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House of Lords

Wednesday, 26 March 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds.


Lord Palmer 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 intention of reviewing Berwick’s status.

Lord Palmer: My Lords, I am delighted to hear that and I thank the Minister for his very full reply. Would he be so good as to get his department to send an edict to members of the Scottish Executive to make certain that they try not to meddle in English affairs?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that the noble Lord is well able to communicate with members of the Scottish Executive. My job is to say that the Government have no plans at all to take any of this forward. We believe strongly in the union and wish to do everything that we can to support, encourage and develop it.

Lord Barnett: My Lords, I am pleased to hear my noble friend’s Answer. I assume that the Government have ignored the poll that was recently held in Berwick that, unsurprisingly, found that people there wanted to be Scottish. People in London, Manchester and elsewhere in England would also like to be Scottish if they could have the same benefits. Will my noble friend clarify the Government’s position? Last week in the House of Commons, the Secretary of State for Scotland categorically denied that the Government had any plans to review a particular formula that is a cause of the problem, whereas today the Daily Telegraph, which has got it wrong previously, reported equally categorically that the Prime Minister has agreed that the new Scottish commission should review the formula. What is the Government’s position?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, is my noble friend referring to the Barnett formula? I disagree with most of the propositions that he has put to your Lordships’ House today. We have made it clear that there are no current plans to change the formula. As we have said, the Chancellor has been asked to produce a factual paper on the funding mechanism to

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inform the debate. The commission that was announced yesterday has the following terms of reference:

Baroness Maddock: My Lords, I declare an interest as a Berwick borough councillor and as the wife of the MP for Berwick-upon-Tweed. In that capacity, I have welcomed the publicity for Berwick; many people in this Chamber will have seen beautiful Berwick on their TV screens. However, does the Minister realise that, being so close to the Scottish border, Berwick residents are only too aware of the higher spending per capita on public services across it? They ask why we cannot have a better and fairer settlement in north-east Northumberland to pay for our public services. We have the next-to-lowest average wage in Britain. Will he help me to answer those questions from people who live in Berwick-upon-Tweed?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I acknowledge the beauty of the borough of Berwick-upon-Tweed. The noble Baroness may know that the right honourable Member for Berwick-upon-Tweed has already eloquently explained the significant practical difficulties inherent in any change, not least the differences in legal systems, which would need to be carefully thought through in the light of this rather strange poll. She will also know that polls undertaken by local newspapers came to very different conclusions. She referred to the funding situation. While expenditure in Scotland in some areas can be seen to be greater than expenditure elsewhere, similar differences exist between the regions within England. Overall, the Barnett formula and the settlement that arises from it have served the United Kingdom well. We should stick with it.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords—

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords—

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords—

The Lord President of the Council (Baroness Ashton of Upholland): My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Walton, has tried several times. I think that probably the House wants to hear from him first.

Lord Walton of Detchant: My Lords, living some 15 miles south of Berwick-upon-Tweed and being a council tax payer at present to Berwick-upon-Tweed Borough Council, may I ask the Minister whether he is aware that the poll to which the noble Lord, Lord Barnett, referred concluded that 60 per cent of people living in Berwick-upon-Tweed would prefer Scottish funding—for instance, for the care of the elderly—but that 70 per cent wanted not to be part of Scotland and to remain part of Northumberland? In the

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interest of the future of this important English town, will the Government now embark on the long-awaited programme of dualling the A1 between Newcastle and Berwick-upon-Tweed?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am sure that we will give every consideration to the noble Lord’s request to dual the road that he mentioned. He is right: the poll that has been referred to contained very much a leading question, which is why the polls in the local newspapers have as much relevance.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I live in Carlisle, north of Hadrian’s Wall but very firmly in England. What can the Government do to make it clear that they will resolve the West Lothian question so that all of us who live in England feel that we benefit from remaining part of the union, which we on this side of the House all want to remain part of?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, we will not do that, as various representatives of the party opposite have suggested, by moving to the ludicrous position of English votes for English MPs, which would be sure to be the start of breaking up the union. We are not going down that route.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords—

Lord Davies of Coity: My Lords, my noble friend has rightly expressed his support for the development and encouragement of the union, but does he believe that it is conducive to that approach to allow English citizens to have fewer benefits than Scottish or Welsh citizens?

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, it is not as simple as that. Of course you can refer to certain provisions of services, which may seem more advantageous in one country or another. That is the whole beauty and benefit of the devolution settlement. Just as my noble friend can refer to, for instance, areas of higher expenditure in Wales in certain services, so there are examples of higher expenditure in England in other services. One has to look at the balanced picture.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, might I reassure—

Baroness Ashton of Upholland: My Lords, I am very sorry, but we are in the ninth minute, which means that other people may not be able to get in their Questions. I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Lloyd, has wanted to get in. If the House really wants it, we will allow him to, but it will mean that we have fewer minutes for three important Questions.

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Asylum and Immigration: Detainees

3.15 pm

Lord Hylton asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, we have no plans to introduce an independent review system. The detention of individuals under Immigration Act powers is kept under regular review at successively higher levels in the Border and Immigration Agency. We have no interest in detaining individuals for longer than is strictly necessary or in prolonging their detention unduly.

Lord Hylton: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply, which I have heard a good many times before. In view of the present situation, will the Government abolish the detained fast track? Will they ensure that legal advice is available to all detainees? Will they undertake not to detain former convicted criminals with innocent asylum seekers and others?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, as the noble Lord will be aware, people in detention centres have access to legal advice for which they do not have to pay. I will take away the thought whether those who have committed crimes and are then being removed from the country should not be kept in the same immigration centres as other asylum seekers. In practical terms it would be extremely difficult, but I will see whether there is any possibility of it.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, will the Minister undertake not to return cancer victims to die in their countries of origin, which happened recently and was a disgrace to this country?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not think I can give such a commitment. I have visited Tinsley House. It is worth remembering that all these cases are individual tragedies because, for a number of reasons, these people are desperate to be in this country. As the noble Lord, Lord Hylton, said, some of them have committed crimes here and are on their way out. I am afraid that we cannot offer healthcare to individuals with no legal right to remain in the United Kingdom. That is clearly covered in EU and our own law. However, we make absolutely certain that they are able to get treatment back in their own country. It might not be as good as it is here, but we cannot open our doors and say that anyone who comes here and says that he cannot get the same treatment in his own country should be allowed to stay. That is not a sensible policy.

Lord Dubs: My Lords, my noble friend will be aware of the concern that has been expressed about the detention of children. How many children are now detained under these powers?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. We do not put any children who are on their own into detention centres. The only ones who ever go there are with families, and normally it is just before the point of removal. As of today, 19 families with children, and 30 children in total, are detained.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, at the end of December 2007, 15 children had been in detention for more than a month. Does Mr Byrne spend half an hour on each of them and, if so, can we really be led to believe that he has seven and a half hours spare in his programme to review the detention of these children? With regard to the adults, has the noble Lord read the report of the chief inspector on Dover IRC, where 30 people have been detained for more than six months and serious errors have been made in presenting their cases to the court? Does he really think that the process of internal authorisation is satisfactory?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a number of points. As I say, we would prefer not to detain families with children at all. Indeed, we are conducting a pilot to see whether families with children might be placed in a hostel down in Ashford, Kent. I hope that will work. As I say, each case is an individual tragedy. These people do not want to leave the country. I visited Tinsley House and was impressed by the quality of our people—the caseworkers and the people looking after the detainees—who are trying to expedite these matters with the fastest possible speed to maintain a policy that is correct for this country.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, it has been said that the Prime Minister and the President of France are likely to announce an agreement to provide joint charter flights for illegal immigrants back to their home countries. How might that be arranged?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am not aware of that proposal. If I may, I will take it away and respond to the noble Baroness in writing.

Baroness Boothroyd: My Lords, will the Minister review the system to see whether 22,000 Gurkhas, who have demonstrated that they are our country’s bravest and most faithful friends, should be allowed to remain here and claim the right of British citizenship?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I have huge admiration for the Gurkhas. I first served alongside them some 35 years ago, and I fought alongside them in the Falklands some 25 years ago. I am sure that we will look at this issue, and I hope that it might come to a conclusion, but I cannot make any promises.

Lord Acton: My Lords, further to the question of the noble Earl, Lord Onslow, with whom I by no means always agree, surely a stage of illness from cancer comes when the Government would not send people back.

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, all I can say is what I said before. This was looked at very closely, and these things are looked at sympathetically. A very high level of assurance has to be reached in both EU law and our own law, and we are not going against any ECHR regulations or anything like that. We have to be very careful. We have to have a policy and, although sometimes it will look difficult for individual cases, it makes sense; we need a policy that makes sense and stands up. To let individual cases go would allow the rest to go by default.

The Lord Bishop of Ripon and Leeds: My Lords, I am being increasingly made aware of the deep psychological needs of many asylum seekers, both in detention and in the community. What special provision can the Government make to bring to a conclusion cases where asylum seekers have serious psychological problems?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the right reverend Prelate raises an important issue. Such problems influence the outcome of individual consideration of the claim and the handling of the claim at times. We have made sure that the guidance and operation instructions make clear that a history of mental and physical illness is a factor that must be taken into account when considering whether detention is appropriate. Each case is considered on its own merits, but we cannot absolutely rule out detention.

Energy: Efficiency

3.22 pm

Lord Berkeley asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Lord Rooker): My Lords, a public consultation on a review of the Home Energy Conservation Act, as implemented in England, ended in January. The review had concluded that, although the Act had raised the profile of energy efficiency, success had been inconsistent. Four options for the future of the legislation were identified, including repeal. Officials are currently analysing the consultation responses, and a summary will be published as soon as possible. Only once that is complete will the Government be in a position to decide on the next steps.

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