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House of Lords

Monday, 25 June 2007.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of London.

People Trafficking

Lord Wallace of Saltaire asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, in addition to bilateral operational co-operation, the UK and Spain contributed personnel to a European Border Agency operation last summer in the Canaries, working specifically to tackle illegal migration flows from west Africa. We have also worked closely with Spain in implementing the EU global approach to migration, which seeks to address the causes of illegal migration that lead migrants to approach people smugglers.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reference to “last summer”. This, however, is the beginning of this summer’s season for people smuggling from west Africa. Does she recall our departing Prime Minister saying two or three years ago that Britain’s frontier was in the Mediterranean? Cleary, it is also off west Africa. There are stories in the press about Punjabis being smuggled through west Africa and Chinese people-smuggling routes going through Africa carrying Eritreans and Somalis, many of whom we know will attempt to get to Britain. Is this not a clear case where closer co-operation with all of our European partners—Spain in particular—and a British contribution to strengthening Frontex, the border agency, are exactly what we need in our own national interest?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we support the work of Frontex, and we want to strengthen it. However, we do not believe that it should have a permanent presence in the Canaries because we believe that it would be viewed as establishing a de facto European border guard. We do not agree that that is the right way forward at this moment.

Lord Wright of Richmond: My Lords, without pre-empting the Statement to be made later today, does the Minister recall that a recent Europe Select Committee report on Schengen information service II recommended that the Government should seek to gain access to SIS immigration data? Is the Minister satisfied that the outcome of the European Council has increased the chances of gaining such data?

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I regret that I do not have information on SIS data specifically, but I will seek that information and inform the noble Lord. However, I am delighted by the outcome of the recent summit. The results with regard to justice and home affairs are particularly important, because we have reached an agreement whereby we will continue to be very active players in JHA but we can have safeguards and opt-outs where we believe it to be in the national interest.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, rightly described what is, for better or worse, now our frontier. Of the estimated 500,000 illegal immigrants coming into the EU each year, it is thought that about one-quarter are coming by this route. Is the Minister aware that the Spanish have been trying to develop the integrated system of external vigilance, otherwise known, rather appropriately, as SIVE? That is their high-tech attempt to check the enormous number of immigrants coming across from Africa to various ports in southern Spain. Is there anything we can do to reinforce the efficiency of the SIVE system to make it a bit less sieve-like and ensure, with the Spanish, that some check is made on a line of entry into the EU that is now used not just by Africans but, as the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, rightly said, by Chinese and other Asian groups as well? They are moving to, for example, Mauritania; from there, they are leaping off to the Canary Islands and from there into the European Union. Surely there is more we could do to stop that channel.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am sure that we are happy to work bilaterally with Spain in reinforcing its capacity to ensure that its illegal immigrants do not enter the European Union via the Canaries. I am sure that that is under discussion. Indeed, we worked last year with Spain on capacity and training to ensure that people entering through the Canaries were properly apprehended. If I have further information for the noble Lord, I will provide it in writing.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, have any new proposals emerged from the EU-Africa conference held in Spain last week at which I understand the FCO was represented? In particular, has any progress been made with the EU-Africa action plan on migration and development, which seeks to involve both the countries of origin and transit in solving this problem?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I do not have the results of that very important meeting, which took place in Madrid between officials. However, we believe that this is an extremely important forum because we see the direct link between migration and development policies. We are seeking to improve the capacity of our partners in the Mediterranean to deal with migrants as well as alleviating poverty and improving education in the countries they are coming from so that people do not want to leave them.

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Lord Carlile of Berriew: My Lords, I declare an interest as patron of a new charity called Stop Trafficking of People in the UK. Does the noble Baroness accept that in terms of people trafficking and terrorism, smuggling in lorries into this country remains an extremely serious problem? Will the Government ensure that the road haulage industry is aware of the ever-increased vigilance being given to lorries, both curtain-sided and fixed-sided, coming into this country? Some contain smuggled people, some of whom are destined to slave labour in this country.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government are fully aware of the terrible nature of trafficking and we are doing our utmost to stop that crime. Road haulage is beyond my brief today; however, what the noble Lord says is eminently sensible, and I am sure that the Government are working to improve the information for hauliers so that they are aware of the situation.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, we understand that people smuggling is now a more profitable form of transnational crime than drug smuggling. Clearly, it should be a very high priority for international police co-operation. Are we doing enough in promoting that co-operation with our European partners and, through them, the police in the countries through which these people are being trafficked?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we are working with our police partners in the European Union. We now have agents from SOCA—the Serious Organised Crime Agency—in most of our embassies and high commissions. We have SOCA people in Madrid, and I am sure that they are working with the police in Spain to exchange best practice and work together so that we can stop the affliction of people smuggling.

Identity Scheme: Non-listed Residents

2.43 pm

Baroness Gardner of Parkes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, no Government can be expected to produce an accurate figure for the number of people who are not included in official statistics. However, once identity cards are introduced, details of everyone issued with an ID card will be held on a national identity register which will provide us with much better information on who is resident in the United Kingdom.

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Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I thank the Minister. I ask this Question because I met a Latin-American woman who has been living in this country for 27 years. She got a job on arrival here; the employer gave her a national insurance card and deducted tax from her pay. When the business folded—I do not know whether it was because they ran away or because it just went broke—and she attempted to reclaim the tax, she was told that nothing had ever been paid and her national insurance number was a fake. She has been living in fear in this country—and living invisibly—ever since. There must be many thousands of people similarly invisible. What are the human rights of these people, and what will happen if they apply for an ID card when the time comes?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, obviously each individual case throws up different answers but, in general terms, the noble Baroness’s acquaintance should apply to the Home Office Border and Immigration Agency to regularise her position and apply for indefinite leave to remain; that is, to settle in the United Kingdom entirely legally. The Immigration Rules allow for that. The noble Baroness may like to look at the useful website provided by the Border and Immigration Agency. It bears consideration and may enable her to assist her friend.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that identity cards will be introduced?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, it was a clear manifesto commitment and we have put legislation in place. Clearly, the public understand the benefits of identity cards.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, the cost report on ID cards produced by the Government last May indicated that the people taken into account were British or Irish citizens resident in this country. A large number of people are non-resident—people from other countries who have a legal right to settle here or who may be on indefinite leave to remain here. Have the Government quantified the number of those people involved and the costs relating to them?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that we do make estimates of that sort, but such a group would be caught by the ID card implementation programme. If they have indefinite leave to remain here, they will benefit from an ID card which, in many respects, will be a passport to many of the services and benefits that they wish to enjoy while living in this country.

Lord Soley: My Lords, the type of case raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Gardner, is not totally unknown to me. Does the Minister agree that one advantage of the introduction of identity cards is that it will be made more difficult, although not impossible, for employers to abuse individuals in that way, which is devastating for them?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I entirely agree with my noble friend. The implementation of the ID card scheme will bring many benefits that we cannot currently foresee. That is why the Government are bringing it forward.

Lord Swinfen: My Lords, what would be the position of the person given as an example by my noble friend Lady Gardner of Parkes if they were to apply for treatment under the National Health Service? Would they have to pay and, if so, is the National Health Service geared up to make proper demands for such payment?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am sure that there are rules governing people in that position. I do not have a precise answer for the noble Lord, but I will find one and communicate with him directly.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, we have heard from the Minister that one of the benefits of ID cards is that people in this country who are unknown to us will be found out. However, are the Government ready for the application of perhaps several hundred thousand of these people for leave to remain and identity cards? If they all apply, it will be in very large numbers.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, of course we are ready for that eventuality. It is part of our planning so that this programme is introduced in a sensible and phased way. That is why we have given ourselves a reasonable run-in period. First up, it will be for foreign nationals to register through the ID cards process. That will provide a lot of information to enable us to see how the process works best and to have a smooth implementation.

The Earl of Northesk: My Lords, will the Minister clarify his earlier comment that the ID card will be a passport to services? I understood that that had been categorically excluded from the legislation.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the ID card scheme will enable us to prevent abuse of our system. In the same way, it will act as a passport so that people will know who is in front of them and whether or not they are entitled to a service.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, the Minister mentioned the “indefinite leave to remain” passport stamp, but all Australians renewing passports are being told that this stamp is no longer being issued. That contradicts his remark.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not think that it does. I tried to explain to the noble Baroness that her acquaintance should seek indefinite leave to remain here to regularise her position. She will then be properly brought into the population, accounted for and issued with all the relevant documents. If she is fully entitled to services, that will be of immense benefit to her.

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The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, has the Minister noticed that there is growing support for the Strangers into Citizens campaign? Have the Government formed a view on that?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I am not aware that we have formed a view on it, but it seems to me that encouraging people to regularise their position if they have been long-term resident in the UK is a very sensible strategy.

NHS: Mixed-sex Wards

2.50 pm

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department of Health (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, single-sex accommodation should be the norm for elective care and remains the ideal for all admissions. We have made that clear in this year’s NHS operating framework. In emergencies, the need to admit has priority. Some 99 per cent of trusts provide single-sex sleeping accommodation in wards other than A&E admission units and critical care.

Baroness Oppenheim-Barnes: My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for that Answer. However, as he will be aware from the report by the NHS Chief Nursing Officer, although it is claimed that 99 per cent of people are in single-sex wards, the survey, when questioned, shows quite different figures. Many more people complain than is suggested by the figures. Is the Minister aware that the Chief Nursing Officer has also said that people give priority to clean hospitals rather than to single-sex wards? What a disgrace that it should be either/or.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, in fairness to the Chief Nursing Officer, the work she undertook was partly to get the views of patients, who made it clear that cleaning is a top priority. That does not mean that there is any complacency about the issue of mixed-sex accommodation. The noble Baroness refers in her Question to “mixed-sex wards”, but the target that was set in 1997 was on mixed-sex accommodation. That definition of mixed-sex accommodation was the same one used by the noble Baroness's own Government.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, the Minister will recall that I have been pursuing this matter since 1994. We still do not have a resolution of it. All the reports show that patients, particularly women, rate this problem as very important indeed. As we are presently spending £91 billion a year—equivalent to £1,500 per person each year—is it not appalling that we cannot solve this problem? Can he assure me that hospital staff have the idea that patients are top and should be treated properly as customers and not supplicants?

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Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I hope very much that the whole ethos and value of the NHS is to treat patients as people who deserve dignity and quality of care, and of course they should not be treated as supplicants. The noble Lord has been asking questions about single-sex accommodation for a number of years; and I have been answering questions about the same subject for what seems any number of years. The health service has made considerable progress. It did reach the target of 95 per cent of trusts eliminating mixed-sex accommodation except in areas such as emergency admissions where it is not always practical to do so. The problem arises because eliminating “mixed-sex accommodation” is taken to mean removing mixed-sex wards. In modern health service terms that is not possible because of the need for specialisation. That is why the emphasis is on segregation within wards. I agree that that has been the cause of some confusion for patients.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, does the Minister agree that failure to eliminate mixed-sex wards is due in large part to hospital managers trying to achieve unrealistically high bed occupancy rates? Does he also agree that, like the failure to control MRSA, this problem is due in great part to the obsession with targets, which militate against good patient care?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: No, my Lords; I do not accept any of those comments. We have targets in order to reduce long waiting times for treatment. Time and again patients have made it clear that that is what they want. On the question of whether this is done by managerial diktat, the answer is no. Fifty years ago there were single-sex wards, but specialisation in today’s modern health service means that patients need to receive specialist care in the same area. That leads to the safest possible care. We have to ensure that in that context there is segregation in those ward areas, and this is being done.

Earl Howe: My Lords, I note what the Minister said but there is still a certain lack of clarity. In 2004, NHS managers told the Secretary of State that mixed-sex accommodation had been eliminated in 99 per cent of trusts and yet she subsequently discovered through work done by journalists and many case studies—examples provided by patients themselves—that this clearly was not the case. Does the Minister put this anomaly down to inaccurate data collection or has the problem got worse over the past three years as trusts have found themselves under increasing financial pressure?

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