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Does not the Law Lords’ majority decision two weeks ago in the Malcolm case create real problems? In their wisdom, what the Law Lords have done is interpret our disability discrimination legislation more narrowly than sex and race discrimination legislation, with the following extraordinary effect. A blind person, or a person who is visually impaired, with a dog, will not be able to claim disability discrimination if a restaurant has a “no dogs” policy and applies the policy regardless of disability. It seems to us, looking at the convention, that that cannot be right in terms of the convention, and that it will need to be overruled. Does the Minister agree?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for the advance notice of this question; otherwise I would be in some difficulty. The Government are giving careful consideration to the judgment in London Borough of Lewisham v Malcolm and any impact that it may have on disability discrimination legislation. We do not think that the decision should affect the UK’s ability to ratify the convention. The judgment does not alter the duty placed on service providers to make reasonable adjustments for disabled people, where it would otherwise be impossible or unreasonably difficult for a disabled person to access the service. We need to consider that judgment carefully. We are very grateful for the noble Lord’s engagement in doing so.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, will the Government’s equality Bill help or hinder the cause of the noble Lord, Lord Morris of Manchester?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I hope that it will support and help the cause. We have made very clear that the equality Bill will not involve any rolling back of the rights that currently exist. We have put that on the record very clearly.

Lord Ashley of Stoke: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it is easy enough to ratify the convention, but if it is amended with all sorts of qualifications and reservations it could become meaningless? Will he bear that in mind and see that other departments, including the DCLG, also bear it in mind?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, my noble friend would be absolutely right if we had a whole raft of reservations that fundamentally undermined the

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convention; but only reservations that are compatible with the convention can be made. I stress again that it is important that, when we ratify the convention, we are in a position fully to implement it. That is why we must have this review of our laws and procedures.

Asylum Seekers: Darfur

3.24 pm

Lord Roberts of Llandudno asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the Government have deferred enforcing the return of non-Arab Darfuri asylum seekers to Sudan pending the outcome of a country guidance case that is due to be heard by the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal in the near future. The case, originally listed to be heard in May, is currently waiting to be relisted and will address the safety of return to Khartoum.

Lord Roberts of Llandudno: My Lords, I appreciate that step by the Government very much but, following the 10 May attacks in Khartoum, why was the policy considered at all, especially for the Darfuri people? There were mass murders and arrests in Khartoum. Have the Government managed to find a mechanism to monitor and report on the fate of those asylum seekers returned forcibly to their native country?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord is referring to the attack by the Justice and Equality Movement on 10 May, which has been condemned by our Foreign Secretary. Rather more importantly in this context, the Foreign Office has stressed to the Government of Sudan that they should exercise restraint in their response and that anyone arrested should be given due legal process. We have some concerns about reports that we have received. The issue will be part of the work of the Asylum and Immigration Tribunal, which stemmed from the Aegis Trust report; I can go into that if anyone is interested. On monitoring once returned, I refer the noble Lord to the answer I gave in my letter on 18 June subsequent to the last debate on the subject. We do not normally proactively monitor treatment of individual failed asylum seekers unless there is a precise reason for us to do so. Indeed, it can sometimes be prejudicial to their safety.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, will the Darfuri asylum seeker who was due to be returned to Khartoum on Sunday next now emphatically not be returned? I shall return to the Question. Given the factionalism and fighting between various groups including JEM, to which the Minister referred, and given that 200,000 to 300,000 people have died in Darfur, where 2.2 million people have been displaced, does he accept that it should not take a tribunal to tell us that the circumstances are not appropriate to return anyone to Sudan at present?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, the noble Lord raises a couple of issues. On the first, we do not comment on individual cases, but we will not enforce removals of non-Arab Darfuris pending the outcome of the AIT country guidance case. One cannot prejudge what will be said there, but some of the goings-on in Darfur, especially in Khartoum, would lead one to believe that there would be no way in which people would be sent back. We are not at all happy with what we see going on and are pressing hard for a genuinely independent human rights commission. The UN special rapporteur on human rights is going there. We are monitoring the issue closely. I have seen the telegrams from the FCO; we are very concerned. As regards returns “ever”, situations change in countries and we always approach the matter very much on a case-by-case basis, except in exceptional circumstances such as this.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, the situation has indeed changed. The trouble is that the Country of Origin Information Service publishes its reports only every six months and the last occasion was April, so it does not take into consideration the mass arrests, torture and disappearances referred to by my noble friend, which all occurred after the JEM attack of 10 May. How will the country guidance case sufficiently reflect recent developments in Khartoum that make it extremely dangerous for any Darfuri in that environment?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, we go about getting information through not just the UKBA’s Country of Origin Information Service. We get a lot of data from our local FCO officials in the embassy, a wide range of independent organisations, the UNHCR, the US State Department, Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International. Those are being revised all the time. Normally we look on issues on a case-by-case basis, but what is going on in Khartoum is extremely worrying and we are not at all happy about it. We have made our views felt, but we are clear about what is going on. I am sure that it will be taken fully into account by the AIT and reflected in the advice that it gives to us.

Viscount Bridgeman: My Lords, Part 10 of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 prevents foreign criminals liable to deportation becoming eligible for the right to remain in the UK, due to the impossibility of sending them home. How many persons are affected under that part, globally and in respect of Sudanese nationals?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am afraid that I cannot give a specific answer and will have to get back to the noble Viscount in writing. All that I would say is that in the past year there has been an increase of 80 per cent in the number of criminals who we return from this country to their country of origin. We take that very seriously. I have spoken about it previously on the Floor of the House and that return rate will get even better.

Lord Lester of Herne Hill: My Lords—

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Baroness Cox: My Lords, is the Minister aware of another aspect of the changing situation? New conflicts have erupted all around Darfur, not only in Abyei in May, but recently a major conflict ensued in Lietnhom in Bahr-el-Ghazal, creating some 45,000 more displaced people. Given the number of displaced people who are already there, sending asylum seekers back to a place which is devastated and has no healthcare, food or water seems totally unacceptable and is very relevant to this situation.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I could not agree more and that is why I am delighted to say that we are not actually sending anyone back. However, it is important that we maintain the integrity of our asylum system. That means that unfounded applications have to be checked; we have a very good record on this. We have stopped 1 million lorries coming in and 18,000 immigrants. In the past five years, our airline liaison officers abroad have stopped almost a quarter of a million people who have not been entitled to come into the country; that represents about two jumbo jets-full every week. We need to take this very seriously, but we do think of people. We would never return anyone who is at risk, and we look after them on a case-by-case basis. We should be proud of that.

National Insurance Contributions Bill

3.31 pm

Read a third time.

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): I beg to move that this Bill do now pass. I thank noble Lords who have engaged in discussion on this important measure and I thank, as ever, the Bill team. There have been some very interesting debates on the Bill. Noble Lords will not be surprised that the Government remain unconvinced by the arguments presented on Report by noble Lords opposite. I should inform the House that we are considering our options and intend to return to this matter.

Moved, That the Bill do now pass.—(Lord McKenzie of Luton.)

On Question, Bill passed, and returned to the Commons with amendments.

Housing and Regeneration Bill

3.32 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Andrews): My Lords, I beg to move that the Bill be now further considered on Report.

Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.

Clause 69 [Transitional arrangements]:

Baroness Andrews moved Amendment No. 89:

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On Question, amendment agreed to.

Clause 72 [Low cost home ownership]:

[Amendment No. 90 not moved.]

Clause 81 [English bodies]:

Lord Graham of Edmonton moved Amendment No. 91:

“( ) a community land trust (as defined in section 274),”

The noble Lord said: My Lords, noble Lords who were here at 10.10 pm on Monday will recall that this amendment was reached but, regrettably, I could not move it. If I had been called, my speech would have been curtailed; now I have the whole day. I do not intend to take the whole day, but I am grateful for this opportunity. I shall also speak to the related amendments in this group.

I remind the Minister of what her colleague said when I moved a comparable amendment in Committee. I said at the end of my speech:

We are talking about community land trusts. At Second Reading, I said that it was an idea whose time had come. I do not intend to reiterate all the arguments, but I am sure that the House will be pleased to be reminded of the genesis of the amendment. The idea is that people living and working in a community—those who have its interests at heart—should be able to do something about the problem. I can do no better than to quote Amendment No. 150, which states:

Yesterday afternoon, I had the pleasure of attending a meeting about ALMOs. The Minister, Caroline Flint, who was there, and I—and others—gloried in the fact that we now have a greater range of options than we did in the days when I was more directly active in housing.

The Minister said that an earlier amendment had support across the whole House—that it was what the House wanted and enjoyed a high degree of consensus. I remind the Minister, without labouring the point too strongly, that those words could also apply to this amendment. All parties and the whole House, including the noble Lord, Lord Best, who I see is in his place, would like the Minister to do something.

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What would the amendments require? The Housing Corporation was given the task of inviting a working party, centred on the University of Salford, to examine the feasibility of the community land trust nexus. It said that that was first class, that it has merit and is viable and practical but that there is a difficulty; that is, that there is no definition of a community land trust.

When you invite people—the House, the Government, the country—to invest money, time and land, they are entitled to know exactly what they are subscribing to. Friends tell me that there is life in a number of major towns and villages throughout the land and that they are able to go forward. I remember noble Lords opposite pointing out that they knew of individuals who were willing to donate land or negotiate the sale of land at below market value to establish a community land trust. There is no doubting the fact that the availability and cost of land is crippling. I hope that committees or groups in any community will see merit in this. The land will remain perpetually in the ownership of the trust; in other words, once houses have been built on it, it will not be possible to cede the land to someone else. That is the idea. I hope that the Minister will not tell us that the practical difficulties of even conceiving a definition is beyond the wit of those whom I call the clever people, the brainy and experienced people, in her department; they should be able to come up with a form of words—they may not be precisely the words that I would use—to enable us to go forward. We might have to wait 12 months or longer for another opportunity; the Bill gives us an opportunity. I remember that the noble Lord, Lord Dixon-Smith, when speaking to another amendment, said that a bird in the hand was worth two in the bush.

The Minister has been very generous and fair with her time because she has agreed to take away more than one amendment and to come back, I hope, at Third Reading with an acceptable form of words. That is all I am asking her to do today: to take away my amendment, discuss it with her colleagues and those who work on the ground in this matter, and to come back. I am not wedded to the wording of the amendment. It was given to me by David Rodgers, the director of CDS Co-operative Housing Society Ltd, who is a friend of mine. He believes that this form of words is suitable, but that may not be the case.

I am optimistic. I believe that this is a credit to the Government. It is not a partisan or party matter; in practical terms, it would add to the range of matters and opportunities currently before the Government and the Minister. I beg to move.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I supported the amendments relating to community land trusts at the previous stage and I continue to do so. Therefore, I am very glad that the noble Lord has tabled his amendments today. I hope he will understand that what I say next is an expression of the affection in which the whole House holds him. It is wonderfully disingenuous of him to say, “All I’m doing is asking the Government to take the amendment away and draft it for me”. That is very skilful and it shows the noble Lord’s years of experience. I hope that the Government will do exactly that.

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Lord Dixon-Smith: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Graham, is absolutely right. In Grand Committee, this proposal was supported by every speaker in the debate. It is perfectly true to say that there would not be a complete inhibition on this type of development. There is no formal definition of community land trusts, but the ones that go forward do so by private arrangement without the absolute certainty of legislative backing. Although, in principle, that is a method of development that I thoroughly approve of and support, in this instance if something along the lines of this amendment could be put on the statute book, it would help a movement which, in turn, would very often help smaller communities where, among other things, as we have argued from this side, there is currently a social housing deficit. This is a very worthwhile move and I hope that the Government have their sympathetic boots on this afternoon.

Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, the good news is that we do have sympathetic ears this afternoon. We have listened carefully to the views of my noble, and very venerable, friend Lord Graham on this, and we recognise the strength of the argument that has been put forward in favour of including in the legislation a definition of a community land trust.

I should be honest and say at the outset that, although we have been committed to helping the development of community land trusts, we would have preferred our consultation to reach the point where the way that we addressed the issues raised by my noble friend could be better finessed. That is also the case in relation to the legal definition. That said, we want to respond to the powerfully expressed will of noble Lords in Grand Committee and meet their concerns. Over the next few days, I should like to consider the options for putting a definition of community land trusts in Part 2 of the Bill. I give an absolute promise this afternoon that we will bring back an amendment at Third Reading that satisfies my noble friend.

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