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Baroness Amos: My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord that it is important for us to look at the complexity of the relationship and the fact that we are living in a global world. So there is an intricate and close relationship between what is happening in developing countries and its impact on us and on our European neighbours. I entirely agree that if we do not look after what is happening in developing countries, there will be a knock-on effect to European countries.

UK Gold Policy: African Representations

3.10 p.m.

Lord Lucas asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, we have received representations from South Africa and from the Southern African Development Community, which also represents Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Mauritius, Mozambique, Namibia, the Seychelles, Swaziland, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

Lord Lucas: My Lords, I am grateful for that reply. I do not suppose the Minister is surprised that the representations are being made. Is not the gold market in a delicate condition, to say the least? Were the gold price to fall another 10 per cent, we might expect major mine closures and financial difficulties in those and other highly indebted developing countries. Under those circumstances, it behoves the British Government to show a lead. It is not just a question of the 100 tonnes that we are selling, but of people's belief that the 34,000 tonnes that are in government and similar hands in the world--a third of all the gold that has ever been mined--may come on to the market and depress the price even further.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, of course the Government are sympathetic to the concerns of gold producers, wherever they may be, but particularly, in terms of the original Question, those in southern Africa and East Africa. However, we must consider the quantum involved. The sale of 25 tonnes of gold which took place on 6th July, which was the first of the five tranches of sales by this country, represents only 1 per cent of the annual mining supply of the gold industry and 3 per cent of the daily bullion turnover in gold. From those figures, I cannot think that it can be asserted that the British sales of gold with which the Government are concerned have had a significant effect on gold prices.

Lord Shore of Stepney: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the impact of the sale of gold is particularly

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strong on South Africa? Gold is its largest single industry and the country's prosperity relies on it. Is my noble friend telling us that we did not consult the Government of South Africa before embarking on this, frankly, dubious practice of selling gold, and, if not, why not?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not accept my noble friend's assertion that it is a dubious practice. It is a proper portfolio decision, as was confirmed by the Bank of England, which advised us on the matter. As to consultation, a decision on sales of gold is market-sensitive. It would be unwise of us to consult in private before making market-sensitive decisions. The Government of South Africa and all the governments of the Southern African Development Community were informed immediately after the decision was taken.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, can the noble Lord say why, if the decision was market-sensitive, it did not make any difference to the market? Can he further dispel the rumours which have been widespread in the City that several finance houses, one in particular, had gone heavily short on gold? Had not the price fallen sharply, they would have made significant losses. Can he say whether any employees or the spouses of any employees of that house had access to the Treasury and had knowledge of the discussions?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, an issue is market-sensitive if it could be market-sensitive. The Government are pleased that the decision did not have the effect on the price of gold which might have been anticipated. As to the rumours to which the noble Lord referred, I know nothing of them. If he cares to write to me about them, I shall investigate and reply.

Lord Mackay of Ardbrecknish: My Lords, the Minister may not think that the selling of British gold had any impact on the market, but President Mbeki of South Africa thinks that the action exhibits smug moralistic naivety. Will the Minister pause, even for a moment, in his answers, to consider the 2,000 people made unemployed from the gold mines in Ghana, in addition to the 5,000 so affected last week in South Africa? I wonder whether he saw the television programme last week on the demonstrations in South Africa, with people carrying placards saying, "Britain: stop killing poor countries". Is that an ethical foreign policy?

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, I do not pause for a moment before making my answers, but I pause very long and hard before thinking out what my answers should be. I am confident that we are doing the right thing in these matters. The support being given by the Department for International Development for retrenched miners in South Africa is significant. In addition, there is a considerable contribution from this country to the HIPC trust of £171 million. We are the largest contributor to that trust and we are conscious of our responsibilities. But, as I made clear, the portfolio decision which we took cannot be held responsible for the long-term decline in gold prices which is the cause of unemployment in gold industries.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I assure my noble friend that I am delighted not to have the noble Lords,

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Lord Tebbit and Lord Mackay, or my noble friend Lord Shore advise me on my investments. Does the Minister accept that there are two separate issues? The first is how we can best help developing countries. The other is how we can best manage our financial affairs in this country. What is being done with the sale of gold is obviously in the best interests of this country.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey: My Lords, the longer-term decline in the price of gold is extremely serious for this country. Let us examine the record of the previous Conservative government from 1979 to 1997. The Bank of England has calculated that our failure to adjust the balance between gold and currencies in our portfolio, as a result of which we have forgone the interest payments which are available on currencies but not from gold, has amounted to a loss of £9 billion. That is money which we can use for many worthwhile purposes, but it was forgone deliberately and callously by the previous government.

Company and Business Names (Chamber of Commerce, Etc.) Bill

3.18 p.m.

Read a third time, and passed.

Road Traffic (Use of Mobile Telephones) Bill [H.L.]

Read a third time, and passed, and sent to the Commons.

Immigration and Asylum Bill

3.19 p.m.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.

Moved, That the House do now again resolve itself into Committee.--(Lord Williams of Mostyn.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

House in Committee accordingly.


Lord Cope of Berkeley moved Amendment No. 114:

After Clause 59, insert the following new clause--


(" . A person who appeals under section 59 and who is under the age of 18 shall not be detained for any period while the outcome of his appeal remains undetermined.").

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The noble Lord said: In moving Amendment No. 114, I wish to speak at the same time to Amendment No. 115. The amendments refer to the detention of children. Amendment No. 114 proposes that no child appellant under the age of 18 should be detained. That might be thought by the Government to be rather sweeping or even drastic, but then so is imprisonment, in particular for children. At present some are detained in detention centres, but from time to time some are detained in prison. Generally speaking, that is a much more traumatic experience for the children in question.

The amendment principally applies to unaccompanied children before an appeal is determined. If an appeal takes place and fails, and the child is to be deported, then the amendment would not prevent such a child being held in custody pending the deportation. I realise that the Government have said on a number of occasions that the power to detain children while an appeal is pending will be used only in exceptional circumstances. However, I gather that the Refugee Council has worked with around 80 unaccompanied children in the past two years. Some of them were aged 13 or 14, and some were detained in adult prisons, to which I referred.

It has been suggested that the detention of refugee children violates Article 37 of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, because it is unregulated and without judicial oversight. Furthermore, it violates Articles 22 and 39 of the convention. I hope that when the Minister responds, he will take the convention into account and consider how the powers in the Bill square up with it.

While I welcome the fact that children will be detained only in exceptional circumstances, nevertheless it seems to me that every effort should be made to avoid detention wherever possible, particularly as regards unaccompanied children. By definition, those children have known traumatic circumstances in their countries of origin, and by succeeding in gaining entry to this country, they have probably also been through great traumas and difficulties.

I was told by one of the children's organisations of a 13 year-old Nigerian girl whose parents were political activists in that country. Both had gone missing and were believed killed. The girl arrived here on a false passport, because that was the only way she could leave Nigeria. One of the false statements on the passport made her a good deal older than she was. Again, that was necessary if she was to succeed in her aim of escaping the country. Out of fear, she did not at first admit the false statement to the immigration officers. She was sent to a detention centre and held there for several months before eventually being released on bail on her 14th birthday. That case illustrates several of the issues behind the purpose of the amendment, and explains why I wish to draw attention to the matter at this stage.

A large number of unaccompanied children--probably the majority of those detained--encounter a dispute about what is their real age. Often they will have travelled on false documents, in much the same way as

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the young lady I referred to had done. That is where the second amendment, Amendment No. 115, comes into the picture. On an earlier amendment tabled by the noble Earl, Lord Russell, the subject was raised of what happens when the age is disputed. In those circumstances it can be very difficult to decide precisely what is the age of a child or a young person. Amendment No. 115 attempts to ease the situation, although obviously the basic decision will remain just as difficult, whatever the underlying law says.

The purpose of the amendments is not dissimilar to that of the Government; namely, to avoid as far as possible children--particularly unaccompanied children--finding themselves in detention, and especially, where it can possibly be avoided, finding themselves being held in adult prisons. In the vast majority of cases it should be possible to avoid that. I beg to move.

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