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House of Lords

Wednesday, 12 March 2008.

The House met at three o'clock (Prayers having been read earlier at the Judicial Sitting by the Lord Bishop of Rochester): the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Afghanistan: Humanitarian Aid

The Earl of Sandwich asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the UK Government firmly believe that the Government of Afghanistan are the most cost-effective channel for reconstructive aid. The Peace Dividend Trust conducted a study and estimated the local economic impact of aid spent through government systems to be more than four times greater than aid spent through international contractors or even non-governmental organisations. The United Nations in Afghanistan has a mandate for humanitarian aid and at present we believe it is best placed to deliver this.

The Earl of Sandwich: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that Answer. Of course, I agree with her that the Afghan Government are the main channel of assistance but with $2 to 3 billion dollars flowing into this country every year, there is a limit to government capacity and to what they can absorb. Does she agree that donor co-ordination is essential at this time? Money is coming in unco-ordinated from many different sources. Does she further agree that we need to give more long-term funding to civil society organisations so that projects such as the national assistance programme, which has been very successful, can be secured and become an example for other projects?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, I agree very much with the noble Earl, who is a strong champion of NGOs. I assure him that while we will continue to help through the Afghan Government structures the 18,000 community development councils with building schools, health clinics and other things, we believe that we need to engage further with NGOs. He is absolutely right that they face huge constraints and we need to support them as much as we can. As regards the donor co-ordination that he raised, we believe that the UN has potentially a far stronger role to play in that.

Baroness Northover: My Lords, has the noble Baroness seen the latest Oxfam report entitled Community Peacebuilding in Afghanistan and, if so, does she agree with its opening statement that,

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Given that there is a danger of losing hearts and minds as we lose the security battles there, what proposals do the Government now advocate to try to put this situation right and to bring peace and cohesion at local level?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, we do not beat about the bush on this. There is a huge problem. Afghanistan is still one of the poorest countries in the world. However, real progress is being made in parts of Afghanistan. Five million children are going to school, 2 million of whom are girls. The economy is growing and 82 per cent of people now live in districts where they have access to some basic healthcare; in 2001, the figure was 9 per cent. So some progress is being made. However, the noble Baroness is right that we need to have local schemes on the ground that really help people. Through the national solidarity programme there are 31,000 small-scale projects to improve clinics, schools, water supplies and electricity generation. Half a million families, comprising ordinary people such as shopkeepers, tailors, farmers and builders, are engaged in microfinance, which enables them to take up loans and start building small entrepreneurial organisations.

Lord Mawhinney: My Lords, what training are the Government giving, or are willing to give, to non-governmental organisations, voluntary groups and faith groups to make the delivery of their aid more cost-effective?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the noble Lord is right. The UK Government, through DfID, the FCO and other government departments, make help available to NGOs. Part of that help will be training. We are directly helping Womankind, empowering women in Afghan society, which is very important. We are helping the Halo Trust, which looks at demining, another very important area. I will get back to the noble Lord on the religious aspect.

The Countess of Mar: My Lords, what assistance is being given in rural communities, particularly to women? They seem to do the farm work, growing their own crops and tending animals. This was all very much destroyed by the Taliban. Rather than just grow poppies, they need to grow other things.

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the noble Countess is absolutely right. Empowering and supporting women is important. Hardly any girls were in school before 2001. Under the Taliban it was illegal to educate young women, so it is important to support women. Seventy per cent of those receiving small microfinance loans, on which we touched earlier, are women. That is very important and we will continue to support women.

Lord Ashdown of Norton-sub-Hamdon: My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness’s answer to that question. Does she accept that aid which is not passed through government can have the effect of undermining the Afghan Government when we should be strengthening them? If there is a problem with capacity in the Afghan Government, surely the answer is not to change the way we give aid but to give more of it to strengthen governmental institutions.

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Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the noble Lord, who has tremendous experience and expertise in this area of building capacity in post-conflict areas, is absolutely right. The most effective way of getting money down to local people in the most need is through government and building up their capacity and, particularly in Afghanistan, their legitimacy, which has not been recognised over many decades. That is achieving value for money.

Lord Ahmed: My Lords, what efforts are being made to engage with and empower the Pashtun communities in Helmand province and the south of Afghanistan?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, an enormous amount of activity is going on with communities in Helmand province. On the Pashtun community in particular, I will have to write to my noble friend.

Baroness Rawlings: My Lords, going back to the noble Earl’s question, exactly how much financial aid does the Treasury give to Afghanistan’s central government, either directly or through the UN, each year? What percentage of it is from the international aid budget?

Baroness Crawley: My Lords, the aid that goes directly through the Afghan Government from DfID is 80 per cent of £345 million. We are a very big contributor to Afghanistan.

House of Lords: Reform

3.08 pm

Lord Faulkner of Worcester asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Hunt of Kings Heath): My Lords, the Government have no plans to do so. We want the group to be able to debate options frankly so that implications can be worked through fully and consensus reached wherever possible. The group has discussed possible electoral systems and whether any changes should be made to the powers of a reformed second Chamber. It is currently looking at issues around a transitional House, as well as a range of other matters, including remuneration and disqualification. The outcome of the group’s discussion will be reflected in a White Paper, which the Government will publish before the Summer Recess.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, I thank my noble friend for that reply, which I am afraid was as predictable as it was disappointing. Does he not accept that a working group that, with the exception of the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, consists entirely of members who believe in a fully or largely elected

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House of Lords can in no way reflect the opinion of those of us on these Benches or the Benches opposite who believe that to move to a wholly elected or largely elected House would destroy the primacy of the House of Commons and damage the reputation and effectiveness of this House? Does he not see that to deny us the opportunity to read the minutes of the proceedings of the cross-party group adds immensely to the suspicion that the Government have now abandoned his predecessors’ undertaking that the next stage of reform would be based on consensus and that this House would be part of that consensus?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sorry that my noble friend did not like my Answer. The cross-party group was re-established following the votes in both Houses. My noble friend has referred to worries about the primacy of the Commons if this House were wholly or mostly elected. The expression of the Commons vote, which was to support an 80 per cent or 100 per cent elected House, is the very foundation of the work that we are now taking forward.

Lord Elton: My Lords, encouraged by the Leader of the House to believe that the cross-party group would welcome submissions from formed committees in this House, may I ask whether those submissions will be taken into serious consideration before the drafting of the group’s final report is undertaken?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that the members of the cross-party working group would be delighted to receive submissions, but I have to tell the noble Lord that the work of the group, which will inform the Government’s production of a White Paper, is predicated on the votes in the Commons last year.

Lord Richard: My Lords—

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords—

Noble Lords: Order!

Lord Richard: My Lords, I assure my noble friend that, although his Answer may have been disappointing to the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, to a number of us on this side of the House it was predictable but totally accurate. Is my noble friend also aware that it would be quite impossible for the cross-party group to do its job properly if minutes were to be published, dissected, analysed and brought back to the Floor of this House and perhaps the other place? That is a recipe for total inaction.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, as ever on the question of Lords reform, I find my noble friend’s comments wholly believable.

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords—

Lord Tyler: My Lords—

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The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, this is a self-regulating House, but it has to regulate itself, so somebody has to give way or we have to intervene. I suggest that we hear from the noble Baroness.

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, the Minister said that the results of the Division in the Commons would be reflected in the draft report. Will there also be in the draft report or the White Paper comment on the votes that took place in this House?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I cannot anticipate what will be in the White Paper because that is the subject of discussions in the cross-party group and a decision for the Government to make. Of course, we are all aware of the votes in your Lordships’ House on Lords reform. When it comes to a division of opinion between the Commons and the Lords, as noble Lords constantly remind me, the primacy of the Commons must hold sway.

Lord Tyler: My Lords, can the noble Lord clarify what will happen when we get the White Paper, which will be from the Government, of course, and not from the cross-party group? What is intended on the draft clauses that have been promised? Will they be the subject of pre-legislative scrutiny? Do the Government now accept the merits of consideration by a Joint Committee so that there is not so much misunderstanding in this House about the other House and vice versa?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is very important that once the White Paper is produced there should be—and will be—parliamentary scrutiny. The Government are attracted by the idea of producing draft clauses and I am sure that, if a joint Select Committee were to be established, Ministers would be very pleased to co-operate and appear before it.

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, is my noble friend wise to rely so comprehensively on the snapshot vote in the House of Commons? He is presumably aware that a majority of Labour MPs voted against 80 per cent election and that, even more surprisingly, a majority of Conservative MPs voted against it. Unless he feels that the Liberal Democrats will form the next Government—

Noble Lords: Oh!

Lord Gordon of Strathblane: My Lords, I am not a betting man, even in Cheltenham week, but I think that either Labour Members or Conservative Members will form the next Government, in which case how likely is it that a wholly elected House would meet with approval on the government Benches in the next Parliament?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I do not deal in fantasy. On the question that my noble friend raises, these could not be described as snapshot votes.

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The votes followed extensive debate after a comprehensive paper was produced, again from the joint group. As for what will happen after the next election, the importance of this group’s work is the effort made to achieve as much consensus as possible across the party-political spectrum, so that there is the consensus to take forward legislation after the next election.

Police: Flanagan Review

3.15 pm

Lord Dear asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are grateful to Sir Ronnie Flanagan for his thoughtful and incisive report and will respond to his recommendations shortly. The wider context of policing was addressed by Sir Ronnie Flanagan himself in the introductory chapters of his interim and final reports. The Government will further address this matter in our forthcoming Green Paper on policing.

Lord Dear: My Lords, in thanking the Minister for that short reply, I draw the attention of this House to the fact that the Flanagan report concludes unequivocally that police numbers must fall in this country in the future. Will the Minister comment on this quite extraordinary statement, totally at odds with pleas from all sides that police numbers in England and Wales should be increased? The ratio of police to public in England and Wales is among the lowest of any developed country. There are 264 police officers to 100,000 population in England and Wales, but 387 in France, 457 in New York and 467 in Chicago. Does the Minister anticipate that the police task here will diminish in the coming years?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, police officer numbers are at an historic high, at about 140,000. We have 16,000 PCSOs, 74,000 other staff and 14,000 special constables. To be precise, Sir Ronnie Flanagan referred to an unhelpful party political debate around police officer numbers as the sole measure of police success. He said that the current numbers would be unsustainable in coming years when he looked at resources. Since then, he has publicly said that he would expect any fall to be very small. As I say, there are more than 140,000 police officers now compared with 127,000 in 1997.

Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, in the chapter on developing police workforce reform, Sir Ronnie states,

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What do the Government intend to do about addressing this vital question of leadership?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Baroness raises an important point. We will be looking at this in our detailed response to the report. We are making an initial response and hope to produce a detailed response within a month.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, as recommended by Sir Ronnie, should the recently established Risk and Regulation Advisory Council begin a national debate on enhancing professional discretion and managing risk? This is in the context, as I understand it, of the police often having to avoid incidents because of health and safety. Has that consultation started? If not, when will it start and how long will it last?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not know the exact detail and will come back to the noble Baroness in writing. We are looking closely at all the points that have been raised on increase of resources, the myriad changes of context in which policing operates and some of the other detail, but I do not know the precise answer to the noble Baroness’s point.

Baroness Howe of Idlicote: My Lords, given the need identified in Sir Ronnie Flanagan's review, in the Government's view, do enough police forces have a policy and a pay structure to attract people with relevant qualifications and experience to apply to join the police force at a mature age and provide the extra expertise that is clearly identified in the report?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, we have that structure in place. In fact, we have historically high numbers of people wanting to join the Police Service and we are getting extremely high-quality people in the service.

As an aside, I am sure that the whole House would agree that we feel the great tragedy of the loss of Chief Constable Mike Todd, a man whom I met twice and was most impressed by, with a very distinguished career. It is very unfortunate that this has happened—clearly, there has to be a post-mortem. He was typical of the very high quality of people we have in the Police Service.

On pay in general, the Home Secretary has written to the Police Negotiating Board and wants to discuss the possibility of a multilayer deal looking forward with the Police Arbitration Tribunal, post the 2007 award.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, we associate ourselves with the Minister's remark about the chief constable of Manchester.

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