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House of Lords

Monday, 27 October 2008.

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

Prayers—Read by the Lord Bishop of Southwell and Nottingham.

Airports: Immigration and Security

Lord Naseby asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord West of Spithead): My Lords, the UK Border Agency, with the police, pursues an intelligence-led, risk-based approach to controls on general aviation. Passengers are required to provide specific information before take-off. In future, this will be combined with the e-borders programme, to ensure that information is used most effectively, allowing the most appropriate deployment and follow-up action. We are working with all involved to identify additional measures necessary in this area.

Lord Naseby: My Lords, that all sounds very good, but is not the reality such that the flight plan is filed giving the number of passengers, but nobody checks whether that number actually get on board the aircraft? On the way home they certainly do not check the numbers getting on board. The net result is that the smaller airports are just a leaky entry into the UK.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I do not think that that is completely true. This is an area of concern which I raised last summer when I came into post, and we have done considerable work since. To put it into context, we must realise that 99.5 per cent of everyone coming in and out of this country goes through the top airports and ports, which are covered 24/7. We use Special Branch, the police, local communities, pilots and owner-operators to make sure that we liaise and talk things through to try to cover the loopholes. The system is not perfect yet but we are working hard down that route.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, does the noble Lord agree with my noble friend Lord Carlile, who said in his most recent report, published in June, that there is a measurable risk of executive jets being hijacked and used for terrorist purposes? If so, while many companies adopt reliable and effective procedures to counter terrorism, does the noble Lord think that the Government should impose statutory standards on the operators of private jets, or at least that there should be guidance issued on the procedures adopted to stop terrorists gaining control of these aircraft?

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Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, again it is a question of scale and should be looked at on a risk basis. There are about 480 or 490 small aerodromes around the United Kingdom. To cover them all, with people there 24/7, would be extremely resource-intensive. We liaise closely with local communities, the police, Special Branch, and the airlines. We have had some good success rates in stopping people smuggling stuff into the country and with various other operations. Although it is not ideal, we have to keep a balance, and we are moving down the right route.

Baroness Hanham: My Lords, in terms of the normal burden of passengers travelling out of the main airports, what progress has been made on the e-borders programme? Has the “authority to travel” capability, which the noble Lord advised me in May was due to be introduced in October this year, been introduced? If not, why not?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I shall come back to the noble Baroness on the details as I am not completely clear whether that has happened. As regards e-borders themselves, we have identified who will be proceeding with the various parts of that programme, which is on track. It will make a great difference because we will be able to check people not only into but out of this country. That was stopped in 1994, but it is crucial if we are to monitor numbers and other things involving counterterrorism.

Lord Mackenzie of Framwellgate: My Lords, with the increase in the use of stolen passports and stolen identities, does my noble friend agree that the sooner that we move towards biometric identifiers, in many cases, the better?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I agree totally with my noble friend; that is extremely important and will make things a lot easier for us. That does not mean that people cannot try to copy biometrics or use them fraudulently, but it is very difficult and will give us a much better feel for what is going on.

Baroness O'Cathain: My Lords, are all major airports—not flying strips—now covered by the Border Agency? In asking that I point out—for once, I am going to give great congratulations to the Government—that when coming back into Britain now through airports covered by the Border Agency, you are treated like a human being, staff actually smile and you feel welcomed to Britain.

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, I am taken aback; it is so nice to have something like that said. I agree; I think that the fact that staff are in uniform makes a difference as well. I know that some people in the agency itself did not like that, but now they are warming to it. It makes them look more efficient and works better. As I understand it, the 30 major airports are all covered 24/7. If that is incorrect, I shall get back to the noble Baroness.

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Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, can my noble friend explain what arrangements are in place at marinas to monitor those who exit the country and return on yachts?

Lord West of Spithead: My Lords, my noble friend is unfairly picking on an admiral. Rather like general aviation, that is an extremely difficult area with which we are trying to grapple and have been since last summer. There are millions of movements of small boats, and we are grappling with how to monitor them properly in future. How we fit that in with e-borders is quite complicated, and I do not yet have a clear vision of how that will happen.

National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group

2.43 pm

Baroness Warsi asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government formally launched the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group in January 2008. This is an independent, informal group to advise the Department for Communities and Local Government on issues to empower Muslim women and increase their participation in civic, economic and social life. The group also contributes to cross-government work on issues affecting Muslim women.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, I welcome the Minister to the Dispatch Box and thank him for his reply. Can he confirm that the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group met in May this year and identified three areas of work that it would take forward; can he explain what initiatives, if any, have been identified to do so; and can he further explain what evaluation process is in place, if any, to assess the effectiveness of any initiatives?

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her kind remarks about my presence here. Since its establishment in January, the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group has contributed to a number of areas of government policy, such as the preventing violent extremism agenda, and to a number of cross-government support groups. It is embarking on three projects: one to improve the media presence of Muslim women and to address the stereotypical views that have been portrayed by many; one on capacity-building and leadership in civic establishments; and one to ensure that Muslim women are represented across the board and have leadership skills. The projects have not yet been funded, although funding is earmarked. Once that has been put into place, an evaluation process will be established.

Baroness Prosser: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the establishment of various Muslim women’s advisory groups in recent years has been one of the mechanisms that have enabled Muslim women to make a significant contribution to developing community cohesion and to society generally?

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Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, I agree. Muslim women’s advisory groups have contributed immensely over the years to a number of government areas. Muslim women play a key role in helping to address alienation and disfranchisement among families and young people, and have a pivotal role particularly in community cohesion. That is why we support the development and engagement of women both nationally and locally as active leaders and advocates. Muslim women in particular face a number of barriers to being actively involved, including low unemployment, low skills and stereotypical negative views, and we are working with them to overcome many of those barriers.

Baroness Falkner of Margravine: My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister in his debut role. He set out what the National Muslim Women’s Advisory Group was set up for, but he has omitted to mention that a vital part of its work is to prevent violent extremism. Of the 19 women in the group, only three have any background in dealing with extremism, and there is no political scientist or researcher on extremism among them. He emphasises the group’s economic and social role, but what kind of advice does he expect to get from people who are clearly not expert in the area with which the group was set up to deal?

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her kind remarks. This is an advisory group of 19 women who are very talented and have a great breadth of experience in the media, in journalism and in academic life, but particularly in working with communities on social action. I understand the point about tackling violent extremism. We do not expect only this group of women to address a very complex set of issues. We have hundreds of projects involving women at a local and regional level that also contribute. I accept that only some of the group have experience in this area of work, but their contribution to civic leadership and knowledge and to community work is just as important.

Baroness Massey of Darwen: My Lords, how many Muslim women and young people have benefited from the work on promoting leadership?

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, in the financial year 2007-08, the Department for Communities and Local Government invested in a leadership programme that funded 24 projects. I am pleased to say that more than 120 Muslim women and young people have benefited from that work. It is a very successful programme, and it has been greatly welcomed by the people and the communities involved.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, it is important, is it not, that members of ethnic minorities should relate to the police forces up and down the country, especially when one is talking about extremist activities, but for other reasons as well. How many ethnic minority women have joined the police service?

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, I cannot give the exact figures, but I imagine that not enough ethnic minority women are in police forces across the country. We certainly need to do a huge amount more with

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police forces and the community to build trust and confidence. The whole point of the DCLG programme is to build that trust and confidence, which will enable some of those women to say, “Yes, I will join the police force”.

Baroness Warsi: My Lords, does the Minister accept that the creation of such groups is actually dividing communities and is patronising because it says to Muslim women, “You can engage with us only as Muslim women and not as individuals”?

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, I must disagree with the noble Baroness. If it is suggested that by focusing on Muslim women we are somehow patronising them or creating divisions that were not previously there, I disagree completely. It is through working with the community that one has a chance to address the disproportionately high risks of unemployment, low educational attainment and poor health. These lead to disenfranchisement and alienation, particularly among Muslim women who do not have the opportunity to address these issues. We cannot address them unless we engage with Muslim women, just as we do with a wide range of faith groups on many issues.

Baroness Howarth of Breckland: My Lords, is it not crucial that we engage groups such as this because there are real difficulties in getting ethnic minority women into certain organisations? I speak particularly as someone who served on the inquiry into organ donation, which highlighted the need for women who understand their communities to be able to persuade other women to accept the health provisions available that will help them to better health.

Lord Patel of Bradford: My Lords, I could not agree more with the noble Baroness. Last summer I was privileged enough to visit 12 local authorities where I saw around 800 people and met some remarkable women who are not engaged in some of our policy areas, but need to be. The extent of their knowledge and commitment was notable. Projects like this help us to move in that direction.

Defence: EU-NATO Co-operation

2.51 pm

Lord Astor of Hever asked Her Majesty’s Government:

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Defence (Baroness Taylor of Bolton): My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will wish to join me in offering sincere condolences to the family and friends of Trooper James Munday, who was killed on operations in Afghanistan on 15 October.

The Government agree that a close relationship between NATO and the EU is essential, and we place priority on fostering synergy and reducing possible

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friction. We are urging our allies and partners to ensure that all necessary steps are taken to allow NATO and the EU to support common objectives in Afghanistan, Kosovo and elsewhere. We also support closer co-operation on military capability development.

Lord Astor of Hever: My Lords, from these Benches we also send our condolences to the family and friends of the trooper in the Household Cavalry Regiment who was sadly killed.

Does the Minister endorse her Secretary of State’s enthusiastic support for a European army, as reported in the weekend’s press? Can she tell the House why it was necessary for the MoD to put out a statement this morning that supposedly clarified his views?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, it was necessary for the MoD to clarify my right honourable friend’s views because the statement attributed to him was not actually made. The Secretary of State does not back a European army. The UK’s policy remains that there will be no standing European army, navy or air force; there has been no change in that situation.

Lord Lee of Trafford: My Lords, these Benches join in the earlier tribute.

Given that the position and attitude of France are clearly pivotal in the overall relationship between NATO and the EU, is the noble Baroness encouraged by the fact that the French forces recently deployed as reinforcements in Kapisa, in eastern Afghanistan, are under American command?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, it is quite true that the attitude on the part of the French has changed significantly since the election of President Sarkozy. He has made it clear that he wants France to play its full part in NATO, and it is advantageous to all of us that France is engaged in Afghanistan in this way. We would like all those involved in NATO to play their full part and to improve the situation in terms of burden-sharing.

Lord Pearson of Rannoch: My Lords, does the noble Baroness agree that the inspiration for the European Union’s military ambitions comes largely from the French with their unfortunate ingratitude to the United States of America for saving them in two world wars? Until that attitude is cured, friction within NATO can only continue.

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I do not think that that is an accurate description of where we are now. It is clear that President Sarkozy has renewed the connection and ties with NATO and the degree of discussion that he has with other partners. That has to be in the interests of everyone, as is the French presence in Afghanistan that I mentioned earlier. We need NATO to work closely with the rest of Europe. We should not view NATO and Europe as being somehow in competition but see them as complementary to each other. There is a great deal of scope for that.

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Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, does the Minister agree that the idea of a European army is most strongly floated in two sectors of opinion: first, the Europhobe lobby in Britain and Ireland; and, secondly, the soft Left in Germany and Belgium, who want to have a European army but do not want it to have to do anything? Does she further agree that co-operation among armed forces in Europe is very different from the concept of a European army, very much in Britain’s interest, and, indeed, a necessary part of the further development of an effective defence policy for the United Kingdom?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, I do not always agree with the noble Lord on some of these issues but I agree with him today. Very few people are actively promoting the concept of an active European army, and perhaps that is not surprising because we do not have a NATO army or a United Nations army. All the actions that we enter into are the result of voluntary decisions. We are not obligated to be in Afghanistan or Iraq; we are doing it because we think that it is right. I think that that is how the situation will remain. Not many people other than those who are very frightened of the concept of a European army are talking about it at all.

Lord Sewel: My Lords, given that several EU member states impose significant caveats on their troops in Afghanistan, does the Minister consider that the idea of a European army as an effective fighting force is a bit of a non-runner?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, it is true that many countries, even when they are co-operating in Afghanistan, have put caveats on the limits of their forces’ activities. We could do with better burden-sharing and fewer caveats. However, we have made some progress and there are some important initiatives around, such as the UK-French initiative on helicopters where several countries are offering to provide helicopters or pilots and others will co-operate on training for operational purposes. So it is not all gloom and doom, but I certainly do not think that one European army is the way forward.

Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, is the noble Baroness aware that some of her answers today will have added to the confusion about whether there is or is not a European army? In the Council of Europe, of which I have been a member for many years, there is much talk of the European army and its existence, although we are told to call it the rapid reaction force so as not to frighten the horses. Does this army exist or does it not?

Baroness Taylor of Bolton: My Lords, it does not exist.

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