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House of Lords

Monday, 9 July 2007

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Newcastle.

Introduction: Lord Malloch-Brown

Lord Malloch-Brown—Sir George Mark Malloch Brown, KCMG, having been created Baron Malloch-Brown, of St Leonard’s Forest in the County of West Sussex, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Baroness Whitaker and the Lord Hannay of Chiswick.

Introduction: Lord West of Spithead

Lord West of Spithead—Admiral Sir Alan William John West, GCB, DSC, having been created Baron West of Spithead, of Seaview in the County of Isle of Wight, for life—Was, in his robes, introduced between the Lord Drayson and the Lord Ramsbotham.

Terrorism: Tamil Tigers

2.48 pm

Lord Naseby asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the arrest and prosecution for offences related to proscribed organisations is a matter for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service respectively. I understand that the police have recently charged two individuals with offences relating to membership of and support for the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam. It would not be appropriate for me to comment further on such matters, as to do so could prejudice any potential trial.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the action taken by the authorities in arresting Mr Shanthan and Mr Lambert is extremely welcome, Mr Shanthan being the de facto leader of the Tamil Tigers in the UK? In their press release, the police state that,

was found in his home. Does not that, the continuing credit card fraud, intimidation and bogus charities underline the need to ensure that proscription of the Tamil Tigers continues until such time as the leader,

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Mr Prabhakaran, comes to the conference table and agrees to have peace and a final settlement in war-torn Sri Lanka?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I entirely agree with the noble Lord and thank him for his support for the police’s continued efforts to deal with the LTTE. We have taken action on other fronts. We are clamping down on the group’s funds through bogus charities, as the noble Lord will be aware, as part of our work overall to combat terrorism and its funding in the United Kingdom.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree that atrocities have been committed on both sides, by government forces as well as by Tamils, and that the real distinction is between the extremists on both sides, who are seeking to escalate the violence, and the moderates on both sides, who are looking for negotiated accommodation? Does he also agree that, in those circumstances, to label one side only as terrorists while condoning the actions of the other is not a helpful solution to the peace process?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble and learned Lord is right that we should encourage moderates on both sides of the argument. It serves no good purpose to encourage terrorism in any shape or form. We are completely opposed to terrorist activity, particularly terrorist activity in the United Kingdom. We must make efforts to work with the Sri Lankan Government to ensure that the peace process is reinvigorated, so that peace can be brought to Sri Lanka.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, a few days ago, the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Eelam celebrated the 20th anniversary of its campaign of suicide bombing, which it pioneered long before anyone else took it up. It continues to use child soldiers, and the International Institute for Strategic Studies claims that there is evidence of its commercial links with al-Qaeda. Is the noble Lord satisfied that adequate resources are made available to SOCA to prevent the campaign of intimidation and extortion by which the LTTE raises funds in the United Kingdom for its terrorist activities in Sri Lanka?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: Yes, my Lords, we are content that adequate resources are set aside for anti-terrorist activity. Obviously we must do more to maximise the use of those resources to ensure that our anti-terrorist efforts, whether against the LTTE or the other proscribed organisations, are at their best at all times. We know that we must be ever vigilant, and we encourage the British public to join us in that vigilance.

Baroness Seccombe: My Lords, on proscribed organisations, does the noble Lord have any plans to proscribe Hizb ut-Tahrir? If not, why not?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as the noble Baroness will know, an organisation can be proscribed only if the available evidence meets the test set out in the Terrorism Act 2000, which allows for proscription on the ground that an organisation is concerned in terrorism. For these purposes, that

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includes promoting or encouraging terrorism. As the Prime Minister made very clear last week, we keep under very careful review all organisations about which there are real concerns.

Africa: Family Planning

2.53 pm

Lord Taverne asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government are committed to improving sexual and reproductive health, including family planning, across Africa. In 2006, DfID provided £25.1 million to UNFPA and £7.5 million to the International Planned Parenthood Federation to support work on sexual and reproductive health and rights. We also work at country level and are funding reproductive health services in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Sierra Leone and Zimbabwe, enabling women, men and adolescents to avoid unwanted pregnancy and HIV.

Lord Taverne: My Lords, although I welcome and appreciate the Government’s efforts, is it not a tragedy that funding for family planning, which has been pretty successful in reducing the birth rate even in some of the poorest countries, should now be reduced and that, because of the lobbying against contraception in the United Nations by the American evangelicals, unfortunately supported by the Catholic Church, the birth rate in countries such as Uganda is now more than seven children per woman—in rural Africa, it is more than six per woman? Does this not mean that any hope of achieving the millennium goals will be frustrated, that no progress can be made in the education of women and, indeed, that making poverty history will be a vain aim? Is it not surprising that there has not been more of a squeak of protest against this moral outrage from Her Majesty’s Government, those who organise pop concerts and others who profess their concern about welfare in Africa?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, in response to the last point, I am slightly outraged at the noble Lord’s view of what this Government are doing on sexual health and reproduction. We have been leading the world. It is thanks to this Government that we now have a universally accepted target for sexual health and reproductive rights before 2015. This Government have done an excellent job, although I well recognise that it is important to keep family planning at the heart of development policy.

Lord Kinnock: My Lords, while I endorse the sentiments expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, on the attitude of the current US Administration, does the Minister agree that the history of our own

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society and many others demonstrates that the best inducements to limiting family size are confidence in the future, a falling rate of child mortality and rising incomes? I therefore congratulate the Government on their balanced programme to promote sexual health and family planning while simultaneously addressing assiduously the basic requirements of development throughout the world.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, my noble friend is right that experience shows that improving health, education and livelihoods, promoting gender equality and rights and addressing sexual health and reproduction all have to be a balanced part of current and future policy. On the earlier question from the noble Lord, Lord Taverne, which I did not answer, I agree that we have some problems with US policy. We firmly believe that policy should be driven not by moral ideology, but by a firm evidence base.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, is there not an important health issue here? Is the Minister aware that worldwide more than 25 million people have so far died from AIDS, mostly in Africa? Can the Government not put it to the leaders of the Roman Catholic Church that the encouragement, not the discouragement, of the use of condoms could preserve life and significantly reduce this toll of death?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am sure that my honourable friends in the other place who have contact with people from the Roman Catholic Church and the Holy See do put it to them. We well recognise that condoms are important for sexual health and reproduction, and as a counter against HIV and AIDS.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, is there not a precedent in that one of the major influences on family spacing is the education of women? Will the Minister therefore not give real priority, as the Government have already done, to education generally and particularly the education of women in Africa?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: Yes, my Lords. The Government fully recognise that and are making a huge investment in the education of children and especially the education of women in Africa. We recognise that women’s empowerment can come only through the education of women and girls.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that few countries have risen out of poverty while their birth rates are extremely high? We have heard from other noble Lords about the difficulty and the decline in international support for family planning. Could this be brought more within the current expansion of provision to combat AIDS so that women are better able to control the size of their families, as they clearly wish to do?

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Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, this is one of the things that the Government pressed for at the recent G8 meeting in Heiligendamm. We were working to ensure that sexual and reproductive health and rights were incorporated into the G8’s comprehensive AIDS response, and I understand that we were successful.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, is the Minister seeking to support Angola in its efforts to prevent any rise in its HIV infection rate, which is lower than that of its neighbours, as the country has so far been protected by the long civil war and its aftermath? Is she aware of the constructive work being undertaken by Angola’s churches in response to HIV/AIDS?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government are well aware of the excellent work of the churches in Angola. I believe that we support the work of NGOs in terms of sexual health and reproduction.

The Lord Bishop of Newcastle: My Lords, does the Minister agree that in several countries in Africa, not least in Botswana, the ABC campaign—A is for abstain, B is for be faithful, and C is for using condoms—is becoming increasingly effective? Does she welcome, support and encourage the further development of this campaign?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government wholeheartedly support the ABC campaign in Botswana and elsewhere, but what we do not support is abstinence only. We support the three pins of the triangle.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the arguments both for and against family planning are many-sided? Perhaps I may mention something that has influenced me. A good many years ago, before the arrival of AIDS, I visited a developing country and at a lunch was seated next to the wife of the Minister of planning. She asked me about my family, and I asked her about hers. She said, “I have had 14 children, but happily seven of them died”. That seemed to me a very powerful argument in favour of family planning.

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the noble Lord is absolutely right, and we wholeheartedly agree.

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, has there been any real improvement in the availability of contraceptive supplies in developing countries, or is the situation in Africa the same as it was a couple of years ago, when it was one condom per man per year?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, there has been a huge improvement in the number of condoms being distributed in Nigeria, for example, as well as in other African countries, but clearly there are nowhere near enough. That is something that we, with our international colleagues, have to work on. However, it

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must be said that it is not just up to donor Governments; it is also the responsibility of African Governments themselves.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, current projections suggest that Africa’s population will double within a generation. Can the noble Baroness therefore explain why Chapter 5 of DfID’s White Paper, Making Governance Work for the Poor, does not contain proposals to deal with the problems of population growth in Africa?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, population growth may well not have been a topic of that specific chapter. However, themes relating to sexual health and reproduction, such as health services in general and the empowerment and education of women, run across the White Paper as a whole. Therefore, they are an integral part of that paper.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, the noble Baroness said just now that moral considerations should not be the driver of policy. Did she really mean that?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, where issues such as abortion are concerned, yes, I did mean it very firmly.

Israel and Lebanon: Cluster Munitions

3.03 pm

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the UK regularly raises this important issue with Israel bilaterally and through the EU and UN. The British embassy in Tel Aviv last discussed this with the Israeli defence forces in April and UN forces in southern Lebanon do so on a regular basis. Additionally, in April, the EU, with full UK support, reiterated its call for the full disclosure of all relevant information to the UN. However, I very much regret that Israel has yet to provide the UN with detailed data on the use of cluster munitions during last year’s conflict. I take this opportunity to repeat the UN Secretary-General’s call for this information to be made available immediately.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful for that Answer. I should declare an interest in that a few weeks ago I was in southern Lebanon looking at the process of clearing these dreadful weapons. Is my noble friend aware that the teams clearing these cluster munitions said that it would be enormously helpful in their dangerous work if they had the co-ordinates of the shells that launched them? Does

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she further agree that it is unacceptable for any country to use weapons that harm civilian populations long after the conflict is over and that it is only right to go on demanding that all countries should make such information available—or, better still, to ban the weapons altogether?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, the Government pay great tribute to the teams working on the de-mining processes in southern Lebanon and elsewhere. As for the abolition of cluster bombs, we warmly welcome the Oslo process and the excellent work done to ensure that dumb cluster bombs are no longer legal.

Lord Elton: My Lords, in order to get rid of unexploded cluster sub-munitions, it is necessary to know where they are. Does the noble Baroness recognise that on 17 April the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, asked a Question on whether the British Government had given the co-ordinates of the cluster munitions that we used in Serbia in the recent Kosovo war to the Serbian Government, and that the noble Baroness, Lady Amos, replied in a letter on 15 May to say that the British Government had handed the co-ordinates to NATO and that NATO would “in due course” hand them to Serbia? It has been eight years for children to blow their feet off. If NATO has not yet done this, why can we not send our co-ordinates to the Serbians direct and get others to do the same?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, it is rather shameful that the information detailed by the noble Lord has not been provided henceforth. I do not know why it has not been, but I am aware of the exchange of correspondence to which he referred. I fully take on board his point. If NATO has not yet forwarded the information—I understand that it is in the process of doing so—I will ensure that the idea he put forward is put to the Ministry of Defence.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree with the head of an Israel Defence Forces rocket unit based in southern Lebanon who said:

Is she confident that the Israelis know, as they are supposed to, where these bombs were dropped? Is this not an argument, as the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, said, for a comprehensive ban on these bombs, both the dumb ones and the so-called smart ones?

Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, we cannot be entirely confident that Israel knows exactly where all the cluster bombs are—I am not sure that any Government could be—but I am as a confident as I can be that it knows where they are. As for the abolition of cluster bombs, the Government are working within the Oslo process and the CCW precisely to try to ensure that there are no more dumb cluster bombs, but that if cluster bombs are used, they are used in full respect of human rights.

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