Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, does the Minister accept that neither terrorism nor the military action by either party will resolve the present crisis in Sri Lanka, and that the only valid process is a political one? Is he

30 Apr 2008 : Column 241

aware of the deep divisions within Sri Lankan communities in this country—within the Tamil and Sinhalese communities? The problem of conflict between the communities has been highlighted. Will the Minister have a word with the Minister responsible for community cohesion to ensure that action is taken so that community relations between different factions are not harmed?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I echo the noble Lord’s first point: there is only a political solution, and we urge both sides to revert from this militarised approach and return to genuine political negotiation to solve this issue. I and other noble Lords in this House are all too aware of the divisions among the Sri Lankan communities in this country. I fear that the issue may go beyond the capacity of the Minister for social cohesion, as it is so deeply rooted in the conflict in Sri Lanka. I suspect that the solution here, too, lies in a solution back home in Sri Lanka.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, is not my noble friend who asked the Question right to say that there is an analogy with Northern Ireland? Cutting funds from Noraid to the IRA ensured that both parties came together. There is welcome news: that three Sri Lankans have recently been investigated in depth for providing funds to the Tamil Tigers. Should we and the authorities in this country not be more active in ensuring that bogus charities and fundraising events are stopped? That money goes straight to the Tamil Tigers.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord knows that the LTTE is a proscribed organisation in this country. Wherever there are suspicions that moneys are being transferred to it, we have sought to investigate. However, these are hard allegations to prove. I nevertheless agree with the noble Lord’s basic underlying point: we should all appeal to Sri Lankans in our communities to understand that supporting terrorism with their contributions is not a contribution to peace in their country.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minster know anything about the international eminent persons group in Sri Lanka, of which the British member is Professor Sir Nigel Rodley? I understand that the group broke up in disarray and disagreement yesterday and left Sri Lanka. Can the Minister give us any update on that?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, yes. The group was assembled by the President of Sri Lanka based on nominations from countries such as ourselves; we nominated Sir Nigel. It was intended to provide an international legal opinion on the internal presidential commission of inquiry into human rights abuses. The members were so disappointed because they felt that advice was not being followed that they have essentially thrown in the towel. That is a real commentary on the seriousness of the human rights situation in Sri Lanka.

30 Apr 2008 : Column 242

Democratic Republic of Congo: UN Troops

3.23 pm

Lord Avebury asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, we fully support and have contributed to UN efforts on zero tolerance against misconduct. It is for the UN to investigate individual allegations of misconduct and to ensure that the troop-contributing country concerned deals with any substantiated allegations. The UN’s Office of Internal Oversight Services investigated the allegations on weapons and ammunition trading but did not find sufficient evidence to substantiate them. I might add that MONUC’s peacekeepers play a vital role in resolving the conflict in the DRC.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, they did find, did they not, that the peacekeepers had facilitated the trading in gold and other commodities with the armed groups? Does the Minister agree that the General Assembly’s recent criticisms of the OIOS’s investigations methodology indicate the need for urgent reform of the OIOS; and because it has an interest in exonerating the peacekeepers from criticism, can the Minister ensure that any such reforms include an external oversight of the OIOS by the equivalent of non-executive directors who are appointed from outside the UN system?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the allegations to which the noble Lord refers, which were extensively covered in a “Panorama” programme that many noble Lords may have seen, were investigated last year by the United Nations and there was no evidence to substantiate the serious allegations of weapons trading. The allegations were also, it might be added, localised and specific to one unit rather than widespread throughout the mission. Two witnesses from the militia changed their evidence in the “Panorama” programme from what they had said in the investigation, so it is difficult to know the veracity of their subsequent claims. However, the head of UN peacekeeping has made it clear that if the “Panorama” programme or anyone else has fresh evidence, that, too, will be investigated.

On the noble Lord’s second point, the OIOS is largely independent of the UN and reports directly to the General Assembly. There is also a new oversight body for audit matters of the General Assembly itself. The head of the OIOS is a former auditor-general of both Sweden and Kosovo, so she is quite a crusader for justice in the fight against corruption. I therefore suspect that this has been well investigated.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the phenomenal loss of life in the Democratic Republic of Congo, estimated at more than 3 million over the past decade or so, this haemorrhaging of life,

30 Apr 2008 : Column 243

has been brought about because of the free flow of arms into the Congo? However, 95 per cent of all weapons going into Africa are manufactured outside of Africa. That underlines the need for the United Nations to act constructively by not only creating a global arms treaty such as they are considering, but stopping the flow into the Congo, especially into the hands of young people and children who have been armed beyond belief.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, the UK is one of the leaders in trying to get a global arms treaty to cover small arms, which are a devastating weapon in the hands of young people and generally among insurgents and other poorly trained groups. The good news about the Congo is that, for now at least, the violence is behind us. The peace agreement and elections, all of it policed and supported by MONUC, has led to a much more stable situation. Despite these very troubling allegations and concerns, MONUC’s record overall shows that it has been a decisive force for peace in that difficult country.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, I am very glad that the Minister made that last point. Without in any way condoning the reported malpractices, which of course, we must take very seriously, is not the bottom line that the 17,000 UN troops, or many of them, are really making some progress in bringing stability to this area which is so full of bloodshed and atrocities? Should we not recognise the good side of what is going on there and support UN peacekeeping, in its best sense, wherever it is conducted by countries that have a sense of world responsibility?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I very much thank the noble Lord for those remarks. The great majority of the world’s 110,000 UN peacekeepers are extraordinary people taking on difficult work under very difficult circumstances. Where there are allegations of corruption or of sexual exploitation, which has been another major issue, they are to do with a very small minority. I am confident that the United Nations and the troop-contributing countries are working hard to improve disciplinary and investigation arrangements to make sure that even these handful of cases, which tarnish the reputation of peacekeeping as a whole, are brought to a resolution and that those who are offenders are removed from any peacekeeping role.

Lord Chidgey: My Lords, as the Minister will be aware, in his report to the General Assembly on strengthening investigations the Secretary-General noted that some 250 misconduct cases were being investigated by the OIOS at that time. Surely that strengthens the argument for a review into the investigation procedures, which is at the heart of the issue. However, is the Minister as concerned as I am that the General Assembly’s response was to call for more information on the terms of reference of such a review in order to see whether it should have a review at all? Does he share our concerns about that?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I should perhaps at this point acknowledge a special interest in this because I set up the unit being discussed. I was well aware that it would cause deep offence to the General

30 Apr 2008 : Column 244

Assembly as it was set up in the aftermath of Oil for Food when the United Nations needed to cleanse the stables and ensure that any allegations of wrongdoing were chased down and dealt with firmly and clearly. Some in the General Assembly saw it as an unsettling act intended somehow to tilt power towards western donors and away from the membership as a whole. I applaud the Secretary-General’s efforts to consolidate this office. Investigations such as this one show that this reform will survive time and any attacks from the General Assembly.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville:My Lords, is the Minister aware that it takes longer to set up a company in the Democratic Republic of Congo than anywhere else on earth? Is there any way in which outsiders can help to cure that malfunctioning?

Lord Malloch-Brown:My Lords, the noble Lord always surprises me with a statistic of which I was unaware, and he has done so again today. But perhaps I should not have been surprised; I suppose it should have been predictable that the Congo is close to the bottom of the World Bank list rating how long it takes to establish a business. It is mainly insiders who, responding to that pressure, will have to strip out the layers of regulation and bureaucracy that make registering a company so difficult. The best pressure comes from seeing that countries such as Mozambique that have done so have been rewarded by high rates of economic growth and high rates of inward foreign investment.

Housing and Regeneration Bill

3.31 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, I beg to move the Motion standing in my name on the Order Paper.

Moved, That it be an instruction to the Grand Committee to which the Housing and Regeneration Bill has been committed that they consider the Bill in the following order:

Clause 1 Schedule 1 Clauses 2 to 9Schedule 2Clauses 10 and 11Schedule 3Clause 12Schedule 4Clauses 13 to 52Schedule 5Clause 53Schedules 6 and 7Clauses 54 to 58Schedule 8Clauses 59 to 284Schedule 9Clauses 285 to 298Schedule 10Clauses 299 to 302Schedule 11

30 Apr 2008 : Column 245

Clauses 303 and 304Schedule 12Clauses 305 to 310Schedule 13Clauses 311 to 319Schedule 14Clauses 320 to 324.—(Baroness Andrews.)

On Question, Motion agreed to.

Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

Read a third time.

Lord Bach moved Amendment No. 1:

In section 158 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (c. 44) (meaning of “pre-sentence report”), after subsection (1) insert—(a) relates to an offender aged under 18, and(b) is required to be obtained and considered before the court forms an opinion mentioned in section 156(3)(a),must be in writing.””

The noble Lord said: My Lords, we have tabled Amendment No. 1 in response to concerns raised in debate in Committee on pre-sentence reports for young offenders aged under 18. The Criminal Justice Act 2003 makes provision for oral reports to be made to a court. That enables cases for relatively minor offences to proceed where the offender is already known to the court representative and where, in most cases, a pre-sentence report will have been prepared on a previous recent occasion. It is right that a young person should be dealt with promptly when charged with a criminal offence if the case is proven. It is known that speedy intervention has the greatest effect on preventing reoffending. That is why we have focused on reducing the time for persistent young offenders to be brought before a court.

The majority of pre-sentence reports, 80 per cent, will be full written reports, 11 per cent will be oral reports given to the court and the remaining 9 per cent are described as specific sentence reports—shortened, written pre-sentence reports. Where the offence is fairly low level and the court has a recent full report before it, or where the offence is very minor, we believe it is in the young person’s best interests that the case is proceeded with promptly. By way of example, where the young person has committed an offence of shoplifting of a low value item or minor criminal damage with no aggravating circumstances—for instance, there is no associated drug abuse problem—and the court is content that a full report is not required, we believe that an oral report may be appropriate. Similarly, an oral report on the current offence may be provided where the young person is a repeat offender and a written pre-sentence report was prepared for the previous offence and remains valid. In those cases, we think it

30 Apr 2008 : Column 246

would be unreasonable to adjourn the case and remand or bail the young person until a new report is completed. However, I acknowledge the concerns that were raised earlier about the need to ensure that where custody is being considered the court has the full background information before it in a written pre-sentence report.

In Committee, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, expressed concern, as did other noble Lords, about the possibility of a young person being sentenced to custody without the court having a written report before it. The noble Lord, Lord Kingsland, has expressed similar concerns. I can confirm that this possibility is not excluded, either in existing legislation, or the national standards for youth justice services. I acknowledge the concerns of noble Lords. Amendment No. 1 will ensure that the court has a written pre-sentence report when considering sentencing a young offender to custody.

I will also deal with Amendment No. 2, which will be moved in due course by the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. We are very grateful to the noble Lord for giving us the opportunity to discuss his amendment and our amendment with him this morning and earlier this afternoon. I think we understand his concern correctly: it is that Amendment No. 1 would mean that the court would have to decide that custody was appropriate before requesting a written pre-sentence report. He rightly pointed out that, in many cases, the court would not be able to come to such a view until it had seen the pre-sentence report.

We have considered the matter further since the noble Lord’s observations of earlier today. We can reassure the noble Lord that this is not the effect of Amendment No. 1. Section 156(3) of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 requires that a court must, in respect of a person under the age of 18, obtain a pre-sentence report before reaching an opinion. Under Section 152(2) of that Act, the offence, or combination of the offence and one or more offences associated with it, must be so serious that neither a fine alone, nor a community sentence, can be justified. In other words, the court must obtain a pre-sentence report before reaching a decision that the custody threshold has been met. In practice, this means that where the defendant pleads not guilty, but is convicted after a trial, the court will have to adjourn, and a pre-sentence report be prepared, in a case where custody is a possibility. I repeat those words: where custody is a possibility.

The effect of Amendment No. 1 is that a written pre-sentence report will have to be prepared in those circumstances. The court will then be in a position to come to a view as to whether the offender has reached the custody threshold. The amendment will mean that the court cannot come to such a view without a written pre-sentence report. It also means that, as at present, written pre-sentence reports will be prepared in many instances where the court decides, in light of that report, that custody is not appropriate. I hope that answers noble Lords’ concerns, particularly those of the noble Lord, Lord Kingsland. There is no difference between us or around the House. A young person should not be sent to custody without a full written

30 Apr 2008 : Column 247

pre-sentence report being obtained. In due course I am likely to invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment; for the moment, I beg to move Amendment No.1.

Lord Kingsland moved, as an amendment to Amendment No. 1, Amendment No. 2:

The noble Lord said: My Lords, I am most grateful to the Minister for his opening remarks. He will recall that, in Committee, widespread concern was expressed by many noble Lords about the absence of an obligation on a court to require a written report before a custodial sentence was passed. I would like to think that it was that strength of opinion that has led the Government to come forward with the amendment now before your Lordships. I am extremely grateful to the Government for responding in this manner.

I do not think that the Government have gone quite far enough, which explains my amendment to their amendment. I would require written reports in all circumstances, whether the likely sentence was going to be custodial or some form of community sentence. It seems to me that particular care should be taken in respect of offenders aged under 18. I do not see why as much care should be taken in relation to those who are going to receive a community order of one sort or another as a custodial sentence; but I readily admit that our prime concern is with custodial sentences.

I was extremely grateful to the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and Lord Bach, for listening to my more technical preoccupations with their amendment. What exactly is meant by the expression,

mentioned in Section 156(3)(a)? It is quite clear that under that section a court must obtain and consider a pre-sentence report before forming an opinion as to whether, under Section 152(2), the custodial threshold had been reached. The difficulty is that a judge will not reach a conclusion on whether the custodial threshold has been reached until he has read the pre-sentence report. This means that the judge will have to take a view immediately after a defendant is convicted about whether there is the slightest chance that, following receipt of a report, he will pass a custodial sentence.

My understanding of what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has said to the House is that it must be clear that if there is the slightest possibility that a custodial sentence might ensue—only the judge will know that—he must require the report to come to him in writing. In a sense, this amendment is saying that whether or not it is in writing is entirely up to the judge: at the end of the day, it is his subjective judgment to determine whether the report is required to be in writing or whether it can be an oral report.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page