developed.

I have time to mention two particular topics in relation to this. First, bullying is often directed at those who are different and it is well known that disability frequently gives rise to despicable behaviour in others. This is starting to appear insidiously in the area of assisted suicide. Recently a young man in Northern Ireland telephoned a radio phone-in to complain that since the increasing coverage of assisted suicide cases, he had noticed a change in people’s attitudes towards his own motor neurone disease, that he was being asked with increasing regularly if he had considered suicide. This shows, if nothing else, that the messages we give young people about their self-worth and their dignity as human beings are crucial.

Secondly, on asylum seekers and refugees, many children from these groups suffer high levels of mental health issues, which is unsurprising given that many of them have experienced hugely traumatic events. Add to this their poverty, homelessness, practical and emotional insecurity, let alone the hostility from the natives, it is not surprising that levels of well-being and self-worth are significantly diminished.

The conclusion of all this is that a society will be judged on how it treats its most vulnerable members, a matter over which all of us have deep concerns. Let us at least seek and do all we can to make sure that those who are struggling, or who are different, do not go on falling through these gaps.

My Lords, I, too, thank the noble and right reverend Lord for obtaining this valuable debate. I also declare an interest, of which I am very proud, as chairman of the advisory board for the Samaritans. I want to talk about how both government and the private sector are working to try to reduce levels of suicide. I will focus upon the internet and the need for free phone numbers to break down access to help and support, particularly among young people.

There has been considerable debate in recent weeks about the influence of the internet and social networking sites on young people vulnerable to suicide. The truth is, it is much more difficult to reduce access to potentially harmful information when it is online. The Samaritans has been focusing on this for a number of years, and its experience shows that the most effective approach is to both expand the sources of support to vulnerable people online and also to encourage organisations which run highly popular sites to develop responsible practices and to promote sources of support.

In pursuing this approach, the Samaritans have worked in partnership with major companies to develop practical initiatives to support people at risk of suicide online. In November 2010, an initiative was launched in partnership with Google which adds a new feature to search results. The Samaritans helpline number and a highly visible telephone icon is now displayed above normal Google search results when people in the UK use a number of search terms related to suicide. We have also launched a pioneering new scheme in partnership with Facebook which allows the 30 million Facebook users in the UK to get help for a friend they believe is struggling to cope or feeling suicidal. People who are concerned about a friend on Facebook can report suicidal content such as status updates or wall posts through the help centre page on the website. The distressed person then receives an email from the Samaritans offering to open a line of communication with a volunteer so that they can access our services.

We also expect organisations that run these websites, such as social networking sites and online news media outlets to take action to reduce the availability of harmful content hosted on their sites. As part of the Samaritans media monitoring work, we contact newspaper staff directly to suggest amendments to the online version of articles with potentially harmful content.

One of the main difficulties in reducing the risk of suicide online is that the current research on the internet and suicide is extremely limited. The Samaritans are therefore working on new research in partnership with the University of Bristol, funded, I am pleased to say, by the Department of Health’s policy research programme on how people with suicidal feelings use the internet and the impact that this has on suicidal behaviour. We are hopeful that this research will provide new evidence to help to inform policy and best practice.

However, an important element of suicide prevention is that support is immediately available to people in distress, and that people know how to access it. The Samaritans national helpline number currently uses an 0845 prefix, which means that, while calls from landline phones are relatively inexpensive, calls from a mobile phone can cost considerably more. Several years ago, the European Commission decided that certain services of social value should have the same memorable telephone numbers in all member states, and should be free. In 2009, therefore, Ofcom awarded such a number to the Samaritans, which has since launched a successful pilot of this new free number in limited areas.

The problem is funding. At the moment, thankfully, the Big Lottery Fund is funding the rollout of the free-call service in just 10 areas, targeting those most in need of a free-to-caller service. This will allow Samaritans to understand how a free-to-caller number targeting people in socioeconomically deprived areas will change the nature, volume and pattern of calls. But the issue that Samaritans urgently needs to resolve is how to make the service financially sustainable in the long term.

Here I turn to a debate on this subject that I initiated in your Lordships’ House last July. Following that debate and the very helpful, supportive response from my noble friend the Minister, the Department of Health agreed in principle to host a round-table meeting with the telecoms industry and Ofcom to discuss how the telecoms industry and others can fund free-call for the longer term. This was discussed when the CEO of Samaritans met Norman Lamb in October and it was agreed that this meeting should take place. A suggested list of stakeholders has been submitted to the Department of Health. We understand that the meeting is still in the pipeline, but progress is slow and there is still no date for the meeting in the diary. I urge my noble friend the Minister to follow this up.

My Lords, I declare my interest as a co-chair of the bullying APPG and a patron of Red Balloon. I thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, for instigating this debate so that we can discuss the root cause of so many avoidable deaths in young people. He was quite right to quote PAPYRUS’s data on the number of attempted suicides by young people: one every 20 minutes. That is three during this short debate.

The 2012 government report Preventing Suicide in England identified nine categories needing customised care, including children, those with untreated depression, LGBT people and ethnic minority groups. Although I am pleased by the emphasis placed on children as a separate category, we do well to remember that children can fall into most of the other groups as well.

A major factor leading to suicide is bullying. It is shocking that 69% of children in the UK report being bullied. The National Centre for Social Research report on bullying showed that each year 16,000 children are out of school long-term with depression because of bullying, and that there are at least 25 confirmed suicides as a result of bullying, but there are probably many more that do not meet the criminal standard that the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, spoke of earlier.

Early intervention is vital. Most children do not suddenly decide to kill themselves. ChildLine says that there has been a,

“trend towards younger and younger children dabbling in self-harm, with a 50% increase among those aged 12 in the last year alone”.

However, even younger children are at risk. Last year nine year-old Aaron Dugmore hanged himself after being targeted by a gang of older bullies at his school simply because he was new. Ayden Keenan-Olson, aged 14, overdosed on prescription pills after homophobic and racist bullying by his classmates. He had reported up to 20 instances of bullying since joining his school but no action was taken. He eventually bypassed security settings on his computer to research suicide.

That raises the issue of online suicide forums and cyberbullying. Later this year, family-friendly content filters will be set automatically for new broadband users. However, most kids are so tech-savvy that they are able to bypass these settings in minutes. There is much more to fear from the “dark web” free of filters than from known, visible sites, so we must educate and support our young people to protect themselves.

The launch of Zipit, ChildLine’s first app for smartphones, is great news. It is packed with humorous tips for teens and advice to help them to cope with flirting and messaging, equipping them to protect themselves from online sexting, bullying and trolling. In the two months since its launch, more than 45,000 young people have signed up.

Frankly, CAMHS are struggling to deliver mental health services or reduce the number of young people killing themselves. Pressure on services can mean many months’ wait for urgent appointments, or having to travel 300 miles to get a bed in a tier 4 clinic. I heard on Monday of a child who had had to go from Birmingham to Glasgow for such a bed. I ask the Minister what is being done to speed up access to CAMHS facilities and to minimise the distances that must be travelled in instances of urgent child referrals. The coalition Government are rightly demanding parity of esteem for mental health services, but we have yet to see it happen.

I want to end on a more positive note, although it may not seem that way at the start. First Capital Connect asked to work with Red Balloon, a specialist bullying charity, after three bullied children threw themselves in front of trains. One was a 14 year-old ballerina and the second two were a young Goth couple who jumped together in front of a train. Red Balloon works with suicidal bullied children, offering intensive recovery and education support so that children can return to mainstream school and to their friends and society. However, only a handful of places are available nationally, and CAMHS beds are also limited, not to mention the constant problems around funding. My worry is this: does that reflect the value we place on these tragically short lives? Much more is needed to get early support to youngsters before depressive thoughts of death turn into the horror of young suicide, which affects family and friends for ever.

My Lords, I join others in expressing gratitude to the noble and right reverend Lord for securing a debate on this tragic and important subject. I want to highlight one particular group of young people for whom suicide and attempted suicide is a very real issue. Gay boys and girls are vulnerable because they are struggling with how to come to terms with their sexual orientation and they can face an unacceptable degree of bullying because they are different from others in their school or local community.

I am indebted to Stonewall, as is so often the case in these debates, for providing me with some deeply disturbing figures. According to a study conducted for the organisation by Cambridge University two years ago, almost one in four lesbian, gay and bisexual young people say that they have tried to take their own lives. That is a truly shocking figure when compared with the estimate of 7% of young people in the general population. The same research showed that gay young people who are bullied are tragically much more likely to take their own lives. More than seven in 10 of those who suffer homophobic bullying contemplate suicide at some point, and half of them have symptoms consistent with clinical depression. Let me put these appalling figures into the human context. The Stonewall study highlights the case of a 15 year-old boy called Rabi, who reported as follows:

“The bullying went on for the whole five years of secondary school. I tried to fight back. I was depressed. I cut myself. I was on the verge of suicide. For one year, I came home every day crying into my mum’s arms”.

Rabi was lucky enough to be given the support that helped him get through it. One young man who did not was 14 year-old Essex schoolboy, Ayden Keenan-Olson, whose case has just been highlighted by my noble friend Lady Brinton. He was found dead in his bed by his father in Colchester almost exactly a year ago. His case was highlighted by the publication Pink News, which does an excellent job of campaigning in such crucial policy areas. As my noble friend said, Ayden, who had come out to his parents just a few months before his death, left two suicide notes outlining the homophobic and racist bullying he had experienced. He had been targeted with consistent violence, abuse and malicious allegations because of his sexuality and his Japanese origins.

Although huge strides have been made in recent years in the battle for equality for gay men and women, it is a sad fact that there is still too much homophobic bullying in some schools, much of it now done through the internet, which can all too often lead to tragedy. There are too many Aydens, but there need not be. There is a great deal that schools can do to turn the tide. Much of it is set out in Stonewall’s excellent “Education for All” packs, including schools having clear and promoted policies on tackling homophobic bullying, whether it is physical bullying or cyberbullying. It makes clear that school staff should be trained to spot problems and to provide young people with information and support to keep them safe, signposting them in the direction of professional help when they need it. It means that school nurses should make clear that young people can talk to them in confidence about their sexual orientation, and be aware, too, of the particular mental health issues they may face, intervening as necessary to support them. Local health services have a role to play in working alongside schools to focus on early intervention, a subject mentioned by my noble friend Lady Brinton, which is absolutely crucial because early intervention is the sort of thing that might have saved the life of a young man like Ayden. Local health services can also help train their staff on the particular issues that young gay boys and girls might face as they struggle with their identity.

When we passed the Marriage (Same Sex Couples) Act last year, with a huge majority in this House, many may have believed that the dark shadow of inequality, prejudice and intolerance was now behind us. It is a deeply regrettable fact that in too many communities those basest of human instincts are alive and well and, as we have heard, have deadly consequences. It will take many years to tackle that, but in the meantime we can and should do a great deal more to protect those who we know are most vulnerable—young people who are struggling because they are different. Will the Minister restate the Government’s strong commitment to tackling this issue and encouraging all schools and local health services to ensure that they have the policies and procedures in place to spot trouble, intervene where they can, and provide the support that too many frightened, lonely young people desperately need?

My Lords, this has been an excellent, albeit painful, short debate, for which I, too, thank the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames. We have heard the devastating facts and figures. Each and every young life lost through suicide is a tragedy, of course, to the young person, but also, as has been said, to the family and friends who love them.

I am ashamed that in the 21st century in a wealthy developed country with so many advantages and where we know the effects of bullying behaviour, too many young people contemplate or attempt suicide, too often successfully. I recognise the strains and stresses in our society, where there is great pressure to succeed and where much is expected of individuals, but who are not always able to live up to their own expectations, let alone those of their peers or society. Feelings of inadequacy, of being different, can be made acute by the media, including social media. The report, Alone with My Thoughts, produced last year, showed that nearly one-third of young people have contemplated or attempted suicide. This is a shocking statistic that I discussed with a friend in the forest who works in mental health. She suggested that there needed to be better training for staff in schools to identify the difference between perceived lack of motivation and depression and between anxiety and apathy, and that more support was needed around low confidence and self-esteem, especially in the world of social networking, where cyberbullying is rife.

I also know from talking to students that there is a similar problem in some colleges and universities. The Government have a suicide prevention strategy which includes the development of an e-portal for children, young people and those working with them. This is welcome, but will the Minister say how he will ensure that young people and their teachers will know about it? I also wonder what training, if any, teachers have to enable them to identify those children with mental health needs or those who are being bullied. Should not all staff working with children and young people receive training in mental health, including suicide prevention training? Some excellent charities are working in this area, including YoungMinds, but they rightly say that, despite the Government’s rhetoric or good intentions, we are a long way from seeing parity between physical and mental health.

Young people’s mental health is a vital issue that must be prioritised. It is not acceptable that in 51 of England’s 58 NHS mental health trusts there were 350 under-18s admitted to adult wards in the first nine months of 2013-14. This marks a 36% increase on the previous 12 months. Will the Minister say what action the Government are taking to ensure that under-18s are not admitted inappropriately to adult psychiatric wards and that, when they are sent to young people’s units, they are not hundreds of miles from home? Young people aged 16 to 25 are going through a number of transitions. If they are in contact with mental health services, there is the additional transition from child and adolescent services to adult services. I would be grateful for an assurance that steps are being taken to ensure that adequate care and support is given at this difficult time. A difficult transition can make young people disengage with services, with the risk that their mental health problems will become entrenched and harder to treat.

The Prince’s Trust has produced an excellent report, Youth Index 2014, the message of which is clear: long-term unemployed young people are in desperate need of support. Some 40% of jobless young people say that they have faced symptoms of mental illness, including suicidal thoughts, feelings of self-loathing and panic attacks as a direct result of unemployment. I pay tribute to the extraordinary work of the Prince’s Trust, which is helping these young people, many of whom grow up in poverty and face an increased risk of mental health problems as a result. The same is said in a recent report by the Samaritans, which reports that there are systematic socioeconomic inequalities in suicide risk defined by job, class, education, income or housing. Whatever indicator is used, people in the lower positions are at a higher risk of suicide.

Some recent reports suggest that the changes the Government are making to social security, including the bedroom tax, are exacerbating or creating problems for people who are already struggling, so clearly it is important that the Government rapidly monitor the effect of the changes and take the requisite action. My friends in mental healthcare tell me that, as a consequence of the changes, the pressure on their services grows by the day with a tidal wave of referrals each week, including from young people. These people working in mental health are themselves overstretched, and they feel that no one is listening to and addressing their concerns.

The Government have a suicide prevention strategy and a mental health strategy, both of which are welcome. I look forward to hearing that they are being implemented and, most importantly, that they are adequately resourced.

My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, for raising this important issue, and for the valuable contribution made by all speakers today. The Government take the issue of suicide very seriously, and are working hard to reduce the number of people who take their own lives.

The suicide rate among teenagers is below that in the general population and has remained steady over the past few years. However, we know that this group is vulnerable to suicidal feelings, as has been made abundantly clear in this debate. The risk is greater when they have mental health problems or a behavioural disorder, misuse substances or alcohol or have experienced family breakdown, mental health problems or suicide in the family. However, any suicide is one too many.

Suicide is devastating for loved ones left behind, and it is especially tragic when the victim is a child or young person. That is why children and young people have an important place in our 2012 publication, Preventing Suicide in England: A Cross-Government Outcomes Strategy to Save Lives. The report identified those groups of children and young people who are thought to be particularly vulnerable, including looked-after children, care leavers, children and young people in the youth justice system and gay and lesbian young people.

The noble and right reverend Lord mentioned funding. This strategy is backed by £1.5 million of funding for research. One of the funded projects will be exploring the use of the internet in relation to suicidal behaviour and identifying priorities for prevention. I assure noble Lords that the Government are committed to continue working with the internet industry in the UK to keep people safe online and to promote access to positive support for all suicidal people, including children and young people.

Education is also key. A number of noble Lords have mentioned bullying, including my noble friend Lord Black. The Government have sent a very clear message to schools that all forms of bullying are totally unacceptable and should not be tolerated. The Department for Education is in the process of reviewing behavioural guidance, which will be made available to all teachers.

The new national curriculum will see children aged five to 16 taught about internet safety in a sensible, age-appropriate way, a really important step to help children and young people to understand some of the issues. Furthermore, the major internet service providers are working on a parental awareness campaign, due to launch in the spring. This aims to raise parents’ awareness of, and ability to effectively use, the filters that they provide, and to provide parents with information about how to keep their children safe online.

We have also been clear that social media sites need to take responsibility for inappropriate content that is made available on their sites, which includes images of self-harm and suicide. We expect social media companies to respond quickly to incidents of abusive behaviour and inappropriate content on their networks. This includes having easy-to-use reporting tools, robust processes in place to respond promptly when abuse is reported and, where appropriate, suspending or terminating the accounts of those who do not comply with the acceptable-use policies. The Minister for Culture, Communications and the Creative Industries met with a number of leading social media companies to discuss what more might be done to protect young people when they are online, and we will continue to discuss this and work with the social media companies.

It is good to report that the industry has already worked on positive initiatives in this area. I want to echo the tribute paid by my noble friend Lady Buscombe to the excellent collaborative work that Facebook and Google have done with the Samaritans’ mental health strategy. The Samaritans have been facilitating a call to action for suicide prevention in England. More than 50 national organisations have signed this call for action, committing to work together so that fewer lives are lost to suicide and to support those who are bereaved or affected by suicide. My noble friend prompted me on the issue of the promised round table. I reiterate to her that free-to-caller access to the excellent Samaritans service would be an important step forward. Work to set up that meeting is in hand, and a date will be fixed shortly.

The Samaritans have also been instrumental in developing media guidelines for the reporting of suicide. Those guidelines are aimed not only at journalists reporting suicide but also at authors and producers of television and film dramas. Research tells us that reports of suicide can lead to copycat suicides. I am sure that all noble Lords will agree that it is important that any media reporting should be sensitive.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, mentioned stigma. The Government are very pleased to be supporting Time to Change, a campaign to end stigma and discrimination faced by people, including children and young people, with mental health problems. It is clear, thankfully, that attitudes towards mental illness are improving in the general public, with the latest national surveys showing continuing improvement. Any incidence of self-harm, however, must always be taken seriously. In all cases of self-harm, all noble Lords will agree that it is important for health professionals and others to intervene early, before it is too late.

Last month my right honourable friend the Deputy Prime Minister, with the Minister of State for Care and Support, launched the mental health action plan. Of the 25 actions, one relates to our commitments to change the way frontline services respond to self-harm and to ensure that no one experiencing a mental health crisis should ever be turned away from services.

I now turn to what the Government are doing to protect vulnerable young people in custody, an issue raised by my noble friend Lady Linklater and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham. It is very sad that three young people in custody took their own lives in 2011 and 2012. My right honourable friend the Secretary of State for Justice has established a working group to learn from these tragic deaths. The group has identified and disseminated the key learning points from the deaths, highlighting common themes and actions to be taken to prevent further deaths of children and young people. Additionally, a review of the assessment, care in custody and teamwork procedures for young people is being undertaken. I shall convey to my colleagues in the Ministry of Justice the points made so powerfully by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham.

The Government strongly support the recommendations in the report of the Children’s and Young People’s Health Outcomes Forum and the Chief Medical Officer’s report, Prevention Pays—Our Children Deserve Better. We are working with key partners to consider options for taking this important work forward, to look at the prevalence of mental health conditions in children and young people. The Government are very keen that all professionals who work with children and young people have access to information about mental health. I am delighted to tell my noble friend Lady Bottomley and the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, that my honourable friend the Minister for Care and Support is launching an interactive e-learning tool for children and young people’s mental health on 25 March. This is aimed at health professionals—teachers, social workers and others—who are not necessarily mental health specialists and who work with children and young people. I want to pay tribute to the consortium of organisations headed by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health for developing this exciting tool.

The mental health services for children and young people are very much in the Government’s sights. Between 2011 and 2015 we will be investing £54 million in children and young people’s improving access to psychological therapies, the CYP IAPT programme. This will give children and young people improved access to the best-evidenced mental health care.

My noble friend Lady Buscombe referred to the problem faced by children when they had a long distance to travel. Our aim must of course be to support children and young people with mental health problems near to where they live. Admission to hospital should be a last resort for a young person, quite clearly. We recognise the difficulty if people are treated away from home but the decision, inevitably, will depend on what facilities are available locally and the clinical needs of the individual.

The noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Eames, rightly pointed out that a multifaceted approach is needed. We completely support and agree with the need for such an approach. The role of the voluntary sector here is key and I pay tribute to the excellent work that is being done by the third sector—for example, by PAPYRUS, an organisation mentioned by the noble and right reverend Lord, and by CALM, which supports families who are concerned about suicide or have been bereaved by it.

My noble friend Lady Linklater and others raised the vexed topic of self-harm, which should always be taken seriously. Child and adolescent mental health services are there to support children and young people who self-harm. There is evidence that self-harm is a symptom of stress and mental illness. Clinical care must always focus on these causes and on coping strategies rather than on the self-harm itself. In 2004, NICE published clinical guidance on the management of self-harm which covers the care that people who self-harm can expect to receive.

Finally, as we have debated frequently in this House, the Government are working towards parity of esteem between physical and mental health. We have been clear that there must be equal priority between mental and physical health services. One of the 24 objectives in the mandate to NHS England is to put mental health on a par with physical health and to close the health gap between people with mental health problems and the population as a whole. We expect the NHS to bear this in mind when taking decisions about how to spend NHS money on services for local people, including young people.

Committee adjourned at 6.02 pm.