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House of Lords

Thursday, 31 January 2008.

The House met at eleven o'clock: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of St Albans.

Children: Rights

Lord Harrison asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, in July 2007 the United Kingdom submitted a report to the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child setting out in detail progress against each of the recommendations made in 2002. The report highlights the good progress that the UK Government have made and reflects our commitment to improving the well-being of children and young people. It is available in the House Library.

Lord Harrison: My Lords, I welcome the Government’s review of Article 22 in relation to children detained with families seeking asylum, but will they extend it to include Article 40, which is concerned with the well-being of the child in custody? When will the Government ratify the protocol on the sale and prostitution of children which they initialled in 2001? Indeed, why not sign up forthwith to the UN convention, put it into domestic law, and make it of practical worth for children in the United Kingdom?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I thank my noble friend. In underlining the fact that we will be reviewing our reservation against Article 22—an announcement made in early January—I can tell my noble friend that a ministerial statement will be made today launching a public consultation on that review. As for Article 40, we are currently exploring alternatives to custody for children and looking at more appropriate ways of dealing with low levels of offending. We want to improve education in custody and support young people when they leave custody. On the optional protocol that my noble friend mentioned, we have signed it, but he is right that we have not yet ratified it. We are checking the initiatives and the legislation which has come on to the statute book since we signed six years ago and will see if we are now eligible to ratify it.

The Earl of Listowel: My Lords, can the Minister say whether the tripling of the number of women held in custody over the past 10 years, the increase in the number of children held in custody to 3,000—to twice the number of children held in custody in France and Germany combined—and the closure of local authority secure units tally with the right of the child to contact

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with its parents? Will she encourage her colleagues to accept not only the recommendations of the noble Baroness, Lady Corston, that there should be a women’s justice commissioner to drive forward policy in this area, but that local custodial centres should replace prison for women so that children can have contact with their parents?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, as the noble Earl will know, we have a debate today on the very issue of women in custody—an issue on which my noble friend Lady Corston has done a great deal of work. On children in custody, as I said to my noble friend Lord Harrison, we are looking very carefully at everything that we can do to ensure that our duty of care to these children is the best that it can possibly be. We are simplifying sentence structure, looking at alternatives to custody and at education in custody, and particularly—I know the noble Earl will welcome this—supporting young offenders once they leave custody.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does the Minister agree that at the same time as we emphasise the rights of these young children in custody and their rights when they are released from it, it is equally important that we ensure that those young children understand their responsibilities? With the rights of the child, there are concomitant responsibilities that need to be understood as part of the education programme that she was talking about.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I very much agree with my noble friend. The Children’s Plan, which was announced in December, looks very much at our vision for children holistically—not only at their education but also at the rights and responsibilities of all our children.

Baroness Walmsley: My Lords, will the Minister say what the Government are doing to educate our children, and indeed the general public, about what the convention means to them? At the very least, will the Government encourage local authorities to take up UNICEF’s Rights Respecting Schools programme—I declare an interest as a trustee of UNICEF—which teaches children what their rights are and what their responsibilities are to other children and adults?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right; it is very important that the public at large, and children in particular, are made very much aware of their rights under the UN convention—one of the most popular conventions that there has ever been. We have a number of programmes on raising awareness, as the noble Baroness will know. We are committed to operating a number of web-based portals, enabling children and adults to access information about the convention. For parents and young people, Directgov has a popular section on it. For children under 10, DirectgovKids has a section on it. We also have specific training on the convention for all those who work with children.

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, will the Minister please tell us whether the restraint techniques that are still used on children in custody in this country are any nearer to being dispensed with, as they seem clearly to contravene the convention?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I am told that there is at present a review of restraint. The restraint issue has arisen in the past year because of the clarification of restraint that was made some 12 months ago, but there is a review.

Railways: Gatwick Airport

11.14 am

Baroness Hanham asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, station safety is controlled by station operators. In the case of Clapham Junction, this is South West Trains, which monitors safety matters through a process of risk management. It is the station operator’s responsibility to implement appropriate measures to control the risks that it identifies.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Is he aware that the West London Line service to Gatwick Airport is becoming increasingly popular? Can he say, therefore, why this service is going to be restricted to Clapham Junction, forcing passengers to change at the already overcrowded platform 17 on the grounds of the need to change and transfer the rolling stock on that line to Thameslink? I represent one of the boroughs through which the West London Line passes.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, as a regular traveller on the line and a user of the service, I am aware of this. However, it is a necessary change as part of the reallocation of rolling stock to make continued and more efficient use of the Thameslink line. I am sure that the replacement service will operate as effectively, if not more so, than the current one and that the service changes generally will benefit far more passengers, who will be able to access an increased range of services operating on the Thameslink route.

Lord Bradshaw: My Lords, as the noble Lord is a regular user of the line, does he agree that the route utilisation strategies on the Brighton main line do not provide sufficient capacity for people travelling to and from Gatwick? Will he talk to his honourable friend in another place about how the new franchise for that line, which is to be let in two years’ time, should include within it the reopening of the line from Uckfield to Lewes?

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Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the noble Lord has raised two issues. First, I appreciate the point he makes about the Lewes/Uckfield line. I know that there has been continuing pressure for the reopening of that part of a railway line which probably should never have been closed. I can well understand that, and of course refranchising will enable some discussion of that possibility to take place. It has already happened once when the franchise was let some years ago. On the noble Lord’s second issue about Gatwick and the route utilisation strategies, improvements are being made to timetabling, and from the end of this year there will be additional London to Brighton services created through extra running-on from Gatwick down to Brighton from the Victoria to Gatwick service.

Lord Monson: My Lords, I and many members of my family frequently use the Watford to Brighton through service in order to get from west London to Gatwick Airport and vice versa. If it is abolished, we, together with thousands of others, I suspect, will revert to going by road with all the implications for traffic congestion and pollution that that implies. No one wants to hump heavy luggage up and down the numerous steps at the overcrowded Clapham Junction interchange. Is the noble Lord aware that in my experience this service is never less than half full and more often than not three-quarters full? Is it not the height of folly to think of abolishing such a useful service?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I can well appreciate the problems described by the noble Lord at Clapham Junction’s platform 17 with its steps and the steeply curved platform which creates a rather wide gap. The noble Lord makes a point, but the service operates only once an hour outside the peak period. More adequate services will be provided so that the important link he spoke of between Watford and Gatwick can be maintained, and many other services that come through Clapham Junction stop at Gatwick. My understanding is that consideration is being given to reviewing whether it would be practicable to extend the Watford journey further south from Clapham, perhaps to Croydon.

Lord Hanningfield: My Lords, it is obvious from the questions being asked that this is a very popular service. What consideration is being given to other investments to help Thameslink? For example, I gather that there are single voltage trains which could be converted to dual voltage and thus might solve the Thameslink problem. There are also 422 series trains which are lying idle in sidings at Eastleigh that could have been converted. Would it not have been better to have invested in those trains rather than cut a service that is so popular?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, obviously those issues are worth considering, but in terms of deploying the rolling stock, it was felt that this was the best possible solution. The service is only hourly and many other services run on that route, but I understand that it is the interconnection which is the

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problem, and that is what we have been addressing. However, this issue should be understood in the context that yesterday the Secretary of State for Transport made it very plain that as from the end of this year a further 1,300 carriages will be added to the railway rolling stock. I can tell your Lordships’ House this: I cannot remember a single Conservative Secretary of State ever making an announcement of such a massive expansion of our rolling stock.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that platform 17 at Clapham Junction is by far the least customer-friendly and usable platform in the whole of that very busy station? It is on a very steep curve and passengers getting off the train have to step down a considerable distance to get on to the platform. There is no lift and the staircase is narrow and bends twice. It is the most dreadful station if one is carrying luggage, particularly if one is on the way to the airport. My noble friend hinted at the possibility of train services being extended at least as far as East Croydon. Should this not be actively pursued by the railway company?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, I cannot claim regularly to use platform 17 but I have made it plain that I have used it on a few occasions, mostly when I am going to watch Brighton and Hove Albion play Watford. My noble friend is quite right; the possibility of extending the route down as far as East Croydon is being actively looked at.

Lord Lawson of Blaby: My Lords, can the Minister explain why it is that there are strict regulations insisting that restaurants and hotels provide easy access with not too many steps for the elderly and the disabled, whereas the railways, and London Underground in particular, have no such obligation when the problems are far greater?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, there is a health and safety obligation. Perhaps when the noble Lord was Chancellor of the Exchequer he should have made a few more funds available so that these things could have been pursued.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, why does the Minister say that it is an hourly service when it is a quarter-hour service? Going to Brighton has nothing to do with it. Gatwick is a major airport; it must have a high-speed express; it has worked very well for many years. Why is it that under this Government public services, which they claim are being improved, are getting worse?

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the Brighton to Watford service runs at five minutes to every hour from, I think, 9.55 am until 9.55 pm. As the noble Lord knows, there is already a high-speed service which runs from Victoria through to Gatwick. I have explained that that is going to be improved at the end of the year, with a further run-on to Brighton. We have improved rail services in this country immeasurably. We are now doubling the investment going to rail

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services. If the noble Lord could boast such a proud record when he was involved in government, I would be very impressed indeed.

Lord Dykes: My Lords—

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, we must move on. We are in the 16th minute.

Animal Welfare: Horses

11.22 am

Lord Higgins asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, Defra has no record, over many years, of horses being exported for slaughter from Great Britain. A ban would still be illegal under EU free-trade rules but government policy is to prefer meat exports rather than live exports for slaughter. Regulation 1 of 2005 also introduced new EU welfare measures which came into force last January, including measures for horses that we had put to the Commission with the support of welfare organisations. The Commission will review the regulations in 2009 and consider further welfare-in-transport measures.

Lord Higgins: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Will the Government take further action to deal with this unnecessary and abhorrent trade? The latest evidence makes it absolutely clear that the existing European regulations are not being enforced. Thousands of horses are being transported hundreds of miles in appalling conditions, with mares and stallions herded together, with no rest and no water. As to the review to which the Minister referred, the European Commission is clearly sympathetic and has brought forward the review from 2011 to 2009. Will he make strong representations in that review to ensure that the situation is improved from its present dreadful state?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, let me make it absolutely clear that the thousands of horses mentioned by the noble Lord are not from this country. We have gone back through the records and no one can find anything for a decade. About 12,000 horses are exported for many reasons, including for shows and trade. The UK Government and welfare organisations are encouraging individual citizens to pile in letters on horse movements across Europe to Commissioner Kyprianou so that when the welfare review comes in 2009—as the noble Lord said, it has been brought forward—we can stop this vile, unnecessary trade across most of Europe. As the noble Lord knows from previously raising the matter in the House, countries in southern Europe are the worst offenders. They seem to take no account of the welfare conditions needed for horses being transported for slaughter.

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Lord Livsey of Talgarth: My Lords, does the Minister agree that if the owner of a Welsh mountain pony wants to sell it, the cost to register it will be £22? Many ponies sell for £5 to £15 a head, which is less than the registration fee. If all horses were to be banned from crossing national boundaries, the Minister must realise that there would be no market left for the type of animal that I am referring to. What would the Minister do in that situation to ensure that they were protected in a welfare sense?

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I have gone back and checked my records on this. The noble Lord asked exactly the same question on Tuesday 4 May 2004 when he followed the noble Lord, Lord Higgins, who had asked the initial Question. I am tempted to read out the answer given by the noble Lord, Lord Whitty. Basically, the point is not relevant to the Question—Welsh ponies are not being exported from Great Britain for slaughter; that does not happen. We have no record of it happening; no licences have been applied for or, indeed, issued. Anyway, the issues of normal trade go well outside this question.

Baroness Trumpington: My Lords, does the Minister realise that I have the greatest sympathy for him answering this Question? It is my great failure that I never managed to do anything about this vile trade. It has spread further than Europe; horses came in from South America via Italy. I had a lunch here for the German Minister for agriculture, on bananas and horses, at the end of which he said yes to bananas but, “No, we will not do anything about the horses”.

Lord Rooker: My Lords, I take on board what the noble Baroness said; this is a trade. It is a cultural issue as well. For most residents of this country, the horse is a companion animal rather than a food production animal—it is as simple as that. There is no great measure of whether they travel well or not. Fewer than 4,000 horses are slaughtered in this country, and most of those are for pet food. The reality is that we have to do what we can to improve the trade and the transport welfare arrangements. While the trade is legal, there is no reason why the welfare conditions should not be improved and more hurdles erected that will make people think, “It’s not worth continuing this trade because we’ve got to look after the horses so well”.

Lord Taylor of Holbeach: My Lords, a further threat to equine health and welfare comes from African horse sickness, which is transmitted by the same midge that has brought us bluetongue. Will the Minister confirm that, should an outbreak occur somewhere in Europe, live exports from that country will immediately be banned? Are there plans to include contiguous countries in that sort of ban?

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