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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord's interpretation. The regulations are clear. Obviously noble Lords are exercised about this matter and the Greater London Returning Officer will have to consider it, quite properly, in the fullness of time.

Baroness Hooper: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that anyone who voted only once in those elections was not considered to have spoilt his voting paper?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, electors were fully entitled to vote just once. The fact that they voted only once did not invalidate the vote.

Seafarers: National Minimum Wage

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty's Government:

Lord Triesman: My Lords, the national minimum wage applies to mariners employed on a UK-registered ship unless their employment is wholly outside the UK or they are not ordinarily resident in the UK. Foreign seafarers qualify for the minimum wage when they are serving on UK-registered vessels trading in UK waters.
 
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The effect of the minimum wage on the recruitment of British ratings depends on the crewing decisions of individual shipping companies, which are matters for the companies themselves.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that Answer. Is he in a position to say whether the tonnage tax introduced in 2000 has had the beneficial effect of increasing jobs for British ratings? Have the Government considered reforming the Race Relations Act 1976 and the National Minimum Wage Act 1998 to ensure that all ratings on UK-registered ships are paid the full minimum wage?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, recent research by the London Metropolitan University analyses the position on UK ships and that probably provides the current best statistical evidence. It shows that there were about 28,000 active seafarers in 2003, a slight decline from the 30,000 in 1997. The figure has risen again to about 28,000, which represents a small recovery, and there is a parallel small recovery in the number of officers.

There is no loophole in the Race Relations Act. Section 9 was amended last year to allow payment of foreign seafarers at differential rates on UK-registered ships on the ground of nationality only. I point out to your Lordships' House that it is possible—indeed, it is easy—for ships to be reflagged in order to avoid any such regulations.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the effect of insisting that all ratings on British ships, wherever they are, are paid at British rates would be a large part of the present British fleet being flagged out to avoid that happening?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, there is a distinct possibility that that is what would happen. It is relatively easy to reflag a ship. Indeed, in the past 24 hours I have come across evidence that, by logging on to an on-line site in Cambodia, one can reflag a ship in slightly under 15 minutes.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, can the Minister say what the situation is with regard to the Royal Fleet Auxiliary?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I do not think that the Royal Fleet Auxiliary is fully covered, but I shall check that and write to the noble Earl to confirm it.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, can my noble friend say how often the Inland Revenue has inspected UK-registered ships to ensure that the minimum wage is being applied?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, the Inland Revenue is responsible for compliance and, certainly, if it is aware that minimum wage regulations are being broken, it makes inspections. But other inspections are also undertaken under port authority regulations on
 
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matters of safety on board ships, contamination, and so on. In all such cases, I am happy to say that reports place the United Kingdom's registered ships at the very top of the international league.

Guantanamo Bay: Detainees

Lord Sheldon asked Her Majesty's Government:

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we have long said that the British detainees should be either tried fairly in accordance with international standards or returned to the UK. Following discussions with the US, we concluded that US military commissions would not provide sufficient guarantees of a fair trial in accordance with international standards. We therefore asked that all British detainees be returned to the UK. Five returned in March. We continue to work to resolve the situation of the remaining four.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply and welcome the statement of the Attorney-General that the prisoners in Guantanamo Bay are not being guaranteed a fair trial but that there should be a fair trial in accordance with international law and that there should be no compromise in principle. I note the statements from the Supreme Court, but the fact is that, after two years of incarceration, these prisoners are still being held in wholly unacceptable circumstances. For a country with ideals of liberty, which we have always admired and often copied and which have been an example to the whole world, is this not a matter which merits universal censure?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware that the Government have consistently sought to resolve the position of the British detainees. Our position has been that the British detainees should be either tried fairly in accordance with international standards or returned to the United Kingdom. That has been the core of our argument. We expressed our reservations about the military commissions nearly a year ago and it was on that basis that five detainees were returned. We continue to press the US Government with respect to the other four.

Lord Thomas of Gresford: My Lords, we sit within a stone's throw of the Star Chamber Court. Does the Attorney-General agree with Justice Stevens' opinion, voiced yesterday in the Supreme Court of the United States in the case of Padilla v Rumsfeld, that:


 
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Will the Government now support British citizens who are detained in Guantanamo with legal and financial assistance to challenge the lawfulness of their detention in the United States courts, as the United States Supreme Court said they could yesterday?

Baroness Amos: My Lords, we are obviously considering the implications of yesterday's judgment, and it is far too early for me to make any specific comments in relation to it.

The Lord Bishop of Oxford: My Lords, has the noble Baroness received any reports from the International Committee of the Red Cross on whether it is satisfied with the access that it has to prisoners and, in particular, on whether it is satisfied on the issue of mail? Relatives are receiving letters only infrequently and they are very delayed and heavily censored.

Baroness Amos: My Lords, I am aware that some concerns have been expressed by some detainees about the conditions in Guantanamo Bay, including the issue of mail. With regard to the International Committee of the Red Cross, I have not seen any specific reports, but I am happy to write to the right reverend Prelate if any issues relate to the substance of his question.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the United States Supreme Court majority ruling yesterday guarantees a fair review but it does not necessarily guarantee a fair trial, which is what the noble and learned Lord, Lord Goldsmith, the Attorney-General, understandably called for the other day? Can she explain the Government's attitude to bringing home the remaining four British detainees at Guantanamo? Earlier in the year, it seemed that we were reluctant to have them back. Has the policy now changed on that? If they do come back, what will be their status and what will be the charges against them, and will the evidence for those charges be admissible in British courts?


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