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7 Jan 2008 : Column 36

David Miliband: My hon. Friend is right to draw attention to this matter, and I am pleased that he does so. Yes, I do have hope, but there is no point in looking at this through rose-tinted spectacles. Hope needs to lead to decisions that make a difference. Economic growth is the first precondition for tackling the endemic poverty that he and I abhor. In 2005, I saw for myself in the Kibera slum in the centre of Nairobi the sort of conditions to which he refers. Hope needs to lead to choices, which are best made on the basis of a democratic mandate, in the interests of stability and equality. However, no one who visits Kibera can say that this is anything other than a long-term challenge and one that it would be absurd to be glib about. That is why it is right to talk about five, 10, 15 or 20-year challenges, not just five-day or five-month challenges.

Mr. Tobias Ellwood (Bournemouth, East) (Con): The Secretary of State talks about combating terrorism, but fails to mention the one thing that links Pakistan to events in Afghanistan and to 9/11, 7/7, Bali and Madrid—the al-Qaeda training camps that are on the Pakistani border. Does he agree that Pakistan should now hold up its hands and say that it cannot contain that 400-mile mountainous border and that international help is needed, because otherwise we will continue to see a conveyor belt of suicide bombers coming out of that area, causing mayhem not only in Pakistan but in other places around the world?

David Miliband: The hon. Gentleman does not need to find division across the House on that point. He will have heard in my statement the reference to the joint fight against al-Qaeda. He will also know that we are strongly committed to the international support for the Pakistan and Afghanistan Governments that will be necessary. However, that cannot merely be military support. In the end, there needs to be a political solution in both Pakistan and Afghanistan. A military element is needed, but it will not do the trick on its own. There is room for common ground across the House on that point, and that is what I am determined to try to seek.

Ms Sally Keeble (Northampton, North) (Lab): On Kenya, how will my right hon. Friend, who said that it is down to Kenyans to decide, and the international community assess the validity of any coalition Government? How will they expect such a Government to perform on power sharing and tackling corruption, and what will they expect the possible duration to be? If problems with electoral fraud are proven, Kenya needs not only to be able to move forward, but to do so with the full confidence and support of the international community.

David Miliband: I know that my hon. Friend has spent time in Kenya and has good contacts there. In answer to an earlier question, I said that I thought that any Government who would command the confidence of the Kenyan people needed to involve the main Opposition party. Government needed to involve both Government and Opposition. That is the first test.

Secondly, the duration would obviously be a subject of discussion. All sorts of time frames are being bandied around by the Opposition and the Government. Obviously, it could not be longer than five years, but a range of other durations are being suggested. Some would make the new Government more interim than would others.
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The diverse communities in Kenya and the diverse votes that they cast in the election need genuinely to be recognised, and that is the sort of Government that our Government would be keen to support.

Hugh Robertson (Faversham and Mid-Kent) (Con): While nobody would underestimate the difficulty of protecting any democratic politician, is it not concerning that the assassin was able to get to Benazir Bhutto so soon after her return to Pakistan? Is the Foreign Secretary concerned about the extent of militant influence over the Pakistan security forces? If so, is he convinced that when carrying out his entirely laudable aim to increase co-operation on terrorism with the Pakistan security forces any information would remain secure?

David Miliband: Obviously I am concerned about the ability of terrorists to strike at the heart of Pakistan, not only on 27 December but in October when Mrs. Bhutto returned to Pakistan. However, I can assure the hon. Gentleman that we have full confidence that the counter-terrorism co-operation in which we are engaged with the Government of Pakistan is in the interests not only of Pakistan but of the UK, too.

Jim Sheridan (Paisley and Renfrewshire, North) (Lab): It is not often that I agree with the comments or views of the hon. Member for Bethnal Green and Bow (Mr. Galloway), but he makes a valid point today, writing in the Daily Record, that the tribalism in Kenya is another form of nationalism. Does my right hon. Friend agree with me that if we are to learn lessons from Kenya, which was a perfectly stable country until recently, the people who promote extreme nationalism in this country should be careful with their language and also with their actions?

David Miliband: I am happy to agree that we should always be careful about our language and our actions while recognising that countries can be very different. I think that my hon. Friend and I share the view that the constitutional arrangements in the UK respect diverse views in a way that builds on what we hold together while recognising what is different.

Mr. Crispin Blunt (Reigate) (Con): The Prime Minister, on Kenya, has used expressions such as “these are the objectives I wish to see”. The Foreign Secretary has outlined the type of political system that he might like to see in Kenya and replied affirmatively to the point made by the hon. Member for City of York (Hugh Bayley) about the need for political parties here to get involved in Kenya. Those are all political objectives of the British Government, the merits of which can be debated in the House. However, the Foreign Secretary presides over a Department that will have to cut three missions in Africa, while the Department for International Development is unable to assist in the pursuit of British national objectives in the way described by the Foreign Secretary, the Prime Minister and others. Is the Foreign Secretary satisfied that the balance of investment to support the British national effort is correct?

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David Miliband: Yes. I would like to know where the hon. Gentleman thinks that DFID is not fulfilling an agenda that is in the British national interest—or the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, for that matter. The consular response in these cases has shown our ability to do so; the political response, ditto. As always in the seven years of discussion I have had with the hon. Gentleman, if he is willing to provide any details I will be happy to follow them up and get in touch with him.

Patrick Mercer (Newark) (Con): The Foreign Secretary is very aware of the desire of al-Qaeda and similar organisations to inflict mass casualties. Is he confident in the security of nuclear weapons and matériel in Pakistan?

David Miliband: It is good that the hon. Gentleman raises that matter, which was raised on the two previous occasions when I talked about Pakistan. I am happy to confirm that nothing has been reported to us since 27 December that would compromise our assessment of the integrity and safety of Pakistan’s nuclear facilities.

Dr. Julian Lewis (New Forest, East) (Con): Given the ambiguous credentials of Pakistani intelligence agencies, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Faversham and Mid-Kent (Hugh Robertson) referred, did the Government, in their conversations with Benazir Bhutto, offer her any advice about personal security, especially after the first attempt on her life?

David Miliband: At both ministerial and official level, discussions were held about Mrs. Bhutto’s sense of security and the provision that was being made for her. It would be wrong to pretend that I was in a position to offer her personal advice about that, but I know that representations were made at a high level to ensure that her concerns were properly taken into account.

Mr. Henry Bellingham (North-West Norfolk) (Con): Does the Secretary of State agree that, if an EU monitoring commission finds that the presidential elections were rigged, Kibaki’s position would be untenable and that he would rightly become an international pariah? Does he also agree that in such circumstances, smart sanctions aimed at Kibaki and his cronies, their travel arrangements and moving money abroad, would be justified?

David Miliband: Sanctions are only but always justified when they have a clear objective and contribute to that objective. It is dangerous at this stage to start dealing in the hypothetical position that the hon. Gentleman outlines because there is clearly a need to bridge the current gap between what the Government in Kenya and the Opposition say about their willingness to engage in discussions. They are both talking about the matter but they have not yet bridged the gap. Our focus is on bridging that gap. If we fail, we must examine all the consequences, including those of our actions.

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Prisons (Industrial Relations)

4.32 pm

The Secretary of State for Justice and Lord Chancellor (Mr. Jack Straw): With permission, Mr. Speaker, I should like to make a statement on industrial relations in the Prison Service, and on my tabling amendments today to the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill. The amendments are for debate on Report this Wednesday.

The aim of the amendments is to provide for a reserve statutory restriction on industrial action by prison officers. The powers in the amendments would be applied only in the absence of a suitable trade union dispute resolution and recognition agreement between the Prison Service and the relevant trade unions. As I will explain, tabling the amendments fulfils clear undertakings given to Parliament by Ministers over six years.

The Prison Service is an essential public service. Prison officers do a difficult and demanding job. They deal with some of the most dangerous and vulnerable people in our society. Their work is often unseen by the general public. I pay tribute to their endeavours and those of all other staff in the service.

Prison officers are in a uniformed and disciplined service. When on duty, they are officers of the law with the powers of a police constable. They have a clear duty to uphold the law, protect the public and safeguard the welfare of the prisoners in their care.

In those respects, their position as officers whose role is essential to the security of the state and the communities in it is similar to that in other essential services, such as the police and the armed forces. Parliament has made it clear and laid down in statute that the risk to the public in each of those services is simply too great to allow them to take industrial action.

At the same time, it has been well recognised that, without that form of influence, staff need other legitimate means of pursuing grievances and concerns with their employer. In 2000, I established a pay review body for prison governors, prison officers and related grades. Subsequently, in 2001, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside (Mr. Blunkett), the then Home Secretary, introduced proposals for a comprehensive voluntary agreement with the Prison Officers Association. In 2005, this agreement was replaced by a joint industrial relations procedural agreement, or JIRPA, which provides mechanisms for resolving disputes between the POA and the Prison Service, including binding arbitration.

Under the JIRPA, the POA voluntarily agreed to legally enforceable constraints on its ability to take industrial action. It was explicitly on that basis that the Government sought parliamentary approval to disapply the statutory prohibition on industrial action in section 127 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994 for public sector workers in England, Wales and Scotland. The disapplication was made by an order under the Regulatory Reform Act 2001. In making that order, with the Opposition’s broad support, my noble Friend Lord Bassam, on behalf of the Government, said in terms that in the event of notice of termination of the JIRPA the Government would have

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in the disapplied statute—

My hon. Friend the Member for Bradford, South (Mr. Sutcliffe), the then Prisons Minister, spelt this out to Parliament in a written answer the following year in which he said:

Regrettably, in May last year the POA gave 12 months’ notice, expiring on 8 May this year, of its intention to withdraw from this agreement in respect of England and Wales. An equivalent agreement remains in force in Scotland.

Experience underlines why there must be sufficient protection against industrial action. Most recently, on 29 August 2007, despite being bound by the terms of the voluntary agreement banning industrial action, the POA initiated a 24-hour strike, giving the service just one hour’s notice. As the JIRPA was still in force, that strike action was constrained by an interim injunction, but nevertheless it had a substantial impact on the operation of the public sector Prison Service. That included the cancellation of court appearances, transfers of prisoners and the extended use of police cells. The action led to serious disturbances at Her Majesty’s young offender institution Lancaster Farms, resulting in significant damage to cells that cost £220,000 to repair.

The public’s safety has to be my primary consideration, but it cannot be acceptable for prisoners to be locked in their cells for an indeterminate period, with great uncertainty about when they will next get a meal, exercise or medication, and with serious risks to their welfare. It has always been, and continues to be, my hope that the Prison Service and POA can agree a new trade union dispute resolution and recognition agreement that would be binding on both parties.

Early last summer, the Government asked the Trades Union Congress to initiate talks between the Prison Service and the POA, aimed at improving industrial relations and at reaching a new agreement. The talks were conducted under the auspices of Mr. Ed Sweeney, a then senior member of the TUC General Council and now chair of the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service. Mr. Sweeney’s report on the talks has now been sent to both parties and a copy has been placed in the Library. I am extremely grateful to him for his work. His recommendations offer a sound basis for further discussion and a framework for future agreement. I very much hope that the POA will continue to engage with that.

However, Mr. Sweeney also recognises that, given the current industrial relations climate, in which public safety cannot be guaranteed in the event of industrial action, the Government will need to consider what mechanisms must be put in place should an agreement not be achieved. I very much hope that between now and May a new and acceptable voluntary agreement can be made. I would much prefer the reserve powers in the amendment never to have to be used, but in proposing them I am fulfilling clear and explicit undertakings given to this House and the other place. I emphasise
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that the amendments reflect the wording of the current joint industrial relations procedural agreement, which defines industrial action as

This provides no greater constraint than the one to which the Prison Officers Association voluntarily signed up in 2005.

The House will also wish to know that legislation of this nature is in accordance with European Union and international law. Similar measures can be found in the constitutions and laws of many other European countries, including France, Germany and Italy. I have placed a copy of a report in the Library that summarises the position in European and other OECD countries.

I repeat, however, that I am mindful of the need to establish a sound platform on which to secure constructive industrial relations between the Prison Service and the Prison Officers Association. That is why the amendments provide a reserve power, to be activated or suspended by order of the Secretary of State. Should a suitable trade union dispute resolution and recognition agreement be reached—one that includes protections against industrial action—the statutory prohibition would be suspended. That is in line with Mr. Sweeney’s recommendation to make any reinstatement of section 127 of the 1994 Act what he calls a passive change, rather than an active way of conducting employee relations in the Prison Service.

Mr. Sweeney also recommends that an independent review take place two years after any agreement is signed between the Prison Service and the Prison Officers Association. This review would re-examine the balance of arguments for and against allowing forms of industrial action by prison officers. If a suitable trade union recognition agreement is agreed and sustained, I will commit to this further review after a period of stability.

This year provides an important opportunity for us all to build a new and positive industrial relations climate for the Prison Service. We are committed to engaging constructively with all Prison Service trade unions on a programme of work force modernisation, and we are ready to pay for it. My right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer has already made available significant additional funds from April 2009 to support the programme, which could be underpinned by a multi-year pay deal. I very much hope that the Prison Service and the Prison Service trade unions will engage to make the best use of those funds, in order to provide a brighter future for all staff, develop new and more flexible working practices, and create more stable industrial relations within the Prison Service. I commend this statement to the House.

Nick Herbert (Arundel and South Downs) (Con): I thank the Secretary of State for early sight of his statement.

Prisons are places of security, in which there can be no place for industrial action. That was why the previous Conservative Government legislated for the statutory prohibition of industrial action in prisons. Does the right hon. Gentleman recall that the Labour party fought tooth and nail against those laws in opposition? Indeed, when he was Leader of the Opposition, Tony Blair said that they were a

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