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House of Lords

Tuesday, 6 May 2008.

The House met at half-past two: the LORD SPEAKER on the Woolsack.

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Death of a Member

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I deeply regret that I have to inform the House of the death of Lord Holme of Cheltenham on 4 May. On behalf of the whole House, I extend our condolences to his family and friends.

Gambling: Offshore Bookmakers

2.36 pm

Lord James of Blackheath asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Government have seen no evidence to warrant changing the new protections brought in by the Gambling Act 2005. It is an offence under the Act for any operator to invite children to gamble and for offshore operators to advertise in the UK unless they are in the European Economic Area or are permitted to do so by the Secretary of State.

Lord James of Blackheath: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which suggests that the full extent of his research has not been completed. The law that has just been passed by the former Minister of the Interior, one Nicolas Sarkozy, which came into effect a year ago, has had the somewhat unusual effect of making it a crime, equal to the downloading of child pornography, to place a bet for as much as €2 with any British bookmaker. The penalty in each case is a year in prison and a €75,000 fine. Does the noble Lord consider that this is a fair and reasonable exercise in maintaining a level playing field within what he refers to as the European Community and that it is compatible with the designation he has given of a company therefore being exempt from the ban on advertising that would apply? Will he not now move to restore a level playing field by extending the ban on advertising to all bookmakers operating from France into the United Kingdom?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the playing field may be levelled by the French being obliged to take action. I am sure the noble Lord will appreciate that the French took their action not in defence of the consumer but in defence of their state monopoly on gambling. I am surprised that a representative from the opposition Benches is backing that action. Suffice

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it to say that the European Commission has made it clear that the French law is not acceptable within the framework of the European Community and, as a consequence, we have no intention of following that atrocious example.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord James, has raised an important point about age verification by offshore gambling organisations. Have not the Government been sitting on this issue, which was brought to their attention well over a year ago? It is a fundamental flaw of the Gambling Act that operators in the EU and in Gibraltar are allowed to have lower standards of age verification than those in the UK. Surely the Government do not want that to continue and so disadvantage UK operators.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we certainly want a level playing field as far as we are able to establish that. The noble Lord is right. Gibraltar is within the European Economic Area and therefore has the right to advertise in the United Kingdom. Our own regulations have been in place for only six months and there have been very few complaints to the Gambling Commission about any aspect of underage gambling. It is in the interests of those providing the services to obey British law, which is clear in these terms. At the moment, although we are keeping a careful eye on it, as the noble Lord enjoins us to do, we see no reason for changing our regulatory framework, which seems to be working satisfactorily.

Lord Faulkner of Worcester: My Lords, my noble friend will recall that I asked him a Question on 5 December about discussions with Gibraltar over the quality of gambling regulation there. I drew his attention to the fact that standards adopted by the authorities in Gibraltar fall well short of those adopted in this country; the noble Lord, Lord James, referred to some of those in his Question. I ask my noble friend again whether he has had any discussions with Gibraltar with a view to it getting its act together and improving what it does.

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, Gibraltar features prominently in these issues because it is within the European Community and therefore has these privileges in the British market. Its regulatory framework is not as robust as ours; I am not sure that we would expect it to be, given the limited resources of the Gibraltan state. It is also the case that the Gibraltarians will not readily take lectures from other authorities. However, we have indicated that we expect their standards to match ours in the crucial aspects, to which this Question refers, of advertising and offering accounts to people who are potentially underage. We will monitor that with the greatest care.

Cluster Munitions

2.42 pm

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, while declaring an interest as chair of the board of the United Nations Association of Great Britain and Northern Ireland, which is part of the campaign to ban cluster munitions, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper.

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The Question was as follows:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, the Government’s aim is to achieve a legally binding instrument on those cluster munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians. That is what we, along with the other participants in the Oslo process, will be working to achieve in Dublin. The key task at this final meeting will be to reach agreement on the types of cluster munitions that fall into this category and which should therefore be prohibited.

Lord Hannay of Chiswick: My Lords, while I thank the Minister for that reply, which seems rather less clear and categorical than I would have hoped, does he recognise that any further effort by Her Majesty’s Government to maintain a distinction between types of cluster munitions that would be banned and types that would still be permissible is liable either to wreck the prospects of an international convention being agreed in Dublin or to produce one that would be unenforceable and ineffective? Given the appalling suffering of innocent civilians, which has already been inflicted by the use of these munitions irrespective of their type, and given their fundamental military unsuitability for the kinds of hostilities most prevalent in today’s world, will the Minister make a further effort before the Dublin meeting to define a British negotiating position that will accept the banning of all cluster munitions with no ifs and buts?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I think the noble Lord knows that the Government’s position is that we want to seek a ban on those munitions that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, either because they do not have a self-exploding feature or because they hit targets indiscriminately due to the nature of their launching and aiming systems. There is a debate about which munitions should or should not fall within this category. That is the purpose of Dublin: to see if this can be resolved in a way that protects those weapons that we still consider to have military utility. While the noble Lord is correct about today’s asymmetrical warfare and the fact that these weapons have little purpose and can do a lot of harm when used in areas where civilians are present, we should not assume that old-fashioned warfare with tanks and other major targets is gone for ever.

Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, can the Minister give us a useful distinction between cluster weapons that cause unacceptable harm to civilians and cluster weapons that do not? Is he confident that one can get a consensus in the negotiations on that distinction?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is pressing on the most difficult point in this—that of trying to find a definition that is acceptable to the countries that are moving forward the Oslo process and, more broadly, those who are our military partners and with whom issues of interoperability are key. I

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have given the principal criterion, which is harm to civilians. We see that as coming from old, unmodernised weapons, weapons that do not self-explode and weapons that are fired and aimed in such a way that it is hard to avoid unnecessary civilian destruction.

Baroness Whitaker: My Lords, when it is a question of the definition of a civilian, does my noble friend accept that, in this country, when we look at compensation for the trauma of being injured by bombs, we look at loss of earnings and the cost to the whole family? Can my noble friend confirm that the current definition of a victim in the draft of the cluster munitions treaty will remain as it is; that is to say, it will include the family affected—so much more important in countries where earnings are crucial to survival?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, my noble friend makes an important point. I do not believe that this issue is in dispute in the draft treaty so I can say with some confidence that it is likely to remain the same, but I again stress that the meeting in Dublin is to resolve differences in the treaty and I cannot rule out changes. However, in that area, that is unlikely.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, does the Minister accept that almost all so-called submunitions can cause civilian deaths and casualties and are doing so at this moment—while we are sitting here—in places such as southern Lebanon? I have considerable sympathy with the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Hannay, about that and the dangers of too many qualifications and too much hair-splitting over the definitions of different munitions. Does the Minister also accept that any agreement either in Dublin or later on has to be universal? Can he tell us which countries are still opposing the whole idea? Do they include the United States, Russia or China—if so, we have a lot of work ahead of us—and which countries merely want a transitional period? Do they include countries such as Japan and Germany? Where exactly in this spectrum do we stand?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the important point to understand is that not all countries are part of this process. A core group that went to Oslo has been working on this. It includes countries that are not users of these weapons together with some, such as ourselves, who use them in a very limited way. The difficulty for us is that not all NATO members are part of this process and therefore interoperability and the need to protect our ability to work with NATO partners in certain conflicts are key. NATO members have no need or reason at this time to use such weapons because of the nature of the conflicts we are involved in. We have no south Lebanon on our books at this time.

The Lord Bishop of Southwark: My Lords, will the Minister explain what cluster munitions are used for?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, their purpose is to be used against heavily armoured targets. That is why in today’s current asymmetric campaigns against insurgents they have no high military utility. That is why they have not been used by NATO in recent years.

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Baroness Northover: My Lords, is it still the case that DfID is opposed to these weapons but that the Ministry of Defence wishes to retain them? Who does the Minister think will prevail in the end?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I could not possibly comment. The Ministry of Defence obviously has a certain interest in this because weapons of certain limited types that fall within this category are within our current arsenal, if not presently being used. There is a discussion inside government as we move to the negotiation in Dublin, and there is a determination to try to get an agreement if we can and therefore to make our definition as expansive as possible, consistent with protecting our military interest.

Baroness Symons of Vernham Dean: My Lords, the Minister spoke in his initial response of a ban against the weapons that cause unacceptable harm to civilians, leaving the impression that perhaps there might be something that involved acceptable harm to civilians. I am sure that my noble friend did not mean to imply that but it was the inference none the less that some noble Lords drew from what he said.

Does the Minister agree that one of the dreadful things about cluster weapons is not only that they explode on a delayed mechanism, like landmines, but also that they are extremely attractive to children? That is what most people find totally unacceptable: that young children come to play with what they see as something attractive on the ground and lose a hand, arm or foot—or even worse—in so doing. Will the Minister explain what will be done in these discussions to try and avoid these difficulties, not just about delay but about making these weapons less attractive to children?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, let me be clear that when we say “unacceptable”, we mean random and indiscriminate harm to civilians that does not show proper effort to protect innocent civilian lives in a military conflict. Let us again be clear: war always, sadly, claims innocent civilian lives, whatever protection is taken.

We believe that the weapons in the British arsenal do not have a high failure rate; they have a very low failure rate—indeed, one of the two is self-exploding, which should keep the rate extremely low. However, I think that we are all aware that southern Lebanon represented a terrible, terrible situation with continuing tragic deaths of children and others. One very much hopes that the weapons type that was used in southern Lebanon will be within the boundaries of this treaty. Therefore the answer to my noble friend’s question is that that variant of the M85 will not be in use in future.

The Earl of Onslow: My Lords, presumably those weapons in southern Lebanon were provided by the United States for use by Israel. If that is the case and the United States will not be present in Dublin—which is what I gathered the noble Lord was implying—where are we going from here?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the hope is that it will be rather like the landmines treaty, which was initially carried by a small group of convinced countries—

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even if they did come from very different military backgrounds—that formed a treaty that the rest of the international community came in behind and supported. We hope the same will happen with this. That is why it is so important that the concluding negotiations in Dublin do not create a narrow treaty that will not gain that broad support—without it, its utility in limiting this use of weapons will not amount to that much.

Africa: FCO and DfID Expenditure

2.52 pm

Lord Hurd of Westwell asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, excluding the grants in aid made by the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to the British Council and BBC World Service, planned recurrent expenditure in sub-Saharan Africa is broadly similar in its administrative use at £56 million for the FCO and £52.3 million for DfID. Planned capital expenditure is also broadly similar at £7.8 million for the FCO and £7.1 million for DfID. However—and I think this is the point that the noble Lord is seeking—the FCO’s planned strategic and bilateral programme spend is £33.5 million, while DfID’s planned bilateral expenditure on the elimination of poverty is £1.259 billion.

Lord Hurd of Westwell: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for that Answer. Is he aware of a growing feeling that we may be in danger of running a two-headed policy in Africa, part of it run with these large figures from DfID for the reduction of poverty and the other half dealing with political stability and good government? Given what we see happening around us, in Kenya and Zimbabwe—disasters primarily as a result of misgovernment—will he give us an assurance that it is our intention, and our policy, to run a single, balanced and coherent policy and not allow the gaining of political information and influence to wither away in reduced budgets?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I very much thank the noble Lord for his question. It will help to ensure that that does not happen, as will the vigorous attention of all your Lordships to ensuring that we have an active foreign policy for Africa and not just a development policy. I reassure him that DfID’s expenditures on poverty reduction also very much cover good governance. There is full recognition that one must go hand in hand with the other. Only where there is accountable, transparent government will you see effective poverty reduction. Let me add that our foreign policy for Africa is no longer just about poor, failing states. There are some rich, quite successful states in Africa that offer us real partnership opportunities in moving ahead.

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