Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Triesman: My Lords, our policy is as I have explained it to the House on a number of occasions. There will be no complicity with the current regime in Zimbabwe so long as it continues with the policies that it is following. We have not tried to insist on regime change; we have said that there has to be fundamental policy change, although Robert Mugabe

27 Jun 2007 : Column 596

might never be able to stomach that. It is an internal matter, but the policies have to change. This is the wreck of a nation that could be prosperous.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, is the Minister aware that, during a recent visit to this country, Archbishop Desmond Tutu called for more public figures to speak out against the situation in Zimbabwe?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I am aware of that and it is clear to me that there would be considerable benefit if people did that. It is not just a matter for the political class, if I may put it that way; it is a matter for everyone who cares about having a decent society.

The Duke of Montrose: My Lords, has the Minister seen the reports of Mugabe paying off some of his Ministers by giving them tractors? Does he know where Mugabe got these tractors from and how much he is likely to have paid for them? Does anyone have any idea how much the Minister would like to be paid in tractors?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, I fear that most of my life has been so urban that I would not know what to do with one. I have of course read the stories to which the noble Duke refers, and it is the most short-term, benighted way of trying to deal with anything that I have ever heard of, not least because, as I understand it, in the modern period it is petrol rather than horses that make tractors go.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, will the Minister lend his authority to the Commonwealth putting Zimbabwe on the agenda for the forthcoming heads of government meeting? Are there not precedents for the Commonwealth to discuss former members under the Harare Declaration as it has been interpreted?

Lord Triesman: My Lords, let me be straightforward with the House on this matter. There is no desire at the Commonwealth conference to revisit the subject of Zimbabwe. The last time the question came up, it took over the entire agenda, and I think that poverty alleviation, trade and the Doha development round are closer to the forefront of people’s minds. However, I assure the House that, the moment there is the will and we can see a window of opportunity, I shall do my level best to ensure that it is on that agenda.

Care Homes: Human Rights

3.22 pm

Baroness Greengross asked Her Majesty’s Government:

27 Jun 2007 : Column 597

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, on Monday, I met the other organisations that intervened in YL. We discussed how to ensure respect for the human rights of older people in care. I am particularly interested in investigating how to use a human rights framework to ensure that all older people in care are looked after properly. I have also spoken to colleagues from the Department of Health, and we shall engage with representatives of the care sector in considering our way forward.

Baroness Greengross: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that very helpful reply. Will she confirm, again, that human rights protection applies to all vulnerable people, regardless of whether they qualify for publicly funded care? Will the Government take immediate action, probably followed by legislation, bearing in mind that frail and sick—mostly elderly—people cannot wait very long? Will they seize the opportunity presented by the forthcoming review of national minimum standards for care homes to include respect for human rights as a core standard? Will they also seize the opportunity of the merger of inspectorates in 2009 to make every care home that is subject to inspection also subject to the Human Rights Act?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for joining the meeting on Monday and for giving me the benefit of her views. I understand the desire for us to act with speed. She will know that I am looking at what we might do within the framework of care standards, the review and the forthcoming legislation.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords, going beyond the important question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, about vulnerable people in care homes, has the Minister noticed that the only Lord of Appeal in the judgment who referred to the stated intention of the Home Secretary at the time, Jack Straw—and, for that matter, of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Irvine of Lairg, whom I am delighted to see here today—indicated in her speech that it was made absolutely clear at the time that private bodies providing services that were previously performed by statute were intended to be covered by the Human Rights Act? If the noble Baroness has noted that, as I am sure she has, will she tell us how she can consult urgently on ways of restoring the Human Rights Act to what its architects, including the noble and learned Lord who was then on the Woolsack and the Home Secretary, as well as others who supported them, intended at the time?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, as I have indicated, my present approach is to look with some urgency at what we might do within the care standards framework. The noble Lord will be aware that one of the issues considered in the judgment was whether the Human Rights Act applied only to those citizens in care homes that were publicly funded. My ambition is to cover all elderly people in care, and I intend to do so.

27 Jun 2007 : Column 598

Baroness Masham of Ilton: My Lords, how did these most vulnerable people get left out? Will the Minister assure us that health and safety will be top of the list for care homes?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, it is not a question of these elderly people being left out. We want to see the highest possible quality care for all elderly people in care homes, as, indeed, is provided by the vast majority of providers. The question is how to enshrine in care home operations the Human Rights Act in an appropriate manner to make sure that people in care are treated with respect and dignity.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, I raised this question during the debate on social care recently and had a helpful response from the Minister. Will she say what she means by “utmost urgency” in terms of timescale?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, the judgment is a week old. I convened the meeting on Monday and spoke to my honourable friend Mr Lewis yesterday. The ambition is, as part of the review, to look now at what might be done within the regulatory framework for care standards. I do not yet have a definitive answer from the professionals in either of the departments but, if we are able to do something, it is possible that we can do it by amendments to regulations very speedily. I am looking both at a short-term solution, which this may well provide, and at a longer-term solution, for which I am sure I shall have the benefit of the expertise of noble Lords on human rights as well as that of people involved with care homes directly.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, is the Minister entirely convinced that the training of the people who are to look after these vulnerable people is adequate and healthy for its purpose?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, my experience as chair of a health authority dealing with many private care homes is that it was adequate; indeed, it was extremely good. However, we want to make it clear that we have high expectations that those who look after our vulnerable elderly people have proper training and understand their responsibilities, including in basic care, but within the framework that we expect all citizens in care homes to be treated properly, with respect and dignity.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, has any cost-benefit analysis been made on whether it is cheaper and better for elderly people to be treated in private homes or in publicly built, owned and run institutions?

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, on this of all days I hesitate to stray into the Department of Health’s policy areas. However, noble Lords will know well that the question for whoever delivers the care is to ensure that the standards applied are as

27 Jun 2007 : Column 599

high as they possibly can be. There are many private providers who provide excellent care for elderly people, and I commend them for it. This is about making sure that, where elderly people are cared for, they have the backdrop of the Human Rights Act to make sure that they are treated properly and certainly with respect.


3.29 pm

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I beg leave to ask a Question of which I have given private notice, namely:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I am sure that the House extends its sympathy to the families of those who have lost their lives in the current floods. We are also mindful of the sheer devastation to people’s lives and pay tribute to the emergency services.

The Environment Agency, the emergency services, local authorities and other relevant organisations remain on high alert for further flooding. The Environment Agency’s flood forecasting and warning systems are in place, ready to respond to further heavy rainfall. Military assistance remains available for deployment as necessary.

Baroness Miller of Chilthorne Domer: My Lords, I thank the Minister for those reassurances. We on these Benches join him in his condolences to the bereaved and those whose homes have been flooded. Can the Minister confirm that the Government have now said that they agree with the National Audit Office that more resources need to be put into flood defence and that budgets need to be raised in real terms? Secondly, what efforts do the Government think they can make to bring forward sustainable drainage systems which would mean that the waters, instead of flooding down into towns, channelled by concrete and tarmac into people’s homes, stayed far further up the river system, in the fields and woodlands where they belong? Does the Minister think that the need to avoid building on flood plains must now be taken far more seriously?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, for the information of the noble Baroness and the House, the Public Accounts Committee is, at exactly 3.30 pm, starting its evidence session with the Environment Agency on its report Building and Maintaining River andCoastal Flood Defences in England, published a few days ago. A lot of the detailed issues will therefore be raised there. I am in no position to do that today.

In the past 18 months or so, the Environment Agency has become a statutory consultee on building and development on flood plains. That is an

27 Jun 2007 : Column 600

important innovation. The Thames Gateway is often used as an example but, contrary to popular belief, all the planning and building there is in urban areas, not on the river banks.

There has been an unprecedented amount of capital expenditure on flood defences in the past 10 years. We want that to continue. For the avoidance of any other questions, there was no cut to the Environment Agency’s capital flood defence programme. But of course there is a huge amount of work to do with the 60 to 70 main river catchment areas in this country to ensure that adequate preparation is made for exceptional rainfall.

Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, I remind the House that, as the Minister mentioned, exceptional rainfall is not unusual in this country. One only has to think of the flooding in the south-east six or seven years ago, or in Boscastle more recently, to realise that this is not uncommon. I am therefore confident that it is a factor considered by everybody concerned with emergency planning across the country. That said, I pay tribute to those who have had to deal with this emergency over the past 48 hours; it is on a wider scale than those earlier events. I sympathise with them in their need to remain on standby because the alert is continuing. However, people should be aware that rainfall does not very often continue to fall in the same place. Other areas may well be affected.

I welcome the application of the Belwin rules, which will cover exceptional expenditure by local authorities. However, I ask the Minister whether there are flexible financial arrangements in place for other government services directly involved in this instance. Of course, the high cost of this flooding will initially be borne by individuals and businesses. Do the Government have discussions under way with banks and other financial institutions to ensure sympathetic treatment for short-term funding requests, which will be essential if communities are to recover in a reasonably short timescale? Will they get involved in discussions with insurance companies—which will of course become involved—to try to ensure that when premium rises come through, as they surely must after this event, they are contained to that which is essential to cover additional, proper costs?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, it has been normal for the department to have discussions with the Association of British Insurers—this has been raised before in the House—on our programme for flood defences. That will continue. So far as other departments are concerned, the Belwin formula is demand-led and kicks in within one month of the event. It only covers local authorities. I understand that this afternoon the civil contingencies office is taking stock across all departments in Whitehall. That will naturally include departments that will have more detailed contact with the insurance industry.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords—

Baroness McIntosh of Hudnall: My Lords, assuming that the Environment Agency does not depend entirely on the weather forecast to work out what to react to, what mechanisms does it have in place to assess and monitor flood risk?

27 Jun 2007 : Column 601

Lord Rooker: My Lords, in some ways the Environment Agency is not an emergency service such as the rescue services, the police, the ambulance service, the local authorities or utilities engineers. It has a key role; it is not simply reactive. I am told that virtually all the main rivers in this country are equipped with gauges. They are all looked at by telemetry to keep track of what is happening at any time of any day and to give accurate warning. Many rivers have sluices and gates. As we meet now, engineers are actively managing water flow in the main rivers to hold it back or divert it to ease pressure. The Environment Agency has a key role in monitoring what is going on and is not simply the arbiter of a weather forecast that may or may not be accurate.

Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, will the Minister confirm that he referred specifically to the capital budget of the Environment Agency not being cut? Can he reassure the House that other parts of the Environment Agency’s budget have not been cut and that its budget for the current year, particularly for maintenance costs, has not been reduced?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I can confirm the latter part of that question. There was a £15 million adjustment to the Environment Agency’s budget last year as part of Defra’s £200 million budgetary adjustment. None of that affected capital flood defences. Of the £15 million, some £9 million affected maintenance. General administration and other matters were also affected. I have been assured that none of that would have changed anything that has happened in the past few days. That £15 million was put back for this year; hence, I can be positive about the second part of the question.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, as we all know in this House, I am sure, the flooding is largely caused by the acres of concrete laid over many years and the removal of flood plains. Will the noble Lord assure us that, with the thrust for new house building, involving 2,000 houses or more in some places, removing flood plains and increasing the likelihood of floods by laying acres of concrete will be stopped?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, this country is desperately short of new homes. I fully agree that we have to get them built in the right place. With modern technology, things such as permeable pavements must be part of the infrastructure. All the water authorities must have a 25-year plan. I have already said that, like the Highways Agency, the Environment Agency is now a statutory consultee on large-scale developments, so it can cause them to be modified. That is important. People build on flood plains at their peril.

A lot of our old industrial sites are affected. The valley in Sheffield is very narrow and not normally prone to flooding. Old industrial factories were built right up to the river bank. This is a difficult issue which must be tackled sensibly. It is not on simply to say that there cannot be any more building anywhere

27 Jun 2007 : Column 602

or to stop the house-building programme. We have to use our land to the best effect and use modern technology so that houses do not use as much water. It is fundamental that we have good drainage systems so that water flows away from urban areas. That means that even supermarket car parks should be permeable rather than having large areas of tarmac.

Clerk Assistant

3.39 pm

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Amos): My Lords, on 24 May, I informed the House that, following the appointment of Michael Pownall as Clerk of the Parliaments, a competition limited to existing House of Lords staff would be held to identify a successor as Clerk Assistant. Yesterday, four applicants were interviewed by a board consisting of me, the other party leaders, the Convener, the Lord Speaker and Janet Paraskeva, the First Civil Service Commissioner. The unanimous recommendation of the board is that David Beamish should succeed Michael Pownall as Clerk Assistant. I am sure that your Lordships would wish to join me in congratulating David on his appointment, which he will take up in November.

A vacancy now arises for the position of Reading Clerk. It has been agreed that a separate competition to fill that vacancy, limited to applications from existing House of Lords staff, will be held as soon as possible. It is expected that the outcome will be known by the middle of July.

Offender Management Bill

3.40 pm

Report received.

Clause 1 [Meaning of “the probation purposes”]:

Lord Bassam of Brighton moved Amendment No. 1:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we begin Report with an entirely technical amendment to Clause 1 which I trust will not detain the House overlong.

Noble Lords will recall that Clause 1 sets out the various purposes that govern the probation services that are to be provided under Part 1. Subsection (4) defines, for the purposes of the clause, various terms which are used in the clause. The amendment simply adds the term “prison” to that list and clarifies that, for the purposes of the clause, the term also includes young offender institutions and secure training centres. I beg to move.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page