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House of Lords

Thursday, 28 February 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwark.

Immigration: Airports

Baroness Valentine asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, border control manages staff deployment on a command basis, ensuring that resources are deployed according to business needs using a recently updated staffing methodology. In line with government commitments, financial resources are increasingly focused on providing staff and front-line activities. The BIA is committed to increasing the use of automated technology to facilitate passengers through arrivals controls without compromising border security. An example is the iris-recognition immigration system.

Baroness Valentine: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his response. It is of course essential that we do not compromise security, but the opening shortly of Terminal 5 provides an excellent opportunity for setting standards for immigration queues across our major airports. Surely it is unacceptable that our overseas visitors should have to wait 45 minutes to clear immigration and that that should be set as the benchmark. What are the sanctions for failing to hit that benchmark? Do we know whether we are hitting the benchmark at the moment? In the Minister’s Answer to my Written Question, he stated that figures were,

Tesco would not accept that. Does he agree that without figures we do not know whether we are achieving benchmarks or whether we are improving?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, first, I apologise to the noble Baroness, Lady Valentine, for the fact that we had not responded to her Written Question. I was appalled to find out how long it had taken. I have put in hand some mechanisms within the department to resolve that because it is quite unacceptable. I am very sorry for the delay. I took some advice from the noble Lord, Lord Jopling, on it.

On the specifics, until the middle of last year we did not keep records of numbers, but now we do. I have, for example, some numbers for the year to date. Yes, we are setting a 25-minute target for someone from the EEA, but at Heathrow Terminal 1 the average is six minutes at the moment and the longest

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we have had is 47 minutes; at Gatwick North the average is six minutes and the longest that we have had is about one hour 10 minutes. I agree that those are too long, but generally we are considerably below the 25-minute target and the 45-minute target for non-EEA nationals.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, despite the long queues at some airports, on which the Minister has sought to reassure us, we know that in many cases women and children who have been trafficked here are habitually clearing immigration control with no trouble. Will the Government follow Conservative policy and introduce separate interviews for women and children travelling with men who are not members of their family to help to tackle that loophole?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the introduction last year of the 100 per cent check and the fact that we check passports mechanically so that they can be compared with records on the Home Office computer allow us much greater control now and the ability to identify such people. With e-borders, we will be able to do even better and I think that that problem will be resolved.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, my noble friend mentioned the use of biometrics. Will he say whether iris scans have speeded matters up? What percentage of people have taken up this facility?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend raises a good point. I have had my eyes done on the iris system because I wanted to try to get through the queues, which were extremely long in the middle of last year, although we have worked to make them better. That gives you a shorter queue to go into. My concern is that, when everyone has their irises done, the same might not be the case and we might need more lines for people to go through. So far, about 172,000 have gone down this route. I will have to get back to the noble Lord in writing with the precise figure if that is wrong.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, has the Minister seen the figures published by the website UK Airport Delays showing that the average delay at Manchester is 68 minutes, at Stansted 45 minutes and at Gatwick 24 minutes, whereas a number of other airports, including Prestwick and London City, have zero delays? In view of the wide variation between one airport and another, will the Government ask the UK Border Agency to commission regular monitoring to see how best practice can be used to harmonise the delays between one airport and another and to reduce them to the minimum possible?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord makes a good point. London airports generally have very good times; the average is certainly well below the required level. The provincial airports are not so good. The BIA looks at moving staff around to try to cover this and improve it. We have now introduced a requirement for weekly information on queue lengths,

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which is compiled in a monthly performance check, along with information on measures that are being taken to make the timings shorter. We are trying to tackle the problem and are recruiting an additional 385 staff to assist with that.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister recognise that the quality of our border control is a disgrace to the Government? There is no routine control over people leaving and the control over people coming in—the swiping of passports—makes no record of those who have come in. Does he agree that the principle of being out of Schengen, because we can do this better outside, is undermined by the deplorable fact that we will not have electronic border control until 2013? Will the Government do something about that?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I disagree with what has just been said. We have some very good border controls and the moves that are being made this year are quite remarkable in making the situation better. It is certainly true to say that until we have e-borders in place we will not fully check everybody in and out, but we are aiming for that and moving towards it. When we do that, we will be a lot safer and will have much better control of people. We have done a great deal to make this better. By the end of the year, with the three phases that we are stepping through, the situation will be remarkably good.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, will the Minister assure me that the layout of immigration desks in the new Terminal 5—there will be two tiers, with four desks at the front and four at the back—has not been specifically designed to make it less obvious when only half the immigration officers are on duty, as compared to the straight-across barrier that makes it very apparent when no one is there to let you in?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness clearly has detailed knowledge of this area, which I do not. I am afraid that I may have to get back to her in writing on that, because I do not really know. However, we are constantly in dialogue with the airport authorities to look at better ways of allowing queues to form and people to move through the terminal and to make coming through the airports a better experience. There is constant debate and dialogue to achieve that.

Lord Goodlad: My Lords, has the Minister read the article in today’s Times by Anatole Kaletsky, which canvasses the possibility of relieving the increasing pressure on Heathrow with an artificial island on the Thames estuary, similar to what has been done in Japan, Hong Kong and many other places? Have the Government looked at this possibility? If so, what can the Minister say about their views?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I have not read that article, but I know that there has been debate about these issues. What we are looking at now, and what the debate is about, is the extensions to Heathrow. That is the prime focus.

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Courts: Rape Trials

11.14 am

Lord Campbell-Savours asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, we have no plans for offences of rape to be tried other than before a judge and jury. However, we will continue to look for ways to inform juries about the psychological reactions of rape victims in order to address commonly held myths and misconceptions.

Lord Campbell-Savours: My Lords, has my noble friend reflected on the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, in a debate on rape late last year? He said that juries’ decisions often have,

I understand he was reflecting a view widely held in the legal profession. If juries are so notoriously unreliable, why should we not review the system of jury trials and perhaps even consider specialist juries?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am reflecting rather a lot on the wise words of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, as we gallop through the Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill in your Lordships’ House. I have reflected, and I do not want to criticise juries in the way that my noble friend has because I believe they are a critical component of our criminal justice system. There has been concern that misconceptions among the public in general about the psychological impact of rape and the reasons for delay on the part of a victim in reporting a rape to the police might perhaps be reflected within juries, but the answer to that is better general education.

Lord Henley: My Lords, can we not—perhaps I ought to give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Elystan-Morgan: My Lords, I suppose I have a right of reply. Does the Minister accept that I in no way suggested that there was any institutional perversity on the part of juries in relation to rape cases but made it clear that in the view of many members of the legal profession there are subliminal preconceptions and prejudices? In a situation where very often the only witnesses will be the defendant and the complainant, where a lot of drink has been taken and where the parties know each other well—they may have lived together or may even have been husband and wife at some stage—an objective dissertation is perhaps very difficult.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Lord explains very clearly why the conviction rate in this country is so low. There is a fundamental question about whether we wish to move away from the jury system. The Government do not think we should, but

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accepting the points raised by the noble Lord, we are thinking hard about what information might be given to juries so that they understand some of the psychological implications and the fact that many offenders are closely known to their victim.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the support he gives to juries and to their use in appropriate trials. He talked of offering further education to juries. Does he not think that that is a matter that is best left to the judges rather than to further guidance from the Government?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I certainly pay tribute to members of the judiciary and to the expert way in which they conduct hearings. In 2006, a consultation posed a question about whether defence and prosecution lawyers should be able to call expert witnesses. The consensus was rather against that; there was a sense that that might confuse juries rather than help them. Further work is being undertaken to see whether there are other ways in which expert, impartial information might be made available to juries. I am sure that would be within the context of the overall oversight of the individual judge.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that we are far safer relying on the prejudices of 12 people rather than the prejudice of one?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, juries are an essential part of our criminal justice system. We have seen action to ensure that they reflect the full diversity of the communities that they serve. We should acknowledge that they have a vital role to play in public confidence.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, does the Minister accept that while what happens during the court process is very important, it is significant that large numbers of cases do not come to trial? Will he think about looking at what happens in New Zealand, where the number of cases that come to trial and the conviction rate are considerably higher?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I know that New Zealand is often referred to as an example that we might look to, and I would never want to rule out the value of looking at international experience. We have considered it very carefully. As the noble Baroness will know, in New Zealand, there are two different sorts of crimes. Our worry is that adopting the New Zealand system would in many cases downgrade the offence. I am sure that there is more that the police and prosecution authorities can do. We have now made this a priority in public service agreements, and a lot more work is going on in terms of education and the appointment of specialist prosecutors and specialists on forces to improve the way in which these matters are dealt with.

Baroness Gale: My Lords, I am very pleased that my noble friend mentioned education. Does he agree that we should be working towards getting a higher conviction rate on rape? Does he further agree that trying to reduce the incidence of rape is equally or

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even more important? Does he support the White Ribbon Campaign, which is a male organisation that works with young boys and men to try through education to reduce the level of violence shown towards women? Does he agree that the Government should fund a long-term, sustained campaign of education of young boys to go on throughout their lives in order to engender respect for women?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is a very attractive invitation to spend the Government's money in front of your Lordships. I will resist that, but I will, without commitment, look into the question of funding and resources. I certainly agree with the general point that the more we can help to educate young people, in particular, in these matters, the better. Schools themselves have a part to play through the education programmes that they are required to undertake, but what my noble friend mentions sounds to me like an excellent programme.

Children: Healthy Eating

11.21 am

Baroness Rendell of Babergh asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, the Food Standards Agency has set salt reduction targets and is working in partnership with the food industry and others to reduce the salt levels in foods that contribute most of the salt consumed by adults and children. There are of course legal controls and guidance covering salt in infant food and formula and food served to children at school and in care settings.

Baroness Rendell of Babergh: My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that positive Answer. Has she noticed that manufacturers list not salt among their ingredients in their labelling, but always sodium—or sodium chloride? Does she agree that many parents who are anxious to avoid giving their children food that may lead to high blood pressure, heart attack or even cancer in later life may not know that sodium—or sodium chloride—is common salt?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, my noble friend is correct and I commend her for the fact that she has an admirable record of pursuing these issues. The Food Standards Agency has been working hard with industry to reduce salt in food. It has set targets for salt levels to be reduced in 85 different categories of processed food. It is also running a major consumer campaign aimed at raising public awareness of the implications of consuming too much salt. It has been running that campaign since September 2004, and towards the end of this year we will see an evaluation of what effect it is having. Early indications are that it is having some effect, and it is being directed at parents, and especially at mums.

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Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, it is clearly highly desirable that the foods eaten by children have acceptable levels of salt, and of sugar and fat. However, does the Minister agree that ongoing promotion of foods that are high in those nutrients clearly continues to fuel the rise in obesity and diet-related disease in our children? Have the Government now recognised the need for a ban on such TV promotion before 9 pm, which has been discussed? If so, when can we expect such a measure to be introduced?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, I am pleased to report to the House—and to the noble Baroness—that the UK is recognised as having the most comprehensive programme of salt reduction in the world. We are leading the World Health Organisation’s salt action network, and our approach is now being replicated in several other countries. We have not only reversed a rising trend in salt intake, but we have achieved an average population intake reduction. This is only half a gram a year so far, but that has already saved 3,300 lives. This might not sound like much, but the scale and speed of this reduction is faster than has been achieved in any other country. We are making a determined effort to conquer this issue.

Lord Jenkin of Roding: My Lords—

Baroness Warnock: My Lords—

Baroness Tonge: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the fact that we all like a salty taste is demonstrated by the disappearance every day of the free biscuits in the Bishops’ Bar? This taste is cultivated in childhood. Why are the Government taking so long and dithering over forcing manufacturers of prepared food and snacks that children in particular eat to reduce the salt content? The Minister says that progress is being made, but salt in high quantities is toxic. Where is the action? We want it now—or is she afraid of some terrible Pringles revenge?

Baroness Thornton: My Lords, actually, I do not really like Pringles very much. The noble Baroness is absolutely right that a lot of this is to do with taste and habit, and with the fact that we all have salt pots on our table and our children are used to seeing that. Noble Lords should make a commitment to have no salt pots on their table.

The Government’s approach to reducing people’s intake includes several things. The first is the reformulation that will to reduce the level of salt in foods so that the 85 different categories already referred to include things such as pizzas, snacks, breakfast cereals and convenience products. Those targets are being monitored and, if necessary, firmer action will be taken, as the noble Baroness will be aware. The consumer awareness campaigns mean that the number of consumers cutting down on salt has increased by more than a third. Indeed, there is a tenfold increase in the awareness of the “6 grams a day” message. This does not mean, however, that there is not more to do; clearly there is.

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