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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Baroness Amos) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 20th June be approved [First Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Baroness said: My Lords, in moving this order I shall speak also to the draft Specialised Agencies of the United Nations (Immunities and Privileges of UNESCO) Order 2001 laid before the House on 25th June.
The International Criminal Court Bill received Royal Assent on 11th May 2001. The present draft order is one of a series of items of secondary legislation to prepare for ratification of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court. The Rome Statute was signed on behalf of Her Majesty's Government on 30th November 1998 and presented to Parliament as Command Paper 4555. This draft order implements Articles 4(1) and 48(2) of the statute. In addition to conferring the legal capacities of a body corporate on the court, the order provides that the judges, the prosecutor, the deputy prosecutors and the registrar shall, when engaged on or with respect to the business of the court, enjoy the like privileges and immunities as are accorded to the head of a diplomatic mission, as well as official act immunity after the expiry of their terms of office.
The International Criminal Court (ICC) will be a permanent court situated in The Hague, to try individuals for some of the most serious crimes known to mankind: genocide; crimes against humanity; war crimes and perhaps in the future the crime of aggression. There have been aspirations to the creation of such a court for the past 50 years, since the United Nations was founded in 1945 and after the Nuremberg and Tokyo military tribunals.
The ICC will have jurisdiction over individuals, not states. The court will be able to prosecute not only those who carry out crimes, but those in authority who order crimes to be committed--including Heads of State and government officials. The ICC will work as a court that is complementary to national courts. National courts will retain primary jurisdiction. The ICC will take over investigating and prosecuting a crime only when the states with jurisdiction are unable or unwilling, genuinely, to do so.
The ICC will consist of a chamber of 18 judges divided into pre-trial, trial and appeals division, an independent prosecutor and a registry. The ICC statute contains detailed provisions safeguarding due process and fair trial in accordance with the highest international standards. The ICC may sentence individuals to terms of imprisonment of up to 30 years or, where justified by the extreme gravity of the crime and the individual circumstances of the convicted person, life imprisonment. Fines and forfeiture of proceeds from the crimes in question may also be ordered.
I am satisfied that the order is compatible with the rights contained in the European Convention on Human Rights. This order is one small part of a legal jigsaw, important but I believe non-controversial. I trust that your Lordships will approve it.
I now turn to the second order. The United Kingdom rejoined the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) on 1st July 1997. The present order is required to restore to UNESCO the immunities and privileges provided for by the 1947 Convention on the Privileges and Immunities of the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations (Cmnd. 855).
Before the United Kingdom withdrew from UNESCO on 31st December 1985, the relevant immunities and privileges were conferred under the Specialised Agencies of the United Nations (Immunities and Privileges) Order 1974 (S.I. 1974 No. 1260). The 1974 order is still in force but, as a result of UK withdrawal from UNESCO, automatically lapsed in respect of that organisation. The new order makes provision for the 1974 order to apply once again to UNESCO in accordance with its terms.
Lord Goodhart: My Lords, we also support these orders. We have always strongly supported the creation of the International Criminal Court and we also welcome the now changed circumstances of UNESCO, and that the United Kingdom has returned to take its seat there.
I should like to make one brief point on the International Criminal Court. It is my understanding that the rules of the International Criminal Court are to be prepared by a working group which is composed of representatives of the first 30 states to ratify the statute. We have now missed that target--I believe 36 have already ratified. I regret therefore that it was not possible to speed up the ratification to ensure that we got into the first 30. Having said that, we are entirely happy to support the two orders.
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department of Trade and Industry (Lord Sainsbury of Turville) rose to move, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th June be approved [First Report from the Joint Committee].
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the network of Crown and sub-post offices plays a vital role in our society. Many of the vulnerable and elderly rely on it to deliver services to them, as well as it being a convenient place for the community as a whole to access government services, financial products and, of course, postal services.
The network is much more than just a retail outlet, especially in rural areas. It is also a public service. The local sub-post office represents vital human contact for many of its customers. Sub-postmasters know their clients by name, and can often be the first ones to raise the alarm if an elderly customer fails to collect their pension. They are a trusted point of contact with government. And the local post office is often the only place where the community can easily access cash.
I am sure noble Lords will want to join me once again in placing on record our thanks for the service to their communities that sub-postmasters and sub-postmistresses perform. This is a network built on the dedication of individuals. Yet ironically, that can also be one of its weaknesses. When an individual sub-postmaster decides to retire, Consignia is in a position where it must find an alternative person to take on that business. A new sub-postmaster must be found.
Consignia has begun to make setting up as a sub-postmaster more attractive--for example, by dropping the initial payment sub-postmasters were required to provide before taking on an office. The Government are also committed to ensuring that the network is a viable business and that running a sub-post office is and remains an attractive business proposition.
For example, new life will be injected into the network through two business streams identified following last year's Performance and Innovation Unit report: Universal Banking Services and the Government General Practitioner scheme. The GGP scheme will be piloted from this month in Leicestershire and Rutland. A further range of new
The Government recognise the need for both short-term and longer-term support to assist the network as it seeks to build these new income streams. We are supporting the network through the introduction of three specific schemes. The first two look to the future. One will implement the PIU recommendation that in urban and suburban areas there should be better, brighter offices. The second will provide transitional funding to cover the gap between the payment of benefits direct to bank accounts (ACT) and the new income streams coming fully on line. The third, a short-term measure, is the subject of this order which has been brought forward to address the very specific circumstances that I will outline.
Often, someone can be found to be the new sub-postmaster and the existing premises will still be available to be used as the post office, but that is not always the case. Sometimes, although someone may be willing to become a sub-postmaster or a group of volunteers may want to preserve an important local service, there may not be an available facility. The retiring sub-postmaster may not be willing to make the premises available, or, if he or she is willing, alterations may be required to separate living and retail accommodation. Alternative premises, such as a church or a community hall, may be available, but may need to be made suitable by, for example, upgrading security.
Post Office Counters has an established team dedicated to preventing the closure of rural sub-post offices. The team is often frustrated to see a worthwhile and well-thought out community initiative to save its post office fall at the last hurdle for the sake of a relatively small amount of start-up capital funding. A few thousand pounds may be needed to improve security or access to the premises, or to install a counter. Those are small sums, but to a small community seeking to raise funds on a voluntary basis, they can seem like mountains to climb. The plans get put on hold, and so the community loses its post office.
The scheme set out in the draft order addresses this problem. It will make available funding for the preservation of existing post offices in rural areas or their replacement. This scheme was first announced in another place by my honourable friend Alan Johnson on 15th February 2001. Following its announcement, my department wrote to all 12,000 parish and community councils across the country to draw their attention to the fact that we planned to make this funding available. The response has been very encouraging. We have received many expressions of interest and a number of specific suggestions and ideas as to how the money could be applied. Indeed, Post Office Counters has already signalled that it is prepared to fund two local schemes where the need is particularly urgent on the understanding that the Government were to bring forward this order for debate.
Before I give some details of how the scheme would work, I believe it would be helpful to give an example of the kind of communities that may benefit from this fund. A typical example is Capel le Ferne in Kent, where the community wants to re-establish its post office in the village hall. Modifications to improve access and security and to extend the hall are planned; the villagers have raised £3,000 towards the cost with a "buy a brick" campaign and the local authority has also promised to give assistance. However, there remains a gap that this scheme should be able to fill.
I now turn to the detail of the scheme. The scheme is established under Section 103 of the Postal Services Act 2000, which allows the Secretary of State to make a scheme for the making of payments for the purpose of,
That new commitment underpins the PIU conclusion that the Government should place a formal requirement on the Post Office to maintain the rural network. We have done so, and the scheme backs up the policy with carefully targeted capital funding.
We have worked closely with Post Office Counters and we have involved the National Federation of Sub-Postmasters, PostComm, PostWatch and the devolved administrations in the development of these proposals to ensure that the scheme targets deserving cases effectively.
The scheme provides for subsidy of up to £20,000 to be paid in any particular case. Post Office Counters advises us that in many cases the amount of money needed to save a post office is small. We expect the fund to help to secure the future of up to 200 community-based sub-post offices. It is not intended to be an ongoing source of funding. The scheme is part of the package to bridge the "confidence gap" in the network until the longer-term finances of the network, with new income from Universal Banking Services, the Government General Practitioner and the other income streams and a framework for government funding of the rural network, are in place.
It is essential that the scheme dovetails with the existing arrangements within Post Office Counters to preserve the rural network. The business has appointed a senior manager to oversee the work and has established a dedicated team of rural transfer advisers. That is why we have proposed that the scheme is administered on our behalf by Post Office Counters. Subject to agreement to establish this scheme in this House and in another place, the
Post Office procedures for seeking a replacement sub-postmaster are well established and documented in a code of practice agreed with the postal services consumer council, PostWatch. The scheme before this House integrates with those existing processes, so that potential new sub-postmasters will be able to liase with a single unit in the company rather than being passed around between the company and the Government.
The company seeks, first, to find a commercial solution, advertising the post office business widely. Where no candidates come forward on a commercial basis, local authorities and local community organisations are approached to see whether a community-based solution can be found. Many communities succeed not only in devising a means of saving their post office, but also in securing funding from local sources. It is important not to stifle such initiatives, so this scheme is designed as a top-up scheme, either to make good a shortfall in funds raised from other sources or, where it is clear that the community has tried to raise funds but has not been successful, to fund the full cost of the work.
Noble Lords may notice that the scheme avoids pinning down in great detail the circumstances in which a payment may be made. Paragraph 4 sets out the circumstances which the scheme is intended to cover, but we have been conscious that every case for funding will be different and we have sought to avoid a scheme which inadvertently rules out a payment for a good case just because we had not thought of that particular solution. Therefore, the scheme builds in some discretion in Paragraph 6 which will allow those on the ground to reach sensible decisions, on a case by case basis, on whether they should be funded. The Post Office Counters team evaluating the applications will take into account attempts made to raise funding from other sources, value for money and the proximity and convenience of alternative post office facilities.
This is an important scheme. It is a key element in our strategy to support the network of rural sub-post offices through a transitional period and to see it thrive. It will allow rural communities to save their local post office or to make arrangements to have an alternative. More than that, it recognises the vital role that post offices play in our communities.
I, therefore, commend this order to noble Lords and I hope that this House will be able to give it, and post offices in rural communities, its support. In doing so, it is the practice for a Minister inviting Parliament to approve a draft statutory instrument to volunteer a view regarding its compatibility with the convention rights as defined in Section 1 of the Human Rights Act 1998. In my view, the provisions of the draft order are compatible with the convention rights. I am extremely pleased that the noble Lord, Lord McNally, is present to hear me say that. I beg to move.
Moved, That the draft order laid before the House on 25th June be approved [First Report from the Joint Committee].--(Lord Sainsbury of Turville.)
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