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House of Lords

Tuesday, 3 July 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

British Citizenship

Lord Higgins asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, before 1983, women were unable to pass on their citizenship in the same way as men. On 7 February 1979, a concession was announced that the children of UK-born mothers aged under 18 could apply to be registered as British citizens. In 2003, we introduced a provision to register the adult children of UK-born mothers who were born after 7 February 1961. Those born before that date could not have benefited under the 1979 concession.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply, but since the legislation in 2003 the situation has changed. Thousands of people with no connection whatever with the United Kingdom have been granted British nationality but this group continues to be discriminated against, on the basis not only of which of their parents were British, but of age. What is the justification for continuing that situation? Will the Minister undertake to look at it carefully to see what can be done to change it, and at least deal sympathetically with any individuals with a clear British connection who wish to become British nationals?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I certainly understand the point that the noble Lord is making. Of course, it is within the facility of anyone who has a British connection that goes back over—I think—five years to apply for naturalisation. Many of those who will not otherwise have received the benefit of the 2002-03 amendment may well benefit from that. In the end, I go back to my noble friend Lord Filkin, who explained the position thus in 2002:

They were wise words then, and today.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, in that speech the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, called this one of the “wrongs of history” and when the noble Baroness, Lady Ashton, answered a similar question in 2006 she said that the problem was,

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Since neither Minister gave any logical or substantive reason for refusing the request, is there some ulterior reason why the Government are denying the right to register as British citizens to older siblings born to British mothers overseas? Can the Minister come clean and tell us what it is?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I deny that there is an ulterior motive, so I have nothing to come clean about.

Baroness Kingsmill: My Lords, is the Minister aware that I am one such person, born of a British mother and a father who was not a British national? I took the precaution of marrying a Brit and in that way became registered as a British citizen.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, how wise can one be?

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, the Minister said a moment ago that he did not have an ulterior motive. Nevertheless, there must be some motive; he cannot be completely irrational. Can he tell the House what it is?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I fear this is becoming a very forensic Question. I am grateful to the noble Lord for that point. My noble friend Lord Filkin got it about right; there is no absolute and precise science to this. The noble Lord’s Government brought a degree of rationality to it, but at some stage you need to have a cut-off point, and we determined that to be the best possible one in the circumstances.

Lord Goodhart: My Lords, why should the cut-off point be 1961 rather than 1948, when the British Nationality Act was introduced? Is the Minister aware that the class involved is closed, because no new people can be added to it? It is a very small one, and I can see no possible problem with allowing them to enter the United Kingdom. Is the Minister further aware that I have tabled an amendment to the UK Borders Bill to raise this issue again?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I was aware that that was a likelihood, and I do not doubt that it will fall to me to deal with it as well. Whether I shall deal with it any more convincingly on that occasion than I am doing this afternoon I am not sure.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, could there be a healthy Exchequer consideration in these matters?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I shall think about that one.

Lord Inglewood: My Lords, in response to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Higgins, the Minister referred to the noble Lord, Lord Filkin, saying that one can go only thus far, without giving any reasons why the particular point that they had reached was chosen. Why did the Government select, in the words of the noble Baroness who is now the Leader of the House, a sexist solution?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I do not think that they did in that way. The Conservative Government in the early 1980s tried to rationalise the situation and take the sexist element—if you like—out of it.

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, further to the question asked by my noble friend Lord Campbell-Savours, can the Minister spell out whether there is any difference in the residence criteria, first, for British citizenship, secondly, for a British taxpayer and, thirdly, for membership of this House?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is a good one; usually I ask for notice of questions like that. I am going to fall back on the old standby and say that I will write to the noble Lord.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, how many people are excluded by the present provision?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, that is a good question, to which I do not have an answer. I had anticipated the question, but briefing on that point there was none. We think the number cannot be vast, because of the number of those making an application who fall within the criteria, which is an average of about 3,000 a year. As I explained at the outset, those who have been resident here for some time can apply for naturalisation, and I suspect that is how most people resolve any difficulties that arise.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, I am sorry. We have reached the eighth minute, and we must move on.

Health: Homeopathy

2.44 pm

Lord Palmer: My Lords, in the absence of my noble friend Lady Mar and at her request, I beg leave to ask the Government the following Question:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, our inquiries, which are continuing, indicate that the document was not issued with either the knowledge or the approval of the Department of Health. Decisions on commissioning or funding treatments are a local matter. NHS providers need to consider the safety, clinical- and cost-effectiveness of treatments, the availability of suitably qualified practitioners and individual patient needs.

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Lord Palmer: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Could she give the House some reassurance that the Government will make it absolutely clear to all PCTs that this was not an official document and, therefore, ought to be totally disregarded?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I would like to be able to give a simple yes or no answer, but I cannot at the moment. As I said, our inquiries have not yet been concluded. Once they are, we will certainly take the necessary steps to remedy the situation, and I will, of course, keep the noble Lord and the noble Countess informed. I take this opportunity to pass the best wishes of the House to the noble Countess, and hope that she recovers soon.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, I have seen the letter which accompanied that paper. Is it not clear from the letter, written by some of the most eminent medical authorities in the country, that all they are suggesting is that primary care trusts should look at the evidence on homeopathic remedies? Given that the National Health Service is short of funds and that NICE cannot recommend certain very effective treatments for serious diseases because of the lack of funds, is it not eminently sensible to suggest that the NHS should not spend its money on remedies for which there is no scientific evidence and whose effectiveness has never been proven? As homeopathic remedies are diluted infinitely, they have about as much effect as a glass of water.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the views of the noble Lord are well known. I say with respect that some eminent clinicians are in favour of alternative medicine and others are not. The Government believe that it is for local PCTs to decide. They are best placed to do that, as they know the needs of local people and how they can best be met.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, I served for many years as a member of the Homeopathic Hospital management committee. Until that time, I had no idea what homeopathy was—I thought it might be something almost illegal. However, I discovered that there is a place for homeopathy, just as there is a strong place for allopathy, which is the normal medicine that we know. I was concerned when the noble Lord, Lord Palmer, said that unofficial documents should not be allowed to be presented to PCTs. It is important that any group of people who think they have a case should be entitled to present it. The important point is to be clear what has an official imprimatur and what does not.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right. Everyone has a right to see information, whether it is official or not. The important thing is the status of the document. The document carried the NHS logo, and what is at issue is whether it represents NHS policy.

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Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, the noble Baroness has said twice now that decisions on such matters are for individual PCTs, and one can understand that. However, is this not overridden by NICE or can the PCTs ignore its advice?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, NICE has not yet appraised homeopathic medicine. As I said, it is for PCTs to make decisions on the commissioning of complementary and alternative therapies, including homeopathy. Some clinical guidelines produced by NICE have included references to complementary and alternative therapies alongside more conventional treatment. We believe that NICE should look at both conventional and alternative medicine.

Kurds: Regional Autonomy

2.48 pm

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we have no plans to assist the development of regional autonomy for Kurds in eastern Turkey and western Iran. We respect the territorial integrity of Turkey and Iran.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her reply. Is it not the case that the Kurdish people represent the largest single ethnic and cultural group and that the great majority do not enjoy self-determination? Is it not time for this country, the United Nations and others to wake up and make it possible for some degree of autonomy to be worked out?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is absolutely proper that the rights of ethnic minorities—or large ethnic minorities—should be respected. However, autonomy and self-determination are, and must be, a matter for sovereign Governments.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the Government support Turkey’s entry into the European Union. The reforms to make Turkey more democratic and more in tune with European standards surely include respect for minority rights and a degree of regional autonomy for such a large country. Therefore, Her Majesty's Government must in principle be in favour of greater regional autonomy for the Kurdish areas of Turkey within a sovereign, autonomous but more European Turkey.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government want the Kurdish areas of Turkey to flourish. We believe that they are deprived in a way that they should not be. That is why we very

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much support the EU’s giving £45 million pre-accession money to those areas so that they can flourish as much as the rest of Turkey.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, this whole area is a cauldron of intrigue, difficulty and danger at the present time. Many areas could explode and add to the violence. Although I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, is determined to do his best for the Kurdish people as a whole, would it not be best to go step by step? Is not the first step to ensure that the Turkish people, who, after all, are our allies and friends, establish a good relationship with Iraqi Kurdistan and some kind of agreement on its status within Iraq? At the same time, the very violent PKK, the Kurdish workers’ party, should be brought to a more peaceful pattern and move away from violence and terrorism on an extreme scale. Are not those two moves necessary to prevent a new crisis over Kirkuk and new deals with the Iranians, whose latest threat is to say that they want to take Basra? These are very dangerous waters. Does the Minister agree that we should proceed very carefully indeed, and step by step?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I entirely agree that these are dangerous waters, which have global implications. We must move very carefully and in a stable way, and we must have discussions with the whole of the region.

Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, is it correct that a greater number of Kurds in Turkey now live in Istanbul than in eastern Turkey? If so, does that complicate the matter?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I regret that I do not have the figures in front of me. It may well be true that there are more Kurds in Istanbul than in eastern Turkey but, wherever they are, their rights must and should be respected.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, Does the Minister agree that it would perhaps be helpful if the Government advised the regional Government in Iraqi Kurdistan to take a tougher line on PKK terrorists who use their territory? That might do a great deal to advance their cause for full autonomy.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we certainly encourage Turkey to work with the Iraqi Government and the Kurdistan Regional Government to address the PKK presence in northern Iraq, and we welcome the ongoing trilateral co-operation between Turkey, Iraq and the US.

EU: Internal Market

2.53 pm

Baroness Wilcox asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, we succeeded at the European Council in obtaining a legally binding protocol to the reform treaty, which confirms that the internal market includes a system ensuring that competition is not distorted. This means that there is no substantive change to the legal position under the existing EC treaty. Removing barriers to competition in the internal market, along with stopping uncompetitive mergers, fighting cartels and using strong state aid rules to tackle illegal subsidies, will all remain a fundamental part of the EU’s task.

Baroness Wilcox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer. He has done his best to convince us that, despite the removal of the phrase “undistorted competition”, there is no threat to the free market. He does not mention the insertion in the text of the phrase advocating a “social market economy”. Would he care to define that phrase?

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, I am not able to define that phrase, but I can reassure the noble Baroness that things remain precisely the same as far as competition goes. That is confirmed by two senior figures. Neelie Kroes, the European Commissioner for Competition said:

Secondly, Michael Petite, the director-general of legal services, said:

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that one of the notable achievements of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher, was to get an absolute commitment to the development of the internal market? That was done in 1992, 15 years ago. It was an absolutely correct objective, the attainment of which has not always been helped by all our European partners, particularly the French. Does he further agree that, if we are to get a fully functional internal market, we should not allow the majority to be held to ransom by the odd member state that wants to be against? This is one area where we should resist the use of national vetoes and encourage the development of qualified majority voting.

Lord Evans of Temple Guiting: My Lords, as usual, I agree with practically every word my noble friend said. We must remember that the important matter of undistorted competition was under threat. The British Government fought and won a battle on this issue. We therefore do not need to worry about having proper competition within the EU.

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