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House of Lords

Wednesday, 17 December 2008.

3 pm

Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Norwich.

Message from the Queen

3.06 pm

Earl Peel: My Lords, I have the honour to present to your Lordships a message from Her Majesty the Queen, signed by her own hand. The message is as follows:

“I have received with great satisfaction the dutiful and loyal expression of your thanks for the Speech with which I opened the present Session of Parliament”.

Sport: Anti-doping Agency


Asked By Lord Clement-Jones

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the department continues to work closely with UK Sport in determining the final structure and functions of the new national anti-doping organisation. The vesting date for the new organisation will be agreed as part of these discussions.

Lord Clement-Jones: My Lords, it is vital for our hosting of the 2012 Olympics that we have the new independent anti-doping agency in place, yet there appears to be a problem with the Government agreeing a budget and a set of start-up costs for the new agency. The Government are clearly dragging their heels. Why is not the Treasury agreeing with UK Sport, the Sports Minister and the DCMS on the budget for the new agency?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, we have not agreed the figures. The position is straightforward: we have in place a robust organisation that deals with the question of drugs and athletes. We want to produce an improved organisation that has closer links with the law-enforcing bodies, and we are therefore working with UK Sport towards that end. We have time to reach these objectives well in advance of the Olympic Games, and in any case we have a robust structure in place to operate even if we did not reach agreement. However, we are aiming towards that agreement in the near future.

Lord Glentoran: My Lords, for any interests that I may have to declare I refer noble Lords to the Red Book. The Minister may remember that in the Conservative Party’s 2005 manifesto we pledged to set up a separate organisation for anti-doping management. The Labour Party has continued over this period to oppose that, led by a number of good friends of mine but none the less including the Labour Party Secretary

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of State for Sport. I would like to know why the funding for setting up this new agency has been deferred and deferred. It is my belief that DCMS and UK Sport do not like the idea of losing control of this vital body. The issue is directly related not to 2012 but to athletes of international standing throughout the nation, every day of their lives. It is high time this was put right. Does the Minister agree?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, I agree that it is easier to write a manifesto for Opposition than to act in Government. The reason for the delays over this is that there are increased funding costs involved. We anticipated there would be—no one is denying that. Setting up a new national organisation with closer links with the law enforcement bodies will improve the position, although it does involve additional costs. Some of those costs are being partially met, or potentially partially met, by increased funds for UK Sport which we are diverting from the education department for the training scheme for outstanding athletes.

There are many complications with regard to the budget, but the Government are intent upon this objective. We will reach this objective, and in plenty of time for the Olympic Games.

Lord Addington: My Lords, as the Minister has told us on several occasions that the Treasury is now taking overall responsibility for sport, why has there been a problem setting this budget?

Lord Davies of Oldham: My Lords, the Treasury believes that it takes responsibility for everything, as the noble Lord will appreciate. In this case, however, the issue relates to the DCMS budget and the budget for UK Sport and there are additional costs involved. The way in which UK Sport proposed to devote the resources it operates for the present structure to the new one is not to the Government’s satisfaction and we will continue negotiations while giving an earnest of our intentions by diverting some resources towards this objective. No one in this House thinks that Governments can idly throw money about, particularly in these straitened times, but this is a desirable objective and we intend to reach it.

Earl Attlee: My Lords, if increased government funding is required, does that not indicate that we are not doing enough at the moment?

Lord Davies of Oldham: No, my Lords, it indicates the possibility of improvement. We have one of the best anti-doping organisations in the world and it is highly respected, but at least two other countries have shown that, if the organisation has close links with the law enforcement agencies, there are improvements in performance. Customs and Excise and the police have a lot of information at their disposal which helps with the accessibility of the drugs which athletes might be suborned into using. Because we want to forge those links, there are additional costs for which we have not yet settled the budget.

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3.12 pm

Asked By Lord Roberts of Conwy

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Work and Pensions (Lord McKenzie of Luton): My Lords, in the quarter to October 2008, 1,864,000 people were ILO unemployed. In November 2008, 1,071,900 people were claiming jobseeker’s allowance.

Lord Roberts of Conwy: My Lords, stark and grim as these unemployment figures are—there are now more than 1 million claimants for unemployment benefit—does the Minister accept that these figures, and the figures in coming months, represent a key test of whether the Government’s policy of spending out of recession is actually working? That was something, incidentally, that the late Lord Callaghan said was impossible when he encountered recession during his premiership.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, of course the figures are disappointing, which is why the Government announced today a packet of measures that will help people to gain the right to training and to upgrading their skills to get back into employment as quickly as possible. On the central point, it is absolutely right to seek to stimulate the economy as we have done. The choice is between those who would be active in doing this and those who would do nothing. Of course, we will not have under this comparator the ability to evaluate the effects of the noble Lord’s party’s policy, which is to do nothing. We do not believe that these figures are the worst; there will be some more to come. Therefore, it is very important that we have active labour market policies. That is why the steps that we have taken on the banking system and in supporting small businesses—through deferrals of the small companies tax rate and dealing with HMRC’s flow of tax payments to help the liquidity of small businesses—are so important. That is the right thing to do. The wrong thing to do is to do nothing and let the economy and banking system implode.

Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, can my noble friend confirm that there are 600,000 more people at work today than there were when this Government came into office? Is this not a case of our doing all that we can to keep unemployment as low as possible, rather than believing that 3 million unemployed is a price worth paying, as the party opposite believes?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: Yes, my Lords. The number of people in work is now more than 2.9 million higher, at 29.4 million. The employment rate is 1.5 percentage points higher than it was in 1997. There are 548,000 fewer people on the claimant count and 188,000 fewer

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people on the ILO measure of unemployment. Despite all the challenges that we face, we have had 10 years of a successful economy, which has enabled us to start from a higher base than many other countries.

Lord Jones of Birmingham: My Lords, the Minister says that he is doing everything that he can to ensure that the employment figures are maintained but, in the light of such worrying unemployment figures, will he explain why it was deemed necessary to spend £12 billion of taxpayers’ money on knocking 25p off a Christmas present through VAT and not on ensuring that we preserve people in jobs in this country? If you are not in work, you do not go and buy anything.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the noble Lord’s question implies that he does not believe that the VAT reduction will have an impact. We do not believe that that is the case. It is just part of the fiscal stimulus that the Government have introduced; bringing forward some of the capital spend has been part of it and supporting small businesses is another part of it, as I have outlined. These policies have just been introduced and, of course, it will take a while for some of them to kick in and have an effect. We believe that they are the right measures to adopt and will improve the situation. Across the world, economies are challenged by the credit crunch and the increase in commodity prices, which collided and hit economies right across the globe.

Lord Oakeshott of Seagrove Bay: My Lords, we see now why the noble Lord, Lord Jones, was so reluctant to join the Labour Party. Is the Minister aware that Gordon Brown is on track for an unprecedented double disaster, with the lowest housing starts in this country since 1924, when Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister, and, looming up in two years’ time, the highest unemployment as a percentage of the workforce since Ramsay MacDonald was Prime Minister in the 1930s?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, the economic crisis that the world faces is the worst since the 1930s. We cannot escape from that, as every other country in the world cannot escape from it. These are simply unprecedented times. What the Government have done by seeking to ensure that the banking system is capitalised properly, with liquidity in that system, is to provide the backdrop to stability, so that we can move forward from where we are. These are unprecedented times and they require unprecedented measures and unprecedented leadership, which is what we have in Gordon Brown.

Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I think that I am right in saying that in normal times, in the total unemployment figures, some half a million people are actually between jobs. Can the Minister tell us what that figure is at present? How many people are between jobs?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, that cannot easily be calibrated. What I can say is that there are in excess of half a million vacancies in the economy. Every working day something like 10,000 job opportunities are reported to Jobcentre Plus. We are dealing with a dynamic situation. This is not just a stock of people who are unemployed; people are moving between jobs, from unemployment into employment and from

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employment into unemployment. There is a dynamic about this. I cannot specifically answer the question posed by the noble Baroness and I am not sure that it would be easy to do so. If there are data on it, I shall certainly write to her. There are still lots of vacancies in the economy. It is important, therefore, that we are proactive in helping people who have fallen out of work back towards the labour market as quickly as possible.

Lord Tomlinson: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that, rather than people such as the noble Lords, Lord Jones and Lord Oakeshott, sniping from the sidelines, it would be more productive if they gave some alternative prescription if they think that there is a better one?

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, we always enjoy encouragement and support from Benches around your Lordships’ House. I think that underlying my noble friend’s question is a real point about what alternatives there are. We know the alternative of the Conservatives, which basically is to do nothing. We do not quite know what the prescriptions of the other parties are. We have taken positive action, which I am sure is the right thing to do.

Lord Skelmersdale: My Lords, perhaps I may tell the Minister and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Tomlinson—

A noble Lord: Ask a question!

Lord Skelmersdale: I will, my Lords. We have indeed made viable suggestions. I hope that the Minister will admit that the billions of fiscal stimulus are not yet working and, indeed, according to the Governor of the Bank of England, may never work. Now for my question. The Government have announced a £1.3 billion employment package. Under current rules, while people are claiming unemployment benefit, this cannot be taken up for 18 months. Do the Government intend to reduce this period? If not, this measure will not work either.

Lord McKenzie of Luton: My Lords, I am not sure to what 18-month period the noble Lord refers. The £1.3 billion made available in the PBR to the DWP was to help to ensure sufficient capacity in the system over the next two years so that people can be supported. Some of the early support was for those who have been furthest away from the job market. The announcement in the PBR and the additional support given enable the focus to be on the newly unemployed as well and on those in danger of becoming unemployed, so that, where possible, preventive measures can be taken.



3.23 pm

Asked By Baroness Cox

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The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Malloch-Brown): My Lords, I have expressed my concerns to the Nigerian Foreign Minister at the violence in Jos. The Nigerian Government have taken measures, including a curfew, to avoid further violence. The Nigerian Inter-Religious Council is working to prevent future outbreaks. We have discussed the situation with both Christian and Muslim communities. We will continue to support measures to address religious tensions through our conflict prevention strategy, including support for NGOs working with the communities in the northern states.

Baroness Cox: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that encouraging reply. Is he aware that there is widespread concern over the media coverage of the riots, which implied parity of killings between the Muslims and the Christians, whereas it was actually well armed Muslim extremists, including foreigners from Chad and Niger, who instigated the violence against unarmed Christians? Equally disturbing is that this is part of a pattern of continuing violence against Christians. In July I saw eight churches that had recently been burnt in Bauchi state and a large Roman Catholic church razed to the ground in Kano. Will the British Government urge the Nigerian Government to provide adequate protection for the Christian communities in these northern and central states?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I can certainly assure the noble Baroness that I received assurances from the Nigerian Foreign Minister last week that the Government were committed to providing security. Our high commissioner has also had the opportunity of discussing this with the governor of the state, who, again, in the measures he has taken—both the curfew and the deployment of extra military—seems intent on ending the intercommunal violence.

Lord Archer of Sandwell: My Lords, will the Government consider using some of the DfID money which is at present allocated generally for northern Nigeria to relieve some of the dispossessed people now in the refugee camps in order to assist them to rebuild their lives?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, we have made repeated visits to the north before and since these tragic incidents. My noble and learned friend makes a very important point which we shall look at. We are supporting NGOs engaged not in relief but in building links between the two communities, particularly Bridgebuilders, whose mission is contained in that name, which has Muslim and Christian leaders working together to build bridges between younger members of their communities.

The Lord Bishop of Norwich: My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Plateau state governor is apparently under pressure to release some of those arrested following the violence in Jos in the so-called interests of peace? Will he and his colleagues further urge the Nigerian Government to ensure justice is done so that violent intimidation and discrimination are not encouraged?

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Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, I was not aware that the governor was under pressure to release those who may be guilty of these acts. He is determined that law and order will prevail and that the guilty will be brought to justice. We will continue to insist on that message in our dealings with him and the federal Government.

Lord Avebury: My Lords, I thank the Minister for his intensive diplomatic efforts over the past couple of days and for keeping the House fully informed of what he has been doing. Should we not suggest to President Yar’Adua that a judicial commission of inquiry should be established into the events in Jos, particularly in view of the fact that allegations have been made of atrocities committed by the security forces in shooting and killing unarmed civilians, and that the previous judicial commission of inquiry into the events of 2001 was never published?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, the noble Lord is correct; one way or another we need to arrive at a definition and understanding of what happened on which everyone can agree. Our own high commissioner has warned me to be careful about characterising these riots at this stage because, despite having made visits up there since the events, even we are still not certain what mixture of criminality and interreligious tension fired these actions. We should certainly consider what is the best way of establishing the facts, whether that is through a judicial inquiry or other means, because without understanding what happened we have no chance of rebuilding trust between the communities.

Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, I return the Minister to a point made by my noble friend about the role that radical insurgents from Chad and Niger played in the atrocities that occurred in Jos. What information does he have about that? Does he recognise that the attempts to impose Sharia law on unwilling people in Jos could have the same long-term effects as those that occurred in southern Sudan, where 2 million people died when similar attempts were made there?

Lord Malloch-Brown: My Lords, on the first point, we, too, have heard the allegations of outsiders being involved and have seen the same reports of them. Determining whether those individuals were involved is very much at the top of the list of the facts that we are trying to establish. At this point we do not know that and are looking into it. On the second point, some states in northern Nigeria have introduced Sharia law. The federal Government have resisted doing that. Everybody is aware of the real risks to the freedom of non-Muslim citizens in the north. We hope that the Government and all involved will approach this with great sensitivity and respect for minority rights.

Lord Anderson of Swansea: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that there is a need for DfID money not only for bridge building, important as that is, but for humanitarian aid, given the estimate that at least 26,000 people are living in makeshift camps, deprived of basic access to sanitation, water and nutrition? Can DfID help with that?

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