8 Oct 2008 : Column 227

8 Oct 2008 : Column 227

House of Lords

Wednesday, 8 October 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Liverpool.

Death of a Member

The Lord Speaker (Baroness Hayman): My Lords, I regret that I have to inform the House of the death today of Lord Hogg of Cumbernauld. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to his family and friends.

Armed Forces: Wellington Barracks

3.07 pm

Baroness Sharples asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, usage of the Defence Estate is reviewed continuously. However, under current plans, Wellington Barracks will remain the key location in London for the execution of state ceremonial and public duties for the foreseeable future. There are no plans to dispose of Wellington Barracks.

Baroness Sharples: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for that reply. Is she aware that a number of us visited the barracks in the summer and were quite appalled at the conditions we found there? The sports hall had been out of use for eight weeks because 300 beds had been set out there for the extra troops required. Those 300 troops had the use of only 13 showers and lavatories and there were three washing machines for 500 soldiers. In the basement area, which often floods, cars that had to be parked there had been affected by limescale. Is this not an utter disgrace?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, there are problems at Wellington Barracks, which are part of the legacy of difficulties on accommodation generally which have been around for many years. The MoD does want to improve the situation at the barracks, but it is not easy, partly because of the configuration of the buildings and the size of the site, and because some of the structures are Grade II listed. Improvements are in train at the moment. Band practice rooms are being brought up to standard, a general health estate improvement plan is in place and nearly £10 million has been spent this year, but clearly more needs to be done. The MoD is spending a great deal of money on improving accommodation generally and on trying to deal with the significant backlog of work that has been necessary for many years.

8 Oct 2008 : Column 228

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, on the rationalisation of barracks in London, with the expiry of the lease at St John’s Wood, I understand that the King’s Troop of the Royal Horse Artillery is being moved to Woolwich. Would it not make more sense for the King’s Troop to be based more centrally at, say, Regent’s Park Barracks, which I believe it would prefer? What is the future of the Regent’s Park Barracks?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, it is correct that the King’s Troop is moving from St John’s Barracks to Woolwich. The intention is to spend a great deal of money improving the situation at Woolwich and to build new accommodation with en-suite single rooms for those people who are transferring. There will be 422 new units of such accommodation at Woolwich. It is a suitable site, not least because there will be better conditions for the animals that will be going there and good facilities for riding. Overall it will be a better situation. On Regent’s Park, it is well known that the US Embassy was considering acquiring that site from us. That is not going to happen now but it is still possible that we might sell that site.

Lord Luke: My Lords, following on from my noble friend’s question, can the Minister confirm that money raised from the sale of the Chelsea Barracks site is ring-fenced for spending on military accommodation renovations and will not be appropriated for other purposes by the Treasury?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I am pleased that we have raised so much money from the sale of Chelsea Barracks. As someone pointed out to me a few minutes ago, had we not sold them at that time we might not have got quite as much money. The Government have gone on record as saying that we will spend £8 billion over the next 10 years on the legacy issues surrounding accommodation for our Armed Services, which has been neglected over many years. The amount of commitment we have shown since 2003 includes the provision of 29,000 new or upgraded single living spaces. That £8 billion over the next 10 years is a clear example of our commitment. The money from the sale of Chelsea Barracks will help in providing extra accommodation.

Lord King of Bridgwater: My Lords, many Members of the House will be shocked by the statement made by my noble friend Lady Sharples about the conditions at Wellington Barracks. I do not know whether the Minister has been there but, in view of their particular significance to any visitors to this country—not least in the ceremonial role, where soldiers have to emerge spick and span on parade from those barracks so regularly—would it not be excellent if she visited Wellington Barracks and then came out and said, “Action this day”?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I have spent the whole of September visiting accommodation and units as well as industry up and down the country. There is a lot to see. I have seen some of the difficulties we have with accommodation but also some of the many significant advances that have been made. I mentioned earlier that there are now 29,000 units of

8 Oct 2008 : Column 229

en suite accommodation for single people. That was unheard of in our armed services not too long ago. The Government’s record is clear: the backlog is very severe, but significant steps have been taken to improve the situation.

Lord Brooke of Sutton Mandeville: My Lords, can the Minister imagine what the first Duke of Wellington, if he were still in your Lordships’ House, would have said about the conditions that my noble friend described in her supplementary?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I would not venture down that path.

Baroness Gardner of Parkes: My Lords, is there some general policy of moving the accommodation for the forces out of London? The Minister mentioned St John’s Wood and Chelsea Barracks. Are there any plans to change Knightsbridge Barracks?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, we are trying to ensure that the best use is made of the accommodation that exists so that those of our Armed Forces who are involved in ceremonial state occasions or some of the public duties are based as centrally as possible. Those who are not so involved can manage well on the periphery of London. That is what some of the discussion has been about. Overall, at the end of this procedure, we will end up with better accommodation across the board and with people situated in places that are most convenient for them.

Lord Lyell: My Lords, with that in mind, can the Minister confirm that action is indeed being taken at Wellington Barracks? I paid a visit on the same day as my noble friend Lady Sharples. I understand that funds are actually in place—“this day”, as my noble friend Lord King put it—to replenish unit showers and some of the accommodation that we saw. I understand that it should not be too great a step for the Minister. Would she be kind enough to push further?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I mentioned in my earlier reply that £10 million, a significant amount of money, is being spent this year on some of the general improvements that will have a direct impact on some of the problems that noble Lords have referred to.


3.15 pm

Lord Blaker asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, the Foreign Secretary’s Statement to the House of Commons on Monday made our position clear: Zimbabwe’s people want the agreement between the MDC and ZANU-PF

8 Oct 2008 : Column 230

that was signed on paper to work in practice. That needs a Cabinet to be appointed without further delay which reforms Zimbabwe’s economic management and the behaviour of its security forces. We continue to provide humanitarian relief to the Zimbabwean people. We remain ready to support recovery when a new Government show commitment to reform.

Lord Blaker: My Lords, is the Minister aware that Kofi Annan has recently criticised the African Union for not confirming the MDC’s victory in the March election? He said:

“The African Union should have endorsed the results and said to Mugabe: you are not a legally elected president”.

What part is now being played by the chairman of the African Union Commission and the UN special envoy as members of the reference group in pressing for the urgent implementation of the power-sharing agreement?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I had the opportunity in New York two weeks ago to talk to the chairman of the African Union and the head of its executive along with the special envoy of the UN Secretary-General. All of them are watching this situation with concern. They believe that President Mbeki remains the SADC and AU mediator, but they are fully aware that time is elapsing and that there is still no agreement on the Cabinet, which will break the agreement if it is not resolved within weeks.

Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, can the Minister confirm that the UN agencies and NGOs now have access to those who are in most need of humanitarian assistance and that the impediments imposed by the Government have now been lifted?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I am able to assure the noble Baroness that that seems to be the case. The reports that we are receiving from Harare are that the UN and NGOs now feel able to distribute freely, which is a good thing because the food failure means that while 2 million people are currently being fed, that figure will shortly grow to as many as 5 million.

Lord Hughes of Woodside: My Lords, does my noble friend accept that the imperative is for the agreement to be met in full and that, as each day passes, pessimism overtakes optimism? Will he therefore lend his full support and authority to former president Thabo Mbeki to get this agreement going? Whatever happened in the past, it is essential that full support is given by everybody to get the agreement up and running now.

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I certainly agree with my noble friend that Thabo Mbeki got an agreement signed. I think that former President Mbeki and the rest of Africa feel that it is still on his shoulders, despite his own stepping-down from office, to get early completion of the agreement on the sharing of the Cabinet portfolios so that Zimbabwe can have a Government and move forward. There has been hope that former President Mbeki will visit Harare this week and we think it urgent that that happens.

8 Oct 2008 : Column 231

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I am sure that the Minister is aware that the Prime Minister-designate of Zimbabwe has been refused a passport so that he has been unable to travel abroad and explain the current situation to the African Union and SADC. Would it be possible for SADC to organise a United Nations travel document for him so that he can travel abroad for these purposes? Will he ask President Sarkozy to invite Mr Tsvangirai to the European Union Foreign Ministers’ summit next week?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as the noble Lord says, it is quite extraordinary that the Prime Minister-designate is refused a passport by the very Government of whom he is soon to be the leader. It points to the hollowness of the agreement so far and the failure of ZANU-PF to come through on its side of the bargain and begin a process of genuine power-sharing. Mr Tsvangirai has been day by day assuring us that he expects to get that passport. If it does not come in the coming days, we will indeed need to reflect on the noble Lord’s suggestions on how we can push this issue further.

Lord Howell of Guildford: My Lords, obviously we welcome on this side any moves towards what the Minister rightly describes as a genuine agreement. There is not much time left, but would he care to speculate on when we might consider the lifting of the EU targeted sanctions and at what point we might press harder for independent media access? Given that we already provide humanitarian aid, and continue to do so, at what point can we begin to mobilise a vital and dynamic recovery assistance programme? What are the criteria that we are looking for in this very slow process, before we can trigger all those hopeful developments for the future of Zimbabwe?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, as the noble Lord knows, we consider humanitarian assistance separate from the broader political progress. It is urgent to meet immediately, as long as we continue to enjoy access, the immediate needs of hungry people. However, he is quite right to press for the criteria for a broader engagement around recovery and the lifting of sanctions. My first answer is, “not yet”, as the conditions are clearly not in place for that; nor would just the formation of a Government provide those conditions. We will need to see that they are a Government in whom the MDC is properly represented; we would particularly expect to see ministries such as home affairs and finance in MDC hands, as was originally planned. We would expect an economic recovery programme which enjoys the full support of the whole Government and which is credible—that behind that political will lie the economic skills to get it done. Under those circumstances, we would move to begin to lift EU sanctions and to provide economic recovery support.

Lord St John of Bletso: My Lords, what measures have Her Majesty's Government taken to inform other African leaders on what steps they have taken and continue to take to ensure a satisfactory viable solution in Zimbabwe—particularly those African leaders who, inexplicably, still support Robert Mugabe?

8 Oct 2008 : Column 232

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I have certainly been in intensive discussions with many African leaders. As the noble Lord knows, many of those who claim publicly to still support President Mugabe have a very different line in private. They are all well aware of our efforts and we have a growing circle of sympathetic support. Everybody in Africa, whatever their differences on this matter, agrees that it is time to move on and that there must at the very minimum be genuine power-sharing in the country.

Young Offender Institutions: Zahid Mubarek

3.22 pm

Lord Ramsbotham asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Bach): My Lords, the Prison Service deeply regrets the circumstances that led to the tragic death of Zahid Mubarek in 2000. The then director-general of the Prison Service personally apologised to the family. As a result of the publication of the public inquiry report in 2006, the National Offender Management Service is actively implementing its recommendations. As the House will, I hope, appreciate, I am unable to comment on individual litigation claims or any offers made during such process. Such offers would be made on a “without prejudice” basis and the contents are not disclosable.

Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that reply. Comparisons are odious, but in this case I believe that they may be appropriate. Zahid Mubarek was the victim of an avoidable racist murder while in the hands of the state. Subsequently, the judicial inquiry, ordered by your Lordships after consistent refusal by the Government to initiate one, found that operational and managerial failure by a number of named prison staff had contributed to the murder. Since the finding, the Government have offered an ex gratia payment, in line with European awards for breaches of the human rights convention.

Stephen Lawrence was the victim of a racial murder at a bus stop in Peckham. The solicitor acting for the Lawrence family asked for £320,000 in compensation, which the Government awarded while at the same time refusing a request that he made for £130,000 for the Mubarek family. Currently, the Treasury Solicitor is suggesting that the way forward is a lawyers-only meeting, adding that it is not appropriate to enter into correspondence on matters of moral obligation. Does the Minister agree that the Government have a moral obligation to the family of someone murdered while in their care, equal to if not greater than that recognised in the Lawrence case, and that that obligation ought to be honoured by Ministers and not the Treasury Solicitor?

8 Oct 2008 : Column 233

Lord Bach: My Lords, I agree that this was a terrible case, but I repeat that I am not able to confirm or deny any figures of any kind. In the normal course of events it would be quite wrong before this House or in public generally to talk about any “without prejudice” offer or otherwise. This case is not on all fours with the Stephen Lawrence case, but I can say that it is a terrible case and thank goodness some important changes for the better have been made as a consequence of this dreadful murder.

Lord Henley: My Lords, I do not intend to talk about the individual case. The noble Lord will remember the passage of the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Bill, now the Corporate Manslaughter and Corporate Homicide Act. He will remember the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham—the noble Lord was too modest to mention them—which the Government, after much pressure, eventually accepted, so that the Prison Service would be included under the legislation. Does he accept that it would have been much more helpful if the Government had agreed at a much earlier stage to those amendments? At least that would have shown that the Government were prepared to move on something like this, and on this issue, at an earlier stage.

Lord Bach: My Lords, I do not agree at all. The point is that in the end we allowed the clauses through; we did the right thing. I certainly would not agree with the proposition that somehow we should have done it at a much earlier stage.

Baroness Uddin: My Lords, in paying tribute to Mr and Mrs Mubarek, will my noble friend acknowledge their contribution and their resilience in pursuing justice for their son? Does he accept that important lessons have been learnt in dealing with racism in prison?

Lord Bach: My Lords, I absolutely agree with my noble friend. Zahid’s parents, Mr and Mrs Amin, have shunned publicity and kept a low profile throughout the ensuing eight years. His uncle, Imtiaz Amin, is the main representative for the family. I say publicly that our view is that all the family have acted with enormous dignity and tremendous courage throughout.

Lord Dholakia: My Lords, this was one of the most brutal racist murders in one of Her Majesty’s penal establishments. Following it, the Commission for Racial Equality carried out a major investigation and found 14 major faults. There is now an action group and a system for monitoring. When is the Minister likely to receive the action group report? Will it be published to ensure that such incidents do not happen in future?

Lord Bach: My Lords, substantial progress has been made since the CRE’s investigation into the Prison Service on this matter. We continue to make progress against the agreed five-year action plan. We will be reporting progress to what is now called the Equality and Human Rights Commission in December 2008, which will consider what we have to say and make a judgment as to what progress has occurred. We are confident that substantial progress has been made.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page