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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. As for the "Prestige", the tragedy that befell the whole fishing industry off the Spanish coast and the great dangers created by that tanker, there is now international action to guarantee that single-hulled ships are phased out and that we have added protection against oil leakages from ships which get into real difficulty. That is on the basis of international action through the International Maritime Organisation, which is the basic forum in which this country and all others must make progress to guarantee safety at sea.
Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the International Maritime Organisation prescribe minimum standards for the rates of pay, conditions of work and training for seamen on the ships concerned? If not, should it?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the issues of minimum pay and standards are more difficult, but I assure the noble Lord that the International Maritime Organisation is very concerned that the level of training for crews should be examined, because there is no doubt that when accidents happen at sea, they often occur because the crew is not as well equipped to deal with emergencies as should be the case. That has been the main focus of the International Maritime Organisation.
Viscount Simon: My Lords, is my noble friend aware that in Australia, all ships, I believe, that enter are examined for any failures in their efficiency to operate and are impounded until they comply? Do such systems exist in this country or are there any plans to introduce them?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I reassure my noble friend that the concept that he has outlined of how Australia operates is similar to that which is being developed in Europenamely, that port authorities have the right to assure themselves that any ship arriving at the port meets standards and requirements. I can give my noble friend clear reassurance on that.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the OECD initiative on the Financial Action Task Force simply ranked offshore financial centres as A, B or C, with a recommendation that serious banks should not treat with those in category C? Could not the same be done for offshore shipping registration?
Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the noble Lord invests the OECD report with greater salience than it deserves at this stage. The OECD has said that it wants to engage in additional consultation before it formally publishes the report, recognising the real difficulties that obtain with regard to international shipping. The Government will of course take seriously the need to play our part within the OECD to ensure that any such report is considered with due thoroughness.
Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty's Government: What proposals they have made for strengthening the Commonwealth in advance of the forthcoming meeting of Commonwealth heads of government in Abuja.
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, at the Commonwealth heads of government meeting in Abuja, from 5th to 8th December, which the Prime Minister will attend, the Government will participate fully in taking forward heightened Commonwealth collaboration in a number of important areas, such as strengthened work to achieve the millennium development goals, combating HIV/AIDS and terrorism, the promotion of NePAD and a call from the Commonwealth for the Doha development round to restart. The situation in Zimbabwe will also be under discussion.
Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for that reply. Further to the last part of her Answer, will she comment on reports that Robert Mugabe is behind plans to replace the current Commonwealth Secretary-General?
Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, further to the noble Lord's supplementary question, what comfort can my noble friend give those who think that NePAD is worth supporting, when few African leaders agree to take action on Zimbabwe?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, my noble friend raises an important issue that I know exercises and concerns many noble Lords. The Government believe firmly that NePAD, on which progress is being made, is worth supporting. We should support the peer review that is progressing, in which 16 NePAD countries have volunteered to participate. We should not discourage that. Neither Africa nor NePAD should be held responsible for the actions of a single countryZimbabwe.
Lord Thomson of Monifieth: My Lords, is the Minister aware that there will be widespread support for the statement made by the Secretary of State for Education and Skills, Charles Clarke, at the recent meeting of Commonwealth education ministers in Edinburgh, that education is at the very heart of the Commonwealth? Will the Government support strongly the action plan for a Commonwealth education strategy that was put forward at the meeting in Edinburgh for the CHOGM in Nigeria? Will the
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the Government strongly support the recent action plan that emerged from the Commonwealth conference of education ministers that they hosted in Edinburgh in October. There is a great deal of support for the action plan. As noble Lords will know, the theme was the closure of the gap, access, inclusion and achievement. The action plan will make a difference to the education opportunities of primary and secondary children in all member countries. I will certainly pass on the noble Lord's strong remarks about the inclusion of education in the final communique.
Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, does my noble friend recognise that the basis of the Question relates to Zimbabwe? I am sure that she does. We have heard much about the banning of independent news in Zimbabwe and the torture that is apparently taking place there. The Question is about strengthening the Commonwealth. Does my noble friend feel that patience is being stretched to the limit, and that we must make a categorical statement about the actions of the Mugabe government that will demonstrate realistic, not discriminatory, attention to the problems of the people of Zimbabwe?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I strongly agree with my noble friend's points. The Prime Minister will make clear to fellow Commonwealth leaders in Abuja next week that we see no justification for the readmission of Zimbabwe to the councils of the Commonwealth at present. We recognise fully that the Daily News and many other press outlets have been closed illegally and that there has been a glut of arrests of civil, trade union and political leaders during the autumn in Zimbabwe.
Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, does the noble Baroness not think it absolutely wonderful that, decades after the demise of the British Empire, we still have the great British Commonwealth, which represents a quarter of the world's population? Does she agree that, so long as we have that marvellous organisation, there is no need to fear that we shall be isolated in the world under any circumstances?
Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I shall resist the underlying force of my noble friend's question. I agree absolutely that the values of the Commonwealth make an enormous contribution to peace, stability and progress in the world.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Scotland of Asthal): My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend Part 4 of the Family Law Act 1996 and the Protection from Harassment Act 1997; to make provision about homicide; to make common assault an arrestable offence; to provide for a procedure under which a jury tries only sample counts on an indictment and to make provision in relation to victims of offences, witnesses of offences and others affected by offences. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Lord Berkeley: My Lords, I beg to introduce a Bill to amend the procedure for dealing with applications for orders under Section 14 or 16 of the Harbours Act 1964 and for making orders under Section 15 of that Act; and for connected purpose. I beg to move that this Bill be now read a first time.
Moved, That Standing Order 41 (Arrangement of the Order Paper) be dispensed with on Tuesday 9th December to allow the Motion standing in the name of the Baroness Greenfield to be taken before the Second Reading of the Public Audit (Wales) Bill [HL].(Baroness Amos.).