Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

19 July 2006 : Column 1284

Baroness Linklater of Butterstone: My Lords, following on from the Minister’s earlier Answer, will she tell the House what plans the Government have to develop and significantly expand the alternatives to custody for women? It is government policy, after all, that all but the most prolific and serious offenders should be dealt with in the community and not by custodial sentence. Those community-based penalties are essential if women and their families are not to suffer the extremely damaging effect of a mother’s incarceration. What concrete plans are there to expand that provision and to convey that to the sentencers so that they have confidence in them and will use them more extensively?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, the noble Baroness will know that we have launched the women’s offending reduction programme, in which we have invested £9.15 million to test out different models that will be available to sentencers to deal more effectively with women. We will also have the benefit of the work undertaken by my noble friend Lady Corston, who hopes to report to me in December on what we can do better to help the most vulnerable women in our prison estate.

Lord Judd: My Lords, further to the right reverend Prelate’s question, is my noble friend aware that, when the Joint Committee on Human Rights was visiting Holloway, members, including myself, were deeply disturbed to hear from staff of occasions when it was discovered only during the process of receiving prisoners from court—sometimes late in the evening—that there were unattended children at home? Will she assure the House that all steps will be taken to make sure that such situations never arise in future?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I assure my noble friend that steps are already taken to that effect. He should be aware that sometimes the people involved do not disclose that they have children or they positively conceal it for various reasons. I assure the House that we will take all reasonable steps to make sure that, if children are involved, they are identified early and dealt with appropriately.

Animal Welfare: Greyhounds

3.23 pm

Viscount Falkland asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the Animal Welfare Bill, currently before your Lordships’ House, will introduce an offence of failing to provide for the welfare needs of an animal. That will apply to owners and keepers of all animals, including racing and retired greyhounds. In addition,

19 July 2006 : Column 1285

we are considering making specific regulationsunder the Bill in relation to the welfare of racing greyhounds.

Viscount Falkland: My Lords, the House will be encouraged by the Minister’s comments, but I fancy that the public outside may need a little more persuasion, particularly in view of the fact that this week there was some emotive and rather misleading publicity about putting down dogs—that is why I asked my Question. Is not the reality that there are about 3,000 fine racing greyhounds in existence at any one time that are bred exclusively for racing and for the enjoyment of their owners and the public? They have a very short racing life and little expectation of an existence after it. At the moment, the public perceive, probably accurately, that, at the lower levels of the sport of greyhound racing, dogs are not put down humanely but are often abandoned in appalling circumstances. Will the legislation be complete and thorough enough to catch those who operate in less well regulated areas than the major greyhound racing organisations?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the answer to the final part of the noble Viscount’s question is in the hands of the House. We have completed Committee, and Report is due in the overspill. Those issues were raised at Second Reading and in Grand Committee, and the noble Baroness, Lady Byford, like others, raised the point. There will be plenty of opportunity to raisethe issue.

The noble Viscount said that there had been an erroneous press report, but I do not know whether it was erroneous. An investigation is going on. Wehave asked the National Greyhound Racing Clubto investigate. Other appropriate investigating authorities are looking at the issue, because it involves waste disposal, planning permission, animal welfare, the landfill directive and the income tax authorities. Plenty of regulatory authorities are able to look at those allegations.

Lord Lipsey: My Lords, I declare an interest as chairman of the British Greyhound Racing Board. Is my noble friend aware, despite what he has just said, that this abhorrent practice is not definitely illegalat the moment but is contrary to the rules of the National Greyhound Racing Club which, I am confident, will deal with the utmost severity with any licensed trainer who is proven to have been involved? Is the Minister further aware of greyhound racing's strong support for action under the Animal Welfare Bill regulations that would make the sanctions available to the NGRC, so far as the official industry is concerned, also available to be used against trainers at tracks not run by the NGRC?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my noble friend is perfectly right: there are about 50 tracks, 32 of which are governed by the National Greyhound Racing Club, and there are about 18 independent tracks. Of course, one of the issues is to ensure that all animals, whether they are racing at the regulated tracks or the

19 July 2006 : Column 1286

independent tracks or are retired, are properly looked after and that their welfare is considered.

This is an emotive situation, and we need to get the facts of the case. I understand that the National Greyhound Racing Club releases about 11,000 greyhounds a year into racing and that there are about 30,000 active dogs. The Retired Greyhound Trust has rehoused 35,000 dogs since 1974. It is clear when one looks at the sums—I do not know the exact number of dogs involved—that many dogs go missing.

Baroness Fookes: My Lords, the latest worries that have been brought to light are but the tip of the iceberg. This problem has been going on for a very long time. Can we fully expect the Animal Welfare Bill to return quickly in the overspill? I am disappointed that it is to be left to the overspill.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, given that the overspill is quite a short period, it is reasonable to suppose that the Bill will come back quite quickly. It is in the hands of the House. The Bill will have its Report and Third Reading. We shall have plenty of opportunity to debate amendments to the Bill and to raise issues related to this point, and maybe we shall have a few more facts relating to this case—at the moment they are only allegations. As I said, plenty of regulatory authorities are able to look into the allegations.

Lord Soulsby of Swaffham Prior: My Lords, the Minister is answering questions about greyhounds. Does he agree that the problem does not solely affect spent greyhounds and that other sports animals may be treated in a not dissimilar way to what has been reported in the Daily Mail? One hopes that the Animal Welfare Bill will consider them as well as what has been in the news.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says. Racehorses are sporting animals, andif they are slaughtered it is in a regulated slaughterhouse. There are rules for that, and the pet food industry probably receives the proceeds. I understand that about 1,000 greyhounds weigh about 20 tonnes, and greyhounds going to landfill that may or may not be regulated is slightly different. I hope that by Report we shall have many more facts about the situation.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, the Minister rightly says that the Animal Welfare Bill is the way to do this. Throughout the stages of that Bill, however, he has said that it is regulatory and that the detail is for the Government to bring in through regulation. Is that how he intends to deal with the greyhound issue?

Lord Rooker: Yes, my Lords. We have a working party set up to look at this with the industry. We have agreed to bring in some of the regulations earlier if necessary, in 2009 rather than 2010. I am not saying there is an instant solution. It may be that anything

19 July 2006 : Column 1287

that has happened is quite legal. We must have the allegations looked into and not jump to judgment.

Baroness Byford: My Lords, why did the Government vote against the amendment tabled by my honourable friend Mr Hollobone, which would have brought in registration of all licensed tracks? That would have led to better overall welfare for all greyhounds in the end.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, it was for the reason that I have stated. A working party is looking at this. There are two sets of tracks. We want to ensure that the welfare of animals should not be differentiated according to whether they are at regulated or independent tracks. We need vets and welfare personnel to look at that. Also, we were in Grand Committee, so we did not have any votes.


3.31 pm

Lord Grocott: My Lords, with the leave of the House we will have a Statement repeated later today on Home Office reform by my noble friend Lady Scotland of Asthal. We will take it immediately after the Third Reading of the Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill.

Constitution Committee

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Lord Morris of Aberavon be appointed a member of the Select Committee in the place of the Baroness Hayman.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Liaison Committee

The Chairman of Committees (Lord Brabazon of Tara): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That the Lord Richard be appointed a member of the Select Committee in the place of the Baroness Hayman.—(The Chairman of Committees.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Northern Ireland (Miscellaneous Provisions) Bill

3.32 pm

Read a third time.

Lord Glentoran moved the Amendment:

19 July 2006 : Column 1288

“(c) because he is no longer committed to upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland,”. “(c) because it is no longer committed to upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland,”. “(da) whether he or it is committed now and in the future to upholding the rule of law in Northern Ireland;”.”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I made the argument for this amendment on Report. I undertook to read Hansard after the Minister’s response, because I was not totally clear in my own mind that he was not right. Having done so, and looking at Section 30 of the 1998 Act,

and reading it pretty carefully, I do not believe that the section goes far enough. That is especially true as at an earlier stage I did not move the amendment to alter the pledge of office and chose to follow through with this amendment. I beg to move.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I understand the concerns over this matter and indeed, as we have said before, we have a good deal sympathy with what the noble Lord seeks to achieve through the amendment. But, as I have also said before, this is not the way to achieve it.

The amendment would allow for the removal of a Northern Ireland Minister who was no longer committed to upholding the rule of law. The underlying aim—that support for the rule of law be embedded into the political life of Northern Ireland—cannot, of course, be faulted. That much we are all agreed on and that is what the Government have consistently said. We ultimately want all parties, including Sinn Fein, to unite in support of the policing arrangements in Northern Ireland.

The amendment does not help us to achievethis aim. It is unnecessary and adds no value to the requirements already in place. Moreover, the Secretary of State has already made his position on this matter very clear and has repeatedly said that he will not set any further preconditions for anyone entering devolved government. That is the end of the matter. There will be no more preconditions. There are no excuses for devolved government not to be up and running, and we will not erect any more hurdles.

The arguments against this amendment have been well rehearsed as the Bill has passed through this House. Noble Lords are aware of the requirements of the pledge of office under the 1998 Act. I have outlined many times the protections afforded by the pledge, which all Ministers must affirm before taking up their posts. It requires a commitment to non-violence and to exclusively peaceful and democratic means. As I said on Report, safeguards exist for where Ministers and parties fail to observe the pledge of office. The pledge is not simply words on paper; safeguards exist in case it is broken.

19 July 2006 : Column 1289

In addition, on Report, I set out the statutoryduty to uphold the continued independence of the judiciary that all Northern Ireland Ministers are subject to under Section 4 of the Constitutional Reform Act 2005. The judiciary are the guardians of what we know as the rule of law. Therefore, the duty in the 2005 Act is the right and fitting way to ensure that the rule of law is upheld and is embedded into Northern Ireland’s political life, rather than a further unnecessary amendment to the Bill. The amendment is not needed: the protection already exists in the pledge and in the 2005 Act.

As I have said, we do not question the principle of what the noble Lord seeks to achieve; nobody does. However, for the reasons I have set out, we are firmly of the opinion that further safeguards are unnecessary. However, we recognise the strength of feeling and depth of concern on this matter, and I reiterate that we stand ready to take forward in legislation any changes to the pledge of office that the parties can agree on in the context of a package on other constitutional issues. I therefore hope that the noble Lord will not press his amendment.

With the leave of the House, because this is the last opportunity I will have to speak on the Bill as it passes through the House, I have a short point to add. We all agree on the significance of the Bill. It recognises and builds on the ongoing transformation of Northern Ireland. It looks to the future and recognises the possibilities that lie ahead. I have set out why I do not believe that the amendment inserting the process for amending Orders in Council that was accepted on Report is helpful. However, the ministerial team and I recognise the strength of feeling in both Houses about the inadequacy of the present arrangements for dealing with the bulk of Northern Ireland legislation. They are very unsatisfactory. I am therefore prepared to give the House the following undertaking: between now and 24 November, our focus is fixed on getting devolution up and running, which is plan A, and we do not want to be diverted from that. However, if that does not prove possible, for whatever reason, the Government will quickly introduce measures to make direct rule more accountable, including provisions that will enable Orders in Council to be amended in the light of views expressed by Members of both Houses in a way that reflects the spirit of the amendment passed by this House on Report. There will be an opportunity, agreed through the usual channels, for an amendability stage in the parliamentary consideration of Northern Ireland Orders in Council. We will also ensure that we legislate for Northern Ireland by a Bill—primary legislation—wherever appropriate.

On Irish donations to political parties, I regret that the amendment was pushed to a vote and the clause was removed on Report. I have written in detail to noble Lords about this matter. The effect is to bar entirely donations from Irish citizens and other bodies to political parties in Northern Ireland from November next year. This change clearly goes against the spirit of the Good Friday agreement and would have serious repercussions for the parties and the

19 July 2006 : Column 1290

political process in Northern Ireland. That is why the Government will seek to overturn that amendment in another place.

Lord Smith of Clifton: My Lords, before the Minister sits down, I find it rather strange that he is making these statements which would be best made next Tuesday when the Bill comes back to us to consider Commons amendments. We do not have much opportunity to comment on what he said. However, for these Benches, the words that the noble Lord uttered are helpful, and I thank him.

Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: It may assist the House if we treat my noble friend’s intervention as the Minister speaking early in the debate on the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, which, as a result, will allow any noble Lord who wishes to speak.

Lord Trimble: My Lords, I welcome the part of the statement made by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, regarding an amendability stage for Orders in Council. This is huge step forward and something that for 30 years we in the Ulster Unionist Party has been pressing for. It will take one of the more unacceptable edges off direct rule and help to make it more democratic. I hope that it will put an end to the scandalous situation that obtained in this House last week when legislation was forced through against the wishes not just of the Northern Ireland Members but of the people of Northern Ireland without the opportunity of discussing it in detail and focusing on aspects that could have been changed. There could have been legislation last week that would have been acceptable to people and which would have achieved most of the Minister’s aims had there been the opportunity to deal with it in the way which I now hope will happen after November of this year. So I welcome that.

However, I must also say that I do not welcome what the Minister said about the other change that was made on donations. I disagree entirely with his comment about the amendment being contrary to the Belfast agreement. That is not how I read the Belfast agreement and I claim to have a little expertise on the matter.

I make one other point on the substance of the amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran. I understand the principle behind it. He is entirely right that persons who do not support policing should not be in office. Whatever the arguments may have been a number of years ago, we now have settled arrangements for policing, which are broadly endorsed, and there can be no excuse for any party not endorsing and supporting policing as things stand. The Government are making a huge mistake in their approach to republicans by continuing to try to induce them with further concessions on devolution of policing, which is wholly premature.

However, it might help the House on the substance of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Glentoran, to put in a little of the background. The amendment is to the provisions of the

19 July 2006 : Column 1291

Northern Ireland Act for exclusion of Ministers from office. The mechanism in the Act is defective. We recognised that it was defective on 10 April 1998 because the mechanism depended on cross-community support, and we knew as a political reality that cross-community support would not exist then or in the future. Consequently, on the afternoon of that day we went to the Prime Minister and raised the matter. He communicated with us before the agreement was made—that is crucial in terms of the interpretation of the agreement—that if it turned out that the provisions of the Act on exclusion of Ministers were ineffective, he would support changes to the agreement. It was on the basis of that undertaking that I and my colleagues endorsed the agreement.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page