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My noble friend Lord Graham and the noble Lord, Lord Stoddart, raised concerns about the prison officer disputes and the reserve power that we wish to take. I pay tribute to prison officers, who have an incredibly difficult job. They do not often get a good press outside or, indeed, even in your Lordships’ House. The great majority of prison officers do a fantastic job but we face a very difficult situation in view of the action taken in August and the decision of the POA to withdraw from the current joint voluntary agreement. I say to my noble friend Lord Graham

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that we hope it will be possible, before Royal Assent, to agree a new dispute resolution and trade union recognition agreement with the POA, but we think that we need the reserve power. We do not believe that the kind of industrial action that took place could ever be justified in the prison context, not least because of the prisoners’ welfare considerations.

A great deal of attention has been paid to indeterminate sentences for public protection, and we shall come back to that in Committee. I am the first to acknowledge that these have not been targeted well enough and that too many cases with short tariffs have caused problems with managing and rehabilitating offenders in the prison system. That has had a knock-on impact on the availability of programmes that IPP sentence prisoners have to undertake before the Parole Board can consider their eventual release. Clearly, we have to deal with that. We believe that the proposals in the Bill will enable us to ensure that these are focused on the most serious and dangerous offenders.

I turn to the subject of extreme pornography. The noble Earl, Lord Onslow, and a number of other noble Lords expressed some concerns, which I well understand, about the definitions and how they might be applied. The reasons for bringing this matter before your Lordships’ House are well taken: some very disturbing cases, with disturbing impacts, have arisen from the availability of extreme pornography. Equally, I accept that we have to be very careful about the definition; we do not want it to be wider than we intend. I said in my opening speech that we will bring forward amendments—in Committee, I hope—to make that absolutely clear.

We have had a very interesting, almost cameo, debate about prostitution. I certainly accept the comments of my noble friend Lord Faulkner and the noble Baroness, Lady Miller, that we need to see this in the round, as part of a comprehensive approach. Noble Lords have rather made fun of my ministerial colleague’s recent visit to Sweden, but it should be seen as a positive, fact-finding tour and a contribution to this wider debate. It feeds into a six-month review in tackling the demand for prostitution. My noble friend Lord Faulkner accepted that the intent of the clauses in the Bill is positive. It deals with the revolving-door problem of people being consistently caught by the police, brought before the courts and then reoffending. That is the aim of the clause; it aims to help people to address the causes of offending. The consensus I sensed from the comments of noble Lords is that we need to have programmes that are designed to help people get out of the position that they are in.

I thank the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester for his comments on blasphemy. No doubt he will take on board the earnest request of the noble Lord, Lord Avebury, to speed it up even more than the church is already doing. I pay tribute to the church for its work in this area. As for homophobic offences, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Waddington, that there is a distinction between the Public Order Act, which protects individuals from harm, and the clause, which deals with incitement to hatred of people as a group on the basis of their sexual orientation.

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Police activity obviously comes down to their operational independence, but like most organisations I suspect that they must go through a learning process. The Crown Prosecution Service will always assess a case and bring a prosecution only if there is a reasonable prospect of conviction. Let me emphasise that this new law will not prevent free speech or debate; it will not prevent jokes or expressions of religious belief. We recognise the importance of safeguarding freedom of expression, conscience and religion. I give way.

Lord Stoddart of Swindon: My Lords, in light of what the noble Lord has just said, will the Government be prepared to accept an amendment safeguarding free speech, as we have in racial and religious legislation?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the short answer is no. We do not consider it necessary, but I am happy for us to debate that after Second Reading. The noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, rather responded to my noble friend on self-defence. I re-state that we do not intend to extend the law. It is clear, despite the excellent work of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Crown Prosecution Service in public education, that public concern and confusion remain. The existing law clearly works better than most people think; I readily acknowledge that, but it does not work as well as it could or should. The Bill’s aim is to aid understanding.

On the issue of quashing convictions, I undertake to write in detail to noble Lords on those matters. Perhaps I may do that in the light of the meeting that is to take place with the Bar Council in the next 24 hours or so. I can tell my noble friend Lady Kennedy that we have always acknowledged that the provisions in Clause 42 would impact on very few cases, but the fact that we think there will be only very few cases is no reason for not taking action. One of the cases in which some concern was expressed was Smith, when the defendant was convicted after submission of no case to answer had, in the court’s opinion, been wrongly rejected by the trial judge. In that decision the court not only quashed the conviction but made it clear that it would have done so even if the defendant had gone on to plead guilty after his submission was rejected. I will follow this up with a more detailed explanation.

Given the time, I shall now come on to caseworkers. Designated cases were first introduced in 1999. In the nine years since, the general view is that the system has worked well and a good reputation has been earned. I can tell the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, that this is not justice on the cheap, nor does it undermine the role of magistrates’ courts. It is about the most effective use of resources. I make no defence about saying that, given the resources we have, we must use them more effectively.

The noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, raised two issues: first, the threshold of the case and, secondly, regulation. On the latter issue, the Crown Prosecution Service is holding discussions with the Institute of Legal Executives concerning membership for its designated caseworkers and accreditation for training programmes. I hope to report back at a later stage on the outcome of those discussions.

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I listened with interest to the comments on violent offender orders, as did my noble friends. We are satisfied that such orders are compatible with convention rights, but I understand that we shall have to reply to the committee’s response. We had a very interesting discussion on special immigration status. The noble Lords, Lord Dholakia and Lord Avebury, asked some important questions to which I shall respond. I have to say that the Government do not think it right that people who have committed serious offences should be entitled to leave to remain, including access to key mainstream benefits and employment on the same basis as law-abiding migrants simply because they cannot be removed at present.

I think that noble Lords welcomed the Government’s intent to move to withdraw clauses on the ombudsmen. I shall take that with me, as it was good to get some welcome. I reiterate that the Government are committed to getting that on the statute book and no doubt bringing back the kind of criminal justice Bill that noble Lords wish to see in the future. In the mean time, we shall work very hard to see what consensus can be achieved. This has been an educative and highly informed debate. I look forward to Committee and to debating these matters in great detail.

On Question, Bill read a second time, and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.

Middle East

8.39 pm

Lord Alderdice asked Her Majesty’s Government whether they support moves towards developing an inclusive semi-permanent conference to address the problems of the Middle East.

The noble Lord said: My Lords, in the early 1990s the positive possibilities of the Madrid conference of 1991 and the Oslo process kindled some hope for progress, including in Northern Ireland where I remember many people saying to me that if they could do it in the Middle East and in South Africa, which was also on the road to peace at that time, then surely we could do something in Northern Ireland. While South Africa and Northern Ireland have indeed moved ahead since that time, the first Gulf War increased US involvement in the Middle East. Antipathy was stimulated to that involvement, not only in the regimes in Iran, Iraq and Syria, but also on the Arab street. The US war on terror, its response to the 9/11 attacks, further polarised opinion and strengthened anti-western sentiment. The Iraq war, which from 2003 brought Sunni governance in Iraq to an end, strengthened Iran and added a further dimension of Sunni-Shia tension.

A resurgent Russia and an emergent China—driven by strategic political and economic ambitions now, rather than by ideology—are also fashioning their involvement in the region. This creates an increasing complexity and instability in the region. The models which are generally used to guide our policy in such issues seem to be based on resource and commodity questions—oil and water in particular in that region—our relations with the United States and, in the case of the Middle East, the historic line of peace plans from Madrid to Annapolis.

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These are important issues and some progress has been made in various areas. We can now speak about negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians towards a two-state solution without being laughed out of court, as would have been the case especially before Oslo. However, in overall terms the situation is grave and deteriorating. My own experience in the past two or three years of visiting many of the countries in that great arc from Indonesia to Morocco—where the majority of the population are Muslim—is that the antipathy towards the West has grown enormously in the past seven or eight years. The unresolved difficulties between Israelis and Palestinians have come to have a symbolic significance, especially in the minds of ordinary people. This is even the case in those countries whose leaders are tolerably well disposed to the West, but are increasingly fearful of the mood of their people. As an Egyptian Cabinet Minister in Cairo said to me some months ago, “The people walk on one side of the street and the Government walk on the other side”.

In the 10 years or so since the Good Friday agreement, I have given a good deal of thought to the experiences of other processes which we drew upon in Northern Ireland, as well as the question of what of our experience was relevant and what was not transferable to other places and people. Especially since 2003 and my later time as Speaker of the Northern Ireland Assembly, I visited and studied experiences in various parts of Europe, especially the Balkans, but also various countries in Latin America, Africa, South-East Asia and the wider Middle East.

I have spoken from time to time about a number of conclusions about long-standing violent political conflicts and how to address them. While resource questions such as water, minerals and energy sources are important, it is how they lead people to deal unfairly with other people that is the cause of the conflict, rather than availability or scarcity. While poverty and deprivation lead to unhappiness, it is the relative injustice of their distribution which leads to conflict. Though, politically, disagreement may lead to division, it is a sense of humiliation and disrespect that predisposes to violence and terrorism. These general conclusions imply that it is the way we deal with disturbed relations rather than the particular solutions we propose which is crucial for a positive outcome. This is a different way of addressing such problems.

Take the case of post-World War 2 Europe, which initially took coal and steel, and later economic co-operation and trade in general, as the instruments through which historic enemies could find common ground. The key issue was not to come up with a clever plan for what to do with particular resources or the Common Market—indeed the plans changed constantly—but to create, as was the case, a set of institutions through which new ways of relating with each other were developed, and, in particular, ways of disagreeing without going to war.

That required everyone to be at the table—not just big and powerful countries, and not just the Governments and governing parties either. It was especially important that traditional enemies, as well as historic allies, engaged with each other. Of course, we think particularly of France and Germany, but not them alone in the EU

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context. Such processes involved a great deal of time. They are not the result of some weekend retreat or peace conference. The survival of any agreements that they reach is dependent on continued, long-term involvement together, and the independent monitoring of agreements reached—in the case of the EU, through the Commission and the court.

The arms control processes and NCSCE are further large-scale examples of inclusive, semi-permanent institutions that brought traditional enemies together over long periods and which have demonstrated a degree of success. In many ways, the much more localised but relatively successful processes in South Africa and Northern Ireland have also demonstrated those characteristics of inclusivity and sustained involvement, until and beyond agreement, both by those directly involved and by interested parties from outside—the maintenance of the process being extremely important.

One key region where I have spent a good deal of time during the past three or four years is the Middle East, where I have been struck by a profound fear of the slide into chaos—a capacity for and an openness to thoughtful engagement on all sides. The kind of things that have repeatedly been said to me by leaders of Hamas and Hezbollah are so reminiscent of my conversations with Gerry Adams and his colleagues in the early days of the peace process. The anxieties of the unionist leaders and people, with which I have been very familiar for many years, are strikingly mirrored by the profound and realistic fears of many people who may have met in Israel.

I do not believe that any such situation, including the Israel-Palestinian problem, can be solved by splitting people into good guys and bad guys, however persuasive and tempting such a view may be. The problems are problems of disturbed and damaged relationships. They can be resolved only by giving people on all sides a sense of confidence that their concerns are appreciated and will be addressed, and by finding a way to create a process in which all of the players can engage.

I am very much aware that even the word “process” is a bad word in the Middle East, because of the profound disappointment at the failure of the Oslo process. Perhaps we must find another word, but the fact is that that way of working over a period is critical. It is a long-term proposition, I know, but even starting on the road can begin to change the climate of opinion, because people who are given a chance to state their case sense that they, and those whom they represent, are being treated with at least a modicum of respect. That can in itself be transformative.

That is not the situation in the Middle East. The current process is not inclusive. It appears to hiccup along with an increasing sense of despair on all sides. The post-Annapolis process, for example, like what went before, is overseen by a quartet that represents only external powers—nobody who lives in the region. A first step in inclusivity could involve expanding that instrument to include the Arab League. When I raised that with Secretary-General Amr Moussa, he said, “Of course I would welcome that. At the moment, they do not even pay attention to our concerns at the United Nations, where we are represented”.

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Could Her Majesty's Government see their way to supporting such a development? The Syrian Government have made very clear on a number of occasions their preparedness to engage. Our response should be to engage with them, not with the diplomacy of finger-wagging and threats, as has, sadly, being the case before now. The same is true of that most complex society in Iran, where there are senior figures who do not at all hold to the wilder public remarks of the president, but find little possibility of engagement while the country as a whole is treated as a pariah and an enemy.

In a recent private meeting in Finland, at which Jeffrey Donaldson, Martin McGuinness and I, along with some others from Northern Ireland, as well as “Mac” Maharaj and Roelf Meyer from South Africa, met with a couple of dozen Sunni and Shia parliamentarians and senior leaders. Martin McGuinness made a very interesting comment, which was that he and his colleagues had come after a number of years to the conclusion that they eventually had to engage with those with whom they disagreed. They could postpone it for five, 10 or more years, but, in the end, it was a political problem that would have to be addressed politically. He challenged the Iraqis there that they could do the same: delay for five, 10 or more years and, in the end, come to the table, or move more quickly and with the help of others from outside.

I have been gratified that my proposals over the past few years for an inclusive, semi-permanent conference have been taken up by a number of research bodies. The Oxford Research Group in this country, the Strategic Foresight Group in India and the Friedrich Naumann Foundation in Germany, have all developed this theme, although in some cases, such as that of the Oxford Research Group, they have taken lines that significantly differ from what I have proposed. I have emphasised the importance of governmental and political involvement, while others have focused on NGOs and experts.

I raise this with Her Majesty’s Government because we are at an important juncture. On the down side, there are vulnerable leaders in Israel and the Palestinian Authority and the US presidency is coming to a close. However, for the first time, for some time, we have a US presidential election in which neither the vice-president nor vice-presidential incumbent are candidates. There will be a new administration at the end of this year and the beginning of the next. This gives a key opportunity for Her Majesty’s Government to be imaginative, to build on our experience in Europe, Northern Ireland and elsewhere and to project a view—a strategy or an approach—to this important region in the Middle East that is positive and creative in developing western policy, rather than simply espousing and following others. I trust that it is possible for the Minister to give us a positive indication of this kind.

8.52 pm

Lord Judd: My Lords, when I saw that the noble Lord, Lord Alderdice, had secured this debate—and I congratulate him on having done so—I wanted to participate for two reasons. The first was the importance of the issue. The second was that I knew that he, with all his experience, would, even in the short time available,

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give us an opportunity to think more reflectively and profoundly about some of the issues we face than is always possible in the immediate pressures. He has certainly set the tone. I am sure he would, however, join me for a moment in wanting to put on record, at a difficult time, appreciation and really a tribute to my noble friends in government for the determined lead that they have been giving on trying to find a solution. That applies to the Foreign Office, but also very much to DfID. In this context, the £243 million pledged at the Paris conference, the unqualified calls for the restoration of Gaza fuel supplies and the condemnation of the counterproductivity of unacceptable and internationally illegal collective punishment are welcome.

I have spent a lifetime, outside this House, working in organisations very much caught up in this sort of situation. One of the things that I have learnt is that building peace is very different from imposing or fixing peace. There are no shortcuts. Widespread ownership is essential to the process and that has to be inclusive. Of course, outsiders can play a part as facilitators, but the moment that they begin to cross the line and start wanting to arrange it all and set the agenda, there are difficulties ahead.

At the time of the first Camp David initiative under President Carter, I was Minister of State at the Foreign Office. When I reflect on that period, I realise that the flaw in his highly committed, dedicated approach was that it was not inclusive enough. I remember saying to some officials in the Foreign Office, “The trouble is, at the bottom of the pile, there are still very significant Palestinian elements who are not being included. They don’t feel any sense of ownership of what is happening”. One has to give priority to trying to cast ownership and inclusion as widely as one can, and the real challenge is to bring in the most difficult, not the easy ones with whom it is possible to talk. As an observer of Northern Ireland from across the water, what I thought took tremendous courage—no one should underestimate what it took in that situation—was the willingness to start talking to the political representatives of the IRA.

I think that the same is true of Hamas. I know that it will be difficult for my noble friend to agree to that, but I hope he takes the point. Hamas is not an absolutely frozen institution in which everyone is the same. There have been differences and there is pluralism in the organisation, although misguidedly the external pressures have done their best to eliminate that pluralism and drive control of Hamas into the hands of the extremists. Although it will take extraordinary imagination and courage by Israel, there needs to be a willingness to realise that securing the guarantees for Israel’s existence—to which I take second place to nobody—may have to be something that comes out of the process rather than laying it down in tablets of stone as an unnegotiated precondition of any conversations or talks about how that objective can be achieved.

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