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Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I very much agree with the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, that the election is only the beginning of the process. But the Government's approach is to ensure that everything we do in foreign policy—we may not always call it "promoting democracy"—is geared towards the core universal principles of democracy. Those include the participation of people—the noble Lord talked about people who were desperate to vote, often doing so in difficult and violent circumstances and showing that they want to have their say—transparency, holding governments to account and the rule of law. Those are very important principles, and we follow them up with projects, advice and mentoring in Ukraine, Georgia, Iraq and all over the world.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, is the Minister aware that yesterday a very senior Saudi Arabian delegation visited your Lordships' House to inquire how an appointed Chamber could contribute to the development of democracy? The noble Lords present, of whom I was one, were able to tell them that, provided there was a democratic Chamber to work alongside, an appointed Chamber like your Lordships' House was doing an extremely good job.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, perhaps the noble Lord told the delegation that we are a work in progress.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, as one who does not know the procedures in this area, do the Government wait until they are asked or do they just assume that other countries are desperately anxious to reach the same level of efficiency as the British Government have done in this country? Certainly, people who I know in ASEAN are frequently deeply offended by the assumption that former colonial powers still have the right to tell them how to run their countries.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we are not telling people how to run their countries. There is no "one size fits all" for democracy. We are saying to people that we will work to support the growth of democracy which is indigenous in countries. As I said, we do that through an enormous amount of funding from the FCO, DfID and the MoD, which provides help and support with mentoring and advice. There is no need for us to justify our enthusiasm
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for democracy. It is a truth that will be known to many noble Lords here that no two democracies have ever gone to war with each other.

Lord McNally: My Lords, when the Minister next entertains delegations from abroad, will she also take them to the other place and explain that there a party with less than 40 per cent of the votes may well end up with more than 60 per cent of seats and that such an outcome is an insult to an efficient democracy? Can she confirm that the Labour Party is still committed to reforming that outdated and absurd electoral system?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, of course, in this House the party with the smallest number of votes has an overall influence on the votes, way above that voting potential.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, is my noble friend aware—I am sure she is—that there is currently in this country a delegation of politicians from Bosnia Herzegovina who are very anxious indeed for tangible support for their efforts to get nearer to the European Union? They are very much looking to Britain to take a leading part in obtaining EU help and support. Can she take that further?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I very much support my noble friend's enthusiasm for assisting in that area. Of course, we assist Bosnia Herzegovina bilaterally, with the EU and through our NATO colleagues. As someone who was there during the war more than 10 years ago, I realise how slow the West was to come to the aid of Bosnia.

Lord Laming: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the growth of democracy does not end with central government issues but that a strong local government is very important in achieving the level of participation to which the Minister referred? That applies equally to this country as it does to others.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I could not agree more. For example, in Georgia, the current focus of our efforts is to facilitate a link between the legislative branch of government and the citizens of Georgia's regions so that local level democracy can be boosted.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I welcome the emergence and strengthening of democracy throughout the world, but can my noble friend tell me the Government's response to the fact that in recent local elections in Saudi Arabia women were not allowed to participate?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, although I welcome the recent elections in Saudi Arabia as progress on the path to reform, I cannot hide from noble Lords our disappointment that women were excluded. Along with our EU partners, we raised our disappointment and concern with the Saudi authorities. In that context, we
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welcome the statement by the Saudi Ambassador to London that women will be included in the next elections in 2009.

Standards Board for England

Baroness Scott of Needham Market asked Her Majesty's Government:

The Minister of State, Office of the Deputy Prime Minister (Lord Rooker): My Lords, we consider that the Standards Board for England is undertaking the important job of promoting high standards of conduct for members of local authorities in an effective way.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, is the Minister aware that councillors are being suspended from office after investigation by the Standards Board for misdemeanours no greater than the zealous representation of constituents' interests or minor lapses of judgment? Some of those suspensions are taking place for up to a year. Does he agree that an unaccountable quango suspending from office the democratically elected representative of a community is a gross interference with democratic processes and should take place only when the most serious breaches of conduct occur?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, my answer to that has to be: in general, yes. I do not know all the details and it would obviously be inappropriate to discuss individual cases. But such suspensions cannot be right if someone is over-zealous in representation, including being criticised for involving the relevant Member of the other place; that, I believe, is unacceptable. That is my personal view and I think that it is the view of any reasonable person. I draw an analogy with the other place. If something really serious happens there, a Member might be suspended for a fortnight or, for something really, really serious, a month. But being suspended from public office for a year and leaving people unrepresented is a problem. But those are the rules that currently operate with the Standards Board and the Adjudication Panel that follows. I understand that some people have been suspended for longer than a year.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, can the Minister tell me why more than half the Standards Board's time is spent on investigating parish councils? Does he not agree that it is hard enough to get people to serve on parish councils now and that it would be better to take some of the pressure off them? How long does he think it will be before the Standards Board can investigate the failure to implement the hedges policy?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I take the noble Baroness's point about parish councillors, and I know that that matter has been raised many times in this House. In principle, if people are in an elected office, I cannot see
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why they should be excluded from the normal rules of standards of probity. There is no evidence that that has been a major problem since parish councils were covered by the rules. However, I accept that of the complaints made to the Standards Board—the board does filter them out—more than 70 per cent have so little merit that they are not even investigated. I understand that half the complaints relate to parish councils and that, of those investigated, only one in eight is sent to the Adjudication Panel. So there is an attempt to filter out ludicrous complaints, and it is not a very good sign that so many complaints are raised at this level.

The inability of local government, or indeed central government, to implement the provisions of the High Hedges Bill is a matter that I am actively looking into, bearing in mind that the noble Baroness was a key promoter of the legislation. We are very concerned that this issue has not been fully dealt with. I am not sure whether it is a matter for the Standards Board; it is more a matter for my department.

Baroness Scott of Needham Market: My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his positive reply. But how does he suggest that local councillors who feel aggrieved in this way can proceed further? At the moment, the only option open to them is the High Court. I am sure that the Minister will accept that that is very expensive and is an impractical option for most local councillors.

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