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House of Lords

Monday, 8 October 2007.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Coventry.

Deaths of Members

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, we lost four colleagues during the Recess and it is with great regret that I have to inform the House of the deaths of the noble Lords, Lord Garden, Lord Biffen, Lord Deedes and Lord Gilmour of Craigmillar. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lords’ families and friends.

Iraq: Political Asylum

2.37 pm

Lord Fowler asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are extremely grateful for the service of locally employed staff in Iraq and take their security very seriously. The Prime Minister commissioned a ministerial review on 8 August 2007 of assistance that might be offered to members of locally engaged staff in Iraq. The outcome of that review will be announced by the Prime Minister later this afternoon in another place.

Lord Fowler: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. I hear what he says, although perhaps he is aware that the Prime Minister’s decision has already been trailed in at least three national newspapers over the weekend—rather more accurately than some other prime ministerial intentions, I hope. Perhaps I may therefore ask the noble Lord a general question of principle: does he accept that Iraqis who have worked for the British in cities such as Basra and Baghdad have put themselves in enormous danger of reprisals and that this country has a moral duty to protect them as well as we can without placing some arbitrary limit on the numbers whom we help?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I agree entirely that we have a moral obligation to look after people who have worked with our forces abroad. I have been on the ground in Iraq a number of times over the past four years and I have seen what those people have done there. Indeed, the same is true in many places around the world. I agree entirely that we have that moral obligation. I do not know the details of exactly what the Prime Minister is going to say. I have read some of those newspaper reports; I am not sure that I always believe everything that I read in the papers, but I am sure that we will very soon be clear about the reply.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, is the Minister aware that on 20 June Hilary Benn, then the Secretary of State for International Development, gave an assurance to parliamentarians that the Iraqi interpreters had a compelling case for asylum and that he would urgently pursue that? A new Prime Minister arrived and months passed. We might hear something this afternoon, but can the Minister tell the House how many interpreters and members of their families have suffered, and possibly died, as a result of this delay?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not have any statistics or figures on that but, if I may, I shall get back to the noble Baroness in writing. As I say, I believe that we have a moral obligation to look after people who have worked with us. However, we know

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in this House—probably better than in most places—that the actual detail involved in working out how to do that is extremely difficult. Putting the matter into some form of legislation is very tricky indeed. These people are not refugees—they cannot be refugees—so it is tricky. The matter has been looked at by a ministerial review and there will be an announcement later today that will make this clear.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, are the Iraqi forces in Basra city and elsewhere aware of the situation regarding the people who have been helping us in Iraq? Are they trained on the need to ensure the safety of those people and their families?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am not aware whether they have specific instructions. I would be surprised if they had instructions about named people because that would put those people at risk, but I will find out for the noble Baroness and get back to her. I imagine that it is much more a case of the Iraqi forces now becoming responsible for the basic security in the region and on that basis I hope that they would be looking after all their people.

Lord Marsh: My Lords, did the Minister say that these people are not refugees? If they are not, what are they?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, to be a refugee you cannot be in your country of abode. An Iraqi living in Iraq cannot be considered a refugee by this country. Similarly, if he is in another country, he cannot be a refugee as far as this country is concerned. That is why these people cannot be treated on that basis.

Lord Tebbit: My Lords, I have two questions. The first arises from what the Minister just said: was a Jew in Germany in 1938 or 1939 a refugee? Secondly, do the Government still adhere to the view that a friendly alien likely to be persecuted in his own country by virtue of his political activities, such as being friendly to the British, would qualify for political asylum here?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the answer to the first question is that a Jew in those days would not have been a refugee according to the precise definition of the word. That does not mean that one should not try to look after people in some way, but he would not have been a refugee. I do not know exactly what will be in the Statement later today but I am sure that it will say that we will be looking after some of these people, because the Government believe that we have a moral obligation to look after people.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, is my noble friend saying that if someone has remained in the country where they are in difficulty, they can be a refugee only when they leave that country? That was precisely the position of the Jews in Germany, who were not refugees until they actually left the country. Is that what he is saying?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend put that much more clearly than I did, and he is absolutely right.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, will the Minister nevertheless confirm that representations have been made by the UNHCR to a number of potential receiving countries about sharing the burden of accepting people who, while not refugees, are at serious risk of persecution and harm in Iraq?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am aware that some discussion has taken place, although I do not know the exact details of it. It is interesting to note the numbers of people who have been taken into various countries. The countries around Iraq, which are where most Iraqis who have fled have gone, have to deal with them; they are not refugees in the sense in which we deal with them in this country.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, my noble friend is right that the presumption must be that translators and others in roles of that kind should be given refuge, but will he confirm that there will be no abrogation of the normal principle that every case must be viewed on its individual merits? There must be some individuals who have some, but limited, contact with the British forces and who would not, by virtue of that, be entitled to come to the UK.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I shall have to wait for the announcement, because I do not know exactly what will be said. However, the Government firmly believe that we have a moral obligation to look after people who have helped us. I am sure that that will emerge from the Statement later today.

Economy: Gross Domestic Product

2.46 pm

Lord Sheldon asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Chancellor will deliver his Pre-Budget Report for 2007 tomorrow. It will include fully updated economic and fiscal forecasts.

Lord Sheldon: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, but is he aware that the gross domestic product increased by 0.8 per cent in the second quarter of 2007 and that that level was higher than in the previous year? Is he also aware that there was sustained growth in all industries in the second quarter of this year? For some years now, a number of economists have been pessimistic, with little justification for their forecasts. However, as Alan Greenspan said in the Guildhall last Tuesday, although such forecasts are made, Governments, quite rightly, do not base their economic decisions on them. Does the Minister agree with that?

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Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend, with his long experience in these matters, for his salient points on the economy. I cannot pre-empt tomorrow’s Statement, but the two quarters of 2007 to which my noble friend referred have seen conspicuous growth. Such growth has projected Britain during the past decade from the lowest position in terms of per capita income in the OECD to the second highest. It is internationally recognised that we are in a strong position to face any economic vicissitudes which may occur in the future.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, the Chancellor is already reported in the press as anticipating a decline in the rate of growth next year. Was that one of the considerations that led the Prime Minister to contemplating an election?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, both aspects of the noble Lord’s question seem to revolve around press comment and conjecture. The Prime Minister made it quite clear at lunchtime today why he intended to continue with his Administration; that is, to establish the confidence of the country in his ability to lead it successfully during the next few years.

Lord Newby: My Lords, does the Minister agree with the managing director of the IMF who said at the weekend that the credit squeeze was a “serious crisis” that would curtail growth internationally? Will he assure the House that, in tomorrow’s Statement, which we are delighted is being brought forward, given the exigencies of the economy, a full analysis will be made of the Government’s view of the effect of the credit squeeze on prospects for growth in the UK?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we can trust the Liberals to pick out the more pessimistic and pejorative of the IMF’s comments. The IMF indicated how strong the British economy is. It indicates that, in all ways in which the economy is managed, we are able to face the future with great confidence, against a background where, as the noble Lord rightly observed, aspects of the international economy will cause greater difficulty than in the immediate past. However, the economy and the Government are in the safest of hands.

Lord Forsyth of Drumlean: My Lords, do the Government accept the OECD view that a rising tax burden results in a slower rate of growth in the economy? Therefore, given how the tax burden has gone up spectacularly under this Government, can we expect that the Chancellor will forecast lower growth than he anticipated?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we are all delighted to see the Conservative Party returning to type and putting before the nation an agenda consisting solely of tax cutting, which is likely to be exposed as not producing sufficient revenues to sustain the programmes that it wishes to implement.

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The noble Lord referred to the OECD. What did the OECD say about the British economy? In fact, it said that its good economic performance,

Could we have a better element of support than that?

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, will my noble friend—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, thank you for that warm welcome back. Noble Lords may actually agree with me, in a few moments. Will my noble friend confirm that when Alex Salmond comes predictably gurning and whining after tomorrow’s Statement that Scotland has not got enough, he will point out robustly that Scotland is getting its fair share if not a generous share?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I am delighted to see my noble friend back. I am enjoined today not in any way to pre-empt or predict the Statement that will be made by the Chancellor tomorrow. However, I think that I can stray into agreeing with my noble friend about his criticism of the leader of the Scottish National Party.

Baroness Noakes: My Lords, when he was Chancellor, the Prime Minister was wont to brag about the 10 years of unbroken economic growth—which, of course, started even earlier than that. However, a report this morning showed that in the past 10 years disposable income as a proportion has fallen to its lowest level since 1997. What is the point of economic growth for ordinary people if they just keep getting poorer?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, they do not keep getting poorer. The noble Baroness will recognise the extraordinary acceleration of the British economy and therefore the British people in terms of per capita income over the past 10 years.

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, I wonder whether my noble friend—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, I am sorry but we are into the 15th minute, and I am conscious that we have two full Questions to go.

Energy: Light Bulbs

2.52 pm

Lord Dubs asked Her Majesty’s Government:

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The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, the number of energy-efficient light bulbs in the UK rose from 26 million in 2000 to 110 million in 2006, but we recognise that more can be done. We are working with energy suppliers, the Energy Saving Trust, retailers and manufacturers to phase out inefficient light bulbs in the UK ahead of our European partners. That is supported by the EU energy labels and the energy-saving recommended labels, which provide consumers with appropriate information.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend. That is pretty good as far as it goes. However, is my noble friend aware that in Australia, for example, of the normal type of light bulbs, one can buy only the energy-saving model? Why cannot we move a bit faster? Climate change is coming at us very quickly. There are a number of measures that we could take with a bit more speed, and I urge my noble friend to see what he can do about that.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, Australia is not a member of the European Union. We cannot act unilaterally. The decisions that we have taken are a voluntary initiative in line with the work with the retailers and the industry. Therefore, we will be ahead of other member states of the European Union but we cannot simply put on an outright ban. It is not that simple, being in the EU.

Lord Redesdale: My Lords, should there not be regulation for the Government to fulfil their plan for phasing out inefficient light bulbs? If no regulation is to be made, I do not see how the Government can enforce the changeover from incandescent light bulbs to energy-saving light bulbs.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, it is not a question of enforcing if we are doing this in conjunction with manufacturers and retailers. Incandescent light bulbs will not be offered by retailers and gradually we will change over. Under this Government, the cost of compact fluorescent light bulbs has gone through the floor; in other words, it has gone down. I understand that they can now be obtained for 39 pence in Morrisons.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that a lot of these new very efficient bulbs are much too large for the lamps that we have?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, the noble Baroness makes a fair point about the early compact fluorescent light bulbs. They were ugly and did not fit shades. They have now been made to replicate the bulbs they are replacing. If one looks at the range of bulbs available today for ordinary domestic purposes, one can see that the same shape has been maintained. Specialist light bulbs will continue to be produced and, of course, sold.

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